Goodnight, Irene

This morning just before leaving for church we learned of the calling home of a member of our former church, a dear friend. It was a surprise and it wasn’t. We’ve known for some time that she was dealing serious health issues, even while we were still at that church. Even with all that, just bringing her image to mind causes a smile. It’s was something she was always doing…smiling…no matter what the situation. And she enjoyed bringing smiles to other’s faces, too.

Occasionally during our evening service, I would ask for favorite hymns from the congregation. If Irene were there, I could count on her requesting “Make Me a Blessing.” It is what Irene wanted to be and indeed was to many people. We heard a few stories about her younger years and knew that she could be cantankerous at times. Some thought she still was. I say that with a smile on my face.

At the end of one of our services I was speaking with people as they left the church. Irene came up and I said, “Goodnight, Irene.” Immediately I recalled the old song of the same title first recorded by American blues musician Huddie ‘Lead Belly’ Ledbetter in 1933. I mentioned that to Irene and it became our “inside” joke.

A line of that song comes to mind now. “Goodnight, Irene, goodnight Irene I’ll see you in…” Now the rest of that line is “my dreams.” Good for the song, but not for Irene. You see, Irene is with the Lord now, the One she asked to save her long ago and make her a blessing. Her request was abundantly answered.

Paul’s comment also comes to mind. “So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. That is why we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). Irene completely understands that now.

So no more goodnight Irene, now it’s “…I’ll see you in heaven.” Enjoy the eternal joy, peace, and blessing your Lord has waiting for you. We’ll see you in a little while.

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It’s Not About You

One of the things about studying the Bible is that we have a tendency to inspect and dissect the details, many times to the point of absurdity. Now details are important, don’t get me wrong. But when we over emphasize the details we have a strong tendency to forget the big picture.

The big picture is that the Bible is a story about God, not about man. Too often in our day and down through the ages we learn of men and women who use the Bible as a means for personal advancement. Focusing on religion can do that. Even Paul had to contend with people who were profiting from religious activity. It’s not about us – you or me, it’s about God.

We love the Beatitudes. Jesus used them as the basis for His sermon describing the foundational characteristics of true believers and how those characteristics are seen in the lives of believers. They’re not a list of things to believe, but a description of how a true belief shows itself in the lives of believers. And it’s not a list of things to do either. Jesus is saying that if we truly believe in God, have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us through faith in His finished work on the cross, then this is what believers will look and act like as a natural result of that faith.

That said, even these characteristics, if not understood properly, can be used for selfishness. The key is a simple phrase found in Matthew 5:11, “…for my sake.” Those eight beautiful Be-attitudes are about Him, not you or me. When we try to make these characteristics appear in our lives by our own strength we’re making them about us. When we allow the Holy Spirit to develop these characteristics in us and give God the glory for it, then it becomes about Him.

 Something to think about – who or what is your life about?

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Can we accept Christ’s teachings without accepting Christ?

Can we accept Christ’s teachings without accepting Christ?

While I was preparing a message on the Beatitudes as presented in Matthew 5:1-11. I stopped as I read a verse we all take for granted. It is verse number two: “He opened His mouth and taught them.” You might say, so what? Or, of course He did; how else would He teach them? (By the way, you better careful asking that question. When you’re talking about God, His options are infinite! But I know what you mean.) It raised my question above. Can we accept Christ’s teaching without accepting Christ?

You see, some (including some professing Christians) take the Beatitudes to be a great moral code. A code that if followed would make the world would be a much better place in which to live. On an individual basis some believe that keeping this wonderful code might make some points with God and get some benefit from Him here and get them into heaven when the time comes. Jesus tells us in Matthew 25 that simply doing “good” stuff doesn’t cut it. It’s pretty clear that the motivation for our actions is important. The fact is that we just don’t have what it takes within us to keep such a perfect moral code. We will fail. It takes more than we’ve got.

That’s where my question comes in. It’s like the great scientists who have discovered the foundational principles of modern science. They described them and explained the details of the principles. But the principles existed before those men and women and continued to exist after they were gone. Those principles and the foundational ones for life were put in place and are maintained by the One who created them – Christ. Note Colossians 1:16, 17 as Paul refers to Christ, “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.”

There you have it. Jesus created the principles (physical and spiritual) and maintains them. Without Him they would have no power. You can describe them, but without Christ they have no power. And we need His power in our lives by the presence of the Holy Spirit in order to put His spiritual principles to work in our lives.

Can you accept Christ’s teachings without accepting Him? No way!  A line from a very old song comes to mind, “you can’t have one without the other.” John explains it clearly in John 1:12, 13, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Do you have Christ in your life? If you do, then you have His power within you to apply His teachings. If you don’t, why not come to Him today? He promises, “the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37).

