John George graduated into heaven recently. He was a man for whom I will eternally be grateful. At a time when I was a cocky senior at West Point, he accurately confronted me about pride and forever changed my life. John knew that the Bible warns us in Proverbs 16:18 that “Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall.” His exhortation scared me to death that God would not use me for His kingdom.
Bryan, our oldest son, suffered a stroke at the young age of 28. Two years later he is undergoing forty treatments in a hyperbaric chamber. This requires almost four hours of daily driving five days a week so that he can spend two separate sessions over an hour getting treated with oxygen. There is no guarantee that this will bring any restoration and it is exhausting for him yet, through it all, one thing remains true—Bryan’s joy. How does he refrain from complaining, feeling sorry for himself, giving up, or succumbing to depression?
Luke 10:17—The Seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name.”
Four Tuesday evenings of each month, several of my West Point classmates join together for prayer. On a normal session we span from Alaska to Virginia (4 time zones). We briefly give updates on what is happening in our lives and this is often a time of bottom-of-the-heart-sharing. Some have recently lost spouses or parents to death. Some have spouses or children with medical challenges or are personally recovering from surgery. Some are in the midst of uncommon adversity with lawsuits, work harassment and attacks from the enemy. All at some point have encouraging stories of victory and the blessing of divine favor.
Jadon is almost 21 months old and being his grandpa is one of life’s great blessings. Jadon’s first word was “ball.” Virtually as soon as he learned how to walk he began kicking balls. He will walk and run around the room for quite awhile either throwing or kicking soccer balls, footballs, tennis balls (well you get the idea) and it is amazing to see his coordination. Jadon’s first phrase was “I love you” which he learned from Mark and Sarah. But his first connection of two different words was “more food.” Mentally he figured it out that more combined with food communicated that he was still hungry.
I turned on the television just in time to catch the pivotal game in the 2012 men’s Wimbledon Singles Championship. Andy Murray and Roger Federer were tied one set apiece and playing in the third set. Back and forth the game went for almost 20 minutes, neither player seemingly able to win. But after 26 dramatic points Roger took advantage and broke his opponent’s serve. You could see the life sucked out of Great Britain’s hope; disappointment marked his face and posture. Roger was too strong and too talented and despite Andy’s best tennis and the faithful cheers of his countrymen, he could not win. Federer would win his seventh singles title at Wimbledon, earn back the number one ranking in the world and deny England a champion for the 76thconsecutive year.
When we arrive in heaven will there be a Hall of Fame? Will we find an interactive display manned by select angels who share the stories of those living legends who served God exceedingly well? Conversely, will there be a Hall of Shame in hell for those who acted in the power of Satan? If Hitler was one of the worst men to walk the planet we might also find that his countryman Dietrich Bonhoefferwas an exceptional saint. This German Lutheran pastor and theologian could have successfully pastored in the United States or in Great Britain. Instead, he chose to go back to his country and preach and teach knowing that his life was in jeopardy.
Curiosity is a powerful thing. If you are in a group and happen to notice two people whispering to each other don’t you have an urge to know what they are saying? We don’t typically like it when people keep from us secrets. Nor do we appreciate it when those who are in charge withhold information we would like to know. I remember the stress on Matt and Angie, our neighbors, when Nike was getting ready to lay off hundreds of employees. For weeks they were in suspense as to whether they would keep their jobs. Fortunately they both did, but the stress of not knowing weighed heavily on them.
Our garage is full of boxes and items that we will transport to Champoeg State Park. The weather forecast for Sunday is 72 degrees and cloudy—almost perfect! The kitchen is stacked with boxes of food, prepared and unprepared. Brenda, Kathleen’s sister, spent countless hours ironing tablecloths, dresses, shirts, etc. Orange and purple flower arrangements dance in their splendid array. Bridesmaids are making signs. Kathleen’s friends of countless weddings, veterans familiar in how these things go, are cooking, planning and helping us with all the logistical challenges (and I thought military exercises were complicated).
Joshua 2:10,11—For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. (ESV)
Chip and Dan Heath wrote a terrific book called Switch, subtitled, How to Change Things When Change is Hard. If you are a leader or a worker in an organization undergoing change, this is necessary read. Chip and Dan make a point that self-control is an exhaustible resource. They share an experiment that proves the point. Researchers divided college students into two groups and placed them in a room with two bowls: one contained chocolate and chocolate-chip cookies while the other contained radishes. One group could only eat the cookies; the other group could only eat the radishes. The researchers then left the room to induce temptation. Fortunately, all the participants followed the rules. Next each group received a series of unsolvable puzzles. The group that ate the chocolate spent nineteen minutes on the task making 34 attempts to solve the challenge. The radish eaters gave up after only eight minutes and 19 solution attempts. Why did this latter group quit so quickly? They used up self-control by not eating the chocolate!
Okay, I admit it. There are days I just don’t feel like working out. However, if I want to have good muscle tone, a healthy heart and a strong body I have to exercise. Physical fitness doesn’t just happen. It takes consistentwork. We all know what occurs when we don’t exercise regularly. One workout (jogging, weight-lifting, aerobics class) per week, will not make me physically fit! Unfortunately, it’s be fit or be fat.
I’m in the process of moving my family from Tigard to Newberg. The last time I moved was fourteen years ago which more than triples the longest time I have ever lived in the same place! Moving is a painful adventure. The pleasure in meeting new people and making new friends is offset by the sadness of leaving old friends and familiar haunts. The excitement of moving is tempered by the reality of transporting stuff, cleaning, repairing, putting the Tigard home on the market and trying to figure out how to use furniture that is not designed to fit in the new home.
Acts 2:5,6—At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers. (NLT)
It was early in the morning and Doris was cold. She asked Dan if he would warm up the house. So he got up and only barely awake emptied the ashes from the wood stove into the cardboard box and set it behind the stove. Then he built a new fire and went back to bed. It wasn’t long before he awoke to the screams of Doris yelling his name. Their home was rapidly filling with smoke. Dan ran into the family room just in time to see flames darting up the corner wall. Quickly he found the fire extinguisher but instead of attacking the flames he sprayed directly into the box below and the blaze was contained.
One day Jesus asked His disciples to go with Him across the lake. So they got in a boat and begin crossing the Sea of Galilee when a fierce storm without warning hit them. I love this story of adventure and danger for the lessons it teaches us.
God’s qualities are indescribable, incomprehensible and thereby awe-inspiring. If you are beset with problems stop for a period and begin to reflect on God. We are a curious people so wrapped in ourselves and easily prone to discouragement. What we desperately need is to get our eyes off our humanity and gaze where it is impossible to see—God’s “Godness.” Robert Russell shares in his book Releasing Resentment that Martin Luther once was depressed over a prolonged period. One day his wife came downstairs wearing all black. Martin Luther asked her, “Who died?”
She said, “God has.”
He answered, “God hasn't died.”
She replied, “Well, live like it and act like it.”
Often as a young officer in the Army, my unit would deploy to the field for training. In order to communicate with everyone else in the Battalion, we used radios. But before we could talk on the same channel, the commo officer in charge of running the net tested us to ensure we were genuinely part of the unit and not the “enemy.” He did this by giving us a code that we then had to apply to our own code matrix to find the appropriate response. Once the proper reply was given we were allowed to join in with everyone else already authenticated.
1 Samuel 6:7-9--Now then, prepare one new cart and two milk cows that have never been yoked. Hitch the cows to the cart, but take their calves away and pen them up. Take the ark of the Lord, place it on the cart, and put the gold objects that you’re sending Him as a restitution offering in a box beside the ark. Send it off and let it go its way. Then watch: If it goes up the road to its homeland toward Beth-shemesh, it is the Lord who has made this terrible trouble for us. However, if it doesn’t, we will know that it was not His hand that punished us—it was just something that happened to us by chance.”
I believe God calls us to be comfortable but not in the way the world interprets the word. The world gets comfortable in a plush recliner. Jesus never said, “Take up your couch and follow Me.” The world defines comfortable as the absence of stress or anxiety and by the possession of adequate resources so as not to be deprived. Paul said, “ I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need” (Philippians 4:11b, 12). For the Christian, to be comfortable means to believe that the grace God apportions me is all I need for life on this world with the expectation that I will live forever in heaven with a new body free of pain and sorrow and in the presence of the One who loves me with an eternal love