IS COMPASSION DEAD?

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“WHAT SHALL I CRY?”

The season’s festivities have already begun for another Holy Day celebrating our Lord’s miraculous birth! He is Emmanuel, God with us; here to bring us into fellowship with the Father. Bless the day of His arrival to Bethlehem!

The season’s greetings and celebrations this year, more than ever, will be shrouded by a cloud thoughts and feelings of terror and fear. Our reality almost every day is some form of violent and tragic incidents inflicted upon innocent everyday people somewhere in the world. We’re all afraid that one day it may be our town, our neighborhood, or our family.

What are we to do in the light of all of these harsh realities and deep rooted feelings of fear? What are we to say in the face of the world’s cynicism, hopelessness, and fear?

Isaiah faced a lost nation with the same desperate inquiry: “A voice says, ‘Cry!’ And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’” (Isaiah 40:6 ESV)

The answer is clear and powerful for a generation long removed from Isaiah’s reality: “Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength; O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’ Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for Him; behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him.” (Isaiah 40:9-10 ESV)

Listen to His promise to a people lost under pretentious religious formality, insensitive consideration of their own countrymen, and where wickedness abounded. It is a word fresh with life for a new millennial age of skepticism, unbelief, fear, and moral bankruptcy. “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to Him who has no might He increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:28-31 ESV)

It is an old and familiar word to the church! Above all, it is relevant to where we stand in the midst of terrorist violence that is being imposed upon the entire world. We are all vulnerable in this global reality. As Christians, we are also blessed that our God is still on the throne and changes not. He is both aware of these latest happenings among us and He has us on His mind to care for us whether alive or facing death.

Choose Him today, as His promises still live with assurance and power for these days of uncertainty. Our strength is in the Lord!

OVERCOME THE CIRCUMSTANCE

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair.”  (II Corinthians 2:8). Don’t allow desperation to drive your decisions.  “Wait on the Lord, and be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart.  Wait, I say, on the Lord.”  (Psalm 27:14)

The circumstances of life are not your destiny.  Find your place of service and determine to walk in it, “be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, for ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”  I Corinthians 15:58)

DESTINATION UNKNOWN

Every day, travelers head in most every direction in the skies with designated departure times with expectation of arrival to a destination at an appointed time.  The jet and its passengers move definitively and determinedly through the heavens to places unknown.

Those travelers are much the same as those on the ground, pondering their movements among people as they go here and there in cars, buses, trains, or trucks.  Destination unknown:  We can only wonder where they’re all heading.

Such is life.  As we make choices and decisions about our likes, dislikes, preferences, ambitions, hopes, dreams, we’re moving deliberately to somewhere developing and growing a life and legacy as we go on a fast track that quickly adjusts to the right or the left, up or down, or perhaps just straight ahead.  The destination isn’t clear, but we’re on our way!

Be careful how you travel though.  Excess baggage can ruin the trip.  Be careful what you pick up along the way.  Travel comforts can affect others.  Don’t create travel discomforts by insisting on your own comforts creating burdens for other travelers.  Be nice, assistance may be needed down the road.  Someone you neglect or ignore may be the one person with the very skill needed to help you to carry on with your journey.

Life has a way of returning favors.  Be sure to offer them as you travel because the journey will take turns without warning and there will be need for favor in your adjustments in those turns.  And the travel really does bring adjustments.  A gate change or seat adjustment, comforts, discomforts, physical challenges, or health issues can all make the journey so different.

The journey does end somewhere at a yet undisclosed location.  The means of travel does not matter, the journey ceases somewhere in time and space where travelers will get off of the bus one last time, leave the car parked for one last time, exit the train or plane one last time, or back the truck up for one last haul.  As was once said among the ‘mothers of the church’ or the elderly faithful, ‘when I’ve gone in my room to come out no more,’ that too will be a last.

Travel so that you can leave with dignity on the last ride.  Move along in life with meaning and purpose achieved only by interacting peaceably with others and helping others to journey to their end.  Because, at the end, everyone discover that this journey is not about us individually as much as it is about others that we can help, meet their needs and demonstrate caring concern.

