Friday, December 07, 2001

The Peace That Makes No Sense

The picture of God’s “peace on earth” is not thousands of soldiers laying down their guns. Rather it is the picture of a baby sleeping, on a blanket, on the living room floor, during a family reunion, with 25 people milling around, 15 of them children, 7 of them younger than ten, screaming and laughing and crying, doors being slammed, dishes being dropped, and the dog jumping on everyone. A child sleeping in contentment and security and peace in the midst of life’s everyday confusion. Because he is secure in his parent’s care.

“Peace on earth, good will to men, Peace on earth, good will to men, Peace on earth, good will to men.” We hear it repeated many times during the Christmas season. It all started when shouted by the angels to the shepherds on the hills around Bethlehem. Immediately all wars, all conflict, all strife ceased. And peace ruled “on earth” because Jesus had been born. Right? Wrong.

But isn’t that the portrait of “peace on earth” that most of us have when we hear the phrase? 2,000 years later is there any more of that kind of peace? Probably less. Is “Peace on earth” simply a clich√© to be used during December? Can’t be. It came from God through the mouths of angels, so there has to be reality resident in those words.

December 9 is the second Sunday of Advent for the Christian church. During worship we light the Peace Candle that proclaims to us that CHRIST is our PEACE. What is that about?

Well, here’s what Jesus said… "Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division." (Luke 12:51) OK. THAT is not what we expected. The Apostle Paul tells us,

"Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, "Peace and safety," destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape." 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3

Perhaps it was a moment of peace in the stable. If so, it didn’t last long. The nativity family was running for their lives within weeks of the angels showing up to the shepherds. What were the angels talking about? Of all the things they could have said, God told them to declare, “Peace on earth.” It was an important message. So what were the angels announcing?

That Jesus Christ Himself will be our peace…

"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility," Ephesians 2:13-14 (NIV)

That we can have peace no matter the circumstances we face…

""I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."" John 16:33 (NIV)

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." John 14:27 (NIV)

“Peace on earth” is about inside tranquility right in the middle turbulence.
Which begs the question, “How can we experience this peace?”

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me--put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you." Philippians 4:6-9 (NIV)

As long as we seek peace for peace sake we will be frustrated. When we seek God Himself, the Christ of Christmas, the Jesus who lived and died for us in the years following Bethlehem, peace will come with Him into our souls.

The Advent season directs us to seek Christ, who is our peace. Only then will His peace come to every place on earth where a person has given Him possession of his or his life.

The peace that

confounds reasoning

overrides emotions

defies logic

makes no sense at all

but that brings settles our hearts and minds.


Ultimately it causes us to look forward to the day we will see Jesus and experience perfect, complete and eternal peace.

"You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you." Isaiah 26:3 (NIV)

So for you, this week of the Advent season, I wish you His Peace!

“Peace on earth and good will to YOU!!!!”

Saturday, December 01, 2001

The Hope That Does Not Disappoint

Sunday, December 2 marks the beginning of Advent for the Christian church. It is intended to create a spirit of expectation, of anticipation, of preparation, of longing for each Christian – but for what? A longing for a baby lying in a feeding trough in a cave? A longing for angels? A longing for shepherds? For a star? Or wise men?

Or if we want to be more secular… Is it a longing for carols? For holiday decorations? For lights? A longing for giving presents? Or perhaps family times?

What is the Advent season all about? Amber, Chadd and I were watching a holiday special on TV last night, something about the best holiday commercials ever. The hosts bantered about the real meaning of the season. Their conclusion was that it is about spending time with the people you care about. I’ll agree that is important, but that is ABSOLUTELY NOT what Advent is about.

“Advent” means “coming”. I’ve often thought of “the coming” as the celebration of the coming of the Christ child to earth some 2,000 years ago. God has recently shown me that it is so much more than that. It should be the spirit of expectation, of anticipation, of preparation, of longing for salvation, for deliverance from evil that Jesus came to give. The entire Christmas story and the Advent season is to be about retelling the story of redemption through God’s grace in the Incarnation. It is about “God With Us” to buy us back from our sin and selfishness. It is about participating in the purpose of Christ’s Advent.

As we walk through the season, here are some thoughts that might help us.

The Advent Wreath is circular, representing God Himself. He has no beginning and no end. The greenery represents life, the life God offers to us that comes from Him and Him alone.

The flames of the candles represent the light of Christ coming into a dark, sinful world. It is that light which Christ places in us that makes us the light of the world, pointing people to Jesus.

The Candles represent various aspects of our waiting experience. As the light increases with the lighting of each candle, the darkness decreases and we can both see Christ more clearly and live like Christ more effectively as His light shines through us.
The first Sunday of Advent the Hope Candle will be lit.

The Old Testament pointed Jewish people toward Christ. Prophecy after prophecy told of a Messiah who would save them. Centuries elapsed as power hungry kings abused them, self centered prophets led them astray, and half hearted religious leaders lulled them into apathy. It was tempting to give up hope. But all along ordinary people longed for God to deliver on His promises to raise up a new king, a different kind of king who would save them. They yearned for a day when God’s true, powerful, dynamic Presence would be in their midst once again.

That Presence would be Jesus.

This candle reminds us of the hope the Jewish people held on to generation after generation until finally Jesus came. Hope did not disappoint those honestly seeking God.

There is still a longing among those who honestly seek God. It is not a longing for Jesus’ birth. True believers have experienced that. Rather, it is a longing for God’s kingdom to come in all its fullness when Jesus returns. But that hope comes with a cost: persevering obedience. Hope only comes as we keep putting one foot in front of the other with our eyes on Christ.

"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." Romans 5:1-5 (NIV)

That hope, that longing which persists in the believer’s heart cannot be satisfied here. It is a longing, an ache to be in perfect relationship with God. No matter how deeply we develop our relationship with God through Jesus, no matter how much we read the Bible and pray, no matter how effectively we serve Him by serving others, no matter how connectedly we worship Him… there will always be the longing that causes us to look forward in hope. Because it is a longing for heaven.

"We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express." Romans 8:22-26 (NIV)

And that hope will not disappoint us. No matter how long we must persevere.

As this Advent season begins, choose Hope! Light the candle, allow Jesus’ light to flood your soul, lay your life into His hands and your longing into His care. AND CHOOSE HOPE!

The Hope candle tells us to look forward to the day we will see Jesus and be with Him in perfection forever. We can because Christ is our hope, the One who came to be “With us” at His advent, birthing the work that would save us by His life and death.

Saturday, November 24, 2001

When God is Working Most

“When things appear to be unraveling the worst, God is often working the most.”

Those are the words I heard during prayer this week. As I was walking through some dark days. And as I’ve been watching several people I care about live through some very unraveling times. Times when we’re tempted to think God has turned His head, or stepped out for coffee, or was taking a nap. You’ve been there, haven’t you. Maybe you’re there now.

Those are the times when God is often working the most. The problem is that we can’t see what is going on in the heavenly realm. We can only see the observable, the hearable and the touchable. The unseen is, well, so unseeable. And that is frustrating. No matter how much God is working.

The unraveling times are when God invites us to trust Him most. Trust Him that things won’t unravel completely, that we won’t be left with the end of the yarn of our lives jerked out of our hands and destroyed. Getting us to trust that He is working the most is exactly why God won’t let us know all that He is doing during those unraveling days. Knowing how God is working things out removes trust from the equation. And trust is the primary quality God wants to build into us.

How could Abraham watch God deliver Isaac from the fiery altar? It sure looked like all his plans and dreams were unraveling. But He saw God do “a working the most” miracle. How? By trusting Him.

How could Joseph experience God deliver on his dreams? It sure looked like his life was unraveling when he was sold into slavery, wrongfully accused of accosting his master’s wife, forgotten by a friend, and separated from his family for 17 years. But he watched God do more than he could have imagined in “working the most” as he assumed second in command of the world. How? By trusting Him.

How could Peter walk through doors and past soldiers like a ghost? It sure looked like he had the last inch of yarn of his life in his hand when he was arrested and awaiting death. His fellow apostle had already been killed and he was next. But God was in one of those “working the most” moods and miraculously saved him from certain death. How? By trusting him.

The biggest unraveling of all was when Jesus headed to the cross. The whole world thought it was over, that there was no way Jesus could be their king as they watched Him die on the cross. Not only did it appear that everything had unraveled for Jesus, it looked like it had come apart for everyone else. But God was “working the mostest most” when He resurrected Jesus on Easter. How could it happen? Because Jesus trusted the Father.

