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Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Road Ahead

You have to look where you are going.

Luke 24:32

New International Version (NIV)
32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

Life is a road.
That seems very general and broad and it's meant to be.
The course of life is everything a road would be described as in it's proverbial sense.
The way of life can be described with every thing you think of concerning the kind of road in front us. The hard pavement. The dusty road. The gravel and stones.
The kind of people we meet and the items that intersect our paths make up much of the description for us as well. The angry motorist, cutting people off. The bugs on the windshield, mucking things up. The person in need of help, thumbing it for a ride or broken down and fixing a flat.
Life has so many descriptions it's hard to know what one piece of the travel calls us to understand our relationship with God in the best light.

Maybe we think of life in more of a description of where we have been and where we are going.
The road of life starts early for us. Our first steps. Our first bike we rode. Our first meaningful words.
There's much we hang on to as we cover this course of life. Things our parents told us. Classes our teachers taught us. The lessons that the cruel reality of life shares with us whether we like it or not.

There are milestones in the road. Places where we stop and hold on to some grand memory of an event or person we cherish and hold, near and dear. Moments we might wish we could forget. Times when a moment of instruction was seared into our memories and we cannot let go of it.

Just such a moment was it for two men walking down a road.

Are they looking where they are going? How many of us think we know where we are going when we leave the house? In the proverbial sense of hindsight, we wish we knew what was coming. After we have left the house and moved on down the road, then it becomes clear what we are getting ourselves into on this journey. These two men thought this walk to Emmaus was going to be a simple time of reliving painful memories of a terrible event gone by. How many of us feel as if we have lost something great? Our high school days. College times. A church that once stood proud and tall. Loved ones that are no longer with us. With these days behind us we think that our best days are over and all we are doing now is waiting out the inevitable. Death will consume us one day as well. Life will run its course. All we have left now is pain and suffering and misery.

High school was painful for me. I'm glad it's over.
But, the bi-product of my time in my hometown was that I began to feel an incredible sense of attachment. I never pictured myself ever leaving. I knew my lineage and family history in the area pretty well. I felt as if I owned the place. People knew my grandfather. Most people knew my dad. I was too naive to realize that might not be a good thing. Very first message I gave to you all when I came to Thornville was on "Introductions". I quoted the Rev Dr Randy Stearns who taught my class on evangelism @ MTSO. His words are forever seared into my mind. "Not everybody is going to like you." If you've never had to move or uproot yourself and go somewhere new, you might feel like you are well known. Everybody knows you and it's easy to feel that maybe everybody likes you. That's painful reality for this road of life. Not everyone is going to enjoy your point of view. Not everyone will be passionate about the same things you're passionate about. Not everybody is going to like you.

I wonder what these two guys on this Emmaus road are thinking.
They decided to take this walk after this moment of "graduation" from the dark terrors of losing someone near and dear to them. Maybe they think there is no hope. Maybe they think there is no direction for their lives now. The events they have just passed leaves them empty and longing. Like a kid without a graduation party. Like a girl not taken to prom. Like a church needing to restore itself.

The truth of the road of life is this. Once you've passed a place in the road, it's impossible to go back without causing a pile up of cars behind you. Jesus uttered some implausible words that are hard for us to wrap our hearts around.

Luke 9:62

New International Version (NIV)
62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

We can't go back. High school is over. College is done. The glory days we recall cannot be relived. But, were they are best days? Is there something better waiting for us? In the road of life, what causes us to stop and turn around thinking we missed something? There is nothing we can do about what happened back there and we cannot bring any of it along with us on our journey. It's just memories now. The idea is whether we sit here longing for those moments to come find us again or whether we trudge on ahead to find new items and new people to create something special.

For us Christians, the idea that Jesus walks with us is a treasure.
These two men walking their road of grief find someone else walking also.
They don't recognize him as someone familiar. They welcome his company and honor his presence.
As they walk and talk, they share what is on their hearts and minds. They give and they receive. However long this walk is there is enough time to delve into all the mysteries they don't understand. This 'new person' in their lives shares great truth with them and their hearts and minds are the better for it. They have a choice to make after receiving the knowledge they have partaken in. They could say, "You know, that all sounds nice and well, but I miss what was back there. I'm going to sit here and hope better days come around again."

