Monday, June 27, 2011

Meant to Last

My brothers and I were hard on toys when we were growing up.  Many of them didn't survive Christmas day or a birthday before they were already broken.  I have always tried to blame the craftsmanship of the toymaker in saying they just were made to last.  Of course today, most things are not made to last.  We have disposable dishes, silverware, cups, diapers, contact lenses, lighters and even disposable underwear (I've seen them in the stores of Hong Kong).  Very few things are built to last these days.  Think about it:  How many cell phones have you already owned in the short time they have been on the market?  They have gone from the size of a small walkie talkie to being so small we misplace them and have to call our number and listen for the ring to find them. How many computers have your owned in the past ten years?  Things just aren't made to last anymore.

How about this for lasting:  66 years, which equals 792 months, which equals 3432 weeks, which equals 289080 days.  I could go on, but you get the point.  Man, that's a long time...longer than I have been alive.  This is how long Marshall and Marlene Denny have been married.  This wonderful couple lives in King, North Carolina and I had the privilege of living in their home for three summers when I was in college.  They took me in as one of their own children (Of which they have 4 children).  I had the opportunity to learn from them and observe what it meant to be married in a marriage that was made to last.  They certainly weren't and aren't perfect, but they have stayed married.  In a disposable society, they have honored the vow they made to the Lord when they married each other.  They have taught their children and grandchildren and great grandchildren numerous lessons over the years - But none greater than that of honoring your commitment!  Use any argument you want to justify how impossible this is today, but the truth is that they have done something which God expects each one of us who gets married to do - He expects us to stay married until death separates us.   Our culture says marriage vows can be broken if there are "irreconcilable differences" or if one person is not satisfied and having his/her needs met.  Yet, Marshall and Marlene are living examples that a marriage which is entrusted into the Lord's care can last a long time because God made marriage to last.

Proverbs 16:3 says, "Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will prosper."  Ask the Denny's if God has prospered them and I'm sure they will answer in the affirmative.  They have been prospered in so many ways because they have committed their marriage to the Lord.  I don't know if Leah and I will make it 66 years because I will be 99 by then, but I'm willing to give it a try.  I want to be radical and go against the flow, seeking to have a thriving marriage for my whole life.

Though my thoughts for this blog arose from the Denny's marriage, this truth about commitment applies to every aspect of our lives:  At our jobs, in caring for our homes, in raising our children, in studying for a difficult class and a multitude of other areas.  Are your ways committed to the Lord?  Are you following through with those commitments?  I pray that this Sip will give you the strength to do that very thing!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The smallest of deeds

This past Saturday I celebrated fifty years on planet earth.  My wife contacted friends from a wide array of my life stations and asked them to write letters which she could put into a book.  Many of them were funny and some even harassed me.  Can you believe that?  But all of them touched me deeply.  They reminded me that the most important thing we do today is simply try to live for Jesus and help others do the same.  This book of letters choked me up and brought tears of joy to my eyes.  Leah worked hard to make sure I knew that God had utilized my life to encourage others.  I am indebted to my wife and my friends for reminding me of my purpose and keeping me focused on what matters.

In our world, we are told that you must make a big splash to leave a legacy.  We see how celebrities get so much publicity and we think we need to be famous to make a difference.  We see sports stars making commercials and having a huge platform from which to witness and we buy into the lie that says only those who are "Successful" in the worlds' eyes have anything to say.  Even if the church, we have built a cult of success and the big deal.  Every church conference I have ever attended has had a keynote speaker who is  is a Christian celebrity or a pastor who started a church with a few people and now the church has thousands in attendance.  I have never been to a conference where the speaker was the pastor of a small congregation who had served the congregation faithfully for years, even though there wasn't large numeric growth.  I would love to listen to a pastor as the keynote speaker who got up to share his insights into being faithful when everything inside him told him he was a failure.  It would be much more beneficial to hear a pastor who had seen growth in the disciples rather than growth in the size of the congregation.

This weekend reminded me that the smallest word of encouragement can make a huge impact in one person's life.  It reminded me that my faithfulness is being observed by others.  It reminded me that reaching out to others and showing that I not only love them, but also like them, can be a life-changing experience.  It reminded me that the wake behind our boat of faithfulness will always be wider than we can see if we keep our focus on what is ahead of us rather than spending our lives in the past.

So I hope today you will make a choice to speak a kind word to someone.  I pray that you will call up a brother or sister in Christ out of the blue and just tell them how much you appreciate their faithfulness.  I pray you will take the time to listen to someone who is struggling and point them to Jesus.  Just make an effort to have an impact on one life.  The end result will be riches beyond this world which will give you strength to go on.

If I were planning to be buried (I plan on being cremated - But that's for another blog), I would want the following verse written on my tombstone.  Philemon 1:7  "Your love has given me great joy and encouragement because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints."  My this Sip from the Well refresh you so that you can refresh others.  You will never know until you get to Heaven the impact your smallest deed has made.

