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July 22

Monday, July 22nd, 2024

In a world that says, “Gimme. Gimme. Gimme.”

In world that says, “Look out for #1. And oh, by the way, I’m #1.”

In a world that says, “It’s all about me.”

In a world that says, “Look in the mirror and tell yourself, ‘I’m worth it.'”

In a world that says, “Get to the top. If you have to step over people to do it, who cares.”

In a world that says, (to borrow the saying from an old commercial), “You only go around once in life. Grab all the gusto you can.”

In a world that says all that and more, Jesus comes along and says, “If any of you want to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?”  (Mt. 16:24-26 NLT)

The words of Jesus are in direct opposition to what we are being told. “It’s all about me” vs “Give your life away.” “Get to the top” vs “Give up your life.” “Grab for it all here” vs “If you gain the whole world and lose your soul it’s not worth it.”

Again I ask: Can any two lifestyles be more in opposition to each other than these? I think not. And IMHO Jesus put the result right out there: gain the world and lose your soul. And then the devastating question: “Is anything worth more than your soul?”

I believe the answer is an obvious NO. Temporal vs eternal. Success here vs life there. I’ll take Jesus’ option. Every. time.  How about you?

July 18

Thursday, July 18th, 2024

I am posting this later than I usually do. I got to the office at 5:00 as I normally do and all the power was out-all the businesses, stoplights, etc. So I went back home until I called the business next to us and she said they had full power. I apologize for being late.

I have written often about our speech and the power of the tongue. I think we all know of that danger. While I had another idea percolating in my head this morning, I was overwhelmed by what I found in Proverbs 18. I’ll write the Scripture out for you here in order to make it easier, but I’d like to suggest that you read your own Bible and highlight the following verses:

“Wise words are like deep water; wisdom blows from the wise like a bubbling brook.” (verse 4)

“Fools’ words get them into constant quarrels; they are asking for a beating.” (verse 6

“The mouths of fools are their ruin; they trap themselves with their lips.” (verse 7)

“Rumors are dainty morsels that sink deep into one’s heart.” (verse 8)  {Note: we all know how rumors get passed on}

“Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.” (verse 13)

“Wise words satisfy like a good meal; the right words bring satisfaction.” (verse 20)

“The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences.” (verse 21)

“The poor plead for mercy; the rich answer with insults.” (verse 23)

And then to top if off I also read from Matthew 12 this morning: “For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.” (verses 34-37)

That just closes the book on the seriousness of our words. Listen up! Be careful today (and always) of the words you say.

{All Scripture from the New Living Translation}

July 16

Tuesday, July 16th, 2024

One last devotion…(I think). 🙂

The past week or so of devotions here at “Shadow” I have been writing and telling you about a book that had a profound impact on me-Out of the Blue by Greg Murtha. (Those dates are July 9, 10, 11, and 15). At the age of 46, Greg, a healthy runner and athlete, go-to leader, husband and father, was stricken with Agressive Stage III Colon Cancer. He endured 95 chemo treatments over 5 years, but on June 22, 2017 he “moved to the front of the line” to use his words. He completed his book on June 15th in room 8637 of Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s CCU.

As I finished reading his book for the second time (the first I barely remember), I was overwhelmed with emotion. I shed some tears for a life well-lived, but also because it struck close to home. Not me. I just lost a friend to cancer and another has brain cancer. This book chronicling his thoughts and actions of the last 5 years of his life deeply and profoundly impacted me and caused me to stop and evaluate my own life.

I once read that Joni, the well-known Christ-follower who has been a quadriplegic for over 50 years, was once asked if she would change anything. She said, “No. I thank God for the accident and my wheelchair.” (edited by me). Several times Greg said virtually the same thing, i.e. he was thankful for the cancer that totally changed his life. It slowed him down. It woke him to the needs of others. It brought him to the point of listening to God. He would go for treatment, into a store, into a room and notice people most would miss-people who needed a hug, or who were hurting, had tears in their eyes, or simply needed a word of encouragement, or a prayer. And he was not ashamed to offer that.

He wrote the following:

“I’m learning that being present in the moment is what is important. Being the church wherever I am-that’s what matters. Listening to the prompting of the Holy Spirit is paramount to living a life of adventure.” (p. 160)

I’ll close by simply saying that I want that. Healthy or not I want to be present in the moment. I want to be the church, a representative of Christ, where I am and to whomever I come across. Will you join me?

