Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Parable of the Leaf

I don't really have a favorite season.

I like things about every time of year; I also dislike some things about every season. 
I'm usually ready for something different by the time the next one rolls around. 
But not always...

For example, I can't say I was really ready for the ten inches of snow we got a few days ago. 
I mean, it's pretty and everything - but it sure made getting around harder and more hazardous.

This autumn was particularly nice. It was relatively warm, and the fall colors were spectacular.  
The maple tree that shades our driveway was a riot of yellow, orange and red.

And it stayed beautiful for a couple weeks.
Even the leaves that fell on the ground were really pretty.

Every morning my pickup would be covered with leaves.
No worry there - I just started up and drove off, and the leaves went flying. Except one.

My truck has one of those bug guard things mounted on the hood, and this particular leaf had lodged itself behind it. As I'd drive along, it would flip up and wave at me, then duck back down behind the bug deflector. Over and over and over again.

Now, I'd seen tenacious leaves before. Sooner or later the wind would catch them, and they'd fly off. So I knew it was just a matter of time till this one took off, too. I started paying attention as I drove to and from work and church. This leaf continued to hang on day after day. Even after little pieces of it fell off from the force of air whipping it back and forth, it refused to just let go and move to its final rest.

After a while, I started to get annoyed. Stupid leaf keeps flipping up and down as I drive. Why doesn't it just let go and fly away? I watched every day; it continued to hold on despite all the forces trying to drive it off. Lesser leaves had succumbed to the pressure days before. The maple tree that had produced this leaf was nearly barren. Still this leaf stubbornly refused to give in.

Every time I started the truck, I expected that leaf to be gone. And there it was, waving at me. 
I quit being annoyed, and began to be impressed. Look at that guy! Fighting for existence long after all hope should be gone. I like it!

What was the secret of its amazing survival? Eventually I had to look.

When I examined it, I found that this leaf was still attached to a branch that had fallen and lodged itself in the space between the bug guard and the hood. (You can see a little of it in the picture above.) As long as the leaf stayed connected to the branch, it didn't matter what force of wind came against it. It might be battered and torn up, but it couldn't be dislodged.

Wow. What a lesson for us.

Jesus said, "I am the vine, and you are the branches. If you stay joined to me, and I stay joined to you, then you will produce lots of fruit. But you cannot do anything without me." (John 15:5 CEV)

Sometimes when the troubles of life come at me, I try to handle them in my own strength. Typically, that doesn't work out so well. As long as I stay closely connected to Christ, 
I find wisdom and ability to survive the trials. He wants to help me, but will never force me to do 
His will. I have to choose His way every day, every hour, every minute. That is what it means to stay connected to the vine.

You'd think I would have this process down pat after more than 40 years of serving Jesus. 
But as Jesus pointed out, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:38 NIV) 
My flesh wants to rule, and it's easy to give in to my natural tendencies. Even though the end result is less than optimal, my default mode is to trust myself rather than really let God lead. 
I always seem to think, "This time it'll be different." But failure looms every time.

I need to be reminded often: I must abide in Christ. That's what this little leaf did for me. 
Connected to the branch, it couldn't be dislodged. Even though I couldn't see the branch, it was there providing security and support for that leaf. Its source of strength was completely adequate to keep it going long after all the other, unattached leaves had blown away. 

Storms will come. Trouble, pain and difficulty are guaranteed in this life. But Jesus has promised to be with us. With His help, we can overcome and be victorious. We might be bruised and battered - even Jesus has scars - but God "always leads us in triumph in Christ." (2 Corinthians 2:14 NKJV)

So hang on! Never give up. With God's help, you will survive every trial and fulfill your purpose in this life. You have His Word on it. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Mr. Know-It-All

"Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do." - Isaac Asimov

I confess: I suffer from know-it-all syndrome.  

Doesn't that sentence absolve me from all blame for my behavior? 
It's not MY fault - it's a malady, a sickness, something beyond my control!  
Saying this might make me feel better about my know-it-allishness.

