Foul Ball Kindness

baseball 2

“And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6-7, NIV).

Recently, I attended a minor league baseball game with my family.  We enjoyed the view from our seats, the all-you-can-eat concession stand, and the in-between-innings entertainment.  Early in the game, a player from the opposing team hit a foul ball.  The baseball sailed high into the air before falling into the stands, taking a few unpredictable bounces off nearby seats, and landing in the waiting hands of my son, Aidan.  He was now the proud owner of his very own baseball that had been used by the professionals!  I commented on Aidan’s “luck” at catching a foul ball, and humbly shared the fact that I had never caught a foul ball before.  He was surprised by that, as he held his souvenir baseball tightly in hand.

Later in the evening, Aidan approached me and told me that he wanted me to have the baseball he had caught at the game.  I knew how special it was to him and was amazed at the sacrifice he was willing to make.  I allowed Aidan to keep his baseball, but I still hold tightly to the memory we share of the game.

Kindness is one of the fruits of the Spirit spoken of by the Apostle Paul.  Kindness is demonstrated when we put the best interests of others ahead of our own.  Of course, we have the ultimate example of kindness shown to us in Jesus.  He was willing to exchange our sins for his grace.

I won’t soon forget Aidan’s kindness in offering me his baseball.  I’ll always remember the kindness of Jesus in giving me eternal life.

Broken

communion broken

Holy Communion is one of the sacraments, or “sacred acts” of the Christian Church.  For those who aren’t familiar with this practice, it is a time set aside to remember the final meal Jesus shared with his disciples just hours before he would die on a cross.  The Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist, as it is sometimes called, is celebrated by Christians throughout the world.

During Communion, the elements of bread and grape juice are served with the reminder of Jesus’ words to “…‘do this in remembrance of me’ ” (Luke 22:19, NIV).  As the bread is broken, we recall that Jesus’ body was broken on the cross as he died to take away our sins.  As the juice is shared, we are reminded that Jesus’ blood was shed for us at Calvary.

This past Sunday, I had the privilege to serve Holy Communion at the church I serve.  This is always a special time for me spiritually.  I connect with God and my congregants, in a unique and meaningful way.  On this particular Sunday, I was reminded again of the significance of Communion.  As I took the circular loaf of bread to tear into two pieces, there was a split-second moment in which the loaf appeared to me to be in the shape of a heart.  And, as I tore the bread apart, I was reminded, not just of Jesus’ body being broken for my sins, but that God the Father’s heart had to have been broken over the death of his only Son.

For me, this was a different way of looking at and thinking about the sacrifice God made to erase my sins, that God would allow his child to suffer so that I, his child, would not have to, to give him up to death so that I could have life.

This is what Communion means to me, that God’s heart was torn into pieces as Jesus’ body was broken for me and for you.  His blood was shed to take away all of our sins.  We are forgiven.  Remember that.

Dismiss the Doubters

wildflowers yellow sunlit

“(Jesus) went in and said to them, ‘Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.’ But they laughed at him.

After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha koum!’ (which means ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up!’).  Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around…” (Mark 5:39-42, NIV).

Great things are accomplished by faith.  Sometimes, however, we must dismiss the doubters.

Jesus was approached with the news, first that the synagogue ruler Jairus’ young daughter was sick, then that she had died.  It had all come about so quickly, and Jesus, it would seem, was simply too slow to respond.

“…‘Why bother the teacher anymore?’ ” (Mark 5:35, NIV) the family and friends of Jairus asked.

But, Jesus told Jairus, “ ‘…Just believe’ ” (Mark 5:36, NIV).

When Jesus arrived at Jairus’ house, a crowd had already gathered there.  These mourners were inconsolable and grief-stricken.  Then, when Jesus told them that the little girl was only sleeping, their cries of grief turned into rumbles of laughter.  “What a foolish thing for Jesus to say!” they thought.

As Jesus entered the room of Jairus’ daughter, only the girl’s parents and Jesus’ disciples were invited.  The others – the doubters and disbelievers, those who had mocked Jesus and laughed at his words – had already been put out of the house.  Their doubt would not be allowed to interfere with the miracle that was about to take place.  Soon, the little girl would be healed.

There are several lessons to be learned from this story, but here’s one angle.  At times, we too, must dismiss the doubters.  Otherwise, their second-guessing, their cynicism, and their skepticism will not allow us the room to do what is needed.  Our ambition and our dreams will be undermined by the nay-sayers if we allow them to stick around.

So, just who are the doubters in your life?  Who are the whiners, the wailers, and the laughers that you need to put aside?  I’m not saying that you need to make a complete break from them, although sometimes that can be the case.  But maybe they do need to be put out of ear-shot.  Don’t let the doubters deter your dreams.  And don’t let the foolish sway your faith.  Just believe!

Reunion

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“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15, NIV).

 This past weekend I returned to my hometown of Ellsworth, Kansas for its 150th birthday celebration.  There was a parade, games for the kids, music, a rodeo, and so much more.  But the highlight of my weekend was getting to take part in an informal 25-year class reunion – shout out here to Ellsworth High Class of ’92!

