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“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.  For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.  Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.” – 1 Corinthians 12:12-14 (NIV)  

It was late July 1968 and I can’t remember when I had been more excited. I was fourteen years of age and we were packing our blue station wagon (an “estate car” in Irish terms where I’ve lived for the past thirty-seven years) on a Friday afternoon for the journey of a lifetime.

With my father at the wheel, and me joining him in the front seat, my mother would be in charge of the back seat (and the snack bar) along with my sisters Betty, age 17 and Jeanne age 11. The trip would take us from our home in Fort Worth, Texas to Eugene, Oregon and back in the space of two weeks, or thereabout.

Why would our family be invested in such a dramatic journey of over 5000 miles? My eldest sister Susan had just gotten married on the 8th of June just a few weeks previous and she and her husband Bryan were living in Eugene where he was doing doctoral studies at the University of Oregon.

That Friday afternoon a neighbor saw us packing the car and offered us a small two-wheel camper trailer for the journey. It came in pretty useful bar the fact that it kept blowing out tires and we were continually getting them repaired, as I recall.

My father was a hard working electrician and didn’t have unlimited vacation time so we had to make the most of every day’s travel. That Friday evening we set out for the first leg of our journey and made it all the way to a small motel in the town of Tucumcari, New Mexico.

Just before we turned in for the night my older sister Betty broke down in a flood of tears. She began to beg and plead with my father, explaining that this trip was not on her agenda, and he should send her back home immediately! She generally had the reputation of being the rebellious teenager of our house, but I couldn’t imagine at the time why she wasn’t excited about the trip! It just shows you that a fourteen year old boy sees life differently than a seventeen year old girl, especially one like my sister Betty.

As you may have guessed, it was too late to turn back so Betty had to make the most of the trip and the next morning we continued the family traveling circus across America.

I have to admit that my father was not easy to live or travel with but throughout the journey I continued my role as peacemaker among the family, as best as I could. It seems to me that we each have a tendency to play a particular “role” in the family where we have been placed – not by our own choosing – but we often adapt to a role that seems to come our way along the journey.

As I have matured I have often gone back to the words of the Apostle Paul in the book of 1 Corinthians where he compares the Church of Jesus Christ to a human body. Each part of the body is there for a reason and each one plays a role that’s necessary for the health, well-being and growth of the body. I would learn over the years that I have a role in the larger “family” of God’s Kingdom and if you are a follower of Jesus – so do you!

Saturday, the first full day on the road, we made a strategic decision to drive all the way to Florence, Arizona to see my aunt Myrl – my mother’s only sister. After a long day’s journey including treacherous hairpin turns along mountain roads in a night-time thunderstorm we finally made it safely to my aunt’s home. I can still recall how tired my father looked sitting in a lounge chair in my aunt’s living room.

With My Father at Armitage State Park near Eugene Oregon, August 1968

Space doesn’t permit me to recount the entire journey but we drove all the way through California from south to north and ended up in Eugene, Oregon on about the fifth day of the journey. When we arrived in Eugene my sister’s apartment wasn’t very large so my other two sisters and mother stayed with some new friends of Susan and Bryan in a nearby apartment.

My father and I meantime, drove up to Armitage State Park Campground just north of Eugene and stayed in tent that folded out of the camper. I can recall some of the fun times my father and I had on the campground more than the events back at the apartment.

So many of the sights we never would have experienced if we hadn’t been travelling together as a family. The beauty of Oregon was stunning and we even made it to Crater Lake, a must see if you are ever in the region. If my memory serves me correctly, we even worked in a brief visit to the Grand Canyon in Arizona on the way home and a drive through a scenic part of Colorado.

Yes, it was the trip of a lifetime. I’m thankful that God placed me in the family that I have and I’m grateful for the role and the gifts He has given me. I hope you, regardless of your family of origin, will find a place in God’s family as a follower of Jesus and discover the unique role He has for you.  

My sister Susan would pass away tragically in 1994 and my sister Betty in 2006. I regret not having more discussions with them about the trip and the times we spent together.

We make decisions daily as to how we choose to travel with our family of origin. Sometimes they are a blessing, for some of us they may not be. We may want or even need to break run, just like my sister wanted to do late that night in New Mexico.

We can also choose to be part of a larger family, to find our place in the Kingdom that God is building here on earth. If you are reading this today my prayer for you is that you will join the exciting journey of following Jesus and discover the part He has for you to play. I’m so thankful that it’s a journey that’s always moving forward.  

