Trusting God … Living by Faith

It is within each of us to choose which direction we will go, and how we will respond to the events of life.  In the last few days I have run into this “wall”.  I call it a wall but really it is a decision point, a ”swinging gate”, and not an impenetrable blockade.  Many of you know that Major Bev and I took our baby girl, Betsy, off to college this past weekend.  It was a bittersweet time for us.  We have planned and encouraged and coached her for such a time as this.  We have prayed for God’s direction and His blessing to bring it about … and yet I find myself struggling with it. 

I am not alone in this type of struggle. Many of you are facing difficult times and choices are in front of you. The issue is about trusting God enough to live by faith.  We believe that God has moved us to this time in all of our lives, equipping us along the way for the next step … but … doubt can creep in, and fear can begin to lead.  How to respond?  How to react?  What is the choice before me?  Do I trust God, or do I take a nap?

Proverbs 3:5, 6 provide a reasonable response, and a great promise.  5Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;  6in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”    When difficult or troubling times come the first step in to set ourselves aside and look to what the Lord has done for us throughout our lives. This look back provides the momentum to move forward in faith, trusting that God is still for us.  We can begin to see blessings and this prompts our hearts and minds to praise Him.  When that happens we begin to see His way through and our choices begin to reflect a life focused on Him.

That is where Bev and I stand today.  We will still need to adjust to a new phase of life, dealing with the sadness, but also rejoicing in the promise of tomorrow.

Beloved ones, trust in God, lean on Jesus, and allow the Holy Spirit to move you forward, through that “swinging gate”.  Trust God and live by faith!

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Time Passages

Over the last 2 months or so I have had the tune from Al Stewart’s, “Time Passages” running through my head. The connection to that song from the late 70’s meant something important to me then, and it means even more to me today. I am quickly coming face to face with the stark reality of my baby girl leaving home, for the first and perhaps final time. She is off to start her sophomore year as a transfer student at a university 3 or so hours from home. I am so proud of the way she is grabbing hold of a bright future. I am also excited about the new experiences she will have and the growing opportunities she will encounter. Her mother and I have raised her to think clearly, choose wisely, and trust in God’s guidance so I do not have the same concerns that some others may have.

As I walk this particular time passage my mind is drawn backwards. I see that little baby girl in her mother’s arms, that little gap toothed girl who loved “waterlemon” and learned that there is “quancicances” to her actions. Fast forward a bit and I laugh out loud thinking about the basketball player who, while driving to the lane, stopped, handed the ball to the referee and said, “I’m sorry but I just traveled”. So many memories, some much time gone by so very quickly.

Fast forward some more and there she is, with a house full of friends, celebrating her 15th birthday with a murder mystery party. So much laughter and fun. As I recall the first spring fling dance my eyes tear up and my heart hurts a little. She is so beautiful, and has such a sparkle in her eyes. As a father the beauty of one’s daughter is a source of both pride and angst. But she was raised to think clearly, choose wisely, and trust God’s guidance so all will be well. And it has been.

So many more memories … volleyball, vacations, tears, and laughter …they seem to speed by on fast forward. Life has a way of moving very quickly sometimes and, while I knew this day was inevitable, I wish I could slow it down just a little bit. But that is impossible. All I can do adjust and embrace these times.

My little girl is grown up now and embarking on a very exciting journey and I am using this time to make as many new memories as I can… just getting ready for the next time passage!

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Hey Dads – some of my life lessons

As Father’s Day approaches I have been thinking about the men who influenced me as a father.  I have been blessed to have a father, a step-father, and a father in law, and each one has contributed to who I am today. Each one has helped me to become the father I am today, and I wanted to honor them by sharing their influence.

As I sit here thinking about my father, Jack Best, I am reminded of his zest for living.  Even though we were separated by divorce I spent a lot of time with him.  Every other weekend and long times in the summer.  Our summers were spent enjoying the out of doors, like the camping trip to Canada, or the ball park in Pontiac.  Dad has an easy smile and a good laugh that draws laughter out of even the saddest situations.  I believe that the fun I find in living comes, in no small way, from his influence in my life. Times change, and situations can produce distance but his joy in living life out loud will always be part of me.  As I father my own children I have found that same easy smile and zest of living.  My children know that fun is a part of life!

Every boy needs to have a steadying influence to provide stability and safety and my step dad, Wayne Smith, provided that for me. He entered my life at the age of 4 and through all the years I was growing up I never felt like he was anything other than dad. He was a solid provider and a firm hand for me.  When I open my tool box and fix something around the house I think of him.  When I see that all the bills are paid and there is some money left over I think of him.  When I feel beat down and less than I hear his voice coaxing me to get up off the ground and move forward. His love for me was not just words, but demonstrated each and every day in practical ways.  From sitting in the stands cheering me on to patiently teaching me how to keep a house in order his love was evident.  As a father I have tried to love my children in that same practical way.

