Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Christmas1974

Today, 79 years ago, my Dad was born (yes, he was a Christmas Eve baby). In the pic above, that’s him holding my baby brother with my sister and me many years ago celebrating Christmas when we lived in Virginia (1974, I believe).

Sadly, he did not see his 55th birthday, abruptly and unexpectedly taken from us as a result of a heart attack. This grievous and dreadful event capped an approximately 18-month period when a dear uncle, my precious grandmother and my respected father were all seemingly snatched away, leaving us with wounded hearts, fractured faith and voids in our lives.

Growing up, Christmas always represented a time of hope for me. Year after year, I would ponder and reflect that God showed He is faithful to His promises and to us in the sending of His Son, Immanuel, God with us. Year after year, I anticipated that life would become more and more fulfilling; that my calling and purpose would be revealed and, with sincere effort, fulfilled; that my loved ones would find and grow in Christ and God the Father.

But as I’ve grown older and witnessed & shared in the pain of dear friends losing children during pregnancy or childbirth; of the unexpected and unexplained loss of family; of the life-changing/world-shrinking effects of Parkinson’s and other diseases; of the immense struggle to adapt to the results of stroke, Alzheimer’s, Lupus, aging – I’ve struggled more and more with belief. Hope has often seemed a light disappearing from view as I travel farther down “the race set before me.” And I battle feeling as if my life has been invalidated as the institutions I’ve counted on seem to have declared my accomplishments as inconsequential; my beliefs as ignorant, my faith as unprofitable and counterproductive. Immanuel? God with us? Sometimes, I confess, I have misgivings as to whether that is true…..

But I’m continually brought up by the fact that the evils of this world do not contradict God nor His Son. “In this world you will have trouble,” He told us. Trouble of my own making and trouble resulting from a world increasingly spurning God and His Son. We are described as imbued with the dignity of God and yet infected with death, fear and self-defeating tendencies. “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” It was into this world that He came. For you. For me.

I continue to be rescued by this Immanuel, God with Us. This God who did not consider equality with God as something to be held onto and used to His own advantage. Rather, He emptied Himself and became human. He experienced what we experience – He experienced our reality. And, in order to save us, He became obedient unto death.

The Christmas hope (Immanuel) is a future hope – for a place where the kingdom of God is actually and fully realized. Where creation, now broken, will be made anew. Where the losses, the wounds and the voids will be redeemed, healed and closed.

The Christmas hope (Immanuel) is also a present hope – those who seek God, who come to God through His Son, will be sustained through present sufferings and will know peace and purpose in this life.

So, for grieving widows to abuse survivors to those suffering illness, disease, depression, doubt and fear.

For those who have made bad choices and despair of ever being able to repair what has been broken as a result of those choices.

For those who have experienced or are experiencing heartbreaking and confusing loss.

For those who were not loved growing up and have developed a hard layer to try to deaden the pain and insulate from any more pain.

For the widows alone, unable to sleep at night, remembering nights past and the laughter of family filling the house.

For the parents who feel overwhelmed and wonder how to build a family.

For those who feel insignificant …. lost …. alone.

For those who are weary and ready to give up.

For those who worry that the hour is too late for them to return.

This night, and the birth of this Child so long ago is meant to bring the hope of salvation.

He came to bring light to the world.

He is the gift.

May this gift bring you the hope of the realization that you are loved. The hope that a way to God has been made for you. That abundant life and abundant living can be found even here and even now.

Merry Christmas.

Read Full Post »

 

My son turned nineteen years old today.  Today he is recognized as a full adult by our great state.  I’ve had this date marked for some time as “the milestone” for his launching into adulthood.  Today has been an emotional day for me.  Having children was not something I decided on lightly.  My wife had desired children for years, but I had been most reluctant — because I didn’t know or think I had what it took to be a good father.  It was only after 10 years of marriage and much soul-searching and prayer that I made the very personal and life-changing decision to father children.  I have not been a perfect father — I can think of many occasions for which I wish I could have a “do-over.”  But, in the really important things of life, especially in faith, knowing right and wrong, being a man of integrity, my son is largely where I have prayed and hoped he would be.  And now we have begun the transition of his leaving our nest and setting out on his own.  Bittersweet doesn’t begin to describe what this transition, just now in its early stages, has been like. 

