Thursday, May 19, 2011

What I did on my 14,975th day...

Today I turned 41. 

According to THIS SITE that means I have lived 14,975 days.

Calculated out that means I have also lived...
  • 359,400 hours or
  • 21,564,000 minutes or
  • 1,293,840,000 seconds 
Sheesh.  No wonder I'm tired.

Anyway....this is what my 14,975th day looked like:

5:00AM ....I got up! 

Fed "Sponge" our Cat (I think my birthday wish is to be HIM for a day!).  Here he is sleeping in a basket of laundry:

Made some COFFEE (Ahhh...French Vanilla...a favorite)!!!

5:30AM-6:30AM Prayer, Reading...

This year I have been using Robert Murray M'Cheyne's daily Bible reading plan.  In addition, I usually begin with a devotional reading, which happens to be George Whitefield at the moment.  Also, I try to read a section or two from the OPC book of church order every day.  Portions of this book were updated in 2011, and I need to familiarize myself with it.  I also spent a little time looking again at C.S. Lewis' book, The Great Divorce, as I hope to start up our discussion group on this book shortly.  Below is my messy desk/table down in my office (aka the basement). 

 7:00AM or thereabouts...I began my work day.  I work from home for Fingertip Formulary.

My daughter Kathryn (who, along with Joshua, are homeschooled) under the close supervision of my dear wife Bonnie, made me some cinnamon toast and fruit salad for a "Happy Birthday" breakfast! 

I continued working.  I didn't take a day off for my birthday.  Poor me.  LOL.

Joshua brought me down a couple pictures he drew for me.  Apparently the big one is a monster.  This was a relief, as I thought it was ME at first.  He told me the monster wants to eat us, but I think he looks rather friendly.

I paused for a short time to finalize and sign a contract for getting our septic system repaired.  Good 'ole Title V!  Yes, a septic system that is working just fine...BUT...apparently falls below 2011 standards.  Thankfully there is a pretty decent tax credit for the that takes a "little" of the pain away.  I solicited quotes for 6 contractors.  I went with the best quote.  Today he gets his first payment.  Talk about literally "flushing" away your money....

For those of you who have town sewer...and have no idea what a septic system is...good for you!!  But here is a basic sketch:

12:00 Noon - Lunch Break.  Off to the gym.  I have been running for the past 4 weeks.  Please don't ask me if I have lost any weight.  It is a bit depressing.  I start to exercise...and my basal metabolism goes to zero.  Really.  I'm serious. 

1:30PM - Back to work researching authorization criteria for DPP-4 inhibitors and discussing the clinical categories appropriate for some newer oral contraceptives.  Sounds fun, huh? 

5:00PM - Got word that Joshua's AA baseball game for the evening is cancelled due to the rain.  Bad news for Joshua.  BUT....that means we can go "out" for my birthday dinner.  I get to pick the place.  And will be 5 GUYS BURGERS AND FRIES!!!!  There goes all my running down the drain...

5:30PM - Done with "work" for the day.  Ahhhhh.

6:00PM - Off to 5 Guys Burgers & Fries!!  Bonnie, Evan, Sarah, Kathryn, Joshua and I jump into the van and head to Worcester. 

7:30PM - Back home.  My family now insists that I open presents.  They are so kind to me.  Little do they know that, next to my Savior, they themselves are the most precious gifts I have ever received.

Below is what they gave me.  In case you are wondering, the series of books in the middle is the 4 Volume set entitled "The Christian's Reasonable Service" by Wilhelmus à Brakel (1635-1711).  Bonnie knows I have had my eye on this set for some time.  I am really eager to begin working on it.  The "Dad" letter is a poem written by my daughter Sarah.  I scan it and paste it in below. 

8:00PM - My brother calls from Michigan.  His whole dear family sang "Happy Birthday" to me over the phone.  We are so much looking forward to seeing Aaron, Lisa and all their kids in a few weeks.  I also got calls from my parents and my wonderful in-laws as well. 

8:15PM - 10:00PM

Watching the Boston Bruins at Tampa game 3 Eastern Conference Finals with Evan and Joshua. 

And it couldn't be "birthday" without a chocolate cake (home made by Bonnie of course!).

