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This morning I checked the weather report. It wasn’t that I was unaware, rather I was just hoping beyond hope. All of the surrounding indicators told me that the end of another season was near.
My fellow Michiganders love this time of year. The turning of the trees into a daily display of God’s artistic handiwork takes ones breath away. Dressing up in warm clothes, bundled up with woolen hats, comfortable gloves and sturdy walking boots is perfect for crunching through Autumn leaves that cushion every step of a morning walk. The Creator is announcing His time table, the end of one season and the beginning of something new.
Squirrels scurry about with nuts in their jaws. They pause long enough to drop their treasure and chatter a comical warning to stay away from his precious hiding place. Then, it picks up his morsel and scampers off to find another secret store house for his winter stash. The season is definitely changing.
A cool breeze gusts by and I zip my jacket a little tighter, thrust my hands into my pockets a little deeper, and pull down my hat more snugly. It is bitter sweet. Something new is on its way, but it means that something special is waiting to end.
Back at home my garage door opens steadily. It’s like the inevitable final curtain call to a great run of a fabulous play. Then, she emerges into view. First, as a silhouette. Then, her lines grace the growing light of the morning sun. She smiles with glistening chrome, polished trim, and lines that make a person stare with admiration. She is my Kawasaki Vulcan, my motorcycle.
The changing leaves, silly storing squirrels, chilly temperatures and blowing winds tells me that Winter is on the way. It also tells me that the motorcycle riding season is rapidly coming to an end. Feelings of freedom, relaxation of solitude, ribbons of asphalt melting under my boots, and the rushing wind making melody along the way all must be set aside until the coming world of winter sleep is over. It will not be until the dawn of new life in the Spring that my powerful V-twin engine roars to life again.
Maybe one more ride . . . maybe one last brisk gallop through the countryside can be squeezed in before the end of the season has to be surrendered. Maybe just one.
Eager for HIS Return!
There’s one part of travel that I really enjoy. It is the reward that comes with every trip. For me it is the treat of going home.
My advanced planning was working well. This final morning away from home I already had my bag packed, travel details coordinated, loose options for using my time on the plane ride home were laid out.
I woke up from my second and last night of sleep well before my alarm rang. I turned it off at 4AM local time. Already my mind was racing a mile a minute over the final message that I would deliver in a few hours. My shower felt really good. It sparked thoughts and details of the message that I wanted to remember.
For the next few hours I poured over my notes, meditated on the Scriptures and rehearsed in my mind key transitions, major points, illustrations and the faces of the men that I would address. I took a break and sent various emails and text messages to dear family and friends whose support I count on during trips like this.
If I kept faithful, honored God and His calling then I could look forward to hugging my wife, talking with my family, petting my dog and falling into my own bed for a great night’s sleep. I was motivated. After all, today I would be going home.
Leave it all on the field? That’s too easy. Try leaving it all in the pulpit. That will drain any human life. But, when the Spirit gives strength it’s the only way to live. God blessed the final gathering with great power. We saw souls of men transformed from darkness into light. Others drove a stake into the ground with a promise to live a different kind of life. What a way to finish a weekend worth of ministry rewarded with a trip home.
From that great joy I turned, grabbed my patiently waiting packed bag and jumped into a vehicle with two delightful brothers who escorted me to the San Jose International airport. The agent checked me in with a smile. Ahead of me were hours of waiting, sitting, walking, and waiting some more. But, my step was lively and relaxed. After all I was going home.
Eager for HIS Return!
My host on a Wyoming ranch had treated me to three fabulous days on the prairie where the deer and antelope play. He had orchestrated a trip that makes an entire year of hard work worth it if only these few days were the reward.
By his design all of the struggles of travel were smoothed over. His hospitality skills circumvented the smallest of away-from-home nuisances. Our adventure was full of only positive memories.
Enjoying scrumptious meals, comfortable accommodations, timely transportation planning, amenities of entertainment, support activities and impetuous desires of a variety of guests rolled into one amazing trip. This made his simple request for some help an easy decision to make.
The cold temperatures, the early snow, gale force winds and mile-high elevation combined to make an early-season demand. It was time to put up the snow fence. Swirling winds push even the smallest amounts of snow up against doors and across driveways.
