Blessings Upon Blessings

Today I have been reminded how rich and full life can truly be. This past week we had a Gospel Meeting with Ken Weliever from the Hickman Mills church of Christ in the Kansas City area. I first met Ken years ago when I was in college. I went to school with both of his children. His daughter, who is my age was giving birth to his first grandchild while he was here preaching for us. It was amazing to praise God with him over this bountiful blessing. It warmed my heart to see the love that filled his heart just thinking about that new baby boy waiting to see him. This morning I got to see a picture of him holding his grandson for the 1st time. You would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the photo. How truly awesome God is.

It was an unusually quite morning. Everyone slept in. Normally the three of the four kids are up by 6:30. But, not today. So, I snuck out the door and hit the gym early. Upon my return I was met by several happy birthdays. Covered in sweat and rather smelly, my youngest wanted to give me a big hug and kiss. At the age of 36 I have learned more and more each day how truly blessed I am. A “fellow saint” blessed me with a generous birthday gift yesterday. This “fellow saint” didn’t identify him/herself. They just wanted to let me know how appreciated I was. My parents, still trying to be mom and dad sent me a gift I wasn’t expecting. And my kids made me a birthday card, calling me a rather cool father. I’ll take that any day. Yes my friends God is good.

But, his goodness is not limited to physical blessings, nor should those physical blessings be seen as the “best” part of my day. II Cor. 6:2 is one of my favorite verses in the bible. Ask anywhere I have preached over the years and I am sure they will tell you I quote this verse a lot. Here Paul says, “Behold, now is the day of salvation.” Today is the day of my salvation. Every day I wake up is my day of salvation. What an awesome way to view life. Every day I get to wake up with a clean slate. Every day I get to wake up and have my “Groundhog Day.” (Groundhog Day was that Bill Murray movie in which he lived the same day, Groundhog day, over and over again until he eventually got it right.) I don’t have to live with the mistakes I have made in the past. And believe me there are many of them. My past indiscretions of gluttony, outbursts of wrath, lust, greed, etc are just that… past indiscretions. Because I have an advocate in Jesus Christ (I John 2:1-2) I don’t have to worry about my sins anymore. I simply need to bow my heart and confess them to God (I John 1:9). My heart will be made whiter than snow and I will be called righteous, even though I did nothing to earn it (Rom. 4:7-8). The guilt that we often carry around is unnecessary. God’s Son died so that I don’t have to. As Paul said, “Wretched man that I am! Who can save me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ (Rom. 7:24-25)!” The torment, the regret, the self abasement, it is all unnecessary. Because God loves me. God poured forth this love through his Son. God granted me forgiveness of sins… every day. Yes, my friends… today is the day of my salvation. And what a great day it is!

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Prove Yourself

For those of you that have been following my blog you have seen me periodically post comments about my weight loss journey. This past month I have received several reminders as to what this journey needs to be. Not only did these reminders challenge me physically, but they challenged me spiritually.

My first reminder. My trainer felt the need to give me a reminder as to why I lost all of this weight in the 1st place. As they do on the Biggest Loser, she wanted me to carry extra weight as I did my training session. Most of what she asked me to do with this extra weight was not difficult hardcore exercise. For instance, she had me run around the block while carry 50 extra lbs. She also had me briskly walk up and down the stairs carry that same 50 lbs. In fact, I think the hardest thing she had me do while carrying this extra weight was simply sprinting up a small incline for about 50 yards while carrying just 45 lbs. Simple enough. And yet, I thought I was going to die. After doing these very simple exercises the first thing to pop into my head was how did I run a ½ marathon like this? I had lost more than 60lbs since the morning of the ½ marathon I ran back in June and these 50 more pounds made it nearly impossible for me to breathe. Furthermore, that night my knees ached from carrying that extra weight. I got her message loud and clear. There is no way I want to go back to that life. There is no way I want to carry around the extra weight for the rest of my life. Spiritually, it caused me to do some reflection as well. The reason I got to where I was, was due to the sin of gluttony. I failed to exercise self control when it came to food. It reminded me of the damage my sins did to my body and more importantly to my soul. I realized that my suffering was minor compared to what Jesus went through to pay for my overeating. And it brought me to tears when I began to realize that Jesus died on that awful tree because I liked to eat too much. Every cookie, every pizza, every soda pop was nothing more than another nail driven into the hand of my Lord and Savior. Talk about a major gut check. He deserves better of me. He didn’t die so that I could plow through a large pizza on my own. He didn’t die so that I could literally eat all I could eat at a buffet. He died to free me from the prison I was building for myself. And praise God my eyes were finally opened.

