Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Psalm 116:9 – “I shall walk before the Lord in the land of the living.”  (NASB)
Psalm 111:10 – “The good life begins in the [reverence] of God…” (The Message)
Psalm 90:12 – “Teach us to number our days…teach us to live wisely and well” (NASB and The Message)
How a man walks in life (how he lives) reveals his heart, his passion, his love.  Some live only in regards to the judgments and opinions of other people.  Others are concerned with living in light of the fact that abundant life, meaningful life, a life that leaves a lasting legacy for others is found in walking with God and in light of Him as our Creator.
An article I read a few years ago highlights this well.  From Dr. Jim Denison (with some slight editing):
A Tale of Two Armstrongs
Lance Armstrong is one of the most remarkable people of our generation.  Diagnosed with cancer at the age of 25 and given only a 40% chance of survival, he went on to win 7 Tour de France cycling titles.  But with them came accusations of cheating through doping (taking performance enhancing substances).  Recently, after years of fighting these accusations and proclaiming his innocence, he decided to stop fighting the allegations; in response, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency banned Armstrong from professional cycling for life and recommended ALL his Tour de France victories be vacated.
In spite of the many things he has done, and is doing, to raise money for cancer research, it’s hard not to be shocked at the way his amazing cycling career has ended.

Another Armstrong made the weekend news as well: Neil Armstrong died Aug 25 at the age of 82.  When he set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, he made the statement heard around the world: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”  The Apollo 11 moon mission was his last space flight.  He left NASA a year later to become a professor of engineering at the University of Cincinnati.
Armstrong refused all offers to use his fame for personal advancement.  Life magazine described his legacy well: he “was one of those rare, genuine heroes whose legend grew larger with passing years not because he nurtured the myths that attached to him as the first human to walk on the moon, but because he quietly, resolutely refused to play the role of the publicly lauded Great American.”  His humility was both genuine and remarkable.
One Armstrong finished well; the other may yet forge a great legacy but today lives in the shadow of scandal.  Their stories prove the truth of the old adage: it’s not where you begin the race that matters, but where you end.  The same is true for us.  Jacob stole his brother’s birthright; Moses killed a man and fled as a felon; David was a murdering adulterer; Peter three times denied knowing his Lord; Paul persecuted Christians to the death.  But try writing the story of human history and redemption without them.
Their common secret: they learned to define success by faithfulness.  Our culture defines it by fame and fortune, popularity and possessions, but God knows better.  If we live in light of the truth of God, confident of His calling on and purpose for us, abiding in Him and our identity in His Son … when our days are done we will say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).  Whose race are you running today?

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Today, 76 years ago, my Dad was born (that’s him in the picture above when he was a teenager/young man).  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 from our lives 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, From grieving widows to abuse survivors to those suffering illness, disease, depression, doubt and fear.

For those who have made bad choices and hope to repair what has been broken as a result.

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

For those who were not loved and have 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.

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Scan 1675My son, wanting to get to a television program, raced through dinner. Which caused me to ask, “That was a quick dinner — did you chew any of it?”

And suddenly, I was time warped back 40 years — for my Dad said that to me from time-to-time when I raced through dinner to get to something I was eager to do.

I was struck by the warm, secure, happy, buoyant feelings that enveloped me.

Those of us who have lost a parent sometimes say, “I miss my Dad,” or “I miss my Mom.” I realized in this moment, that while that is very true, I also very much miss being a kid. Or, rather, I miss what my childhood was characterized by. I was secure and happy and joyous and hopeful for & in the future. There was unconscious confidence in the various people and institutions that filled and guided my life — they taught and/or reinforced truth and how to live it. Most of all, the relationship with and confidence in my parents, provided the foundation for all of this. I was loved, valued, disciplined (in the right way, for the right reasons), sacrificed for.

I miss being a kid.

And then I thought, I still have a Dad. He loves me, values me, disciplines me (in the right way, for the right reasons; see Proverbs 3:12), and has given the greatest sacrifice for me — His only begotten Son that I might become His child (see John 1:12, Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:4-6).