Today, on this milestone day, I drove to his college to spend time with him and have a little private “ceremony” recognizing his transition to manhood.  It was important to me that I do this — and I hope it was meaningful to him.  I presented him with a serious gift in the form of a book regarding what true manhood involves and also a letter in which I wrote from my heart and which I hope will be one he treasures, keeps, and re-reads many times over the course of his life.

To my son on his 19th birthday:

Nineteen years old – the beginning of life as an adult (per the great state in which we live 🙂 ). Where have all the years gone? Why does life have to go by so fast? I wish I could hit rewind and pause buttons and just savor the blessing of you as a child and adolescent.

But as much as I might like that, there is no stopping time. It’s a bittersweet moment because we are saying goodbye to the child we raised and embracing the young adult you have become.

This is how I feel today, buddy. You’re no longer a little boy, no longer an adolescent. You are a grown man who is beginning to make a life of his own. BUT, that doesn’t mean you are simply “on your own.” I (and your mother) deeply want to be in your life and you in ours.  We know we are not in the “parent-child” stage anymore, but we still remain your loving parents – ready to provide advice, support, friendship; we pray for continued involvement in your life – the ability to share in the up’s and down’s it brings.

I’ve often thought of what I would tell you as you launch into manhood. I’ve wanted to give you thoughts that you will hide in your heart and practice in your life. Here they are:

  • Take time for introspection (thinking about who you are and what you want to be in terms of character, integrity, calling). You will find that life sometimes gets more complicated the older you get. Sometimes it’s very easy to figure out, and sometimes it will take you years to find the answer.
  • Dare to dream. Work hard and persistently to make your dreams reality. Don’t get discouraged when you fail – learn from it and move on and keep trying.  Everyone has failures in life as they work to succeed.
  • Be brave.  Don’t be afraid to stand for what is right and for truth (especially among your friends).  Remember Deuteronomy 31:6 & Joshua 1:9.  Be selective in your close friends – you really do take on the characteristics of those you surround yourself with.
  • Keep your family in your life.  We love you and we want to share in your life; remain a part, a supportive part, of your life.
  • Most of all, commit yourself and your ways to the Lord, and you will succeed in life (that desk ornament I gave you years ago and insisted you keep on your desk? I did for a reason – to remind you of this very thing – Proverbs 3:5-6 🙂 ).

I have great confidence in you because you have a good heart, good character and most of all, you have faith in Jesus.  Live that faith!  I say again, LIVE YOUR FAITH.

It’s an exciting time, a time of transition, of looking to and planning for your future. You’re now fully responsible for your decisions and actions. Remember your actions and decisions have consequences (for good or bad; now and in the future).

Establish in your heart and mind that being a man is a purposeful effort which does not come about by simply growing older.  Being a man is more about character, compassion and courage than it is career. A man has character when he is a person of integrity who can be depended on. A man has compassion when he is caring for others by putting their best interests ahead of his own. A man has courage when he does what is right even what it’s difficult. I believe you have come far on this journey to becoming a man. You have learned so much already. Continue faithfully on!

You will make a difference! You certainly have in my life. You are heaven sent.  I thank and praise God for placing you in my life. I know I’ve not been the perfect parent, but I hope I have been a good one and that you are able to live well in part because I have been (and continue to be) your loving father. I am a better person because you are in my life.  I love you fiercely and as long as I have breath, I am here for you.  If you need to talk, need advice, just give me a call or a text or a visit.

