Wednesday, December 31, 2008

For Thought : 123108

A few quotes from Oswald Chambers that I read this morning. You can view the complete writing online by clicking here.

"Our present enjoyment of God's grace is apt to be checked by the memory of yesterday's sins and blunders. But God is the God of our yesterdays, and He allows the memory of them in order to turn the past into a ministry of spiritual culture for the future. God reminds us of the past lest we get into a shallow security in the present."

"God's hand reaches back to the past and makes a clearing-house for conscience."

"As we go forth into the coming year, let it not be in the haste of impetuous, unremembering delight, nor with the flight of thoughtlessness but with the patient power of knowing that the God is Israel will go before us. Our yesterdays present irreparable things to us; it is true that we have lost opportunities which will never return, but God can transform this destructive anxiety into a constructive thoughtfulness for the future. Let the past sleep, but let it sleep on the bosom of Christ."

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Year's Resolutions

With 2009 less than 24 hours away (in the central time zone at least), I'm guessing that "resolution" is a fairly hot topic right now for a lot of people... as in, "New Year's Resolution." lists 276 "clusters" that provide links to websites that are in one way or another related to the term "resolution"... conflict, dispute resolution, image, council, Iraq, high-resolution, screen, and human rights violations are just some examples. Interestingly enough, "New Year's" is not among the 276 clusters.

On to the topic at hand. defines a "New Year's Resolution" as "a commitment that an individual makes to a project or the reforming of a habit, often a lifestyle change that is generally interpreted as advantageous." The name is obviously related to the implementation of these commitments on New Year's Day.   

Google search for "New Year's Resolution" brings up more than 2.5 million hits in about the same amount of time that it takes for a major league fastball to travel from the pitcher's mound to the catcher's mitt. You will find tips and guides and facts and figures to help you stick to and even come up with resolutions for the year ahead. There's a "Top Ten" list that includes (1) spend more time with family & friends, (2) fit in fitness, (3) tame the bulge, (4) quit smoking, (5) enjoy life more, (6) quit drinking, (7) get out of debt, (8) learn something new, (9) help others, and (10) get organized. You can actually go to a government-sponsored website that lists popular New Year's Resolutions. And, no surprise here, but you can find out what famous celebrities have resolved to do this year. For example, British pop star Cheryl Cole wants to go up one clothing size because she thinks she looks too skinny... poor thing. Britney Spears wants to stop biting her nails... seriously?... seems like that's the least of her problems to me. Kim Kardashian wants to tone up more and continue to get in shape. Kanye West promises to be nicer to paparazzi, which is a very good idea considering he found himself in hot water at LAX a few months ago for shoving a camera into a photographer's face. Tom Arnold wants to adopt a child. Ty Pennington wants to stay healthy and spend more time with his family and friends. Jim Belushi wants to stop being so gullible. Anderson Cooper promises to blog every day. And Anne Hathaway is determined to keep working hard but enjoy life more.

Pretty good. Lots of good things there. Wonder how they'll do?  

I must admit that I have never been very serious about making New Year's Resolutions. And the ones that I have made didn't work out so well... I typically fall off the proverbial wagon, oh, about mid-February. Nonetheless, I am resolved to do some things this New Year, 2009. (More on that later.) Having said that, it seems to me that the best thing any of us can do is resolve to live today without worrying about tomorrow or next week or next month or next summer or next fall. I think Jesus would probably agree... after all, He did tell the disciples, don't be anxious about tomorrow because tomorrow will be anxious for itself. James says the same kind of thing. Come now, you who say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit, yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that. As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. Whoa. Evil? Strong word. 

The point? My friend says it like this: "Life is a vapor." I would call that a brilliant reminder... the past 7 months have certainly reinforced this principle for Nicol and I. 

Maybe, then, Resolution #1 should go something like this: Walk with Jesus today, as long as it's called today, and live today with the hope and peace and joy that only He can give me today. Today. [ ;-) ]  

Oh, one more thing I just remembered. I saw a sign today (there's that word again) at some store that read, "Live in the moment." My first thought was, "That's cute but it's not very good theology." Then I reconsidered. It is good. True, we shouldn't live "for" the moment in the sense that we forego sound wisdom and God-honoring/people-honoring choices, but we have to live "in" the moment because it's the only thing we have for sure. Today

So, what are my resolutions? Well, you just read the first one. The rest? TBD. To be determined, that is. But, you say, it's December 30, you better come up with something pretty quick. That's precisely... what I don't want to do. I'm going to follow the advice of one of my favorite people ever, Dr. Bill Thrasher. Each January, he commits the first week or so of that month to pray and really seek God for His desires and direction for the upcoming year. It's a "firstfruits" thing. Just like tithing is giving back to God what has been given to us, he spends the first part of the year giving back to God in terms praying and listening and seeking and worshiping and discovering where God is leading him and his family. 

I've never approached the New Year like that. So I'm gonna give it a try. And I will definitely let you know what happens.

Now, happy New Year and...

May God be gracious to you and bless you 
and make His face to shine upon you, 
that His way may be known on earth,
His saving power among all nations. 
Let the peoples praise You, O God;
let all the peoples praise You!

--adapted from Psalm 67:1-3


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Coach Louis Mulkey

I saw this story on an ESPN "Outside the Lines" segment the other day.

It's a story that will probably have you weeping. It's a story that reminds me of the one common question we all have in the midst of tragedy and loss... "Why?" It's a story that reminds me that we don't know if we have tomorrow with those we know and love, let alone years and lifetimes. It's a story that reminds me of losing my son.

It's not easy to watch, but it is very much worth it.

PART 1 (9:54)

PART 2 (5:26)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I AM Smarter Than A Fifth Grader... least I think I am.

Yesterday I was a Target shopping for a few of the final pieces to this puzzle that is my Christmas shopping... or should I say was my Christmas shopping, because I AM DONE!!!

Anyway, I was in the toy department and spotted a Nerf Hoop, which brought back many very fun memories. My cousin Aaron and I had many a fiercely contested games of one-on-one and H-O-R-S-E back in the day. So I thought Summer might like a Nerf Hoop and if she didn't then Nicol and I would have fun shooting some hoops. [ ;-) ]

The first thing I did when I got home was tear open the package and to put my new gadget together and play a little. The only problem was I couldn't figure out how to put the stinkin' thing together. I was like, 'I know I can do this because if I could do it when I was in 5th grade, surely I could do it now.'

No such luck.

There were 5 steps, complete with diagrams, on the back of the package. Steps 1-4 were a snap. Step 5? Different story. The hitch? I couldn't figure out how to attach the bracket to the backboard so that I could hang it over the door. I messed with it until I was ready to slam dunk it (pun intended) in the trash can. Then Nicol and Summer got home and I very meagerly asked Nicol if she could figure it out. Nope. Two almost-40-year-olds, one with a degree in political science from Wheaton College, the other with a master's degree from Moody, and neither one of us could figure that thing out.

Fastforward to this afternoon... I looked again at the diagram for step 5 and noticed something that I didn't see last night. I had been trying to attach the bracket in completely the wrong place... and I wasn't even in the right ballpark! So I found the right place and, presto, my Nerf Hoop assembly mission was complete.

Next, of course, came the mounting on the door.

And then, the first shot.


And after all that, I found out that I AM smarter than a fifth grader. [ :-) ]

My new toy.

World's Worst Gift Wrapper

The title says it all.


[ :-) ]

Thursday, December 18, 2008

God Is Sort Of Like That

Some of the most majestic, spectacular, breath-taking and awe-inspiring scenes we will ever see are also, potentially, the most risky, treacherous, anxiety-causing and fear-inducing encounters we will ever have.

It seems to me that God is sort of like that. Admittedly, I can't go too far with the idea and it probably breaks down fairly quickly... but bear with me.

Nicol and I have seen a lot of incredible places together... places that showcase God's creativity in such remarkable, unique, and there's-nowhere-else-on-earth-like-this ways that I have at times thought to myself, "I can totally see why God sort of sat back, looked at everything He had created, and said, 'This is good. Really, really, really good.'"

We've been to the San Diego Wild Animal Park to see the pseudo-African wildlife preserve that is home to rhinoceros, water buffalo, lions, tigers, silverback gorillas and more. We were able to get close enough to a momma lion and her cubs that we were extremely thankful for the moat and thick plexiglass wall that separated us. As beautiful and physically impressive as those cats were - fluffy, tan coats; well-defined musculature; powerful, bounding leaps across the range and all - there is absolutely no way you would ever consider getting near them. They would tear you to shreds.
Amazing to observe from a distance. Heart-poundingly frightening to get up close and personal to.

We've walked along the cliffs on the north coast of Northern Ireland, near the famed Dunluce Castle. I don't remember a lot about this, partly because it was about 6 years ago, mostly because it was freezing cold and drizzly. Plus, it was our honeymoon, so that's what I remember the most. But I do recall that the cliffs were more than a little bit intimidating. We walked rather cautiously along that path because it was somewhat slippery from the rain that was falling... and to be at the top of the cliffs was far more preferable than being at the bottom! Cautious as we were though, it was tempting to look out over the cliffs at the waves that were crashing beneath us. That said, there was no danger whatsover of us getting all that close to the edge because the risk to our safety was simply too great.

Thanks but no thanks. I'll do a Google image search for those views.

Mt. Katahdin, located in Baxter State Park in Maine, is the northern end of the Appalachian Trail. I have not hiked to its mile-high summit, but I have ventured to the top of its shorter neighbor to the west, Doubletop Mountain... enough of a challenge in its own right to make me appreciate anyone who has trekked higher than its 2000-or-so-foot peak. I've talked, however, to folks who, on their way to the top of Mt. Katahdin, crawled on their knees across Knife Edge, a narrow pass that looks like the edge of a knife (go figure) and has a reputation for reducing the bravest of souls to whimpering babes.
Gorgeous and spectacular from afar. Attention-getting and cardiac-arresting up close and personal.

We've been on a cruise ship as the captain carefully guided us thru Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska. The water was a gorgeous blue-green. Whales could periodically be seen breaching in the distance. Sea lions and otters played off to the side of the ship. Smaller boats cruised by us. And, most spectacularly of all, massive ice chunks broke away from the (seemingly) Everest-like glacier that stood before us, sending ripples across the bay for what appeared to be miles and miles. I thought it would be AWESOME to be in a kayak out near the glacier. Then someone told me that the chunks of ice that were plunging into the water were the size of my car. Then I thought my idea was kinda dumb. Plus, I didn't think it would be so good if a whale breached beside me... kayaks tip easily.
Grand idea. Fun. But sometimes you can't know what you're getting into unless you have a birdseye view.

Some of the most majestic, spectacular, breath-taking and awe-inspiring scenes we will ever see are also, potentially, the most risky, treacherous, anxiety-causing and fear-inducing encounters we will ever have.
Somehow, it seems to me that God is sort of like that.
He is majestic, spectacular, breath-taking, awe-inspiring, beautiful, eternally loving, life-giving, a father-like provider and protector, a mother-like nurturer and comforter, sensationally able to do all things well, infinitely kind and merciful and gracious... He is indescribable.
He is risky, treacherous, anxiety-inducing, fear-inducing, unpredictable, unfathomable, the One who is capable of snuffing out all things bad yet also the One who allows all things bad... He is indescribable.
To see and experience Him from afar is incredible... but it is not enough.
To see and experience Him up close is satisfying... but it is risky.
His ways are not our ways.
God of heaven, in your kindness please give us the grace to trust you and follow you.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Summer Photos

Thought you'd like to see some new photos of Summer... the teddy bears are our special little reminders of Lukey.