And I realize I’m still a kid, with a Father in whom I can have relationship with and confidence in. And I am enveloped by the warm, secure, happy, buoyant feelings that accompany the child who is indeed loved.

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Mainline Protestant churches have been in decline for decades.  There are a growing number of people who think evangelical churches are beginning to see a decline as well.  Many churches are reacting with new solutions, new strategies and guesses.  They come under the names such as “emergent,”  “missional,”  “multi-site,” “organic,” “multi-congregational” just to name a few.  I’ve even encountered one model known as the “cowboy” model in which “like-minded folk gather with their own to worship God in arenas, barns or even saloons.”

In many cases, there seems to be a focus on “social justice” or “service” while forgetting of the element of worship, of knowing God.  Often the models seemed to be tailored on “getting people” or “service” often forgetting “growing people” or even to proclaim the gospel — what we are as people without Christ, why we need Him, and what is involved in following Him (namely, we become changed, and changing, people).  There is a danger of much superficiality with little depth.

The source of this danger seems to be the allowance of culture to get the best of us. We so desperately want to be popular that we are sacrificing our distinctiveness as the church, the body of Christ.  We often state, “God accepts us just as we are” when in fact this is not true.  If it were, there would have been no need for Jesus to come to “seek and save that which is lost.”  God does meet us where we are, but He won’t leave us there.  This need for recognition of our state apart from God, our need to repent and follow Him is often what we leave out in order to attract people and not make anyone uncomfortable.

Scripture makes it clear that, as John Calvin said, “to know God is to be changed by God.”  The church needs to be about truths bigger than ourselves and our world. Sometimes the truth will make us uncomfortable (the gospel begins with the bad news about ourselves after all), but the church must be about the truth shared in love and grace — where we can ask questions our culture ignores or caricatures and where we can find real answers as we find God revealed to us in Jesus Christ — God’s free, abundant, deep grace and love shown for us on the cross — and the transforming power available to us in the resurrection and indwelling Holy Spirit.

Christianity is more than social justice, more than service.  Both are vital — but the church and Christianity is about more than that.  It is not about guilting or exhorting to do more and more.  Unless we are seeking God in Christ, unless we are striving to follow Him — to love Him with all our hearts and minds — we will come up empty regardless of how much we serve or how much “social justice” we think we accomplish.

So, remember the place of worship — of being grounded in the faith and the love & work of Jesus Christ.  Of being transformed from, rather than conformed to, the world and its culture.  As Richard Niebuhr once wrote, “If [the] church has no other plan of salvation than to offer men one of deliverance by force, education, idealism (…) it really has no existence as [the] church and needs to resolve itself into a political party or school.”

May we as the church be about more than social justice — may we be transformed and transforming as a result of knowing God more and more and following Him more and more.

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It’s very rare that I remember my dreams I have while sleeping. They usually have to touch something deep and emotional for me to remember — and even then, I only remember “snatches” of the dreams. Not too long ago, I dreamt a lovely dream — Neil and Sandra; Mike and Susie; Kevin and Barbie — all dear friends from college (or shortly after); and my wife Mary and I were, for some unknown but happy reason, gathered for a reunion of sorts. We laughed and talked of old times, of getting older, of health scares. It was really great “seeing” these old friends. 
When I awoke, I realized and meditated on several things:

a) the many wonderful friendships God has blessed me with over the years – the names and faces passed through my mind. Childhood and high school friends who made growing up fun and what childhood should be; dear college friends who helped keep me grounded (when it would have been easy to sow oats that would haunt me today) – friends in adulthood: Air Force friends who became a “band of brothers” – theater friends who helped me find artistic creativity, shared great love, and taught me how to have fun; spiritual friends who have helped me grow as a leader and in my faith.

b) the devastating impact children, distance and time (age) can have on friendships, making them more like “deeper” acquaintances. Don’t get me wrong – children are great (I wouldn’t trade mine for the world), but they do impact friendships as your time is limited; distance wreaks havoc on friendships; and age (time) diminishes the energy we once had for the frequent get-togethers (plays, dinners, parties, etc).