My second reminder. I really haven’t run much since I ran my ½ marathon. Or at least, I haven’t run a lot of long distances. Most of my runs have been of the 5K variety. I have been working an increasing my speed in hopes of shattering my personal records on these shorter runs. I also wasn’t really keen on trying to go five or more miles again anytime soon. However, I began running with a group of friends that have been training for a half marathon in October on Sunday afternoons. This forced me to run longer routes than my body was used to. It started off with five mile runs and then six and then they desired to up the ante a little bit and head for 8 mile runs or more as they get down to the last month of training. So, last night I ran 8.25 miles. I was hoping to run it with a friend. But, due to my busy schedule yesterday, I ended up running it alone. I wanted to test myself. When I was training for the ½ marathon I was happy to hit close to a 12 minute mile. Yesterday, I wanted to prove that I could do better. So, I set out to run a pace of 10 miles per hour. While I didn’t keep the pace I had hoped for I was still much quicker at a 10.5 minute mile. This test was nothing more than a proof to myself that I had improved. It was a proof to myself that after 18 months of hard work I am not the same man I was when I started this journey. When I finished the only thing I earned was a nice hot shower and a ½ a peanut butter sandwich for protein. And then last night as I recovered from the best 8.25 miles I have ever run, my thoughts again returned to the Lord. Paul wrote in II Cor. 13:5 “Test yourselves, whether you are in the faith, prove your own selves.” The test is not about receiving some great reward for passing. I cannot now, nor will I ever earn my salvation. I am saved because of the grace of God (Rom. 6:23). But, I need to know that Jesus is indeed in me. This is what the latter half of II Cor. 13:5 says. “Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” The test is not about earning my salvation. The test is about determining whether or not Christ is in me and I in him. Yes, Christ died because we were weak, but he didn’t die so that we would remain weak. He died so that we could be pure, holy, and strong in him. The word test is the same word used by the Greeks to determine the quality of a medal, like gold. Once tested, you know its worth and whether or not it is genuine. That is what we must do. We are not to be worried about whether or not person A is genuine or person B is a hypocrite. Just as I needed to know if I could run faster, I need to know if I am a pure, holy person. I test myself. And just as I needed to test my body physically more regularly, I need to test myself spiritually regularly. If I see an impurity, a weakness, it is my job to get it out, to repent and be better so that Jesus didn’t die in vain for me.

If Christians Knew What Football Players Know

Another year of football is in full swing. College football just completed its third week and the NFL just completed its second. Some fans are regretfully already looking towards next season while others are looking forward to the post season with aspirations of winning on a Championship. Undoubtedly, one of these teams wins a championship, a book deal for someone will be made available. Tony Dungy, David Tyree, Tim Tebow and Drew Brees have all released religious minded books with a football overtone. Why? Because, some of the reasons these men have had success on the football field carries over to other aspects in life. In this post, I want to share with you three areas in which Christians ought to be learning from the grid iron.

