Monday, March 10, 2014

Our Ride Home

That 5x7 card taped in the ticket booth window told us all we needed to know. The time was written boldly with a black marker, easily read by passing parents dropping off their kids for a night of movie magic. My dad was always quick to declare the time written on the card out loud, for all to hear.

“10:35, okay, I’ll be here to pick you up at 10:35!”

With that, I’d hop out of the car, joining my friends, who were acting out similar scenarios in their own family sedans and station wagons. We’d all fall in line for our tickets, making one last mental note of the time posted in the window. Up close, you could see the card completely, with the words “Show Ends” written in small letters just above the large time filling up the majority of the card.

You see, that card served as our insurance of keeping in good graces with our folks. My dad was going to be lined up with other parents on Main Street, between Second and First Streets, to pick me up at the time announced on that card...and I’d better be standing outside that Fox Theater.

Now, it really wouldn’t have been a problem at all, and it wasn’t, on the nights we actually stayed for the movies. But those nights that we got adventurous and took off for, say, the roller rink four blocks over and two blocks up, or down to Boone’s for some curly fries and a Cherry Coke...those were the nights that the time written on that card was so vital to our well being.

The Bible isn’t as clear as that little card in the window of my hometown theater was...there’s no posted time when Christ shall return for His church. But in Luke’s Gospel we are warned:

“But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly.” (Luke 21:34, NKJV)

I suppose if there were a time and date posted for the Lord’s return, the human nature of many would simply put off living a Godly life for Christ until such time came to pass. But I don’t think that’s why God hasn’t revealed more on the subject.

I believe the Father wants in us a constant abidance, a steady readiness, simply out of love for Him. In the Bible, expressions of love on God’s part are usually followed by an action. For instance, John 3:16 tells us that because God so loved the world, He gave. We are to follow God’s example. For instance, after His resurrection, Jesus asks Peter if he loved Him. After Peter states adamantly his love for Christ, Jesus tells him to feed His sheep. Love, followed by action.

Our lives are to be lived out in reflection of the great love God has shone down upon us. We can’t possibly repay the amount of love that we’ve received. But, we can stay in God’s walk for our lives, better than I stayed in that movie theater of my youth, and stay ready for the Savior to come pick us up.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Short End of the Stick

"Oh, man, here he goes again, with that cockamamie pleading he does every Sunday,” Greg leaned over and whispered to his wife. Carla’s brow creased with concerned annoyance as she shot a glance at her husband of 29 years.

Pastor Burns continued with his urgent plea of invitation. Greg’s eyes rolled upward, as his lips moved with the Pastor’s familiar lines...

“Repent of your sin.”

“Ask Jesus into your heart!”

“Don’t wait! Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. Today is the day of Salvation!”

There was a day when that last song was a real struggle for Greg. Oftentimes, he’d slipped out of the sanctuary, excusing himself to use the restroom, or something, anything, to avoid the unexplainable pressure he’d felt. But, over the years, he’d learned to overcome the Pastor’s coercing, using the same resistance he would apply to annoying salesmen.

Oh, he was no atheist, mind you. But he’d always tried to keep God in perspective. Carla and his now grown children had all succumbed to the convincing of the Pastor, and he never interfered with their spirituality, as long as it didn’t cause conflicts with his life. He’d regularly brought the family to church. Heck, he even helped take up the offering and such, whenever called upon.


Greg’s mind drifted toward his new fiery red convertible sitting out the church parking lot. Man, did he love that thing. Stick shift in hand, Greg felt a power surge his middle-aged life had been lacking...and the attention it brought from the female population was an option the salesman hadn’t mentioned. Maybe that brunette in accounting would finally turn her pretty head his way when he passed by...

“We’ll sing one more verse, one last chance to give your heart to Christ.

 Won’t you surrender to Him today?”

