Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Priceless Treasure of a Photograph

Photographs and memories
Christmas cards you sent to me
All that I have are these to remember you
Memories that come at night
Take me to another time…”  
Jim Croce

  Recently, I stumbled across a great story about Sir Ernest Shackleton. You may recall that Shackleton was the famed polar explorer who led three British expeditions to the Antarctic. After losing the race to the South Pole, Shackleton determined to cross Antarctica from sea to sea, via the Pole. But disaster struck this expedition when their ship, Endurance, became trapped in packed ice and was slowly crushed before the shore parties could land. The crew escaped by camping on the sea ice until it disintegrated, then by launching lifeboats to reach Elephant Island and ultimately the inhabited island of South Georgia, a stormy ocean voyage of 720 nautical miles. It ended up being Shackleton's most famous exploit.
  In the stirring chapter in which Sir Ernest tells of the loss of his ship among the ice floes, he describes an incident that touches the soft spot in our own souls. In the grip of the ice, the Endurance had been smashed to splinters. The entire party was out on a frozen sea at the mercy of the harsh and pitiless elements.
  Shackleton came to the conclusion that their best chance of eventually sighting land lay in marching to the opposite extremity of the floe. At any rate, it would give them something to do, and there is always solace in activity. So Shackleton ordered his men to reduce their personal baggage to two pounds each. For the next few hours every man was busy in sorting out his belongings – the treasures that he had saved from the ship. As you can imagine, it was a very difficult, heartrending business. Men stole gloomily and silently away and dug little graves in the snow, to which they committed books, letters, and various knickknacks of sentimental value. And when the final decisions had to be made, they threw away their little hoards of golden sovereigns and instead kept the photographs of their sweethearts and wives!
  Are you like me? I have a hard time ever throwing away an old photograph. Decades later I still remember the portrait of my grandparents, probably from their wedding day, on their bedroom wall. As a child, I loved looking at that old faded photograph.
  One of my regrets is that I no longer have a portrait of my mother. For years I had a small wallet size picture of her that I carried in my wallet. But after decades, it fell apart. There aren’t a lot of photographs from my childhood. Most of the few that we had were lost in a fire at my sister’s house many years ago. I think, like so many of us, if we ever had a fire at our home, after we knew that everyone was safe, if it was at all possible, I’d run back in and grab all the pictures that I could possibly carry.
  My daughter, Charity, gave me a priceless gift recently. Charity is a very gifted photographer and has a wonderful artistic sense. For the past few years, she’s been taking old photographs of our family, having them blown up and framing them. Her efforts have produced a wall of wonderful memories that we walk by every day. For my birthday, Charity again had many of these pictures enlarged and framed.
  But there was one that immediately brought tears to my eyes. It was from a trip to Atlanta just a few years ago. After my Dad’s death, as with many families, my brother, Mike, and I had a falling out. To this day, I have no idea what it was over yet unbeknownst to me, he was very angry with me. I had contacted him and had asked that since Jane and I would be in the area, could we get together for dinner?
  But Mike was having no part of it. His wife, Susan, and the rest of his family insisted…and Mike ultimately came. At first, it was tense and a bit uncomfortable, yet we were able to rebuild that relationship bridge and left dinner with things resolved. Unbeknownst to any of us, it would be the last time that we would all be together. We took a picture that night outside the restaurant of all of us gathered together. Just a few months later, Mike was gone, having died in his sleep. He was only 69. His death came without warning. So when I unwrapped that photograph, tears welled up in my eyes. I was so thankful that he had come that night and we had been able to restore our relationship.
  Photographs remind us that life is short. As I look back over the pictures of our family, it seems like just the other day that my children were tykes. Now they’re all adults, making their own way through life. Life is short. Yet, all of us struggle with relationships…sometimes with parents, our children or siblings, even other family members. Ephesians 4:26 commands us, do not let the sun go down on your anger…” Two of my family members once went seven years without speaking. How tragic! What a waste! Every time that you were with one of them, they’d almost incessantly talk about how angry and mistreated they’d been by the other. They were miserable to be with. It was nearly impossible to get them to change the subject. Eventually, they did resolve it, yet seven years were thrown onto the ash heap of time, gone and never to be restored.
  Sadly, some situations are seemingly irresolvable. Yet, again Scripture commands us in even those difficult relationships, If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18).
  The one person, the only person that you can control – is you. Make sure that you have done everything from your side of the relationship to make things right. Sometimes, you reach a seeming roadblock that appears insurmountable. Make it a matter of prayer and determine by God’s grace to not let a root of bitterness wrap its tentacles into your soul, sapping away the peace of God from your own life (Hebrews 12:15).
  Make lots and lots of memories. There is a cultural myth that memories are made by some big expensive vacation or event. They’re not. Memories are part of the day in and day out of life. Some of our family’s favorite memories are water fights or building a snowman. It was talking late into the night. Or, even making a meal together. Even huddling as a family around a hospital bed, to pray together before a surgery.
  I don’t want to mislead you. Because of my family background, I had to work very hard at it. And more times than I want to remember or even admit, I failed terribly. But by God’s grace, I’m glad that I kept trying.
  We’re coming into the holiday season. What pictures are you going to take? What memories are you going to make? Please make lots and lots of them! It’s possible that they may be the very last ones that you have a chance to make. 

