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Personal Security

I have the privilege of traveling quite a bit for my career. I am often asked the question by friends, “Are you ever afraid to get on an airplane and fly?” I appreciate the inquiry because it comes from people who sincerely care about me and my family. They want me to be safe and would like me to be around for a long time. It also makes sense since an airplane is basically a flying building with precious human cargo and mishaps can happen.
My response is usually something like, “I believe I will be on earth just as long as God’s purpose for me is in play. I trust that God will provide personal security for me. It also appears to me that when God’s plan for me is finished, it will be time to go. For me, this explains why some people survive the most horrendous circumstances while others lose their lives in some of the most benign ways.”
The apostle Paul experienced God’s personal security in Acts 27. He was being transported to Rome to stand trial before Caesar. As was the custom of the day, he was traveling by boat. It was, however, late Fall which means it was common for storms to arise and wreak havoc with ships trying to cross from Asia Minor to Europe. As sailing became increasing rough, Paul said to those on board, “’Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.’ But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship.” (v. 10-11)
Things went from bad to worse so the crew took every human step they knew to lighten the load, strengthen the ship and steer to safety. When all these attempts failed, Luke reported the morale aboard ship in verse 20, “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.” From a human point of view, their lives were over and there was nothing they could do about it.
From a divine point of view, however, God wasn’t done with Paul. “Paul stood up before them and said: ‘Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, “Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.”’” (v. 21-24)
If you finish the story, you will discover that the ship was indeed lost but the lives of all aboard were spared. I remember when I heard John MacArthur, teacher on the radio program Grace to You, say something to the effect, “If the people aboard this plane realized that I am being protected by Almighty God until His plan for my life is complete, they would thank me for being on board because it means their lives are protected also.”
So, I face my day today with courage. God has a plan for my life and will provide the personal security that is necessary for that plan to be completed. Since the same is true for you also, may God give each us the assurance that we can face whatever today ushers in because God is graciously and powerfully watching over us.

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Grace in the Storm

I was reminded of a prevalent paradox this week. We are deeply loved by God and we live in a world of turmoil. This means that no matter what we do or how diligently we seek to keep our lives on track, we will experience complex challenges. I was reminded in a number of different ways. First, at the Bible study I am a part of, the following vulnerable statements were made:
“I grew up being deeply criticized for who I am. I was emotionally rejected by my parents and teased incessantly by friends. I struggle with the belief that I am accepted and that it is okay to be me.”
“Intellectually, I know it is not true, but I feel like anytime I have financial struggles in life I must have done something wrong.”
“I know in my mind that God loves me but I am having a hard time feeling it is true when I have been out of work for so long.”
“I never thought I would struggle with this kind of attitude. I have always been grateful for what I have but it seems nothing I am trying to do is working like I think it should. For the first time I can remember, I have been asking in prayer if God is upset with me for some reason.”
Then I read Psalm 37 and I saw the same kind of struggle in the life of David. He was convinced that God loved him and was determined to seek Him. “Trust in Lord and do good. . .” (v. 2) “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (v. 4) “He will make the righteous reward shine like the dawn . . .” (v. 6)
At the same time, he was surprised by some of the challenges that relentlessly presented themselves in his journey. “. . . do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.” (v. 7) “The wicked lie in wait for the righteous, intent on putting them to death . . .” (v. 32) “I have seen a wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a luxuriant native tree . . . ” (v. 35)
The inescapable conclusion is that it is normal in life to experience God’s favor and circumstantial difficulties alongside one another. Almost everyone I know right now is facing daunting financial challenges. Almost everyone I know is wrestling with a thought process that has the potential to defeat them. Almost everyone I know is aware that God loves them immensely whether life’s circumstances are good or bad. Since I am part of the group, I am going to focus today on the game plan I see in Psalm 37.
I am going to take a bigger view of life than today’s circumstances. “The blameless spend their days under the LORD’s care, and their inheritance will endure forever. In times of disaster they will not wither . . .” (v. 18-19)
I am going to remind myself that God takes care of His people. “The LORD makes firm the steps
of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand.” (v. 23-24)
I am going to do what I know is right regardless of how I feel at the moment. “Trust in the LORD and do good . . . Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.” (v. 3 & 8)
I am going to remind myself that the Author and Creator of life has my back. “For the LORD loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones.”
Jesus, give me the grace today to seek You with energy, trust You with courage and face life with gratitude.

