Thursday, December 31, 2009

No resolutions in 2010: this year it's a New Year's Covenant

It's time again - time to make the usual resolutions and lists, lists that many of us will not keep.  I initially planned to put in place a few lists and ideas of my own; hoping to keep them running strong for at least 2 or 3 months before I fail.  But in getting my lists ready I had an epiphany.  As I reflect on the covenants I've made with the Lord, I realized I have not failed Him.  Putting the bottle down - check!  Every fast He's called me to complete - check!  Put-forth the best effort towards studying His word - check!  Being a better husband and father - check! (I didn't check with my wife on this one, it's just my gut feeling)

So brothers and sisters, I plan to enter a New Year's Covenant with the Lord in 2010, and I invite you to join.  It's simple: think of 1 or 2 things you wish to improve, bring it God, pray on it, and live it by Faith.  Maybe it's finding one act of service for somebody else every week of the year...that's only 52 things.  Perhaps you have wanted to get better at remembering birthdays...make a list of them and set reminders 2 days before in your email program or, pay a little more attention on Facebook.

Whatever it is, let's do it together - are you with me?  I desperately want to grow with the Lord this year; so bad that it's all I can do to sit still long-enough to write this.  Let's pray more and serve more; let's give our pride a little rest this year.  What is your covenant going to be?  I bet the Lord will welcome it with open arms, as He did when you asked Him into your life.

God bless, and good luck!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Do our associates define us?

I’ve often heard the expression: what goes in also comes out. I always believed that but never gave it too much thought beyond the mere premise. After all, if the music to which I listen purports violence, sex, drugs or alcohol – and there is no shortage of that format these days – then I’ll be more likely to want to trend that way while scanning the program guide on television or viewing the magazine racks at the local bookstore. However, if I commute to work while listening to sermons or praise music; in constant prayer, focused on Christ with every step, then I’ll typically feel more at home with the Lord. I’ll most likely not be wavering in my every decision as to whether or not each would be acceptable as a Christian, attempting to imitate a Christ-like life.

While creating this blog, I realized that under the profile box marked ‘interests,’ those interests quickly connected me with every other Blogger that shares that same interest and registered on the same network. It’s a great networking tool I must say. In one instance, I posted ‘walking with God’ as an interest and immediately found dozens of other Bloggers who share that same interest. However, I also learned that my non-Christian or secular movie interests associate me with a network unbefitting to that of a holy life. For example, when I clicked European Vacation, as it is one of my favorite movies of all-time, I immediately found myself with other bloggers connected to all sorts of profane, un-Godly nonsense. Now, I don’t want to sound pretentious – as I’ll never remove the priceless images of Clark Griswold knocking heads with other men in Germany while sporting a full-on Lederhosen – but do these ‘associates’ pose as a help, or hindrance in my walk with God?

My point is simply this: our associates can delineate who we are in many ways. If I’m out bowling and drinking with my buddies rather than staying at home with my wife and children, being the husband and father they deserve, then more than likely that’s going to begin shaping my decisions in life; changing my motives as to how or why I make certain choices. In essence, we could begin to conclude that our ‘associates’ define or, influence who we are and how we’re seen.

One could easily argue however that Jesus was not defined by the associates with whom he ministered, at least, during his life on earth. History would certainly define them as Godly men, worthy of Sainthood in many cases; the crowd with whom many would be honored to be associated. But, we are in a totally different era; an era with social networking sites, Blackberries, and blogs that tell people in one quick view of our profile, what we’re all about. Do we want to constantly fight-off emails about enlarging our body parts or find other sexy singles in our immediate area looking for a ‘date’? My answer is a resounding “NO!”

Chuck Colson’s book How now shall we live? certainly begs to ask us all this question: how now shall we live? Should we constantly aim to impress people by the number of movies we like or the quantity of books we have read? Must we show-off to everyone that views our Facebook page, blog, or Tweets by announcing how many places in the world we’ve visited and what more we must accomplish before we will feel satisfied with our life? Are we somehow better by having more friends or followers than somebody else? I ask simply, “Isn’t God enough?” It’s often seen as boring or too-religious if we’re just seen as Godly or interesting in nothing more than worshiping God and being a great husband and father; and we don’t want to seem boring to our friends, do we?

