“But” Disease

As I go about work,
     I continue to cry.
Most people don’t notice,
     for my eyes remain dry.
I weep for what is,
     I weep for what was.
I weep from great heartache,
     and I weep just because.

I suffer in silence,
     for who wants to know.
That the little word “but”
     can cause me such woe.
People say great things
     that should build me up.
And then it is followed
     by that little word “but”.

It causes great conflict
     in the midst of my mind.
On which side of the “but”
     is the truth I can find?
It shouldn’t matter
     just what people say.
So I cry out to God
     throughout my whole day.

“You do a great job,
     all the people do say.”
“But pack up your things,
     today’s your last day.”
“The way that you serve
     is always first-rate.”
“But we’re changing direction
     so we can be great.”

“You did a great job
     raising the funds we did ask.”
“But it wasn’t done our way,
     so you’ve now lost that task.”
“You’re working too hard,
     your hours too long.”
“But you’re overpaid now,
     your wages are wrong.”

“Your preaching is great,
     it sure builds us up.”
And then comes the dread
     of that little word “but”.
Throughout all my life,
     these “buts” follow me.
Sometimes they’re so close,
     they’re all I can see.

© 2105 by Tom Lemler

As I’ve been crying out to God tonight as I clean the building, this poem filled my mind as God began to show me the damage that this one little word does in my life.  When the poem first began in my mind, I wasn’t expecting it to take the turn it did as I had not really thought about why this season of sadness has returned.  I’m not even sure the poem is finished other than the words quit coming.  As I reflect on the words in front of me, I can’t help but think of the words of Jesus as He says to let our yes be yes and our no be no.  My mind is wired in a way that typically causes whatever comes after the “but” to negate everything that came before.  That one little words plants the seeds of doubt in my mind . . . which did they really mean, the first part or the second part?  Because the actions of people have usually corresponded with the second part, I end up convinced that the first part had no meaning and was just being used to try to soften the cold, hard facts of the truth.  I suppose that this poem is the start of realizing that if I don’t find my complete worth and value in Christ and Christ alone then this “‘But’ Disease” is likely to kill me.  I pray that God helps you to understand these words with the context and purpose for which He has given them.  

In prayer,
Tom

If Jesus Had Facebook

If Jesus had Facebook,
     just what would He say?
Would he “like” the nude photo
     that you shared today?
Would He laugh at the language
     that you said, “never mind”?
When He looked at your wall,
    just what would He find?

I think far too often,
     we try to fit in.
We laugh and we joke
     at things God calls sin.
You say times are different,
     I need to relax.
The world likes you better
     if you avoid all the facts.

But I look at God’s Word,
     I believe it’s still true.
It says I should be different
    in all that I do.
To avoid the appearance,
     and even the hint.
Of things that are sinful
     and toward evil are bent.

I don’t claim to be perfect,
     but I think I should try.
To honor the One
     that for my sin did die.
I wake up each morning
     and offer a prayer.
“Lord, let your love in me,
     be all that I share.”
© 2015 by Tom Lemler

As I was cleaning and praying tonight, I would check Facebook periodically as I let the floor scrubber recharge or floors dry in order to continue my work.  As I did so, two things stood out to me – the promptness of people of all backgrounds to ask other to pray for Paris and the varying degrees of subtlety and inappropriateness in the content of the “usual” posts that show up in my newsfeed.  It made me think of the scripture which asks the rhetorical question, “Can salt water and fresh water come from the same spring?”  Should cursing and praises come from the same mouth . . . or the same Facebook account?  Just some late night thoughts as I wrap up a long day of work and pray that God would help each of us be consistent in our testimony and witness.

A Day Called Today

What if today
     was all that you had?
To determine if your life
     was lived good or bad?
Are there things you would do
     and things you would say?
That would be different somehow
     from a “regular” day?

Would you care for the poor
     or just walk on by?
Would you give with joy
     or respond with a sigh?
Would your children see you
     take time from your day?
To just be with them
     as they run and play?

Would the things that concern you
     make you want to fight?
Or would they lose their importance
     and now seem so slight?
Would being first
     in whatever the line?
Make all that much difference
    or perhaps second is fine?

If today was the day
     that you were judged by.
Would you face it with joy
     or would you walk off and cry?
What would be said
     by those left behind?
What kind of fruit
     would anyone find?