Digging out of snow drifts in the frigid Wyoming temperatures is unbelievably exhausting. Clever engineers and atmospheric scientists came up with the design of a snow fence to lessen the problem and prevent the arduous task of digging out of snowbound entrapments.
But, erecting a snow fence by yourself is simple enough on a warm, sunny, calm day. Throw in a barrage of inclement weather components and no man can succeed alone. When our host asked for help, all three of us guests jumped to our feet.
One look outside however and we paused to don our layers of tough outdoor clothes, warm woolen cap, and working gloves. Even then, the powerful winds forced many stumbles, drove freezing snow into creases in our clothes, cramped exposed fingers, and made our breathing a challenge.
Foot by foot, inch by inch, post by post, and plastic zip ties went up against the forces of this Wyoming winter. Four hard working men cooperating together accomplished the feat just before the sun went down. Friendship forged us into an efficient team. The task was complete. The challenge was overcome. We were spiritual brothers building a bond of friendship sealed by hard work together. We felt like real men: able, available, adventuresome and at times just plain goofy. Are you men bonded with other men who help you be the man God made you to be?
Eager for HIS Return!
In a few hours I’ll be blindly feeling for my alarm clock. I won’t be able to see the hands indicating the time since my eyes don’t wake up that early. But, the well worn path to the washroom will guide my stumbling steps. I think that I am tired.
Once I wash up and pack my final personal items, I’ll hug and kiss my still slumbering wife and head out the door for the airport. It’s a 35 minute drive to the parking lot near the airport shuttle. It will still be dark outside. Even the sun doesn’t get up this early. I know that I am tired.
Inside the airport I’ll concentrate on my polite behavior. Early morning hours, mixed with congested human traffic and intrusive security procedures makes for a lethal combination on the grouchy scale of earthquake proportions.
My body clock will be thrown off by three hours. The travel time in the air will be five hours. Then there are the two hours added for landing, transfer connection and take off. San Jose will show up at late morning local time. Now, I’m really tired.
Then, we will travel a couple of hours by car to the retreat center. We will sit down for a meal that I’m not ready to eat and carry on a conversation for over an hour with several people. We will all jump up together and head over to the service center where I will deliver the first of four messages. Two more will be delivered on Saturday and one final one Sunday morning. Boy, am I tired.
I could make it easier and preach from notes. But, that is not my style. Preaching without notes brings me closer to the message. It will always come from deep in my soul. Besides the deliver there is a connection that makes the minutes count and intensely touch my audience. There is a price to pay. Such a method is exhausting.
Right after I finish speaking, my hosts will load my luggage, do the return two hour drive, load me on a plane for the long journey back to Michigan. Now, I’m too tired to know that I’m tired.
Throughout the entire adventure I will smile inside and out. Over the years I have learned to not think too deeply about the weariness of travel. Rather, this is nothing more than trading a little personal inconvenience for a chance to make an eternal impact on the lives of men on the other side of the country. Is there such a thing as feeling “Fantastic!” while being tired?
Eager for HIS Return!
An email buzz from my TREO alerted me to a message from my Executive Assistant. The seminary had fixed me up with this modern-day technological phenomenon. It keeps me in touch with my office no matter where I am in my travels. Some call it an electronic leash.
The message came to me in Portland, Oregon. My next stop was Denver, Colorado. From Denver I was to pick up a rental car and drive up to Laramie, Wyoming. She notified me that a weather alert covered the area of my travels. A snow storm warning was announced and she reminded me to be careful. I bravely wrote back, “Snow? Great!”
That brave exterior bluff was challenged on Sunday morning with a nasty weather front pummeling the Wyoming prairie. My hosts, experienced with inclement weather, asked if I was really going to drive to the airport that morning to drop off my rental car.
“Of course,” I confidently responded, “Why?”
“Have you seen how bad the weather is outside?”
After I swallowed hard and remembered my brave announcement to my home office, I peered out of the window into the dark early hours. I gasped. A blizzard was sweeping across the landscape. High winds blew snow drifts into piles blocking doors and roads.
Just the day before the weather was in the high sixties with the sun shining. Now, it was a nightmare. I grabbed my duffel bag and stuffed it full of emergency clothes in case I got stuck in the snow. The car was a subcompact more suitable for city commuting than squaring off with an angry storm.
Slowly I drove around snow drifts, stopping on two occasions to guess where the road was. Once on the freeway I was surrounded by massive trucks trying to negotiate the winter weather through a high mountain pass in excess of 6,000 feet.
Traction was minimal. Asphalt margins were slim. Wind gusts shook the little Detroit product. Passing trucks sent slush sprays over my windshield. But, mile after mile passed by until I arrived safely at the airport and dropped off my rental car.
I felt triumphant. Smugly I told myself that I was a skilled driver and had conquered the elements. Then, I slipped on the icy sidewalk, fell right on the seat of my understanding and soaked my clothes in the mushy snow. “OK, God, pride goes before a fall. Thanks for giving me a safe journey. You are the one who made it possible.”
Eager for HIS Return!
When I was a youngster, my mom would take me to the shoe store for the obligatory school shoes. It was a psychological ordeal. The shoe salesman would always ask, “How does it feel?” “I don’t know,” was my honest reply.
Who teaches us little kids how to tell if shoes fit well? The only thing that I knew was that it seemed like everyone in the store was staring at me, “Who’s this goofy kid that doesn’t know if the shoes fit well?”
It was probably the earliest days of my self-conscious side being firmly planted in my psyche. Jesus has given me so much relief from that horrid never never land.
My mom must have known how tough it was for me. She did an amazing thing. We piled back into the car and drove to another part of town. I followed her into a specialty shoe store just for kids. It was fun! Even more fun was the kind of shoes we purchased. It was my first pair of cowboy boots.
All the adventures of the Wild West were now mine to relive over and over again in my world of imagination. I would turn a stampeding herd of panicked cattle. Wild broncos were tamed under my skillful riding. The tough work of branding was just a day’s work. Can footwear really do all of that? Sure!
Today, I’m in Wyoming. Every year I make this journey to Cowboy country. One store is always on my tour. When I walked in to this specialty shop this year I relived an old childhood memory. I bought myself my first pair of cowboy boots since I was a youngster.
My good friend, Bob, in Oregon made it possible. It was like having God give me my personal angel with a nod that it was OK to have some fun! I have them on now. They feel really good. A special friend just exclaimed, “Nice!”
I’m dreaming again. Cowboy boots really do make you dream. They have an authoritative sound when your walk. There’s a strut that emerges with each step. Give it try. Take a new step and see what God will do.
Eager for HIS Return!
Michigan Theological Seminary is blessed with nearly 200 amazing students. I don’t know them all. But, every chance that I can get to engage them in life I do.
One of our students sat in my office and sobbed. No, it wasn’t the expected academic challenge of Hebrew or Greek. It wasn’t a theology exam that bowled her over. Nor was it an exegetical paper that had her in the throws of questioning her faith. Rather it was the heartache of life.
Her father has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. The prognosis predicts that his days are not long on this earth. In addition to that she has discovered that her husband is also inflicted with cancer. The prognosis for him is still forthcoming.
God isn’t being mean. These are real issues of life in a fallen world. We live in a world that needs to be redeemed. Eventually God will create a new heaven and a new earth. He will deal effectively with sin once and for all. In the mean time He offers redemption to any and all who will believe. This amazing provision has been made through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ.
We can trust Him. He will comfort us. Then, we can encourage a loved one who is suffering. He provides a kind of comfort for us like none other.
We prayed together. We went before the throne of His grace together. Words spoken in the name of Jesus Christ were presented to the Mighty One. Just talking to God gives comfort. Our desired outcome may not be what He gives at the time but we know for sure that the long term results will be good.
After the “Amen” her expression said it best, “I don’t know what others do in such times without Him.” That is a powerful question. Do you know the Savior? You’ve tried living life without Him. Now, enjoy the great comfort that comes from living with Him.
Eager for HIS Return!
Peering up into the gray clouds made me hesitate. The movement of clouds filled with moisture teased me. “Come out and play!” we won’t rain on you.
The clock wasn’t helping either. If I was going to squeeze a bicycle ride into a very full Sunday afternoon, I would have to launch soon.
Then a moment of genius swelled in my mind, “Yvonne, (my wonderful wife) do you think that it’s going to rain?”
“No. I don’t recall any report that there would be any rain today,” she sounded like she was encouraging me to ride. With that affirmation, I donned my helmet, slipped on my riding gloves, tucked in my dangling shoe laces and rode into my eleven mile route.
The air was cool. Only a slight breeze made the Autumn leaves dance on the soon dormant deciduous trees. Some how the sunlight seemed to fade behind constantly darkening clouds.
