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What Kind of A Legacy Are You Leaving Behind?

In preparation for writing his book, Heaven, Randy Alcorn came across some letters written by his wife’s grandmother in 1920. They had never been translated from their original Swedish, so when they finally got a copy of them, they were moved and included some of the text of those letters in Heaven. The letters were written by Anna Swanson to her family in Sweden. Anna suffered severe health problems. While she was in Montana, cared for by relatives, her husband, Edwin, was in Oregon, working and caring for their seven children day and night.

Anna’s letters tell how Edwin wore himself out, got sick, and died. Because Anna was too weak to care for her younger children, they, including Randy’s future mother-in-law, were given up for adoption. Anna’s letters reflect her broken heart, her nagging guilt…and her faith in God.

The letters are very emotional, to say the least. What tragic lives. What inconsolable disappointment and pain. Anna and Edwin loved Jesus. They once had great dreams for their lives and for their family. But poor health, misfortune, separation, and death forever stripped them of each other, their children, and their dreams.

Or did it?

The biblical hope of our future demonstrates that we will have opportunities ahead that we’ve never dreamed of. Don’t forget that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). Perhaps in some way, God will restore on the New Earth what was lost here on this one. God doesn’t merely wipe away tears; he replaces those tears with corresponding joys. Have you read the Beatitudes lately, reflecting on what they promise for us in the Kingdom, on the New Earth?

I believe that life on the New Earth will offer us opportunities we wished for but never had. God’s original plan was that humans would live happy and fulfilling lives on Earth. If life today is our only chance at that, God’s plan has not been fulfilled. But God is not unjust, and this is not our only chance at life on Earth. Let that sink in.

One hundred years ago, on March 3, 1920, Anna Swanson wrote a letter to her family in Sweden giving them the sad news that her husband, Edwin, had died on February 25. Below is a quote from that letter that gives us a window into her life and her faith in God:

“Yes, the Lord’s ways are strange. It would almost tear the heart from my breast. If I didn’t have God to trust in I don’t know how it would go.”

Anna provided a wonderful legacy of faith. Her words and her faith have found a home in this world.  And her faith is a model for us to follow.

What kind of a legacy are you leaving behind? One hundred years from now, what will your great-great grandchildren know of your trust in Christ? What are the mementos of faith you are leaving behind? What clues are we leaving behind for them to uncover?

With the threats of pandemic swirling around us, will we put our hope in God? We must.

Living in the Gospel Daily

I grew up in a Christian home. Not just a church-going home, but a God-loving home. My faith began as a young boy when God revealed to me His grace and what that meant in terms of my relationship with Him. As a result, I became active in my youth group and surrounded myself with Christian friends who pursued God. Eventually I went to seminary and became a pastor. Even after all that, there was a connection I failed to see—even though I thought I saw it, thought I understood it.

Only within the last 18 years or so have I seen it. Something so simple, yet so revolutionary. It is something that you, like me, would probably say, “I believe that.” “I understand that.” “I see that.” But when asked what it is, Christians have a hard time expressing it and an even harder time seeing the relevance to all of life.

What is “it”? The gospel.

I had an interesting conversation with Mary Jeanne Buttrey, who many of you know as our “retired” medical missionary to Taiwan and a current Bible study leader. She mentioned how for much of her Christian life she failed to see the connection of the Gospel to her everyday life.

In an email Mary Jeanne wrote, “I used to think that the gospel was only needed at the point of conversion, after which we’d go on to (meatier) things. How wrong I was! Believing the gospel of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is just the beginning of our relationship with God. The gospel is also the all-encompassing context in which our relationship with God continues to grow.”

One way to learn how to make the transformation from “the gospel is only for conversion” to “the gospel is all-encompassing” is by coming to the Gospel For Life class starting in March.

Here is what former Gospel for Life participants said: “Gospel For Life is a must do class for any Christian. The visuals really help you understand where God should be in your life, and that we need to be rooted in him, in the tiny little decisions all day long, in order to bear fruit. None of this kind of living is possible without the access to the living water granted to us by Jesus Christ. This class not only helps on a conceptual level, but in day-to-day life, talking through problems, applying truth to specific situations. Gospel For Life really deepened the roots of my walk with God” (Becca Bentley).

“Gospel For Life transformed the way I see life by making the gospel the center point from which I respond to all of life’s circumstances. It helped me to see myself clearly and see the way God sees me. The class highlights the character of God in such a way as to make you in awe of Him, leaving you with a desire to know and trust Him more fully. It really helped me to understand what it means to rest in Christ” (Tim Maier).

Come find the rest, hope, and power of living in the Gospel daily.

Leap Day

Next Saturday is a significant day on the calendar. It happens only once every four years. It’s Leap Day. What’s that all about? By the time Julius Caesar enjoyed his famed affair with Cleopatra, Rome’s lunar calendar had diverged from the seasons by some three months—despite efforts to tweak it by irregularly adding days or months to the year.

To restore order, Caesar looked to Egypt’s 365-day year, which as early as the third-century B.C. had established the useful addition of a leap-year system to correct the calendar every four years.

Caesar adopted that system by decreeing a single, 445-day-long Year of Confusion (46 B.C.) to correct the long years of drift in one fell swoop. He then mandated a 365.25 day year that simply added a leap day every fourth year.

Without Leap Year, the seasons would slowly shift and eventually Christmas would slide right into summer. Of course, Christmas was certainly not the issue in 46 B.C. But keeping the calendar and general seasons in alignment was important.

But even this system was flawed, because the quarter of a day that leap year adds annually is a bit longer than the solar year’s leftover 0.242 day. That makes the calendar year some 11 minutes shorter than its solar counterpart, so the two diverged by an entire day every 128 years.

