Monday, May 23, 2016

Beauty in the Weeds

The lot next to my house is vacant and overgrown.  The county maintains it because it has a drainage ditch that runs through it. 

A couple of months ago the county came through and "cleared" a large portion of the lot removing a lot of the trees that had blocked my view of the main road.  What they left behind was an open mess.

As the rains came and now the warmer weather the lot became full of weeds. 

Last week some of the weeds began blooming turning the eyesore into some thing more splendid.

Seems like God does the same for us.  We should not be anything but an ugly weed but somehow He allows us to bloom and bring some beauty into the lives of others.

This post may be a bit hokey, but maybe someone needs to heat it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Like Father Like Son

Almost every dad will know the feeling; you are holding this tiny precious little life in the palm of your hands, you are overwhelmed with pride, joy and a healthy dose of fear. I remember the first time I looked into the sweet brown eyes of my first born. I remember promising myself I would do everything I could to show her the right path. I wanted to teach her all the good things and protect her from all the bad things.
I can only Imagine Abraham having those same thoughts as he held Isaac. As we talked about previously, God had promised him this son for many years and now FINALLY He had kept his promise. (check out the previous post about Abraham (click here) You know Abraham had to be so thankful to God; you know he promised he was going to teach Isaac to always believe, and to never do any of the bad things he had done.   Abraham surely committed, like most of us to do everything he could to help Isaac learn to follow God.
Abraham gets some serious kudos for his efforts.  The Bible recounts that God tested Abraham. He asked him to bring Isaac to a mountain and sacrifice him to show his trust in God. So, here is Abraham, now somewhere around 120 years old with a son that most historians believe is a grown man. This the son that God had promised for decades and now he is asking him to take him to the mountain and sacrifice him. Abraham had laughed at God before; this would have been a good time for him to do it again. Abraham didn’t laugh though, he complied.
I believe what happened next shows how Abraham had worked to instill faith and obedience in Isaac.  After his dad led him up the mountain and the reality began to set in for Isaac that they didn’t bring an animal with them for sacrifice he could have easily resisted. Let’s be real he was a strong young man and his dad was pretty old, it wouldn’t have been that hard for him to give the old guy a swift kick and run away. Not like the old dude could have really taken him right? Isaac showed the faith and trust in God and in his dad by going along with the plan. I am sure he was confused and scared, but his faith was remarkable.
Abraham loved and favored Isaac. He eventually passed along everything he owned to his son. Isaac inherited Abraham's wealth, his flocks, his land, and his servants. The one thing he could't inherit was his dad's faith. The same is true for us today; we can do our best to teach and guide our kids; but we can't have a relationship with Jesus based on our parents' faith.  Abraham began to see his best efforts payoff with  Isaac's display on the mountain.  Isaac eventually formed his own covenant with God.
The example we as parents set goes a long way to how our kids turn out. Our kids learn not just from the words we say, but from our actions.  That’s why I was so very proud when my daughter ran her first 5k race. She was learning healthy habits from me. Unfortunately our kids learn our bad habits as well.  For those who don’t know this I have a tendency to be a bit sarcastic. I have to remind myself of this part of my character when my newly minted teenager pops off with a sarcastic remark.
Isaac was no different. He learned to fear and worship the Lord from his dad’s example, but he also picked up a bad habit or two as well.  Much like his father when Isaac fled his homeland during a famine he took refuge in the kingdom of Abimelech. Also like his father, Isaac told the king that his wife was actually his sister.  This caused a bit of distress when Abimelech saw Isaac fondling her.  Isaac’s dishonesty could have caused a major problem for him and for his wife Rebekah. It was eerily similar to what his father had done years before. Isaac also, like his dad, had a bit of a feud and later a truce with Abimelech. He also had disputes with others regarding wells and land his father had once claimed.
Isaac eventually had his own sons. Like his dad and all of us, he did the best he could, but he made a lot of mistakes too. The bible says he even favored one son over the other. He is still honored as one of the patriarchs of our faith. 
Just being Abraham's son brought a lot of benefit; but it didn't stop him from making mistakes and it didn't guarantee his faith.  Abraham & Isaac were both faced with the same challenges we are today. We want to do our best for our children and we have to reconcile our own faith. We will make mistakes along the way but like Isaac if we trust God, He will guide us. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

It Just Really Doesn't Matter.

