Friday, May 15, 2015

Closer Than You Think

Do you feel like you're "far from God"? Do you feel like you've been wandering and drifting for so long that the road back seems VERY long? Are you afraid to try to travel it because you'll probably just fail miserably again?

I wonder if that feeling is simply because you're facing the wrong way. If you're walking away from Jesus, rather than following him, then there is no Jesus in your field of vision. Of course it will seem like he is, or you are, far, far away.

Here's where the Word of God needs to trump your feelings.

Isaiah 55:6-7 "Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. (see also James 4:4-10 and Acts 17:26-27)

No matter how far you wander from Jesus, he’s near to you. Just turn around, and you'll see. Yes, the road back to soul health and fruitfulness might be a long one, but you won't have to walk that road alone.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

You Can't Have Your Atheistic Cake and Eat Justice Too

Many people who doubt or deny the existence of God have a big problem with a loving God sending people to hell. Many of these same folks have a big problem with a God who allows horrific suffering, like the holocaust.

But I wonder if they've ever stopped to think about the quandary they are in with these judicial sentiments.

Hitler was guilty of HORRIFIC evil. Atrocious, vicious, perverse wickedness. And then he just committed suicide and died?! That's it? Where's the justice in that? And even if he had been captured alive, tried and executed, would that have satisfied the demands of justice? No. Hitler got off easy. We recognize, at least in Hitler's case, that we simply aren't capable of punishing people to the level that justice demands.

If there is no God who sends guilty, unrepentant sinners to hell, then there is no final justice for monsters like Hitler. And, there is no final justice or vindication for those who suffered unjustly. And there is no final justice in the universe. You can’t have your atheistic cake and eat justice too.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

From the People of the Cross to ISIS

Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can enable people to love their enemies. This is the power of the cross:


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

When All Our Adolescent Push Back Will Pass Away

Several years ago, Sam had a large piece of gummy candy that he was itching to eat. He woke up one morning and asked if he could have it for breakfast.

Not a chance.

Lunch time came, and went.
"Yes, dad?"

(in a stern voice) "Go get that gummy candy."

"Yes dad."

"Give it to me."

I unwrapped it. And then I said (again, in the stern, fatherly voice), "Sam, the Bible is very clear. God says 'Children obey your parents.'" (Dramatic pause.) "Eat this."

Sam happily obeyed, and then he went and gushed to his big sister. When he returned, I told him why I did what I did. I wanted him to have an illustration of something really important. 

"A lot of God's commands seem hard in this fallen world - even though they all are good! But one day, if Jesus is our Savior and Lord, we are going to hear one climactic command. Do you remember that parable of the talents? The servant was faithful with what was entrusted to him. When the master returned, he said to his servant (Matt 25:21), 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.' Do you think we’ll roll our eyes and shrug our shoulders?"

"No way!”

Now, what if that end-of-the-age command is really the heartbeat behind every other single command God gives his people? (see Deuteronomy 10:12-13, for instance)

Do you doubt it? Be careful... 

In Jesus' parable, there were three servants. Two of them heard that sweet command and happily obeyed. One guy did not. Remember what he thought of his master (Matthew 25:24-25)? 
'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.'

There will be no adolescent push back on Jesus when he gives this command to his followers at the end of the age. Among his faithful servants, there will be no rolled eyes, no slumped shoulders, no backtalk, no heavy sighs, no resistance.

If "enter into the joy of your master" is the heartbeat behind every one of God's commands, and if we actually believe that, do you think it will change the way we obey in this life? Maybe it will mean that our adolescent push back will begin to pass away more and more, until the day when it passes away into eternal oblivion, never to be seen again.

Psalm 100:2
Serve the LORD with gladness! 
Matthew 13:44
"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
John 15:11
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
James 1:2
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,
1 John 5:3-4
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world-- our faith.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Live Like a Root, and You'll Bear Much Fruit

One time at our Friday morning men’s Bible study, we were talking about the Final Judgment and how lots of biblical texts speak of how we will be judged by our works. The discussion naturally centered on the relationship between faith and works (or, you could say, between the root and the fruit).

Root and fruit. It's a common analogy. The fruit evidences the life and health of the root. If there is no fruit, then there is a systemic problem. You can't just tack on fruit. You need organic change at the root level.

