Lessons To Learn

(I wrote this in 2009 when my precious nephew died. I’m still learning the lessons I describe…probably will for the rest of my days.)

Recently a pop star/icon/music legend died. Perhaps you may have heard about it. Over and over I heard people expressing their grief and insisting that he “died too soon.” I think I understand what they were thinking. Twenty years ago my father died. He was only fifty-three. I knew then that was young-ish. Now that I am fifty-two I know just how young that really was.

Yesterday my nephew died from injuries sustained from a fifty foot fall. He was fifteen. That, my friends, is too young. There are some things about this I am not able to wrap my brain around, but here’s what I have pulled out of this mess.

Most importantly, life is brief. Live it. Don’t wait for something to come along to begin to do what you love. Growing up I heard this from my mom. She would tell us, “Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today.” Her use of this phrase typically referred to some unpleasant job, like cleaning our room, that we didn’t want to do. It’s equally good advice for the things we want to do or feel passionate about. Isn’t that how Jake was? At fifteen, he had crammed a lot of living in.

Laugh often. Jake was an imp. I can’t count the many times Julie told me how he made her laugh. There is enough sorrow and pain in this world, but not near enough laughter. It is natural for us to be sad at times, but we don’t have to trade in our laughter and carry around sorrow for forever. Who would be the first person to try and make us laugh at a time like this? Take his cue.

Love Jesus. Julie shared how Jake was feeling that God was calling him to something. At fifteen he was open to do whatever God asked. He didn’t know what it was, but he was going to be ready when the call came. I was told during this week at camp he even had opportunity to lead someone to a personal relationship with the Savior he loved and served. There’s a Christian cliché that says, “Your life may be the only Bible some may ever read.” For me, the page that has Jake on it says, “You can love Jesus. You can trust Him, even when you don’t have all the answers.”

Jake’s life ended while he was doing something he enjoyed, with people he liked, in a setting that was beautiful, aware of the God who created and loved him. Some will ask where God was and is in all of this. God’s voice was in the voice of the counselor who told Jake to be careful and stay on the path. Perhaps he wasn’t listening as closely as he should have. Perhaps he was traveling too close to the edge. We can all relate to that. We’ve all strayed off the path and paid consequences we didn’t count on. I guess that’s the next point. Listen. We need to make sure that we’re tuned in and listening. There’s so much that God wants to say to us if we’ll just quit talking long enough and listen.

Learn. Jake was learning about this magical world of photography. Someone close to Jake felt bad for “teaching” him what he knew. That needs to stop; because if hadn’t been photography, it would have been something else. I remember when Jake was little and into soccer, he had this thing he put around his waist that had a soccer ball attached so he could practice soccer. He always wanted to be better. Learning opens us up to living. So whether we’re fifty or fifteen, or somewhere in between, we need to keep learning—to keep growing, to keep living.

Lean. Sometimes when tragedy hits we have the tendency to pull away and lick our wounds and ask our questions alone. This is not the time for that. It is the time to lean in on each other. When my dad died, he died at home with hospice. Those of us at the house were remembering things about Dad and amid our tears there were funny stories that brought laughter. I noticed that the hospice worker had written in her notes: “Family remembering appropriately.” That night my brother, sister, and I sang together. It was a good time of leaning. As family and friends we have to get better at leaning on one another. I know life can be hectic and full—but let’s not let it crowd out the opportunities to come tighter and draw strength and encouragement from one another.

Yes, he was gone too soon, but he will never really ever be gone, if we learn the lessons from his life. In that way we will keep him alive and let his life make an even greater impact.

Advertisements

Hopefully Devoted: Today Time

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)

49496A30-3E0F-4870-948A-C40079E747D1

I finally purchased my own copy of Jesus Calling. As I shopped at my nearby Christian bookstore, I spied it. I picked up the very nice leather-like bound copy and read the tag-line of the title: Enjoying Peace In His Presence. I was in the midst of a series of messages on “Continuing the Work of Jesus…Peacefully.” Knowing I needed to continue growing in peace and peacemaking, I laid my money down—and I haven’t regretted the decision.

I love how a phrase can cut straight to the struggle of my heart. This morning I found a nugget that stopped me. 

I designed time to be a protection for you.

I had been washing dishes, getting breakfast, and having a running dialogue with God about the frustration I was having with feeling excessive stress, and how it was impacting my commitment to healthy eating. 

1AFED94F-4C24-4306-91A3-FF44A9F1E0BF

As I walked past the dining room table, I glanced down and saw the devotional. Picking it up, I turned to today, and there it was.

I designed time to be a protection for you.

I have a large new responsibility coming up next week. I’ve been feeling anxious. Doubting my ability. Performance anxiety. 

My head dropped. I was doing it again. Worrying about a tomorrow, about what might be, about things I have no control over. Frustrating myself today. Trampling all over my daily goals, commitments, and opportunities by stressing about tomorrow.

Time. Time is a gift from God. 

Provision. God provides for me on a “daily” basis. Only gather enough manna for today. Give me this day—today—my daily bread. Today is the day of salvation.

God, forgive me for failing to recognize you wise provision and creation. Especially, when it comes to time. Help me to trust you for all my tomorrows and to live more completely in my today. Thanks. Amen.

Wednesday’s Word: FORWARD!

7355F794-C23B-4B7C-A17B-E79CBFE4576D

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:12, NIV)

Life seems full of road blocks the inhibit our forward progress. And while we try to figure out how we can get around (or if we even want to try), we look up and see so many things undone or done wrong in the rearview mirror. How can we ever move ahead when what’s behind pulls on our attention?

