Life Is Good!

Posted: May 18, 2017 in Family, Stories
Tags:

Mother’s Day brings mixed emotions. This day can be really awkward at church. For many, Mother’s Day is an awesome celebration omothers-day-01f life and the joys of being a parent. My wife is an awesome mother to our kids and an even better “Gigi” to our grandchildren.

But Mother’s Day is a mixed bag for me as well as for many others. Gayla’s mother passed away in 2010. For those who have lost their moms, Mother’s Day is a day of grief marking that loss. You may know a mother whose son or daughter has passed away. No parent expects this kind of loss. One of our daughters struggles with infertility. She and her husband — along with many others — face the silent reminder of that struggle every Mother’s Day. For every woman who has experienced an unexpected miscarriage and grieve an unborn child, Mother’s Day is a day of grief.

Some of my friends have had their children fall into addictions, rebellion, and walking away from God. Mother’s Day always seems to remind them of how they “failed” in raising a godly child. Some women chose abortion and live with the reminder every Mother’s Day of what “could have been.”

As you can see, Mother’s Day can be mix of emotions.

So let me offer a good story to help us all on Mother’s Day. Bert and John Jacobs grew up the youngest of six children in a lower middle-class family in Boston. When the brothers were in elementary school, their parents were in a near-death car accident from which their mother managed to escape with just a few broken bones, but their father lost the use of his right hand.

The stress and frustration from his physical therapy caused him to develop a harsh temper, they explain in their book Life Is Good. “He did a lot of yelling when we were in grade school.” Life was not perfect. “There were often difficult things happening around the house.”

But their mother, Joan, still believed life was good. So every night as the family sat around the dinner table, she would say to her six kids, “Tell us something good that happened today.” As simple as her words were, they changed the energy in the home. The brothers write, “Before we knew it, we were all riffing on the best, funniest, and most bizarre part of our day.”

Growing up with a mother like theirs — one who sang in the kitchen, told animated stories, and acted out children’s books for them, no matter what bad situation they were going through  — that them an important lesson: Being happy isn’t dependent on your circumstances. “She showed us that optimism is a courageous choice you make every day, especially in the face of adversity.”

Perhaps you have heard of Bert and John’s little company — “Life Is Good T-Shirt Company.” Their never-quit attitude likely propelled them not to give up even though at one point they only had $78 between them. For five years, they traveled up and down the East Coast, sleeping in their van, living on peanut butter and jelly, and showering when they could. They sold their t-shirts in the streets and college dorms. Now their little company is worth millions — thanks to their mom’s three simple word that changed their lives forever. Life is good!

Dr. Jerry Root, an evangelism professor at Wheaton College, recently had an article publishnew-harvested in Christianity Today (2/17/2017). The article’s premise caught my attention: “Evangelism is harvesting where God has already plowed, sowed, cultivated, and nurtured.” Essentially, Dr. Root said that we don’t take Jesus to anyone. He is already present in everyone’s life. After all, God is omnipresent. Furthermore, because He is a God of love, He is near every person you meet, loving and wooing him or her.

We don’t go to bring Jesus to anyone. Rather, we go to make explicit what He is already doing implicitly. Jesus said, “See the fields are white for harvest” (John 4:35). The problem is not that people will not respond to Christ. No, people are not responding to the gospel because Christians seem unwilling to go into the harvest.

The big question is, “How can we enter into the work that God is already doing?” Dr. Root says we need to ask more “public” questions: “What is your name? Are you from here?” Then we should listen to the answers, and in those answers come permission to ask new questions based on the information that is given.

Here’s one example of a conversation that Dr. Root had with a man. He simply began the conversation with, “What’s your name?” The man answered, “Peter.” (I often begin a conversation with someone new with, “My name is Ken.” Often the person responds with his name.) Then Dr. Root asked, “Peter, are you from Chicago?” These questions are public, nonthreatening, and neighborly.

Under his breath, Dr. Root whispered a prayer that he might enter into God’s love for him and that he might listen well. Peter said, “No, I was born and raised in Albuquerque, but when I was 12, my parents divorced and I moved to Chicago with my mother.”