Along life’s journey there are always tears, laughter, blown out tires and beautiful scenery, but my hope and prayer is that you will find joy and contentment and realize that going somewhere together with others is well worth the price of the ticket.

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“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that One died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.” – 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 (NIV)

As I write these words from the safety and security of my home in Ireland the scene outside my window seems calm, quiet and at peace. However, I know that there is a battle raging in this country and all around the world. It’s a battle to save lives from a deadly virus that’s spreading and infecting people of all ages in large numbers with the potential to become one of the world’s greatest pandemics in history.

I’m not interested in becoming another news reporter explaining all the details of the spread of the disease or careful spokesperson to encourage you to practice social distancing and safe hygiene. We have many capable and competent people already doing this. Please continue to follow wise advice.

I have a very specific reason for writing today and that is to consider a subject that will face each and every one of us. The current crisis has me asking the question, “Am I ready for death should it visit me personally?” Other related questions come to mind, such as, “If this were my last day, week, month or year to live what would be the legacy I leave behind?” or  “What might others who have known me say was the purpose and significance of my life?”

No matter what our age or health situation I doubt that many of us are really expecting this to be the last day, week or month that we could be alive on this earth.

In recent days I’ve seen videos of transport vehicles in Italy taking multiple coffins to crematoriums. It’s a grim reminder that death will overtake all of us at one point or another but now we don’t even have the assurance that any of us will actually have a typical funeral or memorial service to perhaps remind those left behind what our lives represented or signified.

My grandfather (above), father (left) and uncle after the passing of my grandmother Hallie

Back in 1918 the world faced a terrible pandemic which has been labelled “The Spanish Flu.” It took the life of my grandmother at the age of thirty in the prime of her life. My father and his brother were very small boys and were left without a mother and with a father who would later die of tuberculosis. The reality of those premature deaths marked them for life. Fortunately, we have some photos of my grandmother and a lovely obituary of her life to remind us that she was a woman whose faith was securely in Jesus Christ.

The apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthian church in the first century reminds these early Christ-followers that they are aligned to the One who has defeated the power of death. The only religious figure in history who has experienced a vicarious death and resurrection for all people is the One to whom I give my heart and allegiance. If those who know me don’t know that, then they haven’t really known me at all.

The very same life and security that I have experienced personally in knowing and following Jesus is freely available to all who turn to Him in faith.

To be perfectly honest, today I don’t feel that this virus will overtake me and I hope and pray it never takes the lives of any of my family, friends and loved ones. If you know me personally and are reading this know that I’m praying for your health and safety as I capture these thoughts. However, I am faced with the harsh reality that I have no guarantees.

So for today, I’m ready to continue to share the love and life I have experienced as a follower of Jesus Christ with the world around me and with others with whom I can connect around the globe.

As the apostle said, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that One died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.”

Another reality is that during this life we don’t generally know what others think of us unless they specifically tell us. Perhaps in these uncertain days it’s time for you to communicate to some friends or loved ones just how special they are to you.

Once we have departed this life it’s impossible to shape the legacy we hope to leave behind. That’s still the opportunity of the hour.

Let’s consider today that as long as we have life and breath we can continue to give our heart, mind and soul to what is really important  – the relationships we enjoy with others. It’s my prayer that in the midst of the present crisis you will find a relationship with the One, and the only One, who defeated even death itself that you might live – even for all eternity.   

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“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” – Colossians 4:6 (NIV)

Amid the desperation and despair of our world, occasionally we find reasons to believe that God is still at work changing lives and giving us a reason to hope for a better future.

On a recent trip to the cinema my wife and I went to see a film definitely worth watching  – and watching again. It was the film “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” which featured a glimpse of the life of Fred Rogers, the children’s television specialist.

The film centered around the character of Lloyd Vogel, a hardened, cynical journalist, played by Matthew Rhys, from Esquire Magazine who was assigned to interview Fred Rogers, played by Tom Hanks, for a series of articles the magazine was doing on “American Heroes.”  In the film, Vogel was intent on getting the information he needed out of Rogers, writing the article and getting on with his next project. However, due to the integrity and character of Fred Rogers and his dealings with Vogel, the entire story turned on its head and a deep relationship formed between Lloyd Vogel and Fred Rogers.

One of the main themes the viewer experiences in watching the film is that of life transformation. Due to the type of person Rogers was and his simple and profound approach to dealing with all people, Vogel, the main character finds his life turned around and discovers a new friend for the long-haul.

