The Ironclad Rule: “Things Don’t Always Go Smoothly.”

As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the stormsubsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”

Luke 8:23-25

Things amazingly never go as we plan.

We hope, plan, strategize, and organize but, no matter, things always go a different way. Why should we think any differently than these intrepid and adventurous disciples who had grasped onto Jesus’ sleeves looking for a better life. If you forgot, they argued among themselves about status and position as Jesus came into the city of Jerusalem for the last time.

Many times we see these difficulties as God’s condemnation about the plans we have made instead of looking at the picture as he sees it. The back of a very expensive Persian rug looks very different than the front. Often times we are looking at the back of the rug instead of seeing these events as God does — opportunities for growth. Scripture tells us man does purpose in his heart but it is God who directs the travel.

Thirty-six years ago this month I left Virginia Beach to go to Rhode Island at nationally recognized hotel and culinary college. My plan was to eventually earn the certification as a Certified Hotel Executive and travel the world managing hotels and resorts. Little did I know within seven years I would be entering seminary and leaving my plans behind. The journey has not been smooth but a series of ups and downs, and twists and turns.

Eventually, the disciples found their true place and would lead the real Jesus explosion throughout the known world. Likewise, I have found myself looking back these years and know I am where God wants me.

Finding the Pearl in a Sandstorm

Out of tragedy Comes Triumph

Several years ago a young woman suffered a major life setback which required months and months of recovery and now a lifetime of chronic issues. The first thought would be ‘Why God?’ but this was not the case. In the midst of this trauma came friends and loved ones who spoke into the lives of both the woman and her family. Meals appeared and cards from children ended up taped to the wall of her hospital room. Her daughter was cared for by friends while the husband sat beside his wife for fifty days in the hospital. Three more visits to hospitals in the next nine months became the routine for this couple.

Now, seven years later the tragedy which almost took her life has ended up with both a new zest for life and a ministry. In a matter of a couple of weeks, the couple’s four years of planning and strategizing will come to fruition in Santa Calls For You. This business/ministry brings together the skills and gifts of both husband and wife and allows us the opportunity of returning into hospitals to show the same kind of love and compassion which had been shown years ago.
The care of children in hospitals creates issues not associated with adults. Children who are nervous may need sedation which creates a different set of problems. From an article entitled, Calming kids’ hospital anxieties, by Dr. James Callahan, he suggests a series of strategies to help children. Santa Calls For You hopes to play a part in this by ministering to children “one smile at a time,”

Years ago I read a Christian author whose name escapes me today who suggested that to truly heal from the tragedies of life is to find the pearl in the midst of the sandstorm. We have found that by looking at the needs of others, ours seem to pale in consideration. We no longer are in a hospital facing an unknown future but a child is and with a visit by Santa and Mrs. Claus delivering a toy and love, we hope to show Christ’s love in our ministry.

Please share in the joy and the hopes we have for this venture and know we appreciate your support and prayers.

Moving Ain’t So Bad

Packing Up the Past; Facing the Future

As I sit around my present home in preparation for moving, I find things which had come up missing in the past being packed away for transit.  The question is: did I really need it?
Many things in our lives come and go just as the days of the calendar and what seemed important to possess years ago became dust collectors of that era. Some of us were persuaded by the commercial on television to purchase an exercise machine which would have returned a youthful physique and stamina.  I dreamt of going from twelve-pack abs to hopefully a six-pack but sadly the machine became a place for my clothes. One day I decided to unload it to someone who may have had the same hopes for his body as I had for mine. Moving can also be a good thing.

God moves his children spiritually as well.

When the nation of Israel had gotten accustomed to being in one place, God told them they had been at this mountain too long. ( Deuteronomy  1:6) He wanted them to move and take the land in which He promised for their inheritance.  I guess the nation had just gotten a little bit comfortable.Likewise, as Christians, we get comfortable in our walk with the Lord and choose to sit down and refuse to move.  Sadly, God has an inheritance for us if we just get going!  This means we leave behind the things which had surrounded our lives to move to the place God has for us.  Thing like faithlessness, bitterness, envy, lying, and all the other junk are left behind so we can imitate His Son, Jesus.