Pastor Burns’ final plea jerked Greg back out his bucket seat. His knuckles had whitened, gripping the back of the pew, mentally shifting from second to third gear. Just then, he noticed Bernard Myers, slowly heading up the aisle, tears streaming down his face.
"Oh, geez. This’ll slow the procedure," Greg grimaced
 to himself. "Myers has always been a little
 weak in the knees."

Glancing over his shoulder, he saw Martha Myers weeping uncontrollably as her husband embraced Pastor Burns.   Greg’s feet shuffled back and forth. An old familiar twinge bit into his chest.                                      
Turning away from the proceedings, he gazed out into the parking lot. He thought he’d heard some rumbling earlier in the service. Probably from that old pipe organ the church had treasured for
 years, but maybe it was thunder...


“I need to go check and make sure the top’s up,” Greg blurted out to Carla. “Meet you in the car.”

Carla's eyes followed as her husband scurried to get out of the pew, practically knocking over dear, old Opal Whitney sitting in her customary seat at the end. He nearly bolted out the back of the sanctuary, almost as if the place was on fire.

Carla took her place in line to congratulate her new brother in Christ, Bernard Myers. The line inched along slowly. While she knew Greg would be impatiently waiting, this was such a precious moment for Bernard and her good friend and coworker, Martha. She'd prayed with Martha many times in the nurse’s lounge for this moment. It would be worth whatever squawk Greg would put up...

“See you next Sunday,” Carla shouted joyously at Millie Carpenter as she lifted the handle on the passenger side door. But Greg hadn’t unlocked the door, so she pecked on the window a couple of times to get his attention.

Getting no response, Carla leaned over and started to rap on the window again. She stopped and screeched out loud.

“What is it, Carla??” Millie called out.

Staring into the car, Carla saw her husband of 29 years slumped over the wheel of his pride and joy. Those piercing blue eyes that once had captured her heart, were now transfixed in a stare - a lifeless stare that she’d seen all too often at work.


People began racing all about, shouting, screaming for help, but Carla stood frozen, hypnotized by the situation. Her eyes darted, capturing mental images...the tinge of gray at Greg’s temples that she’d previously somehow looked past, a slight paunch that she’d never really seen, and several brown age spots on the back of his right hand...a hand still firmly gripping the stick shift of his fiery red convertible.

Friday, January 3, 2014

2014...Yes Lord!

Jeremiah 29:11 has been a household verse in our home for a long time. For your reminder it says:

"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."

It’s been on our refrigerator, on our bathroom mirrors, anywhere and everywhere we could put it as a reminder that God indeed has a plan for us, that we aren’t just floundering about aimlessly, though at times it might seem so...for me, one of those times was August, 1994. Our situation was this:

We were being transferred to work near Alexandria, Louisiana, and after several hurdles, we had one week to find suitable housing for ourselves and three teenagers. School was starting in one week, and without a street address, the schools would not enroll them. We had scoured the city looking for a house in our price range, and we basically down to our last day to find something. By one o’clock, we’d found one rental home that was realistically out of our budget range, but we were desperate.

I entered yet another real estate office, with absolutely no hope, thinking that I’d seen everything the city had to offer. I used the phone at the real estate office (pre-cell phone days!) to call the landlady of the expensive rental only to find out it was already rented to someone else...complete despair set in. The realtor I’d made an appointment with was a lady named Leona. I remember thinking that I was wasting my time even going into her office.

But out of nowhere, she asked me if I was a Christian, and had we found a church home. Before she showed me the first listing, Miss Leona was showing me materials about her church, youth activities for our kids to get involved in...."I know the plans I have for you." By 2:00 that afternoon, Miss Leona was showing us the house in which we would raise our kids through high school...."plans to give you hope and a future."

Now,  I’d like to tell you that I had all the confidence in the world that God was going to take care of us that day, but I can’t say that. I did not have the faith in August of 1994, that God had a plan for us, a plan for our future, and certainly not a plan for us to prosper. 