Peter didn’t have to offer that much detail. He could have said, “I grew up in Albuquerque and moved to Chicago when I was 12.” That would have been enough information to continue the questions. But what Peter shared opened the door to inquire along those lines. “That sounds painful.” Peter opened up his heart and began to tell how his father had abandoned the family, never remembering him on his birthday and at Christmas.

Dr. Root could see where God was wooing him and eventually interjected, “The power to forgive in order to untether the past wounds and sorrows is a precious commodity.” Peter agreed and asked, “Yes, but but can we do it?” At this point in the conversation, Peter gave him permission to discuss from where the power to forgive comes. Here’s where the conversation moved to the gospel where Peter’s heart was not merely open but eager to listen.

Another time while his flight was delayed in the Vienna airport, a woman wearing a name tag lanyard and carrying clipboard approached Dr. Root. He began the conversation by asking her name. “Allegra,” she replied. “Allegra, are you from Vienna?” She said she was a student. This opened the door to more questions, “Where do you go to school? What are you studying?”

Twenty minutes later, Dr. Root knew a good deal about Allegra. He knew her mother abandoned the family to go to Canada with her lover and that her father’s bitterness was toxic. Her brother also studied at the University of Vienna, but they were estranged. When Dr. Root expressed sadness over the amount of estrangement from the people closest to her, she said it was far worse. Her former boyfriend went to Florence to study art for six months. He had asked her to wait for him, and she did so. Her boyfriend had returned the day before to inform Allegra that he met somebody better in Florence.

He knew where God was wooing her and knew the deep felt need where Allegra was likely to hear the gospel. After 20 minutes, she had not asked one question from her survey. Dr. Root knew that she needed to complete her survey and did so but also told her that he had been sent to tell her something. She rushed through it, then put down her pen, looked him in the eye, and eagerly asked, “What were you supposed to tell me?” Knowing that Allegra felt abandoned and betrayed, Dr. Root said, “Allegra, the God of the universe knows you and loves you. He will never abandon you or forsake you.”

Sometimes, it takes three times before words sink in, so he said it again. After the third time, she burst into tears. “But I’ve done so many bad things in my life!” Dr. Root responded, “Allegra, God knows about it and that’s why He sent Jesus to die on the cross for all your sins and to bring you forgiveness and hope.” Dr. Root was explaining the gospel to ears willing to hear and a heart willing to receive.

Have you ever heard of an accidental car theft? That means that you missed this news story from Portland, Oregon. In late October, Erin Hatzi reported to police that her red Subaru Impreza had  been stolen from her driveway. She and her husband knew that it had been stolen because their surveillance camera had recorded the entire heist. The footage showed that a woman calmly entered the car and drove away. The operational word is “calmly,” because the woman sat in the car for a couple of minutes — hardly the normal actions of a car thief.car1

The Hatzis filed a police report, but it did not take long before they got some answers. Erin’s husband was taking out the garbage the next afternoon when a Portland police officer had a woman stopped right outside the Hanzi’s home. The woman had just gotten out of Erin’s red Subaru. She offered up this explanation: The night before, “she had been sent to the neighborhood to pick up her friend’s car and accidentally took Hanzi’s vehicle instead.” The friend did not see the car until the next morning, and upon realizing the mixup, left a note and gas money inside the car and sent it back to its rightful owner.

So what happened? According to the police, “Older Subaru keys are interchangeable and can occasionally be used to open different cars.”

I hope this bizarre happily-ever-after news story reminds you that while we might jump to immediate conclusions about situations, God has a bigger picture in mind — a picture in which the car might be returned in the end. 

Back in the late 1980s, Gayla and I lived in a small community north of Fort Worth where I was the pastor of the Baptist church. We lived in the parsonage, a house supplied as part of our compensation for serving as pastor. This house was located less than a mile from the church campus.  However, some train tracks separated the parsonage from the church building.

