A servant of all

Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us and received by faith alone. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

 –The Westminster Shorter Catechism, questions 33 and 35

The New Testament is clear on the means of salvation.  Salvation from sin and death can be attained through faith alone—in Latin “Sola Fide.” Christ followers attain justification before God through faith in Jesus as their personal savior and no longer live under the condemnation of the Law. Their sins are forgiven and they are restored to a perfect relationship before God.  Jesus cruel death was the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. “It is finished!” (John 19:30), were the final words spoken in the redemption of mankind. Through his glorious resurrection, Jesus overcame sin and death and opened the door to salvation for all who believe on His holy name.

No matter how hard one may try to attain salvation through good works, they are destined to fail. The Apostle Paul tells us, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law” (Romans 3:20a). That said, we should not be quick to underemphasize the value of good works. Paul tells us in Philippians 2, to work out our own salvation in fear and trembling.  This “working out” is the process of sanctification, that lasts a lifetime, as believers are called to continually strive to become more Christ-like. Sanctification is as much about the process as it is the destination.

Many Bible critics contend that James 2:14-25 is not consistent with the doctrine of salvation through faith alone (sola fide). My understanding of James is that these critics take it out of context. Where James stresses deeds (works), he is speaking in the context of sanctification (striving to be more Christ-like) and not about justification (the forgiveness of sin and restoration into a right relationship with God).  

When we consider sanctification, it would be a mistake to overlook the role of good works. One day Jesus overheard several of his disciples arguing. It turned out they were arguing about which of them was the greatest among Jesus’ disciples. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35).  Jesus gave his disciples an example of a servant’s heart when He washed their feet, as described in John chapter 13.

Are you a Christ follower?  Are you striving to become more Christ-like?  I hope you answered yes to both questions.  While you may not be able to cast out demons, raise the dead, give sight to the blind, or cleanse lepers, there is an abundance of good works needed in Christ’s kingdom. In Romans chapter 16, Paul’s final greetings to a handful of Christian brothers and sisters provides some clues. He tells them to greet each other with a holy kiss, that is be kind to one another. Paul repeatedly recognizes women who worked very hard for Christ. He recognizes others who have sponsored a church in their home.  He cites others who have demonstrated hospitality to fellow believers. Paul even recognizes the mother of a friend who has also been like a mother to him.

Sanctification does not come without a price. Paul’s greeting mentions some friends who risked their lives for Christ, others who have withstood testing of their fidelity to Christ, and yet others who served time in prison with him. Are you ready to accept the risks of becoming more Christ-like?  Are you “working out” your own sanctification? Are you willing to let your life become a doormat where others will wipe their feet? Are you ready to become a servant of all?  

Sanctification means nothing less than the holiness of Jesus becoming mine and being exhibited in my life. The most wonderful secret of living a holy life does not lie in imitating Jesus, but in letting the perfect qualities of Jesus exhibit themselves in my human flesh.  –Oswald Chambers

*All Bible quotations are NIV.

Making friends

A friend to all is a friend to none.  –Aristotle

I have hundreds of friends.  At least that is what my social media accounts tell me. The concept of friendship has changed significantly over the years, especially since the advent of the internet and social media. Social media friendships are so easy to make—just press the “Add Friend” button.  But what is a real friend?

Speaking to his disciples, Jesus explained friendship like this in John 15:13 (NIV), “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  Whoa!  That rules out most of my social media friends. Real friendships, at least in Jesus’ definition, require personal relationships and a willingness to make sacrifices.

A real friend walks in when the rest of the world walks out.”  –Walter Winchell

So, what is real friendship?  I do not profess to have all the answers, but here are some things I have discovered about real friends:

  • They are there for you when others walk away.
  • They meet you where you are, warts, wrinkles and all.
  • They will make time for you, even when they cannot spare it.
  • They expect nothing in return and do not keep score.
  • They are good listeners.
  • They respect confidentiality.
  • They tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.
  • They say, “Wow, you really screwed this up! Now how can I help you fix it?”
  • They walk beside you in the demon filled valleys.
  • They are at their best when you are at your worst.

For prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God.  –St. Teresa of Avila

I am blessed with an abundance of friends.  They know who they are. Most are fellow brothers or sisters in Christ. Thinking about what I like most about my friends makes me wonder if it is possible to be a friend of God?  I believe it is. In Daniel 3, Daniel was bound and thrown into a fiery furnace because he refused to worship an image of King Nebuchadnezzar. God, presumably a preincarnate Jesus, appeared in the blazing furnace with Daniel. David, despite his many serious flaws, had such a close relationship with God that God called him, “a man after my own heart,” (Acts 13:22). God called Abraham “my friend” (Isaiah 41:8b). And God spoke to Moses face to face, “as a man speaks with a friend” (Exodus 33:11a). The closeness of God to these individuals was not due to their righteousness, as all were flawed. These friendships were a result of God’s grace and mercy.

God is eager to be your friend, but He is unlike your other friends in one important way. God wants you to be his disciple. Jesus, God the Father’s only begotten son, lived up to his own teaching that, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Are you ready to let God mold and shape your life like potter’s clay?  Then lay down your life at his feet, pick up your cross and follow Jesus.

 He (Jesus) washes us in Baptism and gives us new, clean clothes of goodness and holiness to wear—His own good clothes, to be ours forever. Finally, He gives us life—His own everlasting life, which He won for us when He rose from the dead, never to die again. Dr. Kari Vo, The Lutheran Hour.

The Unspeakable: Sin and the Devil

America has entered a post-Christian era. Christians are now a minority with diminishing cultural and political influence. Gallup conducts a poll on American morals and beliefs annually. Polling data over the past decade indicates a significant shift to the left on a number of polarizing social issues, including divorce, abortion, doctor-assisted suicide, gay marriage, human embryonic stem cell research and many others. This shift is, at least in part, a product of the moral relativism that has permeated the American media and many American Christian denominations at least since the free love movement of the 1960’s.

 “Post-Christian era” describes a paradigm shift from the completeness of Christian Scripture to so-called progressive revelation. Relativism insists that the Scriptures did not fully provide theological, legal, moral, scientific, medical and other knowledge from the beginning. Instead, God gradually reveals new truths over time. This philosophy is splitting many mainstream Christian denominations today through a continual reinterpretation of the scriptures that increasingly waters down God’s word to the point it becomes socially irrelevant. Moral relativism enables the social justification of anything and everything, from immodest clothing and casual sex to the worst extremes like after-birth abortion, euthanasia and Satan worship.

Advocates of social change in America, on both the left and right, need to recognize that freedom is not the ability to do whatever one pleases. That is the classic definition of anarchy. Freedom is the ability for people to coexist by following a set of rules based upon an accepted moral code—universal truths if you will.

If morals in America are not to be based upon Christian beliefs, then upon whose beliefs will they be based? In this new era, Satan is morally equal to Jesus.  Some people will tell you they would prefer to live under a moral code of Satan, rather than under a Christian code. That because Satan’s code eliminates the concepts of sin and universal truths. Under Satan’s code, God goes by the wayside while each individual becomes the god of his or her own world.  In these personal worlds, anything goes as long as you’re not hurting somebody else. Live and let live.

The situation in America is dire. As evidence of this, in the past few years, we have even seen the rise of Satan clubs in public schools while clubs focused on traditional American moral values, like scouting groups, are pushed away. Christians who openly profess their faith increasingly risk being subjected to ridicule, criticism and even violence.

Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter. Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. —Isaiah 59:14-15

Satan isn’t a character in a Christian folktale.  He is a spiritual being who rebelled against God and was subsequently cast out of heaven by God.  Jesus said in Luke 10:18, “I saw Satan falling like lightning from heaven.”  At least three times in the Gospels Jesus refers to Satan as “the prince of this world,” thus acknowledging Satan’s role as the principal purveyor of sin, chaos, sadness, and misery for mankind. Second Corinthians 11:14 says that “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light,” highlighting his ability to deceive. Satan has deceived mankind for thousands of years and continues to do so today here in post-Christian America.

Scripture’s message from God is extensive, touching man’s life at every important point. The essence of it is simple. It tells us that we were created by God in His own image—we are fearfully and wonderfully made, but altogether dependent on God. It tells us of God’s living orders for man: man must be perfect. It tells us of man disobedience: man sins. And it tells us of God’s justice: ’the wages of sin is death’—eternal death. And then it tells us of God’s remedy, ‘but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 6:23). In this divine gift of love for mankind, God is ready to forgive us all for Jesus’ sake—and for Jesus’ sake alone. —Rev. Dr. Armin Oldsen, former Speaker of The Lutheran Hour

Following Jesus is the only way to curb the moral decay and decline America is experiencing. As Dr. Kari Vo of the Lutheran Hour so clearly explains, “He (Jesus) is the One who saw us groaning under the power of evil, helpless and exploited. He did not leave us that way—He came to us. He shared our life, being born into a world full of hardship and injustice and downright wickedness. He took all of that into His own life, into His own body, being tortured and killed on a cross for us—the innocent for the not-so-innocent, the harmless One for those who harm and those who are harmed alike. And then Jesus rose from the dead, breaking the power of sin, death, and the devil over the whole human race. He has put the powers of evil on notice—things will not stay that way forever. They will not win. He has already struck the decisive blow against all evil powers, and He will bring them all to a complete end when He returns on the Last Day. That goes for human evil and for supernatural evil. God does notice—and He is taking action.”

*All Bible quotes are NIV.

Political Solutions

The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance.  –Psalm 33:10-12*

The November midterm elections will soon be here and the political theater being played out in the media is growing more intense by the day. We live in an age of great political division. Many national leaders and prominent politicians think that they have all the answers, but they’re wrong. As the above passage from Psalm 33 notes, “The Lord foils the plans of the nations.” God remains in charge. There are no political solutions to America’s woes.  What we need is more Jesus!

Here in America, those on the political right condemn the activities of the political left. Those on the left condemn the right.  We hear and see it every day.  “Our way is best for the American people.” “They’re weak on defense.” “They trample on the Constitution.” “They only know how to tax and spend.”  “Their policies are destroying the environment.” “Their policies are destroying the economy.”  Politics pits friend against friend, men against women, husbands against wives, parents against children, nation against nation, religion against religion, and Christian against Christian.  The latter saddens me deeply—it just shouldn’t be. Christians should be kind to everyone, especially fellow believers. The Apostle Paul tells us:

“There is neither Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, (insert Republican or Democrat), but we are one in Christ Jesus.”  Galatians 3:28

Jesus told Pontius Pilate in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world.” This wisdom reminds all Christians that we, including politicians, answer to a higher authority than the government or political leaders.  In 1 Kings 22, the story is told of the time the King of Israel had to decide whether or not to go to war against Syria. Jehoshaphat, the King of Judah, advised his fellow ruler, “First seek the counsel of the Lord” before making a decision,” (verse 5). This is sound advice that Christians, and especially Christian politicians, would do well to take to heart. Seek God’s guidance before seeking the guidance of man.  We should also note Matthew 5:16, “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Christians should be the living face and hands of Christ to the world.

God “makes nations great, and He destroys them; He enlarges nations, and leads them away,” (Job 12:23). Political leaders rule because God allows them to, “for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God,” (Romans 13:1b). God can upset human plans, but no one can thwart His plans or purpose. God loves the world and sent His only begotten Son to suffer and die to atone for the sins of every person of every political ilk.

