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be rich 2018

As a church, we took up a special offering with the plan to give it all away. Part of what we did is give families, who were part of our gathering one Sunday, an envelope with $50 with the instructions to:

  1. Accept the money.
  2. Decide who to give the money to.
  3. Give the money.
  4. Tell the story.

Over the next few weeks we’ll use this blog to tell some of those stories. Most are brief but each one reflects a heart to give. We did this as part of our annual Be Rich Campaign (Rich in good deeds, that is). Each story is kept anonymous.

“I have a young friend who lost his brother just a few years ago. This same friend has now suddenly lost his Dad and has dealt with a lot of other life difficulties.  When I heard what we were doing, I knew I wanted to give it to him. I did!”

 

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Does your life feel impossible and overwhelming? This video might very well refresh you and give you God’s answers to our problems. God says, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” Mt. 11:28

crossroads

Almost without exception, every person that God greatly used in the Bible, N.T. and O.T., had a crisis of faith.  Adam and Eve did, and we know how that ended! Abraham did; Jacob did; Isaiah did; John the Baptist did; and each of the disciples did. Peter did!  It is usually where your faith faces your fears, doubts, and great disappointments. And if you haven’t had a crisis of faith, you will, if you’re following Jesus. It may come crashing in all at once, but more than likely it will come ever so subtly, and doubts will attempt to erode your faith, one little nagging thought at a time. You’ll come to a crossroads where you must decide whether you’ll believe God, what His Word says and His love for you. You’ll have to commit to follow Jesus, no matter what, or if you’ll retreat and pull away from Him in distrust. It may come after the death of a loved one. It often follows the death of a dream. It may come as a deceptive temptation that appears better than what God wants for you and leads you farther away from God than you’ve ever been before. He is the One who sees all, knows all, infinitely loves us, and wants the best for us. At the crossroads, you must decide whether you will follow and obey Jesus and believe He is who He says He is or if you will shrink back and stop trusting Him.

Following Jesus has a cost. It is the cost to daily lay down our own will and trust our life to Him. None of us do things perfectly; we are all flawed and sinful. It is a daily decision as much as there is a one-time decision to accept Jesus as Savior and Lord.  Our faith is often weak. But God meets us at the crossroads, and we must decide whether to follow wherever He leads or not. Jesus challenged his disciples when many others who had been following Him turned away. He asked them, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (John 6:67) When I have pulled back, I have almost sensed him asking this same question of me.  I want to respond as Peter does, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” So, I, like the disciples must choose how I answer Him. It is always His love that draws me back as I place my trust in His will for me.

The Bible is full of testimonies of God’s faithfulness to meet us where we are in crisis. He will welcome sincere doubts. He is bigger than your doubts, and there are those who can help you with doubts, questions and disappointments. Seek Him and seek someone you know that knows Him well. Jesus will not turn you away. The question is – “Will you trust Him and follow Him today?”

Luke 9:23  – Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.”

Graphic for Daddy's unopened gift.001
There’s a gift under my tree that was never opened. It’s a gift for my Daddy. He passed suddenly but peacefully in his sleep Christmas morning. He took his last breath here and entered into Heaven. I have thought back about these last few years with Dad and the struggles he had to remain independent, his struggles with dementia and his good attitude about it all. In the last 2 years as his dementia progressed, I would go once a month and spend the weekend with him. Each of his kids helped in his care along with wonderful caregivers who took care of his daily needs.  Sometimes it was hard to see him struggle to remember or watch him drift off when thoughts escaped him. It was hard not to talk to him about the things we used to discuss. He was so full of knowledge on so many things, full of down to earth wisdom. I missed that part of him but was privileged to see glimpses of it up until the end. In Dad’s last years, there was no hurrying, no more worries, no more fretting about today or tomorrow. God, in His grace, had left the very essence of a good, kind loving father. Dad would often reminisce and we’d talk about things like his childhood, his grandparents, trips to Colorado and fishing.  Some weeks it was hard to go, especially when my life seemed too busy and it was easy to think what I wanted to do was really important. I’d pray on the little more than an hours trip and the Lord would give me peace as I went knowing that Daddy’s memory might be less each time. Life had slowed down for him and I’d have to remind myself to slow down my pace to walk with him. The Lord often reminded me to treat him as I would treat Jesus but I must confess, I didn’t do that nearly as well as I wish I had.

This life, every breath, every heartbeat, every second is God’s gift to us to do His will. I have no more days here on this earth with my Daddy. But Daddy’s gift to me is one of the best gifts, a priceless gift – I had these last few years with him. We had good times together, sometimes we’d just sit in silence as he gathered his thoughts. He told me precious memories, things he’d never shared and I was able to ask him many things. He always appreciated me being there and looked forward to time with each of us kids. He was pleasant and didn’t complain. He had plenty of time these last few years when life had slowed to an ebb, unlike when we were growing up. During his 55+ years of working to make a living, time was scarce as he worked long, hard hours. He loved working and accomplishing something each day. But we have eternity to share and rejoice together and all the distractions will be gone. Time doesn’t exist in Heaven’s eternity. We will know each other. The gift of his love lives on, it lives in his twinkle I see in my sons’ eyes, in the humor we share, his funny sayings, his laughter, his strength I see in each of us and our children. He taught us to be strong, to face adversity with courage, to be faithful, to love with actions, not always words. But he will go on in each of our DNA and in our lives. It all lives in my heart and mind as I remember the life lessons he taught me.  It lives on in the hope I have in Jesus’ limitless grace, for it is by grace that we are saved, not by any works we’ve done when we put our trust in Him as Savior.

Daddy’s parting gift was the best of all – the precious time with him and deep abiding love. These last few years I’ve been unwrapping are his parting gift.  It is these last few years that I will cherish. I didn’t truly realize the inestimable value or treasure it was to me. He taught me many, many things but maybe most of all that time is a gift. Daddy doesn’t need my unopened gift but I will need his from now on. Daddy, it will take a lifetime to unwrap the gift you gave me.

We all know we have an expiration date. Daddy’s was December 25, 2018, but his spirit is very much alive in a glorious place called Heaven with our Savior. Our days are numbered and we don’t know when our time here will run out.  Life is God’s gift and we’ll never have this moment back so cherish your loved ones. I will always, always love you, my Daddy!

 

e6c791e4e968d2433f01a935ffc0964cClint had just finished feeding the livestock when he heard a commotion from the house. He raced up the porch steps. As he neared the house the sound was different, it was his mom’s laughter and he couldn’t quite catch the muffled words. What was going on? As he went through the back door he caught sight of the haggardly looking figure sitting at the kitchen table. They’d welcomed in another homeless bum! As he got closer he smelled the stale body odor but wait, this guy looked familiar! Could it be? No, he’s probably dead, it couldn’t be him. He’d have some nerve showing his face around here after what he’d done. But it was him. It was his long lost, good for nothing brother! What was he doing here?

Clint slumped in a kitchen chair and couldn’t believe his eyes! His mother was smiling again. His dad was the happiest he’d seen him in ages! His dad turned to Clint and he said, “Isn’t this the best Christmas gift? Your brother has come home. He is alive and we feared he was dead. Welcome your brother back.” Clint choked on the words that his father wanted to hear. He stormed out of the house. “How dare this worthless brother of mine darken the door of this house again.” He tried his best to compose himself. He couldn’t stay out in the cold all night. After all, it was Christmas Eve and he’d be expected to attend the Christmas Eve service. 

When his brother left years ago, Clint was secretly glad. Clint hated the gossip that continually followed his brother around. After all, Clint enjoyed the fact that he was “the good son.” He enjoyed the pats on the back from friends and the praise that went with it. “What a good son you are to your parents.” His parents had aged considerably after his brother abruptly left 8 years ago. “And now he’s back”, thought Clint to himself. His face still burned red hot with anger but he went back into the house, mechanically willing himself to get ready for the Christmas service. “Never mind, that lousy brother of mine will probably sneak out tonight with anything valuable.” 

When he came down to go to church a short time later, he saw his brother had cleaned up. He was clean shaven and wearing Clint’s clothes that hung on his bony frame like an old wire coat hanger.  Clint reasoned to himself, “I can get through this, keep up appearances, just for this service.”  

As they entered the church, people turned in their pews to see them. Some gasped and cupped their hands to whisper. People gathered around them and greeted his mom and dad. “Is this…? Why, it can’t be Stephen?” Others gathered around to shake hands and hug his mom, dad, and Stephen. Some spoke with tears, “We never stopped praying for you. And God has answered our prayers.” Another congratulated Clint, “You must be so happy to have your brother back home.” The words stung Clint. He was anything but happy, he was fuming inside, but ever the one in control, “the good son”, he told himself he could get through tonight. It would be over soon enough.

Clint went through the motions and mouthed the familiar words. When he got home, he went straight to bed and fitfully tossed all night. Stephen wouldn’t stay and life would be back to normal again very soon. 

The next morning, he got up early and he went out to do chores. The barn door stood open and someone was inside. It was Stephen. Clint had had enough. He let all the years of hatred and bitterness spew out.  Stephen stood silently, his head drooped. Stephen struggled to speak, “Yes, yes, Clint you’re right and it’s all true….”,  but before Stephen could finish, their dad came through the door. He had heard it all, all of it.  Clint saw the look on his dad’s face- grief, hurt and anger. And that was the last thing Clint wanted to see. He wanted to protest, “But, I’m the good son!” But it was too late. Clint hurriedly left and got into his truck. He had to leave, this was all wrong, all backwards.

Clint pulled his truck up on the side of the road. He deserved better, after all, he had stayed. He’d done the right thing, he took care of everything and everyone. His Bible lay open on the seat next him. It was open to a passage.. “God, what have I done wrong? I did what I thought was right.”  As his eyes fell on the pages, words seemed to be written in bold print. He read,

“ “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

It was as though the words shot straight to his heart. Clint knew what he must do, he must forgive Stephen. He drove back home thinking of all the harsh words he’d said. He had to ask his father and Stephen to forgive him. When Clint went into the house, his father turned to him and said “‘My son, you have always been here for us, and everything I have is yours. But we have to be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” 

Two sons came home that Christmas.