First of all, it takes years of preparation. The journey to a championship does not begin as one takes the field. Nor does it begin when one leaves the hotel or hometown upon the team bus. It doesn’t even begin when one enters college or makes on NFL roster. The journey to a championship begins in one’s youth. As a father of four I am constantly around different parents who involve their children in different sports. Some of these kids are clearly just out there having a good time. However, others are driven by their parents to hone their skill set all year round. They watch what they eat, they train their bodies, They practice over and over again so that they muscle develops a memory, that way the athlete no longer acts, but reacts. When they hear a play called don’t have to think about what to do, they already have it engrained in them what their duties are. And they find coaches that will help them further hone these skills. The Christian walk is no different. While God has promised us victory (Rom. 8:37), it doesn’t mean that we don’t have some work to do. Just as athletes need to be mindful of what they eat, Christians need to be mindful about what we permit to enter into our souls. Like the old adage says, “you are what you eat.” If we fill our minds with violence, corruption, wickedness, and pornography we shouldn’t be surprised if that is what we turn out to be. Col. 3:17 says to let the word of God dwell in you richly. The aim is that by letting God’s word consume you, you would eventually begin to be the man or woman that God has called you to be. It is God’s word that will perfectly equip you for every good work. So, if you want victory, you now know what you need to fill your heart with! But, as we know, proper nutrition is not enough. Just as athletes spend a lot of time training, so must the Christian. I Cor. 9:25, 27 “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things… I discipline my body and keep it under control…” Despite what modern science might say, we are not animals. We have the ability and responsibility to control ourselves. As Paul said, he makes his body his slave. We are not to give ourselves over to degrading passions by resist temptation. And just as athletes surround themselves with those that will help them gain the victory, so must the Christian. This is not to say that it is wrong for Christians to have friends who are not Christians. What I mean is that we need to have more in common with God’s people than with people of the world. Paul warned adults, not children to be mindful of their friends. “Do not be deceived, evil companions corrupt good morals (I Cor. 15:33).” Don’t fool yourself into thinking that your friends don’t matter. They do. Peer pressure is not just a childhood problem!

Secondly, you have to game plan for victory. As any coach or player will tell you failing to plan is planning to fail. While “going deep” might work in backyard football, it doesn’t work so well in the collegiate and professional level. Peyton Manning spends hours upon hours in the game room. He watches his tapes to look for glaring weaknesses that need to be shored up. But, he also watches his opponents tapes in hopes of finding glaring weaknesses that can be exploited. Then after all these tapes are watched, he along with his coaches, create a game plan for victory. So long as this game plan is working they will still call plays that reflect it. For Christians, preparation is key. In the parables found in Matt. 25 preparation is the key theme. There were 5 virgins prepared and 5 who weren’t. There were 2 servants prepared and 1 that wasn’t. And for those that stood before the great white throne at judgment, there were some prepared by being at services unto the least of Christ’s brethren and some who weren’t. We need to be ready for when the Lord comes again, and these parables clearly show that believing is not enough. As James said, even the demons believe!

Finally, there is only a limited amount of time. Eventually the clock runs out. Each team knows that in order to win they must make the most out of every second, every possession, and every play. Once the clock hits zero its over. While I cannot know what they time will come for us, I do know that today is the day of salvation (II Cor. 6:2). Today is the day I need to be prepared. Today is the day I need to place my life in harmony with the will of God. Today is the day of salvation, because I am not guaranteed tomorrow!

Science Proves Bible Right

This morning as I was checking my yahoo news feeds an article popped up that said, “Evil Not So Banal.” As I read through the article I was pleasantly surprised that new research published in the British Journal of Social Psychology sheds some light on the initial tests done by Yale almost fifty years ago. Before I reveal the shocking truth, let me first explain what the Banality of Evil is all about.

The phrase came into use during the post Nazi era. As Nazi officers were being tried for their crimes against humanity. In the book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil by Hannah Arendt, Arendt reported that Adolf Eichmann cane across more like a petty bureaucrat than some blood thirsty, Jew hating menace. Her theory was that ordinary people, by conforming, could commit atrocities. In the end what she was suggesting is that anyone commanded by an authoritarian figure, and wishing to conform, could bulldoze homes, burn books, separate parents from children or even slaughter them, and much-prized conscience would not as much as flicker. We wouldn’t bat an eye because we are supposed to fall in line with authoritarian figures.

Yale, about 50 years ago did research to confirm this theory. Volunteers, told they were taking part in an experiment on learning, were led to believe they were administering an electric shock to a man, dubbed the “learner” who had to memorize pairs of words. Anytime the “learner” made a mistake they were told by the lab technician to turn up the voltage. It began with something that was mildly uncomfortable to the point of a lethal level. (Of course, there was no “learner” getting shocked). The “learner” was an actor. Yale published their results proving that people would do it, just to “fit in.”

Flash forward to the article I read this morning. The team looked again at the initial research and looked at what the people had to say about the experiment in the 1st place. This is what they learned. One person said, “To be part of such an important experiment can only make one feel good.” Another said, “If it [is] your belief that these studies will benefit mankind then I say we should have more of them.” The reports found that people did what they did because they honestly believed it would make this world a better place.

