Loving to the End

“Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” (John 13.1)

As I write this, my Grandma McPeak’s life in this world is coming to a close. Having lived with faith in Christ, she knows that death is not the end. Soon, she will be fully embraced in the loving arms of her Savior forever.

How do we face the aging, the dying, the death of loved ones? Jesus shows us the best way. Never stop caring. Never stop serving. Never stop loving.

My uncle Geoff is the one I look to, the one we all look to, to show us how to love “to the end.” Geoff devoted his life to care for her, to make sure her last years had purpose, joy, and comfort. Geoff made it possible for Grandma to stay home where she was queen of the castle, the queen mother, queen grandmother,…

Geoff saw that Grandma had care providers like Gladys who not only met her physical needs, but became like beloved family. Gladys, you helped Grandma immeasurably by listening to her stories, keeping her house clean, and baking her sweets. Especially baking her sweets.

Grandma McPeak, thank you for your life, your love, your smile, your faith. Especially your faith.

Promises, Promises

… he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1.6)

Mark Twain is known to have said, “I have no problem giving up tobacco. I’ve done it hundreds of times.”

I have started so many things with the best of intentions, only to watch them dissipate like suds on soda. This troubles me. Not for my own sake, but for the sake of my relationships. Too many times, I have sparked the hopes of my children with fun family plans only to dash them in exchange for work projects or other personal commitments. One thing I have come to find consistent in my life is my lack of consistency.

God isn’t this way. We can depend on God. Always. For everything. All that is needed for abundant life now and forever. With faith in Christ, we can count on God’s blessings even more than we count on the sun rise in the east and set in the west.

In Christ, God keeps His promises. For good.

Was He Only Dreaming?

In the fall of 1975, I opened my fresh new Language Arts textbook and found that some pages had been cut out.  I walked up to my teacher’s desk and his response was,

 ”I did that.  It was a story about Martin Luther King.  I don’t want you reading about some nigger who went around stirring up trouble.”

Yesterday, I was talking with an elderly woman who didn’t realize today was a holiday.

“What holiday is it?”

“Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday,” I replied.

“I swear.  Every body and his brother has a day named after him?  He didn’t do nothing.”

This morning, I was talking to a man in his 70s about King’s legacy.

“I know he preached non-violence,” he said, “but as soon as he’d finish his speeches, blacks would go around breaking into stores and stealing stuff.  I don’t care what the history books say.  I saw it on TV.”

While King is celebrated as a saint by nearly all African Americans and a vast majority of white Americans as well, there is still a pervasive racial attitude among some – perhaps those who find themselves on the wrong side of history – that King was anything but heroic.

In a climate of racial, ethnic, and religious hatred and division, we desperately need people of passionate faith and commitment to reconciliation. It is essential that we not cast Dr. King’s memory in stone, but allow his legacy to live on in us through relationships devoted to peace and justice.

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”   ―  Martin Luther King Jr.

God’s Word For Us

Read 2 Timothy 3.10-17

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

When my parents divorced, I quit going to church, I thought that since they taught me that God hates divorce, God must hate my parents, and me as well.

One thing the church taught me from an early age is the value of learning Scripture and taking it to heart. God speaks to in the words of the Bible, The Holy Spirit breathes life into us as we read God’s Word and hear it proclaimed. Every word, every verse, every book of both the Old and New Testaments help us come to a saving knowledge of God’s Word made flesh — Jesus Christ.

God’s Word in Scripture has carved a path for me in the wilderness of the world.

When I had a speech impediment, I took comfort in the story of Moses and found a way to convey what was essential.

When I struggled with my vocation, I was reassured by passages reminding me that God’s plans ultimately prevail.

As I have battled the ravages of mental illness, God puts my mind at rest as I listen to the peaceful words of the Bible.

As I wrestled with issues of guilt and shame over my own divorce, I relied on God’s promise that nothing could separate me from His love.

Scripture teaches us all we need to know about God and ourselves to embrace the saving love of Jesus Christ. No other book could can make this claim or offer us such hope. No other book equips us in this life for the next.

Gifts from God

Read Galatians 4.4-7

God’s gift in Christ comes in two packages. The first package is intimacy with God. In Christ, we can develop a personal relationship with God. The Spirit gives us the courage and desire to pray to God as a loving parent, “Abba,” “Father.” God is no longer an abstract concept, but one who walks with us, who listens to us, who cares for us. We no longer need to rely on a middle man, a priest or prophet to talk to God for us. We can talk to God ourselves. In faith, we can listen for God’s response and trust in our hearts that it comes in God’s own good time.

This gift of intimacy makes it possible for us to do good works not because we need to appease an angry God, but because we want to please our loving Father. When we act in kindness, when we promote peace and justice, when we comfort someone in pain, it’s like joining our Father at work in the world. By our words and deeds, we grow closer to God and feel the warmth of his embrace surround us.

At times, I marvel at how much some people of faith are able to accomplish. Sometimes I think I expect too little from myself and others because I forget how much God’s Spirit can do through us. When we tap into the energy and strength God provides, we spend less of ourselves and instead are filled to do even more. Sometime I forget this and try to conserve my energy when instead I need to be spending more, in the spirit of Christ. 

There was a woman named Gladys in my Greek class at seminary. She was 72 years old. She rode her bike five miles to come to class and five miles to get home. Several of us offered her rides, but she politely refused. I was in a study group with her and it was clear Gladys knew Biblical Greek better than any of us. I was greatly impressed by this.

But what impressed me even more was the Sunday I was asked to speak at Gladys’ church. She greeted me at the door and introduced me to nearly everyone who came. As I spoke, Gladys sat attentively in the front row, taking notes. She smiled an encouraging smile which eased my nerves.

After the service, Gladys excused herself. She said she had to visit a friend in a nursing home. It was then that I learned more of Gladys’ spiritual character. Countless people came up to me in the fellowship hall with a story about how Gladys had prayed with a dying loved one, how she had visited them in the hospital, delivered groceries when they were short on finances. So many acts of kindness that flowed not out of a sense of a desire to impress, but a longing for intimacy — with God, and with God’s children.

The second package we open from God’s gift to us is an inheritance. In Christ, we are made heirs of God’s promise. This promise of forgiveness and the gift of new life are intended for the whole world. Those who believe are charged with the responsibility to share this good news by what we say and do. Being a Christian is not so much a privilege as it is a responsibility. You become an heir not of some material good, but of a mission, a purpose.

As heirs of God in Christ, we are encouraged to good works not because it is our job, but because we are part of the family of faith. Unlike slaves who are compelled to work, we are invited to join God as a child joins her parent, out of the joy of being involved together. We need to be careful not to look on our inheritance as Christians as a privilege, but instead as an opportunity to do more for the Lord.

Our spiritual inheritance at times draws us away from our families. I think of King Saul’s son Jonathon. Jonathon knew that God had anointed David to become king and that Saul was wickedly striving against God’s will. Jonathon was led to deceive his father in order to uphold his spiritual inheritance. Jonathon shows us that when our earthly inheritance conflicts with our Godly inheritance, we are to choose the way of the Lord.

God’s gift to us in Jesus Christ are intimacy and an inheritance. These bountiful gifts bless us in this life and into eternity.

Going Home

Read Zephaniah 3.14-20

At that time I will gather you;
    at that time I will bring you home.  (Zephaniah 3.20a)

The people Israel were homeless; a small fish swimming between the huge whales of Egypt and Assyria. Israel, a once proud nation with much land, great wealth, a huge temple, now lived as resident aliens, depending on the mercy of strangers. Zephaniah encourages the people by reminding them of the faithfulness of God. God will restore Israel. Those living in exile will be brought home. Fortunes will be restored on the day of the Lord. It will be a great homecoming.

Arlene, a woman from our church, was taken to the hospital for a blood clot in her leg. When I visited her, the first thing she said was, “When will I go home?” I went to ask the nurse and she said they were waiting to hear from the doctor.

“I’m an old woman,” she said, “I’ll be 99.” I want to go home.” Then it dawned on me, she wasn’t just talking about the hospital. She wanted to her heavenly home, to be with her Lord and Savior. We prayed together and I asked God to bring her safely home, to give her peace while she waits, to surround her with loving care.

After the Amen she looked up with the same sparkle in her eyes. For a brief moment she was home. Someday she’ll be there forever.

Waiting for Christ

Read Luke 21.25-36

“Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21.36)

We don’t know when Christ will return. Not knowing, we wait. Our waiting can take on the character of anxious dread. We can become obsessed with interpreting signs, second-guessing God, trying to figure out God’s timing so we can deal with our dread.

There was a man put in charge of his company while the owner was away. The more time passed, the less incentive the man had to follow the owner’s direction. He became lax in his supervision, hired family and friends who weren’t qualified. Due to his inadequate leadership, he lost long-term clients and failed to recruit more.

He began to take long martini lunches, spend hours at the racetrack, even pay for sex from local prostitutes. He tried to do anything that would dull his sense that he was failing as a faithful steward of his company. He knew he should set things straight, but didn’t know where to begin. He dreaded his boss’es return, but did nothing to prepare.

We can’t predict Christ’s return. We can only wait. Waiting not with anxious dread that leads to sin. But wait and prayer and prepare with faithful action.