Meditations by John Dean

Monday, December 29, 2014

Running the Race

(1 Corinthians 9:24 KJV)  Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receives the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.

Perhaps the reason the term ‘run’ is used so many times in the Bible is because it, (like a healthy relationship with the Lord) requires total commitment. This kind of commitment includes the whole body…the muscles, the mind and especially the heart.

One might even describe life as a series of races. That being the case then it would also suggest that one must live with a runner’s mindset.

Running life’s race could mean different things to different people. To one it could mean trying to make a decent living and paying the bills. To another it could mean trying to live a good Christian life and yet to another it may mean trying to eat right and live a healthy life. To another person it could even mean being physically and mentally active throughout their life.

However, there are others who spend their entire working life planning for their retirement because they have grown weary of life’s challenges. The apostle Paul said, “....brethren, be not weary in well doing” (2Timothy 3:13).

To some folks retirement means the ending of one phase of their life and the beginning of another. To other folks retirement means quitting all together because they are either tired of trying to win in life or they have physical problems. In either case they have ‘grown weary in well doing’ and therefore have chosen to pull out of the race altogether.

Anyone can run in a race but it takes resilience to win a race. The question is…what is resilience and how does one get it?  The only way one can develop resilience is by overcoming his natural tendency to resist pain and discomfort. The fact is, a true runner usually lives with a measure of pain and discomfort because they expect more from their muscles, mind and heart.

The question still remains, “What is resilience?” Resilience is the ability to spring back or to rebound from being bent as the result of difficult experiences.

I was in Tucson, Arizona a few days ago and on the evening of my arrival I was invited to have dinner with some friends and their three young adult children. The dinner was superb and the conversation that evening was very inspiring.

I found the training of these young adults to be extremely interesting because their training ranged from the medical field to sports to even being trained as a Hollywood actor. Even though I was inspired by all of them I was particularly drawn to the brightness of their daughter.

The next day as my friend and I were walking through the University of Arizona campus praying I commented on all the young people wearing their caps and gowns for graduation. My friend said, “Well, it will only be a couple of hours before I am here for my daughter’s graduation”.

I said, “I know you must be very proud of her because she is so sharp that I bet she did not have to study much to make all those good grades”. He said “Quite the contrary…she had to study very hard but she is the most resilient person I know…she just does not give up”.

The more I thought about her resilience the more I understood what Paul was saying in our text. Talent alone does not make one a winner…it takes resilience.

Perhaps that is the way it is with our walk with the Lord. Anyone can be happy as a Christian as long as everything goes well and there are no challenges. However, when things are not going well and life seems to be full of challenges…some folks want to drop out of the race all together.

I think what Paul was saying is that resilience is the key ingredient to winning in both our natural life as well as our spiritual life.

Help us to be a resilient people who refuse to entertain the thought of giving up. Lord, our desire is to see each challenge in life as stepping stones toward building a winning character and one who can stay true to the race and not be distracted by discomfort. For these things we give You all the praise.

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Monday, December 22, 2014

CHRISTmas Light

(Luke 2:7-9 KJV)  And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

This scripture is read more at Christmas than at any other time of the year. Sunday school teachers love to tell the story about Mary and Joseph giving birth to baby Jesus in a barn and wrapping Him in swaddling clothes and laying Him in a manger. Pastors love to give the theological reason for Christ’s coming and what each of the gifts meant that the three Wise Men brought to baby Jesus.

The music department loves to participate by going to the storage room and dusting off the manger and all the other props that are needed to make up the nativity scene. Sometimes they even go so far as to set up a live nativity scene in front of the church by using real people to play the parts of Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus. Of course this scene would not be complete without the three Wise men baring gifts and a couple of unwilling animals (such as a donkey and a sheep), looking on.

All of these things are wonderful reminders of the birth of our Lord and we should continue to participate in them but there is a lot more to this story.

The night of Jesus’ birth the greatest ‘Light show’ on earth took place out in the fields where the shepherds were tending the flocks by night. The Light the shepherds saw was not manufactured by man…no, it was none other than the Glory of the Lord putting on a ‘Light show’ for the shepherds to see. In other words, this Light was the result of all heaven celebrating the birth of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

I suppose the real question is, why did the heavens ‘Light show’ take place in the field with the lowly shepherds and not with the wise, the powerful, and the rich?

It was appropriate for the celebration of the Chief Shepherd (Jesus) to be done first for the lower shepherds.

When the Bible said, “There was no room for Mary and Joseph in the inn”…that was a prophetic statement. The fact is there never seems to be any room at all for the Glory of God in anything natural. That is why the Lord has always displayed His Glory in the common places such as in the barn where He was born, in the field where the shepherds were and in you and me.

