Sight for the Journey

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Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. – Hebrews 11:1 [KJV]

Here’s a problem to solve. You leave Rancho Cucamonga, driving east at 62 mph. As you travel, you’ll listen to many local radio stations. How many times will you hear Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” on the radio before arriving at your destination?
Ponder this. Consider all the information you have. Have you come up with an answer?
It’s an unsolvable problem. Why? We don’t have enough information. We don’t know how many different radio stations ‘ll listen to, or where any particular song pops up in these broadcasters’ rotations. (My guess is “Don’t Stop Believing” will be heard about six times per state on average.)
The main piece of missing information: where we’re going. The problem doesn’t tell us our destination, or how far we will travel, or the route we will take. We may think know where we’re heading. In truth, we just don’t know the future with any degree of certainty.

 

Just like life.
Some of us have a plan for life. We set goals. We plot out a path. We travel along the road.
What we don’t see are the potholes. The detours. The breakdowns. The side trips. The fender benders. No matter how orderly and well planned our lives may seem, none of us know with absolute certainty what tomorrow – what the next second – may bring. We are speeding down the highway of life, oblivious to the hidden curve ahead.
To the oncoming car in the wrong lane.
Last week I was driving down a two-lane highway in rural Indiana. The sun was shining. The trip was going well. Just as I crested a hill, I hit a deer. I didn’t see him. By God’s grace, we were all okay. The car suffered some fender damage, but no one was hurt.

I hadn’t planned to hit a deer. It wasn’t in my itinerary. My plan had us arriving at our destination – without incident – in three hours from beginning our trip.

Within 45 minutes, that had all changed.

If we can’t navigate our way through life based on what we see and perceive, what do we do? How do we live? Ahhh… this is where faith comes in.

Faith – the reality of our hopes, the proof of the things we cannot see. We have to adjust our focus to see life through the lens of faith, not merely what we can figure out.

There are many differences between us and God. The main one is this:

He is sovereign.

We are not.

God is in control. Even when we cannot see it. Even when it makes no sense. Even when bad things happen.

Even when our life’s plan is trashed, our itinerary ruined.

When life runs into a ditch – and, believe me, it will at some point – we need to have the tools to get back on the road. Faith – knowing God has you in His hands and is running the show – is the key to living life.

Here are four simple steps that will help us develop eyes of faith:

1. Recognize the sovereignty of God in all things, macro and micro. Nobody gets elected without the Lord putting them in office. Nobody hits a deer without God knowing it was going to happen – and having a plan for dealing with the situation. Instead of trying to figure everything out, we need to understand God knows and is in control. He is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful) and omnipresent (everywhere at once).
2. Recognize the love and grace of God. God’s love is far greater than our mental capacity to measure it. God’s grace – His unmerited favor over us – reaches beyond what we can see. God loves you. He sent His Son to die to save each of us – to save you. You personally. Yes, the Lord loves you that much. He is a good, loving Father. You can do nothing – nothing – to lose that love.
3. Recognize the truth of God. He is the creator and sustainer of all. He is the One Who set the ultimate itinerary (a.k.a. God’s will). We have no need to twist ourselves into pretzels trying to figure out what He’s doing or why He let any particular event happen. God is God. He has a plan. And we are not necessarily privy to every detail of that plan. We are called to believe. Period.
4. Recognize who we are in God’s plan. We are flawed. We are sinful. We live in a sinful world. But, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven. We are loved. We are adopted children of our Heavenly Father. We are also part of a larger community, called to love, to serve, to help. We are not called to live in isolation. When bad things happen, we can be an inspiration to others through our faith.

Our life goes far beyond our own plans and schemes. The sooner we understand that God is the one running the show (not us), the better our lives will be. We will find peace and joy in the midst of anything we face.

Live with eyes of faith. Know you are deeply, deeply loved. And, whatever you do, don’t stop believing.

The Hardest Part (or Tom Petty: Theologian?)

Waiting can be awful.  Painful.  Gut wrenching.

