Baggage…

I have it, you have it, we ALL have it, but what is it? Our “baggage” is those things in our lives that we would rather forget, but can’t, those things we are NOT proud of. Lest you think that you don’t have any “baggage“, don’t forget that even Jesus had “baggage“. So did Matthew…

Jesus…
1 The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham:

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. 3 Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram. 4 Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon. 5 Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. 6 Jesse was the father of David the king. David was the father of Solomon by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah. (Matthew 1:1-6)

Matthew opened his gospel by retelling Jesus’ genealogy, but why did he include some of the more “sordid” details? For him to include women in Jesus’ genealogy was unheard of in Jewish genealogies, but for him to include GENTILE women? Was he airing Jesus’ “dirty-laundry“? Or…

What was it about these women? Tamar was a Canaanite woman, and Judah’s daughter-in-law. Rahab was a harlot (prostitute) from Jericho. Ruth was a Moabite. David “stole” Bathsheba from Uriah and had him murdered.

Reading on in Matthew, we are told that Joseph found out that his fiance, Mary, was pregnant – out of wedlock, but it was “okay“, because she hadn’t “really” been unfaithful. This was to be a “miracle-baby“, and Joseph was going to have to raise him as his own. Let’s see: “miracle-baby“, unwed-mother, in a very “shame-and-honor” culture… It wasn’t going to be easy for them and it only gets “better“…

Jesus was born in a stable, in a barnyard. No baby-bed, just a manger. No baby-clothes, just “swaddling-clothes“. Their first visitors – bewildered shepherds. The “baby-shower” didn’t happen until a couple of years later, and forced them to run for their lives. Some “baby-shower“… Jesus then grew up in the hick-town of Nazareth, in Galilee, of all places. He was the son of a carpenter before He became an iterate-preacher. He was so “ordinary“… Is it any wonder that He drew the down-trodden, the sick and “sinners” like a magnet? Yes, Jesus had “baggage“…

Man who was demon-possessed…
After rescuing a man from wicked, violent, and destructive demonic oppression, Jesus says, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19).

“Go tell your friends...” doesn’t sound like Jesus wanted him to “hide” his past, rather, the man was commanded to showcase God’s love, grace and mercy on him. He was a changed-man because Jesus had changed him, and liberated him from the bondage of demonic oppression.

Matthew…
Matthew was a tax collector, one of the most despised occupations in 1st century Israel. He had “sold his soul” to the Roman government in exchange for a “piece of the action“. Even though he was a Jew, he was a TRAITOR. One would think that, if ANYONE would have wanted to bury his story, Matthew would, but he didn’t. When Matthew walked away from his past, he didn’t leave his friends behind, he threw a PARTY:

9 As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.

10 Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:9-13″

The Pharisees were always concerned about “appearances“, but Jesus wasn’t. Jesus came to call those who knew they had a problem, a problem that only He could fix, and until we realize that we are broken beyond repair, we won’t see that Jesus is our ONLY solution, the only One who can heal our brokenness.

Matthew, as if to remind us of his brokenness and the healing he had received, when he listed the disciples in Matthew 10:2-4, he listed himself as “Matthew the tax collector“. Like Paul, Matthew’s brokenness is canonized in Scripture for us to see, for us to realize that NOBODY is “too broken” to be beyond God’s love, grace and mercy.

Your”baggage”…
What is YOUR attitude towards YOURbaggage“? Do YOU use it to showcase God’s forgiveness, grace and mercy in your life, making you more “relatable“, or do you want to bury it, causing people to think that you may be “too good to be true“, that you “have it all together“? Does it matter? Jesus and Matthew believe that your story “matters“…

During our CNA Spring Conference at Lake Como this last February, I told my “story” on Saturday evening, and then when I spoke Sunday morning, I used my “story” to help others build their “ministry-resume“, because I believe that our “stories“, our “baggage” really DO matter. There are parts of my story that are known only to God, and it will stay that way. We don’t see Matthew publishing a list of everyone he had defrauded, because some of those “details” don’t need to be disclosed, but both Matthew and I have told enough of our story for others to realize that he was, and I am, still a very broken man.