What keeps the believer moving forward? Knowing that what is expected is not perfection in the sense that we never make the wrong move, flub up, or experience what Paul describes in Romans 7: the thing I want to do, I don’t; and the thing I don’t want to do I keep doing. It’s a horrible tug of war.

Paul gets it—gets us. Inevitably, striving for perfection ends in frustration, shame, and defeat. Focusing on moving forward, taking the steps, making one right choice and then another, is progress. Pressing on to become the person God wants me to be is moving in the right direction.

Pressing on is intentional. Pressing on is work. Pressing on gets me to where God wants me to be, to be who he wants me to be.

Jesus is quite clear on which direction we need to be moving. When he invited people to follow him several gave flimsy excuses about taking care of other things first. To them, and to us he states: “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God (Luke 9:62, NIV).”

What direction are you moving in today?

 

Hymn Struggles: Mercy Drops

B3D5783F-FA58-40F2-95FF-75E06A2FAB94

Recently I wrote an article about my frustration with a phrase in a familiar hymn being used in a modern worship song: He Never Has Failed Me YET.

My dislike stems from what appears to be the implication that while God hasn’t failed the believer in the past, he still might.

Ugh! He hasn’t and he won’t. Period.

Another hymn came to mind which I believe leads believers into an unhealthy relationship with God. You might be familiar with the gospel hymn, “There Shall Be Showers of Blessing.”

I like the thought. I want to get all wet in the downspout of God’s grace and mercy. My problem with the song is that it sounds like a petulant, ungrateful three year old is singing.

The chorus goes like this:

Showers of blessing,
Showers of blessing we need:
Mercy-drops round us are falling,
But for the showers we plead.

Mercy-drops round us are falling, but that’s not enough, God. We want more. Super-soak us. Saturation is what we want.

On a daily basis, however, God sends his mercy-drops. They’re all around. They are new every morning. They are timely. They are refreshing. They are God’s provision.

Are we even aware? Do we thank God?

I will confess, I prefer “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” to “Showers of Blessing.” The chorus has a much different feel:

Great Is Thy faithfulness, Great Is Thy faithfulness,
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy Faithfulness, Lord unto me!

The truth of these words comes straight from scripture: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him’ (Lamentations 3:22-24, NIV).”

Some might argue we do face times when life leaves us parched and we need God to pour out his grace and mercy in tsunami waves on dry and weary souls.

I agree. I’ve been there.

Those times, thankfully, don’t come every day. But God’s mercies do. And they don’t always come as flash floods. No, there as gentle as the morning dew, and refreshing to our spirit.

Don’t miss the mercy while you plead for the drenching.

 

 

Wednesday’s Word: Awe

F36968A3-779F-40D0-8F12-95B2CC74E75B

So the plan for this weekly post is to have an encouraging word for those extra long days and weeks that weigh heavy and are discouraging.

Today’s word is a great word for that purpose. So many days we get tripped up by the mundane, sabotaged by the pain, or overwhelmed by the struggle. We’re taken down by those things because we lose perspective: the ability to see above and beyond.

A scripture that lifts me to a place of awe is found in Isaiah 40:

28 Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

God can give us the ability to soar above…and that’s pretty awesome. He keeps his promise, gives us everything we need—including the ability run, or  the strength to just keep walking.

That’s awesome and amazing.

 

Selah: Ministry Priorities

Recently I was asked to list what I think are the top ten things related to ministry. My first response put preaching and teaching at the top.

I read over my written list a couple times and decided I started at the wrong place.

Hitting the delete button on my keyboard, I changed preaching to spiritual self-care and my number two to connection/fellowship with others. If I don’t take care of myself, making my spiritual growth a priority—then I will have nothing to give anyone else.

Then I saw this meme:

0519FB02-88EE-47EE-AAD9-573C16652439

Flourish.

This of course reminded me of my series on the Beatitudes, and how Jesus’ understanding and invitation to “blessed” was the idea of flourishing.

If I am going to flourish and be effective in my life and calling, I have to tend my garden first. And while you may not be called to a specific capacity or “job” of ministry, nourishing will lead to flourishing in your spiritual walk and influence.

As you pause and reflect on where your journey may take you today and this week, ask for guidance on how you will prioritize and nourish your spiritual garden. Are there weeds you need to pull? Seeds you need to plant? Flowers you just need to take time to admire?

Make your spiritual garden a priority and see what grows.

 

For meditation:

God’s blessings follow you and await you at every turn:
    when you don’t follow the advice of those who delight in wicked schemes,
When you avoid sin’s highway,
    when judgment and sarcasm beckon you, but you refuse.
For you, the Eternal’s Word is your happiness.
    It is your focus—from dusk to dawn.
You are like a tree,
    planted by flowing, cool streams of water that never run dry.
Your fruit ripens in its time;
    your leaves never fade or curl in the summer sun.
No matter what you do, you prosper. (Psalm 1, The Voice Bible)

 

 

 

Hopefully Devoted: Dream Small

But we have only five loaves of bread and two fish!” they answered (Matthew 14:17, NLT).”

The chorus I learned as a child said, “Little is much when God is in it.” The updated version is this:

I’ve been having conversations at my church about this transition in thinking. We can chase after big and think that only doing big things matters—but there is such a special blessing in doing small and simple things in big ways…with a big heart.

Will you share a smile, hold a door, send a card, or phone a friend? Will take a coffee to a friend who can’t get out, or a bouquet of flowers to widow? Will you pull the weeds in someone’s flowerbed who recently had surgery? These things cost very little if anything, but can make a huge difference.

So what will you do today to bless others that won’t necessarily make a big splash, but plant a small seed which can potentially grow their faith in a huge kind of way?

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work (2 Corinthians 9:8, NIV).