JUN 6, 2018 Devotional: “Praying for Birdies”

For this morning’s run, I had one of my favorite baseball caps on my head….turned around backwards, of course, to be more aerodynamic!  Didn’t help much, but today’s specific cap was more to emphasize my theme for the devotional….a “golfing” one.  The cap was a green Augusta Masters trucker-style cap.

If you’ve been around me more than 15 minutes this past year, then you’ll agree that one of my new passions is golf.  I try to play it as much as possible, but there’s work, family obligations, community involvement, tending to my chickens…..I live a fairly busy life!  But most weekends, I am on the golf course playing.  It’s created a whole new network of friends that rarely overlaps with some of the other circles I play in traditionally.  Not to say that any one group is better than the other.  Simply different pools.

And my endurance within golf is increasing.  I started out only playing 9 holes at a time.  Now, I’m able to swing the clubs 18 holes without much thought!

In our family, my brother-in-law, Kermit Murphy, carries our golfing banner.  He’s our resident “family champion” having played in college and also a VERY frequent participant in local tournaments and outings.  Safe to say it will take me years or even a lifetime to reach Kermit’s skill level.  But, still, I try and try … and it’s certainly a focus of mine.

But my focus, physically, rarely extends beyond the weekend.  Sure, there are days when I can play a quick 9 after work.  Mostly, its weekends on the links.

So, like most things in life, only swinging the golf clubs once or twice a week, also affects my performance.  While my stroke handicap has gone down…..generally a “good” thing…..my overall game is relatively stagnant.  I was thinking this week about my Christian life as well.  If I’m only a “good” Christian on Sunday mornings when we attend church services, could the same be said about that side of my religious life similarly being “stagnant”?  How many of you might say the same?

Much has been argued over the years about who are the better Christians.  Is it the group of individuals who we see in the pews regularly, singing all the hymns?  Surely they are the most pious of all.  Or, rather, could it be those who are more spiritual in their daily lives, focusing on their families, friends, and work colleagues?

In his book, “Jesus Outside the Lines“, the Rev. Scott Sauls tackles this point in one of the chapters that he’s labeled…”Hypocrite or Work in Progress”.  Sauls relays a famous quote from Mahatma Ghandi when asked why he chose to be a Hindu instead of a Christian.  Ghandi said, “I love your Christ.  I don’t like your Christians.”

Wow.  Pretty harsh stuff but maybe worth some introspection for all of us, even still today.  Ghandi’s observations seemed to indicate that the Christians he knew seemed more focused on materialism over service; richness over charity.  Famously, there’s another story about Ghandi where he was asked why he would use the pencil all the way down to the nub.  “I don’t want to offend the pencil maker”, he replied.

Let me reel this back into the boat before I get to far down a tangent.  I think Ghandi’s example for us is that living a Christian life is an every day thing….not just something we do on Sunday mornings.  We live busy lives….and I don’t want to be a hypocrite either.  You want your golf game to improve?  Spend some time on the practice range?  You wanna be more satisfied in your spiritual “game”….look for opportunities throughout the week to be thankful, be service oriented, love one another, and build on that relationship with our heavenly father.

My good friend and frequent Charlotte golfing buddy, Brandon Lawn, has a trucker cap he wears from time to time that’s labeled “Pray for Birdies”…. And for my non-golfing friends, the hat talks about aspirations of shooting one-under-par (a birdie).  Aside from Brandon’s lighthearted nature, the hat does point out that, in golf, there’s plenty of room for prayers.  And, more importantly, in our lives, there’s always more room for that as well.

My prayer this week is that in our lives, the fairways are wide, the greens are flat, our drives off the tee are perfectly straight….and our Christian efforts, too, are always focused on living well under par!  Work in progress, indeed! 

Amen!

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May 9, 2018 Devotional: “We All Need a Little Fortnite in Our Lives!”

If you’re the parent of a middle-schooler or high-schooler, especially boys, then you undoubtedly know about the “free” video game called “Fortnite” that’s sweeping the country….literally!  “Free” to download to your child’s Xbox, iPhone, iPad, etc….but certainly not free from the headaches that will ensue.  Trust me, from personal experience and the many stories from fellow parents, this Fortnite has been a nightmare!