When discussing the film with others, I have noted that in Rogers, a Presbyterian minister, we observe a man who exemplified his devotion to Jesus Christ in almost everything he did. He treated each person he encountered with respect and love, accepting them as the were, not withholding love until they met a certain standard. At times during the film we find true-to-life snapshots of Fred Rogers – reading Scripture and bowing in prayer to remember by name people he was seeking to influence with the love and grace of Jesus.

Some critics of Rogers have accused him of soft-peddling truth by not being more direct about his personal faith in Jesus Christ. Perhaps the real-life Fred Rogers might be accused of sacrificing truth at the expense of grace. However, I am convinced that he felt the best way to teach truth was to live it out. His actions and his tone of voice spoke volumes to children and people of all ages.

The love and devotion that many people had for Fred Rogers was unprecedented. His work was rewarded time and time again. During his life he received honorary degrees from forty-three colleges and universities. His half-hour television program, “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood,” ran for 895 episodes and Rogers crafted the sets and wrote each script himself.

As I reflect on the man, I observed in the film I was brought to a place of repentance. Unlike Fred Rogers, I often have many unmet expectations of people around me and my acceptance of them is conditional upon them changing to meet some arbitrary standard I have  set for them. I would do well to take a page from Mr. Roger’s book and know that each person I encounter is a special gift of God worthy of respect, regardless of who they are or where they come from.

Living out from a perspective of respect and dignity perhaps I will have the opportunity to speak words of life – both grace and truth – into the lives of those around me. I pray that others will know I truly desire the best life for them and that I respect them apart from their personal views and conformity to my expectations of them.

God gave us Fred Rogers and in doing so blessed a generation and a legacy that he left behind. We would do well in this day of tragedy and turmoil, of division and isolation, to capture the legacy Mr. Rogers left behind.

It can be my personal aspiration to live out of a place of grace that I believe is fully realized in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. My thinking is that if we start with words of grace and actions of truth people will start to listen more carefully to us as they did to Fred Rogers. Perhaps it can be a beautiful day in the neighborhood once more.

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“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” – Ephesians 4:15-16 (NIV)

Until recently ballet performances weren’t part of my everyday life experience. That changed when my six-year-old granddaugher began taking ballet lessons within the past year.

A couple of weeks ago we (my wife, daughter and son-in-law) attended a performance from The Metropolitan School of Dance in Dublin which involved ballet dancers from around the greater Dublin area. The performance, “Alice,” was a musical ballet version of the story of “Alice in Wonderland,” Lewis Carroll’s classic.  Even though our granddaugher had only a small role in the grand scheme of things I was struck by several noteworthy reflections after experiencing what was a stunning, well-coordinated and executed production.

First of all, the dancers in the production, of which there were many, were obviously performing ballet. Along the way there were various other dance steps used, but the primary focus was on the art and skill of ballet. Everyone was on the same page!

Having said this, the dancers were primarily and largely female, but several male dancers were performing and all were participating at various levels of skill and experience. Some were mature and well-seasoned dancers. Others were just small children and, like my granddaugher were just developing their skills.

The leadership and coordination of the performance was second to none. The production was in two Acts and several Scenes within each act. At every juncture the dancers, performing in their various groups, came on stage, executed their routine and then exited the stage in grand fashion. Knowing what it’s like to lead a group of people of various ages and skill levels, I know what a daunting task this must have been for those leaders working behind the scenes.

Being mainly a female production, I could easily see how the older, more mature girls were developing and caring for the younger girls. Some of the lead dancers came out and mirrored the dance steps for the young ones, modeling what they were meant to be doing. The older ones led the younger ones on and offstage by hand with the utmost care and tenderness.

I admit I’m not in the dance business, however, the entire production gave me much to ponder when thinking about the ways in which we lead, develop and care for others in the church, the Body of Christ. Rather than expounding on my own thoughts I would rather raise some questions to consider for anyone reading this essay.  

Am I, as a disciple of Jesus Christ, as focused on Jesus and His mission of making other disciples as these ballet dancers were in their individual and coordinated efforts? Am I devoting my energy, talents and abilities to perform at the highest level possible for the sake of a common cause? Am I willing to set the pace and lead the way in modeling for others who a disciple is and what following Jesus looks like in everyday life?

It’s all too tempting to be distracted by everyday tasks and engaged in many worthwhile projects but without intention and the focus necessary to be a disciple of Jesus who is making and developing other disciples and leaders of disciples.  

On a broader scale, is the church of Jesus Christ, particularly the local church, willing to develop the gifts and abilities of its people for greater impact and effectiveness in this needy world? How, as a leader, am I contributing to that in ever more intentional ways?

