Thursday, March 05, 2015

Beginning well!

Since I started this blog more than nine years ago I have titled it "Finishing Well" but I wonder....is that the right way of looking at things as a Christian?

It seems we look at this life as a beginning and end finishing with death, but I am rethinking that idea.  Is this view of life, with a finish to my story, the right perspective?  It seems...as I think about it...that viewing an end, a finish line, is very short-sighted.

You see, since I've trusted Christ I no longer have a finish line, an end, but I will live forever!  This life and its culmination is not a finish, but really just the beginning.  It seems I've viewed life as a journey with a finish,  but in fact it's the beginning of eternity with a moment's transition from this life to eternal life....a moment when I move into real life, eternal life.

How could I view life with a finish line when it is just the beginning?  If I think I'm living for a finish here I live below what I'm made for, but if I live for eternity ahead, with this as merely the beginning, it changes how and why I do everything.  

So, what would change?  Instead of seeing this life as a race to finish I would see it as an opportunity to live out now who I already am in 1,000 years, a million years.  I'm a son of God already!  I'm forgiven already. I'm an heir with Christ already.  I'm seated with Christ in heavenly places already....so now, in this brief life, I get to live out my identity with my Father and creator in real time and see the results of it in eternity.

I think I've been viewing this all wrong....so let's change the title of this blog to- "Beginning Well."  How you view this life changes everything!

There's more to say on this topic and we will explore it in the days ahead.  

(I would love your thoughts on this idea as well.  Help me explore it further.)




Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Keep looking up!



The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
    The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
    night after night they make him known.

They speak without a sound or word;
    their voice is never heard.
Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
    and their words to all the world.
Psalm 19

Look up!  You stand on the floor of one of the best observatories in the Universe.  From this vantage point God shows mankind his power, glory and great creation.  

What an amazing sight to see....a Universe larger than we can measure on display for us to say, "Wow, I wonder who made all this?"  And in reply God says, "I did!  Isn't it grand?"

Look up, praise the God who made all you see...and made you too.  He is the God who made heaven and earth.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Grace is....

Grace is the discovery of desperate men who can find no other solution.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

All you had...

If all you had was God would that be enough?

If all you had were taken could you trust him anyway?

If all you had is little would you thank him anyway?

If all you had would help someone else would you give it?

Can you live with an open hand, 
trusting God to give you all you need?


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Life and death

It seems we only savor the joys of life when death is near.  What a shame we miss so much when life is good.

Monday, February 23, 2015

A letter from heaven

(Years ago, after one of my church members died, I got a letter from her.  It came two weeks after her funeral.  It was hand written and quite a surprise!  A letter from a dead person would be a surprise to anyone.  She had written the letters months earlier and given them to her nephew to send out a few weeks after her funeral.  It was a wonderful letter, but much too personal to share here, so I have written my own version of such a letter....a brief fantasy of what a letter from heaven might be like.  Sadly, I'm sure it's much too human and lacks the glory of what a letter from heaven would really be like, but I hope it inspires you a bit anyway.  Enjoy.)


Dear Mike,

I’m sure you didn’t expect to get a letter from me, but I wanted to tell you how I’m doing since I died.

It’s been a little over a week since I left earth for eternity and I just had to send you a letter and tell you about it! 

When I arrived in heaven I was overwhelmed by the colors, the sights, the people, the dramatic difference from all I knew on earth.  Some of it I will try to explain, but much of it is beyond words and you will just have to see it for yourself.

I had planned to ask God a number of questions when I got here. In fact I had a good list ready, but when I arrived I realized how silly most of my questions really were and frankly, I have to tell you, I forgot most of them in light of all that I saw and sensed the moment I got here.

I’ve seen a lot of people here from all over the world and from different times in history.  It was a strange sensation to know immediately who they were…even though I had never met them…and find an instant bond with people of different language, color and time.  It was also wonderful and strange that we all could communicate with each other.  Our native languages suddenly became unneeded.

On the second day I ran into someone who said, with a start of surprise, “What are you doing here?”  I know I blushed a bit, but we both laughed, hugged and visited for hours.  I noticed others I was surprised to see here as well.  Many who, if I told you their names, would surprise you that they made it into heaven.  I’ve been told I can’t reveal their names.  You will just have to be surprised like I was.

When I arrived I was immediately looking for the “pearly gates” and Peter with his book of admission.  I guess that came from the many cartoons I have seen over the years, but that wasn’t the welcome at all! When I arrived I found waiting for me friend, family and many I had shared the gospel with over the years.  It was a miniature family reunion!

They all took me to the throne to be welcomed by God himself.  I so wish I could describe him to you, but words are not enough…there are no words for it!  It was glorious, awesome, breath-taking….so much more wonderful than I had ever imagined.  And Jesus!  How glorious, how beautiful, what a smile.  He came up to me and gave me the biggest hug I had ever experienced!  I couldn’t believe it…my savior…in person…hugging me!!!!  It was wonderful!  (You will find that word is unavoidable here, but even “wonderful” is not enough for the glory you will experience.)

One sensation that I wondered about on earth was what would it “feel like” to be a spirit, a person disconnect from my body.  At first it was a bit unnerving, but suddenly I realized all the pain, the aches, the ills of my body no longer were an issue.  I felt great!  It didn’t take long to adjust to this new reality.

And I realized something else.  I suddenly realized that at least four things that were woven into my humanity my entire life were gone (I’m sure there are more, but I’ve yet to discover them)….I tried to sense them, feel them, experience them…but they were gone!  Fear, worry, insecurity and doubt were completely gone!!!  In that moment of time from earth to heaven the things that had been my constant companions and enemies did not follow me and I realized they were not here at all.  No one was fearful, even when the sites were overwhelming.  We all were like children on a Ferris wheel having the ride of our lives. And worry had evaporated.  I couldn’t muster up a good worry in spite of my best efforts.  After I bit I began to laugh at myself for my silliness.  Insecurity vanished as well.  Eternal security turned all my insecurities into a vapor. And finally, my great enemy and constant companion, doubt, was a distant memory! Now, all my doubts were gone because I had now seen and experienced reality!  My faith was real, it was founded on God’s promise and now I’m seeing it with my own eyes, touching it with my own hands, walking here with my own feet!  I am overwhelmed.

I have to tell you that it was like having thousands of pounds of weight taken off my shoulders.  For the first time since I could remember I was able to really think!  And not just to think about what was going on around me, but to really explore all of life and how God had worked in every moment of my life on earth.  In just moments the fabric of my life and God’s work in it became clear, as if a cloud had lifted, and now I can see the landscape of God’s plans and work.  He is so wonderful, so amazing!

I also want to encourage you that we aren’t all going to be sitting around on clouds playing harps.  I was much relieved by that insight.  When I was told of all that God had planned for me, of the fact that life, as I knew it, was just the beginning of God’s work in me, I was thrilled and I’ve been busy, fulfilled and happy every moment since I got here.

I wish I could use words to tell you about heaven, but you wouldn’t understand.  You have to see it, you just have to see it.  And the colors!  OH MY!  I never knew there were so many colors or that they could be so bright…and they almost seem alive.  Anyone who was an artist on earth will suddenly see where all the inspiration came from when they get here.  It all comes from heaven itself.  It’s just glorious!

I know I’m rambling a bit, but I assume you want to know about heaven.  I always did, but no one ever send me a letter.  Jesus told me I could send this out to a few close friends because even when you tell someone where it came from they won’t believe you and we will all giggle about it up here.

Anyway, before I close, I have to tell you about Jesus!  I mentioned him above (the hug and all) but he is beyond my words to describe….although I will try for your sake and faith.  He is beautiful, beyond words.  I saw his wrists and the scars, his side and the scar there too.  He smiled at me.  I thanked him for what he did and he told me,  “We love you so much that we would have done it all just for you, but isn’t it wonderful so many have said ‘yes’ to my gift of life?”

In his eyes I saw love, kindness, mercy, but I also saw strength.  His clothing was glorious and the crowns he wore made it clear he is king of heaven and earth.  I was a bit surprised that we all had access to Jesus.  No one had to wait in line, make an appointment or “get a number”.  We all were welcome in his presence anytime we wished to be with him.

So many questions have found their answers here.  I realize now that I wouldn’t have understood the answers on earth, but now I “get it”, now I understand what God was doing and all I can tell you is trust God.  He’s working all of this out for our good and his glory.  And, last, before I close, don’t worry!  God is more awesome, glorious, powerful, loving and grand than you can ever imagine and he loves us!  I’m still awestruck by his love, but I expect I will never get over that and it’s ok.  To be loved more than you can ever understand is quite a wonderful feeling.

Ok,  I have to run.  So much to do.  And relax!  God’s in charge, he loves you,  when you get here all your worries and fears will seem so silly.  Just know this- the sovereign God of the universe loves you.  Just look at the cross and you will begin to see how much.  I can’t wait to show you around.  See you soon.

Your friend and new citizen of heaven,

Pauline


Worth

“You are worth more than many sparrows….”  Mat. 6

There are several questions we all ask.  Questions that somehow plague us all.  They are questions of meaning, purpose and worth.  Why am I here?  What am I here to do? What gives meaning to my existence?  And, last, do I have worth and value?  Do I matter?

These are questions each of us struggle with.  Just for a moment I want to discuss this grand idea of worth.  It’s something each of us wonder about…am I worth anything? How do I know?  These questions and struggles are revealed in our insecurities, our uncertainties, our frequent search for approval and acceptance.  We all need worth.  We all need to matter, to make a difference in some way.

Because this desire for worth is so important to us we try to achieve it by what we do.  Success, cars, money, busy lives all give us the sense that we are valuable, that we are worth something.  But it’s never what you do or what you have that establishes worth…..

….it’s who loves you.  Worth is measured by who cares about you even if you had nothing.  Worth is about who loves you when you’re mean, angry, unhappy or just unlovable.  Worth, true worth, is never about what you do or have, but about who loves you when you do and have nothing at all!

In Matthew 6 Jesus made a value statement about us that should be heard.  He said, in the midst of our worries and striving after things, “you are worth much more….”  Worth much more to who?  Who is setting this value? Who is it that thinks I’m worth anything at all? 

God says so.  In his value system you have worth.

Now, take God out of the picture, as the atheist has done, and how do we find worth, how do we find our value?  For a man without God it comes down to what you do and what you have.  But what if all of that is gone, taken away?  Then what?

God say you have worth to him.  How much?  Here’s your value- he values you so much that he gave the best thing he had to purchase your freedom, to make you his son or daughter. 

How’s that for worth?

He values you so much that he wants you to spend eternity with him.  HE REALLY LIKES YOU!  You may not feel you have worth to anyone in the world, but the God who made you thinks you are awesome!  He loves you. 


Feeling a bit worthless today?  The one who made you loves you and wants you to be his child.  He wants to spend time with you.  He thinks you have worth!  How could anything the world offers compare to that?

The journey


You've seen this saying too, haven't you?  

It's a simple idea...the idea of beginnings, but that's not the most important part of a journey.  

The most important part of any journey is having a destination worthy of the trip!  

With a destination in mind that will challenge you to keep walking beyond steps two through ten million you must have a destination that will keep your passion for the trip alive...that will keep you going through the difficult steps that are always part of any journey.

None of us will venture on a difficult journey unless we think it worthy of our time and efforts, unless we are willing to pay the price it will take to get to the goal.

It's never the first step that's the most important...it's the goal, the destination.  Where are you going?  Do you know?  Is it a destination worthy of the effort?  Is it a goal your willing to give your life for?  If not, you won't finish, you'll stop somewhere along the way.  

Pick a destination that will challenge everything in you, a goal that will give your life purpose and meaning.  Pick a journey worthy of your life and then give it all you have, all you are.  

What destination, what journey of life would challenge you?  Then go for it.

For me, as you might guess, the journey I'm on is the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  I'm on my way to spend eternity with the God who made me and along the way, as often as possible, I invite others..."come with me, you'll never regret it!"

Thursday, February 19, 2015

I'm 22nd

A few days ago 21 Christian men were martyred on the shores of Tripoli, Libya.  The back story is one of days of torture, trying to get these men to deny their faith in Christ.  None of them would deny Christ.  The results were seen on media around the world.  21 men werre willing to die rather than deny Christ!

Today, although they are dead to this world, they live with great joy in the presence of God.  Their names added to the martyr's hall of fame.  Men willing to die rather than deny Christ will be honored before the God they lived for....and died for.

As I thought about their stories, the days leading up to this day on the beach, there is a decision they had to make that determined life or death for them.   They chose Christ....and found real life!

I want to take my stand with these men, men I highly respect for their faith and add my name to the list.  I want to make the decision before it's ever necessary to say, "I would rather die than deny my Jesus!"  I hope I don't have to make that choice, but if it ever comes the choice is already made....I choose Jesus.

I'm 22nd.


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Living in the last days

These are scary days, aren't they?  Chaos, wars, fears, violence...all around us the tensions are rising, the world is beginning to pull apart at the seams.

And, it seems, we are finding new and more horrible ways to hurt, kill and destroy one another.  Evil has finally shown it's face and it is not pretty.  But this is just the beginning.  It will get worse.  Fears will rise and even strong men will shake with fear at what is coming.


How do I know all that?  I know the one who made the world and he tells us what is ahead in the bible.  His intent is to prepare us, to make us aware of the evil days when "all hell will break loose."  


And here we are...those days have come.


Does fear fill your heart?  Do you shudder at what might happen next?  Will it happen here? Will it happen to me?  All of us wonder what is coming. In the midst of it all God tells us to not fear, but to trust him.  He writes these strange words from Jesus' teachings in the gospels,


"Do not be afraid of those who kill the body 
but cannot kill the soul. 
Rather, be afraid of the One 
who can destroy both soul and body in hell."

Wow!  Challenging, isn't it?   Living in the last days will be exciting.  It might cost some of us our lives, but don't worry, death is not the end....it's only the beginning.  

How exciting all of this is!  Perhaps today we will see Jesus.  Could anything be better?


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Grateful

As I take a moment this morning to think back on my short years here on earth I realize how wonderful the days have been.  I have a sweet wife who loves me, kids who are living well and grandkids who are happy.  Not everything is perfect and I don't have any money, but what a great life.  I'm so glad I have the important things in my life- people.

Today I'm grateful for the wonderful people I have encountered, spent time with, cared for and who have cared for me.  Chuck Swindoll said, "If you have a handful of friends at your funeral who don't look at their watches you had a good life."  I'm grateful for a wonderful life rich with people....the only eternal things I will ever encounter!


Friday, February 13, 2015

Just keep going!

I feel sorry for couples who don't struggle through the hard days.  Yes, I know there are marriages that simply can't endure for a hundred different reasons, but for the most part the issues that bring divorce would fade if you just stay with it, just keep going, keep loving, keep forgiving.....endure.

Marriage is hard at times, but the great days are so worth the difficult ones.  A quarrel in the moment will pass, but a faithful endurance will find rich rewards.  Don't give up on your marriage...forgive, work it out, get some help and fix the difficult days it will be worth it.

When I meet with a couple for pre-marriage counseling I ask, "So what will you do if it doesn't work out?"  The answer to that question, without them knowing it, will determine whether I marry them or not.  If we have an exit ramp planned already it cannot endure, but when they say to me, "we will work it out, we are not going to divorce" then there is hope.  Of course they have no idea how hard it will be at times, but at least that have made a good decision about the days ahead.

All these thoughts are vivid for me as my wife and I come up to an anniversary.  We met in mid November and married mid February less than three months later.  There is no way we knew each other.  It was much like an arranged marriage.  We literally grew up together.  There were hard days, really hard days...but here we are...41 years later.  

I can't tell you how blessed I am to be married to this wonderful woman.  I often tell people, "you know how I know God loves me? He gave me my amazing wife."  Was it always this good? NO!  It was hard, frustrating, and there were days we both wondered if we would make it....but we just kept going.

And now we reap the rich blessing of faithfulness.  So when you hit difficult days in your marriage don't quit, don't give up, don't walk away, just keep going.  It will be worth it.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Designed by the master


"Yet you, Lord, are our Father.

    We are the clay, you are the potter;
    we are all the work of your hand."
Isaiah 64

Often, as I read passages in the bible, they assault my ego.  They humble me and make me aware that I am not independent, I'm not a "self-made man", but I'm here because of what God has done, what he has made me.

Isaiah the prophet wrote these words, "We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand."  Those are humbling words.  They challenge me in several ways.  How I respond to these ideas tell me a lot about what God can do with me in the days ahead.

Being a potter is a difficult task.  You have to be creative, good with you hands, able to conceive the outcome before you even begin, but it's also messy.  Clay is difficult to work with.  It's often an unwilling subject....much like me.  The potter begins with a lump of clay and then works with the outcome already in mind.  He knows what he wants to make.

The clay never gets to decide what it becomes, it's at the mercy of the potter.  One could be a pot to haul water, another a drinking cup and another a work of art in the home.  Each with a purpose, designed by the artist.

And for me, a reluctant piece of clay, the potter is working to make me his work of art and the outcome will be just what he designed.  I find I'm often jealous of what he has done with other lumps of clay, but I have to remember....he designed me perfectly just as he planned.  Being the clay in his hands is humbling, but what a joy to realize I'm exactly what he made me to be....created by the master potter.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Living in the moment...a reminder

Once in a while I will repost something that has helped me.  This is one I have shared several times, but it is more relevant today than ever before.  Walking with God in the present tense, in the moment, is one of the hardest but most important decisions we can make.  I hope these words help you as you worry about so many things.  -Mike

Living in the moment



Mat 6:33 Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Mat 6:34 "Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. -THE MESSAGE.

One of the great challenges of life is just the simple task of living in this moment, living a "present tense life." There are two great enemies of a walk with God that try to keep us from walking with God in the "now." One is "the fantasy of what could have been," and the other is "the fear of what might be." Let me address each one of these for a moment.

1. The fantasy of what could have been- We all live our lives looking back to the past or ahead to the future. It's rare that we live in the present tense. One of our enemies is the "fantasy of what could have been." We will often look with a longing for a change because of our present adversities- "If only I had married the other person," or "If only I had finished college," or "If only I hadn't made that horrible mistake" then life would be..... And our thoughts race to alternate present reality because of our dreams of "if only." Dreaming about what could have been can be a wonderful diversion, but it's sin plain and simple. The truth is that there is no "if only I had." There is only what is. Dreaming about an alternate life that would turn out different is a fantasy that brings nothing good to our present situation. It only makes the "now" harder because our fantasy solutions would have completely eliminated our real dilemmas and the need to trust the Lord with our real problems today. So, here is the first sin we often fall into. When you are tempted to visit the land of "if only I had..." make the decision not to go. It's a trip that only brings disappointment to what is your life right now.

2. The fear of what might be- The other problem I see many struggle with is "the fear of what might be." They are experts at worrying about something that hasn't even happened yet. There is no way any of us can see the future, so for us to worry about it before it ever gets here is a clear lack of faith in God to care for our tomorrows. Jesus clearly said, "don't worry about tomorrow." He knew we were tempted to do this, and warned us against it. Fear of what might be often keeps us from walking with God and trusting him RIGHT NOW. We miss the joy of a walk with God in the present tense.

We each have to live a present tense life intentionally. The distractions of fantasy about the past and fear about the future will easily get our attention away from a walk with the living God right now. I mentioned the word “walk” intentionally. It’s the word that the bible uses to talk about our lives of faith. The bible calls it a walk because there are some wonderful present tense elements to a walk that will help us stay focused on the now. Here they are quickly for your consideration- a walk demands a destination, but it can only be done one step at a time, one foot on the path toward the goal, one decision at a time to reach the goal. A walk demands a present tense life. That word, walk, often helps me get back to “now.”

As you go through your day living your life and find the temptation toward fantasy or fear, stop for a moment and ask the Lord, “Lord, where are we right now? What are we working on? Why am I tempted to leave this present tense walk with you?” That quick prayer and awareness of the temptation to thoughts of the impossible will make your present tense life an exciting place to be and will quiet those fantasies and calm those fears. Have a great day.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Eternal grace

Grace.  

It's the central theme of the Christian faith.  

It's not part of any other faith.  

We describe it as "amazing grace" because when you understand the implications of what God has done, what he has offered to anyone...to everyone, it takes your breath away.

It's easy to explain justice.  We live in a culture that wants justice, fairness, the right thing done.  

We all understand mercy as well, the gift of not getting what we deserve, being "let off" for a punishment we rightly deserve.

But grace is foreign to us.  It's not something we would naturally give to others, although we want it for ourselves.  Grace is simply getting what we don't deserve.  It's an undeserved gift based entirely on the kindness and love of someone else and has nothing at all to do with our merit, our efforts or worth.  In fact, if we deserved it then it wouldn't be grace.

But a gift like God has given can never be earned, never be deserved...it's just too much, too big.

Grace is the gift of God that gives us forgiveness, life, a new relationship and a thousand other things we don't have time to discuss here.  It's a key theme of the Christian faith.  

Often we quote a verse where God says, "my grace is sufficient for you..."  meaning it's enough for the need, but that falls so short of what grace offers.

Grace is eternal.  Once received the results extend out billions and billions of years.  Grace grows as we experience it.  It's richer, deeper, more vibrant than we will ever have time to experience....and that's why we need eternity...to have enough time to experience all that grace has offered us.  

The great celebration of the Christian is this-  I deserve punishment and death, but by God's grace I find forgiveness, salvation, love, peace, and I'm made a son of God...an eternal being given life, eternal life.

It will take eternity to discover all that grace has provided.  Isn't that exciting?


But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared,  he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,  whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior,  so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. 
-Titus 3