Tuesday, May 14, 2024

This Life is Just a Rental

In the last few years when our family travels instead of booking a hotel we have used an Airbnb or a Vrbo. If you’re not familiar with this concept it’s basically people renting out their homes to tourists. It’s especially convenient if we have a lot of family to house. We can all stay together, eat meals together, play games together, and generally make someone else’s home ours for a few days.

They have normally served us well and even though they are generally decorated nicely I don’t always agree with their selection of furniture or their choices of paint colors. Sometimes I notice that something might be broken or not working quite right. It’s a little frustrating but one thing I have never done at one of these vacation rentals is redecorate, repaint, or make repairs.   I don’t get very upset if things don’t match or appliances don’t work. Since I’m only going to be there a few days I just live with it. No sense investing worry, money, effort, and time in a place that is so temporary.

I tend to get overinvested in my stuff. Maybe you do too. When something at our house breaks, I get all worried. When my car breaks down, I begin to fret. When the walls begin to crack and the furniture wears out, I start to panic. Naturally I do the maintenance, make the repairs, and buy the replacements, but shouldn’t my response be more like when similar things happen at that vacation rental? Afterall, even the home I’ve lived in for 15 years and hope to live in for many more is temporary. Why do I invest so much worry, money, effort, and time in something that inevitably will fall apart and wear out?

Seems like Jesus was making this same point when he said this:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19–20, ESV)

Sounds like Jesus is trying to remind us that we are all living in vacation rentals. They serve a purpose but they are all short-term. Instead of being overinvested in our homes, cars, clothes and other stuff that will all fall apart we ought to be more concerned with those things that will endure. We ought to be investing in our spiritual selves. That’s what will last forever!

“How am I preparing for heaven?” should be more on our mind than “Does my lawn look perfect?” “How am I serving other people?” should be more important than “Do I have an impressive car or house?” “Am I ready to meet God?” should be more pressing than “Am I the talk of the town?”

I guess it comes down to what you think is really important. That’s where your heart will be and if your heart is devoted to this world you are in for a big disappointment. But if your heart is on heaven you are in for the most spectacular surprise – a home that will last forever!

Thursday, April 18, 2024

You’ve Been Summoned

A couple of years ago I had the honor of serving on a jury. It was by no means a noteworthy trial but it was important to the people involved. I felt a great deal of responsibility as the jury deliberated and eventually arrived at a verdict. We all wanted to make the right, fair and just decision and I believe we did. To make that decision we relied on the evidence presented to us by the witnesses. That’s what witnesses do. They help people arrive at a decision.

That word “witness” is used several times in the New Testament to describe the evangelistic work of the early believers. Jesus actually uses that very term as he commissions his disciples to spread the word about him. After his resurrection he flat out told the believers, “You are my witnesses.” It was their lives and their words that Jesus was counting on to convince other people that he is the Son of God and that eternal life is available through Him.

As they were witnesses for Jesus, we too serve the same function. Every believer in a sense has been called to the witness stand. It is our lives and our words that Jesus is counting on to convince those around us that Jesus is who he says he is. So, are you a convincing witness?

The witnesses who were most convincing to me had these qualities – they were confident and they were clear. When they told their recollection of the event in question they didn’t waver on their account. They presented their testimony with certainty and conviction. They also presented it clearly; in a way I could understand. There was no need for technical or complex jargon to help me understand the events.

I’m thinking that if we want to be convincing witnesses for Jesus, perhaps we need to display those same qualities – confidence and clarity.  If we expect others to believe that Jesus is the Son of God then we need to firmly believe ourselves and act like it.

Are we confident and are we clear?

Do people see in you and me a strong conviction that we believe? Do our lives demonstrate a sense of joy knowing we are saved? Do those around us see how much our lives have been changed for the better because we know Jesus? Do people see us living a life of faithful obedience?

Or are we sending confusing and mixed messages by claiming to believe but not really acting like it? Do we remain silent about our faith rather than speak up? Do we waver in our commitment consequently compromising our testimony?

What kind of witness am I? What kind of witness are you?