We are redeemed only because Jesus Christ has redeemed us. We couldn’t do it ourselves.

Please don’t hold a “funeral” for your “story“, for your “baggage“. Don’t be chained to your past, but don’t forget it either, because your story, my story, are all part of God’s grander story of redemption through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our sins were nailed to the cross, but our stories still matter.

In Christ,
Steve

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Seasons

When we think of seasons, we usually think of the seasons of the year, Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter, but our lives also go through seasons. It would be quite easy to equate the seasons of our lives with the seasons fo the year, and sometimes a season in our life appears where it really doesn’t belong. I wrote about misplaced winters in “The “Winters” of Life“. I want to delve into the seasons of our lives and demonstrate that our cycle of life, or our seasons, are not only “normal“, but that they are ordained by God.

A Time for Everything
3 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

A time to be born…
Spring reminds us of new life. Trees start greening-up, flowers start blooming, and it seems that new life is everywhere. Regardless of when they are born, babies are a Spring event, and one of the most joyous events in the life of a family. Babies being born speaks of there being a future, and they are the beginning of a new cycle of life.

Being born-again into Christ is also a Spring event, because we are given a new life, a life with an eternal future. Some of us who have experienced a misplaced Winter in life experience a very-welcome Spring as we emerge from that Winter experience. I am in that place now, having experienced a very brutal Winter, and I am looking forward to what lies ahead of me. I feel rejuvenated.

A time to die…
When someone we love passes on, it reminds us that we all have an appointment with the Grim Reaper, that unless the Lord returns beforehand, we will all die. That is the epitome of a Winter experience. Winter, in many parts of the world, is cold, bleak, seemingly lifeless. Thus it is with death. Life has been swallowed up by death, as the body lays cold and lifeless on the mortician’s slab. I lost my first wife to suicide in 1997. She was 45. I lost my brother to cancer in 2011. He was 54. I lost my father in 2013. He was 78. Each loss had its own unique effects on me.

It is also a time of grief. Someone who we loved has been taken from us, and it is natural for it to hurt. When someone who seemed “too young to die” dies anyway, we speak of it as an “untimely-death“, and yet ALL deaths are “untimely“. God didn’t engineer death and decay into the original “blueprint” for mankind. We were intended to live on and on. Death and decay are results of the fall of mankind into sin. At that, there were several patriaches in the Old Testament who live over 900 years. Moses was still climbing mountains, had a sharp mind, and still had good eyesight at 140 old. Abraham fathered more children at well over a 100 years old.

For many older couples, sex in their “golden-years” consists only of fond memories of days gone by, but that wasn’t in the original “blueprint” either. We know that we are dying when we have already had a funeral for our sex-life. Solomon wasn’t just talking about celebrating anniversaries when he said “Rejoice with the wife of your youth”(Proverbs 5:18b), because that follows “Let your fountain be blessed“(Proverbs 5:18a), which is clearly a metaphor for sex.

The natural seasons of life…
Our lives are pretty easy to divide up in seasons:
Spring is the first twenty years of our lives, as we grow from birth into adulthood.

Summer is the second twenty years of our lives, from ages 21 to 40. This is the time when most people get married, have children, and raise their family.

Fall is the third twenty years of our lives, from ages 40 to 60. This is the time when our children start leaving home and starting lives of their own. This is also the time when our bodies start reminding us that we aren’t young anymore. Mine started rebelling shortly after I turned 40.

Winter is usually the last twenty years of our lives. We are in our waning years. Our bodies may be in full rebellion, and even though some people are hale and hearty well into their 90’s, they are the rare exception. If we haven’t already, we start losing our own parents. I was 57 when I lost my dad, and even though my mom is still fairly vigorous at 83, she isn’t going to last forever.

A time to plant…
Planting is a late-spring to early-sumer activity, which coresponds to couples bearing children. My first wife and I put together a child-bearing “plan” when we first got married, and we were fortunate to be able to have children pretty much on “schedule“. Her younger sister, who had endometriosis, and who was married to man who was virtually sterile, wasn’t nearly as fortunate, although they were blessed with one daughter.

