Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Spirituality’ Category

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’ – Hebrews 12:28-29 (NIV)

It often happens to me, usually without warning. I’m suddenly and inexplicably beset with my own fragility and weakness. It may be something someone says to me, a reaction to the daily (mostly negative) news or some comment made on Social Media, but it can send me into a state of despair and sometimes depression. Without warning I seem to end up awash with anxiety, fear, anger and a host of other unexplained emotions which evade my personal space and then don’t leave at my request.

In a complex world of competing world views, one thing is fairly certain – human beings are both thinking and feeling beings. Hopefully most people reading this would agree on that point. But the relationship between our thoughts and our feelings pose a very complex question. How often are our “feelings” a true reflection of reality?

Quite often what we may “feel” isn’t necessarily real. An often quoted illustration of this is the pilot flying the airplane and feeling that they are traveling right side up when in fact they are upside down. What the pilot “feels” isn’t exactly “real.” He has to look at the instruments on the plane to assess objective reality.

I have known of several people who struggle with eating disorders. Some of them are quite thin and frail and yet “feel” fat. I know of others who are quite wealthy and successful by most human measurements, and yet “feel” inferior and worthless. Most of us can come up with our own list.

As I have conversed with several individuals lately, I’ve come across a similar story. During the strange time of lockdowns due to Covid-19 and a world that seems to sink deeper into turmoil, many of our emotions have been strong and persistent these days. Some of us have been subject to panic attacks and shortness of breath who have actually never experienced these things before. It’s been a strange and unusual time to say the least. Why the strong feelings? Do they point to something that’s real or only the way we perceive and process it?

Personally, I have to come back to objective reality and start looking at the instruments on the plane, to continue the illustration above. I think the key is to stay grounded in a reality that we can have some degree of certainty about, even if it does require faith. Faith and reason both have a place in determining what is “real” regardless of what our emotions may tell us.

Recently I’ve been doing more thinking about what Jesus Christ said about “the Kingdom of God” recorded in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) of the New Testament. Although this major subject cannot be fully discussed or described in one short essay such as this, it is clear that Jesus was all about leading people into a new reality that centered on Him. He referred to it as “the Kingdom of God,” or “The Kingdom of Heaven” or “the Heavens.”

I have to admit, that even though I’ve been a follower of Jesus for just over fifty years, I still have much to learn about the mystery of the Kingdom that King Jesus spoke about so often. However, one thing I do know is that the writer to the Hebrews said that this Kingdom was indeed unshakable. Perhaps that is because it is based on an unshakable Person who points to a reality greater than the deteriorating world we see around us.

The gospel writers recorded the words of Jesus in terms that everyday people of that era would understand. The good news is that the Kingdom of God is now available to everyone who will put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. The reality of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is an indisputable fact regardless of how anyone may “feel” about it. This unshakable Kingdom is grounded in an indestructible Person.

A friend of mine spent many years in recovery from alcoholism attending AA meetings. She shared with me many important lessons which have even helped and stuck with me to this day. One thing she learned during her years of recovery was, “feelings are not facts, they are just feelings.” Even though feelings can tell us there is a problem they often don’t give us the solution to the problem.

When my emotions are strong and confusing in times like these I’m thankful that as a follower of Jesus Christ I can rest secure in a risen and living Savior who gently guides me into a Kingdom that cannot and will not be shaken. He won my heart with a love that is sacrificial and a life that is indestructible. I’m grateful for many others who join me on this journey as well as many others who have gone before and testify to the Kingdom’s reality and eternality – regardless of how I may feel. Will you join us in the journey? I hope so, but the choice is up to you.

Read Full Post »

“And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.” – Colossians 3:15 (NLT)

At this time of year between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday the followers of Jesus broadly observe a step back from their daily routine to reflect on the character and provision of God in His Son, Jesus Christ. It seems to be a very common question in some sectors, “What are you giving up for Lent?”

However, I would like to pose the question from a different perspective. For me, the same question stated differently is – “Who (or what) is shaping your character these days?”

We can easily find something in our lives which we can do without for a season, with multiple benefits. I’m sure I can easily come up with a large number of substances (such as sugar or caffeine) or practices (such as mindless internet surfing or TV reruns) which would do me much good if I didn’t have so much of them, many of them for longer than six weeks.  

However, a deeper issue I’m asking just now is, “Who or what am I allowing to shape my innermost thoughts, feelings, and convictions just now?” Perhaps this Lenten season is a time to take time to reflect and reassess.