Or, they could be transformed by what they experience.
What they see and witness when they enter that house in the village of Emmaus will cause them to get up out of their seats and run back to the people they know with enthusiasm and passion. They have something great to tell. They have something meaningful to share. Would have felt any of that of they would have just sat down at home and said a simple "Ho hum"? The world is brand new and life is worth living because of what they experienced. No sadness or sorrow can overcome that truth that God reveals to us. The only way we lose our enthusiasm is when we look back down the road.

And, so, the moment comes before us. What do we do now that we have reached this climactic moment. Do we gripe and complain? Do we begin some blame game, where all everything around us is wrong because we can't take responsibility for ourselves? It's your fault, mom and dad, for not giving me what I needed. It's your fault, teacher, for not telling em what I needed to know. It's your fault, pastor, for not sticking around longer and doing what we wanted you to do.

Nope. We don't get the luxury. Don't get me wrong here. You can do it if you want. Plenty of people do. Instead of venturing down the road of life and finding out what awaits them people will sit down and start their own complain and gripe fest to somehow satisfy their own selfish wants and cares. If we really want to be happy then we get up off the side of the road, we quit thinking about what was behind us, and we start venturing ahead.

Will we scrape our knees on the pavement? Maybe.
Will we fall down and hurt something? Maybe.
Will we need help because we don't where we are going or what we are doing? Most certainly.

The alternative is to sit here and go nowhere.

And, you can't get where you're going just sitting here.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

When Mama Prayed

 It's an incredible load for one person to carry.

1 John 5:14

New International Version (NIV)
14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.

 Had a guy tell me a story one time about his mother.
It seems that in his early years of trying to figure out what to do with his life he came back home and ended up working in the family business. His dad could be a little rough and gruff. Sometimes they didn't see eye to eye on how things needed to be done. One day he and his dad got into it at the place of business and the boy had enough. He headed for the house, the place that he and wife now call home, and began to pack his bags. The end had come and he could take no more.

In the midst of packing his bags, his mother came to speak to him and asked what exactly he was doing. He told his mother that he had enough and was going to leave. Without saying much in return his mother left and continued to pack. As he got ready to head out the door his father entered. "Where you going?", his father asked gruffly. The boy said he was moving out and that was that. His father changed his tone a bit and calmed his boy down. After admitting that he had probably jumped to conclusions and spoke to harshly, he asked his boy to unpack and stay. Life would return to normal in this house. All would be right in the world once again.

Maybe you noticed something in this story. I said at the beginning that this story was about the guy's mother. However, I spent most of the time speaking about the boy and his father. Where was the mother, exactly? It is with this beginning that we will truly understand the role of a mother in our lives.

There is no other person on this earth that understands us quite like this special person we call mother. Even if you did not have a great relationship with your earthly, biological mother, I'm willing to be that there was some woman out there who took you under their wing and cared for you. She wiped your tears, patched you with band-aids, gave you a Popsicle, took you to the pool or the library, cleaned up after your messes, made sure all your clothes fit, made sure your belly was full, made sure you had on clean underwear, made sure you got to bed on time or sat up waiting for you to get home. The list here is truly endless and does not do justice to what this special lady means to our lives. Someone who is referred to as mother does all these thing because of one singular attribute.

Love.

What is special about the word love? Man, it is the one thing all of want and at times have the hardest time finding it. Then we realize that there is this person who always has our back, always will listen to us, always will carry our burdens, because she cares beyond the limits of any other human being on this earth. What is it about the title of Mother that makes a person jump to the word love?

Well, I had to take a careful look at both words and put them side by side for a bit of a comparison.
I have to say, the dictionary does not do justice to the word. The third line of definition was the only line I cared to reproduce here.

Definition of MOTHER

3:  maternal tenderness or affection

If a mother is thought of as equal with the word love then I wonder if maybe we are putting too much on this woman who feels as if the whole world is resting on her shoulders. Look at the word love with me and see all that we think goes into that attribute.

Definition of LOVE

1a (1) :  strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties <maternal love for a child> (2) :  attraction based on sexual desire :  affection and tenderness felt by lovers  
(3) :  affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests <love for his old schoolmates>
 b :  an assurance of affection <give her my love>
2:  warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion <love of the sea>
3a :  the object of attachment, devotion, or admiration <baseball was his first love>
  b (1) :  a beloved person :  darling —often used as a term of endearment
(2) British —used as an informal term of address
4a :  unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another
 
Whether it's intended directly or indirectly, a woman is asked to carry this whole load. She is asked to love and care for and give affection, and I can't help but wonder if it's all too much weight to carry. How can one person envelope all of this? It's true that our mother is just a human being, like any other human being on this earth. She will falter and fail at times. She will forget or misinterpret at times. Who fault is it? Ours, for putting to much on her? Or, hers for trying to carry to heavy a load? The objective is not assign blame, but to love her the way she loves us. Unconditionally. Unselfishly. This woman goes through pains no one could imagine just to allow this life, this child, to enter the world and then feels the pains all through this life watching the child grow and make errors in judgment and never asking for directions or help. It's all heavy with "attachment, devotion and admiration". You are her first love.

