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The Call (a poem of focus…)

The Call (a poem of focus…)

The Call of a follower of Jesus does NOT include obsessing with everything around us that seems to counter the way we would like the world to go.  If you are there, you’ve lost the joy and peace of your call from the God of the universe, as my poem below attempts to remind us:
_______

If we fall 
For what we see
We’ve lost the call
That is ours to be

“Pick up your cross”
Were His words to us.
Not look around
To gripe and fuss

A simple call
“…and follow Me.”
But hard it is
When obsessed are we 

So take your eyes
Off all that’s wrong
And turn your mind
To what’s unseen

When life is lived
As Jesus did
What gripes you now
Will soon be rid

Our minds will seek
The Call of Life
The Way of Truth
Away from strife.

So focus our minds
On what’s unseen
Priorities will shift
From now to then

What lasts will call
Not fleeting things
Eternal will rise
Over temporal flings

Our neighbors’ needs
Will waken our thoughts
As their souls cry out
We’ll connect the dots 

So trust and obey
This is our call
No matter if
It’s big or small

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18 

When our minds are focused on the unseen, our priorities will shift to eternal over temporal; lasting over fleeting.  And that which lasts forever, the souls of our fellow man, will be our priority, versus those things that merely satisfy (or anger) for a moment or two.

The Impeachment Trial & US

The Impeachment Trial & US

As I watched some excerpts from Trump’s second Impeachment Trial, it seemed to me that the voices expressed in the Senate Chamber merely echo the millions of voices outside that chamber. One side is convinced they are righteous and the other side is evil. While the other side is convinced it is righteous and the other side is actually the evil one. 

This is not merely about right and wrong. Although at its core right and wrong hang in the balance. But what precede one’s inability to detect right and wrong is the fog of self-deception. And that self-deception is driven by one sin that resides in the soul of each person within the impeachment chamber.  Pride has taken center stage in this trial, both in the chamber, and outside it in the hearts of millions across this land. 

We each remain convinced that we are right, and the other guy is wrong. We are righteous, the others are evil. And based on our particular standard, perhaps that is true. 

But our standard is never the right standard. Our positions are never completely righteous. In fact, if there is any degree of impurity in me, then I am not pure. And likewise, the same applies to any who would throw stones at those they despise.  Let’s not forget, to despise is merely one shade of gray removed from the black of hate. And to hate is to kill in one’s heart, whether the blow is struck outwardly or not. 

So if we are all impure, and self-deceived, when embracing our unique standard, which is the standard by which we should measure ourselves (first)?  It is an external, abiding, and eternal standard that does not change from person to person, or nation to nation. 

God’s standard which affirms you and I are both unrighteous is that unbending and non-negotiable standard. We are all filthy. Were our thoughts and actions to be put on trial in our own “Impeachment Trial” we would all be found guilty. I don’t know the specifics of your guilt, nor do I need to know. All that matters for me, is that my guilt and filthiness exceeds any righteousness I might outwardly display. And all my finger pointing at my political foes, could never make right the impurities in my life. 

So what is it that you, and I, and America needs more than anything at this time?  

Humility. The opposite of what we see on display in our lives and across every bit of media every day: Pride. Pride. Pride. 

But we should remember this about the original and universal sin:

“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” Proverbs‬ ‭16:18‬

 “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” James‬ ‭4:6‬ 

So rather than remain transfixed by all of the finger pointing and puffiness being displayed by our nation’s leaders this week, we should chart a new course, and consider some old advice.  

The date was June 28, 1787 and our nation’s founders had been locked in a dispute for several weeks over the specifics of our founding.  So Benjamin Franklin arose and shared the following words, which we would do well to reread, and take heed:

“The small progress we have made after 4 or five weeks close attendance & continual reasonings with each other — our different sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many noes as ays, is methinks a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the Human Understanding. We indeed seem to feel our own want of political wisdom, since we have been running about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history for models of government, and examined the different forms of those Republics which having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution now no longer exist. And we have viewed Modern States all round Europe, but find none of their  Constitutions suitable to our circumstances.

