Sometimes it’s just about giving

There is a man in the church I am privileged to serve. I haven’t seen him this week. He is in California at The Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Hospital. Several years ago, his brother died of leukemia, leaving behind five boys. His brother’s wife eventually remarried and within a year, her new husband’s kidneys failed. Not wanting to have his nephews lose another father, this man asked to be tested and matched perfectly. Because his blood pressures were border lined elevated, the doctors preferred he not go through with being the donor. He decided to lower his blood pressures and lost about 20 pounds by running and eating healthy. It paid off.

I spoke with his family this week. His wife described the surgery as “amazing.” The surgeon told her he’d never had it go so well and the kidney her husband donated, when connected to the recipient, started working immediately.

There are times in life when we are asked to give something of tremendous value for someone else, with no expectations of any return. Isn’t that exactly what God did for us when He gave us His Son? How could we possibly ever repay Him for suffering on the cross to save us from death and destruction.

This is the season of giving. It is the time to look at someone else and take our eyes off ourselves. Today, consider what you have to offer sacrificially for another person. How can you show the love of Jesus Christ to someone in need?

The hole in the fence

When I was a little boy, my mom and dad took my sister and me to the Christmas parade. It was crowded with people and being as we were late in arriving, it was difficult to find a parking spot. The parade had already started, and I just knew we were going to miss seeing Santa, the marching band, the floats, and the girls twirling fire. Finally, we found a spot on the parade route behind a fence. “It is the best we can do, Michael,” my mom reminded me. There was a hole in the fence, just the perfect height and width for me. I pressed my forehead against the wooden edge and like a pair of binoculars, I could see the action in front of me. But only in front of me through the hole in the fence.

I often think about that parade day when I feel uncertain about my future. We see life like I saw that parade. We have a limited view of what’s out there for us. God, on the other hand, sees the whole parade route. He isn’t limited by the hole in the fence. He knows just what is needed to get where He is taking us. He knows the next step.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Today, put your trust in Him. He knows where you are going – He’s already been there! Rely on Him to teach you what you need to know to get there. Don’t fret. Just do what you know to do today and give the rest to Him.

In the arms of God

Psalm 16:7-10, “I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, 10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay.”

The other day I sat down at my computer, determined to write a Psalm, like David, to my Lord and Savior. It didn’t turn-out well. David had such an ability to use just the right imagery and say just the right words to speak wonderful praises to God and to fill our hearts with love for Him. My Psalm seemed quite shabby in comparison. There is such solace in his words to our Father.

This morning I am searching for a way to praise God as never before because my body is secure; I am confident He will not abandon me. Maybe it is my age, but I am realizing more and more the depth with which God loves us. He is not this Being who created us and left us to be. He is intertwined in our daily existence; more so than we could ever imagine.

I have a friend who designs buildings all over the world. He actually is the architect for commercial structures. Some of them are so amazingly breathtaking that I just want to stand before them and take it in. I asked him once if when he drives by them does he stop and get out and stare. Does he look at them and say, “Wow! I can’t believe I did that.” His response surprised me. He said, “You know Mike, God gives me images, visual pockets of how the buildings will fit into the structure of the city. When I drive by them I actually say aloud, ‘Wow God! That is a really good one!'”

Even in our occupations; our education; our health; our children; our friendship; our day-to-day tasks; God is there. We cannot be shaken because He’s got us with His strong right hand. No matter what our earthly life dishes out to us, the Creator knows how to fit us into the structure of His plan and purpose. Let your tongue rejoice and your heart be glad today because you rest in the arms of God.

Messing up the Cosmos

1 Corinthians 13:5, “It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”

I spoke to a young man recently searching for his soul mate. He gave me very specific characteristics he wanted in a mate. “The perfect woman for me,” he began and somehow my mind drifted off into 1 Corinthians 13 – the LOVE chapter. I’ve read it thousands of times at weddings and read it thousands of times more in marriage counseling sessions. There is nothing easy about love; but even tougher is living without it.

“I mean, how do you know if you are marrying your soul mate?” he asked. I realized I had left our conversation and quickly attempted to pick up where my mind exited.

I gave him a comical description I recently heard of the whole soul mate dilemma. “Do you realize,” I started, “if you choose the wrong person, let’s say for the sake of argument, and you do not marry your soul mate, then whose soul mate did you marry?”

The fellow stepped back a moment and crossed his arms. “Well,” I continued, “then the person whose soul mate you married will then marry the wrong soul mate because you married her.”

“Makes sense,” he nodded.

“Soon, the person whose soul mate you married, who married the wrong soul mate, who married the wrong soul mate, is forced to marry the wrong soul mate. Before long you are completely responsible for throwing off the entire cosmos all because you chose the wrong person. I don’t think God would entrust our ability to choose a soul mate for this simple reason.”

The young man laughed, “I never thought of it in that way. I was only thinking about myself and my soul mate.”

“Exactly. And LOVE is not self-seeking,” I answered. “You find the person who you can be the perfect mate for. Stop looking for the person who is perfect for you.”

The simple answer to love is to be who you need to be for someone else and stop insisting people be for you what you need them to be. Honor people. Treat people with respect and of value. Stop seeing what you can get out of a relationship and start seeing what you can give to the relationship.  When you have a conflict, pray with the person about it; if that isn’t possible, pray for God to help you resolve and forgive. And when someone hurts you, give it to God and move on. The lists piling up inside you are doing you no good. Don’t keep records of wrong, move passed them.

Today, pray about how you love people. Ask God to help you in your relationships. Honor God by loving the people around you as He asks us to do.

There’s no denying Whose you are

Acts 17:28, “…in Him we live and move and have our being.”

Some time ago my son David called me. He had run into an old friend of mine and the first words out of my friend’s mouth to David were, “Boy, there is no denying you! If you aren’t Mike Franklin’s boy, I’ll buy you dinner!”

David laughed on the phone later with me, “He actually bought me lunch anyway!”

I’m proud my son is similar to me, and I’m also proud he is the type of man I want people to relate to me. As we hung up the phone, I thought of God. God must be everything in our lives. As we go throughout the day, we need to ask Him what He thinks we should do. The decisions we face, the conflicts, our direction, the people we meet – any and everything – we need to bring before God. In actuality we should hear, “Boy, there is no denying you! If you aren’t God’s boy, I’ll buy you dinner!”

Several weeks ago I was traveling home from Serbia and I encountered a young man serving as a missionary. He hadn’t been home in two years and was feeling apprehensive about reconnecting with his family. As I listened to his story and heard not only the struggles but the miracles of his work, he told me his parents were not Christian; in fact, his entire family thought him to be a religious nut. He smiled sheepishly at me, “That is the last thing I am.”

“What?” I quizzed.

“I’m not religious. Religion predetermines what God wants me and you to do. No, God has written on my heart what He wants me to do.”

He attributed his salvation to his neighbor who was a mechanic. As a young teenager, his car broke down. He didn’t have any money so he asked his neighbor for help. The deal was, the neighbor friend would fix his car at no cost, if he would help him and listen about Jesus. “It was the best deal I ever made.”

What about you? How do people identify you? How do you want them to identify you?

In Him we live and move and have our being.”

To truly be “His” we need to pay attention in all that we do. Listen to our inner conscience and what He tells us to do.

Throughout the day today, stop and connect with God. Ask Him if there is anything He specifically wants you to do. Strive, as I am striving, to hear the words, “There’s no denying Whose you are!”

The whole path

Psalm  143:8, “Let the morning bring me word of Your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in You. Show me the way I should go for to You I lift up my soul.”

This morning as I prepared for my day, I thought of this verse. I thought of the words and the importance of putting our trust in God each and every day. The very first words that come from our mouths as we open our eyes should be these. There are times in our lives when we can only see the next step and sometimes, it is difficult to see even that; but God can see the whole path. He knows what’s up ahead and He will faithfully guide us through the terrain as long as we allow Him to do so.

King David lived through tumultuous times. At the time he wrote this scripture, the surrounding nations were after the blood of God’s people. During this time period and even today, Israel was constantly threatened by the countries around it who were eager to conquer the land and destroy its people. But David relied on a Warrior far more powerful than the current threat of the day. He knew God had the bigger picture, the whole blueprint. He knew in Whom to put his trust.

This morning, try it. Memorize this verse and commit to quoting it every morning as you start your day. Each day, God’s love for us is new and fresh. He is completely sold out to us. And His love is unconditional, borderless, never-ending. Openly profess that you put your trust in Him. This means ‘whatever’ happens in your day, you know God is with you. Whatever fire you need to walk through, He’ll walk through it with you. Whatever storm you need to ride out, He’ll ride it out with you. Whatever decision you need to make, He’ll help you make it. Whomever you need to see, He’ll make sure you meet with them. If you do not need to see them, He’ll make sure you don’t.

You simply need to lift up your soul to Him.

Running on Empty

Tonight as I left the church I am privileged to serve, I noticed my gas gauge – EMPTY. If you are like me, going to the pump hurts. $3.50 a gallon isn’t fun in anybody’s wallet. As I pulled in to pump number 6, I recognized a face I hadn’t seen in a while. A young man who I used to see quite regularly at church. He tucked his head and hid behind a camouflage ball cap. I called out to him and inquired how he had been.

He smiled and shook his head, “I’m ok.”

“I haven’t seen you at church in a long time. I hope you are attending another church? I’d sure hate it if you missing out on church, ” I responded.

“No, sir. Just taking a break.”

He hurriedly finished pumping his gas and fumbled for his keys. I could tell he didn’t know where they were and he was in a panic.

