What stepping stones might you declare are necessary to play a sport, like baseball or softball?

For instance someone has to teach by example how to throw, catch, run, hit, pitch, play a position, even how to have fun! I can remember learning the sport and one of the guys on my team ran to 3rd instead of 1st – gotta learn sometime.

What about starting a new job? What would be helpful to know?

Or preparing a surprise party?

All these have steps –

Stepping stones that need to be fulfilled, stepped on,  so the next one might be able to be …. stepped on.

But they all lead to the final goal –

Being able to play a sport

Having a happy and productive employee

Enjoying a great party

When I was in school every once in a while I’d hear of a class mate that stopped going to school. It first started in 7thgrade and continued through college and sometimes, especially when I was in high school I’d think – Wow – they are lucky!

No more books – teachers – tests!

Now, I’m not so sure. I think they tried to jump over some stepping stones. Like books – teachers and tests and …. well, are experiencing the outcome today.

Because stepping stones that I’m talking about aren’t stones that you can skip over, avoid, maneuver past – but are must do’s or at least are the firm stones on which to step on to move forward in life, in conflicts.

Not all these stepping stones are easy.

  • Some are hard.
  • Some are slippery
  • Some are rougher than others
  • Some bear the marks of others who have slipped and fallen and gotten up again
  • Some are so sharp that there is no way you want to step on them but you have to.

Before we can journey rightly we have to know where we are headed. Aim at nothing and you’ll hit it, someone said. But if you aim at a target and miss the bullseye, at least you know to change the flight of the arrow.

What is the bullseye for a believer?

Image result for bullseye with bow and arrow

 

In Jesus’ prayer found in John 17 we discover what Jesus prayed for those who would follow him then and even now through His ministry of intercession.

Why do I bring it up?

Because it tells us what Jesus wants for us and therefore is our goal, where we are headed.  It’s our bullseye!

I could write on each of these but I just want to mention them:

  1. That we would know God as the only true God –Vs 3
  2. That we would be one just at the Father and Son and Spirit are one. Unified in purpose. Vs 11
  3. That joy would overflow in our lives – what a desire from Jesus, vs 13
  4. That our lives would be kept from the Evil One’s attempted victory over us, vs 15
  5. That our lives would be filled with the presence of God and as a result find peace, joy, love, faith, holiness, vs 16
  6. And to use our breakthrough prayer to enlighten verse 18, we will be God’s hands and feet, voice and heart for the people who seek Him.

This is the goal, the bullseye and it is achieved, received, grown, purified, completed by trust in Jesus’ work on the cross. To me, these and others help me know what life is about in all my relationships and conflicts. They may not tell me who to marry but it does tell me I need a partner who will help me be what God desires. They may not tell me how to do things, but they do let me know where I need to head.

So how might these help me in conflict?

This is where your maturity in Christ comes to play. Where you discover where you are in Christ’s call on your life to be a pastor and priest for your family, friends and neighbors.

How so?

Because your goal in conflict is to live up to the call found in the prayer of Jesus. It is my goal. So what can we do to help us in conflicts be what God is sanctifying in us? The very nature of Jesus.

Let me propose some stepping stones across the rivers of conflictImage result for stepping stone in water

  1. God loves them and loves me.

Have you ever heard this little poem?

To dwell above with saints we love,

Oh, that will be glory!

But to dwell below with saints we know,

Well … that’s another story!

When we recognize that they  might be saying the same thing about us it changes our perspective. And if we realize that God’s love comes to all, even those we have conflict with then our hearts can be open to a God sized miracle. Over the years what I have tried to see and learn and teach myself as I spend time with the Lord and with other people is the answer to most people’s problems is they need someone, like you, who is sincere, Spirit-empowered, and deeply practicing the love they are loved with.

One of the things I usually preach at every wedding I officiate in is in this line. I tell the groom and the bride this: “Lee/Beth practice the love, give the love, live in the love you want Beth/Lee to give to you.” I believe this puts the burden of seeing the other as God sees them squarely on the shoulders and behavior of the each.

  1. Jesus’ example

There are all sorts of pictures and images people have of Jesus. But one of the best pictures I have enjoyed all my life is the one with the ‘laughing Jesus.’

