God’s Daily Reboot

When a computer malfunctions, how often is the answer as simple as turning the computer off, and then turning it back on?

In my experience, usually the computer starts right back up again, working just fine. Whatever went wrong before disappears.

Our lives have a God-designed reboot button as well. It’s called night.

As I drove to work this morning, I noticed the marked difference between the landscape in the early morning sun on a clear day, and how it looks in the evening as I’m driving home. The clean and bright baby blue and yellow hues of morning give way to the muted oranges and reds of the evening. Even though the sun is at the same angle, just in the west instead of the east, the evening sun’s light strikes the landscape differently. The day just feels older.

In fact, on a clear day I’m confident that I could still tell whether it was morning or evening, even if I didn’t know the time or what direction the sun was coming from, just by stepping outside.

Jeremiah, the likely author of the book of Lamentations in the Old Testament, knew just what I’m talking about:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. — Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV)

Like the sun striking the countryside after dawn, life’s struggles look a little different in the newness of each day. I’ve heard it said that God‘s economy allows for “do overs,” which Jesus Christ made possible through His death on the cross and His resurrection. Whatever happened in the past is irrelevant, if our faith is in Him. No, lost time won’t magically reappear. The consequences of past sin remain very real. And the coming day won’t be perfect. But the opportunity to make the best of life, by living for Jesus, starts anew each morning.

The morning light is a picture of God‘s daily renewal. The Bible’s description of Jesus as “the bright and morning star” takes on a whole new meaning. Now comes the hard part:

I have to choose it.

Electing to view the problems and sorrows of life the same way as before follows that old saying, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Others might even think of the definition of “insanity:” Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results each time.

Accepting Jesus Christ’s free offer of salvation and renewal can break the cycle of despair, and allow God to renew your life as he promises to do. Someone very close to me once said that he thought he was too far gone for this life-changing grace to reach him. What better time than in the morning, when minds are fresh, to meet with God and let his Word show you how Jesus Christ makes all things new, including you, and that no one is out of reach of His grace and mercy.

And I’ll never look at rebooting a computer the same way.

 

 

 

 

 

On a Cross Beside Jesus (Luke 24:32-43)

I’m thankful every minute of my life that Jesus died for me on that cross.  I know that if God had chosen, he could have punished me for my sins instead of punishing Jesus.  But Christ’s atoning death satisfied my sin debt, and the debt of everyone else in the world who believes in Him.  Because Jesus chose to do it, I don’t have to take my place on a cross.

Nevertheless, someone like me was on a cross, that very day, at “the place of the skull.”  In fact, someone like each and every one of us was there. You may think I’m referring to Jesus himself — he took on human flesh and form, was tempted as we are, and suffered as a man.  But I’m not.  No, as Luke the physician points out in his Gospel, there were two others on the hill that day.  Two criminals, condemned to die, hanging on crosses to Jesus’ left and right.

Am I calling each of us a criminal?  Not per se, in that most of us have done nothing to warrant punishment under man’s law, especially a death sentence.  Still, we each share something with one, or the other, of the criminals who like Jesus drew their last breaths on that hill.  But what?  I’ll answer that question with another question: What is your approach to Jesus?  Or, as Jesus asked Peter, who do you say he is?

One of the criminals (I’ll call him the “first criminal”) joined the crowd and the soldiers, mocking Jesus and calling on Him to save Himself, if He was indeed the Christ.  The second criminal recognized that Jesus had done nothing wrong and didn’t deserve to die.  And in recognition of his Kingship, that criminal asked the creator of the universe simply to remember him when Jesus came into His kingdom.  He was not disappointed with Jesus’ answer.

You see, there’s just no middle ground with Jesus.  Either you join the second criminal in proclaiming Him to be who He said He was, or you will join the first criminal in questioning and doubting Him.  Riding the fence is just not possible — Jesus said so Himself.

Here’s the amazing thing:  Yes, Christ could have easily taken Himself off that cross and chosen to save Himself, just as the first criminal suggested. But, by staying on that cross, He chose to save…you.  And me.  And the rest of us.

Yes, it may indeed have been a Friday on Golgotha…..but Sunday’s coming.

May I Have This Dance

Has the weight of just a thought ever taken your breath away?

Happened to me just this morning.