Love leads into another special attribute - prayer.
What happens when a mother prays? Carol Trimmer knows the answer to that question.
As the mother of an autistic child she has watched as her son has struggled with the basic emotions and feelings that any socially adjusted person should exhibit. She has seen his at her boy at his best and at his worst. Justin likes music, swimming, plays baseball. He is bright and excels in most of his school work. But, a brain disorder has left him in a place where, at times, he can be alot to handle. Sometimes, Justin can be hard to be around. 

At the time Carol would write the article for Guidepost magazine recalling her amazing answer to prayer. Justin was 11 years old. As the school bus pulls up to home on this day, she wonders if he has had a good day or a bad one. There is a commotion on the buss as the doors open and Justin huffs it up the sidewalk and into the house. It was very easy for other kids at school to only see his differences. Social interaction was not something that came easy for him.

Three years earlier, Justin began at the school where he attended. His mother had been praying for a friend. Just one friend. Someone who could love him and accept him unconditionally. But, finding someone who could handle Justin with his emotional outbursts was an unimaginable task. If he struck out in baseball, he threw a fit. At recess, he was either picked on or ignored. Just one friend. That was all she was asking. In Carol's own words, "The worst thing about his autism was how it isolated him. A friend wasn’t just what I wanted for Justin. It was what he needed."
 
She prayed, "Lord, please, I prayed, let there be someone else who understands my boy." 
 
As a Dublin, OH resident, they were frequenters of the Columbus Zoo.
With a family membership and a lifelong love for animals, they would bring squishy toys and other items to attract their attention as Justin walked around amazed by his surrounding. After an entrance into the house on this hapless day, a trip to the zoo was just what they needed to calm her son down. Still mad about his day, Justin did not immediately change his tune once he realized they were going to the zoo. He hollered and yelled as they entered the gate that afternoon.
With his keen mind for remembering facts, Justin would act like a tour guide at times, reciting all the things he knew about the animals and their surroundings. On this day, however, Justin could not be consoled. Carol would take him to one of his favorite spots. The silverback gorilla's house. With many other kids around and lots of camera flashes going off, Justin would approach the glass and see a silverback known as Mumbah. The patriarch died in May of 2012 at the age of 47. Before he left this earth he would connect with a little boy in a special way only God could have orchestrated.

Mumbah was laying on his side, facing away from the glass. Justin stood there watching him. With all the rejection he had faced at school and with all the people around this day, Carol wondered if they should just go home. Then, Justin suddenly spoke to the gorilla. “This boy at school hit me, Mumbah,” he said. “He kicked me. I wish you had been there to protect me.” What happened next, no one could have predicted. Mumbah got up, came over to the glass, and locked eyes with Justin. Could he have heard the boy through the thick glass? Was there some way he understood what Justin was going through?

In an instant, Justin's shoulders relaxed. His stress left him and the world was calm again. Mumbah ignored the camera flashes and the other kids annoyingly tapping on the glass to get his attention. The only thing that mattered at that moment was Justin. A gorilla in an enclosed habitat and a boy enclosed in his autistic world connected in a moment of special fulfillment. From that point on, every time they would visit the zoo, Mumbah would come over, sit down by glass and focus on Justin. Carol would take a picture, take it home, pasting it on construction paper, having it laminated. Justin's therapists would say how this animal had become a point of serenity and peace for the boy. His mother knew better. Her prayers had been answered.

There is nobody in this world who could quietly stand behind the scenes and lift us up, in her love and prayers, quite like our mothers can. Whether you grow up, close to your family surroundings, close to the town and world you attached too, or whether you are detached from you world because of issues outside your control. There is one person who keeps us grounded and stable.

She loves us. She prays for us. She does it all. For us.

If Jesus takes the whole world upon his shoulders, at the cross, to save us from our sins, then there is only one person who has a chance at all to come close to understanding what carrying that load is like. We call her Mother. Mama. Grandma, GiGi. Grams. Mommaw. Aunt. Wife. Mother.