Just one problem - it's not true! Not the know-it-all part - unfortunately, that is so. 
But a syndrome? Please. It's a choice I made very early in life, and it quickly became 
a habitual defense mechanism.

Now first, let me state clearly: I DO NOT KNOW IT ALL! Never did, never will. 
I am interested in many things and always learning, and I do know how to find stuff out. 
For instance, I've been using the quote at the top of this post for years, but never knew where 
it came from. (Told ya I don't really know it all...) And it only took me about 30 seconds online 
to find out it's attributed to famed author Isaac Asimov.

So how did I become a know-it-all? And more importantly, why? 
And what's wrong with that, anyway?

When I was a child, I was fairly small (shrimpy, even), rather uncoordinated and very near-sighted (20-400 without correction). Oh, and slow of foot. And relatively lazy. As a result, I reeked at most things that were important to young boys, like hunting and fishing and sports. And anything that didn't come easily to me I tried to avoid. (see lazy, above) I endured a lot of teasing and ridicule for my lack of athletic prowess; I was always the last kid picked in gym class. 
(Not a confidence booster!)

The only thing I did well was schoolwork. I was a voracious reader, to the point of being "bookish". The only power I thought I had was brain power. So that's where I put my confidence. I always had to be right. I wanted to be known as the smartest kid, the best, the go-to guy for information. 
This did garner me some positive attention, which only reinforced the behavior. 
In a very short time, I was a know-it-all. And frequently insufferable.

And since I avoided putting real effort into much of anything, I learned to sound as if I knew what I was talking about even when I actually had no clue. Getting the real facts required a fair amount of work back then, maybe going to the library and digging through dusty encyclopedias to unearth obscure information. Who wants to work that hard? 

(Okay, true confession: I did occasionally read encyclopedias for fun.) 

So I often bluffed my way through, confident that others wouldn't go to that much work just to 
fact-check me.  And I really did know answers frequently enough to have some credibility. 
Admit I was wrong? Never!

So what's the point of this discussion? I mean, besides publishing my shortcomings 
for the world to see. Actually, anyone who knows me is not particularly shocked by this revelation. And when I was younger, I didn't see any problem. I was who I was, and I was comfortable with it. As I have matured, my opinion has changed.

The problem is, I was hiding behind my Know-It-All persona. I took pride in displaying my knowledge and apparent wisdom. But underneath all the bluster, I was quite insecure, 
completely unsure of myself. And I was afraid someone would find out who I really was, 
and then they wouldn't like me. So I kept up the phony facade, refining it as the years went by.

And there was another thing: PRIDE. The whole reason for the fake mask was my fear of rejection. So I became not just Mr. Right, but Mr. Always Right. I wanted to impress people with how smart I was, and so became pretty much unteachable. And I had no idea how annoying 
I actually was. Pride kept me from asking for help, even when I really needed it. 
I was the go-to guy! I might be physically weak, but I was mentally sharp! 
I just couldn't allow any apparent weakness to be seen in my chosen armor.

Pride is one of the three major roots of sin, according to God's Word. 
1 John 2:16 lays it out this way: "For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, 
the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.

Lust of the flesh - that's making yourself happy without considering the eventual consequences or how it will affect anyone else, and only caring about self. Lust of the eyes (Greed) is wanting more and more stuff, thinking that things will fill the emptiness inside. And then there's the Pride of life: thinking more of yourself than you should, thinking you're never wrong and should never lose an argument, refusing to ask for help or even receive it when offered, looking out for number one.

Pride is a deadly sin, one we all struggle with in one way or another. 
(Some people are even proud of how humble they are!) 

This is why Jesus said, "whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant." (Matthew 20:26) God's Kingdom is upside down from the way many typically behave - striving for position or notoriety, seeking to move up, to be someone, grabbing for power or influence. 

And Jesus demonstrated what He meant by the way He lived. 
"The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45

And there's this: 
"Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.(1 John 2:6
Hiding behind a good Christian mask, pretending to be something you're not, 
seeking to impress others with your knowledge, abilities, talents, appearance, whatever - 
this is not living as Jesus did. And I want to pursue God, to know Him, 
to develop the character He wants me to have.

Now don't misunderstand - one sin isn't worse than another in God's sight. 
We Christians like to categorize sins and make ourselves feel better by comparison. 
"Well, I know I gossip, and I overeat sometimes - but at least I'm not a drunk like that guy, or engaging in risky and immoral behavior like those people." Guess what - that's pride! And Jesus specifically warned against this attitude in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. 
(Luke 18:10-14)

Pride manifests itself in lots of different ways in various people. One way for me is being a know-it-all. But I don't want to be a phony, and I really don't want to be an arrogant blowhard who annoys everyone he meets. I want to live as Jesus did, with mercy and kindness and love and humility. So I have repented, and am actively trying to stop being Mr. Know-It-All.

I'm not saying it's easy to change, or that I have arrived. Old habits die hard, 
and I have nearly half a century of practice at this. But I am seeking to become more like Christ, and He has promised to help me if I will genuinely pursue Him. (see John 14:15-17)

Why now? I have become convinced that the majority of people who call themselves Christian, 
at least in the good ol' USA, don't behave anything like Christ. Oh, sure, they attend church and quote Bible on Facebook, but my mom always said "Actions speak louder than words", and 
their behavior doesn't line up. When I examined myself, I realized that I was often judgmental, cynical, holier-than-thou, and hypocritical. A whole lot like worldly people.

If I really believe that Jesus offers a better life now and in the world to come (and I do - 
otherwise why serve Him?); if I want to see others come to Christ and experience this new life (and I do - if I really cared about others I'd want to share the best news I know); then I need to make sure my actions reflect what He has said. Why should anyone become a Christian when it appears it's not real, because our lives don't look any better?

Here's what I know: Christ is real, He is good, and His promises are true. 
But when I'm phony, no one can see the reality of Jesus in me. 
When I'm insecure and don't really trust God, I'll cling to the old, tired, useless way of coping. 
And Jesus wants to totally set me free, if I'll just let Him. 
Old things pass away - everything becomes new! (2 Corinthians 5:17
I'm not supposed to conform to this world; I am to be transformed by Him. (Romans 12:2)

I am convinced Christians can change our world. 
But first, we have to let Christ change us from the inside out, so we can truly represent the Light. 
I can't change anybody else, but with God's help I can change me.

It's not quick and easy. It's an arduous, sometimes painful, lifelong process.
And the end result is totally worth the cost.

I am not there yet, but I'm on my way. Won't you join me?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

How ya doin'?

Recently several people have asked how things are going for me. 
I don't always know how to respond, because really it depends on what day and sometimes what hour or minute they ask.

Overall, I'm doing pretty well. I have good days and bad days, like everybody else. Most of the time I smile and kind of lie, saying "I'm fine". Because that's what most people expect. It's just easier than launching into a long explanation they probably don't want to hear anyway.

But the truth is, I'm not fine. Not really. Not now, maybe not ever on this earth. You see, my only son died 4 years ago today. And I'm still not over it. He was so young, so full of hope and promise. He left too soon. And I feel cheated.

Oh, I know - I'm supposed to be an overcoming, victorious saint of God who never struggles and always triumphs over every adversity. And honestly, God has been a tremendous comfort to me. 
I don't think I could have coped without the calm assurance that this life isn't all there is, that this temporal existence is simply preparation for eternity. I believe that, now more than ever, and I'm at peace. Lowell won't come back to me, but I get to go to him.

But I'd be boldface lying if I told you I never struggle, never have doubts, never have days when depression threatens to overwhelm me. The devil would lose his job if he didn't attack us at our weakest points. And he's pretty secure in his employment, at least when it comes to me.

You see, I have weak areas. And it seems as if my weakness has increased since Lowell's death. I have no tolerance when people, especially children, are put into danger, even in movies or on TV. If I view that kind of suspenseful program, I get a horrid feeling in my chest and panic threatens to overwhelm me. So I just don't watch. I inherited Lowell's phone, and even 4 years later his voice is still the recorded message. I can't bring myself to change it - somehow it comforts me to have his voice on my phone. There are times when I miss Lowell a lot; occasionally this puts me into a very dark mood.

Sometimes I don't really want to fight back. I guess I feel I'm somehow being unfaithful to my son's memory if I resist the melancholy blues. I have determined this to be a lie from hell. If I sink into depression, I'm ineffective and I know Lowell wouldn't want that. 

For a couple of weeks in April, I couldn't seem to get out of the funk. I was trying to handle my problems with my own strength. And I can't... 

When I finally gave in, and told God I had to have His help to overcome, the Holy Spirit immediately came to me and the depression lifted. And I've been pretty good since then.

I believe that's what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote that God's "power works best in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9) As long as I insist I can solve my own problems, that I can handle everything by myself, the Lord will respond, "Okay - suit yourself." And I really don't have the power to fix things. Thankfully, God is very patient, and when I finally come to the end of myself and ask for help, He's right there for me. Paul said in the next verse, "when I am weak, then I am strong." 
(2 Corinthians 12:10)  James wrote, "you do not have because you do not ask." (James 4:2
And sometimes I just don't want to ask.

But I'm learning to swallow my manly pride and depend on the Holy Spirit. One of the hardest things for me to do is ask for help. And sometimes I need help from other people. I've learned some difficult lessons over the past few years. And I'm so thankful for my family and friends who are on this journey with me - I need those relationships more than I can say.

I hope I'm more Christlike than I used to be. There are some days when I definitely am not. 
And then I have to come to Him, repent for my attitude and often my actions, and let His power be perfected in my weakness. Again.

So, how am I doing? I'm okay...
I'm growing, changing, learning, walking. I'm beginning to trust God again. 
I'm broken, and only He can fix me. And it's a slow process - looks like it will take a lifetime.

But the good news is, one day I will be changed and be with Him - and with Lowell and all my other loved ones who have gone on. Until that day, I'll keep putting one foot in front of the other and try to fulfill the destiny God has for me. When I am weak, then I am strong.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Denial: Not Just A River In Egypt

Never do today what you can put off till tomorrow, because tomorrow you may not have to do it.

This is a motto I occasionally say in jest. 
But sadly, the reason it's funny is because I often really live this way. 
Sometimes I cope with a problem by ignoring it and hoping it will go away. 

This method is largely ineffective; inattention typically doesn't make problems evaporate. 
Instead, they get bigger and more urgent until they just can't be ignored. By then it's a huge headache to fix them.

Remember the old TV commercial touting regular car maintenance? This mechanic stands in his garage contrasting two customers. The first noticed something was not right with his vehicle and brought it in to be checked. After investing a few dollars installing an inexpensive part, his car was back on the road quickly and reliably. The second guy ignored the warning signs and didn't want to spend money on preventive maintenance. Eventually, his car broke down and required costly, time-consuming repairs. The tag line? "You can pay me now, or pay me later..."

Way too often I've been in the "pay me later" camp. I've discussed my tendency to procrastinate before. And I often find myself hoping things will fix themselves if I just ignore them. I'm basically optimistic, but sometimes I deceive myself to maintain that sunny attitude. 

If you read my unfinished business post, you may find yourself wondering if I've made any headway in the last two months. And I can honestly say, yes I have. But not nearly as much as I'd like. 
It's so easy to put things off, to shove things under the bed and forget them. 

And I have excuses! The past couple of weeks, working on my daughter's upcoming wedding has commandeered my free time. Looks as if that may go on for the next 6 weeks, until the ceremony is past. But I still intend to keep working on my unfinished business list, hoping to cross off 4 or 5 more items before the wedding.

Sometimes the "pay me later" philosophy can have dire consequences. 

I have a friend who has just been diagnosed with cancer. She'd been having some problems, and even though she doesn't really trust doctors, she went for a checkup. They discovered the cancer still at stage one. She'll soon undergo surgery, and we're praying and trusting for a good report. Cancers caught this early are almost always easily cured.

I had another friend who believed words had power over reality. She and her family would never confess anything negative, even to the point of denying the facts. She started having problems, but didn't seek medical help. They would only mention it in vague prayer requests, and truly believed their faith and positive confessions would bring healing. By the time she finally went to the doctor, the cancer had progressed to stage four. Even then, they wouldn't let anyone know what was going on for fear of allowing "negative words" to affect her condition. By the time she got help, it was too late and she eventually died, after a lot of needless suffering. 

Now, I do believe that if you constantly dwell on the bad side of things, complaining and speaking negatively about your situation, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Faith is believing what you cannot see, (Hebrews 11:1) and exercising faith is how we receive from God. (James 1:6-8
But denial is not faith, it's blindness. Better by far to recognize your enemy and fight back using every tool God has provided, including the wisdom of the medical profession.

So I am careful in what I say, keeping my attitude positive, trusting the good God I serve. 
But I reject magical thinking. I don't believe that I have to say the right words in just the right order to get results, like some spooky incantation. Nor do I think that if I say the wrong thing, evil consequences will necessarily follow. There is not some secret magic formula that guarantees 
God will hear my prayers.

Jesus said, "whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son." (John 14:13 NKJV) This does not mean that we just have to tag our prayers with the magic words, "In Jesus' Name, Amen."  Asking in His name means we have a relationship with him. 
It's like a soldier's wife shopping at the base store. Your average citizen can't shop there - it's for the military and their families. Even though the wife isn't in the military, she's closely related to someone who is. Her relationship gives her the right to certain benefits.

When you have a relationship with Jesus Christ, you have family rights. You can bring your requests to the Father and He will hear and answer you. Jesus said it this way: "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you." 
(John 15:7 NKJV) Your abode is the place where you live. Abiding in Jesus means staying vitally connected to Him. When you have a living, active relationship with Christ, you begin to understand what God desires, and can pray according to His will. Those kinds of prayers are always answered. (1 John 5:14-15)

Some people say, "the Bible says I can speak the things that are not as though they were" and use this idea as proof that they can "name and claim" whatever their heart desires. Just one problem: the Bible doesn't give us that right. That passage says God speaks things into existence, not us. We are to put our trust in Him, just as Abraham did. Really - you can read it for yourself. (Romans 4:16-17)

It's really hard to read that passage and make it say that >we< have the right to speak things into existence. That's God's deal, not ours. The New Living Translation puts it this way: "Abraham believed in the God who brings the dead back to life and who creates new things out of nothing." (Romans 4:17)

So there isn't some magic formula that will make bad things go away and give us whatever our greedy little hearts desire. There is no system to force God to do what we want. He's God - He isn't obliged to cater to our whims. And He knows a lot better than we do what is good for us.

It's pretty simple, really. Figure out what is the right thing to do, then do it. Endure suffering patiently, handle whatever comes your way with grace, trust that God is always good and will work everything out according to His plan and purpose. (Romans 8:28)

And finally, don't deny that your troubles exist. Instead, take action and trust God's promise to help you get through every trial. (1 Corinthians 10:13

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some unfinished business to attend to...

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Trust is having confidence in the integrity, strength or ability of a person or thing.
I'm not very good at this.

More precisely, trust does not come naturally to me. I tend to be kind of skeptical, and often do not take things at face value. I generally want some evidence of faithfulness before I put my trust in something or someone. And once I've been disappointed, it's really hard to regain my trust.
Sometimes this is healthy, sometimes not so much. Frequently the one who doesn't trust people doesn't trust God, either. And you'll never receive God's help if you don't trust Him.

A danger for me is when skepticism - requiring evidence of trustworthiness - drifts into cynicism. 
A cynic is one who believes that all humans are motivated only by selfishness. A skeptic isn't sure if people can be trusted; a cynic is convinced they can never be. When someone does something good for me, if I'm in cynical mode I think, "What's in it for them?" A cynic expects to be taken advantage of, to be cheated. He trusts no one, other than himself.

Really, cynicism is the height of self-centeredness. And that attitude is projected onto all people.  Because he's totally selfish, the cynic assumes everybody else is, too. This behavior is quite unhealthy. It leads to bitterness and anger, even unforgiveness. A cynic grumbles and complains all the time. They're unhappy and unpleasant to be around.

Since I recognize this tendency in myself, I really try to guard against it. I don't want to be a rotten human being, trusting no one. I don't want to be a selfish, judgmental prig. But trust takes time and effort to develop and maintain, and I don't always succeed.

There is good reason to mistrust people. We're all born selfish, thinking only of our own satisfaction. When a baby is hungry or tired or in need of a diaper change, it screams until it gets what it wants. As children get older, they learn more sophisticated methods of manipulation, but their main thrust is still getting whatever they desire.

One definition of maturity is thinking less of oneself and more of others. Genuine love is considering others' needs before your own. A wise parent works to train children to think of others rather than only themselves, and to do their part to make this world a better place. The ultimate goal of parents is to raise their children to be responsible, mature, caring adults. Training means that the child doesn't get every desire granted. They must learn that actions have consequences and sometimes you don't get what you want. Unfortunately, many children don't learn this lesson, which is why there are so many whiny, immature adults.

So I remain skeptical as a rule. I've been lied to, cheated, betrayed, and had many promises to me broken. It would be easy to just assume that's how everyone behaves and trust no one. But I can't do that, because of one word: REDEMPTION.

You see, I've lied, cheated, betrayed others and broken promises. The very behavior I abhor in others I have often practiced. But thank God, I'm not that person any more. Do I fail? Sure. 
Do I sometimes fall back into this kind of behavior? Sadly, I do. But I recognize its destructive tendencies, and consciously work to eliminate these sorts of actions from my life.

And I have Scriptural promise to help me. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." (2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV) 
I don't have to be that old guy I was. I can choose to change with the help of the Holy Spirit. 
"Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think." (Romans 12:2 NLT)

If I fail, He has promised to forgive me and help me get back on the right path. (1 John 1:9) He has been so kind and merciful to me, even though I don't deserve it. And He expects me to treat others with mercy and understanding, forgiving them as I've been forgiven. (Romans 2:1-4)

I'm learning to temper my skepticism with love and kindness. This does not come naturally - I told you my natural tendency is toward cynicism, the very opposite of lovingkindness. But God Himself dwells in me, in the person of the Holy Spirit, and He gives me the power to actually live
what I say I believe. (Acts 1:8) God does not force me to change - I have to consciously choose to follow Him every day, every hour, every minute really. When I make that choice, He helps me behave in ways that demonstrate the power of Christ in my life.

Trust doesn't come easily to me - but I'm learning and growing. Just publishing these thoughts is a leap of faith for me. If you have struggled with trust issues, I hope learning a little about my journey will help you. It's scary and it's hard, but learning to trust others and especially to trust God is totally worth it.

I've not arrived yet, but I'm on the way and it's good. Hope you'll join me!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Seasons of Change

My perception of God and His ways has changed dramatically over the years.

This shouldn't come as a great surprise. God is infinite, we are not. All we can know of Him is what He chooses to reveal. So the question, "Where did God come from?" is not one that we can answer, because He hasn't told us. God's Word tells us He has always existed (Isaiah 43:13) and that He alone is God, for now and eternity. (Isaiah 43:10) And the Bible clearly states in numerous places that God never changes; actually, He cannot change with respect to His being, attributes, purpose, or promises. (Malachi 3:6 and James 1:17, to name a couple.)

But wait a minute! What about those places where the Bible says God changed His mind? If He's all knowing and all powerful, why would He say one thing and then do another? For example, that little golden calf incident in the wilderness. (Exodus 32:9-14)

Moses had just spent 40 days and nights on the mountaintop with God, communing with Him and receiving His laws for the Israelites. Meanwhile, the people down below thought he was never returning and pressured his brother Aaron, the high priest, to make a representation of their God for them to worship. They donated a bunch of gold jewelry and Aaron fashioned a golden calf to which they bowed down and offered sacrifices. They then indulged in pagan revelry, probably mimicking the kind of idolatrous worship they'd seen in Egypt.

God informed Moses about what was going on, and said He was going to destroy them all and make Moses' descendants into a great nation. Moses immediately interceded on behalf of the Israelites, imploring God not to annihilate them. And the Bible says God changed His mind.

How do we reconcile passages like this with the character of an unchanging God? This has been the source of much debate over the centuries, and I won't pretend to be the fount of all wisdom. God is still pretty much incomprehensible to mortals, and is not required to explain Himself unless He chooses to do so. But there are a couple of things I can note about this example.

God doesn't change in His being or attributes. He remains constantly who He is. His promises don't change - what He has said, He will accomplish. He doesn't change His purpose - what He desires will come to pass. But the specific way His plans are fulfilled can vary at times.

He has chosen to bring about His will on the earth with the participation of imperfect human beings. Sometimes we fail to carry out His directions, and miss out on His blessing. But the purpose of God is still accomplished despite our failures. That's why Romans 8:28 says "God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them." (NLT)

In this particular instance, God could have carried out His threat to annihilate the Israelites and start over with Moses without violating His purpose or His promise. His promise to Abraham to create a great nation and eventually produce the Savior of the world from his descendants would still have been valid, since Moses was from the line of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But such wholesale slaughter certainly wouldn't have reflected well on a God who is "slow to anger and filled with unfailing love." (Exodus 34:6) Moses used his knowledge of God's character to convince Him not to take such a drastic action.

I believe this conversation was also a test of Moses' character. Who wouldn't be tempted to grab at the offer of being the father of a great nation? Moses passed the test, showing his love for his people by pleading for their forgiveness. He was more concerned about God's glory than his own. He wanted the whole world to know that the one true living God was rich in mercy and compassion.

Studying His Word helps us know God better. The Bible reveals His character and attributes, what He likes and what He hates, and His plan for mankind and for future ages. Jesus clearly indicated that a personal relationship with the Father is not only possible, but required if we want to live with Him forever. (Matthew 7:21-23) We need to know Him, not just know about Him. When we do, our actions will follow our faith. We'll want to do His will because of our love and gratitude.

My theology and my understanding of God and His ways have changed considerably over the years. When I first began serving Christ, I was taught a lot of Scriptural principles and traditions of the church. As I have studied the Bible, I've discovered that some things I have believed for a long time are not exactly correct. Many of these things are not critical to salvation - end times theology, the nature of good and evil, grace vs. works. But wrong understanding can lead to wrong actions. This may not cost me eternal life, but I might behave in ways that don't please God, hindering others from finding Him.

God wants us to know Him. His plan is for us to develop and demonstrate the character of His Son in our lives. (Romans 8:29) The rewards of knowing Him come to those who diligently seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6) I want to really know Him, to draw near to Him and learn of His ways. As I pursue God, He's refining my understanding of what it means to be a follower of Christ. I still have plenty of failings and character flaws, but I am becoming more Christlike with His help.

One of the ways God refines our character is by increasing our understanding of His ways. Jesus is our example of a life lived through the power of God. He always did the will of God because He was connected to His Father every day. (John 5:19) And when we stay connected to the Lord through prayer and study of His Word, our very lives change and we begin to demonstrate the love of Christ in this world through our actions.

God is very patient. He'll take a lifetime to draw us close, with the ultimate goal being eternity in perfect communion with Him. I'm thankful that He never gives up and never fails. And He's promised we'll find Him when we seek Him with all our hearts. (Jeremiah 29:13)

Friday, May 18, 2012

35 Years

This past week my wife Patricia and I celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary.

35 years seems like such a long time. I've been married nearly twice as long as I was single.
But it also seems as if the years have just flown by. There have been good times and bad times, sorrow and joy.

I was 19 years old when we first married, and knew everything. You didn't even have to ask me - just being around me, you'd figure out that I "knew it all". But underneath that bluster, I was really a scared, insecure kid. I thought I knew how to love my wife. I didn't even know what love was! 
(More thoughts on love here.)

Here's our engagement picture. See, I had hair once!

When we were married, our relationship was established on a close friendship. We didn't start out that way. When we were dating, everything we did publicly was "Christian" - church services, Bible studies, Christian concerts, youth group meetings. But when we were alone, let's just say we didn't exactly devote ourselves to pursuing God, or even to getting to know each other as friends. We jumped right into the boyfriend/girlfriend thing, based on physical attraction. This is not the way to develop a lasting relationship.

My parents could see we were making some poor choices, and thank God my father made a wise decision for me. He sent me off to college 60 miles from home, without my car. And God took care of the rest by putting me into a traveling singing group, effectively filling nearly every weekend with rehearsals and performance. (That story is here.)

35 years ago, there were no cell phones. And long distance phone calls were very expensive, and only used for emergencies. There was no Internet, no e-mail, no easy way to quickly communicate. (We did have ham radio, but my Morse code abilities were pitiful.)

Usually, when a couple whose relationship is built on physical attraction is separated for an extended time, their relationship withers and dies. In our case, we genuinely felt God had put us together and we desired to stay true to each other. So, we kept in touch by writing letters. A lot of letters. Mushy letters, at least some of the time. And we talked of our hopes and dreams, and our plans for the future. We became real friends, building our relationship on solid values with faith in God as our foundation.

At the end of my sophomore year in college, we were married. We chose the weekend before finals, so all our college friends would be able to attend. After a honeymoon weekend in Omaha (romance capital of the Midwest - you didn't know that?) we were back at school Monday morning so I could take finals.

There have been lots of trials and difficulties - everybody has them. Some people didn't think our marriage would last. But we were determined to make it work. Divorce was never an option, not even a consideration. And over time, we learned to love, really love each other.

We discovered that love is an action, not a feeling. And we've slowly developed the character qualities manifested in love - you know, patience, kindness, not jealous, not seeking one's own way, all those 1 Corinthians 13 principles. According to verse 8 of that chapter, love never fails. We're not there yet; we've failed lots of times. But through forgiveness and love, we keep going.

God blessed our union with three children, one of the great joys of our life. They've all grown to be responsible adults, and we're eagerly anticipating grandchildren as the next phase of our life. Katie married a great guy 2 years ago, and Melody's wedding is coming in September. Lowell lived his life to the fullest before he left this earth 3 years ago. I miss him every day, but take comfort in the knowledge we'll be together again in eternity. (More on that story here.)

Our last Christmas all together. A very rare shot of me clean-shaven.

I am so thankful for my wife. She's a blessing and a joy, my closest friend and companion. She challenges me and keeps me active and engaged. She's my greatest cheerleader, and gladly puts up with my crazy ideas. (Okay, maybe not always so gladly...)

Our kids organized a costume party last fall.
We went as Mary Poppins & Bert the chimney sweep.

35 years is a long time...but it's only the start of a lifelong commitment. I love Patricia more now than ever. We've enjoyed a good life, and with God's help we'll overcome the challenges and make our way to the finish in victory. The best is yet to come!