Wednesday, March 22, 2017

"Thank you" on 9 11

        Just got back from an amazing trip to New York city with my sisters, sister-in-law, daughters and nieces.  And can I just say--JOY!  What a treat to be able to spend time with so many loved ones. Frankly, if we had gone to Apex, I would still have loved it and been thrilled, since the greatest gift was simply being with each of them! Thank You, Father!
        But surely one of the highlights of the trip was our visit to One World Trade Center (aka The Freedom Tower) and the 9 11 Memorial and Museum.
       My girls in front of The Freedom Tower (it's so tall, I couldn't begin to get the whole thing in the picture) on a very chilly, but beautiful March day--
And from inside the Museum--one of the steel tridents that remained standing in the 14 story high pile of debris from The Trade Center.  The writing on the trident was made as they marked the heroic FDNY companies and rescue personnel who lost their men in the towers--
To say it was incredibly powerful and moving to see this museum would be a vast understatement.  One cannot see this museum without shedding tears, not just of sorrow and grief, but also of profound gratitude and admiration for the brave souls who endured that terrible day--both those who gave their lives to save others as well as the courage of those who faced the very worst man could devise, and yet at the end, were thinking of their loved ones left behind.  
Obviously, I could go on and on about this--so much to tell, so many tears, so many stories--but I really want to focus right now on one very simple--yet radically important--lesson.  
Expressing thanks. 
Our tour guide shared the remarkable story of FDNY Ladder 3, which was one of the first on the scene.  Their crushed firetruck is in the Museum, and all 11 of the men who came on that truck that day were killed  when the North Tower fell.  Normally there aren't  nearly this many men on a shift. However, the first 911 calls occurred at the time the shift  was changing, and men who had gone off duty immediately wanted to go and help as well.  
Unless you were there, I don't think any of us can begin to comprehend the total chaos, confusion, and horror of what those men faced as they faced when they arrived at the base of the North Tower.  Thick black smoke, fire, dangerous debris raining down, screaming and injured folks, bodies... I won't go on, but it must have been horrific beyond all words.  
Add to that the total confusion about what was going on--so many calls were pouring in that the firemen couldn't get through to one another.  Cell phones were jammed, walkie talkies were jammed.  It was all noise and terror and chaos.  
Yet these men immediately strapped on their 100 pounds of gear and began climbing the stairs of the North Tower in order to reach the top floors to save the folks trapped up there.  Think of that--100 pounds of great and all those countless steps going up and up and up.  Remind yourself how out of breath you get when you walk up a couple of flights of stairs.   Now try it with 100 pounds on your back...and do it for step after step after step. 
Meanwhile, as the smoke filled stairwells, terrified civilians rushed down...while those firemen rushed up.  Other came down to safety, while the firemen climbed up towards death and destruction and danger.   But that's what heroes do.  
Apparently, the men of Ladder 3 desperately needed to get some information about what was going on up above them--30, 60, 90, and 100 floors above--as they climbed.  But again, no one could get through. And so on the 35th floor, Captain Paddy Brown attempted to get through on a landline he found in an office, and remarkably, he was able to reach 911 dispatchers.  They gave him all the information they could, and then Paddy said something incredible under the circumstances.  In the midst of such unimaginable, hellish horror, he simply said, "Thank you."  
Our tour guide specifically and movingly pointed that out--"This man said thank you."  
And then he closed out with the last words ever recorded by Patty Brown, "This is 3 Truck and we're still heading up."  
I wept.  Both for the courage--knowing the terrible danger, the raging inferno, the thick smoke, the awful uncertainty, they kept heading up.  Why?  Because they were determined to save lives.  To save as many lives as they could.  
These firemen went up to save souls...and Jesus came down to save all the world.  
Thank You, Father, for such brave, good men who gave their lives in order to save others.  And thank You for the Lord Jesus--the bravest, the best, the perfect Son of God--who gave His life in order to save any and all who would come to Him by faith.  What heroes these men were.  And what a glorious Savior our Lord is.  He is the ultimate Hero of Heroes.
But secondly, I wept for that simple phrase--"Thank you."  To somehow manage a thank you in the midst of such  hell, well, I couldn't help but think, what on earth is our excuse?  How can we not be relentlessly grateful people?  God has given us so much--our nation, our homes, our families, our friends, our daily blessings of food, sunshine, strength, laughter, music, dogs, books, health, strength...and on and on.  
How dare we not be daily, continuously thinking and staying, "Thank You!"  Thank You, thank You thank You, Lord! 
"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly light, who does not change like shifting shadows." (James 1:17)  "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (I Thess.5:18) "I will extoll the Lord at all times; His praise will always be on my lips." (Ps.34:1) "Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever." (Ps.107:1)  
God's Word is filled to overflowing with commands to praise and give thanks.  
So let me ask you, as I've asked myself, what's our excuse?  Are we relentlessly thankful people...or consistently complaining people?  Are we quick to remember and give thanks...or do we tend to forget or take for granted or feel entitled?  Do we look for reasons to give thanks...or search for excuses to grumble?  
The example of the brave men of Ladder 3 should surely convict us that there is no--absolutely no--circumstance that justifies an absolute refusal to find at least some reason for thanks.  
Today, will you choose to be thankful? And will you express that thanks both to someone else and to Your forever faithful Father?  With Him, you always have infinite ammunition for gratitude. 
Lord, we give you all, all, all our thanks and praise.  For You are infinitely worthy. And to You, our God, be all the glory.       