Why? Because even when Jesus was serious and he had serious business to contend with He was filled with joy. Why? Because he knew whose he was and knew how to live.

Image result for laughing Jesus

 

When we are in conflict resting in Christ as the forgiven of sins

  • The person who needs patience
  • The one who makes mistakes
  • The guy whose thoughts could be a movie
  • The human being who needs to be loved and forgiven and encouraged and is imperfect – all the time.
  • This is who Jesus hung out with.

He didn’t hang out with perfect people but he did hang out with people on the journey of faith. So much so that they were there for one another. When you are in conflict with others if you make them important to you – you behave better. If you think you are all that – then they …. aren’t.

How Important are You?

More than you think.

A rooster minus a hen equals no baby chicks.

Kelloggs minus a farmer equals no corn flakes.

If the nail factory closes, what good is a hammer factory?

If the forester has no trees, what good is a Stradivarius?

A cracker maker will do better if there’s a cheesemaker.

The most skillful surgeon needs the ambulance driver who delivers the patient.

And in conflict, someone needs to take the lead. (p 110, Laugh Again, Swindoll)

You are important when you consider conflict – someone has to be sane.

  1. People have bad days and so do I

I want to focus now on the scripture in Phil 4:1-3. Here are 2 women, in the church, in ministry, not just any ministry, but women who knew Paul and helped him accomplish some meaningful work. Now they are …what? Feuding, fighting, arguing, maybe spreading rumors, backbiting, texting other friends about each other. This is a real bad day.

Maybe you are in a quarrel that is going on. Maybe it was your fault – their fault – or you forget the start of it. But this I know, if you have a resentful, unforgiving spirit you will never have a carefree, happy heart living in the same body. Until you take care of the former you won’t be able to enjoy the later.

People have bad days – weeks – months. And you might be taking the brunt of it.

Here is some advice I have given to folks when they are in a tough spot

Start telling God how you feel.  Write God a letter about it, address it to that person – tell them all about how you feel BUT DON’T SEND IT. Offer it up to God as a burning sacrifice. And if that letter doesn’t help – write another – a burn it. And do it again if you have to and then claim God’s love for them.

Another stepping stone is this:

  1. Evil has to be confronted and calls for tough love

Not all disagreements require reconciliation. As I recall, it was Jesus who said that He brings “a sword” into certain relationships. Occasionally it is right to be defiant and to fight. I would highly recommend John Wesley’s sermon, Catholic Spirit to read and study.

We see the alt-right and alt-left in their violent clashes. I’m not talking about that. But as Christians we have the call to battle against injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. But to do so with grace and dignity and the power of the Sprit’s influence in our lives.Image result for faith, hope and love as stepping stones

  1. God’s resources are Faith, Hope and Love

My next to the last stepping stone are these three so close together that you can’t set them apart. Paul puts these side-by-side but the greatest and largest stepping stone is love. Love has its primary focus – God – and therefore expresses itself first of all in implicit obedience to His commandments.

Christian love, whether exercised toward other Christians, or toward people generally, is not an impulse from the feelings, it does not always run with the natural inclinations, nor does it spend itself only upon those for whom some positive relationship exists. Love seeks the welfare of all.

Faith, that stone that sits nearby is the confidence that we do things God’s way there is a redemption. We don’t look at faith or God as a magic wand that changes others but as sure footing for our obedience.

And hope – because we place our hope in God we have a joy that is confident of His work in the situation and the knowledge that God cares far more than I. Hope is the anchor of the soul and it is motivator of our efforts.

One more stepping stone:

  1. Time:

Ecc 3 says there is a time under the sun for all things.

Time, it

Cools

Refreshes

Offers reconciliation

Sees newness of life

Time; give people time. Give yourself time too.

We may not run across the stream like we are walking on water, but remembering these stepping stones in conflict will help us all to not sink. Maybe you are in a conflict today. There is a strong possibility that this is so. If so, take one stone at a time and have hope – God is with you.

Thanks for reading and if you write me, I’ll return the favor. You are in my prayers. 

 

 

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It seems to be that it is awfully hard to keep up with the Jones, the Smiths, the Sanchez’s or the Kim’s. I just can’t do it. The other day a truck I’d really like to have had a sticker price of $54,000. That is $14,000 more than my first house. Yeah, I know. It isn’t 1986 anymore. But really without going into debt how is someone going to have all they want? Much less need?

