Wondering or Wandering?

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Christmas always fills my head and heart with lots of questions.  Curious by nature, I find myself wondering about most every character in the story.  The magi seems to be the most mysterious of all.  Remember their visit?

“On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him…” Matthew 2:11

Matthew alone records the visit of the gift-giving wise men.  Though they saw both Jesus and Mary, they worshipped only the Savior.  Have you ever wondered why they made the trip?   Perhaps they started out on their search motivated by politics or they thought this new king could help them defeat Rome.  Maybe they came out of boredom or curiosity.  Could it have been the emptiness inside that led to their visit?

Whatever their motives, the Bible tells us that when they saw Him, they fell down and worshipped Him and I believe that gift was more valuable than their gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

I am reminded that worship is a gift each of us can offer this Christmas.

Hundreds of years ago when people addressed prayers to people, the mother of Constantine, at that time ruler of the world, wrote the following prayer to the three wise men who came to Jesus:

“Like me…you were late in coming.  The shepherds were here long before you; even the cattle.  They had joined the chorus of angels before you were on your way…how laboriously you came, taking sights and calculating where the shepherds had run barefoot.  How odd you looked on the road attended by what outlandish liveries, laden with such preposterous gifts!  Yet you came and were not turned away.   You too found room before the manger.  Your gifts were not needed but they were accepted and put carefully by, for they were brought with love. In that new order of charity that had just come to life, there was room for you too.  You were not lower in the eyes of the holy family than the ox or the donkey.  You are the patrons of all latecomers, of all who have a tedious journey to make to the truth. Of all who are confused with knowledge and speculation, of all who through politeness make themselves partners in guilt, of all who stand in danger by reason of their talents. Dear cousins, pray for me and my poor overloaded son.  May he too, before the end, find kneeling space in the straw…”

In a world filled with far too many desperate places like Aleppo, I pray that all who don’t know the Savior may find their kneeling space and the moment when their wandering ceases and they are captured by the wonder of Jesus.

This Christmas, where is the one born King of the Jews?  He is right here, ready, willing and able to meet every need, but we must not lose the wonder.

Oswald Chambers once wrote…

“Faith is the inborn capacity to see God behind everything, the wonder that keeps you an eternal child. Wonder is the very essence of life. Beware always of losing the wonder…”

My hope and prayer is that wherever we may wander we will never lose the wonder of what happened in Bethlehem’s manger 2,000 years ago.  God bless you and Merry Christmas!

 

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Words

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Twitter only allows 140 characters in a tweet.  While many find it frustrating to complete a thought in this limited amount of space, our current cultural collide has left me wondering if everyone should have a daily word limit.  Kind of like a speed limit, maybe we would allow five words over but after that you pay a giant fine.  While enforcement might be a challenge, imagine how it could change future presidential campaigns!

I write this as someone who likes to talk, and for much of my life I’ve been compensated for talking.  I’m also convinced that I should have learned early in life to ration my words.  Don’t believe me?  Ask my family.  Ask my coworkers.  Ask my students.  Actually you could ask strangers who met me on an airplane or in a grocery store line!

Maybe it is because I’m getting older or maybe I’m getting wiser, but these days I’m trying really hard to be quieter.  James’ admonition in the New Testament to “be quick to listen and slow to speak” has taken on new meaning for me in the midst of hearing so many negative, angry, and sometimes dangerous words.

Rabbi Baal Shem Tov believed that everyone was given a word limit for their life.  When all of their words had been used, then they died.  Apparently by choosing words wisely and guarding one’s tongue, your life expectancy could increase.  If only this were true!

Words can last a lifetime, and that may be a blessing or a curse.  Words welcome us as well as wear us out.  Words can be so hurtful and hateful, but they can also bring healing and hope.  Words can cut or create.  Words have the power to take us to the depths of our soul or lift us up to the heights of heaven.  Sometimes all that I have written in this short paragraph about words can happen in a single conversation.

If you ever wonder about the value of words, consider the study that was done over 30 years ago by Tom Risley and Betty Hart.  These two researchers studied a group of children between birth and three years of age.  These little ones, from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, provided some remarkable findings about the power and possibility of words.  Here is the big takeaway from their research:  Children from low socioeconomic backgrounds will have heard 30 million fewer words by the age of three than their peers from more affluent conditions.  As you can imagine this “word gap” creates a host of challenges for these little ones as they try to navigate our school systems and compete with their peers.

So here’s a possible solution for those of us who tend to be a bit more verbose:  Talk to a child!  Read to them!  Tell them stories; maybe some of your story.  Invest in them, especially those who need someone to stand in the gap.  Surely we’ve got a million or two words to spare.