And thus my birthday comes to a close.  I wonder what I'll do on day 14,976?

Here is the poem from my daughter Sarah:

"But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord."
1 Corinthians 15:57

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Of Blue Lights and Gasoline

A TRUE Short Story about Nothing...

Or Everything

            It was about 9:30PM and the speedometer on my Tundra traveled west as I slowed down approaching the Route 146 off ramp for Central Turnpike.  As I approached the end of the ramp I observed that the vehicle before me maneuvered carefully around an inconvenient obstacle and exited the highway.  That obstacle was a car.  Inside the car was a man.  I wondered about the wisdom and propriety of his chosen place to park.  Then I noticed his flashing emergency lights.  As I pulled up along the unfortunate fellow I rolled down my window.  Need a hand?” I said.

            Before I go any further with my story you should probably be aware of the amusing absurdity of such an offer of help from me.  I know almost nothing about cars.  If this gentleman had pulled over because of a headache, and had paused to ponder the appropriate dosage of ibuprofen for his pain, then possibly I could be of assistance.  If he was thumbing through his Bible looking for the book of Jonah I could probably offer my aid.  But car trouble?  Well, I suppose I could offer to call AAA.

            Anyway, back to my story.  As I leaned out the window into the starry night, he answered my inquiry with 5 words even a non-mechanic such as I could understand:  I ran out of gas.”  Ugghh.  Been there, done that.  Poor guy.  And unfortunately this exit had no service station for fuel.  Can I help?” I asked the stranded stranger.  It’s okay,” he replied, “I called a friend and he is bringing me some gas.”  I offered to assist him get his vehicle to the side of the road.  Not necessary,” he said, “I’m a moose.”  And as he exited the vehicle and began pushing his car he did in fact prove to be quite a sizeable fellow.   Alright” I responded and began to pull away as a number of cars were beginning to stack up behind me. 

            But as this stranger and his car grew smaller in my rear view mirror it suddenly occurred to me that his “friend” might be travelling from quite a distance to offer his aid.  What if his “friend” was coming from Providence, Boston or Harford?  Sure, he would get his gas, but only after a prolonged and possibly uncomfortable interval of time.  I decided I would go home, grab our 5 gallon gas can, and return to help if he were still around.  And so I did.

            In less than 10 minutes me, my truck, and my gas can were returning to the site where I had left him.  And there he was:  still sitting, still waiting.  I pulled over, grabbed the can, and approached my friend.  As he exited the driver’s side of his car and approached me he exclaimed, very naturally and joyfully, “wow, you returned, what a blessing.  A blessing?  Really?  Not exactly the reaction I expected.  So I responded that the Lord had blessed me very much and that it was a privilege to help him.  Oh, He’s blessed me too” the man replied.  That’s great,” I said “are you Christian?”  Why yes I am” he returned.  And thus we began our conversation.  We talked while his thirsty little vehicle drank down the 2 gallons of gas that my can had to offer.  He told me about himself.  He lost his vision in 1 eye a year ago while in an accident.  He still suffered much discomfort and felt somewhat guilty about the continued need for pain killers.  “I would rather just be healed by the Great Physician” he said.  I reminded him that sometimes God gives healing…but sometimes God gives medicine instead.  Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” came to mind. 

            As the gas can emptied this stranger and friend invited me to a men’s meeting at his church on Saturday.  And while I explained that I had to work my words were suddenly surrounded by flashings of light.  Beams of blues and reds bathed the landscape.  A police officer had arrived.  It suddenly occurred to me that any further roadside fellowship was probably finished.  Do you need anything else” I asked.  No” he said “and thanks.”  The encounter was over.  The moonlight and cool silence of the evening escorted me peacefully across the ramp and toward my truck.  But while I was walking back a commanding voice from within the cruiser sliced through the evening air.  You know” came to authoritative and arid announcement “that’s why they put gas gauges in cars!”  The Law had spoken:  cold, harsh, merciless and true.  With those unsympathetic words still echoing in my mind, I drove home.

            Later I thought about the incident.  I felt bad for my friend, whose name I never even obtained, who struggles with pain and was blind in one eye.  But I think I felt worse for the officer.  Maybe he was just having a bad day.  Maybe his last interaction was still weighing heavily on his mind.  Whatever the reason, it seemed to me this public servant was actually, for that moment, more blind than the other.    He was blinder because he could only see an inconvenience, not an opportunity.  He was blinder because he seemed to only see faults and failure, not faces and their frustrations.   Sure, he was doing his job.  And that is all he was doing.  I wonder how many times I have done the same.  Probably far more often than I care to admit.  I think there is likely to be something of that officer’s comment in all our hearts. 

            What about the Law of God?  There is something, on the surface of it, cold and harsh as well.  God’s standard is holiness, perfection and righteousness.  My life is unholy, imperfect and defiled.  God does not lower His standard for sinners like me.  My best efforts are stained with sin.  All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” the prophet said (Isaiah 64:6).  The preacher in Ecclesiastes summed up human nature quite well:  "For there is not a just man on earth who does good And does not sin (Ecclesiastes 7:20).”
            So then what is my only hope?  John puts it this way:  "For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."  We are all, spiritually speaking, out of gas.  We are all dead on the side of the road; hopeless and helpless.  And then He came.  "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."  But Christ didn’t come with a can of gas.  He came to bring us a whole new car.  That old car won’t do.  It will run out of gas again and again.  Dear reader, stop trying to fill your old car with the gas of good works and religious tradition.  What you need, what I need, is not more fuel…but merciful forgiveness.  And this is offered to you in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone. 
            And so that is my story.  It is true.  Maybe it is a story about nothing.  Maybe it is a story about everything.  I suppose it all depends on what you chose to do with it.  What will you do?

Monday, May 2, 2011

HOW ARE YOU? "BUSY........."

How ARE You?  "Busy…"

Is it just me, or has the standard answer to the question “How are you?” become almost universally this single word reply: “Busy. I confess to frequently using this or some similar remark myself.

Maybe it is just the area of the country I live in.  Maybe it is just the particular stage of life I am at, or the circle of friends that I have.  I would be interested to know if this response is merely my imagination or if, indeed, the “busy” answer has become the truly standard and acceptable response.

But as I ruminate over this rejoinder, I am beginning to wonder about it.  What, exactly, does it mean?  What does “busy” really tell me about how my companion is?  Is it positive?  Is it negative?  Are they happy?  Are they sad?  What does it mean to say I am “busy?” 

The answer to these questions is critical if one is to formulate and adequate response to this statement.  I say “how are you?”  You say “busy.”  What now?  What is my next line?  Where, precisely, does this declaration of “busyness” take the conversation?  I wonder….

Is sympathy appropriate?

  • “Oh, I’m so sorry, how long have you known about this?”
  • “Really?  I had no idea...we’ll have to put this on the prayer chain!”
  • “Don’t lose hope, soon we’ll all be in heaven with nothing to do.”

 Or are congratulations in order?

  • “Fantastic!  Great! Glad to hear it!  I envy you!”
  •  “I just knew you could do it!  All that hard work finally paid off.  You have arrived.  You are busy.”
  •  “Rejoicing with you dear brother in your blessed busyness!”

You see, I am really struggling over the proper answer.  What does “busy” really mean? And how is one supposed to respond? 

I don’t think so meanly of my companion as to presume this is some sort of boast.  “Ha…I’m busy…TOP THAT!”  No, I don’t suppose that is the thinking.  When I myself have given the “busy” reply, I don’t believe I was really bragging about it.

Maybe it is a sort pre-emptive defense tactic.  The assumption is that “How are you?” is just a clever way of asking for a favor which inevitably will intrude upon my precious time.  And so, this skillful reply is designed to ward off that possibility by securely enclosing the defender inside the formidable walls of “busyness.”  Whatever you plan on asking me to do, don’t bother…you see…I’m busy. 

Or maybe it is just a sort of unconscious excuse.  A sort of blanket cover we have created to soften any accountability for forgotten events or commitments.  If my life seems in disarray, the grass is overgrown, the laundry in piles and the children have to understand:  “I’m busy.”  Thus, it appears, the lovely word “busy” is suitable to cover a multitude of sins.

But sometimes, unless my ears deceive me, it truly sounds like a cry for help.  There is something about being so “busy” that doesn’t quite sit well with our souls.  There is the faint echo of regret, the soft sigh of sadness in this “busyness” of ours.  And the reply, “I’m busy,” carries something of a confessional tone.  We don’t, really, want to be so busy.  Our lives are often regrettably filled with mounds of the mundane and only very rare specks of significance.  We are busy.  It is almost like a disease.  We would like to find a cure, but don’t really believe that one exists; at least not for me.

It is, therefore, to the “busy” that I would like to address a few words of comfort and encouragement.  I do not have any quick fix for your situation.  I offer no prescription that will suddenly alleviate all the stress and pressure our “busy” lives have created.  But maybe, just maybe, I can suggest a new way to think about being busy.  Consider with me, therefore, a few simple observations from Scripture, and particularly from the life of Jesus Christ.

1.         Jesus was busy too.  Very busy.  We never read that He had time for hobbies.  He never took a week-long vacation.  He never, so far as we know, read a book purely for pleasure.  There is no record of Him ever playing a game.  Of course, no modern conveniences by way of transportation were available to Him either.  He walked everywhere.  What did an average day for Jesus look like?  The gospel of Mark gives us a glimpse in the opening chapter.  It was the Sabbath:  a day of “rest,” right?  But we are told “immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and taught.”  No sleeping in till noon time and reading the Saturday newspaper.  And clearly this teaching was not some anemic presentation of dusty doctrines.  He taught them as one having authority (Mark 1:21).”  There was clearly an intensity and vigor to His method.  But then, having taught, surely He could expect some repose.  Right?  No.  A demon possessed man came crying out into the synagogue.  Jesus immediately rebukes the demon and delivers the man.  Be quiet and come out of him (Mark 1:25)” He said.  Next Jesus had a lunch invitation.  A rest?  Hardly.  He was surrounded by disciples “Simon and Andrew, with James and John” who surely would be looking for more instruction from their Teacher.  Simon’s mother-in-law was sick, and “they told Him about her at once (Mark 1:31).”  He heals her.  And she serves them.  But then, finally, evening comes and perhaps our Lord can take a break from this day of “rest.”  Wrong again.  At evening, when the sun had set, they brought to Him all who were sick and those who were demon possessed.  And the whole city was gathered together at the door (Mark 1:32-33).”  And so our Lord spends a long evening ministering to the sick and needy.  And finally He sleeps.  But even that doesn’t last long.  For Mark tells us that “in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place, and there He prayed (Mark 1:35).”  Welcome to a day in the life of Jesus Christ.  And that was a day of rest!  Imagine what the other days were like.  Jesus was busy.

2.         Jesus got tired too.  Maybe we are tempted to think that, although Jesus was busy, He was “God” and therefore had a bit more going for Him than we do.  But such thinking betrays an incomplete view of His nature.  Jesus was fully God.  But Jesus was also fully man.  And Jesus endured every weakness associated with humanity, apart from sin.  Therefore, He got tired.  He needed rest just like you and I.  Getting up early was no easier for Him than for us.  There is an interesting account in the gospels in which Jesus is on a boat with His disciples.  A storm arose.  The boat was being tossed.  Winds were threatening and rocking the ship.  Where was Jesus?  He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow (Mark 4:38).”  Why was He sleeping?  Was it because He had such a “peace” about Him that the storm didn’t bother Him?  Have you ever tried sleeping in such circumstances?  I suggest from the context of Christ’s ministry that there is a simple explanation for His sleep:  He was exhausted!  Only the sheer exhaustion of constant ministry and labor could explain His sleeping at this time. 

Every temptation, therefore, associated with being busy and tired…Jesus endured.  When we get tired, we are tempted to be discouraged.  When we get tired, we are tempted to be angry, and are often easily provoked.   When we get tired we are tempted to complain even about the smallest inconveniences.  When we get tired, we are tempted to blame others for the stress and pressures we feel.  When we are tired, we are sometimes tempted to simply give up.  Jesus endured, in His humanity, every temptation associated with a busy schedule and the resulting exhaustion.  "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15)

3.         Busy and tired Christians must turn to Christ and look to Him for help.  In the midst of our busy schedules and exhausting demands there is always the temptation to seek unbiblical or inadequate solutions.  Some will indulge secret sins, justifying them because their uniquely busy and demanding schedule somehow justifies their occasional disobedience.  Others grow cold, hard, withdrawn and unsympathetic toward others under the weight of their own self-pity and bitterness.  But there is a better way.  There is a way to deal with your present busy and stressful life that does not undermine your relationship with the Lord and your fellowship with others.  That way begins by looking at Jesus Christ.

Looking to Christ will help us, as Christians, realize several important things:

            First, realize that those who pour their lives out in serving others will likely, as Christ, be busy people.  Did you expect something different?  Did you think that the new priorities in your life to love God and love your neighbor would somehow make your life less busy?  A full schedule, even an exhausting schedule as our Lord often endured, does not necessarily mean that something is wrong.  It may mean, quite to the contrary, that you are doing exactly what God expects.  Denying yourself sufficient sleep, exercise and nourishment is a recipe for both physical and spiritual disaster.  I do not want to be misunderstood as promoting a style of life or ministry lacks adequate and necessary times of refreshing.  But maintaining a schedule that is full, that offers few if any opportunities for leisure time or luxuries may very well be the plan of God for you right now.  Our culture suggests that if your life isn’t decorated with frequent vacations, spa trips, entertainments and social events that somehow you have missed out on the best things of life.  If so, then virtually every servant of God in Scripture seems to have missed out on life as well.  Listen to these words of Christ.  I know of no other phrase of Christ repeated 6 times in the gospels.  It is found once in every gospel.  Matthew and Luke record it twice, at different times.  Sometimes the form is slightly altered.  But here it is:  "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it (Luke 9:24).”  Meditate upon this.  Consider it when you look at your schedule and literally do not see a spare hour anywhere in your foreseeable future.  As you pour out your own life into the lives of those around you, remember Jesus’ words “whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.”

            Second, realize in looking to Christ, that busy and tired Christians can maintain communion with God.   Fellowship with God is not ultimately dictated by our day-timer.  Rather, fellowship with God flows from a heart that longs for Him.  Psalm 82 is a Psalm that speaks of the joys of fellowship with God.  It speaks of how “blessed are those who dwell in Your house (vs. 4)” and “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God (vs. 10).”  But where does this communion with God, of which the Psalmist speaks, come from?  A leisurely schedule?  Hours of free time?  A life of minimal responsibilities?  No.  Communion with God starts with the heart:  "My soul longs, yes, even faints For the courts of the Lord; My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God (Psalm 84:2).”  Jesus was busy.  But in the midst of being busy and tired He always maintained perfect fellowship with His Father.  He rose early to pray to His Father (Mark 1:35) and sometimes prayed through the night (Luke 6:12).   He was always doing the will of His Father (John 5:30).  He displayed the Father to His disciples (John 17:6).  In fact, He said, “I am My Father are one (John 10:30).”  Christ maintained fellowship with God.  Busy Christians can maintain fellowship with God.  And this is sure because Christ Himself now dwells in those who trust Him by His Spirit. 

            Third, realize that there is a spiritual rest offered in Christ that is not diminished even though we find ourselves busy and tired.  Jesus speaks of it.  He said "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).” Those who have been united to Christ through faith have true spiritual rest.  We have the rest of freedom from sin.  No longer are we held captive by sin or in slavery to sin.  We have the rest of forgiveness.  All our sin and guilt has been dealt with once and for all at the cross.  And we have the rest of the future.  The author of Hebrews puts it this way "There remains therefore a rest for the people of God (Hebrews 4:9).”

I close with a word to those who are busy, tired, but also unsaved.  I ask you: What is your busy life leading to?  Where is all your busyness getting you?  Are you putting off the greatest priority, your eternal soul, because you are simply too busy to concern yourself with that right now?  Dear friend, look at your schedule closely.  Do you realize that nothing written there is guaranteed?  You or I may not live to see the very next item on our agendas.  I have yet to meet someone who scheduled death into their day timer.  But yet it happens.  It will happen to me, and it will happen to you.  And then what will be next?  What will all your busyness have achieved for you?  God said to the busy man in Jesus’ parable: “Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided (Luke 12:20)?”  I, therefore, urge you not to delay dealing with Christ another moment.