Practically on a daily basis, we deal with monumental issues. A list of common experiences that we deal with are:

**Financial problems
**Marital Issues
**Work Issues
**Family health problems
**Children-related issues
**Death in the family

I think it’s safe to say that you have dealt with one or more of these issues, most likely in the past 12 months. 2014 is likely to be more of the same...that's life.   God never promised us a perfectly paved road once we became Christians. He does tell us we’re to rely on Him in dealing with the potholes life can create. Faith, after all, is

"...the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

But what does it mean to have real faith? Faith comes in all shapes and sizes. There’s the faith that the chair you’re sitting in will hold you. If I don’t get back to my diet and exercising, that faith will be waning. Then there’s the faith that the trained meteorologist will give you accurate information to tell you how to dress in the morning or that the diploma on your doctor’s wall is valid. Also, there’s the faith that the miracles in the Bible are true. God said it, so I believe it type faith...
 
But I think the type of faith that God ultimately wants from us is the faith that says "Not only do I trust you with my salvation, Lord, but I’ll trust you with all aspects my life. Not only do I believe the in the miracles you’ve performed in the Bible, but I believe nothing in my life is too big for you, as well.
 
Reminds me of the guy who after falling off a cliff, managed to grab a limb on the way down. Hanging from the limb, he called out "Is anyone up there?" A voice call back, "Let go of the limb, and I’ll catch you!" The man said, "Who is that," to which he got the reply, "It’s the Lord." Contemplating it for a minute, the man asked, "Is there anyone else up there??" God wants us to let go of the limbs of control we cling to and let Him catch us, and keep us. That requires the faith that He desires of us. How do we put that sort of faith in action?
 


Read Matthew 9:27 - 30:
 
               27 As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, have mercy                on us, Son of David!"
              28 When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, "Do                you believe that I am able to do this?"
              "Yes, Lord," they replied.
              29 Then he touched their eyes and said, "According to your faith let it be          
             done to you"; 
             30 and their sight was restored....

Did you catch those magnificent words of faith? The Bible records they said... "Yes, Lord." Not, I hope so, Lord, like we often "hope and pray" for things. Not, I’ll turn it over to you God, but I’ll also stay up all night worrying about it, because, I’m not sure I can really count on you, Lord. Prayer and worry are not compatible, but oh how often we combine them... Just, "Yes, Lord." So often it all comes down to saying, and meaning, "Yes, Lord."
 
In 2014, I resolve to say more often, "Yes, Lord."  How about you?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Phil Robertson...

Interesting how someone as seemingly harmless as Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson can get people so riled up. He says a few words of his personal beliefs in GQ magazine and a fire of controversy is ignited. Funny, I thought GQ concerned itself mostly with sideburn length, cufflinks, and lapel width, but, then again, I must profess to not having picked up an issue in recent memory...or longer.

Enough has certainly been written or said about Robertson’s views, and I’ve read and heard much of it. Robertson spoke coarsely and crudely, that much can’t be denied. My pastor spoke in defense of Robertson yesterday in church, but chose not to use Phil’s raw illustrations in doing so.

As Christians, we can all use a reminder that sin is still sin, no matter what our society accepts and oftentimes legislates. The Bible clearly points out that lust, greed, murder, lying, adultery, and, yes, homosexuality, are all sinful behaviors. In his GQ interview, Phil Robertson named several of these, but it was his anti-gay comments that brought down so much controversy upon him. Why? Because our society has decided once again ignore the teachings of scripture in view of popular opinion.  As long as enough people have a leaning in whatever direction, any behavior can be rationalized.   Those that hold to scriptural truths are considered backward and out of touch.  That's a part of the process, to shout down those that still call sin sin....Phil Robertson the latest case in point. 