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“In this situation of this Assembly groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine Protection. — Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance.

.

“I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that “except the Lord build they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall be become a reproach and a bye word down to future age. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human Wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, and conquest.

.

“I therefore beg leave to move — that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that service.

Prayer, humility, and looking upwards to God to confess my own imperfections, instead of outward to point out my neighbors’ faults, is where we must begin. Anything short of this will merely quicken the demise of a once influential nation.

The Disciples’ Dilemma is Ours Too

The Disciples’ Dilemma is Ours Too

Matthew sat down behind his tax collector’s booth. It was just another day for him. He’d been doing this for enough years now that everyone knew he was a wealthy man. He had no external needs, or even wants. Yet he was empty inside.

This emptiness had most recently turned Matthew’s attention to the Torah.  He wondered if the answers to his questions might be found there, or via some of the other Jewish prophets that were a part of his heritage. 

As Matthew’s mind grappled with the teachings he had been exposed to in the synagogue, he harassed the man in front of him into paying his taxes. The grumbling Jew complained about the exorbitant “surcharge” that Matthew routinely tacked on for everyone that came before him. Of course folks hated him, but Matthew considered himself an astute businessman, and his wealth seemed to confirm his perspective. 

Yet the more wealth Matthew accumulated, the greater his emptiness grew. 

All of a sudden a voice interrupted Matthew’s thoughts. He had noticed a man standing a few feet away observing his tactics with the taxpayers shuffling before him.  But when the man spoke, it startled Matthew:

“Matthew, follow me and be my disciple.”

As Matthew rose to comply, he instantly recognized the man as Jesus, the one everyone had been taking about, because of his teachings and the miracles performed by this man from Galilee…

___________

It was now three years after that first encounter with Jesus. Matthew was grappling with his future, along with the ten other men he had come to love. Jesus, the One who had called Matthew to follow Him and become His disciple had just ascended to heaven, after suffering a humiliating death, and rising from the grave, just a few weeks earlier. 

As the disciples struggled with the departure of the man who had said to each of them “follow me and be my disciple” they openly acknowledged that they had several options. 

As I’ve evaluated their circumstances, losing their Rabbi, the Son of God, with whom they had spent three years, I believe the following options are likely ones they considered:

1. Return to the normalcy of their previous occupations. 

2. Take the knowledge they had gained from Jesus and fight the evils of their government, seeking to establish a “righteous” earthly kingdom. After all, this is what most of their family and friends regularly complained about.

3. Follow the example of Jesus, and share the Truth of the Gospel, that would transform the hearts of their neighbors, while also securing eternal life for all how would embrace the Truth.

The first option would have been the easiest, and perhaps the most secure. They knew how to fish, or collect taxes, or whatever their previous profession had been, before Jesus. This would have been comfortable and required no sacrifice, courage, or “cross-bearing.” But it also would have had zero impact on your life and mine, or literally hundreds of millions of Christ-followers over the last 2,000 years. 

The second option would have been fraught with risk, and threat to their own personal safety. They knew and could see the rampant corruption in society, from their government, the tax system, and the religious establishment. Rome was an evil empire. The Jewish rulers were corrupt and self-serving. And the disciples had previously inferred in their conversations with Jesus that they were waiting for the Messiah to overthrow the corrupt institutions of their day. Had they chosen this option though, it’s certain their lives would have been cut short, and their influence lost. Furthermore, the Gospels that tell us of Jesus would likely have never been written, and probably none of the rest of the New Testament. 

The third option, while seemingly foolish and futile, by any earthly standard, was no doubt the hardest for the disciples to consider, from a human standpoint.

Their training and experience would have suggested option one. Their passion, longing for justice, and perhaps even power and notoriety would have steered them to option two. Yet they chose the least likely option. They chose to simply follow the example of Jesus. 