In the verse quoted above, the apostle Paul is writing to the Ephesians in the context of the church being given gifts that build up (mature) the body of Christ. He adds, “From Him (Jesus) the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”  

No one ever said that being a disciple of Jesus would be easy, much less being a church leader, but no one ever said ballet was easy, yet I saw many skilled performers doing an excellent job of it.

I’m still pondering that wonderful production of “Alice” but more importantly I’m praying that the church of Jesus Christ, both locally and world-wide, will mature in breath and depth of influence.

We have much more growth and development that needs to take place. At least occasionally it’s a blessing to witness an event that reminds us that God still has a plan for our local communities and for our world so desperately in need. And, in my view, we need what I believe only disciples of Jesus and His Church can and should be.  

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“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14 (NIV)

September 1st 2019 is not far away. It will be a special milestone in my life.

A decade ago I wasn’t living a very fruitful life even though everyone around me would have assumed otherwise. I had a wonderful wife and family. Most of my six children were thriving and well-adjusted in life. I had a job that was stable and I was by most standards doing well in it. I was part of a local church that was growing and enjoyable to be a part of, both as an attender and as a member of the leadership team. I could elaborate further, but you get the picture.

What no one knew was that for a number of years previous I wasn’t “dealing” with some personal issues that I had swept behind a very thick curtain. Leading up to 2009 I didn’t even think that anything from the past could come back to haunt me. But in reality I was a powder keg only a lit match away from exploding.

Now I know that God doing at least two things with me the summer of 2009. The first was that He was exposing me to some quality teaching through some mentors new to me. He was gently directing me to a better pathway. The second was that He was beginning to expose my sin, error and wrong thinking in some very dramatic ways. Some were my own mis-steps that were very harmful.

Leading up to my transformation, my response to life was much like being a lost driver in a strange town at night in a pouring rainstorm. I was driving frantically never knowing where I was going, where I had come from and where I was supposed to be turning next. Needless to say, I was in serious need of help and direction.

Without knowing it at the time, I was desperate to make life work on my own. If I could figure this life out without others I could perhaps be a hero-crusader – loved and admired for my independence and ingenuity. Little did I know how isolated I had becomeperhaps the biggest danger any of us face.

After a series of drastic personal failures, known only to myself, by the end of August 2009 I finally reached out to a trusted friend and made that life-changing phone (actually Skype) call. Even though I had confessed to God, I finally confessed to another real, living human being.

One of my greatest fears was how people would react if they really knew the darkness of which I was capable. I had to risk and trust that God had at least one gracious person out there who could handle my truth.  

It may seem strange to say, but I had always been a man who loved the truth. The truth of God as revealed in Scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ. However, what I was about to learn was the equal reality of grace.  I would now say that these two powerful principles cannot be found until they experienced at the deeper levels of our souls. Do you recall the story in the Bible of the woman caught in adultery (John 8)? What was the deep emotional experience of that woman? How was her life transformed by the experience of Grace and Truth in Jesus Christ?

That critical call on September 1, 2009 was to a trusted friend who not only loved the truth but was a man full of grace. Without that living reality of Grace and Truth I now could not imagine what life would have been like the past decade. As a result, God showed me that His grace and truth was also embodied in the lives of many others around me. Not everyone – but many of His servants were already prepared to demonstrate the grace and truth I so desperately needed.

God had to bring me to a place of deep brokenness in order to end my years of isolation and self-sufficiency. Previously, I would have said that I trusted God and most people in my life would have believed me. In the coming days and weeks I would actually see what it was like to finally “trust” Him and others He put around me.

The early days of September 2009 were some of the darkest days of my life. I went to bed at night  thinking of how I could end the deep pain I was experiencing.  At the same time that I was suffering my family was too. No way would I choose the easy way out and leave them to suffer more pain and agony that I knew would be their fate without me.

The first two years of the decade were the worst. Any major change of direction in life takes pain, effort and intensity. The cost was well worth the results that have come on multiple levels.

The lessons I learned in my recovery and restoration period were profound. But perhaps the greatest lesson was that we daily need to bathe in the truth of God and in the abundant and generous grace that He offers us. We also desperately need people of grace and truth in our lives who are following the lead of Jesus Christ – the One who is and will forever be “full of grace and truth.”

One of my deepest desires is that I will continue to be and become a man of “grace and truth” – living by the principle that touched me so deeply. How can I withhold from others what was so generously lavished upon me?