A time to uproot…
Uprooting” is an appropriate metaphor for leaving home. We leave home when we become adults to start a life of our own. We may also “uproot” several other times throughout our lives as we move to new jobs and new life-situations.

A time to kill…
Our lives are not static, and neither are our relationships. Some relationships, even if they started out healthy, become toxic, and we need to have the wisdom to leave those relationships behind. We may need to “pull-the-plug” or “kill” a relationship so that we can move on and heal.

A time to heal…
The person who may need to “heal” may be you or me. After going through a very toxic separation from my wife, I had a LOT of healing to do. It would NOT have been a good time for me to think about another relationship, because I was too broken and needed to heal. I am finally to a place where I might entertain the idea of “dating” or at least finding a “girlfriend“. It is NOT, as some would suppose, because I am tired of “sleeping single in a double-bed“, as I have become quite comfortable with sleeping that way. It is because I am tired of doing everything by myself. Something as basic as eating is more enjoyable when one has companionship. I enjoy going out and having dinner with friends, which I do a couple of times a month.

A time to tear down…
Tearing down” may be equated with leaving old relationships behind. When my previous wife and I got divorced, I left her alone on the courthouse sidewalk because her ride wasn’t back from doing his errands. She had filed for divorce, so she had to deal with the consequences. Her lack of a ride was NOT my problem. In order to minimize the hurt from that broken relationship, I had to minimize any further contact. I had to move on, and I did.

A time to build…
We also have to build new relationships. When I moved to where I am living now, I didn’t know a soul except for my wife, who left me a month later. I had to build new relationships. I am thankful that I was led to a good church, where I have been able to develop a few new relationships. I also have a strong relationship with my neighbor-gal, although it is more of a brother-sister relationship. Relationships are important to our emotional and psychological health.

A time to weep…
There are things that happen in our lives when it is appropriate to cry our eyes out, but I wouldn’t know, because crying isn’t part of my emotional-vocabulary. The shortest verse in the Bible says “Jesus wept“. He had just met His friends, Mary and Martha, whose brother, Lazarus, had been dead for several days. Lazarus was a dear friend, so Jesus did what was appropriate for the situation, He wept. I didn’t cry at my own wife’s funeral, nor have I cried much since.

A time to laugh…
Equally-important is laughter. Laughter is good for the soul, and the ability to laugh at yourself is especially important. Some people laugh naturally, and others have to be taught HOW to laugh. I am somewhere in the middle.

A time to mourn…
Weeping and mourning go hand in hand. When we lose a loved-one, we mourn losing them, and our weeping is a visible sign of our mourning.

A time to dance…
Dancing, in the Old Testament, was something the children of Israel did in celebration of God’s mighty acts on their behalf. King David also danced before the Lord through the streets of Jerusalem as the Ark of the Covenant was being brought into the House of the Lord.(2 Samuel 6:14-15) King David is described as only wearing a “linen ephod“, which appears to have been only a short vest, so for most practical purposes, He was wearing very little more than a grin, and a BIG grin, at that.

God did not allow King David to build a permanent temple. That would be Solomon’s job, but there was a temporary “temple” in Jerusalem, so it was very important to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and put it in the temporary temple. The Ark of the Covenant symbolized God’s presence among His people, so bringing it into Jerusalem WAS a HUGE event, and a time of joyous celebration. King David was entitled to dance for that celebration.

In our modern culture, dancing is also used for celebrations. Wedding celebrations often include dancing, with the new bride and groom getting the first dance alone. Whether it is a slow, intimate dance, a waltz, or even a jig, it is hard to be sad when a person is dancing.

A time to scatter stones…
When would we think of “scattering stones”? What if we were preparing a new spot for a garden? Would we want any stones in our garden? That applies to our relationships as well, because “stones” can represent those “rough-spots” in our relationships, those things that cause friction. We want to “work things out” so that we have the smoothest relationships we can attain. Relationships take work…

A time to gather stones…
Stones” can also be the boundaries around our relationships, our walls, what helps safeguard our relationships. We don’t want or need outside interference in our relationships, so good boundaries are an important part of that. This is similar to the stone walls that were built to protect cities, or even to protect a vineyard, in the cultures when this was written.

A time to embrace…
What is the most awaited, and celebrated kiss in a couple’s life? We wait with baited-breath for the celebrant to say, at the end of a wedding, “You may kiss your bride“. That first kiss ALWAYS brings a round of applause, as well it should. That is the first of, what should be thousands of kisses throughout a couple’s life.

Hugs have been largely-replaced by handshakes in American culture, and many men wouldn’t be caught dead hugging another man, and will only hug their wife or other immediate-family member, and yet touch is very important to our emotional and physical well-being. I am reminded of a picture I saw recently of twin baby girls who had been born several weeks prematurely. One of the babies was doing very well, but the other didn’t look like she was going to make it. One of the nurses, in a last-ditch effort, and against hospital-protocol, placed them together in the same crib. Once they were back together, as they had been in the womb, the one that had been struggling started coming around. The picture shows the healthier one with her arm around the weaker one. Babies who are deprived of physical affection often die quite young.

The Apostle Paul said “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” One pastor I know, when he preached on that passage, said that he would accept hugs, but to not “go-overboard” with it. I have to wonder how affectionate he is with his own family.

A time to refrain from embracing…
When would it be appropriate to refrain from embracing? We certainly DON’T “celebrate” a divorce with a hug, but…

A time to search…
When we lose something of value, we are naturally going to look for it, and that goes double for lost people. I was in Search and Rescue for about a dozen years, and I was involved in over 200 search missions. The most intense missions were searches for lost children. We pulled out ALL the stops. I could write a book about my experiences in SAR.

A time to give up…
Is there ever a hopeless-case, or lost-cause? We never closed out a mission without some kind of resolution. We did suspend a few missions, pending further clues and evidence, but I don’t remember closing any out without being resolved, one way or another. If there was another stone to turn over, we left no stone unturned.

Giving up is hard to do“… There also comes a time in some relationships when it becomes painfully-obvious that the relationship is not salvageable, and that it is at a dead-end. Giving up, and letting the person go, particularly emotionally, is painful at-best. I have had to come to that point over the last couple of years, because even though I am still “married“, on paper, my “marriage” ended January 16, 2013. I have given it everything I could muster, but to no avail, so I finally had to give-up and let-go. Giving up was hard to do, but I had to for my own emotional, psychological and physical well-being.

A time to keep…
Are you a pack-rat? I sure am, and “keeping” is what I do best, often even if it is not worth keeping. But, something that is always worth keeping is HOPE. How many times have you heard it said about a person with a terminal-illness “There is no hope…“? Several years ago, I met a man who was supposed to be dead long before that, but he and his family were living in the same RV park I was in at the time. Even though his doctors had given up hope that he would survive, he not only survived, he was thriving, because someone else didn’t give up on him and gave him a cure that his regular doctors didn’t even know about. His survival would have confounded the best cancer specialists, but what he never gave up was HOPE. Keep HOPE alive regardless of what life throws at you.

A time to throw away…
We live in a very “disposable” society. People throw things away, and people throw other people away. It is one thing to throw things away, but something entirely-different to throw someone away. What we REALLY need to throw away is the excess-baggage of our past. Many of us drag around the excess baggage of regrets, “What if’s?” and “If only…”s. We need to let that stuff go. We need to hear from the lips of Jesus “Your sins are forgiven“, and “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.“, as He released the burdens of her past from that “SINNER“. Every sinner has a future, and every saint has a past.

Max Lucado, in his book, “Traveling Light“, has taken a candid look at the excess baggage we carry around with us, and addressing it from the 23rd Psalm. It is a wonderful book, and yes, I need to read it again. If you have excess-baggage, you owe it to yourself to get a copy and read it as many times as it takes to sink in properly.

Folks, it is time to take out the trash… We may just find that our step is lighter and we can hold our head a bit higher.