c) but “at the end of the day,” I realize that these are not acquaintances — for if I had a deep, real need – these people would respond, they would cross the distance, find the energy, make “room” in their lives, they would support me, for the bond of friendship remains. This has been demonstrated in loss, in crisis, in the milestones of life.
 And I am grateful as I realize this. I am grateful as I think on the friends and friendships that have come throughout my life from childhood to today. I hope as I continue to age, that I’ll never forget the need and meaning of friends and that I’ll “make room” in my life for relationships and not let the “tyranny of the urgent,” things, or age crowd people out.

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The images from the Hubble Telescope bring the kaleidoscopic beauty of the universe in all its stunning glory.  And the “Earthrise” photo from the Apollo 8 mission of our tiny, beautiful planet hanging in this vast space is awe-inspiring.  How could all this come into existence?  And how could this single planet support life with all the myriad and complex parameters that have to be in place and working in concert?  The mathematical probabilities of all this “just coming together” are statistically impossible.  And yet, so many claim science disproves a Creator.

I’ve been reading a book called “Why Science does not Disprove God” (by Amir Aczel). It is a difficult, mindboggling read but goes a long way (for me anyway) in buttressing my faith in the fact that this world and this universe could not have happened by chance or spontaneously. Trying to distill what I’ve read into a short, easily-consumed narrative has proven challenging to say the least.

Then along comes Eric Metaxas, a Yale-educated author, who provides a start on such a narrative. Below is his narrative, published in the Wall Street Journal on Christmas Day, 2014 under the title, “Science Increasingly Makes the Case For God.” The emphases are mine.

I felt this was worth sharing — for those who, in a culture whose “wisdom” continually tries to have us question and reject a Creator, may be struggling with doubt, may this help in your faith; for those who wonder, may this help affirm the truth of Scripture: namely, “the Lord … the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it..” (Isaiah 42:5)
In 1966 Time magazine ran a cover story asking: Is God Dead? Many have accepted the cultural narrative that he’s obsolete—that as science progresses, there is less need for a “God” to explain the universe. Yet it turns out that the rumors of God’s death were premature. More amazing is that the relatively recent case for his existence comes from a surprising place—science itself.

Here’s the story: The same year Time featured the now-famous headline, the astronomer Carl Sagan announced that there were two important criteria for a planet to support life: The right kind of star, and a planet the right distance from that star. Given the roughly octillion—1 followed by 24 zeros—planets in the universe, there should have been about septillion—1 followed by 21 zeros—planets capable of supporting life.

With such spectacular odds, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, a large, expensive collection of private and publicly funded projects launched in the 1960s, was sure to turn up something soon. Scientists listened with a vast radio telescopic network for signals that resembled coded intelligence and were not merely random. But as years passed, the silence from the rest of the universe was deafening. Congress defunded SETI in 1993, but the search continues with private funds. As of 2014, researches have discovered precisely bubkis—0 followed by nothing.

What happened? As our knowledge of the universe increased, it became clear that there were far more factors necessary for life than Sagan supposed. His two parameters grew to 10 and then 20 and then 50, and so the number of potentially life-supporting planets decreased accordingly. The number dropped to a few thousand planets and kept on plummeting.

Even SETI proponents acknowledged the problem. Peter Schenkel wrote in a 2006 piece for Skeptical Inquirer magazine: “In light of new findings and insights, it seems appropriate to put excessive euphoria to rest . . . . We should quietly admit that the early estimates . . . may no longer be tenable.”

As factors continued to be discovered, the number of possible planets hit zero, and kept going. In other words, the odds turned against any planet in the universe supporting life, including this one. Probability said that even we shouldn’t be here.

Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life—every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart. Without a massive planet like Jupiter nearby, whose gravity will draw away asteroids, a thousand times as many would hit Earth’s surface. The odds against life in the universe are simply astonishing.