Regardless of who you talk, tweet, text, or write to these days, here is some advice:

  • Be nice
  • Be positive
  • Be careful
  • Be prayerful
  • And above all else, remember what your Mom taught you. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

I leave you with these anonymous words:

Be sure to taste your words before you spit them out.

 

Superheroes

popeyeSuperhero costumes are the most popular this year according to a salesperson interviewed for our local newspaper.  Are we surprised?  In the chaos and craziness of our culture when breaking news brings another round of discouragement for so many of us, superheroes seem to be in short supply.

Growing up a few miles from Cape Canaveral my bedroom walls were decorated with 8×10 inch color glossy photos of astronauts.  Men like John Glenn, Gus Grissom, and Alan Shepard had autographed these pictures and their adventures had captured my imagination.  As a fourth grader I remember vividly the disaster that took the lives of Grissom, White, and Chaffee when Apollo 1 caught fire during a simulation test on the launch pad.  Our community and the country mourned the tragic loss of three men who were as close to superheroes as we had ever known.

One of my other heroes in those days appeared regularly on television.  His name was Popeye the Sailorman and he gained supernatural strength by eating spinach.  As a skinny kid who wanted even the semblance of a few muscles, I tasked my mother with the assignment to purchase me some spinach.  In one of my earliest memories I can see myself greeting my mother as she came in the door from the base commissary with bags of groceries.  I wanted my can of spinach because I was convinced it would transform my pitiful physique in an instant.  When Mom told me that she had to cook it first, I protested.  “Popeye doesn’t cook his spinach.  He eats it straight out of the can!”  Mom won the argument and I sat down at the table to eat what tasted and smelled like seaweed out of the Atlantic Ocean.  It was a depressing day for me.  My hopes of muscles evaporated because I knew I could never eat a whole can of spinach, even if my life depended on it.

Years later I heard Pastor Bill Hybels from Willow Creek Community Church talk about what he describes as a “Popeye moment.”  It is that moment when a person quotes Popeye’s famous line:

“I’ve had all I can stands…I can’t stands no more!”

Moses had one of those moments.  So did David.  Add Martin Luther to this list along with Rosa Parks.  Candace Lightner had a Popeye moment too.  She is the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, an organization created after the death of her 13-year-old daughter, Cari, who was killed by a drunk driver.  Thousands and thousands of others have that moment of what Hybels calls “Holy Discontent.”  Something has to be done and someone steps up and asks and answers the question, “Why not me?”

Years ago I read an article about responses to emergencies.  According to the author, individuals ask three questions when confronted by something that looks like a crisis situation:

  1. Is it really an emergency?
  2. Who is responsible?
  3. Am I capable of doing anything to help?

Good questions and perhaps the questions we should all be answering in these days when we are so tempted to dress like superheroes.

 

 

R.I.P.

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I love the grave marker for Billy Graham’s beloved wife, Ruth.  Note the final words:

“End of construction — Thank you for your patience.”

How great is that!  She reminds us that we are all in process and under construction (or at least we should be) until our body wears out and our soul makes the transition to eternal life.

Wander through a cemetery (something I think we should all do at least annually) and you will often see “R.I.P.” on tombstones.  The Latin “Requiescat in Pace” or “Rest in Peace” first showed up on grave markers in the 8th century.  By the 18th century it became quite common on the graves of Christians.  The idea can be traced to this Old Testament verse from Isaiah:

“For those who follow godly paths will rest in peace when they die.”  Isaiah 57:2 (NLT)

Seems to me that resting in peace might be more appropriate for while we are alive.  When I find myself struggling to sleep (something that happens from time to time and may be a sign of my accumulating years) I begin to conduct a bit of an inventory to determine what is stealing my sleep.  More often than not it is because I am not at peace.  I’ve gone to bed worried about a person or a project or a problem.

I heard a story recently about a person who was facing a challenge and a friend asked him if he was worried.  His response:  “Would it help?”  My response to that story:  Wow!  So true, how does worrying help.  The best antidote to worry is prayer so when I find myself struggling to rest in peace, I pray.

Peaceful people are people under construction because someone or something is almost always trying to steal your peace and the absence of peace prevents us from living out our passion.

So these days I’m doing my best to rest in peace and rise up with passion.  All the while remembering that Ruth Bell Graham was right, I am still under construction.  Please be patient!

 

 

Calling Home

call-homeWalking through our Student Center a few weeks ago I was stopped by one of our newest students who wanted to know what I was doing on the weekend of September 16th.  Uncertain about my calendar or his request I inquired to learn the reason for his question.  His response was short and simple:

“I need you to be my Dad for that weekend.”

My young friend is a member of our basketball team and each year in preparation for their season the coaches lead a father and son retreat, complete with the coaches’ fathers in attendance too.   These adventures provide a time for the guys to eat unhealthy food, compete in a variety of games, take on some crazy undertaking (this year it was paintball), and make some lifelong memories.  Without checking my calendar, I knew that I was in.  Whatever the conflict, I would cancel, whatever the obstacle, I would find a way to remove.  How can one say no to the opportunity to stand-in for a young man whose father lives on another continent with no possibility of joining this annual expedition?

For the past 5 years I had heard powerful stories that came from these retreats but I had never experienced one.  Now I have and the experience was even better than the stories. What a privilege to have a ringside seat to something very seldom seen or heard in our cyber-world of text messaging, social media, and the Velcro-like attachment of our “smart” phones.  As a guy who grew up without a father, the weekend created all sorts of emotions for me and reminded me of how grateful I am that God sent some wonderful men along as “borrowed Dads” along the way.

Over the course of a few hours this past weekend I witnessed earthly fathers doing their best imitation of their heavenly Father.  Their prayers, their words of affirmation, and their hugs and high fives gave me hope and encouraged me to wish that for every boy and girl, regardless of their age.

The weekend also reminded me of those opening words from the most famous prayer ever offered:

“Our Father which art in heaven…”

If you study the life of Jesus’ time on earth you will discover that He was a son that liked to call home.  On a regular basis, we find Jesus calling home to talk to His Father.  When his disciples asked him for help in learning how to pray, He offered the model prayer that most of us know as the Lord’s Prayer.  Jesus didn’t teach His disciples this prayer to be used as some kind of packaged devotional or a “Get Out of Jail Free Card.” He wants it to be a model for regular calls to our heavenly home.

I confess to you that I understand prayer about as well as I understand how a “smart” phone works or any phone for that matter.  It makes no sense at all to me that I can pick up a phone and dial some numbers and instantly be connected with someone on the other side of the world.  But my lack of understanding does not prevent me from using a telephone nor does it prevent me from praying.

Jesus, in these first few words of the Lord’s Prayer, was offering a completely new image of God to His listeners.  Read the Old Testament and you will find that God was almost always referred to as YAHWEH and was rarely spoken because of the awe and reverence associated with the name.  Only seven times in the Old Testament was God referred to as Father and those references were indirect, and rather remote.  It is difficult for us to understand the significance of calling God:  Our Father.  What is a common practice today was revolutionary in Jesus’ day.  The word for Father is the word “Abba” – it was an everyday word, completely common.  It can easily be translated:  DAD.  It was a term of endearment.  No Jew would have ever dared address God in this manner.  But Jesus did, every time He prayed with one notable exception:  when He was hanging on the cross.

More than 200 times in the Gospels, Jesus refers to God as Father.  In His very first recorded words, Jesus explained to His parents where He was when they thought He was lost by saying:

“Didn’t you know I would be in my Father’s house?”

An accident?  I don’t think so.  Jesus understood that your image of God would have a major impact on your willingness and eagerness to call home.

I love it when my kids call home.  It makes my day.  Whether they need something or just want to talk I’m always eager to hear from them and I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that the same is true for our heavenly Father.  So if you haven’t talked to Our Dad in a while, I hope you will call home today!

 

 

 

 

Agnes and a Rubber Band

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Rubber bands come in all shapes, sizes, and colors…sort of like people.  Rubber bands serve no meaningful purpose until stretched.  Could the same be said about people?

Perhaps the best modern day example of someone who was willing to be stretched was a little lady who was given the name Agnes at birth. The world came to know her by a different name.

Born in Macedonia, by the age of 12 she realized her life purpose was to aid the poor.  At the age of 18 she joined a community of Irish nuns with a mission in Calcutta.  She spent 17 years as a teacher and a principal at St. Mary’s high school in this city of almost five million.

At the age of 36 her life changed forever when she became ill with tuberculosis.  During a train ride that took her out of Calcutta to recover, she felt God calling her to serve Him among the poorest of poor.  It took her two years to convince church authorities of her new ministry.

In 1950, she started an order with 12 members.  Today there are 4,000 nuns running orphanages, AIDS hospices and other charity centers around the world.  In 1952 she established a home for the dying and destitute.  Homeless people, uncared for and unacceptable at other institutions, were washed, fed and allowed to die with dignity. She challenged the complacent and status quo with words like these…

“One of the greatest diseases is to be nobody to anybody.”

After 29 years of service behind the scenes and out of the spotlight she was recognized with a Nobel Peace Prize.  Wearing the same $1 Sari she had always worn, this little nun accepted the award.  The Pope gave her a white Lincoln Continental.  She auctioned the car off using the money to establish a leper colony.

