airplane flyingIt was nearly fifteen years ago, but I remember it well.

Monday, October 16, 2000, was a dreary-looking evening near our home in rural Missouri, just outside St. Louis. It was rainy and foggy, a stay-home kind of night. My wife and I were in our family room when we suddenly heard – and felt – a rather strong rumble. “Was that thunder?” she asked, seemingly uncertain.

“Of course it was thunder,” I responded, somewhat condescendingly, “what else would it be?” I had no doubt that what we had heard and felt was thunder. It was the only thing in my experience that would have caused such a rumbling.

The next morning, taking our kids to school, we found out I was wrong. Dozens of news vans, with satellite dishes mounted on the tops, lined the small two-lane road between our house and the kids’ school. It hadn’t been thunder. A plane had crashed less than a mile from our home. Everyone on board was killed, including the governor of Missouri.

I had never heard a plane crash before. It was outside the realm of my experience. Consequently, I had tried to make reality fit into my experience. It didn’t work.

We can have a tendency to do the same thing with Scripture. We read something in the Bible and try to understand it based on our previous experiences. Yet the truth of God’s Word doesn’t always fit nicely and neatly into our experience.

Instead, we should allow God’s Word to shape our experience. Jesus told us that His Words should be abiding in us. (John 15:8) The Bible is the greater reality. God’s truth – which will stand forever – is far more real than our experiences.

So, rather than trusting our five senses, we should trust the eternal Word of God.

“God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Numbers 23:19)

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How Deeply Do I Care?

Jesus arrestedImagine for a moment that you are being arrested for a crime that you didn’t commit. You knew the arrest was coming. You are even aware that you’ll be unjustly convicted. It’s no surprise to you that the authorities have come to take you.

So, as they’ve surrounded you and your friends, with guns drawn, what’s your first response? Do you try to run? Do you ask your friends to help you resist? Are you even aware that there are others there with you? After all, the impending arrest must be foremost in your mind, right?

Jesus found Himself in a situation like this.

“So he asked them again, ‘Whom do you seek?’ And they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus answered, ‘I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.’” (John 18:7-8)

I find it amazing that even in the hour of His arrest, Jesus was so very concerned about His friends. “If you seek me, let these men go.”

They were surrounded by the authorities, when Jesus, in essence, said, “Take me and let the rest get out of here.”

This scene causes me to flash forward to the cross, where Jesus again demonstrates His care and concern for His mother and also for His good friend John. “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” (John 19:26-27) Even with His dying breaths, Jesus demonstrated great compassion.

As a leader, I am challenged by Jesus’ reactions. Do I care that deeply and fervently for people? Jesus certainly did.

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Put Off the Old, Put On the New

trees with dead leavesIn late winter and early spring, before new plant growth occurs, there are still a few trees that are holding on to their brown and withered leaves. Through the entire winter season, the trees have clung tenaciously to those dry and dead appendages.

At some point, though, those leaves must fall. They cannot stay forever. Otherwise there would be no place for the new leaves to sprout and grow. The old must be gone to make room for the new.

That reminds me of something my friend, Paul, said. To both the Church at Ephesus and the one at Colossae, Paul wrote about “putting off the old self” and “putting on the new self.” (Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-10) Just like those leaves, there needs to be a putting off of one so the other can be put on.

Yet, there is a difference between us and those trees. It is a seemingly natural part of their existence to let go of those old leaves. We, on the other hand, need to make a conscious choice. To be sure, it is God Who empowers us to do it, but our will is still involved. He won’t force us to put off our old self. It is a cooperative effort. He will cause the new self to grow, but the old self has to go first.

May you, by His grace, put off the old.

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ice patchOn my recent prayer retreat, I walked through the woods. I often find this both relaxing and spiritually invigorating. Anyway, one day, on a downhill trek, I came upon a ravine. The pre-spring runoff from melted snow and the slight rain the day before was trickling down through the gully. But farther down the ravine I noticed a large chunk of ice on a rock. Despite the water running over it and the warmer temperatures for the last few days, it was still solid. Shaded from sunlight by the surrounding trees and aided by the cooler temperatures deep in the ravine, this ice had managed to remain frozen in place.

Immediately, I realized that there is a spiritual application. Despite receiving life-giving water from God, there are still parts of my heart that can remain frozen. Perhaps they are – intentionally or unintentionally – shielded from the warmth of God’s love. Maybe I have shut out the sunlight, allowing them to stay frozen.

Are there areas of your heart that need to be exposed more to the light and warmth of God?

