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6. The Wrong Thing to Say

I got to 12 Baskets early, walked in, and looked for Stan.  I didn’t see him, but took an empty table near the door and waited, somewhat afraid he wouldn’t be there.  At exactly 8:30 he walked in and joined me at the table. 

“How are you doing?” He asked with a bright smile and then added, “What have you been doing since we were last together?”

Before I could answer, he held up his hand and said, “Let’s order breakfast; I’m starved.”

With that, he motioned to the waiter.  When he arrived, Stan said to him, “I’ll have my usual.” I glanced at the menu and made a quick decision.

Stan said, “Sorry for the interruption.  Where were we?”

“I was getting ready to tell you what I have been doing since I last saw you.”

“Right,” he said. Go ahead.”

“I have really been anticipating our time together,” I began.  I have spent a lot of time praying, and I have made a list of things I would like to talk with you about.”

“Great!” was his response.

“And I feel really fortunate to be able to spend time with a mature Christian.”

Stan held up his hand and said, “Stop right there.” 

Somewhat taken aback, I said “Did I do or say something wrong?”

“No, not really wrong, but I think your perspective is a bit off.”

“How so?” I asked.

“I think it is wrong to described anyone as a ‘mature Christian.’ I prefer the term, ‘maturing Christian’ because ‘mature’ connotes that there is no further to go in the process of maturing.”

Stan went on to say, “I am convinced that maturing as a Christian is a life-long process that is not intended by God to stop until we have taken our last breath on this side of eternity.”

“As part of the same thinking process, I believe that if I ever get to the point of thinking I am spiritually mature, I will be on the wrong path and heading backwards.  There will always be more to learn about God, and there will always be more steps in growing in that direction.”

I started to apologize for what I said, but he interrupted me and said, “There is nothing to apologize about; many people describe themselves or others as being ‘“mature Christians.’”

“It may just be my personal quirk, but I am convinced I am right and I want you and I to be on the same page from the beginning.”

“I understand what you are saying, Stan,  and I appreciate your perspective as a maturing  Christian,” I said with emphasis.

He smiled and said, “I think you are going to be a good student!”

By then the waiter had returned with our breakfast.  “Would you like to thank the Lord for this wonderful meal?” Stan asked.

Since I was not used to praying in public, I was a little hesitant, but said a quick silent prayer, “Please lead me Lord.”  And He did as I prayed over our food and time together.

We both started to eat and I asked Stan, “Can I ask you a question?”

“I would prefer finishing my breakfast before I get to talking in earnest.  Once I start talking, I tend to keep going.  I’m afraid my breakfast would get cold, and I do not like to eat cold food or waste good money!”

“Let’s eat and then get down to business,” he said.  And so we did.

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I say to every person among you not to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think.  Romans 12:3

Prayer:  Lord, thank you for all you do to open me to what you want me to hear and to know.  I want to spend the rest of my days maturing in my understanding of you and of what you have for me to be and to do.  Please, Lord, help me in never stopping to grow in my relationship with you.  Amen.

7. The Wife of His Youth

Wanting to get to know Stan better, I said, “The first time we were together you mentioned your wife.  Are you still married to her?”

Stan’s eyes sparkled as he said, “Yes, I am still married to my high school sweetheart.  We have been married a long time.”  With a chuckle, he added, “Sometimes my wife says we have been married for a very long time.”

“We have a very good marriage, but it is only through the grace of God.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“We were married very young.   I was 20 and my bride had just turned 18.  We were not Christians.  We spent the first five years of our marriage in college, with our son being born right before we celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary.  We were poorer than the proverbial church mice.”

“I had no idea how to be a husband, and I had the totally wrong notion of what being married really meant.”

“In addition, I had been married for almost 20 years before I became a Christian.”

“It was even longer before I began a deeper relationship with God and was shown the truth of Proverbs 5:18.”

“What is Proverbs 5:18?” I asked.

 “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth,” Stan said without having to consult his Bible.

“Please tell me more.”

“My bride is certainly the wife of my youth, but the question is did I rejoice in her then, and do I rejoice in her now?  I certainly did love her, but only the grace and instruction of God led me to rejoice in her.”