I’m rejoicing today that I’m no longer a loner (at least most of the time), isolated in my own little world, trying to make life work by myself. I still have a long way to go in being fully whole and mature, but I have a much clearer path forward than ever before.

Whatever you are facing right now, whatever situation you are in, please know that the path of “Grace and Truth” is the only path to wholeness, spiritual and emotional health. I hope you will also come to realize that Jesus Christ is the complete embodiment of grace and truth.

I know, because not only have I met Him but I know He has many of His choice servants speaking words of Grace and Truth into my life on a daily basis.

I plan to never leave the path of Grace and Truth – and you shouldn’t either.   

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“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” – Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV)

I need not remind you of the volume of distractions these days that beg for our time and attention – 24/7 news reports, e-mails, texts, social media, Slack, WhatsApp, the list goes on, and on and on! I heard recently that some 3 Billion hours per month world wide are spent on people playing video games alone!

For a number of years now I have kept a personal journal dealing with issues that relate to what’s going on in my life at deeper levels. I’m far more self-aware than I used to be and exploring what’s going on “below the water line” so to speak. The parts of me that others cannot see.

Several years ago many “D” words were showing up in my journal vocabulary – “Depression, Despair, Discouragement, Disappointment.” To say that I was dissatisfied with this situation would be an understatement. And yes, that also begins with the letter “D”!

In my daily devotions I seriously began to look attentively “inside” and question why these persistent emotional battles were being fought. I was convicted because if one was to look at my life from the outside they would see very little, if anything, that would account for these feelings. It just wasn’t reasonable or rational.

To some degree I discovered that many of the emotional maladies I suffered were due personal choices as to where I invested my time and attention. For years I was a worrier and brooder – thinking deeply about things that disturbed and saddened me. The internal focus of my life was not invested well in the things of eternal value that I knew in my head were much more important and essential.

In the passage quoted above the Apostle Paul in writing to the Colossian church in the first century describes some incredible truths. He says that a person who has trusted Jesus Christ in this life (which would describe me and thousands of others world-wide) has a new identity that is now “hidden with Christ in God.”
This profound truth, he explains, now means that even though we live in the physical realm, we can focus the center of our lives on the eternal reality that we are given a new identity that will endure forever. Paul says, set your hearts and minds on this new reality.

I have found that this is a matter of moment-by-moment and day-by-day choices of where we focus our attention. In reviewing my journal in recent days I see that words of gratitude, grace and thankfulness have replaced the nasty “D” words that once so dominated my thinking.

Obviously this is a long-term process, but it’s also a daily choice.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to counsel a man who had dealt with several addictive patterns in his life. He had successfully dealt with a serious gambling problem but wanted to go deeper and deal with other issues as they surfaced. He had learned in the recovery process that an addict is “chasing good feelings.” I had to admit in my own life that I was guilty of doing the same thing even thought I had never been into gambling or substance abuse.

I now see that God wants to give us great feelings. But the difference is that the great feelings are based on great realities – those of an eternal realm that will endure long beyond this beautiful but broken world we now inhabit.

I’m now convinced that good feelings are not an end in themselves but are a result of where we focus the center of our lives.

God’s desires for us include feelings of love and acceptance, of beauty, grace and mercy. These all flow from who we are and what we have in a relationship with Jesus Christ. He wants us to turn off the noise and give moment-by-moment attention to the new identity we have in Jesus that is not based on material possessions or on our status in society (or even the “Christian” community), and certainly not based on our personal performance.

If you will engage in this process with me you’ll also discover, as I have, that in this new pattern you will have much more time and energy to give to those around you who need your love, acceptance and availability.

By shifting our awareness of where our attention is focused we can become people who are growing strong in giving our energy to others who are of eternal value as well.

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In this series, I would like to address some concepts we don’t hear much about these days in the regular course of life. However, in the Scriptures they have been given significant importance. We neglect these “forgotten concepts” at our peril.

Endurance

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” –James 1:2-4 (NIV)

We were doing fine until  . . .

The storm blew in, the car broke down, my wife became ill, I was diagnosed with cancer . . . Fill in the blank. We hear the news, we read the stories and we relate to people everywhere who are asked to cope with a seemingly endless list of trials and tragedies.

Sometimes It doesn’t take a lot to throw us off course. The unexpected situations of life that often beset us can throw us sideways or even shut us down.

Almost weekly I hear of another person who was moving through life apparently with a genuine faith and trust and God and then along came an unexpected setback. Obviously, everyone’s situation is distinct but one thing seems to be consistent – most who don’t persevere seem to depart from their faith because a traumatic event or situation wasn’t resolved according to their desires.

