Look At Those Hills!

We love the Smoky Mountains. The hills and the peaks are magnificent to us. We go there once a year. After going through Maryville on the way towards Townsend, we catch a better glimpse of our destination ahead. We go, not as tourists, but to rest ourselves. We venture out one day–but the other 6 days are spent in the cabin. And I was think how refreshing those mountains are. But something, rather SOMEONE, just reminded me: “Oh, really? What about the ONE who made those mountains? Reckon He has anything to do with it?”

And I immediately thought of Psalm 121 and Verses 1 and 2: “I look up to the mountains—does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!” Mountains are part of life–both those found in nature and those who rise up in life’s difficulties. As we face mountains, whether they are the beautiful ones like those in the Smokies, or the ones more rugged and difficult, there are two ways of looking at them; as I was just reminded.

We can look at them and think they are going to define us. That they will ultimately either rise us up to the peak, or send us crashing down to the bottom. When those mountains are made of pain, suffering, difficulties, and challenges rise up–we falsely think we have only two choices. We can roll up our sleeves and give it our best try. But most of us are not mountaineers. Or, we can bow down in surrender and believe (again falsely) that we are defeated by those mountains.

But there’s a third choice. We can look for help–but not just anywhere. Look to the God who created the beauty of the Smokies, the Rockies, the Alps, the Himalayas, and every other mountain made of rocks and dirt. If He can make such beauty (sorry, I don’t have enough faith to believe such beauty and majesty happened because of some big explosion) then He is more than able to help you when those ginormous mountains of pain and problems rise up like it’s Goliath. And He is willing! Though He did not make those mountains of problems and pains–if we look to Him and ask for His help by surrendering completely to Him, then one of two things will always happen. Either the mountain collapses in front of you like Goliath did before David, or His strength will turn you and I into mountaineers.

RECALL ALERT!

every day Recall something that God has done for you

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Recall Alert! No, not your vehicle. Not some baby product. Not your C-Pap machine. Not the food in your pantry or freezer. Not your coffee maker. Not your hair dryer or curling iron or flat iron. Not some power tool. Not your washer, dryer, refrigerator, or freezer. It hasn’t been on the news, but it should be. Are you wondering what I’m writing about this morning? Well, let me first tell you a short story.

One Sunday morning at my previous appointment, I was talking with someone about something (I forgot what it was), but as I was talking, I forgot some key point of the story. The person I was talking with was Dr. Joe Cooney, a physiology professor. I told Joe, “Oh, man! I can’t remember! I’m losing my memory.” And in his usual calm manner, Joe told me, “No, you’re not loosing your memory. It’s up there. You’re having a RECALL problem.” God bless Joe! I wasn’t loosing my memory, and he’s spent his whole life understanding and teaching about the human body, including the brain!

Recalling that episode this early morning got me to thinking–about Recall! And what does Recall have to do with this thing called the Journey of Life? Sometimes I forget. Do you? It acts like memory loss–but it’s a Recall issue. As a matter of fact, life can be, scratch that, life IS difficult to say the very least. You don’t need this old preacher to remind you of this reality.

Problems at work. Problems at home. Problems with our health. Unexpected deaths. Failures. Divorce. Abandonment. Loss of job. Foreclosure. Depression. These are just a very few of the moments in life that will cause us to question–question the Only One who loves us and takes care of us no matter what happens. Or am I the only one who has ever questioned the faithfulness of God? Felt abandoned by God? Felt like He just doesn’t care? When those moments overwhelm us–we act, think, and feel like there are no memories of how faithful God has been to us. But He has been–we just need to Recall those memories of other overwhelming moment when no doubt, God was with us!

One of my favorite memories was in July of 1971. At a youth service the Holy Spirit moved in my heart and invited me into this relationship with Jesus. I fought so hard that I held on to the pew in front of me–and I said NO to God. Why is this a good recall for me? Because a year later, that same Holy Spirit spoke that same message to me–and this time I said YES!

In September 2003, another of my favorite memories happened. I was a total train wreck, and the darkness was strong in me because of my divorce. I had performed a wedding ceremony for a very good friend’s nephew. A friend called me that next week and told me I really impressed one of the wedding directors and that I really needed to call her for a date. Debbie became God’s Gift to me in my darkest times. And on November 13, 2020 we celebrated our 16th Wedding Anniversary.

It’s not easy–but if we stop focusing on what we have forgotten–and start to Recall, well–it just changes everything. We recover the Truth that God hasn’t abandoned us or forgotten us. Recall is a good thing–an excellent thing. May I suggest, as I did this morning–to Recall moments when God overwhelmed us with love, mercy and grace.

Don’t wait until the crucible heats up–every day Recall something that God has done for you. And if you are having a Recall Problem and can’t remember–then think about Jesus on that cruel Cross. Look at the Cross–and the Recall Problem is resolved!

This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.

1 John 4:10 (NLT)

But I’m Knot!

Though at this moment I’m a Not/Knot, I choose to fight.