The Way He Is

Yesterday, my granddaughter asked me, “Papa, why do you love me?” I didn’t see it coming and, honestly, I had not thought about it. It is such a natural thing for me and my love for her is so present in my soul that it never occurred to me to ask myself, “Why?”
I gave her an answer about how smart and sensitive and talented she is. It seemed to satisfy her for the moment but I realized it wasn’t really the right answer. I would love her just as much even if she wasn’t smart, sensitive and talented. So, the question has lingered in my heart and I have been asking myself the question, “Why do I love my grandkids so much? Why do I carry the important people of my life so indelibly on my heart?”
As I was pondering this question, I read Acts 26. Paul was on trial before King Agrippa and his wife Bernice. Paul seized upon the opportunity to tell a new crowd the story of what God had done in his life. Paul had a story of redemption that clearly illustrates the grace and power of God. Paul was a sincerely motivated enemy of God and didn’t even know it. He was actively opposed to everything God was trying to establish in the world and thought he was doing the right thing. Then, on the road to Damascus, Jesus interrupted his life and transformed his purpose. In the big picture, Paul is the proof that no one is too far away or so far off track that the grace of God can’t reach them.
In the midst of the big picture, I encountered a more intimate portrait of the heart of God. “I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’” (v. 17-18)
Notice all the ways in which God demonstrated His love in this short statement. “I will rescue you.” Paul was hopelessly lost in his own zeal. He proudly thought he knew what was right and he was going full speed ahead with his agenda. As a result, both Gentiles and Jews would be upset with him. Rather than scold him, Jesus said He would rescue this wayward apostle.
“I am sending you to open their eyes.” Jesus saw that people were blind. They lacked real discernment because their stubborn hearts closed their eyes to the truth. Rather than reject them, Jesus chose to send Paul as an example that anyone can be transformed.
“I am sending you . . . to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God.” People were wandering in the dark, stumbling their way through life. Rather than leave them to their own devices, Jesus chose Paul to fearlessly “turn the light on” by proclaiming the truth with a story of undeniable grace and forgiveness.
The purpose of all this activity was “so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” At the time, the people Jesus was referring to were selfish, stubborn, self-centered schemers. Rather than punish them for their waywardness, Jesus opened the doors of His heart so they could be forgiven and be raised up to their proper place.
Jesus’ perspective of people was shaped by His love. His decisions were motivated by His love. His patience was enabled by His love. His relentless commitment to stick with His plan was rooted in His love. Why? Because He is love. It is who He is. He doesn’t love us because we are so good and so enjoyable and add so much value to His life. He loves because it is in His nature to do so and as He expresses His love to us, we change.
He lives with the unswerving, unchanging, undeterred belief that His love can break through all our excuses and all our imperfections to convince us of our eternal value. He has proven over and over that when His love does break through, we are transformed into people who grasp our value and live to bring value to the lives of others.
I guess I love my granddaughter because it is who I am. I am pretty sure she is not old enough to grasp that concept but, while I am waiting for that day, I am going to keep adding value to her life. Jesus, share with us your ability to be the kind of people who love others whether they are acting loving today or not.