Yet here we are, not only existing, but talking about existing. What can account for it? Can every one of those many parameters have been perfect by accident? At what point is it fair to admit that science suggests that we cannot be the result of random forces? Doesn’t assuming that an intelligence created these perfect conditions require far less faith than believing that a life-sustaining Earth just happened to beat the inconceivable odds to come into being?

There’s more. The fine-tuning necessary for life to exist on a planet is nothing compared with the fine-tuning required for the universe to exist at all. For example, astrophysicists now know that the values of the four fundamental forces—gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the “strong” and “weak” nuclear forces—were determined less than one millionth of a second after the big bang. Alter any one value and the universe could not exist. For instance, if the ratio between the nuclear strong force and the electromagnetic force had been off by the tiniest fraction of the tiniest fraction—by even one part in 100,000,000,000,000,000—then no stars could have ever formed at all. Feel free to gulp.

Multiply that single parameter by all the other necessary conditions, and the odds against the universe existing are so heart-stoppingly astronomical that the notion that it all “just happened” defies common sense. It would be like tossing a coin and having it come up heads 10 quintillion times in a row. Really?

Fred Hoyle, the astronomer who coined the term “big bang,” said that his atheism was “greatly shaken” at these developments. He later wrote that “a common-sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with the physics, as well as with chemistry and biology . . . . The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”

Theoretical physicist Paul Davies has said that “the appearance of design is overwhelming” and Oxford professor Dr. John Lennox has said “the more we get to know about our universe, the more the hypothesis that there is a Creator . . . gains in credibility as the best explanation of why we are here.”

The greatest miracle of all time, without any close seconds, is the universe. It is the miracle of all miracles, one that ineluctably points with the combined brightness of every star to something—or Someone—beyond itself.

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Many, if not most, people are weary of Obamacare and the people either touting it or flogging it.  And it is this weariness that most politically savvy people count on to get things they want.  They simply hammer away at something until it is passed because people just get tired of it and want it to go away.

But I urge those of you weary of the debate to remain engaged.  For Obamacare is of paramount importance — the impact it will have, if not changed or, better, repealed will negatively affect future generations ultimately resulting in lower quality care, hindrance to access, bureaucrats making decisions on whether a person can have certain care or not (the so-called death panels) not to mention the devastating economic impacts the law will have because of hugely increased governmental debt.

While Obamacare’s stated goals are laudable, the law as written/designed is simply a disaster and ticking time bomb that does not achieve those goals:

Uninsured covered?  Hardly.  Defining the “uninsured” has always been an exercise in political art, since a lot of them are people who voluntarily choose not to purchase insurance… but, Obamacare was supposed to entice them into getting insurance.  Long-term projections showed the trillions spent on Obamacare would, in fact, produce only a modest reduction in the ranks of the uninsured, leaving tens of millions of them after ten years.  In fact the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says that under Obamacare, 30 million non-elderly Americans will remain without health insurance in 2022.  The CBO report indicates that at best, Obamacare will ultimately cover less than half of the currently uninsured. Further, the CBO report indicated that 30 million number was about what would have been expected by that date even without Obamacare!

Able to keep your doctor and/or keep your insurance plan?  Obama promised this would be the case under Obamacare, but the facts tell a different story.  More people have had their insurance plans CANCELED than there have been people signed up under Obamacare.  Insurance carrier Florida Blue sent out 300,000 cancellation notices, or 80 percent of the entire state’s individual coverage policies, Kaiser Health News reports. California’s Kaiser Permanente canceled 160,000 plans — half of its insurance plans in the state — while Blue Shield of California sent 119,000 notices in mid-September alone.  Two major insurance carriers in Pennsylvania, Insurance Highmark in Pittsburgh and Independence Blue Cross in Philadelphia plan to cancel 20 percent and 45 percent of their total plans, respectively.
As liberal politician Charles Rangel (D-NY) says, “It’s (Obamacare) screwed up.”
Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2013/10/24/health-insurance-cancellation-notices-soar-above-obamacare-enrollment-rates/#ixzz2ilZmF3CP

Read more: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18563_162-57609224/arrival-of-obamacare-forcing-insurers-to-drop-customers-with-low-coverage/

In addition, many new policies being issued through Obamacare are limiting hospital and doctor access.  Thus, many people are finding they cannot get access to their current doctor or preferred doctor.