I am reminded of the story in Nehemiah: When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, "What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?" Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, "What they are building—if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!" Nehemiah 4:1-3 (NIV)

Did you notice that word in verse 2 – associates? I have a feeling that during that event, Sanballat, Tobiah, and the mentioned associates were shouting insults, epithets, and mocking the “feeble Jews” that joined in the effort to rebuild the wall; a wall that was nothing more than burned stones to the associates. I believe that we are defined or shaped by our associates. I say, they can keep us in an un-holy, un-Godly life. We say however that our Faith will keep us from choosing a path God doesn’t want. But I ask: why even temp ourselves? Why not clean-up our activities, interests, and associates? Are we too worried that somebody might notice we’ve left the group? I’d rather be in God’s group, for He will be my final Judge, not my associates.

Copyright © Holy Hoosier, 2009

Saturday, December 26, 2009

I lost the signal, but not the Faith

Every morning I leave for work at 5:30 a.m.  The grueling nature of dark winter mornings can sometimes act as a sleep agent, while at other times it is perfectly peaceful and therapeutic.  After I finish my usual 7 – 4 shift at the office, I jump in the car and drive the seventy-two miles back to my driveway; collect the daily mail, run inside to a cozy house, happy wife, excited dog, and one little boy that can’t contain himself from screaming, “I want daddy to tackle me!”

The commute, which after nearly four years I have determined takes seventy-minutes to complete, sometimes leaves me wishing something closer to home would fall into my lap, while at other times has me thanking God for such solitude and peace.  I have free reign over the iPod, CD player and radio.  In the morning, Dr. Dobson and John Fuller of Focus on the Family often funnel their way through the speaker until I reach the half-way point, where I switch to a more local signal, while the ride home is left to the mood I’m in that day.  But it’s at that half-way point, when I’m listening to the radio and the signal gets weak, where I get impatient; it’s the same place in life that makes me edgy and thinking, “Why can’t I get a signal?”

Often times in life we find ourselves asking God this same question: why won’t you come in?  We desperately change channels, racing from one program to the next, seeking a good signal, one that will put us in a good mood or bring some form of materialistic salvation, but to no avail.  It’s as if we’re on our own for a bit and we don’t know what to do with ourselves.  After all the hours of listening to music and messages, we aren’t patient-enough to slow down and reflect for as little as one minute on anything.  These are the moments that we need to stop and think, “I’ll just be patient, and something will come my way soon.”

Just the other day I was driving home and really wanted to hear the ending of the song that was playing.  In an instant, my signal became so full of static I could barely hear anything.  I was so upset!  I started pushing seek time and time and again, and it only found a couple of stations, ones I didn’t want.  Just then, I stopped and though, “God never forgets where we are.  If we seek His signal, and we’re patient, eventually He’ll give us something we’re intended to hear; something meant specifically for us.”

Where are you in your commute in life?  Are you happy with station and praying you never lose it, or are you desperately seeking for something better?  The apostle Paul writes: I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  Philippians 4:11 (NIV)
Copyright © Holy Hoosier, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I'll be home for Christmas

This Christmas season, many of us will gather in our homes and fellowship with family around a home-cooked meal, watch our children get excited about their presents, and perhaps even watch part of The Christmas Story together on TBS. It is one time each year where we share the blessings God has given each of us by offering gifts to our loved ones and catch-up with family members who have traveled back home, marveling at how tall their children have gotten and smothering them with stories of how they used to look.

But this Christmas will be slightly different for my family. It is the first Christmas without my grandpa and my uncle, as they both passed-away earlier this year: grandpa in March and Uncle Lawrence in August. While they will both be greatly missed this year, it is not the first Christmas this family has spent without Uncle Lawrence.