Tom Petty was right: the waiting is (often) the hardest part – at least when it comes to faith.  We pray for healing that doesn’t seem to come.  We pray for financial situations to smooth out.  We pray for a wayward loved one to come to Christ and they seem to continue drifting further away.

We look to God for answers that aren’t always quick to arrive – at least not as quick as we’d like.  Yet, wait we must.

But we need not feel like waiting on God is an awful drudgery.

Wait with Praise

Save me, O God!
    For the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
    where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
    and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying out;
    my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
    with waiting for my God. – Psalm 69:1-3 [ESV]

David knew anxiety and trouble.  His enemies outnumbered and pursued him.  He feared for his very life.

And yet, through his troubles, David never lost faith in God.  He recognized that, even when he couldn’t sense the Lord’s presence, He was there.  God – as promised – was always with David.

He’s always with you, too.  In fact, it is a promise so big it appears twice, once in the Old Testament, once in the New: I will never leave you nor forsake you.  Do not fear or be dismayed (Deuteronomy 31:8b, Hebrews 13:5b, ESV).

Wait Fearlessly

Isaiah also knew his fair share of trouble.  But, through faith in God, he was able to proclaim:

Fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. – Isaiah 41:10 [ESV]

Isaiah was able to wait on the Lord without fear because God made him a promise – to strengthen and uphold him.  This promise is for us as well.  We can rest confidently in faith, knowing that – despite how things may look – God is, without a doubt, “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1, ESV).

Wait Expectantly

Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. – Romans 8:24b-25 [ESV].

Waiting in faith means waiting expectantly, knowing that – although we do not yet see what we hope for – we who believe in Jesus are the recipients of “every good gift and every perfect gift (which) is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17, ESV).

Just because you can’t physically see God’s promises doesn’t mean they are not true. Indeed, the truest realities in heaven and earth are those we receive from God through Jesus Christ and accept by faith. If God promised it, it will come!

Wait with Ever Strengthening Hope!

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. – Hebrews 11:1-3 [ESV]

I do not know what you waiting for God to deliver you from.  I have no idea what you are praying for.  But, no matter what, God is with you.  And as we wait on the Lord, our strength grows.  Our joy abounds.  Not because we have what we think we desire, but because we see the Lord working in our lives, carrying us.

Even when we do not see it.

Especially when we do not see it.

So hang in there, dear friend.  Don’t lose heart.  Keep your gaze fixed on Jesus and wait for the Lord.  Find in Him your joy, your strength, your rest, your peace.

Remember, His grace is sufficient.

Also remember, by faith, David was able to finish the 69th Psalm as follows:

30 I will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
31 This will please the Lord more than an ox
or a bull with horns and hoofs.
32 When the humble see it they will be glad;
you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
33 For the Lord hears the needy
and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.
34 Let heaven and earth praise him,
the seas and everything that moves in them.
35 For God will save Zion
and build up the cities of Judah,
and people shall dwell there and possess it;
36 the offspring of his servants shall inherit it,
and those who love his name shall dwell in it.  – Psalm  69:30-36 [ESV]

 

It’s Time (or Dude, Your House is Flooded)

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Here’s a shout out to the band We Are Messengers.  Over the weekend, at the Joyous Noise music festival, lead vocalist Darren Mulligan shared a tragic story of a young lady he knew who suffered from mental illness.  I won’t share the story here, but I will share a point he made quite emphatically:

It’s time the church recognized depression and anxiety for what they are: illnesses.

There are church settings where those of us who face depression and anxiety are – let’s just say it – marginalized.  If we worry about things, or can’t get past the anxious thoughts, or feel low, we must be hiding some sin.  We must have insufficient faith (or none at all).

Before you begin throwing Bible verses around, swinging His Word around like some spiritual billy club, do these four things:

  1. Stop.  Put down the club, understand you don’t understand, and stop before you inadvertently do damage to an already fragile human being.
  2. Shut up.  A big point Mulligan made.  Don’t let your words cause harm.  Instead of talking you need to,,,
  3. Listen.  Hear what your brother or sister in Christ is saying.  Actively listen.  Empathetically listen.  Sympathetically listen.  Lovingly listen.  Shut up and listen.
  4. Love.  Be there for your hurting friend.  A hug.  A kind word.  A willingness to pick up the phone at three in the morning.