In the third chapter of his letter the the Philippians the Apostle Paul lays out his resume.  As soon as he lauds his credentials he then says none of them really matter. He basically says his past and all his accomplishments are garbage compared to the grace and reward he found in Jesus.

Truth is,  whether you have an impressive resume or whether you have never accomplished anything; it doesn't matter. You may be an addict or you may be abused.  You may be highly educated or unable to read. You may be a billionaire or you may not know where your next meal is coming from. 

Our past,  our education,  our tax bracket, our gender, our race,  nor our social status; none of it really matters.

The only thing that really matters is Jesus' love and grace.  

Through Him we find real joy. Through Him we find true peace. Through Him we learn to serve others. Through Him we receive life!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

An Uneducated Reluctant Warrior

.Image result for alvin c york

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. "Joshua 1:9

There are days in our life that we will never forget. Alvin York had a day that would change his life forever; and it wasn’t the day he is most notable for.

On October 8, 1918 as a corporal in the United States Army he became one of the most famous and highly decorated soldiers in history.  His story of gallantry is well documented.  During the Battle of Argonne, along with a small group of men, York went on a raid of a German camp. After pretty easily defeating the camp, the men found themselves pinned down by German machine guns.

“And those machine guns were spitting fire and cutting down the undergrowth all around me something awful. And the Germans were yelling orders. You never heard such a 'racket in all of your life. I didn't have time to dodge behind a tree or dive into the brush... As soon as the machine guns opened fire on me, I began to exchange shots with them. There were over thirty of them in continuous action, and all I could do was touch the Germans off just as fast as I could. I was sharp shooting. I don't think I missed a shot. It was no time to miss… All the time I kept yelling at them to come down. I didn't want to kill any more than I had to. But it was they or I. And I was giving them the best I had."  Diary of Alvin York.

York felled 17 Germans with 17 shots. After that, a group of Germans charged at his unit and York shot 8 more with only 8 more shots.  It was a remarkable show of marksmanship.  Following that he led his small unit back to the Allied base and captured as many as 132 German Prisoners along the way (although numbers vary). York received The Distinguished Service Cross, the Croix de Guerre and Legion of Honor from France, the Croce de Guerra from Italy, The War Medal of Montenegro, and the United States Medal of Honor. He received a Heroes welcome home from the war and a ticker tape parade in New York City.  That day in Europe made York famous. A few years later, Gary Cooper won an Oscar portraying him on the big screen.

That heroic day was not however the day that Sergeant York would point to as the most significant day in his life.  That day actually took place a few years earlier.

As the third of 11 kids on a small farm in Tennessee, York grew up dirt poor and a little rowdy. The family farm was too far away from school and chores had to be done, so he wasn’t well educated. When his father died young it hit him hard. He developed quite a reputation for drinking too much moonshine and getting into too many fights. He also was known to be a bit of a gambler. When he was 27 years old most thought Alvin York would “never amount to anything.” 

On January 1, 1915 he attended a church revival meeting. At that meeting York’s poverty, nor his temper, nor his drunkenness, nor his gambling, nor his lack of education, kept him from committing his life to Christ.

York described the events at the revival of feeling like he was hit by lightning.  He gave up all the habits that had been keeping him in trouble. He got involved in a local church became a deacon, Sunday school teacher, and even led worship.

His faith went so deep it almost kept him from ever becoming a hero.  The congregation he was part of was staunchly pacifist; they held firm to the tenant,  "Blessed are the Peacemakers."  When York was drafted he originally replied that he was a conscientious objector, but his case was rejected and he was sent to boot camp.

It took a lot of soul searching before he was able to reconcile his patriotism and his faith. He truly wanted to defend his country but did not want to fight. Through a lot of prayer and Bible study he finally came to accept that by fighting he could help make peace. 

The faith he found that night at the revival sustained him throughout his experiences in World War I and gave him a new perspective on his life.  No longer was he concerned about his own well-being. His heart was now fixed on helping other people. 

