Month: July 2011

The Prison of Our Past

Many people I know are in prison.  They just don’t know it yet.  They are not imprisoned for a crime.   In fact they walk around apparently as free as you or I, but they are in prison as surely as if there were bars, a lock and guards to keep them contained.

The bars are their past, their upbringing, their habits, their choices, their mistakes, their “heritage.”

They are in the prison of the past….the past sins they committed, the sins of others, the names they were called as kids, the things done to them when they had no voice or defense.  They walk around us in a prison they can’t escape.

I’m thinking of dozens of people as I write this.   Sad faces whose lives are dramatically captivated by the past.  We all know people who are chained by the past.

The imaginary bars are strong.

The imaginary locks are secure.

It’s nearly impossible to break them out.  They know nothing different, nothing better.  They are prisoners of their own past and are often completely unaware of what is happening to them.  They have no idea what freedom looks like…..prison is all they have ever known.

One former “prisoner” I’m very familiar with.  He had run from difficult situations ever since he was a young boy.  He ran a long time.  The bars were strong that he imprisoned  himself with.  He was unable to break out of his habit of running away from the problems and people in his life.

Imprisoned for so long that he almost did not escape from the cell when given the chance.   He always thought his problems were caused by everyone else, but in fact he was the problem.  He built that prison wall all by himself.

That prisoner was me.  But I was set free.  Set free by a loving and gracious God.  That despite my sin and the baggage of my past,  He forgave me and allowed me to be reconciled back to Him.  

You may be a prisoner yourself, captured by the past, unable to escape. There is freedom. There is a solution.   Jesus came to break open the prison and set the prisoners free, and yet all around us people live their lives in prison still.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”     Luke 4:18-19

Jesus declared that He came to proclaim good news – He came to set prisoners free.   Freedom from the enemy, freedom from the past, freedom from sin.   The bars have been constructed many years ago by each one of us, but today Jesus promises freedom.   He holds the keys to every cell.   Freedom is His desire for each of us….if we will simply ask for it.  For the freedom he brings is wrapped up in His death on the cross that paid the price for our sin.  Salvation is found in Christ and Christ alone..

I wish I could help those I meet see the prison cells they inhabit.  I think they would be surprised to realize they have been captive for so long.   The enemy tells them they are free to do as they wish, but the freedom of a prison cell is a mocking invitation to a freedom with no reality.

Jesus offers freedom to all.   A true freedom from the prison of the past, freedom from the grasp of the enemy and the false sense of freedom the world offers.   How much I long for my friends to truly find the freedom offered to each one of us…. maybe today is the right time for you to find the freedom that is found in Jesus Christ.
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A Little Tension

My father is a bicyclist.  He is 82 and still rides his bike every week.  Now when I use the term “bicyclist” I am not referring to a person that rides his bike around the neighborhood, but rather a full-fledged, 20-speed riding, road riding, helmet donning, spandex wearing bicyclist.  If he had his way he would ride more than does but my mom keeps him in check and tries to keep him somewhere in the range of a few miles from home.

Now there is something to be said about him wearing spandex.  I do not think that God intended for a child to see their 82-year-old father in spandex but that is what I have had to endure.  As much as I tease him about the spandex thing, I have to say that I very proud of my father’s desire to stay in shape.  Without question he is in better shape than I am and I hope he will continue to ride as long as he possibly can.  

The bicycle is such a marvelous invention.  It meant freedom for me as a child.  I could ride all over town on my stingray bicycle with its banana seat and sissy bar on the back.  I even had a slick for a back tire.  It created some of my fondest memories.

That being said, I have always been intrigued with how the bicycle wheel holds together.   It’s constructed, quite magically, around a hub with a number of spokes protruding out to the wheel in all directions.   Each spoke is tightened to a “tension” that both pushes away and pulls together the wheel to the hub.  The tension is what makes the wheel turn smooth and not wobble.   Too much tension and the wheel will go out of shape.    Not enough tension and the wheel will collapse.   It’s one of the reasons a bicycle is such a magical vehicle.

As I sit and think about how the bicycle wheel is put together, I am further reminded that it is similar to my own walk with God.   Such an amazing invention and yet tension is critical for its success.   I’ve often heard, as a rider rides their bike, that they must listen for a distinct sound of a  “ping” from one of the wheels as a spoke gave way.   If they  didn’t address this quickly the wheel would “go out of true” and “pretzel”.   It’s a term they use to describe a wheel that was twisted because of a broken spoke and the tensions the other spokes still maintained on the wheel.   The wheel would deform from round or look like a pretzel as you rolled it on the axle.