Their three years with Jesus allowed them to see the heart of God, up close and personal. They saw that, while Jesus was surrounded with corrupt politicians, government officials, religious hypocrites, and injustice everywhere, the Son of God did not commit His fleeting time trying to right all the wrongs of society. Jesus was disengaged politically, but not because He didn’t care about government.  (In fact, it was Jesus who ordained government, both as the institution He would use to raise some rulers and demote others, while offering some degree of human oversight of the affairs of men.)

But Jesus knew that there would never be any true external reformation unless there was first internal transformation.  The heart would never be transformed via kingdoms, politicians, laws, or human initiatives. So Jesus committed His energies, passion, and work, to the heart, and His example illustrated His priority continuously.

Jesus did not fear the leaders of His day, as He routinely confronted them, rebuked them, and left them speechless. But it’s clear from Jesus’ example He did not attempt to overthrow them, or replace them with better men, or encourage others to rebel against them. His mission was so much greater than influencing or extinguishing a temporal earthly kingdom. 

So Jesus placed the overwhelming focus of his three years of ministry in speaking eternal Truths to the hearts of His neighbors. He understood and taught that His neighbor was anyone in need, and so like the Good Samaritan, Jesus showed mercy and compassion to the throngs that He encountered daily.  And those throngs included every kind of “despicable” person you can imagine. If I’m honest, people just like me.

With Jesus as their teacher and perfect example, is it any wonder that the disciples, whom we now call Apostles, followed directly in the footsteps of their Mentor?  They could do no less. Of course, they likely continued to generate income to meet their needs. And they likely remained interested in their political circumstances, and other temporal matters. But those issues did not dominate their lives. In fact, there’s no record that they allocated even the smallest part of their time, treasure or talent to those earthly endeavors or distractions. 

So of all the options the Apostles could have chosen, they chose the one that was eternally significant. The other options were temporal, at best. But they understood the words of Jesus when He taught them:

“What does it profit a man if he gains the world, but loses his soul?”

So they gained not only heaven, and resisted the temptation to choose the lesser options, but they also led many to God, by sharing the kingdom of God, versus the kingdoms of men.  They pursued and imparted an eternal kingdom and forsook the lure of the temporal one. 

If you are a follower of Jesus today, you can thank not only the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross 2,000 years ago, but also the fact that eleven ordinary men, with no formal training and no external credentials, were willing to simply follow the example of Jesus.  They forsook, or diminished, their professions, and the lure of power and prestige, and instead they chose the eternal over the temporal. Should we do any less?

“I have given you an example to follow.  Do as I have done to you.”  John 13:15

“We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the One who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work.”  John 9:4

Mechanics, Brain Surgery & Politicians

Mechanics, Brain Surgery & Politicians

If you use a mechanic for brain surgery, the mechanic will fail, and you may die. If you use a hammer to repair a windshield, the hammer will fail and the windshield will shatter.

Likewise, as long as we continue to consult politicians for their answers to problems that flow from the heart, we will continue to fail, no matter if we have a donkey or elephant in office. 

I wrote an article a few years ago entitled “There is no political solution to a spiritual problem.”  This is exactly where we find ourselves today. And because we have sought to solve our spiritual problems via political solutions we continue to fail year in and year out. Trump did not solve them. And truthfully, Biden will not solve them either. 

So is there any solution?  Well first what are the problems that are destroying this nation?  

Hatred, injustice, anger, abortion, addictions (of all kinds), idolatry, self-sufficiency, pride, rebellion, and more. All of these problems don’t exist because we don’t have enough laws. Rather, they are alive and well within all of our hearts, to some extent, because we have failed to follow two laws:

💡 “Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Matthew 22:37-39

Jesus is our only Hope and He is the only One who can solve the problems of our hearts, which is where all the sin that plagues our nation today resides, regardless of political party. 