In the Company of Kings

I feel like I met a superstar this morning. I am reading Acts 25 and, if I didn’t know better, I would have thought that the Apostle Paul was an elite member of the privileged class. He has already appeared before Felix (a Roman governor appointed to oversee the province of Judea) to share his story and pronounce the truth of the gospel. Now he appears before Festus who succeeded Felix as the governor of the region (v. 6-10). When it was obvious that a plot was in place to ambush Paul, the apostle appealed to Caesar which created a scenario that would take him to Rome to appear before the supreme commander of his day. This made the situation more complicated so Festus convened an elaborate gathering that included King Agrippa, who ruled in Israel under the authority of Festus, his wife, Bernice and “the high-ranking military officers and the prominent men of the city” (v. 23).
Paul was not meeting with all these custodians of influence, however, because of his success or his standing in the community. He was proclaiming the greatest message on earth to them because he was falsely accused of a crime, was waiting patiently in prison for a reasonable hearing and was having to tell his story over and over since there was no real basis for the charges against him. His apparent difficulties had opened doors of opportunity that were not possible in the course of his “normal” life.
I admire Paul for what he was doing but I don’t really like the principle—even though I know it is true. The trials of our lives create opportunities if we are willing to see them!
I would not have the compassion I have if I had not grown up around a fearful, controlling mom. I love her, I believe she meant well and I am glad to have a relationship with her today. It was frustrating and irritating but going through the developmental years of my life in an atmosphere of harsh fear opened my eyes to the hidden pain that many people carry. I was either going to become resentful or resolved to help. Thank God that Jesus gave me the will to help others. As I have told the story over and over I am amazed at the number of people who told me, “I grew up in a home like yours. I think we might be related!”
The day my 6 year-old son was missing for 6 hours settled the issue of whether I believed God was truly good. I had reached the point where I didn’t think I would see him again or, if I did, he would not be in good shape. I had to ask the question, “If I lose my son or find out he has been abused or killed, will I still believe that God is a good God who loves without limit?” It is an easy question to answer when things are going well. It is a much different question to answer when faced with tragedy. I am fortunate because I got my son back (He was playing in a storm drain with a friend). But I can remember the moment like it was yesterday when, through tears, I concluded that God was good regardless of what life may throw my way.
I am certainly not asking for difficult circumstances beyond my control to enter my life. That would be crazy. I do, however, trust that God will give me the grace to see the opportunities that exist in the midst of the difficult chapters of life since I live in a world that is filled with both victories and setbacks.
Jesus, I don’t relish the fact that we all face circumstances beyond our control. I do rejoice, however, that you can turn those same situations into moments of influence, strength and hope. Thanks for being there every step of the journey!

Five Positives per Day

When I wrote my last blog entry, I mentioned that “a friend of mine is known for saying, ‘Everybody faces five problems per day. The way you respond to those challenges will determine the quality of that day and, when you add those days up, they will determine the quality of your life.'”
One of my sons responded to me and asked, “What 5 positive things happened yesterday?” It is as much a part of the message of Psalm 34 as having a clear perspective on the real struggles of life. Verses 8-10 read, “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Fear the LORD, you his holy people, for those who fear him lack nothing. The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.”
So here we go. Yesterday I was with a group of men at a Men’s Summit in Central Ohio. Here is my short list of the positive things that happened:
• We started the morning with strong, energetic worship. The worship band consisted of a drummer, a keyboard player, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass guitar, violin, steel guitar and three singers. The room was filled with music and the enthusiasm infected the crowd.
• A dad pulled me aside and said, “Thanks for this weekend. My 19 year-old and 23 year-old sons were riveted on what you had said. It was so exciting for me to see that.”
• A 65 year-old man shared, “1 year ago I had a liver and kidney transplant. The surgery was half as long as the doctors expected and my recovery has gone better than they expected. I believe God still has an adventure for me and I am going to be looking for it this year.”
• At the end of the summit, men jumped in to help break down the sound and projection equipment for the 10 person worship team and the work was accomplished in 30 minutes – without breaking anything!
• The men bought books. It is true that “leaders are readers” but it is also true that men’s groups don’t normally buy a lot of books. This collection of men were the exception and I am excited to hear the reports going forward of what God is going to do among them.
Yesterday was one of those highlight days we get every once in a while so I expect today to be a little different. But, the God who orchestrated yesterday is the same God who is planning today. So far, I have my health, the coffee maker worked and I am still fascinated with my wife. That’s not a bad start. I am going to honor my son’s request and keep looking for positive things that are going to happen around me. I already know I am going to face some challenges because it is a very full day but I am confident in God’s promise, “The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.” (v. 10)
Jesus, give me realistic eyes today. Help me not turn away from, or be surprised by, the challenges of the day. At the same time, remind me of the good things you are bringing to my life.

