What comes next?

I’m going to share something about me that most of you do not know.

I used to be in a chess club. (I’m sorry if you were expecting something more shocking or exciting). You’ve probably never heard me speak about it, because it was a long time ago (middle school/junior high at Skycrest Christian School) and I don’t have any good stories. Although I enjoyed the game, I was never that good. No matter how many matches I played, it seemed that there was always someone one step ahead of me. In fact, in the middle of matches that I thought I had figured out, I would be rudely awakened by the reality that my opponent was seeing things I had missed. (Checkmate!)

Perhaps checkers is more your game. You know the feeling of a successful move. You eye the board’s layout. You spot the unprotected piece of your opponent. Confidently picking up your marker, you jump your opponent’s, and smugly pick up his captured piece.

Uh oh. Why does he have a grin on his face? Before you know what’s happened he is click-clacking another piece across the board picking up your pieces as he goes. Who knew that many consecutive jumps were even possible?

You never saw it coming!

And, thus, you learned the importance of looking ahead to your next move.

Imagine the situation facing the disciples. At Easter, we examine the reality and importance of the resurrection from our perspective of history. We read the Scriptures and examine the evidence. He rose from the dead. By faith, we accept it as fact. However, for the women who came to the tomb on the first day of the week, the experience unfolded moment-by-shocking-moment. For Peter and John, they first acted only on the testimony of those women. For Thomas, it was all hearsay for a while.

Plans were turned upside down. Fear seemed to strain at their faith. Doubts nagged at their hearts. Excitement was tempered by a measure of uncertainty. Sights and sounds wrestled with feelings and emotions.

For us, it is easy to read the Gospel narratives.

Resurrection. Appearances. Meals & conversations. Promises & assurances. A Great Commission. Ascension.

For those disciples, many of their next steps were unknown until they arrived. They were left to believe and obey what they had in any given moment. The same thing is true for us. We cannot see tomorrow. While we rest confidently in the promises and directions of God, there are still unknowns throughout life. Our is to trust and obey.

What’s next for you?

You made it to church on Easter. Great. Keep it up and make it a part of your regular schedule.

You’ve been challenged about the reality of the resurrection and the need for others to hear it. Super. Now share it with someone. Watch what God will do with your obedience.

There is something on the horizon that introduces a bit of fear or doubt to your life. Tackle it with the confidence that wherever God directs you in this life, He also equips you and goes with you!

That’s Good News for God’s children.

I cannot keep silent, nor would it be proper…

With all of the hype and misguided nonsense taking place today, might I offer the words of Patrick, missionary to Ireland. Recalling the captivity of his youth, he proclaimed in his Confession:

“And there the Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that, even so late, I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my insignificance and pitied my youth and ignorance. And he watched over me before I knew him, and before I learned sense or even distinguished between good and evil, and he protected me, and consoled me as a father would his son.
Therefore, indeed, I cannot keep silent, nor would it be proper, so many favours and graces has the Lord deigned to bestow on me in the land of my captivity.”

May each of us who have received salvation through Jesus Christ feel that same burden to share with others what God has done for us. May we never be silent about His wonderful grace and transforming power.

To God be the glory, great things He has done.

Ring it out!

Last week, Maribeth and I had the opportunity to attend an orchestra concert at Carnegie Hall that we enjoyed very much. During one piece, I noticed one of stan_head_1the performers in particular. He sat on a stool in the corner of the back row along with the other percussionists. However, for most of the song he did nothing. Finally, his moment came and he picked up his triangle and struck it several times in rhythm. It lasted for but a few measures of the lengthy song, and just as soon as he had started – the piece was finished.

In contrast, the percussionist in the center of that top row had five timpani before him. His part began in the first measures and lasted throughout the song until its thunderous conclusion. He was responsible for producing the percussive foundation for every other instrument that was being played. You could not help but notice him as his arms rose high above his head and the mallets came crashing down rapidly. At some points, his arms appeared as just a blur, and the sound of the drums hit you in the chest (even in the balcony). Others in that back row had bells, snares, cymbals, and even a gong.

And on the end was the tiny triangle. “Ting, ting, ting…”

One of the things you’ll discover is that percussionists interchange instruments for different pieces. The performer who begins on the bells may smoothly transition to drums or cymbals on the next song. So, our overlooked triangle ringer was fully capable of performing skillfully on any of the other instruments, and did so throughout the night. But for that one piece he had what was arguably the least important job of the entire orchestra. (I apologize to anyone who only played triangle in your school’s orchestra.) Perhaps overlooked and underappreciated.

But not by the composer.

As he crafted the music, a concept was in his mind. He labored expertly to transfer mood to melody, convey ideas through tempo and rhythm, and voice emotions in instrumentation. For the composer (and later, the conductor) each part for each instrument is important. If it is missing (or performed thoughtlessly or with little effort) the entire piece suffers. The music does not accomplish what the composer intended.

And so it is in our Christian walk and ministry for the Lord. He is the one who calls us and assigns our parts. He equips us and instructs us. He is the One with a plan to accomplish His purposes. He adds us to His church and orchestrates our service.

Sometimes, that includes work that is full of flourish and fanfare. It is recognized by almost everyone, and we receive heavy doses of appreciation and thanks. Other times, it is a job that is noticed by only a handful of people, and esteemed by even fewer. We feel like an overlooked and underappreciated triangle player in an orchestra.

A few biblical thoughts should help us with this. First, in everything we do, our service is ultimately done toward God. Second, He never misses even the least aspects of ministry done for His sake. Third, He is the great rewarder. Finally, although the job may seem insignificant, it can be a part of His masterplan for our lives, His church, and its work on this earth.

Colossians 3:23–24 And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.

So, if all you have to offer is a cup of water, share it with someone in the name of Christ. If your audience is just one person or a full stadium, give them the Gospel with prayerful enthusiasm. If you serve “behind the scenes” while others labor in the spotlight, do it for the Savior’s sake, and know that He is pleased.

If all you find to play is a triangle…Ring it with all your heart!

Trouble indeed

Troublesome times are here…

The opening line to a song I remember hearing as a child, singing with a quartet several years ago, and currently playing on my car’s stereo. R. E. Winsett wrote that song in 1942. I can only imagine what current events might have been in his mind as he penned those lyrics.

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Troublesome times are here…

Yes, indeed. If you are not convinced of this, you are probably not paying attention. As the words to that song run through my head at this moment, I am reminded of a few key truths.

First, this is a disturbing reality. Sometimes, just looking at the newsfeed is all I can take. Maybe you feel the same way.

But then, hasn’t our world always seen distress since sin entered in the Garden? A wedge driven between God and His creation, Cain & Abel, physical suffering, societal conflict, slavery, abuse of power. The list goes on, and at every period of our history there have been troubled times. Certainly, we see it around the world today and in our own backyards.

Where do we turn for assurance or relief? Government or political movements? Is anyone really convinced that is the answer? The goodness of mankind? Even the optimist probably would not recommend that as a source of hope. In the midst of troublesome times we should join the psalmist in declaring that our hope is in the Lord alone (Psalm 39:7; 62:5).

Second, we have an opportunity. I have often said that as the days grow darker spiritually it becomes increasingly easier for true believers in Christ to shine as lights for Him. Simply fulfilling the basics of our Christian walk should set us apart in stark contrast to the world. Love like Christ loves us. Make decisions with wisdom and integrity. Keep your promises. Lead with humility and a servant’s heart. Demonstrate genuine forgiveness. Show compassion to those who are hurting. Share the Gospel with the lost.

I met a man recently who shared many of the disappointments he had experienced in his dealings with those that claimed to know Christ. Sinful conduct, calloused responses, both willful and unintentional harm. It sure sounded like the people who claimed to represent Christ had done a poor job of it. His perception and reception of Christ was tainted by people. Our opportunity as ambassadors of Christ is to present a clear testimony of His goodness in the middle of troublesome times.

The final thought relates to the theme and message of that song itself. The chorus joyfully proclaims, “Jesus is Coming Soon!” Rather than simply viewing that as our ultimate escape clause to leave this troubled world, we ought to consider the urgency and challenge of that truth. He is coming again, but has put us here to serve Him until then. Another song asks, “What if it were today?” We must obey and serve with all of our being in each of our remaining moments.

Long before Winsett penned the song’s lyrics, God’s Word gave us His divine promise:

And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. Revelation 22:12

As we echo the words of John may we also seize the opportunities of each new day. Even so, come, Lord Jesus (Rev. 22:20).

‘Til the Storm Passes

radar-image-94161Some may have slept through parts of it, but many probably heard every crack of thunder in Pinellas County on Thursday morning. The rain poured down, the wind howled and the lightning flashed across the sky for a few hours. In Clearwater, a tornado touched down and caused damage to a few homes and power lines.

While all of that was happening outside, I pulled up an app that showed a radar image of the storm and its movement relative to my precise location. With just a little estimation, I could determine where the storm was headed and how long it would last for me. I had more information on my phone than Roy Leep had back in the day!

In contrast, can you imagine the uncertainty of a fierce storm in ancient days? The clouds and pouring rain darkened the sky and decreased visibility. People would scramble for cover not knowing how long it would last or even what was in store for them. Farmers would fear for the loss of their crops. Sailors knew that the wind could drive them off course quickly. If bad enough, any storm could quickly grow from mere confusion to destruction and death.

Jesus and His disciples faced that type of storm while on the Sea of Galilee.

Mark 4:37–41  And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith? And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?

The great Creator stood in their midst and controlled the winds and waves with His mere words. What confidence and comfort.

Years ago, when I was in a quartet of preachers we would sing an old Mosie Lister song in concerts. I seemed to hear it drifting through my mind again this morning as the rain fell. The words are a powerful reminder that God not only cares about the storms that we face in this life, but He also is powerful enough to carry us safely through them.

In the dark of the midnight have I oft hid my face,
While the storm howls above me, and there’s no hiding place.
‘Mid the crash of the thunder, Precious Lord, hear my cry,
Keep me safe till the storm passes by.

Many times Satan whispered, “There is no need to try,
For there’s no end of sorrow, there’s no hope by and by”
But I know Thou art with me, and tomorrow I’ll rise
Where the storms never darken the skies.

Chorus
Till the storm passes over, till the thunder sounds no more,
Till the clouds roll forever from the sky;
Hold me fast, let me stand in the hollow of Thy hand,
Keep me safe till the storm passes by.

Perhaps you are facing a storm…or anticipating one around the corner. Whether you can see how strong it is or how long it will last, be very sure that God is still stronger than the wind and rain. He loves His children and delights in walking us safely through the storm.

Of Separation and Sacrifice

Thanksgiving was a bit different for our family this year. We traveled north to meet Justin “halfway” in North Carolina – partly to save him some travel mileage and partly to find a bit cooler November weather. As we enjoyed our time together in the Smoky Mountain region for a few days, we still felt a sense of absence. Our daughter Sarah is teaching music at International Christian School in Lima, Peru. We are extremely proud of her and glad for the wealth of experiences she is afforded there. But I still felt a bit melancholy saying “Table for 4.” thanksgiving-table1

All of this turned my mind to our missionaries that have committed their lives and families to a foreign field. For many, this Thanksgiving was like so many before – marked by a great distance between them and loved ones. Many of them mingled their American holiday traditions with local customs the best they could, but still noticed far-away family missing from their table. Christmas will follow close behind with perhaps an even keener sense of separation. Sure, technology allows for “face-to-face” time on a computer monitor, but we all know that it can never replace a hug, a long walk around the block, or even quiet time spent side by side on the sofa.

The Lord addressed a similar situation for His disciples. Peter acknowledged that when they followed the Savior’s call to become fishers of men, they left it all behind. Family, friends, careers, homes…

Jesus did not scold him for any selfishness, instead giving a promise:

…Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. Mark 10:29–30

Honestly, the missionaries that I know are not hoarding up real estate, with vacation homes on multiple continents. Those who must maintain residences both stateside and abroad, do so of necessity and at great financial expense. Clearly, we understand the blessing of eternal life and rewards, but what about the here-and-now. Where are the multiplied properties, homes, and families?

Christ’s disciples would meet, fellowship, and serve alongside innumerable brothers and sisters in Christ throughout their ministry. They would discover a spiritual family larger than they first imagined. While many individuals and communities would reject their ministry and presence, they would also discover open doors to hospitable homes wherever the Lord sent them. As God sent and led them, He would also be faithful to provide communities of support. I imagine the same is true for missionaries in our age as well.

It may not count for much, but I would like to personally thank those choice servants of our Savior who have left all to follow His call to a foreign field. Those who faithfully present the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, often in less-than-ideal circumstances. Those who overlook or overcome the innate hindrances of language and culture for the sake of lost souls. Those who view empty seats at holiday tables and count them worth the cost. I consider it a providential blessing to call you my family and friends. May God richly reward you in this life and eternity.

His Life for Mine

NPP_Chernobyl_incl_memorial_lTwenty-nine years ago, a massive power surge led to explosions in the core of a nuclear reactor in Chernobyl, Ukraine. The resulting fire released an enormous plume of highly radioactive material into the atmosphere which then spread across a vast area of that region. The effects were devastating to the environment and human life. Perhaps you haven’t heard the stories of great courage and sacrifice that occurred in the days that followed. None were more moving than that of 3 Chernobyl divers.

After the initial explosion, the risks continued to grow with each passing day until workers became aware of an even greater disaster looming just around the corner. Initially the firefighters had attempted to quench the fire by smothering it with sand, clay, and boron and spraying it with water. As this combination of ingredients pooled beneath the reactor core, it morphed into something like lava, which then began to burn through the floor of the reactor. If it had reached the water below, it would have surely created a massive thermal explosion that would have impacted most of Europe.

Three workers (two engineers and a common laborer) volunteered to put on SCUBA gear and dive into this pool to release the safety valves and drain the water. Even though they lost their lamp during their descent, they successfully opened the valves and returned to the surface to see their fellow workers celebrating their victory.

However, the damage had been done. When they volunteered, they understood that the radiation levels under the main reactor would be lethal. Within a few weeks they had all succumbed to the terrible effects of radiation poisoning and died. It is estimated that their heroic efforts saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of Europeans. These three heard the warnings of scientists and engineers and understood the consequences. Yet, they volunteered their lives to save others.

In history there are many noble acts performed by incredible people who, despite the inevitable outcomes, do what is required of them. However, there has never been a sacrifice like the divine one which provided our redemption. God sent His own Son to die for our sins. The righteous in place of the wicked. The Creator in place of His creation. Hallelujah, what a Savior!

1 Timothy 2:5–6 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.

Offer that good news to someone this week by sharing the Word of God and your personal testimony. Introduce them to the One who died in their place and allow the Holy Spirit to do His work in their life.