More This Than That

FISH interview...
In the original post about the interview tomorrow (Thursday) on The FISH in Nashville I forgot to specify the time as being 7:00-8:00am CST / 8:00-9:00am EST.

And here's the link again if you'd like to hear it live online... click
here and then once you're on their home page, click on the green "listen live" button located at the top left corner.

More this than that...
Not sure why, but I was thinking about this yesterday... it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13)

It occurred to me that God's work in our lives, at least in my experience, is more marathon than sprint, more polishing cloth than belt sander, more chisel than hatchet, more non-abrasive cleanser than super-scrubber, more finish carpentry than rough framing, more meandering stream than roaring rapids, more gentle breeze than violent gale, more light drizzle than torrential downpour, more sip than gulp, more savor than gorge, more slow cooker than microwave, more relaxed than stressed, more smart bomb than grenade, more local than general anesthetic, more father's heart than drill sargeant, more whisper than shout, more calculated than impulsive, more here than there, more now than then, more big picture than microcosm, more spirit than law, more free than bound, more warm and personal than cold and distant, more unpredictable than expected, more faithful than flaky, more steadfast than hit-or-miss, more exciting than blasé, more painful than cushy, more stretch than static, more be than do, more tender than gruff...

When I look back over the past 20 years, I am so thankful that He is as patient and persistent and loving and kind as He is. He is up to something right now, even if I am not aware of that fact, and it seems to me that that is the beauty and sheer genius of His ways. We can look back and reflect on our journey and see things now that we would have NEVER thought possible one year ago or 5 or 10 or 20 or a lifetime. And it's all because He's at work.

Grateful that He is up to something in our lives... and that because of His kind heart and good ways we aren't left to fend for ourselves in doing the work out our own salvation with fear and trembling part. (Philippians 2:12b)

Grateful too that this is all part of His will and good pleasure, that those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.

Monday, December 15, 2008

FISH Nashville Morning Show

On Thursday, December 18, from 7:00-8:00am CST / 8:00-9:00am EST, Nicol and I will be on the morning show at The FISH 94FM in Nashville. If you are interested and/or able, you can listen online by clicking here and then clicking on the green "listen live" button located at the top left corner of their home page. We would appreciate your prayers as we talk about the devastating loss of our son.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

It's A Slow Fade

This morning I was driving along I-24 in TN and tuned in to the FISH station in Nashville. The song that was playing was Slow Fade by Casting Crowns. Oh man, does this song ever nail it! One of the things I absolutely love and respect about the music CC has been putting out is that it is so incredibly REAL and HONEST and ACCURATE and TRUE-TO-LIFE and JUST WHAT I NEED TO HEAR.

Slow fade? You betcha. I am aware more than ever, and I hope I am speaking with absolute honesty here, of the activity of the devil in doing what his name implies... lying, deceiving, accusing, stealing, killing, destroying, threatening, intimidating, etc. No, I am not always aware of what he is doing at any given moment and he certainly pulls his stinking rotten tricks on me, but I am aware of how much he hates people and wants nothing more than to keep us from living free in Christ Jesus.

I am also more aware than ever at this point in my journey of my own sinful tendencies and weaknesses and patterns and predispositions.

The combination of my own "quirks" and the enemy that loves to prey on them is not a good one.

But praise God that Jesus has set us free, and whomever the Son sets free is free indeed, and there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, and He has separated us from our sins as far as the east is from the west, and He has not given to us a spirit fear, but a Spirit of love and of joy and of sound mind.

The old hymn says it well... O victory in Jesus, my Savior, forever. He sought me and bought me, with His redeeming blood; He loved me ere I knew Him, and all my love is due Him, He plunged me to victory, beneath the cleansing flood.