So, back to that Friday morning. Rob Alekel was sitting there thinking. You could see the wheels turning. And then he shared an incredibly helpful insight. He said, “I've been thinking about this root analogy. Roots are water-focused, not fruit-focused.”

Do you see how practical and helpful Rob's insight is?

So often we are more focused on our performance than on the finished work of Jesus – what HE has done. How often do we obsess (consciously or subconsciously) over questions like: 

Am I okay? 
Am I good enough? 
Am I performing well enough?
What do I do with my failures?
How can I make up for them?
What do people think of me?

If roots were always searching for fruit, there would be no fruit. The reason roots grow and bear fruit is precisely because they are NOT fruit-focused, but because they are WATER-focused!

If you are a Christian, don’t focus on your performance. Don’t focus on your fruitfulness (e.g. your productivity, or how much you've done or given or accomplished). You’ll either get depressed or you’ll get puffed up with pride. Instead, go get a drink. 

John 7:37-38 
Jesus [said], "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'"
Come to Jesus (over and over and over) and drink, and you will have lots of "cups of cold water" to hand out to others (Mt 25:34-35). Or, live like a root, and you'll bear much fruit. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Precious In the Lord's Eyes...And Ours -- Beth's Memories with Ginger Strobert

One of Bethel's dear saints, Ginger Strobert (Sam's mother), died and went home to the Lord on April 10th. Beth formed a very sweet relationship with Ginger in her final years, and wrote up some of her memories in the days after Ginger died. 

She had no intention of sharing her memories broadly. It was mainly because she didn't want to forget Ginger. But for one reason and another, she's been asked a number of times to pass it along. And a number of people have been blessed by it, so I thought I would post it here. 

There are a lot of lessons here. My dear wife is so gifted in loving people in Ginger's life situation. I've learned much from her. I'm guessing you might, too. I hope at the very least that you learn a little more about Ginger, her faithful God, and how to love people in her situation. It also does us good to prayerfully think a little more about dying in faith, just like Ginger. 



(So our family won't forget…)

Yesterday the Lord took a dear friend of mine home to glory. Ginger and I got to know each other at church when I had a newborn and spent Sunday after Sunday with a blanket on the floor in the foyer so I could listen to the message over the speaker system. Ginger, almost 90 years old at the time, always sat in a chair in the foyer as well, and thus began our friendship. I was drawn in a special way to Ginger because just 4 years prior I had lost one of my best friends at 93 years old--my own precious grandmother.

As time passed, that little newborn at her feet became a toddler, and we began to have regular breakfast dates with Ginger. One of my favorite “dates” with Ginger was when we left the restaurant after breakfast and headed over to the Mall on a mission to buy her some boots for the approaching bad weather. Ben (2 y/o), even after being reminded over and over that we were shopping for “boots”, was determined to sell Ginger on some high heel shoes :-). She never corrected him. As he piled the shoes on her lap, she just laughed over and over, kindly accepting his offers of style advice! (We did end up finding some boots, by the way :-)!)

As time went on, our friendship grew. My other kids would take turns coming with me for a visit. If her family went out of town, we would check in with her daily, until their return. She became a surrogate grandmother/great-grandmother.  

In July of 2014, Ginger was admitted into Forwood Manor. The intent was that it would be short-term. However, as the Lord would have it, she never left. She was then 92, with congestive heart failure, and beginning to have trouble with circulation to her feet. The lack of circulation lead to sores that wouldn't heal, and pain that made walking and being “independent” not possible. She made the decision not to go through the surgery that may have improved her heart function, because, in the end, the surgery and recovery may have been harder to walk through than simply embracing the time she had left. Besides, she was “ready” to be with her Lord! So, Ginger went on hospice in July of 2014. Over the next 8 months we talked nearly everyday, usually for about a minute. If I was busy and couldn't answer, she would just leave a quick voicemail...just a quick update. On Saturday nights, I would come and do her “bedtime” routine, and we would talk a bit longer and end the night praying together.

Our time together would go something like this:

“Oh, hi dear! How are things going? … How is the family?" I would pull out my phone and show her any pictures I had taken during the week and she would light up to see the kids.

Then began her routine... “Ok, would you check the heat? Make sure that it’s at 70-72, and the fan is on medium.” I would get her up to the wheelchair and take her to the bathroom.

