The Gospel and Cheers

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(After some misunderstandings I’ve found I need to say “please read it this to the end. It’s not about how a bar is as good as a church”)
Life can be mighty tough and sometimes it takes all we’ve got just to make it through the day. Sometimes we just want to get away from our worries – you know, go somewhere to be with friends, be where they’re glad to see you and be where everybody knows your name.

You can do that by going to church…or going to the bar down the street. I’m sure many of you recognized the paraphrase above of the Cheers TV show theme song from years ago. Cheers was the bar down the street. “You want to be where you can see, the troubles are all the same, you want to be where everybody knows your name.”

I’m reading the book “The Gospel Driven Church” by Jared Wilson. At one point he             emphasizes a statement by James Gilmore – “The only thing of value the church has to offer is the Gospel.”

When I read that, I felt like telling Mr. Gilmore that the church can also offer, in fact we’re told in the Bible to offer, love for one another, bearing one another’s burdens, laughing and crying together. Then the Cheers theme song started running through my head. And I imagined Mr.        Gilmore agreeing that the people in the church can, and should, provide love, and fellowship and support for each other, but without the Gospel to go with it, those actions might as well be found at a bar down the street, or in a bowling league, or the Kiwanis club – take your pick.

So, as we strive to love one another, laugh and cry together, and bear one another’s burdens, let’s make sure we remember the main reason the church is here – to proclaim the Gospel (the Good News) that Jesus Christ came to earth as a man and died and rose again to save His people from their sins.

“And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.”  Matthew 1:21

 

Joseph and Our Hard Times

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Last week my Bible reading included Genesis chapters 39 and 40. Joseph’s brothers had sold him to a caravan of travelling merchants, and he ended up in Egypt as a slave to Potiphar, an official in Pharaoh’s court. Potiphar’s wife “cast her eyes” on Joseph and tried to seduce him.    Joseph refused her over and over but one day she caught him alone in the house and grabbed him. He pulled away and ran but she held onto his coat and he left it behind. Potiphar’s wife yelled out and lied that he had tried to assault her. The result was that Joseph ended up in prison even though not guilty.

After two years, Joseph was released from prison because God enabled him to interpret  Pharaoh’s dream about seven good years and seven years of famine that were coming. Joseph told what the dream meant and also gave a plan to deal with the famine. The plan pleased Pharaoh and his advisors, and Pharaoh made Joseph second in command because it was obvious to him that     Joseph was wise because God was with him.

About that time in the chapter, my brain began wondering about a possible scenario. Say, two or three months after Joseph became second in command, he called his administrative assistant. “Here, Hapusenaram, take this note over to Mrs. Potiphar. Tell her to come to Pharaoh’s palace, where I’m second in command, by the way. I’d like to talk with her a few minutes.”

Wouldn’t that get her excited about what Joseph might do and say? I have a hint of what I might do and say in that situation and it might not be nice (We can deduce that because my mind wandered in this direction in the first place). But I also think we can deduce what Joseph would say based on what he later told his brothers about being sold by them: “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”

Those words can easily roll off our tongue, but it takes a work of the Holy Spirit and much work by us to have them come from our heart. So, we pray and work against our wandering mind so that we can mean it when we say “God is good—all the time!” – no matter what situation we’re in.

Contemplation

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn a whim, I bought two baskets and a small box for $2 at the auction. Didn’t need any of them but figured the   flower shop in Brooklet could probably use the baskets. The box was a neat little miniature crate with a butterfly painted on one of the slats. I wasn’t sure what I’d do with it.

As the auction continued, a family came in and sat next to me in the pew (yes, this one has old pews as part of the seating). They had a daughter, probably eight years old, with them. Later, as I was leaving, I asked the mother if the young girl might like the box (the girl was at the snack bar). The mother said sure and took it and thanked me.