63870495-dirt-road-in-winter-time-next-to-villageIt seemed a lifetime since he’d turned down the old dirt road and passed the old graveyard where most of his relatives were buried.  The neighbor’s old farmhouse had some strings of Christmas lights around their window and he remembered today was Christmas Eve but he’d lost track of how many Christmases he’d missed with his family. Was 7 years or maybe 8? He couldn’t recall how many years had passed since he’d been home.  Would anyone recognize him after all these years? He scarcely recognized himself. He looked a mess with his scraggly beard, long matted hair, filth-caked clothes and his leathery line-etched face. He left in a hurry, he had places to go and people to see, no reason to stay and with no goodbyes to his mom or his dad, he’d just walked out and never looked back. He’d said cruel things to his dad the night before, unforgivable things he thought. Maybe his mother would be glad to see him. Surely, she would have missed him and forgive him for leaving though he had nothing to offer her. He had no gifts, nothing. He was flat broke. He was a broken man with lost dreams. Was there room for him at his father’s table?  He’d had to eat out of trash cans and beg for food when he fell on hard times. His stomach growled at the thought of food. He couldn’t remember when he’d had his last real meal and his mother’s cooking was so delicious he could almost taste it. Was his father still alive? Would his father turn him away? Maybe he would not be welcome.  Would his father lecture him and tell him – I told you so? Whatever he had to do to make amends, he’d made up his mind that he’d do it! He just wanted to go home!

As he rounded the last bend in the road, his feet felt like lead and his heart pounded wildly in his chest.  What if something had happened to his father or mother? What if there was no one there who’d let him come in out of the cold.  Why had he stayed away so long? Regrets filled his mind and he found himself wanting to turn back, go back the way he’d come but that way was a dead-end. There was no where to go, no one who wanted him or would take him in if he turned back. He clasped the tattered, filthy coat around his neck to block out the bitter cold north wind and prayed a prayer of desperation – “God please, please let them forgive me and let me come home again.” 

It was nearly dusk as he dragged himself up the steep winding road toward the house on the hill. He could see the glowing lights in the windows and his steps sped up in hope they’d show him mercy.  He could just make out a shadowy figure on the front porch. He squinted but couldn’t tell who it was that stood watching. And as he increased his pace he saw the figure moving quickly toward him. The figure was now running to meet him. It was his father! The father he’d disappointed, that he’d disrespected and dishonored! His father held out his arms to his son and as his father wrapped his arms around his son, he heard his father say, “Welcome home, son. We’ve watched for you everyday since you left.  Thank you, Lord God, for bringing our son home. You are my son, who I thought might be dead but is alive. It’s Christmas and we will celebrate your homecoming!” And just as this father welcomed his son so God the Father will welcome you, even if it’s been a long, long time since you’ve come to Him. He welcomes you with open arms and longs to talk to you. He loves you as you are no matter what you’ve done or where you’ve been. As long as you have life and breath it’s never too late to come back to God. Find your way home to God the Father this Christmas! Come home!

3AF78E1900000578-0-image-a-11_1480704960331While the small town slept He entered into our world. Angels proclaimed the good news to shepherds and told them where to find the newborn King. Only the shepherds were looking for a King born in a stable, lying in a manger, a feed trough for animals in a little, obscure village called Bethlehem.  Yet, His birth was predicted over 600 years before, and scriptures even pinpoint the exact town and region in Micah 5:2. He existed before the world began, and created all things but He chose to come as a helpless infant.  Philippians 2 tells us that Jesus willingly humbled himself and came as a human being. Even those who knew that a King was to be born in Bethlehem were unaware of His birth. How did they miss it? 

They didn’t expect a king to be born in a stable. The religious leaders were looking for an earthly king, one who would free them from the tyrannical rule of Rome. Maybe they expected a grand entrance, with all the regalia of an earthly king and with a great show of strength. But Jesus came humbly, as a Servant King to set us free from our slavery to sin and to overcome death as foretold in Isaiah 53. Few took notice that God had come to live among men, although even His name means “God with us”. The scriptures tell us the story as recorded in Matthew 1:20-22

“An angel of the Lord appeared to him (Joseph) in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,[a] because he will save his people from their sins.”22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means God with us.” 

 Do we recognize Jesus for who He is and why He came? What are you looking for this Christmas? Are you looking for a Savior? We may only see the baby in a manger and may miss the truth that the cross is at the heart of the Christmas story. God chose a stable which seems a very unlikely place for the birth of His Son, unless we recognize Him as the one whom John the Baptist proclaimed, that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” John 1:29, Isaiah 53:7 

God reached out to us through time and eternity by sending His Son to give us eternal life through Jesus, His Son.  Jesus Christ will come again and when He comes everyone will see Him as the King of Kings in all His glory and He will reign for all eternity. Still He came first to us as an infant in Bethlehem to save us from our sins. God gave His best gift – His Son to be with us. He’s here among us in our hearts and lives through the presence of His Holy Spirit if we trust and accept God’s greatest gift, His Son as our Savior. Will you accept God’s greatest gift? He is Here with us.  

Please take a few minutes to listen to this song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EosUH0orVUg