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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 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 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.

June 27

Thursday, June 27th, 2024

All people matter to God, therefore they should matter to us.

Lately I’ve been reading a book on dementia entitled  Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia by John Dunlop, MD. Because it seems to be becoming a bigger issue these days, I thought I’d read up on it and learn more. It has been an eye-opening book (in a good way). Over and over Dr Dunlop has emphasized the importance of dignity for the dementia sufferer, as well as it’s kissing cousin, Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Dunlop is a committed Christ-follower so his perspective is different than many in the medical field. Instead of writing them off as a “nuisance” and a “bother” for others, especially their caregivers, he pushes the belief that showing them dignity is first and foremost. One very helpful section is found on pages 123-125 where he gives a number of practical way we can express dignity. He does it from the perspective of entering their “world.”

But this devotion is not a book review. While he has obviously focused his attention on the dementia patient, I couldn’t help but make the correlation to others in our sphere on influence. Each person we come in contact with should be deemed a person who matters. Whether it is the same sex, ethnicity, color, position in life, or social status, we need to, no, we must see them as people who hold special importance in God’s eye. As a Christ-follower that means they must hold importance in my eyes as well. We may not always agree, we may not always get along, we may butt heads from time to time, but that should not change how much each of us should matter.

In James 2 James warns the church about choosing sides and showing preference to one group over another. He says it is a shame and a black mark to do so (my loose translation). Jesus Himself told the parable of the Good Samaritan and showed how a man who was hated because of his ethnicity was actually more of a brother than the so-called “religious people.”

We have all seen people snubbed because of political affiliation. We have all seen people snubbed because of color. We have all seen people snubbed because of sexual orientation. We have all seen people snubbed because of status. We have all seen people snubbed because of a medical condition. It is ugly. Like I said, I may not agree with someone’s opinion or lifestyle, and can’t compromise the truth, but at the same time that gives me NO RIGHT to denigrate or write someone off as being persona non grata because we are different.

Dementia patients deserve loving treatment. We all do. Let’s begin to give dignity to others. Let’s begin to treat others as we would like to be treated. 

June 20

Thursday, June 20th, 2024

Jeremiah fought for all he was worth! No, not a UFC no-holds-barred kind of fight. Unless you are talking about a spiritual battle.  

In Jeremiah 1:17-19 we find these words: “Get up and prepare for action…Do not be afraid of them. For see, today I have made you strong like a fortified city that cannot be captured, like an iron pillar or a bronze wall…They will fight you, but they will fail. For I am with you, and I will take care of you. I, the Lord, have spoken!” (I wrote about that in my June 18th post).  But that was just the beginning. In 7:1-8:3, we find one of the biggest issues Jeremiah has to fight through: faulty religion. Strangely enough, what Jeremiah had to fight with is not a lot different than today.

Here is a short analysis:

  1. Faulty religion trusts in external observances and institutions. Too many today think going to church, maybe lifting their hands, or putting money in the coffer is all they need to do.  Trouble is: one can do all of that, and more, without one bit of heart.
  2. Faulty religion exhibits ungodly behavior. I remember joking as a teenager with my classmates who were of a certain religion. They could party Friday night, go to church on Saturday morning and take care of things, then “go parking” on Saturday night and feel as thought they were alright. After all, they had “done their duty.” There is something wrong with that picture.
  3. Faulty religion turns its back on God instructions. Jer. 7:13 says, “While you were doing these wicked things, says the Lord, I spoke to you about it repeatedly, but you would not listen. I called out to you, but your refused to answer.”  (NLT). How often do we do “our own thing”? God’s Word is seen as a killjoy to our lifestyle.

It’s easy to allow what could and should be a vibrant, alive, and life-changing faith to become old or even misdirected. Let’s challenge ourselves to not allow our faith to become an outward thing but to be a “heart thing.”

June 19

Wednesday, June 19th, 2024

In my daily reading through the New Testament, I have hit the book of Revelation. Ironically, I will finish a series of preaching on Revelation during the months of July and August. I’m not bragging. I started it in January of 2023. Yes, you read that right. 2023! 🙂 I interrupted it a lot but decided I need to finish it. Anyway…I read chapters 2 & 3 yesterday and today. If I had a guess I would say those two chapters may be the most preached-on section of Revelation.

Those two chapters contain the letters to the seven churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Here is a short synopsis:

  • All have a pastor- “The the angel of church…”
  • All but one (Laodicea) have something good said about them.
  • Two have good but no wrong said about them (Smyrna and Philadelphia)
  • All are fighting false teachers/teachings except Sardis and Laodicea.

I would suspect Laodicea hits us the hardest in our day and age. “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish you were one or the other. But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Rev. 3:15-16 (NLT)

When I cycle, I carry two insulated bottles on my bike. One is filled with water; the other is filled with some type of electrolyte drink. I freeze them ahead of time so I have a cold drink on the ride. Every once in a while I will misjudge the water thawing. The electrolyte replacement drink gets consumed first, then comes the water. But occasionally, the water has lost its ice and is lukewarm. I tell myself, “At least its wet,” but it is blah and so unsatisfying I can’t wait to finish and get a real drink of cold, fresh water.

The letter to the church at Ephesus was not a compliment, it was a judgment. But with the judgment comes a reminder: “Get with the program. Stop faking it. Stop riding the fence. I’m knocking asking you to let me in. If you do, and set your heart on me, I’ll be glad to have you join Me at a meal.”

To sit with Him at a meal, to chat with Him; to discuss life with Him, sounds really good! I think I’ll take Him up on His offer to catch fire.

June 10

Monday, June 10th, 2024

This past Friday I received a text from someone who was passing something along to me.  As soon as I read it I thought it would  be good to share with you:

You are holding a cup of coffee when someone comes along and bumps into you or shakes your arm, making you spill your coffee everywhere. Why did you spill the coffee? “Because some bumped into me!!”

Wrong answer.

You spilled the coffee because there was coffee in your cup.  Had there been tea in your cup, you would have spilled tea.

Whatever is inside the cup is what will spill out.

Therefore, when life comes along and shakes you (which WILL happen), whatever is inside you will come out. It’s easy to fake it, until you get rattled.

So we have to ask ourselves…”What’s in my cup?” 

When life gets tough, what spills over? Joy, gratitude, peace and humility? Anger, bitterness, victim mentality and quitting-tendencies?

Life provides a cup, YOU choose how to fill it.

Today let’s work towards filling our cups with gratitude, forgiveness, joy, words of affirmation, resilience, positivity; and kindness, gentleness and love for others.

As the person who sent this to me said: “I love this analogy!”  I would agree.  The Scriptures back up this analogy. “Live by the Spirit,” Paul writes in Galatians 5:25. That follows his description of a life of the flesh versus the life of the Spirit.  “Be filled with the Spirit,” Paul writes in Ephesians 5:18.  Jesus spoke about how a person speaks from the overflow of his/her heart. 

So the question remains: If you are shaken, what will spill out?

June 5

Wednesday, June 5th, 2024

One of the hardest things for most of us to do, i.e. yours truly, is to surrender. Coming in first is so ingrained in us that coming in second is not seen as an option. Athletes are taught to win and most often, win at all costs. I have no doubt that type of thinking is behind the use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). We want to win! No, we HAVE to win!

This battle doesn’t even have to play out on the baseball field or basketball court or at an Olympic event. It can be seen in the classroom. A home. While driving (can anyone say road rage?). Even a store. It is seen in a battle of wills. “I will not bend to your rules.” Is that not what temper tantrums are all about? I was in a grocery story last week and I saw this fleshed out in front of me. I watched a mother and son battle it out. He could not have been older than 3.  He wanted. She said no. He still wanted and she still said no. He knocked things off the shelf in defiance. She bent to pick them up. He took off with the cart and she went after him. I saw some fire in her eyes. (I also know the solution to that but I’m guessing that would not have been a good time to tell her. 🙂 ). I wonder if she was trying gentle parenting? Aaaah but that is a story for another time.

In Genesis 32 (take a moment to read verses 22-32) we have a titanic-type battle-a wrestling match between Jacob and God. What a classic story worth taking a closer look at. Perhaps tomorrow.

Until then, yours and my best reaction to the battle of wills is surrender. To stop fighting God for supremacy. Jacob was a head-strong, conniving, devious man. That’s the story of his whole life up until the wrestling match. Only a surrender to God will change that.

Sounds familiar.  

May 30

Thursday, May 30th, 2024

I cheated. I wrote this post ahead of time just in case I did not make it back home Wednesday and we decided to stay the night somewhere. Here were the thoughts I postponed from yesterday’s post to give an update on Janna.

WHAT DO YOU THINK CONSTITUTES A GOOD FAMILY?

Of course, the answers are many. Here are a few: Empathy. Sympathy. Teamwork with teammates. Honesty. Taking responsibility. Accepting responsibility.  Forgiveness. Space to allow for mistakes. The freedom to make mistakes and admit them. Love (obviously). Faith. Prayers. Shared shoulders. And the list goes on.

Now…consider the church as a family. The very same characteristics of a blood family are also to be there for a different kind of blood family.

In Isaiah 1 the people of Judah were acting very “unfamily-like.” Their outward actions were blatant displays of disrespect.  Yeah…that happens in real families. To put it very bluntly, their outward actions did not show the state of their heart.  Or maybe they did?

How easy it is to put on a show at home and with our church family. Jesus said the religious leaders’ lips said one thing but their hearts were far from Him.  It is called “going through the motions.” Family members do that.  Church family members to that also. They act like they like you, but what they do and say behind your back hurts like fire.

Frankly, self-concern replaces other-concern. It destroys families. It devastates church families. Arguing and fighting, even over petty things, plays havoc on a family’s unity. It does the same for a church family.

Don’t be a “ruiner;” be a builder.