If you have ever lived near train tracks, then you know the hassle and inconvenience a passing train can cause. You’re alre74202ady running late, you’re driving up to the track crossing, and then — the barriers start flashing. It’s a frustrating feeling, and you can’t do anything about it.

But imagine if that happened as you were trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon. That’s exactly what happened to more than 100 runners in Pennsylvania in September. A train crossed the marathon course — and crossed it very slowly. One runner, who was using the race as his last opportunity to qualify for Boston, said that he “missed his qualifying time by eight minutes.”

Race officials had communicated with the railroad line prior to race day and had received “absolute assurances…that trains would be suspended” during the race. Yet those assurances did not stop a train from crossing the course’s seventh mile.

“The incident is especially regrettable and was quite unexpected,” the marathon’s account posted on Facebook, nothing that those times were affected would “be addressed on a runner-by-runner basis.”

We may have a plan laid out for running our best race, and we may have set goals and dreamed dreams, but there’s a “slow moving train” in our way. Let me explain. Although the Lord has led our church to accomplish much in the way of discipling more people, going to places near and far to share the good news, while updating our facilities, the slow moving train in our way is the state of our finances.

Our church’s mission is to bring people who are far from God near to Him so that together we might love Him and love people to make a forever difference. This statement roots in the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.

Every congregation has a mission that God has for it to accomplish, and every mission should find its foundation in the Great Commission. As churches work through their particular mission advance, they will make a forever difference.

However, without the shared financial support from all of its members, your congregation will not be able to continue at the level of advance your leaders have hoped and believed the Lord wants you. The biblical answer to this circumstance is for each believer to follow Paul’s counsel to the church in Corinth, “Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper” (1 Corinthians 16:1-2).

Let me urge you to allow the Holy Spirit to guide you concerning giving.

Most every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings you will likely find me in the principal’s office. I meet with one of our high school principals to listen, to encourage, and to pray for him and the school.

However, this week I also learned something about how people are likely watching what we do and how  we act. In fact, I learned that people look for the details in our lives. This week the office assistants at one of the schools asked about my snuff! So I guess it’s time for me to go public about my habit, because while some have been courageous enough to ask me about my back pocket ring, others have not.skoal-ring

Let’s be clear: it’s not Skoal ring! It’s a breath mint ring. The backstory about carrying it the round container is not very exciting. I choose this particular breath mint because it comes in a plastic container. Other brands come in metal tins, and the mints rattle as I walk.

So there you have it. It’s not very exciting.

However, it does say something about the fact that people do pay attention to the smallest things and draw conclusions about us. Sometimes those conclusions are wrong.

This made me think about other things people notice about us. Do they pay attention to our actions, to they way we dress, to our conversations with other people, to places we go? Let me just say, “Probably so.” And the consistency of these various aspects of our lives converge to reveal the true nature of our character. Our testimony should be like that of Paul: “We can say with confidence and a clear conscience that we have lived with a God-given holiness and sincerity in all our dealings. We have depended on God’s grace, not on our own human wisdom” (2 Corinthians 1:12, NLT).

Does the nature of your character reveal that you live in holiness and sincerity in all your conversations and dealings with people? Remember that your testimony is built through your 24/7 life — not just what you do and say at church or when you think no one is looking.  And your testimony gives you the platform for sharing the good news and for leading people to faith in Christ.

These next few weeks will give you plenty of opportunities to invite your friends and family members to share the season of Christmas. At our church (Mandeville’s First Baptist Church), we have an evening of Christmas music next Sunday, December 4, at 6 o’clock. We have the annual live nativity on December 9-11. We have a Christmas Eve service at 4:30 pm on December 24 and a Christmas Day service at 10:00 am on Sunday, December 25.

Yet the thing that we really need to share a verbal witness of the good news of Jesus Christ. Each of us have someone in our lives who has not experienced salvation and would spend eternity in a godless hell. We need to focus prayerfully on that individual and pray for the opportunity that the Holy Spirit will provide. Share how you came to faith in Christ and how your life has been affected by Him. Then tell how they, too, can have this forever relationship with Jesus Christ.

