It is Well with My Soul

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Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 2 Peter 1:2

I love music, perhaps because my father was a musician and played piano his entire life. I was too lazy as a child to keep up with piano lessons, and switched to playing a bass violin until I was in high school.  When I retired a few years ago, I decided to join our worship team at church. I described myself as a 70-year old rookie since I have neither had  any formal training nor done any singing in my life.  None!   I have found joy in being a part of the worship experience.  I’ve learned a number of things, including reading music better, and realizing that the role of a worship leaders is to help others connect to God through music. The goal of the worship leader is not to call attention to themselves, but to have the privilege of leading others to an encounter with God. Or, as someone once said, if it’s not “happening” to the people in the seats, then what is happening on stage doesn’t matter.

I’ve also learned a number of songs, some of them new and some being older ones with an updated arrangement which still have a heart connection.  We recently performed the song  It is Well with My Soul, written by Horatio Spafford in 1873. The song has always been a favorite of mine. The song itself is remarkable, but the story behind the song is riveting and compelling.

Some of you may know the back story to the song’s creation, but in case you don’t it is worth repeating. The song was written by Horatio Spafford and the music composed by Phillip Bliss and has been a popular song since the late 1870’s.  Stafford, a wealthy lawyer and businessman in Chicago,  counted as friends noted Christians such as Dwight Moody, among others. At the height of his success, his son died at age 2 and shortly afterwards his vast property holdings were destroyed by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.  On top of that, his business interests were hit hard by a recession in 1873.  He had planned to travel with his family to Europe in 1873 for a long postponed vacation, but stayed behind to work on a zoning issue which came up from one of his properties affected by the fire two years earlier.

While his family was crossing the Atlantic on the SS Ville du Havre, the ship collided with another ship and sank quickly, causing the death of all four of Spafford’s daughters. His wife, Anna, survived and sent him a telegram which is now famous saying: “Survived alone.”

Spafford then followed on a ship Europe to join his grieving wife.  When his ship passed near the spot in the Atlantic Ocean where his daughters died, Spafford was inspired to write It is Well with My Soul.  Picture this:  a song as uplifting as this song is written by a man who had lost 4 children, and had suffered financial ruin, yet at that moment, he could pen the now famous words: “When sorrow like sea billows roll; it is well, it is well with my soul.”  While I have never experienced the death of a child, I have suffered financial setbacks, and I can tell you that in the middle of my own experience,  which pales in comparison, I don’t think I would have been able to write a song such as this.

Armed with the back story of Spafford’s circumstances, the lyrics of the song are made more remarkable.  I cannot imagine a father reflecting on his circumstances yet in such moment can pen the line “It is well with my soul.”  The first verse goes like this:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll

Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say

It is well, it is well, with my soul.

The ending of the Spafford’s story also needs to be told. After returning to America, he and his wife had three more children and moved to Jerusalem in 1881.  They helped set up a philanthropic effort called the American Colony which served Jews, Christians and non-Christians alike with philanthropic efforts.  The Colony was joined by Swedish Christians and played a critical role in providing soup kitchens, orphanages and hospitals to oppressed communities of Jews and Christians both during and after World War I. The Colony later became the subject of Jerusalem by the Nobel prize-winning Swedish author,  Selma Lagerlöf.

The theme of this post is how one finds grace and peace in God in the face of heartbreaking circumstances or tragedy in our lives. When we feel faith-less, God is faithful. When we feel weak, God is strong. Our challenge is the same as that faced by Spafford.   Our answer is what Spafford found: we need to rest in the hands of our Lord so that we may be able to sing It is Well with My Soul regardless of what life throws at us.  Only a belief in a loving God can inspire one to be at peace in every circumstance.  Spafford found a peace which was anchored in God in spite of the most debilitating adversity. He had hope – a hope that transcends all human understanding. We share that same hope and need to learn to lean into God when tragedy strikes.

Bill Mann

LYRICS:  You can find the lyrics to the It is Well with My Soul here: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/jarsofclay/itiswellwithmysoul.html

WORSHIP:  Listen to It Well with My Soul: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6yDFn3OAFo

A Matt Redman contemporary variation on this song can be found at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ygH1BXuP7Gs

COMMENT:  I would be delighted at comments on this or any other post.  I often don’t get much feedback, yet many who read these have told me they enjoy my posting. You can comment by clicking on the icon at the top of the page, or emailing me at otterpater@nc.rr.com.