While I was checking out at the register, the little girl’s grandmother walked by and stopped to talk with me. The grandmother said the girl loved the box. She also said that her (the grandmother’s) friend had died the previous week of breast cancer and they had released butterflies in her honor. The butterfly on the box reminded her of that and she said it was a great blessing to her. I looked over at the little girl and she was sitting in the pew with her new box in her lap and her bag of       popcorn handily placed in it. I was feeling pretty good.

I went to the grocery store the next day and as I turned in one aisle, I saw an older man at the other end of the aisle trying to get a plastic container from the shelf. He had dropped several of them and was putting them back up. I headed that way but by the time I got there he had things arranged and one container in the buggy (for some reason he wanted one from the middle of the stack). I asked him if I could help and we talked a minute. It was obvious some of the confusion that comes as we get older was there. I made sure he was ok and headed to the next aisle. I was feeling pretty good.

I finished shopping, loaded the groceries in the truck and headed out of the parking lot. I wasn’t paying attention and pulled behind a car trying to turn left onto the busy street. (I usually go some other way if I see that happening). I sat and sat and sat (and got aggravated and more aggravated) as cars came by from both directions and several opportunities for the car in front to exit came and went. Finally, it was very clear from both ways and nothing happened. I honked the horn. The driver hesitantly pulled out and as his head turned, I recognized it was the confused man with the plastic containers. I wasn’t feeling very good.

I know it was the Holy Spirit that led me to give the box to the little girl and to try to help the man. In reflecting on those situations, I remember there was a feeling of thankfulness to the Lord for those opportunities. But, also knowing how arrogant I can be, I’m sure there was some pride in the mix, too.

So, the Lord let me go my own way and showed me where I would go when not paying attention to His leading. But, as God’s lesson convicted my heart, I realized in true thankfulness that He had not stopped leading and loving me. Yes, His love endures forever!         1 Cor. 10:12 “Wherefore let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”

 

It’s a New Year – Kinda Foggy? Consider This.

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We went through a course at work many years ago on Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. One of the habits was: “Begin with the end in mind.” In the postscript, beyond the business aspect, of his book, he explained the life aspect rather starkly. What do you want people saying about you at your funeral? Figure that out and live toward it.

Along those same lines of thought, my Uncle Ivy once told me he had spent a night in his recliner praying and meditating while considering much that same question—what kind of man did he want to be? He concluded that he wanted folks to think of him and say, “Ivy Spivey is always willing to help in any way he can.” (And he always was.)

In another course at work we were required to develop a personal mission statement. I didn’t think a lot about it and just took the Boy Scout Oath as mine. That is a great statement and living by it is certainly a good “mission.”

But, through the years I’ve thought more about my life’s mission, as Steven Covey suggested and as Uncle Ivy did. My latest rendition is:

  1. The only things that really matter in life are God and other people – so live like it. (You may recognize this is a paraphrase of the two great commandments Jesus gave – Love the Lord, and Love your neighbor. I was thankful when I realized that.)
  2. Do the right things – for the right reasons. (It’s obvious The Bible tells us to do the right things and not do the wrong things. But 1st Corinthians chapter 13 (“the love chapter”) makes it clear that without the right motivation, particularly love, doing the right thing means nothing. See also the Sermon on the Mount and what I call the “woe” chapter—Matthew chapter 23)
  3. Pay Attention (If we don’t, we’ll miss opportunities to do the first two. Isaiah chapter 42 mentions looking but not seeing and listening but not hearing.)

I’m not writing those points here because I’m always successful in following them – The older I get, the more I realize how pitiful my results often are. And, I’m not saying you should take them as yours. I’m just suggesting as we go into this New Year, along with making resolutions like eating healthier and exercising, which are still good resolutions, we also spend time in prayer and meditation and, as Jesus said, consider the “weightier matters of…justice, mercy and faithfulness.”  (Matthew 23:23)
Micah 6:8  “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

 

Got Faith? Plant an Oak Tree

Old Oak Tree

Old Oak Tree

I went hunting for an impressive oak tree to photograph and found this one along a stretch of highway south of Daisy, Georgia. It is impressive. My purpose for the quest was to illustrate one aspect of faith: “for we walk by faith, not by sight.” 2nd Corinthians 5:7 ESV.

I don’t think this oak came about from a squirrel dropped acorn. I think someone planted this tree a century or more in the past. I have no proof of that, so that’s just a deduction from the other oaks up and down the road that appear to have been placed in particular locations. There probably was a house here then, but it probably wasn’t this one. (Could have been remodeled through the years, though).

The tree wouldn’t have become impressive during the lifetime of its planter. It’s likely it didn’t even reach “noticeable” status. And, it’s an absolute that the planter is not still around to see it become this mighty tree. But, that didn’t matter – they walked by faith. They knew what would happen far in the future. Their small efforts would become established and grow into a massive tree that would provide food and shelter for animals, and shade and comfort to people. I don’t know if they had the thought that just the sight of the tree would give a sense of wonder at God’s Creation, but I know that’s what I felt as I came around the curve and saw it.

It is just a deduction that someone planted this tree many years ago but the concept stands. Anytime you plant a long-lived, slow growing tree, you probably won’t see it reach “impressive” size. But, somebody will.

When the Apostle Paul wrote about walking by faith, not sight, he was noting that we don’t see the Lord, but we know (by the faith that God gave us and the Holy Spirit within us) we will see Him face to face one day. Paul then states that because of that, our aim in everything is “to please Him”

And that’s where I think another aspect of “walk by faith” comes in. It’s not planting trees (although I consider that a good thing), it’s doing things to please the Lord, even though we may not see the results (perhaps not even in our lifetime). As Jesus told us: Give someone who is thirsty a drink of water in His name. Feed the hungry. Welcome the strangers. Visit the sick. Make disciples.

Got faith? Then walk in it. Plant an oak tree. Or, better yet, spread the Good News about Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Winter – Time to Flex our Faith Muscles

Pecan Orchard in Winter

Pecan Orchard in Winter

Here’s a lifeless orchard of pecan trees a few miles from our house. You can tell it’s lifeless because there are no outward appearances of life. There are a few husks from the nuts that are still on the tree but very little fruit is there.

Perhaps, though, it’s not dead but could just be hibernating. Everything has shut down and nothing’s happening. Nothing is outwardly apparent.

But, we know, that there is a lot happening out of our sight. The roots are growing and flexing their muscles – spreading into new areas and strengthening their grip on the earth. They’re getting ready for the right time – when it’s time for them to help push out the sprouting leaves and start the fruit of the next season.

We, too, can have seasons that appear lifeless, when there’s not much happening outwardly. We could spend time in hibernation and shut down. But, even in those quiet, seemingly slow times, we need to be strengthening our roots – by prayer and meditation, by study in God’s Word – flexing our faith muscles and getting ready for the next opportunity that God will give us to serve Him.

Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” Romans 12:11 ESV

Sure Signs of Faith

Budding Pecan Tree - Sure Sign of Spring

Budding Pecan Tree – Sure Sign of Spring

Want a sure sign that Spring is here? Then, look for the budding pecan  trees. They seem to be the last large trees around here (south Georgia) that bud out.

Want a sure sign of faith? Then look for the huge pecan trees and oak trees around the homesteads in the country. I don’t know how old this tree is, but it’s on the edge of our property and has obviously been there many years. And I do know that whoever planted it is not around to enjoy the fruits of their labor. But, they had the faith to plant it anyway.

That’s even more evident with slow growing live oaks. You can see one oak tree large enough to shade an entire house. Yet, the planters knew they wouldn’t be around when the tree reached that point. Again, they had the faith to plant it anyway – not necessarily for themselves but for generations to come.

Hebrews Chapter 11 is sometimes called the “faith” chapter because it speaks of the faith of a number of saints from Biblical times. Their acts exceeded the simple planting of a tree, but the concepts can be compared. Much of what we do, in faith today, will not have an effect until sometime in the future – whether it be tomorrow, next week, next year – or in a lifetime following ours. Chapter 12 refers to these witnesses (showing faith) and gives us instructions on how to join them as witnesses for the future generations.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2