While all this is true, we still have to guard ourselves because it's a slow fade... nothing happens overnight... NOTHING. It starts with me not being in God's Word regularly. It starts with me not praying which, incidentally, I am commanded to do. It starts with me not walking in the light as He is in the light so that He and I can talk freely and consistently and honestly (and I should note that any breakdown in communication is clearly my doing). It starts with me being prideful and arrogant and stubborn. It starts with me not keeping watch over my tongue. It starts with me holding on to offenses and letting (sometimes righteous) anger fester into cancerous unforgiveness and staph-like bitterness that infects my soul and negatively affects those closest to me.

And then it all boils over like an unattended pot on the stovetop and I rush over but the mess has already been made and it's really difficult to clean up at that point.

I need to guard myself because it's a slow fade.

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. ~~ Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. ~~ Keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life. ~~ Whoever guards his way preserves his life. ~~ Whoever guards his soul will keep far from [thorns and snares]. ~~ The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. ~~ The Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. ~~ I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.

[ Psalm 119:9; Proverbs 4:5-7; Proverbs 4:13; Proverbs 16:17b; Proverbs 22:5; Philippians 4:7; 2 Thessalonians 3:3; 2 Timothy 1:12 ]

Take a listen to Slow Fade here on the player and let it sink into your heart today.

O God, would You graciously and mercifully give us the strength to avoid wandering away from You and all that is best for us as you know what is best for us. You have been kind and good to us and we are desperate for You every moment of every day. Deliver us from evil and guard us from the temptations that we will encounter today.

Amen and amen.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Connecting Dots

Have you ever had a moment where you learn something new and you suddenly find yourself connecting dots that had never, well, connected before? Have you ever reflected on conversations or experiences or circumstances that have been spread out over a significant period of time, all of which were seemingly unrelated, and then God just sort of takes you down memory lane and reminds you that He's quietly and patiently been up to something in your life even though you don't necessarily know what that something is? Have you ever had your heart stirred and encouraged because you realize afresh and anew that God really IS there and that he ALWAYS has been even though you are not always convinced of that because sometimes you go thru a season when He is just too silent for your comfort?

I have.

Such was my experience on Sunday. 

Love it when that happens.