When Jesus was born I am sure that Mary and Joseph did as I do when I am around a new baby.  They gazed at His tiny little hands and feet and face.

However, Mary and Joseph did not know that there were probably other little babies being born that same night that would one day be driving spikes in their little Baby’s hands and feet.  Little did Mary and Joseph know that their Baby would be the sacrificial Lamb for the sins of all mankind including the ones that would nail their Baby to the cross.

Little did they know as they were gazing at their Baby that He was the Son of God and that His death would make way for you and me to also become sons of God.

We have a theme park in San Antonio called Feasta Texas. The park was actually built in a gravel pit where millions of tons of gravel had been mined over the years. This mammoth old pit had extremely high rock cliffs which proved to be a perfect fit for the laser show the park did each night at closing time. When the laser lights bounced off those high walls it was absolutely spectacular. It was so breathtaking that all one could hear was a low roar from the crowd of, “Wow, Wow, Wow”.

One can only imagine how these lowly shepherds felt when they unexpectedly saw this breathtaking Glory ‘Light show’ celebrating of the birth of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. I know all I can say while I am thinking about such a display is, “Wow, Wow, Wow”.

Thank You for showing Your glory to the shepherds first. We as shepherds are still overwhelmed by that Glory as we continue to tell the story of that faithful night that changed the world for all mankind.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas Gifts

(Proverbs 19:6 Message)  Lots of people flock around a generous person; everyone's a friend to the philanthropist.

Seeking the favor of an important or a generous person is not uncommon. However, one might think that the favor sought would always be for natural gifts but that is not necessarily the case. When there are no natural gifts to be had then the secondary gift may even prove to be more important to the seeker than the primary gift.  That is the gift of association.

It would not be stretching it to say that most folks would like to be more important than they think they really are. One way of accomplishing that would be to associate with people with whom they feel are higher up the ladder than they are. The outworking of such a relationship gives them the privilege of name dropping and name dropping makes them feel more credible…they think.

In East Texas we call this ‘shucking and jiving’.

However, things are much different when seeking a relationship with the Lord. When one has a relationship with the Lord then all of heaven’s gifts are a part of that relationship without any ‘shucking and jiving’. That makes everything primary (both the relationship and the gifts), and nothing is secondary because all of it comes wrapped in the love of God.

Just think about it…He is in the Spiritual gifts, He is in the physical gifts, He is in the financial gifts and He is in the relationship gifts as well as everything else that heaven has stored up for those who love Him. One might even say that a relationship with the Lord is like opening CHRISTmas gifts every day.

Jesus said, “…he that hath seen me hath seen the Father”.  The same thing should be true when people see us. When one sees us they should also see our generous Father. As the Father has given generously to each of us then we should also give generously to the orphans and the widows and to the poor. As we do give I am sure it puts a smile on the Lord’s face as well as these words on His lips…”You got it”.
It is something like us passing out CHRISTmas presents everyday wrapped in the same package of love that our gifts were wrapped in.

I remember as a little country boy that my Christmas present was like most other country boys at that time. I do not recall any presents being wrapped in beautiful colored paper with bows on top…that came later. Most presents were either something simple or something handmade and if they were wrapped at all they were wrapped in brown paper and tied with string

I do not think I knew anyone who actually had a Christmas stocking to hang up either…we would just hang up a sock. In my sock I always remembered getting an apple, an orange and a little piece of peppermint candy. I could not have been happier than if my sock had been filled with money. Even then I had a deep appreciation for the heart that gave those gifts rather than the gifts themselves.

My conclusion is if one seeks the Lord first then all of the other things will be added and this is exactly what continues to happen in my life to this very day. I continue to enjoy the small things of life because they all seem much bigger when they are wrapped in the love of the Lord.

I thank You for showing me Your love through Your presents and Your presence. Because of Your love I lack for nothing. My desire is to be as generous with others as You have been with me.

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Monday, December 8, 2014

The Christmas Tree

(Psalm 96:8 KJV)  Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come into his courts.

Even though all Christians enjoy celebrating Christ’s birth some have a real problem in celebrating the traditions of Christmas and putting up a Christmas tree.

I do not disagree with the fact that the origin of the Christmas tree is pagan and existed long before Christianity. However, I do disagree with the fact that I am practicing paganism by setting aside this time of the year to celebrate the miraculous birth of our Lord by sharing His love with others through gifts.

As far as the Christmas tree is concerned, if the pagans can take something good and turn it into something bad then I can take something bad and turn it into something good. That is exactly what the Lord did when He saved my wretched soul.

There are many practices today even in our church services that seem to have a dark side to them. For example, I was in a worship service Sunday where all the lights were off in the auditorium except for the rapid-flashing colored lights on the praise band. I eventually had to sit down and cover my eyes because the flashing lights were giving me a headache and making me sick.