SUBSCRIBE:  You can receive an email notice of each post by clicking on the icon at the top right corner of this site and entering your email address.

 

 

 

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Relevant

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For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. Romans 1:16

This is a topic that has been increasingly on the top of my mind.  The term relevant has a couple of definitions, but the one I am using it for is the definition of “having social relevance” or relating to a subject in an appropriate way.  For the past two millennia, Christians have sought to be relevant in their culture – to have an impact on the culture around them.  But in this time and place, the question is how can a Christian be relevant in an increasingly hostile culture?  In America, the very institutions that were designed to protect freedom of religion and freedom of speech – the courts – have now been turned against Christians in an alarming way.  This is a deeply disturbing trend and one which every leader or mentor needs to examine to come up with answers, because your mentees and followers are looking for solutions to this.  As Eric Metaxis said, we are living in a world that is being held hostage by relativism.  (https://home.isi.org/dictatorship-relativism-comes-campus)  Relativism, at its essence, denies that there is any truth, much less any absolute Truth with a capital “T”.

Metaxis provides an illustration which is interesting: “If you assert as a biological fact if you had an x and a y chromosome and you have male sexual organs, you are not a woman, you will be accused of being a hater and on the wrong side of history.”  Or, take abortions where even the staunchest pro-abortionist acknowledge that a fetus is a human being. Yet that doesn’t stop a woman in America, who has the right to “choose” what she wants to do with her own body, from having an abortion in late-term (7th through 9th month of pregnancy) where the baby’s chance of survival is medically possible today.

This absurdity was taken to a new level in logic when recently Gloria Steinem, in delivering the key address at a Planned Parenthood fundraiser, recently said: “Forced childbirth is the single biggest cause of global warming.” (http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2016/09/21/gloria-steinem-keynotes-planned-parenthood-fundraiser-forced-childbirth-single-biggest-cause-global-warming/).  Yes, you read that right.  She’s effectively justifying killing babies because it aids in holding down the world’s population which, she believes, has an impact on global warming. You might want to let that logic sink in. Killing unborn babies is justified as means of population control which, in turn, will save the planet from adverse climate change. That’s basically what she is saying. Moral right and wrong as we know it is being replaced by relativism – in this case, justifying murder to prevent climate change.

As a lawyer who practiced law for 45 years, I have watched these legal trends of the past couple of years with a great deal of trepidation and concern.  Even our Supreme Court has entered the fray with its 2015 legal decision that effectively sanctioned same-sex marriages using an analysis which, from my standpoint, is twisted and contorted.  Justice Thomas dissented in the case stating that the decision “is at odds not only with the Constitution, but with the [Christian] principles upon which our Nation was built.” I agree with him.

With that as a backdrop, I wonder what Christianity in the west will look like over the next 10 to 20 years if these trends continue.   As some have predicted, our voice in the marketplace is being repressed, marginalized, scorned and publicly derided.  This has all happened within a short time, and really is breathtaking and almost unthinkable.  A candidate for the President of the United States declared that “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases has to be changed”.  In other words, our leaders decree that politics trumps religious liberty and that two thousand years of Christian influence on culture is now passé.

I cannot come up with an easy fix nor a formula for a Christian to remain relevant to this kind of “soft” persecution.  By soft, I mean that it is unlike physical persecution faced by Christians in the middle east, Africa and elsewhere who have been killed, tortured, beheaded, raped or women and children enslaved for their beliefs.  I am not optimistic that things will get better quickly, although God has created revivals in the past, and certainly can do it again.  What it does mean is that we might have to look to Daniel who persevered and prospered while in a foreign land which was entirely contrary to his beliefs.  We need to read the Book of Daniel to see how he survived, and even thrived, in such a hostile environment, without ever sacrificing or altering his beliefs.

Often, the solution for the future resides in the past.  What did Jesus do when dealing with persecution and the religious elite who were against him because He represented a threat to the status quo?  Well, He invested in a few good men – first the 12, and then later the 70.  He built into them Biblical character, values and backbone which they, in turn, passed on to others. He changed the world by starting with a few. We can do the same.