Here's a list of things (from oldest to most recent) that I have been reflecting on the past couple of days...
  1. In the end, only thing that matters in life is what we do with Christ. --My Dad, aka Grampy Sponberg [This was probably about 15 years ago... time flies! Anyway, he was in town on business and we went out for dinner one night. I was not in a good place spiritually at that time and I can still picture Dad taking out a pen and drawing 5 dots and a line with an arrow after the fifth dot. (It looked something like this: . . . . . --------> Hope you get the idea.) Dad then explained the meaning of what he had just drawn: first dot, the day your are born; second dot, the day you get married; third dot, the day your first child is born; fourth dot, the day you retire; fifth dot, the day you die. The line and arrow, Dad said, represent eternity. Keep in mind, I was struggling spiritually, but that visual really grabbed my attention. Nothing earth-shattering happened, no lights flashed, and no dramatic revival took place, but I definitely started thinking about the direction my life was going in. Oh yeah, the lesson? Life is a vapor and, in the end, the only thing that matters is what we do with Christ.] 
  2. You are going to walk a similar path of suffering. --The Spirit of God [I was at the Worcester Centrum (in Massachusetts) about 10 years ago for a Promise Keepers weekend conference. Long story short, on Saturday a guy by the name of Joe White gave the message and he shared with us that he had been recently diagnosed with leukemia. He talked about carrying our cross and suffering and the uncertainties life throws at us. The session ended with 2 or 3 songs and at some point during that worship time I began to get this overwhelming sense that I was soon going to face a very difficult set of circumstances. I immediately dismissed the thought but it soon became obvious to me that God was talking to me... you are going to walk a similar path of suffering. I of course was convinced in the days and weeks and months following that experience that I was about to be diagnosed with a fairly serious if not life-altering if not deadly disease. As time went on, that fear subsided but I never forgot what had happened. (Incidentally, I think the only person I have ever told about this is Nicol... although I'm not entirely certain of that.) Well, the months turned into years and the years turned into a decade. On May 27, the day we lost Luke, I believe that I finally found out what God was whispering about that day in Worcester... because we had just taken our first step onto this path of suffering... and we will be limping along this path for the rest of our lives.
  3. Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. --Jesus via Dr. John Fuder [Dr. Fuder is the urban ministries prof at Moody Grad School. More than that though, he is a friend and mentor, and I learned so much working alongside him on several projects while in Chicago. He quoted the verse above during a lecture one afternoon, and what I remember so vividly is the compelling passion with which he spoke. Mind you, it wasn't a "you have to do this" - i.e., die - it was an "I want this to be true of me" kind of thing that came straight from his heart. I have to be honest about a couple of things: (1) I didn't get it, and (2) I'm still not sure that I get it. Yes, I understand the "single seed" becoming "many seeds" part. It's the "dies" part that gets me. It doesn't come naturally to me. What does come naturally to me is, well, pretty much anything to do with me and what I want and what I think is best and... you know. Thankfully though, while I don't know the extent to which I understand (better yet, follow) this teaching of Jesus, I do know that this dying thing is more of a reality now than it was that day in class. I guess God in His mercy just sort of brings us to that point. Not that we ever "get there" completely, but we take baby steps and we learn (hopefully) that life isn't about us. We increasingly long to adopt John the Baptist's declaration as our own: "He must increase and I must decrease" because we finally realize that things work out much better for us and everyone else when we set "me" aside and trust Him and love Him and obey Him and let Him work on us without a bunch of whining and fussing and... receive His faithful love into our lives.]
  4. You need some of that knocked out of you. --James MacDonald [James was our pastor in Chicago. One night after church we were talking and, while I don't remember anything else about the conversation, I do remember saying something like "there's a certain way to do things and that's that". I have no idea what led me to make such a stupid statement or what I was even referring to, but I am not surprised that I said it. My personality sort of makes it easy for me to see this world in very black and white terms. That can be a good thing, but like the saying goes, our greatest strengths can also be our greatest weaknesses. In reflecting on my comment to James, I know that he was right... I did need some of "that" knocked out of me... and I probably still do. Whatever the case, there have been enough humbling circumstances over the past 5-6 years to remind me of this again and again. Marriage and life in general has a way of doing that to you... things don't work so well when one person adopts a "my way or the highway" approach in doing relationships. But NOTHING has knocked "that" out of me more than losing Luke. I don't care to be right nearly as much as I used to. I don't care to fight battles that just don't matter. I don't have the strength to carry on with silly contentious attitudes. And hopefully I have grown up enough to realize that there are many ways of doing things and that if things happened like I think they should it would be a ridiculously boring world.]
  5. Never minister out of giftedness; always minister out of brokenness. --Crawford Loritts [The bottom line here, I think, is that when our approach to life and ministry is a gifts, talents, and abilities thing, it becomes all about me. Hmmm... back to that "me" thing. It's wood, hay, and stubble. But when it's about serving, loving, and a sense of unworthiness rather than entitlement, it becomes all about God and others. It's the stuff that the fire won't consume. It's the honest assessment that, as Paul said, we have this treasure in jars of clay, and so we give our broken and fragile selves to God and all of a sudden we watch Him doing things in us and thru us that would never be possible if our giftedness was in the way, and Jesus begins to flow out of us and He touches people where they most need to be touched and He comforts them in just the right way and He encourages them at just the right moment and He injects a dose of hope into an otherwise hopeless situation and... He is able to do all of it because when we are weak, THEN we are strong.] 
  6. God is good; life is hard. --Alistair Begg [Fill you in later.]
  7. The last thing you need in your life are people who tell you that you're doing everything right. --Alistair Begg [Ditto.]
  8. My wife and children have every right to call me out when I'm not living out in our home what I tell people from the pulpit to do in their homes. --Alistair Begg [Ditto.]
  9. God doesn't call us to places; God calls us to people. --Rick Kavanaugh (The context... Rick was the pastor at my sister's church in Maine and one day over coffee he was talking to Nicol and I about the 17 or 18 years or whatever it was that he and his family had been at that church. He talked about some of the things that made ministry challenging and some of the things that made it all worthwhile. It was at that point that he made the statement above and it just rang true in my heart. God calls us to people. Jesus loved and served people and that's what He calls us to do.]
  10. The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves and not to twist them to fit our own image; otherwise, we love only the reflection of ourselves that we see in them. --Thomas Merton via Clayton Blackstone [Clayton sent me this quote in December '07 as part of a message he and I were going to give together at his church. The Scripture we were looking at was the greatest commandment... love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. The point Clayton was making is that it's not possible to really love someone if we have an agenda for engaging with them in a relationship in the first place. For example... if I say that I'm going to do this or that for my neighbor just so that they will go to church with me or get saved or whatever, that's an agenda. Jesus says we are to love people... not change them but love them. And whom do we love? Anyone God places in our lives... spouses, children, extended family, church family, neighbors, co-workers, long-time friends, or total strangers... anyone we encounter. We don't have to save the whole world, we just need to love those who are in our little part of the world. And how do we love? By meeting any need(s) our neighbor has that we may be able to meet. By accepting people as they are. By meeting them on their turf. By remaining mindful of how incredibly gracious God has been with us. By helping as we can. By guarding against the expectations and agendas that destroy relationships. By remembering that the beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves. By remembering that while we were still sinners Christ died for us and showed that He loves us right where we are.]   
  11. God orchestrates events in our lives for His glory and for our faith. --Scott Patty [In a message this past Sunday. More on that later.]