“To rejoice is to show great joy and delight.  The verse in Proverbs does not say to rejoice in her when I feel like rejoicing, but to rejoice in her.  Period.  That means at all times, under every circumstance.  To love and to rejoice are choices that can and are to be made.”

“All of this did not become really clear to me until I read this verse in Proverbs and really focused on what it meant — and how woefully short of it I was.”

“Am I now the ‘perfect’ husband?”, Stan said more as a statement than a question.

“Hardly,” he answered his own statement, “but as I am open to being the husband I am needed to be, and the one God can use for His purposes with my wife and in our marriage, He leads me to where He wants me to be.”

“The biggest question is whether I will follow His lead.  With His grace I will!”

Stan then added, “There is another thing about that verse in Proverbs that I think is important”

“What’s that,” I asked.

“It says to rejoice in the wife of your youth, but it surely means to rejoice in your wife whether she is of your youth or otherwise.  So I like to read that verse as saying, in essence, to rejoice in the wife you married when you were younger than you are today.”

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Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth.  Proverbs 5:18

Prayer:  Lord, you know how terribly inadequate I can be as a husband.  I need and ask for your constant help in truly rejoicing in my wife.  She is your very special provision.  Please help me to be the man and husband she needs me to be, as well as the one you will be able to use for your purposes in our marriage and in her life.  Amen.

8. Theology of the Golf Ball

Out of the blue one day, Stan asked, “Do you play golf?”

“I do,” I said.  “I really enjoy it, but I am not very good.”

“You just described my game,” Stan said with a laugh.  “My hope is that I will live long enough to shoot my age!”

He continued, “I want to tell you about a friend of mine who taught me a valuable lesson without even knowing he was part of the learning process.”

“Sounds interesting; go on,” I replied.

“I had a dear friend named Dick.  He is gone now; got on the train a few years ago.  I sure do miss him!”

“Dick and I played a lot of golf together.  At first, neither of us would mark our golf ball to be able to identify it so we wouldn’t hit the wrong ball.”

“After a while, I noticed that Dick would always find his golf ball whenever we were looking for it in the rough.”

“We would find a ball, and Dick would say, ‘Yeah, that’s the one I hit.’”

“To avoid that temptation, I put my initial on my ball so I would always know that I was hitting the right ball.”

“A couple of years later, I changed my ball mark to a cross, thinking that substituting the cross for my initial is the essence of Christianity — putting Christ in place of myself.”

“That is a great lesson,” I replied.

“But that is not all,” Stan continued.

“Having my ball marked with a cross has accomplished several things.”

“Like what?”

“First of all, of course,” he said, “it makes certain I am hitting the right ball.”

“Secondly, “when I stand over my ball and see the cross, it certainly puts my focus on the right thing — to represent Christ on the golf course.”

“And, there have been lots of times when someone I am playing has asked why I mark my ball with a cross.  That has opened up many opportunities to share the truth of the cross.”

“In addition to Dick unknowingly giving me what I call ‘the theology of the golf ball,’ he opened up a lot of thought about marking every area of my life with the cross so that another person would see a difference and be curious as to what it is that motivates me, curious enough to give me an opportunity that might change his or her life and eternal destination.”

“And, my friend, I encourage you to think about what parts of your life can and should be marked with the cross.”

Concluding, Stan added, “The only way I know of to mark any part of my life with the cross begins with denying self by putting aside everything that is contrary to the cross governing my life.”

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If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. Matthew 16:24.

Prayer:  Lord, I thank you for every learning opportunity you present to me.  Please help me to be aware of what it is you want me to learn and to apply to my life.  In this instance, I ask you to open me to see how I can mark each area of my life for you so that you can use me to make a difference with whoever you bring before me.  Amen. 

9. Getting There

One day as Stan and I were finishing our time together, I asked him, “You have anything for me to do to prepare for our next get-together?”

“Well, yes,” he replied.  “Spend as much time as you can praying and hearing from God as to what He has in mind for you.”

“One other thing I would like you to do is to read Matthew 16:24.  Read it as many times as necessary so you get to the point of thinking you understand what it says.”

I wrote down “Matt 16:24.” 