Your loving and proud,

Dad

Read Full Post »

_DSC3821

The Masters golf tournament ended yesterday (yes, I got to roam the grounds of Augusta National Golf Course!).  Patrick Reed won his first major tournament.  In doing so, he overcame many obstacles:

  • He was NOT the one the crowds wanted to win.  Again and again, the crowd favorites were greeted with roars of approval when they were introduced and when they made a great shot.  Patrick, on the other hand, was given only “polite golf applause” when he was introduced or when he made a great shot.  It was evident to all that he was not who the crowds were rooting for.  One of the headlines on CBSsports.com even read, “How a Villain Won it All” in describing Patrick’s victory.
  • The pressure of some of golf’s best players gaining significant ground (one even getting tied with him) when he faltered early.  When Patrick began the day with a bogey and a par (on a hole in which he should have had birdie), it looked like he would wilt under the pressure.  Instead, he steadied himself and made the shots he had to over the next 16 holes.
  • The challenge issued by one of golf’s best golfers, Rory McIlroy, with whom Patrick was partnered on Sunday, the last round of the tournament.  Rory was playing the “mental game” against Patrick.  Patrick stayed mentally tough throughout.

How did Patrick Reed manage to overcome all of these obstacles?  He won because he remained focused and committed to his purpose.  As I think on this, I’m reminded of Paul’s exhortations to us as Christians:  “Do you know know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may win.”  (1 Cor 9:24)  “Run in such a way that you press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)

The need for Christians to live up to our identity and calling in Christ in today’s deteriorating culture cannot be overstated.  Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest, the April 8 reading, states: “[Jesus’] resurrection means for us [Christians] that we are raised to His risen life, not to our old life….we can know now the [power and effectiveness] of His resurrection and walk in newness of life.  Thank God it is gloriously and majestically true that the Holy Ghost can work in us the very nature of Jesus if we will obey Him.”

Like Patrick Reed, we will face significant obstacles in seeking to live in (and live out) our new life and identity in Christ.  There will be those who root against us, those who actively work against us, those who try to bully and pressure and shame us with “mental games.”

But Oswald Chambers is right … we can know now the power and effectiveness of His resurrection, we can walk in newness of life and the Holy Spirit work in us the very nature of Jesus … if we obey Him.

Patrick Reed won the Masters because he “ran the race” focused and committed to golf’s ultimate prize.  As Christians, we must run for a greater calling and prize.  We do this that we may become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:1-4) and because if we don’t, we simply deny the light culture so desperately needs.

C.S. Lewis wrote: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us. [We are] like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Are you (am I) “too easily pleased?”

Read Full Post »

28695710

I recently finished reading “Out of the Ashes” by Anthony Esolen. Wow, what a fascinating, challenging and convicting read! I encourage any and all to read the book — but beware, it is not for the faint of heart nor those easily offended. Dr. Esolen is a man of learning and conviction, and his tone and some of his thoughts on culture and divine truth will put off some. He also tends to interrupt a line of thought for another line and it is up to the reader to determine how the thoughts are related to the immediate subject he is on at the time. Having said that, the author is largely accurate in his broad cultural analysis (if not always in the remedy, particularly regarding generalities on manhood and womanhood). The book has much to offer, and boldly and accurately state, regarding truth, beauty, education, God and man, how we rationalize evil and ugliness, and the need for ordinary people to be willing to resume the humanity that has often been lost (and how to do it). The last two chapters are classic and timeless! While the book is meant for more than the church, the universal church would do well to adapt what is discussed into how to recover its true mission and how to engage and influence by being distinct and thus true light.

Read Full Post »

I was in a Target retail store today walking down a main aisle to get to school supplies (looking for a graphing calculator for one of my boys).  As I looked ahead, I saw an elderly lady with a shopping cart stop and begin to eye me.  I could tell she thought I might be a Target employee.  Sure enough, when I was close enough for her to make herself heard, she inquired as to whether I worked at the store (as I was wearing khaki slacks and an orange-red shirt, her thought was understandable).

However, how she phrased her question caught me up short — and has had me thinking ever since.  She asked, “Are you a customer, or are you a real person?”

