Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Service and Satisfaction

May 23rd is the day, many years ago, that I graduated from the Naval Academy and entered the Marine Corps.  Coincidentally, we have friends whose son left yesterday for Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island.

 There's something about the military that instills a person with a sense of duty.  Maybe it's that initial entry into military life - when a person is trying to figure out what's going on, how to cope, how to survive.  That previous civilian life is quickly forgotten, and honor and duty become "just what you do."  

Our recent sermons at church have focused on society's view of "living for self-fulfillment" vs the Christian's view of living for God.   As I listen to the sermons, I hear and I know that "living for self" isn't really fulfilling.  No matter what society is saying or doing, the focus on pleasure, success, popularity...the idea that it's "all about me" just doesn't last and doesn't meet the deep need that each person has.

One of the most fulfilling positions I had as a Marine was as a series commander, "running series" at Parris Island.  For each series, I had 8 drill instructors and about 120 recruits, and I was charged with overseeing the recruits' training. "Running series" was a headache - long hours, time crunch issues...and always dealing with some unexpected crisis.

As a new series would start I'd think, "I can't believe I'm doing this again."

On the afternoon of recruit pick-up, when I would introduce myself and my drill instructors to the new recruits...I had tunnel vision.  I would envision graduation day, three months later, when I'd stand on that parade deck and give the final command, "Senior Drill Instructors, dismiss your platoons."  

My goal for each series was to keep the drill instructors on track and out of trouble, to get those recruits to graduation, and to do it all as smoothly as possible.  Inevitably, stuff happened.  I never heard "Good job" but often heard "You got written up."

But there was something about that moment on the parade deck...seeing those recruits become Marines...when all the work was done, after giving your all...something about not living for self, but "spending yourself" for others...that moment was satisfying.

 "Running the Christian life" is not unlike "running series."  The Christian life, no matter one's vocation, is a life of sacrifice, love, and service to others - including family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc.  It's not about "what's in it for me" or "who I can become."

As a Christian, I know that Jesus came, loved, served, and sacrificed for me.  The "for me" part is done - I don't have to worry about it.  I'm free to not think about me, and free to serve others...for God's glory and His kingdom.

Like "running series" it's not easy.  But the Christian's impact is far greater - the care of eternal souls.  And it's satisfying because it's His work.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.  Ephesians 2:8-10

Monday, May 15, 2017

Praying for my church...

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 
1 Peter 4:8

My church has a beautiful sanctuary and a gorgeous stained-glass window.  I've spent many evenings and hours, alone, praying in that sanctuary.  

Being there is comforting.  It's also scary, with creaks filling the emptiness...I often peek back at the choir loft, expecting someone to be up there.
Eventually, I look at the empty pews, noting where everyone sits...then I pull out my church directory and start praying for the people who will worship there come Sunday morning.

I pray for the faithful widow, who still sits in the same spot as she sat with her husband.

I pray for the man who's now in a wheelchair. 

I pray for the young family with kids - the kids who can't sit still, and the mother who's often in the nursery with one of her kids.

I pray for the mother sitting alone with her children.

I pray for that one couple who never miss a service.

I pray for the family who sit behind us and can sing, helping me also to sing.

I pray for the many multi-generational families we have.  

I pray for the married man who comes alone. 

I pray for our shut-ins, whose spots are now empty or are beginning to be filled by new members.

I pray for the visitors, who often sit near the back, close to the exit.

I pray for the family who's been missing lately - Where are they?

I pray for my pastor, that he's encouraged and his faith strengthened, even as he serves us.

I pray for our elders who help serve communion each week.

I pray for those who help set-up communion, and the ushers and greeters who also ensure that the service runs smoothly.

I pray for all of our married couples, that they will have strong, faithful marriages and children and grandchildren who keep the Christian faith.  

I pray for all our children to keep and grow in their faith.

I pray for our young members who are away at college or who are serving in the military.

I pray that, as a church family, we will know, love, and care for each other.  I ask forgiveness for those many times when I've fail to show that love.

I pray that God will provide for and meet all our needs, individual, family, and church needs.  

I pray that He gives us a heart to serve outside the church.  I pray that He will do good things with our service to others.

I pray for those relationships that need care and healing.  
I thank God that He has forgiven my sins and our sins, and that, through the blood of Jesus, He has made us, who are not a people and not a family, into a family, His family, His church.

