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Blogger, Christ-follower, Encourager, Friend, Husband, Dad

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thank You For the Thorns

I saw this quote on Facebook: “75% of Facebook quotes are made up” (Abraham Lincoln)

While I’m pretty sure he didn’t say that, I saw another Lincoln quote that seems to be legit based on what little research I did. 

 (Photo credit: Facebook)

I have used that quote to help people (and myself) gain perspective in the middle of a “whiny” time.  It is good to look for the blessings in the middle of the challenges of life.  But is it possible to thank God for the challenges of life?

In 1891, a young Swedish Salvation Army worker wrote the following hymn:

Thanks to God for my Redeemer, Thanks for all Thou dost provide!
Thanks for times now but a memory, Thanks for Jesus by my side.
Thanks for pleasant, balmy springtime, Thanks for dark and dreary fall!
Thanks for tears by now forgotten, Thanks for peace within my soul!

Thanks for prayers that Thou has answered, Thanks for what Thou dost deny!
Thanks for storms that I have weathered, Thanks for all Thou dost supply!
Thanks for pain and thanks for pleasure, Thanks for comfort in despair!
Thanks for grace that none can measure, Thanks for love beyond compare!

Thanks for roses by the wayside, Thanks for thorns their stems contain!
Thanks for home and thanks for fireside, Thanks for hope, that sweet refrain!
Thanks for joy and thanks for sorrow, Thanks for heavenly peace with Thee!
Thanks for hope in the tomorrow, Thanks through all eternity!

In 1899, eight years after writing this hymn, August Ludwig Storm suffered a back injury that crippled him for the rest of his life.  He continued his Salvation Army work and maintained a thankful spirit until his death in 1914.  His thankful spirit in times of trouble gave even more credibility to his work and ministry.

It is one thing to be thankful that thorn bushes have roses. It is another level of thankfulness to say, “Thanks for roses by the wayside, Thanks for thorns their stems contain!”

My dear friend, Lew Shaffer, suffered a massive stroke in 1989.  Many of the folks who are blessed by his constant encouragement and letter writing ministry now don’t know what a powerful preacher he was before the stroke.  He tells a story of the dark days of rehab after the stroke when he was completely immobile and God told him to be thankful for his stroke. It was a hard prayer to pray, but once he did, his perspective on everything changed.

                                              (Photo credit: Carla Noah Stutsman, www.azlenews.net)

God has not removed the results of the stroke. He can’t get around without help.  His speech is incredibly difficult to understand.  Those dozen-word letters he writes look like a kindergartener’s unsteady script.  And yet, I don’t know another person who encourages me more.  His life matters as much now as it ever has.

For what thorns are you thankful in this Thanksgiving season?

I would love to heard from you.  Leave a comment below.

Monday, November 18, 2013

God Uses Cracked Pots

                                                   (Photo credit: kentcrockett.blogspot.com)

“Have Thine own way, Lord.  Have Thine own way.   
Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.  Mold me and make me after Thy will; 
While I am waiting, yielded and still.”

Those words were written by missionary Adelaide Pollard after attending a 1902 prayer meeting. I grew up singing those words in church.  That “while I am waiting” part was frustrating for Adelaide Pollard while she was trying to raise funds to go for mission work in Africa.  That “while I am waiting” part has been frustrating for me many times when I have had great visions of what I wanted to do for God.

 I have pondered this week how many times God has been waiting for me. One instance surfaced last week.  The specifics are not important, but the gist of it is this:  While on my way to work one day a few months ago I noticed something about a house that I drive by every day.  On this particular day, God told me to stop and check on the people who live there.

People I have never met.

Really, God?  Since God’s voice was not audible, surely that impression was wrong.  Of course, God has never spoken to me in an audible voice, but I have known He was speaking to my heart many times.  But this one is really out there, God.  They will think I’m nuts.  They will be offended.  They are doing all kinds of crazy things in there … and they have guns … and dogs … and …

So, being the obedient follower of Christ that I am, I just prayed for whoever was in that house and kept on driving.  I’ve kept driving and kept praying for months. But, God wouldn’t quit.  These gentle nudges kept on day after day until I finally relented.  I prayed really, really hard and went to the door. 

I came away without gunshot wounds or dog bites.  I also discovered some needs that I could help with, some immediate and some long-term.  I would like to say that I waited until just the right time to go.  Everything was just right on that particular day.  I might not have been welcomed on another day.

I think it is more likely that God used me in spite of me.  Back in 1998, Christian author Patsy Clairmont wrote a book entitled, God Uses Cracked Pots.  I haven’t read it, but I remember the title.  I am living proof that if God could only use perfect people, He wouldn’t get much done.  I am cracked, flawed, hesitant, and sometimes flat-out disobedient. But He uses me anyway.