I don’t think I’ll ever have a new truck that is all I’d want. Just not going to happen. But what will happen is this.

I won’t be in debt. Why? Because as my kids say, “Dad, you’re cheap.” LOL. Nah. I’m not cheap – can’t stand it when something cheap breaks and I have to go get another cheap one. No, I’m frugal. Remember that word? It means,

“Those who are frugal are unwilling to (lavishly) enjoy the fruits of their labors, so it may surprise you to learn that frugal ultimately derives from the Latin frux, meaning “fruit” or “value,” and is even a distant cousin of the Latin word for “enjoy” (frui). The connection between fruit/value and restraint was first made in Latin; the Middle French word that English speakers eventually adopted as frugal came from the Latin adjective frugalis, a frux descendant meaning “virtuous” or “frugal.” Although English speakers adopted frugal by the late 16th century, they were already lavishly supplied with earlier coinages to denote the idea, including sparing and thrifty.”

I’m thrifty. I’m watchful. I still have shirts from 10 years ago that I just love to wear. (Okay, I’m a guy and out of style). But that doesn’t mean I’m a slob, out of date (too far) nor someone who isn’t aware or appreciates new looks. (I did get a haircut).

But here is the thing about keeping up. I’ll never keep up. They keep moving because they have different values than I do. I want to travel, go out to eat, buy nice things, visit my kids and their kids (if they ever have any), be able to go when we want because I have earned – saved – shared in a thrifty manner.

I’ll not go in debt for things that flitter away in two years.

Nature

Its ever changing ways.

Sitting one day with sun and shadow

Another

Of snow and cold.

Birds sing,

Foxes scamper,

People hike, remembering their connection

To God’s creation.

 

Look up

See the branches,

The leaves,

Living as they ought

Swaying with the breeze,

Supporting the essence of community.

Are you?

In the gladness of living as you are to live?

Do you see,

Yourself …

Now?

 

Are you living as you ought?

Changing with the seasons

Maturing,

Growing,

Giving,

Returning?

Or is this just a jaunt and a return to …

What?

Why do you fly the flag? Why don’t you fly the flag? On Memorial Day I walked around the neighborhood about 3 miles and found 50 homes decorated with flags or some other decorations which included the church and my house. And I got thinking about ‘why do I fly the flag and why don’t others fly or decorate?’ “Interesting question,” I said to myself. So I got to thinking …

 

“Now I am all for separation of church and state but saying this I realize that without our Judeo-Christian heritage, the U.S. would not have the laws nor the heritage nor at times the moral fortitude to stand where she has in the years that I have been around. But before that there were two world wars that my ancestors fought in various ways from having a victory garden, to working on the railroad to battling in Europe. The fought for something and against something and that has to mean something.”

 

“Yep,” I said, “that makes sense. That is a good reason to fly the flag.”

 

“About three generations ago some of my folks came over to the US from Europe and well, we’re American now. They came from the UK and Czechoslovakia, (I love the sound of that country, someday I want to visit). I remember meeting my great grandmother in St. Louis and sitting in the parlor (only for guests of course) and feeling so lucky and just good that she was happy being here. Maybe that’s why I fly the flag, because my family lives here.”

 

“Yep,” I said, “that makes sense. That is a good reason to fly the flag.”

 

“Then I remember that the Apostle Paul who lived in a hostile world against faith in Jesus and he said, ’First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.’ That word is good for any country even when one doesn’t agree with the leaders. Our goal isn’t just life here but for eternity.”

 

“Yep,” I said, “that makes sense. That is a good reason to fly the flag.”

 

“But mostly,” I thought to myself, “I fly the flag because I live here. This is my home away from home (heaven) and God wants me to help others know him. I live where my family lives and where we receive the benefits of a nation, state and city that is run by fallen people and will never be perfect until Jesus comes. So I’ll fly the flag of the country I live in because I’m connected to these people, the good and the bad. And I am a citizen who believes that I too have a responsibility to live here and make this place a better place. And because I’m Christian, I’ll fly the flag and pray for the people that as we live together in a democracy we can get along and God’s people can share the good news! That’s a good reason to fly the flag.”

 

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Hebrews 10:1-7 Have you ever had a birthday? Sure you have, we have once a year and while most of us celebrate them one day a year, maybe like me, you know of people who celebrate their birthday all week! What fun. Birthdays have a double edge sword about them – one, we are getting older, yeah!! The other, we are getting older – ugh. Well today the author is writing to let us know that every year there is a celebration that reminds them they are stuck in sin. Because the sacrifices of the law continue to point out that sin is deeply intrenched in their lives and the blood of goats and cattle cannot, will not get rid of that guilt of sin. The Law can point it out and if you follow the Law you are safe to a degree, but there is no change. BUT the blood of Jesus does change us. For the Father desires obedience not sacrifice and through Christ this is possible for all of us. So the birthday, if I can take that metaphor, can be a celebration of new birth – a new standing with God through a sacrifice that makes our hearts new and a heart relationship with the Father. Take a look at these references: 1 Samuel 15:22; Psalm 51; Hosea 6:6; Is 1:11-20 and Micah 6:6-8. All through the OT God is making this clear and those who sought this with the Father, would find this relationship. Jesus then became the source, the means, the hope and the sacrifice for all who will accept His sacrifice. Blessings.

Phil 4:10-13

 

Sometimes when we get reacquainted with people from our past we expect a pat on the back or some other expression of gratitude of the renewed interest. Maybe way over what should expect. Paul thanks the church here for a renewed interest as well even offers an excuse in the lack of opportunity. And maybe this is what I have to learn – when opportunity knocks, answer the door. Also what I see here is contentment. When I feel lonely, put out by life (not a person perhaps) I need to be content as I restore relationships. If I’m not content then I may become someone who is pushy, needy, annoying or even aloof and feel the world owes me. But if I become content in my relationship with Jesus (knowing his love for me and living in this truth) perhaps I can have a more healthy relationship.

I was on a date Friday afternoon with my lovely wife and was taken to the movies to see Hugh Jackman and crew in The Greatest Showman on Earth. I give it 5 stars and let me tell you why.

Music: heart felt, beautiful, meaningful songs. I’ll get the cd.

Black headphones leaning against a collection of vinyl records on a shelf

Plot: a man who wants more and makes it happen, then gets his eyes off of what is important and loses almost everything and then, rebuild with the right light in his eyes.

More importantly what I saw for me: I think this show, more than any other movie I have ever seen, speaks to the heart of everyone – we want to be someone, we want to have a purpose, we want to achieve, we want to be noticed. From the “freaks” that P.T.Barnum hired to make his circus, to P.T. himself and his partners, people are trapped in their own minds, attitudes, heritage, social standings and are placed in boxes and compartments contrived by people who try to preserve their stature and position as well no matter their income, race or religion.

A man stretching out his two hands with careless written on them in black and white

As I watched this movie I saw myself over and over as I have sought to be more, do more, have more, gain more, achieve more and wonder where the “applause” would come from. Will it come from those in the “class” above, that click, that other pastor or those people? Will anyone accept what I have done as important? The movie presents P.T. meeting Jenny Lind and without ever hearing her sing set her up on a tour through the U.S. placing everything he had on the line for the tour, everything. The risk is evident as he left what was clearly working, his circus in NYC, and seeking more fame with Ms Lind, he bet the house and lost.

But let me tell you how this movie spoke to me. To be honest I was teary eyed most of the movie and breathing deeply just to keep myself in control. That just me. I tear up with commercials. But here is a pastor’s confession:

  1. Leaving what God has called you to because you want something better, more glitz, better kind of people, isn’t what your call is. P.T. in the movie ignores, belittles his crew at times intentionally and other times because he seeks something else without seeing what is happening around him.
  2. Listen to your wife or if you are female pastor, your husband. They love you and God uses them.
  3. When you have a partner, an associate, listen, pray together, plan together, you don’t have the whole picture even if your crew believes you do. Even Moses had Aaron and Jesus had John, Peter, and James. Who do you have and do you keep them close?
  4. Fame is never satisfied.
  5. Joy is to be enjoyed. Happiness is okay. Sure we have a mission and it is never finished and as the movie closes someday you’ll need to pass on the baton. For what reason and how will you pass it?
  6. By all means, let God speak to you through the Word but he can also use music, poetry, movies, any thing God desires – are you missing it?
  7. Sometimes your crew is exactly the best, not because you are such a genius in recruiting but because God is a genius in netting together for his purposes. Find out why you are together and look for gifts, ideas, prayers, growth in you and success in the mission.
  8. It is now in my greatest movies category along with Shawshank Redemption, White Christmas and Unforgiven.

