Live for the Minute

Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May, by John William Waterhouse

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, old Time is still a-flying; and this same flower that smiles today, tomorrow will be dying.   Robert Herrick

Few would argue that making plans isn’t important.  As an Army officer, I spent over a decade participating in various planning teams.  It requires meticulous planning to move a mass of soldiers and their equipment from point A to point B, whether the end destination is a local training area or a battle somewhere in the Middle East. The old adage we lived by was, “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail!”

Hardly anyone would think of going on vacation without planning some sort of itinerary—where you’re going, when you’ll be there, overnight accommodation etc.  Many people use financial planners to help them plan for the future—monthly income, a dwelling, health care, long term care, assisted living, etc. We are a planning society.

All planning aside, however, there’s only one place you can accomplish anything—that’s in the here and now.  Too many people today are stuck in the realm of “if only.” If only I could (you fill in the blank), then I would be set.  Unfortunately, many Christians take this approach, striving to achieve some unattainable goal of holiness or obedience before they believe they can be of use to God. 

The truth is, God can use you where you are right now.  Many Christians strive to reach a future destination, while God’s main goal for them is in the here and now.  God is more about the process than our final destination.  He teaches us to be calm and courageous in whatever situation we find ourselves; and he teaches us to serve others.

St. Paul tells us in Philippians 2, to work out our own salvation in fear and trembling.  This “working out” is a process of sanctification that can last a lifetime–again, it is more about the process than the destination.   The future is uncertain—it is only in your present situation that you can serve others.  Don’t wait to take up the work of God.  There will never be a better time than now to pick up your cross and follow Jesus.

Never allow the thought, “I am of no use where I am,” because you certainly can be of no use where you are not. Wherever God has dumped you down in circumstances, pray to Him all the time.  Oswald Chambers

 

Prepare the children, not the road

Bible

Adversity introduces a man to himself.  –Albert Einstein

 The Urban Dictionary describes “trigger” as a topic, phrase or word that emotionally sets someone off.   “Setting off” can refer to anger or reliving a traumatic experience. Some universities have gone so far as to establish so-called “safe spaces,” where those with delicate feelings can avoid triggering events. Some universities have resorted to publishing trigger warnings about certain campus events, so those who might feel uncomfortable hearing opinions differing from their own can avoid the events.

In some universities, even classrooms have been designated as safe spaces.  This has led to charges of censorship, where freedom of speech, and hence rigorous intellectual discourse, is prohibited on campus.

Recently, there was a Chick-fil-A flap on the campus of Duquesne University.  Some students oppose the planned opening on campus of a Christian-owned chicken restaurant whose owners espouse conservative values, for fear it will upset their “safe space.” This and a host of other triggering incidents, many associated with the harsh treatment of conservative speakers trying to make invited presentations on university campuses, got me thinking about how today’s children are not being equipped to deal with adversity.

Popular Christian author and apologist David C. McCasland has suggested, “Instead of trying to remove all obstacles and pave the way for the children in our life, we should instead equip them to deal with the difficulties they encounter on the road ahead.”  McCasland’s suggestion isn’t rocket science, yet many in our society today simply can’t grasp this wisdom.

Trigger warnings and safe spaces are natural consequences of a society where every child playing sports gets a trophy—both winners and losers—so as to avoid any hurt feelings. They are also consequences of a society where Christianity and Christian-based principles are on the decline. If the truth be told, life is naturally full of adversity and controversy.  What if we equipped our children to deal with these rather than avoiding them?

Most American children, age six and above, spend the better part of each weekday in school.  Today, younger and younger children find themselves in school programs as more mothers take on full-time jobs. Most schools do an inadequate job of teaching life skills–that’s where parents come in. What if parents spent 30 minutes a day teaching their children to deal with the real world, instead of spending a lifetime trying to protect them and solve all their problems?

In John 16:33 (ESV), Jesus tells us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”   In John 17, Jesus’ prayer reminds us that his followers are not of this world, even as He is not of this world.  We will all suffer at times during our lives, but we need look no farther than the cross to find peace amid life’s tribulations.

The Bible is the best source of wisdom about dealing with adversity and controversy. Just consider what might happen if you spent a mere 30 minutes each day sharing the Bible with your children.  This amounts to one TV show you wouldn’t have to watch…a blessing in itself!

