As someone who is guilty, at times, of not being completely focused on what others are saying, I can relate to the frustration of a flight attendant caused by people like me. Annoyed by passenger inattentiveness during her what-to-do-in-an-emergency talk, she changed the wording. This is what she actually said: “When the mask drops down in front of you, place it over your navel and continue to breathe normally.” Not a single passenger noticed.

Still, that’s not as bad as this story from the days of FDR. President: “Franklin D. Roosevelt got tired of smiling that big smile and saying the usual things at all those White House receptions. So, one evening he decided to find out whether anybody was paying attention to what he was saying. As each person came up to him with extended hand, he flashed that big smile and said; ‘I murdered my grandmother this morning.’ People would automatically respond with comments such as ‘How lovely!’ or ‘Just continue with your great work!’ Nobody listened to what he was saying, except one foreign diplomat. When the president said, ‘I murdered my grandmother this morning,’ the diplomat responded softly, ‘I’m sure she had it coming to her.’”

One might think that everyone would be listening closely to what the President of the United States would be saying. He’s mighty important! But there’s certainly no comparison to the importance that we should be placing on the very words of God Almighty. In speaking of the Lord’s message of salvation, the writer of Hebrews 2:1 tells us, “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” Without question, this command ultimately applies to all of God’s Word.

But there are many in danger of not listening closely to it, especially over time. Even scriptural truth we have held to in the past may be up for debate with some as they allow their opinions to be influenced by the world around them. Or with others, they may “drift away” in their relationship with the Lord because they choose to ignore the principles they once followed as it’s not convenient with the life they’re wanting to live or they somehow think, “That doesn’t apply to me.” For yet others, they’re lack of attentiveness to God’s Word corresponds directly to a lack of time spent with God’s people, the Church.

Regardless of what may have caused this communication breakdown, we need to truly open our ears, set aside what we prematurely think scripture is saying and then really let God’s message soak into our minds and hearts. Paying close attention is a must. What’s at stake is even more important than FDR’s dead grandma.

In His Service,

How Cold Is It?

“It was so cold where we were,” said the Arctic explorer, “that the candle froze and we couldn’t blow it out.” “That’s nothing,” said his rival. “Where we were, the words came out of our mouths in pieces of ice and we had to fry them to hear what we were talking about.”

  That is COLD! Even colder than it’s been in our area for the last couple weeks. But, strangely enough, there is an actual upside to extreme cold. It’s been written: “The South Pole could be called the healthiest place on earth. The air is as fresh and clean as it must have been everywhere before man began pouring industrial wastes into the atmosphere. Furthermore, it’s one of few locations where man is not bombarded by germs. Not only is it too cold for them to be active, but there’s nothing for them to live on. And since winds start at the South Pole and move northward, they tend to keep away any contaminants from that region. Now you’d think people would be eager to live in such a pollution-free, germ-free environment but they’re not. With temperatures that drop to 100 degrees below zero, it’s just too cold!”

   It sounds like, if one was only concerned about keeping away from the microbes and contaminates of our planet, then one might very well want to pack up and head to Antarctica. But the cost of remaining completely isolated from that dirt and disease is a frozen environment. I think, in a sense, that’s the danger we can encounter if we try to remove ourselves from the evil of this world. Certainly, we don’t want to delve into the sinfulness that’s all around us or in any way just accept it. But neither should we detach ourselves from all the sinful people around us. That can lead to some frigid believers.

   Christ Himself, in speaking about the end times, warned us, saying, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:12,13) I think part of what Jesus was saying is that as we look at the wickedness surrounding us, it’s easy to become aloof, uncaring and cold-hearted. That lack of passion can affect the way we relate to others- and to God. To keep our love on fire we need to “stand firm” and keep going deeper in our relationship with the Lord so that, in turn, we are able to love the people He created.

   This world can be a cold, cold place. But, as believers, we need to be fueled with the tenderness and fervor that flows from our Savior so we can pass it on those needing God’s warmth.

   In His Service, Jim

Dying With Your Shoes On

So many times in approaching the start of another year, we look towards new beginnings and fresh starts. But it also may be a good time to commit to having a strong finish. Consider the example of Joy. On November 5, 2013, eighty-six year old Joy Johnson, a veteran of 25 New York City marathons, died with her running shoes on. Johnson, who was the oldest runner in 2013’s marathon, fell at the 20 mile marker in the event. She crossed the finish line at about eight hours. After the race she returned to her hotel room, lay down with her shoes on and never woke up.