“As it turns out, if you stick in one every four years, that’s a few too many,” says James Evans, a physicist at the University of Puget Sound. Between the time Caesar introduced the system and the 16th century, this small discrepancy had caused important dates, including the Christian holidays, to drift by some 10 days. Pope Gregory XIII found the situation unacceptable, so his Gregorian calendar was unveiled in 1582—after another drastic adoption of time-warp tactics. Gregory reformed the calendar and they dropped ten days from the month of October that year and the rules for leap year were modified to correct the problem.

Now leap years divisible by 100, like the year 1900, are skipped unless they’re also divisible by 400, like the year 2000, in which case they’re observed. Nobody alive remembers the last lost leap day but dropping those three leap days every 400 years keeps the calendar on time. Well, until the atomic clock.  But that’s another layer to this story.

Humanity has struggled trying to make nature’s schedule fit our own. And that is always our goal. Control. We want to be masters of our own world, but we can’t even count the days correctly. Of course, we can’t conclude that there is a God who rules over all. Instead, it’s just a quirk of nature, which we ought to control. But can’t. So this week, don’t forget there are 29 days in February. Use the day to humble yourself before our Creator and marvel at His creation.

Contrary to what the world says, there is nothing magical or mystical about the day. Beware of the mumbo jumbo out there. Stick to revealed truth in the Scriptures. And be thankful that we figured out how to keep summer in August. There is a designer out there before Whom we bow and adjust our lives and our calendars and our watches. Most won’t make that the take-away. But I will.

The Hero Who Told the Truth

You probably have heard about the doctor in China who first sounded the alarm about the coronavirus in December. His name is Dr. Li Wen Liang. He died on February 7 after contracting the disease himself. Evidently, he was a Christian and continued to serve the coronavirus patients out of his Christian convictions. When he was sick and near death, he wrote a poem expressing his thoughts about the entire situation. Let his heart touch yours this morning. — Jim

The Hero Who Told The Truth
I don’t want to be a hero.
I still have my parents,
And my children, And my pregnant wife who’s about to give birth,
And many of my patients in the ward.
Though my integrity cannot be exchanged for the goodness of others,
Despite my loss and confusion,
I should proceed anyway.
Who let me choose this country and this family?
How many grievances do I have?
When this battle is over,
I will look up to the sky,
With tears like rain.

I don’t want to be a hero.
But as a doctor,
I cannot just see this unknown virus
Hurting my peers
And so many innocent people.
Though they are dying,
They are always looking at me in their eyes,
With their hope of life.

Who would have ever realized that I was going to die?
My soul is in heaven,
Looking at the white bed,
On which lies my own body,
With the same familiar face.
Where are my parents?
And my dear wife,
The lady I once had a hard time chasing?

There is a light in the sky!
At the end of that light is the heaven that people often talk about.
But I’d rather not go there.
I’d rather go back to my hometown in Wuhan.
I have my new house there,
For which I still have to pay off the loan every month.
How can I give up?
How can I give up?
For my parents without their son,
How sad must it be?
For my sweetheart without her husband,
How can she face the vicissitudes in her future?

I am already gone.
I see them taking my body,
Putting it into a bag,
With which lie many compatriots
Gone like me,
Being pushed into the fire in the hearth
At dawn.

Goodbye, my dear ones.
Farewell, Wuhan, my hometown.
Hopefully, after the disaster,
You’ll remember someone once
Tried to let you know the truth as soon as possible.
Hopefully, after the disaster,
You’ll learn what it means to be righteous.
No more good people
Should suffer from endless fear,
And helpless sadness.

“I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness.”  2 Timothy 4:7, Holy Bible

Life Changes

There are moments in our lives where we look back and see how much life changed. This past week we celebrated the arrival of our firstborn. The advent of a child into the home is a dramatic change that transforms everything. Forever.

It begins with the sleepless nights, helping them figure out the difference between night and day is a huge life lesson. And then you have to clean them up and eventually teach them to take care of themselves as independent adults. It’s quite the process. It takes a lot of energy and wisdom and grace and prayer. There are days of amazing joy and deep struggle that go along with that process.

Their first day is school is painful (well, for mom it was). Sending them out alone behind the wheel of a car leaves you with a sickening feeling. There are many milestones marking the progress toward independence. But when independence arrives, life just gets harder. It requires even more prayer.

And then after all of that, they leave and you can’t downsize the house. I mean, what are we going to so with all the trinkets of their childhood? So I’m adjusting to living with a cluttered garage (like it has been since the day that first one arrived all those decades ago). It’s really not their fault I don’t think. Well, some of it.

There is nothing new in my experience. Some of you are just starting out. Others are much farther along the path than I may ever be. Such is life. We can help each other and give each other hope and wisdom along the way. We can encourage each other to cling to Christ and enjoy each phase. Please, enjoy each phase and each day. Each day is hard, but they all lead us to a greater dependence on Jesus. And that’s sort of the point. Right?

With some perspective, I have arrived at the place where those were years of raising children are ones I now cherish. Yes, today is easier in many ways. I’m just exhausted from living through the day right now, not raising children. But I still have to cling to God to enjoy the day by His grace. So though the challenges may be different than they used to be, the way to godliness has not changed. I just have to trust Him more than ever with the children. For some reason, they still don’t want to do what I say all the time. They never did, but I had a bit more control back then.

I wonder how much of what I endure is what God endures — with me. He is my Father, but I have the freedom to choose. And those choices often lead me down a path that dishonors Him. It must break His heart. Now, let me be clear, my kids have not broken my heart, but they do chart their own path these days. So I pray. A lot.

With an empty house, life isn’t easier, it is just different. I still must cling to God. I still disappoint Him. I still need His grace. Life changed way back then. But as life changed, some things remained the same.

Monoculture

I heard an expression this week that I don’t think I’d ever heard before. Monoculture. Sociologically, monoculture is used to describe a moment in time when many subcultures have their attention drawn to the same event and experience it is similar ways together. It is a moment when all of our eyes and conversations are on the same thing.

To me, it is one of those moments when we never forget where we were and what we were doing when we learned of the event. I will never forget hearing of the death of President Kennedy. Even in second grade I knew something significant had happened. Growing up in the 60s, assassinations would become a part of life. Those were troubling times.

I remember where I was when I heard of the Challenger disaster.

And I will never forget where I heard of the death of Kobe Bryant. Church was over, most had left when Danny ran across the Worship Center to let me know the horrible news. And the more we learned, the worse it got. It wasn’t just Kobe. There were nine that perished, including three teenagers. Tragic.

It was a monocultural moment. It’s been like that all week. We all have talked about it all week. The heart of our city is broken, no matter what your opinion of Kobe Bryant. We need to pray that the God of all comfort will draw us near to Him and near to those we love. There have been other tragedies this week, but they are just a blip on our personal the radar. That’s the way it usually is. But not this week. We all need the presence of Jesus and a display of the goodness of God.

These monocultural moments are, thankfully, rare. But in that context, my mind wandered to a still future monocultural event, spoken of by Paul. I’d never thought of it as a monocultural event, but it will be. In Philippians 2, Paul says that there will be a day on which every knee will bow in honor of Jesus. Every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. That’s pretty monocultural.

A day is coming which will unite all cultures and all peoples of all time. It’ll be unforgettable as we all acknowledge who God is. When the name of Jesus will be spoken, all creation will bow in homage to Him. What a moment.

It is in anticipation of that moment that we continue to work out the details of our salvation. It is because that day is coming that we don’t grumble or complain or argue. Today we adjust our lives to be ready for that day.

There are not many of those monocultural moments that are full of joy and hope and worship. It is usually tragedy which grabs our attention and forces us to share a common experience. I look forward to the day when a declaration of the Lordship of Jesus will unite all hearts and cause us all to bow in humble worship.

Tragedy does help us to keep perspective in life. For a while at least. But we must find our hope in looking forward to that great day when Jesus will be acknowledged as Lord. Let it come soon, dear Savior.

Jeremy & Christine

It became very real last Saturday. If all goes ahead as planned, all three Welch children will walk down the aisle in 2020. Lindsey and Noah return from their honeymoon soon. Danny and Karen will trek down an aisle in Kansas City in June. And…then there is the firstborn. There’s a ring that’s been given, but no plans finalized as of yet. But the stated goal is 2020.

I think this engagement was the worst-kept family secret in the history of our family secrets. It’s been just over a year since I first met Christine, Jeremy’s fiancée. I will never forget the moment. Christie and I were attending The Gathering, the first one of 2019. Jeremy walked through the back door, and I knew immediately something was up. The look on his face was something I hadn’t seen in a long while. There was this sheepish smile, and he radiated joy. He was hiding something. And it was a good thing.

Before I met her, I knew something was up.

After I met her, I begged him not to mess this up.

In the past year it has been our joy to get to know Christine. I think Jeremy has enjoyed the year as well, since that look on his face has not gone away yet. He is happier than I have ever seen him. Everyone likes this side of him. And I guess Christine does, too.

So after much planning and maneuvering around other family events (weddings and engagements), Jeremy popped the question down at Pt Vicente around sunset last Saturday afternoon. There had been two engagements in the past six months in our family — and two parties following those life-changing moments. But were the parents invited? Nope.

But this one was different. We got an invite to celebrate with their friends last Saturday night. This was Jeremy’s thing, so Mom became a valuable asset to have in the food preparation side of things. Hey, we don’t care. Lindsey was out of the country, so we were more than willing to help out.

In my memory, only Christine cried that night. Maybe I did just a little. Not much. She was completely surprised that Jeremy had pulled off a party after that tender engagement moment. We were able to meet her parents and close friends. It was a lovely evening to celebrate life. And love.

I think the grin is now permanently etched on Jeremy’s face. He is so happy. Christine is so happy. And all parents know what that makes Christie and me. Very, very happy. And exhausted. Three weddings in one year is either a great sign of God’s blessing or a cruel joke manufactured by our children to send us to an early grave. I have chosen to see it as a sign of God’s blessing.

I am so happy for Jeremy and Christine. I am so happy for Danny and Karen. I am so happy for Lindsey and Noah. I’m so happy that I am an emotional wreck, but that comes along with parenting. These are wonderful days which we will cherish and enjoy one at a time. God is so good. And this church family has been so supportive. I am one blessed dad and pastor.

Grandchildren can’t be too far behind, can they?

1. 11. 20

Last Saturday every daddy’s dream became my reality. I had the joy and honor to walk my little girl down the aisle. It was magical and overwhelming. There are no words to describe it. I only have one daughter, so this was my one shot. And I will never forget it. I had given considerable thought as to what I should say to her as we stood in the lobby…just her and me…waiting for the doors to open and life to forever change. I had an idea but had already blurted it out. So, I didn’t really say anything, lest I prompt the tears to flow. I’m thinking only about her. And she’s just thinking about her groom at the other end of the aisle. As it should be.

The day began with an unforgettable moment — my phone rang, and it was Pastor Alex from Uganda. That was so kind and thoughtful of him to think of us on our special day. He knows the importance of weddings and so he called. We had a great chat, and he gave me permission to cry as much as needed. He gets it.

When I stood in front of everyone gathered and was asked, “Who gives this woman to married to this man” — did I have some clever response? I wanted to say, “I’ve never thought of her as ours to give. She was on loan from God. He entrusted her mom, her brothers, and me to love her and look after her. Today we entrust her to the love and care of Noah.” But that’s way too long winded, so all I said was, “Her mother and I.” And with that, she was gone.

