Archive for December, 2019

Life Isn’t Fair

Posted: December 31, 2019 in Meditations
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My wife went to work early, before 7 AM. She headed to the bathroom when her feet flew out from under her on a tile floor. Her head slammed into the corner of a brick wall. That was four months ago. She presently deals with headaches, fatigue, and dizziness from a moderate traumatic brain injury. Our income stopped, bureaucratic red tape still holds up the first workman’s compensation benefit. Countless rehabilitation appointments do nothing to address her issues. We simply check the boxes as a duty to the system and wait. My wife, in her frustration, says, “But this wasn’t my fault.” And she is right. This isn’t her fault. But who said life is fair? Who is going to tell my daughter-in-law that her two miscarriages are fair? Who is going to tell the orphan in Haiti that his station in life is fair?

My first date with my wife was a double date with my friend David and his wife Joyce. I loved that man. He was so many things that I knew I wasn’t. David committed himself to academics while my mind wandered to women and sports. He served as a pastor in New York City and in Springfield, Missouri. I taught Sunday School. I don’t say this to disparage myself but rather to illustrate my deep admiration for my brother David. He stood up for me at my wedding. He went on to become one of the top Old Testament scholars in the country. I’ve listened to his lectures for hours on You Tube. A long time ago David walked away from his faith. He concluded, not only is God not fair – he is a monster. Joyce and his two sons left him. He remarried and continues to lecture on the Bible he no longer believes to be true.

My dad comes from a family of eleven children. Grandma’s daughters loved to tease her with a question, “Mama, who do you love the most?” Grandma’s response remained singular, “Why, whoever needs it the most.” Some would say that is a diplomatic response, I would say that response reflects the heart of God. The human essence is this, we are created by and for God. We exist to serve. My father took me aside at Christmas and said, “Phil, you and Steve are not going to receive gifts of money from me while I live. I am going to help your sisters who need a boost. Fair? Not remotely relevant. My dad serves the family by loving the individuals that need it the most.

Paul said, “I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”  Philippians 4:12,13.  In 1 Thessalonians 1:6 Paul says, “So you received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you. In this way, you imitated both us and the Lord.”  Circumstance never dictated who God was to Paul. Life in Christ had nothing to do with fairness. Life had everything to do with service to the Living God. And so it is with us. Regardless of personal suffering, the Holy Spirit puts joy in our hearts. Even in human despair, we can sing a new song. An old hymn by Michael Card, Joy In The Journey, speaks to the life we live in Christ, the fruit of service to Almighty God – even when life isn’t fair.

There is a joy in the journey,

There’s a light we can love on the way.

There is a wonder and wildness to life,

And freedom for those who obey.

All those who seek it shall find it,

A pardon for all who believe.

Hope for the hopeless and sight for the blind

To all who’ve been born of the Spirit.

Love Note To Mama

Posted: December 24, 2019 in Meditations

 

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My heart froze the first time I saw you in the Fall of 1979. The bloom of youth, a smile and personality that lit up a room – in that moment I couldn’t dare dream that girl might one day be my wife. Now, forty years later, I awe at the goodness of God and the miracle of love, the husband who knows full well he married above his station. Loyalty, faithfulness, perseverance, selflessness: you instruct my life, you push me to be a better man. You’ve shown me the face of God and I am indeed a rich man.

Ours is a love burnished by the Holy Spirit. We entered our partnership flawed and incomplete. I had a good heart with a woeful inability to express itself in fundamental ways, yet you loved me. Coming out of a broken home, you wrestled with fear and trust. But you never ran, you pressed on. You seized the possible and embraced God for the impossible. We’ve had forty years to discover the power of prayer and the healing balm of common decency and selfless love. The journey continues, the miracle of the divine unfolds, a love born, fed, and cultivated by a knowing God.

Four children, four brilliant torches of light – I cannot imagine a better gift in the entire world. What you invested in those unique children of God escapes the bounds of words. Each one of those rascals knows who the rock is; it’s Mama. I love you for every drop of blood, sweat and tears you poured into those lives. You understood better than me that we are God’s trustees. You saw fledgling warriors for God. I saw imps, messes, and impending disasters! And now? Four adults speak into my life – what a glorious legacy.