According to a recent article in the New York Times, Fortnite generated $223 million in March 2018 alone, mostly attributed to V-bucks which is a currency that players can purchase to buy things like “skins” (ie. character uniforms) and other cosmetic items.  Fortnite is also one of the latest trends of social experimentation where players can play along side friends in virtual settings while communicating via headsets, Facetime, alerting other players about upcoming threats in a particular game, coordinate strategy, or even talk “smack” to one another.  Believe me, if you’ve heard the screaming of “give me bandages” from your living room during a son’s game, then you know what I’m referring to!

Another positive is that while the game does involve shooting weapons, the graphics are free from blood and gore, unlike another video game series, Call of Duty, which was just the opposite.  Lastly, there’s research to confirm that action video games cultivate spatial skills needed in advanced math and engineering.  Maybe I should have played more video games before “Plebe” math at West Point?

With all these positives, how can Fortnite be bad, you might be asking?

One word….”addiction”.

Just the word alone conjures up images of someone who’s lost control and cannot make decisions without some assistance, either it be counseling, prescriptions, or going “cold turkey” altogether.  There are stealth habit-forming features in this new game such as the element of “luck” that, by human nature, keep players coming back for more.  Players need that “hit” or the “high” or the “rush” with the belief that good fortune is just around the corner.

That same NYT’s article explains the adrenaline rush that comes if you almost win.  Players will feel like they have to play again to try and overcome that near win scenario.

My wife and I have found ourselves struggling for ways to apply some controls around these video game sessions.  There are days, especially on the weekends, where our living room if filled with a half dozen boys.  I’ve seen some pictures of multiple monitors and devices where teens are playing Fortnite.  Recently, we purchased an Eeros system for our home which creates a “network mesh” for our WiFi.  Every device on the home wifi network has a profile to which a schedule can be applied.  So, the boys’ Xbox is one profile and during the school nights, the Eeros system will shut down the Xbox from the network between 5:30 pm until 6:30 am the next day.

We have another schedule on the weekends where the Xbox shuts down between 10 am and 3 pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

Ingenious?  Maybe….but even the Eeros as a means of our sanity has created an uproar from our two sons.

“What are we supposed to do until 3 o’clock on a Saturday,” was one response from our oldest son when we were explaining the rules one evening.  It was a literal melt-down.  As a parent who was himself raised doing chores around the home on weekends, and mowing lawns around the neighborhood to earn some extra spending cash, the “what are we supposed to do” response did not sit well with me.  A conversation about responsibilities around the home quickly followed.

Now I’m not writing today to say we have it all figured out.  In fact, it’s just the contrary.  We are still struggling.  And many of you are too.

What are the “Fortnites” in your lives?  For me, it’s my aspiring love of playing golf.  I’ll have a terrible round and I’m ready to throw away my clubs, but then magically, I’ll hit an amazing drive straight down the middle of the 18th fairway, and I’ll turn to a playing partner to say, “Man, I love this game!” or “Isn’t golf easy….?”.

Some might call that my addiction.  There’s an element of the “rush” or “hit” in my golf game too, isn’t there?

Addictions are not always the historical ones of drugs, alcohol, or other vices.  We live in a new age where everything in excess can become addictive.

There’s a biblical message for all of us, especially as it relates to Fortnite.  The video game, although caustic as times, has become a focal point for conversations.  I’ve learned to be a little more patient.  Learned to keep to my word as it relates to the Eeros schedule.  And I think we’re talking more as a family.

We’re learning to tackle problems head-on instead of festering in a back bedroom.  There are fewer slamming doors, fewer shouting matches, and, thank God, we actually have some quieter times in the evening after 5:30 pm.

Funny or not, I find myself talking to God on a daily basis….”Lord, just help me through this final 30 minutes of hearing Fortnite in the other room…!”

And the boys, well….they’re coming around too.  Amazingly, our youngest doesn’t treat the kitchen as his personal diner anymore, demanding anything and everything on the menu…..And I’ve even witnessed him wiping down the kitchen island with a damp sponge after taking his plate to the sink now.  Progress!

