Posts Tagged ‘Stories’

God has a purpose for every human life. Whether a person has mental health challenges (according to research one out of four Americans has some sort of challenge) or whether a person is completely healthy in every way, every person has a God-given purpose. Human life is not in the hands of human beings but in the hands of God.

During my time of “in between assignments,” I have been preparing to preach each week. As those who have known me or have followed my ministry, you know that I preach mostly in series and most of the series take on books of the Bible or portions of a book of the Bible. For December, I am preparing messages from the first two chapters of Luke. This week I have prepared a message from Luke 1:57-80 which describes the birth of John the Baptist. This passage emphasizes how God keeps His promises made to His people. The details about the naming of the baby born to Elizabeth and Zechariah indicate how he was destined for a significant ministry in service of God.Zechariah

Previously, Gabriel had appeared to Zechariah while he ministered in the temple. He delivered the message from God that Zechariah and Elizabeth would have a son. Because of their advanced ages, Zechariah questioned how this could happen and essentially asked for a sign. The Lord shut Zechariah’s mouth as a result of his faithlessness.

Since Elizabeth had hidden herself and Zechariah was mute, the news of the birth of this promised baby came as a sudden surprise for the neighbors and kin. They reacted with rejoicing and celebration. On the eighth day when the baby was circumcised, the people called the baby Zechariah, following the tradition of the day. But Elizabeth firmly declared, “No, he shall be called John.” When the crowd objected the name, they turned to Zechariah and made signs to him to see how he reacted to this name. Still speechless, Zechariah wrote “John” on a tablet. The people marveled at his agreement with Elizabeth and in the firmness of his reply.

As he expressed his agreement with Elizabeth, Zechariah regained his voice. With his first words, he offered praise to God. The people had witnessed the powerful moving of God and they were afraid. They asked, “What then will this child be?”

Zechariah moved dead silence to praise. Luke characterized his speech as prophecy which is always directed to others, not God. It served as guidance for those gathered for the circumcision ceremony, and it sheds light for us today concerning the Messiah. Zechariah answered more than the people’s question and went on to declare what this child’s birth revealed about God’s faithfulness to the promises made to Abraham and David. He also declared that it signaled the advent of the Messiah to deliver Israel.

This Messiah would be the Redeemer of all people, the mighty and victorious King, and the Savior of the world, the Lamb of God who would remove the debt of sin on the cross. The Messiah would also be the Light of the world who would rise up in the darkness and be the light of the world. He would be the Prince of Peace. The Messiah would be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of Isaiah 9:6.

God has a divine plan for your life. Do not minimize it. God has you here for a purpose. You are a part of God’s plan. Ultimately, God wants you to find your purpose through Jesus Christ.

Whether you believe it or not, whether you accept it or not, God has placed within your heart eternity. He has wired you to want to know Him. The writer of Ecclesiastes says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart” (Eccl. 3:11, ESV).  This makes people different and more valuable than every other living thing. People are not like animals that live and die and give no thought to what will happen in another life. We human beings ponder and lose sleep over what will become of us after death. That’s because God has made us for eternity. He created us for a greater purpose, a greater objective, not just for this life, but for what comes after this life.

This fact sets us apart from animals. This is what gives meaning to life. People were not made only for this existence on the earth. No, we were made by our Creator for eternity, and He has planted that into our hearts.

Recently I learned about an amazing bird that illustrates from nature what our Creator Bar-tailed_Godwithas implanted in us. There’s a small bird that grows up in northern Alaska called the bar-tailed godwit. The godwit has no outstanding outer characteristics. They have no extraordinary markings and they seem so ordinarily colored in mottled brown, black, and gray. They almost seem to blend into the water scene along the shore as just another bird that you see along the water.

But every fall flocks of bar-tailed godwits fly about 7,000 miles to New Zealand. When the young birds mature and start to migrate, something wired in them also directs them to New Zealand. Though they are land birds, and cannot fish or rest on the sea, they will cross most of the Pacific Ocean, and fly all the way to New Zealand. Many of them are young, and have never done this before.

How they do that, many of them never having been in the southern hemisphere, never having seen the southern stars, nobody seems to know. But they manage. One female, dubbed E7, because that was the code on her wireless transmitter, flew 11,680 kilometers (7,369 miles) in 8.1 days. Non-stop. The same homing signal that guides them over treacherous waters to New Zealand also navigates them back to their parents.

God has created the bar-tailed godwit with New Zealand in their hearts. Similarly, God has created within us “homing signals” for God and eternity. He has put eternity in our hearts. Our desire to live and our longing for something beyond this life comes from the One who loves you and wants you to spend eternity with Him.

 

IMG_1046Gayla and I enjoyed a great weekend with our children and grandchildren. We gathered on Friday for a day of giving thanks and enjoying one another’s company. While we waited for the rest of the family to gather, Gayla and Kendal prepared in the kitchen while Colin and I cleaned the pine straw from the roof and gutters. I mostly watched since I have been grounded from having much to do with ladders since my fall about six weeks ago!

After everyone arrived, we had plenty of time for talking, laughing, and playing before we enjoyed the traditional Thanksgiving dinner. These gatherings are getting better and better, and we’re believing that the Lord will increase our number thereby increasing our praise and thanks to Him. What a matter God we serve!

I heard about a thanksgiving surprise that was picked up in some news services last November. It all started when a grandson forgot to notify his grandmother of a change in his cell phone number. This resulted in an awkward and potentially embarrassing situation for the unsuspecting new owner of his old number and for his grandmother.