My character can easily be shaped by the News Media. I’m often put in an awkward spot of not being the first to “hear the news” of what just happened in the world of instant 24/7 news reporting.  I know some practicing Christians who are literally so tied to the news media or political agendas that it has to dominate and consume a large part of their time and energy. I know my character can easily be shaped – or misshaped –  by the news media. Taking a fast from constant news feeds might be something to seriously consider during Lent – and even longer.

And then there’s Social Media. I just easily counted four main platforms which I somehow got tied into. How did that happen? Keeping up with scores of people – some I know well and others I know very little – can consume so much of my life and energy. I think it’s a good time to reassess just what impact is being made in my life from Social Media. It can bring blessing but so often, like the frog in the kettle, my soul is gradually boiling and I don’t even see it.

My own fallen nature can be very much the center of my thoughts and feelings. The influences of the News and Social Media and the world around me can fuel what is already dark and fallen within me. There has to be a different alternative.

Through a series of old and “new to me” influences, God brought me back around to a discipline that I had neglected for some time. Years ago as a young Christian I had a plan for Scripture Memory and I think it made a difference in my life. Lately, I’m returning to finding better ways to occupy my mind and thought habits and stay further away from influences I don’t like shaping my character.

The late Dallas Willard once suggested that more Christians should be memorizing passages such as  Colossians 3:1-17, which focus on character development. I’ve taken him up on the challenge all to my benefit, I must say. Here the followers of Jesus are instructed by the Apostle Paul to focus their hearts and minds on different matters than what the world around them has to offer. The true followers of Jesus now have a new position and have received new identity which is to be cherished and nurtured. I’ve come to realize that often my own soul is the last thing that I feed. Perhaps this is more what Lent was meant to be about in the first place.

Now that I’m working through memorizing these verses I see that my “old nature” can easily be fed to overflowing by the world around me. Perhaps many men in the past became monks so that they could escape the corruption of the world and they didn’t even have Facebook and Instagram to avoid!

On the other hand, I realize that in order for me to be the person God wants me to be, I have to listen compassionately and caringly to the world around me, being sensitive to what others are thinking and feeling. Perhaps Lent is a time to reassess what part belongs to me and what belongs to God. I think He has a lot more of a say in the matter than I.

I’m challenged by verse 15 of Colossians 3  – “And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts.” (NLT) The question of who is truly ruling within comes into sharp focus – particularly during Lent.  

I must allow the peace that comes from Jesus Christ to rule my heart rather than the influences around me. When I do that, I will find how God wants me to be with others in the situation of life around me, no matter how dark or challenging it may seem. I know that I need to be kind, loving, caring and compassionate – but all those qualities are found in my new nature, imparted to me because of my relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

What about you? In this season of Lent will you think about what you are giving up or rather what might be shaping your character. I know that by doing both I’m seeking to gain a deeper intimacy with the One who desires to shape me and my character from the inside out.

Read Full Post »

“Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.  Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters–one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!’ When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground, terrified.” – Matthew 17:3-6 (NIV)

I must admit that I’m no expert on the British Royal Family but in recent times my wife has drawn me into watching the Netflix series “The Crown.”

In an opening scene in one of the early episodes of season four, “The Balmoral Test,” Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her husband Dennis are flying toward Scotland to spend time with the Royal Family at Balmoral Castle, Scotland in the early 1980’s. Margaret, as usual, is deep in thought while Dennis is explaining his awareness that the Royal family tends to get strategic people into the castle and run them through a series of “tests” that can be very instructive to them in how they relate to such individuals. In essence he’s telling Margaret that they are “prime” candidates for such a test.

As the story unfolds, we discover that Prime Minister Thatcher has not brought any outdoor shoes with her on this trip. In the morning the Queen gets her out in the country side, sloshing through muddy fields and up hills in the scenic area surrounding the castle. Even after borrowing a pair of the Queen’s old shoes for the trip, Mrs. Thatcher decides she is going back to the castle to be better prepared for this type of activity. Back in the castle she decides to forgo the great outdoors and sits down to do some serious work in one of the castle’s ornately decorated historic rooms.

At this point Princess Margaret, played by Helena Bonham Carter, arrives on the scene and finds Mrs. Thatcher sitting in a chair at a desk in this grandiose room. She exclaims, “Who told you that you could sit in that chair? That was Queen Victoria’s Chair! No one sits in that chair!”

I’m sure no one was as surprised to hear this news as was Mrs. Thatcher – the Prime Minister of Great Britain and certainly not a woman to be trifled with. After hearing this untimely news, she politely abides by the Princess’s wishes and gets up out of the chair.

This scene spoke to me deeply. I would have thought that the Prime Minister of Great Britain could pretty much go anywhere she wanted to go in the kingdom and sit in any chair she wanted. However, it became clear that when she was on “Royal” territory she was no longer “in charge.” There was a higher authority she was duty-bound to respect. Someone else owned the chair and she had to submit to an authority that was greater than her own office or position in the kingdom.  

Shortly after watching this, my wife and I were trying to explain the term “relativism” to two of our granddaughters and it dawned on me that this story is reflective of the current state of our world. In this current age, no one seems to know who “owns the chair.” We live in an age where no one really knows who is “in charge” and to whom we must ultimately give an account.

I thought back to the story I allude to above where the early Apostles Peter, James and John accompanied Jesus up onto a mountain one day during His earthly ministry. Jesus was transfigured before them and Moses and Elijah appeared with Him. Only later did the three apostles speak of the incident but they clearly heard a voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son whom I love. Listen to Him.”

People often ask me, “Aren’t all religions and philosophies the same? What’s so different between what I believe and what you believe?” My short answer is now this, “According to your viewpoint, who owns the chair?”

Many current philosophies work under the assumption that there is no authorative, personal God in charge of the universe in general and our world in particular. The current state of our world is reflective of a mindset that believes “it’s all up to us” to decide who’s in charge. It’s survival of the fittest and the one who shouts the loudest or comes up with the best political/economic system gets to call the shots. (I’m not, by the way, making a political statement or endorsing any political party or candidate.)

I know that I might be branded as naive or simplistic, but I still believe that we can know, honor, respect and follow the one who not only “owns the chair” but owns our world and the entire universe. He invites us to know Him personally through His Son Jesus Christ who still speaks to us today through His Word, the Bible and by His Holy Spirit.

In the past two thousand years since Jesus walked the earth there have been many who have been dismissive of Him, but none have ever successfully disproved the reality of His life, death and resurrection. Peter, James, John and many other early Jesus-followers were eye witnesses of this Man who alone has ultimate authority.

The One who owns it all still speaks to us today, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him.”  I suggest we do just that.  

Read Full Post »

But most of all, my brothers and sisters, never take an oath, by heaven or earth or anything else. Just say a simple yes or no, so that you will not sin and be condemned.” – James 5:12 (NLT)

Actually when you think about it, whether we admit it or not, we all have our limits. During the past couple of weeks I’ve been considering the fact that we have so many limits or boundaries in our lives that we often don’t take time to consider.  

Recently a friend and colleague died of cancer at a relatively young age, leaving behind a husband and two children with particular needs. For those of us who knew and loved her we all feel the pain of losing someone who left us far too early. But her life, like all of ours, has limits. We won’t live in these bodies forever, and as a follower of Jesus as I grow older, I’m looking forward to the next one that God has promised me.

In the meantime, like everyone else, I have limits. I don’t have unlimited time, money, patience, emotional energy, and the list goes on. I have limits or boundaries and I’m learning more about them all the time. I often don’t like or appreciate the fact that I’m human and I have to say “no” to some things.

I’ve often pondered why I don’t like to say “no” to everyone’s requests. I think I’ve discovered that I don’t want to disappoint anyone and I want to be helpful to everyone. That’s a lofty goal, but virtually impossible to reach. I’m human and I have to be the first to admit it. I’ve been addicted to people-pleasing for years and it’s a difficult habit from which to break free.  

I’m re-reading Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s book, Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life.” I think this should be required reading for almost everyone, especially people who relate to what I’m saying. One of the key thoughts from the book comes under the section on boundary myths under the question – “Are Boundaries a Sign of Disobedience?”

The authors write, “. . .an internal no nullifies an external yes. God is more concerned with our hearts than he is with our outward compliance. ‘For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings,’ (Hosea 6:6) In other words, if we say yes to God or anyone else when we really mean no, we move into a position of compliance. And that is the same as lying. Our lips say yes, but our hearts (and often our half-hearted actions) say no. . . Here’s a good way to look at this myth that boundaries are a sign of disobedience: if we can’t say no, we can’t say yes. . . We must always say yes out of a heart of love. When our motive is fear, we love not.” – pp. 110-111.  

As I was reading these words I reflected on what James writes in his epistle, quoted above. There is a responsibility for our lives that God entrusts to us as we stand before Him. We have to say “yes” to the things we devote our hearts to and “no” to what we cannot or must not do. In other words, I have to take ownership and responsibility for what is mine and you must do the same.

This is no simple task and it’s not a pat answer or “formula” that we can plug in to each and every situation. However, my thought and prayer life is much more informed by the boundaries and limits in my life and more importantly, in my heart.

Like everyone else, I’m a work in progress I need to continually guard and watch over my heart so that when I say “yes” I can really mean it – on the inside as well as the outside.

Daily we are bombarded by choices and decisions which are tough calls to make. To what will we devote our time, our energy, our money and our resources? Who will get the best part of our day and our full attention?

As something of a compulsive thinker at times, I can become consumed with trying to make the “right” decision instead of allowing God to speak to my heart and trusting His guidance. I know as I trust Him more fully He will give me the insight and wisdom to say “yes” and “no” and speak from a heart of love rather than fear of rejection or disappointing others. May this bless you on your journey with Him today.  

Read Full Post »

“One Sabbath Jesus was going through the cornfields, and as His disciples walked along, they began to pick some ears of corn. The Pharisees said to Him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?’ He answered, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.’  Then He said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.’” – Mark 2:23-28 (NIV)

I’m seeing a common theme that seems to surface regularly. Perhaps it may be because I’m more attuned to it in recent days.

It relates to  two very different and distinct ways that one’s life can be lived. I know that I might be oversimplifying this but I can see the difference in my own life and I use the distinction of a life of “Reaction” as opposed to a life of “Rhythms.”

A life of “reaction” may best be described as a “driven” life. We feel hard pressed by some unknown force to live life “in the fast lane,” milking each moment of the day for as much as we can accomplish while being an influence on the world around us. The temptation in living life this way is that we don’t really know what each day will hold until we have checked the news, social media or our e-mail to see what the world “throws at us” next.

I can easily live life by the motto, “What’s the latest fire I’m meant to extinguish?” I have to admit, there’s a few of us around with Messiah complexes as if we are God’s gift to a hurting world which desperately needs us to be “fixers of the universe.”

Our reactions, and our lives can very much be shaped by others around us who are also living this way. These days we have much greater connectivity than ever before with the internet and social media. The hope of having “down time” from excessive connection is quite fleeting these days. Those of us, like myself, who tend to be an obsessive thinkers are in a much more vulnerable place.

Living a life of “reaction” means that one is hopelessly at the beck and call of the latest news story or the constant stream of social media commentary, seeking to have one’s voice heard above the madding crowd.

So what’s the alternative? Although I have been a poor model of an opposing lifestyle I think there’s a better way.

Like many other followers of Jesus I have done some serious study and refection on the life of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Gospels. I see a completely different way of living reflected in what I know and am learning about Jesus. He lived an intentional life but was rarely, if ever, driven by reaction to others. Perhaps the most intentional man who ever lived invites us to daily dependence on Him and unbroken conversation with Him.

There are many scenes in the life of Jesus to which I could refer, but the one mentioned above is where Jesus told the Pharisees, “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” I think the Pharisees were living a life driven by rules and expectations. They represented a strictly religious approach to life that was more into rules keeping than understanding rhythms behind the rules.

According to Jesus, the Sabbath had a wonderful purpose as a life rhythm to allow men and women to rest, recover and to be re-shaped by the God who made them and who, by the way, does run the universe.

I can easily see that when my Sabbath-keeping hasn’t been a consistent part of my life rhythms, I’m drawn quickly back to reactionary way of life. A life dominated by “reaction” gives way to other people or pressing issues, allowing them to set the agenda for me rather than my taking ownership of my life choices and my response being one of submission to the God who made and sustains me.

I’m also seeing that it’s going to take more than one day a week for me to get into a healthy pattern of “rhythm” rather than “reaction.” It’s going to demand a life-style change and those are the most difficult ones to come by.

I can begin to fear that I’m not diligent enough and as a result I may miss something important and fail to meet the needs of others around me in an appropriate manner. Alternatively, I’m learning that getting caught up in a “reaction” mode doesn’t really help the cause of Jesus whom I seek to serve. I think most of my family and friends would agree that I’m much more available and helpful to them when I’m living out of rhythm rather than reaction to stimuli around me.

There will always be times in our lives when we are asked to go above and beyond the call of duty and respond to emergencies which arise. That’s part of life in the real world. However, when I’m constantly in a place of agitation due to living a reactionary life, I’m losing more effectiveness than I’m gaining.

What do you think? Will your life be driven by values, rhythms and intentions or will it be driven by reaction to what is thrown at you by the forces that seek to move and shape you? I’m seeking to do the former rather than the latter.  

Read Full Post »

“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.

Read Full Post »

“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.   

Read Full Post »

“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.

Read Full Post »

“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.  

Read Full Post »

“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.   

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: