The End of the Road

Helping families deal with the end of life issues is such a emotional gut punch. When the term "hospice" is brought up, there is a catch in the voice as that term is realized for what it is. Death is coming for the family in the future. Loss, regret, end of life good byes, getting the house in order financially, numbness and emptiness in the brain, which leads to the shedding of tears. 

Inside each of us there is a voice that screams "NO! This is not right, it is not as it should be!" And that voice is right. God never intended death to be the last word. 

In Mark 8 it is recorded that Jesus tells his disciples plainly he will die in the near future. Then be raised to life. Peter, being who he is, grabs Jesus and tells him no way. But then Jesus turns and sees his disciples wavering, not sure what to believe. "But you can't die!" must be in their thoughts. Jesus is giving them a hospice warning. Because hospice says life is about end in the near future. 

Jesus does die, but he comes back, and brings victory over that dreaded last enemy: death. Paul writes that death has lost it's sting for those who believe in Him. But my point in this today is that Jesus understands the trauma of the End of the Road as we face it. He gets the fear, the wavering of our faith, the "Is it really true?" that there is life beyond death. He weeps at this, with us, because he know how it feels to lose a loved one on this earth. So don't be ashamed of how you feel, or think you are a wimp. The End of the Road is real, but it leads to life everlasting. There is no Hospice in Heaven!

Fire and Fury at the Gates

Did you wake up this morning with a sense of being overwhelmed and helpless? That you are surrounded on all sides with nowhere to run?

in 2 Kings King Hezekiah felt that way. The powerhouse army of Assyria is outside the walls, taunting him and ready to blow up Jerusalem. "That God of yours is worthless like all the others!" "He can't save you!"

Hezekiah goes to church. He falls flat on his face. He begs God for help. And God answers, and wipes out the Assyrian army overnight. That story is in the Scripture not just for history, but as a lesson for those of us who believe in Him today. When desperate faith is verbalized, God hears and moves.

What is your "Assyrian Army" that is taunting you with jeers about life and your faith? "You screwed up so bad there is no way God is gonna help you this time!!" "You really are a loser!"

Trust, Turn, Try! Admit your great need, and believe in His great power. Make friends with your needs, they lead you to God!

 

First Love

I had my "first love" experience in 5th grade. My heart did back flips every time this cute girl would walk into a room. We even "went steady" for a while, until I caught her kissing another guy backstage in the auditorium. I was wounded and hurt for a while after that. 

According to the Psalms, God knows about "first love" too. He knit us together in our mother's womb. He beamed with pride at us as we grew inside her. You were His "first love" because there is no one else like you in your uniqueness. He still does heart flips over you, particularly when He sees you do things He created you to do. 

"Did you see THAT?" echoes through the halls of Heaven when He bellows out applause for your giftedness. The angels join Him in applause as the echoes thunder through Heaven. But He also can be hurt and feel the jolt of sharp pain when you walk away from Him. His emotions run deep in His feelings over you. " His Spirit tugs and pleads with you: "Come back to me!" 

Do you ever pause to think about that? A suffering God, who cherishes you from the womb to the grave? Who desires a close walk day by day, just listening to the sound of your voice. He knows the plans He has for you, for good and not for harm, per the Scriptures. 

Don't reject your First Love today! Spend time with Him, tell him about your day (prayer), and ask HIm to guide and direct your steps. "Go steady" with God today. 

"Ain't that right?"

Growing up in the South, I often would visit a friend of mine at his home during my teen years. My friend's mother had an annoying way of trying to get me to agree with anything she stated as fact, by saying "Ain't that right?" in her Southern drawl. It was her manipulative way of trying to get my acknowledgement that she was correct in her views. I was at a loss to know how to speak up if I did not agree with her, because courtesy when you are a guest in that culture is considered paramount. So I would go home agitated and irritated that I did not know how to speak up without causing offense. 

Do your friends do the same to you today? Do they assume that you agree with everything they say or do? Do you feel manipulated when that happens? Do they pull out the "Ain't that right?" on you?

