Thursday, October 27, 2011

Going My Way?

At a funeral once, I heard a Frank Sinatra ballad played that was an effort to sum up the deceased’s life. You’ve heard the song, no doubt. The first stanza or so goes:

  And now, the end is near, and so I face the final curtain.
  My friends, I'll say it clear; I'll state my case of which I'm certain.
  I've lived a life that's full - I've traveled each and every highway.
  And more, much more than this, I did it my way.

Let me first say that this isn’t a critique of what is a American standard in popular music. It does, however reflect an attitude of self dependence that we admire, perhaps too much. Oh, we love to watch John Wayne single handedly whipping the bad guy, Clint Eastwood sticking it to the man, or Rocky Balboa lifting himself up from mediocrity to incredible heights. But in reality, those are characters of fiction not fact. While part of us likes to think of ourselves as self-made men and women, in reality, we’ve all relied heavily and continue to need the help others. To think otherwise is just plainly and simply a matter of pride. More importantly, we should always seek out and lean heavily on God in our daily walk. To do otherwise is not only foolish, but sinful as well.

The Bible is full of passages that tell us of our need for God’s support in our lives. Here are several:

It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you....(Deuteronomy 31:8)

I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. (Psalm 34:4)

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain. (Psalm 127:1)

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.(Matthew 11: 28)

I certainly have had times, in fact years, when I conducted my life as I saw fit, ignoring God’s avenues of guidance at every opportunity. Those are the times that I experienced the most turmoil in my life, the times when I made emergency calls to God for assistance. He’s a loving God, though. He never reacted with the attitude that I’d gotten myself in the mess, so He’d just let me get myself out. No, it was always with His incredible love that He’d lift me up again, dust me off from life’s travails, and set me off on the right course.

What page in life’s hymn book are you turned to? What tune is playing in your head as you walk through life? Could it be I Did It My Way? Take my advice and change the song to Leaning on the Everlasting Arms!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Most Special Place

There are places in our country that I’ve had the privilege to visit that are considered hallowed ground. For instance, on a couple of occasions I have witnessed the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

The unbelievable precision, dignity, and respect shown at the Tomb is without comparison. The sentinels on duty 24/7 have a creed which states in part:
My dedication to this sacred duty is total and wholehearted. In the responsibility bestowed on me, never will I falter. And with dignity and perseverance my standard will remain perfection...
Anyone who’s ever witnessed this will agree they meet their stated standard....Another place considered revered by all who visit is the USS Arizona Memorial, located in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Look closely, and you can see the memorial is built over the top of the sunken Arizona,which still entombs the remains of 1102 of her crew. As the shuttle boat takes its passengers out to the Arizona, a reverent stillness falls over you and not a word above a whisper is spoken as you walk the memorial, over the hull of the great ship. To this day, oil can still be seen rising from the wreckage to the surface of the water. The oil seeping is sometimes referred to as "the tears of the Arizona." It can not help but move you...

On a more personal level, every Memorial Day weekend, I take my annual journey through the back roads of Kansas, decorating the grave sites of the likes of 4great-grandfather Isaac Povenmire along with several other Povenmire ancestors in Trading Post cemetery, great grandparents John and America Mae Povenmire and many others in Centerville cemetery, and on and on until reaching the Fort Scott National Cemetery, where I lay yellow roses at the grave of my father, John Dean Povenmire, who passed away in 2004.  At Dad’s grave I stop and reflect upon a man I’ll always hold in the greatest regard.

You know these places. Places that have such special meaning, that the mere thought of them can stir you emotionally....While we hold the aforementioned sites in high esteem, for Christians, they still pale in comparison to a place where we must bow with our utmost reverence. Webster’s defines reverence as a "profound adoring." It is only at the foot of the cross that we find reason for this type of reaction. But I’m afraid the cross sometimes loses its significance. In 1Corinthians 1: 18 we read:
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

The cross represents the very essence of the Father’s love for us. Our salvation was nailed to it. Galatians 6:14 tells us:
"May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."

Boast means to "glorify oneself in speech." and with the cross, we have license to shout from the rooftops how magnificent the cross is in our lives. Wear it proudly, telling everyone around you THIS is what God has done for me...and will do for you. While being covered by the shadow of the cross, we can truly say we have something the world does not have nor can it manufacture for itself. With that in mind, Paul warns us in Philippians 3:18:
"For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ."