A time to tear…
What do you LIKE to tear up? WHAT would you LIKE to tear up? Junk-mail comes to mind in the first instance, and bills come to mind in the second instance. I have no use for junk-mail, so it gets torn up and pitched immediately. Bills are an unwelcome-reminder that we can’t live this life for free.

There is another “bill” which grows ever-larger by the minute, that is, if you are not in Christ. We, prior to coming to Christ, owe a “bill“, a “debt” for ALL of our sins, and only God can tear up THAT bill. The good news is that, if you have come to Christ by faith, God has not only torn up your “bill“, He wouldn’t even know where to start looking to find it again.

Are you in any “goingnowhere” relationships? I think we all have had a few of those. They were good, even great, you grew farther and farther apart, and maintaining that relationship wasn’t worth the effort. Is it time to tear up that “friendcard“? Maybe it is.

Many years ago, I became friends with Gary. He lived in the neighborhood and worked with his dad. I used to go over there and hang out with him. We were several years apart in age, but that didn’t matter at the time. Then, Gary met Johnnie, and they became engaged shortly thereafter. A few months later, they got married. Johnnie already had a couple of children, so Gary married into a ready-made family. Not long after they got married, I graduated from high school and went into the military. Long-story-short…I had gone my own way, and Gary had gone his own way, and even when I returned from the military, our friendship had gone by the wayside. That wasn’t what I wanted, but I finally had to tear up that “friendcard“. I haven’t heard from or seen Gary in MANY years.

A time to mend…
Do you have a strained relationship with someone, perhaps one of your parents? Regardless of who is at fault, many people DO have a strained relationship with one or both of their parents. My ex-wife had been sexually-abused by her father from her early-teens til her early-20’s, and she didn’t talk to him for many years. She finally found it in her heart to forgive him and work on mending that relationship. By the time we got together, she was on good terms with her father, so I was able to get to know my father-in-law. She notified me a few days ago that he had passed away.

I have had no relationship with any of my children for over 17 years, not because I have tried, but because they haven’t been willing to reconnect. I hope that some day they will come around and be willing to reconnect with me. We can’t help mend what the other person is unwilling to help mend also.

A time to be silent…
Sometimes there are no appropriate words to say, and our silence and a listening-ear are the best gift we can give someone. When someone goes through a personal-tragedy, such as the sudden-loss of a loved-one, we DON’T know what and how they are feeling, because we all process personal-tragedies differently. There are other times when we may not be able to add something intelligent to a conversation, and at those times, “It is better to be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt”.

A time to speak…
There are times when it is appropriate to yell “FIRE“, but if one yells “FIRE” at the wrong time, the consequences can be disastrous.

A time to love…
Love should come naturally, but it doesn’t always. We are commanded to “Love your neighbor as yourself“, but sometimes that is easier said than done. Because I have written extensively about love in other posts, I would refer you to them for further study.

A time to hate…
What should we hate? Is it ever right to hate a person? I believe that there is a fine line between hating what a person does and hating them, particularly when what they do that we hate seems to define them, but does it? Boko Haram and ISIS do some horrible things, and abject-brutality define their movements, but should we hate those who belong to Boko Haram and ISIS, or just what they do? If one of those groups invaded my community, and was harming or threatening to harm my friends and neighbors, I would do everything in my power to stop them, including using deadly-force.

How about the doctor and staff of an abortion clinic? I abhor what they do because they are murdering unborn children, but in the US of A, they have the law on their side, thanks to Roe vs Wade. What we CAN do is lobby to get the laws changed, but killing abortion doctors and bombing abortion clinics is not going to help anything.

A time for war…
Is war ever justified? Yes, but fabricating a “reason” to go to war NEVER is. I believe in having a strong defense to protect our own immediate interests, but meddling in other country’s affairs is NOT justification for committing our military forces.

A time for peace…
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” (Romans 12:8) Our responsibility is to live peacefully with those around us, particularly within our own family.

Jesus said “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

Seasons…
We all go through them, and how we respond to the challenges of each season can make the difference whether we struggle or thrive. I hope that you will be encouraged by this little study to do what it takes to thrive, regardless of which season you find yourself in. Between birth and death, there is a WHOLE LOT of living to do.

God bless!
Steve