Probably one of my most cherished highlights of the day was dancing with Lindsey to Steven Curtis Chapman’s “Cinderella.” Yes, it’s a sappy and emotional song. But I will repeat those moments in my mind for the rest of my life, because I was surrounded by people who loved us and shared our joy on that day. And they are a fairly good reminder to get some dance lessons.

After all was said and done, there was one thing that continues to bring tears to my eyes. It is this: my church family. So many gave up so much and worked so hard to make it a special day for Lindsey and Noah. That meant more to Christie and me than you could ever know. There were many moving pieces because we held the ceremony and the reception in the Worship Center. And then it all had to be cleaned up and returned to “Sunday normal.”

Even outsiders were impressed to watch so many people pitch in to make a wedding successful. You all made a huge impression. You were a testimony to the love and grace of Christ. That brings more tears.

Christie and I are taking life easier this week (or trying to). Normal has yet to return. But we will look back on 1.11.20 with hearts full of joy and gratitude. This church family is amazing. Our God is amazing. We were blessed without measure on this day of celebration. Our hearts are full. God’s grace is real.

I commend Noah and Lindsey for making Christ the center of their lives and especially of that day. All glory be to Christ!

And…I do pastor the best assembly of servant-believers around.

A Celebration to Honor

This week I lived the Father of the Bride. I hope I did well. But writing before the fact, the jury is still out. To be honest, I’m a bit to overwhelmed and exhausted from it all to write anything very coherent back here. From the day our daughters are born, we all know and pray for this day to come. And it is now here. With great joy. This weekend has been in the planning stages for about six months I suppose, but knowing my daughter, it’s been much longer than that. The day after her birthday each year, plans were being made for next year’s celebration. Who doesn’t love a good party?

But this weekend is more than just a party. It is supposed to be a celebration to honor the Savior and His gift of love. We see His grace so often, yet seldom stop to celebrate. This is a weekend to party. I hope I made it through without making a fool of myself. That’s a tall order, I think.

But this I know I want to do this weekend:  celebrate the goodness of God. Yesterday, we sang together a sacred song. You know the tune, you sing it every New Year’s Eve, “Auld Lang Syne.” Some Christian lyrics were penned a few years back, words which express the heart of Noah and Lindsey as they prepared for this weekend of celebration and chose this song to be sung. And it expresses the heart of Christie and me as we relish in what the Savior and this church family has meant to our family. All these years.

Should nothing of our efforts stand, No legacy survive
Unless the Lord does raise the house, In vain its builders strive.

To you who boast tomorrow’s gain, Tell me what is your life
A mist that vanishes at dawn, All glory be to Christ!

All glory be to Christ our king! All glory be to Christ!
His rule and reign we’ll ever sing, All glory be to Christ!

His will be done, His kingdom come, On earth as is above
Who is Himself our daily bread, Praise Him the Lord of love

Let living water satisfy, The thirsty without price
We’ll take a cup of kindness yet…All glory be to Christ!

When on the day the great I Am, The faithful and the true
The Lamb who was for sinners slain, Is making all things new.

Behold our God shall live with us, And be our steadfast light.
And we shall ere his people be, All glory be to Christ!

All glory be to Christ our king!
All glory be to Christ!
His rule and reign we’ll ever sing,
All glory be to Christ!

Thank you for your participation in the lives of Noah and Lindsey. Her mom and I are forever grateful. All glory be to Christ!

What Lies Ahead

The year ended for Christie and me in a manner we were not expecting. It wouldn’t have been our choice, either. We like our world peaceful and orderly. And December 31 was not that. Not at all. Let me explain.

We left the house for an early dinner on New Year’s Eve. By 5:30 pm, we were at our favorite local eatery and they predicted a 10-minute wait. Not bad at all. There was a bit of a crowd out front, but they don’t take reservations and things usually move along rather quickly. After standing outside for 45 minutes, it was now dark and chilly. Everyone inside was apparently having a grand time and enjoying rich and long conversations. Because no one left. Well, someone must have left because they seated a large group and another couple. But not us. And nothing gave us any hope that we’d get a table any time soon. We decided to move on. There are lots of options in the South Bay.

We checked on a restaurant down the street. Packed, with no tables available. We’d already tried to get reservations down in Redondo, but the earliest available was on January 2. But this was early in the evening. Fancy was not a priority for us, so we headed down the hill (easier than up the hill these days) to a hole-in-the-wall Mexican place we’d been to a couple of weeks ago. We loved it, by the way. We got all the way down there and it was dark. Closed for the night. No way.

That sense of disappointment was repeated two more times. Finally, I said, call Lamppost. We were already down the hill and we can take it home to eat in some orderly peace and quiet. We called and ordered our pizza. We’re only about ten minutes max away from there, but we found out the wait was over 30 minutes. For a single medium pizza. Really?

So, I got to wait another half an hour for the pizza. And when we arrived, we discovered they were closing in 15 minutes anyway. We finally made it home two hours after we left home. And we hadn’t even had dinner.

Sometimes life is like that. It’s a journey of sputters and stops. So then I got to thinking. Was this night reflective of 2019 or predictive of 2020? Hmmm. The year just leaving had its moments, tough ones often. But life is a journey that can surprise us and test us. There can be a lot of waiting. Sometimes it’s a treadmill, and you run and run and don’t feel like you’re making much progress.

What did this night mean for us? Who knows? Maybe we ought to plan ahead. Maybe we ought to have taken one of the alternative options we were given? But I don’t think you can draw any conclusions about what lies ahead. We learned to use the grocery store for New Year’s Eve. Or get a reservation weeks in advance.

When you follow God, be prepare for surprises. Trials have their own purpose and to avoid them all, will stunt our growth. Be get ready for whatever comes along in the year ahead. Keep your hand in God’s and enjoy the ride!

Blog Fulllwidth

What Kind of A Legacy Are You Leaving Behind?

In preparation for writing his book, Heaven, Randy Alcorn came across some letters written by his wife’s grandmother in 1920. They had never been translated from their original Swedish, so when they finally got a copy of them, they were moved and included some of the text of those letters in Heaven. The letters were written by Anna Swanson to her family in Sweden. Anna suffered severe health problems. While she was in Montana, cared for by relatives, her husband, Edwin, was in Oregon, working and caring for their seven children day and night.

Anna’s letters tell how Edwin wore himself out, got sick, and died. Because Anna was too weak to care for her younger children, they, including Randy’s future mother-in-law, were given up for adoption. Anna’s letters reflect her broken heart, her nagging guilt…and her faith in God.

The letters are very emotional, to say the least. What tragic lives. What inconsolable disappointment and pain. Anna and Edwin loved Jesus. They once had great dreams for their lives and for their family. But poor health, misfortune, separation, and death forever stripped them of each other, their children, and their dreams.

Or did it?

The biblical hope of our future demonstrates that we will have opportunities ahead that we’ve never dreamed of. Don’t forget that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). Perhaps in some way, God will restore on the New Earth what was lost here on this one. God doesn’t merely wipe away tears; he replaces those tears with corresponding joys. Have you read the Beatitudes lately, reflecting on what they promise for us in the Kingdom, on the New Earth?

I believe that life on the New Earth will offer us opportunities we wished for but never had. God’s original plan was that humans would live happy and fulfilling lives on Earth. If life today is our only chance at that, God’s plan has not been fulfilled. But God is not unjust, and this is not our only chance at life on Earth. Let that sink in.

One hundred years ago, on March 3, 1920, Anna Swanson wrote a letter to her family in Sweden giving them the sad news that her husband, Edwin, had died on February 25. Below is a quote from that letter that gives us a window into her life and her faith in God:

“Yes, the Lord’s ways are strange. It would almost tear the heart from my breast. If I didn’t have God to trust in I don’t know how it would go.”

Anna provided a wonderful legacy of faith. Her words and her faith have found a home in this world.  And her faith is a model for us to follow.

What kind of a legacy are you leaving behind? One hundred years from now, what will your great-great grandchildren know of your trust in Christ? What are the mementos of faith you are leaving behind? What clues are we leaving behind for them to uncover?

With the threats of pandemic swirling around us, will we put our hope in God? We must.

Living in the Gospel Daily

I grew up in a Christian home. Not just a church-going home, but a God-loving home. My faith began as a young boy when God revealed to me His grace and what that meant in terms of my relationship with Him. As a result, I became active in my youth group and surrounded myself with Christian friends who pursued God. Eventually I went to seminary and became a pastor. Even after all that, there was a connection I failed to see—even though I thought I saw it, thought I understood it.

Only within the last 18 years or so have I seen it. Something so simple, yet so revolutionary. It is something that you, like me, would probably say, “I believe that.” “I understand that.” “I see that.” But when asked what it is, Christians have a hard time expressing it and an even harder time seeing the relevance to all of life.

What is “it”? The gospel.

I had an interesting conversation with Mary Jeanne Buttrey, who many of you know as our “retired” medical missionary to Taiwan and a current Bible study leader. She mentioned how for much of her Christian life she failed to see the connection of the Gospel to her everyday life.

In an email Mary Jeanne wrote, “I used to think that the gospel was only needed at the point of conversion, after which we’d go on to (meatier) things. How wrong I was! Believing the gospel of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is just the beginning of our relationship with God. The gospel is also the all-encompassing context in which our relationship with God continues to grow.”

One way to learn how to make the transformation from “the gospel is only for conversion” to “the gospel is all-encompassing” is by coming to the Gospel For Life class starting in March.

Here is what former Gospel for Life participants said: “Gospel For Life is a must do class for any Christian. The visuals really help you understand where God should be in your life, and that we need to be rooted in him, in the tiny little decisions all day long, in order to bear fruit. None of this kind of living is possible without the access to the living water granted to us by Jesus Christ. This class not only helps on a conceptual level, but in day-to-day life, talking through problems, applying truth to specific situations. Gospel For Life really deepened the roots of my walk with God” (Becca Bentley).

“Gospel For Life transformed the way I see life by making the gospel the center point from which I respond to all of life’s circumstances. It helped me to see myself clearly and see the way God sees me. The class highlights the character of God in such a way as to make you in awe of Him, leaving you with a desire to know and trust Him more fully. It really helped me to understand what it means to rest in Christ” (Tim Maier).

Come find the rest, hope, and power of living in the Gospel daily.

Leap Day

Next Saturday is a significant day on the calendar. It happens only once every four years. It’s Leap Day. What’s that all about? By the time Julius Caesar enjoyed his famed affair with Cleopatra, Rome’s lunar calendar had diverged from the seasons by some three months—despite efforts to tweak it by irregularly adding days or months to the year.

To restore order, Caesar looked to Egypt’s 365-day year, which as early as the third-century B.C. had established the useful addition of a leap-year system to correct the calendar every four years.

Caesar adopted that system by decreeing a single, 445-day-long Year of Confusion (46 B.C.) to correct the long years of drift in one fell swoop. He then mandated a 365.25 day year that simply added a leap day every fourth year.

Without Leap Year, the seasons would slowly shift and eventually Christmas would slide right into summer. Of course, Christmas was certainly not the issue in 46 B.C. But keeping the calendar and general seasons in alignment was important.

But even this system was flawed, because the quarter of a day that leap year adds annually is a bit longer than the solar year’s leftover 0.242 day. That makes the calendar year some 11 minutes shorter than its solar counterpart, so the two diverged by an entire day every 128 years.