After confirming with her I was a customer, I began thinking on the latter half of her question — “are you a real person?”   Oh, I’m definitely flesh and blood, but that simply means I’m existing.  In looking for descriptions of a “real person,” I came across words like genuine, authentic, giving, loving and vulnerable.  If those words characterize a “real person” (and I think it certainly encompasses those things), then I sometimes struggle.

I naturally lean toward a “type-A personality,” but I’m also introverted by nature.  The results of such a combination are often stoicism (lack of showing emotion) and introversion.  I can often seem unapproachable, difficult to talk with, interested in people only in terms of how they can contribute to tasks at hand (a commodity).  When emotion does come out, it can often be in the form of impatience and/or frustration.

As I’ve reflected on this, I can think of many times when I’ve not been a “real person,” but rather a brooding, self-absorbed person.  Times when I’ve gotten frustrated and impatient with my wife or boys because they haven’t gotten something done or because they don’t get what I’m trying to explain after they’ve asked me to help them with their homework.  Times when I’ve “withdrawn” rather than drawn close.

I remember a time awhile back when a friend from work and I were talking.  This friend was trying to help me see why sometimes I could be intimidating or thought to be unapproachable.  As she was talking, I remained impassive.  I offered no words or facial expressions/body language.  Exasperated, she said, “See, this is what I’m talking about.  I have no idea what you’re thinking and wonder whether you care at all.”  I wasn’t being a real person.

As I’ve continued to think, the apostle Paul’s words on the fruit of the Spirit keeps coming to my mind:  “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control….”  A real person is one who exhibits these characteristics.  Such a person is genuine and values people as people (versus a commodity useful in accomplishing tasks).  Such a person is one who enriches others’ lives simply by how they interact with others – exhibiting the fruit outlined above.

As a Christian, I should be, by-and-large, a real person.  None of us is a perfect real person, but as a Christian, being a real person (defined by the fruit of the Spirit) should be the norm.  Christ says, and I’m paraphrasing here, that you can recognize a people by how they act — as you can identify a tree by its fruit.  A good tree (real person) bears good fruit (love, joy, peace, gentleness, kindness, etc).  A bad tree, on the other hand, produces bad fruit (self-centeredness, impatience, anger, indifference, harshness, etc).  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.

At the end of the day, I want to be able to answer that elderly woman’s question with, “Yes, I’m a real person.”  I can’t do that in my own strength, but only by walking in and with the Spirit of God.  May I, may we all, do so and be “real people.”

Read Full Post »

bluto-college

As a young Christian headed to, or in, college (and, more and more, even in high school), you will experience (or already are experiencing) significant challenges to your faith and beliefs.  Some of these challenges will be motivated by out-and-out antagonism; others by sincere wonder about why you believe what you do.

As a result, there will be times where you feel attacked, ridiculed and/or singled-out/isolated for your Christian belief.  If you’ve never had your beliefs deeply probed/challenged (whether by hostile or sincere motivations), it can be overwhelming and cause serious cracks of doubt in your faith’s foundation.  This is exacerbated if you’ve left behind familiar family and friends for the newness (and initial aloneness) of college.

To help navigate these times, here are six ways you can ensure not only the survival of your faith, but that you will learn, grow and flourish:

1. Know why you believe.  Scripture tells us plainly to be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you the reason for “the hope that you have”  (1 Peter 3:15, NIV and TLB).  Young Christians often abandon their faith because they are not prepared to answer the arguments against God that many professors, students and organizations present today.

I’ll never forget when, as a new freshman in college, a new friend and I were  discussing our beliefs.  As this friend probed my beliefs, he eventually said, “Jeff, I’m surprised you don’t know more about why you believe what you do.”   His statement has stuck with me to this day.

That was some time ago — in today’s post-Christian culture, the atheistic arguments against the existence of God and against Christianity are more aggressive, passionate and complicated than ever before.  Seemingly insurmountable and impenetrable arguments are presented as to why religion in general, and Christian belief in particular, is not just ignorant and antithetical to science and basic common sense, but even harmful to individuals and society.

