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I love Southern magnolias.

I was first introduced to these magnificent trees with their large, waxy leaves way back when I first went to college at Vanderbilt (in Nashville, TN). But since I was on campus only from Sept-May each year, I missed the best part – until I spent my first summer in Nashville after graduation.

The gorgeous, fragrant white flowers that bloom in the late spring.

I can’t begin to describe the scent of these things – it is so sweet and powerful that you must experience it to believe it. And, happily, our current home here in Franklin, TN has a lovely magnolia in the front yard, which we’re enjoying immensely right now.

The thing about white magnolia flowers, though – they don’t last long. They burst into glory and then fade off in a matter of a few days.

Magnolia

From bud to flower to gone in the blink of an eye.

Our life spans seem long by comparison, but in the light of eternity, they’re really not – we’re here today, gone tomorrow. I just received an e-mail yesterday about another high school classmate who has passed away. Wasn’t it just yesterday that a bunch of fresh-faced kids from Berlin (CT) High School were graduating, ready to tackle the world? Wasn’t it just a few moments ago that we were setting up the dunking booth at the Berlin Fair to raise a little money? Now we’re talking about medical procedures and grandchildren and retirement.

Our parents are leaving the scene (or have already left) and we‘re the generation between now and no more. How did that happen?!?

Reading in recent days in the New Testament book of 1 Peter has reminded me afresh of how brief our mortal lives are – yet, there is something far more enduring that is our true hope.

You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” (1 Peter 1:23-25)

When we see the fleeting blooms of spring, and the green-today-brown-tomorrow life cycle of grass, we are meant to realistically consider how temporary we truly are. Youth becomes old age at a bewildering pace. However…

There is permanence. It is not found in ourselves; but instead, in the immortal and unchanging God who created us and all things. Not only does the verse above reference the enduring and abiding and imperishable Word of God, but earlier verses in the chapter describe an eternal life that is anything but fleeting:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)

An unfading inheritance that is kept – guarded – given – by the power of the eternal and unchanging God. Born once according to the flesh, we only have decay and death awaiting us. But born a second time, through faith in the resurrected Jesus Christ, we look forward to immortality. “Salvation” is not just some emotional experience on earth. It is deliverance from sin and death, and a (guaranteed) never-ending life in the presence of an ever-living Savior.

I will still always love the scent of magnolias, as fleeting as the enjoyment will be. But it makes no sense to put all my hope into this fading world. I will wither; but, through the grace and power of the gospel, I will be eternally renewed. I will die; yet I will live – because Jesus died and rose in my place, and shares His eternal life with me and with all who call upon Him.

That’s the promise of an unfailing God.

Is it really true that Christ heals all of our diseases (Psalm 103:3)?

We do well to pay heed to the encouraging words of the gifted English preacher from years past, Charles Spurgeon:

There is no relapse where Christ heals; no fear that His patients should be merely patched up for a season, He makes new men of them: a new heart also does He give them, and a right spirit does He put within them. He is well skilled in all diseases. Physicians generally have some specialty…but Jesus Christ is thoroughly acquainted with the whole of human nature. He is as much at home with one sinner as with another, and never yet did He meet with an out-of-the-way case that was difficult to Him. He has had extraordinary complications of strange diseases to deal with, but He has known exactly with one glance of His eye how to treat the patient. He is the only universal doctor…healing in every instance. Whatever our spiritual malady may be, we should apply at once to this Divine Physician. There is no brokenness of heart which Jesus cannot bind up. “His blood cleanseth from all sin.”

I’ve been to a lot of specialists lately. Even with all their training, each one is quite limited in knowledge and healing skill. Not so with Jesus. He knows every corner of my soul, and He has guaranteed that, in time*, I will be fully restored into His perfect likeness.

When we look at the accounts of Jesus in the gospel, we see His divine power meeting all sorts of diseases – physical and spiritual – and conquering them all.

  • Leprosy? -done.
  • Demonic possession? -done.
  • Blindness? -done.
  • Hardness of heart? -done.
  • Death? -done.

Think of all the people through the ages He has embraced with His powerful love!! The haters, the arrogant, the religiously proud, the disbelieving, the sexually immoral, the wandering, the despairing, the oppressed, the rebellious; murderers, thieves, liars, indifferent, self-satisfied, unstable….the list can go on for pages, for He has seen it all. And no-one takes Him by surprise or exceeds His power. Including you.

You gaze within and feel the discouragement of, once again, facing your temper. Your selfishness. Your immoral cravings. Your may feel ready, like Jonah, to leave your post and run off somewhere instead of obeying God. You feel the shame of your internal contradictions and wonder if there will ever be any deliverance. The deliverance is Jesus Himself; and we are to embrace his “all” in our case and say, “Lord, you’ve seen all this before; and you see me right now. I am not unique and I am not alone. I believe YOU – help me in my unbelief and discouragement. Your all includes me.”

Sometimes I like to look out over the ocean (on those rare occasions nowadays when I get to see a beach!) and think, “Who am I to think that all my foulness is bigger than that body of water?” Yet even the depths of ocean, which serve as an analogy of the love and forgiveness of God, are miniscule compared the reality of His infinite grace. All means all. Even all of me.

*ah, the inevitable asterisk. “In time.” We recognize that God chooses, at times, to bring immediate healing of some maladies (physical, spiritual, emotional, psychological), while in many cases He chooses to exercise His power over longer periods of time. I would just love for sanctification (the process of cleansing and purifying) to be immediate and on-demand – but the Bible makes it clear that we are to live in a long walk of obedience and faith, laying hold of the hope that ultimate healing of every effect of sin will occur when we pass from death to new life in eternity. Our glorification (all!!) is guaranteed; our gradual sanctification is getting us there.

If you’ve ever worked in a grocery store (I have; many, many moons ago!) you know what that dreaded overhead announcement means.

“Clean up on Aisle 7!”

Bring the mop and bucket, because someone just dropped a jar of pickles all over the floor.

Glass shards and smelly juice everywhere. Embarassment. Inconvenienced customers. And someone has to go out of their way to fix the mess.

Most days, I feel like my life is a continual cascade of pickle jars – and bread crumbs, and coffee grounds, and detergent, and milk – spilling all over every aisle imaginable. The volume of my own sin and folly – even after decades of walking with God – is disheartening.

Then I read, as I have this past week, of episodes where other Christians, and church leaders, spill their stuff all over aisle 2, and aisle 8, and aisle 15 – and it almost seems like one living, breathing mess. Scandal, hypocrisy, impurity – with no end in sight. And this isn’t unique to 2015 – it has always been thus. The struggle is real.

Yet Peter calls us to “keep (our) behavior excellent among the Gentiles.” We are to wage war against sin (not indulge it), so that the world sees our good works springing from a heart of holiness.

All this contradiction.

That is why we need God’s infinite grace, His undying patience. Because there will always be a mess on Aisle 7. And He has committed to cleaning it up – and fixing us up – through the sacrificial work of Jesus, and the steady, sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

It is scandalous, this grace. How can God forgive murderers, adulterers, blasphemers, hypocrites, and backsliders? How can He keep putting up with all of my inward-scandals, my heart-sins, my disbelief; sweeping up glass shards day after day while slowly…oh so slowly…renewing me into His image?

What capacity to forgive – beyond anything we can begin to imagine!

There is only one conclusion – God is all-in on the messy work of giving new life to broken people. We’re all disasters, spilling stuff hourly and, many times, trying to hide the mess and deny that it was our doing.

Sometimes – often – I become discouraged by all the contradiction around me and inside me. But today, I must remember – God is up to the task. From the first pages of Genesis to right now, the human race, in sin, has been a colossal mess, and no believers have been exempt from dropping their pickles.

Let’s at least be honest before God and one another, about the reality of the brokenness we’re in. Brothers and sisters, pastors, and God Himself will be continually called to clean things up in Aisle ___ . Yet we also get to see His hand at work – patterns of sin broken, new light and life imparted, the image of Jesus steadily shining forth in each other, even in the chaos of a fallen world.

So let us rejoice, not in our attainments, but in His amazing capacity to love as a Father. All that stuff on Aisle 7? It’s meant to point us to the One who is perfect, and who will renew all things into His image. Even us.

American town reports another day of harmony and peace.

There’s a headline you won’t see anytime soon, right?

And why is that?

Because it doesn’t sell. Turmoil, unrest, conflict – that sells. Citizens happily living together? Not so much.

The pockets of violence, of racial unrest, of social-fabric-tearing protest, are really pretty limited in the overall landscape of life. But you’d never know that from watching the news.

Most of us just go about our business, showing kindness and respect to our neighbors, regardless of creed, color, or socioeconomic background. That doesn’t sell newspapers. But it does speak very well of much of our society.

Here was our day yesterday:

– My wife prefers to buy meat at a smaller supermarket in town. People of all sorts of backgrounds and races shop there (Franklin has a significant number of Hispanic and African-American residents). She remarked again yesterday how people greet each other by name, and chat, and really enjoy the shopping experience together.

– While we were at the community pool, an adorable little African-American boy, teeth chattering from the still-chilly water, pulled himself up on the side of the pool and just starting talking to us. Like it was perfectly normal. Which it is.

– My wife and I visited Arrington Vineyards for a wine tasting that evening and we were blown away by the sight of hundreds of people peacefully and happily picnicing on the lawn, listening to jazz and enjoying some wine by sunset. All races and ages; no tension or discomfort.

ArringtonV

I’m not naive; I know we still have a long ways to go in this country with our various divisions. From time immemorial there have been tribal, racial, religious, and regional tensions leading to oppression and wars – on every continent, and in every age. But all across this land there are people living in freedom and harmony and mutual respect. I see it (and practice it) in my business. I see it in our schools and neighborhoods and churches.

I see color. And I see color-blindness. Lots of it.

Community picnics don’t make headlines. But they do make a wonderful portrait of the melting pot – imperfect, but moving forward – that is America. Millions of us – every day – get along just fine, thank you very much.

There are people with a vested interest in portraying the United States as some uniquely horrible place where hate-filled people are continually putting the screws to every sub-group ever identified. And we have our ugly corners; no doubt. But every so often, we need to turn our attention away from the conflict, and enjoy the beauty that flourishes in this land founded on principles of freedom, opportunity, and equality.

We are a blessed people.

—–

P.S. Ugly, negative, and racist comments will not be approved to appear on this post. Because that’s precisely the point.

First of all, there IS no “secret” to a long and happy marriage. What I’m gong to tell you here is no secret at all.

Compatibility is hugely important. But it’s not enough.

Communication is absolutely critical. But it doesn’t necessarily lead to an enduring marriage.

Caring is crucial. People flourish when cared for – but that’s not the whole story.

Put aside the Hallmark cards with all the gushy romantic sentiments (I’m not against romance, by the way). When undesirable items are hitting the fan, here’s what it comes down to:

Commitment.

  • Loyalty when the grass looks greener elsewhere.
  • Staying put when illness (mental or physical) creates ongoing distress.
  • Self-sacrificing endurance when covenant promises override convenience.

Like all long-married couples, my wife and I have had plenty of challenges. Two imperfect and broken human beings navigating through life will always have rough waters to get through.

But with all of our flaws, we’re commited. And because of all of our flaws, we need to be commited.

Commitment fuels self-giving love, it drives (even uncomfortable) communication, it provides a firm foundation when everything around – including feelings – is being shaken.

My wife knows what a mess I am. She sees my high-maintenance insecurities; she knows my quirks and short-circuits and uptight-ness and imbalances. And, like her mother before her (and my mother before me), she sticks by her man. Not with starry-eyed reality-denial. But with loving, loyal commitment.

A man can tackle just about anything if he knows his wife is WITH him for the long haul.

(And does it ever help to have a sense of humor!…that was the first thing that attracted us to each other, actually. A shared, warped sense of humor. Which has helped keep us sane throughout).

So, a word of advice to my sons. There are millions of pretty and charming women out there, gals who can turn your head and make your heart beat faster. But when it comes to a marriage partner, look for a family and personal track record of commitment. Loyalty lasts long after beauty fades.

That’s one not-very-secret secret to a long and happy marriage.

SandyW_34y

(of course, sometimes beauty doesn’t fade at all!!!)