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

An Unplanned Moment of Grace

[ I will be giving an update later on (hopefully this week!) about our time in Maine, including the Thanksgiving Day outreach, thoughts on being thankful in the midst of life's difficult circumstances, and the family memorial service for Lukey. But my heart is in another place today so I want to write about something else. BTW, thank you for your prayers yesterday! We made it back safe and sound and EVERY prayer request I listed was answered! Thank you Jesus! ]

I like to plan, but sometimes plans don't work out. Yesterday, I had a plan for our flight from Bangor (ME) to Philadelphia, but, well, you guessed it... my plan didn't work out. My plan? Thanks for asking! Sleep. I wanted to take a catnap but was rudely interrupted soon after take-off. Okay, let me temper that a bit... since it was a nudge from the Spirit that kept me from snoozing, some might say that 'rudely' would be a dangerous description of what happened.

Truth be told, I was very thankful for the way that 90 minute flight unfolded.

Our plane was a regional jet, so it wasn't huge by any means, which is sort of a big deal when you are 6'3" and change. We boarded and were making our way back to our seating assignments... row 11, seats A, C, and D. Summer crawled up into the window seat on one side of the aisle and Nicol settled in beside her. My seat was direclty across from Nicol, on the other side of the aisle. I scoped out my spot and was a little bummed to see that someone was already sitting in the seat next to mine. I was hoping to be able to stretch out a bit and, you know, stick with my plan... a/k/a, get some sleep. Besides, you gotta cut me some slack here... don't forget the 6'3" and change part. Anyway, after cramming our coats into the overhead compartment, I was about to sit down when I noticed that the row behind Nicol and Summer was completely open. Believe me, the choice was a no brainer. I plopped down and stretched across those seats faster than you can blink... and faster than anyone else who may have had thoughts of claiming them.

My plan was coming together nicely.

(As I write this I'm getting the feeling that someone may be thinking that (a) the flight attendant made him return to his assigned seat, or (b) the Spirit convicted him to go and talk to the lady sitting next to his assigned seat about Jesus... or something along those lines. Nope. Neither one of those things happened. But the Spirit did whisper...)

We made it thru the standard pre-flight rigamarole and off we went. I think Summer was asleep before the front tire left the ground. Nicol was already enjoying one of her favorite magazines. And I pressed the button on the arm rest, closed my eyes, pushed back to the recline position and... my plan was suddenly interrupted.

