The Passing of Time

90DC0B4CC6A44E2CA0F4CAE457EE06A3It will usually happen at least once a year, and if you’re fortunate to have several friends, it most likely will appear in the form of a two-word greeting that you hear several times on a single day: “Happy Birthday!”

Frank W. Boreham, an Aussie who died in 1959, had an interesting view on the significance of birthdays. He said, “Birthdays are mere records of time, not registers of distance. They tell me how long I have been on the road, not how far I have traveled.”

Boreham’s words are a challenge to live a life of dedication and discipline like the one Paul spoke of in I Corinthians 9:23-27:

Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize.  Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. However, they do it to receive a crown that will fade away, but we a crown that will never fade away.  Therefore I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air.  Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

How much time has passed since you first met Jesus, and how far have you traveled in your Christian walk?  If you’re still at the starting blocks, it’s time to start running.  If you’ve stumbled along the way, it’s time to get up and go again.

I encourage you to make the most of your time as you “press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).”

 

 

A Parade of Smiles

doggyWith the exception of Sunday, my morning routine includes a little java and journalism.  On Sundays I still drink the coffee, but I skip the newspaper.

Tuesday morning, I was enjoying my morning combo, when a stranger engaged me in some meaningless banter.  As he rose to leave he said, “Well, you know we all look alike.” Then he smiled and left.

As he walked out the door, I quickly concluded that I looked nothing like him:

  • He was covered in tattoos, but I have none.
  • He had a full head of hair that glistened with grease, and my head looks like a hairless Chihuahua.
  • He didn’t have a tooth in his head, and I still have most of mine.

I smiled to myself, but before I could shake my head in disbelief, I had a Kodak moment of comprehension: I got the picture.  I saw how much “we all look alike,” and I realized the similarity is in the smile.

Your face is the canvas on which your attitude and emotions are painted.  Is your face painted with the broad strokes of angry red, the depressing colors of a frown or with the bright hues of an inviting smile?

Solomon captured this thought when he said: A person’s anxiety will weigh him down, but an encouraging word makes him joyful. ~Proverbs 12:25

Is it easier for a person to see Christ in you when you’re smiling or frowning at them?  Think about it:

  • Paul said, “I am filled with joy, and I share that joy with all of you (Philippians 2:7).”
  • The Psalmist said, “Smile on me, and teach me your laws (Psalm 119:135).”
  • David said, “When I trust your mercy, my heart finds joy in your salvation (psalm 13:5).”

When Paul prayed for the Christians at Rome, he said, “I pray that God, the source of all hope, will infuse your lives with an abundance of joy and peace in the midst of your faith so that your hope will overflow through the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).”

When your life is abundantly infused with God’s joy and peace, you can’t help it—you just have to smile!

Making Sense of the Nonsense

birdGrief and anxiety can be so powerful that you can melt in the heat of their presence like a dip of ice cream on a 110-degree day.   When the trials and tragedies of life assault you, God can seem so distant that his voice is inaudible and His care and compassion inconspicuous.

When you feel like you’ve been bullied by misfortune and beaten down by fickle friends, you can be blinded by a pervasive sense of loneliness and a warped perspective on life.  This was the case with Asaph when he wrote Psalm 73:

My feet almost slipped; my feet almost slid out from under me. For I envied those who are proud, as I observed the prosperity of the wicked. For they suffer no pain. . . They mock and say evil things; they proudly threaten violence. They speak as if they rule in heaven, and lay claim to the earth.

Whenever you find that you are walking with Asaph down the path of misery, you need to recalibrate your compass.  Instead of focusing primarily on your internals, you need to take an eternal perspective on life.  This is what Asaph did to reorient his direction in life:

When I tried to make sense of all this nonsense, it was troubling to me. When I finally looked beyond myself and quite beating myself down. I looked up to God and I entered His temple, and then I understood the destiny of the wicked (my paraphrase of Psalm 73:16-17).

In times like these, God may seem to hide, but He is still present to present you with what you need.  “Sometimes God gives us a gentle push of courage; sometimes He mercifully numbs us so we don’t experience the full intensity of our pain; at other times He carries us when we cannot take another step on own (Bruce Carroll, Sometimes Miracles Hide).”

One of the more comforting sections of Scripture that may help when you are feeling the pain of lingering bruises is Psalm 121:

I look up at the vast size of the mountains—from where will my help come in times of trouble? The Eternal Creator of heaven and earth and these mountains will send the help I need. He holds you firmly in place; He will not let you fall. He who keeps you will never take His eyes off you and never drift off to sleep. What a relief! The One who watches over Israel never leaves for rest or sleep. The Eternal keeps you safe, so close to Him that His shadow is a cooling shade to you. Neither bright light of sun nor dim light of moon will harm you. The Eternal will keep you safe from all of life’s evils, from your first breath to the last breath you breathe, from this day and forever. ~The Voice

A Circle of Friends

friendThe presumed benefits of friendship have been the focus of many self-help books and the authors have suggested that healthy friendships are a key metric to measure happiness; boost your physical and mental health; and, they may even extend your life.

A group of researchers from the University of Oxford decided to test the value of friendships, and their research has yielded some interesting results:

  • The research suggests that people with a large circle of friends have a higher pain tolerance.
  • The social interactions you have with your friends triggers the release of endorphins that are conducive to positive emotions.
  • Endorphins generate a strong pain-killing effect that’s stronger than morphine.

Which is of more value: Facebook posts or face-to-face interactions?  Katerina Johnson, co-author of the study, has said: “In this digital era, deficiencies in our social interactions may be one of the overlooked factors contributing to the declining health of our modern society.”

Even though, he didn’t make his conclusion based on a questionnaire, Solomon knew the value of a good friend:

  • Proverbs 17:17: A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
  • Proverbs 27:17: In the same way that iron sharpens iron, a person sharpens the character of his friend.

I’m not sure who Aristotle had in mind when he said, “The antidote for fifty enemies is one friend.” I do, however, know that his words remind me of something Jesus said:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:12-15).”

Title, Deed, and Ownership

Title-DeedsWhen I woke up this morning, to the rhythm and words of an old gospel hymn.  The four-line chorus reminded me of a precious truth:

Now I belong to Jesus,

Jesus belongs to me,

Not for the years of time alone,

But for eternity.


Of the 19 words in that refrain, the word belong stood out more than the rest.  It occurred to me that when you belong to Jesus, you should be longing for a relationship with Him.

During a debate with some skeptics, Jesus spoke of the key to this relationship: The one who belongs to God listens and responds to God’s words. You don’t listen and respond, because you don’t belong to God (John 8:47).

When you listen and respond to God’s words it’s evidence that you belong to God, and it’s the first note in a harmonious relationship with Him.  Paul spoke of this relationship, and who you are in Jesus:

  • Ephesians 1:7—In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace
  • Ephesians 1:11—In Him also we have obtained an inheritance
  • Ephesians 3:12—We have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him.
  • Colossians 2:9-10—As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving, and you are complete in Him

When the feelings of doubt and despair try to take root in your heart, remember that you belong to Jesus.  His desire is to have a relationship with you, and He will watch over you as a shepherd does his flock.

 

Psalm 100:2-4

Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands!

Serve the Lord with gladness;

Come before His presence with singing.

Know that the Lord, He is God;

It is He who has made us, and we belong to Him;

We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,

And into His courts with praise.

Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.

Lightening Bugs

firefly-by-jessica-lucia-cc10:30–that’s 4 1/2 hours from now.  That is the designated moment when I am scheduled to say a formal “goodbye” to Johnny Browning.

Words can be brutally forceful and full of strength, but in other instances they seem so inadequate.   Mark Twain said: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightening and a lightening bug.”

When I gather with Johnny’s family today, “goodbye” is a lightening bug.  How do you say goodbye to a lifelong friend like him?

  • I honestly can’t remember a time when I did not know him
  • I went door to door as a kid and sold the TV Guide, and Johnny bought them
  • When my dad died, Johnny was one of the first people at the house to see if he could help my mother and her three young sons.
  • He let me live, rent free, in one of his houses for a couple of months.
  • He worked side by side with me for the 25 plus years I’ve been the pastor of FCC.

I have walked with Johnny in both times of sorrow and joy.  I have seen him bury a son, his wife, a daughter-in-law, and another son, and I’ve seen him fight cancer and there was never a time his faith wavered.

I think “thanks” is more appropriate than “goodbye.”  So, today, I give thanks to God for my memories of Johnny, and I thank Johnny for taking the time to make them.

Are You On The Edge?

honingrodEarlier this year, I read the sad story of a promising young man named Logan J. Stiner. Even though he was a healthy 18-year-old and a state-qualified wrestler, Stiner died in May from an overdose of powdered caffeine. The corner, Dr. Steven Evans, said he doubted that Stiner had any idea he had consumed a toxic amount of the powder.

Stiner, a national honor society member who planned to attend Toledo University, may have been influenced by the antics and influence of some of the elite athletes among the ranks of the pros. The NFL has already suspended more than 20 players this year for violating the league’s policy on the use of performance-enhancing drugs and illegal substances. They were trying to get an edge by hedging the rules.

Paul used the context of athletic competition to call Christians to a lifestyle of self-discipline: “You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally. I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself ( The Message ~I Corinthians 9).”

You can summarize what Paul said in five words: “No sloppy living for me.” It’s hard to get the winning edge when you’re dulled by sloppy living.

I used to make knives, and I know a sharp knife can lose its edge suddenly or slowly. When it is abruptly dulled, you usually know why because you have abused and misused your knife.

When your knife slowly uses its edge, you may not be aware of the dullness that has slowly crept in. Solomon spoke of this in Proverbs 27:17: I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of one who lacks wisdom. I saw that thorns had grown up all over it, the ground was covered with weeds, and its stone wall was broken down. When I saw this, I gave careful consideration to it; I received instruction from what I saw: “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to relax, and your poverty will come like a bandit, and your need like an armed robber.”

This type of dullness can be the result of not taking the proper care of your knife or it can be the influence of the wrong kind of friends. The power of friendship is a principle of the Proverbs: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17).”

What kind of a friend are you? Are you the iron that hones the life of your friends and posse, so their lives are more polished and glossy? Another key question is: How do your friends influence you?