This much I know,
     though it may not be fact.
Today’s the last day
     some may see me act.
The people in life,
     they do come and go.
Will I lift them up
     or will I bring them low?

Will the words that I say –
     the ones that they hear.
Make them run away
     or perhaps draw them near?
Will they hear of Jesus
     in word and in deed?
Will my life be the one
     that has planted a seed?

So what will you do
     with the day that’s ahead?
Will you fill it with life
     or walk through it dead?
Will you find deeper meaning
     than just getting by?
Will you be found ready
     when it’s your time to die?

None of us know
     just when that will be.
When our time here is done
     and our Creator we see.
So the best I can tell you
     is just live today.
With the help of the Spirit
    in the best possible way!

© 2015 by Tom Lemler

As I was preparing the audio files from last night’s sermon to be put on my blog, this poem showed up in my mind.  The sermon from Luke 21 was about understanding the signs of the end.  The message that I really wanted people to walk away with had much more to do with being ready than actually knowing when.  I suspect that God’s preparation in my mind for that sermon was also the seed for this poem.  I pray that it accomplishes His purposes for it and that it is an encouragement to you as you live faithfully each day.
 
In prayer,
Tom

The Walk-Off

A long time ago
     in the mind of a child.
God planted a dream
     that to most would seem wild.
To walk with Him closely
     throughout every day.
To listen intently
     for what He will say.
To walk side by side
     as friend walks with friend.
To walk this way daily
     without any end.
 
To live like old Enoch
     from days long ago.
Whose walk with his Lord
     was more than “so-so”.
To be walking one day
     on this earth and its ground.
Then to walk off with God
     until he cannot be found.
That is the way
     that I want to be known.
I was walking with God
     then from earth I have flown.
 
What greater joy
     could there ever be.
Than to be called to heaven
     where God’s face I will see.
And when I get tired
     of being alive.
I recall Enoch’s years
     totaled three-sixty-five!
So I keep on walking
     by faith, not by sight.
For I could never make it
     if it was by my own might.
© 2015 by Tom Lemler
 
It has often been in the valleys of life that God has given me poems to write and this one was not an exception. From as far back as I can remember, Enoch has been one of my favorite Bible characters as I would contemplate a life lived in such a way that he “. . . walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him.” As the great-grandfather of Noah, Enoch lived in a time period where wickedness would have surrounded him in ever-increasing measure yet he chose to walk with God. I pray that you and I would make that choice daily that regardless of the wickedness around us, we will walk with God.
 
In prayer,
Tom

The TRUTH that Leads to Freedom

 “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. . . . So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.'”
John 8:31-32, 36 (NIV)

I had the privilege of sharing a sermon this morning from John 8:31-59 as I chose to address the topic of freedom on this Fourth of July holiday weekend.  I opened by reading a poem, Freedom, that God had put in my mind to write yesterday morning.  Then, as my custom is, I used a word of the sermon title as an acrostic to outline my sermon.  God calls His followers to know, live, and share a freedom that can only be found in the truth of Jesus who claims, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

As we unwrapped “The TRUTH that Leads to Freedom”, we first looked at the Teaching that leads to freedom.  Jesus stated that by holding fast to His teachings we show that we are His disciples and will be set free by the truth of them.  Jesus made it clear in the story of the wise and foolish builders, that there is a difference between knowing the teachings of Jesus and actually putting them into practice.  It is by being a “doer of the word and not a hearer only” that we find the Teaching that leads to freedom.

The second point of the message addressed our need to practice a Repentance that leads to freedom.  Repentance is a word, and practice, that most of us tend to avoid because it requires an admittance that there is something not right in our life.  Often lost in a culture that loves to quote “judge not”, is the clear message of Jesus that He came not to call the righteous but to call sinners to repentance.  The real excitement in that last sentence ought to be the realization that Jesus came to call you and I to a Repentance that leads to freedom!

Through Jesus, we also gain an Understanding that leads to freedom.  Some of my favorite passages in the Bible are when Jesus addresses His disciples and refers to them as “dull” or asks them, “do you not understand?”.  I love these because it shows that Jesus knows that my understanding of who He is and the freedom He offers is a growing process.  In one of those passages there is an expressed concern about the keeping of some Jewish ceremonial practices to be considered clean.  Jesus explains that it is what is inside of a person that makes them clean or unclean  It is knowing, and trusting, the promises of Jesus to wash away my sins that gives me an Understanding that leads to freedom.

Perhaps the most difficult part of the message was this fourth point as I addressed the Traditions that lead to freedom.  I must make it very clear, it is not the traditions themselves that lead to freedom rather an examination and understanding of why I practice them.  Jesus made it clear to those accusing Him of forsaking the Law of God, as found in the Old Testament, that His intention was not to abolish the law, but rather to fulfill it.  He was keeping and fulfilling the law not for the sake of tradition but because he understood and believed the purpose behind it.  When we seek the old paths, paths founded in the truth of God’s Word, and walk intentionally in them as part of our relationship with God, we discover Traditions that lead to freedom.

Finally, we considered the Honor that leads to freedom.  Jesus could do and say the things He did while on earth because He wasn’t concerned about bringing honor and glory to Himself.  He was despised, ridiculed, rejected, and crucified all while living in complete freedom.  His stated goal was to not bring glory to Himself but to honor His Father.  It is so easy to get caught in the trap of compromise as we become afraid of what people will think of us.  Most of us want people to speak well of us and to honor us for our accomplishments and for who we are.  The problem is not so much in honoring people or being honored by people — God tells us to give honor to whom honor is due.  What keeps us from experiencing freedom is our desire to bring honor to ourselves.  It is when we make the focus of our life all about bringing glory to God that we can experience the Honor that leads to freedom.

Like the Jewish listeners in the days of Jesus, I think many people are disgusted with the idea that someone would set them free.  That original audience believed they were already free and had never been enslaved to anyone or anything — sounds rather familiar and contemporary to today’s culture, at least to me.  As much as we like to fight for our freedoms and shout to be heard, it doesn’t appear to be working all that well.  Perhaps it is time we turn to The TRUTH that Leads to Freedom!

In prayer,
Tom

After All, It Was Just a . . . Piece of Fruit!

After All, It Was Just a . . . Piece of Fruit!

 “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.”
Luke 16:10 (NASB)

Fruit assortment

Just a piece of fruit.

When I read the Bible, I often try to put myself in the scene in some way.  To imagine myself in the skin of one of the characters or think about how I would react if I was the character.  When I read the beginning of Genesis, I think about Adam and Eve and why the temptation worked so well.  It’s easy to imagine because temptation is something we’ve all given in to.  The instruction from God was very clear yet Satan presented a case for why ignoring that instruction was actually to their benefit.  If they would just eat the fruit, their lives would be so much better.  They would be so much wiser.  They would be like God!  Surely the benefits outweighed any consequences and God would understand . . . after all, it was just a piece of fruit.

I doubt that Adam and Eve anticipated the shame and regret that would descend upon them so quickly — they had never experienced either before.  I’m not even sure they fully understood the severity of the consequences their actions produced.  What was death?  There is no indication they had witnessed death of any kind until God provided the garments of skin for them.  After being driven from the garden to live a life of hard work and painful toil just to survive, I wonder how often they questioned the appropriateness  of their punishment . . . after all, it was just a piece of fruit.

And from that time forward, mankind has followed in their footsteps.  We hear simple instructions yet we convince ourselves that the benefits of not following them somehow make the instructions irrelevant.  We see the short-term benefit while paying no attention to the eternal consequences of not being faithful in the little things.  We go about life as we want to live it, ignoring and dismissing all instructions that might inconvenience us in any way.  When called into account for our lack of faithfulness in the little things, we insist that it really shouldn’t matter . . . after all, it was just a piece of fruit.

As I was removing tape and staples (which should not have been there) from the auditorium wall at church, the verse at the top of this article came to mind.  It also brought to mind an incident from the first summer I was responsible for the maintenance at camp.  We were in our second season of using some very nice additions to the dining hall and health officer’s cabin at the camp and some very strict instruction and policy had been laid down to protect the huge amount of work and investment that had gone into them.  To protect the new walls, we had a very strict no tape of any kind on any of the painted drywall.  We made it through most of the summer until one week a volunteer came and insisted that they needed to tape decorations all over the back wall of the dining hall.  When they were unable to convince me that the benefit to them was worth ignoring the instruction, they went over my head to my boss who gave them permission to do what they wanted . . . after all, it was just a piece of tape.

When the end of the week came and all of the tape was removed, the effects were quite obvious.  When the tape came off, so did the paint!  My boss noticed it and remembered the words of the camp board at the building dedication, “Take a good look at these additions.  We expect them to look like this and be maintained in this condition.”  So, I was given instruction that I must repair and repaint the entire wall before any of the board members came on site.  Yet not once was there any acknowledgement that this was caused by a failure to follow simple instruction and policy . . . after all, it was just a piece of tape.

While this was a specific example that related to my frustration of once again removing tape and staples that should not have been present from a wall, this same mindset is far too common.  We adopt a belief that the ends justify the means so it doesn’t really matter how we do things as long as it brings a perceived benefit to us.  So we take things from work . . . after all, it was just a few things they didn’t really need.  We speed . . . after all, it was just a few mph over the posted limit.  We cheat on our spouse . . . after all, it was just some harmless fun.  We _____________ (you fill in the blank) . . . after all, it was just ____________!

I pray that when you consider the instructions given by God in His Word, including the instruction to obey those in authority, you would be found faithful in the little things . . . after all, it’s just the right thing to do!

In prayer,
Tom

Rescued

It’s been quite a year,
     as I look back now.
It’s hard to describe,
     except to say, “Wow!”
You live for so long
     at the point of despair.
And it surely seems
     like no one does care.
You work really hard
     at all that you do.
Yet the credit is taken
     by those around you. 

You watch and you wonder
     what you might have done.
That others don’t see you
     and your gift they do shun.
When people speak poorly
     about that which you do.
There’s none with the courage
     to stand up for you.
And so you do come
     to the end of your rope.
You cry out to Jesus
     for a glimmer of hope. 

So, God gives you strength
     as the years linger on.
You pray for the patience
     to see hope’s new dawn.
You hold tight to Jesus
     in the midst of it all.
You listen more closely
     for the sound of His call.
The years of oppression
     are not wasted, you see.
God uses each moment
     as training for me. 

I hear Him more clearly
     because of the pain.
It drives me to seek Him
     and submit to His reign.
His voice is much softer
     and loving to me.
Than I ever dreamt of,
     or thought it could be.
At just the right moment,
     my God says to me.
“My child it is time,
     for you to be free.” 

All this reminds me
     of Joseph in jail.
He sat there for years
     for someone did fail.
To speak up for him,
     his story to tell.
The man only cared
     that his own life went well.
So Joseph was faithful,
     even though treated wrong.
He still sought His God,
     through the night that was long. 

But God was not absent
     or without a plan.
At just the right time,
     He prompted a man.
That man was the king,
     who had quite a dream.
It disturbed him greatly,
     or so it would seem.
He sought out the wisest
     from throughout the land.
But it fell to Joseph
     to tell what God planned. 

God lifted him higher,
     than all but the king.
His purpose through famine,
     was rescue to bring.
God rescued Joseph
     from out of his cell.
For He had a message,
     someone needed to tell.
He rescued Egypt,
     but not them alone.
For to Joseph’s family,
     great mercy was shown. 

So when you are struggling
     in a jail of your own.
I pray that these words
     are good seeds that are sown.
That you hold even tighter
     to God’s gentle hand.
And wait for the purpose
     that God’s already planned.
That you remain faithful
     in all that you do.
Let God fill your life
     with all that’s for you. 

But always remember,
     as part of God’s plan.
You’re called to share
     with your fellow-man.
God uses hard times
     as well as the good.
To teach us His ways,
     so we do what we should.
So when you are lifted
     from the pit of despair.
You can’t help but shout it,
     you know God’s great care! 

So back to the story
     that this poem began.
As much as we’d like to,
     trouble we cannot ban.
But it is our choice,
     what we do with it.
Does it bring us down,
     or do we grow from it?
Part of that growth
     is to let people know.
That the troubles they face,
     also help them to grow. 

© 2014 by Tom Lemler

As I was spending time with God in prayer, praising Him for the incredible opportunities He has been giving me recently, He put this poem in my mind.  This poem is a reminder of where I’ve been and of God’s great work of rescuing me.  His reminder from the life of Joseph is that my rescue is not only for my benefit, but that He means for it to be a help and encouragement to others.  The greatest rescue from bondage that we will ever experience is the rescue of us from sin that Jesus accomplished on the cross.  It is important that we share our stories so that those who are near despair will hear of a  God who rescues at just the right time.  I pray that this poem is an encouragement to you to remain faithful in all things.

In prayer,
Tom