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

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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)

Going Sideways – for Chris Cahalan

Yab_BBCr_atSlpGlch_072012_p6U.S. Geological Survey/photo by Art Bookstrom

Today’s piece is dedicated to my friend Chris Cahalan, who recently won his three year battle against pancreatic cancer.  While the outcome may look like a loss to most folks, those of us who knew him understand this is a major victory for him.  We know where our brother in Christ is right now, and Who he is with.  I am blessed to say I knew the man, and saw his tenacity – both in fight and faith.  He endeavored to be a man after God’s own heart.  And, by grace, I believe he was.  Chris will be – indeed, already is – greatly missed.

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” – Matthew 7:24-27 [ESV]

I heard this yesterday at the funeral for my friend Chris, and it has burrowed into my mind.  The eulogizer said Chris told him the trick to studying the Bible is to go sideways.  In other words, when you’re building a firm foundation through studying God’s word, there will be times you’ll hit a boulder – a blockage keeping you from going deeper in your study.  When that happens, don’t stop there.  Don’t build on shallow ground.

Go sideways.

Dig around the blockage.

Then continue to dig deeper.

The idea of going sideways got me thinking.  This is such a wonderful metaphor for our lives in Christ.

Think about it.  We’re seeking the Lord.  We’re doing our best to follow Him.  We’re living life as best we can.  Perfectly?  No.  Not on this side of Heaven.

As we dig deeper, we hit a big rock.

Clank!

Not the solid rock on which we can build a sound foundation, but an obstruction.  Maybe it’s a personal tragedy, or job loss, or a health problem, or the fruit of our own foolishness.

How do we get around and through this problem in life?

GO SIDEWAYS

Jennie and I really like to watch Fixer Upper.  Yet we’re always astounded at the fact that, in pretty much every episode, Chip and Joanna are taken aback when they pull up a board and discover rotting pipes.  Or way-out-of-code firetrap electrical wiring.  Or termite-riddled shiplap.  (And, be honest: how many amongst us had heard of shiplap before Mr. and Mrs. Gaines arrived on HGTV?)

Our lives can take some wild turns.  Pull up a floorboard and, voilà, mold.  Termites. Or, look under the house and find unstable rock, a threat to our very foundation.

First, don’t panic. What we need to do is assess the size of the problem.  If we’re digging and hit a boulder, we need to go sideways to determine how big this rock really is.

Often problems appear far larger than they really are.  Because appearances can be deceiving, we need to have a realistic perception  of what we’re facing.  Not a negative, fearful, worrying view.  Just an honest assessment of what we’re looking at.

GO FOR THE BACKHOE?

I hate problems.  And, I will admit, I am prone to stewing, then jumping in unprepared to start “fixing”.

Excavation is not on my resume.  I cannot operate a backhoe.  Still, my first thought would be, “I need to rent a backhoe and get that rock outta here.”

If I start digging with a backhoe, I’m going to make a mess of things.  I’ll probably break the bucket in two without ever removing the rock.  Or forget to put out the stabilizer legs and end up pulling me and the digger back over tea kettle into the hole.

Clearly I need help.  I need to swallow my ego and ask someone who can operate a backhoe to help me.

However, some boulders are so big – problems so tough – no backhoe can dig out for us.

GO TO THE LORD

Take a moment and think about God.  He is not bound by flesh.  He is not tethered to time.  He is above all things for He created all things.  Every star, every planet, every universe.  Every blade of grass, every animal, every human.  Right down to the most infinitesimal quark, God designed, created, set in motion and continues to sustain all.

In heaven there is no sun, for God is the light.

On earth, there is no mountain too big, for God can move anything at will.

Ponder the Lord’s unlimited power and wisdom and love.

Selah.

Now compare His greatness to your boulder.  Do you think God can’t handle your situation?  Do you think He can’t save you?  Think again.

God will provide your clear sideways view – an honest assessment measured by His own plumb.

And, I can hear some of you saying (and you know who you are), “God doesn’t always remove the boulder.  What do we do then?”

We do what Paul did.  When the apostle was agonizing over the thorn in his side, he sought the Lord:

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 [ESV]

We rely on God’s grace – His unmerited, unearnable, total gift of favor given to us through His love.  We trust God with the outcome, even if the outcome is not how we envisioned it.  We cling to God’s love and know He is wiser than any of us.  We understand that our thoughts are not His, our ways are not His (Isaiah 55:8).

