Sometimes I see things that make me think of a lesson I can blog about so I take a picture of it. Sometimes I take a picture knowing there is a lesson for a blog post, not knowing at the time what that lesson is yet. And then other times I just take a picture and then something strikes me later. This picture is of the third “strike me later” variety. I was actually going through my phone deleting pictures when I saw this picture and wondered how in the world Diane was laying to have Mr. Kitty on her lap and leaning over petting him at that angle. It took me several moments to realize those are not her legs. Those are my legs. I am on a recliner and the cat is on my lap and Diane is leaning over from the side petting the cat. It should not have been so difficult for me to pick up that being that I took the picture, am in the picture, and it is taken in our living room. But I obviously did not recognize myself and could not tell that while it is Diane’s face and hands, it is my legs.
This is what it is like, or what it should be like, when you give your life to Jesus and become His follower. He comes into the picture and you fade into the background. I remember in one sermon I heard from Mark Driscoll years ago (who has had his own struggles with fleshly pride) where he said, “How do you know if it is ‘Jesus in you’ or ‘you’?” He said, “In my own life it is easy to figure out, everything I ever do right is Jesus and anything I ever do wrong is me.”
If that strikes a chord with you as it did with me, we need not be so hard on ourselves. We are all still a work in progress. There is a term that we use called “sanctification”. In short, it means becoming more like Jesus. That is not to excuse the sin in our lives, but to acknowledge that none of us are perfect yet, that God is still working on us, and to allow His work to proceed. Have thine own way, Lord.
Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we all are the work of your hands. Lord, do not be terribly angry or remember our iniquity forever. Please look—we are your people! Isaiah 64:8-9
Yesterday I was cleaning out a freezer and there were things that needed pitched in the trash. Most of what needed thrown away was in ice cream tubs. I always save broth, ham scraps, etc from our Wednesday dinners to use to make gravy, bean soup, and other meals. There is also the occasional sin of letting a tub of homemade macaroni and cheese get pushed to the back of the freezer and go bad. Since we have not had a dinner in a year I felt it a good time to go all in on the “out with the old”.
As I was washing out the ice cream tubs for future use, I thought of Dan Lynch. Dan died and left this world last year. Dan came to mind because he brought me in most of the ice cream tubs I have on hand. Sometimes it is strange how and when people come to mind. I always consider it to be a form of prayer when people come to mind and I give thanks for them. I wondered at that moment if God pulled Dan aside and let him see me cleaning out the ice cream tubs and told Dan that I was giving thanks for the tubs that he left us at the church. None of us know how it all works. Can people see us from heaven? How does prayer work? Why do people come into our minds at a particular moment? What counts as a prayer? Do thoughts count? I am one guy in a small town in West Virginia schlepping my way through my Christian walk. I do not have all the answers.
With all that I do not know, I do know this much: it brought me joy at that moment to think about Dan Lynch being with his Creator. And even this morning as I am working on this post I think of people like Chester Martin, the Proffitts including Evelyn, Jim, & Carol, Bill and Carol Price, Lou Gilland, and dozens and dozens of others. I do not even know what the purpose of today’s post is. Maybe it made you think of someone?
This is the time of the year when people might say, “You do not like the current weather? Just wait an hour.” Today it will be in the 70’s and two days later my weather app says the high will be in the 30’s with a frozen mix of precipitation. Yesterday someone told me, “I just wish spring would get here”. I said, “This IS spring! This is exactly what spring is.” Spring is always a battle between the the winter that was and the summer that is to be.
When I saw that forecast and had that conversation, I immediately thought it is a great simile of the Christian journey. It is up and down, near and far, joy and pain, faith and doubt. It is “already and not yet”. It is the struggle between the life that was and the hope of a life yet to be. It is resting in the promises of God that one day all things will be made right, all tears wiped away. Until that day, we just accept that this life is what it is. That we, as followers of Jesus, begin each day forgiven, never knowing what the day holds, but taking solace in knowing He is with us…. always.
I was at Aldi at dusk the other day and the clouds were hung on the horizon just between the moon and the mountains. I pulled the car into the perfect spot and took a couple of pictures. I put the two pictures on Facebook and they appeared just as pictured here. Without investigating further by clicking on the individual photos, it would have appeared as a couple of unimpressive moon shots. If one took the initiative to click on the photos, they would have understood why I posted them. Otherwise, they would have missed the point of the pictures. The pictures were as impressive to me as the sentence, “…the clouds were hung on the horizon just between the moon and the mountains.” Is that not a beautiful sentence? Poetic and pointed. But the pictures as displayed by Facebook did not tell the whole story.