Then she would say, “Ok, now I think we'll start with my teeth...” (Of course we will, we ALWAYS did, but I let her tell me the order of our regular routine, just so she felt in charge :-), it was the only independence she had left.)

Then she would remind me of the time when one of her aides asked her if she takes her teeth out or leaves them in to brush them....and how confused she was by that question. "What is she talking about?!" Ginger thought to herself. Well, naturally the aide assumed that at 93 year old, Ginger wore dentures. Oh how it made her laugh to recall that story! She didn't know that most women her age don't have their own teeth anymore! Ginger had all of her teeth, and now realized that it was something to be proud of :-). (I attribute her oral health to her regular routine of rinsing with hot water before and after brushing her teeth. I think I need to adopt that practice!!!)

After we would take care of bathroom duties, it was time to get back to bed. We would lotion her hands and face, put Chapstick on, and a little Vicks vapor rub on the bridge of her nose. Then it was time to arrange the bedside table: two cans of ginger ale, opened, with straws in them, and a Styrofoam water cup (with ice) only half full (or it was too heavy to pick up). Her graham crackers needed to be opened and within reach for 11pm (change of shift always woke her up, so she wanted a snack:-)). Her call light, bed control, phone and remote had to all be in their proper place. The TV was to be turned to channel 249 (The Weather Channel), muted, then turned off, so that when she turned it on in the morning, her day started with a weather report. Then it was time to pray…

For many months, I would just pray. I would pray that she would "Run with endurance with her eyes fixed on Jesus...keep the faith and finish strong.” I would pray that God would make Forwood a mission field for her! I would pray Number 6:24-26 over her. Occasionally we would recite Psalm 23 together. It was our chance to share God’s truth with roommates and anyone walking by, because Ginger was VERY hard of hearing, so I had to nearly yell my prayers! J

We made many fun memories during this time. One came not long after her one (and only!) trip to the hair salon at Forwood. She did not have a good experience, and did not care to go back. When the time came for another haircut, she didn't know what to do. So, she asked if I would cut her hair. I brought over scissors and a curling iron and a bottle of hairspray and gave her a "new do." She was like a kid in a candy shop! We set her hair weekly for about a month after that, until she decided it was too high-maintenance and had me cut it really short J.

As the months progressed, she became bed-ridden. The only part of the routine that changed at this point was the move to diapers, which she bravely embraced with such grace. It was hard, but she joked, “I came into the world in diapers, and now I’ll leave the world in them. Funny how things come full circle.”

A couple of months ago, another change in routine occurred. She began wanting to pray with me, so she would open and I would close. That was when I started to get an even clearer glimpse into her relationship with her Lord. Prior to that, she talked openly about God with anyone who entered the room. She offered the "Our Daily Bread" devotional to anyone who would take it. One of her roommates accepted one from her and her daughter consequently got her nose bent out of shape. She was obviously not happy with Ginger’s evangelistic efforts toward her mother! Ginger told me of the many times a day when she would look up at the ceiling tiles and talk to God. Ginger did not fear death. Everyone knew it. They were challenged by her example.

We often talked about God, how much she missed church, and how much she missed taking communion. Nevertheless, those prayer times were the most precious. It was there that I got to hear her thank her God for saving such a sinner like her (her words). She would openly say, "God, I don't understand why you still have me here, but I don't question you! I trust you." She would pray for her mission there at Forwood and thank him for being such a loving and patient God.

In the last couple months, our talks got longer. I brought in pictures of my grandmother and we discovered some sweet similarities between the two of them. They had both sat out in the “foyer” at church in “their” chair to listen to the service. They both loved carrot cake. They both loved golf, and both lost their husbands before their 63rd wedding anniversary. Crazy! (They also both died at 93.)

Ginger began to share more details of her life, starting from the age of 17 when she had a love for horseback riding. Stories of her different boyfriends, and how her husband of 62+ years had "broken in" on a dance at a party one evening (not knowing that she had a promise ring on her finger from the boy she was dancing with!). After the dance and a call later that week, the promise ring was gone and she later married Sam. When they were newly married, Sam entered the Army. Ginger moved from base to base with him, getting a new job at each one in order to be with her husband. They went on to have one son, Sam. After leaving the military, they were constantly busy. She said that Sam (Sr.) always had to be doing something. They opened a used car dealership, then sold it and built a golf course named Wildwood Country Club in upstate New York. Ginger tended the bar and Sam ran the front desk. It was a LOT of work. They would close down the course for the winter and reside in Florida for the winter months.