“As it turns out, if you stick in one every four years, that’s a few too many,” says James Evans, a physicist at the University of Puget Sound. Between the time Caesar introduced the system and the 16th century, this small discrepancy had caused important dates, including the Christian holidays, to drift by some 10 days. Pope Gregory XIII found the situation unacceptable, so his Gregorian calendar was unveiled in 1582—after another drastic adoption of time-warp tactics. Gregory reformed the calendar and they dropped ten days from the month of October that year and the rules for leap year were modified to correct the problem.

Now leap years divisible by 100, like the year 1900, are skipped unless they’re also divisible by 400, like the year 2000, in which case they’re observed. Nobody alive remembers the last lost leap day but dropping those three leap days every 400 years keeps the calendar on time. Well, until the atomic clock.  But that’s another layer to this story.

Humanity has struggled trying to make nature’s schedule fit our own. And that is always our goal. Control. We want to be masters of our own world, but we can’t even count the days correctly. Of course, we can’t conclude that there is a God who rules over all. Instead, it’s just a quirk of nature, which we ought to control. But can’t. So this week, don’t forget there are 29 days in February. Use the day to humble yourself before our Creator and marvel at His creation.

Contrary to what the world says, there is nothing magical or mystical about the day. Beware of the mumbo jumbo out there. Stick to revealed truth in the Scriptures. And be thankful that we figured out how to keep summer in August. There is a designer out there before Whom we bow and adjust our lives and our calendars and our watches. Most won’t make that the take-away. But I will.

The Hero Who Told the Truth

You probably have heard about the doctor in China who first sounded the alarm about the coronavirus in December. His name is Dr. Li Wen Liang. He died on February 7 after contracting the disease himself. Evidently, he was a Christian and continued to serve the coronavirus patients out of his Christian convictions. When he was sick and near death, he wrote a poem expressing his thoughts about the entire situation. Let his heart touch yours this morning. — Jim

The Hero Who Told The Truth
I don’t want to be a hero.
I still have my parents,
And my children, And my pregnant wife who’s about to give birth,
And many of my patients in the ward.
Though my integrity cannot be exchanged for the goodness of others,
Despite my loss and confusion,
I should proceed anyway.
Who let me choose this country and this family?
How many grievances do I have?
When this battle is over,
I will look up to the sky,
With tears like rain.

I don’t want to be a hero.
But as a doctor,
I cannot just see this unknown virus
Hurting my peers
And so many innocent people.
Though they are dying,
They are always looking at me in their eyes,
With their hope of life.

Who would have ever realized that I was going to die?
My soul is in heaven,
Looking at the white bed,
On which lies my own body,
With the same familiar face.
Where are my parents?
And my dear wife,
The lady I once had a hard time chasing?

There is a light in the sky!
At the end of that light is the heaven that people often talk about.
But I’d rather not go there.
I’d rather go back to my hometown in Wuhan.
I have my new house there,
For which I still have to pay off the loan every month.
How can I give up?
How can I give up?
For my parents without their son,
How sad must it be?
For my sweetheart without her husband,
How can she face the vicissitudes in her future?

I am already gone.
I see them taking my body,
Putting it into a bag,
With which lie many compatriots
Gone like me,
Being pushed into the fire in the hearth
At dawn.

Goodbye, my dear ones.
Farewell, Wuhan, my hometown.
Hopefully, after the disaster,
You’ll remember someone once
Tried to let you know the truth as soon as possible.
Hopefully, after the disaster,
You’ll learn what it means to be righteous.
No more good people
Should suffer from endless fear,
And helpless sadness.

“I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness.”  2 Timothy 4:7, Holy Bible

Life Changes

There are moments in our lives where we look back and see how much life changed. This past week we celebrated the arrival of our firstborn. The advent of a child into the home is a dramatic change that transforms everything. Forever.

It begins with the sleepless nights, helping them figure out the difference between night and day is a huge life lesson. And then you have to clean them up and eventually teach them to take care of themselves as independent adults. It’s quite the process. It takes a lot of energy and wisdom and grace and prayer. There are days of amazing joy and deep struggle that go along with that process.

Their first day is school is painful (well, for mom it was). Sending them out alone behind the wheel of a car leaves you with a sickening feeling. There are many milestones marking the progress toward independence. But when independence arrives, life just gets harder. It requires even more prayer.

And then after all of that, they leave and you can’t downsize the house. I mean, what are we going to so with all the trinkets of their childhood? So I’m adjusting to living with a cluttered garage (like it has been since the day that first one arrived all those decades ago). It’s really not their fault I don’t think. Well, some of it.

There is nothing new in my experience. Some of you are just starting out. Others are much farther along the path than I may ever be. Such is life. We can help each other and give each other hope and wisdom along the way. We can encourage each other to cling to Christ and enjoy each phase. Please, enjoy each phase and each day. Each day is hard, but they all lead us to a greater dependence on Jesus. And that’s sort of the point. Right?

With some perspective, I have arrived at the place where those were years of raising children are ones I now cherish. Yes, today is easier in many ways. I’m just exhausted from living through the day right now, not raising children. But I still have to cling to God to enjoy the day by His grace. So though the challenges may be different than they used to be, the way to godliness has not changed. I just have to trust Him more than ever with the children. For some reason, they still don’t want to do what I say all the time. They never did, but I had a bit more control back then.

I wonder how much of what I endure is what God endures — with me. He is my Father, but I have the freedom to choose. And those choices often lead me down a path that dishonors Him. It must break His heart. Now, let me be clear, my kids have not broken my heart, but they do chart their own path these days. So I pray. A lot.

With an empty house, life isn’t easier, it is just different. I still must cling to God. I still disappoint Him. I still need His grace. Life changed way back then. But as life changed, some things remained the same.