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REUNION

A few weekends ago, I attended my high school class’ 50th reunion. I was reluctant to go. I hadn’t been to any of the other reunions. Who wants to hang around a bunch of old people? Besides, I reasoned, I’ve stayed in contact with those that I wanted to and I would likely not recognize many, if any, of those attending. You know, “Who’s that? Nooo…you’ve got to be kidding! Really?” But, a couple of my friends talked me into going. I’m glad I did. There were 639 members of my class. Around 200 attended, some were spouses. So yes, there was some “Who’s that?” with expected surprise when I realized who it was. Apparently a number of those attending who knew me back then had no trouble recognizing me. I hadn’t changed much, they said. And surprisingly that was true for me as I saw someone in the crowd I had known. Then there were those whom I had forgotten all about until I saw them at the reunion. And there were those I didn’t know at all, then or now. And there were some who couldn’t be there (Vietnam). Of course, there was all the catching up and reminiscing. There were some things that I hoped people would have forgotten by now. And, yes, there were a number of “You’re a what? You’re kidding, right?” when they heard that I had become a pastor. One or two even asked if there was “something” they missed about me back then. Talk about an open door! I did drop a seed or two.

All of that lead to what really surprised me. That was the warm, somewhat nostalgic feeling that came over me as I backed away from the crowd and just looked over the whole room. It was like being comfortable and being home with people I knew and some I didn’t. It reminded me off another “home” I have. Jesus mentions it in John 14:1-3.

1“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”

Jesus tells us something else very interesting about that home in Matthew 8:11, “And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”

We sing the hymn “When We All Get to Heaven” about the grand reunion of true believers in heaven with Jesus. It will be something like my high school reunion – people I know, people I don’t know, some will know me, many won’t, some I’ll be surprised to see, and some who will be surprised to see me. As the hymn says, “What a day of rejoicing that will be. When we all see Jesus. We’ll sing and shout the victory!”

The being at home feeling I got at my high school reunion ended when I left. The home Jesus speaks about and the feeling we’ll have there will last forever. Is heaven your home? If so, I’m looking forward to meeting you there. If not, why not join me and the others through faith in Jesus Christ? Check it out: John 14:6 and Acts 4:12.

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RADIO

I recently watched a movie again about a mentally challenged young man that no one really understands. Everyone calls him Radio; his real name is James Robert Kennedy. Ridiculed, laughed at, treated badly, and at best ignored; except for one man, the coach. He befriends him, treats him with respect. The relationship is challenging and challenged by those who don’t like it. They propose all sorts of alternatives for the relationship. Radio is scared at times, but he doesn’t hold any grudges even when mistreated. At the end of the movie there’s a stadium full of people cheering Radio.

I wonder sometimes if that’s how God sees us. We don’t really know or understand each other most of the time. People are a mystery to us. We see the world through our own eyes and experience and don’t understand why others don’t see it our way, too. We occasionally get in trouble because of it. Maybe more than occasionally. We mistreat each other out of ignorance. Yet, He understands us and does everything He can, and then some, to help us. And when it comes down to it the one thing He can do to really help us He puts Himself on the line for us as the coach in the movie does for Radio. I picture the end of our story will a grandstand full of saints cheering us as we arrive before our Coach, Savior, King, and God. And I think there will be tears in my eyes then as there was when the movie ended and they will be tears of joy!

John 3:16, 17, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

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Reasons for Thanksgiving

I’m sure everyone has already blogged about Thanksgiving…before the fact. We’ve read admonitions to be thankful. They are plentiful. Someone counted 138 passages in the Bible that deal with the subject of thanksgiving. There’s a great quote about thanksgiving that I can’t attribute to anyone in particular. It goes like this, “We don’t need more to be thankful for, we need more to be thankful.” There’s another ending that goes like this, “…we need to be more thankful.” It works either way.

You might wonder why I’m writing about this after Thanksgiving. Well, an acquaintance of mine emailed a brief comment on a verse in Deuteronomy that raised an interesting idea. The verse is Deuteronomy 8:10, “When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you.” The context is Moses exposition of the law to the generation of Israelites that were facing the same challenges their parents faced. They failed. The present generation would succeed if they believed God and obeyed Him. Moses was attempting to encourage them toward success. The idea the verse suggests is to give thanks to God after His blessings are enjoyed. So, I thought I would wait until after Thanksgiving to write about my Thanksgiving. It was worth the wait.

The hutch, table, and chairs we used are from my parent’s home. They were the center of many a Thanksgiving meal. When I married, my wife and eventually our daughters joined at this table. When my parents died the furniture came to me and saw more Thanksgiving meals. They are now in our youngest daughter’s home.