In moving we might need a road map to get to the place we are going; God says he knows the plans he has for us.  Years ago there was a bumper sticker which said, “God is my co-pilot” but if we really want to go where He has for us we need to get out of our seats and let him drive.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heaven on Earth

ALMOST HEAVEN…

In John Denver’s ode to country living, Country Roads, it speaks of West Virginia life and the beauty of its people. Yesterday we drove our daughter, Stefani, to just such a place. Sandwiched between the mountains of West Virginia and the Birch River is a place many in the state would consider “all most heaven” and for good reason. Camp Cowen is both rustic and beautiful with the cabins covered by a canopy of sixty, eighty and hundred foot trees that may have been around when West Virginia became a state. As I watched the families bringing their children, I began to notice something in the faces of the adults. They looked around with growing smiles and longing looks as if they had come home. I was fascinated by the Cowen mystique since I had never gone to church camp as a child. Adults joined in with the children and they played bean bag toss. Others greeted other adults as long ago relationship of a by-gone day.

I asked Rob Ely, Director of Discipleship, Camping, and Youth about this. Though this title is well deserved for the years of work he had given to Cowen and youth across the state, he is as much a kid as his charges for the week. When he smiles, it is infectious and inviting. Dick Clark has been called the eternal teenager but they have never met Rob Ely. While most ministers his age are settling into pastorates, he is still running around the camp in shorts, shirt, and sneakers. As he greets the children who have come back year after year, Rob calls them by name. While the title is listed on the web page for the camp, words like a coach, friend, encourager and lover of God are written across his countenance. When asked if any of the adults volunteering this week had once been children here, he advised me many had and said they were “giving back”.

Giving back to God

Susie, this week’s director also added she found Christ here as a child and coming back yearly she developed a relationship with people across the state who hold her in Christian accountability to the ideal of Cowen and prayed for her as well for this week. She further added that as she enters the gates into Cowen she feels the presence of God. Our daughter’s counselors greeted each child in the cabin, helped them get settled and began learning their names. One was Emily, a married twenty-one-year-old college student at Concord who is seeking to enter medical school. She left her husband for the week to serve with little girls because she too had found Christ here and over the years knew this was a place of ministry for her.

We left for Cowen yesterday morning at 8 AM and returned from a four hundred mile plus trek about 10 PM. Thinking about this post all the way home I realized the “giving back” was not out of obligation or debt but a profound commitment to share the same Christ with other children just as it had happened to them. For the parents who journeyed long and for churches who make this a priority, the “giving back” may one day bear much fruit. My good friend Tom Smell has a picture of him when he was a few months old in the arms of a missionary at Camp Cowen, and if it pays off for Stefani as it has done for Tom, Susie, Emily, Rob and unknown thousands of people who have entered the gates of Cowen, then we have shown her a bit of “almost heaven”.

Gossip’s Purchase Price

There’s nothing so delicious as the taste of gossip! It melts in your mouth. Proverbs 18:8 (CEV)

 

Gossip Results in Death

The term gossip monger is an interesting word for participants of gossip.  Gossip is generally “rumor or talk of a personal, sensational, or intimate nature” causing damage or irreparable harm to a person’s reputation. It is also used of someone who promotes something undesirable. A monger is a person who deals in a specific commodity–such as a fish monger.  The root for the term monger comes from the Latin for a dealer in slaves.  A gossip monger could be defined as a person dealing in gossip who enslaves a person by words which can never be silenced.  Gossip tends to spread like a fire  growing in size and intensity and eventually exceeds the original bit of rumor.  What may have been truth now becomes even more sensational and like the Internet, once it is out there, it is out there.  So if someone trades in gossip, what are the costs?

A Transgression to the Law of Love.

Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan and the lengths he went to help an injured Jew.  This parable offended the religious leaders because Samaritans were half-breed Jews who only accepted the first five books of the Old Testament and did not worship in Jerusalem.  They were such a nice subject of gossip but Jesus used this man to show his disciples everyone is a neighbor and the Law of Love extends to all.  In a transgression of the law the person has crossed beyond the boundaries established by God. How can we say we love our neighbor when by our words or participation we enslave them!