“Then you are empty, aren’t you?”

He paused for a moment, “No. I just filled up.”

I went around to help him look for the keys. We looked under his truck; rechecked his pockets; in the seat; before finally, I thought, maybe he left them on the counter inside when he went in to pay. His face brighten, “I did. I remember setting them down. ” He thanked me and as I turned to go back to my car he asked, “Pastor, what did you mean by empty?”

There are consequences for ignoring God. He wants to bless us. He has a plan for our lives to prosper us and not to harm us. (Jeremiah 29:11); but some are missing out because they have chosen to ignore God; to be too busy for God; to justify their absence from God; to take for granted His goodness. How tragic to allow one’s heart to become hardened or inattentive toward God.

What about you? Is your God tank running on empty? When is the last time you prayed to God? When is the last time you read His word or worshipped Him in church? Maybe its time for you to check your gauge. You wouldn’t want to run-out.

Cue the Rocky theme song…

It isn’t often that I am able to watch television. The other night, Connie and I were so exhausted from the events of the day, we decided to find a movie to enjoy together. After flipping through channels, we came across the Rocky movie starring Sylvester Stallone. It was at the moment when Rocky determines he is going to try and the infamous song begins to play. My heart started to beat rapidly inspired by the music and his desire to rise above the obstacles, no matter the odds, and try.

Henry Ford experienced financial brokenness five different times before he founded the successful Ford Motor Company. Walt Disney was fired from his job at a newspaper because he lacked imagination. Albert Einstein was considered mentally handicapped because he didn’t speak until between the ages of 3 and 4 years and he didn’t begin to read until after the age of seven. Isaac Newton did not do well in school and under his care, his family’s farm failed. An uncle took over and sent Isaac to Cambridge. Winston Churchill struggled in school and when he entered the political arena, he suffered repeated defeats before he finally was elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Harrison Ford was told he lacked the ability to be a star by film directors.

Some of you find yourself in failed businesses, marriages, educational pursuits, friendships, and projects. Life seems to be using you as a punching bag and you are tired. Some of you don’t want to fight anymore. What needs to happen is our perception of failure needs to change. We need to see failure as an experiment that didn’t quite work; learn what went wrong; and try something different or try it again. We need to take the discouragement that is weighing us down and get encouraged again. We need to leave the bitterness and hurt behind and move forward in a new direction. We need to cue the Rocky theme song in our lives and get going!

Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'”

God is not done with you. His plans for you are good! It isn’t over. What it takes is believing in a Father who loves you and wants what is best for you. Whatever you are facing today, you can rise above it; you can get through it; you can make a way; trust in the power of God.

Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the  power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

What are you sowing?

Galatians 6:8 reads, “The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”

I had a teacher once who told us, “If you plant watermelons, you’ll grow watermelons. If you plant beans, you’ll grow beans.” She often used this analogy while referencing homework. “If you do your homework, you’ll grow in knowledge.” Funny, I never commented to her about it, but I used to think, “Well, if what my teacher says is true, then if I do my homework, I should grow homework. I don’t want that!” Fortunately for my behind, I never made that connection to her apparent.

Recently, I heard a woman as she walked the aisles of the grocery store, “I am getting stronger every day. I can do this!” While her conversation to herself seemed strange, there is a great deal of wisdom in her words. We are what we think. And our actions are a reflection of who we are. Positive affirmation builds confidence. Negative builds destruction.

Have you ever counted the rings on a tree stump? Most of us have. The interesting part about the rings is they represent the year of the tree. Wider rings indicate nourishment; thinner rings indicate drought. The year of the tree is ingrained in the wood of the tree. Our yesterdays are a huge part of who we are today: the choices we’ve made; the attitudes we’ve maintained; the actions we’ve taken; all combined to give us the people we are.

An obvious thought is, if we are today what we are because of our past, then what we are in the future will be about our todays. What we plant today, we will harvest in our futures. Who do you want to be? How do you want to grow? What do you want to sow today to harvest in your tomorrows?

Change doesn’t come over night. Change is a process. When I was a boy, there was a campaign to plant more pine trees. At school we received a tiny pine tree to take home and plant in our yards. The roots were wrapped in a paper towel, and I was careful to bring that tree home in one piece! My mom showed me the best place to dig a small hole; water it; and put some mulch around it. The next day, I jumped out of bed and ran to my tree in the yard – nothing. It looked the same. Day-after-day – nothing. Finally, I asked my mom when it would grow. I was tired of waiting on it. She laughed and told me, “One day, when you least expect it, you will realize the tree has doubled in size, then tripled in size, and before you know it, you won’t even notice it anymore.”

Start today to sow a life grown in the Word of God. Obey His commandments. Make the scriptures ingrain in the wood of your life like the rings on a tree stump. Grow who you are strong and tall in the eyes of God.