Now take another look at those things that are unraveling in your life. Anything come close to being asked to kill your child as a sacrifice, being wrongfully imprisoned for almost 2 decades, being placed on death row by a lunatic dictator, or dying on a cross as God turns His back on you? I didn’t think so. It might FEEL like it, but my guess is it doesn’t come close.

So as you watch things appear to unravel the worst, will you trust God to work the most? Trust Him by obeying what He says completely. Trust Him by allowing Him to work out the future His ways, (and keep your cotton picking hands off of it! Oh, sorry. Got a little carried away, there. Sounded like my mom!) Trust Him by abstaining from telling God what to do. Just put the threads that have unraveled and the cloth that is still intact in His hands by praying, worshipping, listening to His Word, serving others, being faithful and putting one foot in front of the other.

Oh, and don’t forget to keep your eyes open. Because you WILL see God come through. ALWAYS. And better than you could have imagined. If you will trust Him.

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28 (NIV)

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." Ephesians 3:20-21 (NIV)

Friday, October 12, 2001

The Very, Very, Very, Very Worst and BEST Day of All

I’ve had some bad days. You’ve had some bad days. Everyone has had bad days.

When my oldest child was a toddler we thought it would be nice to get his picture sitting on the Easter Bunny’s lap at the local department store. He took one look at the 7-foot creature, hairy arms and long ears and wanted no part of whatever it was. We coaxed, bribed, begged to no avail. Being cruel parents we even put him on the monster’s lap for a moment to snap a quick picture. It is not a hallmark photo. That was a very bad day for the child. He’s scarred for life.

We think about that child’s bad day and think, “Get a grip. That was not a bad day.”

Another child came home crying. A couple friends had called her a name. She was rejected and dejected. The hurt was deep as the girls who were supposed to be her friends, became turncoats, proving once again that an odd number of children reveals man’s sinful nature. I asked her what name they had called her. She told me. I asked her to repeat it. She did. I asked her several more times. Each time she enunciated the same syllables. I had trouble keeping a straight face. It wasn’t a name at all. Unless it was in another language. From another planet. In another universe. They’d made it up. But it was a very bad day for the child.

We think about that child’s bad day and think, “Get a grip. That was not a bad day.”

Folks all around us are having much worse days. Losing loved ones, losing jobs, losing health, losing independence. Struggling to survive. I listen to peoples’ problems, hear their hurt, watch their tears. There are a lot of bad days out there. Some much deeper than others, but all painful. Sometimes tragedies help us realize that what we’re going through is not as bad as it seemed. I’ve seen reports that divorces, violent crime and pornography sales are down since September 11. Helped us see what was important… at least for a while.

Where is the hope? Do we all just throw in the towel? Where is the hope? Do we live in fear that the next day may be worse? Where is the hope? Is there some perspective to help us live boldly?

Bad is a comparative word. You’re having a bad day? Compared to what? To a child afraid of a big rabbit? To a child called a mythical name? To a family who lost their dad, husband, son, primary income, and stability?

Here is the hope: There is a day in the future that will make the very worst day we ever have pale. That day will make our nastiest experience seem like a big gentle rabbit. We don’t know when it will arrive, but it will knock on every door. I’m talking about THE day. Here it is…

"Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment," Hebrews 9:27 (NIV)

Yep, I’m talking about THAT day when each of us will breathe our last breath and leave the physical body we’ve moved around in. We will come face to face with God and be judged. That day will make our worst day fade away. Why? For one of two reasons.

If you are living in relationship with God through Jesus Christ, having turned your back on sin and striving to be obedient, you will experience an ecstasy the Bible can’t begin to describe. All those bad days will be gone forever and you will enjoy a life of eternal bliss.

But if you are living for yourself, not in relationship with God but insisting on your own way, you will experience a pain the Bible can’t begin to describe. All those bad days will seem like nothing compared to the pain that is described as eternal burning. That never pauses. That is never soothed. That never ends. (And you thought that last sunburn was bad!)

So, what are you going to do with that? The day is coming. You might avoid taxes, but death is going to get you. God wants that day to be the best day for you. He did not create you for hell, He created you for heaven. He wants you to accept His forgiveness and allow Jesus to pay for your sins. Will you let Him?

Turn from your sins and toward God, ask for forgiveness, and begin to obey. Then there will be no reason to fear and every reason to live with joy.

"But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:7-9 (NIV)

Thursday, September 13, 2001

"What Is God Feeling?"

Along with millions of other people I listened and watched Tuesday’s tragic events unfold. Sheila and I were on our way to a night away and were headed for the PA Turnpike through Somerset County. After hearing the report of the fourth plane going down within 40 miles of us, it felt like the world was coming to an end. We turned around and headed home. Shock, horror, sadness, anger, frustration, hurt, disbelief were just some of the emotions we all felt. I hope your first reaction was to pray. Sheila and I did. Along with millions our family has kept praying.

September 11, 2001 is a day that will live in infamy with Pearl Harbor, the JFK assassination, and the Challenger explosion. Only worse because of the nature of the tragedy and the cruelty of the terrorists

Interviews reported the emotions of people close to the scenes. Those of us removed by distance can only imagine the emotional, mental as well as physical trauma endured by those involved close up and those who lost loved ones. That trauma has only begun.

For the first 24 hours I was in shock, overwhelmed by feelings of being violated, by emotions of sadness for the victims, by a sense of helplessness that we can’t change what happened. Finally on Wednesday I asked God, “What is Your perspective on this tragedy, from where You sit? How do you feel?” He answered me. In a moment I’m going to let you know what I heard, but I’m taking a risk that you will not understand. I expected God to let me know how sad and angry He is. I expected words of comfort I could pass on to others. That is not what He said to me. Frankly, He shocked me and I have hesitated to pass it on. But I asked for Him to tell me. I guess I have to be ready for anything when I ask God a question.

I don’t want to sound cruel or heartless. What has occurred is a tragedy of enormous proportions. There are thousands of people who have been killed, wounded or have loved ones who are dead or suffering. That is awful. So, please understand I’m not trying to make light of it. I am not insensitive to the pain. But I heard God’s Spirit clearly speak two messages. (If you don’t like them, you can take it up with God. Remember I am only the middle man.) Here they are…

MESSAGE #1. Moments after I asked God to give me His perspective, I heard Him say, “You kill 3,500 innocent Americans everyday. Why are you so upset and so angry about those killed Tuesday?” I was shocked. I was expecting words of comfort, of direction, of help, or anger. I heard none of that and I was immediately convicted. God’s right. He’s always right. Why are we so upset when foreign terrorists kill thousands when we do it to ourselves everyday through abortion? The life of an unborn child is just as valuable to God as any of the people who perished in these attacks. In fact the Bible is clear that God is even more protective of the little ones.

MESSAGE #2. “There is something worse than dying physically. It is dying without a relationship with Me and going to Hell.” All of heaven welcomed many of the people who died Tuesday into an eternity beyond our wildest imaginations. Those people are better off, they’re receiving a reward that will last forever and ever and ever. Others, however, are damned to an eternity beyond our nastiest nightmares because they refused a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. That is worse than the cruelest death we will hear about.

God’s words to me, as surprising as they were, have helped bring me out of the fog of the tragedy and have given me His bigger picture perspective. Yes it is a tragedy. The ripples will last for decades. The worst may be yet to come. But thousands of people around the world suffer daily. Persecuted Christians perish day after day. People die every day within blocks of us, sometimes even cruelly. Perhaps if we are honest with God and ourselves, we have to admit that our feelings are selfish. The tragedy has threatened our personal sense of security, our personal comforts, and our self-absorbed way of life. It grabs our attention because of the unthinkable way in which we were attacked and the enormity of the loss. We are shaken. This one hit home where we thought we were safe and secure.

I invite you to refocus. Ask God to give you His perspective. Live by His promises. Absorb these…

""I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."" John 16:33 (NIV)

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28 (NIV)

I also invite you to put your full trust in God. Only in Him do we have true security. All other kinds of security are myths.

"Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God." Psalms 20:7 (NIV)

Let’s be God’s hands and feet, His Presence in the world. Whatever we can do, we should do. Pray, give blood, make donations, and talk with others about God’s desires for people to know Him and invite them to place their hope in God.

