At Times Life is Like a Used Car Lot

As I approach the end of each school year, I prepare for my annual office renewal ritual.  Part of the ritual is finding the left end of my desk.  You see the left end is where projects, reports, investigations, reviews, assessments, etc., etc. that have been handed my way collect over the course of a year.  It’s always nice to start the summer with the opportunity to see that my desk actually has a non-paper surface.

I was shuffling through the stack (actually that’s a very kind way of putting it, it’s more like a potential avalanche) in preparation for the renewal ritual and I was struck by the fact that it reminded me of a used car lot.  Some of the assembled clutter were reports and projects that had never started.  Most were reports and projects that started and stalled . . . started and misfired . . . started and died.  Some were reports and projects that were ‘important’ but were just sitting there rusting.  And a couple were reports and projects that had started sometime ago and were barely running at the present.

Actually what bothered me the most was the amount of time from my past year that they represented.  Although some only represented hours; others represented months of work.  None were being pursued in the present.  Other ideas had come to mind and replaced them.  Other things, for whatever reason, had become more pressing and more significant.  Consequently, these were moved to the ‘used car lot’ end of my desk.

I was feeling a bit upset about the pile, the amount of time it had removed from my life, and those who had initially assigned the project to me only to move on to other ideas and projects.  Then I was struck by 1 Corinthians 10:31 “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 

“All” means “all.”  The Bible doesn’t tell us to do the easy things to God’s glory.  Or the things that make sense to us to God’s glory.  Or the things that can be done quickly.  Or the things that actually work out and are profitable.  The Bible tells us to do “all” things to God’s glory . . . even the things on the ‘used car lot’ end of my desk.

That thought has echoed through my mind in the days since the Holy Spirit first renewed it to my attention.  So once the renewal ritual starts, and I’m walking that pile to the shredder to be turned into confetti, I’ll do it to God’s glory.

Have any ‘used car lots’ in your life?  Do them to the glory of God.

A Lesson from a Toll Booth

A few weeks ago we were traveling to one of those family reunions that are put together in less than 24 hours.  This was a wonder in light of our inability with any amount of planning to get enough family members committed for an annual reunion.  We were going to my aunt’s funeral. 

We were at the end of the third day’s drive when we approached a toll booth.  It appeared to be no different than any of the other toll booths we had approached and ‘E-ZPass’ed our way through on the trip.  I double checked the signs to make sure we were in the correct lane.  I pulled into a lane with two cars in line.  The booths had traffic control arms that dropped for each car and rose once the E-ZPass signal registered.

As we came to a stop, the arm rose, and the first car left the booth.  The second car pulled up into position and stopped.  We pulled up and stopped.  And waited . . . and waited . . . and waited.  Finally an attendant came out to the car in front of us.  The driver rolled her window down.  The two conversed for a bit.  Then the driver looked into her purse, shuffled some things around, picked up her E-ZPass transponder, and handed it to the attendant.

As I watched the attendant take the transponder into the toll booth, I laughed to myself and at myself.  I fully thought the driver was going to hand the attendant money for the toll, not an E-ZPass transponder.  It was a welcomed laugh at the end of a long day on the highway.

It wasn’t until the next day that the lesson of that stop at the toll booth struck me.  As we went through our first toll booth of the day and I began to reflect on the events of the previous day, I realized that what we witnessed as very much like what Christ spoke of in Matthew 5.  It could easily be a contemporary equivalent of what Christ told his disciples.

In Matthew 5:14-16, He begins his instruction with a statement—v. 14a “You are the light of the world.”  Christ is simply saying here is the situation or condition that you must recognize.  This is not potential or prophetic.  This is positive, individual, and factual.  He follows that with a second statement—vv. 14b-15 “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.”  This is also individual and factual.  Light has a purpose—to illuminate.  Consequently, lights belong on hill tops and lampstands, not under baskets.  A covered light cannot fulfill its purpose.  Both truths are undeniable.

An E-ZPass transponder in a purse cannot fulfill its purpose.  It may be fully functioning, but if it is concealed it isn’t going to serve its purpose and the control arm will never rise.  Traffic will come to a halt.  An attendant will have to leave their booth.  The driver will be embarrassed (I assume).  And other drivers will be upset.