If there is a “Fortnite” in your household, consider yourself lucky.  Really….lucky.  Embrace it.  Monitor it.  Keep it in check.  Use it as a focal point to bring the family together rather than tearing it apart.

I’m learning.  And I know you can too!

Amen!

 

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MAR 28, 2018 Devotional: “The Legacy of Easter”

There are many thoughts we might have about the season of Easter.  Perhaps, it’s the end of 40 days of Lenten fasting.  What did you give up this year?  Or perhaps, it’s the vision of a stone rolled away, an empty tomb and an angel saying, “He’s not here….He has risen…”.  Or maybe, perhaps, it’s a long walk down a dusty road with a stranger who finally says something you remember….and poof… He’s gone.

All interesting yet positive thoughts, right?

What if I took you down a different path of Easter memories?  What about the betrayal in the garden?  What about the group’s leader who denies any knowledge of the Christ, three times over?  Or the brutal crucification?  Need we say more?

Right or wrong….good or bad, there’s a legacy that comes from the Easter story?  A legacy….you know….something that makes a mark, takes a stand, and postures itself for the future.  That’s my definition.

Here’s another definition I found from a blogger’s quote:

“Legacy is about life and living. It’s about learning from the past, living in the present, and building for the future.

Where do you think it’s best to plant a young tree: a clearing in an old-growth forest or an open field? Ecologists tell us that a young tree grows better when it’s planted in an area with older trees. The reason, it seems, is that the roots of the young tree are able to follow the pathways created by former trees and implant themselves more deeply. Over time, the roots of many trees may actually graft themselves to one another, creating an intricate, interdependent foundation hidden under the ground. In this way, stronger trees share resources with weaker ones so that the whole forest becomes healthier. That’s legacy: an interconnection across time, with a need for those who have come before us and a responsibility to those who come after us.”

Susan V. Bosak, Legacy Project

I’ve come to realize over the years that Easter is all of those things I mentioned above, but more importantly it’s the fulfillment that Christ said He was going to do.  For those who followed and listened to His teachings, the Easter resurrection story is about the legacy Jesus set forth from the start of His ministry.

The deck was certainly stacked against any prospects of Jesus laying the groundwork for a legacy, however, especially during those final days.  Pontius Pilate, who served loyally under the Roman Emperor, Tiberius, could find nothing gravely wrong with Jesus that merited the outcomes that would ensure.  Still, the crowds yelled, “Give us Barbarous…” and “Crucify Him….”.  Rome was going to make a statement at Jesus’ expense.  The sign at the base of Christ’s crucification read, “Here is your king….”, a certainly mockery to the Jewish people, reminding them that any rebellion against the Empire would be struck down, and struck down in a bloody, cruel manner.

Disciples scattered.  There was no legacy forming.  No preaching Christ’s word.

They hid in an upper room.  Locked the doors.  Feared for their lives.

No learning from the past.  No living in the present.  And certainly, no building for the future.

But….Christ came (and comes) during the darkest hours.  And when still those doubted, He showed them the physical pains and scars of His earthly disposal.

If we’ve learned nothing more from our Savior’s story, it’s the message that God has plans on a much grander scale than we can ever imagine.  His plans can overcome our short-mindedness of how the story….the legacy….could and would unfold.

Last week, I was fortunate to attend a men’s prayer breakfast where the keynote speaker, Bishop Claude Alexander, energized the gathering of just under 250 men.  Claude right out of the gate started his sermon by talking about the disciples.  Now, as many of you know from earlier messages, I have just recently finished a study following the book, “12 Ordinary Men”, which chronicles the lives of the apostles as twelve “no-bodies” who became “somebodies”.  I looked over my shoulder and smiled at one of my Friday morning fellowship brothers as Claude was sharing a story about Peter and James, two opposites in personalities, but together carried out Christ’s message.

Claude reminded the gathering that all mentions of the apostles in the Bible are made by suggesting at least two or more were working together.  And you know there’s only one place in the Bible where a single apostle is mentioned alone; the story of Judas Iscariot.  Left alone, this Judas neglected his beliefs, and soon betrayed Jesus.  Claude reminded us that “left alone, we can all fall prey to the devil”.