Now, apply that knowledge to Adolf Eichmann and countless other Germans that participated in the Holocaust and we find that they did what they did because they believed that this world would be a better place without the Jews around. Even if it meant doing the horrible things which they did. In other words, they believed the ends justified the means.

Now, how does this prove the bible right? The initial findings tried to claim that man didn’t really have a choice. It was as if the need to conform overshadowed morality. And a person would “fall in line” without a second thought. It was normal. The new findings however explain that people are willing to over look the immorality of an action if they believed it was beneficial in some fashion. In other words, science proved that man has a choice. Man always has a choice. This is something the bible revealed even from the very beginning. When David committed adultery with his good friends, Uriah’s wife, and then ultimately had Uriah killed to cover up the pregnancy that resulted in his act of adultery he made that choice. He figured it was for the good of the nation not to bring shame to its king. He determined that it was in his best interest to murder a friend. It was his choice. When Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil it wasn’t about conformity, it was about what they thought was best. They were willing to violate the will of God because of what they thought was best. Or as Jeremiah once wrote, “For we are going to follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart (Jer. 18:12). And yet again, those that proclaim science and the bible contradict one another have only proved what God revealed centuries ago.

Is it Well with Your Soul?

Haratio Spafford underwent trials that I could barely begin to understand. He was a father of 5. But, during the late 1800s it was not uncommon for children to get sick and die from a variety of illnesses that doctors today are much better prepared for. His first and only son died while still yet a child. In 1871, while living in Chicago, he like most that lived in Chicago, lost everything as the city burned in the infamous Great Chicago Fire. If that were not tasking enough, he had yet to experience the greatest tragedy of his life. Three years later, in 1874, his family has just getting things back to normal. His wife decided to go back to England with his four daughters. Their ship, the Villa de Havre, sank just off the coast of Ireland. 226 people lost their lives. Horatio waited in horror to receive any kind of news. Eventually a cable came from his wife. It read “saved alone.” All four of his daughters have now joined his son. He decided the best course of action now was to go to England to comfort his wife. As he sat upon the deck, overlooking the great Atlantic ocean he found comfort in the Rom. 8:28 “All things work together for the good of them that love the Lord.” It was then that he penned the words that make this story so intriguing. He wrote “It is Well with My Soul.”

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul. Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, let this blest assurance control, that Christ has regarded my helpless estate, and hath shed his own blood for my soul. My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought! My sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul! And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll; the trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend, even so, it is well with my soul.”

Even now, as I read these words, I get chills. The sorrows in his life were rolling much more like a storm tossed sea, then the waters the gently move up the beach. It was the billows that took the Villa de Havre that now worked on his soul. They were rough and they were threatening to make a shipwreck of his faith and of his life. It is trials like this that break a man, make him throw up his hands and despair and yes, even sometimes blame God for all the bad things happening. And yet, he said, “whatever my lot, you have taught me to say, “It is well, it is well with my soul.’ He could say this not because he was mighty or that he was powerful or that he could care less about the loss of his children. He could say this because he know that one lives that cares much for him. The proof is that he had as Savior that shed his own blood for him. Not just some random guy he doesn’t know. But Christ died for Horatio. He took comfort in that. While it might very well feel like God doesn’t love him at all he knows that isn’t true. God wouldn’t permit His only begotten son to die for him if God didn’t love him. And while the burdens he carries are great, they are not nearly as much as they could be because God lightened the load by taking away his sins. Praise the Lord he says, praise the Lord for such wonderful love. As his poem, turned song, comes to an end he asks that the Lord hasten the day when the trials of his world are over. He doesn’t sugar coat it. Yes, he can say it is well with his soul, but that doesn’t mean that he wants to be here forever. He longs for the home in heaven. He longs to have ever tear be dry (Rev. 21:4). And I imagine he shed many more in the days, weeks, and months which followed. I know there were tears as he embraced his wife. I know there were tears as he said his final good bye to his daughters. So Lord he says, “come quickly.”

The name of this blog is finding hope in the word. That is exactly what Horatio Spafford did. He found hope even though this world tried its best to remove all hope from him. I am not saying that life is easy. It isn’t Spafford’s life is a testimony to how cruel this world can be. The next time life gets you down, I encourage you to read his words. Be reminded of his story… and cry out “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away blessed by the name of the Lord.”