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.                                   

–2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (ESV)

Patience Please!

Patience

Patience is more than endurance. A saint’s life is in the hands of God like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer. God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, and He stretches and strains, and every now and again the saint says — “I cannot stand any more.” God does not heed, He goes on stretching till His purpose is in sight, then He lets fly. Trust yourself in God’s hands. For what have you need of patience just now? Maintain your relationship to Jesus Christ by the patience of faith.    

—Oswald Chambers (My Utmost for His Highest, May 8th)

Patience is a virtue that I’m sorely lacking in lately.  For nearly three months I’ve been recovering from total knee replacement surgery, a highly invasive procedure.  Given that I was in pretty good physical condition going into the surgery, I imagined that three months down the road I would be nearly recovered.  Wrong!  I’m still dealing with swelling, stiffness, and muscle spasms around my knee.  I attend three torturous physical therapy sessions per week, where my therapist stretches and strains my knee until I can’t stand any more. Then she does it again…and again, sometimes bringing tears to my eyes. Learning patience can be a bitter pill to swallow.

The Oswald Chamber passage quoted at the head of this entry got me thinking about patience.  I recognize that I have a problem with patience.  So, as I so often try to do, I turn to the pages of the Bible for guidance.  The scriptures have a multitude of great examples of patience.  I can’t mention them all, but here are a few I find inspiring.

In Genesis chapter 17, God promised Abram (Abraham) he would be the “Father of many nations.”  In Abraham’s era, the inability to have children was considered a punishment from God.  Abraham and Sarah’s first child Isaac was born after Sarah was at least 90 years old and Abraham was 100.  Nevertheless, Abraham believed God’s promise.

Jacob served Rachel’s father Laban for 14 years in order to be allowed to take Rachel as his wife!

Moses led the Children of Israel from captivity as slaves in Egypt.  He subsequently wandered 40 years in the desert wilderness with his disobedient people and was finally told by God that he would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land.  All the same, he remained faithful to God.

King David wanted to honor God by building a temple to house the Arc of the Covenant.  However, in 1 Chronicles chapter 17 the prophet Nathan reveals to David that God has ordained that David’s son Solomon will build the temple.  Despite having the means to proceed by himself, David accepts Nathan’s revelation and refrains from building it.

Acts chapter 16 describes Paul and Silas being in prison for preaching the Gospel in the Greek city of Philippi. What are they doing at midnight?  They’re not rattling their chains; they’re praying and singing hymns to God.  Now that’s patience!  Paul and Silas were following the advice of Psalm 27:14, that says, “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.” Of course their patience paid off. An earthquake shook the prison and loosed their chains.  On that amazing night, Paul and Silas ended up preaching the Gospel to their jailer and his whole family, who, we are told, were all saved.

Despite being fine examples, these remarkable acts of patience all pale in comparison to God’s great patience with you and me, and we can thank Him for it. 2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

Thanks be to God who is patient with me and you as we plod along towards our final destinations. As Philippians 2:17 says, God has given me a chance to work out my own salvation “with fear and trembling.” To this I would add, “…even when I deserve his punishment.”   What a patient and loving Father we have.  May we all strive to follow his example!

 

Enduring Truths for Recent Grads

Divine Simplicity

Graduate [2]A couple of years ago I wrote an article  for my newspaper column with some advice for recent grads.  It has become one of the most popular pieces I ever wrote. I received dozens of emails thanking me for writing it.    Therefore, I decided to  republish it annually around graduation time.  I hope some of you might find it useful.  You can view the original article in The Tribune-Democrat news at this link:  http://goo.gl/LtN72

For those who are graduating high school this year and beginning the long transition into adulthood, I’d like to offer you a gift. Here are five enduring truths I’ve learned. They will help you through life’s journey.

Choices

“If you decide to just go with the flow, you’ll end up where the flow goes, which is usually downhill, often leading to a big pile of sludge and a life of unhappiness. You’ll end up doing what everyone else is doing.” ―…

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Easter 2017: He is risen!

Jesus at tomb with Mary Magdalene

Jesus at the tomb with Mary Magdalene

Matthew 28 (ESV) – He Is Risen

28 Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.

But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.”

So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word.

The Women Worship the Risen Lord

And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, “Rejoice!” So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him. 10

My Lenten Journey

Labyrinth

I thank God for my Lenten journey this year.  I’ve learned so much already. It began with a total knee replacement surgery on February 28, which was Shrove Tuesday.  Shrove Tuesday is the first Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.  It officially ends the season of Epiphany and is the vigil for the beginning of Lent. 

The surgery went well, but there were complications that nearly landed me in the intensive care unit.  Consequently, I suffered three days of migraines and severe nausea, which left me exhausted and unable to eat. My anticipated three-day hospital stay for surgery ended up being six days instead.

Among the lessons and reminders of my journey, it was comforting to see so many caring people on the hospital staff. It reassured me that there are still many good and loving people in our society, despite all the violence and hatred we see every evening on the news. 

It has given me insight into the pain and suffering so many handicapped and elderly people endure every day. I have to use a walker and my physical therapy has, at times, been torturous.

I’ve been so happy and encouraged to see how concerned and eager to assist our eldest grandson (age 9) is. It’s a sure sign that the hard work of his parents is paying of.

It has reminded me how blessed I am to have a loving wife and a marriage that has endured 40 years.  Marriage is a lot of work, but the rewards of persevering are tremendous. 

It has helped me begin some very healthy lifestyle changes. I’m an active person who enjoys exercise. At present, I won’t be able to do any serious exercising for several more weeks. I’ve had to closely watch what I eat and drink while incapacitated–something I should have been doing all along.

But most of all, it’s reminded me that, no matter how much I try,  I can’t handle everything by myself. How comforting it is to have a loving God to help me with every aspect of my life.  We’re only 12 days into the 40 days of Lent and I pray the lessons will keep coming as I recover at home and dig deeper into the scriptures.

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name.
Bless the
Lord, O my soul,
and do not forget all his benefits

who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the Pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good as long as you live
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Psalm 103:1-5

Give ear to my words, O Lord;
give heed to my sighing.
Listen to the sound of my cry,
my King and my God,
for to you I pray.
O
Lord, in the morning you hear my voice;
in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch. Psalm 5:1-3

How sweet are your words to my taste,
   sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding;
   therefore I hate every false way.
Your word is a lamp to my feet
   and a light to my path. Psalm 119:103–105

Take a Lenten Journey

lenten-journey-2

Tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of the season of Lent.  For many Christians, Lent is little more than a period of 40 days on the church calendar.  But for others, it is a solemn time of preparation and reflection looking forward to Easter, the most holy day of the Christian faith on which we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and his victory over death and sin.

If you’re a Christian for whom Lent has no special significance, I challenge you to take a Lenten journey beginning tomorrow. The journey doesn’t have to be anything extravagant—I’m not suggesting that you give up coffee or chocolate for 40 days (although that might not be a bad idea).   I recommend simply beginning each day during Lent by spending a half hour reading scripture, praying and reflecting (something I hope you’re already doing) on Christ’s final journey to the cross.  You might begin by reading a brief Lenten Primer, which was written a few years ago. It’s located at this link:  http://visitor.stcdio.org/primer-season/

After reading the Primer, I suggest using a Lenten devotional to guide you on your journey.  The devotional will provide a reading for each day of Lent. There are many good ones available online at no cost.  If you have trouble choosing one, here are a couple of suggestions. The Bible Gateway website is offering a Lenten devotional focusing on the writing of renowned German Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Because Bonhoeffer resisted the Nazi regime, he was incarcerated in a concentration camp.  He was executed near the end of World War II.  You can sign up at this link to have each daily devotion emailed to you:

https://www.biblegateway.com/landing/easter/?utm_source=bg&utm_medium=alert&utm_campaign=easter

The Lutheran Hour Ministries is also offering a Lenten devotional.  You can find it online at this link beginning March 1https://www.lhm.org/lent/dailydevotions.asp

Starting this year, let Lent become a special church season for you!

Almighty and Everlasting God,
You have given the human race
Jesus Christ our Savior as a model of humility.
He fulfilled Your Will by becoming Man
and giving His life on the Cross.
Help us to bear witness to You
By following His example of suffering
and make us worthy to share in His Resurrection.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son.
Amen.