Hurry up and Wait

imagesAs I grow older I sometimes am taken prisoner by a strong sense of hurry and rush.  That may seem odd to say.  Usually older people seem more relaxed.  And I am more relaxed with many things – thankfully.  However, over the years I have had a stronger and stronger sense of not wasting the time that I have left.  There is just so much to do – and so little time.  So Becky and I pursued our call to Bogotá with great vigor (well pretty great vigor).  We received a call from Mission to the World and we jumped into raising our support and improving our Spanish.

But our Heavenly Father had other things in mind.  Life happened.  So many difficult providences within our close family captured all of our attention; and our plans were put on hold.  We were told to wait.  And that has been hard.  I turned 60 in March.  Doesn’t God know that I don’t have too many years of ministry left?  Doesn’t He recognize the importance of my plans?  Doesn’t He realize how much we are needed in Latin America?

I guess not.

At sixty years of age I still have so much to learn.  I need to trust my kind and wise Heavenly Father.  I need to have confidence in His plans.  The extra months that we have had here with family, serving and suffering together, has been good – and right.  Bogotá is not going anywhere.  We will get there.  But I am still learning to wait.

We are moving forward to serve in Latin America.  We are still confident in the Lord’s call upon our lives there.  And we are excited.  We are back to pursuing this.  But we are learning a bit more about what it means to follow Him.  You see, that is all that we are told to do.  Follow Him.  He has his own time for all things.  He had his own time for my brother’s death.  He had his own plan for my brother’s pain and suffering.  I don’t know or understand why.  But God graciously allowed us to be here.  And for that I am so thankful and grateful.  He is sovereign; and He is good.  So, we are learning to wait.

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My Exceeding Joy…

The Release of Joy (1)“…to God my exceeding joy.”  Psalm 43:4

In this Psalm the Psalmist is praying to God to vindicate and protect him from his enemies.  He is looking to God as his refuge.  But if we only see God like this – as a vindicator, protector or a refuge – we miss the beauty and the wonder of Him.  And to the Psalmist He is more.  It is not just about what God does.  It is about who He is.

What is God to us?  That is a huge question.  It is a question for everyone since in some way, shape or form all of us have to deal with God.  Do we come to Him merely because of what he does for us?  I love my wife.  I love all of the things that she does for me.  But it is not in those things that I find that love for her.  I love her because she is the one I love.  I love my kids.  I love them because they are my kids.  I don’t base that love on whether or not they love me (but they do).  I don’t base that love on their looks or talent or personality or success or even their faith being the same as mine.  I love them.  And so they are a joy to me.

But, above all of these joys in our lives, above all of the things that in this life are a delight to me, above all that the world has to offer, above everything, is there a joy that exceeds all of the others? Is there a joy that is greater than my wife or my kids?  Is there a joy that is greater than my possessions or my country or my work?

What is God to us?  Is He the one who saves us?  Is He the one who is all wonderful, powerful, beautiful and glorious?  He is certainly all of these and much more.  But is He our “exceeding joy?”  Is He the one in whom is all our delight?  Is He everything to us?

Or, is He something less?

As I age I am finding that there are fewer and fewer things that bring real joy.  Well, it might be better to say that I am discovering the difference between real joy and pleasure or even happiness.  And I am more and more thankful and appreciative of those few important things.  And even in these joys I think that I am learning to finding God as my exceeding joy because these other, lesser joys are His good gifts to me.  Maybe this is wisdom.

 

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Doing our Job

 

 

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.”

Acts 1:8

My wife and I are in the process of raising support for moving to Bogota, Colombia to work with Mission to the World in helping the church in Colombia in evangelism, training, teaching and planting new indigenous churches.  We are officially missionaries with our agency, and we have the nametags to prove it.  But you know what.  We are missionaries now: here in our hometown.  We are followers of Jesus Christ, people who by the grace of God have a new life.  We have a calling.  We do not need to be in Bogota to share the love of Jesus Christ.  We do not need to leave the United States to evangelize and train and plant new churches.  We are already in our Jerusalem; soon are going to the “end of the earth.”