Pastor Eugene Cho is CEO of Bread for the World, a non-partisan, Christian advocacy organization based in the USA. I highly recommend an article he penned a decade ago titled, “The 10 Commandments of Engaging Politics.” It contains a wealth of sound advice for Christians today as we approach the November elections. His article is available at this safe link:

Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.  –Psalm 105:1-4

*All Bible quotes are NIV.

Give thanks to God

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.  –Psalm 107:1*

Recently I’ve been pondering what it means to give thanks to God. The Bible is full of examples of thanksgiving being lifted up to the Lord.  After giving it much thought, I’ve come to several conclusions. First and foremost, thanking God is my way of acknowledging His supreme authority and position in my life.  God gave me life! Everything that is good in my life is a gift from Him.

I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. –Psalm 69:30

Second, there are multiple ways to give thanks to God.  These include praying; through the written, recorded and spoken work; in song; in giving of one’s time and treasure; and in prayerfully doing good works for others with no motive other than serving God. I write this blog as a thank offering to God. There are many other ways of thanking God that area not listed here. It occurs to me that we can thank God in almost any situation we encounter throughout the day. Continually thanking God can help one remain cognizant of God’s endless presence in his or her life.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  –I Thessalonians 5:16-18

Third, we are to thank God in all circumstances, both the easy times, the difficult ones and those in between.  In Philippians 4, the Apostle Paul tells us he has learned to be content whatever his circumstances. This is a tough one. In my lifetime I’ve had some real tragedies. When tragedy strikes, it is particularly difficult to discern any good at the time.  Over the years I’ve learned to pray to God for strength to get me though the difficulties and to give me wisdom to understand.  While it was difficult to discern the good at the time, in retrospect each difficult period of my life was a time of learning and spiritual growth that helped prepare me for God’s eternal kingdom.   

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!  –2 Corinthians 9:15

Finally, give thanks to the lord for his grace in offering us salvation through Jesus Christ.

Doxology

I thank you, God, for your grace, the gift of life and my salvation through Jesus Christ.  Thank you for the Godly women who helped lead me to the Savior in my childhood. Thank you for loving aunts, uncles, and grandparents who helped raise and care for me after my parents divorced. Thank you for the churches and teachers who helped nurture and train me along the way. Thank you for giving me a godly wife to share my life with. Thank you for my children and grandchildren who bring joy to my life. Thank you for friends and family who have added richness to my life. Thank you for protecting and shielding me during times of trouble. Thank you for the work that enables me to sustain my family. Thank you for this day and all my days to come. Thanks be to God!

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,

Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;

Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way,

With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today. 

Hymn – Now Thank We All Our God:

*All Bible quotes are NIV.

Lessons Learned

As I reported in April, I recently underwent major surgery.  Having never been under general anesthesia before, I was more than a little bit anxious about the entire procedure. It has been nearly two months since the surgery and I’m still in the healing process.  The procedure was conducted robotically and left seven scars on my abdomen.  The first time I showed the scars to my youngest grandson he said it looks like I was in a gunfight. I try to learn from every experience, whether good or bad.

I spent 24 years of my adult life as a commissioned officer in the US Army. During my military career, I learned a lot of life lessons—things that continue to help me today.  A wise Field Artillery battalion commander once told me, “It’s ok to make mistakes, but learn from them and avoid repeating them.”  Imagine a world where everyone lived by this axiom!

A lot of Army training events and operations conclude an After-Action Review, or AAR.  The AAR is a very open discussion about how the execution of an event went. The ultimate aim is to do better next time. AARs can be soul searching experiences. To understand my surgery experience, I ended up doing a lot of soul and scripture searching. Here’s what I learned from my surgery and the leadup to it.    

I spent a lot of time praying about this surgery. I suffered doubt more than once.  Should I do it?  Will it work?  Could I die on the operating table?  My faith was put to the test. Knowing my prayers were insufficient, I enlisted the support from a host of prayer warriors I knew I could count on.  I received many words of encouragement from these friends and I was comforted just knowing they were praying for me.  Lesson learned – don’t worry!

