Tuesday, January 27, 2015

January 27, 2015 - along the Way ...

Yesterday I had the privilege of viewing the film American Sniper.  It was apparent from the beginning that this was going to be no ordinary film or viewing experience.   Several older gentlemen were in line to see the movie, veterans, as well as other folks you would not normally think you would see at a theater.   Obviously, many folks were there, as I was, to honor the legacy of an American hero.

As I have reflected on the film watching experience, several thoughts have come to mind.

(Let me also warn that this movie is rated "R" for a reason.  It shows the evil that lives among us, and as such it has strong language, questionable morality, and horror.  I do not recommend it for children under the age of 15, at least.)

First, I have thought about God's word.   In Psalm 18:34 and Psalm 144:1, King David intimates of the LORD,
"He trains my hands for battle" (Psalm 18:34)

"Praise be to the LORD my Rock,
who trains my hands for war,
my fingers for battle." (Psalm 144:1)

It is not something we usually like to emphasize, but the fact is when a man or woman has been equipped for battle, like Chris Kyle obviously was, their "gifts" come from God.

I really like how Kyle himself explains it.  Throughout his life, as seen in the movie, he was more interested in the number of lives he saved, than the number of lives he had to take.   He did his job, and his job was to make sure more men and women made it home to their families after the battle.
I am certain there are many warfighters and their families who thank God for people like Chris Kyle.

Second, I thought the movie carried a realistic picture of military life and what it must like to be engaged in battle.  War is not glamorous, and warfighters are not perfect or without fear.  Courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to act even when afraid.  That was evident in the film. 

Third, I thought it makes us aware of the sacrifices warfighter make on our behalf.  They do not enter the service of their country lightly, and they understand the costs.

In one scene, Kyle is depicted with his wife lamenting the fact that there is a war going on, and everyone seems to be oblivious to it.

I believe we need to think more regularly about the sacrifices being made, honor them, and choose to live courageously in the freedom we have been given.  

And this leads me to my last thought, "Do we know how to live well in the freedoms we have been given?"   

It intrigues me to consider how often warfighters find their purpose in battle, and yet when the battle is over, too many have a hard time finding a new purpose.  

Is not the purpose of engaging in war, the necessary evil, to gain us the freedom we crave?   Yet once the freedom has been won, we seem to have a hard time finding purpose for the freedom.   

In Galatians 5:1, Paul says, 

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.
Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."

We are free to serve Jesus, yet too often we either misunderstand the reason we are free, or we simply allow ourselves to be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.   

I encourage us all to learn to live in the freedom we have been given as US citizens, and offer that freedom to God for His purposes and His glory!

What about you?  Did you see the movie?  Do you have thoughts?  I invite you to share them, or any reflections on what I have written, as we journey together along the Way ... 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

January 20, 2015 - along the Way ...

Over the past few days I have been reading the story of Joseph in the Bible in the book of Genesis.  Joseph had an interesting life, to say the least, and his story helps us understand what we mean when we say God is with us.

In Genesis, the author often states, "The LORD was with Joseph". 

God was with Joseph when he was sold into slavery (Genesis 39:2-3), when he was wrongfully imprisoned (Genesis 39:21), when he interpreted Pharaoh's dream (Genesis 41:38), and when he was appointed caretaker over all of Egypt's harvest, and even at the reconciliation with his brothers (Genesis 50:20).

Interestingly, the author clearly states, "The LORD was with Joseph" in the hard times, and the same is assumed during the good times.  Nevertheless, whether in good times or bad, the LORD was with Joseph.  And He is with us too.

A few months ago, I learned something that has helped me understand my own journey better, and has assisted me in helping others understand their journey as well.  

I imagine most have heard that there are two factors which determine a person's life journey: nature and/or nurture.  This suggests that some people are born with specific challenges or good/bad character traits, while others develop those challenges or good/bad character based on the care they received or did not receive when they were young.  The first suggestion attributes character development to nature, while the second suggestion attributes it to nurture.   In reality, both are factors, and must be considered as we think about character development.  Yet are you aware that there is a third factor?

The third factor is the one that makes all the difference in the world.   The third factor, beyond nature and nurture, is choice.   Each person, no matter what has happened to them, has a choice as to how they will respond to a given situation.

For example, one could say Joseph had it made.  He was born into a good family, even though his mom died when he was young, his father took special interest in him and taught him about the LORD and sought to develop his character.

Yet later in life things went differently.   He was attacked by his brothers, sold into slavery, wrongfully imprisoned, and then forgotten after helping interpret a dream for Pharaoh's cupbearer.   Things had gone from really good to bad to worse.  

Even so, Joseph still had a choice.  He could choose how to respond.  Would he wallow in misery, blaming others for the horrible things that had happened to him, or would he trust God, and live with integrity no matter the circumstances.

