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Life Preserver

Life Preserver

After a lapse of several years, I’ve finally started swimming again over the past few weeks. I’m getting up at 5:30 AM, heading to the YMCA and then swimming a mile, 3 or 4 times a week. The exercise is very good and I’m starting to feel a lot more energetic. Unfortunately, as you probably know, when first starting an exercise program after a long hiatus, it is very difficult. Starting out, I paced myself. My first day back, I only swam 10 laps. Getting out of the pool, I was tired but encouraged. The second day, I decided to increase my swim to 16 laps. I found that second day to be brutally difficult. After swimming just a few laps, I was exhausted. My arms were tired, my goggles were leaking, and I got a cramp in my foot. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I coughed and wound up swallowing some water. For the first time I could remember, I almost panicked. As dread set in, all kinds of thoughts swirled around inside my head. I wondered how I was going to be able to keep going. I wondered what drowning would feel like. I wondered how in the world the tiny lifeguard was going to be able to haul my considerable bulk out of the pool. As I felt myself begin to panic, I looked up and as I looked up, I saw the most amazing sight. Built into the tile of the pool, designed to help swimmers stay on target, was a cross.

Cross in Pool

Suddenly, I was reminded that I wasn’t alone in that pool. I had no reason to panic. Even if I was going to drown, and it became obvious at that moment that I wasn’t, I had no reason to fear.

Joshua 1
9Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

In a moments of difficulty, it is all too easy to focus on the problem and forget that God is there. If we can focus on the cross, we can stay on target and avoid the panic and dismay.

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Best Laid Plans…

funny-to-do-listTime and again, I find myself making plans and then getting frustrated when they don’t work out. I wake up each day with a to-do list that looks almost exactly like the to-do list from thee previous day, because – more often than not, something or someone gets in the way and I don’t get to do what I want to do. In the moment, it is very easy to forget that I am not my own – but if I take a step back and look at my past, I can see that my life is filled with pivotal moments that weren’t of my own planning. These moments are like God’s signposts on my life’s journey.

Just a few of these moments:

  • My wife – When I was in college, marriage was the furthest thing from my mind – and then I met Marcia. Her influence has, in many ways, protected me from myself and I am far better with her than I would be without her.
  • My daughter – While she wasn’t unplanned, I had no idea what I was in for when Marilyn was born. She was a strong-willed child who was quite difficult to handle at times. Apparently I had behaved in a similar manner because my father used to chuckle and tell me that “I got the child I deserved.” As difficult as she may have been, God used desire of her little heart to attend Sunday School in order to draw me back to Him.
  • Unemployment – Years ago, I had an excellent job at Laminations in Scranton. I had practically rebuilt the company’s network infrastructure from the ground up in the three years that I was there. Losing that job to outsourcing was devastating to me. As I look back, I can see that my identity and sense of self-worth was too tied to my job. Instead of thinking of myself as a Christian, a husband, or a father – I thought of myself as Laminations’ network engineer. God removed that job to make me more reliant on him, and then led me to a new job at Lamplighter which caused me to grow in other ways.
  • Car Accident – Not long after losing my job at Laminations, our car was totaled when someone ran a red light and hit us. Thankfully, no one was injured. As it turns out, without my job, we wouldn’t have been able to afford the payments on that car. Sometimes, God provides by taking things away.

I am sure that each of us have similar events throughout our lives that, while often unpleasant during the event, turn out to be beneficial in the end. God always has our best interests at heart even when our shortsightedness prevents us from being able to recognize his blessings.

Proverbs 16
1 The plans of the heart belong to man,
  but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.
2 All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes,
  but the Lord weighs the spirit.
3 Commit your work to the Lord,
  and your plans will be established.

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.

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2012 in Christianity, Faith, Family, Humor, Personal

 

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Competitive Sinning

gold-medalI enjoy the Olympics and last week marked the close of the 2012 Olympic Games . There is something exciting about watching all those athletes, who are the best in the world in what they do, gather to compete against one another. The Olympics are a display of man’s competitive spirit at its best and, unfortunately, at its worst. Watching the games reminded me of a book I had been studying in fellowship group, Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges. One of the sins that Bridges discusses is something that I have a particularly difficult time with. Competitiveness. Anyone who has ever played a game or a sport with me, has probably noticed that I tend to be a bit competitive. This can be a problem. I am not trying to suggest that competition is wrong, that competing is wrong, or that we should not always try do our best. Biblically, we are called to strive for excellence, to do our best. The problem that I have is not in the competition, the problem is in my motivation. Whenever I am playing a game, or driving, or barbecuing, or fixing a computer, or telling a story, or eating, or sleeping, or anything – I want to be the best. I want people to know I’m the best. Part of me really wants to hear people say stuff like, “There goes Kenn – the best computer fixing, best barbecuing, best car driving, smartest guy I ever met. I hear he is awesome at taking naps and eating, too.” I want to bask in that glory, and that is a problem.

Reading and discussing Respectable Sins caused me to evaluate three things:

  1. My Motivation (Why am I competing?): I must not seek glory for myself. Each time the bible speaks about “doing our best”, it is tied to doing it for the glory of God and not for our own.

    Colossians 3

    23Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.


    It was refreshing to see that there were those in the Olympics who insisted on giving God the glory for what they were able to accomplish. Gabby Douglas, who won the gold medal in the all-around gymnastics competition said, “I give all the glory to God. It’s kind of a win-win situation. The glory goes up to him and the blessings fall down on me.”

  2. My Example (What do others see?): If I win—then belittle my competitors (who were also made in the image of God), become haughty and proud, or exhibit any sort of poor sportsmanship during the competition; I set a poor example. It would be far better to lose and set a good example in the process.

    Meghan Vogel, a runner in a state championship track meet, displayed just that type of example. When another runner, Arden McMath, collapsed onto the track in front of her, she didn’t run past her. She reached down, helped Arden to her feet, and then carried her the final 20 meters to cross the finish line. 

  3. God’s Standards (How do I evaluate success?): I need to remember that God does not measure success by medals won, records broken, or by how many people I can impress. God’s standards are clearly laid out for us in the Bible. Rather than looking to “win”, I should be striving to please God. If I win while in pursuit of God’s pleasure, so be it – but let Him be glorified.

    In Chariots of Fire (a true story), Eric Liddell ran and ran faster than anyone else, eventually winning an Olympic gold medal. The medal, however, was not his pursuit. He ran because he felt that to do otherwise would dishonor God. In the movie he says, "I believe that God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure."

    Colossians 3
    17And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

In summary: strive for excellence, compete wholeheartedly and with integrity, win the gold if you have the ability; but do it all for the glory of God and the pursuit of His pleasure.

 
 

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Memorial Day

arlingtonOriginally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day originated shortly after the Civil War to commemorate fallen Union soldiers by placing flowers and flags on their graves. The South chose a separate day to honor their dead until after World War I when the holiday was changed to honor, not just Civil War dead, but all who have died while serving in the United States military. While various dates have been used in the past, the last Monday of each May is now reserved for the commemoration of Memorial Day. Traditionally, soldiers’ graves are decorated with flags and red poppies on this day.

They fell, but o’er their glorious grave
Floats free the banner of the cause they died to save.
                                                    – Francis Marion Crawford

A memorial is something that is designed to preserve the memory of a person or an event. Sadly, much of the meaning of Memorial Day seems to have been lost, and now,  many see at as just an excuse for a 3-day weekend and a great time for a barbecue. As Americans, we should view Memorial Day as a time to remember those who have sacrificed their lives and spilled their blood in order to ensure the freedoms that we have today. Because of the men and women that have died for this country, we have the right to gather this morning, to praise God’s name freely, to live in peace, to raise our children free from oppression.

As we remember those that have paid the ultimate price to ensure our country’s liberty, it is also fitting that we remember Jesus, the one who died to guarantee our freedom from spiritual bondage. Just as the last Monday in May is Memorial Day for Americans, each Sunday — no, each and every day — should be a Memorial Day for Christians. The way that we live our lives should remind others of Jesus Christ and the sacrifice that He made to secure our eternity.

Psalm 33
10 The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
    he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
11 The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
    the plans of his heart to all generations.
12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
    the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!

 

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Stalker!

Luke 19
10 And I, the Son of Man, have come to seek and save those who are lost.

i-love-my-stalker_designI find this verse to be very compelling. This isn’t a passive verse. This verse does not describe a savior who is sitting around, waiting for people to realize that they are lost and in need of saving. This verse clearly depicts Christ actively seeking us out and finding us in a very effective manner just us we might search for a lost child. This description, this pursuit, reminds me of the way that my wife and I met.

My wife, Marcia,  and I met in college, although she didn’t tell me until years after we were married that she had had her eye on me for over a year before our first meeting. I was in my first year at Keystone Junior College when her high school class took a tour of the campus. During this tour, she noticed me in the computer lab where I worked as a lab assistant, ostensibly to assist students in need of help (this was in the early 90s before students had their own computers). When she saw me, she apparently told one of her friends that she liked me and seeing me was one of the reasons she chose to attend Keystone the following year. During that next year, I was still working in the computer lab as a lab assistant and Marcia approached me for the first time because she needed help using the computers. I was not very kind I’m afraid, and suggested “Do it yourself.”, or something equally helpful. To me, she was just another helpless freshman in a crowd of helpless freshman. Nevertheless, she was not deterred and continued to visit the computer lab and continued to ask for help. Eventually, we met at a roller-skating event sponsored by the college and with the encouragement of my friends, wound up skating together and have been together ever since. The rest, as they say, is history. Until that point, I had no desire for a girlfriend and was less than clueless when it came to girls. If it hadn’t been for her tenacity, I have no idea where I would be today but I am certain that I would not be any happier or better off. I fell in love with Marcia, married her, and enjoy her companionship to this day because she loved me first, pursued me, and continued to pursue me even when I was rude, brusque, and undeserving . Although I jokingly refer to her as “my stalker”, I am ever thankful for her pursuit.

I am even less deserving and more thankful for the pursuit of Jesus Christ, without whom I would have nothing.

1 John 4
19 We love because he first loved us.

 

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Beanbag Faith

Junior Vinyl PurpleWhen my wife, Marcia, and I first talked about having children, we knew that we would need to teach them many things. What I didn’t expect was the many things they would be teaching me. God has blessed Marcia and I with some wonderful children and we are always learning from them. The other day, as I was at the dining room table preparing to head out the door, I saw a purple shape fly down the stairs past me and hit the floor and wall with a loud WHUMP! sound. I was really startled because my first thought was that one of the kids had fallen down the stairs, and if you have ever seen our stairs, you would know that they are extremely steep and treacherous. With my heart in my throat, I looked up to see what happened, and was relieved to find that it was just a bean bag chair that had come down the stairs and landed on the floor. My relief was short lived, however. As soon as I turned back around to finish what I was doing, I saw another shape fly past in a blur and land with an even louder WHUMP! at the foot of the stairs. This time it was a child, only they hadn’t fallen down the stairs. Our 5-year old daughter, Melanie had jumped down the stairs into the bean bag. She threw the bean bag down first for the sole purpose of jumping into it. Thankfully, she was completely uninjured, had already jumped up (giggling happily) and was preparing for another leap. After recovering from my initial shock, I informed her that what she did was dangerous and she was never to do it again (I also tried to disguise the fact that I found it quite amusing).

Later that day, as I was thinking about Melanie’s little adventure, I realized that what she had done was quite a demonstration of faith. Misplaced faith, perhaps, but faith just the same. She had no fear about diving headlong down a flight of stairs because she had the utmost confidence that the beanbag chair was going to protect her from harm. She hadn’t even considered the possibility that the beanbag might fail her. Oh, the things we could accomplish if we had that kind of faith in our almighty God who, unlike that purple beanbag, is sure to never fail. What might we accomplish if we always lived and acted with that certainty?

Matthew 21
21 And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. 22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

Our faith isn’t naive, nor is it blind. Our  faith is not misplaced when we trust in God. We can trust in Him and have full confidence in His power, mercy, and love because of that which He has already done for us. He loved us enough to sacrifice His one and only Son. A sacrifice that the Son made willingly out of obedience to the Father so that we, His enemy, might be clothed in His righteousness and enjoy a relationship with Him.

Isaiah 61
10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
    my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
    he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
     and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
    and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
    to sprout up before all the nations.

 
 

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Who’s the Poop?

PopeChairYou know – the older I get, the more I realize that I am not any different from my kids. Quite a few years ago, our whole family piled into our van and headed to Michigan for my sister Rachel’s wedding. It was a long trip, about 9 hours, with 7 of us in one vehicle so we passed a lot of the time by listening to the radio and talking. If you can remember that far back, this was same the weekend that that Pope John Paul II died, which meant that we couldn’t listen to the radio without hearing news about his death. There were news reports, continuous updates, talk-show segments, etc. It seemed that everything we listened to was about the pope. After many hours of pope reports, pope news, pope updates, and pope facts – it became a bit of a running joke for one of us to turn to another and sarcastically ask, “Hey, did you hear that the pope died?” Through all of this, our two kids, Marilyn and Sam, were mostly reading books and playing games so they were only paying attention to the rest of us intermittently.

As we headed towards Canada that weekend on our way home from Michigan, an inquisitive little voice came from the back seat… it was Sam, who was seven years old at the time. Quite sincerely, he asked, “Who’s the poop?” Once we got through a bit of a chuckle, we explained that the pope was the head of the Catholic church and many people consider him to be a very important person which is why there were so many reports about him. Sam listened intently and when he was satisfied that he had a firm grasp of the situation he went back to whatever he had been doing. During our conversation, Marilyn had been listening to music on her headphones and she had not heard our conversation with Sam, so she asked the same question a little bit later, “Who’s the pope?” Sam, eager to use his newfound knowledge, proudly proclaimed to his sister, “Don’t you know? The pope is the head of the Cataract Church.”

This story serves as a reminder to me that whenever I am sure that I have things figured out – when I am certain that I know exactly what is going on, I just might be very wrong. I need to be very careful to keep my eyes open and to always be prepared to learn something new. The more that I study things, particularly the Bible, the more I realize how inexperienced and ignorant I truly am. Quite often, I learn the most about that which I thought there was nothing left to learn about.

Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.
– Proverbs 3:7

By insolence comes nothing but strife,
but with those who take advice is wisdom.
– Proverbs 13:10

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2011 in Christianity, Personal

 

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