Category Archives: Discipleship

Dealing With Life’s Most Persistent Question: Part 7

Road Less Travelled Spring trees roadway 3 forks area 4-15-15In 1916, Robert Frost published a poem titled, The Road Not Taken. It helps to illustrate the fact that life really is a journey and that we have a variety of options. “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— / I took the one less traveled by. / And that has made all the difference.” Jodi and I both love that poem, and the many parallels to life that can be drawn from it.

Sometimes the little choices we make in life that really do make all the difference. Had it not been for a mutual friend, or the fact that I chose to attend a particular church youth event as a teenager, I might never have met Jodi. Naturally, we seldom realize the importance of those little choices and decisions at the time. Because we never see more than a small snapshot of the entire roadmap at any one time, we are prone to be shortsighted. That makes it even more important to stay close to Jesus and walk with him so he can show us the way. It can be a tall order.

The Apostle Paul reflected on this challenge in 1 Corinthians 13:12. He wrote, “Now we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me now” (nlt). Here he contrasts our present blurred vision with the future clear revelation in heaven. When we see Jesus Christ face-to-face, we will see everything else with clarity. Even in this life, the more clearly we see Jesus, the more clearly we will understand the meaning of the here and now.

The Easter story provides the foundation for our faith in Jesus as the resurrected Son of God. Before the resurrection came death and despair. Jesus’ followers were scattered and shocked. You can read Luke’s version of the story beginning in Luke 24:13. All of Jerusalem was in an uproar. The disciples of Jesus were in hiding. There was serious talk of disbanding their group. They were about ready to close the door on the New Testament church for the last time. Little did they know that they were really only forty days away from the grand opening of the church doors on the Day of Pentecost!

Without Jesus, they couldn’t go on. Their hopes were crushed, their dreams shattered. As far as they could see, their leader was gone. But was he? Strange reports from some of the women and a firsthand account by Peter told of an empty tomb, grave clothes lying wrapped as though the body had just evaporated from them, and an appearance by angels announcing a resurrection.

As two friends walked on the road to Emmaus (a distance of about seven miles from Jerusalem) they discussed the situation. We know the name of one, Cleopas (possibly a male form of Cleopatra). His name meant “the glory of being called a father.” A name like that would identify him as a leader. Obviously both Cleopas and his companion had been closely associated with Jesus and the twelve disciples. Perhaps they were part of the larger group of seventy that Jesus had sent out.

We don’t know why they were walking to Emmaus. Maybe they lived there. Maybe they were escaping Jerusalem for fear of losing their own lives. Maybe they just wanted to walk and talk and try to sort things out in their minds. Whenever we have problems, it helps to talk things over with a friend. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the greatest miracle and the greatest event in history. Yet, from day one it has generated a lot of questions—for many people more questions than answers. That’s the way it is with miracles. Reason asks questions. Our mind wants a resolution to our questions, our hearts want ato believe for that which seems impossible. Faith simply believes the impossible is possible.  Keep believing.

Dealing With Life’s Most Persistent Question – Part 4

Sunset Snoqualmie River looking west from Meadowbrook Way SE BridgeJesus is the master teacher. He often taught by asking questions, and sometimes answered a question with a question. So what was Jesus teaching us when he asked the ultimate question of suffering?

Jesus’ final words on the cross reflect the over-arching question of the human race, “My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?” If Jesus could ask God such a persistent question, I think we can honestly do so as well.

The answer may not be what we expect—but silence is an answer. Silence does not mean God is hard of hearing. It often does mean that we are not prepared to listen, or hear the real answer. Or it means that we will understand later.

Someone said, “Life must be understood backwards; but it must be lived forward.” So we search for answers and keep moving forward. Often, the understanding does come later as we gain more clarity to the sequence of events. As the picture becomes clearer, the meaning of our pain, suffering, or questions becomes evident. Or not–either way we must learn to wait and trust and learn.

In the 13th chapter of John, Jesus is in the process of washing the disciples feet. Peter does not understand why Jesus would do such an undignified and servile task. He asks, “Lord are you going to wash my feet?”

We can be sure Jesus was not just doing this because he didn’t like the disciples’ dirty, stinky feet and wanted them cleaned up. There was a deeper reason, and the Bible tells us the sequence of events, even details like the timing of the last supper, a basin of water, and a towel.