Alvin York could have used his hero status to better himself. He could have cashed in. He knew God didn’t choose him because he was a hero. God made him a hero and opened his heart to others.  He could have done anything. He had countless offers. He had the world in the palm of his hand, but his heart led him back to Tennessee.

In the Tennessee hills was the “girl who had waited” as well as generations of youth that he wanted to make sure had a better opportunities than he did.  He also returned to his role at the church.  York worked tirelessly to improve things for his local community. He fought for roads, employment, and mostly education.  His biggest dream was to provide a high quality education to those like himself who were not going to receive it at the far away city school. 

Maintaining a family farm and giving every other penny he had to church or towards the school made life tough financially. Through the sacrifice, York first was able to offer some classes at the York Agricultural Institute in the mid-1920s. During the Great Depression and the subsequent lead up to World War II, York’s dream seemed destined not to ever be fulfilled. That’s why he agreed to allow Hollywood to tell his story.

The money he made from the movie went to finish and better the school that was now known as The York Institute.  Despite his status as a war hero and despite that the funds were used for a school; the nice people at the IRS decided York hadn’t paid enough taxes.   They charged him with tax evasion claiming he underpaid by over $80,000. The IRS being the awesome organization they are also added $80,000 more in penalties.

In the late stages of his life York was partially paralyzed, blind, and practically penniless. Not the life you would imagine for one of America’s greatest warriors.

He saw the horrors of war, he struggled financially, his health failed him, but through all of it, Alvin York clung to the faith he found January 1, 1915.

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ. - Philippians 3:7-8

Most people who recognize his name remember him for his great exploits that will live on in history books and maybe Red Box, through Gary Cooper’s performance. In rural Tennessee he is better known for his faith and for the school that is still open and educating young people today.

Despite that he was born into poverty, despite that he turned his back on his parent’s religion, despite the fact he had little education and some would say “nothing to offer” God still chose to use Alvin York.  None of those things defined Alvin York. Neither did that one day in The Battle of Argonne.  

God sought Alvin York out where he was and put him where he needed to be.  

Christ isn’t looking for us because we are heroes. He will make us heroes flaws and all. The grace he gives out will far surpass anything we could ever gain without him 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Man Who Laughed at God

