Can you top that?

Kim and I went to see illusionist David Copperfield years ago. In a career that has spanned over 40 years, his illusions have included making a Learjet disappear, escaping from Alcatraz, levitating over the Grand Canyon, and making the Statue of Liberty vanish. He is the best-known and most commercially successful magician in history. He even owns a chain of islands in the Bahamas!

The challenge for people like Copperfield is that the next illusion has to be better than the last one. He has to be more sensational. He has to cause consternation at higher levels than ever before. He wants to go beyond “How did he do that?”

Our featured song this week was written by George Beverly Shea, the man best known for his singing at Billy Graham crusades for many years. The text for the worship service is Psalm 8. Both Scripture and song extol the magnificence of the Creator – the One who brought the universe into being and breathed life into humans.

“There’s the wonder of sunset at evening, the wonder of sunrise I see;

But the wonder of wonders that thrills my soul is the wonder that God loves me.”

“O Lord, our Lord, Your majestic name fills the earth!”

The songwriter and the psalmist knew that God didn’t have to top anything. He didn’t have to come up with a new trick. As our knowledge of the universe expands, we realize more and more that there is no end to the wonder of God’s creation. As we grow deeper in our relationship with the Lord, we realize we will never fully explore the depths of His love for us.

Oh, the wonder of it all!

Reboot

One day, a mechanical engineer, electrical engineer, chemical engineer, and computer engineer were riding together on their way to lunch. All of a sudden, the car sputtered to a stop.

  • The mechanical engineer: “I think it threw a rod.”
  • The electrical engineer: “It has to be the alternator.”
  • The chemical engineer: “It must to be a clog in the fuel line.”
  • The computer engineer: “I think we should all get out and get back in. It will be fine.”

Sometimes we would like life to reboot.

“Let’s start this day over.”

“Let’s end this day differently.”

“I should have turned left instead of right.”

“I’d like to take back what I just thought, said, did.”

We all have had those moments we wished we could reclaim. A little-used reserve on a college basketball team was summoned by his coach to get in the game. He was so excited that he forgot something. He forgot that his uniform pants had gotten torn in the laundry. He was only wearing his warm-ups. He jumped to his feet and took off his warm-up pants and raced to the scorer’s table sans britches. Boy was he a hit that night.

Aren’t you glad we have a God who shows us mercy and grace? We stumble, we fall, He picks us up. We sin, He forgives. He is the God of second chances. The Shepherd loves His sheep, knowing full well they will stray. He lays down His life, knowing full well our lives hang in the balance.

Thank You, God, for loving us no matter what.

The Way of the Cross leads Home

The first verse of the hymn – “I must needs go home by the way of the cross. There’s no other way but this. I  shall ne’er get sight of the gates of light if the way of the cross I miss.”

The song was a collaborative effort by two accomplished composers – Jessie Brown Pounds and Charles Hutchinson Gabriel. Between the two, over 8000 songs and hymns were produced. In 1906, Pounds provided the lyrics and Gabriel wrote the tune to this, their only joint effort. Gabriel, composed the music for such classics as “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” “Send the Light,” and “Wonderful Love of Jesus.” This prolific gospel songwriter was often asked to produce a song to fit a sermon in a matter of days.

Each of the songs and hymns we sing carries a story. In the Lenten season that brings us to the celebration of Easter, we will allow the music of our souls to help us journey to the cross. The essence of the life of Jesus is best viewed through His death and resurrection. With the use of hymn texts and Scripture, we examine the great truths of our faith.

Any journey worth taking contains surprises, disappointments, twists, and turns. The destination determines our commitment to carry on, no matter what. In Luke 9, we find this verse: “As the time drew near for Him to ascend to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (v.51).

The rest of the ninth chapter includes the stories of people who added a “but” to their decisions to follow Jesus. “I will follow You but first I must …” Jesus was almost brutally firm in His response: “Anyone who puts a hand to plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God” (v.62).

In other words, the journey requires something other than a casual or distracted effort. With His eyes completely focused on what awaited Him in Jerusalem, He knew the journey would take Him through agony, humiliation, torture, and death. He must suffer the cross before He could emerge from the tomb.

He never asked us to complete His journey, but He did call us to finish ours.

 

 

All you need is love

Ah, the season of love! This will make you feel better: Total spending for Valentine’s Day is expected to top $18.2 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. That’s an average of $136.57 per person. Flowers, candy, cards, jewelry, fancy meals, and much more will be purchased on this fabricated, I mean, meaningful holiday.

After extensive research, I have found that the average male spends from 15 to 30 seconds while purchasing an appropriate card. If we’re in trouble or have done something stupid, we could spend a whole minute searching for the right one. There we stand looking at acres of possibilities. Do I go sappy or do I go witty? Did the author of these verses fully capture the depth of my swirling emotions? Do I actually read what is written inside or do I just believe that I’ve picked the right look, the right verse, and, yes, the right gender.  Do I buy a blank card and take a chance my own words will cause my true love’s heart to flutter? Decisions, decisions.