A Damage Reputation: Theirs and Yours.

Gossip strikes at the image of the person and its destructiveness relates to the idea of condemnation.  Those who have pronounced judgment upon the victim have tried, convicted and sentenced a person to humiliation, shame, guilt, and sorrow.  Sounds like a heavy judicial pronouncement to me.  However, the damage to your reputation is equally damaging.  God’s word in Romans 1 links a gossip to such evil behaviors as evil, greed, strife, malice, slanderers, and they have no mercy or love.  The saying, “if they gossip to you they will gossip about you” makes you an untrustworthy person and even God’s word says this.  In  Proverbs 11 says a “gossip betrays a confidence but a trustworthy person keeps a secret.”

So the next time someone tries to offer you a tasty morsel of gossip, try this:

“No thanks.  I am trying to live a better life for Jesus.”  And they may say something like this: “What, are you trying to be holier-than-thou!” (By saying no you are making them aware of their failings.)  You can calmly says, “No, I am not trying to be a holier-than-thou.  I am trying to as holy as HIM!”  “Would you like to join me?”

Why is Disciplesip a Process?

This past Sunday my sermon dealt with the fear and doubt of the disciples the night of the Resurrection.  Ten of the disciples were gathered in a locked room but Thomas was missing in action. The fear immobilized the men and one writer suggested they might have been making plans of escaping the city by night.  Suddenly, the power of the Resurrection is seen by the appearance of Jesus in the midst.  The question is this: “If the power of the Resurrection can bring Jesus to life, why is becoming a disciple a hard and lengthy process?” Could Jesus not have clapped his nail-scarred hands and the disciples would have been ready to change the world?  Let’s examine some thoughts as to why it takes time.

The Problem.

One reason is self-reliance.  Self-reliance is an Americanism in which the self-made man is seen as the icon for many because of his success in business or wealth.  Names like J. Paul Getty, and Rockefeller fill history books of their impact on the industrial age of America.  However, the Kingdom of God does not function nor is glorified in this type of individual.  Jesus himself could only do what the Father showed him.  Likewise, the Holy Spirit speaks what he has been told to speak by Jesus.  If disciples were made complete the moment of their new birth, there might be a tendency to believe everything this “super-disciple” did was because of his personal efforts.

The Answer.

The church was initiated at Pentecost when peoples of various tongues, tribes, and cultures heard the Word of God and believed.  What God did at the Tower of Babel, dividing mankind by languages, would now become the most incredible witness of the Son and his bride, the church.  The church  is individuals from around the world with different backgrounds, cultures, and languages and one common purpose: “Go and make disciples!”  They are blessed and gifted for the purpose of ministry  and each member is interdependent upon another to accomplish this Commission.  There are no Lone Ranger disciples!

In my life as a Christian I have had many ups and downs in my walk with the Lord.  I have come to realize God knew I would stumble so He would be there to make sure I never fell completely.  In this I can celebrate because His Word says there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ.  I am continually amazed at his providence because in times of victory I have the track record of those stumbles reminding me the victory is not mine.  But, God is so good!  He allows me to share in His joy.  When I share Christ’s love and his message of reconciliation, I have the chance to see someone taken out of the Enemy’s hands and placed firmly in His–never to be lost again.  Jesus told his disciples they would do greater works than he did.  When he raised Lazarus from the grave there would come a time when Lazarus would eventually die.  When believers work together to bring the light of Christ to people–they literally take part in raising someone dead in their sins and now alive in Christ.  How much joy is that?

