Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Roundhouse

PRINCIPLE: “When you're stopped in your tracks, remember the roundhouse.”

I grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Among my many fond memories are the times we drove past an old roundhouse. A roundhouse was a large round building that was built at the end of a section of railroad tracks. When a train had reached the end of its tracks, the end of its journey, it would go into the roundhouse where the tracks would pivot and turn the engine around. Then it could go back in the opposite direction. For some reason, I was fascinated by the concept. But little did I realize that this roundhouse would eventually become a symbol for my Christian life.

Turning around means to repent, to get in the roundhouse and change directions.  While we most often think of repentance as seeking forgiveness – which is one of its meanings – it's important to remember that at heart it means to change direction. Think about the message of John the Baptist (Mt. 3:1-2 CEV): “Years later, John the Baptist started preaching in the desert of Judea. He said, "Turn back to God! The kingdom of heaven will soon be here." “The Message” translates verse 2: "Change your life. God's kingdom is here." “When you're stopped in your tracks, remember the roundhouse.”

I now realize how many times in my life I came to the end of the tracks only to have God lead me to repent, to turn around and head somewhere else – somewhere He wanted me to go. When I entered college I was a music major; by the end of my freshman year I was headed for the ministry. When I headed home for the summer following that freshman year, I had a fairly serious relationship with a girl who was a fellow student; within a matter of weeks she cut off the relationship and I had met Barb, my current wife. When I graduated from seminary I was offered the opportunity to serve in an exciting young church where we could be near parents and in-laws; I wound up in a well established, traditional, exciting church northwest Iowa. I once said I doubted I would ever serve in Michigan; I've served in Michigan for over 30 years. I also said I would certainly never serve in my home town of Kalamazoo – not because I didn't like Kalamazoo but because people just don't serve in their hometowns; I served 81/2 years in Kalamazoo. And there are so many more visits to the roundhouse in my life. But get the picture? Time and time again I came to the end of my tracks and God put me in His roundhouse and turned me around, back to Him.

The roundhouse experiences of my life simply prove God’s truth once again: “We make our own plans, but the LORD decides where we will go.” (Prov. 16:9 CEV) “The Lord directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way?” (Prov. 20:24 NLT) “I know, Lord, that our lives are not our own. We are not able to plan our own course.” (Jer. 10:23 NLT) I'm glad this is true – though I still may not understand all the reasons and times God has put me in the roundhouse, I can honestly say that not once did I regret repenting. Whenever I have turned back to His way it has been good and right. No wonder Isaiah prophesied, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength...” (Is. 30:15) I am trying to be more sensitive to those times when I'm nearing the ends of the tracks, headed the wrong way – because I'm still learning the importance and beauty of “When you're stopped in your tracks, remember the roundhouse.”

Perhaps you've reached an impasse in your life; maybe your life has become dull and routine; it could be that you're sensing that your life has lost is meaning; or it's possible you're traveling along at a rapid pace and haven't even thought about the direction you're heading. Whatever the case, pause for a while and examine your life. Ask God for discernment. Eugene Peterson, in “The Message” translates Jeremiah 10:23, “I know, God, that mere mortals can't run their own lives, that men and women don't have what it takes to take charge of life. So correct us, God, as you see best.” Make that your prayer – today and every day. It's a whole lot easier to spot the roundhouse coming at the end of tracks than to go crashing into it. Perhaps the principle should be “When – or before - you're stopped in your tracks, remember the roundhouse.” Correct us, God, as you see best.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The End

PRINCIPLE: “When the journey is difficult, remember who's at the end.”

The trips were long, and not always easy – certainly not relaxing. It's not that I had to take them – so why did I? It was my sophomore year of college. I had met the most wonderful woman during the previous summer. I didn't want to go far without her, but because of her job she stayed behind in Kalamazoo, Michigan when I returned to college in Pella, Iowa. I knew there would be several trips back home to see her – and there were. And not one of them was smooth or easy. If I rode with someone for the holiday weekends (I had no car), there were huge traffic jams getting out of Michigan (the interstate system was not yet complete). If I took the train, it was crammed with people, I had to pass through and wait in Chicago, and someone had to pick me up in a very small town in Iowa, not near Pella. If I flew, it was stand-by since I couldn't afford full price and there was no Orbitz or Travelocity or Price Line. And stand-by was always risky and arriving with my luggage even riskier. Not once during that year was it a smooth, easy trip.