But let’s keep God’s perspective and live for Him in dailyness as well as times of tragedy.

Saturday, June 02, 2001

"Do You Have the Power?"

I look at these guys and wonder over and over and over, "Why don't they get it? Are they that stupid or was something else going on?" They were selfish, exclusive, ambitious, angry, hurtful, fearful, negative, lacking in ability, and oblivious to their leader's purposes. They stood at the threshold of the greatest opportunities and missed them every time.

In contrast, their leader was incredible. He didn't seem a good match with the guys surrounding Him. He knew where He was headed, how He was going to get there and why He was going. Along the way He was selfless, inclusive, humble, self-controlled, healing, courageous, positive, astoundingly able and focused. And He put up with those guys.

The world went upside down as He got close to fulfilling His purpose. He was arrested and His followers bailed on Him. He faced death without them. By now you've figured out that this is the story of Jesus and His disciples. And you know that He didn't stay dead. He went to those guys again, forgave them, restored them and gave them marching orders.

Problem was they hadn't changed. They were still selfish, exclusive, ambitious, angry, hurtful, fearful, negative, lacking in ability, and oblivious. But they did one thing right. They obeyed the one instruction Jesus gave them – "wait." Sure, He told them they would go to the whole world, announcing the news about Jesus. And yes, He told them they would perform incredible works and miracles. That was for later. He told them first to wait.

To be quite honest, I don't know if they obeyed because they wanted to. Remember all the times they didn't? "Pray with me," and they fell asleep. "Love one another," and they refused to wash one another's' feet. "Feed the people" and they gave excuses why they couldn't. "Be courageous" and they ran in fear. In their hearts they wanted to obey Jesus' words to wait in Jerusalem, but I don't know if they could have tried much else. They were a powerless bunch and they may have simply been too terrified to go anywhere else.

To their credit, they prayed, worshipped God, and encouraged one another by telling about Jesus' works as they waited. And somewhere in those activities their hearts got ready for God to take residence.

Between page 960 and page 962 (in my Bible) the disciples went from Barney Fife to the Incredible Hulk. But it wasn't about them, it was about God.

On the tenth day after Jesus disappeared into the clouds, God showed up. In a way He had never shown up before. And the world has never been the same. Outwardly there were tornado like winds, dancing flames of fire and disciples speaking in languages they'd never learned. But the real change was inside of them – God moved from "out there" to "in here." The Spirit of God took charge of their inner beings and transformed them into the likeness of Jesus. From selfish to selfless, from fearful to courageous, from negative to joyful, from powerless to supernaturally powerful.

THEN they went out to follow Jesus' marching orders with success after success.
In the past week God has shown me afresh that the ability to follow Jesus comes from His Spirit taking charge of us from the inside out.

We try so hard to obey God, and we fail.

We try so hard to make Jesus Lord of our lives, and we fail.

We try so hard to treat others as we want to be treated, and we fail.

We try so hard to resist temptation, and we fail.

No matter how hard we try, it is impossible to do it. Absolutely impossible.

We only have two choices. To say it can't be done and struggle through life the best we can. Or we can say that there must be another way.

The filling and power of the Holy Spirit is the other way. God's way.

So what do we do? Admit we are unable, powerless to live as God instructs. Sign over ownership of our lives to God. Ask for His Spirit to take charge. And wait – keep praying, keep praising until it happens. Might happen in an instant. Might take ten days as with the disciples. Might take longer. But Jesus' promise is that He will do it.

" Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified." John 7:37-39 (NIV)

After He does, we allow Him, from within, to give us the selflessness, courage, joy and ability to do anything He wants us to do. And it will be amazing. Your spouse will think a different being took over your body, your children will look at you differently, your circumstances will not overwhelm you, your decisions will be guided by God, you will have peace, and the devil will really be ticked.

The disciples were never the same. Life was actually harder, but they were happier. They were still thrown in jail, life was sometimes tough, and they had to deal with difficult people. But the Holy Spirit within was there to handle it. So as we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, June 3, are you ready to sign over the deed of your life to God? Or you can just keep being selfish, exclusive, ambitious, angry, hurtful, fearful, negative, lacking in ability, and oblivious.

YOUR CHOICE.

"He told them … 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." 50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God." Luke 24:49-53 (NIV)

"When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Acts 2:1-4 (NIV)

Friday, May 25, 2001

"From Where Are You Eating?"

Many years ago, when Andrew was just a toddler, we were visiting Sheila's parents in Toledo, Ohio. Her brother and sisters and all the out-laws, er, in-laws, were there. The adults were sitting around the kitchen table, talking, teasing, laughing, enjoying a good old time. Sheila's brother, Jim, got up from the table, walked over to the sink to put a dish away, turned back toward the group and suddenly stopped.

"Andrew! What are you doing? Don't play with that!" Not having children of his own at the time, he was appalled. "Don't eat that. That's gross." With that, Jim picked up Dusty's dish and told Sheila to wash Andrew's hands. Dusty was the dog. Andrew had been playing with and munching on the dry dog food that was in the canine's bowl. We'd heard the noise of the metal bowl scraping on the tile floor but we'd assumed it was the bowl's owner instead of his cousin.

Andrew was certainly in no danger. The dog food was as nutritious (maybe more so) than some the junk we eat. It's just that it was not the place or the food for a human type child to eat.

And it wasn't as if there was no food in the house for him to eat. Any time the family is together there is PLENTY of food. Leftovers from the huge meal the night before, frozen meat and vegetables, cereal, snacks, candy. Andrew's grandmother would have made the child anything he wanted. Her heart was his to control.

It was not that he was even hungry. He'd eaten only a short time before. He was just enamored with the shiny bowl and the different looking food. He did what came naturally to a crawler.

A virtual feast available and my son was eating out of the dog dish.

We don't do that, do we?

God has a banquet He invites us to share with Him. A spiritual feast that is better than anything we could experience on our own or imagine in our dreams. An offer of rest for our souls and strength for our minds, hearts and bodies. And way too often we insist on eating out of the dog food bowl.

Andrew was lured toward Dusty's dish because it was shiny and different. Billions of dollars are spent every year to convince us that we MUST HAVE the newest shiny and different thing. Promises are everywhere that they will provide fulfillment, or make us feel better, act better, look better, or have more success. Shiny and different and we end up at the dog food bowl instead of the heavenly feast.

Andrew was lured toward Dusty's dish because the food looked appealing. My friends in the nutrition field have taught me that often the best things for us look pretty boring, and that the worst things for us can look most appealing. Oatmeal versus chocolate cake. The Bible alerts us that temptations to do the things that tear us away from God will look VERY appealing. And lead us to sorrow after sorrow as we break God's heart and hurt those we care about. Appealing and we end up at the dog food bowl instead of the heavenly feast.

Andrew was lured toward Dusty's dish to taste what was there. "One little taste won't hurt. Everyone has to sow some wild oats. Boys will be boys. When we get older we'll change." There's a word in the Greek that describes those statements. Loosely translated, it is "Baloney!" Those are simply more lies to get us to the dog dish. For every time we take a bite of temptation, we pay for it the rest of our lives in consequences. Sure the sin can be forgiven and forgotten by God. The guilt is completely erased when we ask. But the consequences last a lifetime. In our lives and everyone the ripples touch. Just to taste and we end up at the dog food bowl instead of the heavenly feast.

Please don't misunderstand me. I am not saying that God will give us health, wealth and prosperity when we choose Him. I am saying there is nothing in this world that Satan or people can offer that can compare with the rest for our souls and the strength for our minds, bodies and hearts that God wants to give us at His Heavenly Table. In the middle of difficulties or when all of life is good.

As Andrew ate out of the shiny bowl on the floor, even the dog must have been thinking, "Boy – I do everything I can to get what is up on that table, the good stuff, and here you are eating with me! What are you thinking? Get up there and enjoy that feast! And toss some down my way once in while, will ya?"

Jim rescued Andrew from the dog food dish, Sheila washed his hands, set him at the table and gave him some real food. Better food. It wasn't near as adventurous, but it was much more satisfying. He did not eat alone, but with a whole table of people who love him.

I invite you to let Jesus rescue you from the dog food dish, wash you up and set you at God's heavenly table with some food that really satisfies – rest for your soul, and strength for your mind, heart and body. Much better food. It may not seem as adventurous, but it will be much more satisfying. And you will not eat alone, but with a whole table of people who also have chosen Jesus and who will love you, too. That is called "the church." How about it?

""Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."" Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." Ephesians 3:20-21 (NIV)

Friday, May 18, 2001

"Expectation Boxes"

It's been said more than once, "You get what you expect." In most cases that is true.

So what were Peter, James and John expecting when they climbed the side of the mountain with Jesus? Not much. They'd been there before. Jesus had a habit of going up the mountain to spend long periods of time in prayer. Talking to His Dad. At least once the disciples were so impressed with Jesus' times of prayers that they asked Him how to pray. He gave them what we call the Lord's Prayer. Should have been named the Disciples' Prayer. It's not real long, but fraught with meaning that will take us a lifetime to grasp.

Back to the mountain. It appears that the disciples were not much into long times of prayers and more often than not, fell asleep while Jesus prayed. It happened that day. We don't know how long they slept or how long Jesus had been praying before the significant occurred. That day, that time, that place became the "Mount of Transfiguration." Jesus' human appearance was completely changed into His heavenly glory. His face was transformed. His clothes became white as a lightning flash. If that were not enough, Moses and Elijah showed up to talk with Jesus.

The disciples missed the first part of this miracle. They were snuggly settled in to sleep. Something woke them. They groggily stirred until the sight shocked them into awakeness. They watched and listened for a while and finally figured out who the two glorified guys were talking to Jesus. When the disciples realized Moses and Elijah were about to leave, Peter did something that gives me great comfort. He started talking nonsense because, ( and here I quote the Bible. Check it out – it really is in there), "he did not know what he was saying." Man, how many times has that been my testimony!

And what did he say? "Let's stay here! This is so good. I like guys who are dead hanging around talking to us. Let's not go back down the mountain. There are loads of problems and difficulties waiting for us there. We'll build 3 shrines, one for each of you, and we can just stay here forever." I've felt like that. Had a great experience that removes my mind and heart from the world and wished I could stay there. But that is not why Jesus was on earth and it's not why we're still here. That is a description of heaven and why we must do all we can to get there.

Peter missed the point of the event. He'd been listening, but he had not been hearing. Moses and Elijah had come to Jesus to encourage Him because He was facing death on the cross. It was not to remove Him from the world and its difficulties, but to give Him the strength to face them. Peter didn't catch it because he was expecting Jesus to be the conquering Savior, not the dying Savior.

Finally the Father got Peter to shut up by enveloping the disciples and Jesus in a cloud and saying, "This is my son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him." When the disciples looked up the two dead/alive guys were gone, Jesus was back to His human appearance and the cloud was gone. The three followed Jesus back down the mountain, stunned and wondering what THAT was all about. They didn't get it until after Jesus' resurrection.

Peter, James and John didn't expect anything except another nap while Jesus prayed. They got more than they expected, didn't they? Or did they? When the scene changed, their expectations changed and they tried to fit what was happening into their "expectation box." "Ah, yes," they probably thought, "Now Jesus will free us from political bondage." Never could they imagine, even when they heard the conversation among the heavenly trio, that Jesus was going to be arrested and killed. Why? Because they were confined by their "expectation box." This was the most significant event in Jesus' life between His birth and death and these fellows missed it.

I believe we miss much of what God wants to do because we, too, have an "expectation box." Even if we are followers of the Master, we have been conditioned by years of life to see with our eyes instead of our souls. The unexpected happens and we don't even see it, let alone understand it because it doesn’t fit into our box. When we do see it, like the Pete, Jim and Jack, we change the box and still don’t comprehend what it is about. God wants to blow the walls out of our "expectation boxes" and we keep nailing them together tighter and tighter.

So what is the solution? There is no easy one. But there is one. Next time something happens, instead of allowing your mind to immediately shove you into your "expectation box," stop. It doesn’t have to make sense. It doesn't have to be easily or readily understood. Just stop and pray this prayer, "God, what do you want me to see here? Open the eyes of my soul to see with my soul." Don't ask to comprehend it. Just let God take off the blinders that life has placed on that place within you that connects with the God of the universe. God has so much, so very much He wants us to see and experience if we'll allow it.

""This is what the LORD says, he who made the earth, the LORD who formed it and established it--the LORD is his name: 3 'Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.'" Jeremiah 33:2-3 (NIV)

Monday, April 23, 2001

"Life’s Not Fair – and THAT’S OK!"

I have made a scientific discovery with which I’m sure you will agree. When children are formed in the womb, somewhere in the final stages of development, a DNA chip appears in their brains. Not many scientists have recognized it, but every parent knows it is there. It is called the "life should be fair" chip. Without exception, everyone is born with it.

Sheila and I have discovered it in each of our young ones. We have four children - one of each. Andrew, Carissa (now known as Kris), Amber and Chadd. They are all very different, but the same in many ways. Each has the Shaffer eyes, the Shaffer hair, the Shaffer sense of humor, many of the same tastes. One of the large ways they are all the same is that early in life each uttered the very same phrase, "That's not fair!" It comes from the chip!

I’m cutting pieces of birthday cake and one of these children says, "That’s not fair, she got a bigger piece." It’s the chip!

A younger child is toted off to bed and notices her older sibling doesn’t have to go to bed yet. "That’s not fair, he should have to go to bed, too." It’s the chip!

A younger child gets some new, spiffy pajamas. The older one says, "That’s not fair, I should get something new, too." It’s the chip!

An on and on and on it goes. You’d think it would get better as children get older, but the chip does not naturally disintegrate.

My mother-in-law thought that life should be fair for her children, so she tried to make it so. One December Sheila’s older sister asked for a baby carriage for Christmas. The result: all four girls got baby carriages. They had parades around the house. Probably jockeying for the lead and arguing that it wasn’t fair that everybody else got to be in front longer. Was that fair? NO. It was equal. That, in itself, was not fair. Sheila wanted a doll. At Easter time, Sheila's mom would equally count out the jellybeans she put into each child's Easter basket in an attempt to be fair. Was that fair? No, it was equal. What about the child who doesn't like jelly beans? Especially the black and green ones.

The DNA chip is in each one of us. We want life to be fair. We even think life should be fair.

When someone else is promoted we cry, "THAT'S NOT FAIR!"

When we don't get that raise we moan, "THAT'S NOT FAIR!"

When our spouse doesn't deliver we whine, "THAT'S NOT FAIR!"

When our children act in ways we don’t see others acting, we complain, "THAT'S NOT FAIR!"

When life doesn't provide us with the abilities, the possessions, the talents, the opportunities we see others have, we cry out like children, "THAT’S NOT FAIR!"

My children don't say it much any more. Not because the chip is gone, but because they've learned it is not worth listening to the response. They know my answer to that exclamation will always be the same, "LIFE'S NOT FAIR!" You get a smaller piece of cake, well, life’s not fair. You don’t get to stay up as late? Well, life’s not fair. You don’t get new pajamas? Well, life’s not fair. You don’t get the promotion, or the raise or the talents or the opportunities… Well, life’s not fair. No one ever promised life would be nor should it be.

NOW HERE’S THE IMPORTANT PART - do you know what? That's OK. Yes, you read it right. Read it again. Life's not fair, never will be, wasn't created to be… and that’s OK. Really it is. It may not feel like it, but it is.

God is in charge, we’re His kids, He loves us all the same, but He does not promise that life will be fair. In fact He promised just the opposite.

""I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."" John 16:33 (NIV)

If we insist on fairness and strive to get it on our own, we often short circuit God's ultimate better plan. Remember if Joseph (you know, the guy with multi colored coat whose brothers sold him) had pouted about the unfairness of his life, he would have never become vice president of the world. Life's not fair, and it really is OK. God's in charge.

"As far as I am concerned, God turned into good what you meant for evil, for he brought me to this high position I have today so that I could save the lives of many people." Genesis 50:20 (TLB)

Life's not fair, and that's OK. When we accept that truth about life, it gets much easier to handle. We will accept the difficulties we are handed as a normal part of life instead of believing something is wrong when unfairness comes. That pain is a part of breathing. That in this world those who don't deserve it are going to get things we never do. By accepting the truth of God that life is not fair and tossing out the lie that life should be fair we give God the opportunity to make us grow from the unfairnesss into BETTER people instead of BITTER people.

