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Archive for the category “Gospel”

Cliff Jumpers – Live

I tried to play football at South Miami High School. I was a quarterback who couldn’t run fast or throw well. But man, could I hold a clipboard.

I was pale, skinny, and completely lost on the football field. I had never played before my 9th grade year and was far more afraid of our head coach than any opposing linebacker. It was on our high school football practice field I met Jonathan Scott. He looked like he could bench press 500 pounds. His robust laugh flew right in the face of danger.

We became close friends. His walk with Christ impressed me. It was real. He truly loved Jesus and it was hard to miss. Before practices and games he would even pray for his new friend, the pale and skinny QB who desperately needed courage…and much faster feet. Together, we survived on and off the field.

Today, Jonathan is the South Park Campus Pastor of Forest Hill Church in Charlotte, NC. He is a fabulous musician, teacher, preacher, motivator, father and husband. And now, on his own accord, he’s taken to putting to life to some of my blogs. And that’s just really cool. But more than anything else, John is my friend. That is a wonderful privilege and joy and one that will only last…FOREVER!

Moses’ Logistical Issues

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There’s been a lot of talk about numbers these days: inauguration day numbers, immigration numbers, cost of a 60-second Super Bowl commerical number, and even the Dow Jones surpassing 20,000 number. We like numbers.

All this talk about numbers reminded me of a report I read a while back about Moses and the ancient Israelites. Bible scholars suggest that when you include all the men, women, and children who walked out of Egypt, there were some 2.4 million people (see Exodus 12:37-38). Now that’s a big number. You also need to consider they also took along “a rabble of non-Israelites along with great flocks and herds of livestock” (Exodus 12:38).

An apparent report by a Quartermaster General in the Army claimed that to feed that many people, you would need at least 3 million pounds of food and 11 million gallons of water every day. The report also claimed they would need a campground two-thirds the size of Rhode Island to pitch their tents, pen their animals, and roast marshmallows by the campfire. (OK, I made the marshmallow part up.)

Then there’s this: remember when the people of Israel were trapped between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army? God tells Moses to “pick up your staff and raise your hand over the sea. Divide the water so the Israelites can walk through the middle of the sea on dry ground” (Exodus 14:16).

The Quartermaster report said that if you tried to cross the Red Sea double file on a narrow path, it would take 35 days and nights to get everyone across. But Exodus 14:21-22 says,“…the Lord opened up a path through the water with a strong east wind. The wind blew all that night, turning the seabed into dry land. So the people of Israel walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground, with walls of water on each side!”

For the people of Israel to walk across in one day, the Quartermaster report stated, God would have cut a path through the Red Sea at least three miles wide allowing the people to walk across 5,000 abreast.

Now there is no way my mathematically challenged brain can figure out if any of this Quartermaster report stuff is correct. But it certainly brought a greater understanding that food, and water, and armies, and Pharoahs, and logistics, and oceans, and whatever other troubles we may be facing, are not problems for our God. He may not answer or move in a way we want or even expect, in fact I would suggest He usually doesn’t. But He is always in control. He is never caught off guard. He is always up to some much bigger plan than we can see or understand, and He will always accomplish His purposes.

How do we respond to such wonder and amazement? The Psalmist David gives us an example, “You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord. You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand” (Psalm 139:4-6).

Writing Stories

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View from the outdoor cafe

I’m sitting at an outdoor coffee bar that serves a lot more than just coffee. It overlooks a sports arena, downtown buildings, and a commuter train railway. There is also an airport close by. A few minutes ago an airplane flew past while at the same time a train and a bus rolled along. Everyone is going someplace.

It’s interesting to observe the mix of people in this place. There are all shapes and sizes and I count at least six different nationalities. Most seem quite happy. I suspect the median age is late 30’s and I suddenly realize I’m pulling the curve up instead of down.

Most conversations I overhear seem pretty light. If I had to guess, I would say there is one budding romance across the way. They are all smiles and laugh even if what was said may not have been particularly funny. A trio of ladies have gathered for drinks and are swapping stories about their respective “crazy” day. An elderly man is by himself staring into his glass deep in thought.

I wonder what their stories are?

We all have them. We’re all on a journey. All of us are hopeful our story comes to a happy and peaceful conclusion. We’re all writing stories.