But the current wave of support toward the acceptance of the gay agenda merely reflects a path of rebellion toward God that has ushered in abortion, illegality of school prayer, and several other issues in recent years.  Robertson’s opinions would have been welcomed and agreed with forty or fifty years ago. Some would claim that’s how far we’ve progressed, but it’s really an indicator of how far we’ve fallen... and, as our nation turns more and more from the Almighty, we can expect less and less of the blessings we once enjoyed.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas, Trains, Memories



Growing up the child of a railroader, you get used to being flexible about things. Your dad’s in (home) a couple of days, then out (away) for a couple, and that’s the lingo we used...dad was either in or out, and you planned accordingly.


When he was out, and you had an idea when he was supposed to be in, you started listening for the rich sound of a train chugging into town from the south. I’d often hear the whistle, jump on my bike and race for the nearest crossing, about a mile from my house. If I could beat the caboose to the crossing, I’d get the treat of having my father lean out the window atop his conductor’s perch and holler, "Hey o’ buddy, I’m home..." Just typing out that wonderful memory has brought tears to my eyes.



Being flexible often meant Christmas was celebrated sometimes on Christmas eve, Christmas Day, or - worst case scenario for a kid - the day after Christmas, depending on dad’s train schedule. That’s just the way you did it. I remember one Christmas eve about 9:00PM expecting dad’s train to be arriving in the next hour. Mom decided we’d open presents when dad walked in the door, and we anxiously listened for the sound of his old pickup pulling into the drive...



Having spent hours working out in the freezing December cold due to various train breakdowns, an exhausted, dirty, half-frozen father opened the front door to find his family still waiting...at 2:30 in the morning. Setting down his black leather work grip in its customary spot, he sat down amongst us and declared the Christmas celebration was now in session. I didn’t appreciate that gesture on his part nearly like I do now. It’s just the kind of man he was.

If you’ve read many of these writings of mine at all, you’ve gathered the fact that my dad left an indelible mark on my life, and I miss him greatly. This year will mark the tenth Christmas since his passing.

But because that Christmas babe in the manger would later willingly die upon a Roman cross as payment for my sin, I will be reunited with my dad....and I can just hear him now:

"Hey o’ buddy...you’re home."

Friday, December 6, 2013

At That Moment...

It was a pretty routine Saturday morning for me. I’d just finished teaching my Spirituality group at the local drug and alcohol rehab clinic. I was still in the afterglow of hearing a new believer profess her faith in Christ during that session at the clinic. At that moment, as I pulled into the parking lot at the Lowes down the street, I really hadn’t a care in the world.

As I parked my truck, a Lowes employee was helping a woman place a large box into the back of her SUV, directly in front of me. Seeing only the profile of the man, at that moment, I thought it was an old friend of mine that I’d neither seen nor heard from for about a year, due to various circumstances in our lives. At that moment, I was fooled into thinking it actually was my friend, only to realize that it was only a look-a-like, but it made me pause and think about him and, walking into the store, he lingered on my mind at that moment, as I milled through the aisles.


Procuring my purchase, I climbed back in my truck and the cell phone rang. I glanced at the screen and, at that moment, started chuckling to myself. You see, it was the old friend that I thought I’d spotted previously in the parking lot. I answered the phone with the laughter of the perceived coincidence in my voice.

But, at that moment, my laughter quickly dissipated. My friend was at the hospital with his wife in ICU, and in his own words, "It doesn’t look good." He wanted me to pray with him and at that moment, I turned my truck in the direction of the hospital...
In the 33rd Psalm, verses 13 and 14, we’re told that:

13 The Lord looks from heaven;
He sees all the sons of men.
14 From the place of His dwelling He looks
On all the inhabitants of the earth;
(emphasis mine)


Taking this passage quite literally, we can trust that God in His magnificent omnipotency sees every one of us, at all times. He's always at work in our lives. My attention that Saturday morning in the Lowes parking lot was drawn to a man whom I mistook for a friend of mine that hadn’t been in my thoughts for a while. Minutes later, that same friend called me in a time of great need, a crisis period in his life. Was it just coincidental...or was it God’s way of redirecting my mind, my heart at that moment to help my friend through a trying period? 