July 15

Monday, July 15th, 2024

“Every man dies. Not every man lives.” (William Wallace in Braveheart)

I can remember the first time I watched Braveheart. I was working my way through the book Wild at Heart by John Eldredge and I was being challenged to be really alive and how many men miss doing just that. I found myself reminiscing and asking myself if I had ever felt really alive. My answer is private but my reaction to the quote revolutionized how I looked at life from the point on. I have been posting about reading Greg Murtha’s book, Out of the Blue. In chapter 12, titled “My Final Chapter” Greg opened up with this blurb: When I check out of hotel Earth, please don’t say, ‘Greg lost his battle with cancer.’ That will not be the truth. No, when that time comes, when I get to the front of the line, it will be a point in time when I have never been more alive, and it will be an epic win.” (p.183)

39 year-old Dietrich Bonhoeffer, theologian and opponent of Nazism, had these last words: “This is the end. For me, the beginning of life.”  (Murtha-p.188)

“A camp doctor who witnessed Bonhoeffer’s hanging described the scene: ‘Through the half-open door in one room of the huts, I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued in a few seconds. In the almost 50 years that I have worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.'” (Murtha-p.188)

What gives Greg and what gives Bonhoeffer the ability to face death as they did? Perhaps you know of some who looked at death the very same way. On the other hand, I suspect we all know people who were fearful of death. In my over 50 years as a pastor I have seen both. And I would much rather see the one who has no fear of death. For the follower of Christ, death is the doorway to life.

When I die, I want the door swung wide open. I’m bringing my bike along (well…not literally).  I certainly can’t dance so I hope He will let me ride. 🙂  I don’t want a mournful memorial; I want a celebration.  While you are at it, take a moment to listen to this song.

 

July 11

Thursday, July 11th, 2024

Jo and I are in Ohio today watching our grandson play the last two games of baseball we will get to watch this summer. We came yesterday to spend the night and some time with him and Janna (our daughter), watch two ball games today and then head home. The next trip to Ohio will be Labor Day weekend to watch him play high school football and take the weekend off (my first one since February).

I am continuing to read Out of the Blue by Greg Murtha. I blogged about it the past two days. Here is something to consider that I read: Greg, by his own admission, was good at wearing masks. Cancer ripped the mask off. Sitting in a chair with others getting the same type of cancer treatment/infusion/torture left him with a vulnerability he was not used to. He wrote: “When we admit that we’re fractured in one way or another, others will risk vulnerability too.” (p.49)

Everyone of us is broken-just in different ways and in different areas. Alcohol. Drugs. Porn. Sex. Mental issues. Selfishness. Volatile reactions, i.e. anger. They are many and varied. And we try to mask them. Cancer, Greg says, breaks down walls and builds bridges. You see suffering as an upside. It draws us to each other-and to God.

Someone somewhere must admit brokenness. When that takes place, vulnerability happens. There is nothing wrong with lowering the mask and admitting, “I’m struggling.” “I’m hurting.” I think His lack of judgmentalism is one of the qualities that drew people to Jesus. They found in Him a “safe” person. So can we. The psalmist speaks often of God being our refuge, our Mount Zion. We find that in our vulnerability with Him and ultimately with our fellow strugglers.

Let’s be real. Let’s rip off the masks. Let’s start a Realness Revolution!!

July 10

Wednesday, July 10th, 2024

I posted yesterday about rereading Greg Murtha’s book, Out of the Blue. You can read that post here. In fact, I would encourage you to read it if you haven’t already done so, or to reread it to give yourself a “refresher course.” 🙂  If you are like me these days, it is way too easy to forget.

Now that you have reread that post, I’d like to continue my thoughts. In his book You Gotta Keep Dancin’, the late Tim Hansel closed with the following quote:

“There is no box made by God nor us but that the sides can be flattened out and the top blown off to make a dance floor on which to celebrate life.” (Kenneth Caraway)

As I have been rereading Greg’s marvelous book, I was reminded of that quote, especially after the closing quote by Hunter S. Thompson.  Tim also quotes someone named Sister Corita: “To believe in God is to know that all the rules will be fair-and that there will be many surprises!”  If there is one thing (among many) I know about God is that He is unpredictable. Ya just never know what He has on His plate for you. There are some things about God that never change. I stand firmly on the truth of His character and His Word. But I also know God works in ways I don’t expect.  I don’t always understand His ways or His purposes, but I trust Him to do what is best. Sometimes I balk at it. Sometimes I mope. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I scream. Sometimes I rant and rave.