In 1990, she had a nearly fatal heart attack and she announced her intention to resign as head of her order.  A short time later there was a secret vote among the sisters of her order, she was re-elected unanimously.  The only dissenting vote was her own.

Gone almost 20 years, her legacy continues.  Her stretching and her service are contagious.  Mother Teresa, now Saint Teresa, lived a life of stretching, a life of selfless service.

Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m no Mother Teresa?”  Those people would receive high marks for honesty and self-awareness but I think Saint Teresa would have a response for them as she once said…

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”

Another way to say it comes from Pastor Andy Stanley who teaches, “Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.”

Here’s hoping we all find ways to stretch and serve…one person at a time.

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Moses and Lawn Chair Larry

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When death comes to your community, unexpectedly and tragically, the painful reminder of life’s brevity and fragility comes knocking or maybe pounding on your heart’s door.  Questions, some spoken, some silent, rattle around as we try to make sense out of what most often seems to make little sense.

So here’s this week’s fill-in-the-blank question for you:

If I had it to do all over again, I would _______________________________________.

You might say,

  • Eat more vegetables (I wouldn’t but you might)
  • Get more sleep
  • Study more
  • Work less
  • Exercise more
  • Spend less
  • Give away more

Notice a theme?  More or less…less or more.  Which will it be and why?

This same fill-in-the-blank question was posed to some 90 years olds a few years ago in a sociological study.  When they compiled all of the answers, here were the TOP THREE responses:

  1. Risk More
  2. Reflect More
  3. Do More that would Live On after I am Gone

All more, no less, yet I’m convinced that in order to do more, we have to choose to do less in some other area of our lives.

One of life’s realities is that we will all leave a legacy of some kind, for better or for worse.

Larry Walters left an unusual legacy.  He was a truck driver in Los Angeles who dreamed of flying.  He joined the Air Force but his poor eyesight disqualified him from pilot status. While sitting in his backyard watching planes fly overhead, he came up with a plan.

Larry went to his local Army Surplus store and purchased 45 weather balloons that he then filled with helium.  He tied these inflated weather balloons to his lawn chair that he had anchored to his Jeep, then he strapped himself into his lawn chair with some sandwiches, a pellet gun, and some beverages that we don’t allow any of you to drink.

The plan was to cut the cord, float up to about 30 feet, enjoy a few hours and then shoot out the weather balloons and float back down into his back yard.  Unfortunately things didn’t work out quite like Lawn Chair Larry had planned.

When his friends cut the cord, Larry shot up into the LA sky like a cannon.  He passed 30 feet in a hurry and continued up until he reached a cruising altitude of 16,000 feet.  Totally freaked out and scared of what to do, he simply drifted along with his sandwiches, beverages, and pellet gun for several hours while he considered his options.  At one point he crossed into the LA International Airport air space where his sighting was reported by a host of pilots on their final approach.

Finally he got the nerve to shoot out a few balloons and he began to slowly descend eventually getting tangled and caught in a power line creating a blackout in Long Beach.  Larry was able to climb to safety and was immediately arrested.

As he was led away a reporter dispatched to cover the rescue asked him why he had done it.  His response:  “A man just can’t sit around!”

Moses was a man who didn’t just sit around.  This Old Testament hero left a legacy far beyond setting the Guinness Book of World Records for leading the world’s largest and longest backpacking trip.  God used him to save a nation and though he was prevented from finishing the journey to the Promised Land, he had a chance to get a glimpse of the final destination of what we know as the great exodus.  These words were written about him in the twilight of his life…

 “Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died,

 yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone.”

When Moses dies Scripture tells us that God made all the funeral arrangements. No farewells, no fanfare.  He simply laid down and the Lord took his spirit.  Moses died alone, without family or friends standing at his side.  But Moses died secure, forever safe in the arms of a loving God.  There was no solemn procession, no stately funeral.  The Lord buried him privately.  Moses had finished the race, he had kept the faith, God took him for his crown.  “His eyes were not weak and his strength was not gone.”

At the time of his death Moses was 120 years old.  He had lived through twelve decades of hope and hardship.  Forty years as the Prince of Egypt, forty years of obscurity in the desert, and forty years leading a caravan of grumblers through the desert.  Through all this Moses never stopped growing.

The happiest, most fulfilled people I know are those that spend a life time growing in their love and knowledge of the Lord.  And I am convinced that those closest to us know when we quit growing. As for me, I want to be a life-long learner.  I want God to be teaching me things as long as my eyes are not weak and my strength is not gone.

If I had it to do over again………………..WE DON’T!  But we do have today and maybe tomorrow.

For most of us, our legacy will NOT be one big thing…a job, a decision, an event. But it consists of lots of little things…an act of kindness, consistency of service, an encouraging word, time invested, and prayers prayed.

May we all do more that will live on long after we are gone!