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Archive for March, 2011

 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16).”

Today my wife forwarded an Email to me that contained the subject line “biblical temple exhibit in his back yard”.  When I read through the text and looked at the photos of the work of the man who built the exhibit, I agreed with the comment in the text that read,”Amazing”.

The text of the Email begins:

“A retired farmer has spent more than 30 years building an enormous scale model of a Biblical temple. Alec Garrard, 78, has dedicated a massive 33,000 hours to constructing the ancient Herod’s  Temple , which measures a whopping 20 foot by 12 foot.

The pensioner has hand-baked and painted every clay brick and tile and even sculpted 4,000 tiny human figures to populate the courtyards. 

Historical experts believe the model is the best representation in the world of what the Jewish temple actually looked like and it has attracted thousands of visitors from all over the globe. But Mr. Garrard, who started the elaborate project in his 40s, says his masterpiece will not be finished in his lifetime.”

He has received acclaim from archeologists and other experts for his work, and no wonder. His temple didn’t just appear out of thin air. He researched the Temple of Herod for three years before he even began to construct his model.

Garrard had something else that motivated him. He said, I’ve always loved making models  and as I was getting older I started to think about making one big project which would see me through to the end of my life.”

What impresses me most about Garrard is that he found his passion and matched it with his gift. Garrard said, “I have an interest in buildings and religion so I thought maybe I could combine the two and I came up with the idea of doing the  Temple .” 

In addition, I admire him in that he keeps learning:.

“I’d seen one or two examples of it in Biblical exhibitions, but I thought they were rubbish and I knew I could do better. I’ve been working on it for decades, but it will never be finished as I am always finding something new to add.”

I just started taking a class at church which is supposed to help me discover my spiritual gifts. I’ve been a Christian a long time, and I thought I knew what they were already, but some new information in the first class surprised me.

Our book mentioned a gift I had never heard of: creative communication. It cited Psalm 150:3-5 as a reference from the Bible concerning this gift.

The passage above has to do with musical talent. But the authors of the book (Network, by Bugbee and Cousins) describe creative communication this way: “The divine enablement to communicate God’s truth through a variety of art form.”

People who hold this gift have the ability to “use variety and creativity to captivate people and cause them to consider Christ’s message…”.  Those so gifted with creative communication also are able to “challenge people’s perspective of God…” and “demonstrate fresh ways to express the Lords’s ministry and message.”

My ears and eyes perked up during this class when I encountered this information. This was because one of the creative communication art forms mentioned is writing.

I’ve been told all my life by many people that I am a good writer. However, up until now I had never considered the possibility that it might be a spiritual gift.

Occasionally someone will read one of these devotionals and note the insight in  it. There are times when I write here that I do feel as if  I am getting some fresh message from the Lord.

Now, I do not write this in an attitude of boastfulness, nor do I consider what I write to be extra biblical. It’s just that I think there may be times God allows me to see a new spin on things and communicate it.

If this is true, it has biblical precedent. Jesus once said that a disciple in His kingdom who teaches His Word ” is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old (Matthew 13:52).”

Mr. Garrard motivates me because it was late into his life when he began his amazing project. I am also putting on some grey hairs (and not all of them on my head).  He inspires me because I see from his life that it is never too late to begin using your gift for God’s glory.

I have no idea if Mr. Garrard believes in Jesus Christ. However, if he does, his gift is also mentioned in the Bible: craftsmanship. The authors of my church textbook would say he has been enabled by God to creatively design and build items to be used for ministry.

His temple is surely ministering to people. By viewing it, one can get some perspective on what life was like for the people who worshipped there. One can even picture in their minds Jesus teaching there, or chasing the moneylenders out of the place.

I am grateful that Mr. Garrard chose not to hide his gift away. His work and example has encouraged me to do the same.

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“A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.  She brings him good, not harm,  all the days of her life (Proverbs 31:10-12).”

We men are a screwed up bunch. Because we’re so confused, we have no clue how valuable the women in our lives are.

One character who exemplifies this is Dr. Gregory House, the main focus of the TV drama that bears his surname. In a recent episode of “House”, he is talking to his best friend Dr. Wilson in a  bar.

House is supposed to be at a charity event where the love of his life, Dr. Lisa Cuddy, is receiving an award. However, he has just lost a patient that could have been saved if he had diagnosed him in time. House found the right disease, a rare one, but it was too late.

Wilson has found House putting one on. He is pretty near three sheets to the wind.