Christ ends this lesson with an admonition—v. 16 “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”  Don’t hide our light.  Don’t limit your light.  Be a reflection of the heavenly Father in all you do and say.

As believers, we each have an E-ZPass transponder that will open heaven’s gates.  It is the salvation that we received through faith in Christ’s redemptive work on Calvary.  If we keep it in our purse or in our pocket, it cannot illuminate the world around us.  It cannot open the gates of heaven for all who need to enter.  So . . . “Let your light shine.”  And let it shine today.

Interrupted Routine

By all accounts it was just another Monday morning . . . at least as normal as Mondays can be.  It was that transition time of the year in September when our grasp on summer is beginning to slip.  Fall was just around the corner, but the smells and sights of fall hadn’t quite begun to replace the warmth of the sun’s rays. On this Monday morning that transition wasn’t too noticeable.  So Brandon Wright jumped on his motorcycle and headed to town.

On this ordinary, routine September morning as Brandon drove down the street near the campus of Utah State University in Logan, Utah, he could not have known how abruptly his life was about to change.  Most of us have heard, at least, some of the story and, no doubt, have seen some of the pictures.

In less than an instance, Brandon spotted a BMW pull out of a parking lot and turn into his lane of traffic.  The problem, of course, was that the driver did not see Brandon and was driving right at him.  To avoid the head-on collision, Brandon laid the motorcycle down.  His reaction may have averted the head-on collision and may have prevented him from being thrown over the car; however, the end result was Brandon under the car, the motorcycle leaking gas, and the collision igniting the gas.  Both the cycle and the front end of the car were on fire . . . and Brandon, he was practically out of sight under the BMW.

What follows is a story of redemption.

By all accounts (at least, those I have heard and read) the bystanders and witnesses to the accident without hesitation, once they realized what had happened, sprang into action.  After one person attempted to lift the burning car off of the cyclist without success, person after person left the sidewalk; left their way to school, work, or home; left their schedule; left their Monday morning routine; and joined in the rescue effort.  As the ad hoc rescue team grew, the car was lifted higher and higher until one of the rescuers was able to grab Brandon by a limb and drag him to safety away from the burning wreckage.

Brandon was taken to a hospital where he was treated and began his recovery.  The rescuers? . . . Well, they just blended back into their Monday morning routines . . . they simply returned to their daily life.  Apparently no need for comment or acclaim or whatever might follow.

This story of redemption is a story of deed, and not of dialogue.

From what I’ve read and seen about this incident, not one bystander did anything but go to the aid of this total stranger.  No belittling comments about the safety issues of riding motorcycles.  No speculations about carelessness, texting, or getting just dues.  No assigning of blame or judgment.  No wondering about whether or not he would have to be rescued again if he survived this one.

As the account of this Monday morning story of redemption crossed my mind, James 5:19-20 surfaced from the recesses of my memory.

“My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

The Christian life, in this fallen world, is a life of opportunity to participate in redemption stories.  On a daily basis, opportunities to rescue either a fellow member of the human race or a fellow believer in danger of temporal or eternal loss cross our paths.

The story of redemption—whether temporal or eternal— is the story of seeing real needs and bringing real grace.  It is the story of deliverance.  It is the story of judgment averted, not decreed or predicted or questioned.  It is the story of deeds, not simply dialogue.

Let’s get off the sidewalk and into action!

Carpe Diem-Sieze the Day!

I came across Ecclesiastes 7:10 in my devotions today  —  “Do not say, ‘Why is it that the former days were better than these?’”  I was reminded of a statement that I hear with some regularity, and heard again last weekend —  “I want my old church back!”  If you attend a multi-generational church, you have no doubt heard that statement in one form or another . . . the former days were better . . . the changes that we have experienced are not for the better . . . if we could only go back.

 Before I wander and wonder too much further let me offer a disclaimer — I am part of the generation that wants their old church back.  Well, basically I’m at the younger end of it, but still a part of that generation.  And ‘Yes’ there have been changes in my church, particularly in worship, that I’m still trying to adjust to.  For example, I haven’t adjusted to tambourines in the morning service (or any service) yet.  And ‘Yes’ I’m not convinced that change is always for the better.  At the same time, there are changes that have occurred which I not only accept, but embrace.

  However, recently as I thought about the desire to go back to ‘the good old days’ and ‘get our church back’ several thoughts struck me . . .

If we were to go back, there are a number of senior saints that we would have to recall from heaven which I am quite sure would not make them happy.

If we were to go back, there are a number of present members who would not be attending or feel comfortable in our formerly essentially mono-cultural, mono-ethnic church.

 If we were to go back, there are a number of mission’s trips we would have to recall.  This means that there are a number of our young people (and adults) who would lose the experiences they have had with other cultures and other believers . . . who would lose their experience in outreach and evangelism . . . who would lose their surrender to God for service . . . who would . . . well you should get the idea.

 If we were to go back, there are a number of messages we would have to erase.  Messages on topics that would not and, at times, could not be preached back in the ‘good old days.’  Messages on abuse, discrimination, oppression . . . that have touched broken hearts and led to redeemed lives and reconciliation.

 If we were to go back, there are a number of my generation that would have to forfeit their retirements.  They would have to leave their renewed focus on ministry and return to secular employment.

 If we were to go back, there are a number of opportunities we would lose in reaching the generation we actually live in today — if we would reach it at all.  What has worked in one generation does not necessarily work and at times is not desirable in subsequent generations.  The issues that rightly and righteously occupied one generation are not necessarily present in subsequent generations.

 Perhaps our real need is not to regain our church from ‘the good old days.’  Perhaps our real need is to heed the repeated admonition of the Preacher in Ecclesiastes — “Live for today.  The past is spent.  The future is guaranteed to no one.  Glorify God today.”

Lessons from a Barn, Part 3

As I stood there with the sound of cracking wood and the barn colliding with the ground echoing around me, there was much to take in. The imminent collapse was now a reality. The building had been converted, in a matter of seconds, into a pile to rubble, followed by one or two brief creaks and shutters. Gravity, with a bit of help, as I mentioned in a previous blog, had finally won the battle with the weathered barn.

As we watched the fallen barn and the rising dust, the echoes of the crash and the whiz of camera shutters filled our ears and this question filled our minds — “Now what?”

The leaning barn was now a pile of aged lumber that could not be left unattended. Some of the pile could serve no further purpose—it could not be resurrected or reclaimed. However, barn boards and timbers are prized by crafters and craftsmen alike. So my son and I decided to mount the fallen giant and start stripping its outer shell.

Now what caught my attention as we climbed the ladder and scaled the fallen structure was one lone pigeon. I had seen her right after the collapse of the barn. She circled overhead through the dust and in and out of the trees which once had stood alongside the barn. Now several minutes later she was still circling the barn in spite of our presence. When I went outside the following morning, the same pigeon was in the trees and in the air circling over the fallen barn. As the day went on I found myself looking for her and it never took long to find her…she was always in the vicinity of the barn.

The reason the pigeon was there through the collapse of the barn and into the following days was that she had chosen the barn as her home. She had nested in the barn. She had young in the barn. She was searching for her nestlings.

I was reminded of Christ’s lament in Matthew 23:37.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.

Christ recognized their history and condition which they fully deserved and had brought upon themselves. In response, perhaps to our amazement, He reacted with compassion, something he repeatedly offered (“how often I wanted”) along with care (“the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings”). However, and this is truly amazing, that is not what caused Christ’s lament at this time. His lament was over their unwillingness to accept His compassion and care, or as the CEV puts it “But you wouldn’t let me.”

In a manner similar to the circling pigeon seeking her nestlings in the fallen barn, Christ offers compassion and care. Christ’s offer springs from His heart in response to our fully deserved condition. Christ’s offer is repeatedly given, circling us as the mother pigeon circled the fallen barn.

The question is whether or not this offer will result in lament or rejoicing. Will we accept it or are we so lost in our circumstance and routine that we don’t even recognize the offer?

Lessons from a Barn, Part 2

The imminent collapse of my son’s barn became a reality this summer, but not in the way that any of us had anticipated. So let me finish the story I started in my last blog.

Initially, nine years ago, the leaning barn was more of an inconvenience than anything else. Although the allurement of the barn was hundreds of square feet of storage space, the reality was that anything beyond arm’s length inside the door was in danger of imminent flattening with the certain and expected collapse of the barn.

Over the last nine years granddaughters have grown up and a grandson has been added to the family and therein lies the problem. The barn contained boxes and piles and shelves and storage that tempted all to come in and experience the excitement of discovery. While the temptation was resistible for adults, the question was how long the grandchildren would be able to resist the allurement.

So the decision was made to assist in the imminent collapse of the barn. We were all certain, after nine years of visually measuring the increasing tilt of the barn, that little to no effort would be necessary to bring the barn down. So my son attached a cable to the driveway end of the barn and the cameras were readied to capture the historic event. The cable was attached to a four-wheeler and everyone stepped back. Anticipation filled the air. One good pull and nine years of anticipation would be brought to an end…we thought.

However, after one pull, came two and three and four and five more pulls. Then the cable was moved to the middle of the structure and repeated pulls brought with no visible results. The four-wheeler was replaced with a pickup truck and the routine was repeated.  Finally one of the timbers that formed the skeleton of the structure was ripped from the barn. We stood there in growing bewilderment…the removal of the rib had no visible effect!!!

As we stood there collectively wondering what the next step needed to be, we heard the barn murmur. At first there was just a creak, more like a sigh that had lingered within the structure for years that was finally released. As all heads turned to the barn in response to the creak, the barn let out a louder one. Then in one short, slow-motion shutter the barn collapsed.

About an hour later as my son and I salvaged barn boards off the fallen giant, we made an interesting discovery. While we had measured the immanence of the barn’s collapse by the weathered and aged outer shell of barn boards, we were unaware of the true condition of the timber skeleton of the structure. The removal of the barn boards did not reveal weathered and weakened timbers supporting our conclusion that the barn would imminently collapse.

What we discovered were timbers that had the same apparent color and texture as the day the structure was raised. The timbers were not weathered. They were not faded. They were not hollowed by insects or disease. They were strong and sturdy. Therein lies another lesson from the barn that I learned that day. In Deuteronomy 33, as Moses is blessing the tribes of Israel, he reminds them and us that “underneath are the everlasting arms” (v. 27).

Underneath any circumstances that we may be experiencing are the everlasting arms. Underneath any blessing that we may be enjoying are the everlasting arms. Underneath any success that we may be rejoicing in are the everlasting arms. We cannot judge life by the weathered shell. We must judge life by the skeletal timbers—underneath are the everlasting arms.

Lessons from a Barn, Part 1

The first thing that we noticed as we drove up, other than the wagon wheel at the end of the driveway, was the barn. It was old, well-weathered, and situated beside the driveway between the road and the house. I can’t really say the ‘barn stood’ next to the driveway because the barn was leaning so badly. Although the barn was the first sight to greet us on our arrival, its menacing imbalance inspired us to hasten and not hesitate in its presence…surely the barn needed little provocation to lose its fight with gravity.

 For the last nine years the barn has been a continuing topic of discussion with our son and his family. “We heard you had quite a snow storm yesterday. Is the barn still standing?” “Has the barn fallen yet?” “Oh look! The barn is still up!”

 The expectation has been that the barn could collapse at any time. The expectation has been that with the next wind or snow or rain or loud cough gravity would finally have its way and the leaning barn would become the fallen barn. It was sure to happen. It could happen at any time. It was expected and anticipated.

In Luke 12 Christ tells his disciples two brief stories about expectation. The first is the story of the expected return of the master from a social event.

 Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit. Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes…Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves (Luke 12:35-38).

 The second is the story of the unexpected arrival of a thief to rob and steal.

But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into (v. 39). 

Christ’s point for his disciples, past and present, is contained in verse 40, “You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.”

Christ’s return is sure and certain to happen. It could happen at any time. It is, without question, imminent. However, the question is whether or not His return is expected and anticipated? So let me wonder a bit…What’s the first thing you see in the morning after you see the alarm clock? What is it that repeatedly comes up in your conversations? On the practical plane of daily life, how imminent is Christ’s return to you?

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