After 35 years, they sold the golf course and moved permanently to FL. Ginger said that was when her Sam started to deteriorate. Sam died after they had been married for 62 years. Ginger remained in Florida in the same community for years after his death. She fondly recalled her beautiful home and the three-wheeler she would ride around her subdivision to visit her friends. After a time, she felt guilty that her son was having to travel all the way in Florida to see her, so she decided to move up to Delaware to a condo down the road from where Sam and Janet lived. She began attending Bethel when she moved up from Florida, which is how God crossed our paths.  

Listening to her stories was fascinating, but I was most blessed by her transparency about her sin and humility to admit that almost her whole life was not lived for God. She spoke of her shortcomings, failures as a wife, mother and mother-in-law...her regrets....things she would have changed. But the beauty of it all was that it was SO clear that she had repented of it all and embraced the mercy of God to forgive a sinner like her. She was OVERWHELMED by his grace. She embraced His sovereignty and never questioned her pain or the dying process. She was looking forward to heaven! She had the peace that only comes from knowing Him. I know people in their 40's who feel they can't come to God and receive forgiveness for the sins they've committed. They’re too ashamed to come to Him. They want to “get their life together” and “have something to offer Him.” How hard would it be to look back on 90+ years of life and trust God's forgiveness. Truly awesome. She DID NOT take that grace for granted!

Two weeks before she died, her pain was increasing and she was feeling "awful". For the first time, she didn't want me to brush her teeth (and she HATED going 12 hours without brushing!). My eyes began to fill with tears. Her arms were too heavy to lift (her body had begun to fill with extra fluid... "third-spacing," we call it in the medical world). Her "routine" came to a close. I did not receive my daily call around 9am that week. I called her and there was no answer. When I came over for what turned out to be our last Saturday night together (the night before Easter), she could barely talk. She couldn't handle the light from my no pictures were shown. She told me she couldn't feel anything. She asked me slowly, with breaths between each word, what it would be like… I knew she was talking about heaven. I opened to the end of Revelation and began to read, trying desperately not to cry. When I finished I sang "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," "Jesus Loves Me," and "Amazing Grace" in her ear. I was thankful that the room was dark. I quietly cried as I faced the end of our friendship on earth.

I returned to see her after church on Resurrection Sunday hoping there would be a little "rebound," because I selfishly wanted to talk to my friend again. I knew the pain of losing a friend like her (I had been there and done this with my Grandmother). There was no rebound. The end was near.  

That night, Chris and I went back to visit Ginger. Chris stopped by the church to pick up a communion kit he uses to administer communion to shut-ins. We didn't have grape juice, but I told him it was no problem. They always have a pitcher of juice on a cart in the hallway at Forwood, with some snacks to choose from for the residents (I share this, because I love how God micro-manages His universe!!!). The juice that was sitting on the cart that night (which was usually something that looked like watered down cran-apple or diluted red Kool-Aid), was a huge pitcher of straight-up Welch's Grape Juice!!! I almost started to cry! God had prepared the way. It’s not that we HAD to have undiluted grape juice for communion, but you can see how this was encouraging.

We entered the room and Ginger labored to open her eyes. Chris leaned over and kissed her on the forehead and told her that he loved her, and that he wanted to serve communion to her. She mustered out the words, "" “Yes. Of course we will! Gladly!” How appropriate it seemed to share communion together on Resurrection Sunday! So, the 3 of us took communion together. She ate the bread, and drank the cup and listened while Chris prayed... Then she said, "Thank you." (pause, breath) "Thank you." (pause, breath) "Thank you." Chris talked of heaven and how maybe they could play golf together there... She said, "You' ;-)." He then said, "Maybe, you, me, Beth and Gidge (my grandmother) could play as a foursome?" To that she opened her eyes and cracked a smile with a slow wink…. That was the last smile we got to see.

I was told that, by Monday, Ginger had stopped eating and talking. I visited her for the last time on Wednesday. I gave her lots of kisses on the forehead, and told her again how much I loved her and how I would miss her.

I received a text on Friday that she had gone to be with the Lord.

Psalm 116:15:
Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.
I love you Ginger. We will miss you. Thank you for being my friend.

Your friend,