Eulogy Living

When our lives are over, someone will stand up and say something about us at a funeral service, graveside, or “celebration of life.”

What would you like them to say? 

Knowing they will have only a short time to talk, what few things would you like people to remember about your life? 

Once you know this, you have determined the core values to build your life around.  If you want them to praise your garden and yard work, then spend all your time doing that.  Maybe you desire people to honor your work with pets, then do that.  If you want people to view you as a firm believer in Jesus, you will need to give yourself to that.  Possibly you want to be known as a great spouse, benevolent parent, or committed sibling.  Then you need to organize your time to make that happen. 

When the end is clear, then your work in the present to achieve that goal is also evident.  Wherever you spend your time, money, and energy is what people will talk about on that day. 

You get to decide right now what people will say at your funeral.  Choose wisely. 

Think It Through

“Trust your feelings.”

That is how a well-intentioned Christian recently advised someone.    

This individual was encouraging this college-aged adult to feel and not think. Yet, the only thing that kept running through my mind was Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” 

Because of my distant relationship with the person and a firm belief that most Facebook “confrontations” are fruitless, I scrolled by the original post.  Still, I can’t seem to shake the foolishness of the comment. 

God created us with feelings, and they are powerful tools, but they are only one weapon in a whole arsenal.  We are to seek God’s word and His will first.  Then we should pray and ask for guidance.  This includes looking for open and closed doors to move forward.  Next, we should ask mature Christians what they think.  Then we should search into facts and do our due diligence.  Only at the end of our search should we ask, “How do you feel about this?” This is because our heart is easily manipulated and deceived.  Sometimes our feelings betray us, and our emotions can be just plain wrong. 

As believers, we must be keenly aware of the mistake of trusting our feelings.  It is bad advice no matter who gives it to you.  Trust the Lord.  Then move forward from there. 

No Substitute for Hard Work

Paul was an Apostle of Jesus, and he trusted in the power of God.  He sought guidance through prayer and the advice of other believers. As a result, his steps were made with wisdom and faith that completely trusted God to guide him and work through him wherever he was directed.  The sovereignty and omnipotence of God were the power that made his ministry successful. 

Paul also worked hard.  Acts chapter 18 verse 2-3 tell us that his occupation was a tentmaker.  The manual labor needed to cut, sew, and assemble a tent was required to put food on the table.  Once in each of his letters to the Church in the city of Thessalonica, he reminds the believers of his work. “Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you” (1 Thessalonians 2:9 – NIV 2011). “…nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:8 – NIV 2011).  The Apostle Paul took his work seriously and gave a total effort to each tent that he made.  It took toil and hard work to make ends meet, but he and his companions did it. 

He also commended the virtue of hard work to the believers in Rome.  There he mentions hard work done by and for those in the Church.  Inside this great letter of faith, he ends in chapter 16 by saying, “Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you.” (Romans 16:6 – NIV 2011) and “Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.” (Romans 16:12 – NIV 2011)   Paul loved to see people working hard in the Lord also. 

Trusting in God to provide, guide, and bless are cornerstones of the Christian faith.  So is getting up each day and giving a full effort to the tasks at hand.  Whether it be manual labor or serving God, or both, there is no substitute for hard work.  I have to remind myself of this every Monday when I see the large amount of work ahead that week.  I say my prayers and then roll up my sleeves and get busy.  I hope you can find the motivation to do the same thing today.     

Easy Next Steps

On his podcast, the Church consultant said that one key to growing disciples is to create “Easy Next Steps.” That way, people will know what God wants them to do first, second and third on their journey of faith, and then they will be able to do it. 

I understand the thrust to make “easy to understand next steps.” People need to know what God might be calling them to do in their walk with him. However, there is a difference between easy steps and easy-to-understand steps.  Following Jesus is rarely easy to do, even when we know precisely what to do. 

Jesus is constantly pushing and pulling people toward growth, and it is usually by doing the most difficult of projects.  He asks us to follow him above our family.  He invites us to die to ourselves.  Jesus challenges us in what we do with our time, money, and giftedness. 

The way to being like Christ is self-abnegation, personal sacrifice, and painful decisions.  These might be simple to understand, but they will rarely be an easy next step. 