So are you a Jesus follower?  Have you looked to Washington to solve our problems?  As we begin a new year, and even a new Administration, would you consider a new paradigm?  Let’s try shifting our focus from DC to Jesus, from politicians to our neighbors. As we do, we will experience a miraculous healing, first in our hearts, and then the hearts of our neighbors, as God does what only He can do. 

💡“Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.” Psalms 146:3 

💡“Don’t put your trust in mere humans. They are as frail as breath. What good are they?” Isaiah 2:22 

💡“And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart, so they will obey my decrees and regulations. Then they will truly be my people, and I will be their God.” Ezekiel 11:19-20 

💡“I said, ‘Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you.’” Hosea 10:12

2021:  Same Old Song? Just Another Verse?

2021:  Same Old Song? Just Another Verse?

2021 is here. Another year in a string of years that, when bookended together, represent your life, and mine. Just two days ago a friend of mine passed away. Unexpectedly. The final bookend to his life was 2020. I was profoundly saddened for him and his family. 

But if you’re reading this, you made it through 2020, and have once again begun what you’ve done for a number of decades now. Another year. If your life were a song, 2021 could be just another verse in that song. 

But, should it be?  Should your life be characterized year after year with sameness?  Should the tune others have come to recognize when they encounter you or me, continue to be the one we play as each new year creeps closer to our final one?  

Resolutions are something many of us make when a new year rolls around. I suppose the reason we make them is because we want the new year to be different than the prior one.  We make them because we think back over the verse of last year’s song and we recognize things we don’t like, or we don’t see things we wish had been there.  And so, we rise up, for a day or two, with a feeble attempt to change the song, not merely add another verse to the same old tune.

As I considered these thoughts, and the many years I have struggled with simply repeating the same old song, decade after decade, I went to the actual definition of resolution.  Of course the conventional definition of the word in the context of a new year is generally “the act of determining; firmness or resolve.”  But there was another use of the word resolution that, in the context of our theme of a song, seemed to be right on point.  

Resolution in a musical context means, “the progression of a chord from dissonance to consonance.”  With music, when you have dissonance you have “a mingling of sounds that strike the ear harshly; a clashing or unresolved music chord.”  But dissonance also means, “inconsistency between the beliefs one holds or between one’s actions and beliefs.”  

The second word in the definition of a musical resolution though is “consonance” which simply means “harmony or agreement among components.”  In music, “notes that sound good together when played at the same time are called consonant; one can listen to them for a long time without a feeling that the music needs to change.”

So a musical resolution is transitioning from sounds that are harsh and clash and suggest a need for change, to notes that are pleasant, stable and do not require change.”

What an interesting analogy of what so many of us do each new year.  We look back at our lives in the previous year(s) and we see a life of dissonance.  We recognize that many of the things we profess to believe, or we know to be true, are not evident in our lives.  We see inconsistency in our example.  And that inconsistency often strikes others harshly, even those we love.

So we “resolve” to move away from personal dissonance towards consonance.  We thus seek a life in the new year where our lives are in harmony with those deep values and beliefs we say we hold to.  Whether it’s something as simple as eating what we know to be healthy, to reconciling our outward actions with what we know to be true inwardly, we all seek to harmonize our lives.  

But if your past decades will predict your future course, then it’s safe to say that whatever you resolve today, will soon be another dissonant conclusion.  Even though the definition of “resolution” includes the word “firmness,” it’s likely that your life and mine will lack resolve in 2021.

So why is this?  Fundamentally, because we are frail.  I know I am.  Over and over and over I say I will do “x” and then I don’t.  At least not permanently.  