The destination is determined by how we are willing to submit to someone bigger than ourselves to love other people.

Destination unknown?  Not really!  The treasures of the heart tell us where we’re headed.  They remind us daily whether we’re about ourselves or others.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV

NATIONAL SIGNING DAY 2015

Committing and decommitting is over now as National Signing Day is well underway all across the landscape of college football.  No more I will or I won’t.  No more I did or I didn’t.  Today is the final day of decision when commits become actual signed contracts between student-athletes and their college of choice.

Many of these student-athletes will have great opportunities to display their talents on and off of the field by choosing to focus on both their academics and athleticism while others will be distracted by the hype and hoopla of college life.  Some will make it to graduation and stardom on the field.  Others will fall by the wayside without either.  Perhaps others had better athletic skills but cannot meet the academic requirements of their school choice.  They will have to go the community college route to seek to meet those requirements.  Some will be discouraged by the intensity and high standards of it all and sadly do nothing.

But for today, they sign contracts, both the colleges and the student-athletes.  The students will be hailed as the finest available and looked upon as the future for their college teams.  It will be a good day for many with high hopes of success and perhaps even very nice careers in the NFL.

But they have to sign on the dotted line.  The commit has been evasive at best, illusive at times, and allusive from some, but not past today.  You have to choose, you have to sign the contract, and your choice is made public for everyone to know.  You have to get off of the fence, no more campus visits, phone calls from coaches seeking you out.  After today, it is clear who is where and with whom, without assumption, presumption, or conjecture.  This is it.  “. . . choose for yourselves this day . . .” (Excerpt from Joshua 24:15 NKJV)

Such is life.  We have to make choices that will have lasting effects upon our lives.  The choice will not allow us to bounce around any longer or second-guess ourselves.  We cannot merrily waltz our way through life without firmly stating and demonstrating our choices about life.  And really, no choice is a choice.  This is it.  Marriage, job, house, car, bills, civic duty, church and faith . . . all of these and more require decision or choice.  They require signatures . . . binding, obligating, contractual, all of the things that will not allow one to just walk away but hold one accountable to contract requirements.   The covenant works both ways.  This is it . . . “Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.   He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.”  Psalm 37:5-6 NKJV

The Lord’s commitment is sure.  Where is yours?

MALCOLM BUTLER: The Undrafted Rookie!

They call him an undrafted rookie!  But, as an undrafted rookie, Malcolm Butler was prepared for the one moment that would catapult him into notoriety.  It didn’t matter that few knew his name or that he hailed from humble beginnings.  His was not a direct route to the NFL.  His promise was not obvious or noted.  But, Malcolm Butler was ready when opportunity was given him to come forth out of obscurity to contribute to the game and help his teammates on to victory.  His background didn’t matter, his size didn’t matter, his rookie status didn’t matter, and it didn’t matter that he was never drafted.

What mattered was that Malcolm Butler was there and he was ready!  His reaction to the initial reality of it all suggested that he was profoundly thankful that his ‘vision’ had become his reality.  Going in, he was not the expected game changer or potentially the most valued, the star, or the team’s branded name.  He only saw himself contributing to make a difference and was ready to play.  And his humble spirit is now the observation of proud family and friends from his home state of Mississippi, the University of West Alabama, Hinds Community College and countless others who’d never heard of him.  But, they know him now.  The masses know that Malcolm Butler caught the interception that sealed the game for the World Champion New England Patriots.

“Malcolm Butler’s Journey From ‘Good Employee’ at Popeye’s to Patriots’ Super Bowl XLIX Hero” is the headline in the Washington Post.  Now that is notoriety!  But, reading the article, one will soon discover that it is also testimony.  A testimony of struggle, disappointment, fortitude, determination, endurance and hard work.  Simply stated, it is amazing.

Many of us may have a similar opportunity to make a difference somewhere in life, perhaps not with so much coverage by the news media outlets, but a significant contribution to an individual or even to the world longing for something good, authentic or life altering.  That one contribution can make things better at a key moment in time and have far reaching consequences.  The question for many of us is simple, will we be ready when the opportunity presents itself?