Looking for quality used Christian books and other types of books at prices lower than even Amazon. Check out our family's online used bookstore at or visit our store at the Waterford Unique Antique Market at 209 North Milwaukee Street in Waterford, WI  -- 262.534.3500

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

What football teaches us about the church

“Some people think football is a matter of life an death. I assure you, it's much more serious than that." Bill Shankly

  They’re such a part of speech and conversation that we don’t even realize it. We use them all the time and are so common. Yet, I doubt that most of us think, “That was a metaphor.” Since it’s been a while since most of us were in high school English, let me refresh your memory with a definition of a metaphor. A metaphor is simply a figure of speech used to describe, illustrate or apply something to a lesson that it does not usually denote.
  Did you know that Jesus was the master when it came to using metaphors? As we read the Gospels, we find that He continually used metaphors to communicate truth in powerful and creative ways so that His listeners would understand, and more importantly, remember His teaching.
  Over the next few weeks, we’ll be using “football” as a metaphor to communicate God’s Truth. Though it’s taken some bad hits in recent years, professional football is still the most popular sport in America. The NFL continues to have the highest ratings draws for live sports programming. In fact, no sporting event in all of North America comes even close to rivaling the Super Bowl when it comes to coverage, ratings and overall spectacle. Fantasy football only adds to why so many in the U.S. love professional football more than any other sport.
  So that there’s no confusion, let’s be clear, football is NOT in the Bible. Sorry, but the “G” stands for God, not “Green Bay.” Yet, there are many lessons we can learn from football that have powerful parallels in Scripture. Add to that, for many, football is a religion, with the amateurs playing on Friday and Saturday and the professionals on Sunday. (Sadly, for too many, it devolves into idolatry…even for believers).  
  You’ll often find that even those who detest the Bible and Christianity, unknowingly are successful because they’re applying biblical truth and principles to their lives. And that’s true of football. There are many applications from football which can apply to the local church.
  Hopefully, because football is more familiar turf for many of us, our new sermon series, Game Plan: What football teaches us about the church, will help each of us have a firmer grip on biblical truths that apply to the church. Too often in the church we’re just fumbling and dropping the ball because we don’t know what the Bible teaches about the church.
  Please be assured, though this study is topical, during this series, as always at Grace, we’ll continue to be supremely biblical. We are committed without apology to Sola Scriptura. The Reformers popularized that term. It’s simply Latin for “by Scripture alone.” It’s the foundational doctrine that the Bible is the supreme and final authority in all matters of doctrine and practice. So what can you expect during this series?
  Hopefully, you’ll discover that people often learn best when they’re able to move from what’s known or familiar, to what’s unknown and unfamiliar. By using the analogy of football, we want to have a better understanding of the church. We want to simplify something that was born two thousand years ago, that sometimes can be complex, and make it easier to comprehend for today.
  Hopefully, this will help all of us not only understand but retain what we know. The local church is Jesus’ plan for reaching this world. Then, because of that, we’ll be better able to “coach” others as we disciple them. The Lord gave us truth that could be transmitted throughout the network of our relationships because He wanted everyone to know the truth since it sets us free (John 8:31, 32).
  Hopefully, as we compare something that is so common, and that for many of us is very important and continually on our minds (at least during football season), it will help us understand, contemplate, take some time to meditate on something other than our fantasy football picks J. Hopefully, it will help us gain greater insight into the real world, God’s eternal world by utilizing terms that we deal with on a consistent basis. So as we gather each week, please come prayerfully, asking the Lord to help you gain wisdom and insights that perhaps you’d not considered before.
  Football is about power and skill. Our American tendency though is to think of the church as being weak, unskilled, if not incompetent. Hopefully, by understanding who the Head (Jesus) of the church is, where our game plan comes from (the Bible), Who energizes us (the Spirit) – then we’ll realize that we can be part of something that has an impact long after the game is over and those last seconds of the fourth quarter have passed.
  Football is about unity both on and off the field. Even terrible teams have a strong fan base. There’s a thrill of participating together in something exciting. The tailgate party and anticipation of the game are as much a part of the experience as the game itself. Yet, too often church is seen as a duty or obligation like school or work. Everyone posts when they’re at the big game. Have you ever noticed that only rarely does anyone post that they’re at church? Why is that? Does it say something about our values and what energizes us?  
  At a game, there’s a connection even with strangers, just because you’re all cheering for the same team. Yet, in the American church, our tendency is to make worship a solo experience. That’s unbiblical. God’s plan is that we connect more and more with our brothers and sisters. Worship should also be something we anticipate and enjoy, not endure. The power of the Spirit so surpasses the power of spirits to bring fulfillment and enjoyment, that they’re not even comparable. Yet, too many have only truly experienced the limited power of the temporary and rarely if ever experienced the true power of the eternal.
  If there’s anything that every football team unfortunately knows from experience – it’s defeat. But there’s always next week or even next year. Losing one game doesn’t have to destroy a season. Falling behind in one quarter doesn’t mean you’ll lose the game. In the same way, a setback in your spiritual walk doesn’t mean the whole future is bleak. Keeping a long term perspective helps us individually and even as a church family deal with short term setbacks. Let’s face it, drama queens (those who constantly go from “today is the best day of my life!” to “today is the most awful day ever”) never seem to do well at football. 
  Hopefully, this series will indelibly remind us that while the game is important, what’s most important is the final score in life and eternity. As believers, we already know who wins in the end, yet frequently in the midst of the “game,” we forget. Hopefully, this series will help us to stop forgetting. So plan to join us for all five weeks. Don’t give away your tickets or let your seat go empty. Every player is important, so join us each Sunday for Game Plan: What football teaches us about the church! 

