Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Glorious Unfolding

            This Labor Day Weekend while not the official start of fall it is practically the beginning of a new part of the year.  Kids are back in school, weather patterns are changing and there is even an occasional leaf that jumps the seasonal starter’s pistol and changes color.  As I’ve said before, I’m thankful to live in a region of the country that has four distinct seasons.  I’m always happy for the start of the summer but thankful when it gives way to the cooler, more scenic autumn.  I’ll miss the kids being home and the sun being out until after 9:00pm but I’ll love college football and taking foliage photos.  Change is a part of life and we must learn to grieve our losses, live for today and embrace the blessings of a continuously unfolding future. 

            Steven Curtis Chapman, a contemporary Christian music artist, has a new song out titled, “The Glorious Unfolding” (the video is incredible and if we’re friends on facebook there is a link to the video on my page). The gist of the song is that God has a plan for each of us and while there are bumps and twists and turns in our path He is working all things together for our good. 

            I find it refreshing to look at life from the perspective of it being an adventure planned and orchestrated by God to prepare us for glory.  You can see this perspective alive in Paul’s mind as he writes to the Philippians saying, “But one thing I do; forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:13-14). God doesn’t want us to live our lives in fear.  The whole concept of adventure means to take risks, face our fears and trust that God genuinely cares for us, trust that he will lift us when we fall, trust that losses on this journey will be turned to gains and trust that his plans for us may lead us through the ‘valley of the shadow of death’ sometimes but will eventually lead us to a triumphant realization of the part we play in His grand scheme for glory. 

            The psalmist puts it this way

Now this I know:
    The Lord gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
    with the victorious power of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
    but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
    but we rise up and stand firm.
(Psalm 20:6-8)

In Romans, Paul reminds us

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Fall is here.  Winter is coming.  Some will focus on cold and dark while other fix their eyes on beauty and purpose.  Threat or challenge, what will you see?  Put your future in God’s hands and watch the ‘glorious unfolding.’

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Powerful Memory

            What are some of your powerful memories?  I’m not just talking the usual ones like baptisms, births and deaths, marriages and the like. What are some life changing moments that took you by surprise and left you reeling in despair or overwhelmed with joy?  I remember the one solo tackle I got in pee wee football (caught the running back from behind before he crossed the line of scrimmage).  I remember my first kiss (my braces got in the way). I remember when Lenore and I received our graduate degrees in the mail and a positive pregnancy test the same day (we celebrated at a pricey but awesome seafood buffet in Indianapolis). I remember the sick feeling in my stomach when I stood in my son’s room after dropping him off at Harding (I cried).  I remember Jim Caveman, then an elder at the Northeast Church of Christ, calling and offering me the job at the church (that’s worked out pretty well).

            Memories are formative.  They alter our course for life.  They affect the choices we make for better or for worse.  They knit together a fabric of likes and dislikes, of pleasure and pain, of rewards and consequences.  They form a tapestry that tells the story of who we are and helps us to determine who we are to be. 

            The formative nature of memory creates an imperative for Christians that demands God be a thread running through the tapestry of the past and in ever increasing measure defines and shapes the tapestry of the future.

Solomon reminds his readers to “Remember your creator in the days of your youth before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say – ‘I find no pleasure in them…’” (Ecclesiastes 12:1).  When “the God thread” runs strong in the tapestry of your past it strengthens your ability to cope with the struggles of the future.

            I write this heading into the Memorial Day weekend.  Memorial Day is a day of remembrance.  We remember those who made a difference in our lives and in many cases were willing to give their lives to protect us.  It is a sobering exercise but also valuing to remember those who had a passion for us, who believed in us and told us we were of great worth.  Some believed that we were worth dying for.  How fitting it is for us to honor those who were willing to pay the ultimate price for friends, family and countrymen.  Their sacrifice leaves a bold watermark in our tapestry, one that symbolizes the freedom we have to make our own choices and live without fear of our enemies or under the heel of an oppressive government or ideology.  That honor should live well beyond the single day set aside for that purpose.