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Change...and Changeless

        Well, a couple of days ago it was in the 70's.  Today...
         ...snow on our blooming camellia bush. You gotta love North Carolina winters!
         And this reminded me of a mighty simple lesson that the Lord taught me once again last week--life is change, God is changeless.
         So we hold onto life's ever-vacillating treasures with relaxed, open hands, knowing that those treasures will come and go, grow and diminish, move up and down.  But Almighty God is the eternally present, powerful, loving, and faithful I Am.  And the good news is, we don't need to desperately try to grasp onto Him, for He holds onto us.  And He will never ever let us go.  "For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, 'Fear not, I am the One who helps you." (Isa.41:13)        
         Yes, life means change. "And it came to pass" we read a number of times in the Scripture.  And that's a reminder that whatever it is we are going through at the moment--be it wonderful or terrible--it will come to pass.  My daddy used to say during those times when life got hard and bleak, "We're going through a rough patch."  A rough "patch"--and patches eventually end, right?  So you've got to hang in there and keep walking through that patch till you get to the other side.
        Well, the other day Mr. Bingley and I went for a walk on the greenway.  It was one of those perfect mornings--a tiny hint of a chill in the air, but not so much that I needed mittens (which for wimpy, cold-handed me means above 60).  Just a sweatshirt, my ipod, and Mr. B.
        And life was so good.  As we walked, the birds chirped happily, the gentle breeze in the air felt heavenly, and the dawn of a new day seemed full of promise and joy.  I was even listening to a terrific podcast by one of my favorite ministers.   I succinctly remember thinking, "Now this is what I'm talking about! This is soooo good!"
          Uh, that is until we got to the far end of the greenway and turned around for the wonderful walk back...not.  You see, as we turned--me in my happy place and thinking that all's right with the world--the wind suddenly (and I mean SUDDENLY) started blowing to beat the band.  Wow, I was thinking, how about that wind....but isn't it refreshing!...
         ...until about 30 seconds later when the first raindrops began to fall.  Maybe I should rephrase that: when the deluge broke, absolutely soaking Bingley and moi.  WHAT??  We started running (okay at my age that would be jogging...or at least walking really, really briskly) as I had my cell phone in one pocket and my ipod in the other.  Technology does not seem to do well in soaking rains.            Oh, and did I mention that the temperature felt like it dropped 20 degrees in under a minute?  I'm totally not kidding.  My wimpy hands went from just fine thank you to frozen solid in a matter of moments.  As we ran, Bingley looked back at me with a quizzical expression on his face.  I think he may have even dropped the log he was carrying at the time, as this clearly seemed like an emergency situation since his mama was actually running (okay jogging, well alright walking briskly, for pete's sake).
            We arrived home just in time...for the rain to stop.  Totally stop.  One minute it's pouring, the next it's sunny.  Seriously.  Bingley and I are wondering, what exactly just happened?
          Soaked and chilled to the bone, we staggered inside.  Phone still working, thank goodness, but not so sure about the old ipod.  Oh well.
           But as we dried off and warmed up, it occurred to me: that's life, isn't it?  Change.  Unexpected interruptions.  Unplanned surprises--some welcome, others not so much.  But through it all, God is forever faithful.  Never changing.  Always loving.  Infinite in grace and mercy.  Endlessly powerful.  
          "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." (Heb.13:8)  "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change." (James 1:17)
           Yeah sure, the weather changes, your children change, your health changes, your finances change, your energy changes, your relationships change, your work changes...but God is changeless, eternal, and forever and perfectly faithful.  Aren't you glad?
            Whatever you might be enjoying--or enduring--right now, hang on (or hang in there) because it will come to pass...but Your Redeemer, Savior, and Friend will never leave you nor forsake you. (Heb.13:5)  He promises to stick closer than a brother (Prov.18:24).  And He will.  Forever and ever.
           To God be the glory.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Remember!