Then the chip begins to disintegrate. And we can get on with doing life the way God designed us to do it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2001

"The Spirit is willing, but the Flesh, well, it just won’t cooperate"

It grabbed by the throat, threw me up against the wall, slammed me to the floor and pinned me to the carpet. And every time I tried to get up it did it again. At least that's the way it felt.

"I can’t believe how BAD I feel," was my slogan for the past week. I’d had colds before but this… It must have been what folks around these parts call "The Flu." Growing up in southwest Ohio, "the flu" always meant a stomach virus that lasted about 24 hours. When we moved to Pennsylvania people talked about "The Flu." A monster that gave you a fever, congestion, total body aches, a cough that never ends and a complete case exhaustion. I stuck my foot in my mouth a few times before I caught on. "Those stomach cramps are awful," I would say as people looked at me like I was speaking French.

But in all these years I never personally caught "The Flu" my ownself. Frankly I thought people who caught the flu and stayed in bed were wimps. "I’ve had stuff like that before," I’d say to myself. "Just take some Alka-Seltzer cold medicine and push through it. It's not that big of a deal." Then last week I got "The Flu" my ownself. It was not a pretty sight.

I took some cold medicine and TRIED to push through it… and found myself sitting at the kitchen table, head in hands entirely unable to function. I’d get up for a couple hours and end right back in bed. It felt like a 50 pound weight was lying on my chest. And a couple more were tied to my feet and hands. No energy. No appetite. No mind. Powerless and helpless. (Now you think I’m the wimp, don’t you?)

One of the worst parts was the cough. My mouth is still numb from living on cough drops. Every muscle in my body still aches from gut wrenching hacking fits. Cough suppressants didn’t help. All the concoctions people recommended didn’t help. Nothing helped. I sat on the couch in the middle of the night thinking, "It’s just mind over matter. I can stop coughing and get some sleep. I will not cough. I will not cough. I will not cough." And I would cough. Loud and long. Powerless and helpless. The spirit was willing but the flesh, well, it just would not cooperate.

I’m getting better. It is taking a long time, but I’m getting better. I must be one of those old folks that need a yearly flu shot.

We all need a reminder once in a while about our powerlessness. We fool ourselves into thinking that we are in control, that we have our destinies in our hands. We look around at other people, believing they are wimps because they can’t just push through their problems. Then one day we hit it. ALL OF US DO. We run headlong into some wall that we cannot push through. We try everything we know and concoctions that others recommend. Nothing works. We will ourselves to overcome it. It’s just mind over matter, we tell ourselves. And nothing works. The spirit is willing but the flesh is powerless.

That is because we are human, not God. We were not meant to be able to handle everything. We were meant to depend on the One who can. When we depend on ourselves, the wall always wins. When we depend on God, He always wins with us in His arms. May not look like it for a while. But there has never been a wall that can beat God. (Remember the cross?)

You’d think we’d have this figured out by now. Jesus was very clear when He said "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:5 (NIV) Jesus let us know point blank we are powerless and helpless without Him. But then comes the good news: But God also told us through the Apostle Paul, "for I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power." Philippians 4:13 (TLB) There is nothing we cannot handle relying on God’s strength instead of ours.

So what are the walls you’re beating your head against?

Sin? You know the drill we use, "I will not do that. I will not do that. I will not do that." And you do that. Why? We are powerless and hopeless relying on ourselves. But powerful and winners when we rely on God’s strength and way out. "for I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power."

Problems? "They are just too big. They are going to destroy me!" Sure. No question about it as long as we rely on our own strength. Doesn’t have to be that way. "for I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power."

Relationships? Of course they are hard. God told us they would be as soon as our ancestors bit into the forbidden fruit. But destroy us? Nah. Look at Philippians 4:13 again, "for I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power.". There are no exceptions, not even for hard relationships.

Are you beginning to see it? If the spirit is willing and we recognize that the flesh is powerless and we rely on God instead, then we can face ANYTHING and make it through victoriously.

So what are you going to do? Wait until you’ve worn all the hair off of your head beating it against that wall you’re looking at? Or let God handle it? It will still be a tough road, but you’ll make it to the other side in God’s way and in God’s time.

Tuesday, March 27, 2001

"Taking Care of Business"

We were poor college students who possessed the finer skills of frugality. Tony Blumenberg, my roommate, and I had learned well important tricks to staying alive. Back in those dark ages we didn't have a refrigerator and, because of our work schedules, we did’nt purchase the evening meal ticket at the college cafeteria. To save money we generally ate in our room, but we had to be careful of the types of food we purchased. Canned stuff was good if you ate it in a short period of time. Anything that needed cool or cold was out of the question. Snacks were appropriate if placed in airtight containers to keep the varmints out, of which there were many in Houston, Texas. Hiding places were a necessity because some of the varmints were other guys who shared our common living area. Oh, the good old days – prepared me for parenthood!

So it was in the spring of 1978 that we bought some groceries, including a gallon jar of apple juice that we projected we could finish off before it turned bad. We polished 2/3 of it off quickly but then set it aside and was forgotten. We rediscovered it a few days later. Being poor, frugal students there is no way we were going to throw it away without checking on it. We put it through the poor, frugal college student tests: look, smell, test, evaluate. Look: is anything growing in it or on it? Smell: can you get it past your nose to your mouth? Test: can all or any of this be salvaged? Evaluate: will this kill us if we eat it?

I opened the lid, which was bulging just a bit, to hear a slight "pfssss." "Don't remember hearing that before," we wondered. We tentatively smelled the mouth of the jar. "Don't remember it having that vinegar kind of smell," we thought. I looked inside. "Wonder how fuzz got inside of the jar with the lid on," said I as I shoved it toward Tony. "That's not fuzz," said my incredibly perceptive roommate. "Then how did a bug get in there?" "That's not a bug, either," said Tony as he turned up his nose. "That’s mold. Didn't you learn anything in biology?" He didn't have to be mean. It did look like something from science class. With disappointment, we realized this apple juice was not going to pass the tests.

Then we hit on an idea. If it looked liked something from science class, let's treat as such. And that was how the jar was transformed from a drink to THE EXPERIMENT!! Instead of throwing it away, we set it on a shelf and watched it grow. Most of the time we ignored it, but every once in a while someone would come to our room, look up on the shelf and exclaim, "WHAT IS THAT?" "It’s the experiment," we would reply calmly and introduce the two. As the weeks rolled on it grew tentacles and expanded in size. It was pretty interesting. Completely useless. But interesting.

A month before the end of the school year, I moved out of the dorm and into an apartment. I wanted to get things ready to bring Sheila home as my wife a month after final exams. Tony, Steve, Marvin and Sheila helped me move. All my earthly possessions fit in the back of a pickup. And I brought with me the experiment. Sheila had never seen it. She didn’t want to see it now. Especially in the apartment she was scheming to claim as her own in a couple months. I insisted that I keep it because it was my apartment. She relented (mostly because she knew it was only a matter of time). THE EXPERIMENT continued to grow, the cap bulged and I did not dare even bump the lid.
A few weeks after carrying my bride across the threshold, I came home from work and opened the cabinet that held THE EXPERIMENT. I wasn't looking for it, I just happened to notice it was no longer on the laboratory shelf. I knew what had happened before I even asked. "I threw it away," Sheila stated matter of factly. "It was useless, ugly, disgusting and taking up space." And that was that. THE EXPERIMENT was over. I sure hope the garbage man did not accidentally smash that jar. Who knows what plagues would have been released. On the other hand, it may have held the cure to something. Not marital disagreements, but maybe something useful.

It wasn't really much of an experiment because Tony and I didn't put any effort into it. It was, however, a prime example of the results of neglect. Things happen when we practice neglect. Very few of them are good. It didn’t take any effort at all to ruin the apple juice, just apathetic neglect. Lose it under a jacket carelessly tossed on the floor, and voila’ – garbage! If we want good things in our lives, we have to take care of business. If we want healthy bodies, we have to make the effort to eat right, sleep right and exercise right. If we want our possessions to last and function properly, we have to make the effort to maintain them. If we want to stay employed, we must fulfill our responsibilities. If we want good relationships, we must make the effort to nurture those relationships. Only bad things happen when we neglect what is important.

When I was young, food appeared on the table at meal times, clean clothes appeared in my dresser drawers, my room was cleaned, my yard was mowed, my needs were met. As I grew up I realized that my parents were doing all those things. Good things were happening in my life because my folks were taking care of business. Those things became my responsibility as I grew into manhood. If I neglect them, bad things happen. If I take care of business, good things happen.

