Worth Shouting

I came across an old story that I think I’ve shared in this space before, but wanted to share it one more time. It’s about a man who traveled regularly on business trips. He returned home late one night from a trip, during a strong storm, with plenty of lightning and booming thunder. As he came into his bedroom, he found his children in bed with his wife, apparently scared by the loud storm. Not wanting to unsettle the kids, he resigned himself to sleep in the guest bedroom for the night.

The next day, he talked to the children, and explained that it was okay for them to sleep with their mother when the storm was bad, but on nights when he was expected home, it would be better for them not to sleep with their mom that night. They said okay.

A few trips later, his wife came to pick him up at the airport, with the children tagging along. They were ready to meet him in the baggage claim at the appointed time, and since several planes had landed around the same time, there was quite a crowd to fight through to see when dad arrived.

As the weary traveler finally came through the gate, with literally hundreds of others gathering nearby to pick up their luggage, his son saw him and came running to him, shouting loud enough for all to hear: “Daddy, daddy, I’ve got some good news!”  As the man came closer, he hugged his son and asked, “What’s the good news?”

“Nobody slept with Mommy while you were away this time!”, the little boy shouted.

The airport became very quiet, as everyone in the waiting area looked at the little boy, then turned to the dad, and then searched the rest of the area to see if they could figure out exactly who his mother was. Something tells me she wasn’t hard to pick out.

You know, some good news is just worth shouting! I wonder how excited you are to share the good news of the gospel with our world? Have you noticed that it’s getting pretty dark out there, and that there’s a shortage of hope in this world? Jesus called us the light of the world, and his gospel is the only hope for humanity. Share the good news with those near and far this week.

Who Is My Neighbor

Author Terry Muck tells the story of a man who had no interest in spiritual things. He lived next door to a professing Christian, and they had a casual friendship, as neighbors across a fence might have. Then the non-Christian’s wife was stricken with cancer, and died three months later. Here’s part of a letter he wrote afterward:

I was in total despair. I went through the funeral preparations and the service like I was in a trance. And after the service I went to the path along the river and walked all night. But I did not walk alone. My neighbor–afraid for me, I guess–stayed with me all night.

He did not speak; he did not even walk beside me. He just followed me. When the sun finally arose over the river, he came over to me and said, “Let’s go get some breakfast.”

I go to church now. My neighbor’s church. A religion that can produce the kind of caring and love my neighbor showed me is something I want to find out more about. I want to be like that. I want to love and be loved like that for the rest of my life.

What made the difference in this man’s life?  It was that one Christian dared to care enough to….be there.

It doesn’t take a tragedy for us to be of ministry to our neighbors, but often the Lord opens doors through difficult times for us to connect with those around us with the love of Christ. It might be doing relief work after a tornado, taking a meal to a sick neighbor, helping someone move, or even attending a funeral of a family member of a friend or co-worker. This is what Jesus meant when he answered the question, “Who is my neighbor?” with the parable of the Good Samaritan.

My prayer for our church family is that we would live out the Gospel and reflect the love of Christ in every divine appointment for ministry He provides, whether it be times of tragedy or just times of need, so that somehow through our witness, people would be attracted to the God we serve. And in doing so, I pray that we would catch a vision for serving the neighbors around us and love our neighbors in tangible ways.

Thanks to each of you who regularly live out the call of Christ to serve one another, and who make a difference in our community and in our congregation as His hands and feet in this world.

Remember to Remember

As you are probably aware, this coming Monday, May 28, is the day we commemorate as Memorial Day. For many, the legal holiday means little more than a day off work and a long weekend. For others, it’s the unofficial beginning of summer, a trip to the beach or lake, or a barbecue in the backyard (if you can get it in around the rain, of course). Still others use the day off to catch up on some yardwork, or left over spring cleaning. Or maybe, a little shopping.

None of those holiday “observances” are a problem, in and of themselves, but they do miss out on the purpose of Memorial Day: to remember, and more specifically, to remember those who gave their lives in defense of our freedom as a nation.

For most in our generation, even after all the lives lost fighting terror around the world since 9/11, remembering the steep price paid for our nation’s freedom doesn’t come easy. In our comforts in relative “peace time,” we are disattached from “war” and have lost the heartfelt appreciation for those who went before us that past generations held dear.

One of my favorite movies, Stephen Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan,” was largely motivated by that idea, that our generation had forgotten what our parents and grandparents went through in places like Normandy and Iwo Jima (not to mention Inchon or Khe San). Their courage and commitment to duty and honor–and their self-sacrifice–must never be forgotten. Likewise, those who have lost their lives in places like Iraq and Afghanistan are to be remembered just the same.

The Bible speaks often on the subjects of sacrifice, and remembering. Jesus reminded us that “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). And then He showed us what that great love looks like when He died for us. Likewise, some have followed His example and have given their lives on our behalf.

On a number of occasions Scripture records accounts where “memorials” were erected after a victorious battle or miraculous deliverance to help God’s people remember what He had done, so that future generations would never forget. We would all do well to remember to remember ourselves.

So may I suggest that you set aside some time in the midst of your busy holiday weekend to stop and thank God for those who have paid the ultimate price of their lives to win and preserve the freedom we have as a nation. May God help us to never forget to remember, lest we take for granted the blessings He has given us.

The Height of Unproductivity

Jack had been a compulsive worrier for years, to the point that it was ruining his life. He saw a psychologist who recommended a specialist who could help him.

His friend, Bob, noticed a dramatic change and asked “What happened? Nothing seems to worry you anymore.”

“I hired a professional worrier and I haven’t had a worry since,” replied Jack.

“That must be expensive,” Bob replied.

“He charges $5,000 a month,” Jack told him.

“$5,000!!? How can you afford to pay him?” exclaimed Bob.

“Hmmm, I don’t know. That’s for him to worry about.”

It would be nice to be able to just pay someone to do your worrying for you but life doesn’t work that way. Even those who could afford doing it realize quickly that having lots of money does not make your worries go away. In fact most have found that the more you have the more you have to worry about.
Worry is the height of unproductivity. Some worry about the past, which can never be changed no matter how much you worry about it. Others worry about the future, which can be changed, but one thing that will never change it is worrying about it. I saw a sign in a store recently that said: “Worry is like a rocking chair; it gives you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.”
Someone once called worry “a misuse of imagination,” and I agree. We imagine all the negative scenarios and fret over things we can’t change. It never helps, but certainly can hurt. As Corrie Ten Boom once said, “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength.”
I remember seeing a Peanuts cartoon once where the perpetually pessimistic Charlie Brown proudly proclaimed: “I’ve developed a new philosophy. I only dread one day at a time.” That may have been making progress for Chuck, but I think he may have been missing something.
I am surprised at how many people in our high-stress world think worry is just a normal part of life, even those who follow Christ. Jesus clearly commanded us not to; “Do not worry,” He said, several times in the Sermon on the Mount. “Do not be anxious about anything,” echoed the apostle Paul in his epistle to the Philippian church.
In fact, Paul’s prescription for those who worry was to replace your worry with prayer. That same verse from Philippians 4 is paraphrased well in the Living Bible: “Don’t worry about anything; pray about everything.”
Or, as Martin Luther said so well, “Pray, and let God worry.”

A Mother’s Day to Remember

I came across a Mother’s Day story that I had to share. It’s from a mother whose name I do not know, but I do know she has three small children. At the time of the story were 4, 3 and 1 year old. The middle child was an especially precocious little boy named Eli. They also had a cat named Jack, who recently passed away.Those are the central characters in this story.
From there, I’ll let the mom tell the story.
Eli really loves chapstick. LOVES it. He kept asking to use my chapstick and then losing it. So finally one day I showed him where in the bathroom I keep my chapstick and how he could use it whenever he wanted to but he needed to put it right back in the drawer when he was done. 

Last year on Mother’s Day, we were having the typical rush around and try to get ready for church with everyone crying and carrying on. My two boys are fighting over the toy in the cereal box. I am trying to nurse my little one at the same time I am putting on my make-up. Everything is a mess and everyone has long forgotten that this is a wonderful day to honor me and the amazing job that is motherhood. 

We finally have the older one and the baby loaded in the car and I am looking for Eli. I have searched everywhere and I finally round the corner to go into the bathroom. And there sits Eli. Applying my chapstick very carefully to Jack’s…rear end. Eli looks right into my eyes and says “chapped.” 