Maybe it’s the fact that my daughter’s wedding is now less than two months away, and she was in town this past weekend for her first bridal shower. Maybe it’s this fact that this afternoon, my wife and I are attending a funeral for a long-time family friend who lost her battle with cancer. Her two kids are the same age as my middle two kids.

No matter the reason, here’s the thought that left me struggling to breathe:

A husband and wife, in their 80s, dancing cheek-to-cheek in their kitchen.

It’s so easy to say, “Aren’t they cute? They still love each other, after all these years.” But have you thought about what that dance really represents?

  • Millions of miles together in the same car.
  • Tens of thousands of nights together in the same bed.
  • Depending on how many kids they had, thousands, or tens of thousands, of diaper changes.
  • Countless ER visits, late nights with sick kids, and broken hearts.
  • Graduations, weddings, births, and then round two of graduations, weddings, and births.
  • Deaths of their grandparents, their parents, their siblings, and occasionally, their children and even grandchildren.
  • Several major health scares, surgeries, and treatments.

Those of you who have lived it know that this list isn’t even close to exhaustive. And to top it all off, society has changed so extensively, and so rapidly, that the elderly couple can be left wondering if they’re even still relevant.

As my thoughts sunk in, a physical weight rested on my chest. The sheer magnitude of two lifetimes, lived together and for each other, was more than I could bear.

Anyone looking for miracles in the modern age need look no farther than the couple celebrating an anniversary of 50 years or more.  God’s design for marriage, and God himself, for those who choose Him, make it possible to complete the journey.

Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. – Isaiah 46.4

And for another post: What the elderly still have to give to their families and communities. Here’s a hint: They’re not only still relevant, they’re the missing link to sustaining our society.

I’ll never look at an elderly couple dancing the same way again.

Courage

What does real courage look like to you?

To me, right now, it looks like a sister-in-law who is going through cancer treatment for a second time in 10 years.

It’s knowing the suffering she’s sure to face during the treatments, and choosing to go through them anyway, because the desired result is the best for those she loves.

Even though she’s near the end of her chemo treatment, the suffering is still real.  And intense.

Where does courage like that come from? Knowing her deep, abiding faith in Jesus Christ, the easy Sunday-school answer is readily apparent.

But that’s only part of the story.

For faith to mean anything in our lives, we have to allow our faith to move us to a conviction to act.

Once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen. — Muhammad Ali

It’s on us to incorporate our faith into our lives. And the conviction that grows out of living out our faith — that we’re doing the right thing — leads to courage.

I can do all things through Jesus Christ, who strengthens me.  — Phillipians 4:13

My sister-in-law is living this out beautifully, today, right now.

By the way, haven’t we heard another story about someone who knew the suffering he would face, and yet chose to endure that suffering because the end result was the best for those he loves?

Yeah, I thought so.

 

With Your Whole Being

So I’m writing from a different spot in the coffee shop today.  Private chair in a corner, in the back room of the shop away from the ordering counter.  A faux-palm tree stands about five feet high over my right shoulder. My laptop is on my lap and not on a table. I can see almost the entire shop from here.  And the perpective is quite different.

I’m really encourged to see that the vast majority of people here are sharing a meal or a cup of coffee together. I mean, it is lunchtime, but I expected to see more people like me, drinking coffee alone, head buried in a laptop, smartphone, or some other device. Thankfully, it’s just the opposite.  The shop is full of converation, quiet yet lively, lighthearted yet intense.

The power of face-to-face communication cannot be denied.

The non-verbal communication by a person’s face alone communicates half the message. Posture, nods and hand gestures tell even more.

Often, words are just an extra, the icing on the cake.

What better way to tell someone “I love you” than to tell them in person, right in front of them?  To communicate your feelings for them with your whole being, and not merely with words?

Jesus Christ came to earth 2000 Christmases ago to do just that. He who was fully God and fully man came to tell us, His people, how much he loved us. In person. Through His touch, through a smile, through tears for a dead friend or for an entire city.

Through sacrifice.  Through pain.

Through the cross.

Don’t those you love deserve to hear that you love them – and see it, and feel it — from you, in person? Don’t let today go by without communicating your love to those who mean the most to you.

With your whole being.

 

Authority

How long has it been since you had just a few feet of pavement between you and 50 longhorn steers?

Oh, about a month.