Of all the business we must take care of, relationships are the most important and require the most care. Only bad things happen when we neglect people. Anger, hurt, distance, jealousy, acting out, searching other places for love and care, regrets, and eventually lost relationships. But if we take care of business with people that we care about good things happen. Love, friendship, care, fulfillment, shared memories, mutual encouragement and satisfaction at the end of our lives.

Worse things happen when we neglect our relationship with God. Inner turmoil, no joy, lack of meaning and fulfillment, hurtfulness toward others, searching in places that only result in guilt, and eternity separated from God and everything good. But if we take care of business in our relationship with God we discover the meaning of life, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and a Heavenly Dad that pulls us up on His lap. Best of all, an eternity in His Presence.

What once was a life supporting, nutritious drink became a useless nuisance. Even worse, had I drank the liquid formerly known as apple juice, it would have made me terribly sick. Might have even killed me. Not because of what we did, but because of what we didn’t do, all because of neglect.

Anything important being neglected in your life? Look around. A little bit of action goes a long way in taking care of business.

"Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God." Hebrews 13:16 (NRSV)

"Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification." Romans 14:19 (NIV)

"Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord." Hebrews 12:14 (NIV)

"And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." Hebrews 11:6 (NIV)

Friday, February 16, 2001

"Do you trust me?"

Way, way back when our oldest daughter, Carissa, was a mere toddler, I used to play a game with her. On cold days following worship, I would sit her on the top of the hat rack in the lobby of the church I pastored in Beaver, PA to bundle her up. It was easier. Because she was up high, she wouldn't squirm as much while I wrestled her into hat, coat and mittens. (Now, to those of you who are thinking I was cruel father, putting my daughter in danger, let me assure you that she was safe. Sheila would have killed ME!) After she looked like Charlie Brown ready to play in the snow, I would step back. She would hold out her arms and stare at me. "Do you trust me?" I would ask. "Yes" she would reply in her little toddler voice. "Then jump! I promise I will catch you." Since I was a step away, she could not bring herself to do it. She said she trusted me… but there was a limit to that trust.

"C'mon," I would coax her. "I'm your dad. I would never let you fall. I'm strong and you can trust me. Now, jump!" From that distance, she would not do it. So I moved a little bit closer. As I did, she would lean toward me, expecting me to reach up and grab her. Realizing I was not coming quite close enough, she would pull back. Again, "Do you trust me? Then jump! I PROMISE I will catch you. You have nothing to be afraid of." She would try to reach me, to touch me, but could not quite make the stretch. And she'd pull back. She would not leave the safety of the hat rack.

Finally, I would move close enough that she could lean to within a few inches. "Do you trust me?" I would ask again. "Then jump into my arms!" And she would. She could trust her dad with those few inches. I would pull her tight, hug her and tell her, "You can trust me. I would never, ever, ever, ever let you fall." As time went on, she would jump from greater and greater distances. Sometimes trust takes time and experience to kick in.

DO YOU TRUST ME?

One of my favorite scenes in moviedom is when Indiana Jones comes to a seemingly impassable chasm while attempting to retrieve the Holy Grail to save his father. He looks down in terror, knowing he has only a few minutes to reach the other side before his father dies. The only clue he has to work with is, "The man of God will walk by faith." He recognizes the implication: he must step out into thin air and trust something good will happen. Indiana closes his eyes, lifts one foot and steps into the cavern. Instead of tumbling to the bottom, his foot lands on solid ground. The bridge is disguised to look like the ravine. He throws dirt on to the bridge so he can see it and quickly crosses over. A moment of faith changed everything.

DO YOU TRUST ME?

That was the question facing Jesus as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. He knew that only a few hours separated Him from a Roman cross. He had seen people crucified. He knew the agony of the physical pain because He had watched men hang exposed for days. He also knew the agony of shouldering the pain of all of mankind's sin awaiting Him -- being cut off from the Father. Crying out to His Dad, He begged for another plan. "Do you trust me?" were the words God seemed to be saying. "Do you trust me in My plan? Do you trust me in your pain? Do you trust me that it will be better on the other side? Do you trust me to raise you to life?" He did, and it changed EVERYTHING. For Him. For you. For me. For the world now and forever.

DO YOU TRUST ME?

It's pretty easy to trust God when He is within inches of us as we sit on the hat racks of life. When leaping into His arms is a fairly guaranteed deal. When there's not much chance He can or will pull away. It's a much different proposition when He's across the room, we're stuck on the hat rack, no one else is around and there is not ladder in the building. And He says, "Jump!" from 20 feet away. In those times it seems that God is just not making sense. And there's no possible way He can catch us. And He's not answering our pleas for explanations. And we're in pain. And the janitors are turning out the lights. And no one else has to sit on the hat rack or jump. And we've got lots of reasons, facts and proven studies of why it is not healthy to jump. And God doesn't seem to want to hear any of it, He just wants us to jump.

DO YOU TRUST ME?

It isn't trust if Carissa can grab me before she leaves the hat rack. It isn't trust if Indiana can see the bridge before he steps. It isn't trust for Jesus if there is no cross, no pain, no death, no separation from the Father and no resurrection. And it isn't trust for us if we don't obey even when it doesn't make sense. But in every case, it is better after the making the leap of trust than it was before. Carissa's safety and security in my arms, Indiana's healing of his father, Jesus' glory. And for you – intimacy with God and experiencing Him work in our lives in ways we cannot see.

DO YOU TRUST ME?

Whatever you're facing, trust God. Listen carefully for His voice, (don't you dare jump until you hear His instructions. There's a difference between obedient trust and stupidity.) But once you hear His voice, jump! God WANTS to, LONGS to catch you. Refuse to give into the human desire to be in control, to trust yourself. Just jump. Close your eyes if you have to, but leap! It is always better on the other side. It may take a while to get there, but you'll be glad you did as you feel the strong, loving arms of your Heavenly Dad envelop you. Hold you. Protect you. Reassure you. Love you.

Otherwise you may be sitting on the hat rack for the rest of your life.

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)

"And we know that all that happens to us is working for our good if we love God and are fitting into his plans." Romans 8:28 (TLB)

"for I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power." Philippians 4:13 (TLB)

Friday, February 02, 2001

"OK, This is Going to be Good!!"

Have you ever run up against a mountainous difficulty and asked the question, "Why does life have to be so hard?" Just what I thought, it's unanimous. Life is full of hard times and ongoing struggles. That doesn’t make life bad, it makes life, well… life. I have an idea for responding to difficulties that I think can help us all. I ran across it while looking at the following story.

The guys had been with their teacher long enough to know he was something special. He didn’t act or react like others. He was, to put it in 70's terms, out of this world. So when the class was trying to get away for some R & R and were chased by folks clamoring for more from the teacher, it didn’t surprise the guys that their teacher postponed their break. He had compassion on the crowds and spoke to them. In fact He taught and he taught. All morning, through the afternoon and was heading into evening. Finally, one of the guys went to the teacher with a helpful hint, "You’d better send these folks away to get some food before it gets dark because there is NO PLACE around here to get food, the people have not eaten all day, and the sun is wearing them out." Satisfied that they had given the Teacher the proper advice, the guys waited for him to shoo the crowds home. Surprise.

The teacher’s words to the guys turned them pale. "You give them something to eat." Their thoughts are not recorded in the chronicles of history, but it doesn’t take much imagination to realize their thoughts went something like, "Whoa! There are some 5,000 men here and thousands more women and children. Is he crazy? Has he been in the sun too long? Maybe we’d better find some shade and let him come back to earth. He has no idea what he is saying." After the guys pulled themselves back together, out of their mouths came these words, "Eight months’ salary wouldn’t buy enough food for everyone to have a bite. Are we supposed to spend that kind of money to buy food." Wrong answer. Very wrong.

The guys had been with the teacher long enough to know better. They'd watched him heal every kind of physical ailment, teach with extraordinary power, answer questions that had stumped scholars for centuries, and even raised a girl from the dead. So what was it about his instructions to feed the crowd that sent them reeling? Had they not been paying attention? Did they think manufacturing food was harder than raising the dead? Did they just have short memories? No, I think they simply panicked and reverted to seeing the situation through their human lens instead of viewing it through the supernatural lens of their teacher.