“All of them are gone, Wilson. They’re all dead because I am screwed up”, House says.

Wilson replies, “You’ve lost patients before. You’ll lose them again.”

House says, “Exactly. Why?. Because love and happiness are nothing but distractions. The only thing my relationship with Cuddy has done for me is make me a worse doctor.”

Wilson answers (andchuckles), “Right. The great Dr. House doesn’t deserve to be happy. You know it’s not true.’

House replies: “My happiness is being paid for with other people’s lives.”

Despite the fact House is drunk and has missed her big event,  he goes to visit Cuddy. He tells her,”I’ve made a decision. Being happy and being in love with you makes me a crappy doctor.”

Cuddy replies,”Shut up. You’re too drunk to end this relationship.”

House answers,” I am drunk. And I am also right. You have made me a worse doctor. And people are gonna die because of that. And…you…are totally worth it. If I had to choose between saving everyone and loving you and being happy, I choose you. I choose being happy with you.  I will always choose you.”

Because  I have watched this show for several years (it’s one of my favorites), I know this last scene is a big step in House’s character development. Usually, the case is everything to him.

Nothing has ever stood in the way of Dr. House solving a case in the past. Now he has been stopped in his tracks by a woman he doesn’t deserve.

Nothing stopped Marvin Gaye, however, until it did -in surpising fashion. 

Gaye was an historic Motown singer. He was something of a poet for his generation, the youth of the tumultous 1960s. He cowrote “What’s Goin’ On”, a plea to the older generation to listen to their young’s protests over Vietnam:

“Father, father
We don’t need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today

Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what’s going on
What’s going on
Ya, what’s going on
Ah, what’s going on.”

In 1984 Gaye was shot to death -by his former Christian minister father Marvin Gaye, Sr.  The younger  Gaye had tried to intervene in an argument betweeh his father and mother, and his Dad shot him with a .38 his son had ironically bought him for protection.

Gaye’s father was no saint. He beat him as a child, even while making him go to church. When he lost his minister job, he began to drink and became a recluse, and refused to work. Gaye’s mother ended up cleaning houses.

The junior Marvin learned well from his Dad. His treatment of his woman was equally as tragic.

Emily Gray notes that when he died, he had $30,ooo dollars in the bank and owed the IRS millions, despite making a fortune through his music. Writing in 1999, Gray said:

“Today, Gaye’s widow and his children live in low to middle-income housing outside L.A., where Jan Hunter Gaye cleans houses and receives social security to support herself and her children.”

Write’s David Karajicekc, “Marketed as Motown’s lover man, he was a misogynist who beat the women he professed to love—a trait he inherited from his father. He sang ballads and duets about soulful romance, yet forced his lovers into degrading and kinky acts that satisfied his sadism and voyeurism.”

Marvin Gaye’s life is a lesson to me. His way is no way to treat a woman.

I haven’t been as messed up as Gaye, I suppose, but I know I have treated  my woman badly. In return for her love, I have been abusive, unloving, diffident, indifferent and unkind.

I am now in my mid-50s, and she is the one now teaching me. It should be the other way around, but it’s not. However, I am grateful.

My wife is teaching me that God loves me, and that I should praise Him. I have formed an acronym out of her ideas. I call it HEP.

My wife tells me that praise is something we should do because it is Honoring to God . In addition, it is Effective in our lives.  She tells me we have no idea of the unknown consequences that praising God will bring to us.

Lastly, my wife says that praising God gives us Perspective.  It helps us see reality as it is.

My wife has been reading a couple Scripture passages to me:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,  who was, and is, and is to come.

You are worthy, our Lord and God,
   to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
   and by your will they were created
   and have their being (Revelation 4:8b,11).”

AND

“Praise the LORD, my soul;
   all my inmost being, praise his holy name. 
Praise the LORD, my soul,
   and forget not all his benefits— 
who forgives all your sins
   and heals all your diseases, 
who redeems your life from the pit
   and crowns you with love and compassion…(Psalm 103:1-4).”

I am indeed a fortunate man. I have a wife who seeks to encourage me in my relationship with God.

Even King David, God’s “man after my own heart” did not have a wife like this. Instead, he had Michal.

David had just finished singing and dancing in the streets with the priests as Israel’s Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem.  The Scriptures say he then returned home to “bless his household” (II Samuel 6:20).

As he entered the house, Mical told David that his behavior was unbecoming for the King of Israel. She berated him, telling him he was vulgar.

Many people believe David was wearing little as he danced around, prompting Michal’s rebuke. This is how the cimema has portrayed this event.

However, David Guzik notes that David wore a linen ephod like that of the priests in the procession. It wasn’t “vulgar” in the sense of being degenerate. 

What Guzik says that Michal objected to was David the King making himself like the other commoners in the procession. Thus, vulgar in this context would mean “common”. It was in her eyes undignified for royalty.

David responded by telling Michal,”“It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the LORD. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes (II Samuel 6:21,22).”

Guzik, in his website Enduring Word, quotes Charles Spurgeon as saying of this discourse:

“David would more and more abase himself before the Lord. He felt that whatever Michal’s opinion of him might be, it could not be more humbling than his own view of himself. Brother, if any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him; for you are worse than he thinks you to be.”

I wince at Spurgeon’s comments because I have at times responded poorly to my wife’s well meaning attempts to improve my character. In fact, she is doing me a favor.

One thing I do know is that she loves me and wants the best for me. With this in mind, today I am thankful that I have such a spouse, one who cares enough to help me walk with God and love Him and my family.

I’m with David. It’s time to dance in the streets celebrating who God is and what He has done.

“Callin’ out around the world
Are you ready for a brand new beat?
Summer’s here and the time is right
For dancin’ in the streets…

All we need is music, sweet music
There’ll be music everywhere
There’ll be swingin’, swayin’ and records playin’
And dancin’ in the streets

Oh, it doesn’t matter what you wear
Just as long as you are there
So come on, every guy grab a girl
Everywhere around the world
There’ll be dancin’
They’re dancin’ in the street (Martha and the Vandellas).”

I’m ready for a brand new beat of praise in my life and the gal I’ll be grabbing as I dance will be my wife.

Jesus will be the Lord of our dance.  A hymn that seems older than its years (it’s less than 50 years old) expresses my sentiments:

“Dance, then, wherever you may be;
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.
And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be,
And I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he….

I danced on a Friday and the sky turned black;
It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back;
They buried my body and they thought I’d gone,
But I am the dance and I still go on.

They cut me down and I leapt up high,
I am the life that’ll never, never die;
I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me;
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he (“Lord of the Dance”.  Stainer and Bell).”

I am trying to learn what my wife is teaching me, that God loves me and that I should praise Him.  I have a choice. I can either choose to believe that God loves me as the Scriptures say, regardless of my feelings or circumstances, or I can stay in my stupor.

Tomorrow is Monday. Mondays and I have a poor relationship.

However, knowing now what my wife is teaching me, when I wake up in the morning, I need to do an attitude check.

Lyrics made popular by Cat Stevens tell me what my thoughts should be like:

Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for the springing fresh from the world

Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall, on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God’s recreation of the new day (lyrics by Eleanor Farjeon.”

I think we men believe like House did that our women are holding us back. This may or may not be true. I know in my case, despite my faulty male thinking, that my wife hasn’t made me a crappy anything. She makes me better.

Even if she hadn’t, House came to the right view, the one I now have about my wife. Whether life is good or bad or happy or sad, like House, when it comes to my woman, I say, “You are totally worth it. I choose YOU!”

And I choose to believe what she is teaching me about God.

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“For this reason I kneel before the Father,  from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,  so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,  may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:14-19).”

 In an episode of the hit drama “Touched by Angel”, Jason is a young African-American gangbanger who cares for no one and who thinks no one cares for him. He doesn’t expect to live to see adulthood.

Then he steals a car and is sent to a juvenile facility. It’s here that he encounters Monica, Andrew, and Tess, who are running an experimental program for children with inmates as helpers.

What Jason doesn’t know is that the three are angels sent by God to demonstrate His love to them. God wants to give Jason some hope, and a second chance.

Jason is assigned to work with a little girl with cerebral palsy in a wheelchair named Kelley. As he helps this child, he not only learns that he is a gifted caregiver, but also that he has developed a love for her.

Just as Jason seems to be making some progress, he runs away. Tess says he did so because he doesn’t know how to deal with the fact that for the first time in his life, he feels something for someone.

Monica goes looking for Jason, and finds him behind the wheek of a Ferrarri in a car dealership. Jason, an avid fan of cars, intends to take the car for a joy ride.

Monica reveals herself to Jason as what she is, an angel sent by God on Jason’s behalf. She tells him that God loves him.

Jason tells Monica that he doesn’t want anyone’s love.  He’s not worth the trouble.

Monica asks Jason where he thinks he is going to go in the Ferrari. It will take him nowhere, and even is a car like that he won’t be able to outrun God. Then she disappears.

Jason returns to the juvenile facility and renews his relationship with Kelly. Not only that, he reconciles with his mother and tells her he loves her.

Jason is on his way to healing as a person. He has begun to feel loved by God, and now has the capacity to give love to others.

Love is poweful. In has landmark new book on Christianity and culture, “To Change the World”. University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter  discusses the nature of this power.

Hunter writes of the coercive nature of power, and the stand of certain Christians who avoid power and instead adopt a stance of “powerlessness”. Hunter notes that the believers integration in this world makes engaging power unavoidable.

“Even love itself  has force”, he says,”for it draws and compels people in ways that they may not desire in themselves.” Jason encountered the love of the Hound of Heaven.

In his heart were the words of poet Francis Thompson:

I fled Him down the nights and down the days
I fled Him down the arches of the years
I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind, and in the midst of tears
I hid from him, and under running laughter…

Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
Ah, Fondest, Blindest, Weakest,
I am He whom thou seekest.
Thou dravest Love from thee who dravest Me.

Michael Francis, moderator of “Apologetics and Sacred Scipture”, explains the meaning of the last line. “It essentially means,’you run off those who love you’ “, he says.

The apostle Paul discovered the power of love. He wrote, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.”

Until recently, I think I misunderstoond this verse. I thought was emphasizing his understanding of Christ’s love for the world which drove him to share the gospel. 

Now I believe he is explaining that the love He himself had experienced from Christ was moving him to action. He was running from God at one point, but had met the Hound of Heaven.

In the last week I have made a discovery myself. I have come to the conclusion that I really don’t believe that God loves me.

What else would explain my selfish, unfeeling behavior? It would surely demystify my lack of ministry to others.

I want to experience God’s love. I don’t think God is going to send an angel like He did with Jason, but He may be doing other things to convince me.

This morning I was sitting in my car, waiting for my family to come out. It was a beautiful, crisp, spring day.

I watched a robin move, tilt its head, stare and finally draw a worm from under the ground. I wondered how it did that.

It occurred to me that those who believe the world was created by chance have to be nuts. The behavior of a little bird showed me there has to be a Creator.

God also used the encounter with the new season to bring to mind the lyrics of an old song from my youth:

“What a wondrous time is spring, when all the trees are budding;
The birds begin to sing, the flowers start their blooming.
That’s how it is with God’s love;
Once you’ve experienced it, you want to sing
‘It’s fresh like spring’; you want to pass it on.”

That’s what I have been looking for: an experience of God’s love, one that is so great I want to show it to others.

However, my wife showed me a better way. She told me  not to depend on experience.  She herself had begun to live by faith in the love of God, regardless of how she felt, or the circumstances.

She is absolutely right. The Bible says God loves me. That should be enough. 

This truth is a big deal for me, probably because of my religious upbringing. I was raised in a denomination that emphasized that Jesus died for the world, but didn’t bring it down to earth for me.

I suppose I understood when I put my trust in Him at the age of 17 for salvation that He died for me. However, I now see I stressed the wrong reasons for coming to Him.

I came to Him out of a desire for a purpose to my life. His love did not fit into the equation at the time. It still doesn’t.

My need this day, this hour, is to trust that God loves me, regardless of how I feel. Maybe then I can pass that on.

It will be the right message too, not  an incomplete, unclear, or phony gospel.

The immeasurable love of Christ is already in my heart.  It’s powerful, for me and for others. I just have to believe it. God, help my unbelief.

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“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways,  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.  The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven (Hebrews 1:1-3).”

The last few days I have begun to doubt if the promise God made to Noah about never again destroying the earth by flood would hold true.

First, it has just rained tons around here. We have had too soaking rains, and it just seems like it’s been nothing but water. I know we need it because we’ve been dry, but for me it has been depressing.

Coming out of winter I was already expecting spring.  Instead, we have gotten cold, rain, wind and clouds.

I had to make about a three to four hour r0und trip drive a couple days ago in messy conditions. The trip was not a pleasure trip on any level, including the weather.

What made matters worse, especially on the trip back in the dark, was that my windshield wipers are worn out. I could barely see on the dark country roads I was moving on.

With the tension of the day, and the travel in the weather, by the time I got home I was exhausted. I just wanted to (and pretty much did) crawl in a hole somewhere –a dry one.

Then this weekend. an 8.9 earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit Japan. It’s been 24/7 coverage of walls of water hitting villages in that poor country.

Buses, cars, houses and other debris have been shown being washed away with powerful force.  Distressed people have also been interviewed, anguished over missing relatives.

The last few days are symbolic of my last few years. I feel like my life has been “tsunamied”.

Personal and family illness, financial problems, conflicts, and frequent moves have taken their toll on me. Frankly, I am beyond “beyond”.

There doesn’t seem to be any place to escape the stress of life.  Even as I sit here in a coffee shop, trying to relax, there is a very loud patron.

He is talking about spiritual matters, and the Bible,  which normally would encourage me. However, his brash loudness and conversation full of “me” and “my” are grating on me.

Ironically, it’s a pop singer who is encouraging me today.  I recently heard a song by Sheryl Crow, whose music I know nothing about, which I have altered for my own application.

So with apologies to her, here’s my version:

“My fellow customer, the Christian holds meetings in this Starbucks.

I can’t listen to his gas, but I’m stuck here blogging.

I don’t have a fancy ‘puter, I don’t have diddly squat.

It’s not having what you want, It’s wanting what you got.

I’m gonna soak up the Son, I’m gonna tell everyone to lighten up

I’m gonna tell ’em that I’ve got no one to blame and everytime I feel lame,

I’m looking up, I’m gonna soak up the Son, I’m gonna soak up the Son.

I’ve got a crummy job, it don’t pay near enough to buy the things it takes

to lessen life’s earthquakes

Every time I turn around, others are looking up and I’m looking down

 Maybe’s something right with them, that helps them to avoid sin

I’m gonna soak up the Son, I’m gonna tell everyone to lighten up

I’m gonna tell ’em I’ve got no one to blame, and everytime I feel lame, I’m

looking up,

I’m gonna soak up the Son, you know He’s free

I’m gonna soak up the Son, before life goes out of me

Don’t have no master suite, but He’s still the King of me

Don’t have no fancy ride, but baby, He’s the One who has the key

Every time I turn around, you’re looking up, I’m lookin’ down

Maybe’s something right with you to make you act the way you do,

Maybe I am crazy, too

I’m gonna soak up the Son, gonna tell everyone to lighten up

I’m gonna tell ’em that I’ve got no one to blame, and everytime I feel shame,

I’m looking up,

I’m gonna soak up the Son, gonna tell everyone to lighten up

I’m gonna tell ’em that He’s got no one to blame, and everytime I feel shame,

I’m looking up

I’m gonna soak up the Son, I’ve got  my verse pack on so the Rock can rock on.”

If I’m going to be free from the weight of my troubles, it is essential that I soak up and in Jesus Christ. I saw a sign for a spa recently that said,”Soak, swim and relax.”

The idea is resting in Christ. Jesus called it “abiding”, or in my translation, “remaining.”  Soaking is an appropriate metaphor.

If my problems are making me feel like a dried up prune, it’s no wonder. Jesus said that if I don’t soak in Him, then I will “wither” (John 15:5,6).

Specifically, Jesus said to soak in His love. I do this by obeying what He says (John 15:9-11). Seems simple, but it’s not.

If I try to love others in my own strength, I will fail, and I will be depressed and miserable over my failure. .

This is where the Spirit of God comes in. Here’s what the apostle Paul said about His ministry:

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (II Corinthians 3:18).”

Trying to keep God’s Word without power is like having clouds and rain over my spirit. By turning to Jesus, the veil of storm is taken away (II Corinthians 3:12-16).  This is done by soaking in the glory of the Son.

What is God’s glory? Gary Ballard describes the Hebrew word for it as “weight”, or substance.

According to Ballard, God’s glory is His love. The primary feature of His love is His compassion.

Because he is compassionate, remembering that I am dust, God tells me to take the weight off myself and put it onto Him.

I can do this by soaking in His love, which emanates from the beauty of  His character. I may not have the character needed to deal with life’s issues, but Jesus surely does.

As the country of Japan is immersed in water right now, I have been saturated by my problems.

I would be better off looking up instead of down, and soaking up the Son.

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 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.  For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.  So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you (((II Corinthians 4:7-12).”

This morning as I drove my kids to school, I saw a bumper sticker that read, “It ain’t no sin to be glad you'[re alive.”  I admit it. Sometimes I wish I was not.

I suffer a lot from depression, and have tried many ways to deal with it. For instance, I take medicine.

Still, on mornings like this one, it’s hard to overcome. It’s a miserable, cold, rainy day and I am stressed.

My wife has said something to me recently, though, that is beginning to get through to my tough hide and connect. She has been telling me,”Enjoy your new job.”

This statement has caused me some cognitive dissonance. I think this is because I don’t really think I can, will or am supposed to enjoy it. As one friend once told me,”Work is…work is…work is WORK!”

I recently got hired to coordinate a short project at place of employment. It pays better than my regular gig, and it seems like it’s going to be interesting.

Yet, I am focusing at the moment on negative things and I am worrying. These both are common traits of mine when I am under stress.

But my wife is right. Why not enjoy it?  Why not have fun with it?

Sure, things could, and probably will, go wrong. But that’s life. It’s a fallen world.

My job is to make sure the people I serve have a good experience. I think it may also be that I have to be sure I have a good one, too.

Where do my thoughts of potential doom and gloom come from? I suppose they come from a lot of places.

Perhaps one of the sources of my pessismism about life comes from being an adult child of an alcoholic. There’s been a lot of research about the effects of that situation.

Maybe there is a generational curse at work. I have thought of that recently, also.

Whatever the spring, I see myself much of the time as a person going through a life which is a dry wasteland, where there is no water. Mine is an unfulfilled life from my own perspective.

Bruce Springsteen wrote a song describing a person in this emotional state:

“Lights out tonight, trouble in the heartland.
Got a head-on collision, smashin in my guts man.
Im caught in a crossfire that I don’t understand.
But there’s one thing I know for sure girl:
I don’t give a damn for the same old played out scenes
I don’t give a damn for just the in-betweens.
Honey I want the heart, I want the soul, I want control right now.
You better listen to me baby:
Talk about a dream; try to make it real.
You wake up in the night with a fear so real.
You spend your life waiting for a moment that just don’t come.
Well don’t waste your time waiting

Badlands you gotta live it every day
Let the broken hearts stand
As the price youve gotta pay
Well keep pushin till it’s understood
And these badlands start treating us good

Workin in the field till you get your back burned
Workin `neath the wheels till you get your facts learned.
Baby I got my facts learned real good right now.
You better get it straight darling:
Poor men wanna be rich, rich men wanna be kings,
And a king aint satisfied till he rules everything.”

What is the way out of these badlands? Will they ever start treating me good?
The answer to the latter question is that in this life I can’t necessarily expect  my circumstances to treat me well.
However, there is an escape route from my depression and poor outlook on life resulting from things like broken dreams and heredity. God is the way out of the badlands. Springsteen writes:
“I wanna go out tonight, I wanna find out what I got.
Now I believe in the love that you gave me.
I believe in the faith that could save me.
I believe in the hope and I pray that some day it
Will raise me above these Badlands.”
My way out of my badlands is through the love God has given me, the faith in Him which saves me, and the hope He continually provides.  The path out of my depression is hope in the living God.
My hope can’t be in my lineage and my good or bad work.  Even the people of God in the flesh don’t have that hope.
The true people of God aren’t the physical sons and daughters of Abraham, as the Jews believe. The Bible tells us the people of God are the children of Abraham that come from faith in His promise of a Savior, a Person  who would bless all mankind (Hebrews 9:8).
  
Jesus experienced a short, and by earthly standards, an unfilfilling life. He was not upwardly mobile. He was rejected and despised, and ultimately executed.
Yet, He fulfilled God’s plan for Him, even though from the world’s point of view at the time it looked like defeat. His death brought life to all mankind.
That’s got to be pretty fulfilling to Him in retrospect (Isaiah 53:1-6).
Jesus was victorious.
Springsteen ends his lyrics in a note of hope that tells me my life on this planet can also be one of  triumph, also.
“For the ones who had a notion, a notion deep inside
That it aint no sin to be glad you’re alive.
I wanna find one face that aint looking through me
I wanna find one place, I wanna spit in the face of these
Badlands.”
Jesus doesn’t look through me. He is looking right at me, even as I type these words.
Jesus despised the shame that came with his horrible lot in life, but he kept his eyes on the prize, that of  the joy to come. Just as Jesus has His eyes set on me after His victory, I need to fix my eyes on Him to lead me through the badlands (Hebrews 12:2). 
 
If I am going to enjoy my new job, and my life in general, as my wife admonishes me to do, I have to get my eyes off of myself and onto God and others. This is the way to life that is truly life  (I Timothy 6:17-19)!
In a recent communion service, a lady shared how the resurrected Jesus met some disciples on the road to the town of Emmaus. They talked with Him, ate with Him, but didn’t know Him until one point when their eyes were finally opened and they knew who He was (:Luke 24:13-32).
This dear lady further shared her thought that the men knew Jesus well enough to finally recognize Him. Her encouragement was to know Jesus well enough that we too would know who He is.
My hope is that the things I go through serve to help me know Jesus and to make Him known to others through my life.  Along the way, as this is brough about why not enjoy the process? At least I know where it’s going to end: out of the badlands.
 

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“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!…The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.  Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.  You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.  But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness (Romans 7:24,25; 8:6-10).”

How would you like to be able to remember every minute of every day in your life? Seems cool, right?

In a recent episode of the medical drama “House”, a patient named Nadia finds the effects aren’t what you would think. In fact, she learns having a perfect memory is not cool at all.

What Nadia does with her memories is not hip in any way. She recalls all the bad stuff.  For example, in one scene, she reminds a customer at her waitress job that she had seen her before.

The customer denies it. However, Nadia persists, naming the exact date.  The memory exposes the woman’s liasion with another man in front of her current one.  It isn’t a happy moment.

It gets worse, though, because Nadia suddenly collapses and is taken to the hospital. It is there that House and his team meet her and begin to diagnose her problems.

While in the hospital, Nadia receives a visit from her estranged sister Elena. The reason they continue to have a broken relationship is because Nadia can’t let go of the old hurts inflicted on her by her sister. She remembers every little offense.

Even when Elena donates a kidney to her, Nadia can’t bring herself to reconcile. Oh, she tries, but the old memories pop up and she weepingly tells Elena, “I can’t do this!”.

Finally, House diagnoses Nadia’s problem. She has a genetic disorder which causes a rare form of obessive compulsiveness. Nadia’s obsession is her memories.

Dr. Chase, a member of House’ team, offers Nadia a chance to control her disorder with medicine, explaining that it could take away her memories as well. She demurs at first, noting that it is her perfect memory that makes her “special”.

Chase tells Nadia that her memory also makes her “alone”. She has a choice. Nadia can either have a wonderful recall and not be able to forgive, or she can take the medicine and have relationships.

There are a lot of things in life that offer us special experiences, but in the end cause us destruction. In Nadia’s case, it was her memories.

For us, it could be something else. It could be sex, money, power, career advancement, or even another person.

The wise man of Proverbs speaks of a man who is seduced by a married woman. She offers him what seems to be extreme pleasure, but in the end it costs him his life (Proverbs 7:6-23).

Even the law of God, a good thing, can destroy us. The apostle Paul explains:

“For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death… What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.  I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.  For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death (Romans 7:5,7-11).”

That’s  the problem for Christians. Sin can seek opportunity in a lot of seemingly “good” things. You know the old song: why is it wrong if it feels so right?

Nadia’s memories were a good thing, until they weren’t. Having a gift like that could have done a lot of good, but it didn’t.

There was some disorder in Nadia that made her focus on the evil. It made her unwilling to forgive and willing to love. As a result, she was alone.

We have the same kind of disorder in our sinful natures, left over from the Fall.  Thus, something that seems good to us may be destructive and not conducive  to living relationships  (I Corinthians 10:23.23).

Like Nadia, we need to take the cure. However, it’s not an antidepressant to control OCD.

God’s antidote for the sin in our lives is His Spirit. He gives us the ability to overcome this disorder in our natures, and live a life of love.

Anything that makes us special but takes us away from God will destroy us. If we really want to be unique, we need to live according to the Spirit of God and fulfill His design for our lives.

The result will be that we will be distinguished by love and peace and other fruits of the Spirit.  Then we’ll be special, and cool!

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“Light in a messenger’s eyes brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones (Proverbs 15:30).”

Carter Chambers and Edward Cole are an odd couple. Edward is a billionare businessman, while Carter is a struggling African American mechanic.

However, they are linked together because they are engaged in the same fight: a battle against cancer which is sucking the life out of them.

They are roommates in the same hospital when they both learn that they have less than a year to live. As a result, they develop a list of things they want to do before they “kick the bucket”, a “bucket list”.

In the movie of the same name, the two men leave the cancer ward and begin to check things off their lists, using Edward’s money to fulfill their dreams. They jump out of airplanes, drive souped up cars around a race track, and visit exotic locales.

Along the way, they engage in a discussion over the meaning of life. Edward’s thinking is “we live, we die, and the wheels on the bus go round and round.” 

When it comes to faith, Edward doesn’t get it. He tells Carter, “I envy people who have faith, I just can’t get my head around it.”

Carter replies, “Maybe because your head’s in the way.” Carter, unlike Edward, is a man of faith.

Overlooking the Pyramids, Carter tells Edward:

“You know, the ancient Egyptians had a beautiful belief about death.  When their souls got to the entrance to heaven, the guards asked two questions.  Their answers determined whether they were able to enter or not.  ‘Have you found joy in your life?’  ‘Has your life brought joy to others?’”

For Carter, this joy is found in meaningful relationships. As the two men do the items on their bucket list, he realizes more and more how important his wife Virginia and family are to him.

On the other hand, Edward’s focus is on fulfilling the list itself. When Carter attempts to reconcile Edward and his estranged daughter Emily, Edward becomes angry. He lashes out at Carter:

” This trip was supposed to MEAN something to me? Like it was gonna change ME? How did you see it playing out Carter, I knock on the door, she answers, she’s surprised and angry, but I tell her how much I love her and miss her, and OH, by the way, I’m gonna be dead soon so I’m reaching out to you because I don’t wanna die alone?”

Carter replies,” Everyone’s afraid to die alone.”

Edward, walking away in anger, tells Carter, “I’m not everyone! This was supposed to be fun. That’s all it ever was.”

 The trip ends. Carter is dying with joy because he has hope, while Edward has neither joy nor hope.

Carter’s view of life is more akin to that of those who put their faith in Jesus Christ. Christians understand that they can be joyful because of their trust in the work of Jesus on the Cross.

We have peace with God because of what Jesus did for us. Not only that, we are being saved through His life. Indeed,  perseverance and a godly response to suffering (such as that of cancer) empowered by the life of Christ in us actually produces hope for us (Romans 5:1-9).

Despite the  argument which results in a bad end to their trip, Edward rushes to Carter’s side as the end approaches for the latter. As Carter is dying, Edward is given a letter to read from him. It reveals the mutual benefit they gained from each other:

 “Dear Edward, I’ve gone back and forth the last few days trying to decide whether or not I should even write this. In the end, I realized I would regret it if I didn’t, so here it goes. I know the last time we saw each other, we weren’t exactly hitting the sweetest notes-certain wasn’t the way I wanted the trip to end. I suppose I’m responsible and for that, I’m sorry. But in all honestly, if I had the chance, I’d do it again. Virginia said I left a stranger and came back a husband; I owe that to you. There’s no way I can repay you for all you’ve done for me, so rather than try, I’m just going to ask you to do something else for me-find the joy in your life. You once said you’re not everyone. Well, that’s true-you’re certainly not everyone, but everyone is everyone. My pastor always says our lives are streams flowing into the same river towards whatever heaven lies in the mist beyond the falls. Find the joy in your life, Edward. My dear friend, close your eyes and let the waters take you home.”

Edward heeds Carter’s last words to him. He reconciles with his daughter and meets his lovely granddaughter.

More importantly Edward seems to have found faith in God. He speaks at Carter’s funeral of his friend’s influence on him:

“I hope that it doesn’t sound selfish of me, but the last months of his life were the best months of mine. He saved my life, and he knew it before I did. I’m deeply proud that this man found it worth his while to know me. In the end, I think it’s safe to say that we brought some joy to one another’s lives, so one day, when I go to some final resting place, if I happen to wake up next to a certain wall with a gate, I hope that Carter’s there to vouch for me and show me the ropes on the other side.”

As a result of his new faith, Edward seems to have died in hope. Carter narrates the end of the movie:

“Edward Perryman Cole died in May. It was a Sunday in the afternoon and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. He was 81 years old. Even now, I can’t claim to understand the measure of a life, but I can tell you this: I know that when he died, his eyes were closed and his heart was open..”.

The lives of Edward and Carter in “The Bucket List” teach us that true joy is found in Christ.  This joy brings us hope for this life and the next (Romans 15:13).

This joy and hope we have found in Jesus shouldn’t be hid away for ourselves. Like Carter, we ought to be bringing joy and hope to others by directing them to faith in Christ and the benefit of loving relationships.

We can also learn from Edward’s generosity toward Carter in helping him fulfill his dreams of this life. He used his  riches to help another man find some joy and provide some inward healing in the process.

 There is joy in Christ, and there is joy in living (I Timothy 6:17,18). As believers, we ought to spread that joy around as much as we can.

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