The tension of each spoke kept everything round and in balance. The tension of both pulling in and pushing away was necessary for the wheel to stay true.  Tension is a beautiful thing if you understand its purpose.  For a bicycle wheel it is a must.  The same is true for my Spiritual walk as well.

And, I must tell you, for me to “stay true” there must be a tension working in my life.  The tension between a trial and trust.  The tension between fear and faith.   A tension we all feel between position and promise.   There are a number of them we could list, but they all declare that in a fallen world there is a tension that will be part of our lives, a tension that actually helps us grow.   It’s not IF you will have tension, but HOW will you deal with it?   What must you do to keep your life “true” and rolling on.

In my walk there is this tension I’m learning to live with, learning to use for my own walk.   My trust is not undermined by my trial, in fact it’s strengthened.   My love for the lost isn’t acceptance of their actions, but a love in spite of them.   There is a beauty in this tension we experience.   The prayer for all of us is to experience this tension (trials) and that our faith is found by God to be of worth and honor as we meet Christ one day.

That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.                                                                 I  Peter  1:7

My hope and prayer is that you will find honor and praise in the trials you are facing today.  

Waiting On the Lord

   
Waiting….

It’s a skill learned with much reluctance.   We don’t want to wait.   We want what we want RIGHT NOW! But to wait, and more specifically, to wait for the Lord is an important lesson for every believer.

It means we have put our case, our request, our problem before God and we wait for his reply.   It’s as if the letter has been sent, the request made, but it takes a while for the reply to arrive. Every day we go to the mailbox hoping for a response.   Every day we wait. “I wait for the Lord.”   There’s a dependence here, a trust, an appeal to someone who can help in our time of need, but we wait.

We wait for His reply.   The waiting is just as important as the reply itself.   It means I don’t try to do it myself.   I’m not working to resolve my own situation.   I’m waiting…..I’m waiting for God’s response.   It’s a trust that demands patience. How long do I wait?   What do I do while I wait?   Am I being lazy by not doing something myself?   How do I know when I should act and when I should wait?

Waiting is hard.   Waiting on the Lord is even harder.   It’s the silence that makes it so difficult.   While I wait, as least in my experience, I rarely hear word about the timing of the response.   God doesn’t e-mail me to let me know it’s on the way.   I just have to wait, to trust, to know that God is trustworthy.

Waiting for the Lord demands an upward focus, a trust in the Lord to accomplish what I have asked of him.   Soon the answer comes and then what joy, but let me offer this – there is more joy to be realized in the waiting than we ever know.   In that waiting our faith grows.   We trust someone else to do what we cannot.   In that waiting we grow and that’s much more important than the answer of the moment.

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
And in His word I do hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
More than those who watch for the morning—
Yes, more than those who watch for the morning.          Psalm 130: 5-6


God is Still Speaking

I see a world in chaos, crisis and confusion.  Problems are everywhere, in every life, in every day.

It seems to me that problems around us are increasing both in number and frequency.   It’s as if there are more things to worry about, more things to make us fearful.   At every turn there are new challenges to deal with.   As I read the news the warnings are more intense….our economy is crumbling, there is a new bacteria that is drug resistant, murder is on the rise, job losses are going up, prices are going up, temperatures are going up….the list continues.

But, as much as I write about that, behind it all is a pattern that I see as I watch God working in the Bible. Here’s the pattern repeated over and over in the Bible – God allows a problem in life that cannot be fixed or solved by the person themselves, the problem gets worse, they go to God to find help, God helps them and they discover the God of the Bible to be real, true, alive and caring.   It’s a story repeated over and over through the pages of scripture.

Problems, big problems, bring us to our knees and humble us with our inability to solve them.   Problems bring us to God.   Problems make us face a simple reality – we need God!  

Many of us think we can do it all on our own, but then a problem beyond our resolution comes and we are helpless….we need someone bigger than we are to help us.   We need God.

The Bible expresses this often, both in story and in instruction.   God is working, but what is He really working on?  

Is He trying to make the world a better place to live?

Is He trying to bring peace on earth?

Is He trying to solve all our problems?  

The answer to these questions is a resounding NO.

Here’s what He’s doing –  God is still speaking…He’s drawing men and women to Him that we might know Him, find life in Him and grow in relationship with Him.   It’s all about knowing God! (see John 17:3)

That’s what God is doing.

We may think life is all about the here and the now,  about my comfort and  my happiness.  It’s not!

It’s all about knowing God.  That’s why problems are such a blessing.   They take our eyes off of our ability to take care of ourselves and force us to look to God, trust Him, talk to Him and depend on Him. So, as James writes below, celebrate your problems, they have a purpose and when you are done you will know God more intimately than you could have imagined.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.                           James 1:2-4

Choose Wisely

Have you really considered that you are part of a drama that will play out into eternity?  Some think their actions and their choices have no consequence to anyone but them, but that is simply not true.  

There are no solitary souls only living for themselves.

We all live now and out into eternity.   We each make choices that affect not only us but also those around us for generations to come. 

How you answer one simple question will impact every future decision you make.  It will affect your wife or husband.  It will affect your children and grandchildren.

How you respond to one simple  question can have consequences far beyond anything we could ever think possible.

These are not insignificant choices we are making, they are not irrelevant decisions, their weight is more than you can ever imagine.   Each decision has an impact on you and on your relationship with those  people around you.   Each choice you make has impact on lives and on eternity.   It will change you eternally.

Don’t fool yourself, your choices are not small and they are not minor.   If you only knew….if you only understood that the choices you make today will echo into eternity.

It is all wrapped up in how you answer this one simple question… 

Are you ready to turn your life over to Jesus Christ?

I would be glad to discuss this and answer any questions you may have concerning your relationship with Jesus Christ.  Just leave a comment to this post and I will respond.  (I will not publish your comments to this post).

Choose Wisely.

 

A Colorado Sunrise Reflection

Early that morning, just before the first rays of sun light broke over the horizon, I woke up, got dressed and took off to see what I had hoped to be the most beautiful sunrise I had ever witnessed.  I did not tell anyone where I was going or even the fact that I was leaving at all that cold crisp Colorado morning.   It was still pretty dark out but I had enough light to see where the trail began and if I just stayed on the trail it would take me to the fire lookout tower we had visited yesterday. 

For the previous two years, I had been traveling  around the country with a singing group that promoted Missions and Liberty University.  On this day we were in Colorado.  I loved my time traveling with this group.  Coming from a small town in Northwest Ohio, I was lucky enough to be able to travel and see things that I may never had the chance if I stayed in safe confines of Oak Harbor,  Ohio.    Not only had I the opportunity to see things all over the United States but also places around the world.  I had been to Brazil and traveled through out Central America and before my time would end I would be going to Africa.  These places I went to were just dreams that I had a few short years ago but now they were becoming reality.  

On this particular morning was to be no different, I was going to take every opportunity to see something I may never have the chance to see again.  Catching a chance to see the sunrise come up over a Colorado morning was one I was not going to miss.

This adventure actually started out the previous day.  Having the day off and taking the opportunity to get some much-needed “rest”, the group and I decided to go on a hike in the Pike National Forest in Douglas County, Colorado.   This is located between Denver and Colorado Springs.  We hiked and just had a wonderful time of friendship and sharing the beautiful sights and sounds of Devil’s Head Lookout.  Devil’s Head Lookout is a U.S. Forest Service fire lookout tower.  The view from the tower extends at least 100 miles in every direction on clear days.  To see the view, I would have to hike a two-mile trail with a 950-foot elevation gain. At the end of the hike, I would then climb 143 stairs to the top of the lookout tower.  The views were spectacular and breathtaking.  It was then I decided to myself that I would hike up here in the morning and see a once in a lifetime sunrise.

I would like to have had some pictures of this beautiful day but this was long before the day of the digital camera and my Instamatic Kodak Camera was not functioning right  so the images of this wonderful day are burned in my memory with only one exceptional, blurry picture of the group at the Devil’s Head Lookout.

That's me in Upper Left Hand Corner

  The next morning was cold and the trail was rough, rocky, uneven, but the quiet and the view was worth the effort.  I  estimated about 40 minutes of hiking to get to the tower.   I had hoped to see an elk, a deer or maybe a bear, but I saw none.  The morning was great.   Crisp, cool, actually a little cold, but wonderful.   I had to watch my steps, there were rocks everywhere.  The path was not smooth.   I had to be real careful not to turn an ankle.   In fact, the climb was steeper than I had remembered from yesterday.   My pauses to catch my breath, to rest my legs grew more and more frequent.   Air at 10,000 feet is thinner than what I’m used to.   It made the trek seem even more daunting.   Around each corner of the trail another stretch of path upward…another challenge, but I couldn’t stop.   I had to get back to my destination.
Then I arrived.

A beautiful sunrise in the middle of Colorado.   It was amazing.   It was quiet.   I don’t think many people in this world saw a sunrise like I witnessed that morning.  The sun rose majestically and for the moment, I paused to enjoy the scene, the cool air, the sounds of birds and the breeze in the trees.   All around were mountains, but here in this spot, in this moment there was a calm, a peace that I can’t explain.   It was a confirmation of all that is good in this world and it was presented just for me that morning by God.  It was worth the walk.

But then…as I began my walk back I realized that I had lost track of time.  I was exhausted from my morning climb and now I was going to be missing from the group.   Our group was going to be leaving soon and I was not at the cabin and nobody knew I was gone.  I started walking downhill on  the trail to get back to the group.   The entire trip back was DOWNHILL!   Now that sounds easy, but this  is Colorado.  Everything is steep.  That includes going downhill.   Stopping here, on the path, only part way back was not an option.   So, onward I walked, more frequent stops, longer stops, more air needed.  

It is then I see a path that veers off the main trail.  Now there are signs everywhere encouraging hikers to stay on the trail but a kid from a small Northwest Ohio town knows better right?   I took the path and hoped it would be a short cut to the cabin.

I hurried along this path, trying to make up time so that I could get back and not get into trouble.  The path was clear and it was  heading in the right direction and as I came around a turn in the path, I could see our cabin in the distance.  Seeing this I stepped up my pace.  I was breaking into a run when the trail suddenly wasn’t as clear as it had been before and now it was hard to see where the path was headed.  I had to stop and I had to put my hands on my knees to catch my breath.  Looking down and gasping for breath,  I realize that I am mere foot or so from a cliff that dropped off the side of that path.  I was inches from dropping over 100 ft to a sure death.  Now besides gasping to catch my breath, I was shaking in fear of how close I had come to falling off that cliff.

Realizing what a terrible mistake it was to leave the main trail, I  started heading back to where I left it.  Each step back the growing anxiety started to build in my heart.  I knew that I had come real close to falling off that cliff and I knew that it was the Lord that kept me from falling as well.  This had been one example of a few experiences in my life where I was spared for reasons I did not know.

I made my way back to main trail and I stayed on it until I got back to the cabin.  As I walked up to the group that was now loading the bus, no one said a word.  No one asked where I was and I did not tell them.  I thought I was going to be in trouble and no one was even asking me anything.  So I did not tell anyone about this incident.  As a matter of fact, I haven’t told anyone this story until now, almost 30 years later.

As these years have passed, I have often thought about that fateful morning.  I have thought that my Christian walk has been just like that morning.   In the midst of a beautiful sunrise there can be moments that stir your soul for all the good that there is in it.  You believe that you are safely in the arms of God and then a mere few moments later you can be on the edge and totally on the brink of disaster.  It is only then that you realize that it is at that point when you are inches from falling off the cliff that you find out that it is then you are truly and safely in the arms of God.  My walk with God has been just like that walk in the mountains. 

I read about this same theme all through David’s words in book of Psalms, this idea of a journey, a walk through difficult places.   Always, as David made these treks he would pray, “Lord, help me through this part of my journey.  There’s no one to help but you.”

For You have delivered my soul from death, Indeed my feet from stumbling, So that I may walk before God in the light of the living.   Psa 56:13

In the midst of the upward climb of the Christian life there are rocks to avoid, there is the need for a time of rest, there’s the ongoing need to keep going…..because you have to get home, you can’t stop.   Around every turn the trail seems to climb even more, the rocks are still in the way and you have to watch for them.  Cliffs are mere inches from your path that could spell disaster.   But, just as I finished my walk that fateful morning, there is a day when we will each finish the course laid out for us, we will each finish the race God has us on.   It’s a walk with a wonderful home ahead, but it’s not always easy.

That’s the nature of the Christian life, isn’t it?   The one great thing about this walk is that all along the way God is with you to help you, guide you, encourage you, protect you and in the end the truth is that all trails that God places us on lead home.

Let me hear Your lovingkindness in the morning; For I trust in You; Teach me the way in which I should walk; For to You I lift up my soul.     Psa 143:8

This is a random You Tube video that shows the same place as referenced in this story.  Not much has changed in the 30 years since I was there.

Forgotten Influence

As I grow older I am more aware of how small our circles of influence really are.   At best we might touch the lives of a handful of people through our lifetime and then, as sad as it sounds, we will be remembered by only two generations…our children and grandchildren.   Then, like the rest of humanity, we fade into the background…forgotten but for our name on the grave stone somewhere.

It is sad and it sure sounds negative but it’s true.  The question is how do we best impact and influence these few lives for these few years we are here?   I believe that the key to all of this is what Jesus told us to do in all of our relationships – that is to love one another.   To truly love someone you must listen, care, think about them, connect with them, reach out to them, cry with them, forgive them, offer grace to them in other words really love them. That is the one life changing decision we each make that changes the lives of those few other lives we influence.  A genuine love of others is the secret to influence that will last beyond your memory….it’s the one decision that has impact into eternity.  

It is sad to me to think that for a good portion of my life, I lived my life in a judgmental fashion.  Never really loving people the way I should have.  My influence on my own children is something that I wish I could get a second chance to fix.  For I am keenly aware of the failure in my life and know that I am responsible for that “influence” and will answer for it one day when I stand before my God.  

With the birth of my grandson, my prayer is that my influence will be a positive one that will live on in him and then on to his children. 

It is not too late to start to love the right way and it’s not to late to change.

 

Moving On To The Next Stage of My Life

Indiana (Indy) William Kirchenbauer

This week has been such a great blessing in my life.  I have had the privilege to welcome my first grandchild into this world.  Indiana William Kirchenbauer entered into this world on June 28th, 2011.  What a wonderful blessing and I am so thankful for my daughter Crystal and her husband Clay for allowing me to be a part of this wonderful experience.   I am one proud grandfather.

The other experience this week was that on the 29th I turned 50 years old.  Baby “Indy” was quite a birthday present I might add.  I cannot think of a better present than the opportunity to hold my grandson on my birthday. 

As I held him in my arms, I was reminded of the story in the Bible of  Simeon.  Simeon was an old man in the Temple.  He had been given a promise from God that he would not see death until he would hold the baby Jesus in his arms.   He looked each day for this baby and each day seemed to pass without fulfilling this promise.  But he remained faithful and trusted God that this promise would come true.  Then the day arrived, he held the baby and with tears in his eyes he says,  “Now I can die in peace,” he continued, “for my eyes have seen Your salvation, 0 Lord.”  Simeon now had fulfilled the promise that was given him.  He did not die right away, but he knew that the salvation of the world was just held in his arms.  He was able to move on to the next and final stage in his life.  I can only imagine what joy he experienced when he finally held that baby and fulfilled God’s promise.  I felt that same joy when I held my grandson.  I now can move onto the next stage of my life.  My children are now all out of high school.  They are moving on with their lives.  Now it’s time for me to move on…move on into the next stage of my life.

I’m fascinated as I read the Bible.   I’m fascinated as I watch the narrative unfold in its stories.   Often, as I read, as I watch the story develop, it’s clear that God has stepped off the stage.   I watch as God steps back to let the characters of the story make decisions, take action and live out their lives.   And, at times God seems to be nowhere in sight.   Then, when all the choices are made, God comes back on stage to commentary the deeds of the story we have been reading.

I think God often does that in my life.   Seldom does He call from heaven to tell me, “Stop that!   What are you doing?   What are you thinking?”   In fact He’s never done that for me!   Instead, I have His word and from His word and the work of His Spirit in my life, I live out my play, stage by stage, act by act.  

There are times when I know God is there, on stage with me, but at other times He seems to step back….He allows me to stand or fall, to make decisions and then He returns and He challenges me about the choices I made through His Word.  Sometimes He confirms that I made the right decision…and at times shows me where I went off track.

There are stages in each of our lives.   Stages and times when we put on masks and pretend to be someone we aren’t.   Pretend to do the right thing when we don’t.  The world watches as we act out our little play, but then God comes on stage and we talk about the fraud I have been.  The lie I have tried to hide.   The deeds I have done.  

Each of us lives out our own little play.   Each of us experiences a time when God has left the building and we are left alone to our own choices, but soon, when the curtain opens for the next act, God steps on stage and the truth comes out.   How can we think that our masks hide anything?   Everyone else is wearing a mask, everyone knows we wear one too.   Why not surprise the audience and be who you really are, be honest and trust God for the results?   I know a few people who are taking off the masks and living their lives for all to see.   How wonderful it would be to hear God say, as He comes on the next stage of your life and the curtain rises for the final act and says, “Well done…” 

That is my prayer as I now move on into this next stage of my life.  I can’t wait to see how it turns out.