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Paul once wrote: “I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.” (Philippians 4:11 NLT) But I’m not! Paul once wrote: “So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen.” (2 Corinthians 4:18 NLT) But I’m not. The Psalmist wrote: “When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.” (Psalm 94:19 NLT) But I’m not. And because I’m NOT I’m in a KNOT! Here’s why.

My sister recently died. I’m deeply concerned for my Dad’s health and emotional state. Two people close to us won’t talk to us. My deep concerns for the two wonderful churches we serve. The state of our culture. COVID-19. Add to this all the other “stuff” too numerous to mention. And now, there’s another thing. This week my wife Debbie, God’s gift to me, found a lump in her breast. Yesterday she had an ultrasound. And we are impatiently waiting for the results. It’s impossible not to ponder about all the possible results.

I know, I know! But in this very moment, I’m not all those good and wonderful things I know. So, what do I do? Give in? Give up? Wallow around (if you’re from the south, the word is woller) in this NOT, or should I say KNOT? I could do that–and honestly–it’s very tempting to do this. So, what am I going to do?

One thing is that I will wrestle to get free of this NOT! And this is where YOU, the Body Of Christ comes in. Pray! Friends, we are in a war and the battleground is real life–as it happens. Though at this moment I’m a Not/Knot, I choose to fight. But I need some reinforcements. I know the rest of the Philippians passage–“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty.” (Philippians 4:13-14) I know it, I just need to KNOW it is true on this battlefield. Thanks in advance for your prayers–and thanks for NOT telling me I should know better. Yes, I’m wollering around–and with the Grace of God, and your support, I’m getting out of this mudhole!

It’s Right There In The Bible! NOT! Part 5

Here is one of the most challenging things that simply are not in the Bible. You may want to don your Personal Protection Equipment for this one:

God wants me to forgive others, but He doesn’t expect me to forget it.

See, I told you this was the most difficult one–and it’s one that I struggle with perhaps the most. It definitely falls into the category of “Things I wish was not in The Bible!” One of our justifications for believing this is that God gave us the ability to remember, so surely He doesn’t expect us to forget when someone wounds us. But then, there’s this Text that fits my definition of “Things I wish was not in The Bible!”

Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32)

And how does God forgive us? Just look at Jeremiah 31:34 to see: “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” Tough and hard, isn’t it? So we come to another justification to alleviate our duty and responsibility: “He’s God and I’m not! God can forget, but I just can’t!” Granted, we cannot just forget–a truth I was painfully reminded of last week when an old wound opened up.

But there is a way to forgive and forget. It’s in how we treat the memory of the wound. Let me tell your a true story–a short one. I was only 6 years old when my Papa Burbank died. I was sad when it happened. But when I remember “Papa Banks” (that’s what I called him), the memory is me with him in his blacksmith shop. I remember him turning the bellows handle–the coals getting hotter–and the smell of that coal and coke. I not only smell it, I can taste it. Remembering him doesn’t make me sad, it makes me smile.

My point is, it’s not in the forgetting but in how we respond to the memory. When we remember how someone wounded us, we choose how we respond to that memory. We can either open that wound back up and feel the heat–and like I watched in Papa Bank’s smithy shop–the let all that resentment and bitterness grow and glow hotter. OR–we can respond by remembering how God has forgiven us.

We choose how we respond to our memories. It’s about maturing to the point when we remember the wound–but without the pain. It’s about releasing our pains to the One who was pained by us as He hung upon that Cross. It’s not easy to get to this point–trust me; I still struggle. Not easy–but it is possible. It will happen as we allow God to work ON us and IN us. We’re not the finished product–yet. But as we learn to think more like Jesus and less like us–we arrive at the point where we have forgiven them just like God has forgiven us–when we choose to release that pain. And God does expect us to release that pain. OUCH!

What’s An Apple Pie Without Apples?

Love without the corresponding actions is an apple pie without apples.

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What’s an apple pie without apples? Or a banana pudding without bananas? Or a meatloaf without meat? The answer? One could say, “It’s not the same.” This is true–but let’s dig a little deeper. The correct answer is: “They are not!” Without apples, it’s not an apple pie! Without bananas, it’s not banana pudding. Without meat, it’s not meatloaf. What’s my point this morning, other than making you crave these and other foods?

Love without the corresponding actions is an apple pie without apples. BUT…when we love in ways that touch another human heart with kindness, care, and concern–it puts the apples back into the pie; the bananas back into the banana pudding; and puts the meat back into meatloaf. John had something to say about this: “My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. “ (1 John 3:18 The Message)

This week I have been reminded in powerful ways the value of love when others (as The Message puts it:) Practice Real Love! This morning we are packing our bags to go back to my childhood home as we prepare for my sister’s visitation and funeral–and to help share the burden of my Dad–who shared my burdens when I was hurting.

And I am once again overwhelmed with the love of others. Your prayers, comments, messages and phone calls–are powerful means of God’s grace in my life in a season when I am needing them most. There are a few who haven’t reached out to me that I thought would–and it only adds to my pain. But to you who are reaching out, who are practicing real love–are helping ease that pain and hurt as well. And until that day we are all in The Eternal Kingdom–you will never know how much YOU are helping me in this season.

PS: I will be taking a couple of days off from blogging. And in the immortal words of General Douglas McArthur, “I shall return!” And it’s because of those who practice real love.

Making For A Better View

Truth be told, pruning is downright painful. But I am understanding the purpose, and the love behind God’s pruning.

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Well, our last full day at this cabin. As I was sitting on the back porch, my eyes were not drawn to the beautiful mountain peaks, but to something unexpected. It wasn’t beautiful at all. In fact, it was in great contrast to those Smoky Mountain peaks we have enjoyed this past week. Would you like to see what I noticed? It’s nothing like the pictures I have posted, so a disclaimer is in order: Not for immature audiences due to it’s starkness:

Blue Mountain View Cabin

One might wonder why in the world would someone, anyone cut down those beautiful trees? I’m not a ultra-extreme tree hugger, so it did not take me long to figure it out. They were cut down so we, and others who stay here, could see those majestic peaks. See?

Blue Mountain View Cabin

There are other benefits to the removal of those trees. One is that the undergrowth is given a better opportunity to grow, thus reducing the amount of erosion. The tree trunks and limbs begin decaying, adding back to the soil, making it richer and better. Then there’s that view. None of these would happen without the chainsaw cutting down those trees. There’s a spiritual lesson for us right here. Tree huggers may not see it, but it’s here.

Remember the benefits of controlled cutting: undergrowth can thrive reducing erosion, decaying limbs and tree trunks add nutrients to the soil for plants to grow better, insects collect around the cuttings for birds to have food, and one can see the view for which we came. Sometimes things in our life can grow so tall that we cannot see our God’s desired destination for us–which is to become more and more like Jesus.

Sometimes there are things in our heart and especially our mind that must be cut down. We call this “God’s pruning”. He cuts off the dead parts of our life because they are a threat to the living parts. Now get this, He even cuts off productive parts of our lives as well. Why would he do that? Glad you asked. The answer is found in John 15, verses 1 and 2:

“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of Mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and He prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.

New Living Translation (emphasis mine)

Speaking from personal experience, pruning is neither easy nor pleasant. Truth be told, pruning is downright painful. But I am understanding the purpose, and the love behind God’s pruning. What is cut away in my life is like those limbs and tree trunks–it’s enriching the soil of my life. My “mess” becomes His “Message”; not a bad trade if you ask me. Furthermore, the pruning of my productive part will decrease my production for a short time, but the long-term result is an even greater production for my Father. Again, however you look at it, this is a really great deal. It’s like trading in an old clunker car for a brand new car–without paying for the difference between the two.

So, if it feels like God has had His chainsaw out–it’s for our good. And when the pruning shears come out–get excited! There is a greater harvest coming for Our Father!

There Is No Quick Fix

This is the last in my reflections of my recent medical emergency. If you haven’t read the first one, then click here.

When we are hurting–whether physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally, or relationally–we want the pain to go away and go away quickly. And here is another lesson I have learned in my most recent episode:

The quick-fix rarely, if ever, works.

In my situation of my ruptured appendix, Dilaudid made the pain quickly go away. And for a little bit the quick-fix solved my problem with pain. But guess what? The effects of Dilaudid wore off and the pain returned. Other than making me feel comfortable, the Quick-Fix did nothing to solve the real problem. Can you make the connection here?

In case you did not, allow me to explain. There are things that will help us numb the pain but cannot treat the real condition causing our pain. It’s not just in the realm of physical pain–but all other forms of pain. For example, holding a grudge against someone who wounded you deeply can hide the pain momentarily–but the pain returns. Trust me on this one; I personally know about holding grudges–it won’t heal the pain.

There are a lot of ways–chemical, emotional, and mental–to numb the pain. Yet they fail to heal the cause of our pain. This is why we turn to God in times of pain. God doesn’t offer us a quick-fix–but He does offer us wholeness. And sometimes, wholeness requires both time and a process. In the case of my ruptured appendix, they did not immediately remove that vile and evil beast. To have done so would have exposed my entire body with poisonous toxins that would have put me in further danger. By treating the poisons in me first, it decreases the probability of further complications when they will remove my appendix.

Next Wednesday I revisit my doctor. Hopefully he will tell me when they will schedule surgery to remove my appendix. Doctors have helped me understand why I need to wait–and I trust their knowledge and skills. And you can trust the knowledge and skills of the Great Physician to restore your whole health–spiritually, emotionally, mentally and relationally. You can trust Him because He created you–and offered you redemption through His Marvelous Grace. God doesn’t offer us a day-trip with a quick-fix. He offers us a journey–filled with His more than sufficient Grace–and His Presence to help us when we can’t help ourselves.