That’s right, no fence, no wall, no bullet-proof glass — NOTHING. Just some nice flat pavement for them to build up a good head of steam, as they charge directly at me.

What we saw at the Cherokee Strip Days parade in Enid, OK, this past month was a sight more common in bygone days. Still, even today it was thrilling to watch them walk by. Oh, the risk! The danger!

Oh, the steaks! The hamburger!

But I digress.

There were these guys on horseback moving alongside the steers. I think they call them “cowboys” in that neck of the prairie. Am I right, Oklahoma State? There sure was a lot of orange in that town on that particular day. Not to mention the OSU-Texas Tech football game blaring on the big screen in the downtown baseball stadium. No one was in the stadium, but the volume was turned all the way up, for the whole town to hear.

But it’s those cowboys I want to talk about. That’s the thing about fences and walls – they will come down when enough force is applied. And I can assure you, those enormous steers could supply a lot of force.

But having those cowboys there was better than any wall could ever be.  Why?

Because those cowboys held those steers in check by authority. Those steers didn’t want to charge the crowd, because they honored the authority of the cowboys.

If we want to make sure that we don’t do something that hurts ourselves or hurts others, there’s an authority over our lives as well.

And it’s not the local police.

It’s the Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit. They’re all available to you today, right where you are, right now. All you have to do is ask them.

Just take a look a video of these majestic creatures as they strolled through downtown Enid on a bright, warm October day.

That’s a whole lot of ribs and brisket walkin’ by. Just sayin’.

 

 

Centerpieces

What do you see in this picture? I’ll tell you what I see.

Centerpieces.

Twenty-three of them, to be exact.

To be sure, they’re not ready yet to go on the tables at my daughter’s wedding reception next March. But it’s not something that 25 minutes and a chainsaw can’t fix.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 5-1/2 decades of life, it’s this: Getting through life is all about perspective.  It’s not as simple as being a “glass half-full” type of person. “The power of positive thinking” was a great book back in its day, but that phrase is now cliche’.

It’s about taking what life presents to you, and choosing what you can do with it.

This has become even more critical to me, as someone very close to me has been diagnosed with aggressive cancer.  For the second time in 10 years.

How do you “make the best” of a cancer diagnosis? The simple fact is, you don’t. There are just some lemons that won’t make lemonade. But defeat is not the only option.

I’ll let Jesus, the only man who was ever victorious over death and the grave, explain.

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. – Matt. 5:13-16

Has anyone ever been a light to others by taking a negative approach to any problem?

I didn’t think so.

Even just one of these tree trunks would break a table.  Properly prepared, they will adorn 23 tables in beauty and simplicity.

When properly prepared by the One who brought the light into this world, so it can also be with our lives.

 

 

 

Winning the Prize

Running a race. The phrase paints a lot of mental pictures, doesn’t it? Men and women, all dressed in bright colors, running on the same track, in the same direction, at the same time. Someone wins, the rest lose.

Then there are the marathon runners. Twenty-six-point-two miles of just you and the course. Running alone. Continuing to run in spite of withering exhaustion, and often searing pain. Hours to think, “Am I really up to this? What is the point?” That’s assuming your brain can even function after running, say, 19.1 miles.

My dear aunt passed away last month after a brief fight with cancer. The pastor of her small town church delivered the funeral message with a strong Gospel testimony, and a very definite theme from Paul’s writings in 1 Corinthians: She ran her life’s race to win it, to claim her prize.

It’s easy for most Christians to see that the “race” of life is a marathon, not a sprint. Paul’s use of the imagery of athletes training for competition helps readers understand what’s going on, but it’s not a perfect picture. Yes, our lives will have exhaustion and pain, mixed with moments of exhilaration when we get our “second wind.” But in each individual’s race of life, only that person can win. And only he or she can lose. There’s no arbitrary finish line. (I mean, 26.2 miles. Really?) No stopwatch to beat. No man-made route to follow.

Just you, and the race that God has set out before you. And in many important ways, you get to choose the course. Lifestyle. Relationships. Worldview. Entertainment. Perspective.

The race of life is won by how you run your race. By why you took each turn in the course. And most importantly, by Who you’re running to. And while only Jesus can finally judge whether you or I have won our individual races, those of us on the outside can see evidence of a winner just by looking at the fruit of his or her life. Love and joy. Peace and patience. Kindness and goodness. Gentleness and self-control.