However, Christianity is not simply “blind faith.”  There is sound evidence which leads to faith and buttresses it.  Knowing why you believe; knowing such belief is not crazy; knowing that faith, science and reason are allies is crucial to being able to give an answer for the reason for the hope that you have.  If you don’t know why you believe, if your foundation of faith is based more on feeling than on evidence (sealed by the witness of the Holy Spirit), your faith could be irrevocably shaken later.

Toward that end, there are a number of sources that can help you determine and understand the evidence that buttresses faith.  Some suggestions: 20 Compelling Evidences that God Exists by Kenneth Boa & Robert Bowman; Why Science does not Disprove God by Amir D. Aczel; Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis; The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis; Know Why You Believe by Paul Little; a variety of essays by Eric Metaxas and others via the internet.  For a taste of how science more and more indicates a Creator and Designer of the universe, watch this.

2. Face Reality.  Jesus told us, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:19, NIV).  The fact is, in America, we are living in a post-Christian culture. Our nation’s institutions (education, judicial, media) have ceased to recognize God and the Bible as our national center, as the source of the common good.  More and more, our institutions attempt to force compliance in thought and deed regarding this post-Christian worldview.  Simply being aware of this and facing the fact that your faith will be challenged (either directly or indirectly) is a must.  It will help you think critically about what you’re being taught and told.

3.  Seek out Allies.  Don’t remain in the “aloneness” you may feel/encounter when you initially move to college (or that you may feel in high school). Identify and join campus groups which share your faith and worldview. Examples include Cru, Baptist Student Union, Navigators (for high school, Youth for Christ or Campus Life). Find and join a bible-believing church which faithfully preaches the gospel and submission to it in the form of discipleship. We all need friends and groups that remind us we are not alone in our faith, in whom we can confide and find encouragement and growth. These groups can also help you navigate the politically correct obstacle course that runs through campuses as well as find professors that share common Christian belief.

4.  Avoid needless battles.  It isn’t your personal responsibility to change the administration’s or professors’ views on Christian faith. It is, of course, necessary and a part of our calling to stand for truth, but it is not necessary to start unnecessary and unproductive conflicts in the name of “conversions.” Look for opportunities for people with truly open minds and an environment for real discussion — but if that doesn’t exist, don’t try to force the issue.

5.  Stay cool.  If you do have the opportunity to engage in a discussion of your belief or are answering a question on why you believe what you do stay calm, gentle and reasonable. In that same passage where Peter tells us to be ready to give an answer for our hope, he also states to give the answer in gentleness and respect.  Thinking of things in terms of “I must win/you must lose” and acting/speaking accordingly is not going to help the cause of Christianity. Remember, as Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5, “we are Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us.”  The person who loses his cool usually loses the debate …. and in our case this can have eternal consequences.

6.  Work Hard.  Professors and teachers value hardworking, enthusiastic students.  That is one way of showing respect. Many teachers will respect you in turn … it is one way to “win the right” to engage in discussion of belief.  This is also the path to success in the classroom.

In the end, if you continue to walk with God, seek Him and apply the above, you stand to get more out of your college experience than most. Why? Because you are exposed to dissenting worldviews much more frequently. These challenges and opposition will sharpen you academically and deepen your faith. You will grow intellectually and spiritually as a result. The secret is to be prepared!

 

 

Read Full Post »

paradoxa tenet contrary to received opinion; a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet when investigated or tried may prove to be well founded or true

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

— from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions

 

Anne Graham Lotz stated:

“It’s not what you say but who you are that catches the attention of those around you … Because problems offer us the opportunity to give relevant witness to the difference faith in God can make. The problems enable us to become a showcase so that the world can look into our lives and see the glory of God revealed.”

Dr Jim Denison: “We are wise to look for ways to redeem the consequences of living in a fallen world.”

 

A witness that is lived is powerful.

“… and this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith” — 1 John 5:4b

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »