Friday, December 19, 2003
You know how it is. Weeks of long days have worn you out. All you want to do is sit down with a nice big bowl of popcorn, think of nothing, do nothing. Just stare at the wall and breathe. So there he was, finishing up the days’ work at the family owned motel. His wife drying the last dish from feeding the over abundance of guests. The kids sweeping the floor and bedding down the animals. ALL of them are looking forward to that big bowl of popcorn. Made with bacon grease.
Then the knock. He and his wife sigh as they get ready to turn yet another weary traveler away. Opening the door they saw a terrible sight. A young, haggard man and a pale, quickly fading teenage girl, hugely pregnant. As the motel manager stands in the doorway, his wife looks over his arm and the kids peek past his legs to see the couple. In their hearts, in their weariness, they’re glad they have no room. They’d already turned many travelers away. There is NOTHING in them that wants to serve these people, but they all know that there is no way dad is going to turn them away. He will do whatever necessary to find a place for this worn out couple, not because he wants to but because IT IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO. And it cost them.
The innkeeper has gotten an incredibly bad rap for centuries. But check out the scripture. It does not say anything bad about him. Scripture states reality: there simply was no room available. Fact. But somehow Mary and Joseph were offered room in a barn. Maybe, just maybe, it was this maligned innkeeper. Rather than a villain, I think he is an example for us. Especially during this week leading up to Christmas.
HE MADE TIME. The innkeeper was busy, but he did not use it as an excuse not to do the things that were important. It wasn’t that he had time. We’ll never have time lying around, just waiting to be used. Time for the right things has to be MADE, seized, grabbed and used. This begs the question, “What are we busy with?” We’re going to busy!! Accept that fact. Life is not going to get unbusy and we can’t wait for the day when things slow down before doing what we should. The decision is to choose to use our time to do God’s things.
HE MADE ROOM. You may be thinking, “Herb, you don’t realize that I don’t have anything.” I can’t tell you how many times people have told me, “If I win the lottery, get a new house, get a better job, and on and on … THEN I’ll be able to do good things for people.” God doesn’t need our stuff, He needs us. Once we make ourselves available God, will use what we have. Look through the Bible to see Moses’ staff, David’s sling, Gideon’s trumpet, Jehoshaphat’s choir, Balaam’s donkey. Simple, every day stuff. God has made a career of using the simple things people have. He doesn’t use what we don’t have, how could He?
What did the innkeeper have? A barn. Can you see the other innkeepers on motel row as the innkeeper started clearing a place for Mary and Joseph? No beds, no rooms, nothing but a stable with animals and straw. His family had some food, perhaps a stool, some rags, odds and ends. They used what they had to make a difference that will be remembered for all time. Which shows us…
HE MADE HISTORY. What an honor to be the owner of the shed where God showed up to save the world! I am absolutely sure the innkeeper had no idea who was standing at his door. It didn’t matter to him. He did the right thing for people who needed him and, without realizing it, he made history. So can we, just don’t expect to know it at the time.
Let’s hear it for the innkeeper. Maybe no room in the inn, but plenty of room in his heart. There’s always room for what God wants as we kick out the clutter in the way.
Have a great Christmas.
Luke 2:1-7 (NIV) "In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to his own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn."
Tuesday, December 16, 2003
Did I getcha? Actually I did make progress because my purpose was not to get anywhere, but to get exercise. In fact, it was very worthwhile because I prayed for a while and then read a great book while I walked. If I had been trying to make my way to a specific, physical destination, the treadmill was wrong. When we want to cover ground, we need to get off the treadmill to travel on solid ground.
Our dog hasn’t been for a walk in a while. She loves going for jaunts. She covers twice as much ground as we do, back and forth, back and forth sniffing out varmints. I thought about putting her on the treadmill to get some exercise. She’s looking pretty lethargic, you know. I explained to Sheila, "Just put her on slow and let her walk. As she gets used to it we can speed it up … and see what happens." I thought I was being helpful. Well, sure it might throw her right into the washing machine, but hey, no pain, no gain. Sheila wasn’t amused.
If you’re like most people I see these days, you’re on a treadmill, too. Different from the one in my basement, but just as draining. It’s called Christmas. You know, the season of joy to the world, glad tidings, peace on earth and good will toward men. That’s not what I saw at Wal-Mart. It’s more like grab from the world, sad tidings, give me a piece of the earth and my will against other men. Especially during the wrestling match at 5:00 am on Black Friday by the $49 DVD players.
Does anyone believe this is an accident? That the season that is supposed to celebrate the coming of God Almighty to the world in human flesh has turned into a treadmill to nowhere? That wears us out and leaves us spent? Could it be it is a carefully designed strategy to cause us to miss that which is of utmost value? Think about it – if you attempted to prevent people from experiencing "God with us" what would you do? Wouldn’t you distract, disrupt, hurry, overwhelm, and appeal to their selfishness?
Immediately below our relationship with God, what is most important during the Christmas season? People. But what do the pressures of our culture cause us to zero in on? Material possessions and activity. Who made it a rule that we have to spend money that we don’t have, to do things that will wear us out and strain relationships with people we don’t take time to love? Who said that the tree, the decorations, the cookies, the dinner, the presents, the cards, the stuff all have to be perfect? How many times have we gotten upset with very people we are doing all this stuff for because the stuff didn’t go the way we thought it should go? Sure, we all have things we have to do, but does it really have to be like this? I have a suggestion.
We have 8 shopping days until Christmas. During these days, let’s create a conspiracy to value the really valuable – God and the people in our lives. Slow down, eliminate some of the activity, decrease the focus on material stuff and deeply enjoy the purpose of the season. Take time to just sit with God, hum some carols, (sorry, the musak at the mall doesn’t count), and allow God to refresh us. Make time to be with, really be with, not just occupying the same area with our loved ones. Realize it is okay to let some of the stuff go. Really, it will be okay. Pause to realize how fragile life is, that it is important to value our loved ones today.
Part of the problem is that we take it for granted that people will always be with us, so we don’t take time to value them. We get caught up with stuff, climb up onto the Christmas treadmill until we realize the "moments" that could have been during the season have passed us by. We didn’t make any progress at all in our relationships; in fact we made some of them worse.
I hope the following anonymous poem provides perspective. I wish I’d written it.
If I Knew
If I knew it would be the last time that I’d see you fall asleep,
I would tuck you in more tightly and pray the Lord your soul to keep.
If I knew it would be the last time that I see you walk out the door,
I would give you a hug and kiss and call you back for one more.
If I knew it would be the last time I’d hear your voice lifted up in praise,
I would videotape each action and word so I could play them back day after day.
If I knew it would be the last time I could spare an extra minute,
To stop and say, "I love you," instead of assuming you would KNOW it.
If I knew it would be the last time I would be there to share your day,
Well, I’m sure you’ll have many more, so I can let just this one slip away.
For surely there’s always tomorrow to make up for an oversight,
And we always get a second chance to make everything right.
There will always be another day to say, "I love you,"
And certainly there’s another chance to say our "Anything I can do?"
But just in case I might be wrong and today is all I get,
I’d like to say how much I love you and I hope we never forget.
Tomorrow is not promised to anyone, young or old alike,
And today may be the last chance you get to hold your loved one tight.
So if you’re waiting for tomorrow, why not today?
For if tomorrow never comes you’ll surely regret the day,
That you didn’t take that extra time for a smile, a hug, or a kiss,
And you were too busy to grant someone what turned out to be their last wish.
So hold your loved ones close today and whisper in their ears
Tell them how much you love them and that you’ll always hold them dear.
Take time to say, "I’m sorry, Please forgive me, Thank you, It’s okay."
And if tomorrow never comes, you’ll have no regrets about today.
Let’s celebrate this Christmas and New Year’s season by valuing what is truly valuable.
"Show me, O LORD, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. 5 You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man's life is but a breath. Selah" Psalm 39:4-5 (NIV)
"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NIV)
Tuesday, November 25, 2003
The problem does not lie in our lack of action, but in our lack of gratitude. When we get grateful, we will act.