And what is readiness?  It is fitness and form for making significant contributions.  It is steadfastness when opportunity seems aloof and afar off.  It is focus upon a vision or calling that may not draw attention or labeling for the ‘first draft.’  It is humility within that appreciates small things that may prepare one for the possibility of greater things.  It is working hard at every task and giving your best to every attempt at making a difference.  And when the time comes, you’re in place prepared to do or achieve what others may never imagine.

This 24 year old has an amazing attitude toward the simple things of life that have grown and developed through struggle.  Things haven’t been ideal, they’re still not ideal!  But, Malcolm Butler’s name is indelibly marked upon NFL history and in our conversation because of his readiness for the big game.

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may obtain it.  And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.  Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.  But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”  I Corinthians 9:24-27 NKJV

Be ye also ready!

Should I Leave This Church?

Disgruntled, unhappy, and frustrated churchgoers are staying because this is my church.  Unfortunately, when it starts being your church, especially with the atmosphere being filled with general feelings of discord, it may no longer be God’s church.  He does remove Himself from confusion and non-glorifying circumstances.

When being edified is no longer the experience of the congregation or the individual, there should be some close scrutiny of the situation.  And here is how to do it.

First, begin by looking within!  Ask yourself,  ‘why am I having feelings of frustration?’ Often there are issues within or personal failures contributing to our loss of fellowship with God that has us frustrated.  Before we blame others, check to see what is going on within.  Make sure there isn’t sin ‘crouching at the door!’

Second, the problem may be rooted in being overly impressed with worship forms or preaching styles observed elsewhere.  Make sure that the prevailing consumer mentality isn’t making shopping around for something ‘better’ more appealing.  Don’t allow the appeal of secular ideas have you thinking that your church isn’t current or relevant.  You may need to stay where you’re planted.

Third, burnout from tedious ministry tasks or loss of a vision for what it is you have been charged to do may cause one to lose focus.  Make sure that there is time away to seek the Lord and refresh before leaving worthwhile responsibilities or duties in the church.  Your covenant with the Lord and the body of believers should not be easily breached.

Finally, if there is a problem, in the pulpit or worship ministry where ministering to the needs of the people of God and/or the worship is compromised by too many secular trends that do more to entertain than edify, then voice your concerns with someone in leadership in the same spirit of Galatians 6:1.  Meekness when dealing with sensitive issues will open doors to dialogue that may be fruitful toward improving preaching and ministry initiatives.  Go to your brother or sister and seek to engage them in a positive and spirit-filled discussion about your concerns.  Applying Matthew 18:15-17 may be appropriate to seek understanding.  But it should be applied with prayer before speaking to someone and preferably together with them once dialogue begins.  Prayer always helps to take the matter out of our hands and into God’s hands.

However, worship can be more about us than about God so much so that many leave with no sense of having been edified or exaltation to a higher consciousness of God and His presence in their lives.  Souls continue to hunger for a word because preaching is exciting and even entertaining with little or no food for thought or pondering.

When the worship center becomes filled with distractions, frustrations, and most importantly, heresies than worship encounters with God, an edifying word, or a fellowship wherein people may grow, it may be time to look elsewhere.

Don’t be guilty of staying because this is my church!  The Lord leaves when He is no longer welcome!

THE BUDDING CAMELLIA DURING WINTER

The Camellia, a shrub whose leaves are seen here, produces a waxy, perfectly shaped bloom of beauty in winter landscapes and conditions, maintaining its dark, glossy green leaves as another unique form of ‘the evergreen.’  This one produces a bi-colored flower of red and white. At a glance, it looks like a rose, but closer examination reveals a character and beauty all its own.  In warmer climates, this shrub can grow into a tree.

This bud caught my attention today on my stroll in the backyard.  With everything around it brown or tan and lying in wait for the warmer season, this Camellia is full with its green leaves, brown flowers that have expressed their beauty in spite of very chilling conditions, and these buds that await opportunity and the right time to open up to lend its beauty to the landscape.  These buds, when opened, will stand out because of their life and beauty during a challenging time for much of creation.