So why did I persist and keep making the trips? Because Barb was at the other end! I quickly learned that “When the journey is difficult, remember who's at the end.” It's the same lesson I'm learning from Jesus. He knows the faith journey is not an easy one, that it's seldom smooth and trouble-free. Think about His disciples; as Jesus neared the time of the cross they were having a difficult time and would face even tougher times. So on the night of His betrayal He addressed His disciples about their troubled hearts: “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” (John 14:1-3) “When the journey is difficult, remember who's at the end.”

Nothing has really changed. The faith journey is not easy; the road is rough. And often it's long. At times we wonder if we'll make it. We get tied, worn out, beaten down. The tragedies, the pain, the sorrow, the opposition overwhelm us. And sometimes we may even wonder if it's worth it. Can we really be sure of how and where it will end? It seems so hopeless; it's hard to rely on what we cannot see. Faith may well mean being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see – but sometimes we don't feel so sure and certain. At such times it is important to remember “When the journey is difficult, remember who's at the end.”

In Randy Alcorn’s novel Edge of Eternity, Nick has been to the edge of heaven (Charis), but is being sent back to finish his life on earth (Skiathuros). God speaks to him: “Friday has passed,' he said to me.  ‘Tomorrow is Sunday. I send you back to the world's Saturday. Know that the never-ending Sunday comes, and even until it does I am with you. I listen to you, and I weep with you that you may one day laugh with me.' My eyes burned. 'Listen carefully, Nick, for in a moment I send you back to the true Skiathuros. Before I do, I want you to look once more at Charis. I am preparing this world for you – and I'm also preparing you for it. Charis isn't just a world I make for you, it is the world for which you were made. Every part of it resonates with who you are, who you really are, not the old Nick Seagrave, but the one I've made you to be. I have a new name for you. You're not ready to hear it yet. But I will give it to you when we meet face to face in our home.”[i] “When the journey is difficult, remember who's at the end.”

Whatever you're facing right now, whatever you may face tomorrow, no matter what direction your life seems to be heading, you can make it to the end – because you know the way. Jesus continued speaking to His disciples: “And you know the way to where I am going.” “No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” (John 14:4-6) Set your compass on Jesus – He's the due north. He will always guide you towards home. If necessary, in fact, He will send His angels to accompany you. Like the father of the prodigal son, Jesus is waiting for the day He can run to greet you, throw His arms around you and say, “Welcome home my child. Come, join the party – it's for you!” “When the journey is difficult, remember who's at the end.” Don't let your heart be troubled – trust in Jesus.

[i] Edge of Eternity,  Randy Alcorn, Waterbrook Press, Colorado Springs, Colorado, © 1998 by Eternal Perspective Ministries, p. 321

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Going After Your Princess

PRINCIPLE: “You will never marry the princess until you first kill Goliath.”

In the end, I enjoyed writing my book “7 Habits of Highly Healthy People.”  But I learned a lot along the way. I had great sayings posted in my office and in our home office – things like “If you want something you've never had you must do something you've never done.” And there were several more. I learned they do no good unless you follow them. If I wanted the rewards, the satisfaction, then I must pay the price. The work won't get done unless I do it – regularly and faithfully.   

It reminds me of a familiar story from the life of David – 1 Samuel 17. It's where he meets and kills Goliath. I'm always struck by verse 25: “They said to each other, "Look how he keeps coming out to insult us. The king is offering a big reward to the man who kills Goliath. That man will even get to marry the king's daughter, and no one in his family will ever have to pay taxes again." Do you see it? “You will never marry the princess until you first kill Goliath.”