I am thankful for my aunt’s well-run race. And for her leadership as I continue to run mine.

Shiny Bumpers

In the overcast pre-dawn of a recent cool fall morning, I was sitting at a stoplight behind a pickup truck with a shiny chrome bumper. In the yellow-white reflection from my headlights, the condensation from the truck’s exhaust drifted across the face of the bumper in ghostly wisps. A computer programmer spending hours writing code still couldn’t replicate the random but stunning patterns that danced across the face of the chrome, constantly changing shape and size, unpredictable and yet bounded.

I certainly did not expect to find such a beautiful picture of reflecting God’s glory in the bumper of a pickup truck. But there it was.

I don’t know about you, but I’d like for others to see God at work in my life. While it’s not the only way, and I’m certainly not great at it yet, one of the ways that God’s love can show through me is if I live my life for Him. That way, like our breath on a mirror, others can see when God “breathes” on me.

I’m clearly not alone when thinking about God breathing on his people. Scripture, in 2 Timothy 3:16, describes itself as “God-breathed.” For almost 150 years, one of the most beloved hymns in the church has been “Breathe on Me Breath of God.” More recently, musicians have written and sang beautifully and poignantly about Mary’s plea for the “breath of heaven” to help her with the enormous task of bearing and raising the Savior. Singer John Waller simply asks God to “breathe on me” to lead him in daily life. So, my challenge to all believers is to allow the world to see God’s breath on our lives. But how?

Let’s shine our bumpers.

You don’t need a pickup truck. And if your truck (or car) doesn’t have chrome bumpers, that’s OK, too.  It doesn’t involve Windex, or rags, or any kind of soap or wax. And the only elbow grease it calls for is the kind you use when you open your Bible, or you fold your hands in prayer.

In fact, you don’t even do the work.

God takes lives tarnished by years of sin and shame and makes them shine when surrendered to Him. Hearts given to Jesus Christ, time spent in His Word and in prayer, and obedience to his commands – God works through all of these to give lives a glow that attracts the world to Him.

So today, surrender your life to Jesus Christ – let your bumper shine. And watch the amazing patterns that God will work into your life.

 

 

 

 

 

Close Calls

Ordinarily, we want our children to obey authority, right? Well, there was one time when it almost didn’t work out so well….

During a family trip to Washington DC one Spring Break many moons ago, we came to a stop on the Metro near the Smithsonian Museums, and our entire 8-person group started the processional of filing out the train, with my son with Down syndrome bringing up the rear. That was usually not a problem, except just as the person in front of him stepped off the train, a very authoritative female voice came over the PA system and said, “Step back! Doors are closing.” Stephen, ever the dutiful oldest child, stopped in his tracks, took a step back, and waited.

“Stephen, come on!” We all yelled the same words, almost like a chorus in an ancient Greek tragedy, aware that if he didn’t get off that train now, we might have to pick him up in Baltimore.  Still totally confused, Stephen still didn’t move. The doors started to close.

That’s when the “Dad instincts” kicked in.

With a shout of “NO!” I sprinted the 30 feet back to the train, pried the almost-closed doors back open, and pulled Stephen off the train. To hear my kids tell this story (and they do), I exerted Hercluean effort to open those doors. In reality, as soon as the automatic doors sensed my resistance, they reopened with no effort from me at all.

After a few minutes to catch our breath (first, I was really out of shape, and second, we were all scared to death) after that close call, we realized that we had been given a highly teachable moment.  There was absolutely no way we could be angry with Stephen. He simply followed what, in most cases, were reliable directions from a trustworthy source. The more important lesson for Stephen, and for the other three kids as well, was to pick wisely which authoritative voice you obey. Is it the automated voice on the train? Or is it Mom and Dad yelling, “Get off the train!”?

The Word of God warns us many times of false teachers and messages the world will ask us to believe. In fact, a 2013 article on Bible.org by Stephen Cole (find it here) states that warning against false teachings is emphasized more than anything else in the New Testament. So, what this near-catastrophe allowed us to share with our kids is what Paul shared with the early Church in Romans 16:19: “For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil.” In other words, knowing which voice teaches good and which voice teaches evil requires wisdom, and wisdom comes from God.

Today, almost 10 years later, I think that lesson sunk in. Praise God.