Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Who'da Thunk It?

March 14, 2012
My wife and I were both saved in our youth but like so many young adults we both drifted away from our Christian base and paid the price for it. Early in our marriage, if anyone took us to court and accused us of being Christians, the case would have been thrown out due to lack of evidence. Our lifestyle was, in a word, worldly.

You see, it wasn’t exactly the textbook formula for putting together a marriage. She’d been divorced for several years and was singlehandedly raising two kids on her own. I’d been divorced for about a year and was stumbling along as a single parent myself. Both sides had financial problems that weren’t going away anytime soon. 

Shortly before the wedding, one child flew the coop for the perceived greener pastures of one of the ex-spouses. Shortly thereafter, another child followed suit for the other ex-spouse’s. Directly after the honeymoon, we were blind sided with the news from our employer that we would being transferred to another part of the country, Louisiana. Looking back, what on earth made us think this new union would work is beyond me.

That first summer in the deep South was fraught with cultural changes neither one of us Yankees quickly warmed up to. The crawly, slimy crawfish that I’d used as fishing bait as a boy was considered high cuisine down on the bayou. The locals spoke a dialect that sounded to our Northern ears like a Frenchman trying to speak English with a mouthful of gravel. Both of us had grown up in the Midwest, thinking we had an idea what humidity was like, but we got a advanced course in sultriness that first Southern summer. And so, in this foreign environment, with the pressure of new jobs, children out of pocket, and bills piling up, we plunged forward into our first year of marriage. If you think for a minute it went smoothly, think again.

After a short while, both wayward children found the grass not so green on the other side of their fences, and made their way back home. We began to love our Louisiana home and all the wonderful culture that came with it.  Most importantly, our blended family of five now intact, things started a slow, but discernable spiritual ascent.

One afternoon the children came home with an invitation to attend a week-long summer church camp. The missus was all for it. I had some reservations. It was a Baptist camp, after all, and this was the South. No telling what radical ideas these folks would have. 

Let God have an second though, and He’ll take a life. Five of them in fact. Upon my insistence, we went and checked out this church that had proposed to drag our children off into the woods of Louisiana. Walking into investigate my suspicions, what I found was a relationship that I’d laid by the side of the road many mile markers back. My wife shook the dust off of hers as well. God quickly turned two lives around that were headed down a road to ruin. Our children found Christ through that Baptist church as well. 

The years flew by and the three children turned into seven grandchildren. Oh, and by the way, we’ve never used the term "step-children" during our marriage. One day someone asked which of the children was mine and which my wife’s. I smiled, kinda shrugged my shoulders and playfully replied, "I don’t remember.  All I know is they were all raised outta the same wallet."

For the next 15 years or so, there were more job transfers, lots of wonderful memories, and yes, at times, more strife. You see, God doesn’t promise us a perfectly smooth ride, just a great landing spot at the end. Through it all, we grew and grew in our love for each other and our love of our God.

At each turn of the road, God continued blessing us with more and more opportunities to serve Him. For instance, last year my wife and I went on an evangelical mission trip to Lima, Peru - teaching, preaching, and sharing Christ. Let me tell this: there’s nothing like seeing the love of your life sharing the Lord of your life with others.

Oh, I suppose there are millions of stories like ours. God’s accomplishments are innumerous, without question. But as I sit here today, on our twentieth anniversary, looking back over a marriage that sputtered from the onset, to where He has taken us today, I can only imagine what wonderful things He has in store for the next twenty years.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Cash in Your Coupon!

The woman laid open a multi-page binder in the upper section of her grocery cart, the area in which a small child often rides. I thought at first she was an auditor inspecting the shelves of merchandise. As she approached however, I noticed that her binder was not some sort of checklist. No, instead the pages were packed full of coupons. A closer look at her binder revealed that she had literally hundreds of coupons, all sorted into categories, subcategories, and a dates of expiration. She had a virtual filing cabinet of coupons available at her fingertips.

My wife likes to use coupons to her advantage when shopping. It’s a good idea for products that you buy on a regular basis. She keeps a little billfold like pouch in her purse and when she’s in the store, goes through them, checking to see if there’s any that will save money on that day’s shopping. She thought herself pretty organized in that endeavor until we ran into the previously mentioned shopper. We both acknowledged the woman’s coupon superiority.

Now coupons are only good if you redeem them for the item they represent. For instance, if I give you a coupon for a free Big Mac at McDonald’s, even though it might have a picture of the Big Mac on the coupon, eating the coupon itself won’t satisfy your hunger. No, you have to take it to McDonald’s and redeem it. There, they will take your coupon and give you back something substantially more appetizing, at least in my humble opinion.

As Christians, we have received and redeemed the greatest coupon, if you will, of all. By declaring Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are "cashing in" on God’s offer of redemption. But like that coupon from McDonald’s, one has to actually use it. You can read about salvation, listen to a great evangelist’s message, even believe it all, but if you don’t say "Yes, Lord," it’s all for naught. "Yes Lord," I accept Jesus’ death on the Cross as payment for my sin. "Yes, Lord," I want Christ as Lord of my life...Yes Lord. People try and make Christianity many things, but one thing it’s not is complicated.