Finally as I think about fathers I think about my father in law, Dave Keeler, who was simply dad to me. I think the most important lesson I have learned from anyone, I learned from him. It is the pure joy of being in love with Jesus. I learned that to love Jesus means to serve others, to be patient with others, to forgive others, and to share your blessings.  Dad was a faithful, obedient, disciplined, and joyful follower of Jesus. As a father I have tried to be like dad, teaching my children about Jesus, openly sharing my love for him, and demonstrating a humble heart.

I am so blessed to have had these men in my life, and I pray that the lessons learned from them are evident in me.

Blessings!

 

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Standing at the Edge

I love to look at pictures of canyons, ravines, crags, and crevices. Something about a camera angle that takes you to the very edge, and allows you to look over is invigorating. The view is often spectacular and breathtaking. I’d prefer the video or picture as opposed to the real thing because I am afraid of heights. There I said it out loud … I AM AFRAID OF HEIGHTS! I edge away uneasily from the glass wall of a 3 story elevator, and I am not real keen on driving over the Mackinaw or Chesapeake bridges. My unease is very “normal” to me and it causes me to shy away from what might be an amazing experience.
Sometimes death is treated the same way … better a picture of that edge than to experience the real thing. When a loved one is approaching the edge of this life fear and unease are a very real part of the experience. Cerebrally, we who call ourselves Christian, know that Jesus is just over that edge. We understand that our eternity is with Him in heaven … but man, that walk to the edge can be an uneasy one.
I am thinking about that today because Dad has taken that walk over the edge. His earthly struggle is over and he is standing with Jesus now, holding hands with Mom. A week or so ago my wife, Bev, and I sat having a quiet lunch with dad. He started to talk about heaven and eternity. I began to feel a sense of unease, wanting to jump up and shout, “Stay away from the edge!” It was as if not talking about it made it less real. As long as we looked everywhere else but down that edge wouldn’t exist. As I was wrestling with this dad looked at me and said, “I am not afraid, I just wonder what the process is going to be”. It was as if he sensed my discomfort and was trying to settle me, and that was just like dad! Here he is, facing the edge for himself, and thinking about others.
I have learned so many things from this man. Things like grace, responsibility, love, courage, quiet manliness, servant attitude, faithful obedience, and a desire to just love Jesus as best you can. I have now learned something new, something that will stick with me forever. Fearlessness! As I watched him approach the edge I saw trust and faith in Jesus, and a heart filled with grace and dignity. Thank you again Dad … I will see you in heaven!

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Love Lessons from Dad

The family gathered this weekend to celebrate dad’s 78th birthday. Three generations of family gathered in honor of our patriarch. The dinner table became a place of entertainment, laughter, memory sharing, and love. I wanted to share my thoughts about the evening and some life lessons revealed about love.

The significance of the event was not just a 78th birthday celebration, but a celebration of a life lived with love. Dad’s birthday will be the last he shares with us here on earth as he is finishing up a battle with lung cancer. With that as the backdrop one might expect a somber, or sad affair … Let me tell you, it was not! We laughed, at times so hard tears filled our eyes. We shared great memories, and were regaled by the youngsters with story after funny story. Sitting back and watching I was struck by the connection we all have. It is a deep and abiding connection forged in the love of Christ and demonstrated by mom and dad, down through children and grand children.

We came to a time of gift giving, and dad had a special gift to give to each of his girls. He gave each one a beautiful necklace with a birthstone representing mom, dad, and each girls particular stone. A gift of love, and a legacy to be reminded of. Next came gifts for dad. It was during this time that tears were shed as practical, as well as personal gifts were given that spoke of the integrity, honor, Christ centered living, and demonstrated impact dad has had on all of us. The best word to describe the gifts would be love.

That love is important because it defines who dad is. He is first and foremost in love with Christ. It is evident as he closes his eyes to pray, and it is evident in quiet conversations about heaven that he has. It also defines who he is in relationship with his children, and grandchildren. The words shared in a card, a note, or in a frame all coalesced around a common idea of how he demonstrated his love for each one of us. In so many practical and thoughtful ways each of us knows that he loves us, beyond a shadow of a doubt.

His love is not confined to just Jesus and his family, but it also extends out to those in community around him. Several gifts focused on contributions made to help free girls trapped in slavery, wells to provide water to villages without hope, and children sponsored in order to provide hope, healing, and most of all love.

As I sit hear trying to imagine a world without dad, I am reminded of the love lessons he has taught us through the years, and the love lessons he is still teaching us today. I want to live as he has lived, a man in love with Jesus, in love with his family, and loving the greater community. I want to demonstrate that love with the words I say, the relationships I build, and a willingness to share blessings with others.