Lastly, the apostle John used the word believe as a verb in his Gospel.  To John, believe was taking faith and putting it into action.  Thomas doubted and when Jesus came to him, he said, “Stop being an unbeliever and become a believer!”  Why would Jesus say this to a man who was a loyal disciple?  The others had continually told Thomas of the resurrection, but Thomas would absolutely not believe unless he could see and touch the wounds of his Lord.  He had seen the miracles but now he was full of doubt.  John’s idea on miracles is they could lead someone to faith but were insufficient for continual faith–such as Thomas.  To John, belief/believing was to take hold of faith, trusting the Living Word of God, accepting Jesus as the full revelation of God on earth and accepting his commission to go and make disciples.  It wasn’t the miracles to John, but the written word which showed Jesus as Messiah, Lord, and God.

pexels-photo-115567 (1)

Discipleship takes time because Jesus is working to remove the impurities of my life by the crucible of time, pressure and heat.  A lump of black coal, under heat, pressure, and time eventually becomes a diamond.  But don’t stop there–for a diamond must have the facets chipped away and polished to reach its pure luster and value.  So, don’t worry!  He looking at the finished product–you reflecting the light of Christ in the world.

A Father’s Choice

My crisis of BELIEF

 Several years ago we celebrated Vicki and Nan Nan’s birthday at the Cracker Barrel in Fairmont with her sister and husband.  They sang Happy Birthday and gave them each a brownie sundae which she gave to Stefani.  Stefani ate a bit and then when shopping with her Aunt Glenda.  Just to try it, I ate a bite and discovered a walnut—something Stefani is deathly allergic.  She soon appeared at the table complaining her throat was scratchy, drank something and went back.  I had already told Vicki and we were going to see if anything happened without alarming her.  Again she returns and we make the decision to call the ambulance.  Holding my daughter and trying to calm her and remain calm too, the squad arrives and begins to apply oxygen.  They asked if they wanted us to transport her or them.  They would not give us the oxygen and I had to make a decision to place my little girl into the hands of someone I did not know.  We surrendered her into their hands and followed closely behind. Jarius had the same choice.  Nothing was working as he sought out Jesus.  Would he be able to help?  He had no other choice. 

As president of the synagogue he was responsible to make sure worship was according to the traditions.  He would invite speakers, lead discussions and debates.  This was a community voted position which speaks of his impact in the community. But,Jesus was not educated according to the Jewish traditions nor schooled to the best schools and he was not the disciple of some famous Jewish philosopher.  Jesus was a nobody special from Nazareth—a nobody town.  This is who Jarius was coming.  When Jarius approached Jesus, the word says he pleaded.  The sense of the word is he did not stop pleading, having fallen to his knees, and a position of humility for the president of the synagogue. 

Another father’s crisis of BELIEF

Jarius faced a challenge to his beliefs. Mark records the woman with the issue of blood which according to the Law of Moses, she was a defiled woman and anything or anyone she touched would also be defiled.  She had not only been unable to enter into the court of the Women at the temple for twelve years, but she would have been cut off from friends, family and even society.  This woman touched Jesus!  Can you imagine the man, Jarius, as now the only hope for his daughter was not defile according to the Levitical law.  Jesus does heal this woman, stopping to talk with her.  This must have really tested Jarius.  Jesus called her daughter.  This term, bat mitzvah, means daughter of the commandment or the daughter of the Divine Law.  This same woman, whom Jarius would not be able to welcome into his synagogue, was being welcomed back into the same covenant with God as any other Jew–especially Jarius.  

At that same moment someone comes and tells Jarius his daughter is dead.  The first reaction to his grief might have been to run home to comfort his wife and weep for his daughter, but Jesus gives him a command: Do not continue with fear or be frightened but continue to believe!  He had believed to come to Jesus, would he have enough belief to continue with him the rest of the way.  We now see Jesus facing off against the paid mourners of the time.  The higher your status, the more you could afford and given Jarius status, there may have been many crying and mourning with the family.  Jesus asks why the uproar and Jesus is recorded saying the child is asleep.  This brings a scornful laughter from those who are paid to attend funerals.  “We know dead, and she is dead!.” But Jesus is not denying her death; he is simply saying that death does not have the final word.  We see the tender and compassionate Christ apart from the learned Jarius touch the dead girl’s hand and speak to her.