By the way, having a mint ready in my back pocket makes those conversations more pleasant for everyone!

A glass bottle washed up on the beach, a decades-old note inside sounds a bit like the introductory scene in a movie. But for Clint Buffington that situation turned into a reality.  Huffington discovered the bottle nestled in the sand on an overcast day in the Turks and Caicos near the Bahamas.

When he took a closer look, he noticed what was written on the note inside the bottle: “Look inside.” That got his heart racing.imrs

Eventually, he broke the bottle open, revealing the note, which had been scratched out in pencil and contained a few clues: an address (419 Ocean); a name (Tina); a name of something? (Beachcomber, spelled incorrectly). Was it a place? Was it an object? The words “return” and “reward” eventually became more clear, too.

Buffington — “an experienced message-in-a-bottle hunter” — eventually tracked down a potential contact by the name of Paula Pierce, whose mother Tina had been an owner of a motel on 419 Ocean Boulevard in Hampton, New Hampshire. Though Buffington found the bottle in 2011, it was not until last month that Buffington and Pierce met in person. Pierce, whose father is believed to have written the message, said it was “like being contacted from the past….That gave me chills today,” she said, “I actually started to cry.”

And Buffington? “I’ve been really lucky that I have this thing that allows me to open the door and connect with people that I would never have any reason or right to connect with otherwise.”

What “message in a bottle” moments can we look for as we seek to connect with people? What doors can we open in order to foster relationships that may have never existed otherwise? God has a purpose for each one of us. That purpose involves coming to a faith relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. Coming to faith in Christ always involves some other person or persons. There’s always a connection, and that connection that leads to a “forever relationship” with Jesus Christ always involves a verbal or written testimony of the gospel.

I’m sure you know the “five-second rule.” You know the idea that if you drop a delicious bite of food on the floor, dirt and germs don’t have enough time to contaminate it. Parents sometimes apply this rule to pacifiers, although I doubt that first-time parents would do so! The history of the five-second rule is difficult to trace. One legend attributes the rule to Genghis Khan, who declared that food could be on the ground for five hours and still be safe to eat.5-second-rule

But a recent experiment should permanently debunk the five-second rule. Professor Donald W. Schaffner, a food microbiologist at Rutgers University, reported that a two-year study concluded that no matter how fast you pick up food that falls on the floor, you will pick up bacteria with it. You can check it out for yourself in his journal article “Is the Five-Second Rule Real?” found in the always exciting Journal for Applied and Environmental Microbiology. (I did check it out. It’s a 22-page document complete with charts and scientific diagrams. Ugh!)

Professor Schaffner tested four surfaces — stainless steel, ceramic tile, wood, and carpet — and four different foods: cut watermelon, bread, buttered bread, and strawberry gummy candy. They were dropped from a height of five inches onto surfaces treated with a bacteria. The researchers tested four contract times — less than one second and five, thirty, and three hundred seconds. A total of 128 possible combinations of surface, food, and seconds were replicated twenty times each, yielding 2,560 measurements. So after those 2,560 drops they found that fallen food had not escaped contamination, leading Professor Schaffner to conclude, “Bacteria can contaminate instantaneously.” In other words, they debunked the legendary five-second rule.

My first reaction: Really? You actually conducted a two-year study on this? And why conduct any phase of this experiment for thirty seconds, let alone three hundred seconds?

Yet I will give Professor Schaffner credit for going to the effort of disproving the five-second rule rather than blindly accepting it as fact. And it makes me question other things that we blindly adopt without critical study. What cultural and lifestyle beliefs have you adopted without critical study? What theological ideas and beliefs have you assumed were true because someone told you they were true?

We live in critical times. We must be discerning. We must remain true to the Lord Jesus. There is no middle ground.

1  Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

2  By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,

3  and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.

4  Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.

5  They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them.

6  We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

1 John 4:1-6 (ESV)

Because of Jesus,

Ken Schroeder

Follow me on Twitter @kenschroeder