One may ask the question, “What is the origin of that?” No one could possibly agree that the origin of flashing lights were a reflection of any kind of heavenly praise. Even though one may question the origin of the flashing lights…one can never question the purity of the hearts of those who were singing and playing their instruments under those flashing lights.

Perhaps that is the way we should look at Christmas and the Christmas tree. Are our hearts pure in this time of celebration and are we really setting aside this season for a time of ‘peace on earth’ and “giving unto the Lord glory that is due His name”?
I really enjoy seeing families work together as they put up their Christmas tree while singing White Christmas, Jingle Bells and Silent Night. 

I remember back in the old days when we would go out and cut down a holly tree for our Christmas tree. The holly trees were always so pretty with their beautifully shaped leaves. They may not be as shapely as our trees are today but for some reason they seemed more appropriate and less commercial.

Everyone joined together in making the decorations for our little Christmas tree. Some would take a needle and string popcorn together making it into long white strands of decorative material. Another would make a paper chain by gluing the ends of little pieces of paper and hooking them together. Our tree was decorated with all kinds of handmaid things such as an angel cut-out and other simple things.

Our little holly tree sort of reminds me of the baby Jesus lying in a manger in a simple barn. The barn (like our holly tree) was not the issue…the Savior of the world who was lying in the manger in the barn was the issue. He is the one we celebrate by giving all the glory to Him.

Even though there are so many opinions and things that could separate us from our brother, I pray You will draw us together in this season through Your wonderful love. I also pray that this season is truly a season of peace on earth as we “Give unto the LORD the glory due unto His name and as we bring an offering and come into His courts”. I pray that offering will be that we “Love one another”. 1 John 4:7

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Monday, December 1, 2014

Giving Thanks

(Psalms 136:1 KJV)  O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endures forever.

I love this verse because the end of it explains why we should do the beginning of it. The end tells us that God’s love endures from everlasting to everlasting and that is hard to comprehend.

The reason that it is so hard to understand is because most people’s understanding of love fits more in the category of ‘seasonal love’ than it does God’s love. ‘Seasonal love’ is ‘liking’ someone for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.

God’s love is covenant love and covenant love is founded on mercy. Mercy is why God still loved Adam in spite of his sin. Adam may have lost his place in the Garden of Eden but he never lost his place in God’s love through mercy.

Over the years I have heard folks say, “I love you with the love of the Lord”. That is a very kind statement and I would never discourage such a wonderful saying but it fits more as a statement of faith than reality. The reason is, if one could actually love with the “Love of the Lord” then that would indicate that their love is perfect and perfect love “casts out fear”.

Over the years I have known a lot of people who had great faith in some areas of their life but I have never known anyone who walked in total faith in every area of their life. All of our love and faith is being perfected through Jesus even though God already sees us as a finished product because of the shed blood of Jesus. The fact is God’s love is perfect and our love and faith are measured by degrees.

The Apostle John said, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear because fear hath torment. He that fears is not made perfect in love”. (1Jn 4:18)  In other words, perfect love not only removes fear but it is the beginning of wisdom and that is consistent with faith, hope, love, and joy.

My conclusion is there is a big difference between God’s love and man’s love. In other words that which is being perfected (man) is not the same as that which is already perfect (God).

My family and I got up Thursday morning and drove an hour and a half to my sister-in-law’s beautiful ranch for Thanksgiving. Even though many of our family members could not be there for various reasons we still had a large gathering. Some drove in from Austin, Houston and San Antonio while other flew in from Georgia and Florida.

As everyone was gathering, there was no end to the joy, laughter and wonderful stories being shared. There was also no end to the scrumptious smells that filled the house as the ladies worked their miracles in the kitchen making twelve different dishes of food plus a litany of deserts.

When it got time to eat I was given the privilege of sitting at the head of this long dining room table which also had additional tables linked to it in order to accommodate four generations of family. I not only enjoyed all the delicious foods but I was also captivated by the interaction and joy between everyone.

However, the thing that blessed me most was when it was time to go around the table and share the things we were most thankful for this year. It was a very moving moment as everyone shared how thankful they were for their wives, husbands and children. They were also thankful for their health and provision through their businesses but more especially they were thankful for the love of the Lord. They were thankful to the Lord for teaching them real servanthood and for showing them mercy instead of judgment.

There was no dry eye at the table this Thanksgiving as the Holy Spirit hovered over us as we shared our love for each other but especially our love for the Lord. There will be many wonderful Thanksgivings in the future but none will look quite like this one.

 Because of this wonderful Thanksgiving day I think we can understand our text a little better when it says, “O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endures forever.” Thank You Lord that Your mercies truly do last forever.
Help us to be as merciful to others as You are to us.

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