I must admit that I was a little nervous to meet up with my former classmates, many of whom I hadn’t seen in twenty years or more.  I was never the most popular kid in school and now I was less fit with less hair and even less confidence.  But, as I approached the place where my classmates were meeting, they began to cheer and welcomed me with handshakes and open arms.  We talked at length about our experiences, our kids, our joys, and, within just a few minutes of arriving, I felt like I had never left this group of classmates, this group of friends.

Later, I thought about the kindness of my classmates and the joy we shared in being together once again.  I wondered what bond had held us together after all the years of being apart.  Finally, I figured it out – we had experienced life together.  Through all the joys and pain of childhood and adolescence, the confusion of being a teenager, and the responsibilities of being a young adult, we had stood beside one another.  Together, we had faced the emotions of first crushes and break-ups, math tests and sporting events, our first days of school and the final months of our senior year.  We had faced all of this together, and, in this way, we could relate to one another.

My experience this past weekend reminded me of the blessings of friendship and how God puts people in each of our lives for a purpose.  It also reminded me that God himself, in Jesus, chose to take on flesh and become one of us, to experience life with us and for us.  In this way, he could relate to us.  He lived a life that was perfect, knowing that we would struggle with the messy things of life, and finally, he died for us, because he loved us that much.  Someday soon, we will experience a reunion of sorts with him, in Heaven, and there will be cheering and open arms.

Class of ’92, I can’t wait to see each of you again!  Thanks for reminding me of my many blessings.

Scooby Doo and Jesus

scooby doo

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20, NIV).

 One of my favorite shows as a kid was Scooby Doo.  Every afternoon at three o’clock I would turn to the Super Station WGN, Channel 13, on my family’s large box television set to join in the adventures of Scooby, Shaggy, Fred, Daphne, and Wilma.  On any given afternoon, I would be right there with the gang, riding around in the Mystery Machine (which never ran out of gas) fighting crime and solving mysteries.  Ghosts, goblins, and ghouls couldn’t outsmart ol’ Scooby, who’s only compensation for his work was a handful of Scooby Snacks.  I never ceased to be surprised when, at the end of the show, the culprit’s mask was taken off, and he was Mr. Jenson from the carnival or some other hoodlum.

Masked men and women made Scooby Doo intriguing to this 8-year-old.  Not that I would have committed such heinous acts as the villains on Scooby Doo – I was a pretty good kid after all -, but the idea of being disguised was a bit appealing to me.

As a sinful human being, I sometimes feel like I’m wearing a sort of mask.  Although not a zombie, mummy, or monster, my disguises can be just as scary.  But, as a Christian, I have a different identity.  And I hope, that once the mask is pulled away, my truest self is revealed.

My hope is that, underneath the facade and fake appearances, people would see Jesus living in me.  And my prayer is that I would look more and more like him each day.  By the way, Scooby and Jesus would have made one heck of a duo!

King of the Mountain (Part 4 of 4)

mountain king 4

Today is the final post in my “King of the Mountain” series.  Over the past several days, we’ve been looking at man’s hunger for power and position, often attained at the expense of others, and how Jesus’ teachings run contrary to such attitudes.

Jesus taught that “‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all’” (Mark 9:35, NIV).  That is what Jesus told his disciples following an argument concerning which of them was the greatest.  I’m sure that Jesus’ statement that day shocked his disciples as they were confronted with a drastic challenge to their way of thinking.

Jesus didn’t just talk about greatness through servanthood.  He demonstrated it.  I want to close today with a passage from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippian church.  It reads like this: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:3-8, NIV).

Jesus had, to himself, all the riches of Heaven, but he gave it all up to come to Earth as a baby who would one day die on a cross.  That is true greatness!

 

King of the Mountain (Part 3 of 4)

mountain king 3

Today is Part Three in my “King of the Mountain” series.  The overarching idea here is that too often we try to elevate ourselves to positions of authority and influence at the expense of other people.  Today, we will be looking at and contrasting a couple of people from the story of the first Christmas found in the Bible Book of Luke.  We’ll be talking about King Herod, the maniacal and paranoid king of Judea, and Jesus, the “…King of kings…” (Revelation 17:14, NIV) and the Savior of the world.

First, let’s discuss Herod.  Known throughout history as Herod the Great for his notable accomplishments in building and running an empire, Herod is also known for the murders of those he viewed as a threat to his kingdom.  In fact, Herod killed several family members, including his wife, in a desperate attempt to maintain his status as king.  One of Herod’s greatest assaults on humanity was his order to have hundreds of babies put to death throughout the region.  You see, Herod had caught news of the birth of the baby named Jesus, the newborn king in Bethlehem, and feared that Jesus would usurp his authority.  Imagine being so paranoid that a toddler would take over your dynasty, that you would massacre innocent children in an attempt to eliminate Jesus!  Herod would not succeed, however, and the Holy Family would make their escape to Egypt.

Jesus, in fact, would someday become “King”, but his kingship would be quite different than that of Herod’s.  Jesus promoted peace, not violence, and mercy over justice.  Rather than elevating himself, Jesus chose humility.  And, instead of condemning others, Jesus chose to show them compassion.  Jesus even went so far as to die on a cross, forgiving even those who placed him there.

We’ll learn more about King Jesus in my next post.  Stay tuned for Part 4 tomorrow.  Thanks, as always, for reading!

King of the Mountain (Part 2 of 4)

mountain king 2

Yesterday, I began a series of blog posts that explores the concept of “King of the Mountain”.  I explained that this was a favorite childhood game of mine and related it to the “games” we sometimes play, even as adults.

Being “King of the Mountain” as a child meant that you had climbed the summit of the “mountain” (in my case, a small hill) and that you had succeeded in maintaining that position by pushing all your friends back down the hill.  While “King of the Mountain” was fun as a child, the game is synonymous with the way we sometimes act as adults.  We strive to attain positions of influence and authority – none of which are necessarily bad in themselves.  But, at times, we do this at the expense of other people.  We can be quite ruthless in our attempts to appear greater than or more important than our peers.

Great harm can be done when we try to look too good in the eyes of others.  I’m reminded of the Bible story of the Tower of Babel.  The writer of Genesis states, “(The people) said to each other…‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for                      ourselves…’ ” (Genesis 11:3-4, NIV).  God saw what the people were doing, attempting not only to build a structure that would reach into the heavens, but to become some sort of gods themselves, and he thwarted their plan.  He confused their language and separated them so that they couldn’t do further damage.

At least two of the Proverbs speak of the plans of men.  One of them reads, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans” (Proverbs 16:3, NIV).  The problem with the people in the above story of Babel is that they never really committed their plans to God.  Why?  I think it’s because they wanted to prove that they were as great as God.

A second Proverb says,“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21, NIV).  In other words, God’s desires will ultimately succeed over the plans of people, especially when such plans are bent only on serving oneself at the expense of others.  It’s important that our plans align with what God desires.  When they do, success happens and God’s purposes prevail.

In tomorrow’s “King of the Mountain” post, I’ll be talking about Herod, who was a literal king.  More importantly, I’ll speak of Jesus, the “…King of kings…” (Revelation 17:14, NIV) and Savior of the world.  You don’t want to miss tomorrow’s post!

King of the Mountain (Part 1 of 4)

mountain king of the hill

One of our favorite games to play as kids was “King of the Mountain”.  While not one of us knuckle-heads was actual royalty, and the “mountain” was really just a small hill near my home in central Kansas, we would spend hours trekking up and falling down said hill.  The object of the game was quite simple: to climb to the top of the “mountain” and maintain your position there by whatever means were necessary.  There were basically two rules.  The first was that we had to wear our stocking caps in the winter, because that’s what our moms told us to do.  The second was that we had to stop playing, at least for a little while, if someone started bleeding or crying.

So often, as adults, we play a similar “game” in life.  We continually seek the higher positions in society, all the while not considering or caring about who we might need to put down to get there.  The results can be brutal and bloody and lead to all kinds of hurt.

In this short series of writings, we will be looking at this idea of “King of the Mountain” through some stories from the Bible.  Perhaps you remember the Tower of Babel and people like King Herod.  We’ll also see what Jesus said about all of this.

So, check back regularly.  And, as always, thanks for reading!

Hospitality (Part 2 of 2)

wildflowers purple and white

“Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water’ ” (John 4:10, NIV).

Jesus had a holy habit of extending hospitality and hope to the least likely of individuals.  Take, for example, Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman.

The two met coincidentally, or perhaps by divine appointment, at a well in the heat of midday.  The woman’s timing for drawing water was strategic as she came to the well after all the neighboring women had returned to their homes.  This was the only way to dodge their judgmental stares and avoid the “water cooler” talk that inevitably occurred day after day.  The woman had a reputation, after all, as an adulterer, and her spiritual baggage was much more a burden than the water jar she carried in her hands.

The conversation between the woman and Jesus should have never occurred.  As a woman, she was a second-class citizen, more like property, in a society ruled by men.  Likewise, as a Samaritan, she was not to be associated with by any Jew.  Add to all of this that the woman had a sordid past, and she quickly had three strikes against her.  But Jesus met her right where she was, not just at a well, but at the place where desperation and hope collide, where healing and restoration occur.

Jesus asked for a drink, but really it was the woman who had the greater thirst.  She was dehydrated by sin and shame, dying for purpose and meaning.  So, Jesus offered all that he had in himself, the Living Water, and she would never thirst again.

I think we can learn a lot from Jesus.  He saw people first, not their problems or their faults.  Jesus didn’t allow society to dictate who was approachable or worthy of his time.  He simply gave of himself.  And we can do the same.  There are many people around us who have an unquenchable thirst for the life-giving waters that we possess in Christ.  Let’s offer them a drink and change the world, one thirsty soul at a time.