Other times we are beset with problems we never asked for that have little to do with our choices – Our parents suffer chronic illnesses or our children end up with addiction issues. If it’s not us personally it’s a close friend or family member.

After spending a six months this year back in the USA and travelling over twelve thousand miles by car, talking to many people along the way, never did I encounter an individual I knew personally who was not dealing with some very serious matter or awkward person in their family or circle of influence.

Everyone, including myself, is having to draw on strength beyond themselves to persevere in their present context of life.

What is endurance? Why do some endure, and others do not? What makes the difference?

In my view,endurance or perseverance is the resolve to stay on course with God’s plan and purpose for your life regardless of storms and setbacks that come your way. It’s basically staying the course for the long haul.

One reason why I believe many of us do not endure well is the flawed expectation that life should be easy. We live in an era of entitlement. We expect results without the suffering and sacrifice it takes to commit to a process which will lead to the outcomes we are seeking.   

Last Christmas I was beset with a horrible case of influenza. I felt next to death for a week. It easily took another month to fully recover. I must admit I was peeved that I had to endure the flu, but then many others had it just as bad and even worse. I was able to recover at home and I wasn’t even docked for time missed at work.  Many around me ended up in hospitals so full that they had to recover in the corridors. A part of me felt, “why me?” On the other hand it had been years since I last had the flu so, “Why NOT me?”

I used to think endurance had a lot to do with gritting my teeth and putting up with difficult situations until they passed. Unfortunately, that only resulted in lingering frustration and anger. After further thought and reflection I think that one’s inner core beliefs are the difference maker when it comes to perseverance.

Look at what the apostle James says in the passage quoted above, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.”

Something in how we are created by a wise and loving God while living in this broken world reflects the reality that we will never fully mature without endurance.

God’s desire for us is also reflected in James’ words, “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Despite our suffering, God is still good and meets us in the process of our pain so that we can come out the other end as stronger, mature people.

I’m just recently getting back to my gym routine. I can easily spot the men and women who endure difficult, consistent workouts. They are the ones with the slim, muscular figures and the fit bodies. Why should the spiritual realm be any different?

I’m learning that in the suffering I must endure (which is really pretty minor compared to many others I know) God is giving me a much bigger, long-term view of Himself and His purposes.

The Christian counselor and author Larry Crabb writes, “Trouble is inevitable.  Endurance is necessary.  Our high call from God is to trust Him and to trust His heart, a heart filled with love.  Nothing can happen to us or in us that He cannot work together for our good.“  When God’s Ways Make No Sense, Chapter 11, “The High Calling to Trust.”

When beset with unexpected suffering I know that my core beliefs are challenged. I have to come back to a place of trust in God and His greater purposes for my life, my friends and my family. Maybe that’s why endurance is such a key component of maturity and why it’s often such a forgotten concept in these days of entitlement.

God wants access to the very core of our being, where ultimate decisions are made and we align our lives with His greater good. This is the intimate space where endurance and maturity meet. 

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“These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng. Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” – Psalm 42:4-6 (NIV)

As a boy living back in Fort Worth, Texas in the late 1950’s and 60’s I really loved Thanksgiving. Each Thanksgiving Day we usually had a family gathering with my father’s side of the family.

In attendance were two of my uncles who had attended the University of Texas at Austin. In those days, there was a traditional American college football rivalry each Thanksgiving between the UT Longhorns and the Texas A&M Aggies. If the game was televised, the meal couldn’t take place during the game! It WAS that important! In later years the Dallas Cowboys played a late afternoon game and the tradition continues to this day. My wife, who didn’t grow up in Texas and didn’t have brothers, isn’t sure this is a cause for giving thanks!

Not one Thanksgiving celebration went by that the food wasn’t spectacular.

The meal included traditional turkey, my mother’s cornbread dressing (or stuffing as we refer to it where I now live in Ireland) along with all the trimmings. I didn’t appreciate it at the time but my mother spent hours early in the week mixing up a huge batch of potato salad for the big event. I usually asked her to withhold the olives in mine as I thought they spoiled the flavor. My cousins now rave over that potato salad and one of them now sports his own version of “Aunt Blanche’s” potato salad. He tells me that his version of her recipe he copied from her years ago still isn’t as good as the original!

Each Thanksgiving weekend was a welcome break from the school routine which came as a relief from a little boy who wasn’t enamored with school at that point in life! Other priorities seemed so much more important.

