Sunday, March 30, 2003

What Will You Leave Behind?

“Stick your fist into a bucket of water, pull it out and look to see the hole that is left,” Vern said to us. “Next time you begin to think you are irreplaceable remember that is about what you leave behind.”

A good lesson, I thought at the time. Probably true in organizations. A good way to stay humble, to maintain some perspective.

Problem is that it doesn’t translate well, not in friendships. Especially the deep ones. Those heart to heart relationships that have been formed over years of laughing, crying, working, learning, talking, encouraging, praying, confessing, arguing, forgiving, verbally jousting, putting down, building up and just being together. Those friendships welded together in transparency, being vulnerable enough to let yourselves into each other’s souls. Those friendships that you carry with you even when the other is not physically there. Those friendships that cause you to ask, “I wonder what Jim would do in this situation?” Those friendships that can be picked up right where you left them after being apart for a month or a year. Those friendships that are not deteriorated by living on opposite sides of the country.

Those are the friendships that leave a hole. Those people stick their hands into the bucket of your heart and when they pull out the water never, ever, ever fills it again.

I know. Last month I lost one of the best friends I will ever have when Jim Harvey died of a heart attack. He was a “closer than a brother” brother, my confidant, my mentor, my priest, my prayer partner, the other soldier in my foxhole. I have many, many other friends, but a very few times in life does one come along who shares the same heart and soul in nearly every way.

Frankly, I’m ticked. He was only 54 years old. I’d assumed we had at least another 15 years together. We were discussing ways to do some ministry together. We were dreaming together. We had plans to be together in Colorado in May. The day before he died I’d made a mental note to call Jim to get together a day early to hike. Boy, did he ruin that! The last time he turned me down on a hiking offer was because he and Betsy had just gotten married. I can cut him slack for that, but not this one. I WANT that hike with him in May, doggone it! Not for the hike, but for the incredible value he always added to my life.

I’m also a bit jealous. Like one of my kids… “Why does HE get to enjoy heaven and we have to stay here and fight the battles? That’s NOT FAIR!”

Jim’s death has caused me to feel exposed. Like a platoon of soldiers who depended on the point man to lead the way forward and alert them to danger, I depended on Jim. Now that he’s gone, I feel unprotected. You can’t believe how many times I find myself thinking, “I’ll call Jim and ask him about… I’ll call Jim and ask him to pray about that… ” only to realize he’s not there.

I’m not alone. Jim touched so many lives along the trail that the tally will only be revealed in heaven.

Along with the sadness, Jim’s death thrust upon us the reality of our mortality. I’m one of the old guys now. How did that happen? I’m closer to the front of the platoon and must shoulder the responsibility of leading and protecting.

I’m not sure of the theology of this, but I wonder if God didn’t take Jim so he could pray for us from heaven. The Bible says that Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, constantly interceding for us. Perhaps, (forgive me if I’m completely off base here), but just perhaps, Jim is doing the same.

The loss also challenges me. What will I leave behind when it’s my time to ride the Harley into the sunset? I’m going to leave a hole. So are you. Question is what kind, how big and for how many? Would you commit along with me to live so that the hole is huge? Not because of who we are, but because we allow Christ in us to touch everyone along our appointed trail.

Betsy recalls words Jim spoke often to others who lost a loved one, “It will never be the same, but it will be good again.” We can take comfort from those words. As usual, one more time, Jim’s wisdom provides just what we need, at just the time we need it.

Jim showed us…

"In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness" Titus 2:7 (NIV)

How Jim would encourage us…

"Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us." Romans 8:34 (NIV)

"Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him." 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 (NIV)

Sunday, March 23, 2003

But You Promised Security!

We are living in times of incredible insecurity. The war, the economy, the terrorist threats. What in the world shall we do?

Truth is all times are times of incredible insecurity. Just ask the mom and dad who lost a child, the woman who lost her job, the man who lost his pension, the teen who lost his friends at school, who is surrounded by profanity and violence, the lady who lost her health, the grown children who watched their once strong dad lose his memory. There are no warranties on life – what seems to be secure today can be ripped from us in the next moment.

In times of incredible insecurity, what in the world shall we do?