Please understand this: there are times when people suffer from mental illness because of situations out of one’s control.  PTSD.  A lack of serotonin.

And, yes, there are times people are tormented by sin and guilt and shame.

Either way, it isn’t our place to point out the problem.  That’s like staring into a flooded house and telling the owner, “Hey, your house is flooded.  What did you do wrong  to cause your house to flood?”  How does that help?

The problem with anxiety and depression is that the thoughts cloud our ability to see the Truth, to recognize the fullness of God’s love for us.  We don’t need to be told we’re faithless and unfit to minister.  (In fact, I want a pastor who has walked down the dark path of hopeless and fearful feelings.  If your car is broken down, you don’t take it to a bakery.  The pastry chef may know his way around an automobile but, let’s face it, he’s probably better with croissants than engines.)

When we face the hard times, we need to be held up.  We need to be encouraged.

Not coddled,

Not babied.

Just loved.

When we’re struggling, there are things we need to do to stay afloat (pray, remember God’s promises for us, pray, be part of a loving community, pray…).  Please don’t point at the flooded house.  Grab a bucket and help.

And, please understand this: time in God’s Word is vital to helping stay focused on the Truth we cannot easily see.

“…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8, ESV).

Just because we are hindered from seeing the Truth, that doesn’t make the Truth any less valid.  My point is simply this: don’t (mis)use God’s Word to show us why we’re wrong to  feel down or anxious.

The time has come for the church to remove the stigma of mental illness.  Taking medicine or going to counseling is not a cheap replacement for faith.  Anxiety and depression don’t always indicate a lack of belief.    For many of us it is an indicator of illness.  Just as you wouldn’t chastise someone with cancer for taking their chemo, don’t marginalize a person struggling with mental illness.

Love one another.

Hang tight to God and His Word.

Pray.

And thank you Darren Mulligan.

The Thrill of an Old, Dried Leaf

P52_rectoP52_versoThe recto of Rylands Library Papyrus P52 from the Gospel of John.  Papyrus: 2nd Century CE. Author: Papyrologist Bernard Grenfell (1920), as preserved at the John Rylands Library. Photos courtesy of JRUL.  Public domain: published anywhere before 1924 and public domain in the U.S.

Shivers.

Tingles.

A lump in the throat.

All over one little piece of very old remnant of a dried leaf that’s been written on – on both sides.

But this isn’t just any old dried leaf.  This is a fragment of papyrus – thick ancient paper made from Cyperus papyrus, an African water plant whose leaves were dried and sewn together to form the world’s first page-turning books.

And on this papyrus fragment (known as Rylands Library Papyrus P52), is written, in beautiful Koine Greek, John 18:31-33 and 37-38:

31 Pilate said to them (the Jews gathered at Jesus’ trial), “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” 32 This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him”. – John 18:31-38 [ESV] [passages from P52 papyrus in bold type]

What causes me to theologically geek out over this 3-1/2″x2-1/3″ piece of ancient Scripture is simply:

  1. It’s age.  There is much debate amongst scholars about the age of P52.  However, most scholars agree it was written between 125-175 AD – roughly 25-75 years after the Apostle John died.  That’s close – real close.  It means this copy isn’t made derived from some hundreds years old original, but is much closer to the original.
  2. It’s accuracy.  Our translation today is spot on to what is written on P52.  In other words, we got it right.  P52 lends a bit of legitimacy to those who might have trouble accepting the inerrancy of Scripture.
  3. It’s message.  Truth.  We accept so much of what we see and hear and sense as “truth” when, in all honesty, real truth is found only in God through Jesus Christ.

So, why am I sharing this today?  Quite simply, I hope it brings you comfort.  Comfort in knowing what the Bible says is true and accurate.  Comfort in knowing you can trust in Jesus no matter what because He is truth.  Comfort in knowing that, shortly after He spoke these words to Pontius Pilate, He was crucified and  rose again – putting pay to all He said and taught, as accurately recorded in the books assembled to form our Bible.

God is peace.  God is truth.  God is love.

And the LORD loves you far more than you can imagine.  How do I know that?  It says so in His word:

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:14-21 [ESV]

 

It Is Finished

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Christ carrying the cross, by Andrea Solari. 1513, oil on panel, 45,5 x 34 cm, Nantes, Musée des Beaux-Arts

He was born of a virgin.

He spent forty days and nights in the desert with no food, no water, and Satan tempting Him repeatedly – yet never caved, never waivered.

He turned water into wine.

He healed many of a wide range of afflictions.

He gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf.

He fed 5000 men (add women and children and you easily triple that number) with five small loaves of bread and two small fish. And had leftovers!

He provided a miraculous catch of fish, nearly capsizing the apostles’ boat with the weight of net.

He calmed a violent storm on the water.

He walked on the water.

He appeared to four of his disciples with Moses and Elijah.

He raised Lazarus from the dead, waiting until “he stinketh” to do so (thus eliminating claims of pulling off a parlor trick).

He healed the ear Peter cut off the high priest’s servant in the garden of Gethsemane.

He quite completely showed the world His command over all that man cannot do. (And, think about it, without God we can do nothing.)

He did it all without credit, without pomp. He gave all glory and honor to His Father.

And today, we celebrate Jesus’ greatest miracle. After a night of brutal beatings and kangaroo court proceedings, Jesus was forced to lug a heavy wooden cross through the streets of Jerusalem and up the hill called Golgotha, where He was nailed to a cross, hung to die a long and painful death by suffocation.

45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

47 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”

48 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. 49 The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”

50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and[e] went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”

55 Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons. – Matthew 27:45-56 [ESV]

Three days later, Jesus performed His greatest miracle.

He rose from the dead.

He took the time to fold His burial garments.

He pushed open the massive, sealed stone from the entryway.

And He walked out.

Scarred yet healed (the scars proof of what He endured on the cross).

Glorifed.

And He did it all by His Father’s will.

Jesus lived a perfect life, died a humiliating and horrific death, and came back from the dead. For us. He conquered death for us. He provided the perfect sacrifice for us.

His death and resurrection are a gift of love for us, for all who believe in Him. None of us can save ourselves, nor can we purchase our salvation. It is only through the free gift offered by God through Jesus, in the act we commemorate each year through Holy Week, culminating on Easter Sunday, that we are saved.

He is risen indeed.

Today, celebrate! Thumb your noses at those Pharisees by pigging out on ham at dinner or feasting on bacon and sausage after Sunrise Service. Mostly, embrace the great love God has for we, His children. After all, He first revealed His plan for our salvation around 700 years before the first Easter:

Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.Isaiah 53 [ESV]

Talkin’ Memphis Blues (or Listen, Love, Serve)

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Picture from our vacation in Memphis, Tennessee

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger – James 1:19 [ESV]

No one could ever accuse me of being overly romantic.  When Jennie and I went on our honeymoon, we didn’t go to Hawaii.  The Caribbean was not on our radar.  There was never a discussion of a cruise, or even boarding a plane.

We needed a location that fit our financial limitations.

And, trust me, our finances back then were very limited.

Chicago was too expensive.  St. Louis too dangerous.  Indianapolis too close.

We wanted history.  We wanted excitement.

We went to Memphis.

Think about it.  The Lorraine Motel. Sun Records.  Beale Street.  Graceland.

And off to Graceland we went.

Graceland_Memphis_TennesseeBy Joseph Novak – Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37834696

What a place!  The Jungle Room.  The basement stairway with the disorienting mirrors on the ceiling.  The famous bank of televisions on the living room wall.  The museum in the back yard filled with Elvis’ sequin-studded stage clothing.