Monoculture

I heard an expression this week that I don’t think I’d ever heard before. Monoculture. Sociologically, monoculture is used to describe a moment in time when many subcultures have their attention drawn to the same event and experience it is similar ways together. It is a moment when all of our eyes and conversations are on the same thing.

To me, it is one of those moments when we never forget where we were and what we were doing when we learned of the event. I will never forget hearing of the death of President Kennedy. Even in second grade I knew something significant had happened. Growing up in the 60s, assassinations would become a part of life. Those were troubling times.

I remember where I was when I heard of the Challenger disaster.

And I will never forget where I heard of the death of Kobe Bryant. Church was over, most had left when Danny ran across the Worship Center to let me know the horrible news. And the more we learned, the worse it got. It wasn’t just Kobe. There were nine that perished, including three teenagers. Tragic.

It was a monocultural moment. It’s been like that all week. We all have talked about it all week. The heart of our city is broken, no matter what your opinion of Kobe Bryant. We need to pray that the God of all comfort will draw us near to Him and near to those we love. There have been other tragedies this week, but they are just a blip on our personal the radar. That’s the way it usually is. But not this week. We all need the presence of Jesus and a display of the goodness of God.

These monocultural moments are, thankfully, rare. But in that context, my mind wandered to a still future monocultural event, spoken of by Paul. I’d never thought of it as a monocultural event, but it will be. In Philippians 2, Paul says that there will be a day on which every knee will bow in honor of Jesus. Every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. That’s pretty monocultural.

A day is coming which will unite all cultures and all peoples of all time. It’ll be unforgettable as we all acknowledge who God is. When the name of Jesus will be spoken, all creation will bow in homage to Him. What a moment.

It is in anticipation of that moment that we continue to work out the details of our salvation. It is because that day is coming that we don’t grumble or complain or argue. Today we adjust our lives to be ready for that day.

There are not many of those monocultural moments that are full of joy and hope and worship. It is usually tragedy which grabs our attention and forces us to share a common experience. I look forward to the day when a declaration of the Lordship of Jesus will unite all hearts and cause us all to bow in humble worship.

Tragedy does help us to keep perspective in life. For a while at least. But we must find our hope in looking forward to that great day when Jesus will be acknowledged as Lord. Let it come soon, dear Savior.

Jeremy & Christine

It became very real last Saturday. If all goes ahead as planned, all three Welch children will walk down the aisle in 2020. Lindsey and Noah return from their honeymoon soon. Danny and Karen will trek down an aisle in Kansas City in June. And…then there is the firstborn. There’s a ring that’s been given, but no plans finalized as of yet. But the stated goal is 2020.

I think this engagement was the worst-kept family secret in the history of our family secrets. It’s been just over a year since I first met Christine, Jeremy’s fiancée. I will never forget the moment. Christie and I were attending The Gathering, the first one of 2019. Jeremy walked through the back door, and I knew immediately something was up. The look on his face was something I hadn’t seen in a long while. There was this sheepish smile, and he radiated joy. He was hiding something. And it was a good thing.

Before I met her, I knew something was up.

After I met her, I begged him not to mess this up.

In the past year it has been our joy to get to know Christine. I think Jeremy has enjoyed the year as well, since that look on his face has not gone away yet. He is happier than I have ever seen him. Everyone likes this side of him. And I guess Christine does, too.

So after much planning and maneuvering around other family events (weddings and engagements), Jeremy popped the question down at Pt Vicente around sunset last Saturday afternoon. There had been two engagements in the past six months in our family — and two parties following those life-changing moments. But were the parents invited? Nope.

But this one was different. We got an invite to celebrate with their friends last Saturday night. This was Jeremy’s thing, so Mom became a valuable asset to have in the food preparation side of things. Hey, we don’t care. Lindsey was out of the country, so we were more than willing to help out.

In my memory, only Christine cried that night. Maybe I did just a little. Not much. She was completely surprised that Jeremy had pulled off a party after that tender engagement moment. We were able to meet her parents and close friends. It was a lovely evening to celebrate life. And love.

I think the grin is now permanently etched on Jeremy’s face. He is so happy. Christine is so happy. And all parents know what that makes Christie and me. Very, very happy. And exhausted. Three weddings in one year is either a great sign of God’s blessing or a cruel joke manufactured by our children to send us to an early grave. I have chosen to see it as a sign of God’s blessing.

I am so happy for Jeremy and Christine. I am so happy for Danny and Karen. I am so happy for Lindsey and Noah. I’m so happy that I am an emotional wreck, but that comes along with parenting. These are wonderful days which we will cherish and enjoy one at a time. God is so good. And this church family has been so supportive. I am one blessed dad and pastor.

Grandchildren can’t be too far behind, can they?

1. 11. 20

Last Saturday every daddy’s dream became my reality. I had the joy and honor to walk my little girl down the aisle. It was magical and overwhelming. There are no words to describe it. I only have one daughter, so this was my one shot. And I will never forget it. I had given considerable thought as to what I should say to her as we stood in the lobby…just her and me…waiting for the doors to open and life to forever change. I had an idea but had already blurted it out. So, I didn’t really say anything, lest I prompt the tears to flow. I’m thinking only about her. And she’s just thinking about her groom at the other end of the aisle. As it should be.

The day began with an unforgettable moment — my phone rang, and it was Pastor Alex from Uganda. That was so kind and thoughtful of him to think of us on our special day. He knows the importance of weddings and so he called. We had a great chat, and he gave me permission to cry as much as needed. He gets it.

When I stood in front of everyone gathered and was asked, “Who gives this woman to married to this man” — did I have some clever response? I wanted to say, “I’ve never thought of her as ours to give. She was on loan from God. He entrusted her mom, her brothers, and me to love her and look after her. Today we entrust her to the love and care of Noah.” But that’s way too long winded, so all I said was, “Her mother and I.” And with that, she was gone.