Three weeks ago, as I got off an airplane in Newark NJ, I unexpectedly suffered a minor stroke. I recovered quickly but there were definitely some lessons learned – not only for me, but for all of us (here’s the story: A Scary Moment in Terminal A).

However, there was another lesson learned which I’d like to share on this personal blog. And it has to do with what God showed me about Himself through the kind ministrations of one very special nurse.

The first two days (Tues. and Wed.) in Morristown Medical Center were somewhat confusing, as the initial testing was inconclusive about the occurence of a stroke (had to wait for an MRI that kept getting delayed), plus there was some instability about my room situation. The care was certainly professional; but I was feeling anxious because I wasn’t getting answers – about the diagnosis, about the pending MRI, and about whether I’d be able to leave on my scheduled flight at the end of the week.

Enter Nurse T____________ (I won’t use her name, because I’d like to think that this story actually describes the care and concern of thousands of nurses who aren’t individually praised in any blog post).

Nurse T____________ came to my bedside Thursday morning and listened to me. But she did far more than that….she took immediate, personal action.

– She pushed to make the MRI happen immediately – and it did.

– She pro-actively interacted with (chased down!) the doctors to start getting some answers.

– She heard my concern about the possibility that my release might not correspond to my son’s work schedule, and said, “Well, I live around there, and if he can’t drive you, I will!”

– She noted that I’d had a headache from lack of coffee that morning and said she’d take care of that the next morning. And sure enough, as soon as her shift started that next day, she delivered me a cup of Starbucks that she bought just for me.

– She kept me informed about the entire process, but also kept her twinkling-but-sharp eye on my activities since I am probably not THE most compliant patient around. It was actually comforting that eagle-eyed Nurse T____________ wasn’t going to let me get away with anything…

In other words, she became my advocate – and not only me, of course, but all of her patients on the floor. But – she very much took a personal and pro-active interest in my well-being and exuded warmth and supportiveness along with professional competence.

The effect this had on me? I finally relaxed. I was in good hands. The right person was on my side, helping navigate the bewildering world of the hospital setting. I didn’t need to feel like it was up to me, in the midst of my confusion and ignorance, to make everything happen.

This care became an unexpected source of joyous mediation for me, as I realized that I was catching a glimpse of the heart of God. Here are some of the texts I sent to my wife during this time:

Nurse1

Nurse2

Nurse3

Nurse4

Nurse5So, for all of you nurses out there – including Nurse T____________ – a profound thank you from your patients who value what you do, on the floor and from the heart. And if you are a servant of Christ serving in a hospital setting, you may never know how God may reveal Himself through you. The stroke, I’d just as soon not repeat. But the rich vein of love and truth that has warmed my heart as a result – I’ll treasure that forever.

Welcome!

What is God’s disposition RIGHT NOW, to you who are reading this, whether you are a Christian or not?

Oddly enough, we can find the answer by looking back 2,000 years or so ago.

Welcome! welcome

I confess that it is taking me many years to get this through my thick skull.

Like Adam and Eve, my sense of uncleanness and distance from God make me want to go hide in the bushes.

A messed-up man like me, welcome in God’s presence?

Yes. When Christ died on the cross, a mighty symbol was demonstrated to the world, in the tearing apart of the veil in Jerusalem’s temple.

As Charles Spurgeon writes in his classic Morning and Evening (April 19):

When Jesus died, the sacrifices were all finished, because all fulfilled in him…the atoning blood which was once every year sprinkled within the veil, was now offered once for all by the great High Priest, and therefore the place of the symbolical rite was broken up. No blood of bullocks or of lambs is needed now, for Jesus has entered within the veil with his own blood. Hence access to God is now permitted, and is the privilege of every believer in Christ Jesus.

Access to God is now wide open. Any may come, at any time, as they are, resting solely on the sacrificial Lamb who removed every barrier of uncleanness and hostility and distance.

Even MY innumerable sins don’t disqualify me. An ocean of love is sufficient to bathe in.

We can run and try to hide, because our darkened hearts believe that God’s heart is darkened as well. But it is not. Otherwise He would not have come to seek and save those who are lost.

Even the most defiled prodigal sons and daughters are welcomed home. With open hands and an open heart.

Image credit: aopsan via FreeDigitalPhotos.net