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.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Black Eye Theology

With football season in full swing, I often think of my high school football days. I wasn’t very good at all but, as the saying goes, the older I get the better I was. One of my few highlights from those days was a kickoff return. You may be thinking that my story is about a game winning return but it isn’t. Actually, the return was nothing to speak of. It was how I was tackled that I remember.

As I was being brought down the defender reached into my face mask and poked me in the eye. There was no serious damage but I figured this was going to give me a black eye and, sure enough, after the game when I checked it out I had the worst shiner I had ever had. And boy, was I proud!

We played our games on Saturday mornings and I couldn’t wait to go to church the next day and then to school the next Monday to show off my injury. I was anxious to let everyone know that I risked my life for our high school football team (I may have been a little overdramatic). I was privileged to wear this “badge of courage” as it identified me with this sport that I so much loved. I considered it an honor to suffer for such a worthy cause.

In some ways Christianity has been given a black eye. It seems from the very beginning believers were subject to ridicule and persecution. In the early days of the church Luke in the book of Acts paints a picture of Christians being threatened to stop talking their nonsense or there will be harsh repercussions. And there were. And we’re talking way more than a black eye. Some were imprisoned. Others were even killed.

Yet, amid all the threats and intimidations, those first believers had the same response as high school me. They were proud! This is how Luke describes it:

The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. (Acts 5:41, NIV)

Years later the apostle Peter, who is thought to have been crucified upside down because of his faith, wrote these words to Christians who were being poked in the eye:

If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (1 Peter 4:16, NIV)

Football can be a dangerous game. When you put on the pads and the helmet you expect to be hit. It comes as no surprise when your rival throws you to the ground and the opposing crowd taunts you. But when you’re proud of your team and focused on victory you take those hits and nurse those injuries with joy knowing you’re part of something bigger than yourself.

Faith can be a dangerous proposition. When you take on the name of Christ you should expect to be hit. It should come as no surprise when the enemy mocks you. Insults and injuries are part of the game. But we bear those with joy knowing that even our Captain was insulted and mocked. We proudly bear the marks of faith knowing those black eyes mean that we are in a battle worth fighting. We are part of a team destined for victory!

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

The Bible Study Bible: Review

The Bible Study Bible is exactly what its name suggests – this is a Bible designed for small group or personal Bible study. You might ask, “Don’t we already have plenty of those?” We do, but what sets this Bible apart is that it provides a series of questions for EVERY CHAPTER OF THE BIBLE! I’ve used similar Bibles, but none that provides study resources for every chapter. This Bible is ideal for a small group of people reading through the Bible or reading through a book of the Bible. All you need to lead a small group is right there. It even includes in the introduction some helpful tips on how to lead groups. I will keep this volume handy for personal reflection and, as a church leader, I will certainly use this as a resource for small group leaders in my church. If you are a small group leader, this Bible certainly needs to be considered for your group.

As always, you need to know what this Bible is not. Although it provides introductions to each book of the Bible, a concordance and set of maps there are no study notes, textual notes, or cross references in the text. This is not a Study Bible in the sense of digging deep into the text, but there are (as noted above) plenty of good Study Bibles. 

This Bible is the New King James Version which is not my first choice for a translation. That is not a distraction for me, but a detail you should know. I’m hoping that it will be adapted to other English translations.

This Bible is worthy of being included in your library for your personal reading and especially if you are or hope to be a small group leader. Get a few friends together and start reading and discussing. This is the vision behind this volume as stated by the study resource compiler Sam O’Neal in the introduction.

This Bible can be purchased at FaithGateway Store or on Amazon. More details on this Bible is available on the Thomas Nelson webpage.

I received this Bible for free as a member of the Bible Gateway Blogger Grid (#Bible GatewayPartner) in agreement to writing this review.  