“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God's glorious standard.” (Romans 3:23, NLT).  But our lives matter so much to Him that He “… showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” (Romans 5:8)

You’re cracked, too.  But are you available to God?

This week's Question:  How has God used you in spite of you? 

Leave a comment below to join the conversation.

Monday, November 11, 2013

OUR Life Matters

It all began with a simple conversation.  A pastor’s wife told me how God had provided the funds to repair one of their air conditioners at the church, but they couldn’t make contact with the A/C company who had given them the original bid.

I called a friend (Mr. D) in the business, who has a great heart for ministry and mission, and asked if he would take a look.  The next day he was there and got them fixed up for about ¼ of the quoted price.  While he was there, he noticed that the church had absolutely no insulation in their attic.  He called and left a message for another mutual friend (Mr. M) to see if they could figure out a way to help this church.  That friend couldn’t answer the call because he was in a meeting with a representative (Mr. G) from a world-wide ministry at their Dallas-area facility.  In that meeting, Mr. G mentioned that he was trying to figure out what to do with a large donation of … wait for it … insulation.

(Photo credit: Photobucket)

So, Mr. M leaves the meeting and checks his voice mail.  Bingo!  He turns around and walks back into Mr. G’s office and says, “Have I got a deal for you!  About four phone calls later, we had a plan.

So, last Saturday morning, Mr. D, Mr. M, Mr. G, Mr. Me, and about a dozen other folks representing these various ministries showed up at the church with a trailer full of insulation and a brand new insulation blowing rig.  Twenty one bags of insulation later, accompanied by a lot of laughter and friendship, we sat down and had lunch together and celebrated how God had provided for this small church.  What a great example of Kingdom partnerships at work!

I have been vague about names and ministries for two reasons.  One is that I didn’t ask their permission to use their names or the names of their ministries.  The second is the most important reason.  I don’t want anyone but God to get the credit.  Each of these men, and their ministries, would agree.  There will certainly be more opportunities for us to work together in partnerships and some of them may become more public, but for now, I wanted to just make it about the story of how God often looks at you and me and sees us.

When I say that our lives matter to God, we tend to see that as our individual lives mattering.  And they do.  He does see our individual lives and needs.  But He also sees the intricate intersections that we can’t see and He sees the collective potential.  So, we can also say OUR life matters.

Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another.”

THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: Who is your one another?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Unplugged: Living Acoustically In An Amplified World

You might say that music and church, separately and together, have been two of the anchors of my life. I sang my first solo in church at the age of 3.  I started traveling and singing in other churches at the age of 13 and began balancing that with being my home church’s volunteer Music Director at 15.  That path continued through a Bachelor’s degree in music education from West Texas State(now A&M) University (go Buffs!) and a move to Fort Worth to attend Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Even when the path took an unexpected turn into preaching, it was “in addition to”, not “instead of” music. To this day, I still get asked to contribute musically in the churches I assist. 

In almost 50 years of singing and over 35 in leading worship, I’ve seen a lot of changes in church music.  I’ve lived through the days when the Jesus Rock & Roll music that I was listening to most of the time was being described as the Devil’s music in church.  I still remember the letter to the editor I read as a college student when someone wrote about their disappointment in the music at a Christian conference we attended.  “Rock-type music is wrong, no matter what the words say,” wrote this person. (Click here to hear the actual song that drew that complaint). I’m pretty sure nobody in church in those days could possibly have envisioned some of the music that is considered completely mainstream Christian music today.

Of course, it could be all that loud music in those days that has made “huh?” the most common word in my house these days. 

An interesting thing happened a few years back, when rock bands (both Christian and secular) started doing “unplugged” acoustic records. Who knew that all of us old rockers would have an appetite for a quieter, more natural fare?  Those of us who attended concerts in stadiums where the stacks of amplifiers had to be transported in tractor trailer rigs can also enjoy a single voice with an acoustic guitar in a coffee house.

Because music has been so interwoven into the fabric of my life, it is quite natural for me to use music stories and illustrations to talk about life in general.  As favorite son says, “My dad has a song and a story for everything.”

I’m thinking today about how plugged in and amplified our lives have become.  Facebook, twitter, email, LinkedIn, Google+, text messages, YouTube, iTunes, Dish Network, Netflix, Hulu … you get the picture.  And while they can be enjoyable, and even beneficial, we have to deliberately remind ourselves that they are not life. To do that, we need to make time to unplug—to live acoustically—so that we can clearly hear the subtleties of the way God communicates that our daily lives matter to Him.

I have chosen Friday as my “social media fast day” and am working toward getting more and more unplugged on that day.  

This Week's Question:  What day could you go acoustic and how would that help you refocus?