Archive for August, 2020

The Path All Travel

Posted: August 29, 2020 in Meditations

 

“Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.”

Ecclesiastes 1:4

I pulled away from the driveway this morning, headed to Panera for some coffee and a blueberry bagel. Two doors down, two adults in their sixties packed furniture into the back of a trailer. Their Dad passed away three weeks ago. Mom died six days later. Now the children empty the house. Sometime this Fall another couple will move in, life goes on. My wife and I have lived in my folks retirement community for three weeks. The flash of ambulance lights are not uncommon here. Death and struggle meet us all but the aged are most acquainted with the ultimate passage of life.

I’m preparing the house for my parents winter stay here in Florida. Both of them are now closer to ninety years of age. I will soon be 66. A picture of Grandma Brown and my Aunt Faith sits on a table in the living room. Grandpa Brown kneels next to a toddler, my dad, in a picture in the guest bedroom. Pictures of a youthful Grandpa Sheveland and Grandma Sheveland stand upon a dresser in the master bedroom. All are gone now, only vestiges of memories remain. “For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed.”

This afternoon I finish cleaning and organizing the folks’ garage. I see garden tools, golf shoes, accessories of every ilk. Sadly, few of these items carry relevance to my parents today, more vestiges of a vibrant life now passed. My daughter squeals when I talk about death — she claims I fixate on the subject, probably true. But death greets every one of us sooner or later.

Algoma Boulevard winds through the city cemeteries of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The name Mierswa appears on a prominent tombstone alongside the road. My friend Danny Mierswa lays six feet under that stone. He took a pointblank gunshot to the chest by a purse snatcher in Los Angeles at the age of 26. Up the road, more graves than I care to count house the remains of family, friends, and acquaintances. My parents will soon join them. We don’t dwell on such things. Moribund, depressing: I agree! But this is life.

“Since the children have flesh  and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of death — that is, the devil — and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”  Hebrews 2:14,15

“For the man of antiquity … the external world was happy and joyous, but the world’s core was deeply sad and dark. Behind the cheerful surface of the world’s surface of so-called merry antiquity there loomed “chance” and “fate”. For the Christian, the external world is dark and full of suffering, but its core is nothing other than pure bliss and delight”  Richard Shweder

Death has no morbid grip on the Christian. “Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”  1 Corinthians 15:55  My Grandma Brown raised her bony hands heavenward, “I just want to pierce the veil.” Grandpa Sheveland kissed his wife, “I’m ready to go home now.” Uncle Leroy irritated his sister with his enthusiasm for heaven. She is still here, she got her wish. My Grandpa Brown’s last words to me, “In the end, Christ is all that matters.” The Christian does not fear death. His hope is in Christ, his purpose eternal, to serve and glorify his Creator forever. “Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King. No more crying there, no more dying there, we are going to see the King.”

Only One You

Posted: August 28, 2020 in Meditations

 

 

“I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever; with my mouth will I make your faithfulness known through all generations. I will declare that your love stands firm forever, that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself.”

Psalm 89:1,2

Another morning at the home renovation of Bill and Donna; they were technically my clients but this relationship evolved into a labor of love for friends. I sat with them at the kitchen table sipping coffee. It was Saturday. Bill’s phone rang, it was his sister. A minute later, he hung up. “My mom died.” Tears streamed down his cheeks. “Good or bad, you only get one mom.”

I met Bill’s mother twice, said hello once. Bill honored her every Sunday with a visit. “If it wasn’t for Donna, I wouldn’t go at all, too much pain.” On another occasion Bill said, “Phil, my mother is evil, the most miserable reprehensible human being I know.” I was stunned, speechless, I could scarcely take his words in. How is this possible, a mother and son?

Bill may be the most delightful irreverent force of nature I know. His family means the world to him. An army of friends adore him. I too got sucked in by this guy. Bill is a man of integrity, honest, generous to a fault. How did a young man survive the abuse of a mother and become this man? I don’t know. I do know God graced him with two women of integrity, Donna and her mother. Love makes a way, God knows.

Think of it, in spite of decades of insults and abuse, tears flowed. Bill loved his mom. “Good or bad, you only get one mom.” God loves us. Yes, in spite of our abuse and reprehensible behavior, God still loves us. He weeps over us, he get’s angry over the pain sin causes us. So he made a way, his name, Christ Jesus. “Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!”

“Good or bad, there is only one you.” You could be the most disgusting person on the planet, God still weeps. You see, God is love, God is faithful. His love endures forever. “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”  Revelation 3:20

Amazing grace will always be my song of praise                                                                            For it was grace that brought me liberty                                                                                          I do not know just why He ever came to love me so                                                                      He looked beyond my fault and saw my need

And I shall forever lift mine eyes to Calvary                                                                                    To view the cross where Jesus died for me                                                                                      How marvelous the grace that caught my falling soul                                                                  He looked beyond my faults and saw my need

Holy God, Divine Grace

Posted: August 27, 2020 in Meditations

Sin is cosmic treason. Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign. It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself. Have you ever considered the deeper implications of the slightest sin, of the most minute peccadillo? What are we saying to our Creator when we disobey Him at the slightest point? We are saying no to the righteousness of God. We are saying, ‘God, your law is no good. My judgement is better than yours. Your authority does not apply to me. I am above your jurisdiction. I have the right to do what I want to do, not what You command me to do.'”

R.C. Sproul   “The Holiness of God”

I’m an old man, I can barely navigate Facebook. I have a friend named Joe, a man who loves Jesus like few others. Joe posted an affirmation to the life of unborn babies. I loved it and decided to reply. My words celebrated fundamental precepts of Christianity, man created by and for God, created in love, by love, and for love. Each and every life is sacred unto God including children in the womb. I quoted Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you to the nations.” Joe will enjoy this, I thought. He loves Scripture. And I moved on with my day. Later, I see comments on my post. New to this game, I get excited, like getting a letter when I was young. My first comment, an angry one, in sum, “You do not control me with your dogma. Your Bible verse means nothing to me.” Wow, I didn’t expect this. I thought I was talking to my buddy, Joe. Who is this? The thread carried on. I soon found out what this person really hated, the Christian God. That God fell below his standards. A righteous God cannot and will not condemn millions of human beings to hell.

Man has always been arrogant in his sin. He blames God for man’s mess, tells God how he should behave, and then tells God what to do. I know, I’ve done it myself, multiple times. We play God with ourselves and with others. The proper question should be, “Why does God bother to save anybody?” R. C. Sproul is right, “We say no to the righteousness of God.” 

Who is God? “I AM WHO I AM” Exodus 3:14  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life,  and that life was the light of all mankind.” John 1:1-4  The Christian God is the creator and sustainer of all that is. He is the source of life. From quantum particles, to the edges of our expanding universe, and what lays beyond or within, God is. All powerful, we see flashes of that creative power in quasars. No man can withstand a direct contact with the Christian God. He is holy other than, awesome in power. Isaiah cries out, “Woe to me, I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and I have seen the King, The Lord Almighty.” My sin merits no mercy, no grace, I deserve obliteration. But something happened, and now I know, He touched me and made me whole. “Yet to all those who did receive Him, to those who believed in his name, He gave the right to become children of God — children not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” John 1:12,13

 

I Love You, Lord

Posted: August 25, 2020 in Meditations

“I love the Lord, for he heard my voice: he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.”

Psalms 116:1,2

“I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer: my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”

Psalms 18:12

“I love you, Lord.” Read those words again aloud, make them your own. What does that simple phrase of adoration mean to you? Each of us carries a unique story, it continues to unfold in time. What role has God played in your story? David’s story often placed him squarely in the face of death. David cries out to God to deliver him in Psalms 18 and 116. The terrors of life drove David into the arms of Almighty God.

Nine years ago I laid in a bed, a ceiling fan pushed air in the silence of my bedroom. Life ebbed within, I was dying. I felt no fear, no anger, no resignation. Six years of struggle refined me, now a simple man with a simple life confined to the walls of my simple home. I sang the words to a simple chorus, “If I live, well, praise the Lord. If I die, well, praise the Lord. If I live or die, my only cry will be, Jesus in me, praise the Lord.” I looked through that ceiling, through the roof of my home, beyond the heavens to the ethereal other, heaven. “I love you, Lord.” It wasn’t like this when I fell 26 feet off a roof gable and landed on the back of my head. A funny thing happens when when the life you’ve made gets snatched from you. You find out where your identity rests. My identity wasn’t in Christ, it was in my work. God, family, others all revolved around my creative impulses. Sad, tragic, I’m embarrassed at my stupidity when I think about it.