What are you remembering?  
Lent just began yesterday--the 40 day time of preparation leading to Holy Week and Resurrection Sunday.  And to prepare, we daily need to remember.  
Yesterday--Ash Wednesday--marked the beginning of Lent, and many churches have an Ash Wednesday service where the sign of the cross is written across foreheads in ashes and the words are repeated:"Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return."  
Because in order to truly celebrate what Jesus has done for us--the wondrous gift of salvation and eternal life--we must first and always remember.  W\
Remember we are merely dust, returning to dust.  
Remember the curse of sin and death.  Remember our own mortality.  
Remember the chains of sin that bound us...
And remember, through Christ, those chains are gone.  
Remember that Jesus has conquered sin and death and given the gift of eternal, abundant Life to all who come to Him by faith.
Remember all that we possess in Him.
Remember His relentless goodness to us in our daily lives. 
Remember that sin and death no longer have the final word.
Remember that we're not Home yet...and the best, best, best is yet to come.
Remember the certain hope of heaven ahead of us and the steady joy of God's presence with us now. 
Because before we can rejoice, we must remember.  
On this blustery, but sunny, March day, I'm remembering the cold and snow of January...and that remembering fuels my rejoicing today. 
             I'm remembering Christmas with all our family...and rejoicing anew over the Gift of Jesus and of the joy of being with those I love.
           I'm remembering the astounding beauty of the mountains...and the ocean...and again, the deep happiness of sharing  it with our family.

               "And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not." (Deuteronomy 8:2)
               "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." (John 14:26)
               "I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago." (Ps.77:11)
               But can I admit something: I'm a mighty good forgetter.  I forget names.  I forget directions.  I forget recipes.  I just plain forget an awful lot.
             Yep, I've got the memory of a gnat...but I'm realizing that if God commands us to remember who He is and what He has done, then He'll enable us to do it.  And Lent is all about remembering...so that in about 40 days, we can truly and exuberantly rejoice.
             At the very end of his life, John Newton shared that he had lost his memory and could no longer remember much of anything.  BUT he went on to say that there were two things he would never, ever forget: "I'm a great sinner...but Christ is a Great Savior."  Amen!
            So over the course of the next forty days of Lent, let's determine to make it a priority to spend some time every single day pausing to reflect and remember.  Remember who you are and what you've done (we're all of us are great sinners).  But then remember all that Christ has done--both in His Word and in your life--He truly is a Great, Great Savior.
           Let's daily remember, but then let's store up all those remembrances over the next forty days...for all that remembering will exponentially fuel our rejoicing and celebrating on the Resurrection Day that's coming.
           Oh Father, help us daily to remember all that You are and all that You have done.  Might our remembering fuel our rejoicing in You and in this day, this life, You've so graciously given us.  Thank You for being such a good, great, and glorious Savior.  We remember, Lord Jesus, and we rejoice.
           To God be the glory.  