What a principle, not only for leadership but for all situations and circumstances in life. Think about it. What is your princess? What are some of the things – or perhaps the one thing – you really want to do, to see, to accomplish? What's stopping you? “You will never marry the princess until you first kill Goliath.” What is your Goliath? What vice, what habit, what problem, what sin, what lack of discipline, what relationship, what obstacle – what giant – is standing in your way? “You will never marry the princess until you first kill Goliath.”

It's up to you to arm yourself for doing battle. David's comrades thought Goliath was too big to fight – David thought he was too big to miss. Like David, do not think about the bigness of the giant; think about the greatness of God. You will only overcome human weakness with divine power; you will only overcome fear with faith.  Look at verse 37: “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”  God will not do for you what you can do for yourself – so do your part and God will, as always, do His. If you believe you are on God's side, drop the armor, the fear, the weapons that are hindering you. Pick up your stones and start hurling. As the old hymn “Yield Not to Temptation” puts it, “Each victory will help you some other to win.” You will never marry the princess until you first kill Goliath.”

I should have known all this – the book should have been finished earlier. After all, I've had to apply this principle to developing and improving my preaching life over the years. It doesn't just happen. It takes work – constant work. It's much easier to slide and be satisfied with where I am and how I'm doing. But that's not the goal – nor is it my calling. And there are always many obstacles in the way – many Goliaths loom large. But I will never marry the princess unless I first kill Goliath.

I invite you – urge you – to go after your princess. I promise to go after mine as well. Let's encourage each other. Only then can we say with the Psalmist (115:1) “Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.” Go now, and kill your Goliath! Ready or not Princess – here I come!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

New Name

PRINCIPLE: “When you feel inferior or worthless, remember your name.”

Every once in a while my mind goes back to the summer Barb and I worked at Cran-Hill Ranch. Being the very first summer it was open, there was a lot to be done. One fun thing that sticks out in my mind was that one of the horses needed to be named. No one knew if she had a name – so in essence she had no name. Someone suggested we call her that – NONAME (pronounced 'no-nah-me'). Pretty clever! And it stuck. Noname was a great horse – even though her name was no name.

We are most often associated with and identified by our name. If someone wants to refer to me they don't say “The man with the balding head and blue eyes...;” rather they say “Curry Pikkaart.” They identify me by my name. In that sense I am identified by my name; I get worth from my name – what people think of Curry Pikkaart they think of me.

It's tragic that so many people, especially young people, have no sense of worth, or no sense of identity. Their name represents lostness and confusion. Perhaps, at first glance, the admonition, “When you feel inferior or worthless, remember your name”, wouldn't mean much to them. But here's the thing: It's not the meaning I give to my name that counts most. It's the meaning God gives to my name that counts most of all. What really matters is what God calls me, and the meaning and worth He gives to me.

The truth is Jesus values your current name – whatever it is; even if it's no name. In Exodus 28:9 we read that God ordered the names of the sons of Israel to be on the breast of Aaron's clothing – so He could be their priest and bring them into God's presence. Their names would be forever in front of God. Later God spoke through the prophet Isaiah (49:15-16): “Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you! See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.” God knows your name and He values you. Still later Jesus said (Jn. 10:3) “The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”  Jesus knows and values you. So “When you feel inferior or worthless, remember your name.” After all, Jesus does!

But that's not all. Jesus has a new name in store for you, a name reserved only for you. In Revelation 2:17 Jesus said “To Him who overcomes I will give him...a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.” That's fantastic! Jesus has a secret name just for you! What do you think it is? You are and will forever be uniquely His!

Yet that's still not all! In Revelation 3:12 Jesus made one more astounding claim: “All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of my God, and they will never have to leave it. And I will write on them the name of my God, and they will be citizens in the city of my God—the new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven from my God. And I will also write on them my new name.” Who you have been, who you are, will meld into God and Jesus and your eternal dwelling. You will be one with Jesus! Your identity will be totally absorbed in Him. I can't even begin to describe or imagine it.  But until that time, remember you are already on the way. Get your worth, your identity from Him. With Jesus there is no one with no name – there are no NONAMES. Not even you! So “When you feel inferior or worthless, remember your name.”