My challenge is a difficult one.  I don’t know the answers, but I do know that we have to educate ourselves to these new threats to our beliefs and find ways to be relevant.  Our message to a dying world is universal, and we have to pray for ways to not only make Christianity survive during these times, but prosper in the coming decades.  The next generation has grown up in this secular environment and, while they don’t trust the church as an institution, they are open to seeking a spiritual component to their life. That’s the opportunity of a mentor – to be relevant to the next generation by investing in their lives. So if you are looking for a small step to take, develop a relationship with a millennial or someone in the next generation. They will be our leaders of tomorrow.  That’s what Jesus did. Follow Him. You can begin that journey now

Bill Mann

FURTHER STUDY:   A book that should be required reading for all in the West is It’s Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies, by Mary Eberstadt. The book documents the trends that have led to the culture to a post Christian worldview.  World Magazine, while a subscription publication, has a robust website which has commentary on trends affecting Christians.  https://world.wng.org.  Finally, www.breakpoint.org contains commentary and blogs on issues affecting Christianity.

COMMENT:  I would be delighted at comments on this or any other post.  I often don’t get much feedback, yet many who read these have told me they enjoy my posting. You can comment by clicking on the icon at the top of the page, or emailing me at otterpater@nc.rr.com.

SUBSCRIBE:  You can receive an email notice of each post by clicking on the icon at the top right corner of this site and entering your email address.

WORSHIP:  Listen to Matt Redman’s song You Never Let Go which reminds us that God will never abandon us even in times of trouble.                                 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NM14VZVu0og

 

En-Courage

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Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.  Acts 4:36,37

What does encouragement look like?  Better yet, what does encouragement mean?  Well, it’s definition includes giving support, confidence or hope to someone else, or even providing advice to someone so that they will “do or continue to do something.”  At one level, that’s what every mentor does.  It’s part of his genetic makeup to influence (in a good way) his mentee to action.  At a recent conference, I heard this quote:  “Life sucks courage out of us; we need to en-courage others to restore it.”

We all need a Barnabas in our lives, or, alternatively, we can be Barnabas to others.  One of the roles that mentor plays is to be an encourager – a Barnabas as it were – in the lives of his protégés. When a mentee faces a major decision, he often is unsure of his or her choices and it’s good to have a sounding board.  “Sounding board” is a term that one of mentees said of my role in his life.  When I look at the mentors in my own life, I saw people who were interested in my progress, not necessarily my success, although that followed in time. They were interested in helping me walk first, knowing that learning to run was the next step.

Recently, I sent an email to a pastor which referred to some of his sermons that I thought were beneficial, and I provided a link to finding them on-line.  He wrote me back the following: “Thanks for the encouragement, Bill.  I really needed it this morning!” Wow.  I had no idea it would reach him at a time when he needed encouragement.  Just a small word of affirmation goes a long way.

Larry Crabb, in his book The Silence of Adam: Becoming a Man of Courage in a World of Chaos, said that what the next generation is looking for is someone who can communicate three things:  i) “It can be done.”  Ii) “I believe in you.” and, iii) “You are not alone.”  Simple stuff.  Not complicated.  You don’t need to be a cheerleader shouting cheers on the sideline or learning complicated routines.  You need to quietly be a force in other’s lives, helping them to make their own decisions and plot their own destiny.  Just taking the time to invest in their lives with your time is an encouragement that speaks louder than words.

Regi Campbell of Radical Mentoring, has described the process of mentoring as a simple process of pouring what is in your cup into the cup of your mentee.  Having done that, the outcomes are not important.  You see, the outcomes are in God’s hands, not yours.  You cannot control the outcome of your mentee.  God wants to see breakthrough; you want to see progress. In this simple act, your role as a mentor is not to tell your mentee what to think, but how to think, using your life experiences and biblical worldview as a guide.

People who have not mentored try and complicate the process and make it more difficult than it really is.  If you show up in someone else’s life and do the three things that Larry Crabb suggests, you will be a great mentor.  You need no additional training. Your life experiences have provided you all the training that you need.  Some of those experiences were good; others,  not so much.  I’ve always felt that my difficult life experiences left me with better lessons to pass on than my successes.  As Albert Einstein is quoted, “Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, and the lesson afterwards.”  Mark Engelthaler, an executive pastor, related his personal experience in mentoring younger leaders, and is quoted as saying:  “Mentoring is simply pointing them [your mentee] in the right direction and walking with them on the journey.”