There are people who stand out to make a difference during the harshest of times.  They look for opportunities for service or giving without much concern for notoriety or gain.  They are people who look at life unselfishly and empty themselves that others might be aided in the struggle of life.  These kind of people follow something outside themselves, a power greater than any they may observe or feel.  They look beyond the ordinary or common to follow the lead of deep passion rooted in eternity.  They are willing to lose everything because they have already gained everything.  They have seen God!  Have you seen God?

In the Bible, men came inquiring, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” (John 12:21 NKJV)  Still, today’s world conducts an inquiry every day in much the same way . . . “we wish to see Jesus.”   Are there yet budding ‘followers of Christ’ who can introduce Him to others that might also ‘follow Him?’

Seeing God makes the difference in life and springs forth into budding opportunities to live with purpose and meaning while telling others about Him.  Serving this present age becomes a passion when one sees the Lord and decides to follow Him.  That is the ‘follower of Christ’ mandate.  Instead of pondering whether one should be on the right or the left, can we be ‘behind?’  Can we FOLLOW Him?  Can today’s Christians get behind the Lord to follow Him through denial of self, taking up the cross of service and sacrifice, and serving the needs of others?

This shrub has brown, fading flowers and a host of buds awaiting their chance to bloom.  They represent the past and possibility!

Is that a good description of your life . . . some brown, fading blooms but a host of buds awaiting their chance to bloom?  You’ve done some good things . . . but are there buds awaiting to blossom into greater works?

You’re not finished yet.  There is still meaning and beauty to share into the lives of others that are searching and hoping for something better.  The glance, glimpse, or perhaps the closer examination of your personal witness of following Christ will be the proving point for many to find the reality of possibility and potential.  You can find it and others can too when WE are willing to follow Him!

Does the camellia describe you?  As it warms up the landscape with its character and beauty, you too can shine in abundance of characteristic Christ-like beauty in the midst of these harsh and hard times!

Share your abundant life and witness of Christ with others!  By following Him and denying self, in these harsh and challenging times, we may find life, full of the abundance of evergreen and budding possibility.

ARE YOU GOING TO THE FUNERAL

Are you going to the funeral?  Is anyone concerned that a great deal of time, money, energy and planning are being put forth for the deceased?

The practice of waiting to bury loved ones days and weeks has become the trend to prepare glorious celebrations, high priced festivals and fanfare to glorify the person being laid to rest.  Hours and hours of testimonials and singing during visitations, wakes, and funeral programs have become the norm.  Processionals of cars, limousines, and other vehicles are assembled for the  long ride to the final resting place.  People travel miles and miles to be present for these grandiose exhibits for the beloved deceased.  And the deceased are prepared for display before family, friends, and total strangers who pass by!  Venues are chosen for their size in order to contain all those who come to see and share in all of the arrangements that have been made for the ‘home going celebration.’

On the surface, this may be harmless demonstration of caring and concern.  Looking more closely, however, we may discover that all of this fanfare may be superficial and overrated.  You ask why?  Well, consider the fact that the person in the middle of all of this, the deceased, has no knowledge of all that is being said or done.  The person in the box is unaware of all of the feelings expressed in long well-meaning orations and demonstrations.  The flowers are beautiful but cannot lend to the plight or passage of the one being spoken of and around whom they are arranged.  The music, though warm and feely in conveying thoughts of hope and heaven, cannot lend a hand to the deceased in their transition from life into death.  And while the deceased’s family can benefit some from all of this, they serve little value in assisting family members with the harsh reality of death of someone they’ve loved and shared their lives with for a lifetime.  Quieter and more private moments will be needed to find peace and strength to work through ‘the valley of the shadow of death.’