And, despite popular American belief, we are not our own.  As children of God, saved through the shed blood of our Savior Jesus Christ, we are free.  Yet we are also slaves to God:

22 For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. 24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God. – 1 Corinthians 7:22-24 [ESV]

In other words, we are where God has us.  He is in control.  He knows the number of our days, for He set them – according to His purpose, which is far higher than ours.

Here is my point: it is the Lord Who sets our foundation – Who is our foundation.  Whenever we hit a boulder, a blockage we can’t work through, we need to go to the Lord, get an assessment of the problem, and trust in Hs grace and wisdom and strength and love to see us through.  Even if we have to go sideways to do it.

Be Thankful! You’re Not a Giant Disembodied Eye Ball

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I woke up at 4:00 this morning thinking about a lot of things.  Not very pleasant things, mind you.

I got out of bed, went to my office and opened the window.  The sun was just beginning to light the night sky.  Birds were singing loudly.  And I began to consider all I have in life to be thankful for.

I am thankful for this beautiful morning.

I am thankful for my beautiful, still sleeping family.

I am thankful for God’s love and grace.

I am thankful I am not a giant disembodied eye ball being chased before a crowd of spectators at a sporting event.

Sometimes you have to be thankful for the stranger aspects of life as well as the obvious.

The truth about our lives is often difficult to see clearly.  When life gets stressful, or troubles plague us or we just end up depleted from everything going on, it can be very easy to believe nothing will ever improve.  Nothing will change.

But that’s just belief based on what we see.  Our perceptions are based on what we sense: feel, touch, taste, smell, see.

For example, when we smell a skunk, we perceive a disgusting, pungent odor.  The skunk perceives security, as this is his protection.  (Unless, of course, you are the already-dead road kill skunk I somehow managed to run over some years back, fifteen minutes into a four-hour long drive on a very, very hot summer day.  While skunk spray may stop a huge brown bear from mauling it’s potential prey, it is no match for a speeding Pontiac.  For that particular member of Genus Mephitis, the car was mightier than the stench.  My perception of the ordeal was not one of security, but nausea.)

Perhaps a twice-flattened dead stink otter isn’t the best illustration here.  Let’s consider the well known – and well worn – example of the iceberg.  When we see one (and, trust me, here in Minnesota they are a very rare sight) we think, “Look at that giant mountain of glacial ice!”  (Of course, having never seen one, I can only imagine my response would be something akin to “Look at that giant mountain of glacial ice!”)

But, what we see – what we perceive with our limited mental faculties – is only a small piece of the total picture.  Indeed, only about 10%, as the remaining 90% of the iceberg is submerged.  If what we believe about the iceberg is based simply on what we see, we miss the majority of it.  We also have to consider what we cannot see – a fact any survivor of the Titanic could have corroborated.

If we look at our situations, our lives, ourselves, and all we see is hopelessness, or failure, or despair, or sorrow… we are basing our beliefs of faulty perceptions.

Don’t misunderstand me.  We need our brains to discern the 10% of the iceberg we can see.

But perceiving the remaining 90% requires faith, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, KJV).  If all we live by is what we see with our eyes, what our feeble brains can figure out on their own, we’re going to hit an iceberg.  And we won’t have ample lifeboats to survive the frigid waters.  Another fact any Titanic survivor could have attested to.

However, when we have faith in God – when we begin to see who Jesus is, and who we are reflected in Him – we find hope, and strength.  And we begin to see that the troubles and pains of this life are not the whole story.  Not even close.  In fact, they only count for about 10% of our story.  The remaining 90% is still under water, waiting to be revealed.

Don’t look at the troubles you see and believe that’s all you have in life.  There is a deeper purpose for your suffering.  I cannot tell you what that is.  I will tell you that the Lord can take every situation and use it to grow us, to strengthen us, to help us bring hope and empathy and joy to others.  Heck, you may even come to embrace your hardship with gratitude!

And if you can’t start there, well… be grateful that you’re not a giant disembodied eye ball being chased before a crowd of spectators at a sporting event.