The Apostle Paul, perhaps one of the most resolute Christians ever, had this to say about this struggle:

“And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” Romans 7:18-19

In a sense, Paul was acknowledging the dissonance that existed in his own life.  He too struggled with doing (actions) versing knowing, or his beliefs.  But…

Yes, thankfully there is the word “but” to offer us Hope.  Note what Paul said just a few verses later:

“I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.” Romans 7:21-25 

I too struggle with the very things Paul was talking about.  It can be something as simple as eating healthy.  Or it can be something as serious as aligning my daily walk for Jesus, with what God’s Word says it should be.

But the greatest secret I have ever found to instilling “firmness and resolve” into my resolutions has been what Paul disclosed above.  If I want to be “free” from the song of prior years, if I want to move from dissonance to consonance, and if I want my life to reflect a new song, “the answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”  

It’s oh so simple, and oh so hard.  My life’s ruts, the harsh, dissonant chords I’ve gotten used to playing, are such a part of my life that it’s impossible for me to permanently change them.  But there is Jesus.  And He can literally transform your life and mine from one that is harsh, unresolved, and clashing, to one that is pleasant, appealing, and others desire to listen to.  And it’s not you or me.  But Him.  If I ever forget this, my life will once again be dissonant.

So as you consider your resolutions for 2021, why not begin with the one that is the foundation for every other one.  Resolve to pursue a new song.  Let Jesus be the conductor of your life.  Let Him write the music.  And let Him take total control of your life.  

You might ask, “how do I do that?”  1 John 2:6 tells us how:

“Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.” 

“Live your life as Jesus did.”  That’s the secret.  And finding out how to do that requires, or I should say, it “demands” that I find out just how Jesus lived by daily investing time in God’s Word, since we are told that Jesus is the very “Word of God.”  So to know Jesus means to know the Bible.  That is the foundation.

If you will resolve to reading the Bible in 2021, then your life this year will take on a new song.  The dissonance will become consonance.  And regardless of what goes on in the world this year, it will be the absolute best year of your life, as 2020 was mine.  

Below are some thoughts on how you can make the Bible the foundation of your life, which will in turn strengthen you in every other resolution you might make:

🔹Practical Reading Suggestions

  • Download the YouVersion Bible App on your phone.  (With the Brown Holy Bible icon).
  • Go to “Plans” and click on “Find Plans”
  • Go to “Through the Bible”
  • Click on “Whole”
  • Find “Read Through the Bible” Plan (It’s a one year plan)
  • Click “Start Plan”
  • My favorite version is the New Living Translation (NLT).  Not only is it in modern vocabulary, but it has a great Audio option.
  • I both read (with eyes) and listen (with my ears) via the Bible App.  Even when I’m reading with my eyes, I have the audio playing, so I can see and hear simultaneously.  It helps me to better understand and retain what I’m reading. 
  • Regarding the “Audio” option, it’s pretty much all I listen to anymore when I’m driving, walking/exercising, etc. It connects well with any Bluetooth device.  Also, the NLT audio is by far the most pleasant to listen to, in my opinion.  It also includes dramatization where various voices are used to “act out” the stories in the Gospels and Acts.
  • I recommend you Register with “You Version” so you can track your Bible reading, interact with friends and so much more.  If you do, please send me a friend request so we can encourage each other via the app.
  • If you start on this journey, and have any questions whatsoever, please reach out to me. There’s nothing more important to me than encouraging others to read the Bible. So if I can help in any way, including questions or problems with the Bible app, please let me know. 
  • There is one other Audio Bible that actually has become my favorite and it’s the NIV Audio Bible Dramatized.  If you’re interested in this one, it can be purchased online or listened to for free here:  https://classic.biblegateway.com/audio/dramatized/niv/Gen.1

So I pray that these meager thoughts will in some way, encourage, inspire, or motivate you to pick up God’s Word and begin afresh in 2021. Let this particular resolution be the one that enables you to succeed beyond anything your heart can imagine.

Begin a new song… by reading God’s Word, everyday, for the rest of your life!

“When I discovered your words, I devoured them. They are my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God of Heaven’s Armies.”  Jeremiah 15:16