During WWII, Uncle Lawrence served as an intelligence officer for the allied advance; in both the African and Italian theatres. During our time spent together over the years, I often asked him about the war. Hoping to hear stories about the Nazis and battles in general, I never quite understood why he would avoid wanting to discuss it; at least, in-depth. After all, I was an avid movie fan and the Allies always came home victorious. Sure, there was the occasional antidote here and there about the Germans, but they were usually followed by a distant stare as his voice would fade; sometimes accompanied by a lone tear. It would not be until later in life when I would see the HBO documentary Band of Brothers that I would begin to better understand the painful memories he had harbored for fifty or more years, as those interviews which preceded each episode would evoke the same emotion in those men; American heroes.

But one Christmas season, just a couple of years back, our family was eating dinner at a restaurant and the song “I’ll be home for Christmas” was playing. As we each dimly hummed the melody in our own key, my grandpa said, “We used to listen to this song when Lawrence was in the war.” I don’t recall a word being spoken at that moment, as that lone sentence sent a tingling chill down my spine. For the first time in my life, I began to realize what a sacrifice it was for families to sit at home around the tree with un-opened presents while their family member(s), aliens in a distant land, were at war, and praying for their safe return. Grandpa mentioned how as a family they would listen to that song, a song meant for that very reason, and not say a word.

I read the joy in a family member’s Facebook status this week that her nephew was returning home from Iraq for Christmas, and this memory, as it always does, came to mind. I will probably never don military fatigues or learn how to shoot an M-16; suffice it to say – I hope things don’t get that bad. However, many of us have been touched by the sacrifice of someone in our family answering the call of duty, to defend America. Let us stop, this Christmas, be it the next time you hear this song or see a report about another I.E.D. or roadside bomb, and pray for those troops whom you will not see this Christmas; for they will be home with us, if only in our dreams.

Copyright © Holy Hoosier, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Are cultural trends shifting, or have they already shifted?

These days, we have too many distractions in our lives as compared to even a decade-ago. Our days are consumed with getting to work early to beat the traffic, answering our cell phones whenever and wherever we are or feel as though we should have to. Combine this with the need to climb the corporate ladder in a dog-eat-dog world, and it’s easy to see why God takes a back seat in most of our lives; why He is recognized for only one hour every Sunday – at best.

The redemptive effect we should engineer and implement has been legalistically removed from our day-to-day practices and is only getting further from our nation’s roots. Recently on “In Touch with Dr. Charles Stanley,” David Barton, founder and president of Wallbuilders, gave a presentation on the Constitution and Declaration of Independence and its framers. He listed some very interesting statistics; here are a couple of them: of the fifty-six framers of the Constitution, twenty-nine of them had seminary degrees. Additionally, the very first Bible printed in the English language in America was printed in 1782, commissioned by none other than the Congress of the United States. In case you thought you misread that, I’ll repeat it: the very first Bible printed in the English language in America was printed in 1782, commissioned by none other than the Congress of the United States.

These days, even prayer within the walls of our public schools during so much as an extra-curricular activity is an infringement of something against somebody or, a violation of somebody’s something. I recall a story in the news this past September about the Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School cheerleaders and how their banners, through which the school’s football team would tear-through, were “offensive” to a fan; banners that contained Scripture. What’s next? Is Tim Tebow, quarterback of Florida University, going to offend an opponent for placing Scripture verses on the sun block below his eyes during a football game? Can we no longer find strength and refuge in the Bible outside of the church or our home?

This is not an attempt to lead troops into battle or make this a call to arms, but Christians have been lying like doormats for far too long. You might be reading this thinking, “Not me! I stood my ground when…” GOOD! That’s what we need to do. 1 Peter 3:15-16 says: But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (NIV) Prayerfully seek His lead, and through obedience, follow His will. Jesus didn’t just walk into Jerusalem and think to himself, “What an abomination,” He defended what was holy. Perhaps it is a little easier now to understand how far removed God has become from our society and how far back to Him we have to go. For if the trends have shifted, and that shift is not good as I am purporting, then that implies we can make a positive, lasting change for the good.

Copyright © Holy Hoosier, 2009