Dad … thank you for the love lessons.

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Standing Stones … A Legacy of Love and Grace

I am sitting in the dining room listening to my wife, her sisters and her dad singing spiritual songs. Some are new and some are old however they all sound “right”. The occasion that brings us together tonight is a visit with dad’s palliative care doctor and his hospice team leader. You see dad’s fight with lung cancer is ending. It may 2 months or 10 months, but the amount of time doesn’t really matter because at the end of it is his reunion with Jesus and our grief at the loss of his presence.

The thought of standing stones come to mind when I look at dad. Standing stones are those reminders that God asks His people to erect in memory of His intercession on our behalf. The Israelites crossed the Red Sea and marked the spot for anyone that would follow. They crossed the Jordan and God asked them to set those standing stones in place to remind everyone of His love and grace, power and mercy! Dad’s life is a standing stone that points anyone who would care to look to a promise keeping God. Dad has walked, and continues to walk with a deep understanding of God’s power and presence. He has demonstrated to this watcher what it means to live with godly integrity, how to choose God’s way, and how to live a life of servant love. When I look at him I see a legacy of children and grandchildren who love The Lord. I see a path of righteousness and committed following.

To live a life, day by day, year after year, of earnest pursuit of God is quite a legacy. Dad has the heart of David relentlessly, and selflessly, pursuing His Savior. He has been willing to love, support, and hold accountable this follower, demonstrating the characteristics of Jesus for me. We do not know the day or the hour, but it really does not matter because the legacy is secure … Dad has been, and continues to be the man I hope to be!

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Who are you lying to? Why?

I woke up one morning and decided that I had had enough. I was no longer going to ignore my health. It was time to do something about it. But what? Diet, change my eating habits, exercise? All have been tried before, and all have failed me … or so my thinking went. Well this time I was not going to listen to the Pharoah in me (you know Da-king of De-nial). I was going to do something different. So I did! I talked to a fitness trainer and explained my desire to lose some weight. I had a list of questions I wanted to ask, like, what diet I should choose, what exercise regimen would work best for a guy in my condition and my age? I never did get to ask those questions because she cut to the heart of it and explained that she wanted me to discover the “underlying issues” that caused me to lose weight only to gain it back … repeatedly. To explore why I ate what I ate and when I ate it.
It was a very humbling conversation and I felt exposed and vulnerable … which is a good foundation for positive change in one’s life. She requested that I start by “journaling” my eating habits and including my moods and feelings during that time. Let me share a secret with you …. I HATE JOURNALING! I mean I am not good at it, it frustrates me and I just do not like to do it. However, I really had made up my mind to lose weight and get in shape so I said I would do it.

I started out with some gusto, logging time, quantity, menu, and feelings. Day 1 down … Day 2 down …going good! Day 3 and 4 got a little harder. Day 5 I ignored, day 6 I caught up day 5 and started on day 6 and then discovered a horrifying thing! I had started to leave out little things, like that Little Debbie snack cake at 10:00pm! Why? I was my jounal … my eating …my decision to lose or not lose. Why was I denying the truth? This question was going to take a minute to find an answer for.

The ability to deny the truth is a part of all of us. It is part of the “carnal” nature of man. In the face of obvious truth we insist that the sun is green, the moon is made of cheese, and I did NOT do that! We seek to make ourselves look better than we are, we try to hide the dysfunction of our life behind a curtain, and we convince ourselves that we the one who is right. The Bible tells us that the Spirit of God will lead us into truth. The truth about who God is, who we are, and what He wants to do for us, in us, and through us. That includes an honesty about who we are, and what we are. When we are tempted to ingore or deny hard things about ourselves we need to stop and ask ourselves who we are lying to. We believe in the omniscience of God, His ability to know it all. That knowing includes the hard stuff in us … so why deny it? He knows it, and He still loves us. He knows it, and He still wants to be in relationship with us.

Back to my journal … I now write it all down. Every little thing I eat, I record. You see I really want to succeed, I really want to lose weight, I really want to get healthy. No more Pharoah playing for me. Now I just want to live honestly.

Blessings!

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Monday Musings – Lesson Learned?

Okay!  It has happened again!  When will I learn?  Wondering what I’m talking about…then read on!

I woke up a little late today and had to speed up my routine.  That is usually a precursor to an impatient, and chaotic morning fo rme.  I just knew that I was going to run into gawkers on the road (sight seeing on a Monday morning?) and would be slowed even further.  Stopping at my local McDonald’s, where if I time it right, I never have to wait to get my coffee.  I pulled into the lot scanning the 2 drive-thru lanes, window down trying to hear which one was completing their order first.  I am in luck as I roll up and the truck in front of me pulls forward.  I place my order, start to pull forward and STOP!!! It takes another 15 miuntes to move the 5 cars ahead of me through the line. As I get to the window I overhear the clerk explaining to another how they were 2 people down due to an accident.They were both stressed at being short handed but did not fail to greet me with a smile, serve me with a servant heart, and bless me as I pulled away.

