Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Good Day for a Funeral…or Laying Uncle Benny Down

Last Wednesday we buried our Uncle Benny. He was married to our Aunt Lillian; they divorced but Benny remained our Uncle. He was our uncle by choice.

Benny was a farmer and up until his middle 80’s, owned and operated a lawn mowing business. After they took away his drivers license, he drove his lawn mower uptown. In his small town, the people left him alone; everyone in town understood his predicament and smiled. He was outgoing and friendly yet cautious.

Benny was more than a farmer and business owner. He was a veteran of World War II; he was an infantry man. He served in the European/African Theatre and Asiatic/Pacific Theatre of operations. Benny never talked much about his military experience. He was proud to serve. I never heard any self-serving bravado come out of his mouth.

In April 1969, I came home after a year and a half in Southeast Asia. Everybody I knew was involved in spring planting season so I went up and helped Uncle Benny for four days. He was appreciative; he was always appreciative. We had a good four days; we accomplished a lot. I enjoyed working with him; even when I was a kid I enjoyed working with him. After we finished supper the last night I was there, Benny said to me, “We need a drink to celebrate finishing our work and celebrating that you made it home ok.” I agreed.

As we visited, he began to talk about his experience in World War II. He said war is bad, but they must be fought; evil has to be challenged and stopped. As an infantry man, Benny saw first hand the pain and suffering of his friends. He told me of going five days straight without sleep, only catching a nap here and there. He told me that at the end of the five days, his uniform was soaked and caked with the blood of his dying friends; he lost many friends. Benny sat with his face down, tears flowed from his eyes. Some 25 plus years later, Benny wondered why he lived and others had to die. He understood—some will die so others can live. So goes the sadness and brutality of any war.

The priest at Benny’s service said, “If there is a good day for a funeral, today is a good day to bury a farmer and a veteran.” It was warm; farmers were beginning to work the lighter ground. You could smell spring in the air.

After the service as Benny’s casket was removed from St. Mary’s Church, it was quiet. The bell was rung, its sound rippled through the not-quite budded ash trees. The American Legion Color Guard stood at attention; no one said a word; we all watched as they put Benny into the hearse. Sadly, the world is not impressed with a man like Benny. He was too common, too simple, too unassuming BUT Benny was my friend and hero. It was a good day to lay Uncle Benny down. Thursday morning the sun came over the eastern horizon. Life must go on and I was blessed to have known him.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The One Thing Necessary, or Move over Martha

Luke 10:42: "but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

Let’s save each other some time. Mary was suspected of sloughing off; not contributing to the work that needed to be done. She was judged as a woman with “her head in the clouds”. BUT Jesus praises her because Mary just wants to be with Jesus. She wants to learn from Him.

In Psalm 27:4 it says: "One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple."

How can we be with Jesus even after He has ascended into Heaven? Get into His Word, the God-inspired Bible, and pray. Praying is relationship with the Almighty, Holy, and Sovereign God of the Universe. What a privilege to come into His presence and lay out our heart. Why such confidence? Our Savior Jesus has provided the way through His shed blood, His suffering, His resurrection and victory over sin and death, and the sending of His Holy Spirit. Yes, because of Jesus, we can approach the throne of grace confidently. Hebrews 4:16 says: "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Do you want to be with Jesus? If so, get into His Word! Jesus died; men and women have died so we can hold and read God’s word in our own language. We spend money on The Truth Project, Walk Across the Room Evangelism classes; we’ve done Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life; we purchased and watched Reggie McNeal’s videos; Alpha Program; we’ve had __________ (you fill in the blank) and more.

Guess what? Has anything changed?? In spite of all those programs, nothing appears to have changed. I have observed us going to these sessions. In one church, no one had their Bible in the session. We love listening to men (no matter how well intentioned they are) who are mere men and nothing more happens.

When we hold God’s Word in our hands, (John 17:17“Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”) we hold the truth in our hands. Jesus is the truth and the light. If you want to be with Jesus, read and study, consume, savor, immerse yourself in His awe inspiring, life transforming word. When we hold the Bible in our hands, we hold the collected work of God’s inspired word of the ages. It will never perish but we will. Isaiah 55:10-12 says, "As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands."

Do you want a transformed life? Do you want to live a life of praise amidst this age of lies, trials, and mistrust? Then read and savor God’s word. Get yourself a good study Bible in a language you can understand. Pray for God to transform your mind and He will make His word come alive. Psalm 119:103-105: “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” Sit at Jesus feet and just be with Jesus—the one necessary thing.

We don’t need any more classes written and taught by mere men. We need to devour God’s inspired words. Yes, we’ve been busy in the kitchen with every other program and class and the truth is, we are not changed; it has made little if any difference. Move over Martha is their room for us in your kitchen? Rather, let’s go sit at the feet of Jesus where there is room for all; come and do the one thing necessary--with Jesus. And yes, I also realize it is not popular these days either. There is always room at the foot of the cross. There is always room at the feet of Jesus. Come; come and be transformed! Come and savor God’s Word and pray over all of it!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

We are all beggars

The following is a quote from Frederick S. Leahy’s book The Cross He Bore. I feel it says it better than anything I could have prepared for Easter.

“As in thought and experience we stand before the cross, we tremble as we consider the wrath of God which flames forth against his Son. We tremble, too, when we think of the sin which incurred such fearful judgment—our sin. Here the awakened soul can only cry out, ‘God be merciful to me the sinner.’ That is all we dare ask for. Here and nowhere else abundant mercy is found. Christina Rossetti had it right—
'None other Lamb, none other Name,
None other Hope in heaven or earth or sea,
None other Hiding-place from guilt and shame,
None beside Thee.”

“The proud, self-sufficient, modern humanist despises the whole idea of forgiveness. Like the blustering W.E. Henley, he sees himself as master of his fate and captain of his soul. ‘Forgiveness’, said George Bernard Shaw, ‘is a beggar’s refuge. We must pay our debts.’ About the time of Luther’s death, a piece of paper was found in his pocket on which he had written in Latin and German, ‘This is true. We are all beggars.’ There is the contrast between the stony heart of unbelief and the heart of flesh that weeps for sin and looks in faith to the crucified and risen Savior for mercy.”

“The forgiven, restored sinner willingly takes up his cross and follows the Lord Jesus Christ. That cross is whatever the Christian suffers for the sake of Christ and his truth. In bearing that cross there is peace and blessedness as the Christian experiences the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. Not that we can share in the redemptive suffering of Christ, but rather that we seek by God’s grace to deny self, accept the anguish of the struggle against sin and bear meekly the scorn of a world that rejects Christ. ‘There are some’, said Samuel Rutherford, ‘who would have Christ cheap. They would have Him without the cross. But the price will not come down.’”

“The hand that reaches out for salvation must be empty. Everything of self must be disowned. We are debtors to mercy alone. We are all beggars.”

Thursday, April 02, 2009

A Las Vegas Homeless Man’s Smile

James 4:13-15: "Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." 14Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that."

Habakkuk 3:17-18: "Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior."

Andy was driving home from work when he approached an intersection for a right turn. He noticed a homeless man in the crosswalk walking his bike across the street. He was scruffy, not dirty; in his 50’s or 60’s. He had an American flag on his bike along with a small bed roll and two small bags of his “stuff”. He noticed Andy waiting to turn and began to walk a lot faster to clear the intersection quicker so Andy could turn sooner. Andy was in no hurry but appreciated the act of kindness. They exchanged glances and Andy waved a “thank you” his way. The homeless man smiled. Andy drove down the street with his spirits lifted because of a kind act from a homeless man. Then it hit Andy, “Give him some money.” Andy did a u-turn and back tracked to talk with the homeless man. Andy offered the money and the homeless man said “No; that’s ok, I have enough.”

The homeless man had enough?? Really, the homeless man said he had enough! We live in an age of massive bail-outs, Madoff’s Ponzi schemes, AIG million dollar bonuses and the homeless man says he has “enough”. I wondered, does he have health care? Could he be a veteran? He probably has no social security to trust in or become worried about. We fret and anguish over our diminishing resources and we worry while we sit, well fed, in our warm houses.

I realized the homeless man has more faith than I! Yes, he is on the front line, his tomorrows are not guaranteed. He has no guarantee he will have food and shelter to face another day. Come to think of it, I don’t have any guarantees either. I live each moment like he does—in God’s grace. Every beat of my heart, every breath I take is an undeserved gift from my Creator.

Through this brief encounter, this nameless, homeless man taught me and Andy a lesson. Quit our grousing, lift up our heads, and make someone else’s life better, even if it is a smile to a red-headed kid from Minnesota going home from work.

May God bless you and keep you this day. May we trust in you, Almighty God. Forgive us for trusting in our stuff and loving our stuff more than you. In Jesus name, Amen.