Friends, speak the truth in love. Let your voice convey firm compassion as you say: "I understand your point, but....." or "I am not sure I agree because......". Don't be silent when truth is begging to be spoken, to someone that you care about. They may be assuming control of an issue that you know needs confronted. Proverbs says that wounds from a friend are better than kisses from an enemy.

Stand up, Speak up, Shut up. And let your friend hear truth from your mouth. Keep your friend from grievous error. Because "That IS right!"

Dust in the Wind

Years back there was a hit song by a group called Kansas entitled "Dust in the Wind". Extremely secular, it describes the futility of life as being dust in the wind.

Psalm 103 does much the same thing, except from an eternal perspective. Verse 14 states that God knows our frame, that we are dust. He gets us because He made us. God does not expect perfection from us today, because He knows us all too well. But He does expect us to look around and see He is a powerful God and worthy of admiration and praise.

He is so merciful and kind to us when we mess up, and looks upon us in love, He is quick to forgive when we admit our wrong. If you did not have this type of earthly father, this may sound strange and foreign to you, But don't you want this type of "Daddy" watching over you, even as an adult?

Yes, we are "dust in the wind" in this life. But not like the song from Kansas. We are eternal "dust" that has meaning in this life and the next. God richly rewards those who pursue that perspective. Why not you?

Purpose

The New Testament teaches that the Spirit of God holds back the worst impulses of men, but even so there is plenty of evil to go around in our days. In the times of the Old Testament it is recorded that child sacrifice was common in serving Baal. Cannibalism is written concerning the people of Israel during a siege against the capital city and great famine. It is disturbing and disgusting how low the human mind can sink to survive. Evil thrives when life become all about me and my desires. We are reduced to the level of animal behavior.

Today we live in a time of record wealth, low unemployment, and prosperity in America not seen before on this planet. Yet the unhappiness won't go away, as men and women seek for something they know is out there, yet unattainable. I read today a news article about a pro sports team afflicted with "the disease of me". Supremely talented, they only care about themselves and "getting paid".

Without a real purpose in this life, "the disease of me" is universal. We grasp and groan and whine when our wants are not met.

I have found that only in serving Jesus and others is there any real satisfaction in this life. I enjoy having food, shelter, and clothing, to be clear. But I have found my Purpose is not in "things", but instead seeing life through the eyes of Jesus, who did come down to be served, but to serve others.

How about you?

Gary Luiten

A Person of Integrity

Psalm 100 speaks of being a person of integrity at home. The goal of the Christ-follower is consistency, transparency, and a life that can stand up to scrutiny, especially at home with family.

The truth is that your family knows you better than anyone else. Nothing much is hidden from their eyes. If your behavior patterns are radically different on Sunday from the rest of the week, the family will see and perceive it quickly.

None of the followers of Christ achieve perfection in this life, that occurs when we go to Jesus when He returns, or we fade from these earthly bodies. But a Person of Integrity understands that God is slowly changing us from the inside out, to be more like Jesus in this life. An imperfect copy, to be sure. But the wisdom and integrity becomes more pronounced and observed as we daily ask to be more like Him. 

Do you believe this? Do you want this in your life? Don't be a game playing Christ follower, who wants to be seen with a halo on his head on Sunday. Be a Monday-Saturday believer too, full of holes and warts, but confident He is pleased with you. Be that Person of Integrity in your home!

True Friendship

One of he hallmarks of an unsafe person is that they are willing to apologize, but not willing to change their behavior. If you have a friend who is more concerned about being caught than taught when they fail you in word or deed, a problem exists. That person cannot be trusted with your confidential matters, and a boundary needs put in place.

Look for true friendship where a friend truly grieves when they fail you, and their character is beyond reproach. Over time they are consistent in their care for you, and their lips do not leak your secrets.

Perfect friends do not exist in this life, but God has made us for relationships. Cherish character in the friends you trust! They are priceless.

Isolation kills the soul. God knew Adam needed companionship, and made Eve. The power of connection enhances our lives, fills our emotional lungs with fresh air, and provides shelter when the storms of life pound on our heads. Don't hide; abide in the character of those people who choose love toward you, warts and all!

The Last Battle

I sat with a family yesterday as their loved one was dying. There was nothing they could do to help him but give medicine to ease the pain.

This man knew Jesus, and as I prayed with him I assured him that per Scripture Jesus was waiting to embrace him soon. Shortly after this prayer happened, he died.

Watching these frail bodies expire and surrender to death is so hard for the family of the loved one. When my oldest sister died last year the last few hours were brutal to see the suffering. What was once vibrant was decaying.

Without the power of victory over death that Jesus provided, yesterday could be viewed as tragic and meaningless. But as Paul wrote, "Where is your victory and sting, death?"

This brother in Christ is now enjoying his decision to accept Jesus as his Savior. His family grieves, but they know where he is today with certainty. And they have hope for this life and the one to come. The Last Battle is over!

Gary Luiten

Rusty Hinges

Reaching out to try to find safe friendship is a difficult task. Because if do not proceed with a caution flag in the building of the friendship, you are not being wise. Within all of us in Christ we battle the selfish impulses so much. We want to protect ourselves, because we know the pain of rejection and loss. So the doors of our hearts become rusty, as we live a life of heart failure.

Recently I had the strange experience of 3 close friends who were rushed to the hospitals with physical heart problems within 5 days. Thankfully, not one of them died. Their passing into eternity would have devastated my emotions and spirit.

Yet I do grieve when I see people who have emotional "heart attacks" walking around. They have so inoculated themselves from being close to anyone, that a conversation about the weather is considered successful. There rusty hinges of their heart cannot open up, which they know they want but are terrified to do.

Friendship, real honest deep friendship, should never be rushed into. The seeds of friendship take time, to see the character of the friend in the winds of life. Are they a "safe" person? Can they keep your secrets in confidence? Do they demand trust right away, or they do they earn it slowly and correctly?

Take a risk soon, and try developing new and loving friends. Put some WD-40 on those rusty hinges of your heart. Your Creator designed you for this, to love and be loved! Take your time, and allow love to grow. It is so much better than living in a cave alone.

Gary Luiten

The First Roar

Have you ever experienced the roar of the oceans? As the surf pounds and the water slams against the rocks, the noise level can be awesome and conversation nearly impossible. But the effect of those moments last with you, the incredible power of the sea.

Psalm 96 speaks of the power of the sea, and the trees voicing their praise toward their Creator. That He is worthy of praise.

There is plenty of other noise that is loud and demands of our attention today. Bills need paid, a family member needs immediate care, cars break down, the "roar" of the day is ever before us.

But remember to praise your Creator as the First Roar you do today. He is the giver and sustains Life itself, and he would like you to know He is thinking of you today. Think of the trees "clapping" their limbs together in the wind. The oceans "roaring" their might as they crash into the land. The use of the moon as its gravitational pull keeps the water from overwhelming the land.

So do the First Roar of your day. Join the sea and trees in saying "Thank You, Daddy!" for the gift of this day!

Gary Luiten

Pursing Wonder

King Solomon had every earthly blessing a person in this life can imagine. He was an extraordinarily brilliant writer, thinker, and out of his mouth flowed wisdom that brought other rulers to his throne just to listen to him. 

His wealth was truly staggering. I Kings lists how much he possessed. Yet he found it all so empty. In the end he found no comfort in any pleasures of this life. No amount of riches, no amount of beautiful women, exotic food, could ever satisfy his soul. Ecclesiastes is his bitter lament at the end of his life. 

In 1 Timothy 6 the Apostle Paul tells his student Timothy to not forget wonder in this life. Money in itself is a worthless god who is never satisfied, and the lust for it drives men to serve it ruthlessly.

Today I see the beauty of a spring day outside, the birds are singing, the gentle breeze of the day. I have food, shelter, and clothing. Yes, there are times of suffering in this broken world. And misery often brought on at times by the darkened hearts of those who only serve their own desires.

But for just a few moments today, can you get lost in the wonder of what is around you? Can you praise your Creator for his active role in sponsoring the air, sunlight, breezes, and the friends who love you today? These are hints of lies before us in Eternity.

Could you do that today?

Gary Luiten

Just between you and me.......

How did you feel the last time you and a friend disagreed about something? Did you withdraw or engage when that happened? It is easier to withdraw, honestly, and pull back. Lick your wounds, and protect yourself.

But that is not the way of true friendship. Choose engagement, if that friend thorough their character over time has shown to be trustworthy and safe.

"What did I say that offended?", "Help me understand...", use these types of "reach out" statements to show engagement in the friendship. And don't go defensive when you get a response that surprises you.

Reaching out to restore unity is godly. In the end, you may have to agree to disagree on that subject.  But hang on to that "safe person". They are gold in a dull and colorless world of empty attachments. Engage in what really matters! 

A Ragged Heart

In my job I hear stories, lots of personal stories. Of loss, of pain, of suffering. The tears flow, the voice catches, the eyes grow weary. The shoulders slump, and out of the person's mouth I hear what happened and the ugliness of it.

My heart responds, and I want to "fix it". But I can't. The searing pain, the hopelessness of the story, and I want to DO something. A righteous fire builds within me, and I want to defend this ragged soul, who has shared their thorny and wrenching agony.

Instead, the Lord tells me "just listen!" So I share compassion with my voice, my eyes, my body language. I am NOT to be the white knight, the hero of the story I just heard. But I try to show this friend I care deeply. 

Friends, the eyes are the windows of the soul. Should you get the opportunity to listen to a broken soul in the days ahead, be prepared. Do not make rash promises to fix things. Show compassion by your eyes, and be ok to weep with those who weep. Where appropriate, use the power of touch. Pray fervently for wisdom as you listen, and ask for the right words (used judiciously) when the broken soul looks to you for them. Don't be ashamed to pray out loud for comfort for the wounded friend. In your own style.

God has put you in that situation on purpose, to listen much, speak only when necessary, and pour the salve of compassion on that broken and bleeding friend. You are created for that moment, and equipped to show the heart of Jesus. You don't need a PHD to give away your heart. In the words of Isaiah in the Old Testament: "Here am I. Send me!"

"Why would they do that?"

So just how is it with you and your parents/family this morning? Is there peace between you, and can you have a healthy conversation without anger and finger pointing? What about other family members? Does the mention of a family member get your blood pressure rising?

Absalom turned on his father David and tried to steal his power and authority. But David did not seek vengeance, to his credit. And he grieved the loss of his son when zealous soldiers of his killed Absalom. Death did not heal his deep wound over his son. And it won't stop your wound, either.

It is very easy to seek retribution when family turns on us. We want our cause to be justified, to seek to clear our good name. "How could my parents/family member turn and say or do such a thing about me??" And the urge to strike back with hot words is so close to the surface.

Some of you have already lost your parents to death, while others have a tenuous friendship will your living parents. Are there steps you can take to heal old wounds? Can you honestly say you have exhausted all options to restore what is broken in your family?

You are not a pinata to be sliced and diced by family or those who have betrayed you. And yes, there are boundary issues which need examined. But please,  know in your heart you have done all that is possible to restore what is broken, before the door closes permanently on parents and family.

Romans speaks of "as far as it is possible, be at peace with those around you". That includes your parents and family, especially blood related. Don't be a martyr, be a restorer!

A Desolate Woman

II Samuel relays the wrenching story of Tamar, a daughter of King David. Scripture says she is a beautiful woman. But she is raped by his own brother, Amnon, who schemes a way to bring her to his bed. 

She protests and tries to reason with him, but he won't listen. And because he "is stronger than her", he fulfills his lust. Afterwards he feels hatred for her, and throws her out, with her weeping. And the Bible says that Tamar lived as a "desolate woman". Scripture doesn't try to make this a G rated story, or glamorize it Hollywood style. It simply relays truth as to how dark the heart can be, even in families.

