Blessed to be a Blessing

LonThis is a tough column to write this month.  Tomorrow morning fourteen members of FPC (and one friend from Houston, Texas we haven’t met yet) will be flying to Merida, Yucatan, Mexico for our third Living Waters for the World mission trip.  I’d love for this column to be about how wonderful it was, but it hasn’t happened yet.  Anticipation is high, knowing from experience what it means to help in providing a community with clean, safe water – something every one of us has the privilege of taking for granted.

Can you imagine the anticipation and joy of the members of Getsemani Presbyterian Church in Opichen?  I doubt any of us really can.  Just know that these partners in mission have been praying and preparing for what we will join them in accomplishing for their entire community.

I hope you can feel the joy of knowing our entire church – through prayer and financial support – will be a part of Christ’s plan for His body, the church.  Prayer and preparation, teamwork in ministry beyond our own walls, achieving what we can only do together, yet only when our focus is on serving Jesus by loving God and loving others.

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We Believe! We Believe!

“The problem with using quotes from the internet is verifying the accuracy of the source.”  [Abraham Lincoln]

It’s one of those stories that just gets better with time.  There was a Frenchman named Charles Blondin who made money walking a tightrope across Niagara Falls in the late 1850’s.  It became the rage to watch Blondin and his antics.  He crossed the Falls blindfolded.  He crossed the Falls while cooking an omelet.  He crossed the Falls with his manager on his back.  He even pushed a wheelbarrow across the Falls one time.  But this is where the “history” gets a little fuzzy.

I would guess over the years I have paid attention to more than a few sermons (there was also a period of several years when I didn’t).  I’ve heard a lot of preachers tell about the day Blondin stood ready to cross Niagara Falls with a wheelbarrow.  “Do you believe I can cross the Falls pushing this wheelbarrow?”  Everyone watching shouted, “Yes! We believe!”  “Do you believe I can cross the Falls with a person in the wheelbarrow?”  “Yes! We believe!” they all shouted.  “All of you believe I can cross Niagara Falls pushing a person in a wheelbarrow - terrific!”  Then Blondin quietly asked, “Who will go first?”  No one responded.

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Alligators Have Big Mouths but Short Arms

I just came across an interesting statistic.  Of the people who voted for Donald Trump in 2016, the percentage who regret their vote today is a whopping 3%.  And of the people who voted for Hillary Clinton in that same election, the percentage who regret their vote is…3%.  What does that tell you?

  1. If the election were held again today it would have the same result, except for 3% on each side changing sides.  And all the people who were shocked then would be shocked all over again.
  2. It also means our country seems hopelessly divided.  Historically, we have been there before, but the division right now is huge.  And it’s seemingly over any and every issue.  The differences among us reflect that it is not about the issues, but about totally different ways of seeing things – everything.

It’s as if the two sides are speaking different languages and not only are people not listening, we don’t even understand the language of “those people.”  And no one seems to be putting in the necessary effort to learn the other’s language.  We go to opposite sources for our information, listening only to talking heads with whom we already agree.

To be honest, it’s been ages, if ever, since the concept of “reaching across the aisle” has been used for the good of our nation rather than for political gain.  Reaching across the aisle is a nice idea, but it seems most everybody has alligator arms - too short to reach beyond ourselves.

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"Come and Rest A While"

“And He said to them, ‘Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.’  For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.”  (Mark 6:31)

During the next 24 hours, your heart will beat 103,000 times, your blood will travel about 168,000,000 miles, you will breathe 23,000 times, inhale 480 cubic feet of air, eat 3.5 pounds of food, speak 4,800 words (more for women/less for men), move 750 muscles, and exercise 7,000,000 brain cells.  Whew!  No wonder we feel so tired!  We are constantly going, even if we think we've not gone anywhere.  We are the only nation with a mountain called Rushmore (go ahead and smile).  Our tombstones might read: “Hurried/Worried/Buried.”  We have all kinds of technology to make our lives easier, but how’s that working out for you?

Last week Pat and I went on vacation for an entire week.  Even though I’m glad to be home, I liked the time off, thank you.  I think it’s a great idea to unplug everything from time to time.  If we can reboot our computers and phones, why not our calendars?  That is the principle God gave us with the Sabbath.  It is not a legalistic day we have to observe, but it is a good time to simply focus on the Lord.  I do believe God will honor the Sabbath in our lives if we will honor it.

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Grace is Good!

This is what I learned in Vacation Bible School.  Grace is Good!

“That’s in the Bible, isn’t it?”  An interesting question asked by one of the kids at VBS.

“Yes, it is in the Bible, John 3:16.  ‘God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son so that anyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.’”

Then, in the midst of the chaos we call VBS, the little girl asked the most important question I’ve been asked in 26 years of ministry, “Is it true?”

Simple and to the point, it was as if my answer really mattered to her.  I could have said, “Of course it’s true, child!  Why else would I be here with you and all this chaos, eating room temperature food, making colored stick-em crosses, and thinking I really hope when I get to heaven I will have been right in knowing there must be a better reason to shush in the sanctuary than to be noisy."

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Jesus and Release

Musings after spending two out of the past three weekends on Great Banquet prison teams:

"When He came to the village of Nazareth, His boyhood home, Jesus went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures.  The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to Him.  He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:

'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for He has annointed me to bring Good News to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see. that the opressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord's favor has come.'  He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down.  All eyes in the synagogue looked at Him intently.  Then He began to speak to them.  'The Scripture you've just heard has been fulfilled this very day!'"  (Luke 4:16-21)

So, from the very beginning of His ministry, here is Jesus' agenda.  I'm guessing you could have heard a pin drop.  He was declaring Himself to be the One the prophets spoke of, but also reminded the people of the Savior's purpose in coming.  His agenda in part was to deal with very real physical issues (the poor, the blind, the opressed).  But, beyond that, Jesus' agenda would include the poor in spirit, the spiritually blind, and the spiritually opressed.

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Everybody Wants to be Somebody

“I always wished I would grow up to be somebody.  Maybe I should have been a little more specific.”  Lily Tomlin

Everybody wants to be somebody, but how do we know who that somebody is?  The influences of the world are happy to answer that for us…and then sell us what we need to make it happen.  No mystery at all, according to the modern western world – your identity is almost always determined by what you look like, what you do, what you have, and/or who you know.  And every time we buy into this value system, our life is a bit more focused on “I have to have…,” “I ought to…,” and “How do I get people to like me?”  To the degree we play their game, it becomes a cycle that can only give temporary results.  It really is too bad, when you think about it.

Jesus has offered us a much better option.  Rather than basing our identity on what we have, how we perform, or the people we know, Jesus has called us into the mystery of the ages – that we might experience the terrific realization that our true identity is only found in Him (not in ourselves).  Remember Paul’s description of this powerful mystery?  “To them (believers in Christ), God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is, Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

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