As a believer, we have been summoned. We are all witnesses and the world around us is the jury. May we be faithful and convincing. Let’s do all we can to help people arrive at the decision that Jesus is Lord.

Friday, March 29, 2024

You will be with me in paradise

Luke 23:32, 39–43 (NIV)

32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

What an interesting exchange we have here. Three men on a cross. All of them probably gasping for breath but still able to speak. One insults Jesus. One sees his innocence. One taunts him. One begs for mercy.

That’s what the cross does – it either turns you into a cynical skeptic or a penitent believer. It’s just like Paul says:  1 Corinthians 1:18 (NIV) — 18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

So today, Good Friday, we are come to the cross. What is our reaction? What is your reaction? Is the cross foolishness or power? Do you mock Jesus or do you come in penitence? What is your reaction? Because our reaction to the cross makes all the difference in the world. We can get what we deserve or we can beg for mercy and find forgiveness.

I find it quite amazing that Jesus says anything at this point. When I am in pain I just want to be left alone. I don’t want to talk to people. I especially don’t want to mediate a dispute between people. I probably would have just remained silent or told them both to just be quiet. If I said anything it might have been something like, “Can’t you see I’m dying here. Leave me alone.”

But isn’t this just like Jesus. He never ignores the genuine cry of mercy. When the leper called out to be healed, Jesus responded. When the apostles cried out in the storm, Jesus calmed the sea. When the hemorrhaging woman touched the hem of his garment, Jesus stopped. Jesus never ignores a cry of mercy.

What is your cry? He hears. He cares. He responds.

And isn’t his response so beautiful – Today you will be with me in paradise.

Paradise. Even on the cross paradise is on Jesus’s mind. I think it was always on Jesus’s mind. And that thought, the thought of Paradise powered him through difficult times. "For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame." (Hebrews 12:2) Jesus was obsessed with Paradise even in the pain. Am I? Are you? Is paradise always on our mind?

You see, Jesus doesn’t miraculously free the criminal from the cross but he urges him to look forward. All your pain, all your guilt, all your worry, all your fear, all your unmet needs will soon be a distant memory because you will be with me in paradise.

What is your cry? He hears. He cares. He responds. Hear him say to you today, from the cross and because of the cross – you will be with me in paradise.

The pain may not go away but the promise of paradise – it is more than we deserve and it is more than we can imagine.

Jesus says the same to you as he said to the penitent thief – you will be with me in paradise!

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

A Good Start Matters

I can remember it like it was yesterday. It was my sixth-grade field day when all the elementary schools gathered for a series of track and field events at the town’s high school track. It was a sunny New England spring morning and I was representing Glen Forest Elementary School in the 50-yard dash. There were several preliminary heats before the final and only the top finishers would move on to the next round. In one of my proudest athletic accomplishments of my young life I went on to win that preliminary round. I can still remember breaking the tape at the finish line and being congratulated by my classmates. It was pure joy. I had advanced to the finals.

After a short break, the qualifiers lined up for the finals. We waited for the gun to sound to start the race. Visions of glory swept through my mind when I heard the firing of the gun and the race began. But tragedy struck! As I began my acceleration, instead of my feet propelling me forward, my shoes kicked up gravel from the track and I found myself face first on the ground as the others sped forward to the finish line. As quickly as possible, I got to my feet and enthusiastically tried to catch up, but my poor start had doomed me to a last place finish.

No one can know how I would have done had I not slipped, but one thing I learned from that experience is how important it is to get off to a good start.

Every day is a 50-yard dash of sorts. We have people to see, tasks to accomplish, calls to make. Add to that the unexpected events that will pop up along the way. How we handle our day can largely depend on how we start our day.  If we get off to a bad start, try as we might, we could very well find ourselves coming in last. If we get off to a good start, we undoubtedly will increase our probability of success.

If we want our interactions with people to be constructive; if we want to accomplish our tasks with gracefulness and proficiency; if we want to leave behind a trail of joy and peace wherever we go it is vital to start the day well.