As I grew older and Thanksgiving celebrations changed in my adult years, a funny thing happened. Life happened. The responsibilities and challenges of adulthood can spoil our fun if we let them. We now live in a much different environment than the one with which I was familiar.

In my years of innocence, the worst thing that might happen Thanksgiving week was that I might have to eat my potato salad WITH olives, or the UT Longhorns might lose to the Aggies. Now we are beset with much larger issues – the threat of terrorism, mass shootings, international political turmoil and the list goes on. Even though in my youth we were constantly exposed to the Viet Nam war and campus unrest it all seemed to come to a halt on Thanksgiving Day.

I’ve come to realize over the years that I’m not generally very satisfied with the blemishes that appear on every aspect of life. I would make life perfect for everyone if I had the power, which I obviously don’t. It’s a personal challenge and discipline to be grateful in a hostile, broken world.

I really resonate with the Psalmist, quoted above, as he ponders about the downcast state of his soul. He asks, “why are you so disturbed within me?”

Today my soul is downcast for the myriad of women who are coming forward to expose the brutality of thoughtless men who have groped, raped or abused them. My soul is downcast for the multitudes of children in the world who are orphans or living in poverty. My soul is downcast for numerous other reasons with which I’m relatively sure you are all too familiar.

The tendency for me is to withhold gratitude until a perfect world arises from the ashes of life. I now realize I simply cannot wait that long until I express gratitude to God for all that He is and for all He is doing to care for me and for His broken world.

If I’m really honest, I have far more to be grateful for than I realize and my attention needs to be far more focused on the One who is the source and giver of all good gifts.

The Palmist has a simple remedy for ingratitude and a perfectionist attitude, he simply says, “these things I remember as I pour out my soul.”

Whatever our circumstances this Thanksgiving season we can and must “remember” that for which we can be grateful and pour out our souls to our living God.

Remember who you are –  your family of origin, your past, the good and bad, the things that have shaped you are part of your personal story; you are who you are because there has been a personal God involved with you, whether you acknowledge Him or not

Remember whose you are – you belong to your Heavenly Father who is seeking out your heart every moment of every day

Remember what you have – your family and friends for starters – I know I have so many to be grateful for; for us who are followers of Jesus we have every spiritual blessing in Christ; even in material terms I know I have far more than I deserve and there are many in this world who are content with far less than what I possess

If you haven’t done so lately, this might be a good time to spend some quality time in solitude, pour out your soul to God, and gratefully remember that you are blessed far more than you ever imagined!

I know I am.

 

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By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.” – Hebrews 11:4 (NIV)

I think it’s safe to say that our world is in turmoil. When “tolerance” seems to be a prevailing value at the same time we have a growing sense of “intolerance” on many levels of society.

Daily in international news we are beset with stories of racial tension and violence, hate crimes, terrorist attacks and the list goes on. I don’t have to cite the stories which are most likely very familiar to you.

In these times of turmoil, I see the same story repeated through history, but I also see the same resolution as well. I’ve been reflecting in these days on the first recorded murder. In the Bible, in Genesis chapter 4 we see that the first death among the children of Adam and Eve was the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. The story is well worth a review if you haven’t thought about it lately.

The conflict began when Abel brought an acceptable sacrifice before the LORD and was commended. Cain brought another sacrifice and was rejected because of his heart condition. The situation really got Cain fighting mad.

As the story goes,

“. . . but on Cain and his offering He did not look with favor. So, Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” – Genesis 4:5-7 (NIV)

When confronted with the condition of his heart Cain had some major decisions to make. Would he continue to bury his anger, brood and stew over his rejection, or would he take stock of his strong internal emotions, have his heart healed, and move on to a better place?

Unfortunately, we know the rest of the story. He misplaced his rejection, blamed his brother and violence and murder erupted.

Personally, I think this story is lived out again and again in our world today and we are seeing it played out on an international scale.

For each of us, when we begin to experience anger against an individual, a different racial, political, cultural or religious group, we are in danger of misdirecting our anger and letting it take us to places that are dangerous and destructive.

Anger led Cain to murder when internal reflection wasn’t the response of his heart. Unchecked anger can do the same for any of us.

I suppose that from here to eternity love and hate will both be opposing forces. The question for each of us, is what we will do and how we will react by hating the right things. We can choose to hate racism, for example, without hating racists. What we hate says a lot about us, just as who or what stirs our anger says a lot about us.