The Fear of Disappointing God

When I was a child I never could seem to “get it right” with everything my parents expected.  My room was not clean enough.  Grades were not good enough.  I could have chosen better friends.  I just never seemed to get it right and to this day, I sometimes can still be fearful of other’s expectations.  We buy a gadget and expect it to work as promised by the manufacturer and get angry when it fails our expectation.  Brides may expect their new husbands to act like their dads did and face disappointments when they fail.  A mother-in-law may expect her son’s new wife to cook, clean, and tend to babies and may be angry when she chooses to work outside of the home.

But, does God have an expectation of us?  Can we disappoint him when we fail him?  Will the Lord walk off and leave us for good? Will he never smile again? Is his love worn threadbare? Has his salvation promise burned out? Has God forgotten his manners? Has he angrily stalked off and left us? “Just my luck,” I said. “The High God goes out of business just the moment I need him.” (The Message Psalm 77: 7-10)


The human part of us may feel we can disappoint God, but the psalmist continues his song with the rest:

Once again I’ll go over what God has done, lay out on the table the ancient wonders; I’ll ponder all the things you’ve accomplished, and give a long, loving look at your acts. (The Message Psalm 77:11-12)


The action of God’s love must be without exception for it to be selfless love.  We can be disappointed by others’ actions, but it usually is about me.  These are my expectations of you-especially if your failures reflect upon me.  Parents may be disappointed by a child’s failings, but not God.  Couples may be disappointed by each other, but not God.  He knew I would fail him, but he still chooses to love me.  He knew I would break his laws, but he still chooses to redeem me.  He knew I would fail to offer mercy to others, and yet he still offers it to me each day. I can continually look to the wonderful things he has done for me as a reminder that he does not get disappointed in me.

Fear of New Things

Fear–A Christian’s greatest Enemy
In a couple of day we will begin a journey going through the Max Lucado book, Fearless.  Dealing with a family member the other day and discussing the physical decline of her mother, I used Thursday’s lesson about finding the peace of Christ in the midst of the storm.  It seems fear can be a constant companion if we relent from the peace brought to us by Jesus.

Twenty-nine years ago this I was facing the same doubts and fear.  I was a twenty-seven year old hitch-hiking to Rhode Island to start college for the first time.  All I had were two duffle bags with clothes and twenty dollars in my pocket.  Getting dropped off on I-95 in the Bronx the houses over the side of the highway we burned and boarded.  I asked God for a ride and sat three hours on the highway breakdown lane watching the sun sink toward the western sky and the soon coming darkness.

God, help me!

I began to pray, “Lord, Send me a Christian!  Someone who lets me know I am here because you want me here and not of my own accord.”  Shortly someone pulled over and took me to Stanford, CT.  I stuck out my thumb and a car pulls up–with a large Bible on the front seat and Christian material in the back–Jay Orvis, who brought foreign Christians to study in the United States.  He took me home and fed me after introducing me to his family and a couple from Israel.  Amazed?  So was I!

Learn to be Fearless

If you starting to wonder about the class-STOP.  Don’t let fear stop you from being fearless.  Pray for God to impact you these next ten weeks like he did for me so long ago.  The end of the story is this–if I had not gotten a Bachelor’s degree then, I could not have entered seminary years later when God called me out of the hotel industry into vocational ministry.  I had learned to trust God more by that time but it was still a struggle leaving.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Jeremiah 29:11

Love Conquers Death

Marriage is built like a home–piece by piece
As I watched the end of a marriage yesterday it was not in a courtroom being dissolved by a judge, but death. This loving couple faced the greatest enemy to marriage as they had faced years of struggles–together hand in hand. In the midst of Death was compassion, care, concern and love. They built their love like they built their home–piece by piece and without debt. Each new window sealed the home from the cold and warmed their hearts as a shared accomplishment. Each new nail hammered into place was another anchor as two worked and became one flesh. Their joint faith became the picture which years later would have their daughter to become a lay-minister. And as the hour approached, the three of them shared one last bed together, arm in arm, united by their love.
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
Hebrews 2:14-15

Man fears death but it was the Love of God made flesh which defeats this fear. Anyone who does not know the Lord is in a prison of their own making and Death is the warden. He struggles against its oncoming and the cosmetic industry rakes in billions of dollars from those seeking to hide the onset of aging.Though they now be apart for a short season, by faith they can say:

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.