Searching for security in this world is like trying to climb to the top of a tree. Using toilet paper. Go ahead, try it. Get that Charmin and scramble up the old oak tree in the back yard. It will may look good, even have nice flower prints and stamped in patterns on it. Problem is, it won’t work. The first tug and it’s shreds. You could even use multiple layers of the stuff to make it stronger. Still won’t work. No matter how hard or long or effectively you try, you’re not going to make it to the first branch, let alone the top. The soft, gentle replacement for Sears catalogues was never meant to provide a means to go upward.

Try climbing up and grabbing security in your todays and tomorrows. Go ahead, grab the promises of the culture that pledge to provide safety. Some might look good, even have bells and whistles. Might even appear to work for a while. But they won’t really. Everything in this world was never meant to provide security. So why do we keep trying? Mostly because it’s what everyone else does and what seems the thing to do. It even feels like we have security sometimes.

Problem is that it is a fake, pseudo security – a false sense that lulls us into believing that we are secure until some loss (child, parent, job, pension, friends, health, memory) blasts our pseudo security to bits. Then, for a while, we realize the insecurity of life and live differently. For a while. Eventually we PICK UP THOSE BITS of water soluble tissue paper, glue them back together, pretend they’re perfect and live in false security again. Why? To keep ourselves from going CRAZY! (Sorry, didn’t mean to yell.) Unless we have something to cling to for security, we will dive into the emotional tank. So we choose something rather than nothing, ignoring the only true source of security. Yet in those quiet moments of complete frankness, when we are honest with our hearts, we realize we are lying to ourselves to avoid the intense feelings of uncertainty

Stephen lived in a time of incredible insecurity. Threats of attack, loss of jobs, financial markets in turmoil, morals at an all time low. Sound hauntingly familiar? Yet he discovered complete security. No toilet paper tree climbing for this boy. Steve was part of the First Jerusalem community church and had been occupied with the presence of the Holy Spirit. He took to serving others in the controversial ministry of Gentile/Jewish food distribution. The man astoundingly lived with confident security in the midst of the same opposition that killed Jesus. Though Steve experienced fear, fear didn’t matter because his security was in Christ. Somehow he struck up a conversation with the local religious leaders. The crowd grew until he found himself in the middle of a full blown debate with the chief reigiosos of the city. Boldly, he told the truth, offending the authorities. Being religious examples, they maturely handled the disagreement by dragging Steve out of the city and rocking him with real, very hard rocks. His confident security never wavered. Just before he died, his face shone and he saw Jesus at the right hand of the Father. More rocks and Stephen was eternally secure in the arms of Jesus.

Where does real, lasting, solid, heavy-duty rope, security come from? Through Jesus, revealed and embraced in our lives, while we are living smack dab in the middle of a world that is upside down. It does not come from the removal from circumstances that can drive insecurity right through our hearts, but it comes while we are in the tornado of those circumstances.

Of course that doesn’t make any sense to most of the world. We often hold on to that which we can see, even if it is as frail as toilet paper, rather than depend on that which we cannot see, even if it is the Strength of the Universe. Instead we gather possessions, grab at positions, grasp for relationships to provide us with security. They all end up looking like Charmin. Usually when we’re lying flat on our back, staring up at the tree we tried to climb with a handful of toilet paper in our grasp. WHAT ARE WE THINKING? Nothing lasts but Jesus.

The more we look for security in the world, the farther we drift from God. The farther we get from God, the more we look for security in this world. What a vicious circle.

Now, I’m going to guess that you’re living in the same world I am. Just a guess. It is an incredibly insecure place. It’s not going to get better. When it appears to do so, remember it is a temporary reprieve from insecurity, not security itself. What in the world shall we do?

The life of confident security comes as we let go of our death grip on this world and climb into the arms of our loving, security-giving, Heavenly Father. It is not complicated, but it is hard. And worth it. Like Stephen, we can experience security in a very insecure world. Will you?

Open your hand, let go of all you’re depending on for security and fall into the arms of God. Right now. C’mon, you can do it. Makes a whole lot more sense than clinging to the Charmin.

"Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God." Psalm 20:7 (NIV)

"Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done." Matthew 16:24-27 (NIV)

"The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him," Nahum 1:7 (NIV)

""Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God ; trust also in me. 2 In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going."" John 14:1-4 (NIV)

Saturday, March 15, 2003

Hold On To Your Valuables

“What time is it?” I asked with enthusiasm.

The children responded, “KID’S TIME!”, ran to the front of the worship area and slid to a stop at my feet.