Mile after mile time seemed to slow down. Heavy laden air with high humidity made breathing and perspiration a noticeable part of my workout.
It might have been my imagination but I thought that I could almost hear the clouds laughing. When I looked up they seemed to be shifting and rearranging themselves. It was like they were organizing a concentrated effort and running around in the sky to make something happen.
Nothing did happen. At least until I passed the point of no-return. Once I was as far from home as my route took me, one small rain drop splashed on my riding glove. It was a vanguard. A few more of his friends splashed around me.
I willed my legs to spin faster. They responded with eagerness. But, there were too many miles between me and my shelter called home.
Soon I lost count of the drops. Now, it was a torrent. But, it was so refreshing. Nothing could change the drenching that I received. It was something that I tried to avoid. But, in the end it was so good!
We can plan, hope and adjust. But in the end God determines our steps. Not a bad option to trust Him no matter what comes our way.
Eager for HIS Return!
The USA is a big country. Fly across it regularly and its expanse takes your breath away. As amazing as modern air travel is, it still takes a long time to traverse our great country. But, some things make the journey worthwhile. Friends make it worthwhile.
I had to come alongside of my friend. Bob’s wife Marge passed into the presence of Almighty God last week. The funeral service is today. Bob and Marge gave me the great honor to officiate the service. There’s no place on earth I’d rather be.
Predicting when a service like this can fit into an already busy travel schedule is impossible. Providentially, I did not have to cancel any previous commitments. Instead, this necessary journey fit neatly in between two already scheduled events.
My Executive Assistant works for me. She is a friend. She worked her skills and experience, orchestrated all of the details of my multi-city, multi-transportation, multi-responsibility trip and handed it all to me in one neat file folder.
The complications of fitting everything together meant that I would leave Michigan from one airport and land in another. I needed help to get to my departing terminal. I called a friend. He came to pick me up.
Once I arrived in Portland, I knew that I needed a place to stay. There are always hotels but they are never inexpensive. So I called a friend. They opened their home for me to stay.
My local arrival time put me into Oregon just at lunch. It’s no fun to eat alone. I called a friend. He met me at a favorite eatery. We broke bread together.
I needed to find a wireless hub to make this post on my blog page. It’s been so long since I lived in this town that I didn’t know where to go. I asked a couple of friends and they gave me a suggestion, drew me a map, and telephoned the coffee shop for its morning business hours.
Today, deep feelings will be worn on our sleeves at the celebration service. I’ve seen the video in advance. Tears, smile and memories will flow freely. Friends will make it better.
My dearest friends will not all be present at the service today. But, my dearest friends will be there with me . . . in my heart, touching my soul, faithful in prayer. Friends do make it better. Thank you.
Eager for HIS Return!
During my high school years my youth group gathered to view a special movie. I never knew that decades later my path would cross many times with its star. There’s a glint in her eye that makes you pause and listen.
Her name is Joni Eareckson Tada. When she was seventeen she dove into a lake, broke her neck on the shallow lake floor and was paralyzed from the neck down for the rest of her life.
A painful rehabilitation lasted for years and still goes on relentlessly today. The most remarkable recovery has been her soul. She is now an ardent follower of Christ and a captivating leader for a ministry to the special people around us.
I have a reproduction of one of her paintings. Joni holds a brush in her mouth and skillfully, artfully creates amazing images on canvas. She also wheels up to a stage and speaks to crowds of enormous size. Her heart, soul and passion stirs people.
Those who have a disability especially children often resort to a reclusive life. They are hidden from the rest of society and the church. Joni has inspired many to change that lifestyle of solitude.
Churches and individuals with wild compassion pour into the lives of these special people and their families. With a bit of experience and lots of love, eternity is impacting the lives of many souls.
This month I spent time with such quality people as we met to continue our launch of a Joni & Friends Chapter in SE Michigan. When our team brainstorms, dreams, evaluates, and prays, my soul is stirred with excitement.
We imagine the day when more and more churches learn to reach out with their love and embrace families that need a little extra touch. The energy to network people with these skills and ideas to embrace a silent private community is sure to draw the blessings from God.
An old movie touched me with the life of one very compassionate woman. Her hurt has become the hope of so many. Care to join with me in spreading this compassion?
Eager for HIS Return!