So how was the legacy of Jesus carried out …. and prospered?  Not alone, but in pairs, in groups, and teams of disciples.  In this way, our earthly doubts of the Easter legacy, continue to connect with God’s heavenly promises.

Claude used one more example that will sit with me for a long time.  Redwood trees….. you know, huge enormous 300 foot tall trees with massive trunks?  You might think they have deep, deep root structures.  “Not so fast”, said Bishop Claude.  Instead, these massive trees have shallow roots that barely extend down below six feet in the ground.  So what makes them stand tall in the weathers of life?  Those same roots are interconnected with the roots of other redwood trees around them.  It’s through this interconnections that the trees survive.  It’s the relying on others that the trees remain strong.

This year, as you think about the Easter story, think about how the legacy of Jesus was able to be carried out despite all that could have gone wrong.  Here on earth, it was the faith of a band of brothers, yes…but it continues to be the leaning on one another, the trust in our Father in Heaven, and the interconnectivity of anchored beliefs that has spread Christianity throughout the world.

The Easter story is one of our Savior sacrificing all for our sake.  Remember that it’s also about the legacy carried out by the disciples rather than letting Christ’s efforts slowly die away, one by one.

My prayer this week is that we remain mindful of Christ’s teachings applied in all aspects of our lives, and that we continue to be a part of the chain of His legacy.

Have a blessed Easter.

Amen!

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MAR 7, 2018 Devotional: “My Neighbor’s Trash”

My neighbor, Robby, and I have a little game that happens most weeks on Tuesday evening.  It’s called “see who can grab the other’s trash can and take it down to the curb“.  It started out as a simple way that we were being “neighborly”….but eventually turned into a badge of honor.  Robby upped the stakes a few months back when he was taking our container down the driveway and saw another neighbor watching from across the street.

“You won’t believe that Mike pays me $60 a week to take his trash down to the curb,” Robby jokingly said as the across-the-street neighbor did a half-chuckle, wondering if Robby was telling the truth or not.

But all kidding aside, we love our neighbors and I’m confident they’d say the same.

So what got me thinking about neighbors this week?  Well, that’s the meat of this week’s devotional.

Several times a week, I drive along a cut-through street between Queens Road West and Selwyn Avenue.  And by “several times”, I mean literally at least 3-4 times a day.  For the past two weeks I’ve noticed two trash cans sitting out on the curb in front of one of the houses.

Just sitting there…..day after day.

And I wonder every time I drive past that house, “Why haven’t they put the cans back near the house?  Is the family in town?  Do their neighbors…..care….enough….to help out?”

In all honestly, there could be a number of reasons why.  Maybe the family is out of town.  Maybe there’s been a family emergency.  Maybe they’ve just had too much going on to realize the empty cans are out on the street.

I just don’t know.  But am I correct to think that something “neighborly” is not happening just a few blocks away from me?

You know, I’m guilty of ignoring the obvious as well.  There are neighborhoods adjacent and very near to my comforts in Myers Park where things have been left unattended as well.  But I continue to drive by and not offer to be neighborly.

Today’s run was a last minute audible and instead of running towards South Blvd, cutting through the Sedgefield neighborhood, we decided to run through Eastover.  If you’re from Charlotte, you’ll know the difference between Sedgefield and Eastover..but those differences alone were not why we chose a different route.

What if someone had suggested running through Grier Heights today?

“Grier Heights…..”, would have been the outcry.  “What good (routes) could there be in Grier Heights?”

Sound familiar?

Recall from the Gospel of John the following:

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Torah and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”  JOHN 1:43-46

In those days, the town of Nazareth was considered the lowest of the low.  Ironically, Nathanael, who made the bold statement above, was himself from the town of Cana, another small, nothing-great, kind of town.  And aside from the wedding miracle, not much has happened at all in Cana, even today. At least Nazareth was at the cross-roads of commerce, but Cana was really off the beaten path.

But Nazareth gets the bad rap.

So Jesus comes from the town with the least expectations of anything “good” can come from there.  Suppose for a minute that He had come from Jerusalem?  Would things have been any different?