God is in Control: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6*

Psalm 55

22 Cast your cares on the Lord
and he will sustain you;
he will never let
the righteous be shaken.

God shows Himself in many ways and places.  You never know when He’s going to pop up and remind you that he’s present.  As I lay in the surgical ward around 9pm, still a little groggy from the lingering effects of anesthesia, I was surprised when a beep sounded from the hospital intercom and some kind soul began reading an evening prayer—I was in a Catholic hospital. What a wonderful way to mark my first night in hospital. Lesson learned – we shouldn’t need an intercom announcement to remind us that God is always there.  Just stop, look and listen.

Psalm 139

Where can I go from your Spirit?
   Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

Within six weeks of highly invasive surgery, I was nearly back to normal. Lesson learned: The human body’s ability to heal itself is remarkable. God’s incredible design of the human body is so amazing that it is beyond human comprehension. The hand of God our creator is clearly evident in human anatomy.

            Psalm 139

13For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

My wonderful wife was my sole caregiver for nearly a month, while I was significantly incapacitated from the surgery. I could not have survived on my own. Early Christians stood out in Roman society for their willingness to serve the sick and outcast, including lepers.  Lesson learned: Christians are called to be caregivers.

            Psalm 2

3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.                                                                         Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 

4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

The robotic surgery performed by my surgeon was truly remarkable, but it pales in comparison to the abilities of our Lord. While a surgeon can help your physical needs, Jesus offers spiritual healing for broken hearts and souls. He is truly the “Great Physician.”

The Great Physician Now is Near – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDfHFaJaTwk

*All Bible quotations are from the NIV.

Enduring truths for recent graduates

Across the country it’s graduation time. Here in South Dakota many schools have already closed for the summer. Most of those that remain open will close in the coming days. Everywhere one turns there’s another grad party. What awaits all these new grads? A decade ago I wrote an article  for my newspaper column with some advice for recent graduates. While it was aimed at high school graduates, it is also highly relevant to recent college grads. The article has become one of the most popular pieces I ever wrote. I’ve received hundreds of emails thanking me for taking the time to share it.  Therefore, I decided to  republish it annually around graduation time.  I hope some of you might find it useful.  You can view the original article in the Tribune-Democrat news at this link: http://goo.gl/LtN72

For those who are graduating high school this year and beginning the long transition into adulthood, I’d like to offer you a gift. Here are five enduring truths I have learned. They will help you through life’s journey.

Choices

“If you decide to just go with the flow, you’ll end up where the flow goes, which is usually downhill, often leading to a big pile of sludge and a life of unhappiness. You’ll end up doing what everyone else is doing.” ― Sean Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens

 Life will deal you an endless string of choices along the way.  Some will be trivial, like deciding what to wear today.  Others will be weighty and their outcomes will affect you forever.  Weighty decisions should always be preceded by much thought and soul searching.  This includes decisions about who you date or marry, what you put into your body, bringing children into the world, what you do for a living, how much debt you incur and who you associate with.

All of these decisions will have a lasting effect on your life. Therefore, make them slowly and deliberately. Often you’ll discover that the right choice is not the easiest one.  A habit of making poor choices will, as the Sean Covey quote suggests, drag your life downhill.

I was recently contacted by a young man who had just received a bad conduct discharge from the Navy.  He asked me how the discharge would impact his future employability.  His mistake was choosing to drive a car while intoxicated and hitting a pedestrian. Fortunately, the victim wasn’t seriously injured. Had it been otherwise, the young sailor would probably be in prison.  It was my sad responsibility to inform him that with some employers the discharge would be a black mark for life. Choices matter!

 Learning

“Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards.”    ―Vernon Saunders Law, former professional baseball pitcher and Cy Young Award winner

Some of you will go on to college or technical school.  Others will enter the workforce.  Even if your formal education is over, don’t quit learning. Make learning a lifelong adventure.  I did my undergraduate work at the University of Kentucky.  The school offers a fellowship program for individuals aged 65 and older to attend classes tuition free. Every year numerous senior citizens walk the stage to receive degrees ranging from Associate of Arts to Doctor of Philosophy.  It’s never too late to learn.

Even if you don’t choose to continue formal learning, make it point to learn from life. Observe others; note their successes and failures; then learn from their experiences.  More importantly, learn from your own mistakes.

Some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned, particularly those while serving in uniform, were the result of having made a terrible mistake.  This sort of lesson sticks, like the first time you grab the handle of a hot iron skillet with your bare hand.  The key to learning from mistakes is owning them.  Admit your mistakes and then move on, having learned something from the experience.  Don’t let, “It wasn’t my fault,” be part of your vocabulary.

 Work

“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.”  ―Colin Powell, retired U.S. Army four-star general and former U.S. Secretary of State

Work isn’t always fun. If it were, they’d call it play.  Work can be downright unpleasant, but it’s an essential element of life! Along the way you’re going to have jobs you won’t like. Note what you don’t like and make it a point to improve yourself, so you’ll never again have to work at such a job.

Accepting a job means submitting to the authority of those placed over you.  Learn to work within this system.   You’ll inevitably have bosses you don’t like.  Learn to respect the position, if not the individual.

Fairness

Life is not fair; get used to it.” ―Bill Gates, founder and former CEO, Microsoft Corporation

You will hear much discussion about fairness in this life. It’s all hot air.  Life isn’t fair.  Some good people die young, while some bad people live a long life.   Disease sometimes strikes arbitrarily, for no apparent reason.  Some people prosper while others suffer failure. A death or accident can change your life forever.

There is randomness to life that can’t be avoided.  Don’t expect kindness to be returned with kindness.  Don’t expect generosity to be returned with generosity.  The best choice is to be fair and kind to others and learn to accept what they return to you.

A wise man named Harry Browne ran for president of the United States on the Libertarian Party ticket. On Christmas day in 1966, Browne wrote his young daughter a letter aptly titled, “A Gift for My Daughter.”  I encourage every graduating senior to read it and digest it. In the letter, he explains to his daughter that, “Nobody owes you anything.”  Understanding what Browne meant can truly bless you. You can find it here. https://tenthamendmentcenter.com/2009/12/22/a-gift-for-my-daughter/

Faith

“A faith is a necessity to a man. Woe to him who believes in nothing.”  ―Victor Hugo

I once had a senior Army officer tell me he preferred to work with men who possessed spiritual values, regardless of their religion.  He explained that having faith in a power higher than one’s self was an indicator of how one will perform under pressure; in this instance, the pressure meant combat.

Too many people place their faith in all the wrong places.  It might be in wealth, celebrity, good looks, talent, or even government.  Whatever the case, misplaced faith leads to disappointment after disappointment.

To avoid these disappointments, put your faith in God alone.  You, your loved ones and your friends will all inevitably let you down, but God will never fail you.

Abandoned to God

Jesus walking on the water

“Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” Matthew 14:29-31

I’m scheduled for major surgery in a few days. The procedure will necessitate a long convalescence period. While I’ve had several surgeries during my life, this marks the first time that I’ll be under general anesthesia. I’m not looking forward to it. To be truthful, my dread of this surgery has tested my faith.  Yep, I’m a little bit scared.  

For many years I have enjoyed the writings of Scottish theologian Oswald Chambers. I first discovered him through his famous daily devotional, “My Utmost for His Highest.”  You might have noticed that I frequently quote Chambers in this blog. One of my favorite pieces of his wisdom is:   

The great word of Jesus to His disciples is Abandon. When God has brought us into the relationship of disciples, we have to venture on His word; trust entirely to Him and watch that when He brings us to the venture, we take it. 

The Apostle Paul is a great example of living a life abandoned to God. In Acts 20:22-24, Paul tells the elders of the Church at Ephesus, “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”

Throughout history, many people have chosen to abandon a sinking ship when the situation became so bad that an act of desperation appeared to be their only way out. Being abandoned to God is like jumping off a sinking ship and finding Jesus there, walking on the water and offering his hand to pull you above the dangerous waves as he whispers, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

A life of abandon is content with God, not with circumstances.  That’s how I want to live.  I close asking for your prayers as I undergo surgery on April 29. Until the next time!

Easter 2022: He is risen!

The risen Jesus approaching Mary Magdalene at his tomb

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. … The men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how He told you, while He was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered His words … (Luke 24:1-4, 5b-8)

Growing old and grateful

He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord. –Proverbs 18:22*

*All bible quotes are NIV.

I’m old enough to get senior discounts in restaurants and movie theaters, and AARP rates on hotel rooms. These are all good, but one of the greatest benefits of getting older is that I’ve developed a clearer understanding of what really matters in my life. When I was young, most of my attention was focused inwardly, which I suppose if fairly normal. 

I was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army in May 1977, at the tender age of 21. Fresh out of college and newly married, I loved the excitement of a soldier’s life.  I loved the comradery and having fun with friends. I also enjoyed playing all kinds of sports and outdoor recreation like skiing and cycling. Sadly, there were many things I neglected during this phase of my life. One of these was my sweet wife.

As I grew a bit older, I began to pay more attention to the incredible woman I married. I grew to realize that Linda’s physical beauty was exceeded by even greater inner beauty. I grew to admire her patience—especially with me and my antics—and her fortitude.  When she sets her mind on something, it’s going to get done.  I also began to comprehend how wise Linda is—blessed with more common sense than anyone I’ve ever known. She is also blessed with the gift of spiritual discernment. On top of all this, Linda is one of the humblest and most generous people I’ve ever known.

For me, having our first child was a wake-up call greater than any drill instructor ever delivered to a barracks full of sleepy-eyed soldiers.  It was one of those ‘blinding glimpse of the obvious’ moments when selfish me suddenly realized I’m responsible for more than just myself.  While a wife is easily neglected, a screaming newborn is an entirely different matter.  Sad that I didn’t figure this out earlier!

My newfound sense of responsibility led me back to the Church, something I’d managed to neglect since the time I entered college some seven years earlier. This sudden change of direction came as quite a surprise to my then, non-Christian wife.  Thankfully, she was eventually steered towards God. Sadly, it happened without much help on my part.  Thank you, Holy Spirit!

Over the course of my 24-year Army career there were many long deployments and other periods away from home.  During these busy years Linda faithfully kept the home fires burning, managing a busy household and doing the lion’s share of parenting our two daughters. My military travels around the world helped me develop a deep appreciation for the blessings we enjoy as Americans—something that many of us simply don’t recognize.

Fast forward to the present and I feel blessed. I thank God daily for my family, friends, freedom, and faith.  Linda and I are reaping the benefits of having honored our marriage vows all these years; we recently celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary. Our amazing daughters are both grown and successful; we have a wonderful son-in-law who is a pastor; and we’ve been blessed with three delightful grandsons. We’re fortunate to be able to see our grandsons daily. We have loving, extended families living in diverse locations around the world. We’ve made many lifelong friends along the way, all of whom have blessed and enriched our lives. Most of all, we’ve been blessed by a loving God who was willing to sacrifice His only Son to redeem our souls.

Proverbs 31:10b-31

[b]A wife of noble character who can find?
    She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
    and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
    all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax
    and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
    bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night;
    she provides food for her family
    and portions for her female servants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
    out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
    her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
    and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
    and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
    and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
    for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
    she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
    where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
    and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
    and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
    her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
    but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
    and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.