Access to needed care (no caps):  This was the response to the concern around so-called “death panels” – the fear Obamacare would, through new bureaucracies that set prices and determined what treatments could/could not be used on a patient (based on their definitions of “quality of life,”  “effectiveness” and “benefit”), essentially condemn some people to a near-certain death because they would deny payment for needed treatments.  Recently, with the law now passed, supporters of Obamacare have conceded that such decisions will be made under Obamacare.  The ramifications of this are stunning and appalling.

From an economic viewpoint, Obama and the law’s supporters promised the new law would be “budget neutral” meaning it would not add to the deficit/national debt, that premiums would go DOWN by an average $2,500, and taxes on the middle class would not go up.  All of these promises turned out to be deceptions.  The law will add up to $2 TRILLION in debt over the next 20 years; the stories of “sticker shock” for people actually able to get through the Obamacare website are legion; and taxes on the middle class will go up by $1 TRILLION over the next 10 years.

Read more: http://www.forbes.com/sites/theapothecary/2013/10/21/health-reform-breaks-bad-the-deceptions-and-disasters-of-obamacare/

Finally, there is the fact that Obamacare is driving up the number of people who despair of getting full time work or ANY work.  Companies have stopped hiring, cut hours, and/or laidoff people or canceled/significantly changed health plans as a result of Obamacare’s regulations and penalties on business.  The CBO figures Obamacare will result in roughly 800,000 fewer jobs.  Even big labor unions are now against Obamacare.  And as pediatric heart surgeon Bradley Allen put it, “It is no wonder … members of Congress got themselves exempted from [Obamacare].  They may have passed the law, but they’re not stupid.”

The sad thing is there are, and have been, ideas and plans put forward that would address the goal of significantly reducing the number of uninsured while also ensuring health care access and quality standards increase (not decrease as with Obamacare).

I urge you to not to grow weary, but rather fight this dreadful law knowing if it does take hold, the consequences to the poor, to those in need of health care and to the nation in general will be huge over the coming years — but like the proverbial frog in the kettle these consequences will come in degrees and many won’t know why.

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The below is a repost of an article by Ken Wytsma which I thought worth sharing:

A friend … wondered if, at the end of the day, it’s possible to actually change the world. Doesn’t history show injustice and sin are intractable and constant?

I’ve faced this question many times. Many people believe the talk we hear about changing the world is simply triumphal and idealistic cheerleading designed to make us feel more important than we really are.

The truth is, those who believe we can’t change the world and those who believe we can are both pointing at deep truths in the nature of reality. One sees the fact that no matter what our efforts, we can’t permanently and fundamentally fix the world and eradicate evil from the human heart, while the other sees the fact that we can and do change the world every day in both small yet significant ways and, sometimes, in large and weighty matters. How are we to understand these two realities?

Back in grad school, studying philosophy, the whole exercise of clarifying an argument always hung on a distinction—separating out a conflated idea into two clear and distinct truths.

The distinction here is: Although we cannot fix the world, we can certainly change it.

My friend Keith Wright, International President of Food for the Hungry, has spent his life helping to grow healthy families and communities in the developing world. Recently, he shared with me a study by the World Bank that found extreme poverty, for the first time, has declined in every region of the developing world. Though that doesn’t mean we can fix every economic need in the world (after all, Jesus himself said we would always have the poor with us), it does mean, however, one significant and large element of the world is slowly changing for the better.

Another friend of mine is a very busy Urgent Care doctor in town. In spite of the demands of his career, Randy uses his own money and personal time to drive around a fully equipped medical van, ministering to homeless folks who have no other access to health services. Sometimes he treats frostbitten fingertips, and sometimes he literally saves a life.

Randy isn’t trying to fix every health need in town. He knows even the folks he helps will have more medical needs in the future, but he serves knowing, in that moment, what he does somehow fundamentally changes the world, if even in a small way.