My Dad said that our branch of the family tree was more like a twig than a branch. He was right. We’re still a small group. And once again we gathered around that table to celebrate Thanksgiving. But it isn’t just the meal I was thankful for. Life being what it is, it’s not often our twig gets together. We did yesterday, all seven of us (counting our son-in-law’s mother). While I watched and participated in the activities of the afternoon, it occurred to me just how blessed I was, how good God has been to me – a wonderful wife (for 42 years), two wonderful daughters, a really great son-in-law, and grandson. (Yes, our son-in-law’s mother is a nice lady, too. And that’s a blessing as well.) We snacked on appetizers, talked, laughed, and enjoyed our meal together. The ladies made and decorated gingerbread houses while we guys watched football. It was a really special day for me.

Moses was right. I have eaten and am full and I bless and thank the Lord for the good He has given to me.

As you reflect on your Thanksgiving, I pray that you, too, can bless and thank the Lord for what He has given to you.

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How Now Shall We Live?

How now shall we live? What a challenging question. One that every thinking Christian is asking about their particular circumstance in our society’s current atmosphere of turmoil.

Many have written at length in attempting to answer the question “How now shall we live?” Scripture address the multiplicity of books. Ecclesiastes 12:12 tells us, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh” (KJV). Another version puts it this way, “There is no end of opinions ready to be expressed. Studying them can go on forever and become very exhausting!” Our Sunday evening study group went through Charles Colson’s book How Now Shall We Live? It was not an easy project for many of us. The worldview concepts presented are often quite involved. Mr. Colson presents them as plainly as possible with the idea that it is good to “know you enemy.” Mr. Colson concludes his book by answering the “so what?” question…what to do with what you’ve learned. It was a worthwhile study. But…

I keep going back to two basic passages in Scripture that directly address the subject: Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 and 1 Corinthians 10:31. The first addresses our personal responsibility regarding both our public and private actions. The second addresses our personal responsibility regarding how our actions affecting those around us. In both cases, the theme for each of us is to first consider what God would think of whatever action we are considering, great or small. Can it be as simple as that? Put God first? Consider God first? Look first to please the One who loves us and died for us? Consider first how our actions will affect our brothers and sisters in God’s family, and how God will view it? Consider first how our actions will effect our representation of Christ to the world? Do priorities really matter?

Yes! I truly believe the answer to the question “how now shall we live?” is as simple as this…put God first.

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Hand-in-Hand

I recently heard on the news of an elderly couple who died an hour apart (he first). Gordon (94) and Norma (90) Yeager were severely injured in a car accident. When their situation became worse they were placed in the same room to be together. They held hands. They had been married for 72 years. They died holding hands. When Gordon died his heart monitor continued to register a heartbeat. Since they were holding hands the heartbeat was that of Norma. She passed away an hour later.
On hearing this news two thoughts came to mind.
The first was what a wonderful illustration of Genesis 2:24 this is. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” “’Dad used to say that a woman is always worth waiting for,’ the couple’s son, Dennis Yeager, told ABC. ‘Dad waited an hour for her and held the door for her.’ Family members say it’s fitting that the couple died together, since they were inseparable in life. ‘They just loved being together,’ Dennis Yeager said. ‘He always said, ‘I can’t go until she does because I gotta stay here for her.’ And she would say the same thing.’”1
The news story doesn’t mention the couple’s religious affiliation. It really doesn’t really matter. The biblical reference was long before religion entered the world. God expressed His design for the marriage relationship. He knew what it would take for the marriage relationship to work properly. Apparently, so did the Gordon and Norma. I wonder how much of the marital problems our society is experiencing would be solved if that simple design were put into practice. At the risk of being PIC (politically incorrect), God’s plan is for a man and a woman. Enough said there.
My second thought was what a wonderful illustration of Jesus Christ living within the believer’s life. Jesus promised that, if invited, He would come into our lives and abide with us (Revelation 3:20 and John 15:5) and that He would never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). He promised to replace our old stony heart with a living heart (Ezekiel 11:19) – His heart. One of the New Testament pictures of church age believers is His bride. As we walk hand-in-hand with Jesus and become one flesh our heartbeat will be His heartbeat. His passions will be our passions. His desires will be our desires. His peace will be our peace. He will walk with us to the very end, holding our hand until death from this world joins us with Him for all eternity (Revelation 19:6-8).
May God bless you as you walk hand-in-hand with Him.

1 Taken from KTLA website http://www.ktla.com/news/landing/ktla-iowa-couple-dies-holding-hands,0,3527891.story.

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