Looking for quality used Christian books and other types of books at prices lower than even Amazon. Check out our family's online used bookstore at or visit our store at the Waterford Unique Antique Market at 209 North Milwaukee Street in Waterford, WI -- 262.534.3500

Monday, October 12, 2015

Meeting for coffee with Bernie Sanders

One real meeting is much better than a thousand internet or social media words.”   Stephen Richards

  If God believed what most Christians and even churches believe (at least by what they practice), Jesus should never have left heaven. While it may not be overt, most practice philosophical and spiritual isolationism. Though they don’t wear the “uniform,” mentally they’re little more than Amish. They’re like monks, cloistered away in safe, little social circles and belief systems. The Amish, that quaint, anachronistic religious group truly believe that in reclusiveness, they honor God by being insulated and isolated from what they consider a vile world.
  Unfortunately, too, it says something very sad yet at the same time insightful about what we value when the one area most Christians are the least isolated is in their money. Interaction with those who are antagonistic to what we believe become very open when it comes to making money. When it comes to a customer base or job, there’s little issue risking “contamination” when it pertains to increasing the bottom line of what Scripture alludes to as “filthy lucre” (Titus 1:11). Not that I’m saying that there should be. It’s just noteworthy that even the most super separated Christians jump at opportunities to interact with those whom they’d never socialize with or befriend if there’s an opportunity to make a buck.
  At one time Liberty University was a super separated school. Their recent willingness to listen to another voice is a model for us all. Recently, Senator Bernie Sanders was invited to speak at Liberty University. Liberty is a masthead for conservative Christianity and founded by the late Jerry Falwell, who also founded the now defunct Moral Majority. Its influence in merging conservative Christianity with Republicans politics is legendary. Yet, Senator Sanders, a Democratic candidate for the Presidency, is notoriously liberal and a diehard Democrat. He’s an avowed progressive whose views mimic those of European statists. He’s pro-gay rights, pro-gay marriage, and pro-abortion. On those issues near and dear to conservative Christians — life and marriage — Sanders stands about as far to the left as is possible in American culture.
  Yet, what most media outlets and even many Christians missed was – there were no demonstrations, no sit-ins or marches. No one made a fool of themselves during his speech and had to be forcibly removed or arrested.
  And this is probably the most important part of that event, yet was abysmally missed – all reports indicate that the leftwing liberal, Bernie Sanders was received with great respect and kindness by both the university and its students. Gasp! That’s so atypical. The accounts are too numerous to list. At many college campuses, when a Christian intellectual or conservative comes to speak, the results are far different from what happened at Liberty. Sometimes because of the threats, the event must be cancelled. More often, the speaker needs multiple layers of security. Frequently, they’re rudely shouted down mid-speech. Students stand up to angrily denounce the speaker as patriarchal, sexist, or bigoted.
  What Liberty did sounds a lot like John 3. Jesus met with one of the leaders of the Sanhedrin, the group that eventually nailed him to the cross – Nicodemus. Or John 4, where Jesus has a theological/moral debate with a woman who was little more than a prostitute. Or the Apostle Paul, who consistently had civil debates and powerful yet gracious interactions with idolaters and worldly-wise philosophers. And the “religious” isolationists of their day despised them for it.