Yes, it was Kid’s Time at New Song Church. The kids never know what the topic will be. Neither do the adults, but I’m suspicious that they look forward to the 5 minute story more than the sermon. “I wonder what’s in my brown bag today?” I asked.

On this day, I pulled out coins. “Does anyone know what this is?”

With a hungry smile, all replied, “Money!”

“Would you like one?”

“YES!” the group of greedy misers replied. I gave each child a quarter and told them to hold it tightly in their hands.

“What’s it worth?” I asked holding up a shiny George Washington.

“Twenty-five cents.”

“What can you buy with it?”

The older and wiser children wrinkled their noses as one said, “Not much. Maybe a piece of candy or gum.”

“I have something else in my bag.” I reached into the bag and pulled out my fist. “Would anyone be willing to give me their quarter for what I have in my hand?”

Blank stares. Can you believe they don’t trust their pastor? I could see the wheels turning in their little brains, puzzlement on their faces, dilemna in their eyes. “Should I? Shouldn’t I? What if he has nothing in his hand? What if he has something really good in his hand? What if someone else trades him before I can decide and it’s really good? What if I trade him first and it is a dead worm and everybody laughs at me? But Pastor Herb wouldn’t give me a worm, would he? But he has had some strange things in that bag before.”

Finally, Hailey the gambler, chirped, “I will!” I held out my hand, she placed the quarter in it. She held out her hand, I placed a $2 bill in it.

Suddenly, in unison, with no further encouragement, a cacophany of voices rang out, “I’ll trade! I’ll trade! I’ll trade!” I smiled.

“Why?” I asked. “What makes it better?”

“The $2 bill is worth 8 times what a quarter is worth,” one quick thinking boy answered.

“Then why wouldn’t you trade before?”

“We didn’t know what you had.”

Lesson 1. That is exactly what God says to us, is it not? “Give me what you have and I’ll give you what I have.” Hailey was willing to take a risk because she trusted me, even though she couldn’t see what was clenched in my fist.

“Do you still want to trade?”

“YES!” nearly every voice cried. I pulled out an envelope of $2 bills and traded with each child as they stood to go to class. Except for one. Sarah came close to me. With a bit of a worried look, she quietly stated and asked at the same time, not knowing if it would be okay, but hoping it would, “I’m going to keep my quarter and put it in the bank at my grandma’s.”

A voice from my right, “Sarah, take the $2! Make the trade.” Her mother.

“Are you sure you don’t want to trade?” I asked.

Shaking her head yes, as if that would convince me to let her keep it, “I want to keep my quarter and put it in my bank at my grandma’s.”

A voice from my left, “Sarah, take the money. Give him the quarter and take the money.” Her grandpa.

This was getting good. I was going to split a family right here in the middle of worship. A new experience even for me. As she held tightly to her coin the treasure she so wanted to put in the bank at her grandma’s, I saw confusion begin to creep across her face. She was hearing the voices of her greedy grandpa and her money seeking mother telling her to make a trade she did not want to make. Her heart valued a shiny, silver coin much more than a dull-green piece of paper, but those she depended on were calling out to her. She looked to me, her trusted, friendly, helpful pastor for direction.

Before she could give into those voices and make a trade she didn’t want to make, a trade she would later regret, a trade that just might bring a flood of tears, I encouraged her. “Sure, Sarah, you can keep that quarter and put it in your bank.”

Relief. Satisfaction. A smile as she skipped off to class. Bewilderment, frustration, pity on the faces of her mom, dad, and grandparents. Shaking their heads as we began the next song. Sure she could have bought more with the paper, but that was not what this was about for Sarah. Value, as well as beauty, is very often in eye of the beholder.

Lesson 2. Sometimes the voices around us don’t know what is of greatest value to us. But God does.

A couple questions…

Are you holding on to the quarters of life, when God is offering so much more? Do you trust Him enough to trade what you can see, touch and taste for what you can’t? When He asks you to give up everything for Him, does He really have something better?

To whom are you listening to tell you what is of most value? Voices coming from your left and right, or the voice of the Great Giver Himself? How easily are you swayed or do you cling to the treasure that is only in Christ?

Questions about ultimate value. Hope you’ll answer them today. Before it’s too late

Boldness and Blessings,


"He said to them, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight." Luke 16:15 (NIV)

"We live by faith, not by sight." 2 Cor 5:7 (NIV)