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Jun 30, 2011

Investing In Goodbyes

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In the course of a lifetime we say goodbye too many times to count. And there are surely times we wish we had said goodbye properly when another opportunity to say hello face to face never came. Things happen that we never, ever thought would. Just two weeks ago a fifteen year old Christian teenage girl from the Vidalia area did not come home with her family from a vacation in Florida. She took a walk down the beach with a young man she believed to be another teenager, who was not, and never returned. Remorselessly he bludgeoned her to death, devastating her family and our whole community.
The Apostle Paul in our text was saying goodbye to well-loved brothers and sisters he had discipled in the faith and now knew he would not see again in this life. His words of parting are some of the most poignant in all of Scripture; and if you can place yourself in the emotion of the moment, your eyes may water as you empathize with the sadness that brought tears to the Ephesian elders. The circumstances of your daily life are not always so clear cut as Paul’s at this occasion. On his way to Jerusalem, not unlike Jesus years earlier, he knew it was unlikely he would pass this way again. There are certainly circumstances in some lives that tell them they may not see loved ones again before heaven, but we most often part with loved ones and friends thinking tomorrow will be another day like today; yet sometimes tomorrow never comes.
This week I was with my 94 year old father at his home in Colorado, together with my daughter, her husband, and two of my father’s thirty two great-grandchildren. They were visiting from New York City. As they were about to leave my father asked me to lead us all in prayer, even though there was the probability he would see them several more times before their return to New York. I then spent the afternoon alone with him. As I was leaving, with the knowledge I was having breakfast with him the next day, he once again wanted to part with prayer. Now you may say, well sure, he is 94 and death could come sooner than later; so why not be more earnest in every goodbye? But the truth is that none of us are guaranteed tomorrow, even the youngest.
It may not always be an audible prayer as we say goodbye expecting to see each other at the end of the day or on the morrow, but there are thoughts and words that ought to come to mind in parting with those we love, friends, and those in whom we have an investment; at least, if we are a serious Christian, know life is fragile, and recognize life is best lived with eternity in view. With some in our life, partings are numerous even if only hours, while for others it might be days, months or much longer. Why should longer-separation goodbyes be more earnest than shorter, though that is our habit? At the very least, we should be reminded to think “How well has my life and words conveyed in this time together, even brief, the whole counsel of God? Now you may think, “Wow, the whole counsel of God is a mouthful worthy of years of instruction, not moments. But this is not the warranted perspective. Rather, whatever your time or conversation was about now, did I convey what is consistent with God’s whole counsel, in my words, demeanor, and thoughts? This is not only a good exercise in “bringing every thought into captivity for Christ, I think it is what God calls us to be and do more readily than the rut we allow to characterize our life.
My purpose is not to put words into your mouth, a formula that devolves into mindless ritual. It is to encourage you to think more Christianly of goodbyes, parting, and the holy value of time together in conversation, doing work, parenting, counseling, advising, listening, joking, hanging out, et cetera. The goodbye is a reminder that you both part under God’s mercy, and will meet again only because of His mercy. Did you part “innocent of their blood? That seems heavy, but maybe this meaning of it will help: did you part with the words by which you most want to be remembered; were you a millstone or a “weight-lifter in the trajectory of their faith; what thought have you left in their mind to spur them on to good works? Whether encouraging or admonishing, teaching or modeling did you point them in the right direction? Maybe you think this is all a bit laborious, unwieldy, and impractical. It really isn’t; it’s simply obedience.


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Earth at night was holding in human hands. Earth day. Energy saving concept, Elements of this image furnished by NASA
Jun 23, 2011