Mama, we enter this last season of life sobered by the vagaries of a fallen world. No human institution will ever adequately address the sin problem. But together we affirm the truth of the Gospel of Christ. We live the ongoing miracle of transformation. The knowing touch of your hand, the smell of your hair – these are no mere traces of human affection. No, these are the mirrors of God’s majesty, his love, his faithfulness, his intimacy. Our love born of flesh is now born of the Spirit, ordained to glorify the Great God, Infinite Goodness. Both of us in death will proclaim, “Christ is all that matters.” I love you, honey, with a whole heart. Thank you.

 

You Never Know

Posted: December 17, 2019 in Meditations

 

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I am 65 years old. I have no idea when my life will end. I only know I am closer to the end than the beginning. Can anyone tell me what tomorrow brings? This very day could be the most significant day of my life. You never know. Life proves to be a strange ride filled with convoluted twists and turns. Expect the unexpected. Right? My world as a Christian is ordered and predicated with absolutes. Life is not momentary series of actions and reactions within a random universe. But my life does get crazy. I live in a realm of angels and demons. Spiritual warfare permeates my sensibilities – pretty weird stuff to the agnostic. I’m never alone. The presence of Holy God abides within my being, a senior partner who enervates life out of death. That new life in Christ asserts intention, ordained purpose, day by day, hour by hour. And yet, I rarely understand the divine in time. My moments require faith and obedience rather than clarity. For me, God indeed works in mysterious ways; he demands trust without borders.

The Apostle Paul and his partner Barnabas barely escaped with their lives from Iconium, a city located in the interior of modern day Turkey. The full story can be found in Acts 14. They come upon a small Roman colony, a town called Lystra. Paul meets a man lame from birth and heals him. The miracle understandably excites the town. They mistake Paul and Barnabas for Hermes and Zeus. “Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, humans like you.” Acts 14:15  The missionaries do their best to share their gospel of Christ to an eager but confused people. Meanwhile the mob from Iconium tracks down Paul and Barnabas, incites the crowd, and stones Paul. Believing him dead, they dump his body outside the city walls. A battered Paul awakens and goes back into the city – an action I still do not understand. Shortly thereafter they leave Lystra and continue on their missionary journey.

In that moment, what do you think Paul understood? I know what I might have understood. God healed a man, a bunch of pagans thought I was a god, I quickly became a demon, I got battered within an inch of my life, woke up outside the city walls a bloody mess, and did the unthinkable – I went back into the town that just tried to kill me. I believe Paul would say, “I have no idea what the divine was doing in time with and through my life.” Paul and Barnabas know one way to live, trust and obey. The rest is up to God. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5,6  They don’t know what God knows and that is okay with them. Is that okay with us? Will we trust without borders – even when life appears to be totally insane in the moment?

Two years later Paul returns to Lystra with a new partner named Silas. A small church thrives in town. We meet Timothy for the first time, a promising young Christian. The importance of that awful near death experience two years prior all makes sense now. Paul sees the divine in time. Timothy joins Paul and Silas as a coworker for the remainder of the second missionary journey that brings the Gospel to Europe for the first time. Two of Paul’s letters in the New Testament bear his name. Timothy ultimately pastors the important church at Ephesus. He becomes the son Paul never had. Who knew? God knew, God knows.

Can you point out significant moments in your life, moments that passed unappreciated until years later? I had lunch with a pastor from Chicago years ago when I lived in southern Missouri. He asked if I knew anyone that might be a fit for ministry in his church. I gave him a name. My sister and her family now worship at a church in greater Chicago that was founded by that young man. We don’t know the significance of any given moment. But trust me, in God’s economy each moment is significant. Never forget, you are created by and for God, ordained with purpose each moment of each day for his glory. Celebrate the glorious mystery of your life. Trust him. Be bold. In the end, Christ is all that matters.

 

 

 

Living By Faith

Posted: December 14, 2019 in Meditations
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Fred Rogers, the children’s television host, struggled to assemble a tent during a shoot. Try as he might, Mr. Rogers failed to put the tent together. He finally gasped, “I can’t do it. I need another person to help me.” His television director offered to rig the tent to easily snap into position. Fred said, “No, I like the scene just the way it happened.” When asked why, Fred Rogers replied, “Children need to know real life isn’t what we expect. Sometimes we fail; sometimes we need help.” Life is unpredictable, a mixed bag of success and failure, calm and crisis, joy and sorrow. We never figure it out. So how do we cope? How do we roll with the surprises life inevitably confronts us with?

Acts 12 is a gift to us. The Bible never sugarcoats life. God does not want to blindside us with a false sense of security. He challenges us to live our lives on principle rather than emotion. If we quit our jobs on our worst day, how many of us could hold down a job? “The just shall live by faith.” Habakkuk 2:4  We trust God in life. We do not trust ourselves to wind our way through circumstance. At least that is the way life should work. Too often we forget, we panic, we lose our way. Jesus warned us, “You will be hated, scorned, and some of you will die because of me.” Acts 12 is a terrifying tale of circumstance, principled trust, and glorious deliverance.

James the Apostle is dead, executed by sword to the delight of the Jews in Jerusalem. Peter, under guard in prison, awaits his execution. “The church was earnestly praying to God for him.” Acts 12:5  Don’t forget, they just lost James – by all accounts, a devastating loss to the church. Their prayers added up to a big fat zero in the answered-prayer column. God must have seemed far away in that moment. Did they doubt? You bet they did. Peter? No one is more surprised than Peter when he finds himself alone on a darkened street, a free man. Fear, doubt, and everything in between tortured their minds as it does ours. Despite pounding hearts, they lived by faith, they acted on principle. They knew one basic truth, Christ is all that matters” But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.” Acts 12:16  Have you been surprised when God answered prayer? We all have. Have you been disappointed or worse when God didn’t intervene in circumstance? Again, we’ve all been there. Let’s be honest, much of life is a mystery. And that won’t change this side of heaven. We eventually find out the “who” is much more important than the “why”.

Jesus Christ, Son of God, born of woman, crucified, risen, now seated at the right hand of God the Father: that is our truth. Created by and for God: that is our reality. So, brother and sister, stand tall and live life with purposed ferocity. We cannot assemble the tent of a well-lived life alone. No matter how we try, we fail. Disappointment, fear, and the unknown thwart us. God is our advocate, the Holy Spirit is our senior partner. Together we snap that tent into place and anchor it stake by stake into the living principled word of God. Be bold, trust God. In the end, Christ is all that matters.

 

God, I Miss Her

Posted: December 10, 2019 in Meditations

 

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My Aunt Faith lost her battle to cancer thirty years ago at the peak of her powers, a brilliant force for all that is deemed good in this world. And I miss her, God, I miss her. She remains an icon to all who knew her. If you listen to a recording of her teachings, you will understand why. The rare seer articulates the truths of Scripture within the fabric of life. Faith had that ability to challenge hearts to a way forward that puts flesh and soul to the plow of the Gospel. Platitudes melt and volition to spiritual revolution arise. Faith called us to arms with humor that softened an uncompromising alacrity. God, did you have to take her so young?

My aunt was born in a world of want far from her adult home of New York City. From all accounts, Faith was painfully shy. One of eleven children, it was easy to lose this little blonde jewel in the hustle and bustle. She went to college in Greeley, Colorado. Her dry wit made Faith a family treasure but nothing betrayed the person and calling that still dominates our memories today. Who would think a life in rural North Carolina and eastern Colorado could prepare woman for ministry in New York City? And who would imagine a shy blonde woman could command respect in Harlem? God could, and he did. Did you have to take her so young?

“It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword.” Acts 12:1,2  James was one of three with Jesus at the Mount of Transfiguration. Jesus poured himself into Peter, James, and John like no others. And yet, ten years later he is killed like a dog. Why did we lose the best at the peak of his powers? “When Herod saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also.” Acts 12:3  Imagine the alarm of the church, James is dead and Peter is soon to follow. “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.”  Acts 12:5  The church earnestly prayed for James and he died. From their perspective, I’m sure they were crushed when the worst happened. How do you think the church felt with Peter in prison? They feared the worst; they had every reason to doubt a miracle. Peter faced the same doubts. If James died, why on earth would God spare me? The rest of Acts 12 tells the miracle of Peter’s escape from prison. Peter and the church were surprised by God’s intervention. Their prayers were answered. Why Peter and not James? Only God knows. We call it providence and leave it alone. Still, I ask, did you have to take him at the peak of his powers?