It is an incredible load for one person to carry. God must have known she could handle it.
Blessings to the special lady who does it all.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Talk

Say what's on your mind.

This message should connect with the early risers.
For those of you who can't bear the sight of morning, like me, maybe a little more painful.

Prayer is a central focus as we begin our day and for all the day long.
In this year of discipleship we need to spend some time thinking about how we talk with God.
Whether you get up early and head to your favorite chair in the living room or if you save everything until it's time to lay down and sleep, there needs to be time to talk with God.

Jesus, we are told, started very early.

Mark 1:35

New International Version (NIV)

Jesus Prays in a Solitary Place

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

Ok, Jesus doesn't head to a living room.
Remember, the son of man has no where to lay his head. He doesn't have an easy chair or a man cave.
He heads out to a solitary place the scriptures say. All by himself. Outdoors.
Hmm. Not ready to have the covers pulled off of me yet. Think I'll just pray right here between the warm sheets. But, lets not overlook the true emphasis here in this passage. If we could play a game of elimination and toss stuff to the side, what is it that really matter from this passage? Are we to model our prayer life exactly as Jesus did? Am I to get up in the morning and put some close on and head out behind Bob Love's house to a solitary place?

Some pray in the morning, some at night. Lets toss the time of day out.
Jesus got up. Some pray up, some while laying down. Lets toss position out.
Jesus left the house Mark's account says. Some pray in the house, some go to McDonald's.
Lets toss out the idea that prayer has to be done in a specific location.

It says here that Jesus went off to a solitary place. Hmm. That seems to be key.
Is your bedroom a solitary place in the morning or evening. If so, good for you. Pray there.
Whether you are upright or laying down, are in solitude? Are you by yourself?
Can you be by yourself, in solitary, at home or even at some restaurant?
The idea of being alone, by yourself, no distractions, no kids yelling or screaming, that is key.
No husband or wife demanding your time or attention. No telephone ringing in your ear.
The demands of life need to sit on the curb side for a moment as we seek to talk with the one who matter the most. He needs and deserves our attention.

But, what do you say once you're there?

Getting to a right place is important. Being alone with God is essential.
Now, what kind of conversation will we have? What will we talk about?
How will I speak to Him? How will he respond?
Should I say anything at all? Should I just sit and listen and wait for him to speak?

For the most part, many of us humans think our needs are minute, insignificant in the big picture of society and the world. God has more important issues to deal with than mine. And, then this scripture from Luke's gospel jumped off the page at me as I thought about the subject of prayer.

Luke 18:1

New International Version (NIV)

The Parable of the Persistent Widow

18 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.

Jesus tells the story about a judge who neither cared for what God thought or what man thought either. Describes life pretty well here on planet earth. That dude on the other end of the line from the credit company really doesn't care about you. He just want to collect the funds. Some times, it seems like the doctor could care less. Write you a script. Send you on your way.

Life can be cruel.

This little old lady comes along and finally takes life by the horns and gets life's attention.
All because of one attribute. Persistence.
That's a word worth taking a deeper look at.

Definition of PERSISTENT

1:  existing for a long or longer than usual time or continuously: as
a :  retained beyond the usual period <a persistent leaf>
b :  continuing without change in function or structure <persistent gills>
c :  effective in the open for an appreciable time usually through slow volatilizing <mustard gas is persistent>
d :  degraded only slowly by the environment <persistent pesticides>
e :  remaining infective for a relatively long time in a vector after an initial period of incubation <persistent viruses>
2 a :  continuing or inclined to persist in a course(see persist)
b :  continuing to exist despite interference or treatment <a persistent cough> <has been in a persistent vegetative state for two years>

While reading the above definitions feel free to 'amen' when the description applies to you.
There are definitely some persistent people out there.
I know it personally. My wife will stand over me telling me to get up in the morning.
Usually, she gets the dog and the kids involved. Pulling covers off of me. Licking my face and scratching me. Persistence sums up my happy household in the morning.

Jesus says this mindset should be ours when approaching God.
Sometimes, talking to God might seem like we are dealing with cold and uncaring party, like the judge. We are to be like the old woman. Persistent until we can't stand it.

What we find is that God is listening.
God is not cold and uncaring like we thought. He is there and ready to answer.
The answer may not come right away.
Hang on to what we are asking for and keeping knocking at the door.

Say what's on your mind and keep it coming.
The answer is only a persistent knock away.