But above it all I know He is in charge and knows what is best.  I also know He is trying to mold me into the best version of Him I can become. He wants me to be more like Jesus. Sheldon Vanauken, the author of A Severe Mercy, wrote the following:

The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians-when they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths. (Murtha-p.xv-xvi)

I admit to being one of the smug, self-righteous, arrogant, narrow-minded (only if you agree with my camp will you make it to heaven) “Christians.” I have written before about how I rue that day and wish I could back to every church I preached at and every person I ever offended by my attitude and apologize. That is impossible, of course, but it still bugs me nonetheless.  I may be 71 but I still want God to do His work in and through me. I’m not ready to hang my hat by the door and leave it there.  I don’t know what the future holds…no one does. But as Doc Brown tells Marty and Jennifer at the end of Back to the Future III when talking about the future: “No one’s future has been written yet (I would disagree with that on biblical grounds), but make it a good one, both of you.”

That is indeed my prayer. I hope it will be yours also.  Let’s kick out those walls and dance.

July 9

Tuesday, July 9th, 2024

“You have Aggressive Stage III cancer.”

So you are told. It soon develops into Stage IV. No, that is not me. Sorry if you panicked as you read that. Well over 3 years ago-I’m thinking pre-pandemic- I read a book called Out of the Blue by Greg Murtha. Greg was a 46 year old man in the peak of physical condition (so he thought) when after an 11 mile run through Crocket Hills Trail in Middle Tennessee his life changed. Afterward, sweating but pumped he headed for the bathroom at the YMCA. That’s when his life changed. It appeared as if someone had poured a container of bright-rid blood into the toilet. He realized instantly, This is not good.  And it wasn’t. The diagnosis was a gut punch to use his words.

I have begun to reread the book. Not because I have cancer (at least not that I’m aware of) but because some people who are close to me do.  A friend. Friends of friends. People connected to the church. I needed, no wanted, some perspective. I remembered Greg’s book was uplifting and brought a whole new perspective to the cancer battle so as I was scanning through books for a future sermons series my eyes locked onto his book.  After reading the Introduction and first 21 pages I have already been reminded why reading it is a good idea. To quote Greg: “Don’t feel sorry for me. Strange as it sounds, I view cancer as a gift. I thank God for it because it means I’m not the man I used to be. Sure, this interruption to my well-planned life was jarring. And chemo is hell. But I’m thankful for cancer because it has given me the ability to focus on what matters.” (p.7)

That struck me. Being a typical male, I am sort of locked onto that “success syndrome” so many get attached to. It is not as bad as it used to be. At 71, while I want to continue being a part of advancing God’s kingdom, I also know my best days are probably behind me due to stamina and strength. But, to be honest, my heart burns more for Jesus than it did in my younger years. Maybe it is because of my age. I don’t know.  But a Bob Goff quote fits here: “God’s more interested in our hearts than our plans.” (p.7-8).  My dreams, goals and aspirations have never been realized, at least not to the scale I wanted them to. That is a good thing. But I wouldn’t trade my life for any amount of money or earthly applause. I realize now what is most important. (Took me long enough!) 🙂

I hope I don’t get cancer or any other life-threatening disease. Cancer runs in my family (mother and grandmother died of it. Two brothers have and had it). But if I do, I hope I can run that race with grace. I’ll write more tomorrow but let me leave you with this quote from Greg’s book:

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, ‘WOW!’ (Hunter S. Thompson quoted on page xviii)

‘Nuff said.  Oh…As always, I welcome your comments.

July 8

Monday, July 8th, 2024

Do you know what a kissing cousin is? Please don’t give the obvious answer. 🙂

No. A kissing cousin is an idea, thought or action that is similar to or often goes hand-in-hand with another. For today’s devotion, I thought of two words/emotions which are kissing cousins: Fear and worry.

We all know what it is like to be gripped by fear. It can paralyze us. It can make us irrational. It can make us combative. Fear can also freeze us in our place, make our mouth go dry and send chills up and down our spine. Watch a really scary movie and take note of your reaction. (I’d rather not thank you very much).