            Each day, we would do well to pause to remember the sacrifice of God’s son, an icon for God’s great love for us.  Though that memory erupts from writings nearly two thousand years old, its thread connects our tapestry with that of so many others since the time it happened. In each tapestry the thread bears the same message in many languages, “sinner saved by the grace of God”.

            Memories are powerful.

Remember all that God has done for you.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Rising of the Son

There's nothing like a sunrise over the water. Even better is seeing a sunrise over the water while clutching a fishing pole with the sound of soft sloshing of water and the feel of the gentle roll of the waves under a boat.  I don't exactly know why it is so exciting to feel the almost imperceptible nudge of a fish inspecting the bait at the end of the line but I know it is.  Then when that nudge becomes an unmistakable tug of a creature that has inhaled the bait, the adrenaline rush is on.  There's a frantic pull as the fish attempts to flee from the threat and when impeded by the fishing rod, there's a shake as the fish thrashes about trying to free itself from the hook in its mouth. This resistance pattern repeats itself over and over again until the exhausted creature finally relents and presents itself at the surface beside the boat.  I don't know that it is possible to ever get enough of that contest with the creatures of the deep but I know I never seem to get enough.  After releasing the fish or better yet detaining him for a dinner meeting later, the thing I most want to do is to put more bait on the hook and get it back in the water.  Perhaps the best thing about fishing is that there is no such thing as a bad day of fishing.  Even when you catch nothing or the big one gets away or you fall in the stream and fill your waders with cold river water, its still a pretty good day. 

During the week before Easter, called "Passion Week" by many, I am  mindful of another sunrise. Nearly 2,000 years ago a group of women made their way up a steep rocky trail just as the sky above the Mount of Olives just east of Jerusalem in Israel began to turn a creamsickle orange.  They each had the knot of grief in their stomachs as they made their way somberly toward their destination.  It had been a difficult weekend to say the least.  Their teacher, a man named Jesus, whom they believed to be God's Messiah, had been arrested, tried and crucified.  His body had been rushed to a borrowed grave so the Jewish leaders could celebrate their Passover Feast in peace.  It had been painful to eat the Passover meal where they were supposed to remember how God had delivered them all the while feeling the opposite.  It seemed that God had abandoned them.  How could something that had seemed so right have gone so wrong?  Still, they had a job to do.  The body of the Lord had not been properly prepared for burial because there had not been enough time so they were on a mission to administer the aromatic herbs and spices to show their final respects before closing the tomb for good.  What a surprise they received.  Instead of finding a cold, dark, closed tomb they found the entry way open, a large stone having been removed and angels illuminating the whole area by their brightness.  They were told that their Lord, this Jesus, was actually quite alive after God raised him from the dead.  I can only imagine the incredible celebration among these women and the other disciples of Christ as they realized this truth.

Only later did his disciples grasp the enormous gravity of the resurrection.  They began to realize that his death and resurrection were a part of God's plan of salvation for all who would receive it.  They realized and told the world that through the death and resurrection of Christ we have hope.  Death no longer has any victory over us.  The oppressive finality of death has been lifted and the hope of living for eternity has been realized.  This changed everything.  It changed how Christians lived when they know they don't "just go around once".  It changed how they faced death seeing it as a new beginning rather than an end. It changed how they grieved the loss of loved ones knowing that just as they would see Jesus face to face one day, so would they see those who have gone before.

I hope that the next time I watch the sun rise I am holding that fishing pole and waiting for any sign that a finned friend has shown some interest in what I am offering.  I hope too that I will again be reminded in the rising sun and start of a new day that God has given me new life in Jesus.  He has given me hope eternal in his resurrection and he has shown me his eternal love through the mercy and grace offered at the cross. I may have bad days here on earth but I know that with God's love and mercy surrounding me, every day is still a pretty good day.