Thursday, April 26, 2007

A thousand blackbirds and thirty-seven deer

It’s April on the western Minnesota prairie. This means one day it’s 81 degrees and for the next week we have blowing snow, 40 mile per hour winds with nighttime temperatures in the low teens. In Minnesota, we only need to be patient; things will change on short order. Yesterday the temperature started to rise with scattered sunshine.

The scattered sunshine seems to cause the migrating birds to begin moving again. Blackbirds are in the south field so thick the field seemed to move and oscillate as they picked the soil for some morsels of food. Birds amaze me; why do they all jump up at the same time, fly in the same direction, flowing in graceful form, coordinated in smooth flight and at whose command? Is there a first-sergeant bird who silently barks out orders to the obedient flocks?

The group of birds leap-frog over each other, out of the south field into the lawn to the east of the house. Continuous flights, continuous noise, all moving closer to the pond for water and an evening respite in our trees.

The other evening Judi came home from work just at dusk. She called and told me to get my shoes on for she was taking me for a ride. She took me down to the lake bottom where we observed over 30 plus deer frolicking and playing in the darkening shadows. What a sight! What a blessing! God’s handiwork is all around.

Today Judi and I went for a walk in the wood with our lab, Lily. The sound of the birds was impressive. It was loud, long and steady—a sure sign of hope at the end of winter on the Minnesota prairie.

This morning the sunrise broke over the horizon just north of the Long Lake Mission Cemetery on Johnnie’s hill. It reminded me of Lamentations 3:22-23: "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.” My mind went back to last night and I marveled at what a privilege it was to see God’s creation in its entire splendor. It is free for us to see and praise. I praise the Lord for His creative genius, a reminder of His generous providing hand. Psalms 19:1 - "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands."

Remember if we do not praise the Lord, the rocks will cry out. Oh Lord, may I never become so calloused as to not notice the beauty, grandeur, and magnificence of your creation. May the rocks in Section 17 of Winfield Township have no need to cry out. May we forever praise the Lord. Amen.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Beating the drum slowly…A baby’s death in Oakdale

A story ran as headlines throughout last week about a 16 year old girl who gave birth to a baby; she stabbed the baby over 100 times and disposed of the baby in a trash can. We were outraged. We shook our heads in disgust, and said isn’t this sad. Yes, it’s easy to point the finger in a case like this; what she did is wrong, it’s unconscionable but I ask: “Why was this girl so hopeless? Why was she so afraid and lonely? Why was she so isolated that she talked to no one? Why was she so angry that she stabbed the baby over 100 times?”

As a professing Christian, I must ask myself: “Why didn’t she know the hope and love of Christ? Why didn’t someone notice this girl, have some type of relationship with her so she would be able to talk to someone she trusted? What is she angry at?”

If she was our neighbor, would we get involved in her life? If not, why? May I suggest we would not because we don’t care? Some of you may feel old Beef here is a negative old coot. I may be, but when are we going to pull our collective heads out of the sand and care about girls like this? I think I know the answer; do you really want to hear it? We will pull our head out of the sand when the girl who does this is our daughter, our neighbor or our grandchild. We will pull our heads out of the sand when it is too late. Just like the people of Oakdale.

God’s love for us should motivate us to take the message of the hope of Christ, the love of Christ, the care of Christ to a hurting world—to people like this young 16 year old girl in Oakdale. Jesus told us to go so let’s go and do.

Let’s quit playing games. Let’s be Christ to our corner of the world. Let’s show compassion where none exists. Let’s forgive when no forgiveness exists. Let’s light our light in the darkest hour. Let’s die to ourselves like Christ died. Let’s sacrifice our comfort, pride, our self-centered isolated life style, and lay them at the foot of the cross. The world is hurting and the love of Christ is the only hope. Go, go, go! Go and Do! Let’s live for Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Three Little Words: A Teachable Moment

Because of three words, Don Imus lost his reputation, his job and any creditability he might have had. He is “over with”—history in the eyes of the world. Don Imus’ very public sin (it was wrong what he said) was played out across the airwaves and other media. Most of us are aware of the uproar over the three “misspoken” words.

We are not public icons so when our time comes over three “misspoken words” it will not be played out on the national stage. Oh, I can criticize someone to my son on the phone but only Andy and I will have heard the spoken word. This seems safe to us, just keep the criticism contained and no one will know the difference—except God!!

In God’s word it says “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment." (Matt. 12:36 NKJV) Every half truth, every exaggeration, every lie, every cheap shot at our neighbor, every self-righteous finger pointing moment, every repeated rumor or possible scandal shared only between two people has been and will be heard by God and God will call us to account.

Oh, we can point our self-righteous finger at Don Imus, knowing we have thought or said things of similar nature ourselves. God hears our words and knows our thoughts from afar. This ought to make us weak in the knees. We all need some time of individual and collective soul searching. Lord help us. Lord help us. Amen.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

What do we think about when we have nothing to think about?

I just read a news report about Pope Benedict’s concern for the future of Europe. The concern expressed was in response to a study that looked at the ever decreasing birth rate in the European Union countries. The Pope said many of the people in the EU have become self-centered, viewing children as a hindrance to their own pursuits.

Should we be surprised? When the Lord is pushed out as the center of our lives, we get busy and rush in to fill the vacuum. We become our own god. Sound familiar?