Now if you have a cat, you know that he is right–their little rear ends do look pretty chapped. And, frankly, Jack didn’t seem to mind. And the only question to really ask at that point was whether it was the FIRST time Eli had done that to the cat’s behind or the hundredth. 

And THAT is my favorite Mother’s Day moment ever because it reminds us that no matter how hard we try to civilize these glorious little creatures, there will always be that day when you realize they’ve been using your chapstick on the cat’s rear.
I don’t really have an inspiring spiritual lesson or moral to the story to share, unless it is to always make sure you know where your child is putting your chapstick. But I hope that silly story brought a smile to your face, and made you appreciate all that our moms do–and all they put up with–in doing what some have called the most important job in the world.
Don’t miss the opportunity to hug your mom this weekend, if you have the chance, and be sure to thank her for all she did for you. But whatever you do, don’t borrow her chapstick.

May the 4th

Today is May 4. At some point in the day, someone will proudly and nerdily say to you, “May the 4th be with you.” Just try to be gracious. They don’t get out much, and they think it’s cute.

 

In case you missed the memo, today is Star Wars Day. It all originated because of the above pun made from the line from the first Star Wars movie, which was pretty “punny” at first, but these days not so much. Either way, it became an opportunity for fans of the futuristic fantasy franchise to celebrate all things Star Wars. Bless their hearts.

 

According to Wikipedia, the first public reference to someone using the expression “May the Fourth Be With You” came from 1979, the day after Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, when her political party placed a congratulatory ad in The London Evening News, saying “May the Fourth Be with You, Maggie. Congratulations.”

 

In 2008, the first Facebook groups appeared, celebrating Luke Skywalker Day, with the same catchphrase. Te phenomenon spread to college campuses a few years later, and Star Wars Day was born. In 2011, the first organized celebration of Star Wars Day took place in Toronto, Canada, with festivities including an original trilogy trivia game show, a costume contest with celebrity judges, and several parody films and remixes on the big screen.
As you may have picked up, I was never a big Star Wars fan, my recent social media appearance in a Wookie costume notwithstanding. I saw the first movie in the series, which was just called Star Wars at the time but later was renamed A New Hope, when it came out at the theaters at the end of my junior year in high school. I was as fascinated as the next guy, but never got around to seeing the other two flicks in the original three-part series.
Then when the three “prequels” came out in 1999 through the early 2000’s, my family got into it–especially one little boy with his light saber–but I couldn’t make it through a whole movie without dozing off. I guess the whole sci-fi genre is not for me.

 

My larger concern, sometimes, is that so many people in today’s world see a relationship with the God of the universe as something similar to science fiction, and they treat Him more like an impersonal “force” than the benevolent and loving Father that He is. Or, just as bad, they attempt to use Him for His power, to tap into His force, without investing in an ongoing relationship of commitment and submission to His lordship.

 

God is a personal and loving God, not a cosmic force. He created us in His image, He knows us intimately, and loves us anyway. He demonstrated that love by sending His one and only Son to earth, to die in our stead on a cruel cross, to purchase our pardon and pay for our sins. And, He promises His presence with us over and over in Scripture: “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

Choices

I read a story this week about a guy who was trying to do his part to help out with the environment, so he set up an extra trash can in his church and posted above it, “Empty water bottles here.” Perhaps he should have been a little more specific, because when he went back later to check it, he didn’t find any bottles in it, but it was full of water.
We often have a hard time deciding the right thing to do in certain situations because it’s unclear what’s expected of us. We read the directions as we see them, and sincerely and earnestly try to do what we think is the right thing. There may be a need for clarity–“put empty bottles in the can”–lest we find a can full of water that has been emptied from the bottles.
Sometimes, it’s a little more complicated however, when we are getting our messages from a myriad of sources and we don’t know who to believe.  It may be that there are so many choices, and we find ourselves frustrated and confused trying to make black-and-white decisions in an increasingly gray world.  I don’t think it’s ever been more difficult in that light than it is today. Yet, on so many different levels, it is more simple than we would like to admit. We just have to choose, right.
I heard another story about a man who was traveling across country on an airplane. About halfway through the flight, the flight attendant came by and asked the man, “Would you like dinner?”
The man responded, “What are my choices?” The flight attendant answered back, “Yes, or no.”
Pretty simple, really. But in a world where we have hundreds of choices of what breakfast cereals we’ll eat in the morning, we tend to expect multiple options for all that we do. Often, it’s just not that complicated. It’s a matter of “Yes” and “No.” The broad road, or the narrow gate. The left path, or the right path. The Word, or the world.
You and I will face many choices today, some that mean more than others. I hope you’ll make your choices informed by the truth of God’s Word, and a conviction that you will follow in obedience, no matter what. I assure you those are choices you will never regret making.