Multiply these examples as more and more people heed the call to justice and love for fellow man and the amount of change that happens in the world can grow exponentially. This is why God commands us to do justice and why in the Old Testament he punished his people for neglecting justice, because what we do does make a significant difference for good or for bad in the world.

We don’t have to remake the world.

Just because we can’t control nature, eradicate all evil or ensure the hard-won gains of justice will last, does not mean we cannot bring about worthwhile positive change in the world. Change is fluid; cultures evolve and devolve.

Changing the world doesn’t guarantee our victories will be permanent. And that’s OK.

There are always those who will react to idealism and the ever-prevalent change-the-world language today by choosing to adopt a pessimistic outlook on the potential for deep and lasting change in the structures of the world.

We can be hopeful, without being triumphalistic, however, and we can be realistic, without being pessimistic.

Only God can fix the world; but as we fulfill our calling and carry God’s good news of salvation and healing and justice into the world, we become a very real part of changing it.

My friend Dave, who spends his life rescuing young girls from the sex trade, recently had a telling conversation along these lines while at the gym.

Dave was on the treadmill, and the guy beside him asked him what he did for a living.

“I save girls from the sex trade by ransoming them out of brothels and slavery.”

The man responded: “Isn’t that kind of futile? If you save one girl, won’t they just grab another one to replace her?”

Dave replied, “I don’t think I’m qualified to answer that.”

The man looked confused.

Dave continued, “I’m not qualified to say whether it really made a difference—you’d have to ask the girl I ransomed from the brothel if it made a difference to her.”

The world changes every day in both big and small ways. I want to watch where God is moving and join him there, recognizing changing the world is less about being heroic and more about being faithful.

The distinction is necessary: Just because we can’t fix the world, doesn’t mean we can’t—and don’t—change the world every day in significant ways.

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958038-whitney-houstonMany know of Whitney Houston — a marvelous singer who came of age in my college and early work years.  She had it all: beauty, a fantastic voice, a winning personality, and seemingly a good head on her shoulders.  She had a string of #1 hits, did movies with Kevin Costner and Denzel Washington, sang the National Anthem as the 1991 war with Iraq (Desert Storm) began which actually went #1 I believe.

And yet, at 48 years of age, Whitney Houston died after having spiraled down for years in drug and alcohol abuse.  Her funeral was today.  Remembering the Whitney Houston as she was coming into her own and the Whitney Houston she became is very sad — and it reminds me of the poem, “The Dash” a portion of which is below:
I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone from the beginning to the end.
He noted that first came the date of her birth and spoke of the following date with tears,
But he said that what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.
For the dash represents all the time that she spend alive on earth
And now only those who loved her know what the little line is worth.
For it matters not how much we own, the cars, the house, the cash
What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.
So when your eulogy is being read with your life’s actions to rehash
Would you be proud of the things they say about how you spent your dash?
I’ve been working my way through the Bible this year in concert with our church (goal is for congregation to read through in a year, but real goal is to learn to abide in Christ as a habit).
The reading today (Deuteronomy 7 – Deuteronomy 10) is all about how we spend our “dash” well.  Below is my journal resulting from this reading:
What if they said this about you at your funeral:
“She did not trust God or obey Him.  In spite of His delivering her from bondage and saving her, she grumbled and was ungrateful.  In fact, she was rebellious against the Lord for as long as I knew her.”
How grievous and heartbreaking that would be!  To be loved by God, shown grace and mercy beyond belief, led and blessed throughout, but to have shown no faithfulness in return.
And yet this is Moses description of the Israelites in the reading today (see especially Deuteronomy 9:7b and 9:23-24).
How terrible!  And terrifying – because I see so much of me in the Israelites.  “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it.  Prone to leave the God I love….”
How to avoid such an obituary?  The answer to that question is also in today’s reading.
1) Make no compromise with the world.  In today’s “religious conversations,” we often hear we are to “be in the world, but not of it.”  And that is true.  But often, I wonder if we twist that a bit to justify practicing some of the same behaviors of the world in the name of “being missional.”  After all, Jesus hung out with sinners, didn’t He?  Yes, but He didn’t sin.  In fact, He called them on their sin, challenging them to repent, turn, and come to Him  — and to “go, and sin no more.”  (NOTE: He did this in love and not in an “us against them” mentality we sometimes see in Christianity today).
When we compromise with the world, the world often turns us away from following God completely.  Oh, we will follow to some degree (that’s what makes this subtle sometimes), but we also take the parts of the world we like and can rationalize.  God says, “Make no treaty with them … for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods….”  (Deut 7:2b and 4a).

