Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Blessings in the Messes

Sometimes life is a mess!  As I sit in my own office you can barely see the top of my desk as just about every available flat surface is cluttered with some books or papers of some sort!  Sermons to preach, classes to teach, meetings to prepare for, schedules to keep - my office sometimes resembles the aftereffects of an F3 tornado!

Maybe your life looks a lot like my office.  You just can't keep up with all the demands, you can’t tidy up all the clutter, you can't organize all the tasks.  Stacks of papers to be filed, toys to trip over, dishes waiting to be washed, laundry overflowing the hamper, to-do lists that seem endless.  Sometimes life can just get jumbled and untidy!  Sometimes life is a mess!

Now I certainly don’t want to discourage tidiness and I'm not one to dispute the old adage,   "Cleanliness is next to Godliness" (I'm thankful that one's not in the good Book), but maybe we can look at our messy lives through a different lens and instead of being filled with panic, we can be filled with praise!

I need all the wisdom I can get, so one of my favorite books of the Bible is Proverbs.  While reading through it the other day I came across a maxim that spoke to my messy life.  It was in  Proverbs 14:4, "Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean."    It puzzled me at first, but after some thinking I figured that maybe having a messy life is not as bad as I thought.

I don’t have a manger, I have never raised an animal, but it's common sense that if you do raise animals and rely on them to get work done, then you're bound to have a mess or two to clean up.  A clean manger  may be nice, but without the messy ox you’re not going to get much work done!  No messes mean no work.  No messes means no crops.  Maybe the sage is telling us that when you step in that mess instead of resorting to cussing you can be thankful that you have that ox who made that mess!

The mess means you have an ox!  The loads of laundry mean you have clothes!  The dirty dishes mean you have food!  The toys mean you have fun! The clutter means that life is happening all around you!  The messes around us, more often than not, are the aftereffect of God's blessings in our lives.

Perhaps a resolution we can make as we enter into another certain-to-be messy year is to find the blessings in the messes around us because sometimes life can be a mess!  And thank God for that!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Some things are worth full price

It's Black Friday and the bargains abound.  Christmas shopping is in full force as bargain-hunters swiftly navigate the crowded aisles of stores and retailers rake in the profits.  It's the day circled in red for every serious present-purchaser as the quest for deep discounts celebrates its day in the spotlight.  I'm not out there this year (or at least that's my plan) but I've been out there in years past, and I have to admit, there is a certain adrenalin rush slapping down that credit card assured you have made the steal of the century.  You're so confident that you got the best deal ever you're surprised you’re not arrested for grand larceny on your way out.  I especially love those stores that print out your savings on the receipt -- "You spent $52 and saved $6,863,673!"  There's just something about getting a great deal!

We humans love a great deal and maybe there's nothing wrong with that, but perhaps this quality reveals a flaw in our nature - we want something for as little investment as we can make.   This mentality is fine for getting that electric frying pan at 70% off, but not so good for the things that really matter in life.

The Bible begins its story of God and man in a perfect garden where everything is the way that God designed it.   The wheels fall off when the serpent, the evil one who really hates it that everything is going so well, offers mankind the deal of the century.  "Just take a bite," he entices with all the savvy of a Black Friday sales brochure. "I've got an offer you just can't refuse.  You can have everything you've ever wanted and it'll just cost you one small compromise."   So Adam and Eve fall for the ploy and instead of getting everything they want, they lose everything they had. 

Like Adam and Eve we all love a good deal and this one seemed too good to resist.  But we learned the lesson the hard way - some things don't go on sale.

We want the perfect marriage for 45% less effort.  We want the promotion at work for 15% less work.  We want the good grades at half-off.  We want a successful life but want it at a 70% savings.  We want a great relationship with God but want it at 14% of retail price.  It goes against our nature to pay full price and we've been paying the price ever since.

We need to know that there are some things don’t go on sale, but we also need to know that there are some things that are worth full price!   A theme of Jesus' teaching is that we need to make full commitment to those things that matter the most.  He talks about dying to ourselves, taking up our cross, making ourselves last - in essence he says there is a high price to be paid to experience the life he has come to offer us.  There are no discounts on abundant life, but there are no regrets for those who make the investment.

If you're out there today looking for the deal of the century, I hope you've found it.  But more than that I hope you find the peace and joy that  comes from a life that resists the quick-fixes and the shortcuts that end up costing us so much more than we save.  

On this Black Friday remember that there are some things that are worth full price!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Flying Standby

Six weeks ago my oldest daughter had a baby making me and my wife grandparents for the first time!  My wife and I were overjoyed and made arrangements to visit her, her husband, and the baby (Really we only wanted to see the baby.  I'm told that's how it is when you become a grandparent!)  They live in Indiana and to make the most of our time we decided to fly up for a few days.  They live in Fort Wayne and our flight made a transfer in Chicago.

We boarded our flight in Dallas bubbling over with excitement only to be discouraged when the pilot came over the intercom and informed us that our flight would be delayed because of some technical issues in Chicago.  Usually that's not a big deal, but on this flight we had only a brief layover and now were in fear of missing our connecting flight. 

We finally took off and calculated that there was a slim chance we could make the next flight, so upon landing we rushed out of the plane, located our next gate, and high-tailed it through O'Hare hoping to make the flight.  Even though we made great time, especially for grandparents, when we arrived at the gate the flight had left.

