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Change

A farmer and his son were making their first visit to the big city. They had never seen skyscrapers, fancy cars, and the like. The farmer had always wanted to see what big city life was all about and he stood slack-jawed at the wonders of modern day. They went into the lobby of a hotel and were overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of a busy, bustling NYC establishment. They watched as an elderly lady approached a big box with lights on the side. She walked in, the doors closed, and lights started blinking. In a few minutes, the doors of the box opened again and out stepped a beautiful young woman. The farmer turned to his son and with a hoarse whisper, said, “Son, go get your mother.”

I know. Weak, but I needed a laugh on a Monday morning.

We all know change is a part of life. It happens all around us and it happens to us. Just yesterday, I could hit a golf ball a long way. I didn’t know where it was going but I could give it a ride. Just yesterday, my mind was sharp and my wit was quick. Now, I have to think more about what I need to think about. I have to ask myself, “Did I tell that one already?” way too often.

I need to be content living today. I read some wise words this week: “If I am depressed, I am living in the past. If I am anxious, I am living in the future. If I am at peace, I am living in the present.”

I hope your day is full of the present. After all, it is a gift from the Father.

Fresh Wind

A man whose name meant “pain” dared to cry out to the Lord. He didn’t cry out in pain or despair or defeat; he cried out in hope and faith: “Oh, that You would bless me and expand my territory!” He was petitioning for a fresh wind to blow in and through his life. Jabez did not want to settle for anything less than divine provision and direction.

Jim Cymbala, pastor since 1971 of the Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York, has written a number of books that reflect his conviction that God wants to do something great in and through the church. In The Church God Blesses, he wrote: “The Lord is eager to make spiritual changes among us and shower us with His blessings. He wants us – His people – to experience the greatness of His power and the depth of His love in a new way. All He needs from us is a listening ear and a heart that believes that with God all things are possible.”

He sounds like a modern Jabez. He dares to believe that God expects bold prayers and willing hearts from His people. In his book, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, he tells the story of how the Holy Spirit exploded in a small, declining church through people who refused to believe that God was done with them.

Wieuca, it is time for a fresh wind to blow. It is a moment of opportunity to seek the deeper things of life in Christ. We must quit trying to fix things through human effort and ingenuity and pour our hearts out to God.

One of our staff members remarked in our weekly meeting that he was discouraged when he looked out at those gathered for worship. He saw folded arms and scowling faces. He said he thought, “How can I lead these people in worship? How can we experience God in such an atmosphere?”

Contrast that to the words of the psalmist: “I prayed to the Lord, and He answered me. He freed me from all my fears. Those who look to Him for help will be radiant joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces. In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened; He saved me from all my troubles. For the angel of the Lord is a guard; He surrounds and defends all who fear Him. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in Him!” (Ps. 34:4-8)

Fresh wind, fresh fire. Oh, God that you would bless us to be the church You want us to be!

The positive side to “You’re not good enough.”

We want to build people up, not tearing them down. We don’t want our children to grow up with an inferiority complex. We hand out participation trophies. We don’t keep score because we don’t want anyone to feel like a loser.

I can agree with the sentiment behind such statements, but something is missing.

  • We want to build people up … Sometimes the best way to build someone up is to show them the steps to higher achievement, to help them gain greater self-confidence might mean showing them attitudes or behaviors that are holding them down.
  • We don’t want our children to develop inferiority complexes … Affirmation is great, but sometimes constructive criticism opens the door to understanding and life change.
  • We hand out participation trophies … I’m sorry, life simply isn’t that way. You don’t just show up; you contribute to a team, in a class, on the job, in a marriage. Discovering my true value comes when the world benefits from my investment of unique ability.
  • We don’t keep score … That might be alright for preschoolers who might not know a glove from a bat. For most of us, keeping score helps us to know how we’re doing, if we’re making progress toward our goals, if we are progressing in both knowledge and wisdom. If you don’t believe me, try that out on your coach, teacher, professor, supervisor: We don’t keep score – final score, test results, job achievements?

I have had great teachers in my life, some in formal settings and some in life situations. The ones who I remember most are the ones who, in one way or another, told me “You’re not good enough.” To me, I wasn’t hearing “You’re no good.” I was hearing “You can do better than that” or “I am expecting more from you.” I am grateful for those who believed in me and called for my best. Many of my North Fulton buddies remember Miss Acree who famously told her classes, “If you don’t vote, shut up.” Anything else wasn’t good enough!

The Day that changed history

On this day seventy three years ago, the supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe issued the order to launch the largest amphibious military operation in history. 6000 landing craft, ships, and other vessels were carrying 176,000 troops and heading for the beaches of Normandy. 822 aircraft, some carrying paratroopers and some towing gliders, were scheduled to arrive before the landings. 13,000 bombers, fighters, and observation aircraft were mobilized to cover the invasion.

It didn’t happen. Not that day, June 5, 1944. General Eisenhower had to postpone the original D-Day because of bad weather. Consulting with his staff, he realized there was a small window that would signal a break in the weather and allow the invasion to occur … on June 6th. If he had waited until July, any element of surprise as well as the readiness of his forces would be affected. He wrote two letters to his troops on that occasion.