Now, here’s where the new way of responding comes in. Instead of panic and citing all the reasons the situation was impossible, the guys should have said…

"OK, THIS IS GOING TO BE GOOD!!"

The teacher did not actually expect the guys to come up with food for over 10,000 mouths. He was testing them. What he really wanted them to do was realize they were facing the impossible, turn back to him and ask, "How?" Then he could show them the way to overcome the difficulty. He was offering the chance to participate in a miracle instead of standing on the sidelines as spectators. But, NOOO. Not only did they land as spectators, but red faced ones at that. The teacher took the few biscuits and small fish they did have, prayed over them, handed them to the guys to pass out to the crowds, everyone ate until they were stuffed, AND, they collected 12 baskets full of leftovers. There never was a need to panic. The teacher had something wonderful in mind.

"OK, THIS IS GOING TO BE GOOD!!"

When we face difficult situations, it is not because God turned His head and they slipped through. It is because He has something wonderful in mind. Every impossible situation is an opportunity to watch God work. That's why our response to tough times ought to be, "OK, THIS IS GOING TO BE GOOD!!" If God has allowed it, He is going to use it. There never is a need to panic, God has something wonderful in mind.

And here's the best part -- the more difficult the difficulty, the louder we ought to say it because the wonder will be even greater. If you're facing a hill you might whisper "OK, THIS IS GOING TO BE GOOD!!" because the miracle will be nice. But if you're looking at Mount Everest, you'll want to scream "OK, THIS IS GOING TO BE GOOD!!" because whatever God is up to is going to be huge.

If Jesus had produced a loaf of bread, it would have been a miracle and it would have been nice. But when He fed thousands with a handful of muffins and sardines, it was overwhelming. God offers us the opportunity to participate in the miracle if we turn to Him and ask, "How?" He does not expect us to handle it ourselves, but to listen to instructions and follow His lead. When we do so, we not only experience what God has in mind but it makes us stronger, wiser, more full of faith in preparation for the next difficulty.

The other option is to panic and see the situation through our purely human lens. That's how we end up spectators and wonder why God things happen to other people and not us. It's also why our bodies and relationships get damaged by the stress. Overall it really isn't much fun. Think of those pathetic disciples each carrying a basketful of leftovers as Jesus dismissed the crowds, every step reminding them of what could have been.

So remember – the next time you hit a rough patch of road, the right response is, (let's all say it together) …

"OK, THIS IS GOING TO BE GOOD!!"

And then watch and listen for the wonder of God being worked out.

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28 (NIV)

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." James 1:2-5 (NIV)

Friday, January 26, 2001

"Distance"

OK, everybody. Here’s a short quiz, fill in the blank style. "_________ makes the heart grow fonder." Anybody got it? Yes, you there in the nasty looking shirt. You know, they're having a sale downtown this weekend … Your answer is? Very good. "ABSENCE." "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." A very old clich√© we’ve known since we were wee lads and lasses. Actually, there are two versions of that quote. The second has the same meaning using a different word, "DISTANCE makes the heart grow fonder."

I suppose there is some truth to the saying, but for the most part it is baloney. When we are first separated from a loved one the pain of being apart makes it feel like our love for them is stronger. But as time goes on, the absence of interaction causes our love to lessen. If the time is protracted enough, we actually grow apart because relationship requires interaction and shared experiences. When we return to each other time is required to reestablish the relationship. In many cases, the REAL truth is the "Distance make the heart go wander!!"

Well, you did so well on that last quiz, let’s try another. Same format. "Parting is such ________ __________." Who has the fastest finger? You, ma'am, over there with the cranberry juice. YES! "Parting is such SWEET SORROW." Does anybody really believe that? I HATE parting from people I genuinely care about. It hurts way too much. Maybe the author of that particular quote was talking about people he didn’t like… In that case, maybe it is true, but I don’t think that was the point. Parting means leaving, which means separation, which means distance. I’m not sure there is any sweetness at all in that.

There is an even more harmful kind of distance than physical separation. That is emotional distance.

I was talking to my good friend, Jim Harvey, some time ago. (Everybody say, "HI, Jim"). I was having trouble with an important relationship at the time of his call. He listened and then made a profound statement that has been powerful in all my relationships since. Are you ready for it? "Distance is never good in relationships." Allow that to sink in. Apply it to the many relationships in your life. Emotional distancing from another person we care about is never good. Physical separation, as in "Fighters, please go to your corners," so we can cool off can be good for a very short time. But emotional distance that comes from anger or hurt is never good. It only causes the problems to get bigger, not smaller.

I remember sitting in Mr. Augbaugh’s ninth grade sociology class at Northwestern High School when we learned the two responses to danger or conflict. Anyone remember? "Flight or Fight" said Mr. A. We can stay and fight or we can run away. In relationships, lots of people physically run away thinking that will solve the problem. It doesn’t. That only removes the problem from immediate view. It is still there. Even if we never see that particular person again, the same problem will emerge in another relationship. We can emotionally remove ourselves in relationships as well. Sometimes it is the "silent treatment." Other times it is pretending there is no problem, effectively wearing a mask and living superficially. Flight doesn’t work. Trust me.

Fighting can be a problem as well. Physical violence is a devastating problem in our culture. But so is emotional violence. The latter can leave deep, unhealed scars in our lives after other wounds are healed. Fighting can involve blaming, sarcasm, insults, force, punishing, withdrawal of affection or approval, and other kinds of hurt. That kind of fighting doesn’t work. Trust me.

So what is the proper response when distance threatens a relationship? A different kind of fighting. Not fighting WITH the other person, but fighting FOR the relationship. Choosing to care, love, help, fulfill responsibility, and do what is best for the other person no matter how they act. Instead of following our feelings, it is an act of the will in spite of our feelings. Even when that other person does not respond the way we would like and wants to keep the distance. That kind of fighting does work. It is painful, but worth it. It is hard, but pays off. Trust me.

I’ve discovered three things that pave the way to do so. The first is commitment to the relationship -- the resolve to stick with it NO MATTER WHAT. The second is communication -- the resolve to keep talking until the distance is closed. The third is Christ – a personal, powerful relationship with the One who gives us the example, the instructions, the power and the fortitude to make the relationships work.

Everything in life that is worthwhile involves relationships. Distance will threaten every single one of them if they progress to any depth at all. Bridging the distance will strengthen the relationship in the long run and prepare it to blossom in even more difficult times.

OK, one more quiz. Ready? Fill in the blank. "Nobody ever said on their deathbed, I wish I’d spent more time at the __________." Got it. OK, Jim, I’ll let you answer this one. "THE OFFICE." That’s right. People who know they are going to die always talk about relationships. Sometimes in regret, sometimes in appreciation. Now is the time to close the gap, to bridge any chasms of distance. So go do it. Today.

Give your spouse a huge hug and say, " I'm committed to you, I love you and always will."
Go to that teenager that grinds your soul and reassure him/her of your constant and unconditional love.

Patch things up with that relative that lives in another state.

Reach out to the coworker that you have conveniently been avoiding.

Grab your toddlers, hold them tight and don't let them go until you say "I love you" ten times.

YOU take the initiative to reach out to the people in your life, remove the distance, let them know how important they are, and spend time with them.

""In your anger do not sin" : Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold." Ephesians 4:26-27 (NIV)

"The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself."" Galatians 5:14 (NIV)

""If a brother sins against you, go to him privately and confront him with his fault. If he listens and confesses it, you have won back a brother." Matthew 18:15 (TLB)

Friday, January 19, 2001

"Truth"

TRUTH

The accused criminal stood before the man who would either set him free or sentence him to death. The judge was shaken by the calmness, the lack of fear in the one before him. "Everyone on the side of truth listens to me" stated the accused. The governor scoffed, turned cynical by too many years of sour life and asked the question most all of us wrestle with, "What is truth?" (John 18:37-38)

TRUTH

A recent Barna poll revealed that nearly 70% of Americans believe there is no absolute truth. In a society of relativism, rationalism, pragmatism and tolerance there is very little room for any belief in truth, real truth. But our ignorance does not make it untrue. Just makes us ignorant.

TRUTH

Is there truth, absolute truth. Or are we, like Pilate, simply left with a haunting question debated by philosophers and ignored by the rest of us. And, hey, is absolute truth important anyway? Is it something we should be concerned about?