Probably one of my most cherished highlights of the day was dancing with Lindsey to Steven Curtis Chapman’s “Cinderella.” Yes, it’s a sappy and emotional song. But I will repeat those moments in my mind for the rest of my life, because I was surrounded by people who loved us and shared our joy on that day. And they are a fairly good reminder to get some dance lessons.

After all was said and done, there was one thing that continues to bring tears to my eyes. It is this: my church family. So many gave up so much and worked so hard to make it a special day for Lindsey and Noah. That meant more to Christie and me than you could ever know. There were many moving pieces because we held the ceremony and the reception in the Worship Center. And then it all had to be cleaned up and returned to “Sunday normal.”

Even outsiders were impressed to watch so many people pitch in to make a wedding successful. You all made a huge impression. You were a testimony to the love and grace of Christ. That brings more tears.

Christie and I are taking life easier this week (or trying to). Normal has yet to return. But we will look back on 1.11.20 with hearts full of joy and gratitude. This church family is amazing. Our God is amazing. We were blessed without measure on this day of celebration. Our hearts are full. God’s grace is real.

I commend Noah and Lindsey for making Christ the center of their lives and especially of that day. All glory be to Christ!

And…I do pastor the best assembly of servant-believers around.

A Celebration to Honor

This week I lived the Father of the Bride. I hope I did well. But writing before the fact, the jury is still out. To be honest, I’m a bit to overwhelmed and exhausted from it all to write anything very coherent back here. From the day our daughters are born, we all know and pray for this day to come. And it is now here. With great joy. This weekend has been in the planning stages for about six months I suppose, but knowing my daughter, it’s been much longer than that. The day after her birthday each year, plans were being made for next year’s celebration. Who doesn’t love a good party?

But this weekend is more than just a party. It is supposed to be a celebration to honor the Savior and His gift of love. We see His grace so often, yet seldom stop to celebrate. This is a weekend to party. I hope I made it through without making a fool of myself. That’s a tall order, I think.

But this I know I want to do this weekend:  celebrate the goodness of God. Yesterday, we sang together a sacred song. You know the tune, you sing it every New Year’s Eve, “Auld Lang Syne.” Some Christian lyrics were penned a few years back, words which express the heart of Noah and Lindsey as they prepared for this weekend of celebration and chose this song to be sung. And it expresses the heart of Christie and me as we relish in what the Savior and this church family has meant to our family. All these years.

Should nothing of our efforts stand, No legacy survive
Unless the Lord does raise the house, In vain its builders strive.

To you who boast tomorrow’s gain, Tell me what is your life
A mist that vanishes at dawn, All glory be to Christ!

All glory be to Christ our king! All glory be to Christ!
His rule and reign we’ll ever sing, All glory be to Christ!

His will be done, His kingdom come, On earth as is above
Who is Himself our daily bread, Praise Him the Lord of love

Let living water satisfy, The thirsty without price
We’ll take a cup of kindness yet…All glory be to Christ!

When on the day the great I Am, The faithful and the true
The Lamb who was for sinners slain, Is making all things new.

Behold our God shall live with us, And be our steadfast light.
And we shall ere his people be, All glory be to Christ!

All glory be to Christ our king!
All glory be to Christ!
His rule and reign we’ll ever sing,
All glory be to Christ!

Thank you for your participation in the lives of Noah and Lindsey. Her mom and I are forever grateful. All glory be to Christ!

What Lies Ahead

The year ended for Christie and me in a manner we were not expecting. It wouldn’t have been our choice, either. We like our world peaceful and orderly. And December 31 was not that. Not at all. Let me explain.

We left the house for an early dinner on New Year’s Eve. By 5:30 pm, we were at our favorite local eatery and they predicted a 10-minute wait. Not bad at all. There was a bit of a crowd out front, but they don’t take reservations and things usually move along rather quickly. After standing outside for 45 minutes, it was now dark and chilly. Everyone inside was apparently having a grand time and enjoying rich and long conversations. Because no one left. Well, someone must have left because they seated a large group and another couple. But not us. And nothing gave us any hope that we’d get a table any time soon. We decided to move on. There are lots of options in the South Bay.

We checked on a restaurant down the street. Packed, with no tables available. We’d already tried to get reservations down in Redondo, but the earliest available was on January 2. But this was early in the evening. Fancy was not a priority for us, so we headed down the hill (easier than up the hill these days) to a hole-in-the-wall Mexican place we’d been to a couple of weeks ago. We loved it, by the way. We got all the way down there and it was dark. Closed for the night. No way.

That sense of disappointment was repeated two more times. Finally, I said, call Lamppost. We were already down the hill and we can take it home to eat in some orderly peace and quiet. We called and ordered our pizza. We’re only about ten minutes max away from there, but we found out the wait was over 30 minutes. For a single medium pizza. Really?

So, I got to wait another half an hour for the pizza. And when we arrived, we discovered they were closing in 15 minutes anyway. We finally made it home two hours after we left home. And we hadn’t even had dinner.

Sometimes life is like that. It’s a journey of sputters and stops. So then I got to thinking. Was this night reflective of 2019 or predictive of 2020? Hmmm. The year just leaving had its moments, tough ones often. But life is a journey that can surprise us and test us. There can be a lot of waiting. Sometimes it’s a treadmill, and you run and run and don’t feel like you’re making much progress.

What did this night mean for us? Who knows? Maybe we ought to plan ahead. Maybe we ought to have taken one of the alternative options we were given? But I don’t think you can draw any conclusions about what lies ahead. We learned to use the grocery store for New Year’s Eve. Or get a reservation weeks in advance.

When you follow God, be prepare for surprises. Trials have their own purpose and to avoid them all, will stunt our growth. Be get ready for whatever comes along in the year ahead. Keep your hand in God’s and enjoy the ride!

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