In the New Testament, the writer to the book of Hebrews, quoted above, says that Abel was a righteous man and was wrongly targeted for stirring up his brother’s anger. Even though dead, he still speaks. Abel was an innocent victim but was also the target of hostility. His example of godliness and suffering even in the face of violence and death is something that should speak strongly to us even today – especially today.

The ultimate expression of love in the face of hatred comes at the Cross of Jesus Christ. It was He who died in all His innocence and rose to life so that each of us could be set free from misdirected anger and hatred against anyone or anything.

Anger, along with love, is perhaps the strongest and most powerful of our emotions. When confronted with deep seated anger in our hearts, each of us can choose to step back, reflect and re-direct it toward something that is worth hating. It’s not a person or a race, a political party or country, but in reality a way of life that runs contrary to love which seeks the highest good of another fellow human being.

Abel lived a shorter life than Cain but there’s no question as to who serves as a better model for us today in these times of turmoil.

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“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:6-8 (NIV)

I’ve been making a lot of trips to see my Osteopath lately. He’s been the one healthcare professional that I’ve found to be most helpful with my recurring back problems. Every time I go to him he keeps giving me a lecture on “letting go.” It seems that the recurring theme that he sees with many people he treats for various health disorders is the tendency we humans have to “hold on” to memories, burdens, toxic emotions and almost anything that we deem necessary to carry with us through life. My Osteopath says this is particularly true in his patients with back problems! Carrying too much weight on the inside must be hazardous to your health!

I have to admit that “holding on” has been a life-long battle for me.

We come into the world naked and immediately those who care for us, rightly start putting clothes on us. We start grasping things and putting them into our mouths! We then start feeling comfortable and becoming attached to what makes us comfortable. We make necessary attachments, first to mom (hopefully) then dad and other significant people in our lives. We start to care about things – early on we care about getting our needs met and we scream and cry when we don’t get our way.

Eventually, if we have loving care-givers and friends, we realize that we don’t have to scream and beg our way through life. We can learn virtues such as patience and self-control and hopefully in a healthy environment. Unfortunately that is not a given these days.

Along the way we find that our emotions can get hijacked. We can start holding on to that to which we feel entitled, whether it belongs to us or not. Our jealous inner selves can see others who have what we want or whom we perceive to have it “better” than ourselves.

Now that I’m well into the later seasons of my life, I realize just how much of useless stuff has cluttered up my life through the years. I suppose as we mature we begin to discern the valuable and realize that most of what we’ve carried along hasn’t been all that helpful.

I love the words of the apostle Peter, quoted above. For those of us who accept and believe that there is a personal, Creator-God who knows, loves and cares for us and has revealed Himself in His Son Jesus Christ  – He is the One to whom we can and must go with all the care and anxiety we hold onto so desperately.

Peter gives three important commands in quick succession – first, “humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand,” then “cast all your anxiety on Him,” and “be self-controlled and alert!” I have probably read over this verse dozens of times without seeing the connection.

Humility, casting cares on God and being self-controlled and alert are all habits that can lead to a much more whole and satisfying walk through life. Peter reminds us too that there is a spiritual battle in place with an unseen enemy ready to devour the careless and unsuspecting. The thinking must be that our own pride, anxiety and lack of self-control will play right into the hands of the enemy of our souls.

I think what Peter is teaching here is that we have to let go of something before we can take hold of something much better. In humility we cast off the useless to take hold of the Eternal God who alone can help us through whatever issue is overtaking us at the moment.

I find that when it comes to life it’s much easier to cast out unwanted items of junk or clothing than it is to discard our negative emotions, grudges and toxic inner battles. Even to this day, I can still recall painful experiences that cause me angst if I think about them too long.

I’m seeing more and more that holding on to worry and anxiety has probably been a tool that has given me a false sense of control through the years. By continually fretting over what we have no control over, we feel slightly more in control. But unfortunately, it’s an illusion.

I’m not suggesting any quick fixes for anxiety and worry that plagues me and so many others in today’s world. I’m not ready to list out a three or six or ten step plan to combat anxiety. All I’m saying here is that I’m much better off when I habitually recognize when anxiety is mounting in my life and continually cast it upon a loving and caring personal God.

In a highly superficial and material environment, the temporal always seems to take precedence over the eternal. Ultimately we will leave this world behind and all of our possessions, worries and cares which we so desperately cling to now. By entering into a trust relationship with the Living God revealed in Jesus Christ, we take with us a life of wholeness that will never end.

I have to be reminded repeatedly that holding onto the Eternal God and letting go of everything else is the only place to find true freedom this side of heaven.

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