How did I go from a “working man” to a “devoted lover of God”? My misery, my desperation, my spiritual nakedness drove me into the arms of God. Suffering holds no glamour, no glory, but it houses meaning as poignant as any ethereal event. No matter where, no matter what, God is there, God knows, God waits. Life happens to us all. In my struggle, I read, I prayed. My health worsened but my heart warmed, even as the cords of death entangled me. I rekindled my love for the Almighty in his presence. “He is my rock, my fortress, my deliverer.” Death does not have the final say. I belong to God. I grew to appreciate three great truths. One, as long as I have breath, I have purpose. Two, God majors in the reweaving of my life. Three, no matter how I am compromised in the eyes of man, I am never compromised in the eyes of God.

Nine years have passed since he raised me up out of that bed. My heart yearns for his presence. Each moment is a gift. An old hymn speaks more eloquently than I do.

More about Jesus would I know                                                                                                          More of his grace to others show                                                                                                         More of his saving fullness see                                                                                                           More of his love who died for me

“I love you, Lord.” In the end, Christ is all that matters.

More Of His Fullness

Posted: August 24, 2020 in Meditations

 

“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness,humbleness of mind,meekness, longsuffering….”

Colossians 3:12

Another morning of heartbreak, images of fiery riots dominate the news feed of my phone. Hate and vengeance raged in the name of justice for the oppressed. A dystopian voice cries out, “Give us what is rightfully ours or we will burn this nation to the ground.” How do we respond to legitimate grievance? Do we shun the grievance because thugs destroy and loot? How do we respond as Christians? What voice do we bring to the discourse? I, for one, need wisdom beyond myself. I search the Scripture. I seek the heart of God in prayer. I listen for the quiet voice of the Holy Spirit. I read the words of proven saints, I listen to the learned dialogue on podcasts. My overarching prayer, “Almighty God, speak to my heart, grip my being tight within your holy shroud. Discipline my tongue. Silence any speech of fallen ignorance. Others must see Jesus in me.”

Every morning, I click on Todd Trotter’s Twitter feed. A godly businessman from Milwaukee, I can count on Todd to speak into my life with Scripture, a great quote, or a pithy personal observation. Today he posted Colossians 3:12. That Scripture summarized much of my reading yesterday. Wise saints, Gloria Gaither and Tim Keller, spoke life into mine. Both reinforced fundamental truths for me. One, I am a sinner saved by grace, recreated to fulfill my divine purposes through Jesus Christ my Lord. Two, I am not my own. My life, my stuff — none of it belongs to me. I am a steward of God’s life, God’s stuff,  a remarkable truth in a culture of individualism. Three, I no longer exercise power to serve my ends. No, power now consecrates itself to the service of others in the name of Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

The “new man”, raised up when I surrendered all to God, is now working itself out in me through the faithful diligence of my senior partner, the Holy Spirit. I ask him every morning, “Make me more like Jesus.” Make no mistake, I fail, I blow it, pure and simple. I possess defects in temperament. I am passionate, an attribute in the Spirit, a catastrophe in the flesh. But I refuse to define myself by my failures. I define myself by grace, by the new man God shapes and employs as an instrument of service to others. My identity rests in Christ.

So, where do I begin? How do I respond to a chaotic angry world? The answer for me, today, rests in Colossians 3:12. Phil, show mercy. Demonstrate kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Don’t turn your back on those who hurt you. Forgive them as Jesus Christ forgave you. Above all else, love others with the love of Jesus. Love the unlovely when others cease to care. Never forget, in the end, Christ is all that matters.

Family Legacy

Posted: August 21, 2020 in Meditations

 

 

“Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. They are a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck.”

Proverbs 1:8-9

Memories that course my mind in the wee hours of night often instruct my life, none more than the images of family, some a full half century past. What dominates those images of yesteryear? The house? Furniture? A car? No, instead I hear laughter, the timber of a voice not heard in decades. Delightful smells waft from a kitchen, a simple farm table gets set. Family meant everything to my parents, to my parents’ parents. Above all else, Jesus Christ reigned in their homes.

This week I awoke to the voices of my great-grandparents. Grandma and Grandpa Bluhm sang hymns to the strum of a mandolin and a guitar. My extended family joined in, we filled the quaint living and dining rooms. Those precious voices and images faded into consciousness. “Where did that come from?” I asked. “Heaven sent”, my spirit replied. And I immediately knew why.

My wife and I are in transition. We now seek a new home, a new beginning for this season of life. We tour homes, we love the fantasies of “what ifs”. The world expertly markets shiny objects. Who wouldn’t want to live in a castle placed upon an edenic paradise? To those who can, I applaud you. You earned it. But the kids will not fixate on the grandeur of a home. They will treasure the magic of family.

Even now as I write, my mind sits me at the table in Grandma and Grandpa’s kitchen. Grandma reads today’s entry from the “Daily Bread”. Grandpa bows his head and prays. The words barely audible, the tone reverential, Grandpa offers thanks for God’s blessings. They never had much. The home, humble by any standards, harbored less than a thousand square feet. A white picket fence circumscribed prim gardens and stately walnut trees. But what do I treasure most? What do I long for? My grandpa’s hug, the sound of his voice when he calls me, “Snickerfritz”.

Heritage, legacy…my love for Christ is not circumstance. I stand as a witness to faithful ancestors of a faithful God. Their quest is now ours, we serve Almighty God. We generate a witness and memories to our children and to our children’s children. Be faithful, commit righteous acts, impart a godly legacy. Never forget, in the end, Christ is all that matters.

A Better Way

Posted: August 20, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

 

“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken,

Isaiah 1;18-20

Paul sat in a room with friends that loved him dearly. Nobody smiled, the pall of death enveloped the air. Paul, my roommate at college, said, “I’m done. I can’t live this life any longer. I’m gay and always will be. I’m walking away from the church.” Prayers were spoken and tears were shed. Paul walked out of our lives. The issue was never about sex. The real issue was lordship. Who captains the ship of my life? Your Life? We choose every day whom we will serve. Where is your identity? Is it in Christ?  Your sexuality? Your gender? Your job? Your appearance? Life gets complicated apart from Christ because the answer is rarely linear. The sin of pride masks itself in clothes of self delusion.

Let’s face it, humanity is sin stupid. Why do we insist upon messing up our lives and the lives of others? And then what do we do? We either blame God or deny he even exists. I love this quote from Matthew Henry, “No man will say, ‘There is no God’ till he is so hardened in sin that it has become his interest that there should be none called to account.” Bottom line, we need God desperately. He designed us that way.

Why is it so hard to submit to God? Why do we insist on usurping his role in our lives? How many of us must be devoured by the sword before we submit? Sin warps us, we lose all perspective. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” Isaiah 5:20  We lose our way, we squander the gift of life.

God offers a better way to the willing, to those who trust and obey. He cleanses us. He frees us from the chains of sin. He fills us with hope and with the love of his heart. We now drink in life with purpose. God condescends to be my friend. I no longer walk alone and I am who I always was meant to be. The words of this old hymn grow more familiar, more real each day that passes in submission to him.

I come to the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses, and the voice I hear falling on my ear, the Son of God discloses. And he walks with me and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own; and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.

In the end, Christ is all that matters.

Lost ‘First Love”

Posted: August 19, 2020 in Meditations

 

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“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I have this against you. You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.’ ”

Revelation 2:1-5a

What was that “first love”? What makes it special? And how can a church under great persecution do so many right things and yet be condemned? “Consider how far you have fallen!” The admonition assumes the Ephesian church knows what is wrong, but do we?

I look back on my first year of life in Christ. At seventeen, so much happened in such a short period of time. The day after I cried out to God, “God, if you are real, please be real in my life”, I asked the church to pray over me. I thought little else but thoughts of my new found Savior, Jesus Christ. I showed up at every service, Bible study and Christian activity in my town. I shared my story, a simple gospel message, with anyone willing to listen. I read my bible and inspirational books about great men and women of God. I prayed in the morning, noon, and night. Nothing else mattered beyond the object of my love. I reveled in his presence. I hung on every word. I thrilled at the embrace of the Holy Spirit on Sunday nights after tarrying service. I wanted nothing more than to please God.

Honeymoons are awesome. Couples spend money they don’t have to get away and indulge the love that they have for each other. But the time comes for real life to begin. Jobs beckon, bills come in, life pauses for none of us. The same dynamic confronts the young Christian. It caught me by surprise and I didn’t handle it well. I didn’t want to go to college. I had an opportunity to do the Lord’s work and I took it. Nothing went right. The ministry plan went south when the pastor’s wife got struck down with cancer. My older roommates at the ministry house bickered, any comradery disappeared. My zeal melted away. No ministry, no direction, a fractured relationship with my parents, my life devolved into a mess. I still pursued the things of God. I went to church, bible studies, hung out with friends but I was a shell of what I was just a few months  ago. Who was I, and where was God in all of this?

“Why, Lord, do you stand far off?  Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”

Psalm 10:1

People are shameful and shameless creatures. “Why me, Lord? Where are you when I need you?” Too many of us overstep our bounds with God. That was me. I took control of my life and made a mess of it. If that wasn’t enough, I got angry with God for the mess I created. A key moment came on a lonely dock of a lake in the early dawn. Emotionally spent, I submitted every failure to him, the blame game was over. God, you build my life. I’m yours. That was the beginning. I returned to my first love and it began with submission.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the God’s mighty hand, that he might exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

1 Peter 5:6

The Ephesian church looked healthy but it was fragmenting. The daily submission to the Great God, infinite goodness, had long passed. Dutiful believers pushed on by sheer grit. “Why Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself?” The Ephesian church was at an existential crossroads, intimacy with the Almighty or self-destruction. Submission leads to intimacy. Why is God so harsh when he says, “Repent!”? God has so much more for them. They already lost their first love. They are now losing the deepening love God desires for them. It doesn’t have to be that way.

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.”

James 4:7,8a

When the Lights Go Out, Interlude

Posted: August 18, 2020 in Meditations

I last published March, 6th. I never quit writing but I switched mediums, phone texts with brief devotional thoughts from my journal. Six months later, August 18, I have a better sense of where I want to go with this blog. The content may appear the same but my heart has a greater sense of confidence and urgency.  God’s Word and my journey will resonate with specific individuals in time and space as the Holy Spirit intersects with them. I’ve witnessed that reality over the past months. God has a story to tell through my words. This is why I must write, this is why I now commit to expanding a platform God is calling me to.

Each day may bring a scripture and a short word, a paragraph, or it may lead to a discussion over the course of several days. The work will remain spontaneous and fresh. I read constantly, I live in my head–much to the frustration of my precious wife. At 65, I’ve seen a fair slice of life. I know triumph and abject failure intimately. I’ve seen the hand of mercy and I’ve felt the shame and terror of judgment. This blog chooses mercy. I will not venture to play the role of a sophisticated theologian. I have no interest in disputes but I will talk about sin. Honesty demands a sober assessment of who we are. Grace and the reweaving of lives will always follow any discussion of sin and failure.

Every life is sacred to God. We are created by him and for him. I heard Tim Tebow put it this way, “created in love, by love, for love.” If every life is sacred to God, every life has divine purpose. No matter how bad choices shipwreck a life, the love of God desires to rescue that life. Jesus Christ is who he said he was; the Bible is the divine revelation of  God and man’s story of redemption. These are the foundational precepts of faith that shape my life and words to you the reader. I live my daily life upon three truths  birthed in me during six years of dire health. One, as long as I have breath, I have purpose. Two, God majors in the reweaving of lives. Three, no matter how I am compromised in the eyes of man, I am never compromised in the eyes of God. In God, hope never dies.

Finally, spread the word. If this blog speaks to you, pass it on to others. If this blog honors Jesus Christ, refer the platform to other platforms. When God shares hope and life to your soul, share that life with others. This endeavor is about you and a faithful God–a message of hope, of perseverance, of new beginnings. In the end, Christ is all that matters.

“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become  heirs having the hope of eternal life.”

Titus 3:3-7