Five Problems a Day

A friend of mine is known for saying, “Everybody faces five problems per day. The way you respond to those challenges will determine the quality of that day and, when you add those days up, they will determine the quality of your life.” The first time I heard him say it I thought, That sounds kind of pessimistic. Why would anyone want to anticipate five problems every day? At the same time, something about the statement resonated with me and refused to go away. So, I began to observe my own life to see if it was a true statement and I have concluded there is a lot of truth in what my friend proclaimed to us on a regular basis.
King David even echoed this thought in Psalm 34:19, “The righteous person may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all.” David was rejoicing over the fact that a ridiculous plan to act insane before a rival king had actually worked to save his life. On the surface the idea was ludicrous and it would require God to lead Achish king of Gath to conclude David was no longer a threat because he had lost his mind. (Check out the story in 1 Samuel 21:10-14). David was on the run. He had been rejected by King Saul. Saul’s intention to kill him has been confirmed by his best friend Jonathan. He was traveling alone, seeking a new plan and needing to restart his life since the king he served was now opposed to him. In his vulnerable state, his simplistic plan had been honored by God and his life was spared.
Then I thought about my day yesterday and I asked, What troubles did I face?
1. The tree limb that broke and covered my driveway needed to be cleared.
2. I had more phone calls to make than was possible.
3. Team members of a project we are working on needed to have details clarified.
4. Cash flow issues required challenging financial decisions.
5. I had to fight back personal fear in my career pursuit.
I have to admit, the last one surprised me. I have not been prone to feelings of fear since I met Jesus as my Savior. I think it is because I grew up in a home that was dominated by fear and I was determined to find a way to overcome it in my life. Almost every decision in my family of origin was characterized by fear in some way. My mom even sincerely parented out of fear and tried to keep me motivated by saying things like, “You shouldn’t do that. You don’t have what it takes. It is too dangerous.”
One of the choices I made as a young adult was to take refuge in an organization. I liked that because it provided structure, teamwork and a collection of talented people who could cover for one another. In the second half of life, however, I have chosen to work freelance and build a business with my wife. It is exciting and challenging and has almost unlimited potential for helping others but it lacks structure. In fact, the only structure it has is the one I impose upon it. Predictably, there are aspects of this kind of work that are uncomfortable to me and for the past few days the pressure has been on to be good at the areas I am most uncomfortable with. I had to fight back the thought that maybe I really don’t have what it takes to make this work, even though there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. So when I read, “I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears,” (Psalm 34:4) it got my attention.
Looking back, yesterday turned out pretty well because I was able to overcome the 5 challenges that were a part of my world. Today, I am praying for the wisdom and strength to face down the next five.

Simple Focus

I was thinking today about all the areas of life I struggle to keep up with. In our highly advanced society, my list has grown longer rather than shorter! My “short” list looks something like this:
Consistent personal devotions
Exercise routine
Yard work
Pay bills
Manage my business
Spend time with my wife
Stay in contact with my adult kids
Spend time with my grandkids
Help my dad with his computer
Household chores
Household repairs
Facebook
Email
Phone messages
Meetings
Auto maintenance
Make travel arrangements
Help someone less fortunate than myself
Finish a major project (mine happens to be finish writing a book)
And this is my short list! Technology and modern advancements have added multiple lines to my “to do” list and made them all feel vitally important. I find one of the greatest challenges of modern life is figuring out how to simplify.
That is why I think I responded so quickly to a statement in Acts 24. Paul was confined in a “gentleman’s’ prison” in Caesarea. I think the Governor Felix knew the charges against him were fabricated but he liked having Paul around to talk about life’s issues. “He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus.” (v. 24) As Paul’s life was pared down, his message became more focused on the things that matter the most for the longest period of time. “As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, ‘That’s enough for now!'” (v. 25)
“Righteousness” is the conviction in my heart that I am right with God and my conscience is clean. It begins with the assurance that I am forgiven because of what Jesus did on the cross and then it expands into the ability to think correctly about life and make decisions based on what is true.
“Self-control” is the ability to actually live out what is correct in life.
“Judgment to come” points to the day when I will sit down with God face to face to review my life. If righteousness and self-control have been growing in my life, this will be one of the greatest meetings of my life. It will be the encounter with God that we all long for from our dads when we hear that He loves us and is proud of us.
Felix, of course, had not made righteousness and self-control a habit so the thought of standing before God was a frightening thought, as it should be. He realized that just because God is love doesn’t mean He is soft.
Today, in the midst of all that I need to accomplish, I am going to simply focus on doing what I know is right and trust that God will orchestrate the rest of my circumstances.