Have you ever felt a little impatient? Ever make a rash decision for immediate gains instead of being patient and waiting on God’s timetable? Ever make a bad decision because of your impatience and have to deal with the consequences?  You are not alone!  
One of the biggest heroes in the bible, a man noted for his faithfulness and obedience, suffered from the same impatience and bad decision making that you and I do.  Abraham is referred to as the father of the faith and is a seminal figure in three of the world’s great religions; but he wasn’t perfect. In fact, when left to his own devices, he was a lot like me; pretty messed up.
Image result for abraham bible characterWe first meet Abraham in Genesis Chapter 11 while he is still using  his given name Abram. We see his family tree and learn about him marrying a lovely woman named Sarai.  God called him to leave his homeland and promised him the He would make him a great nation. God led him to his future promised land, and repeated his promise to him. Everything was going so well, until the first time adversity showed up. Even though God had set Abram up with some sweet land and made a pretty awesome promise to him twice, when a famine came over the land, Abram freaked out.
Ok, freaked out, may sound like a harsh term to use, but let’s examine what happened. Due to the famine, Abram took Sarai to Egypt to seek refuge. Because Egypt was not the friendliest of places Abram was afraid for their safety and came up with the genius plan of telling Pharaoh that Sarai was actually his sister not his wife. The Bible describes Sarai as a great beauty and Pharaoh was very interested in making her his bride. He was so interested he gave Abram a huge dowry for her. Abram, out of fear and just not knowing what to do was pretty much going to let Pharaoh have his wife. Fortunately, God intervened and Abram and Sarai were kicked out of Egypt, but somehow he got to keep all the cool things Pharaoh had given him.
So, Instead of trusting God through the famine, Abram thought he knew better. He fled, he lied and he almost lost his wife to Pharaoh.
After this, God reiterated his promise to Abram, promising him lots of land and many heirs. We see through the next couple of chapters the faithfulness Abram became famous for. He builds altars to God, he leads a valiant rescue of his nephew and he gives us a great example of tithing.
Many years pass and while Abram had the land God promised and had accumulated great wealth, he still didn’t have the heirs God had promised him. In Chapter 16 we start to see some of the doubt creep in as Abram questions God’s plan
But Abram answered, “Lord All-Powerful, you have given me everything I could ask for, except children. And when I die, Eliezer of Damascus will get all I own.[a] You have not given me any children, and this servant of mine will inherit everything.”
Much like when we question and get impatient, God calmed Abram and reminded him yet again of his promise to him.  God was still the same and his promise had not changed.
The Lord replied, “No, he won’t! You will have a son of your own, and everything you have will be his.” Then the Lord took Abram outside and said, “Look at the sky and see if you can count the stars. That’s how many descendants you will have.” Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord was pleased with him.
Ever get that amazing feeling that everything is going so great, you are just on top of the world. Ol' Abram felt that way for a bit, until doubt and impatience crept in again.  He and Sarai were starting to get up in age, still had no children and decided they would help God along with his promise.  Instead of waiting on God to fulfill the promise he had now give to Abram 3 times, he and Sarai decided to fix this heirless issue with their own little plan.
Sarai had Abram procreate with one of her servants, Hagar. What could possibly go wrong with this idea? In a not so surprising turn of events after Hagar became pregnant with Abram’s son Sarai became jealous and things were not smooth and happy. Kinda saw that coming, huh?
So, again Abram got impatient, and didn’t wait on God. Again, it didn’t turn out well for him.
Abram was 99 years old, still only had the one child, with Hagar, when God showed up again to remind him of their covenant. This time though, God seemed to want Abram to remember the promise so He threw in a couple of little reminders. God changed his name from Abram to Abraham and instituted the covenant of circumcision.  God gave instructions going forward as to who was to be circumcised and when, but also made Abraham, his son Ishmael, and all of his servants get circumcised immediately.  A tip of the cap to Abraham as the bible records he obeyed God that same day.
On a side note, who had that job? Who had the fun job of removing foreskin from grown men with their pocket knife? I also imagine there were not a lot of people clamoring to be at the front of the line. Also, who had the job of going around and checking to make sure everyone obeyed? But I digress.
15 God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. 16 I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”
17 Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?”
Whoa! Did you catch that, Abraham just laughed at God?
Let’s not be too hard on ol’ Abraham though, God had been making this promise now for decades and he and Sarah still had no kids.  It must have been laughter of not just amusement, but frustration.  “C’mon God, you have been telling me that for 50 years now!”
Like Abraham, I have laughed at God. For a number of years I felt like he was calling me to do something and I never felt worthy. I also never felt like he was fully revealing how he wanted to use me; only that he wanted to use me. "Ha, good one God, you are going to use me, that’s funny!" I still am not sure how He plans to use me, but I am know he will and I can hardly wait.
So, now our father of the faith has had his name changed and foreskin removed and God confirmed and specified his promise yet again. Maybe this time it will sink in?
We do see Abraham’s passion for God and his passion for others as he intercedes and pleads for the lives of those in Sodom.  But then we also see Abraham returning to one of his old mistakes. For whatever reason after Sodom was destroyed Abraham picked up and moved to a new territory. This territory was ruled by a guy named Abimelech. Despite how poorly it almost turned out the last time he tried this stunt, Abraham told Abimelech Sarah was his sister and almost lost her again before God intervened yet again.
God took care of Abraham, despite his lying, despite his lapses of judgment, despite impatience.
Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him.
We get impatient, we get frustrated, we doubt, we may even laugh at God, but He is faithful to complete what He has promised.  God didn’t choose Abraham because he was worthy. God didn’t give up on Abraham when he failed. God made Abraham worthy and stood by him despite his flaws and He will do the same for us.
On one last side note….  When God changed his name all he added was Ha. So when Abraham laughed at God; God had the last laugh?

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Watching Puddles Gather Rain.

I find myself standing here by myself typing this blog on my phone while I watch puddles gather rain.  This is not how today was supposed to go.  

I am not frustrated, I am instead reminded of the old tried and true adage; if you fail to plan,  you plan to fail.