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Just for today

         "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness." (Lam.3:22-23)
         One of my very favorite verses...and here's the incredible thing: it's smack dab in the middle of the book of Lamentations.  Yes, Lamentations--as in the book written by Jeremiah, "the weeping prophet," to lament the destruction of the Jews' beloved city and capital of Jerusalem as well as his people's tragic exile.  Yet in the midst of the sorrow, the destruction, the seeming hopelessness is this powerful word of hope...because of God's forever faithfulness and endless mercy.
         That's the Lord we serve.  He doesn't treat us as our sins deserve. (Ps.103:10)  He's rich in mercy, and because of His great love for us, "even when we were dead in our sins, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved--and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." (Eph.2:4-7)
         Like the sun daily rising over the mountains, like the promise of the rainbow after the rain, He is faithful, glorious and trustworthy.  Always.
         Yes, the world is a crazy, often dark place these days...but in the midst of our lamentations, we may, we must rejoice that our Heavenly Father's steadfast love never ceases, His mercies never end--for they are brand new every single morning--and His faithfulness is great beyond all imagining.
         When we start to fret over all our mistakes from yesterday, we grow discouraged and defeated.  And when we start worrying over all the challenges and difficulties ahead of us tomorrow, fear, anxiety and even dread can overwhelm us.  But yesterday's gone.  Done.  Put it behind you.  And tomorrow's not here yet.  Entrust the unknowable and uncontrollable future to the One who holds that future.
          Instead, let's focus on today.  Trust God for today's challenges and needs.  Thank God for today's blessings and gifts.  Ask God for today's strength and empowering grace.  Pray today.  Love today.  Rejoice today.  Read His Word today.  Trust today.  
          In the words of the South African pastor, Andrew Murray: "A day, just one day only, but still a day, given to abide and grow up in Jesus Christ.  Whether it be a day of health or sickness, joy or sorrow, rest or work, of struggle or victory, let the chief thought with which you receive it in the morning thanksgiving be this: A day that the Father gave; in it I may, I must, become more closely united to Jesus.  As the Father says, 'Can you trust Me just for this one day?' you cannot but give the joyful response, 'I will trust and not be afraid.'"
        Yes, Lord, yes.  Thank You for Your steadfast love, endless mercies, and perfect faithfulness...we trust You for and in this day, Today.  To God be the glory.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Glory happening...lift up your gaze!

         Glory happening on the greenway--
         Who would have thought?  On a regular old, ordinary early morning walk, glory flashes all around us.  Wish I could take better pictures, because the combination of my terrible photography skills and an old iphone doesn't begin to do it justice.  The vibrant pinks and oranges painted the entire morning sky--it truly was a gigantic, unmistakable finger pointing straight to our majestic Creator.  
        "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands...In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.  It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, like a champion rejoicing to run his course.  It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is deprived of its warmth." (Ps.19:1,4-6)  What a creation...what a Creator!  What a sun...what a Son!
         That magnificent sunrise portended a beautiful February day.  But by the next morning, it was grey, rainy, and gloomy.  Ugh.  I trudged outside with Mr. B, struggling to muster up some energy (well, I struggled; his energy never seems to diminish).  Same old, same old...
        Until I happened to lift my gaze from the pavement up to the skies.  Mother Teresa was so right: "All our trouble comes from looking around rather than up."  I'd amend that to include looking down...how much do we miss by keeping our eyes and hearts focused downward rather than upward?  But I digress. When I happened to glance up at the foreboding sky, I saw a majestic blue heron perched on a tippy top branch surveying the greenway.  

        "Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; they sing among the branches." (Ps.104:12)
        "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?'  (Mt.6:25-26)
        How thankful I am for the reminders all around us of God's greatness, glory, and grace in His creation and His creatures.  The skies, the sun, the moon and the stars wordlessly, but eloquently, declare His glory.  The birds sing of His faithfulness...and their song resounds with the command not to worry but to trust.  Oh how I need the Lord's constant visual aides to worship, trust, and thank...and not to worry, complain, and compare.
         As Tim Keller prays: "Maker of heaven and earth, Your creation speaks and sings to us of Your greatness.  May I neither despise nature, failing to care reverently for its integrity, nor worship nature, failing to let it point me beyond itself to Your glory, which even it only 'fitfully reflects.'"
        Amen!  I don't know what you might be going through today, but can I give one simple piece of advice--lift up your eyes.  Stop looking down or around, and gaze upward.  Look up physically and spiritually.  Just as surely as the sun will rise in the morning and the birds will perch on the trees, God is there.  He is forever faithful, loving, good, gracious, wise, and powerful.  He will never ever ever leave you nor forsake you.
         As my dear friend Kelly always says, "He's got this."  And He does.
        So lift up your gaze, and trust Him.
        To God be the glory.
         
       

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Preaching to yourself

                            Food for weekend thought on preaching to yourself--
        Loved these words from Paul David Tripp--and I know I've shared them before, but don't we all need reminding?  I know I sure do.  So here are his thoughts--
           "Every day you preach to yourself some kind of gospel--a false 'I can't do this' gospel or the true 'I have all I need in Christ' gospel...No one is more influential in your life than you are because no one talks to you more than you do.  It's a fact that you and I are in an endless conversation with ourselves...We either preach to ourselves a gospel of aloneness, poverty, and inability or the true gospel of God's presence, power, and constant provision.  You are preaching to yourself a gospel that produces fear and timidity or one that propels you with courage and hope.  You are preaching to yourself of a God who is distant, passive, and uncaring or of a God who is near, caring, and active.  You are always preaching to yourself a gospel that causes you to rest in His wisdom or a gospel that produces a bit of panic because it seems as if there are no answers to be found.
             Today, when it feels as if no one understands, what gospel will you preach to you?  As you face physical sickness, the loss of a job, or the disloyalty of a friend, what message will you bring to you?  When you are tempted to give way to despondency or fear, what will you say to you?  What life seems hard and unfair, what gospel will you preach to you?...
              It really is true--no one talks to you more than you do.  So God in His grace has given you His Word so that you may preach to yourself what is true in those moments when the only one talking to you is you."
        What a good and true word!  We all have running conversations going on in our heads, and the words we habitually speak to ourselves determine the condition of our hearts.  It's remarkable how quickly I can drag myself down--all by my little lonesome--by focusing on the enemy's lies as opposed to God's Truth.  And there is such enormous power in our thoughts and our words.
        Duh, you say.  But here's the thing--we know it, but so often we fail to practice it.  We daily, hourly, minute by minute have the choice: will we preach to ourselves God's Truth and His words that bring life, hope, joy, peace, and wisdom?  Or will we default to negative, destructive, discouraging, ungrateful words that tear down rather than build up?
       Proverbs 18:21 says that "Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits."  And Matthew 12:37 warns "For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."  Yes, these apply to whether we use our tongues with others as instruments of blessing or condemnation.  But they also apply to the words we speak to ourselves.  Because as Tripp says, no one speaks to you more than you.
        Might we preach to ourselves--and to others--the Truth of God's strength-filling, hope-infusing, life-giving Word.
        To God be the glory.  
       