You saw a lot on the Graceland tour.  However, you couldn’t go upstairs in the mansion.  His aunt still lived there.

In that museum of a home.

With dozens of fans and curious folks traipsing through the lower two levels every day.

Later that day, I stopped at a small local record shop.  I struck up a warm, friendly  conversation with the store owner who wondered what on earth brought a couple of Yankees to his little store in Memphis.  He congratulated us on our marriage and asked if we’d seen Graceland.

“Yeah, we were just there this morning,” I responded.

The shop owner laughed.  “That Elvis,” he said, shaking his head.  “He was quite a character.”  He chuckled as we talked about the eccentricities of the King of Rock ‘N’ Roll’s home.

Then, innocently enough, I mentioned, “I think it’s a little odd that his aunt still lives in the house.”

The chuckling stopped.  The store owner’s smile melted and morphed to a disgusted scowl.  Time slowed, seconds passing lie minutes.  Finally, he responded.  “Well,” he growled with a low, slow Southern drawl. “I s’pose that’s just yo’ Suthun waya doin’ things.”

Somehow, I had managed to offend this man simply by stating that it must be strange to live in the upstairs of a busy museum that celebrated your world-famous nephew.  It dawned on me some time later that I wasn’t exactly clear in my words.  All I said was that Elvis’ aunt’s living situation was “odd.”

And, obviously, this Southern gentleman thought I was implying something different from what I intended.  Maybe he thought I was just an obnoxious Yankee oblivious to Southern norms and spouting my views.

Clearly, we had a misunderstanding.  I didn’t communicate my message effectively.  I assumed the listener knew what I was saying.  And he assumed that, being a Yankee, I was making some crack about the South.

I can’t help but wonder how much easier and richer life would be if we would stop and listen – actively listen – to what the other party is saying.  Not be quick to respond but slowly take in what is actually being said.  Communication is much more than words.  It involves body language and context and listening and understanding and hearing.

How many problems would be resolved – indeed, avoided all together – if we had clear, effective communication – listening, observing, understanding, empathizing instead of getting offended or angry or choosing to bicker or fight.

Jesus was an effective communicator but He, too, had people who misunderstood Him and chose to be offended.  They’re known as Pharisees.

My point is simply this: this world needs a whole lot of Love.  We need to learn to love one another.  And we need to learn to listen.

Not react.

Not get offended.

Not be so critical.

Not assume someone with a different point-of-view is always an enemy, or needs to shut up.

If anyone has a right to be offended by the things people say, it’s Jesus.  And, regardless of where we come from or who we’re communicating with, we would all be well served to remember that.

We’re all human.  We’re all flawed.  We all need a Savior.  Let Love lead.  Listen, love and serve.  Regardless of religious affiliation, political view, sexual orientation, biases, culture… we’re all human. 

We’re all flawed. 

We all need a Savior. 

Let Love lead. 

Listen, love and serve. 

Listen.

Love.

Serve.

Selah.

The Cure for Foot-In-Mouth Disease (or My Double-Barreled Mouth and Swiss Cheese Shoes)

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Photo by Peter Hershey on Unsplash

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. – Luke 6:45 (ESV)

Many, many (did I say many?) moons ago, at 3:00 on a Saturday night / Sunday morning, I was at a small southern Indiana hospital with a man who was experiencing what I would call a mild cardiac event – not quite a heart attack, maybe anxiety.

We were waiting in a quiet exam room when a cacophony of inebriated revelry erupted from next door.  Snorts and laughter were punctuated with the occasional “sshhhhh… shut up dude, we’re at the %^&% hospital”, which only provoked more snorts and laughter.

We heard the curtain open and the doctor ask, “Well, what happened here?”   The patient – chortling just as loud as his buddies – explained how he and his friends had been enjoying a few brews and cleaning their shotguns and, well… doggonit one of them was still loaded and he shot himself in the foot.

Ok… at this point some of you may be thinking, “Haven’t I heard this before?”  I would be tempted to question the veracity of my story had I not been there myself.  I swear to you, this is not a set up for a bad redneck joke.  Some things you just can’t make up.