Here are some ideas:

  1. Wake up each day realizing that today is a gift from God that will never come again. Once today is gone, you can never relive it.
  2. Commit your day to the Lord. You are only here because God has created you to be here. The day is His, not yours.
  3. Pray for the specific tasks you have that day and the specific people you will interact with. Begin the day by intentionally bringing goodness and optimism into every task and every interaction you will have. Pray that you can gracefully handle those unexpected tasks and encounters.
  4. Spend at least a little time in the Word. Allow God to speak truth to you as you live is a world that too often lies.

Start your day well and increase your chance of victory!


Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Rejoice with those who rejoice. Easier said than done.

Do you ever find it hard to be happy for people when good things happen to them? I do.

Someone gets a promotion and instead of being happy for them I’m envious. A friend’s child gets an award and jealousy is my first reaction instead of joy.

Why can’t I just be happy when good things happen to people?  Why can’t I just “rejoice with those who rejoice?” Why do these feelings of resentment set in? It seems to happen a lot to me, and I don’t like it. I wish I could find an answer, and a recent experience may have provided one.

I am a huge baseball fan. I grew up near Boston and, even though I’ve lived in Texas for over 30 years, my heart has always been with the Boston Red Sox. They didn’t do well this past year at all. In fact, they finished in last place.

The Texas Rangers won the World Series this year for the very first time. I’m not a Rangers fan but I found myself rejoicing with my friends who are. On the night they won the Series I was texting my Ranger fan friends congratulating them. I went on social media and messaged more congratulations to my online Ranger fan friends. I was rejoicing with those who rejoice. And I wondered why. Normally I would be resentful. Normally I would be jealous. What was happening to me?

And a thought dawned on me.

My beloved Red Sox have won 4 World Series since they broke an 86-year championship drought in 2004. More than that, the first 20 years of this century have provided a glut of championships for Boston sports fans. The Celtics, Bruins, and Patriots – all my favorites – have brought more sport’s joy in those two decades than a city deserves. As a Boston sport’s fan “my cup runneth over.”  

Maybe I was able to rejoice with those Ranger fans because I have been so blessed.

Maybe that’s my problem. Maybe that’s why sometimes I have a hard time “rejoicing with those who rejoice.” Maybe I’m not as aware of my blessings as I would like to think I am. And maybe if I could just be more thankful, I could be more happy for the good fortune of others. Maybe that’s the secret. If that’s true for baseball, shouldn’t it be true always?

As a forgiven child of God in line to inherit eternal life you would think I would be protected from resentment, envy, and jealousy. And I believe it will. So, I’m learning to rejoice in my salvation more and more knowing that as I bask in the joy of grace I will be free from those life-stealing vices and become a person who can genuinely celebrate when the other person gets a win.

God has showered me with a glut of forgiveness, mercy, and grace – far more than I deserve. “My cup runneth over” and when that becomes my focus I can’t help but rejoice.

Friday, December 22, 2023

Another Big Fish Story

Can you believe it? Another year is in the books. I don’t know about you, but as magical and wonderful this time of year is, it is exhausting. I’m tired!

And the fact is that it’s not just this time of year. I find myself getting weary and tired often. Life is like that. It can wear you down. Life is hard work and hard work makes you tired.  And what’s strange is that you would think faith would exempt us from tiredness. Shouldn’t Christians be something like the energizer bunny always buzzing around doing good deeds with perpetual smiles on our faces? Sometimes I may feel that special energy but for the most part I find myself grinding through life.

Add to the daily struggles of life, the Bible talks about an evil force that is working against us making life even more wearisome. The devil seems to delight in our exhaustion and leverages that tiredness against us tempting us just to give up. “Stop resisting the temptation and just give in,” he whispers to us. “You’ve done enough good. Let someone else step up this time,” he seductively says. “You’re tired. Take a break,” says the tempter.

Being tired is hard, but is giving up the answer?

Recently I went fishing with my son. It was at one of those stocked ponds where you are guaranteed to catch fish. And catch fish we did. Big fish. Heavy fish.