I can’t help but wonder how God’s eternal and perfect plan—His story for us—is possibly taking place at this exact moment in each one of our lives. There just seems to be too much going on, too many  details, too many people, too many possible outcomes. How can it be that God is in control and that “…every day of my life was recorded in His book and every moment laid out before a single day had passed” (Psalm 139:16)? How can this be true right now, right here in this coffee bar?

I know God lives in eternity and is outside all of nature’s laws regarding time and space. It is difficult to try and comprehend. My Dad loved to tell me that this meant “God has all the ‘time’ in the world to focus on me and me alone for my entire life—every moment of every day.” That both thrills and terrifies me. But I do believe that in some mysterious God-ordained-free–will way, we write our story with uncoerced choices which fit exactly into God’s eternal plan. 

Maybe David was sitting in a coffee bar (circa 1000 BC) drinking a strong black coffee (no way King David drank lattés) thinking about some of these things. Why does the Almighty God–with that kind of power and ability–unconditionally love and care for someone like me? Why would he even care about my story and even desire that “through his mighty power at work within me, accomplish infinitely more than I might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20)? It’s too outlandish to imagine.

But He does. And so David had to say what I’m feeling at this moment, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand” (Psalm 139:6).

I need another strong black coffee.

Award Winning Book

Fun summer reading. “Monkeys In My Coconut Tree” by Ed Thompson, is a compilation of fun, easy-to-read stories of fun, family, and faith. It was a Reader’s Favorite 2016 Silver Medal Winner. So come on, check it out. Read some of the reviews and download your copy by clicking HERE. (Also available at Amazon.com, iTunes and others.)

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The GREAT Listener

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My son and daughter-in-law went away for the weekend, so I got to babysit my grand-dog, Luke. Luke is a beautiful and lovable German Short-Haired Pointer with piercing light brown eyes and a wonderful soft coat.

But of course, he’s nuts.

To babysit this dog, all you have to do is turn on a light that throws some sort of shadow on the wall. Luke will then sit there and stare intently at the shadow as if he’s certain it will jump off the wall at any moment and he must be ready to pounce on it. His focus and patience are amazing. Bumping the light so the shadow moves causes Luke’s muscles to quiver and his ears to peal back with excitement. This routine can keep me—I mean him—entertained for hours.

He also eats rocks.

But my grand-dog is a great listener. There’s been much on my mind lately and over the weekend, Luke and I had some long talks. There were no judgements or wary glances or hints of ridicule or condemnation as I rambled on. In fact, he didn’t say anything. He just looked up at me with his kind eyes and listened.

What a good friend.

I’m not a very good listener and need to learn from my grand-dog. I usually begin offering my “wise” counsel and advice before others have even finished their sentences. The classic Bible story in the book of Job tells of three well-meaning friends who offered advice without really knowing or in any way truly comprehending what Job was feeling or what was taking place. Most think the best advice they gave was when they just sat next to Job in silence.

I’m uncomfortable with silence.

No doubt, that’s part of my problem. If there is a gap in the conversation, I feel it’s my job to fill it — even if I have nothing to say. I remember a friend’s anguish as he quietly told me of his son’s drug addiction. His heart was breaking and he didn’t know what to do. He just needed to talk it out a bit and have a friend listen. He took a breath and left a vocal pause and I jumped in and began spewing meaningless advice without knowing anything of what he was experiencing or how to help.

I was just like Job’s friends.

Thankfully, the One with all knowledge is the best listener of all. He knows how to listen. And thankfully, He loves to hear everything that’s on our heart and mind. He doesn’t even mind if you ramble on and on. And unlike my grand-dog, Job’s well-meaning friends, or me, He has the power to answer our prayers according to His perfect will (1 John 5:13-15). I suspect that’s why the Psalmist said, “I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen…” (Psalm 116:1&2).

What a GREAT friend!

Doubts

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Doubt.
1. to be uncertain about; consider questionable or unlikely; hesitate to believe.
2. to distrust
3. a feeling of uncertainty about the truth, reality, or nature of the something

I have a lot of doubts. I doubt, for example, I will ever win a Pulitzer Prize. In fact, I don’t think the committee is even opening my letters anymore. I doubt I will ever purposefully swim with sharks and doubt I will ever toss a game winning touchdown pass in an NFL game.

Okay, but what about real doubts? Doubts that keep you awake at night and troubled during the day. Like whether someone really does love you or if you really do love them back? Do you ever doubt if your dreams will come true, or if you’re good enough, doing enough, working hard enough, or praying enough? And what about the really big, ultimate doubts? Is there really a God and if so, does He care about me?

Sometimes I struggle with doubt; even those really big questions. I’m very much like the father Jesus encounters in Mark 9: 14-29. The father is desperate for his son to be made well and says to Jesus, “Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.”

Jesus answered, “What do you mean, “If I can?” The desperate father than cries out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”

That’s me. I believe, but please God, help me overcome my unbelief. Maybe it’s you, too. If so, I invite you to invest 27 minutes of your time and listen to a powerful message from my big brother, Dan. He’s quite an excellent Bible teacher and this particular message may just be what you need to hear: http://www.christcommunitytitusville.org/sermons.html.

The message is from 9/7/14 and is titled, “Doubt is Everybody’s Problem.” Last time I checked, I was part of that “everyone.” No doubt, you are, too.

Short Term Mission Sanity

Summer is over which mercifully means, the end of family and friends asking for money so they can go on a paid vacation — I mean, short-term mission trip.

Ok, there are short-term mission trips that are impactful and meaningful. But come on. I’ve seen the itineraries, looked at the pictures and videos, and listened to the stories reported back in church. Everyone had a great time, returned with killer tans, enjoyed trying new foods, felt bad about how other people are living, were glad they helped (with their project), and oh yeah, got to share a testimony or two.

Can you imagine if the short term mission trip organizers were to ask those they were going to serve, “What would help you more, a group of well meaning North Americans coming to your place to work for a week…or the cash equivalent?”

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I love short term missions

It is difficult to find a week long short term mission trip overseas for less than $1,200 per person with most costing upwards of $3,000 (which enables the trip organizers to go for “free”). Then, when you consider most short-term mission trips have a dozen or so travelers, the money spent on one weeklong short-term mission trip is more than most whom they are going to serve will earn in 10 years.

This past year I received roughly a dozen please-help-pay-for-my-short-term-mission-trip-and-or-vacation letters. The least expensive was $1,850 for one week and the most expensive was over $8,000 for the entire summer abroad. In my mind I’m saying, “Hey, I like exotic vacations too, but why are you asking me to pay for yours?” But of course, I bite my tongue, try to think positively, and sometimes even write a check. But I confess, in most of those circumstances when I write a check, I am not a joyful giver.

There is certainly a place for short-term mission trips. Medical missions will always be needed. Disaster relief and projects that need specialization are powerful. But should we really be sending a bunch of North Americans to run vacation Bible schools and music camps? I’ve talked to national pastors who watch well meaning North Americans build or fix up a church building while capable people in their congregations are desperate for that very work. “It’s the only way we can get it done,” they lament. I know of several churches whose single largest annual mission budget item is to send a group of their families to a lovely Caribbean island for a week or two to “help” with the local vacation Bible schools. The matching t-shirts are cute, too.

It’s time for some short term mission sanity. Can we really claim our short term mission trips are resulting in “making disciples of all nations?” Can we really “teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you” in our seven day trip less two days of travel? Can it happen? Sure. But if all you have is a few days, it’s a lot easier to help fix a roof or hand out food and clothing to those in need. Disciplemaking takes time…and a relationship.

Short term “mercy” trips to help meet physical needs are just fine. But call them what they are: mercy mission trips to do good deeds for our fellow man while helping our travelers see how good they’ve got it living in North America. Nothing wrong with that. But let’s also be honest and admit that few short term mission trips accomplish much in the way of fulfilling the Great Commission. For that, you need to empower “national missionaries:” men and women who love the Lord, already live there, understand their cultures, and see the spiritual need in others. They are the ones establishing relationships and doing the hard work of making disciples. They are the ones helping others in their communities discover the love, grace, and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Every time I receive one of those well meaning short term mission trip letters asking me to help cover the costs of their exotic vacation, I think of the thousands of national missionaries who are already there not only meeting physical needs but more importantly, making disciples. The cost to do that? $5 per month per national missionary (see FiveDollarMission.com).

If my math is right, for the cost of one $1,200 short term mission trip traveler, on-the-job Bible training, resources, and encouragement could be provided for 20 national missionaries focused on making disciples…all year long.

But of course, I could use a paid vacation.