Overcoming Thorns

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Tribulation encompasses a great deal more than you may conceive when you hear the word. I imagine it brings to mind traumatic things like martyrdom, the big C, death of a loved one, living in a war zone, your house burning down or being destroyed in a tornado; you get the idea. But tribulation encompasses life in this world period, even if these other “BIG things have not happened to you. Tribulation is also Murphy’s Law; it’s a sliver in your finger; weeds in your garden; burning your finger on a hot stove; tripping and falling; embarrassing yourself. I do not mean to minimize grievous suffering, but rather to make the point that tribulation is at work every day of your life in this fallen world. An accumulation of “smaller trials as a dripping faucet over days, months, or years sometimes erupts into a trauma impacting your life, mind, and emotions. Tribulation produces depression; attacks health; ruins relationships. It takes away employment. It frustrates, irritates, and wears one’s nerves to a frazzle. Tribulation is everyone’s lot in one form or another throughout their entire life.
Karl Marx once said, “Religion is the opium of the masses, indicating that as the “masses are mired in the tribulations of this life, they “escape their troubles, sorrows, and frustrations by becoming numbed to them through the practice of their religion. Genuine Christianity’s antidote is quite the opposite of Marx’s verdict. Just as the Apostle Paul (Ephesians 5:18) set at opposite ends of the spectrum what it means to be filled with the Spirit over against getting drunk on wine (or opium, or any other substance used to dull the mind and escape the pain), Jesus bluntly told his followers they would face tribulation as long as they were in the world, and never promises to remove the “thorns in their flesh, or, that is, the myriad of thorns that constitute tribulation. Jesus’ antidote for His followers is not some mind altering escape mechanism from reality; rather it is attaching our self to the Conqueror that we might overcome the world by being united to Him, even as we experience and stare tribulation in the face. We do not escape tribulation; we confront it; and on the back of Jesus we overcome and conquer it.
In facing tribulation, Jesus says to you now as He did His disciples then, “Cheer up, take heart, be of good courage, for I have overcome the world. You are no more alone than I was when you deserted me prior to the cross, for the Father was with me . . . . . . so We shall be with you! (John 16:32-33) There are many believers today who battle depression and sadness, who feel alone and pressed on every side, who wonder every day “when the next shoe will drop, who are paralyzed because of tribulation and unsure how to combat it. The Apostle Paul shared your experience: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. He explains we carry the treasure of our salvation in “jars of clay; we are that fragile! But this is “to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not us. (2 Corinthians 4:7-10)
Tribulation’s purpose is to drive us to Christ. If it does not, the thorns and thistles will overcome you. Throwing yourself on Christ is no different than breathing. It is a constant and continuing act of faith; and the only antidote to overcome the trials in your life; small trials or big; the ones that elicit a curse, as well as those that crush your heart. Medicines, anti-depressants, prescriptions may indeed lessen pain for a season and help the healing process, but overcoming and conquering is not in their power. Only Christ overcame the world; and only in claiming Him, clinging to Him, and throwing yourself on Him in the midst of tribulation will you conquer. And Jesus said, “The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death. (Revelation 2:11)


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Woman hand yoga pose. Practicing meditation and praying indoors.
Jun 16, 2011

It Is Very Mysterious

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Last Saturday I had the privilege of performing a wedding at the Paul Anderson Youth Home. The bride grew up on our 50 acre campus, the youngest daughter of life-long PAYH staff whose home is on the grounds. The ceremony was outside on a round brick patio encompassing one of the most majestic pecan trees you have ever seen. Aside from the heat, humidity, and gnats the wedding was spectacularly beautiful. It was an occasion to again be reminded of the profound mystery of marriage.
Mike Mason, who has written in my opinion one of the best books on marriage (The Mystery of Marriage), recounts his conversation with a friend when he told him he intended to write a book on marriage based on a phrase from a verse in Proverbs, “as iron sharpens iron. The friend wanted to know what he planned to say about the verses which immediately precede this phrase: “A quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping on a rainy day; restraining her is like restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand. (Proverbs 27:15-16). Before men or husbands blurt out, “how true, how true! remember the Bible requires of its readers knowledge of its complete context, which includes, a few chapters later, the strikingly beautiful passage of Proverbs 31:10-31 beginning with, “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.
Mason points out the tactlessness of the Bible in its confronting of reality; telling it like it is. He writes, “Marriage is also a tactless affair, full of awkwardness and indelicacy, as unromantic at times as a sinkful of dirty dishes. This is an intriguing part of the profound mystery in marriage; God declaring His truth through two sinful, self-centered individuals actually becoming one flesh. In the practice of marriage we almost always fail to grasp what this means, much less live out marriage as one flesh. In so doing we also fail to reap the reward of this union as God has made it possible.
There is no doubt God sees and declares the marriage union of two as one flesh, yet their individuality remains. Therein lays the mystery. But we emphasize our distinctness and maintain our “rights as individuals above celebrating or “fleshing-out the nature of being one. The sexual physical union is an expression of this one flesh mystery, but God’s purpose extends far beyond the physical, for we are more complex beings than merely physical. Do you see and treat marriage differently than God’s declaration and design?
Two individuals are capable of being in two separate locations, and in this mobile society frequently are. Do you live as though your spouse is with you when they are not? You may often be with one of the spouses of a one flesh union when the other is not present. Do you speak to that husband or wife as though the other is there? Do you treat them as though their spouse is present with you? How many marriages would be more protected if this were the case? Do you teach your children about this one flesh relationship by living it before them? If you did there would be little possibility of a child manipulating one parent against the other to get a different answer. They would come to know that speaking to Mom is consistent with speaking to Dad. It is how marriages ought to be, because this is the way God intends it. Marriage would be seen in an entirely different perspective were you to truly believe two become one flesh in marriage and that your union with Christ your Savior is comprehended in living out your union with your spouse. The implications are numerous; the application of God’s truth in marriage is yours by faith.