The challenge here is clear – identify someone who needs a Barnabas in their life, and reach out to them.  Take the initiative to be an encourager to someone else. The next generation is desperate for the Barnabas’s of the world to invest in their lives.  The process is simple – don’t over complicate it. Listening goes a lot farther than talking.  If you are younger, seek out someone who can be a Barnabas in your life.  You may be enriched beyond your expectations.  I hope this post is an encouragement to you to step up and get involved in someone else’s life.

Bill Mann

FURTHER STUDY:  A good site for mentoring material is located at https://radicalmentoring.com/recommended-books/   It contains a library of books and materials which are time-tested.  Read some anecdotal stories of pastors involved in mentoring from Lesa Engelthaler:  http://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2006/summer/8.84.html

WORSHIP:  Listen to Amanda Cook singing “You Make Me Brave”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Hi-VMxT6fc

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Criticism

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John the Baptist didn’t spend his time eating bread or drinking wine, and you say, “He’s possessed by a demon.” The Son of Man, on the other hand, feasts and drinks, and you say, “He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!” Luke 7:33-34”

In the above passage, both John the Baptist and Jesus get criticized for the same thing, only for opposite reasons.  The Pharisees and Sadducees of biblical times were non-stop critics. They criticized John for not eating or drinking enough, and then turned on Jesus for eating and drinking with tax collectors, prostitutes and other sinners.  Hard to see any consistency in that. But they were really trying to find fault in two people who exposed their hypocrisy of emphasizing outward religious actions as a replacement for true religion.

I don’t know about you, but I really don’t handle criticism well.  Never have. Even “constructive” criticism.  It was equally as hard for me to hand it out – in my 45 years of law practice, including 10 years in management of a large firm, I had to perform periodic “reviews” of attorneys and staff under my supervision.  In some cases, the reviews were difficult due to inadequacies of the person involved.  In my later years, and after I became in Christian, I became more comfortable with the review process by spooning out criticism with praise for things well done.  No person, even if they have serious shortcomings, deserved a totally bad review.  Everyone has some redeeming qualities, and I would often use the review session to encourage the good ones and then talk about areas where they could improve.

In this day and time, Christians are now being criticized – not for what they have done, but for what they stand for and believe.  Their biblical stands on marriage, homosexuality and abortions are now counter-cultural.  Matthew Rueger recently wrote a “back to the future” book entitled Sexual Morality in a Christless World which expands on this theme.

In a review of the Rueger’s book Eric Metaxas says this: “In just a few short years our society has fundamentally altered the meaning of marriage, embraced the notion that men can become women, and is now promoting the idea that grown men should be welcome to share a bathroom with women and young girls. Not unexpectedly, we’re also seeing movement toward the normalization of polygamy, pedophilia, and incest.” The current progressive advancement of same sex marriage, marital infidelity and more is not a new phenomenon but is actually a return to the pagan world of Rome.  In the Roman culture, Christian concepts of marital fidelity, self-giving love and sexual chastity were considered foreign, even shocking to the people of that time.

I won’t go into all of the causes of this current cultural shift, but one of the factors is the  decline of Christianity in the west. This decline now has made the Christian in the public eye “old fashioned”, “out of touch”, or increasingly, having their views labeled as discrimination.  Again, this is what Jesus and John faced – not just criticism for what they believed, but for who they were.  We are seeing a dangerous trend in our culture where just expressing views of the sanctity of marriage between male and female because of biblical beliefs is considered discrimination.  A case in point – the small Christian owned bakery that refuses to make a cake for a gay wedding results in a lawsuit and a criminal charge of discrimination.

About twenty years ago – in the mid-1990’s – I foresaw some of these trends and commented that the cost of being a Christian in the 21st century will go up as Christians are increasingly marginalized for their biblical views.  Sadly, I was right. We are facing criticism from liberals and progressives who have advanced an “anything goes” mentality when it comes to human sexuality and life.

There is hope – Christianity reversed the pagan culture of Rome by communicating value to the victims who were often slaves who learned that their body had value – not in the monetary sense as a personal property to be enjoyed or abandoned by their owner – but eternal value as having been made in God’s image.  We need to learn to articulate our worldview in a convincing winsome way.  Our church did something this summer that I thought was brave and forward thinking:  they did a series of messages entitled the “Untouchables”.  Each of the sermon topics were not normal Sunday sermon content – the topics included a Christian and biblically based worldview about sexuality, poverty, racism and discrimination, refugees and immigration, and sex trafficking. We need more of this type of teaching.

The challenge here is obvious, but no less so that what faced Christians in the Roman era. We are now faced with worldview that has returned to a pagan revival of sexuality and the diminished value of human beings.  Christ and his church managed to turn the tide against a far more sexually cruel and chaotic world than ours.  That’s the hope we have in Jesus – we can turn the tide again, but it will take dedication and backbone to learn to communicate Christian values in a world that is increasingly anti-Christian. I would encourage you to read and learn more about these topics so that you will be educated and armed to articulate and express your biblical views in the marketplace.

FURTHER STUDY:  Eric Metaxis’ article entitled “Progressive Regressive Sexuality” can be found at http://www.breakpoint.org/bpcommentaries/entry/13/29815.  Matthew Rueger’s book can be purchased on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Sexual-Morality-Christless-Matthew-Rueger-ebook/dp/B01GP8H83M/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1474117191&sr=1-1&keywords=matthew+rueger  Other commentaries can be found on Chuck Colson’s website Breakpoint (www.breakpoint.org) which is designed to help believers form a healthy and robust Christian worldview “in an increasingly hostile secular culture” where Christians are now faced with “issues and choices we’ve never had to deal with before.” 

UNTOUCHABLES:   You can see the sermon series entitled the “Untouchables” here: http://www.cccpinehurst.org/resources/sermons/?page=2

WORSHIP:  Listen to Christ Tomlin sing about a “well that never runs dry”.

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Resiliency

 

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We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.   2 Corinthians 4:8-10

In preparing for a recent Institute session for MentorLink , we were asked to find adjectives that described Paul’s character based on the passage of 2 Corinthians 4:5-18.  We came up with more than 20 or so adjectives. Some were obvious like undeterred, servant or humble. The one, however, that resonated with me was “resiliency” – Paul’s uncanny ability to plow through all kinds of adversity, obstacles and setbacks, yet never lose his focus on Jesus.  As Viktor Frankl, a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau, a Nazi concentration camp in World War II, said “Man can survive almost anything if he knows the “why” of his existence.  Resiliency is defined as the ability “to recover quickly from misfortune; able to return to original form after being bent, compressed, or stretched out of shape”. Paul knew the “why” of his existence was Jesus which permitted him to bounce back after every adverse circumstance.  He was truly resilient.

I came to faith at age 38.  I had this misconception rolling around in the back of my mind that my life would be better.  Not only that, but that my faith would eliminate all of the bumps, setbacks and circumstances that afflicted other non-believers.  Well, part of the misconception was true – my life was better with a new-found faith in Jesus.  But my problems didn’t go away.  In fact, a few years later, my financial life worsened for me to the point of owing more money than I could ever pay back.  Bankruptcy, in layman’s terms, means that your debts or financial obligations exceed your assets.  I was there in spades – I had been a general partner on twenty-seven real estate projects which, due to a tax law change in 1986, suddenly became problems.  As a general partner, I was liable to the banks that lent money on the various projects – to the tune of some $55 million.  My financial partners, save one, all stopped paying their share of liabilities, so the result was a series of foreclosures and forced sales resulting in little or no proceeds to be able to pay other banks.  It took me about 9 years to work my way through it.

During this time, I had two children at a boarding school and then in college so I was having to keep up with their tuition expenses.  Meeting their educational obligation came first to me.  I also struggled to keep my emotional life in balance, and in fact, burned out to a point that I had to take time off to recover – not once but twice.  It was not a pretty sight, and it was definitely not what I would call a “better” life.  Yes, I had Jesus, but He doesn’t just take us out of our difficulties; instead, He wants to walk with you through them.  I would have preferred it if He had miraculously solved all of them instantly, but His way is not our way.

At my lowest point in 1992, I had a watershed conversation with my wife. We were sitting down at our breakfast table, and she asked me “how bad is our situation?”   Well, I replied, “we could lose everything we own – our house, our cars, what little assets we have left.  Everything.”  Without pausing, she said “No, that’s not everything, and certainly it’s not everything that is important.  We have our relationship with God, we have each other, our children and our friends.  What else matters?  They cannot take those away from us.”  Wow! I don’t know about you, but that was pretty powerful.  From that point on, it shaped my attitude to something positive.  It built resiliency in me – a strength to take on the daily battles and ups and downs and put them in a spiritual context so that no matter what happened to me financially, it didn’t matter because I will still have everything that’s important.   All of a sudden, “stuff” was not important.  Relationships, family and friends were.  It also helped me regain my sense of humor which had been battered by circumstances that were very un-funny.

I look back on those days as a turning point moment in my spiritual life.  I realized, for the first time, that I was totally dependent on God, and when I finally let go trying to do it on my own, He intervened, sometimes in miraculous ways by providing surprising resources to pay obligations that were beyond my reach at the time.  The silver lining, I learned later, was that my financial distress actually was an unseen blessing.  Had I not gone through those difficult days financially, I am sure I may have over-indulged my children to their detriment.  Instead, I was only able to meet their basic needs so they didn’t learn to live in an extravagant way.  It has shaped all three of them to this day.

My challenge to you is “see” your adverse circumstances the way God sees them – as a way of building your character.  Instead of praying for Him to remove you from adversity, you might consider praying for Him to take you through those circumstances. Learn to be a Paul who never took his eyes off Jesus, even in the worst of adversity.  You will be surprised at the resiliency that comes from that kind of dependency on God.  In fact, you might even get your sense of humor back once you realize that dependency on God means you can find humor in what would otherwise be dire times.  It will bless you beyond imagination.

Bill Mann

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WORSHIP:   Listen to Amy Grant sing Better than a Hallelujah which describes how God sees our circumstances as opportunities for growth.  The lyrics go:

We pour out our miseries

God just hears a melody

Beautiful, the mess we are

The honest cries of breaking hearts

Are better than a Hallelujah

https://www.google.com/#q=better+than+a+hallelujah

 

 

 

If Only

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Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”  “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ Luke 12:18-21

The events of 9/11/2001 will forever be etched in the memories of those who were alive at the time fifteen years ago. I watched a documentary on the 15th anniversary of this event on the History Channel entitled 102 Minutes that Changed America.  It was chilling because the documentary was pieced together from actual photography and videos taken by non-professionals and clips of actual voice mails and calls from people trapped on the upper floors of the World Trade Center.  It was riveting. The people had no way to escape and they knew it.  Each of them reached out to their loved ones by cellphone.   Every one of the voicemails had the phrase “love” in it, either  addressed to the recipient or to be communicated to other family members. They were saying goodbyes – doing things that they might have a chance to do.  As the scripture notes, Jesus tells the rich man that you don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  Use it wisely for the kingdom, not for yourself.

You often hear stories of people who are ill. They go from doctor to specialist, until eventually, someone finally determines that they have a terminal condition and they are told they have a short time to live. What are their thoughts?  Well, the normal give and take of our daily routine gives way to all out lazer focus on what should you do in the little time you have left.  All of a sudden your values change. Things that were important are immediately irrelevant.  It could be you; it could be me.

Material possessions no longer matter.  A vacation home is irrelevant.  All at once, your life comes crashing down on you with time running out.  What would you do?  What would you think was important if it happened to you?  Well, I’ve thought about that for some time, and the one thing I wouldn’t want to say is something like “if only” I had done something for someone, or said something like “I love you” to someone I care about.  All of a sudden, relationships trump everything else that used to be important.  I wouldn’t want to feel guilty – a guilt caused by not having said what I wanted to my wife, my children and my grandchildren.  Telling them that I love them matters more than anything else I could imagine.  This past weekend, I was able to see all of my children, their spouses, and all but one of my 9 grandchildren, and each of them know that I love them.  It was said sometimes with a hug, or even spoken.

My father died suddenly about twenty-five years ago. Totally unexpected. He was in the hospital for minor surgery – a hernia operation – and spent the night at the hospital. While checking out, something went terribly, terribly wrong and a blood clot killed him while he was still in the hospital. At his funeral, I came up with my version of “if only”, except I called it “no regrets.”  The concept is to live life in such a way that if we are suddenly taken away, we won’t leave anything unfinished behind with those who we love and care about.  I am glad I visited my father in the hospital the night before he died, because the last thing I said to him when we left was “I love you!”  Since that time some 25 years ago, I have tried to live my life with “no regrets.”  I think about my legacy to others.  You may only get one chance to invest in others lives. Why not start today?

My challenge is for you to think about your life, your friends, your family or your relationship to God.  What is it that you would change so that if you had a brief time left, what would you say or do differently?   Who would you reach out to?  Whose life can you invest in by developing a mentoring relationship. We only get one chance at life – make the most of it and start expressing your feelings for those you love today.  Don’t put yourself in a position to think “if only” and start living life with no regrets.

Bill Mann

PICTURE.  The picture above is of the remaining wall from the destruction of the World Trade Centers on September 11, 2001.  It is a reminder that we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  The people who went to work on that day did not expect their day to end as being the object of a terrorist attack.

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WORSHIP:    Listen to Paul Balochi sing the song Today is the Day.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnelJ_PsHuQ

 

Affluenza

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“Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”[…..] “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.”

This is a topic I’ve reflected on for many years.  The wealthy young man in Matthew 19 wanted to know what it takes to get to heaven. Jesus response initially is to obey the commandments, and the man asked which ones?  Actually that response shows a level of naiveté since all of the commandments are important.  Still, the young wealthy man presses on and says he kept the short list but wanted more.  Jesus’s response is interesting:  He says “if you want to be “perfect”, then give up your wealth.  Perfect?   Do you want to be “perfect” in God’s eyes?  Wow!  What a promise.  But the promise has a catch – being perfect in God’s eyes means that you have to relinquish everything in your hands that holds you back.  To the wealthy young man, he had to give up his wealth, which saddened him because he knew that was too costly a price to pay.

This story is one which put a strong emphasis on self-sacrifice.  What do we have to give up to be “perfect’ in God’s eyes.  It’s been my long-standing opinion in the western world that our wealth – or affluence – is in direct opposition to our ability to be dependent on God.  When one is affluent, one has all of their economic and physical needs met.  You don’t get up in the morning wondering where your food for the day will come.  In biblical times, however, the definition of a wealthy person was one who had a cloak on his back, and a spare cloak to sleep on, and food for the next day’s meal accounted for.  For us, that would not be considered extravagant of wealthy, but just meeting the bare essentials.  What a far cry from our world where many in America have multiple cars, multiple televisions, multiple houses, etc.

Affluenza is a term coined recently in a TV series which chronicled the social impact of materialism and over-consumption.  Its definition is “a psychological malaise supposedly affecting wealthy young people, symptoms of which include a lack of motivation, feelings of guilt, and a sense of isolation.”  Note that it results in an attitude of lack of motivation for any purpose in life since wealth has effectively been an anesthetic to the soul.

Affluenza – or having the condition of affluence – has contributed to a shocking impact on spirituality in Europe.  Two generations ago, 75% of people in France were Christians.  Now, after several decades of relative affluence, that number is 5%.  The same is happening in the United States – people who have the material means to glide through life without many financial cares just don’t see any need to have a spiritual life because they feel invincible.  Well, they feel invincible until a bump in the road comes, like the conversation with your doctor when you find you have a terminal illness and have only a month to live, or when you get a phone call that your child has been in a serious accident.  At that moment, your wealth can’t help the situation.

If it were up to me, I would add affluence to make it the eighth “deadly” sin since its impact is culturally accepted yet its damage is pervasive.  Our culture approves if one betters his station in life.  Nothing wrong with that, but one of the unintended consequences of success is a loss of spiritual direction and a dependency on God.  Only when you are dependent on God for everything will you realize that even our financial success is a result of God’s grace.

Our challenge is the same one in the Matthew passage – if we want to be “perfect” then we have to be willing to give up what holds us back from being totally reliant on God.  It may not be material possessions – it could be something else like an ambition for power, or a sexual addiction or even a hobby that consumes you.  Until you are willing to let go and let God, you won’t be perfect in God’s eyes. That’s a challenge for all of us, because if you are like me, you are holding on to something tightly that God wants you to let go of.  May today be the day that you start to loosen your grip on whatever is holding you back from being “perfect” in God’s eyes.

Bill Mann

PICTURE:  The picture above is of The Marble House in Newport, Rhode Island, which was built in the early 1900’s along with scores of other mansions which were “summer cottages” of the very rich and portray the “gilded opulence of a bygone era”.  http://www.newportmansions.org

WORSHIP:  Listen to Vertical Church Bank sing about being freed of shackles in a high intensity song which is one of my favorites: