Tuesday, March 31, 2015

When the End Is in Sight

As I go through Holy Week I like to stop from time to time and think what Jesus was doing at this particular time during His final week on earth. I do this because the story of my life is directly connected to the story of Jesus' life -- as is your story and that of all people everywhere.

So, what was He doing on Tuesday night of Holy Week? Tuesday was a very public day for Jesus. In fact, no other day of Jesus' life is covered more than Tuesday of Holy Week in Matthew, Mark and Luke. On that day Jesus taught in the temple courts and faced great pressure from the Jewish religious authorities. When that day finally drew to a close in the late afternoon, Jesus' public ministry was complete. John writes, "When Jesus had said these things, He departed and hid Himself from them" (John 12:36b).

The Gospels fall silent about Jesus' words or actions Tuesday night, through all of Wednesday. Their silence is unbroken until early on Thursday, when Jesus sends two disciples to prepare the Upper Room for His Last Supper.

So what did Jesus do today? Did He spend time alone, contemplating the drama that was about to unfold? Did He spend those final hours with His disciples and close friends, knowing just how short the time was left for Him to be with them?

I've got my own guess, but that's all it is. I'm guessing Jesus spent His last hours with His loved ones, but I could be wrong. After all, Jesus often spent entire nights in solitude, praying with His Father. I wouldn't be surprised if He needed more than those grueling hours in the Garden of Gethsemane to commune.

But either way, it's clear Jesus didn't just think about His coming death, He also thought beyond, to His rest in Paradise and His glorious resurrection on the third day. After all, on the cross He spoke to the repentant criminal at His side: "And He said to Him, 'Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise'" (Luke 23:43). Jesus wasn't just offering a comforting promise to the thief; He was reminding Himself that before that day was out He would be in His Father's presence in Paradise.

All of this makes me think of my own life -- and the fleeting time God has provided me. It raises the question, what would I do if I knew I only had two more days on this earth before God called me home in death? What things would I want to be sure to do before that final hour? What would you want to do? And since none of us knows when that final day will be, why should we wait to be right with God through confession and faith? Why would we want to wait to assure our loved ones of our forgiveness and love?

"Time waits for no man," as the saying goes. What do you hope to get done before the final buzzer on your life sounds?

You can share your thoughts by clicking here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Moving On

How do you handle the big regrets in your life? You know, these are the things that make you flush with embarrassment, or sweat with regret, the memories that keep you from sleeping -- or wake you up in the middle of the night?

Do you try to forget them? Can you put them behind you?

That is a question posed to Seattle Seahawks' Coach Pete Carroll about the pass-play he called during the Super Bowl when his team was on the one-yard line. That decision resulted in the New England interception and a lost Super Bowl. That happened nearly two months ago. Has he been able to put it behind him?

Carroll said, "Those kinds of occurrences? They don't go away. They don't go away. You just put them somewhere so you can manage them properly. It's back there."

We all know that's true -- especially the bad decisions, hurtful words, or stupid, thoughtless actions in our past that had devastating consequences -- many of which are far worse than losing a Super Bowl. What about destroying your marriage, alienating your kids, throwing away your dream career?

I would suppose most people try to forget, move past it, blot it out of their memory, especially when the mere memory haunts us with guilt, grief and self-loathing. Some try to drown it in booze or bury it in drugs or sex.

If only we could erase it from our memories. Or course, God can do that; He can blot the memory of our sins from His mind and completely forget they ever happened. But we humans can't do that. At the oddest times those memories come flooding back, along with all the angst and terror they caused originally.

So what's the answer?

There is only one.

It's the cross of Jesus Christ. When that sin plagues and oppresses us, we need to go back to the cross to see that sin on Jesus' shoulders. We need to see our Savior Jesus Christ paying its price in our place. We need to see it burned up in His great sacrifice and left in the tomb. As a result, it loses its power over us because Jesus has conquered it.

The past can be a gnarly place to return to. What do you do when sins long gone and dead rear their ugly heads and unsettle you? You can let us know by clicking here and sharing your thoughts.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Couple of Fish Stories

The Little Darby creek ran along the border of my uncle's farm. It ran high in the springtime, especially when we pushed the rowboat off the rocky bank and Dad took us past the bend. There was always the anticipation of wondering what wonders lay around the next bend.

It was an aging, green rowboat. By the time I was old enough to take it out myself, the paint was faded, it was all dented up, and it had a gray patch in the bottom. But to me it was magical -- like I was in a center console fishing boat, heading off the coast to fish for marlin.

One July weekend I took it out with my cousin, and we headed upstream. We had gone what seemed like ten miles (but probably closer to a half mile) into a part of the creek I'd never seen before. The creek broadened out and looked like it got a lot deeper.

Suddenly, a strong jolt completely disoriented me. Water splashed on my face, and I heard a loud clunk in the bottom of the boat. A strong vibration broke out across the hull, which I thought was the boat dragging across a rock. I was just about to call for all hands to abandon ship when the fog cleared and I realized what had happened.

A large fish had jumped into our boat.

I talked it over with my cousin. We knew no one would ever believe us if we threw it back. Besides, who wanted to touch the thing? It was gigantic. Instead, we spun around and headed back. I didn't have to worry about the rowboat not having a live well because my skill with the oars always ended up putting five or six inches of water in the bottom of the boat.

Everyone was amazed, and my uncle wrapped it in aluminum foil and cooked it over the campfire that night.

A few years later, my family started spending a weekend each summer up at Lake Erie. I can still vividly remember sitting on the dock with my feet dangling above the water (except on those rare days when the wind was blowing from the north; then the water level would rise, and I could reach the surface with my toes).

I'll never forget the day I tossed in my line, and I immediately got a bite. I set the hook and felt a weight on the line, but no fight. I reeled the line in, thinking I had snared a chunk of rotten wood, or a plant. But to my surprise, at the end of the line hung a medium-sized bluegill. It was absolutely lifeless. Of course, I had the grown-ups take it off the hook. I asked what had happened to it. On closer inspection Dad noticed the hook had caught the fish from the side of its head, and apparently killed it instantly when I set the hook.

The sun was hot and the wooden boards that made up the dock weren't all that comfortable, but I'd go back there in a minute if I could. My brothers and our neighbors' kids enjoyed a nice, little competition. It was the laughter and being with good friends and family in such a magical place that made the experience so memorable.

You may ask, why the fish stories? It's because our annual Men's NetWork North American Fishing Tournament is right around the corner. In fact, registration is now open. In past years the tournaments have focused on the fish, but that's never the most memorable fishing experience. It's when you go out with your brothers, or cousins, your kids, or grandkids, the guys from work, or your neighbors. It's the people you go fishing with that are the real gems, and the moments spent together are the memories that last a lifetime.

And there's more. Jesus came upon two sets of brothers (Peter and Andrew and James and John) when they were fishing. He told them, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19). That is what Jesus calls each of us to do. We are to go fishing for men. And that starts with spending time together, building relationships and -- in the context of that relationship -- sharing the reason for our hope in Jesus Christ. Sometimes the best way to go fishing FOR men is to go fishing WITH them.

This year we will encourage and even reward tournament contestants who do that. Get registered and go fishing, but by all means take someone along. Take pictures, and tell us your story: who you invited, where you went, what you experienced together. Believe me, other guys will like hearing your tales, and they may become encouraged to start fishing for men too.

This year's angle on fishing is a little different. We welcome your perspective on the matter. You can share your thoughts by clicking here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Calendar Games

Here's a riddle for you.

Last year it fell on April 20, five full days earlier than the latest day it could ever fall. This year it falls right in the middle, on April 5. Next year it will fall on March 27, five days after the earliest date it could possibly fall, which is March 22.

What is "it"?

(By the way, the last time it fell on March 22 was way back in 1818 when my great, great, grandpappy was just a baby and there were only 20 states in the Union. The next time it falls on March 22 will be 2285, when my great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandson will be serving on the original mission of the Starship Enterprise (under Captain Kirk, of course).

In case you're wondering, we're talking about Easter.

Did you ever wonder why Easter is a movable festival that falls on a different date every year? Blame it on the moon. More specifically, blame it on the moon-based Israelite calendar (ours is sun-based). Good Friday and Easter are always linked to the Jewish feast of Passover because that is the meal Jesus shared with His disciples in the upper room the night He was betrayed. He was the Passover Lamb who was sacrificed at the full moon when the other Passover lambs were being slaughtered for the feast.

Since Passover falls around the full moon of the first month of the Jewish calendar, Easter always falls on the first Sunday after that first full moon after the spring equinox.

The winter's last full moon fell last Thursday, March 5. If you have a clear night tonight, you'll see the moon waning, shrinking away until March 20, when it again becomes a new moon. After that it will begin growing until it is the Paschal (Passover) full moon on Saturday, April 4 -- the day before Easter.

So now you know more than you ever wanted to about the calendar games that go into determining the date for Easter.

But that brings me to the moon, which stands at the center of this. When the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit placed it in the sky, along with the sun and stars, the Lord said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years" (Genesis 1:14).

That makes me wonder, as Passover drew near and Jesus knew His days were drawing short, did He lift His eyes to the "lesser light that rules the night"? Did He watch the "hour glass" go by -- knowing when His moon became full again, it would be time for the cross -- and the empty tomb?

This time of year that's what I do. Each night I look up at the moon and get a very somber feeling as I watch it wane then wax again. Because the next time it becomes full, we will remember our Savior's loving sacrifice as He laid down His life for the world. And three days later we will celebrate His glorious victory when He took up that life again on the third day -- the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.

All this talk about the sun and the moon speaks to how God's hand and purpose is in so many things -- even things we don't ordinarily think about. We welcome your perspective on the matter. You can give it to us by clicking here.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


"I can't wrap my mind around that." The first time I heard that phrase I was aggravated by it. I wondered what was wrong with the good old, tried and true admission: "That just doesn't make sense"? But the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. It visualizes the drive we humans feel to make sense of our lives and our world.

We don't like to pass by unsolved mysteries. Wise Solomon had it right when he wrote, "It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out" (Proverbs 25:2). Most people want to know the reason things happen, and the more unclear the matter is, the more aggravated we feel, until we have a rational solution.

Sometimes that curiosity leads us to wonderful discoveries. Scientists have searched out the workings of the natural world around us. When I read of new things they have discovered about the human body, or about space, or about atoms, I'm always filled with awe and wonder at the handiwork of our God and Creator.

But then there are questions that seem destined to remain unanswered. Last week the state auditor of Missouri called the local newspaper and set up an interview for later the same afternoon. Then, less than ten minutes later, he shot himself. Soon afterward he died at the hospital. The police found no suicide note, no e-mail, no voicemail; there was no good reason why he decided to end his life. But looking at the evidence from the scene, they finally called it an "apparent suicide."

Immediately, the local paper and TV stations started scouring political ads and all sorts of things to try to figure out what triggered him to take his life. They desperately wanted to provide the reason why a person would feel compelled to take his life. But as a commentator wisely reminded us, "We are looking for a rational reason for an irrational act."

So often in life, especially in our relationship with God, that is what we are trying to do. We want to figure out why God has allowed difficulty, sorrow, loss or grief in our lives. We want to wrap our minds around something our minds aren't big enough to get wrapped around. I remember an eighth-grader in confirmation class who was bound and determined to figure out the Trinity. She wasn't satisfied with the glimpse of the three Persons in one God. She tried to shrink God down and fit Him into a nice, little box she could wrap her mind around. The trouble with that is if simple creatures like us can figure out God, He wouldn't be much of a God, would He?

I often hear people try to understand what God is doing in the events in their lives. They ask, "Why is God treating me this way?" or "What is God trying to tell me?" That's a really dangerous game to play, especially when we try to wrap our minds around things that are so complex, and we have such a limited perspective.

God put our mind-wrapping quest in perspective when He said, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord" (Isaiah 55:8). There are times when we need to put down the box, stop trying to stretch our minds, and simply trust Him like a child. Let God be God -- and praise Him that He is, and ask Him to remind us that we are not.

Humans are born to ask questions, it seems. From these we learn and navigate our way through life. What are some things you've tried to wrap your mind around? You can give us your perspective by clicking here.