We might need help, but who do we ask? Two young ladies were determined to help their spinster aunt find romance. They knew that a prominent judge in their small town had been widowed in the last few years. They began to plot. They handcrafted a Valentine’s Day card and labored over just the right words to include in the card they would send to the judge on behalf of their unsuspecting aunt. They poured over the dictionary, searched through a Thesaurus, even looked in the Bible. One of the young women finally raised her head in triumph. “I finally found a word that rhymes with ‘Valentine’” she exclaimed. “If it’s in the Bible, it must be okay.” So they put the finishing touches on their project and put the card in the mail. Several days later, the judge opened the envelope and read: “If you will be my Valentine, I will be your concubine.”

They meant well.

A new chapter

Back to where I started. During my college and seminary days, Wieuca Road Baptist Church gave me the opportunity to serve in the Youth and Activities ministries. Now, 43 plus years later, we close the circle. It has been such a privilege to serve the church that has meant so much to my family. Kim and I are about to begin a new chapter in our lives. On Easter Sunday, I will step into the Wieuca pulpit for the last time as pastor. Retiring on April 1 is a bit ironic, don’t you think? It is April fool’s Day after all. Keep your comments to yourself.

There have been some heartaches, some stumbles, lots of joy, and plenty of fond memories. To all of those who have so enriched our lives, we wish you God’s abundant blessings. All of our churches need our prayers. I would ask that you add Wieuca to your list. I believe God has great things in store.

People ask if I have a plan for retirement. I am working on my plan for retirement … What’s that, dear? Oh, okay … Kim has a plan for my retirement. Who knew?

See ya in the funny papers.

It’s not a sprint

Years ago I chose the title for these weekly blogs. “Along the Journey” suggests the reality of the twists and turns of life, the moments when we soar and the moments when we stumble. The road isn’t straight, the way not easy. There are times when we feel it’s all up hill. There are other times when we can coast. Life is more marathon than sprint.

After the author presented the hall of faith in the letter (chapter 11), he or she gave us one of the most impressive word pictures we can find in the Bible. We can understand the image because we have seen it in person or on the screen – a stadium full of people cheering on their favorite teams. We have witnessed the compelling sights of the world’s best athletes competing in international events like the Olympics.

As chapter 12 opens, individual runners are surrounded by a cheering throng. The noise begins to swell as the participants stretch, strip down to their uniforms, and find their place at the starting line. On the huge video board, a single runner is pictured – a Champion who finished the greatest race of His life, achieving a record never to be broken. His victory becomes the inspiration for every runner about to begin his own race.

The athletes have trained for this moment. They know there will be moments when they have to push through fatigue, cramping, depleted oxygen, and soreness. They somehow find a second wind, and then another and another. Their eyes are fixed on the journey ahead, knowing there is a finish line. The temptation to slow up or even quit is resisted. You cannot win if you don’t keep running.

The roll call of those who also struggled to finish serves as motivating encouragement. Your eyes lift to the video board again and see the lone figure who battled all the tests and trials runners face. He has mounted the victory stand as the crowd roars. You dig deeper and stretch your stride. His example calls you to greater effort. Their encouragement gives you a surge of determination.

No one can run your race for you, but you do have the example of Christ and you do have a crowd of witnesses who cheer you on. It might not be easy, but it is worth it. Run on!

There’s a pill for that

Have you noticed the content of drug ads these days? You may not, because you either tune it out or mute the sound. In a typical 30 or 60 second commercial, about 10-15% tells you all the wonderful benefits of the latest wonder drug. The rest focuses on the side effects that could easily convince you that you will die a horrible death if you take this product.

The Opioid crisis is no joke. Pain medications are responsible for a tragic upswing in addictions and deaths due to the abuse of these drugs.

We are an over-medicated society. Overweight? Take a pill. Can’t sleep? Take a pill? Losing your virility? Take a bunch of pills. Want to spice up your love life? First, get two bath tubs, turn them to face the sunset, you lie in one, your partner lies in the other, take a pill and voilà! Sorry, I don’t get the two tubs.

Before we all empty our medicine cabinets into the trash can, we realize that modern medicine has allowed us to deal with serious physical, mental, and emotional issues with the proper use of medication. There are many of us who deal with depression, anxiety, and other challenges that benefit from the right prescriptions.

I don’t think we were created, though, to fill our bodies with chemicals. I think we were designed to function quite well if we eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, and avoid all stress … Where did you stop on the list? I didn’t get past “eat well.”

There is a deeper problem, I think. Pills won’t make my prayer life more significant. Pills won’t induce me to be more compassionate and loving. Pills won’t convince me that my relationship with God can be so much more meaningful. I won’t find my spiritual life in a pill bottle.

Perhaps we just need to accept an invitation. Read the words Jesus spoke two thousand years ago and see if they don’t apply today to the hurting, the lonely, the overstressed, and the needy: “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

Sounds like the right prescription to me.