Fear has a kissing cousin: worry. They often work in tandem. This past weekend I was speaking with a young man and he was talking about the company he worked for. I talked about the commercials I have seen and how well done they are and how they show people working together. Happily, he praised the PR/advertising folks and he also talked about their product and how he liked working for them. Then he made a sobering statement which set me back.  He said the economists with the company were predicting a recession, a slowdown in the economy at the end of ’24 and the beginning of ’25. In fact, they said it was going to be worse than the recession of ’08. My first reaction was one of “Oh boy.” Not positive but negative. Part of me wanted to hunker down; part of me said, “What am I afraid of?” As the pastor of a church that wants to-needs to-and he been planning and saving for an expansion for over 4 years, I started thinking, “Is that wise?” “Should we stop saving and planning?” “Should we become ultra-conservative?” “Should we continue saving and keep waiting to see what happens?  (Fun fact: we have been saving over 4 years because our plans have always been to build as we have the money),

Fear and worry can paralyze us. Corporately. Individually. The truth is we have nothing to fear. As people used to say a lot in the recent past: “God’s got this.”

Fear and worry take a back seat when I believe that He is in control and that I trust Him. Instead of letting fear and worry hold hands in the back seat, let’s put them in separate car seats. Better yet, let’s banish them completely.

July 3

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2024

“Freedom isn’t free.”  “Never forget.”

Tomorrow, July 4th, is the day that has been set aside for us to celebrate the birth of our great nation. It will not be unusual for us to see those phrases (or others like them) on T-shirts, message boards, billboards, banners, and a whole host of other means.

THE STATEMENT IS TRUE.

I know our country is not perfect; none are. But when I think of the countries to live in-China, Russia, North Korea, and others come to mind-there is still no better place to live. While I get frustrated with things as I watch them deteriorate, I also am grateful for the freedom we have. The very freedom that so many rail against is the very freedom they have that allows them to demonstrate, spew vitriolic rhetoric, and other junk like that. It is not uncommon to hear people, especially celebrities complain and scream against America and threaten to leave if they don’t get their way. I want to say to them, “Bye. And oh yeah, try to speak out against that country and its leaders like you do hear and are now doing. See how far that gets you.” Can you say, “MIA and never to be seen or heard from again?”  You get my drift.

Do I wish things were better? Do I wish we weren’t so divisive and divided? Do I wish we could put a muzzle on certain people and rhetoric? That answer to all is Yes, a thousand times Yes. But, again, its the very freedom we enjoy, that we celebrate tomorrow, that allows us the spout that vitriol and rhetoric and demonstrate.

One verse of Scripture stands out to me because as a follower of Jesus I am more concerned about the direction we are going morally and spiritually than politically. Proverbs 28:2 says, “Where there is moral rot within a nation, its government topples easily. But wise and knowledgeable leaders bring stability.” (NLT)

That is not a political statement.

Freedom isn’t free. We need to celebrate the freedom we have. We need to preserve the freedom we have. We must never forget the men and women who fought so hard to get us that freedom and preserve it.  As a follower of Jesus, I must never forget and always be grateful for the ultimate freedom: “The one set free by the Son is free indeed.” In that truth, is true freedom.

July 1

Monday, July 1st, 2024

“You take the high road and I’ll take the high road.” 

Of course, that is not how it goes. Frankly, only in a song does anyone want to take the low road.  That’s like saying, “You take the mountain and I’ll take the valley” says no on ever. Most people want to stay on the mountain top and not find themselves in the valley.

However, consider what Billy Graham is credited with saying: “Mountaintops are for views and inspiration, but fruit is grown in the valleys.” Growth in our character and relationships, both with others and with God, often occur in the valley. It is nice to be on the mountaintop where inspiration and nearness can be fostered, but it is in the valley where we find our “true faith.” Maybe the better way to put it is in the valley we find out how real our faith is.

On the mountaintop it is easy to have the answers.  Things are good. Life is good. In many ways, life is also easy. We find a “big” God, One who says He can meet all our needs. It is easy to believe that when we are “in the clouds.” I would go away to camp or some youth conference and sense God’s presence as never before. But when I got back home and got back into the trenches is where I found out whether what I believed and experienced was true or not. I found out if the God I worshiped on the mountaintop was the same God in the valley.  Is God sufficient for all my needs? Is God’s strength able to sustain me when things aren’t looking so good or when life gets a tad bit rough?

We won’t find out the answers to those questions by staying on the mountaintop-no matter how much we like it there.  “Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can understand the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall into exhaustion. But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:28-31 NLT)

The only way to learn the truth of those words is in the valley. Don’t fear the valley.