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Posts Tagged ‘Life’

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.

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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

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Cromartie
Do you know this man?  I was not aware of him until I read an article regarding his passing. I would have liked to have met him and been able to “intern” to watch how he represented and bridged Christ/Christianity to journalists.
 
What exactly did this man do?  Michael Cromartie was his name.  And he was “one of Christianity’s principal ambassadors in Washington, [representing] Jesus with joyful confidence,” according to Michael Wear, a former White House faith adviser under Barack Obama. “I’ve seen the effects of his life and work up close, and both the church and the nation are better off because of him,” said Wear.  “Michael was a friend whose encouragement I did not deserve, and whose insight has shaped my work, my life and my faith.  In the days ahead, we should look to Michael’s example to stoke our imagination for what a faithful public witness can look like in this moment.”

Scripture tells us that “we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His appeal through us.” (2 Cor 5:20). From reading about Mr. Cromartie’s life and work and from the encomium’s from journalists across the political and ideological spectrum, it seems Mr. Cromartie was an excellent ambassador of Christ.  

 
Said one, “Mike was a man of great knowledge who made it accessible to others. He was a man of great faith, who make it real and attractive to others. And he was a man of exceptional decency, who demonstrated how to live with joy and integrity.”
 
If that could be said of me, then I would be much more excited about meeting my Maker because I would be a much better ambassador for Christ.
 
Over the past year as I’ve been on a personal sabbitical, as I’ve prayed, studied Scripture, the lives of those I admire and tried to assess myself against God’s truth, I realize I fall well short of the standard Michael Cromartie set. He ran the race set before him well. What was said of him in terms of how he represented Christ could not be said of me.
 
It is (or should be) every Christian’s goal, upon death and entering the presence of Christ, to hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:23). I believe Michael Cromartie heard those very words on August 28, 2017.
 
My time of introspection has not been easy, nor always pleasant in facing some unwelcome realities about some aspects of my character, personality and actions. Don’t get me wrong, God has also shown me times and areas where “I’ve gotten it right.” But I also see much to improve on as I make my calling sure (2 Peter 1:10).

What I’m most grateful for is that God is making me aware of the areas where I must grow and improve; that He has not abandoned me, but rather I realize that in His lovingkindness, He has been blessing where I don’t deserve, working in circumstances and decisions to bring me to the point of serious Spirit-led self-assessment from which I fervently hope and believe He will make a new path/work for and in me.  I am amazed at His patience and His continued work in me.  He, I believe, through love and discipline is preparing a way that, in the end, I too can hear the words, “Well done good and faithful servant….”  What a marvelous God indeed — the He continues to be mindful of me!

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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.”

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“In this world you will have trouble ….”
“The world would love you if you belonged to it…”
— the words of Jesus (John 16:33, John 15:19)

It can be hard to believe in ideals the world rejects. In such circumstances, how do we persevere in faith?

One: Remember what matters most.
It is tempting to value the material over the spiritual. But as Alfred Lord Tennyson so famously noted, “Nothing worth proving can be proven.” Paul succinctly described the Christian’s response to our visible world: “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). While we live in the present, it is hard to envision eternity. But one day soon, eternity will be all there is and we will be forever grateful that we chose faith.

Two: Refuse to quit.
Scripture promises: “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis has the chief tempter Screwtape advise his demonic understudy, “Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do [God’s] will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

“….but take courage, for I have overcome the world. And, lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”                                     — Jesus (John 16:33 & Matthew 28:20)

with acknowledgement to Dr Jim Denison for the words and thoughts of One and Two above.

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The Super Bowl is this Sunday, and it will feature the New England Patriots — a franchise that has had an extended run of greatness, unlike any in team sports over the past quarter-century.  The owner of the team is Robert Kraft – who took a losing team and made it a winning one.

“Winning football games has been more important to me than making money. Winning is what turns me on. Money is pretty good, but a shroud has no pockets.” – Robert Kraft
There is great wisdom here. No, not winning football games, but rather, the realization that you can’t take it with you — “a shroud has no pockets.” So, what turns you on?  Is it something that you can’t take with you — or is it something of eternal value.
“Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life…” – Jesus

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humility

As I continue my wilderness wanderings/life introspection in this midlife sabbatical the Lord is leading me on, my thoughts today have rested on humility.
 
What is humility? – a modest view of one’s own importance; a viewing of others as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3, NASB)
 
What others have said about humility:
 
“Humility is the solid foundation of all virtues.”  – Confucius 
“Those who travel the high road of humility will not be troubled by heavy traffic.” – Alan Simpson
 
“Humility is so light a grace that once you think you have attained it, you’ve lost it.” – Unknown
 
“… all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” – the apostle Peter (1 Peter 5:5b, NASB)
 
As God is working in and through my examination of myself, my past actions and motives, what I know at this point is I could use a healthy dose of humility.  Realizing and acknowledging this has been painful, but I’ve got a little idea it will radically impact my life, particularly in terms of discovering and developing deep, meaningful friendships and relationships with others in a variety of contextual communities.  And from a fulfillment, significance and legacy standpoint, one of life’s 3 greatest blessings and needs (along with health and purpose) is meaningful friendships and relationships.  
 

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