Dad’s Wallet

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My Dad kept his wallet in his back right pocket. I remember it being thick and full of things like credit cards, business cards, a little cash, a full year’s calendar, and notes he had torn from pieces of paper. There was also the plastic photo holder filled with pictures of me, my brothers, and my mom.

Dad was very far from ever being considered rich, but you’d never know it from his wallet. If we were at dinner with another family, Dad was always the first to grab his wallet in order to pay the bill. He often did so on the sly so that by the time the time we would finish the meal, the bill would have long been paid leaving the other Dad surprised…and grateful.

I never thought too much about his wallet until I had a family of my own and discovered how few dollars were usually in mine. I have since learned from my Mom how tight things were when we were growing up. They would talk privately, late into the night, wondering how they were going to make ends meet. But I never knew. Dad’s wallet always seemed to have more than enough as far as I could tell.

There was the time I found my wallet completely empty. I had no where to turn, except Dad’s wallet. A difficult and tear-filled phone call home resulted in an immediate gift which to this day, I have no idea how Dad’s wallet managed. Missionaries, after all, are almost always just barely surviving financially. There was never even the slightest hint of repayment.

As Dad grew older, the need for his thick back pocket wallet changed. New technology let him carry around his calendar and notes on his cell phone as well as dozens of photos of his family. Several years ago I noticed Dad’s old wallet had become worn out and it was time for a new one. I found a new slim-lined front pocket wallet and wrapped it up for his birthday. It was the last wallet he’d carry.

It’s funny how such a simple little thing like a wallet can become meaningful. Just this past week, my Mom and I returned from a trip to visit my youngest son. As we walked through the airport I mentioned I needed a new wallet because mine had started to fall apart. Shortly after returning home, Mom presented me with a gift. Yes, Dad’s wallet. The same one I had given Dad a few years earlier.

I love this wallet. I had carried it many times before running various errands for Dad when he was restricted to his bed. When he gave me his wallet, he intended for me to use it completely and freely, just as if he were standing next to me. And I did just that.

Missionary Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” I think Dad understood that statement rather well and dedicated his life and wallet to “gain what he could not lose.” Dad believed God’s promises and often talked about being an “heir to an infinite inheritance.” He would quote Romans 8:17, “Since we are His children, we are His heirs…”  He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.

As I write this letter to you, Dad’s wallet is resting comfortably in my left front pocket. It was three years ago this month the Lord took my Dad home to start collecting on that inheritance. I can’t help but take Dad’s wallet out and look it over. Each time I do, sweet memories come pouring back. It has my things in it now, so I suppose to my kids it still is “Dad’s wallet.”

Over time, I know Dad’s wallet will wear down and eventually need to be replaced. That’s okay, it’s just a thing. But in many ways, it represents who I am, the choices I make, and how I live my life. And that makes me wonder what my children will remember when they think about “Dad’s wallet.”

May God give me the grace to “give what I cannot keep in order to gain what I cannot lose.”

A Father’s Restraint: An Easter Message

As I write this, I’m sitting in a hospital room in Miami looking over my son. He’s trying to sleep but the pain keeps waking him up. Parents absolutely hate seeing our children suffer. We would willingly take their place in an instant if possible. Of course, we are often helpless to do anything but pray.

Some TLC from Grandma

Some TLC from Grandma

A blood clot was discovered in his upper right arm after it swelled twice its size. The skilled doctors moved quickly to remove the clot but with obvious concern. Most healthy 20-year-olds do not develop blood clots. “Venous Thoracic Outlet Syndrome” was found to be the culprit and surgery to remove his first rib was the solution. It was a shock to all of us and the reality hit hard. Dave was playing well for the University of Miami baseball team. He was leading his team with an amazing .579 batting average in ACC conference play (.328 overall) and was just starting to hit his stride. The last place he wanted to be was in the hospital…again.

Now, before I go any further, let me quickly say that David is expected to have a full recovery and return to baseball in due time. While scary and disheartening, there are countless others facing far more devastating issues. We thank the Lord this did not result in a far greater tragedy.

A few days before David’s six-hour surgery, I had finished reading Bill O’Reilly’s book, “Killing Jesus: A History.” It is not a religious book, but was helpful in better understanding the political and religious climate amidst the events leading to Christ’s crucifixion. As I sat watching David struggle through pain, my thoughts wandered to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Biblical accounts explain Jesus went with his disciples to the Garden to pray. As O’Reilly explains, Jesus knew full well the terrifying suffering he would endure at the hands of a professional Roman crucifixion death squad. The account in Matthew 26:36-46 (NLT) says Jesus was anguished and distressed. Verse 38 reads, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.” Three times he prayed, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

As a father, I would do anything to protect my son. If I had the power, I would have cured his Thoracic Outlet Syndrome before a scalpel ever pierced his skin. If I had the power and my son was in anguish and asked me to take away the cup of suffering he was facing, I would not have hesitated.

The Bible says God the Father had that power — but did not use it. That blows me away.

Several days have now passed since I started this article. David was in the hospital for eleven long days and is now on the road to recovery. He can hardly wait to once again pick up a baseball bat and start swinging for the fences. We pray he has many days ahead to enjoy the game he loves and I will gratefully resume my place in the stands to cheer him on.

It’s Easter, and I’ve thought a lot about God the Father’s restraint as He watched His one and only Son being crucified. Of course, He knew that death could not hold his Son. And He knew His Son, the perfect lamb, had come to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

As I discussed these things with Al Valdes, LOGOI’s professor of biblical studies, he simply smiled and quoted John 3:16:

“For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”

Thank God for Easter!

Expectations

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“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right,” so stated the famous American industrialist, Henry Ford.  Of course, he also thought the Edsel was a good idea, so he wasn’t right about everything.

I’ve been thinking much about expectations these days. My youngest son, you see, is a student-athlete at the University of Miami.  He enrolled this past June with many ascribed “high expectations.”  And they weren’t talking about his GPA.

I’ve yet to meet a parent whose hopes for his child are that he or she grows up to be a disappointment, so like other Dads, I have very high hopes and expectations for my kids, too.  Naturally, all three of my kids are pursuing completely different paths, but the expectations for each of them to have success in their chosen fields are very high.  Not one of my children, by the way, are named “Edsel.”

The path our youngest son is taking, however, is a bit more public.  If one cares to, his success or failure on the ball field can be followed and pontificated upon from week to week.  And I must say, I’m rather intrigued by the vast number of self-proclaimed “experts” who really seem to enjoy pontificating.

“Expectations have long been a topic of psychological research,” says Jonah Lehrer in an article in the Boston Globe, “…but in recent years, scientists have been intensively studying how expectations shape our direct experience of the world, what we taste, feel, and hear.”  The article goes on to explain, for example, that a generic drug–which has the exact same ingredients as the brand name–is often proven to be less effective merely because it costs less.  In other words, the expectation is that the less expensive drug can’t possibly be as effective as the more expensive one.

“The human brain, research suggests, isn’t built for objectivity,” Lehrer explains.  “The brain is ‘cooking the books,’ adjusting its own inputs depending on what it expects.”  Lehrer reports, “Science suggests that, in important ways, people experience reality not as it is, but as they expect it to be.”

Science, it would seem, agrees with Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can, or can’t, you’re right.”

I thought about this after a particular game where David blasted a towering home run in the top of the eighth inning to tie the game.  It was a clutch hit that propelled the team to eventually win in eleven innings.  After the game, David confidently said, “I knew I was going to hit it out before I came up to bat.” I mustered a deep and powerful philosophical response to my son’s heroics by saying, “Wow!

ImageThe problems come, of course, when our expectations for ourselves or others are not realized.  Calvin, of the famous “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip said, “I find my life is a lot easier the lower I keep everyone’s expectations.”

Calvin was right, life is a lot easier without expectations.  But without them, I wonder if we would ever have heard of Neal Armstrong, Thomas Edison, The Wright Brothers, Babe Ruth or LeBron James?  We are an impatient society and don’t have much time for the close relatives of expectations such as dedication, talent, and tenacity.  We want our expectations met and we want them met right now!  But life doesn’t always cooperate.

You may remember the popular bumper sticker that read, “Please be patient, God is not finished with me yet.”  It was basically a paraphrase from the Philippians 1:6 Bible verse which reads, “…and I am confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Ruth Graham, the loving wife of evangelist Billy Graham, fully understood this Bible promise.  If you were to visit her grave sight, you would see the following inscribed on her tombstone, “End of construction. Thank you for your patience.”

Expectations fully achieved!

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