But Jesus came to heal the sick, bring hope to the poor, energize the oppressed, and preach the way to salvation.  And the best way to do this was to come from a place of the lowly in order to confound the wise and powerful.  In the book, “Twelve Ordinary Men“, the author John MacArthur explains, “He even calls people from the most despised locations.  He can also take a flawed person who is blinded by prejudice, and He can change that person into someone used to transform the world.”

Nathanael was transformed….and I know you and I can too.

My prayer this week is that we look for opportunities to be neighborly.  And I don’t just mean taking up your neighbor’s trash can or sweeping their driveway.  Let’s all look for those neighbors who aren’t like us, in our mind, and look for the opportunities to see how alike we really are…

And soon, I promise, to plan a WAWA run route that takes us through Grier Heights….and beyond!

Peace!

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MAR 1, 2018 Devotional: “The Preacher from the Dairy Farm”

Lately, I’ve been binge watching a new network I discovered among the countless cable channels that I normally skip over.  The network is called “Destination America”…have you heard of it?  My sensible side says you’re not missing anything if you haven’t tuned in yet.  But, if it’s a rainy afternoon and March Madness hasn’t started yet, then check it out.

The lineup of shows includes titles such as:  UFO’s: Uncovering the Truth, Kindred Spirits, Terror in the Woods, Mountain Monsters, Killing Bigfoot, Paranormal Survivor, and Ghostly Encounters.  Interested yet?

Maybe not.

There’s a world of unexplained stuff that happens in our world….and I’m not sure any of these shows are going to solve them.  But, some of the shows are entertaining, to say the least.

In my family, only my youngest son, Hill, will join me on the couch to watch these scary shows, much to his mom’s uneasiness.  So far, he hasn’t woken up in the middle of the night.  I promise to include him in moderation.

We actually got a good laugh at the story line for Mountain Monsters the other day.  And if I fully understood the story, I’d probably explain it here.  But that’s just not the case.

How do we explain the inexpiable, though?  Part of me thinks that God uses the “head-scratcher” times to draw us closer to Him, as a way to guide us along a path towards “truth”.

Last week, at my men’s fellowship group, I asked the gathering to share their individual thoughts about the passing of Reverend Billy Graham (earlier that week).  The responses ranged from “no impact, really, on my life” to “I became a Christian by watching Billy preach to the masses.”

But the most interesting response came from “Jonathan” who lives on a piece of land in Charlotte that was on or very near to the original dairy farm that Billy Graham grew up on as a child.

Much has been written over the years about Rev. Graham, his life in ministry, and especially the impact he had on varying degrees on several US presidents.  What’s fascinating to me, however, are the stories of his upbringing, his early life on his parent’s farm here in Charlotte.  I read recently that Billy would wake up early in the morning around 3 am and would milk 20 cows on the farm before school.  Then, after school, he would come home and milk another twenty!  Imagine that…..!

His parents were “pious Presbyterians”, according to one author, who led all the Graham children in prayer before every meal and insisted they learn a new Bible verse every day.  This religious rigor appealed to Billy, even at a young age.  And with Charlotte becoming a frequent stopping point for revivals, he became more drawn to the more evangelical style of preaching.  Billy would often practice some of the same preaching styles of those evangelicals in the quiet areas around the farm such as the tool shed, where he’d preach to oil cans and lawnmowers, or paddle down a creek nearby to relay a message of repentance to snakes and alligators.

That’s also where my friend, Jonathan, comes back into this story.  Jon explained to our group that Billy Graham also used to walk out to the cow pastures and practice preaching to the cows gathered in the shade.  And Jonathan said that there are many times when he’s outside at their home where he can feel Rev. Graham’s presence.  Remember earlier that said that Jonathan’s home now resides near (or on) what was formerly the Graham’s family farm!

Do I believe in the Bigfoot stories on the cable network?  Probably not.  But do I believe that God’s presence is alive near my friend, Jonathan’s home?  Absolutely, even it remains largely unexplainable to me!

Maybe Billy Graham said it best when he said:

I’m okay with not knowing all those answers.

Tomorrow, the Reverend Graham will be laid to rest in a private ceremony here in Charlotte.  His life, his story and his Christian faith, are tremendous guide rails for our lives today.  Critics of Reverend Graham will point to some of his beliefs that were considered controversial in the day.  But mostly, Reverend Graham’s life demonstrates his desire to share the gospel ….  and only the gospel.

“I’m just going to preach the Gospel and am not going to get off on all these hot-button issues,” Graham said. “If I get on these other subjects, it divides the audience on an issue that is not the issue I’m promoting. I’m just promoting the Gospel.”

Some might say these are lessons for today.

My prayer this week is that we take a moment to honor Billy Graham’s legacy of preaching the gospel, the Good News, to the thousands.  Perhaps, like me, you’ll take time to dig a little more into Graham’s life, and see where his lessons can apply to our every day lives.

Well done, faithful servant!

Amen!

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FEB 21, 2018 Devotional: “Sharing the Stench”

Many Sundays, I sit in the pew of my church and hear messages from our senior pastor, saying to myself, “Man, I wish I had thought about that message….”.  So, one of the challenges for me for these weekly devotionals is to come up with some original thoughts of how scripture is speaking to me.  Heavy comments for a Wednesday, I know.

Today, however, I am taking a slight deviation from that path.  The message last week from my pastor was compelling enough and very relevant to what I sense and feel from many.  We have a ton of hurt and pain in our country; and equally a lot of that in our own neighborhoods.

We watch the news, read stories on the Internet and can’t help but have a feeling of loss.  Violence in our schools, shootings at entertainment events, and fears across the board from all political sides of the spectrum.  And beyond all that, here locally in Charlotte, many have or are currently dealing with the personal loss of friends and family members.  I feel like I’ve been to a few more funerals than I ever expected this year and last.

In all of this, it’s natural to say, “Where is God in all of this?”.  It’s an age-old question that gets answered many times throughout the years.  But I find myself saying, “Yes, but it that really the right answer to Where is God in all of this...”

And, finally, last weekend, I think I heard it as best as I’ve ever heard.

Remember the story of Lazarus?  (Side note….there’s actually two Lazarus-es in the Bible.  I’m talking about the one who was a close friend of Jesus.)

From the 11th chapter of John, we recall:

32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”  JOHN 11: 32-37

How many of us, like Mary, immediately blame God when things go wrong?  As if to say in this case, “Lord, if you had been here, things would be alright.”  But if we truly believe in an omnipresent Father, then perhaps we’d realize that God is there all along.

Now, this is also not to say that things will always go right.  Pain in our world and in our neighborhoods is testament that bad things continue to happen.  And that really stinks, right?

Years ago, I had a brick ranch home in Atlanta.  And the city had taken over a few blocks of homes that were otherwise slowly being abandoned.  The city decided to buy the block of homes, tear them down, and create a large park/green-space, thereby making better use of the land.  Great idea, except for the notion that much of the rodent population that had infiltrated those abandoned homes, was now being displaced when the bulldozers came to knock down the homes.  One such critter found a comfortable home in the duct systems beneath my home in the crawl space.  I noticed the animal when a fowl smell started to erode through the vents in the house.  Yuk!

I called a critter exterminator….one of strangest guys I’ve ever met…but in his field of work, that was probably a job prerequisite….not kidding!  Within five or ten minutes, he found the dead animal in the crawl space and removed the smell.

That smell was pretty bad.

Now, back to our story in the book of John:

 39Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ 40Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’  JOHN 11: 39-44

When I heard pastor Joe Clifford reading this passage last Sunday, emphasizing the word “stench” as I have here, my thoughts drifted back to that rodent caught in my duct system.  I can only imagine how bad the smell might have been from a human being, dead for four days, in the heat of the Middle East, in the summer time.  Simply unbearable.

Yet, as Joe shared, Jesus shows up when things really stunk….literally and figuratively.  Jesus shows up in the stench of four days and, maybe, the stench of many years and months for others in the book of John.

And if God shows up during the stench of our lives, I know He’s there when things are smelling very rosy as well.  And while there is some comfort in knowing he’s there in both scenarios, I am especially grateful He’s there with me and with you in the stench of our lives.

It’s been nearly a week since Joe’s sermon and I hope you’ll see why I felt it was important to share his message about the “stench”.  It took a weird critter exterminator to remove the bad smell in my crawl space.  But it takes our loving Father to remove the stench of our lives.  Thanks be to God for that.

Prayers this week, continue, for our world, our nation, and our neighbors here in Charlotte.

Amen!

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FEB 14, 2018 Devotional: “Are you giving up FOR or giving up ON Lent this year?”

Yesterday was Fat Tuesday, historically the last day before “fasting” should start at the beginning of the Lenten season.  Most of you, hopefully, are familiar with what I’m taking about when I say the “Lenten Season”.  This is the period of 40 days between Ash Wednesday (today) until Easter Sunday.  It’s a six week period, generally speaking, and if you do the math you’ll recognize that it’s actually 46 days.  But, many modern religions do not count the six Sundays during Lent…so that’s where magically we reach 40 days.

40 days is also significant as it represents the number of days that Jesus spent in the desert fasting shortly after His baptism by John the Baptist.  During His time in the desert, Satan visited him and tempted Him in every way possible.  Eventually, Satan departed, most likely very frustrated, and then Jesus returned to Galilee to begin His ministry.  Jesus’ forty days in the desert story is explained in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Now I grew up Catholic and Lent was always a big deal around our household.  We not only had to proclaim to mom and dad at the dinner table one evening shortly before Ash Wednesday what we’d be giving up, but also had to plan on fish for dinner every Friday night up to and including Good Friday.  Ah….I can still taste those frozen fish stick dinners today!

At work yesterday, I made mention about it being Fat Tuesday….and more than one person seemed a little puzzled by the connection between today’s beginning of a 40 day period of “fasting” leading up to Easter.  I was a little puzzled by the lack of information.  Are we a less informed society?  Have we forgotten about the significance of the Lenten season? Or have we simply given up on observing and honoring this season altogether?

What about us?  Are we giving up on or giving up for Lent this year?

I did a little research and found a great story one author wrote to explain what he’s learned over the year’s of observing the season of Lent.  It’s worth sharing!

First, the author reminds us that giving up something for Lent helps us realize something very tangible.  Maybe you’ve decided to give up watching too much television over the next several weeks.  We rarely give up something on a daily basis in our life, so making the sacrifice each day during Lent, makes it a great opportunity to place God first in our lives.  Think of it as a way of removing some of our daily distractions that keep us from listening to God.

Second, the author explains that when something he was accustomed to on a daily basis is taken away, he found himself desiring that “thing” more and more.  He talks about how his awareness to these other things in his life were creating a dependency on those earthy things rather than on our Heavenly Father.  He goes so far as to describe the earthly things as “little idols” and through fasting, he saw the ability to give up those “little idols” to God.

Next, by giving up something he likes, and recognizing the unquenched desire for it, the author further explained how much of a “needy” person he’d become.  He says, of neediness, “It’s the heart of true spirituality.”  In scripture, we know that:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. . . . Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”  Matthew 5:3, 6

While the author realized his “hunger” for other things in his life, he realized too the ability to redirect that hunger towards a more positive neediness towards God.

And finally, the author explains that the further he got along with his Lenten sacrifice, the less he found himself needing the other “thing” in his life that he had decided to give up for the season.  The neediness of the one thing went away and ultimately allowed him to focus more importantly on God.

I know that one example from this unnamed author might seem very academic.  That’s true.  Admittedly, I had to read the passage a few times to see how to connect the dots in his example.  The better lesson for me came when the author wrapped up his message describing another Lenten Season tactic that involves adding a spiritual exercise or discipline to your daily life.  His suggestion was to start by ready a chapter a day in the book of Mark.  Then when you’re finished with that one, you’ll still have enough time to finish up a second gospel before Good Friday arrives.  I’m personally thinking about tackling that recommendation this year!

So, whatever you decide to do FOR Lent this year, I hope you’ll do just that.  Do something.  Find a way to connect the dots, if an academic approach is more your style.  Or find a way to stretch your daily spiritual exercises by digging into a couple of the Gospels.  If it takes 28 days, arguably, to make something a lasting habit, imagine what good you could set yourself up for by observing a 40-day cadence?

Prayers for each of us, as we enter this season of Lent.  Prayers specifically that we don’t give up ON Lent.  Prayers that we do something FOR Lent.

Peace!

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