What Others Say

am writing you this on behalf of my Mother, She is 88 years old and almost completely home-bound now. She sits at home every day and watches a lot of news on TV and says she finds it very discouraging and depressing. She says that she really needed this devotion you wrote in the Sunday, Sept 7, column in the Lufkin Daily News and wanted you to know it was excellent, timely and relevant. She cut it out and reads it over and over.

Monday, April 29, 2019

God Is For You


Two years ago my son-in-law participated in his first Iron Man race in Boulder, Colorado. It is a grueling event: a 3 mile swim followed by a 56 mile bike route and finished off with a 13 mile half-marathon, 72 miles start to finish.  In his first Iron Man we were there, cheering him on.  It was important that he knew we were “for him!”  We were proud of him.

A few years ago he had let his weight get out of control and drifted well above 200 lbs.  But he was determined to get into shape.  Setting a goal was important and the Iron Man gave him incentive.  He lost 50 lb.  It wasn’t easy.  It might have been impossible if he had tried to do it alone, without the support of family and friends.

We see it everywhere, especially in sports, but it is also true in the classroom and on the job and in every family.  It matters when people are cheering us on, lifting us up, letting us know that they are for us!  My father did that for me when I was young.  I have sought to do the same for my children.  They have pursued different paths, chosen different careers, but always I have wanted them to know that I was in their corner, I was “for them.”

How much more is that true for our spiritual quest and journey.  We each need to know that God is on our side.  He is cheering for us.  A few days ago I came across a very simple statement in the Psalms, one I have somehow overlooked over the many years I have read the Bible.  Psalm 56:9b simply says, “This I know, that God is for me.” 

This was the secret of David’s success throughout his life, whether facing wild beasts as a young shepherd, Goliath on the battlefield, the death of his best friend, his own moral failure or the betrayal of his son, Absolam.  Down deep, beneath all the terror and anguish of the moment, he was confident of one thing: “This I know, that God is for me.” 

Wherever you are, God is for you.  He wants to redeem you, to save you from the abyss, to turn you from your own destructive impulses and set your feet on fruitful paths. He wants to rescue you from the depths of despair.  He will never leave you nor forsake you. “What then shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).   

You may sometimes feel that you are all alone when facing difficulties and trials. The mountains may seem insurmountable. But this is not so.  God knows everything about you. He knows your fears as well as your dreams.  He knows your doubts as well as your hopes.  And, He has declared Himself for you! 

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

Monday, April 22, 2019

How Is Your Soul?


References to the soul seem strangely absent in our churches. But if the churches have stopped talking about the soul, the technological gurus who design apps for our iPhones have not. 

A few years ago the Huffington Post launched an app called “GPS for the soul.”  The app is based on two truths that say, “that we all have within us a centered place of harmony and balance, and that we all veer from that place again and again. “ Arianna Huffington stated, “There’s a snake lurking in this cyber-Garden of Eden. Our 24/7 connection to the digital world often disconnects us from the real world around us -- from our physical surroundings, from our loved ones, and especially from ourselves. We see the effects of this in every aspect of our lives.”

The Bible speaks a great deal about the soul.  The soul can be deeply troubled.  David cried out, “My soul is in deep anguish.  How long, Lord, how long?” (Ps. 6:3) and again, “I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul.” (Ps. 31:7). 

Our soul can rejoice. “Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord and delight in his salvation.” (Ps. 35:9).  Our soul can be refreshed, “He refreshes my soul.” (Ps 23:3) and our soul can be at peace. “Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him.” (Ps. 62:1).

Jesus taught that there is nothing in this world more important than the condition of your soul.  “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Mt. 16:26). And again, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Mt. 10:28). “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt. 11:29).

John Ortberg, in his book, Soul Keeping, writes, “We live in a world that teaches us to be more concerned with the condition of our cars, or our careers, or our portfolios than the condition of our souls. … What if I don’t get a promotion, or my boss doesn’t like me, or I have financial problems, or I have a bad hair day? Yes, these may cause disappointment, but do they have any power over my soul?  Can they nudge my soul from its center, which is the very heart of God?  When you think about it that way, you realize that external circumstances cannot keep you from being with God.”

What is truly important is not our possessions. Neither is it our physical strength or beauty. Nor is it positions of influence, power or fame.  What is truly important is our soul, the essence of who we are. Although our bodies may wither with old age and disease, our souls can continue to grow in grace as we experience God’s love while loving others.

This is why Jesus said that the first commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” And the second is like it, “to love your neighbor as yourself.” If we receive His gift of grace and do this, we will find food and rest for our souls.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Resurrection Faith


Several years ago I preached the funeral of a woman I had known for forty-five years. By the time she ended her long battle with breast cancer she was in her mid-fifties.

When I first met her, she was a little girl.  I still remember her innocent blue eyes as a child.  I watched her grow through childhood and into her teen years.  When she was a young adult, she was lured down painful and destructive paths refusing to heed the warnings of those who loved her. I prayed for her, along with others and she fell deeper into addiction to drugs and alcohol. She gave her first born up for adoption and eventually served a sentence in prison.

But somewhere along the way, whether in prison or afterward, she came to faith in Jesus Christ. Like the woman who pressed through the crowd, she touched the hem of His garment. As Jesus said to another woman so many years ago, He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you whole.” 

In the last decade I saw her reunited with her first-born whom she gave up in her youth. She was reconciled with her family who surrounded her in love.  God brought a good man into her life who, like her, was a recovering alcoholic.

She often shared with me her testimony of faith and what God had done in her life.  She still wasn’t perfect. She still had issues. But she was different. God was healing her on the inside.

The week before she died, we visited.  Family and friends gathered around her, comforting her, praying for her and loving her.  On Wednesday of that week, she drew her last breath.

Once again, I thought of her as that innocent blue-eyed girl I first knew. It reminded me of Jesus’ visit to the home of a mother and father whose twelve-year-old daughter had died.  The house was surrounded by people who were weeping. But Jesus entered the child’s bedroom with her parents and spoke these gentle words to her.  “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”   She immediately breathed, opened her eyes and got up.   

This is the faith we believe as followers of Christ. Because He was raised from the dead, we can be raised also.  We make mistakes.  We may wander far from God.  We may cause pain to ourselves and others.  But He seeks us out.  He never lets us go.  He reconciles, redeems and, in the day of our death, He raises us up!

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

When Life Overwhelms


My cousin calls it “clumping:” those times when demands upon our life converge in a perfect storm. We face demands from employees, employers, clients and supervisors. We face demands from our family: marriages that need nurture; children who struggle with growth issues from the cradle to college; aging parents with failing health. Unexpected illness strikes us when we least expect it. “Clumping” times steal away our breath and rob us of our energy. Sleep is elusive, and, when it comes is often filled with restless nightmares of unfulfilled obligations.

Even Jesus experienced “clumping." As his fame spread, the demands made upon him multiplied. The Gospels say that he did not even have time to eat. At one point he was so exhausted that a life-threatening storm could not wake him. Thousands pressed in upon him from dawn to dusk seeking help. His own family rejected him. His closest followers disagreed with him. His enemies hounded him.

But in the midst of these demands Jesus always demonstrated a calm confidence and a quiet center. He refused to be hurried or harried. He never snapped back, never became irritable. And, in the end, he changed the world. No life has impacted the world more profoundly than Jesus.

What are the clues from Jesus that can help us when “clumping” strikes?

“Clumping” is temporary. The time when demands and crises seem overwhelming will ultimately pass. Jesus could face the overwhelming demands that fell upon him because he knew it was temporary. Hebrews says, “For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross.” Having learned this truth from Jesus, Peter wrote, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials.”(1 Peter 1:6-7)

Sooner or later life will “clump.” Prepare for the “clumping” stages of life before they come. Jesus told the story of two men who built their houses, one upon sand and the other upon rock. When the storm came, which is inevitable, the house built on sand collapsed. If we continually practice honesty, goodness, generosity, forgiveness and faith when times are easy, we will be able to overcome when times get tough.

Build quiet space for prayer in the midst of life’s demands. Even though the demands upon Jesus were intense and unrelenting, he always found time to get alone with God. Mark writes, “In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. Simon and his companions searched for Him; they found Him, and said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.” (Mark 1:35-36).

Constantly look to God. Perhaps this more than anything else was the secret of Jesus’ success. He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” (John 5:19).

Monday, April 1, 2019

Heaven - What Is It Like?


I  assisted in the funeral for a close friend.  He was older by almost twenty years, and became my mentor more than thirty years ago.  He was a take-charge kind of guy and I always imagined him going out like John Wayne in The Shootist.  Consistent with his personality, he left specific instructions for his funeral, including the passage he wanted the pastor to preach and the three points he wanted him to make.  To his friends he wrote, “I want there to be more laughter than tears.  After all, I will be in Heaven.”

I watched him age like I have watched others, the same process I am beginning to see in myself.  As he entered his eighties his strength and vigor began to slip.  The last time we went out to eat he needed a walker to make his way to the table.  Aging is an inescapable experience for all of us who live long enough.  But in the end, in the “twinkling of an eye … we shall all be changed.”  (1 Corinthians 15:52).

When my mother was young she was a beauty and a fast runner who won several ribbons in track meets.  But in her last years she was feeble and almost blind.  When she was 89 years old and dying, we talked about what it would be like when she woke up in Heaven, able once again to run through the meadow as she did in her youth.  Her body once again characterized by energy, strength, beauty and grace. 

I have often thought about Heaven and what it might be like.  Someone once said that we might think of everything that is beautiful and good on this earth and multiply it by two.  That of course is a small number, but anything more defies imagination.  I like to think about the sun rising in the east, its light filtering through the leaves warming my shoulders on a cool morning; the birds calling to one another as the day dawns; the scent of freshly cut grass and new turned earth; the fragrance of lilacs in spring and roses in summer; the laughter of children on the playground; the crack of a baseball bat and the smack of a ball in the glove; the weight of a sleeping baby in my arms.  On this earth and in this world, they are enough.  But multiplied by two, or a thousand?  Incomprehensible!

Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, so that where I am, there you may be also.”  (John 14:3). “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” (John 11:25-26).

The Bible says, “It does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2). “If we have been united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of his resurrection.”  (Romans 6:5).