TRUTH

Suppose you are having physical pain and go to a doctor. By putting you through a battery of tests she discovers that you are suffering from a terminal disease. The good news is that she had caught the disease in the very early stages and it can be treated. But, and this is a big but, she does not want to risk hurting your feelings or causing fear so she tells you that you are fine. Is absolute truth important? You BELIEVE you are fine – isn’t that enough? Nope. No matter what you believe, the truth is all that matters. And the absolute truth is that you need treatment or you are going to die.

TRUTH

Suppose you and I are walking along a busy downtown street. You intensely look at me as we talk. I look up just in time to see a truck jump the curb and head straight for us. You believe we are safe. I duck into an entryway of a nearby store and leave you to be crushed by the truck. Hey, I didn’t want to interrupt you. You can get really testy when you’re interrupted. Is absolute truth important in that situation? You BELIEVE you are safe, isn’t that enough? No matter what you believe, the truth is all that matters. And the absolute truth is that you are going to die if I don’t push you out of the way. Makes you feel like I’m a little more important than you thought, doesn’t it?

TRUTH

Let’s do another round of "Let’s Suppose." You believe that when you die you are done. There is nothing after this life and that’s it. Or you believe that if you are a good person you’ll go to heaven. As long as your list of good deeds is longer than the list of bad stuff you’ll walk through the pearly gates. Or you believe that it doesn’t matter what religion you follow as long as you truly believe and do your best. Does absolute truth matter? Hey, you believe you’ll be all right. Isn’t that enough? No matter what you believe, the truth is all that matters. And the absolute truth is that to get to heaven requires a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ and without it Hell is on the other side of death.

TRUTH

I remember standing in front of the coffin of a very dear friend. With everything in me I wanted to go back a week to prevent the accident that took his life. No matter how badly I wanted to do so, the absolute truth was that he was dead and there was nothing I could do to change that truth.

The Bible provides us with absolute truth for living. No matter how much we would like to change some of it, we can’t. It is absolute and unchangeable. Instead of bucking against it we need to learn to embrace it. (Yes, even those pesky parts that we don’t like). By embracing the truth, it will set us free to be all that we were born to be.

Therefore the question we must answer in every situation is "What is the truth here?"

Truth is important, unchangeable and absolute. TRUTH REALLY IS ALL THAT MATTERS! By learning it through the Bible and living it through everyday life we discover God’s perspective on life. That is how we crawl up onto God’s lap and see life "From Where God Sits." I invite you to do so. It is worth it.

TRUTH

"Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." John 14:6 (NIV)

"To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."" John 8:31-32 (NIV)

"Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ." Ephesians 4:15 (NIV)

Thursday, January 04, 2001

"BEHOLD: The Power of Cheese"

I was content to live and let live. Really, I was. I am not a violent person. Sheila, however …

I first heard the noise last summer while I was enjoying some afternoon Sabbath rest. It was a scurrying kind of sound. I looked out of our second story window toward the rain gutter thinking it was a bird walking in the gutter. Nothin’. Every Sunday afternoon the same thing happened. It sounded like it was just outside of our window. There was never anything there except the noise.

As we moved into the fall the noise seemed to disappear… most of the time. Every once in a while it would show up again. But, hey, live and let live. I can coexist with a little noise. I live in a small house with two teenagers and two elementary kids! Still didn’t know what it was but I had no clue how to figure it out.

In October Sheila was in the attic straightening our stuff and looked into a dollhouse stored "up there." She noticed that something had been sleeping in Papa Bear’s bed. Wait, no that’s a different story. She really did notice that something had eaten the ends off of a package of plastic hotdogs. (Don’t ask me why we have plastic hotdogs in our attic) There were also shreds of tissues scattered about. Ah, the plot thickened.

In November Sheila went into the attic to grab the Thanksgiving decorations. Sheila pulled out her cornhusk dolls designed to look like pilgrims. She’s had them for years, but there was something very different about them this year. I’m not an observant guy, but even I noticed the change. Something had eaten their faces. (Boy, did we have fun with that). They were in mint condition – except now they were faceless. Just two more faceless pilgrims in the crowds of life. After Thanksgiving Sheila was putting decorations away and found that ears of dried Indian corn she’d left in the attic had been completely stripped and the kernals taken. Whatever was "up there" had not only eaten the faces off of the pitiful pilgrims but had also robbed her decorative door hanging and left her the cobs behind.

I was amused but SHEILA WAS NOT HAPPY. Being a peace loving kind of person, she didn’t want to do anything vicious so she bought a pest preventing gadget. The idea is to plug it into an electrical outlet to emit a high pitched sound wave and thus chase away any varmints. We didn’t hear the noise anymore and thought our visitors from "up there" had vacated the premises.

In December Sheila once again ascended the stairs into the attic. After sending all the other Christmas stuff to the living room, Sheila carried down her box of angel ornaments. As she walked she heard rattling. Her angels have not, do not and never will rattle. Most are made of soft, lightweight materials that cannot rattle. The thought crossed her mind that a glass angel might have broken. She unpacked the angels to find, wonder of wonders, kernals of Indian corn nicely squirreled away and tissues neatly gathered for a nest. Whatever was "up there" had no plans of leaving anytime soon.

I was amused. Very amused. Amber was amused. Chadd was amused. But SHEILA WAS NOT HAPPY. Nor was she amused.

Those animals could have probably grown to a ripe old age, sitting in very small rocking chairs in the dollhouse, afghans lying across their laps, sipping cocoa and roasting plastic hotdogs in the fireplace except that they made a fatal mistake… They made Sheila mad. I have lived long enough to discover that it is not good when the mom of any family gets mad. And those mammals had made momma mad. She came home from the store with two very crude devices of destruction – mousetraps. She "asked" me to load them. I am not a violent person, but whatever was "up there" made momma mad. So using two small pinches of colby longhorn cheese I set the traps and placed one on each side of the attic entrance.

The next afternoon I was sitting at the desk in my office when I got a call. I had been there all day, many things on my mind. "We have success!" I heard my otherwise gentle wife scream on the other end of the line. Like a good husband my mind raced trying desperately to figure out what that meant, thinking I was obviously supposed to know and that I was probably in trouble if I couldn't figure it out quickly. Nothing came to mind.

"What in the world are you talking about?" I innocently asked.

"We have success ‘up there’. Both traps." she nearly shouted with delight.

"Oh. Well, did you take them out of the traps?"

"No way. That’s your job!" my gentle wife replied.

When I got home that evening I went "up there." She was right. Two small gray mice had met their maker in our devices of death. They should have known not to make momma mad. That was the end of our noise.

It wasn’t really the trap that got them. It was the cheese. One of the mice smelled the colby, scurried over and took a nibble. It had to be appealing after working so hard on all that dried corn. With the tasty treat, though, came the trap and the end of life. And I can just imagine the second mouse watch the first get caught, shed a mousy tear for his brother and then look at the other trap. "I never did think he was all that smart," he whispered to himself as he approached the other pinch of cheese. "He couldn't get it, but I'll be able to grab the cheese before the same thing happens to me. It won't happen to me. I’ll be able to get the cheese without the pain." He tried and quickly followed mouse number 1 to his eternal destiny. The power of cheese. Pretty stupid mice, don’t you think? Risking it all for a pinch of longhorn.

We'd never do that, would we? Sure we do. The desire for something moves us to ignore danger. We know what we want is wrong but we justify our actions and think we can get it without pain. But we can't and we pay the price. There is something in each of our lives that tempts us to risk all to get it. We even lie to ourselves as we watch others bring sorrow into their lives telling ourselves that other "mice" might not be able to get the cheese without pain, but we can. We scoff at high profile people like Robert Downey, Jr. or Darryl Strawberry. But everybody has cheese in his life. Everybody.

What is the cheese in your life? That which tempts you with great power, promising satisfying reward but delivering destruction and sorrow? I know what it is for myself. Now that I am older and wiser, I recognize that I must guard myself and run away from it. Otherwise I will not survive. The power of cheese is real and it is strong. We dare not mess with it, but claim the promises and power of God to say no. I hope you will.

"But remember this--the wrong desires that come into your life aren't anything new and different. Many others have faced exactly the same problems before you. And no temptation is irresistible. You can trust God to keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can't stand up against it, for he has promised this and will do what he says. He will show you how to escape temptation's power so that you can bear up patiently against it." 1 Corinthians 10:13 (TLB)

Be blessed and BE BOLD!