I was not a happy grandfather and expected there to be some special grandparent charter ready to take us to Fort Wayne, but I was told in no uncertain terms that there was no such thing!  Our choices were to take a flight the next day (and miss an evening with our grandson) or fly standby on the next flight to Fort Wayne. 

Flying standby is a very uncertain fate.  Apparently, all the seats are sold and you're put on some waiting list in case someone doesn’t show up.  As the plane is boarded you wait until everyone else is loaded and if there's room you get called!

Flying standby is very uncertain.  I was not happy.  I was very restless.  I don’t like flying standby.

The apostle John wrote three letters in our New Testaments to believers addressing several issues, and one issue seemed to be that there were some who had doubts about their salvation.  Some false teachers had planted the idea that salvation depended on attaining some special knowledge that only some could arrive at.  Other factors contributed to a loss of confidence and resulted in a loss of joy.  Christians were left feeling uncertain about their status with God even though they had confessed Christ.  It was almost as if they were flying standby, hoping that somehow their name would be called.  They were not happy.  They were restless.

John knew that this is not how Christians should feel, so in his first letter he repeatedly reminds them that they can live lives of certainty, not doubt.   He repeatedly uses the word "know" to assure them that their ticket had been purchased and confirmed by the sacrifice of Christ and nothing but their own refusal could change that.  Listen to his words of confidence:   "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life." (1 John 5:13, NIV)

Christian, you don’t have to doubt.  No one flies standby in the Kingdom of God.  Your seat is open and you’re all clear to fly!

As the plane was all boarded we waited anxiously for our names to be called and, not a second too soon, the gate agent called, "Catteau, party of two."   Relief and joy came over us.  We made it!  

Thank God.  We made it!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Time Flies!

It’s homecoming for Denison High School this weekend and being a parent of a couple of DHS students I’m experiencing some of the pageantry of the event. Thursday was the Homecoming parade right down the middle of Main Street. It featured the homecoming queen nominees, club sweethearts, the band, football team, cheerleaders, drill team, color guard, and hundreds of adoring parents, grandparents, citizens, and friends.

All of that was great but what really caught my imagination in the parade were the echoes from the past, in particular the trailer carrying the 1984 State Champion football team.  They're all looking good, but you would have no trouble distinguishing them from the current team thirty years their junior.  Suddenly my mind shifted into fast forward imagining all the young, energetic young men and women who had passed my way decades from now returning to the parade as “echoes from the past.”

Ask anyone from the class of 1984 and they’ll all agree—time flies! One day you’re walking to class and the next day you’re thirty years older and riding on a trailer!

Life is a wonderful adventure that we sometimes let slip through our fingers not realizing how valuable and precious every moment is. Each day is a gift from God and how we choose to unwrap that gift makes all the difference in the world.

Hearing those echoes from the past reminds me of this and challenges me to embrace every day. To use it to glorify God, to be a blessing to those who share this day with me. But more than that these echoes remind me of my future—not just here, but in another land at another Homecoming. As my mind fast forwards to that day my heart is filled with a glorious anticipation—one that not only increases my longing to go home but also makes the journey so much sweeter!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The View from Above

I recently flew back to Texas from a short trip and, since I'm not a frequent flyer, I am still amazed at the whole idea of flying.  I am especially awed by the view from above -- being able to see the world from a totally different perspective.  I prefer having a window seat and especially make sure that the window is up at takeoff and landing.    I love to see the world grow smaller and smaller as we ascend and then to see the world return to normal size as the plane approaches the runway.  The view is always impressive, but this trip I noticed that sometimes the view from above is not as spectacular as it is from ground level.

On our approach I got to see the tops of buildings that are not visible from ground level.  Beautiful structures seemed not so beautiful as heating and air conditioning units are exposed and unsightly steel beams hidden by facades are visible.   Buildings that may have exceptional curb appeal are less appealing from above.  Obviously, businesses and homes are more concerned about how things look from earth than they are about how things look from the heavens, and rightfully so.  There is no need to adorn the tops of buildings.  Who cares what a building looks like from above?

Well, I don’t really care either, but it got me thinking about how much energy and care I put into looking good to people on ground level and maybe spend less energy and effort into looking good from above.  How do I look from God's perspective?  What unsightly things can be seen by God that I have managed to hide from people?

Although maintaining an appealing appearance to those around us shouldn't be neglected, I was reminded that I also need to consider how God sees my life.   In my attempt to look good to people I, at times, have the tendency to ignore my appearance to God.  I am guilty of emphasizing the view from street level rather than the view from above.   I was reminded that God sees things that no one else sees, and that needs to concern me.   

The Bible reminds us of this reality.  "People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart;” "God knows the secrets of the heart;" "I am he who searches hearts and minds" are all stark reminders that the view from above is important. They remind us that God sees what others don’t.  He has a unique perspective on my life that even those closest to me are not privy to.

I've read that the view of the Statue of Liberty from above reveals the same attention to detail and craftsmanship given to the top of lady liberty's hair and crown as was given to the feet and everywhere else that would be visible to everyone.   At the time of the sculpture there were no planes or helicopters or satellites that could view it from above yet the same care was given to the view from above as to the view from earth.   This should be true of me as well.

Heaven forbid I take so much time with facades and public image and curb appeal that I neglect the more important view from above.