Romans 10:13 says plainly and clearly, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." Everyone. The coupons are limitless. Have you redeemed yours?

Monday, March 5, 2012

From Rocks to Redemption

She found herself in the most humiliating of circumstances. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d set foot in the temple and yet, now, she found herself flung down in the midst of a group listening to a respected teacher who had been in the area for only a short time. While she felt the teacher probably didn’t know who she was, the woman was certain most of the audience knew her all too well. 
You see, there had long been stories throughout the community, stories of her trysts with various husbands of other women. And now, she had been caught in the very act of one of her rendezvous. She’d barely had time to grab some clothing as the men snatched her out of the adulterous embrace. She was disheveled, confused, but mostly ashamed. As she looked up at the mob surrounding her, several men in the gathering looked away quickly, not wanting their eyes to meet hers.

Laying there at the feet of the teacher, the woman reflected on her life. She had long led such a wanton life, she saw herself as worthless. What did it matter whom she had met in the shadows? She meant nothing to the world. At least in those brief, passionate moments, she felt some sense of love, albeit shallow and fleeting. Abandoned and rejected by her own family, the woman was starved for any sort of human warmth. For this, she had paid the price with her dignity, living a life of tortuous abandonment from the rest of society.

Oddly, the religious leaders seemed more interested in debating the legalities of her situation with this new teacher. She sat in surreal silence, listening to them berate the teacher about what the law said should be done to her.

"Moses commanded us to stone such a woman! Now, what do you say, Teacher??"

Stoning? It never occurred to her that her punishment would be that severe. The woman swallowed hard as she realized the same men that had refused to look at her were now holding jagged-edged rocks. Now their eyes were directed toward her, filled with hateful resentment.

Heart pounding, she turned quickly to see how this teacher would respond. Her life, it seemed, had been thrust into the hands of this stranger. To her utter dismay, he was merely squatting down, writing something in the dirt with his finger. He appeared completely disinterested in her situation. But the men kept up their insistent ranting at the teacher, demanding an answer.

She thought her situation helpless. She was guilty as charged and the only ally she might have was doodling something in the dirt. As her despair reached its absolute depths, the teacher finally raised himself up and faced her tormenters. Finally, he was going to speak...

"He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first."

With that, the teacher went back to his writing in the dirt...Was that it? No legal argument made on her behalf? The woman’s heart sank with disappointment. She felt hopelessly doomed.

But a remarkable change in the air began to occur. The hatred she had felt directed toward her was beginning to dissipate. Piercing the sudden silence, she heard stones thumping the ground as they dropped from the grips of the men. Heads down and without a word of response, the older men in the group began walking out. The younger men soon followed, until she found herself alone in the teacher’s presence.

"Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?"

The good Teacher reached down, took her by the hand, and lifted her up from the dirt in which she’d been cast. She gazed upon his face, feeling a warmth and love that she had never experienced from any other person. Still quivering and shaking, she managed a weak reply.

"No one, Lord."

Softly, He told the woman, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more."

She had been dragged into the temple under circumstances beyond her comprehension. Now, as she left, the woman felt suddenly fortified that perhaps her life did have significance. It would be a long, arduous journey ahead, but she now felt she could encounter life with a newly uplifted spirit. She turned to see her Deliverer once more, but He had gone. Wonderfully, however, she felt His presence beside her as she walked out from her darkness into the daylight.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Very Pinteresting....

Like millions of Americans, someone in our two person household has been hooked "Pinterest" for some time now. I admit, that other than posting a couple pictures for my somewhat technically-challenged wife, whom I adore so much (in case she’s reading this), I don’t know a whole lot about Pinterest. Near as I can tell, the site is a virtual bulletin board of things that someone might be interested in. It’s like telling the world, "HEY, I LIKE THIS...HOW ABOUT YOU?" The site's mission statement is to "connect everyone in the world through the 'things' they find interesting" I think that’s kind of neat, but I haven’t taken the plunge, just yet.

It’s fascinating the ever-changing world of communicative technology we live in. Back in the early 90's, on our first home computer, we stumbled across a small internet auction site. I remember thinking that this Ebay thing could really take off, if they could just get their message out. I think it’s safe to say that the message got out just fine. Ebay, Yahoo, Google, Pinterest...what’ll be the next big thing?

Like it or not, we’re all affected to one degree or another by the world around us. As Christians, we have to make decisions practically on a daily basis of what we’re going to participate in and what we’re not.

1 John 2:15 tells us:

"Do not love the world or the things in the world..."

Does this mean we’re to avoid all participation in things this world has to offer? I don’t believe so. I think the key word is love. Do not love the world. We have to draw a line when the things of this world become more important than our spiritual relationship.

Jesus said the greatest commandment of all is to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." We have to all ask ourselves are we truly fulfilling that commandment and, is there anything the world has to offer coming between ourselves and the Lord. That would be the definition of loving the world, least wise how I would see, if you’ll excuse me, an auction on Ebay’s about to end and I want to get a last second bid in. Later!