Peter’s question was a plea for understanding mixed with a bit of embarrassment and indignity that Jesus would do such a thing. This scenario remains a good reminder for us when we question God’s dealings in our lives, wonder if He cares, and ponder the big “Why?”

Jesus responded to Peter’s question with this very important principle – one that we would all do well to remember:  Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” (John 13:7 NIV)

Now. Do not understand. Later. Will understand. This sequence applies to learning about almost everything. Foreign concepts at first seem incomprehensible to us. Later they make perfect sense once we understand. Good teachers know there are no “dumb” questions, especially at first. And Jesus is the best teacher.

Jesus did not scold Peter, and he did not embarrass him. He also did not fully explain or answer all of Peter’s persistent questions. But Jesus did establish this principle that applies in so many situations of our lives:  Life can be understood backwards, but must be lived forward.”  In other words, our perplexing questions about today may well give way to understanding later when more of the picture is revealed to us.

Until later becomes now, we have to keep believing and exercise our faith when we do not see or understand, and wonder, “why?” After all, that is what faith consists of, “The substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

Dealing With Life’s Most Persistent Question – Part 3

Eagle soaring closeup Skagit County 3-26-15“Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”       -Isaiah 40:31

Wait. How we hate to wait! The word may spark anxiety in your heart, but the grieving process takes time. And that flies in the face of our “why wait?” culture and personal orientation when it comes to relief from pressure, anxiety, or desire of any kind.

Whenever you suffer a significant loss, you grieve. And the loss may seem insignificant to others or inconsequential in the big scheme of things. But if it was a big deal to you, if it made your heart feel pain, if it left you anxious and afraid, then you are facing grief. And working through the stages of grief takes time. You will get better. I know, you’ve heard it before. But you will get better. YOU WILL GET BETTER!

Denial. Anger. Bargaining.  Depression. Acceptance. How this process of grief plays out, and the length of each stage differs from person to person. It takes time–you just don’t know how much time. But you will get better. YOU WILL GET BETTER!

If you have read this far, you might think I am over-simplifying things, and if you are grieving your mind may have already circled back to the “Why?” question again. Well, you’ve come this far.  Why stop now? There, I did it–found another use for that most persistent question. And how about another?  Why not? Why not, indeed?

Why not learn from a fellow traveler on the road of suffering who had his share of disappointment–both giving it and receiving it. His name was Peter – and yes he is the one who cursed and denied that he had ever heard of Jesus (after promising that he would never do such a thing) at the moment Jesus needed him the most. Ouch!  Like I said, he understood disappointment. The Bible tells us that following that stellar performance, Peter went out and “wept bitterly.” This was such a big deal that both Matthew and Luke reported his bitter tears in their Gospels (Matthew 26:75; Luke 22:62).

When Peter speaks about suffering and disappointment, perhaps we should listen. Many years past that painful event, Peter, who had been transformed by Pentecost and the working of the Spirit in his life over time, shares some advice for fellow pilgrims who wonder, “Why me?”

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.  (1 Peter 4:12-19 NIV)

So did you catch what Peter said? I understand that he was writing to first century Christians who may have been facing persecution and even martyrdom for their faith–unlike anything most westerners are likely to face today. However his words provide meaning to all people in all places for all time.

  • Don’t be surprised by suffering.
  • Rejoice in your relationship with Christ.
  • Don’t think you are suffering for Christ if you are just being a jerk.
  • You may be suffering, “according to God’s will” despite those who theorize that God always wants you to be happy.
  • Commit yourself to our Faithful God.
  • Continue to do good.

This begs the question, “Why is it so difficult to apply this to my life?” Let’s begin with baby steps:

  1. What surprises you about your situation? The word “incredulity” means, “I can’t believe this happened to me!” What would it take for you to get over your shock that it did happen?
  2. What blessing can you discover to rejoice about today?
  3. What can you do to commit your ways to God? I like to pray and personalize these verses from Psalm 37:3-5 “Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this.” (NIV)
  4. What is one good thing that you can do right now as a next step toward “continuing to do good”? Go for it. You can do this!

And always remember:  When you think you won’t, YOU WILL GET BETTER! Have a great weekend. After all, why not? More about life’s persistent question and another relevant story about Peter next week.

Some Thoughts on Passion Week: Disappointment, Detours, and Destiny – Part 6 – Good Friday

three crossesGood Friday. A good day for remembering Calvary and the events that happened there 2,000 years ago that changed the world forever. Three crosses for three men, all condemned to die. Two of them deservedly so, for their life of crime had paved the road to this place of execution. Along the way they had no doubt suffered many disappointments and disappointed many family and friends, yet had managed to escape the strong arm of the law thus far. Now their past caught up with them, taking them on an unexpected detour. A detour leading to their final destiny called Golgotha or Calvary, “the place of the skull.”

However, the third man had committed no crimes, had violated no laws.  Many were offended by Him, to be sure, otherwise He would not have been there.  But He was no sinner.  He was the Son of God, hung to die between the two criminals. He had no debt to pay to society, yet as God’s spotless lamb He willingly suffered and died, paying the penalty for the sins of the world (John 1:29), and thus changing society forever. Jesus suffered the ultimate injustice so we could obtain mercy.

One criminal was unrepentant, dying as he had lived—cynical, sneering—fearing neither God nor man.  The other, realizing the error of his ways and the reality of his mortality upbraided his comrade in crime and reminded him that this other man, Jesus, was no sinner. “We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.” (Luke 23:41-42 NLT).

“Remember me.” I’m sure there were many episodes in his life he wanted to forget.  I’m sure he had accumulated numerous frequent flier miles in his flights from the scene of a crime.  These he wanted to forget, just as we do, for we are all sinners in God’s sight. In coming to Christ with his sin, Jesus saw beneath the outward appearance. Jesus saw a repentant heart, and did what He does best, He forgave.

Simple words: “Remember me.” They call to mind another biblical promise: “For whosoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).

Jesus’ response?  “Today, you will be with me in paradise!”  Paradise, for a criminal, a sinner?  Paradise?  Isn’t that what the thief had longed for, plotted for and stolen for?  To get a piece of paradise for himself?  And now, in his final moments this detour on his road to hell has led unexpectedly to the One who could make his dream a reality.  And the best news of all, he did not need to plot, plead or connive. His humble request was all it took. “Remember me.”

Paradise, heaven, eternal life, however you wish to describe it—was offered to that first century sinner as a free gift, just as it is offered to twenty-first century sinners today of every description. Thinking about such a gracious offer from such a righteous God to such unrighteous people must have prompted the Apostle Paul to write:   “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15 NKJV).

Prayer:  Lord, make us grateful for your wonderful and enduring promise of eternal life for us who deserve, like the thief on the cross only eternal damnation. Thank you for Good Friday and what you did on that day.

©2015 Don Detrick

Some Thoughts on Passion Week: Disappointment, Detours, and Destiny – Part 5 Maundy Thursday

LastSupperRestored DaVinci“What would you like for your last supper?” Persons slated for execution are customarily asked this question, thus selecting the menu for their final meal.

Faced with that circumstance, I think I’d respond, “I really don’t have much of an appetite tonight, but how about how about another fifty years of meals, starting tomorrow morning?”

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day we remember Jesus’ last supper, although Maundy actually means, “washing of the feet”—another component of the last supper. “Why is this night different from all other nights?”  That is the question asked by the youngest son, or male, present during the Passover meal (or Seder, meaning an order of service). The events in the life of Christ and His disciples that night truly distinguish it from all other nights.

The Passover signified Israel’s redemption from Israel.  For New Testament believers in Jesus Christ, it signifies that we are redeemed from the bondage of slavery to sin through the sacrifice of Jesus, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”  (John 1:29 NKJV)  More than 30 times Jesus is referred to as a lamb, or the “Lamb of God” in the New Testament. What can we learn about disappointments, detours, and destiny from the events that took place on that night 2,000 years ago?

  • Friends are important in times of celebration and times of suffering.

Passover was meant to be celebrated with friends and family.  If a person was too poor afford a Passover lamb, he was to join with friends.  If a family was too small to eat the entire meal, they were to invite friends or needy people to join with them.  It is significant that Jesus chose to be with His disciples during His last supper.

Not only do we need friends during times of celebration, but we especially need them during times of suffering.  By the time they were sitting down for the Passover meal, Jesus was already suffering.  He suffered when He revealed that Judas Iscariot would be the one to betray Him.  In ancient times, if you dipped your food along with a friend, you signified absolute allegiance to him.  Judas’s deceit and betrayal must have shocked the rest of the disciples.  But it didn’t shock Jesus, it merely hurt Him and further illustrated the beginning of the Passover meal, when a vegetable (often a piece of lettuce), is dipped into water mixed with bitter herbs.  This represented the bitterness of slavery – and no doubt it reminded Jesus and His disciples of the bitterness of unfaithfulness.

I’m sure Peter must have listened very carefully that night when Jesus identified Judas as His betrayer.  And I’m equally sure Peter had very good intentions to never do anything to betray the Lord.  But Peter underestimated the power of intimidation and overestimated the strength of his resolve.  Before the night was over, Peter abandoned the Lord Jesus and even swore that he didn’t know him.

Jesus Christ alone can promise to never leave us and fulfill that promise. He is a faithful and forgiving friend.  This is a remarkable fact when you consider that Jesus never made a mistake, committed a sin, or did anything to hurt another individual.  A real friend is one who is able to overlook the faults of another and can bring out the best in that person.

  • Jesus modeled servant leadership.

It is interesting that John (13:1-16) is the only Gospel writer that mentions how Jesus washed the disciple’s feet during the ceremonial meal.  This probably took place right after the Kiddush (blessing)  and the dipping of bitter herbs in salt water.  Jesus rose from the table and took a towel and began to wash the disciple’s feet, much to their absolute shock.  Traditionally, a master or rabbi would never do such a thing – it was work for a slave or servant.  In fact, during the first ceremonial washing of the Passover meal, the host washed first, to signify that he was the head of the house, the undisputed leader.  But Jesus insisted on showing that true leaders serve.

Matthew was Jewish and wrote to the Jews, so they would understand everything associated with the Passover meal.  Matthew presented Jesus Christ as the King.  His Gospel is known as the Gospel of the King.  Even though Jesus was the King of the Jews, He didn’t act like an earthly King.  He modeled servant leadership and encouraged us to follow His example.

John tells us that Jesus “laid aside His garments,” which symbolized the need to lay aside our own righteousness and pride before the Lord.  Jesus willingly bared Himself before His disciples in order to serve them, just as He would soon have His robes torn from Him in order to suffer for all mankind.

Matthew tells us that Jesus took the unleavened bread and broke it.  The bread is called matzo in Hebrew, and it means “unleavened, sweet without sourness.”  The unleavened bread symbolized the sweetness of life without sin. Every time we celebrate the last supper we remember that Jesus is the bread of life. He was willing to serve and give His life for others. The broken bread was also symbolic of humility as the poor could only afford a small amount of bread and Jesus identified with those who were unprivileged and underserved by others.

  • Jesus conveyed unconditional love.

Jesus methodically and systematically prepared Himself to be the Passover Lamb.  He was the spotless Lamb, slain before the foundation of the world.  And although He showed sorrow, He did not indicate anger, or frustration, or resentment, or any of the typical human responses to what He was facing. What He did show was unconditional love, in giving His life for all human beings.

Jesus faced absolute injustice, punishment for sins He did not commit.  The Bible tells us that we are to emulate Jesus in showing grace and mercy to others.  Jesus loved and loves unconditionally.  His blood covers our sins, just as the blood of the Passover Lamb protected the ancient Jewish people from death.

Because He gave His life for us, we can experience eternal life.  We should never forget.  That’s why Jesus said what He said and did what He did that night.  The Apostle Paul described it:

“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’   In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’  For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

Some suggestions for application:

What if you really were planning your last supper?  What would you want for the meal?  Who would you want to be there?  What would you want to say and do?

Disappointments and detours come in many forms. Have you ever felt betrayed by a friend?  How did you respond?

Could Judas Iscariot have been forgiven if He had asked for it?  Is there any limit to God’s mercy and forgiveness?

How important are friendships to you?  Why do allow our busy schedules to interfere with building relationships?

Some Thoughts on Passion Week: Disappointment, Detours, and Destiny – Part 3

DonD I-90_Gridlock_near_milepost_63_on_8-21-11_BWLife’s darkest corridors are detours–places of waiting and wandering along an unfamiliar path where negatives often develop.  Yet those dark rooms are also often God’s appointments for building His character in our lives, accomplishing His purposes, and leading us into the bright light where we can clearly see the path ahead.

Disappointment and discouragement become opportunities for grace and growth if we look for them during those dark hours and days of waiting or wandering. These detours become the hidden pathways on our journey where we discover things about ourselves and also about God that we would never discover in the full light of day. We should be grateful, because God uses detours to direct us and also to protect us.

When I took the above photo on Interstate 90 about an hour east of Seattle it was a warm summer afternoon and I was anxious to return home after speaking that weekend in a church on the east side of the state. It was not to be as I anticipated because we spent hours just waiting on the freeway. And those other drivers and I never knew the reason for the delay. But I know for certain that whatever the cause, the delay and detour of my schedule was for the good and protection of someone. Hopefully our delay prevented disaster for someone else, and perhaps for us.

After the death of Christ, but before the resurrection, there was a process of waiting—another detour.  Someone has written,  “Disappointments, His appointments, change one letter and I see, that the thwarting of my purpose, was God’s better choice for me.”  Each day, countless numbers of people, among whom are committed Christians, experience disaster, disease, or death in their lives or in the lives of their loved ones.  Their initial response is often denial or unbelief.  Healthy people work through this process to arrive at a place of acceptance, hope and healing.

The unhealthy alternative is to allow disappointment to turn into cynicism and negativity.  The natural thing is for disappointment to lead to discouragement.  Discouragement leads to despair.  Despair leads to depression.  Depression leads to disillusionment.  And disillusionment ultimately leads to disengagement – isolation from everyone and everything that has the potential to hurt you.  This is a vicious cycle that can be interrupted by the loving intervention of friends or by simply learning to watch for God’s grace to appear and for ways to grow during that dark season of our soul.

Every seed must be buried in a dark place in order to sprout and grow. And it often is so with our hopes and dreams. The detour in your life may be the place of waiting or wandering where the seeds of endurance  germinate and you establish strong roots to sustain you for what lies ahead.

“Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.”   (Psalm 27:14)  I think about those words, first written by David more than 3000 years ago.  How many people have clung to that verse over the past 30 centuries? For most of them, the wait is over.  For us, the wait goes on and we are uncertain about when the detour on our journey will be over.  But we can be certain about the one thing that makes waiting and wandering endurable:  grace and growth – and the hope that God is using these circumstances to fulfill His purposes and our destiny.

Some Thoughts on Passion Week: Disappointment, Detours, and Destiny – Part 2

triumphal-entry-jesus-Palm Sunday:  From the high hopes of anticipation to the low slopes of disappointment.  In the journey of life, we all face this. We are disappointed when our expectations are not met, when they do not materialize, or circumstances seem to turn against us. Even God has experienced disappointment. But God always has a plan—just as He always has a plan for you.

5  Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6  And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. 7 So the LORD said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” 8  But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD (Genesis 6:5-8 NKJV).

Did you notice the verbs in verse 6? God was “sorry” – he was “grieved in his heart.” Yet in spite of that, in the midst of a troubled world, Noah found grace. And God’s grace found Noah. If we will look beyond our own disappointment and discouragement, we will discover an opportunity for grace and growth.  God knew that the day would come when he would send his only begotten Son to provide an antidote for the sins of the world. And He knew it would be the most costly sacrifice ever made. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life”  (John 3:16).

Jesus said He came to seek and to save the lost according to Luke 19:10. He was in Jericho at the moment, and had just been accused of befriending sinners as he dined with Zacchaeus.  He knew that the road to Jerusalem from Jericho would lead Him to the cross. Yet He also knew that to fulfill all of the Old Testament prophecies that he would need to make a triumphal entry into Jerusalem, riding on the colt of a donkey.  When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He was greeted by, “the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.”  Of course, they were expecting a political kingdom, not a spiritual one. Luke 19:11 “Now as they heard these things, He spoke another parable, because He was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately.”

The expectation of the crowds was building. They thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately, so Jesus told a story about stewardship and the use of gifts bestowed upon those who serve in God’s kingdom.  It was really a story about Jesus and the way the kingdom would eventually come.

Would. Eventually. Come. Not, “would immediately come.” We are disappointed in life when our expectations are not met immediately, in the way we expect, or because we have the wrong perspective on our circumstances.

How about you?  Did you expect that the one who promised to “love, honor and cherish” would really do so until “death do us part?”  Did you expect to have the perfect family with 1.8 perfect children, all living in the perfect neighborhood in the perfect house with 3500 square feet, a bonus room and a 3-car garage for your Lexus SUV, motor home and boat?  Did you expect to have the perfect job with a perfect future and a perfect retirement?  Does it all seem like a cruel joke to you now, or have you just concluded that perhaps your youthful expectations were a bit unrealistic?

On that first Palm Sunday, the disciples and the crowds in Jerusalem all had the same expectation.  They believed Jesus was the Messiah and as such would soon overthrow the wretched rule of Rome and set up His earthly Kingdom in Jerusalem.  The crowds were welcoming Him as they would welcome a general returning from a victorious battle after winning the war.  So we can understand their disappointment when Jesus did not play the part.

After all, the crowds watched with amazement as He entered the temple and began throwing over the tables of exchange and throwing out the moneychangers.  “Now it’s happening” they thought.  “Now He is making His move.  And now that He’s taken care of business here at the temple, He’ll soon move next door and take the keys from the Roman Praetorian Guards.”

But He didn’t.  He just continued to teach and preach.  “What’s this, just more preaching?  No call to arms?  No call for a revolution?  Well, maybe He isn’t the One after all.”

And so the enthusiasm waned and the crowds disbursed.  Like a group of exhausted party revelers taking down the ribbons and deflated balloons, they picked up their garments and went back to business as usual. The lights went out on their bright hopes that this day would be different.

When the lights go out on our dreams and hopes, it’s always more comforting when someone is there to share the darkness of the experience.  Stay together during the tough times and the tough times won’t last nearly as long.  Jesus, too, understood disappointment.  When He went to the cross, nearly all of his friends abandoned Him.  Only a faithful few remained on that dark day to witness His death. Where will you go on the dark day of disappointment?

On the Verge: Finding Your Tipping Point – Part 2 “The Verge”

Grandpa Detrick's ca 1890 Seth Thomas Clock

Grandpa Detrick’s ca 1890 Seth Thomas Clock

We often live our lives on the verge. On the verge of success. On the verge of getting out of debt. On the verge of finding a rewarding relationship. On the verge of achieving that sought after promotion at work. On the verge of obtaining the scholarship. On the verge of finishing that degree. On the verge of fulfilling our dream.

The verge is a nice stop on the way to our destination. It is a terrible place to live permanently. If we camp there long enough, it becomes difficult to move on. While camped there we may analyze a million and one reasons why we got stuck in the first place, and another million and one reasons how we might move on, but we tend to be weighted down by the analysis to the point of paralysis, convincing ourselves that it is safer to just stay where we are at. Like I said earlier, passivity is the opposite of courage.

Wait a minute!  Stop the clock! Do not lose courage. Passivity is the inactive response to lost hopes and dreams. It is time for a change. You don’t have to live your life always “on the verge.” You can move past the verge.

Unlike the Apple Watch which I plan to never buy, I do have an affinity for old clocks. Not old clocks from the 1980’s with digital readouts, but really old clocks. Most in my collection are well over a century old, American made, and still working. And I work on them—have for years, both as a hobby and in a practical way to keep my collection running. Working on old clocks has taught me some lessons about systems, and mechanics, and maintenance, and life. They have also taught me about time, and how I use it, how I respond to it, how I measure it. After all, they have a lot to tell by listening to the tick-tock of the pendulum.

Verge - clockworksHow many mechanical items from a century ago are still functioning with their original purpose today? Not many! You probably don’t know that the term verge is a clock word. The verge is that part of a mechanical clock that keeps the pendulum moving back and forth – and keeps the rest of the clock ticking. The actual tick-tock is sound of the verge rocking back and forth, connecting with a toothed wheel that connects to other gears and wheels that eventually move the hour and minute hands, ever so slowly. When it is all synchronized, it is a beautiful thing. It keeps on moving, and keeping perfect time.

A verge is a lot like a tipping point. Malcom Gladwell states in his book, The Tipping Point:   “The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”

What if you could find the tipping point that would move you past the verge? What if you could stop listening to the melancholy melody that keeps you stuck? What if you could re-discover your courage? You can. Listen to another melody—a happier tune that will actually help you redeem the time:

“Wake up from your sleep, Climb out of your coffins; Christ will show you the light! So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times!”   Ephesians 5:14-16 The Message

“Make the most of every chance you get.”  The old King James Version actually instructs us, “redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” What if you struggled with financial problems, but had forgotten about an old savings bond your uncle gave you years ago? It may be worth $50,000 but if you never redeemed it, you would just be holding on to an old piece of paper while continuing to struggle with finances. Time is as old as “in the beginning.” To fully take advantage of it, we must redeem it.  My old clocks may be more than a century old, but they have taught me some redeeming contemporary lessons, and I look forward to sharing some of them with you.

Bible photoHow are you at memorization? Our minds have more capacity than we realize, by some estimations we only use a fraction of our brain’s storage space. A mind is a terrible thing to waste, and yet some people wonder, “Why bother?” when information is accessible instantly in your pocket or purse at the touch of a button these days.

But we tend to remember things we care about or are useful to us. Whether sports trivia, or a website address, we intentionally remember things that we deem important. So how are you at memorizing Scripture? As a child, I memorized hundreds of verses, using the King James Version in those days. Okay, I admit I did so to win prizes in Sunday School or some other church program of the day. But those verses have proven valuable to me, like Psalm 119:11, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.”

So how would you like to memorize half of a chapter of the Bible—one that contains 26 verses. It is easier than you think once you realize the chapter is Psalm 136. Every other verse of the chapter goes like this, “For His mercy endures forever.” Technically, that equals 13 verses that you can commit to memory by memorizing five simple words:

FOR:  To be in agreement with, a positive influence, on your side.

HIS: Possessive pronoun – spoken about God – you are His most valuable possession.

MERCY: The opposite of condemnation. To receive mercy is an unexpected and undeserved pardon or blessing.

ENDURES:  Patient, ongoing, alert and compensating for the faults and shortcomings of others.

FOREVER: Eternity, unlimited time with no end in sight, beyond our human capacity to understand.

So if you could learn 13 verses, five words, in five minutes, what could you remember if you really put your heart and mind to it? Don’t give up, “For His mercy endures forever.”

Little Among Thousands

Little Among ThousandsNobody paid much attention to the pregnant young mother and her husband hunting for a place to stay in Bethlehem. The passing crowd, busy with their own responsibilities, overlooked the weary travelers who were desperate to find a suitable room to bring their newborn into the world. In the end, they found shelter in a dirty stable where livestock were kept. A manger where sheep just ate a meal became a cradle for the tiny Lamb of God to lay his head.

Only a few nearby shepherds noticed and witnessed this defining event of human history, an occasion the Apostle Paul would later note as “the fullness of time.” The birth of their Son didn’t make headlines in The Jerusalem Post or The Roman Review. Caesar and Herod were oblivious and unconcerned about the birth of a peasant in a stall outside the obscure backwoods village where it seemed nothing significant ever happened. Yet today we literally count our days and years from that moment in history as Jesus Christ remains the central figure of the human race.

Seven hundred years earlier, the prophet Micah had predicted that very event happening in Bethlehem. “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” (Micah 5:2 NKJV)

Certainly to the casual observer Bethlehem was little and insignificant compared to the thousands who thronged to its nearby, more affluent and well-populated neighbor, Jerusalem. Few mortals noticed anything unusual that night in the tiny village. But the angels noticed, and what they saw made them sing and celebrate good tidings of great joy that offered the hope of peace on earth and goodwill to men for every mortal person on planet earth.

Ordinary. Common. Everyday. Average. Obscure. Unimportant. Inconsequential. “Little among thousands.” Have you ever felt that way—like just another ordinary face in the crowd? Nothing could be further from the truth. In an extraordinary move, immortal God became a mortal man so that ordinary people like you and me could personally meet the Savior, Christ the Lord. Why? The best explanation comes from Jesus, “For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NLT)

In God’s eyes, no one is overlooked as “little among thousands.” Every person regardless of age, status, race, or position in life warrants the unearned gift of his grace. The gift of eternal life, through the Christ who came to the tiny village with a big plan to change the entire world. And he did. Merry Christmas!  ©2013 Don Detrick