There are women who read this today and possibly some men who can relate to this story of sexual abuse. Of physical violation, of the loss of self respect, of the feelings of "desolation" and being held in contempt by the sexual perversion of the one "stronger than you".

If this is you today as you read this, my heart breaks for you. God weeps as well. He gives men and women free will, and this is a part of the choice he gives us for good or evil. And in our culture today, sadly there are more and more "Tamar's" who exist.

The evil doer who perpetrates this monstrous act WILL be held accountable before God. But that doesn't heal the hurt now, and shame of the one who was violated and then tossed aside as garbage.

Seek help if this is you. Don't be a desolate woman (or man). Go to a godly counselor or pastor and let them help process what happened, to bring healing to the scars you carry. There is hope and healing. The shame can be overcome. Don't be a silent Tamar!

Gary Luiten

The Price of Desire

I always cringe inside when I read the story of David and Bathsheba. I like my heroes to be really good in all they do.

Yet David, who has everything in this life, goes off the rails when he sees Bathsheba taking a bath. He summons her for one purpose: to satisfy his physical desires.

When she becomes pregnant, the downward spiral gets worse. An honorable man, her husband Uriah, is murdered in battle, so David can cover up his sin. It is heart wrenching to see the heroic David stoop this low.

But God calls him on the carpet in the person of Nathan the Prophet. And death and intrigue never leave David's home and family after this.

But David repents, and is forgiven. And Solomon is the result, for he and Bathsheba. And Solomon has it all and throws it away on his desires, too. What a wreck!

Guard the eyes of your heart. And be content with what and who you have in this life. We are no different than David and Solomon!

The Loss

When my friends Jeff and Dave were rushed to the ER within three days of each other, both with searing heart pain, it was a "are you kidding me" moment for me.

One suffered a massive heart attack, the other yet to be determined as to the cause. Two men who are close brothers to me, struck down. Men in apparent good health, who love Jesus and follow Him daily. Yet afflicted physically with potentially the Big One.

Friends, do not assume that as we follow Jesus we become His cosmic pets. His plans for us are good, yet at His timing He may summon us Home at any time.

That does not change the pain in this life for those we love and care about. God made us to be emotional, and I have wept over both of these friends, in fear of losing them in this life. And also for the loss for their families.

In His mercy, as I write this God has answered the prayers of His saints for both men. Both have been spared to live longer on this earth.

But if both had been taken, is God still good? I would answer a strong YES  to that. He knows best, and I choose to be a little child in faith holding my Poppa's hand. Will you join me in that, please?

Lazarus Rises

I have always been fascinated by the story of Lazarus in the New Testament. After being dead four days, Jesus raised him to life. But understand, when Jesus announces he is was going to do it, his sister's first response was "But he is going to stink!" They could not grasp what Jesus could do.

Las night my friend Jeff called me to talk late. I stared at the phone in astonishment, as his caller id showed as the phone rang. This was my friend, who was given up for "dead" 24 hours earlier by his wife and doctors. I had grieved and wept over him, and now he is calling me??

We had a wonderful, short conversation. His humor is as intact as ever. But he knows God spared him. I have a video of his students praying, holding hands around the flagpole at school. It is a story of God unleashed, with the prayers of His people.

Do you doubt God's power when you pray? Then ponder this true story of another "Lazarus" this week. WOW!

The Smackdown

Death came knocking last night. A very close friend of mine suffered a massive heart attack and was life-flighted to the hospital. His prognosis was grim. Only a heart transplant could save him from what was known at the time. His wife was resigned to losing him. His sons were numb with grief.

But people started praying. And God is at work. This morning a pleasant change, the doctors are saying they think medicine might stabilize the heart without a transplant. My friend is conscious and aware.

Now I don't know what God will allow going forward. But do not doubt the power of prayer. God smacked death in the face and said NO! for this moment in time.

Seek Him, my friends. He loves you just as much as my buddy Jeff!