Signs

I remember back in the 1970’s there was a rock band from Canada called the Five Man Electrical Band. They were one of those one-hit wonders–their one popular song was called “Signs.” If you are from a younger generation, you may remember the song being redone in the 1990’s by Tesla. The lead singer wrote the song after driving along Route 66 in California and seeing all the different signs along the road.
The chorus goes: “Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs. Blocking up the scenery, breaking my mind. Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the signs?” After a couple of verses about bad signs he finished with this verse: “And the sign says, ‘Everybody welcome. Come in, kneel down and pray.’ But when they passed around a plate at the end of it all, I didn’t have a penny to pay. So I got me a pen and paper and made up my own little sign. I said, ‘Thank you, Lord, for thinkin’ about me, I’m alive and doing fine.'”
I’m not sure about his theology, but he was right about one thing; there are signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs. Signs do everything from give us directions, pass on needed information, warn us about something, or give us our daily reminder to call Alexander Shunnarah. Most signs are pretty serious, but some are funny. Like the sign in the waiting room of a veterinarian that said, “Be back in five minutes. Sit! Stay!”
Some signs are a little confusing. Like this one in a London department store: Bargain basement, upstairs.
Or, this sign, in an office: Would the person who took the step ladder yesterday bring it back, or further steps will be taken.
In the “uh-oh” category, there’s this one seen at a conference: For anyone who has children and doesn’t know it, there is a day care on the first floor.
How about this one, spotted on a repair shop door? We can repair anything. And then down below, somewhat ironically: Please knock hard on the door, the bell doesn’t work.
I liked this one in the “don’t do what the sign says” category for an upstairs restroom. It said: Toilet out of order. Please use floor below.
We have occasionally referenced bad church signs in this space, because sometimes they get a little weird. Like this one, from a message board in front of a church building that read: Don’t let worry kill you. Let the church help. Or this one for a support group: Weight Watchers meeting next Saturday. Please enter through double doors in back.Ouch!
Ideally, signs point to something. That is their sign-ificance; they are communicators, or indicators. When it comes to physical health, we use the term “vital signs”–things like temperature, blood pressure, pulse rate–which indicate how healthy or unhealthy we may be.
Likewise, there are several indicators that are signs of good spiritual health. I came across a list of diagnostic questions from pastor Leith Anderson many years ago, and have used it over the years to determine how healthy my walk with the Lord is at any given time. I have adapted it some over the years, but you might want to do a little check-up of your spiritual vital signs by asking yourself these questions as part of your devotional time this week:
  • Do I thirst for God?
  • Do I live by His word?
  • Do I grieve over my sin?
  • Do I live my life by faith?
  • Do I have a servant’s heart?
  • Do I actively love others?
  • Do I live to glorify God?
May all your signs point to “healthy,” and if not, my prayer is that you’ll take the steps of repentance to get back where you need to be to enjoy the life God intends for you to live, in right relationship with Him and with His people.

On Death and Taxes

I hate to be the one to remind you, but Tax Day is right around the corner. Normally, it would be April 15, but since that day is on a Sunday this year Tax Day is moved back a day. Then, the next day is Emancipation Day in Washington, D.C., which becomes a defacto holiday for the Internal Revenue Service, and buys you another day. All that said, you have until Tuesday to file your 2017 returns and pay any taxes due.

For whatever it’s worth, you can still “celebrate” April 15 anyway if you like. It’s National Glazed Spiral Ham Day, National Rubber Eraser Day, National Take a Wild Guess Day, and National Titanic Remembrance Day. Or, you can just come to worship with us at Shelby Crossings and celebrate all the blessings God has given us (which the IRS wants to tax).