 It’s still true today. As the theology of tolerance becomes more and more prevalent in our world, the cross becomes more and more threatening to those outside its shadow. They are the enemies of the cross today, those who would deny its unique significance of salvation....The cross represents the helplessness of man converging with the eternal hope of grace. Without it our worship would be meaningless, our doctrine hollow, and eternity out of our reach.

What a simple but complete plan God has for the salvation of His children. The perfect Sacrifice for the imperfect world...all done on a cross.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Unlovable

A warm puppy, snuggling up on your lap. The rich aroma of bacon frying in the morning. The warm embrace of an old friend. The cool crispness of an autumn morning, with the trees brilliantly colored in reds and oranges. Things that we love. It’s easy to love some things, some people. There are individuals in our lives that we readily say we’d "do anything in the world" for. But then there are just the opposite - the unlovable. Those folks that seem to have a natural ability to rub us the wrong way. That person whose very presence elevates your blood pressure. The guy at work that no one can get along with. The neighbor who you’d swear has his picture next to "jerk" in the dictionary. How do they fit into our Christian walk? More often than not, they don’t at all.

Jesus seemed to seek out the unlovable, the despised. Levy was a tax collector, a Jew who worked for the Roman government by cheating his fellow Jews out of their money under the guise of collecting taxes. A traitor to his own people. But Jesus saw him as disciple material, one worthy of being loved. We know him as Matthew, the author of the first book of the New Testament. Jesus sat down in the heat of the day once with a woman who apparently was so despised by the Samaritan public that she had to come to the community well to draw her water during the heat of the day, when no one else was present. She’d been married and divorced five times and was living in sin with the current man in her life. Samaritans were alienated people to begin with and she was despised among the despicable. But Jesus showed her compassion and shared with her the Truth of who He was. He saw something in her the world had not seen - worth. Scripture tells: "Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony" (John 4:39). Not bad for a woman no one wanted anything to do with, huh. Time after time, the Gospels tell of Jesus encountering those that others shunned. Lepers, the blind, a woman caught in adultery, the demon possessed. The outcasts of society in the world’s view, but treated with love and respect by our Lord. We need to take note.

It’s hard to show love to some. They just don’t make themselves receptive to it. So we narrow our field of vision to not include them. They just don’t count in our world. We’ve deemed them undeserving of our love. But scripture tells us we are to be Christ-like, sanctified. In Romans 8:29 we read that God has "predestined [His people] to be conformed to the image of his Son." Jesus is the example, the pattern we are to follow. How He treated the unloved is how we are to treat them. I know I often fall short in this about you?

One last thought on the subject comes from the Last Supper. Jesus, in the role of a servant, washes the disciples feet. John 13 records:

"2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him...12 when he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place."

In one last example of loving others as you love yourself, Jesus assumed the role of servant and washed the feet of His disciples. He washed the feet of Peter, of John, of Matthew. He washed Andrew’s feet, the feet of Simon the Zealot and all the rest of the disciples...including the feet of the man He knew would betray him, Judas Iscariot. A man whose very name has become synonymous with treachery. In one of his last acts on earth, Jesus showed love to the unlovable, washing the feet of Judas. But come to think of it, in His very last act, he did it again, by dying on the cross for the unlovable - us.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Good, Better, and Best

I’m not sure Sears or JC Penney even publishes a catalog any more. At least I can’t remember the last time I saw one. The aspect of online shopping has pretty much ended such antiquated practices, I suppose. Back in the day, those catalogs arriving at the house had quite a bit of significance. One would pour through their pages, picking out all kinds of things you thought you’d need or want. The Penney’s Christmas catalog was especially neat for a kid, because it contained an entire section on toys, games, and sporting goods. I would mentally make out a wish list that I knew was unattainable, but it was fun to dream. Now the Sears catalog utilized a three-level method of rating the quality its goods. For various items, Sears would offer Good, Better, and Best quality selections. Quite naturally, the prices of the merchandise reflected their rating quality. As we go through our daily walk with God, He’s given us at least three forms of communication with Him that we can look at as Good, Better, and Best.

Good: Circumstances

Circumstances can often be God’s external guide, the way He moves us. Many times we hear that "everything happens for a reason." I’m not sure I buy into that completely, but I do believe if we seek Him out, we can find God in every circumstance, and then they can happen for a reason. For instance, Joseph’s brothers threw him in a pit and sold him off to slavery. He found himself in a heck of a circumstance, but God used his situation for His glory. Whatever your circumstances are right now, take a step back and see what God might be up to in your life.

Better: The Holy Spirit

Isaiah 30:21 tells us:

21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it."