As a pastor who has been to seminary and studies the Bible for a living, I worry about people who believe things they hear about God and about the Bible without investigating further – things that do not tell the whole story. Our society is being mesmerized and hypnotized by sports, television, and TikTok theology. Sometimes I feel like nothing more than an old man who longs for the “good old days” when kids played outside all day and television and sports were simply entertainment. Other times I feel like the voice of one crying in the wilderness (John 1:23). The truth is the longer and faster our society swirls around the drain, it becomes more and more obvious this world is not my home.
In Exodus 2:22, Moses has fled Egypt for Midian and married Zipporah. They had a son and Moses named him Gershom, which means “stranger” because Moses said he had himself been a “stranger in a foreign land” having been raised by royalty. Too often we, as followers of Jesus, forget this world is not our home and we are also strangers in a foreign land. Andrew Peterson has a song, “Come, Lord Jesus” with the following line:
I’ve carried my cross into dens of the wicked And you know I blended in just fine.
I was at a Walmart the other day and I thought about buying a donut. I have not had a donut for a long time and I was craving one. The best part was they had some discounted! They were all pre-packed and I began looking at the selection. Then I saw the calories. It says 240-470 per donut. I did not even notice the 240 until later. All I saw was 470. I have been on a treadmill or stair stepper and I know how long I have to exercise to burn off 470 calories. Trust me, it is a lot of exercise. I passed on the donut. At the moment I was bummed. Now I am happy. While the donut would have provided some immediate gratification, it also comes with some longer term consequences.
I told Diane that Walmart ruined the donut when they put the calorie count on it. The truth is they gave me factual information so I could make my own decision. I passed. Of course, Walmart does not do put the calories on a donut to be considerate. I am proof that it causes them to lose some sales, and their job is to sell. They put the information on there because the state or government tells them it is required, even though it costs them sales.
Had Walmart told me that donut contained 100 calories, I would have bought a dozen and eaten a couple on the way out the door. However, repeated consumption of the falsely advertised calories would eventually catch up with me becoming evident in my clothes and my cholesterol.
Likewise, as a person called to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I am sometimes required to tell people things that are difficult to say and just as difficult for them to hear. My calling is to give them information and let them decide for themselves what they will do with it. I am able to do that because I realize I am not in a popularity contest and most importantly, I am not in sales. My job is to tell people what God’s Word says and then they can decide for themselves. If they pass, then they pass. The Bible says many, if not most, will pass. Too many pastors see themselves in sales. They want to make the Gospel as palatable as possible making them popular among people who want to devour the “donuts” without the guilt. The Bible calls that “the broad path that leads to destruction.” It is one thing to decide to go down that path with all the pertinent information. It is a completely different animal to have others point you to that path, leading you to believe it is the right path.
We have a piece of artwork on the wall in our primary bathroom that I stare directly at every time I get out of the shower. It is a hand drawn picture of the Jax Beer building in New Orleans. About a dozen years ago we were in New Orleans on a mission trip and there was a guy across the street from the building drawing pictures. He had just finished drawing this picture of the building and after Diane had stopped to talk to him for a bit, he gave her the picture he had drawn. It is unsigned and we have no clue who he was. She obviously loves that picture as we still have it hanging in our home after all this time.
I have this saying that everything we own will eventually go in a a yard sale or a trash dump. I am quite sure that one day that picture will go in the trash. One day someone will be going through our things and this unsigned picture of an obscure building will not be something anyone would think to save.
This is most certainly what Jesus was saying in Matthew chapter 6 when He said “…not to store up treasures on earth where moths and thieves and rust will destroy them, but instead store up treasures in heaven (focus on things that matter in eternity). Where you treasure is, there your heart is.”
I am not saying there is anything wrong with hanging this picture up and enjoying it and thinking about the memories. But I always want to remember that this world is not my home. One day I will leave it, taking only one thing with me – my salvation. Most of the time I think about “storing up treasures in heaven” as doing good deeds. I want to expand our thinking about that. I think it possible that when I focus on my relationship with my Savior and the things good for my soul, I am storing up treasures in heaven… that will last into eternity.
I have been up by 5 am the last several mornings. I hope that does not become a habit. While I love mornings, that is a little too early. This morning I headed to the church to make hot dog sauce for the church picnic tonight. It was so early that there was no sign of sunrise. In spite of the darkness, the birds were chirping all over the place. At 5 a.m. birds know something that the sky has not yet revealed. They know the sky will soon be illuminated by the sun. I love that line… the birds know something the sky has not yet revealed.