Amazingly, Johnson didn’t run her first marathon until she was sixty-one years old. The only hint of the sport was the verse from Isaiah 40:31 which hung on the kitchen wall in her family farm home in rural Minnesota:”But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
A few years ago she told a reporter about her exercise regimen. She would wake up at 4 A.M., drink her coffee while reading her Bible, and then set out on an eight mile pre-dawn run. “When you wake up it can either be a good day or a bad day,” Ms. Johnson said. “I always say, ‘It’s going to be a good day.'”

The devout Christian ran every day but Sunday so she could attend church. Johnson sang hymns to herself to pass the time while running. According to Johnson’s daughter, “She was always a happy runner—and besides her faith and family, this was something she loved the most.”

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s inspiring! As someone who’s lucky to jog 3 miles, I’m in awe of anyone able to cover 26.2 miles- especially when they’re in their eighties! Beyond the physical ability, I’m impressed by the mental toughness, daily discipline and dogged determination to live life up to the very end like Joy. It puts me in mind of Caleb from the Old Testament.

Caleb is getting well along in years, but he has no intention of sitting down to retirement in a rocking chair. He is ready to take on the new challenge of going in to conquer the land of Hebron. And notice his feisty attitude as he says  “… Just as the Lord promised, he has kept me alive…So here I am today eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then.” (Joshua 14:10,11) He recognizes, as we should, that God is the One Who gives us life and health and strength. As the Lord says to His people, “Even to your old age and gray hairs, I am He, I am He Who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you…” (Isaiah 46:4) But understand, He doesn’t just keep us alive. God blesses us with strength and purpose for our entire lives. In Psalm 92:14, elderly believers are spoken of as flourishing like a tree so that “Even in old age they will still produce fruit and be vital and green.” Will that be true physically? Maybe. Maybe not. But as long as we have breath, God will definitely give us the strength in our inner spirit to accomplish His will. I have no doubt that He has some “Hebron-like” challenge in mind for you.

So, wherever you may be at in your race, I hope and pray that you will enter 2016 with a renewed sense of perseverance to push to a strong- and glorious- finish. Keep those running shoes on. God certainly has more race for you to run.
Happy New Year, Jim


Expect a Pony

In this season of gift giving you may very well receive an unwanted gift or two. You can take heart that chances are none of your gifts will be as bad as Susie’s. “Little Susie had been born with a sunny disposition and was the most optimistic kid anybody had ever seen always looking on the bright side. She loved animals and was also an artistic girl so one Christmas her parents got her a big bag of clay for making pottery. They put it on the back porch next to a bag of horse manure for the garden.
On Christmas Eve, dad wrapped the presents. It was a little dark on the porch, and as you may have guessed, he wrapped the manure by mistake, instead of the clay. On Christmas morning, Susie was so excited as she finally got to unwrap her big present as her parents watched with anticipation to see how much she liked her clay.
When Susie opened the package with the bag inside containing several pounds of stinky horse manure, the parents were aghast. But before they could apologize, Susie said, ‘Oh boy! I got a pony!’” Now that’s looking for a silver lining!

We certainly don’t expect any loving parent to purposely give such a “crappy” gift.  In fact, Jesus spoke about how an earthly father- despite being “evil” compared to our heavenly Father- would never give their child a stone or a snake. As Christ said, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11) Compared to even the best of dads, God’s gifts are SO much better. James 1:17 reminds us that ultimately, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights”. But let me propose that while all of the presents we receive from the Father are good, at first glance some may seem “bad”.

A hardship- be it physical, financial, relational, emotional or spiritual- may be a “gift” the Lord has allowed to come into our lives for our own good. Paul says in Romans 5:3 “…We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance…” What appears to be awful just may be something fortunate that God has in store for us. The key is our outlook.

If we can have an optimistic, positive approach to our struggles, just maybe we will be able to lay hold of some benefit God is trying to bring into our lives, be it godly character, an unforeseen opportunity or something the Lord wants to teach us.  Certainly no one likes when life brings them a big bag of Mr. Ed’s fertilizer, but if we look closely, maybe, like little Susie, we can see past the manure to expect a pony.

I hope God gives you your perfect present this holiday.

Merry Christmas,