Friday, June 23, 2023

An Epiphany on Generosity

I recently drove my adult son to the airport for a trip he was taking with some friends. He lives in Arkansas but was flying out of DFW, so he drove to our home in Denison to spend a little time with us. While he was gone I drove his car a few times just to make sure it was running well. I guess that’s what a dad does even with grown sons.

His car had actually been given to him by my wife and me when he was in college and, as I was driving his car, the thought occurred to me how generous I was to have given him this car that is still running so well. I was thinking pretty highly of myself and figuratively patting myself on the back for being such a benevolent father.  

Then I remembered.

Several years back my wife’s uncle called me. Age had crept up on him and his health was failing and he and his wife, our aunt, had gotten to the point where they had no need for a car. I suppose they could have sold it and pocketed the cash, but they had talked it over and decided to offer the car to me and my wife. That’s right, they were giving the car to us. In time, we gave that very car to our son. The very car I was now driving praising myself for my generosity.

Shortly after I went through the “how generous am I” self-speech I remembered where that car came from. I had simply given away something that had been given to me. I was struck with a sense of guilt and then a sense of clarity. What I had learned is true with every act of generosity.

Somehow, we have convinced ourselves that everything we have we have earned. Somehow, we have come to believe that any ability we have to make money is of our own devices. And somehow, we pridefully congratulate ourselves when we give even a little of it away. And many times, we fail to be generous as we selfishly clutch onto everything we have earned never realizing that “every good and perfect gift comes from God.” That’s right, everything we give has been given to us by the benevolent Father.

That epiphany driving my son’s car was a stark reminder that I am not an owner, I am just a steward. I’m not as generous as I should be, but that divine insight has dared me to be better.  And the journey to being more generous perhaps begins with the realization that everything I give away was really never mine in the first place.

“God loves a cheerful giver.” - 2 Corinthians 9:7

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

The Glory of Springtime

Don’t you just love spring? It’s simply glorious. Trees blooming. Plants blossoming. It’s all so beautiful. Unless of course you were looking at my front yard earlier this year.

Last summer we bought three bushes that looked so promising. The leaves were supposed to turn all kinds of spectacular colors as the seasons progressed. We were so hopeful. But this spring all we had left were barren sticks.

Two of the plants seemed utterly hopeless, but one had a few vestiges of leaves.  I uprooted all three plants and tossed aside two of them but decided to give the barely alive plant a second chance.

So, I took the lone survivor and replanted it in my back yard. Maybe a new location where it could get more sun would make a difference. With little hope for a recovery, I dug the hole, placed the plant in it, watered it, and waited to see what would happen.

The first week there was little improvement. The next week a little more. And the jury is still out on whether it will live into its potential, but, as of today, many of the once barren branches have given life to green leaves that show a hint of those spectacular colors we once hoped for.

I’ve felt like that struggling bush at times in my life. And maybe you have too. There have been times when much of what I once hoped for never seemed to blossom. Dreams were just dreams. Hopes were never realized. Life seemed to be waning. I think it happens to most everyone. We experience hard seasons in our life where we don’t get enough sun or water. Or maybe we get too much sun and too much water. Life can be harsh and we sometimes find ourselves looking and feeling like barren sticks.

But like that little bush that is now blooming, I’ve seen the same thing in my life and the lives of so many others. Sometimes a second chance is all it takes.

Today, if you are feeling like that little bush, I want you to know that God has not given up on you. He has an amazing ability to see even the smallest signs of life in people and he sees that in you. He gives second and third and fourth chances to those who refuse to give up.

Today, if you are feeling like that little bush, maybe what you need is a new location.  Maybe you’ve been deprived of the light of God’s love. Maybe you’ve been deprived of the water of supportive relationships. Maybe you’re planted in foul dirt of this world rather than the rich soil of God’s Word.

Today, if you are feeling like that little bush don’t give up the hope that there are spectacular colors in you. The transformation may be slow and challenging, but one day, by God’s grace, you will exhibit all the glory of springtime.

Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

Isaiah 35:6–7 (NIV)