I think it was Benjamin Franklin who first said that only two things in life are certain:  death and taxes. This week we are reminded how certain taxes really are. The friendly folks at the IRS are pretty serious about collecting their cut of our hard-earned wages to fund our blessed government’s endeavors.

Perhaps you have heard of the new simple tax form that some have suggested. At the top of the form you write your name and Social Security number. Then there are two lines with the simplest of instructions:  How much did you make?  and Send it to us.

If you still are trying to get your tax returns finished, here are a few deductions that are not allowed to take. You cannot write off last year’s tax as a bad investment. You cannot claim depreciation on your wife and children. You cannot deduct health club dues as a total loss. And the IRS won’t buy the idea that if you spend it before you earn it, it’s not really income.

Really, there’s not much you can do about taxes but pay them. Even Jesus taught that we are to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.  But then again, we can also vote to determine who our Caesar will be, depending upon how much he or she wants to tax us. That’s a message for another day.

The good news of this season is that old Ben Franklin wasn’t as wise as he thought he was. Taxes may be certain, but death? Not so much. For believers in Christ, we have hope when it comes to matters of life and death. We are reminded of that especially this time of year, at Easter, but really it’s a reality for us the year round. We never have to fear death again.

When Jesus rose from the grave He defeated death–not just for Himself, but for all of us who know Him.  “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus said.  “He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.”  (John 11:25-26) .

So regardless of your standing with the IRS, the tomb is still empty, and your life doesn’t have to be!  I look forward to seeing you this Sunday as we celebrate the good news of our resurrected Lord again this week with a great time of worship together at Shelby Crossings. It’s better than a glazed spiral ham!

The Fruit of Our Lives

I cut down some oak trees in my yard on Monday. Probably close to a hundred of them actually. Mowed most of them down with my lawnmower, and also pulled a few of them up by their roots.
Lest you get the idea that I am a modern-day Paul Bunyan, those oak “trees” were mere saplings, most about five or six inches in height. We do have two big oak trees in my front yard, one of which produces myriads of acorns during the fall and winter each year, and inevitably some of those get rooted enough in the ground to germinate and eventually start growing a little tree.
I was struck by the reality of the ongoing miracle of nature as I mowed the grass–and trees–on Monday. There have always been sprouting seedlings, but this year seemed to produced an abundant harvest of those miniature trees. The miracle is commonplace I know–how a tree can produce its seeds that find their roots to produce more trees–but it’s no less a miracle. From a small acorn grows, over time, a huge oak.
Of course, many of you who are farmers or gardeners see the same thing year in and year out, but it happens on purpose for you, with plants and flowers you have planted.
In my yard, the trees spring up whether I want them to or not, though they may get a little help from the squirrels who sometimes bury the acorns to eat later. The process of planting and growing, sowing and reaping, is simple: you till the ground, plant the seed, give it care and plenty of water, and in time, the plant grows and the fruit is produced. It is what living things do.
That’s the way God designed the entire created world actually, each species of plant and animal to reproduce after its own kind. It is a natural part of the seasons for living things to reproduce. All it takes is one generation of plant or animal to fail to reproduce and that species will become extinct altogether.
And so we find a clear lesson for the Christian. It is natural, if we are living, to reproduce other Christians. We have been called to share our message of hope with others, so that they too may entrust their lives to our Savior, and find new life in Him. Then, as they are transformed by the gospel, it is only natural for them to spread the message of their Transformer to others. And on and on it goes, reproducing after our own kind.
Which, in reality, is how we got here as followers of Christ in 2018. Those Christ-followers who have walked before us these last two thousand years have planted the seeds of the gospel that have been passed down for generations so that we are the resulting “fruit” of their faithfulness. The question is, who will be the fruit of our lives?
Of course, the process of reproduction requires that we remain healthy, and that requires that we grow strong roots, and stay connected to our source of life, lest we be mowed down by the struggles we face. As Jesus promised, “If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.” He went on to add, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples.” (John 15:5, 8)
So let us be faithful to our calling, knowing that the greatest oak was once just a little nut that held its ground. May we bear much fruit in our generation, to our Father’s glory.