Get your Bible out of your backpack. Really? Oh come on, I'll read on the next leg, from Philly to Charlotte. Really, I will. I'm tired. Get your Bible out. Seriously? Get your Bible out and read 1 Timothy. Okay, okay. So I grabbed my Bible, opened it up and started reading. La la la. I've read this before. Yep, I remember that. Okay, I'm going to get thru this, but I'M ALSO GOING TO GET MY NAP. What a marvelously grateful attitude, huh?

But something happened. I began to notice a theme in what I was reading, phrases like some have made shipwreck of their faith, some will depart from the faith, having abandoned their former faith, some have already strayed after Satan, some have wandered away from the faith, some have swerved from the faith, and turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.***

Shipwreck. Depart. Abandoned. Strayed. Wandered. Swerved. Turn away. Wander off.

Strong words.

Frightening words.

Real words.

Critical reminders.

And then I began to think about Paul's words at the end of his second letter to Timothy... I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:6b-7)

The time of my departure has come.

Paul was at the end and, somehow, he knew that. What a remarkable realization this must have been for him, as he put ink to parchment while sitting in a dingy, cold prison cell. The beauty in these words is best seen thru the lens of another oft' quoted and well-known passage that he penned a couple years earlier... it is my eager expectation and hope that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. (Philippians 1:19-24)

Paul was about to experience that far better part of eternal living. The Light that once flashed around him that day on the road to Damascus was soon to embrace him with the warmth of fulfilled love and grace and mercy.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race...

Paul had lived well. He had walked worthy. He did his part. His conscience was clear. And I think it safe to say that he had no regrets. His mind wasn't preoccupied with his investment portfolio and bank accounts, domestic and global economic uncertainties, rogue regimes and terroristic ideologues, physical and mental health, waste line and receding hairline, life insurance beneficiaries and college funds, housing markets and transportation needs, career accomplishments and epithets. His greatest desire? Depart and be with Jesus.

I have kept the faith.

It's impossible to miss, for all the Hymenaeuses and Alexanders whom Paul had observed tragically stray and wander from their faith, and for all the warnings Paul gives us about them, his great accomplishment in life and his great legacy to us was trusting his heavenly Father, standing firmly in the grace and kindness of Jesus, and walking step in step with the Spirit.

It's also impossible to miss, with all that this world throws at us, the daunting challenges and inherent dangers of life before the time of our own departure from this earth, the time when we will finally go to be with Jesus.

Oh Lord God, help us to keep the faith. Amen.

***1 Timothy 1:19b; 1 Timothy 4:1; 1 Timothy 5:12; 1 Timothy 5:15; 1 Timothy 6:10; 1 Timothy 6:21; 2 Timothy 4:4

Light of the Stable (Selah)

[ You'll need to pause the music player at the bottom of the page before watching this video. This is one of my absolute fav's! Enjoy! ]

Monday, December 1, 2008

South Bound

A quick update for you...

Our time in Maine is drawing to a close. We said most of our good-byes today (sad) and, Lord willing, will be back in the South tomorrow evening. We would appreciate your prayers as we travel... for safety and protection, for on-time departures and connections, for our bags to make it all the way thru with us, and for plenty of grace.

FYI, traveling to and from northern Maine is not... the most convenient of itineraries. We have two connections to make -one in Philadelphia, the other in Charlotte - so it will be a long day. Which reminds me of a specific prayer request: our schedule allows us about 35 minutes in Philadelphia to get off the plane, change terminals and get to the Charlotte flight. Please pray we make that. We definitely don't want to get stuck in Philly. Anyway, we're looking at 12+ hours of traveling altogether tomorrow. But I'm not complaining because we have had a great time here!!!

More later...

PS - Check out the new song on the playlist: "God Of This City" by Passion/Chris Tomlin. Absolutely love it. We hadn't heard it until over the weekend. Maybe you are already familiar with it? Too bad this Tomlin guy couldn't come up with a good song or two. He might actually have a career in this business if he could just catch a break. Pray for him too. ;-)