With more thought, the most revered among those of the household of faith, their family or friends, didn’t wait for all of this kind of recognition or even plan for a funeral.  Of course, the general practice during death vigils didn’t allow for all of these grand displays.  People were buried as soon as possible after their deaths and it was done with discretion to allow privacy for family members directly affected.  And consider the words of Jesus, ‘let the dead bury the dead,’ in response to a question about a potential follower postponing joining with Jesus in order to bury a family member.  Is it possible that too much is invested in the death of our loved ones and friends?  Furthermore, when the news came to Jesus that John, his cousin and forerunner in His own work of ministry, had been beheaded, He left town and resumed His work of preaching, teaching, and ministering to the masses of people needing Him.

Are our priorities out of order?  Are we doing too much?  Does it take all of this time, money, effort, resources, words, music, etc.?

In the larger scheme of things divine and important, should all of these things be done when someone dies?  What is it for?  Who is it for?  Why?

Can we add to anyone’s life?  Can we improve upon the quality of one’s living?  Do we contribute to a person’s achievements over the span of their lives?  Are we judge and jury of whether this person deserves to be rewarded with a life after death with reward and glory?  Really, what does it all mean?  Will any of us be able to make things alright with this scenario of glorious accolades, crowds and beauty?   Do you want all of that while you lay pristinely prepared on display?

All of this may sound insensitive and uncaring?  To some, it is too much about nothing.  But, some thought might be given to this notion of death and its finality.  Is there anything that can be said or done that will change the outcome of this life that is ended?  Probably not! 

The people who really matter will be there after all of the fanfare to help with adjustments and encouragements.  The people who don’t matter will resume their usual programming.  And the people directly affected, loved ones, will find the strength to move on into their new reality remembering ‘the person’ who made a difference in their life experience.

PRESSING FORWARD IN FAST-MOVING 2015

Second Sunday 2015 is coming fast!  So, how are things going so far with all of the new intentions, resolutions, or images planned and outlined for the new year?   What progress has been made through this first week toward losses or gains, improvements or adjustments, goals or aims, or the well-intentioned new focus on life?  It would seem that our best hopes for the new year are already being challenged by realities that are simply too much to overcome!

Each of us is well-meaning in our resolve to pursue something new, different or better!  The unfortunate thing is our inclination to return to our former ways, attitudes, and intentions that we’ve formed over time.  We really want to do better . . . but we remain our own biggest hindrance at times because of trends, habits, lusts or desires.  We may call the hindrance weakness or something else that we’re not proud to admit.  But, we all need help!   Support . . . that’s a better word for what we need in order to get to places that we desire in life we will need, Support!  Sometimes support is a foundation upon which to rest, a mentor to emulate, an encourager; perhaps an ally who may share in our endeavor(s).  Sometimes naysayers become motivation to prove wrong their assessment of our ability or skills to these new reaches.

Whatever the case, none of us can afford to allow the newness to wear off of whatever we’re moving toward!  We cannot afford to give in or give up on our dreams and hopes for the things that are better for us, our lives or our meaning in life.  Our familiarity with the common weaknesses cannot become permanent fixtures or focuses to sap away possibility or potential. If we give up now . . . what will be our end?  So what you’ve not been perfect in your effort this week!   Is that excuse enough now to say that ‘it’s impossible?’  Or is that the one excuse you’ve needed all week to say you’re done with trying?  “It’s too hard!”  Oh, so now you realize that it will take effort, work, initiative, endurance, patience and other virtues to make this thing happen?

Go to church again this Sunday with the same hopes and visions that were your drive last Sunday to promise to do and to be what now may not seem to be so worthy.  But go back anyway . . . in spite of your feelings of disappointment or your reality of imperfection and weakness!  Go back and talk with the Lord just like you did last week.  Only this time, promise Him that you will partner with Him better next week than you did this week to get where you want to be.  And in the face of every challenge with every new day, ask Him to help you (there is that concept of support again).

By doing so, we may each discover that the strength to be or to do is in our admitting that we are too weak to do it or be anything, and in need of support from Him.  Press on . . . I want to live above the world, though Satan’s darts at me are hurled; for faith has caught the joyful sound, the song of saints on higher ground.”  (Hymn – Higher Ground, verse 3).

“. . . but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize . . .” Philippians 3:13-14 NKJV