(By the way, I went back the next day to take a picture. Guess what. The ice was gone. It had melted. I’ll let you draw your own analogy on that one. :-)  )

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walking in the woodsI just returned from a personal prayer retreat. One of my all-time favorite things is to walk and pray. This particular retreat area had lots of mowed paths as well as woods and open fields to trek through.

As I walked, it occurred to me that it’s pretty amazing how hiking on paths through fields and woods can resemble life.

  • Some paths may look inviting, but can end up being messy or even treacherous.
  • The steepest uphill climbs generally offer the best views.
  • It’s possible that a path that is winding and one that is straight will both get you to the same destination. Is one, therefore, emphatically better?
  • Paths that are difficult and overgrown will take you to places other people never see.
  • Some people won’t follow nicely mowed paths for very long. They prefer to blaze a trail. But that trail-blazing can make it easier for anyone who comes behind.
  • And having a guide – someone (or Someone) who knows the way – will always make the journey more bearable.

What’s your path look like today? I would enjoy hearing about it.

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Parting the Red Sea … or Some Dump Trucks

Carpathian mountainsA friend of mine, Peggy Simmons, smuggled Bibles into Eastern Europe in the 1970s and early ‘80s. She has written an as-yet unpublished manuscript about her adventures. On one trip she was driving and their team leader, Gary, was asleep in the back.

I don’t remember how many days we had been on the road, but I do remember we were high in the mountains of Carpathia. The mountains here are spectacular. Rough, steep precipices, they are second cousins to the Alps. Their tops poke through the sky in sharp jagged lines…

I had been driving for hours already. Leita and I were up front, talking and laughing. Both of us happy to be on another mission. It was a beautiful fall day. Gary was sleeping peacefully in the backseat.

The road ahead was curving wildly and I gained momentum fast as we topped the peak and began our descent. Down we went, gaining speed quickly. Suddenly as we careened around a curve, two huge dump trucks popped into view, head to head. They were coming straight at us, one trying to pass the other! The cliff was a sheer drop-off to my right with no guardrail, and the mountain loomed sharply on my left. On this small curvy two-lane road, there was no shoulder and no way to brake in time! The trucks were going to hit us head-on!

I remember having just enough time to scream “Jesus!” as I closed my eyes tightly, expecting to plow straight into them! But no impact came! Amazed, I slit open my eyes enough to see us still whizzing down the road, no trucks in sight! Quickly, I glanced in my rearview mirror and there they were! I screamed in amazement! The two trucks were still side-by-side, still inching up the hill behind us! Leita was gripping my arm, squealing in fright. I put on the brakes and slowly came to a stop, still shaking like a leaf.

Jesus, Jesus! I whispered through clenched teeth. Leita and I both started breathlessly to talk nonsense at the same time.

“Did you see that? What happened? We went right through them!” We were laughing and crying all at once. The excited noise woke up Gary, who rubbed his eyes groggily.

“What’s wrong? Why’d we stop?” he pulled himself up with a groan.

“I was sure I hit him!” I said.

“Hit who?” Gary asked, jerking himself up quickly in alarm, wiping at his eyes.

“The trucks! The trucks!” In gibberish, I tried to explain what had happened and eventually calmed down enough to let him know what should have happened, but somehow didn’t!

Once again we realized with awe how much God wanted those Bibles to get to his children. Even if He had to part the Red Sea … or a couple of dump trucks.

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Brand New?

butterflyOver the years, I have had the privilege of ministering in Eastern Europe on several occasions. I have come to cherish the people and the area. It is a fascinating part of the world with beautiful scenery and deep, rich traditions.

But there is an odd quirk there that always seems to leave me mystified.

Many in Eastern Europe were under communist oppression for as long as 70 years. As a result, they were extremely accustomed to the socialist government doing things for them. It became an ingrained part of life. So, now, more than 20 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, many people have still not fully come out from underneath that mindset. It was so much a part of their lives, that even though they are now part of a democratic society, they don’t act like it.

I think we Christians can have a tendency to do the same thing. 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” If we are born-again, we are not our old selves. We’re new. We’re brand new creatures.

Yet, we seem to have a tendency to forget that we’re not the same old people we once were. Too often, we act as though we’re no different than we were pre-Christ.

2 Peter 1:9 reminds us, “For whoever lacks these qualities (the godly characteristics mentioned in the previous verses) is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.”

If forgetting that we have been cleansed of our former sins is the reason we are not living differently – in other words, we’re not acting like new creatures – then the answer is remembering. Remembering that Jesus already paid the price and our sins are gone.

As we call to mind that Christ has cleansed us through His death and resurrection, it changes us on the inside, and that, in turn, changes the outside. Through His mercy, we begin to, more and more, act like the new creatures He has made us into.

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