The lesson?  Well yesterday morning I preached about agape love and our need to extend that love to everyone, not just those we “like”.  As I sat in my car, listening to prasie music I was reminded by God that we are His love in this world and that nothing, not a late start, not traffic, not lines, not anything, should keep us from demonstrating the love we have received.

The rest of my ride into work was spent in thanking God for reminding me of His love, His grace, and His mercy.  You just never know when you are going to be able to share those with another.

Oh, and be careful out there …lots of impatient people to deal with!!

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Wondering just when enough is enough

My friend Mark recently linked an article to a Facebook post that really got me to thinking.  I thought I would share a few thoughts with you.  The article was in Charismanews, titled Sex Symbols Who Speak in Tongues, by Michael Brown.  You can read the article here http://www.charismanews.com/opinion/38090-sex-symbols-who-speak-in-tongues.  I have grown uncomfortable with the influence of the world on the church. I believe that the early disciples understood the need to be a light and voice in the world, willing to stand for Christ no matter what the cost.  As I sit in my comfortable chair, in my well equipped office I am challenged by the question, “what is the Gospel costing me?”  Am I too comfortable and thereby willing to “soften” the demands of true discipleship in order to feel good about myself, or attract more people to church, or feel comfortable? The idea that we can “dabble” in the ways of the world and still be a follower of Christ is contrary to the Gosepl of Jesus Christ. Jesus, in speaking to His disciples (followers) said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.  As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.  That is why the world hates you.” John 15:18,19 (NIV) .  As a fervent follower of the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Apostle Paul says that we are not “to conform any longer to the pattern of this world…” Romans 12:2a (NIV) . As I read it, and as I understand it, the ways of this world are often contrary to the Gospel.  To be a true follower I cannot visit strip clubs while rapping about Jesus, or take on roles that would sexually objectify the woman and man that God created.  These would seem to me to be pretty obvious examples of a carnal approach to being a follower of Christ. 

With that I want to bring it back into my kitchen so to speak.  The reason is that is awfully easy to evaluate our own following by looking at others.  We get a kind of spiritual self-satisfaction when we hear of the way “some people” follow, as cited in the article.  And there’s the issue, “spiritual self-satisfaction”.  It really isn’t about Jesus, it is really about me.  When I am driving down the road, listening to praise music on the radio, and call another driver an idiot … am I following correctly?  When I have just finished praying to Jehovah Jireh and then bemoan my fate at not having enough ______ (you fill in the blank) am I really following Him and giving myself up? 

True following comes when we move intentionally and purposefuuly through this world with our heart, mind, and soul fixed firmly on Jesus.  Our measure is in how much more we are being transformed into His likeness, how our character reflects His, how our actions reflect that transformation.

Rise up church and be unafraid to stand for Jesus.  Do not desire the applause of this world but instead desire that this world would see Jesus in you! That is my goal …to image Him more and more each day!

 

 

 

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Stuck in the “in between”!

It is that time of year,  the “in between” time.  The expectations of Christmas have been fulfilled, and the anticipation of a new year in on the horizon.  Not sure today how I am supposed to feel. Contentment about things accomplished, sadness over things undone, joy for new friends made, melancholy for old friends gone?  What is to be? A look back or a look ahead?

A look back requires a good dose of honesty and humility.  The joys and sorrows of the past year are no longer mine to own.  They now belong to a recent history that cannot be undone or rewritten.  Pain and loss, hope and joy, addition and substraction … all now simply a part of my story. It is a story that I am glad to have.  The look back reveals a Savior who cared for me, who challenged me, and who sustained me.There were times that I did not understand, and events that cut to the heart. Times that I never thought I would move past, and yet, here I sit, on the edge of a new year.  My recent past is now a help, not a hinderance, as I move into a new year.  It has helped to mold me and shape me.

A look ahead requires a faith that has been forged in the events of the last year.  I have discovered that this new year ahead will be a year of promise, of joys not yet discoverable, and sorrows not yet understandable. There will be difficulties that will challenge me, and blessings that will astonish me.  Circumstances will arise that will confound me, and routines that will dull me.  But as I sit here today I am ready to embrace them all with a heart of gladness because I know that, through it all, my Redeemer lives.  My Savior is as solid as a rock, and He loves being in relationship with me.

If you find yourself stuck in the “in between” just refocus your attention on the One who holds the future … Jesus Christ!  Seek Him and you will find Him, trust Him for tomorrow even as you thank Him for yesterday.

God’s blessings to you all!

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