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Millennium Cross on a top of the Vodno mountain hill above Skopje, Macedonia
Jun 09, 2011

The Second Coming Of Christ Will Occur On…….?

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As most of you know May 21, 2011 came and went without the return of Christ. For those who believe God’s Word there was little reason to give attention to Harold Camping’s prediction of our Lord’s return on that day. During His life and ministry on earth, Jesus said quite clearly that no man knows the time of His coming; not even Himself at the time He said it, only His Father. Camping has been considered to be a real quack by most, and the media had great fun ridiculing his false prediction. His error was primarily his failure and unwillingness to believe God’s Word; an error, however, which he shares with many other people including an overwhelming proportion of the same media. The unfortunate result of Camping’s bold lie is the encouragement it provides to an increasing disrespect of the truth of God’s Word in the minds of unbelievers. Such unbelievers glibly cast Camping together with those who do faithfully preach and teach the truth of the Second Coming; a certainty in the future. Camping is but food for the naysayers to lead more astray into a sleepy denial that such things will truly occur. Those who perpetuate such a mindset in their view of reality will suddenly awake to real terror (Revelation 1:7) when the time of preparation will be long gone.
I have at times in SFTD talked about my father who is approaching his 94th birthday. He has earnestly studied the Bible since his days in high school when he became a Christian, and following high school with his days in college and seminary and 70 years of ministry as a pastor and military chaplain. He repeated in a recent email that he feels we are drawing much closer to the Second Coming, and that it might occur sooner than many think. Yet he is always careful to point out that neither he, nor any other man or woman has any knowledge of the specific time; only that it will come. Jesus does tell us, though, that we are to be aware of the season of His return, “When you see all these things, you know that He is near, at the very gates. (Matthew 24:33) One of the signs the Lord gives us that my father finds particularly significant in determining this season of His return is: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. The instant communications and technological world in which we now live makes the fulfillment of this sign a real and near accomplishment.
If we have ears to hear what has been clearly told to us from His mouth we will know that our time of preparation is now. We are even today to be filling our lamps with oil (Matthew 25) by knowing His Word and doing it, by keeping our hands on the plow of our work for His kingdom, by confessing Him before men, by living as though He will come tomorrow, while not standing around gazing into the sky. He wants to catch us in the act of doing His will.


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Yoido full gospel church the World's Largest Megachurch on Yeouido island Seoul South Korea
Jun 02, 2011

The Place Where You Live

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Last week we were in Sitka, Alaska, a spectacularly beautiful place surrounded by mountains, fjord like inlets and bays, snow covered mountains, myriads of islands, teeming wild life, and approximately 8500 residents. You reach Sitka only by boat or plane. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and it was warm the day we were there, but those who lived in Sitka told us we were very fortunate to enjoy such weather. It is hard to know a place when you visit it for just a day. When we asked a young lady in a café who served us coffee if she liked living there, she answered “it was boring, and indicated she did not plan to stay if she could go elsewhere.
How do you feel about the place where you live? The place you settle and marry and rear your children? Another person to whom we talked in Alaska was leaving Juneau to begin life again in Nevada with a friend who lived there. We do not know what she was leaving behind, only that it appeared to be a story into which she did not want to delve; an unsuccessful one, no doubt, and though she was in mid-life she was leaving Juneau alone. I had to wonder if anything would prove better for her in Nevada. If you had the choice would you leave where you are now? Or are you quite at peace with your current home and locale? In any case, content or not with where you are, you know your surroundings impact your outlook on life and on yourself far more than you contemplate. Then again, others are all too much aware of it.
The Bible tells us that God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward Him and find Him. Acts 17:26-27. He planned that not all peoples of the earth would live in one place like New York City, though I am sure those who live there think such is true on some days. There are those at the Youth Home that at times wish it were located elsewhere and not in Vidalia, like myself who does not do extremely well with summer heat, humidity, and gnats. (There are worse things, of course!) We are never told what Abraham thought of Ur in contrast to Palestine, where he obediently went “not knowing where he was going, and remained there the rest of his days. Maybe in worldly perspective, things, entertainment, restaurants, et cetera, Ur was better. That is not the point. For reasons known preeminently to God alone he placed us in our allotted “boundaries, and we tend to remain in them for a purpose, or be uprooted by Him to go elsewhere for a purpose.
When discontent arises with where you are, you need to revive in your spirit the truth that “here (wherever here is for you) we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Even if you have the fortune or misfortune to depart and go elsewhere, it is always for the express purpose that you will seek, ever more fervently, the city with foundations whose designer and builder is God. In one way or another God will keep us where we are or move us to another place with the intent that our allotted boundaries of locale, people, and places of serving will spur us to seek Him, find Him, and serve Him, while we eagerly look for the city that will come. This is the city that should capture our hearts and focus our vision and form our being.


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