       

Saturday, January 28, 2017

"Turn aside" today

        I read it in yesterday's reading from the "Daily Bible."  Such a simple little phrase...and yet oh so powerful.  A phrase with the potential to transform TODAY not only your attitude, your perspective, your agenda, and even your energy level, but also to give you radical joy and hope no matter how pressure packed or challenging your circumstances.
        What that's kryptonite phrase, you ask?  First let me set the scene.  Moses has been living in the wilds of Midian for 40 years after fleeing the Pharaoh's wrath for killing an Egyptian.  Moses, the former hotshot adopted son of Pharaoh's daughter now resides in the middle of nowhere, tending sheep for a living.  And one day, Moses the nobody sees a mighty strange sight--a bush that's on fire, yet is not being consumed.  Go figure, right?
         But Moses has got sheep to tend, a family to support, and endless things on his shepherding to-do list that must be accomplished before this day is over.  So he shrugs and says, "Huh.  Interesting," before hurrying off after his sheep.
        Ah no.  That is not what happened.  Instead we're told (and drum roll, please, because here's the phrase), "And Moses said, 'I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned up." (Ex.3:3)            
        Hey Moses, what ya doing?  You've got no time to waste on frivolous "turning asides."  Those sheep are disappearing around the bend.  You need to hurry, hurry, hurry to catch up!  You've surely got far more pressing concerns than to waste your time "turning aside" just to stare at some burning bush in the middle of nowhere.  Moses, what on earth would the Midian time management gurus say? Stay on task.  Keep busy.  Keep moving.  Check your cell phone.  Peruse the internet.  But for goodness sakes, don't pause to ponder...or to wonder...or worst of all, to worship.
        Praise God Moses didn't heed our culture's siren call to stay relentlessly occupied and entertained.  Nope, he hit the pause button and took the time, in the midst of the wilderness, to "turn aside to see this great sight."
        And then here's the really cool part, for we're told, "When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush." (Ex.3:4)  The omnipotent Maker of heaven and earth, the eternal Lord, the Almighty God spoke directly to Moses when Moses did one simple thing: paused to turn aside and see.
        Such a simple but profound lesson--if we want to be increasingly transformed into the image of our Redeemer and if we want to be men and women of indomitable hope, joy, wisdom and love, well then we've got to choose, choose, choose daily to set aside the urgent in favor--first and foremost--of the supremely important.
       We've got to  shelve--just for a little bit of time--the cell phones and to-do lists and urgent tasks that need doing...and take a deep breath, pause and turn aside to see the Savior in His Word.  As Gordon Macdonald puts its in his powerful book The Resilient Life, "Character is developed--for believers anyway--when we let the Scripture inform us.  We are what we permit to enter the deepest parts of our soul.  A steady diet of television, cheap publications and shallow literature will make us dreadfully inadequate people.  A daily exposure to the Scripture and to literature that focuses on Scripture is a necessary part of the diet."
          But it's not just turn aside to the Word--though that's our top priority.  We also need to turn aside to really see and savor God's glorious creation.  Don't just let that sunrise pass you by unnoticed and unappreciated.  Cultivate the wonder of a child to see it with astonishment and gratitude.  God has given you another morning...and this new morning begins with an astounding show of beauty as the sun rises yet again in all it's splendor.  Don't miss it.  Then look from the beauty of that creation to trace it straight back to the Creator and Giver of all good gifts. (James 1:17)  As C.S. Lewis says, "One's mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun."  That sunrise is an opportunity to rejoice and declare "Great is Thy faithfulness, Father!"  
        And, of course, turn aside to love--really love--appreciate, and enjoy the people the Lord has so graciously placed in your life.  Oh my, maybe I'm all alone on this, but me and my busy, self-focused, distracted self needs to be reminded of this day after day.  That to-do list will always be there...these irreplaceable loved ones will not.  Turn aside to love and serve and savor them like Jesus loves you.
       Like I said, a simple phrase, but oh my, how much hangs in the balance if we will simply, daily choose to turn aside.  Turn aside to our Savior, to His creation, to His children.  Turn aside to ponder, to wonder, to worship, to savor, and to love.  Turn aside today.
       To God be the glory.