I had a lot of things I wanted to do today.  I wanted to wake up early,  run a few miles,  hit the gym,  cook a delicious omelette for breakfast,  work on tomorrow's bible study,  watch the NFL draft,  do some yard work,  and take my teenage daughter to her first prom.

I said I wanted to do all those things; what I didn't do was plan to do those things. I didn't check to see if I had clean running clothes, I didn't make sure we had all the ingredients for my omelette, I didn't check the weather, and I didn't make sure I was registered to take my daughter to her prom on the air force base.

Because I failed to plan for the day, I had to postpone my run and my trip to the gym because I didn't have clean clothes. . I didn't get to make my omelette because we didn't have the proper ingredients. I didn't do any yard work because it rained, My coverage of the draft was interrupted because i was making up for my missed run. And I am standing here watching it rain while My Favorite is taking pictures and gushing over my daughter because I am not registered to get on base. 

So, today's little reminder to me; It's great to have goals to accomplish but if you don't make take the proper steps in the planning stage; you won't accomplish the things you want to. 

By the way she was beautiful, but growing up too fast. More on that next week. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

God Uses A Foul Mouthed Slave Trading Atheist.

Many times we feel like the things that have happened in our past can disqualify us from God's service. I can think of no better story to illustrate the fallacy of this thinking than the story of John Newton.

Newton was born in 1725 in England. His mom died just before he turned 7 and he lived a very tough early life before being enlisted in the British Navy.  Newton was part of the most profitable mission the British Navy had at the time; transporting slaves. Newton wasn't popular with his fellow sailors; he attempted to dessert and was treated to a public lashing. He was known as "the Great Blasphemer"  because of his coarse language and profanity. 

He was so unpopular with his fellow sailors at one point they left him behind in Africa where he became a servant to a tribal princess. He was treated violently and with complete disregard by his captors. Despite his treatment, once he was rescued he returned to the slave trade and seemed to have no regard for the lives he was hauling across the Atlantic Ocean like they were nothing more than cargo. He took thousands of slaves across the Atlantic. 

It was while he was at sea in the middle of a huge storm that Newton, who until that point had been a staunch atheist, came to find faith in Christ. He still struggled for many years to reconcile his faith with what he was doing for a living. A man who had been part of one of the great blights on all of humanity and who was struggling with his faith had trouble believing God had a purpose for him. Newton had previously rejected the teachings but now began reading the Bible and other religious works, he also began to seek out a mentor to help him grow in his faith.

Finally after wrestling with his conscience for many years Newton left the slave trade to become a tide surveyor and at age 39 became an ordained minister. Newton's faith and passion grew. He spent the next 40 years preaching and teaching throughout England becoming a mentor to many great missionaries including William Carey. Newton's faith changed him and he became a strong abolitionist voice and one of the leaders in England abolishing it's slave trade in 1805.

Despite his troubled past God used John Newton in an amazing way. His legacy lives on today. Even if you have never of John Newton before, you have heard a hymn he once wrote about his redemption. While he wrote over 280 hymns, one has touched hearts for centuries. It was sung by both sides during the U.S. Civil War, it was seminal during the Civil Rights movement. It was sung to help our nation heal after 9-11. It has been recorded by Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Cash, Joan Baez and countless others. Amazing Grace is one of the most recognized and moving songs in the world. 

The Lyrics of "Amazing Grace" capture Newton's heart at the time he accepted Jesus and have touched many hearts since then.

Amazing Grace how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now I'm found
was blind but now I see 
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev’d;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believ’d!
Thro’ many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promis’d good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call’d me here below,
Will be forever mine.

John Newton could have believed that his checkered past disqualified him from God's service, but God filled him with grace, using him to touch millions of lives with the words written by a unworthy, former slave trading atheist.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord , “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

God  gave this word to the nation of Israel while they were in rebellion. The same words were true for John Newton and they are true for us as well. 

In Newton's last days he was still amazed by God's grace. 
 "My memory is nearly gone; but I remember 
two things: That I am a great sinner, and that
Christ is a great Savior."

We can't let the things we have done convince us God can't use us. He can and will. His Grace is greater and more amazing than anything we could ever do. We are not disqualified by our past, we are qualified by His grace.