I firmly believe the latter of course. Today, I’m not sure I could go back to Lowes and pick that employee out of a lineup, but at that moment, God used him to remind me of my friend, a friend who was in desperate need...at that moment.


...The following Saturday morning, I hugged my old friend at his wife’s memorial service. God had taken her home hours after the time we’d spent praying in the hospital. He had the blessed assurance of knowing through his wife’s acceptance of Christ’s death on the cross as payment for her sin, she was with the Lord, at that moment...and forever.
 
 


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Biggest Lie of All?

I’ve come to the conclusion that of all the lies that Satan has perpetrated on mankind, one is particularly successful, and thus, most lethal. I’ve witnessed its evil effect in every country in which I’ve been on mission: Peru, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Brazil...On Saturday mornings, I speak at a local drug and alcohol rehab clinic and practically every week, I hear some version of this horrible mistruth, and it gnaws at me that this one simple misconception can do so much harm.

People are walking around, wrapped up in it, like some sort of child’s soft security blanket, making them feel warm and comfortable. They live their lives leaning on a lie that keeps them from facing the reality of the Truth and many, perhaps most, will tragically only find out when it’s too late that Satan has led them astray with a deception that started from their early childhood and escorted them to the grave. Some of you will read this and still not face the reality that you have, too, been led astray...

So, what is this lie, this deceitful infection with a deadly affect? Here it is:

"Good people go to Heaven. Bad people go to Hell."
 
That’s it. A simple notion that someday when we stand before God, He’ll accept us based on the good life that we’ve led and that only the deserving, evil Adolf Hitlers and Timothy McVeighs of our world end up in the fiery depths of eternal damnation. 

You know, when an atheist stands before God someday, he must have a definite, sinking realization that he was 100% in error in his rejection of the Almighty. That would be an unbelievably horrible feeling. But perhaps even worse is the person who stands with a false sense of security that somehow they’ve earned their way to eternity with the Father. They’ll hear what I believe is one of the most tragic phrases in scriptures, underlined below:

Matthew 7:23 - "And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me..."

Jesus wasn’t referring to atheists here. Many that He was talking about will stand before God thinking that their path to Heaven is clear, by their good deeds. Many have gone through their lives with a "man upstairs" theology. They know about God, even refer to him at times, but they have no real spiritual relationship. They say things like, "the Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise," using some comfortable verbiage to prove that they indeed have beliefs that somehow validate them. Similarly, I often hear people say "we’ll keep you in our thoughts and prayers," and I always hope the latter is truly the case. Their thoughts aren’t on the same plane, unless they are prayers, but I digress.

Some combine a good life that they’ve relied on with some form of religious basis, i.e., they believe in God, maybe even went through some religious activities in their life, like joining a church or getting baptized, neither of which are bad things, mind you, but not the basis of salvation. But many people hang those credentials on their spiritual wall and hope and often believe by combining it with a self-perceived good life, they’ll compile enough brownie points that St. Peter will allow them entrance...

In John 14:6, Jesus said clearly:

"I am the way, the truth, and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through Me."

You can take that quite literally. Our only hope of salvation is through our repentance and acceptance of God’s grace-filled gift of Christ’s death on Calvary’s Cross for payment of our sins. If you’ve fallen for the damning lie that somehow you can be good enough, then plainly you’re saying Jesus’ death on a cross was not necessary; I can make it to heaven on my own...I plead with you to rethink that. Don’t fall for that lie any longer!


Walking Down the "Romans Road" to Salvation . . . .
                   Because of our sin, we are separated from God.
                   For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  (Romans 3:23)
                  
                    The Penalty for our sin is death.
                    For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ our Lord.                     (Romans 6:23)

The penalty for our sin was paid by Jesus Christ!
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

If we repent of our sin, then confess and trust Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we will be saved from our sins!
For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Romans 10:13)

...if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

(Romans 10:9,10)