The first was a letter to stir his forces to accept nothing but total victory. The second was quite different. This note was written hurriedly, with words crossed out, to respond to another outcome. “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed …”

He closed the message with these words: “If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

Failure is a part of life. Few of our failures would be measured with the magnitude the Allied forces would have endured in their mighty attempt to break through Fortress Europe. But we fail, in mostly small but sometimes large ways.

It’s what we do after we fail that matters. When we fall, do we get back up or wallow in our shame and grief? Do we learn the lessons painfully gained or do we look for someone to blame? Sometimes we bask in the glory of success to our detriment. Sometimes the agony of failure reveals character traits that will do us well in the challenges ahead.

Eisenhower didn’t have to send that second letter. At great cost, the invasion succeeded. It was indeed the beginning of the end of Hitler’s third Reich. To his credit, the commander was willing to take responsibility, regardless. How refreshing in our day of fault-finding and excuse-making!

I like these words from Denis Waitley: “Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”

Aim High

The late Henri Nouwen, whose pastoral ministry focused on social justice, compassion, spiritual disciplines, and community, was well-known for his teaching and writing. In one of his books, he related a lesson he had learned at the circus. He evidently knew some of the trapeze artists who soared through the air, thrilling crowds with their daring exploits. They told him about the vital relationship between “flier” and “catcher.” The first has to not only know when he has reached the right height, but also to be able to let go at the right time. The second, hanging by his knees, must also master the timing necessary while staying in perfect position. It is a natural instinct for the flier to try to grab the catcher, but he has to wait to let the catcher grab him. He must have complete trust.

In the story of Abraham and Sarah, there were certainly times when complete trust was missing. Both tried to grab on to God instead of waiting for God to catch them. They had to believe that God would keep His word, that He would remain faithful. It is interesting to note that both are listed in the Hall of Faith found in Hebrews 11. Abraham was justified by his faith, not his works. He was called a friend of God, but he had his moments of doubt and times when he acted hastily.

When we get ahead of God, we can experience humiliation and regret … much like Abraham and Sarah did. It is hard to wait for the right moment, to believe God will catch us when we leap.

One thing is true for trapeze artists: If you never let go, you have no show.

Jesus told a story about three servants, each entrusted with differing amounts of money. The first two doubled their funds; the third guy buried his, playing it safe. When it was time for the accounting, the first servants were rewarded while the third one lost what he had been given.

We can try to ‘live safe’ – take no risks, but isn’t there more to life than that? The oft-quoted Wayne Gretzky comes to mind: “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.”

We congratulate our graduates, those who have accomplished significant milestones. Keep aiming high!

Tell me a story

Memorial Day has an interesting history. When first established in 1868, it was called Decoration Day. Other communities had similar observations in the north and south to honor those who perished during the Civil War. By the 20th century, the date of the last Monday in May was designated as Memorial Day.

But there was an earlier tradition. Many towns and villages, particularly in rural areas, would designate a day in the spring or summer to remember those who had died. They often gathered at the local cemetery for what we would call a family reunion. A Gospel sing, church service, and dinner on the ground were common features.

This was not just a time to put flowers on a grave; it became a time when generations learned of their heritage and history. The old folks would tell stories, many of them never written down. Many of those oral histories were lost because they were never recorded. The value of having older generations pass along wit and wisdom to the younger ones was beyond measure. It was a way to know who “my people” came from.

In our information-loaded world, we can turn to online services to trace our ancestry, but too often the stories of our people fade with time. Today it would be so easy to sit down with the oldest people in your life and say “tell me a story.” With the use of a smart phone or a video camera, you can capture memories. I treasure a video tape my brothers and I have of an interview with our parents. We learned generational stories but also came to know our folks as children, youth, and young adults. I am so glad we took action when we did. The ravages of Alzheimer’s were beginning to take a heavy toll on our dad.

Don’t wait too long to say to someone you love: “Tell me a story.”

Raise my Ebenezer

The second verse of the old hymn reads: “Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by Thy help I’m come; and I hope by Thy good pleasure safely to arrive at home” (Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing). Ebenezer is not a common name. Perhaps the only one you’ve heard of is from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. In the Old Testament, the prophet Samuel erected a stone to commemorate the protection and provision of God when Israel was able to recapture the ark of the covenant from their fierce enemies, the Philistines. “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah, and named it Ebenezer, for he said, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us.’” (1 Samuel 7:12)

The helping stone became a memorial to the people to help them remember. This weekend stones also serve as memorials in cemeteries in our nation and around the world. Flags will be planted by simple white crosses and Stars of David to honor and remember the ultimate sacrifice of men and women. For many people Memorial day will signify the advent of summer or mean a day away from the routine. For those who grieve over the loss of a loved one, the day carries a far more personal meaning.

Markers should not just recognize death. We should have markers throughout our lives so that we can remember the faithfulness and goodness of our God. We can raise our own Ebenezers, spiritual markers that have helped our journeys of faith. I challenge you to mark those turning points, those moments of commitment, those times when you followed the prompting of the Holy Spirit to act in the name of the Savior. Spiritual markers come about because of important events or influential people when your life in Christ took significant steps higher.

I can map my journey of faith by the spiritual markers in my life. Your map might look different than mine, but that is the beauty of the uniqueness of who we are and how God has related to us. We can also anticipate that, as long as we draw breath, more markers will be needed. I am so glad that God is still working on me!