After just a short wait I hooked one and got all excited. I began reeling and reeling and reeling. This was taking me way more time and energy than I expected. This fish was not giving up easily. After a while I called out to my younger, stronger, and more experienced son and asked him to take over. I was tired. Expecting him to come to my rescue, he refused! He said, “Dad, I know you’re tired but the fish is getting tired too. Don’t give up before he does."

You may be getting tired fighting that temptation. You may be weary doing good. But that evil force working in your life - wearing you out urging you to give up - is getting tired too.

Jesus got tired of fighting him, but he didn’t give up and after a while Satan wore out. One of the most beautiful and reassuring scriptures that helps me in my battle is after Jesus withstood those temptations of the evil one and the Bible records, “Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.”  (Matthew 4:11) The devil got tired and relief came in the form of divinely sent angels.

In the letter of James, we are reminded of same truth: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  (James 4:7) The devil is persistent but he is not tireless. Don’t give up before he does.

Heeding my son’s advice, I kept after that fish, and sure enough he wore out. We netted him and pulled him out of the water. I had won the battle.

This year may have been more than you bargained for. You may be tired. You may be thinking of giving up the faith and giving in to evil. You may be thinking of just giving up. But don’t. Don’t give up before he does and someday, hopefully soon, the devil will wear out and those refreshing angels will arrive.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

A Beginners Guide to Giving Thanks

You would think giving thanks would come easily and naturally but, for me and I suppose others, it often times doesn’t. So, with the season of Thanksgiving upon us I thought I’d write this little guide for my benefit and hopefully for yours.

Give thanks for the good things

This is the easy one. Even the most callous person feels at least a twinge of gratitude when something good happens. Nevertheless, let this be a reminder that we need to pause and give thanks for the good things in life like the new job, the financial windfall, the new baby, the fabulous vacation, the mended relationship, the restored health, and all the special joys and victories that give life that extra sense of joy and happiness.

Give thanks for the ordinary things

This is a little more difficult, but it would be a shame not to recognize all the simple beauties of life. Give thanks for those things that we often take for granted. Those small gifts that sometimes get overlooked. Things like a beautiful fall day, a sunrise or sunset, good meals, steady friendships, warm houses, good health, reliable jobs, and all the common and familiar joys that show up day after day.

Give thanks for the hard times

This is certainly difficult, but not impossible. We often dismiss hard times as simply curses and misfortunes. Not to minimize the hurt and pain caused by these hard times, but it is in troubling circumstances that we sometimes experience growth and maturity that would elude us if not for them. Wisdom, endurance, and strength are often the byproducts of tragedy but only if we seek them. Giving thanks for the hard times may take time and should not be forced upon those in the throes of grief, but with the passing of time perhaps we can see how the hard times in life have actually formed us and shaped us into better human beings.

Give thanks for the past

Whether the present is good or bad we can always reach back into our memories and be thankful for the times that were. Memory is such a wonderful capacity we have to relive the good times of years gone by. Sometimes good memories can be even better than the actual event. It’s like a good stew which is good on the first day but seems to be even more delicious the day after. I find that memories can bring both laughter and tears, but somehow those tears bring a sense of gratitude of what was and gives me hope of what can be.

Give thanks for the future

For this one to work we need two other ingredients – faith and hope. I suppose these can be found for even the atheist and agnostic, but the real power is for those who believe in a loving God who has a good plan and powerful God who can make it happen. I believe that someday people of hope and faith will one day experience a joy that far surpasses any we have experienced in this life. We call it heaven and, even though the specifics of its wonder and glory are beyond human language, one thing we know for sure. It will be a place of endless and uninterrupted thanksgiving!

Father, we give you thanks for the special blessings of this life. We thank you also for the simple joys we experience all around us every day. Father, we thank you for preserving us through the hard times and may we in time be even thankful for how you used those to bring unexpected blessing to our lives. Father, we thank you for all the days gone by and memories of family, friends, and joys. And we give you thanks for the great hope we have of one day thanking you face to face as for eternity we shall bask in your goodness and love.