Monday, June 13, 2011

It's Just a Number

On Saturday I will turn fifty years of age.  That's right, I am now legally an antique!  Some of you reading this blog are thinking, "Fifty is so incredibly old" and some of you reading it are thinking, "Fifty is so young".  Both of my brothers and many of my high school classmates have already sailed into this half century of existence ahead of me.  I'm still a long way away from catching Methuselah who lived to the ripe old age of 969.  If I compare myself to him, I am just starting out.  However, I'm fairly certain I won't come close to catching Methuselah, nor do I really want to.

My take on turning fifty:  I think it's pretty cool.  Fifty is a great, round number.  It says, "You have experience" but you're not really that old.  It's just a number.  I've been told you're as old as you feel, but I don't really buy that.  There are days (Usually Tuesday mornings after playing a couple hours of hoops on Monday night) that I feel closer in age to Methuselah than to my own age.  There are also days when I feel like I have the strength and stamina of a twenty year old.  So how old I feel varies from day to day.  But at the end of the day, fifty is just a number.  I enjoy trying to keep this fifty year old body in decent shape so that I can still play hoops with twenty year olds.  I also enjoy trying to keep up with my young sons.  So don't try to harass me about turning 50 because I'm looking forward to it.  I embrace becoming an antique.  Hey, AARP has already sent me my membership application.  It's funny because I can become a dues-paying member but cannot reap any benefits until I turn 55.  So crack on me if you want, but I'll just laugh with you.

However, turning 50 has put ministry in a clearer perspective.  I realize I just don't have that many years left in ministry or even on this earth.  It moves me away from playing the "Church" game and want to see people come to Christ and become His devoted followers.  I just don't have time any more for those in the church who complain about the church or are focused only on themselves.  There are way too many lost souls for the church to spend her time trying to placate complainers or whiners.  I want to see live changed and eternity influenced rather than leading a bunch of meetings.

At Hillcrest Baptist Church, we have some wonderful role models in the area of aging.  We have seniors who may be retired from their vocation but are serving the Lord with all of their heart.  Man, that's how I want to roll into the "sunset years", serving the Lord and continuing to have an impact.  Forget playing golf every day or heading off to bingo.  I want to have new challenges in my life and I want to continue to influence future generations to follow the Lord.  I want to have a Caleb mentality.  You should really read Joshua 14:6-15 to see what God-led retirement looks like.  Caleb kept going and realized God had kept him alive to fulfill his purpose.  When he was one of the oldest in the land, he was still going strong.  That's what I want to have in my life.

So as I roll into 50, I know it won't be long until 55 comes and then 60.  I've been told the years begin to speed up as you get older, but I won't know until it happens.  As these years keep rolling, I hope you will still see my passion, love, energy and fire for Jesus.  I pray that you will have that same kind of fire in you.  What are you doing to make sure you can serve the Lord faithfully as you age?  How are you preparing your body?  How are you preparing your mind?  How are you preparing your emotions?  How are you preparing your soul?  May this Sip from the Well encourage you to more actively pursue a life of meaning and purpose so you can leave a Caleb Legacy!  Because whatever age you are today, remember, it's just a number!

Monday, June 6, 2011

A deep pain in my heart

I have been on Facebook for a couple of years and have enjoyed the benefits of this incredible social medium.  I have been in touch with high school classmates whom I had not seen nor heard from since we graduated in 1979.  I have had contact with former "youth" from my days in King, North Carolina and Louisville.  I have heard from former students at Hawaii Baptist Academy and close friends I made while living in Hawaii.  I have reconnected with friends from Kamuela on the Big Island and have even gotten to know quite a few children of my friends.  There is an added richness to my life as I am somewhat able to be involved in their lives and draw closer to them...even though it is from a distance.  I have always been and will always be a people person, so having these connections is a source of strength and pleasure for me.

The drawback of this social medium is to see how public people are about their vices.  There are those who at one time were close to Christ and have now wandered away, even mocking the faith they once held so dearly.  Those of you who have invested spiritually in the lives of others know the pain that comes from seeing someone drift.  A few are ambivalent about this drifting, while others are antagonistic about the faith they once claimed to follow.  Some have slowly drifted away from the truth, while others have taken a decisive reversal of that which they once held to so closely.  As I read their status or their info, my heart is broken for their condition.  Sometimes I wonder what I could have done or not done that would have helped them continue on this wonderful journey with Christ.  Sometimes, I realize that they were only playing a part to please me or parents or teachers.  Sometimes I wonder if they have experienced some pain in this journey of life which was too much to handle and they now blame God.  Either way, seeing the hidden struggle burdens me and often I'm not sure how to approach this.  It should probably not be this way, but I blame myself.  I know, we each make the choices of the roads we will take.  However, there is a part of me that thinks I should know the right thing to say each time to someone or I should have the vision to see the approaching storms in another person's  life.  Of course, this is foolishness and not productive.  It draws me to look back with regret and focus on the past rather than living in the moment and reaching out to those in my life at this moment.  But most of us who have tried to disciple someone understand these free-flowing thoughts I am having.

A few weeks ago, I preached a sermon which has helped me find peace and be able to keep going on Facebook without having regrets, doubts or frustration.  In Acts 20:32, Paul talks to the Ephesians church and says to them:  "Now I commit you to God and to the word of His face, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all who are sanctified."  There comes a time when we must commit the wanderer to God's grace and allow God to move in his/her life as only God can.  I always come back to the parable of the Loving Father Jesus told in Luke 15.  The Father had to wait until the prodigal son came to his senses and came home.  But when the prodigal came home, the Father was waiting and watching for him.  He ran out to his son and "redeemed" his son and celebrated.  There are some we must commit to the Lord and wait on them to come to their senses.  But when they come home, we should celebrate.  Until that time, we passionately pray for them and attempt to love them with the same love the Father lavished on us.

So today, if you are thinking about giving up on someone because they don't seem to care anymore, may this Sip refresh your soul to continue loving them.  Maybe you have a rebellious teen in your home.  Maybe your spouse just has more important things to do than worship the Lord.  Or maybe you have a close friend who has walked away for his faith.  Be refreshed and commit them to God's grace.

Maybe, today you are that prodigal.  You have wandered away from the Lord and into your own place.  Please know that the Loving Father waits patiently on you to turn back to Him and come home.  Be assured, there are many who are praying for you and looking forward to the day your faith comes alive again.  I may even be one of those.  May this Sip give you the strength you need to take those first steps home.  Daddy is waiting!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Where Is It Easier to Live for Christ?

Two weeks ago, I asked the question:  Where is it easier to live for Christ?  In a place that reinforces the value of the Church of in a place which mocks those values?  Is it easier to live in Mayberry or Sodom?  Eventually the answer becomes a Joshua 24:15 answer for each one of us.  We can't really dictate how others will live, but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.  

Here are my random thoughts on this topic:  It may be more difficult to live in a pagan culture, but there is more of an impact in this culture from those who truly live for Christ.  A little light will shine much brighter in darkness than in a place which already has light in it.  The choices we make as followers of Christ will be so contrary to the flow of a pagan culture that people will take notice.  Some may try to snuff out the light, which is often the case in pagan cultures.  Others may want to embrace the light of Christ.  But all will be confronted with the message of the cross because of a faithful few.  The early church was persecuted because they no longer embraced ethnic divisions or gender divisions or followed immoral practices.  An airplane is able to fly because resistance lifts it into the air.  Resistance will always allow the Church a greater opportunity to witness.  The Church has always grown stronger (Maybe not larger) during times of persecution in a pagan culture.  The Church in China is much stronger spiritually than the Church in America, even though a much higher percentage of Americans go to church than do Chinese.  What is the difference:  persecution.

The danger in trying to live for Christ in a pagan world is that paganism begins to infiltrate the Church and individual followers.  The Church at Corinth had begun to allow the immorality of the culture to be accepted in the Church.  Read I Corinthians and you will see Paul chastising the Church for living just like the rest of the world.  Before we judge Corinth too harshly, think about how many Christians are living together and not married.  Think about how we have begun to utilize the methods of the world in the Church.  Think about the pagan practices that go on in our own homes.

So my take is this:  Living for Jesus in a pagan culture is easier, but more testing.  I have always been on who enjoyed going against the flow.  If everyone else was doing it, then I probably wanted to try something new.  My favorite number is 13 because so many people are superstitious about that number.  I have no tattoos and no body piercings because I want to go against the flow.  In college I enjoyed being on the debate team because I enjoyed having to develop critical thinking skills and the ability to present a constructive argument.  So for the past twenty-five years, I have lived in cultures that did not reinforce the values of the church, but I have enjoyed the challenge of living in those cultures.  There are times when I do grow weary of going against the flow, but when I see lives radically changed because of Jesus, I am energized.

Living in a culture which reinforces the values of the church makes it easier to follow the "rules" since so many others are also doing it.  The norm is that which supports my faith in Christ.  We can have conversations all the time with people about church and God since most people are not antagonistic towards those topics.  There is more peace in the community with less crime and more connectedness with neighbors.  People are often more friendly and willing to help a stranger in need.  This is not a utopia, but it is a living out of the values Jesus taught and lived.  Yet, underneath, there can be hypocrisy and secret sin.  We feel more shame in our sin, so we keep our sin hidden.  We can fall victim to legalism like the churches in Galatia.  They had become a very legalistic church which emphasized following the Law instead of living in grace.  The danger for me living a Mayberry-like existence would be the temptation to get frustrated with those who should be living for Jesus but aren't.  I am much more patient with those who have never come to Christ than those who have come to Christ and yet take His gift of grace lightly.  If this attitude isn't checked, it becomes spiritual pride which is incredibly destructive and blinding.

Eventually this is a personal choice:  Which one is more challenging for me?  Perhaps a better question is:  Where has God planted me?  Once we answer that question, the focus changes from our environment to our availability to change lives.  Ultimately, it is not WHERE we are that matters, but WHOSE we are that matters.  A genuine Faith will radiate to the lost, regardless of the culture in which that Faith is planted.  May this Sip refresh you to fulfill your purpose in Christ where He has planted you.