What is the center of your life, the Lord or other things? The easiest test to take to find out what truly is the center of our life is to ask this question. What do I think about when I have nothing to think about? This may sound silly at first glance, but I believe this to be a powerful question. Whatever the answer is, it is more than likely the center of our lives.

In response to the previous question, did you like what you found? I believe we Americans are as self-centered as the Europeans. Listen to how we converse with one another; most of the time our discussions are about what we do. We talk about our kids, our grandkids, our jobs, and our personal world. We talk superficially almost all the time. We talk about $30,000 cars, $800 purses and all the while we have full bellies and empty hearts.

Do any of us have a vision for our families, our communities, our churches, our country, our world beyond those driven by our own vested self-interest?

This week a woman at my home church asked a great question. “Jerry what are you seeing out there when you preach at those other churches?" I told her God has his people everywhere and many of them are lonely, worried and hurting people.

I spoke at a church from part of Mark 8, it’s about “Some people” who bring a blind man to Jesus and beg Jesus just to touch him. Not heal him, just touch him. When I finished preaching, I was greeting people when an 80 year old widow came by and asked “Could you just give me a hug?” I gave her a hug; we had a long warm conversation.

Are we pursuing our own self-centered pursuits, while people around us just need a hug? Are we distracted while studying “Ten easy steps to Victorious Christian Living” while in our presence lonely, hurting people are in need of just a hug? Do we even notice them?

In utter darkness, the littlest light shines the brightest. This woman taught me an important lesson. Am I going through the motions, or do I truly care about my fellow man?

Do I take time for the children that come into my presence? Do I make an effort to talk and hug Annie even though she can’t lift her head anymore?

Do I use my home as my castle? Do I retreat behind its walls to escape a hurting and needy world I don’t want to understand? Do I get irritated when someone calls to chat when I’m watching March Madness?

Jesus said “what you do unto the least of these you do unto me”. I do not believe the Europeans have a corner on the “self-centeredness” market. I believe it’s alive and well in our American culture and sadly, alive and well inside our churches.

Lord forgive us for our self-centeredness, Lord help us, wake us up. May we use our gifts as a blessing to a hurting world, and in the end may you, Lord truly get all the Glory - Amen.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Easter Week Thoughts

When talk shows and the like talk about Jesus, the most popular title for Him is prophet. Prophets usually are considered weird people; we can listen and ignore them because most really aren’t prophets, they are frauds. Therefore, there are no consequences for what they say. We like it that way. Oh, they might ruffle our feathers but on the whole, we don’t take them seriously. So, when it comes to the claims of Jesus, let’s ignore them, just keep Him a prophet.

People say times change, sometimes they don’t. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, the crowds rolled out to welcome Him. In Luke 19:37 it says in part…”the whole crowd of disciples began singing joyfully to God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: Blessed is he King who comes in the name of the Lord…” Notice why they were praising Him: “for all the miracles they had seen.” These disciples quoted scripture; they knew who He was.

In Matthew 21 scripture about the triumphal entry says this: (verse 10) “When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city stirred and asked, “Who is this?” vs.11, the crowds answered “This is Jesus the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” The crowds saw Him as prophet not as King, Lord or Savior.

Deep down, who is Jesus to you; just a prophet or Lord, Savior and King? In Matt. 16:13, Jesus asked, “Who do the people say the Son of Man is? Verse 14 they replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. Jesus asked His disciples “Who do you say I am?” And Peter replied “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Peter confirmed and believed he was the Son of God.

From that time on, Jesus begins to explain to His disciples that He must be killed. Peter takes Jesus aside and says, “Never Lord, this shall never happen to you.”

The world can tolerate Him as a prophet. But when we call Him “Christ, the Son of the living God” things change. This being killed, tortured, beaten beyond human recognition stuff (Is. 52) having to die a miserable death stuff just doesn’t seem to fit into the worlds plan.. I mean this really sounds messy. It’s easier for us if He just stays a prophet. That way we don’t have to struggle with guilt and sin and all that other messy stuff.

We can sit around, be cool, contemplate and discuss who we are; why are we here; and where are we going? We can debate evil, the reality of it. We desire to seek human justice (making everything right in this world); we all hunger for love, desiring to know we are all of value. We want all of this to “work out” some way. We want an end to this misery…we know deep down, left to itself, it won’t work out; history proves that. In our heart we long for a Savior but because of pressure from the world, we only accept Him as prophet, not Lord and Savior. Just a prophet.

On Calvary, the one act of the God/man Jesus dying for our sin addresses evil and deals with it. Justice is achieved, not in a human way, but in a supernatural way, “the just (Jesus) dying for the unjust (us)." Oh, what a thought.

Romans 5:6-11 "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation."

Our hunger for love is played out in our writings, poems, movies and music. We know deep down these things will not satisfy. Oh we are blessed with faithful husbands and wives, moms and dads, loving children and grandchildren. This is good but it does not fill the God shaped hole in our heart…only Christ Jesus, dying for us on the cross, can grant forgiveness and reconciliation and fill that God shaped hole. Nothing else can satisfy our hunger for love. This one act was played out on a hill called Calvary, where the Son of God was skewered to the cross so you and I could be free from sin and guilt and be made right with God once and for all. No, He is not just a prophet; He is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.