Faith poured herself into me as a boy. I spent summer days in the Bronx. I played in the streets while Faith worked. Cars slowed down and yelled, “Cracker!” I smiled, waved back. Sometimes ignorance is a blessing. She pursued me as a teenager and college student, gave me books to read, literature I wouldn’t find in local libraries or seminaries. Point of view means everything and she wanted me to live in the skin of the oppressed. My kids often wonder why I react emotionally to bigotry and condescension. I believe a big chunk of my aunt lives in me, a piece that will die with me. I lacked the maturity to marinate in her wisdom at that time but the heart does not forget an investment. The word of God truly does not return void. I’m grateful to say, “Aunt Faith, I was not a waste of your time.” And that legacy passes to my children. my Elizabeth is only 20. I pour intention into her life as Faith poured into mine.

Aunt Faith passed to glory, she surrendered the baton of ministry to the capable hands of others. That’s how God works. On the Urban Youth Alliance site, I read these words, “The mother of Urban Youth Alliance, Rev. Faith Brown, loved New York City. She loved the drug addict, she loved the gang member, and she deeply loved the inner city.” My aunt dearly loved a little oblivious boy from Wisconsin named Phillip. God, I miss her.

Peace Beyond Understanding

Posted: December 6, 2019 in Meditations
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When somebody has life by the tail, it’s pretty hard to tell that individual how to live their life. Why should they listen to you, to me? What do you have to offer that they don’t already have? There is an old saying, “You don’t realize Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.” I love to read history. Over and over again, history spins tales of fortunes lost, loves lost, lives destroyed and tragically ended – all within the span of days. Life’s trappings create an illusion of well-being. Life is good until it isn’t.

In 2005, I fell 26 feet off a two story roof gable. The fact that I survived is a miracle in itself, I landed on the back of my head and shoulders, my life forever changed. The darkest hour lasted seven years, years filled with prescription drugs, unrelenting headaches, unpredictable drifts into paranoia, and yes, psychotic breaks. When my life reduced to the size of a quarter my prayer was, “Lord, make my life a little bigger than it was yesterday.” My keen mind could no longer memorize a simple phrase. Retention was a futile exercise, sand slipping through fingers, a dream fading to mist. And yet God was there. In spite of the chaotic tumble of my brain, I knew God was there. And that simple conviction was enough to live each day for what it was.

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” Isaiah 26:3  I often wondered what went through people’s minds when the end was near. Was it dread? Was it anger? How do you know until you sense the shadow of death? The body instinctively speaks to us when we cross that line. I’ve been there. After seven years I was the wind up watch that had run its cycle. I was done. Barring a miracle, my time on earth was near an end. At that realization, peace swept my heart. I knew I belonged to God. No matter what happened, I was good with that. My Aunt Norma lost her battle with cancer at 64. My father asked his sister in that last month, “Norma, do you feel short changed?” She never hesitated, “Heavens no. I’m 64 years old!” Norma knew, I know, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard our heart and our mind in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7 We are his and he is mine.

How will you face adversity when your life gets turned upside down? Where is your identity? Only you can answer that question. Only you and God know that answer. Life happens, it happens to all of us. David proclaimed, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” Psalm 23:4  Do you know that peace? You can. I am the living proof. So be bold, trust without borders in the Living God. In the end, Christ is all that matters.

 

 

 

Mr Rogers, A Window to God

Posted: December 4, 2019 in Meditations

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This past weekend I saw a movie with my daughter, “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood”. At the end of the movie as credits rolled, a packed house broke out with applause. Every individual knew something special had just happened, we saw the face of God. We witnessed life: betrayal, pain, hate, conflicted love, consequences, possibilities, forgiveness, and new beginnings. In Fred, we saw Christ, we saw our own possibilities.

I want everyone to see this movie – I won’t betray the plot. Allow me to share one small nugget early on in the movie that struck my heart. Lloyd Vogel, a notorious feature writer, interviews Fred Rogers, the PBS television star, over the phone. Fred Rogers asks Lloyd, “Do you know why you are the most important person in the world to me? Lloyd responds sarcastically, “No Fred, I have no idea.” Fred answers, “Because you are talking to me right now.” Fred was not pandering. He meant every word he spoke. He recognized the precious unique life of a man named Lloyd Vogel, created by and for God. Nothing Lloyd could do was going to change that conviction.

I saw my Heavenly Father in that phone call. I immediately pictured myself sitting in my perch, my chair in my house. It’s where I read, it’s where I talk to God. I heard God say to me, “Phil, do you know why you are the most important person in the world to me right now? Because you are talking to me.” My heart rushed, my eyes welled with tears. “His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of the warrior; the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” Psalm 147:10,11  Our Heavenly Father delights in our conversations. Spend time with him. You are the most important person in the world to him.