“See you tomorrow, Stan.”

“Lord willing,” he replied.

All the way back to my place I kept thinking about Stan and how thankful I was about being able to spend time with him.  He seemed to be so far along in his relationship with God.  I was careful not to think of him as a “mature” Christian, but as a “maturing” one!  And I wondered about how he got to where he seems to be.  I decided to see if I could get him on that subject when we meet on Thursday.

I was also thinking about Matthew 16:24.  I did not know what it said, but I was wondering about it and if I was going to be able to have any sort of intelligent answer for Stan about what I thought it meant.

The first thing I did when I got home was to take my Bible off the shelf and find Matthew 16:24.  I found it:  “If any one wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”

The first thing I noticed is that what Jesus said is optional. He used “if,” not something like “you must.”  But if I am to choose to “come after” Him, there are two requirements:  take up my cross and follow Him.  I could get a grasp on the “follow Him” part, but I was not so sure about the “take up my cross” part.  Did that mean that I had to be physically crucified?  “Wow”,   I thought, “that would hurt.”  Or did He mean something else?  What is my “cross”?  This was something I was going to have to ask Stan to see what he would say.

I then noticed that my Bible for the Matthew verse referred to a similar verse in Luke’s gospel where it said I am to take up my cross “daily.”  Obviously, this meant something that is to be an ongoing part of my life.  Every single day.  A lifestyle.  Be crucified every single day?  What did this mean?  I sure hoped Stan could help me with this!  But what was it that he had suggested that I do?  He said to pray.

So pray I did.  I got on my knees and asked God to help me with understanding His word.  What did He want me to know and to understand?  I prayed to be open to seeing, understanding, receiving, and embracing all He had for me — in eternity and on this side of eternity.  A peace overflowed me and I had the sense that taking up my cross meant that I was to deliberately choose every day to be who He intended and to do what He intended.  If that is what He wants of me, am I capable to doing and being that? 

Sure a lot to think about!  Sure a lot to plan on asking Stan about.  I was thinking about the fact I was clearly on a journey with God that this was all new to me.  I wondered where He was taking me, what it meant, and how was I going to get there.

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And He said to them, “Follow Me.”  Matthew 4:19.

Prayer:  Lord, you want me to follow you, and I thank you for that.  However, you know that I am too often reluctant to follow you when I cannot see where we are going.  Please help me to overcome that reluctance and to follow you wherever you want to lead.  Amen.


10. Let’s Talk About Easter

Stan began the conversation by saying,”I would like to talk with you about a dear friend who had a most wonderful outlook on life.”

“She’s gone now to be with the Lord, but she was an example like no one I have ever encountered.”

“What made her so special?” I asked.

“She lived her Christianity,” he replied.

“Tell me about her.”

“Well, she was a very humble woman, even though she and her husband had accumulated considerable material wealth by the time they passed on.  But you would never have known it by their lifestyle.  As I said, very humble. Very generous, but not pretentious about it.”

“She and her husband had four children, a large number of grandchildren, and a few great-grandchildren.”

“The large family would get together often for dinner and other occasions.  With that many people, there was bound to always be someone who was grumpy, out-of-sorts, and complaining about one thing or the other.”

“That sounds a lot like my family,” I replied.

“Mine, too” Stan said, but with this woman around, there was always a difference.”

“How so?”

“Whenever there was a dispute, or someone was complaining about what was going on in the world, or something else negative, my friend would say, ‘Let’s talk about Easter’ and the whole mood of the conversation would change because they all knew what she meant.”

“And what was that?” I asked.

“On Easter morning so long ago, Jesus was raised from the tomb on the third day following His crucifixion.  He was raised to a new life so that everyone who claims His finished work on the cross is also given a new life in and through Him.  In living that new life, we have hope and comfort — with nothing whatsoever to complain about.”

“When my friend said, ‘Let’s talk about Easter,’ the immediate focus of the conversation was changed to what they all had to be joyous about, rather than complaining about anything.  A valuable lesson for the right perspective!”

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Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  1 Peter 1:3.

Prayer:  Lord, thank you for the resurrection of Christ Jesus.  Thank you for giving me a new life through His resurrection.  Please, Lord, help me focus on the wonder of that new life.  And please help me in not focusing on anything that keeps me from growing in that new life.  Amen.