The grandmother, Wanda Dench, sent a text message invitation to her family and friends to invite them over for a Thanksgiving meal. But that invitation made its way to Jamal Hinton, the new owner of her grandson’s old phone number. Jamal was offered a seat at Wanda Dench’s table for Thanksgiving when she thought she was texting her grandson. The text message ended with, “Let me know if you are coming. Hope to see you all.”

Jamal responded by asking for a photo to confirm if it was his own grandmother behind the text. Soon a picture of a woman with blonde hair and glasses showed up on Jamal’s phone.

“You’re not my grandma,” Jamal replied with a laughing emoji. He then sent back a selfie to let her know he was not her grandson. But Jamal did not stop there. He asked if it was possible to “still get a plate.”

In grandmotherly fashion, Dench responded, “Of course you can. That’s what grandmas do.”

In an interview with KNXV in Phoenix, Hinton said, “I’d never seen her before, and she welcomed me into her home. That shows me how great of a person she is. I’m thankful for people like that.”

This morning I preached at Crossgate Church of Robert. While I am grateful for another opportunity to use my spiritual gift of preaching and teaching, what I really enjoyed was the fact this church has taken seriously its mission to love its neighbors seriously. The people in this church did not know Gayla and me except that their pastor had asked me to preach in his absence. They welcomed us and made sure that our needs were met. After the service, they came back over to where we were seated to greet us again and to thank us for coming.

I’m thinking that Wanda Dench’s response to Jamal’s question about still being able to come over for Thanksgiving. She said, “Of course you can. That’s what grandmas do.” If the church takes seriously its mission to love its neighbors seriously, this will be on our lips, “Of course you can. That’s what Christian’s do.

Let’s make sure that we know that we must extend the invitation to all and to welcome them when they come. They need to know that we care.

I’m encouraged by one of our newer members of the church. Her name is Linda. She joined our church just a few months ago. When she became a member of First Baptist, she let me know that while she wouldn’t be here long that that she would be as faithful in her attendance as possible.

Linda has cancer. But she did not let her illness for becoming fully immersed in our church family. She attended New Member Experience earlier this year, participated faithfully in Life Group, attended the Wednesday evening service, and joined the choir. I enjoyed visiting Linda in our sisters’s home because she always ended up encouraging me so much.

About a month ago, Linda decided that moving from her sister’s home and to a hospice house was the best place for her. She expected that she would be there only a short while as she waited for her time to go to her heavenly home. Gayla and I — and several others from our church family — have experienced the joy of visiting with Linda at the hospice house. The joy comes in what Linda brings to her visitors who come to encourage her. She always turns the visits into opportunities for speaking a word of joy or for singing songs of praise.

Last Sunday Linda once again spoke about her longing to go home to heaven. But then she said, “I guess the Lord still has something for me to do.” Gayla and I agreed with her. On Monday afternoon during our pastoral staff meeting, Linda sent me the following text message:Praise-God

“Just found out why I am still here. The 92-year-old lady from Germany who is in the hospice house just gave her heart to Jesus! Praise God Almighty! I just cried. I am so happy. Next time you come I will introduce her to you. She is so sweet.

“And another thing. A girl, who (when she was 9) used to go with me when I would sing at the nursing home, called me out of the blue. She told me that because of going her with me and all the biblical teaching I did with her and her sister was the reason she accepted Jesus. Now she goes to nursing homes and she felt like she was supposed to find me and tell me about that! Wow! Ain’t God good! Amen, amen! Just wanted to tell you. Have a blessed day. I did!”

 

Ray’s parents gave him a new Bible on his eighteenth birthday. It was his senior year in high school, the first week of two-a-day football practices, and Ray had crawled home that day bone tired. His mother had made a special dinner. His dad had written the following inside the Bible:

Bud, nothing could be greater than to have a son — a son who loves the Lord and walks with Him. Your mother and I have found this Book our dearest treasure. We give it to you and doing so can give nothing greater. Be a student of the Bible and your life will be fully of blessing.

tattered bibleWe love you.

Dad

9/7/66

Phil. 1:6

In his blog posted on September 7, 2016, Pastor Ray Ortlund, Jr., wrote, “As I read these wonderful words from fifty years ago, it never occurred to me to think, ‘Dad doesn’t really believe that. It’s just religious talk.’” Ray knew that his dad meant it because he had watched him live it. Ray’s dad was a student of the Bible, and his life was full of blessing, and Ray knew that he wanted what his father had.

While it took him a few more years to get clarity in some ways, Ray never stopped mining out the treasures in the Bible. What his dad had said so many years ago had left a deep impression. As he stated it, “It moved me then, and it moves me now.”

The B-I-B-L-E — yes, that’s the Book for me. I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E. That’s true for me. I hope that it’s true for you. But in order for the Bible to make any impact on your life, you must invest time reading it, studying it, memorizing it, meditating on it, and applying it to your life. If you don’t have a regular time to read God’s Word, please establish one. Don’t fall for Satan’s lies that you cannot understand it or that you don’t have time. God wants you to know Him through His Word. If you will ask the Holy Spirit to open your mind to understand the truth in His Word, do you think that He will not answer that prayer? I urge you to set a time when you can read God’s Word for yourself.

Life Is Good!

Posted: May 18, 2017 in Family, Stories
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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.