I wasn’t there to hear how the story ended.  But I’m pretty sure that, once the effects of the alcohol gave way to the pain of the gunshot wounds, the patient probably wasn’t laughing anymore.

I say that with a fair amount of certainty because, while I have never literally shot myself in the foot (or anywhere else for that matter), my big mouth has certainly shot far more metaphoric bullets into my feet than I care to think.  My size twelves should be riddled with more holes than a slab of Swiss cheese.

(Fun fact side note: did you know that one of the three bacteria used to make Swiss cheese is Streptococcus thermophilus?  Go amaze your family, friends and co-workers with your new found informations sur le fromage.  You are welcome.)

Sometimes I think I need a license and a one-month cooling off period before I open my big yap.  Either out of anger, or stress, or ego, or just plain desire to make people laugh, I’ve said things that, in a non-thinking split second, seemed right.  When one is “drunk” with emotion of any kind, the ability to react appropriately is usually impaired.  Our judgment is clouded by the emotion of the moment.

We can try to control our mouths, but that is only a treatment for the symptom.  The disease isn’t one of the mouth, but of the heart.  If we want to be healed of Foot-in-Mouth Disease, we have to go to the root of the problem and fix it.

We are all infected with the same malady: sin.  Sin causes us to say and do some pretty awful stuff.

And sin has only one cure.

Now… I’m going to stop briefly at this point because I’m fairly certain that most, if not all of you, know what I’m about to say.  It’s very easy to slip into Christianese and give an answer that, despite it’s solid and absolute truth, sounds trite and simple.  There is nothing trite about the answer.  Simple, yes.  Simple in the sense that there are very few steps to implementing the treatment we need.  The cure isn’t complicated.

But it isn’t necessarily easy either.

Never confuse “simple” with “easy”.  The two are not synonymous.

The answer to our sin problem, the cure to our shared disease is simply this: Jesus.

I believe very firmly that every problem, every issue, every situation, has it’s resolution in Matthew 6:33: Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things – all we need in this life – will be provided.

This verse applies to everything in life, including how to respond to every situation, in any given moment.  This includes what we say – if we should say anything at all (truth be told, silence is probably the best response in the heat of the moment).  It requires us to be aware of God always (which is why Paul tells us to “pray without ceasing” [1 Thessalonians 5:17], so we keep our minds and hearts stayed on the Lord).  Remember, the Holy Spirit indwells believers.  He is with us always.

When faced with a situation we feel requires a definite response, we should follow two simple steps: shut up and listen.  Again, simple?  Yes.  Easy?  That’s a whole other story.  We often feel the need – the urge – to interject our two cents worth.  And, when we consider the damage inflicted by our thoughtless comments, we quickly discover that “two cents” is an extreme overvaluing of the worth of our pithy come backs.

So, how do we stop the cycle of opening our mouths and shooting ourselves in the foot?

1. Stay focused on God.  Ask what Jesus would do or say if He were in our shoes.

2. Stay in God’s Word.  Read it.  Study it.  Write notes in your Bible or journal.  Memorize it.  Revel in it.

3. Stay in prayer.  Stay connected.  Prayer is direct communication with the Creator of the Universe.  He knows each of us far more intimately than we know yourselves.  Which means He knows better than we do how we should respond.

4. Stay silent.  Unless/until you find the gracious response of Jesus, say nothing.

I sometimes think back to that night in the ER and wonder if the young man with the self inflicted foot wound ever laughs about that night.  I hope not.  I hope he was able to learn what he needed to from the events of that night and can look ahead with the joy and renewal of Jesus Christ.

I hope that for all of us big mouths as well.

Intentionality Redux

You know that feeling when you write a very quick email, hit “send” and immediately regret it?  Yeah… I’m feeling that right now.

I rushed through my last post.  I started out right, with the man at the coffee shop pointing out the importance of intentionality in following Jesus.

But then I got all dry.

And impersonal.

Not a very good examp!e of intentionality for a piece about intentionality.

Maybe if I repeat the word “intentionality” enough in this follow up post, the message about intentionality would come through clearer.

Maybe I should just get a bit personal here.

When I’m not being intentional in my wa ok with God, I know it.  I feel it.  I feel overwhelmed by life.  I feel empty.  My mind is certainly not renewed.  I feel a great burden – the burden of not following Christ as I should.

You see, following the Lord brings us freedom.  It’s like any other relationship in that, if you do nothing to nurture it, it will atrophy.

Wither.

Shrivel.

And while God will never let go of His children, it sure is a better life when we’re intentional about our relationship with God.

Which means being intentional about seeking Him first.

Which means being intentional about time in prayer and the Word.

Which means being intentional about remembering t hat God works all things to the good of His children.

Which means being intentional about remembering I am God’s child.

Which means being intentional about loving others.

Which means being intentional about letting go of the junk that keeps me from God.

Being intentional means keeping your focus on what’s important.  Think about Peter’s instruction about anxiety: cast all your cares on God because He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).  Casting is an intentional act.

You see your target.

You aim at said target.

You launch.

God takes care of our problems.  But we have to be intentional about casting our worries on Him, choosing to believe in – trust – God over our own perceptions.

That’s what living intentionally in God is: choosing to follow Him even when it makes you uncomfortable.  Even when it makes no sense. Even when it feels too hard.

In Christ, living intentionally = loving intentionally.

Loving God.

Loving others.

Seeking God first requires intentionality.  It means following Him, not our own selfish desires. Even when it makes no earthly sense.

Intentionality – seeking God’s kingdom first – reminds me God is God and I am not.  In fact, it shows me the depth of my need for the Lord in all things, at all times.  It makes me grateful for His forgiveness, which I do not deserve and cannot ezrn.  It makes me grateful for His love, which I could never ever repay.

Intentionality.  There.  I had to say it one more time.

Intentionality

cross

19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. – Matthew 4:19-20 [ESV]

A dear friend made a cross necklace for me.  I wear it not only because it is a gift from a brother in Christ, but because it is a great conversation starter, and a much needed reminder for me.

As I was doctoring my overpriced cold press decaf with cream and sweetener this morning, a gentleman approached me.  “I like your cross”, he said.

Conversation open.  “I find it’s a great reminder”, I said.  To which he replied, “You have to be intentional in your walk.  If you’re not intentional, He leaves.”

The Bible is full of quiet little reminders of our need to be intentional about following Jesus.  “Follow Me” we are told.  “Listen to Me.  Heed My Word.  Love God first and love other as yourself.”

We each have a roll to play, and it is simply this: be intentional.  Make a point of practicing putting God first.  Jesus told us to seek first  the kingdom of God – His will, His ways, His leading – and all we need, all the stuff we needlessly worry about, will be taken care of.

In other words, be intentional in your walk.  Unfortunately our default is sin.  That is part and parcel of the fall.  And, if we stand and follow Jesus, we will certainly trip and fall.

Following Christ is simple.  But isn’t necessarily easy.  Still, nothing of any value is easily obtained.  So be intentional.  Seek the Lord for, foremost and above all else.  Pray. Stay in His Word.  Love others.  Love God.  Share your faith.  Realize your freedom comes from His sacrifice  – it is a gift!

Be thankful.

Be faithful.

Be intentional.

A Quick Thought for the Weekend

​Growing in God and knowing Him better is a great daily pursuit.  

However, don’t ever think anyone can know God entirely.  Never think we can figure Him out strictly through human logic.  

We each come to a point where we have to take Jesus on faith, and trust in The Lord and His Word – despite what we think and feel.  To do otherwise – to think He is anything less that Who He claims to be – is to proclaim ourselves above God.  

And that’s never good.  

8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.

9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

    so are my ways higher than your ways

    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven

    and do not return there but water the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,

    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

    it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.n

– Isaiah 55:8-11 (ESV)