Are you hearing that still, small voice? Children of God learn to recognize God’s voice. In Biblical times, shepherds would put their sheep into a holding pen with other shepherd’s sheep. Perhaps several flocks would be held together in the same common pen. But each herd recognized their own shepherd’s voice and when he called them out, only his herd would leave the pen. I list the Holy Spirit as only "better" not because of God’s ineffectiveness, but because of our own failure at times to be tuned in to our Good Shepherd’s voice. If we would ever truly start praying without ceasing, keeping a constant ear out for God’s voice, our lives wouldn’t be as muddied as we sometimes make them.

Best: The Bible

God’s infallible word remains as our best source of guidance. Psalms 119:105 tells us clearly that: Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.   How often do we fail to turn that lamp on and thus, stumble.

In Italy, there is a harbor that's full of treacherous rocks. Many boats have met their doom trying to navigate their own way through. On shore there are three lights that serve as navigational guides. The key is to line the lights up, and then follow that path to safe harbor. For Christians, circumstances, the Holy Spirit, and God’s Word can act as our safe passage through life’s pitfalls.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

One in the Spirit

It was the summer before 8th grade and I was attending the first funeral of my young life.   A classmate of mine had died tragically in a mini-bike accident.  It was jolting news for a 13 year old to absorb.   But it was her funeral that really opened my eyes to reality.   I remember her gray and white coffin being brought in to the sanctuary in somber procession as her family sadly followed in behind. I saw grief on their faces. Her parents clutched each other closely as they followed their daughter’s casket down the middle aisle of the church.   As they filed in, I could hear the sobbing throughout the sanctuary.   I’m certain at my young age, I’d never witnessed such heartbreak.   And yet, it was in this setting, God spoke to me in a very real way.  

From a choir loft of that beautifully ornate Catholic church, a group of youth sang a song that I heard for the first time that day.   I was reminded of that moment this past Sunday, as we sang the song in church.  The song is an old standard now, but in the summer of 1972, it was fairly new song. Its first verse goes:

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love

In this setting of incredible sadness, the song spoke to me directly, mostly because I didn’t understand the meaning of the words.   Oh, I had been raised in church, no doubt had many opportunities to hear the Gospel of Christ.   But at the time I heard that song, I had no idea what being "one in the spirit" meant.   To what Spirit were the singers referring?   And why would anyone know Christians by their love??   Somehow, my young mind comprehended one thing with perfect accuracy: they were singing about someone else, not me.

Ephesians 4:4 tells us: There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to one hope when you were called--

And in 1 Corinthians 12:13 we read: For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body–

Christian are linked by that one Spirit.   We are one in the Spirit, one body of Christ. Baptists, Presbyterians, Catholics, and others alike are bonded by that one Spirit - the very Spirit of God, through their declaration of Jesus as Lord for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."(Romans 10:13).   It’s one of our basic Christian concepts.

I didn’t have that understanding, mourning the loss of my classmate that day. An old adage states, "To wonder is to begin to understand."   Through that song, God was making me begin to wonder.   It was the beginning of a process that eventually led to my accepting Christ, becoming one in that sweet Spirit.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Work Zone...

In the 6 years we’ve lived in our home in Kansas City, our house has gone through a complete transformation. Every bit of flooring has been recarpeted or retiled, some of it twice. The walls have all been repainted, some after old dated wallpaper was torn off. We’ve put in four new ceiling fans and replaced the kitchen countertops. Two bathrooms have been completely remodeled. On the outside, we’ve refinished the deck, replaced the chain link fence with a new white vinyl fence, and done a great deal of mostly successful landscaping. Tomorrow, a maple tree is being delivered and planted in the back yard. I doubt the former owners would recognize the place.

In Ephesians 4:20 - 24, we read:
20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Like our house, which had a former life with another owner and family, God transforms us from the old lives we once lived. We once belonged to the world, and followed the "ruler of this world" (John 12:31), but God paid our mortgage in full at Calvary. Throughout our life, God is constantly in the remodeling business, knocking down walls of our old self that brought Him no glory. He wants go beyond redecorating. God is in the complete renovation business.

We’re happy in our house. With the improvements we’ve put into place, we feel like we made a house our home. We plan on being here for years to come, and no doubt there will be upkeep on the property. If we’ve allowed it, God has made major improvements in our lives. I’ve met old friends from years ago that God has changed to the point that I hardly recognize them. I hope the same could be said for me from those who knew my old self.   If so, the Master Builder deserves all the credit.