I pray that my church family members will know God's peace and will grow in their faith, in their love for each other, and in their love for others, outside of the church.
In all of this, I pray for His will, not mine, to be done.  In Jesus' name. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Transgender - What's a Christian to think?

When I was a teenager, a tennis player named Richard Raskind had a sex-change operation and became Renee Richards.  My young mind thought that was similar to a man walking on the moon "Wow.  How could that happen?"

Today, transgender people are often in the news relating their stories of gender dysphoria.

Gender dysphoria is a condition in which a person experiences distress because of their bodily gender.  The transgender woman says that her brain doesn't match the body she was born with - she feels like a woman inside a man's body.

So, the question I then have is, "What makes a woman be a woman?"  

As a kid, I was a bit of a tom-boy, but also a cheerleader who played with dolls.  In my opinion and experience, women are diverse and can't be stereotyped based on how they look or dress, or based on their behavior or feelings.

So, "What makes a woman be a woman?" My answer - "A woman is a person whose body was made to bare children."  That's the trait women have in common.  I don't see how it has anything to do with how a person feels.

While I can sympathize with the transgender woman and her struggle of not feeling right, I can't relate or understand.  Nor can I judge what she's experiencing, because I just don't know.

But this I know.  We all have the same struggle, which is a desire for satisfaction and fulfillment in life.
And we all think the solution to our struggle is: 
"If I just had this...(fill in the blank)...then I would be satisfied, I would be happy, life would be good."
But the answer to "What ails you?" is always simple, always the same. 
...For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God...Romans 3:22-23
Sin ails us all - we live in a fallen, broken, sinful world.  It's never going to be right or fixed...until Jesus returns.  

Jesus is our comfort; Jesus is our hope, our fulfillment, our satisfaction.  He came for all people.   He came for me, and He came for the transgender woman.  

And what do I, as a Christian, think about the transgender issue?  

I'm reminded of the question Joshua asked, to a man with a sword...
"Are you for us, or for our adversaries?"  Joshua 5:13 
And the answer was, "No," because the question was wrong.  The battle is not against each other.  It's against sin, Satan, death.

No, I don't think gender surgery is the answer.  It may provide some relief, some satisfaction, some happiness in this life.  But Jesus is the answer; He's the one who gives a new heart, the one who provides lasting satisfaction and eternal life.  If you're looking for it anywhere else, you'll always be disappointed.  

Monday, May 1, 2017

His Nametag said Bruce...

I love that Walmart workers have name tags. I still remember the day, many years ago...the store was crowded, and we chose Bruce's check-out lane because Bruce was fast.  While it may seem out-of-the-ordinary to become real friends with a store cashier, that day was the start of our friendship.

Over the years, Bruce and I talked about many things, including family and faith, and what ails us.  Sometimes our conversations were casual and sometimes they were more personal, on a deeper level. 

I was surprised and excited to find out that Bruce played both the piano and the organ, and was the organist at a Baptist church.  My youngest son also plays the piano and was soon to start organ lessons.  I gave Bruce a Lutheran hymnal, and he said that the Baptist songs he played were more upbeat and lively than the Lutheran hymns.  We laughed.

Bruce often spoke of his daughter and was proud of her.

I remember when he told me that he'd lost his son some years before...then he said, "You should always have a spare."  That gave me a different perspective and a greater appreciation for the sons God has given me.  I think of that often and of Bruce's pain in his loss.

A few years ago near Christmas, I gave Bruce a thank-you card.  And I told him, "You minister to people here."  I'm not sure he believed me, but I meant it.

Sometimes, when he hadn't seen me in awhile, Bruce would say, "Where you been?  I haven't seen you lately?" 

Last week, as I was leaving Walmart, I looked for Bruce, thinking I hadn't seen him in awhile.  The next day, I read the notice for his funeral.  

I already miss seeing Bruce.  I miss his smile; I miss his service; I miss his voice.  

But we do not grieve as people who have no hope.  1 Thessalonians 4:13
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

Monday, April 24, 2017

Homeschool Wisdom

Jake and Scott, ready to throw Al with his "coat of many colors" into a pit.

We started homeschooling in 1998, not knowing what we were doing or where it would lead.  Now, with one year left until my youngest son is finished, I offer some thoughts on homeschooling:

1.  If you teach nothing else, if you give your kids nothing else, give them your Christian faith.  On the last day, that's the only thing that will matter.