2) Remember the Lord.  Several times in chapter 8, Moses urges the Israelites to “Remember how the Lord God …” (8:2); to “be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God” (8:11); “Remember the Lord your God” (8:18).
We become especially vulnerable to forgetting God when we experience success and “satisfaction.”  We start to “believe our own press” and fail to continue to abide in Him (unfortunately, our natural tendency is to place self on the throne – “what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate to do” – Romans 7:15).

God warned about this: “Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Deuteronomy 8:11-14)

3) Accept and learn from the Lord’s discipline.  In chapter 8 we learn much about why God did what He did with Israel in the wilderness wanderings.  “…to humble you and test you in order to know what was in your heart” (8:2); “to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you.” (8:16b).
As a loving father disciplines his son in order that the boy might grow into a responsible man of character, so God disciplines us for the same reason – that we might learn there is more to life than material possessions and pleasure – that we are made for relationship with and calling from God.
Deuteronomy 8:5, 3b, 16b – Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you…..to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes form the mouth of the Lord [and] so that in the end it might go well with you.
4) Revere and love the Lord.  In doing this, we lead our heart in the right direction with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit and His word.  We begin to treasure God as our inheritance, become more like Christ, and can carry out the good works He prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).
Deuteronomy 10:12 – And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul…


It is so easy to compromise with the world – or in trying to be holy (set apart for God and His calling) that I become “holier than thou” or insulate myself completely.
It’s only by abiding in Him, by learning to love Him, by learning He is my true inheritance can I hope to have a legacy in which people recognize and come to know God and that it would be said of me that I acted justly, loved mercy, and walked humbly with God (Micah 6:8).

Prayer Response

I stand in awe of You and everything You’ve done for me
You speak Your words into my life and where You are is where I wanna be
I stand before You, Lord, humbled by the love You give away
A widow’s mite, my will and pride is all I have to offer anyway
Help me hold onto You and Your love God.  Help me let go of myself and become more like Jesus, moving ever closer to Your heart.
In Jesus name,  Amen.

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Tourist or Pilgrim?

I’ve been thinking about an item I read in a book by Eugene Peterson entitled, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.

Peterson talks about our society being an “instant society,” in which we have been conditioned to believe things are quick and easy. He notes, “we assume that if something can be done at all, it can be done quickly…”

Sound-bite news, thirty second commercials, meals in 5 minutes, instant delivery of communications, have all resulted in our attention spans being conditioned for things to be done instantly and with relative ease.

A result of “instant society” culture can be the replacement of true relationship with Christ and seeking God with all our hearts, minds, and souls with “a tourist mindset.” Religion/worship becomes “a visit to an attractive site” for “religious entertainment and sacred diversion….We go to see a new personality, … get a new experience….”

We cannot achieve spiritual maturity with a tourist mindset. Nietzsche (of all people) wrote a great truth, “The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is .. there should be long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.”

Paul described this “long obedience in the same direction” as pressing on toward “the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (see Philippians 3:12-15).

An antidote to this tourist mindset, Peterson reminds us, is to counter this with the “pilgrim mindset.” As God’s children, “we are people who spend our lives going someplace, going to God, and whose path for getting there is the way, Jesus Christ.” As such, we are disciples of Christ, growing in faith (and thus understanding and obedience) through our active, intimate, deepening relationship with Him.

So, are you a tourist or a pilgrim?

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