Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Road Trip

I've been locked up in this crazy world. How far is Heaven? I'll just keep on praying, Lord and just keep on living. How far is Heaven? Lord can you tell me?(Henry, Jojo, and Ringo Garza. 2004)

With kids back in school and most summer vacations over, we are mostly left with souvenirs, pictures, stories and memories from the last few months. It seems that my family has been away more than we've been home this summer. I have been to Camp McCall, the beach, the mountains, the lake, and visiting family and friends.

Living in Edgefield for six years, I have realized that our town isn't really close to anything! Most of the places we have been, take anywhere from two to four hours. That's a lot of driving time. When you factor in my travels to Augusta, Aiken, Columbia, and Greenville for visits and meetings, I sometimes feel like I live in a vehicle.

Most people do things during a longer drive to pass the time. Some listen to music or talk radio, many listen to CDs, (I still have some great cassettes I listen to!) audio books, and still others like to chat on their cell phones. Kids who are riding will read, color, draw, play video games, or watch DVDs.

The age-old question from kids, and sometimes parents, is "Are we there yet?" Fortunately, there are ways to tell how much longer the trip will take. If you are on the interstate, there are mile markers. On more familiar rural roads, there are landmarks that help you estimate time and distance to the destination. If you have a GPS, it can be programmed to actually tell you what time you will arrive at your destination.

If you are traveling a long distance and do not have anything to guide you, it's easy to get discouraged and frustrated. It will seem that you will never get where you are going and you might even get lost or think you are. The reason is that when we are driving, we are only focused on the destination. The journey is simply a way to get there.

One of the problems we have in our Christian journey is that we apply the same logic to it. For the Christian, we know the destination is Heaven. That is our true home and final destination. However, we have no idea when we will get there, nor do we have any landmarks, mile markers, or GPS units to tell us our arrival time. Since we have no idea how far away from Heaven we really are, we get frustrated and weary from the journey. When this happens, we begin to do things to pass the time. We seek distractions and diversions from the grind of our travels, with entertainment and fun. Sometimes the distractions are not necessarily bad. There are certainly ways to have fun that are Godly. However, sometimes the distractions are not. These are poison and can cause us to not only get lost on our journey, but also make us lose the focus of our destination.

What should we deduce from this? Yes, God wants us to focus on our final destination, but He also intends for us to make the most of the journey. Our Christian walk, in this world, should be filled with working for Him. We should spend our time here growing closer to Jesus Christ, learning how to live a more Godly life, and showing others, who are lost, the way to Heaven.

While we cannot know how much longer our journey on Earth will take, we can have some guidance while we travel. God has given us His Word as a road-map, the Holy Spirit as a guide, and fellow Christians as encouragers. Therefore, make the most of your travels on this earth, and enjoy the trip!

And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor any ravenous beast; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and those the LORD has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away. (Isaiah 35:8-10)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Junk Food For The Soul

Suppose you have decided to get a pet fish. You go down to the pet store or fish store, and browse through all the varieties of fish. You could go with the standard goldfish, but you decide you want something a little different. You consider some of the others, but finally stop at one that is the size of a goldfish, but has more color to it.

You ask the shopkeeper about it. She informs you that the fish is called a Gourami. She describes it as a tropical fish that lives only in fresh water. You like the fish and decide to buy it.

The shopkeeper sets you up with the proper aquarium, filters, and all the other necessary equipment. You leave the store with the fish, and your new aquarium, excited about the new member of the family. You drive very carefully home, so as not to damage the plastic bag your new pet is traveling in.

When you get home, you set up the aquarium and other equipment as you were instructed. After some temperature adjustments, you carefully put your new fish into his new home. He begins to swim around and explore his new environment.

After watching him for a bit, you decide to get a snack. You go to the pantry, and find a Kit-Kat candy bar, and grab a soda. As you head back to check on the fish, you realize that you forgot to buy fish food. The store is closed now, so there is no chance of buying any tonight. What will you do? Of course! You would give the fish some of your Kit-Kat bar right?

Don't be too quick to laugh at such an idea. Currently, workers at an aquarium in London are working hard to break a Gourami of its Kit-Kat habit. The fish's previous owners exclusively fed the fish Kit-Kat bars its entire life. The fish now weighs a whopping 8.8 pounds. Gourami fish usually eat fruit, so they are slowly adding grapes and taking away the chocolate.

The aquarium veterinarian says there seems to be no real damage to the fish's system. However, Kit-Kat candy bars are not what this fish was designed to eat. While the fish seems to be normal right now, there may be some long-term effects that may not appear for years.

As humans, we might be able to exist on chocolate, pizza, and cheeseburgers. However, if that's all we get, our quality of life will be less than what we were designed for. It takes proper nutrition and exercise for us to be at our maximum capability. We might handle junk in our system for a while, but it eventually catches up with us.

The same is true in our spiritual walk as well. God designed us to have a healthy dose of His Word and time with Him each day. We may be able to go for a while and seem fine. However, soon we will begin to show the outward signs of being deprived of His guidance in our lives. We begin to care more about ourselves than others. We start to miss gathering with God's people. We become more critical of those who try to do what is right. We drift a little farther away, each day we go without Him.

Don't try to live your life on the spiritual equivalent of Kit-Kat bars. Feast on the Word of God and spend time talking to God in prayer. It is indeed food for your soul.

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” And, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

That's Just Wrong

[Jesus said to Peter] I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.” Peter turned around and saw behind them the disciple Jesus loved—the one who had leaned over to Jesus during supper and asked, “Lord, who will betray you?” Peter asked Jesus, “What about him, Lord?” (John 21:15-21)

Last week, I was driving back to Edgefield from Aiken on Highway 19. I was almost to the overpass near the prison, when I spotted a car in my rear-view mirror coming up quickly. I was in a no-passing zone, but the young lady paid that no attention as she raced around me like I was sitting still.

She continued speeding up the incline of the overpass, but when she reached the top, I saw her brake lights come on. I knew what that meant! I wasn't far behind her by that point, and was able to see a South Carolina Highway Patrol car meet us both at the bottom of the hill.

Although I know it was wrong, I have to confess that I was secretly delighted when I saw the patrol car. I almost smiled thinking about the knot that must have risen in the young lady's stomach as she topped the hill and saw the police. The truth is that it probably had less to do with the fact that she had broken several traffic laws, and more to do with me feeling that she had wronged me in some way or put me in danger. I felt a touch of vindication.

First, she passed the patrol car, then I did. I checked my mirror, waiting to see his brake lights. Imagine my shock when the trooper simply drove calmly over the hill and away from us. As I watched him drive away, I also watched the young lady speed up and pass another driver just past Billy's Truck Stop. I had the same thought most of you would have had. "If that had been me, I would be in custody now!"

My thoughts then turned to how unfair the whole situation was. I actually asked God why people get away with things like that, but I seem to get caught all the time. To my surprise, I knew God was speaking to me, in my heart, and He led me to the passage in John I have quoted at the beginning and end of this column.

In the passage from John 21, Jesus had risen from the dead, and had appeared to the disciples. They had just finished eating breakfast, and Jesus, it seems, pulled Peter aside to talk to him. After all, Peter was the one who probably felt the most guilt after denying three times that he even knew Jesus.

Jesus wanted to do two things in this conversation. First, He wanted to assure Peter that he was forgiven for his denial. Second, Jesus wanted to forewarn Peter about the type of death he would suffer for Christ. Jesus’ prophecy did come to pass. Most historians agree that Peter was sentenced to crucifixion, but requested to be hung upside down, because he felt unworthy to be executed in the same way as Jesus.

After Jesus told Peter that he would be executed for his faith, his immediate reaction was to look over at John. John never calls himself by name in his gospel, but he makes it very plain that Peter is referring to him. The disciples always had a strong rivalry and it reared its head again.

To paraphrase, Peter is saying to Jesus, “Ok, I understand that I will have to die for you, but what about John? Will he suffer and be executed also?” Peter wanted to make sure everything was fair. However, Jesus’ answer must have shocked Peter. Jesus told him that it was not any of his business if John lived or died.

We all want fairness. If I get caught speeding, I want everyone else to get tickets when they speed also. If I obey the rules, I want everyone else to obey them or be punished. As Christians, we are called to live as sons and daughters of God. We are not to live for Him as long as everyone else does. We are called to live for Him regardless of what others do.

Do you worry that evil is not always punished in this world? Rest assured that God sees and knows about it and that He will deal with it in His way, in His time. You cannot make others live life the way you want them to live, any more than they can force their lives on yours. Give all of your sense of fairness to God and let Him lead you in the life He has chosen for you!

Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow Me.” (John 21:22)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What's Cooking?

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22)

We have a lot of cookbooks in our house. Sometimes I enjoy cooking, and my wife loves to try new recipes. However, we both tend to stick to certain cookbooks more than others. I guess we have found that some are easier to follow and are more practical for feeding our family.

We also have several cookbooks that are pretty humorous. One of my favorites is written by Ted and Shemane Nugent. (Yes, this is Ted Nugent, the rock guitarist). The name of his cookbook is "Kill it and Grill it." We also have, "Eat Like a Wild Man," "Vegetarian Grilling," (I'm not sure where that one came from!) and "Fix it and Forget it."

Suppose I decided to cook something from one of these books. I would look over the list of ingredients to make sure I had the items needed for the recipe. Once I determined that I had what I needed, I would then follow the directions for cooking the dish. Following the recipe, as it is written, is very important if you want the dish to turn out right.

Sometimes, however, you can follow the directions perfectly and still have problems. This reminds me of a joke I read recently. It read, "According to the Knight-Ridder News Service, the inscription on the metal bands used by the U.S. Department of the Interior to tag migratory birds has been changed. The bands used to bear the address of the Washington Biological Survey, abbreviated 'Wash. Biol. Surv.' until the agency received the following letter from a camper: Dear Sirs: While camping last week, I shot one of your birds. I think it was a crow. I followed the cooking instructions on the leg tag and I want to tell you it was horrible. The bands are now marked 'Fish and Wildlife Service.'"

Most people in our community own a Bible. In fact, recent studies have shown that approximately 92% of American households have at least one Bible. That study also revealed that the 92% included atheists and people who profess other religions. We also know that 60 Bibles were sold every second in 2009. None of the surveys take into consideration the number of Bibles placed around the world by the Gideons.

All of this begs the question, "If there are so many Bibles around, why is there so much sin and hate in the world?" The answer is simple. People may own Bibles, but they don't read them. Also, out of those who read them, many do not understand what they read. Worse than this, many who read God's Word and understand what it says, do not believe, obey or do what it says.

I may not agree with some of the ingredients shown in the recipes in our cookbooks, but if I don't use them, the dish will not be prepared as it was created by the originator. Likewise, if we pick and choose what we will believe, obey and do from the scriptures, we will never fulfil what our Creator intended us to be. We must study God's Word to know what He says about our lives. There is no subject we can encounter in life that God did not address in some way in His Word.

So, open your Bible, and as James put it in the passage above, "Do what it says."

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. (James 1:23-25)