11. Gave Versus Gives

Stan opened our time together one morning by saying, “I have something to say to you that I am not sure you will understand.  I say that because I am not sure I understand.”

I thought, “Wow, this must be a big one, how could he expect me to understand if he doesn’t?”

“Go ahead, Stan, tell me and I will try to follow.”

He began, “First of all, I think there is a difference between eternal life and life eternal.”

“How so?” I replied.

“I think that life eternal is what you and the rest of us got when we accepted our free ticket to Glory.”

“OK, I can agree with that,” I replied.  “What about the eternal life part?”

“That is for this side of eternity,” was his response.

“How do you figure that?” I asked him.

“I do that on the basis of where Jesus defined what is meant by eternal life.”

“Where’s that?”

“John 17:3, where Jesus said, ‘This is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.’”

“Let me see if I understand what you mean,” I responded.  “You are saying that eternal life is all about knowing God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.  And that that is to occur on this side of eternity before we go to spend eternity with them.”

“Bingo,” was Stan’s response.  “That is exactly what I am saying.”

“One more thing I want you to chew on.  All of this is a big subject, and we will take it slowly.  I want you to pray about it, asking God’s guidance through His Holy Spirit to help you understand.  In addition, I want to say something else about the difference between life eternal and eternal life.”

“What’s that,? I asked.

“Consider that Jesus gave us life eternal through His death on the cross — and He gives us eternal life through His resurrection into a new life.  Note the difference between ‘gave’ and ‘gives.’  One is permanent and can’t be changed, while the other is an on-going process.”  

With that Stan closed our time together and said, “Lots to pray about!”

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And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ who You have sent.  John 17:3.

Prayer:  Lord, there is so much to know and to understand about you.  Thank you that you want me to know you, and that you have set aside all of my remaining time on this side of eternity to do just that.  Please, Lord, lead me in knowing you and please help me to follow where you want to lead.  Amen.

12. Stumbling in the Dark

One morning I got to our meeting place before Stan arrived.  I sat down, ordered some coffee, and waited for him.  As he came in, he was limping a bit.

“What happened?” I asked him.

“No big deal, but I stubbed my toe last night.  I was trying to cross the dark bedroom and really did a number on my big toe.”

“Ouch,” I said, “I know how that can hurt.”

“It was nothing like what could have happened to me a few years ago.”

“What was that?”

“One night after a Bible study class, I was hurrying across a dark parking lot and stumbled over a curb and went flying.”

“Were you hurt?”

“Let me tell you about the remarkable provision of our Lord.”

“About two years before that fall, I had developed a blood clot that was pretty serious.”

“The doctor put me on blood thinning medication to help avoid more clots — and he told me to avoid at all costs hitting my head. He said that hitting my head would probably be the last thing I ever did.”

“As I was falling in the parking lot — and it was only a matter of a second or two, I was given the thought to not hit my head.  I turned my head and landed on my shoulder and hip, with a great deal of pain.”

“Some people would say that I was sure lucky to not hit my head, but I say that luck had nothing to do with it.  It was the Lord speaking to me with His loving provision to keep me from getting hurt more seriously, possibly fatally.”

“The Lord provides all I need all of the time.  My role is to be always thankful for all He does.”

“That was a good story, Stan, with a valuable lesson.”

“There’s more and I think it is even more valuable,” was his response.

“Please tell me.”

“What the Lord did in protecting me in the physically dark parking lot, He does in the spiritually dark areas of life that constantly confront me.”

“I am not always careful as I hurry through life and the result can be stumbling spiritually in my walk with the Lord.  When that happens and He brings me to my senses, I confess and repent. The result is that He always picks me up, dusts me off, bandages my wounds, sets me back on His lighted path, and says, ‘Go and sin no more.’”

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From now on sin no more.  John 8:11.

Prayer:  Lord, I thank you for your protection and provision in every area of my life.  You know how often I rush through the day and the night without giving adequate attention to you and your provision.  Please forgive me.  Please lead me in every recognition of your provision.  Lead and please help me to follow.  Amen.