I find it interesting that we have this classification of Christian workers called missionaries.  We tend to define missionaries as people that go into a foreign land or culture in order to, in some way, bring the Good New of Jesus Christ to others.  The reason that I find this interesting is that I am not sure why we make this “foreign land or culture” distinction.  The disciples in Acts 1 were sent all over the place – even their own city and their own country – Jerusalem and Judea, as well as into neighboring areas such as Samaria and then to the end of the earth. But all of them were given this mission.  The command of Jesus in Matt. 28 to go into all the world does not mean to just go to a far country.  All the world includes your neighborhood or your city.  All the world would include the lonely person in the cubicle next to yours or the noisy guy in the apartment across the hall or your crazy cousin Harry.  The purpose of Jesus’ commands in Acts 1 and Matt. 28 is that there is no limit as to where the Gospel is to be taken.  It isn’t just to be taken to your neighborhood.  The church, as the gathering of the people of God, is not to be limited by geography, culture, language or race.  So, we do not just send in our money and hear the report on Sunday evening and think that that is how we get involved in missions.

Here is the deal – we are involved in missions.  What we need to ask ourselves is if we want to get serious about it or not.  Some of us are called to go into foreign lands, learn new languages and seek to serve Jesus Christ and his church in other places.  All of us are called to serve where we are.  We are missionaries/ambassadors in our homes, in our workplaces, in our cities, in our families: wherever we find ourselves.

So, let me put this simply.  If you are a Christian, you are a missionary.  You are a witness.

Now you need to ask yourself this question:

Are you doing your job?

 

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Still so much left.

“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering and the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (II Timothy 4:6-8)

You know, our culture is a culture of youth.  We are supposed to be well on our way towards accomplishing all the goals in our life – to do the great stuff that we are destined to do – sometime before we reach the ordained retirement age of 65.  Then, at 65, off we go into the sunset with whatever the government has left of our Social Security and, at least for some of us, the meager savings we have in our retirement accounts.  In my 50’s that has been depressing because I feel that I have accomplished so little.

But I have yet to be poured out.  I don’t feel that the time of my departure has come.  And, in reality, retirement is not something with which the Bible concerns itself.  Maybe our culture is wrong.  Maybe the most meaningful years of our lives are still ahead of us – not behind us.  Yeah, I know – it is probably too late to think of becoming a professional golfer or winning the Tour de France.  But, maybe the great work of our lives is yet to come.

I wonder how Moses felt, when, at 80 years of age, he was herding sheep for his father-in-law.  He knew nothing of the great task that God had planned for him.  He was chasing sheep when he came across the burning bush, and God gave him a whole new direction for his life.  80 years old – imagine that.

Paul was saving up for retirement; but his retirement was in heaven.  As long as he was here on earth, he was going to stay busy.  Moses didn’t retire; he led the nation of Israel to the Land of Promise.

Most of us still have a long way to go before we can say we are poured out.  We are still trees with a lot of growing to do.  How are we doing with our heavenly retirement account?  Are we more concerned with sowing for our reward in this life, or are we sowing with Heaven in mind?   Our First Love is even now preparing a home for us.  It is going to be a great one.

But now is not the time to rest.  There is still so much that He has for us to do.  When it is time for us to depart, we want to be able to say, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering and the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

 

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On eating well (or not)…

I love food.

So, as I have been working hard at losing weight (well, not that hard lately) I need to really attack this issue head on.  I love to eat out.  I love my wife’s cooking.  I love my mother-in-law’s cooking.  I love to snack (ice cream is my favorite thing).  The one thing that I know that I finish well is a meal.

Here is my favorite food:

Here is my second favorite food:

So, this week my trainer wants me to give her a list of everything that I eat.  This could be embarrassing.  Hopefully not…  Today I ate a banana and a breakfast bar.  I have brought some carrots to work for lunch.  Dinner… well, we are meeting my in-laws at the club for $5.00 hamburger night.  We’ll have to see how that goes.

The one saving grace in this is that I do like salads, but my salads are not what you could call low-fat.  I mean how can you beat a salad bar with three different types of cheese, bacon, croutons, and nuts? Of course, ranch or honey mustard dressings are the best.

Strawberry Street Cafe (Richmond, VA) has the absolute best salad bar.

The thing about salads is that they are as low fat and/or healthy as you make them.  There is no Breyers ice cream at the salad bar, but there is this:

This is my other favorite thing to eat.  And every salad bar seems to have cheese.  Strawberry Street Cafe has cheddar and feta cheese as well as a feta cheese vinaigrette for the dressing.  It just doesn’t get much better than that.  But…

Anyway, I need to start my list for the trainer.  I hope that I don’t embarrass myself.

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Do or do not, there is no try…

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

John 14: 1

 Jesus never beats around the bush.  Do you love him?  Then you will keep his commandments.  Simple…

Simple, yes; easy, no.

I think one word that has caused problems for people is ‘try.’  We think that ‘try’ is almost the real thing.  I tried to do the right thing.  I tried to lose weight.  I tried to be nice to my neighbor.  I tried to get the assignment done.  I tried to be faithful to my wife. However, ‘try’ usually means that we did not do what we set out to do.  So it is our excuse for failure.  How do you think it well help if you tell your neighbor that you tried not to hit his dog as you backed out of the driveway?  I am sure that it would be an even greater comfort if you told him that you tried not to have an affair with his wife – as if trying (and failing) was somehow virtuous.

Let’s just simplify our lives.  Maybe saying that we tried to do something makes us feel better about ourselves, but it does not get us any closer to actually doing what we need to do.  When we do not obey our wonderful Savior, we need to drop all of our excuses.  Saying we tried seems less – well – sinful.  But it isn’t.

I know it sounds harsh; but Jesus never tells us to try to obey him.  We obey him or we do not.  It really is that simple.

Jesus is our First Love or he is not.   If we love anything more than him, then we have disobeyed his commandment “to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength.”  We either obey God or we do not.

While we pursue righteousness and holiness in Christ and seek to be more like him, we must not let ourselves be content with half-hearted efforts.

In the movie “Amazing Grace” John Newton said that he knew only two things – that he was a great sinner and that Jesus Christ was a great savior.

Let’s not be lulled into the carelessness of ‘trying.’

Obey Jesus.

And when we fail to do it, remember that we have a Great Savior – a Savior whose forgiveness is full and free.

So, we pick ourselves back up again (and again and probably again) and bow our heads and say, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

…and press on.

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Full Body Contact

“I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink.  I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.”

3 John 13, 14

 I enjoy Facebook, but it really is a deceiving form of communication.  I don’t really know someone just because I know what their top five favorite songs of all time are.  That information does little good unless I know “why” they picked those songs.  Even then, what do I really know about someone.  Facebook, like Twitter and other on-line social networks are great for finding lost connections with people or getting information out to others, but it is a false basis for friendship.

My desire here is not to bash the new ‘social media’ as fun as that would be.  I don’t wish to be that hypocritical.  But I do want to say two things in regard to this passage.  First, there is just no substitute for real contact with each other.  We need to see each other in order to have the type of communication that our humaness requires.  We need to see, hear, touch, and even smell each other.  We need full body contact.  The reality is, we need to do a better job at really being with our small circle of friends instead of spending hours and hours each week communicating silly, mostly useless, information about what we are doing to our hundreds of ‘friends.’  The Apostle John recognized that his letter, as wonderful as it was, was not like seeing his friend “face to face.”

So, let me encourage you here.  Deepen your communication with people.  Spend the time necessary for that full body contact – the multi sensory contact you get from spending time “face to face.”  We are multi sensory communicators.  We speak with the tone of our voice.  We communicate with our mouths and our hands and our eyes and our facial features and body movements.  You cannot share each others’ pain on Facebook or MySpace.  You cannot experience the joy in another’s life with a ‘tweet.’  You need to be there.

I mentioned a second thing.  Well, here it is.  I just can’t wait to see Jesus face to face.  Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate the blessing of his Holy Spirit uniting me with him in real fellowship.  Jesus is truly present with me.  But God has made me a man with eyes and ears and a nose and hands – a man who responds to physical stimuli.  Jesus also has a body like mine.  Jesus is God; but he is also a man.  I can’t wait to see Jesus.  I can’t wait to have him take his hand and touch my face to wipe away all of my tears.  I can’t wait to hug him – to have him hold me in his arms – to hold my flesh and blood body in his flesh and blood arms.

That is why he died you know – to make that possible.

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Rivers, not reservoirs…

“The he (Jesus) opened their(the disciples) minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are my witnesses of these things.” Luke 24:45-48

Jesus opened up the minds of the disciples and explained to them the Good News once more of what he had done for them and for the world. Then he told them that this incredible news should be proclaimed to all nations. They learned so that they could tell others. Rico Tice, an Anglican minister at All Souls Church in London, said that we should stop being reservoirs and start being rivers. That statement rattled my cage a bit when I heard it. So many of us just want to learn about the Bible and about Jesus and about the church and truth and the Gospel. We enjoy the studies and the small groups and a good sermon. We enjoy the fellowship of other Christians and singing songs together. But, too often we are only reservoirs of information about God, but we are not rivers of living water to others. We have been called by our great Savior to be rivers – not reservoirs.

The truth of the incredible work of Jesus Christ on the Cross and his glorious resurrection from the dead and his life of perfect obedience has been made known to us so that we can be witnesses of it to a lost and troubled world. We as individual disciples of Jesus as well as in our gatherings as churches need to be witnesses of the Good News. “For God so loved that world that he gave his only son…”

The incredible grace of God is not just a pool to swim in, but it is a river that goes out into all the world. We are the proclaimers. We are the truth tellers. We are the Good Newsers. We are the evangelists. We have been told so that we may tell others.

We are rivers – not reservoirs.

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To bring Good News…

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”” Isaiah 52:7

Amen, Amen, Amen…

This is the passion of my life – to bring good news, to publish peace, to bring good news of happiness, to publish salvation – to say that God reigns.   This is the passion that my wife and I share together.  So, for the next year (hopefully less) we are dedicating ourselves to the task of raising the support that we need to move to Latin America and serve the church there as they work to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ.

I know that there is so much to be done here – in my home country – in my home state – in my city.  I believe that the Lord gives each of us a calling to serve Him.  Often He gives us a specific calling to a particular place and people.  There are so many who want to stay home.  They have a strong desire to serve Christ in the United States.  And that is wonderful.  Each semester hundreds are graduating from good seminaries across the country willing and able to serve here.  Few are willing to leave and serve in other countries.  I am not here to worry about the callings of others.  My wife share a strong desire to serve our brothers and sisters in Latin America.  This is our calling.  This is how we wish to finish our lives.

Many people have said to us how exciting it must be to go and live in Latin America.  Well, I think that it will be.  However, the excitement is not the where or how we will serve that excites me (well ok, maybe a little).  It is the Who that we serve that excites me.  Serving Jesus is the adventure, wherever that may be.

 

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Falling off the wagon… again

Well, I feel off the wagon again.  I haven’t been to the gym in a week.  I set up an appointment yesterday morning and cancelled with the trainer.  I ate too much great food (we bought ice cream at the store – twice).  Amazingly, I have not gained back much weight.

The Apostle Paul says in his letter to a church in Galatia in the 1st century that self-control is a gift of the Holy Spirit.  He has a whole list of these gifts – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22,23).”  So, self-control is a spiritual issue, not just a psychological, emotional or physical one.  We all know people who are just incredibly disciplined.  They set their minds to something and they just do it.  Maybe they struggle somehow, but we don’t notice.  It is much like the rest of this list.  Some of us have a greater capacity for joy than others.  Some are gentle.  Some of us (well, not me too much) are patient.  I have followed Jesus Christ for over forty years, but I still struggle with bearing the “fruit of the Spirit.”

Maybe I should pray more about these things.  In another part of the Bible we read “work out you salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you both to will and to do his good pleasure (Philippians 2:12,13).”  The Holy Spirit is at work in the children of God. He is changing us, recreating us into the image of Jesus.  It is a process, an ongoing work of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  It is a work that seems to ebb and flow throughout our lives.

So I guess I am more ebbing than flowing of late.  Next week I will be on vacation in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.  There will be no wagon there.

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