  Sometimes the world accuses Christians of “hate speech.” Sometimes they’re right. Sometimes Christians even scream “hate speech” at each other. Too often we write it. It’s a sin and a violation of Scripture. There are numerous Bible passages which prohibit this. For example, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29) or read James 3 and James’ discourse on the tongue.  Instead of living as examples of children of light to a dark, cruel world, we talk and react just like them. What’s lost is kindness and civility.
  There are many reasons that we speak harshly like this, yet one of the main ones is that we don’t have a relationship with the one we’re “screaming” at. We don’t have a clue where they’re coming from. Relationships must be cultivated, not scorched. Most of us wouldn’t speak to a dog, as we often do to another fellow image bearer of God, either personally or on social media.
  Fear and arrogance go hand in hand with isolationism. Ancient cities were secluded by great walls of isolation. Picture medieval castles surrounded by moats with alligators swimming around in the moat. Why did they build the wall? Fear. Why do we isolate ourselves today? Same reason – fear.
  Then, when we primarily interact and exchange ideas with those on our side of the “wall,” we’re tempted to become arrogant…because we’re the ones who have the “truth.” We further fortify those ideas in our minds by only listening or reading those who agree with us. Our friends are those who are intelligent like us – they see things our way.
  Isolationism, fear and arrogance ultimately breed bigotry. We begin to look down on, even despise anyone who doesn’t see things our way. We feed our minds with that which we already believe and become entrenched in our thinking. Yet, we live in straw houses because our thinking is rarely challenged. The smallest challenge can blow it all down and blow us away.
  “Truth does not fear scrutiny.” Truth is never intimidated. It doesn’t worry that it will be proven untrue. Jesus said, “I am the way, the Truth and the life” (John 14:6). Many times as Christians we became angry and lash out when our presuppositions are challenged. We name call or label. It’s a cover for fear, fear we’ll be exposed that we really are uncertain of what we believe or don’t have a firm grip on truth. It’s why we spit out simplistic answers to very complex problems. We’ve not taken the time, and failed in our stewardship of the mental and creative abilities God has entrusted to us to think through and tighten our handle on truth. 
  Most of us would do well to take a page out of the Liberty University playbook on how to treat those whom we disagree with – to be kind and civil, to hear another worldview. We’d do well to listen carefully to those we diametrically disagree with. Because it’s by showing respect to all, even the most opposed to a biblical worldview that we often win a hearing for the greatest truth that this world will ever hear – “For God so loved the world.” It’s in civility and kindness that we win friends for the Savior. 

Looking for quality used Christian books and other types of books at prices lower than even Amazon. Check out our family's online used bookstore at or visit our store at the Waterford Unique Antique Market at 209 North Milwaukee Street in Waterford, WI -- 262.534.3500

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Guardrails keep a marriage safe!

“Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between right and wrong; rather it is telling the difference between right and almost right.”   Charles Spurgeon

  When I’m driving on a trip, I typically look for the shortest route. Sometimes though the shortest route isn’t the best one, at least as far as the condition of the roads are concerned. For example, when I’m headed to the Chicago suburbs, rather than taking I-94, I’ll snake down Wilmot Road to pick up Highway 12. But there’s a curve on that road that if you’re not paying attention or going too fast, you can be in real trouble. Fortunately, there’s a guardrail. I’d imagine that it was installed after a few mishaps. Someone finally realized that putting in a guardrail might save lives.
  That’s the purpose of a guardrail. They’re designed to keep us from straying into dangerous territory. Thousands of miles of guardrails line our roads and interstates. They have a very simple purpose – to keep a small accident from becoming a larger one. We don’t pay attention to guardrails until we need them, but when you need them, they can save your life.
  Applied to our lives, our spirituality and relationships, guardrails protect us. Often our biggest mistakes can be avoided if we have guardrails steering us in the right direction. The goal is never to see “how close I can get to a guardrail without crashing.” That’s dumb. Ideally, we never get near the guardrail. Yet, we need guardrails to keep us from going “too far” or from moving in a dangerous direction that could end up in tragedy.
  All of us need guardrails in our lives. That struck me when I read recently about Supermodel, Chrissy Teigen, taking lots of heat in the court of public opinion for an offhanded remark she made. Chrissy is married to musician, John Legend. In a recent interview during New York Fashion Week, she said, “I do want to have kids one day, so it's something that I have to think about. But the rule is no hot nannies. I trust John, but you never know with these men.” Her remark made her a cultural leper. She was treated as if she was Amish, totally out of touch with modern times…even (gasp) sexist. Personally, I think she has a lot of wisdom and discernment.
  Yet, it’s not just men, it’s all of us. God created us as sexual beings. Part of the Creative Mandate, Pre-Fall was to “be fruitful and multiply” within the fulfilling boundaries of marriage. Yet, too many of us underestimate our ability to resist sexual temptation. Over the years many individuals that I’ve counseled who sinned sexually weren’t hunting for an opportunity to commit adultery, yet, they unwisely put themselves in a place that essentially made them a sitting duck.
  There are constant reports of some famous person committing adultery, often with the individual hired to care for their children. The individual doesn’t have to be attractive, they just have to be available. We erroneously reason that just because someone isn’t a “10” according to this world’s standards, there’s little danger. Often adultery is committed with someone who’s far less attractive than a spouse, yet other needs for intimacy were being met that are not sexual in nature.
  It’s a myth that only those who are living in an unhappy marriage commit adultery. Often, even someone in a very happy marriage finds themselves tempted to become involved with another person outside of the marriage. Age is also not a factor. We foolishly think that someday we’ll outgrow our sex drives. We won’t. A godly man that I dearly loved and admired, in his later years, made some serious sexual blunders. It’s far easier to prevent an accident than to clean up all of the wreckage afterwards. So let me suggest some wise guardrails to install in your life.
  Never be alone with someone of the opposite sex, other than your spouse. Don’t meet them for coffee or lunch. Don’t be in a car alone with them. If you hire a babysitter, let the parent of the same sex take them home. If you’re in a situation where it’s unavoidable to be with someone of the opposite sex (like work), make sure your spouse knows when, where and how long. That not only protects you from temptation, it helps protect your reputation. You don’t want to create a scenario where whispers of improper conduct could be entertained.
  If you’re single and dating, never be in a bedroom alone together. While your bedroom may be your little domain, particularly if you’re living with your parents, you’re putting yourself in a place of vulnerability and lowering walls of protection. Don’t stay out on a date into the wee hours of the morning. Fatigue lowers our resistance to sexual temptation.
  Be very wary of emotional intimacy. There are those of the opposite sex that we’re naturally attracted to. Oftentimes they have strengths our spouse lacks. For example, if your spouse is an extrovert, you may find yourself attracted to someone who’s more of an introvert. So if you find yourself sharing deep thoughts and feelings with a member of the opposite sex, warning lights should go off. Be very careful about discussing problems or inside information about your marriage with someone of the opposite sex. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, “Would I want my spouse to hear what I am saying about them or our marriage?”
  Online relationships can be disastrous for a marriage. Many marriages are damaged by emotional affairs via e-mail, Facebook, or other Web-based forums. A close friendship with a member of the opposite sex can result in emotional intimacy. Indications of an emotional affair include sharing intimate thoughts or personal information, talking in detail about your marriage in a negative way, and keeping the relationship secret from your spouse. An “emotional affair” can almost be as devastating to a marriage as a physical one.  
  Make time for doing fun things in the marriage. The “couple that plays together, stays together” is true. Having fun and laughing together helps keep your relationship strong. It’s easy to become bogged down with the business of life. Too many couples fail to make time for fun alone together.
  Having a good sex life and enjoying a sense of romance is a vital part of a good marriage. Learn what each other’s idea of romance is and discuss what feels romantic to you. Be imaginative and creative. Let your partner know how attractive they are to you.
  Take time for meaningful conversation. Know what’s important to your partner. Make time to simply talk and share your lives with one another. Remind yourselves of the unique history you already have together.  
  Adultery and immoral relationships don’t “just happen.” There are small decisions that lead to an affair. Set up some guardrails today to protect your marriage and purity before you crash and have a moral disaster.  

Looking for quality used Christian books and other types of books at prices lower than even Amazon. Check out our family's online used bookstore at or visit our store at the Waterford Unique Antique Market at 209 North Milwaukee Street in Waterford, WI -- 262.534.3500