2.   Teach values, especially the value of hard work, so that your kids can support themselves and serve others.

3.   Realize that education happens over years, not days, not weeks.  The "5-year old who can't tie his shoe" won't have that problem when he's 15.  All learning takes time.

4.   Don't be a slave to curriculum, to worksheets, to schedules, to getting it all done.  Adapt and do what works.  Let the curriculum serve you, and don't be afraid to change it.  Buy sparingly at the beginning and fill-in the gaps as needed.

5.   Teach logic; teach your children to think and to reason. Have them read books on different subjects, and challenge their thinking by delving into "unsafe" topics.

6.   Homeschooling allows people of different ages to enjoy and learn from each other.  Let your children work and learn with both older and younger kids, and with adults.

7.    Teach household skills - cooking, washing clothes, cleaning.  Teach your kids how to treat colds and other viruses and how to use over-the-counter items and prescription medications.  

8.   Be active in your local church.  God gave us the church; it's your community.

9.  Do your own thing.  Don't try to replicate a public school classroom in your kitchen.  And don't copy that "perfect" homeschool family.  

10.  Relax.  Enjoy your kids and enjoy teaching Let your kids have school in their pajamas!   You won't regret the fun and silly times.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Seriously...the Earth is Flat?

Recently, I've seen numerous posts regarding flat earth theories.  These articles are on Christian sites, written by Christians.  

My initial reaction - "This is silly."  Then, I watched a message by a Lutheran pastor, Five Reasons Why the Bible Does Not Teach a Flat Earth, and I noted almost 150 comments.   That got my attention, as his posts normally get only a handful of comments.

For anyone not aware of the controversy, there are groups of Christians who believe the Bible teaches that the earth is flat.  By extension, they are also saying that any Christian who doesn't believe in a flat earth also doesn't believe the Bible is God's Word. 

The flat earth topic has gotten very heatedAs I read through the comments, I noted name calling and ad hominen attacks. And the commenters included other issues, such baptism and the End Times, as being relevant to the flat earth debate.

Is this foolishness?  I think so.  And why?  Because the controversy is misdirecting energy, and it's missing something.  
For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 1 Corinthians 2:2 
If you want something foolish to argue about - how about the Gospel?  
...but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles...For the foolishness of God is wiser than men...1 Corinthians 1:23 and 25
All mankind is sinful and...
...the wages of sin is death...Romans 6:23
But God provides...Jesus...
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...John 1:14 
And this is good news, because, as John the Baptist says of Jesus...
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  John 1:29
Jesus is the one...
...who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. Romans 4:25 
He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.  The Apostles’ Creed
Amen, come Lord Jesus.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Who is this Jesus?

In his introduction to The Whole Christ, Sinclair Ferguson poses this question which he says is the most fundamental question of all: 
Who is the God whom we come to know in Jesus Christ (John 17:3)? What is he really like, truly like - deep down, through and through?
As I read the book, I kept thinking about that question.  

For me, spending time with someone, whether family, friends, neighbors, church members...that personal connection is my avenue for knowing what a person is really like. 

I've been intrigued lately that God was often living among us.  He walked in the garden with Adam.  He visited Abraham.  He spoke to Moses in the burning bush, and was with the exiled Israelites in cloud and fire.  He dwelt with His people in the Holy of Holies, both in the tabernacle and the temple.

And then...Jesus...God comes to us embodied in man.  Blows your mind that our Creator cares and loves us so much that He became one of us.  

But, What is He really, truly like? 
...though he [Jesus] was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:6-8
Again, all the characteristics that make God who He is...and a man living it out...perfectly.  

And not only that, Jesus also "lived out" the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, and the many aspects that entails - as a prophet, as a priest, as a king.  He was the Good Shepherd, and also the Lamb of God.

At the end of his gospel, John says:
Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.           John 21:25  
Ferguson's book dealt mostly with aspects of salvation, so I started making notes to answer the question, "Who is this Jesus?"  Then I remembered that passage from John.  As John suggests, I don't think I can ever grasp it all or that books could ever contain it all. 

This I do know...my Jesus, is the One who has "searched me and known me" (Psalm 139:1).  He "satisfies the longing soul" (Psalm 107:9 ).   He is the "lover of my soul" who died for me.  And...remarkably...still wanting to "live among us" He sent His Spirit to live within me.  And, what all that conveys...I'll just have to keep finding out and "getting to know" from Him and His Word.