Recently, I was meeting with some friends and we were discussing how easy it is to read authors of books that offer us short chapters, interesting characters, plots that twist and turn and a little trouble through out. I know that personally I can but a book like that on my “read shelf” in a couple of days! But ask me how I’m doing with a “learning” book, say, “How to split wood for dummies,” or “What each book in the Bible is about” well that may take me a week or more. How about you? Why is that?

Image result for books

 

To help us move into reading those “learning books” let’s look at the Bible.

Did you know that the Bible has short chapters?

Did you know that the Bible has interesting characters like Herod, Paul, Daniel, Moses, and many others as well as nations at war, conquests, troubles in the church, intrigue and even a bit of a discussion about sex? (Take a look at the Song of Solomon).

Image result for 10 commandmentsImage result for ancient war

 

Did you know that there are plots of sabotage, rebellion, adultery, even religion?

 

Did you know there is a little trouble all through out from Genesis 3 to Revelation 21 where the good guys win but it is a long hard battle that seems like two feet forward and five backward?

 

So what’s so hard about reading the Bible? Or another “learning book?”

Attitude. Want. Time commitment. Decision.

Image result for time commitment

Right now I’m reading what my son, when he was little would call, “a big book.” Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. It has 817 pages. I’m plowing through enjoying the story and seeing many parallels to today’s culture. That is what makes it a classic, it speaks to where we are today. The Bible is a classic as well. Reading it, all 1,189 chapters and meditating on it changes perspective, informs on truth and error, enlivens with the promises of God and opens a life-long appreciation for reading a (the) good book.

 

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The battle had ensued from time in the Garden

when Adam did sin and fall

from God’s presence

and

Abel

his first born son was murdered on the field.

Then sadness in Heaven

but terror on earth

did reign for time

till right it was for the Son of God

to come in sight to set it all a-right.

And when will this triumph arise from first a turn for worse,

For the enemy did win with sin, death and a curse.

Yet with promises made from God to humankind

By prophets, poets, hearts in tune

And by God’s loving heart did come, when time was due,

the Savior of all creation.

Jesus was his name

and with his birth grace did appear.

In word and presence, power and love

That once was forgotten and only dreamt.

With love he did approach

The final hours of the curse!

To place upon his head the Victor’s Crown

And sabotage the Devil’s realm.

Oh, one last try did Satan strive

To block the Son of Man

Prophecy foretold.

Hidden in an obscure cave

His body broken and abused.

Yet as told by hearts that were in tune

To God’s grace the morning did arise.

To change the providence of all creation

For life, not death,

Love not sin did triumph.

So people listen

May you hear with heart and ear

This truth of hope and love to know

That Christ did win in obedience and love

by giving us       His all.

And if you sense within your soul

The truth of this tale be told,

I ask that only you raise your head

To praise the One who died and rose.

Sing praises, tell of his wondrous work

Experienced by you – now and soon

That others may know what you have seen

Of hope and joy – birthed

from your grave.

I desire to love you Lord like you love me.

What might that be like?

Who gave himself up from the Throne to trod on earth with me?

Who kept himself pure for the cross’ agonizing death?

Whose words echo truth throughout?

What might that be like?

Who from Creation’s time when man did fall

Planned to come and restore it all?

Who tapped on Abram’s heart one day

And began the call of salvation’s stay?

What might that be like?

When no one knew how to live

Moses was given 10 rules to have?

When David sinned He sent Nathan

To tell a story for repentance aid?

What might that be like?

When God’s people stray and they do today

He sent the word through prophets warning?

And when God’s love was rejected in due time

The Son of Man humbly arrived?

What might that be like?

And today when I sin

Do I once again

Experience David’s joy of forgiveness?

And when I am confused and know not the way

Do I receive the rules of life?

Or when I sit at Jerusalem’s gate

And watch the Savior ride my way

Do I then see into His heart the love He has for me?

What might that be like?

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