A Heavenly Mistake

A wise old saint once posed a curious scenario. They said, “Imagine you live in a place where you get to be present with all of your ancestors. The past generations who have died are all alive, and you live in continual fellowship with them. And now, imagine God is not there.”

What he was hoping to accomplish is for people to see what they are longing for in life and death. Most people are interested in eternity because of who they will spend time with there. What they fail to miss is that eternity is about God. We get to spend time with him.

My fear as a Church leader is that some people have made their hope in heaven all about people. They misunderstand the nature of our everlasting home. The byproduct is that they are not too excited about worship here on earth. They would much rather spend their time on a family outing than in worship because that is where their heart lies.

For those who long for God and live to praise his name, heaven is about reaching the goal of our faith. Heaven is a place where we finally get to be in the presence of God and worship him completely.

Sure, I hope and pray my family is there with me. That is why I share my faith with them now. That is why I point to the God I love as the center of all I believe. I want them to see the glory of the Lord and long to be with him too. Then in heaven, we can worship together with the author and perfector of our faith.

It is a mistake to place our joy for eternity in the hands of your family. The blessing of heaven is that we finally get to spend time with the God whom we have been longing to see.

Blaming the Church is Easy

Those who no longer attend Church are quick to point out its flaws and place blame.  I have heard everything from “the Church hurt me,” to “they are all hypocrites,” to “I am no longer a part because of what was said to me there.” 

I wholeheartedly agree that some bad things have happened in the Church. However, I also have to spend a few minutes clarifying the issue. First, there is no such thing as a “Church in general.” There is no unspecific group of no-named people who cluster together with equal parts forming a whole.  No, the Church is a group of individuals that form a contributing community. 

Usually, when I hear statements about “the Church,” I want to clarify who it was that hurt you.  Most likely, it was one person, a couple of people, or a tiny group.  It is extremely rare that people have problems with everyone in the community of believers.  It is always a few individuals who caused the problem. 

Here is the harsh truth: it is easy to walk away from the Church and blame the whole group for your current situation.  The hard work is to handle the issue constructively. 

It is tough to confront the sins of another person.  When you point out their flaws and failures, they are rarely happy about it.  It is even more complicated when they refuse to listen, and you have to go to the leaders and talk through the difficulties.  It will be ugly and messy and will push the limits of your faith in God along with your trust in people. 

It is incredibly challenging when you might have to forgive someone.  After confronting them, they may see their mistake, and they might need forgiveness.  That would mean trusting God in a whole new way. 

To confront and then forgive is unnerving.  To be confronted and then ask for forgiveness is humbling.  To deal with the seen and unseen issues is a path few are willing to walk.  It is tough and painful to live in a right relationship with God and others.  It is much less complex to walk away and blame those left behind.  Remaining a part of the group will push and grow you in every way.  Unfortunately, resistance is what it takes to build muscle both physically and spiritually. 

From “But” to “And”

Most of my life could be described with a “but” statement.  People say things like, “I enjoy his preaching, but he is not very good with people.” Others have said, “I like his personality, but I don’t like his leadership.” The list of possibilities is long: “He is a good father, but …  He is a good husband, but …  He is a good Christian, but ….” 

There are things people love about me, and then some clarifying statement always follows it.  In other words, I have my act together in one area of life, but another area needs drastic improvement. 

One of my new goals in life is to slowly change my “but” comments to “and” before I die.  I want people to say things about me that include the word “and.” Something like, “I enjoyed his preaching, and he lived what he preached.” Possibly, “He was a nice guy, and he was there for you when you needed him.” I want people to say nice things and then want to add to it and not clarify. 

This means pushing myself every day to improve in the facets of my life where I have shortcomings.  That leads me to do things that seem unnatural and uncomfortable.  I also realize it requires me to fail repeatedly until I get it right.  The changes are not always immediate and are taking a lifetime to take hold.  One day I hope to be the kind of person God desires, and that means making an effort to change my “buts” to “ands.”

Christian Swagger

The followers of Jesus should be full of confidence and have a heart that shows no signs of backing down in the face of difficulties.

The Apostle Paul said it this way to believers in the city of Philippi, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).  He believed that if he was alive, then his life had purpose and meaning in the mission of Jesus.  If he died, he was going to be in heaven with Jesus.  He was not afraid to live or die because of his faith. 

Paul also writes to Timothy and reminds him that believers are filled with the Holy Spirit and then adds this line. “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7) When someone becomes a believer, they are then given the Spirit, and it is to fill us with power to live and speak for Jesus. 

Whatever situation a believer finds themselves in, they are not at a loss.  In this life, they have the power and presence of God with them wherever they go, and should tragedy befall them; they have the hope of eternity.  It is a no-lose situation. 

The other night I watched a group of basketball players walking into a ballgame, and someone said, “Look at that swagger.” The word means exceedingly confident, often expressed in their gait.  It can border on arrogance, but that is not required.  My immediate thought was, “We need some Christians with a little swagger.” People willing to hold their heads high not because they are great but because they trust a great God.  The victory is secured, the hope is eternal, and the joy is complete. 

There are times when the plea is for humility and a servant’s heart.  Other times there is a need for a bit of swagger.  I don’t know what you need to hear, but I guess you could use a shot of confidence to make it through the week.  Hang tough, God will take care of you, and there is nothing to fear.  You are already on the winning team.  If that doesn’t give you a little extra swagger, nothing will. 

Raising Four Boys

This Sunday is Father’s Day, and it is a little special for me.  This is the last one that my youngest will be living at home.  This reality has me reflecting on the lessons I have learned while raising four boys over the previous 23 years.

  1. God makes each one of us unique.  Each of my boys is a unique individual.  We tried to raise them alike, but they all turned out so different. 
  2. All my advice is highly questionable.  I know what worked for my boys and me, but there are few universal principles because every kid is unique.  (Remember that when you give advice!)
  3. Sports loses its appeal.  My boys were all good athletes.  But everything they were told about it was half-truths to total lies.  Scholarships are a scam, and the trophies you win mean extraordinarily little in the course of a lifetime.  Plan your life accordingly. 
  4. The joy of brotherly love.  Nothing makes their mom and me happier than watching our boys connect with each other.  We pray it lasts a lifetime.    
  5. Family time is precious.  Enjoy every minute of it.  Put the phone down.  Listen.  Talk.  This life is but a mist, and the years a child lives at home seem like a few hours.  Slow down and savor the moments your family is together.
  6. Give children room to fail … and succeed.  It is hard to watch someone you love make a fool of themselves, fail or come up short.  Those are ways we genuinely grow.  Back off and stop helicoptering your kids, and let them learn some lessons the hard way.
  7. Build lasting friendships first.  Everyone is telling young people about dating and sex, but what they really need is close friends who will stay with them over a lifetime.  Cultivate your kid’s friendships far more than relationships with the opposite sex. 
  8. The ultimate joy of faith.  I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth (and no more incredible pain than when they are not).
  9. It’s tough when they leave home, but you will both be ready.  I have shed a few tears with each child as we dropped them off at college.  They were a mixture of sadness and joy. 
  10. Adult children are fun too.  I enjoy sharing funny texts with my boys.  We watch games together when we are able.  Now we talk about adult things, and I still enjoy every minute I get with them, and I am sure this Father’s Day will be no exception.  

These are just some of the things I have learned along the way.  Perhaps you have some lessons about parenting you would like to share, especially as we head into Father’s Day.  Please comment and let everyone know.  We are all in this together. 

Law of Large Numbers

The higher the number, the greater the chance of success. 

Make a huge number of sales calls, and you will make a large number of sales.  Ask enough people on a date, and you are bound to meet Mr. or Mrs. Right.  Spend enough hours on the water, and you are bound to catch some fish.  Write enough songs and the greater the chance that people will love one and it will become a hit. 

It applies to almost every arena of life.  This includes your spiritual life. 

Listen to enough sermons, and one will touch you in a way you never expected.  Teach enough lessons, and one will impact someone else in a deep and meaningful way.  Share your faith or invite enough people to Church, and someone will respond positively.  Read your Bible repeatedly, and some of it will begin to stick in your brain and change you. 

The problem for most people is not that they are doing something wrong.  The issue is that they are not doing it enough.