Joseph chose to trust God, and because of God's abiding presence and Joseph's choices things turned around for him.   In fact, it was though the crucible of the hard times that Joseph became the person God needed him to be to carry out such a monumental task (Genesis 50:20).

So what about you?   Have you been living as if life has dealt you a bad hand?  Have you been blaming your mom and dad for your misfortune in life, or believing you were born with a raw deal?
If so, I want to encourage you to look to God.   He is with you, and will be with you.   You have a choice how you will respond to each situation you face today.

I invite you to share your thoughts, struggles, challenges, pain, and I promise to pray with you as we journey together along the Way ...

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

January 13, 2015 - along the Way ...

My one word for 2015 is "mindful".

As I think about what it means to be "mindful", I am drawn to the words in Psalm 8:3-4,

"When I consider Your heavens,
the work of Your fingers, 
the moon and the stars,
which You have set in place,
what is mankind that You are mindful of them,
human beings that You care for them?"

It is quite remarkable that God is "mindful" of us.  It is almost hard to believe.  The Psalmist highlights this when he considers the vast array of all of God's creation, and it causes him to ask, 
"what is mankind that You are mindful of them ... ?"  What is mankind, indeed! 

Yet the simple truth remains that God is mindful of mankind, and He does care about human beings.

It is important to remember God's care and mindfulness when we pray.  

This weekend I was able to pray with a person having great difficulty in life.  The person was not convinced that prayer would help.  He felt his prayers had gone unanswered for so long, but then made the comment, "but maybe He plays favorites."

I could feel the pain in his comment, anguish, disbelief, feeling forgotten and alone.   And as I have reflected on that moment, it has reminded me that God does not play favorites.  In fact, He only hears my prayers because I pray in Jesus' name.  It is through Jesus that we, as human beings, have access to the Father.   (see John 14:12-14; Hebrews 4:14-16)

So God is mindful of Jesus, (see Hebrews 2:5-9, ff.) and by extension He is mindful of all who believe in Jesus.  Even so, it is amazing that God is mindful of us, yet the truth remains that He is.

As I reflect on my own life, I realize that I am not always mindful of others.   I do not always look out for others, in fact I often look for ways to step on or over others in order to get what I want.  I am a very self-centered person.  

Therefore, it is essential that I learn to develop mindfulness.   Mindfulness will keep me from looking past others, and will keep me attentive to each one's needs, which is often more than what they might want at the time.  Mindfulness will enable me to love and serve others well, to place needs before wants, and to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus.  

So what are you learning about your one word for 2015?  I invite you to share your insights, as we continue to journey together along the Way ... 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

January 6, 2015 - along the Way ...

As we begin a new year, I thought it would be good to take some time to explain the title of this blog, and its significance to each post.

In the Bible, Jesus says, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through me."   Jesus is the Way!

Now "the Way" can have multiple meanings.  

First, Jesus is the way to heaven, only by God's grace received through true faith can a person enter into heaven and live with God eternally.

In Hebrews 10:19-20, the Bible states, "Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body ..."  Jesus is the Way to heaven because He has reconciled us to God for eternity through the sacrifice of His body and blood.

Second, Jesus is the way to live.  Jesus modeled righteousness for us.  In Him, we see what it means to live in obedience to God, and as we become more like Jesus we find that our lives become more pleasing to God.

In Matthew 5:20, Jesus says, "For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven."  Jesus was pointing out the need for an alien righteousness; a righteousness only He could provide for those who believe in Him, but He was also calling us to a better way of living; a righteousness that exhibits the character of God.

Third, Jesus is the leader for all who follow.  Similar to the previous meaning, Jesus is the way for all His followers, who seek to live rightly together.   So He is not simply a way for individuals to live righteously, but He is the way for all His followers, together, as the body of Christ, to pursue His kingdom and His righteousness in the world.

In Acts 9:2, the Bible shows Saul (later called Paul) asking for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, "so that if found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem."  Prior to the title "Christians" (see Acts 11:26), Jesus' followers were referred to as those "who belonged to the Way".   Jesus is the Way, and all those who belong to Him are followers of the Way.

This third meaning is where I find the inspiration for my weekly blog posts.   We are the body of Christ, together we belong to the Way, and as we journey in this world we do so with purpose.   We are not simply on a journey with no destination, meandering, as it were, along the way.  Rather, we travel with purpose, knowing that we belong to Jesus, and His kingdom is our final destination.   One day Jesus will bring His kingdom to earth in fullness, and until that day we fix our eyes on Jesus, and share His love and our hope with those around us, wherever we are, as God gives us opportunity.  

So together we are on a journey, a journey with a destination, but a journey nonetheless.  As we journey, we do so together, along the Way ...