It makes me think about God: how He knows everything and reveals things in time. He knows things He has not yet revealed, things we could not possibly know. My Facebook memories for this day in years past include a trip Diane and I took to Myrtle Beach in 2014 and the beginning of the “great toilet paper shortage of 2020”. Among the things God had not yet revealed at those times, but have come to fruition, are Diane and I owning a little beach house in Myrtle Beach and the “two weeks to flatten the curve” would turn into a year.
While there is much not yet revealed, God has been gracious to reveal some things quite important for us to know. We are all sinners. In spite of our sin, God loves us. Our sin separates us from Him and we all need to be reconciled to the God who created us. God gives us the opportunity to be made right with Him through the cross of Jesus. If we will believe those things and confess our sins to Him, He will forgive us. Then we are made right with Him and everything that happens from that time forward, the good and the bad, is for our good and for His glory. Brennan Manning wrote of the life of a Christian that “…good is enhanced into glory and evil is miraculously established as part of the greater good.” Romans 8:28 says “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
We can take heart that the things not yet revealed are already known by, and in the hands of, the God who loves us. Like the birds, that gives us something to chirp about!
Don’t you wish that when you receive a call for your last chance at extending your car warranty that it was really your last chance? You know they will call again. It’s the same with junk mail. “This is your last issue” for a magazine you never ordered is likely not your last issue. It is a pretty good bet there is going to be another chance.
Other times, I am glad there will be another chance. When a preacher preaches a clunker of a sermon, when you have a meltdown with your kids or spouse, when you hit a bad golf shot, when you get a poor grade on a test. Most of the time in life we get another chance. I think that is one of the things I love about early mornings – another chance at today. If you are reading this, you too have another chance on this new day.
And remember, the best way to start each new day is on your knees in prayer. It is the best way to begin this new day. (And if it too late for you to begin today with prayer, you have another chance right now to begin the rest of your day with prayer!)
A few of us have been making 1 pound peanut butter eggs at the church. I say 1 pound, they are about a pound. Some may be a half an ounce to an ounce light depending on how thick the chocolate is. Normally our church gets a large group together making small eggs and we sell them for a dollar. This year because of a lack of manpower due to Covid we are making the extra large eggs.
As we were making them the other day I said to my coworkers, “Just think for every three peanut butter eggs we sell we are shipping a shoebox and 7 to 10 people will hear the gospel with each shoebox we send.” Then I broke it down even further and said, “For every egg that you form, coat, trim, and package three people will hear the Good News of Jesus Christ.”
It is a reminder that it is not the big things that make the most difference in the Kingdom of God. It is a whole bunch of little things. It is a parent saying bedtime prayers with the child. It is a family bowing to say grace in a restaurant. It is three or four people gathering almost daily to make peanut butter eggs. It is a whole bunch of common people doing common every day things for the glory of God.
It has always been that way and it always will be. Every little thing you do matters to God.
Some Northern California School Board members were recently caught on a live chat mocking and threatening parents. They thought they were “alone”, but it turned out their meeting had already been opened to the public and a parent saw it and was able to capture it. When I began writing, I titled today’s post “What they really think about you”. You can imagine where that would go. As I kept writing, God did not let me pile on. He reminded me that He has been privy to some of my thoughts and conversations when I thought nobody was listening and I am no better. I confess there have been times I have thought and said unkind things about others. I also know there have been people who have said unkind things about me. I remember sitting in my office as a pastor in Mason and heard two church people in the hall complaining about me. I was sitting in the office with the lights off, as I often am, and they did not know I was there.
As I think about this, I am reminded how difficult it is to deal with people (and I acknowledge how difficult is can be for others to deal with me) and how amazing it is that Jesus did not just throw His hands up and say, “I give up”. Instead, He went to the cross to die for people… imperfect people, which we all are. Then He calls those imperfect people to gather together to worship Him and be His witnesses to the world. Does He not know how hard it is to deal with church people who should know better and a lost world that does not? Yes, He knows. Does He expect perfection? Lord, I hope not. At least, not yesterday. And what I mean by that is all can be forgiven by the blood of Jesus, even things as recent as yesterday. Then, there is today. Today is a clean slate. Today is always a clean slate. There may be apologies necessary for yesterday. In the case of the board members, resignations were necessary. At the very least, we ask Jesus to forgive us for the sins of yesterday. Lord, forgive me and help me to put yesterday’s failings behind me. Lord, in Your mercy, help me do better today. And then forgive me again tomorrow for tomorrow’s yesterday.