Simon the Pharisee had invited Jesus to dine at his house. As they were reclining at the table a woman of ill repute showed up. In that culture, one did not sit to eat as we do, but leaned on one elbow toward a low table. The poor were allowed to drift in for handouts and thus the woman
slipped in. The woman stopped at Jesus’ feet. As Simon and Jesus ate, the woman wept, her tears falling on Jesus’ feet. Impulsively, she wiped them with her hair. Without thought, she kissed the clean feet. With abandon she poured expensive perfume on them. With abandon, no thought of propriety she expressed her love for Jesus.
Simon harrumphed. "If Jesus was really a prophet, he would know the kind of woman is touching him and would NEVER allow such a thing to happen." It’s a scary thing to think such thoughts around God. Though Simon’s words were not spoken aloud...
40 Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to tell you." "Tell me, teacher," he said. 41 "Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii (20 months wages), and the other fifty (2 months wages). 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?" 43 Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled." "You have judged correctly," Jesus said.
44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven--for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little." Luke 7 (NIV)
Simon had not even offered Jesus the most basic of common courtesies. Ordinarily a servant would wash guests’ dust caked feet as they entered the home. Simon didn’t even offer a basin for Jesus to wash his own feet. A kiss, much like our handshake, was a common practice to welcome a guest. To place a drop of perfumed oil on an honored guests’ head was simply being considerate. Simon did none of it, but the woman, probably without forethought, took care of those courtesies with abandon.
The problem did not lie in Simon’s lack of action, but in his lack of gratitude. The woman reveals to us important truths.
WE LOVE WHEN WE ARE GRATEFUL.
WE GIVE WHEN WE ARE GRATEFUL.
WE SERVE WHEN WE ARE GRATEFUL.
Our actions simply flow out of a heart full of appreciation. The difference between Simon and the woman is that she knew the truth of who she was and what she owed Jesus. He gravely mistakenly thought he was a good person.
We need to "get grateful" to get our actions right. How? Adopt 3 realities.
1. WE DESERVE NOTHING BUT HELL.
The sinful woman knew that, but Simon thought he deserved much. Religion always teaches us that if we do more good than bad then we deserve God’s love and rewards. Problem is that it is just not true. At the moment of committing one sin, we deserve nothing but hell.
2. WE HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN SO VERY MUCH.
The sinful woman knew she was guilty of much sexual sin. Simon was comparing himself to her and others who were murderers, adulterers, thieves and the like. Problem is that we have to compare ourselves to Jesus. If we are not that good, we are not good enough.
Take a moment here. Think about what you would consider your very worst sin. Got it? Now email it to everyone in your address book. No, wait, I was just kidding. But it did send a chill up your spine, didn’t it? Why? Because we are GUILTY. However, if you have accepted Christ as personal
savior, God has completely erased it, buried in the deepest part of the ocean and doesn’t even remember it anymore.
We have been forgiven so very, very much.
3. Our forgiveness cost God exorbitantly.
We can easily become so familiar with the idea that Jesus forgives us that we forget how much it cost. The Father sent His very own son to die in your place so you could be stamped "NOT GUILTY", given the love and presence of Almighty God and welcomed into heaven someday. God did not take that lightly. It cost Him the lashes on Jesus’ back, the thorns stabbing his head, the nails in his hands and feet, the spear in his side. And worst of all, it cost Jesus being abandoned by His father, separation from God – the true meaning of hell. The agony caused him to cry out just before he died, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Mark 15:34b (NIV)
The human race was literally racing to hell without hope when God stepped in. And it cost Him everything.
When we live with these realities undergirding our attitude toward life, WE WILL BE GRATEFUL. We will love, we will serve, we will give with abandon toward God and others.
As you think about your actions over the past week, which are you most like, Simon or the woman? C’mon, be honest. I challenge you to get grateful this Thanksgiving week. It leads to experiencing God and hearing His words of approval,
48 Then Jesus said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." 49 The other guests began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" 50 Jesus said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."
Tuesday, November 04, 2003
He set the lid in the sunshine on the kitchen counter to dry and the box on the table. Stacks of hundred dollar bills!! Bob counted them, slowly, deliberately. 50 bills in each bundle. 200 stacks in the box. Exactly a million dollars!! Immediately he phoned the authorities to report his find. Bob’s mind spun with thoughts of all the detective shows he’d ever seen. Could it be a ransom, a blackmail, a robbery?
Bob lived in a very small town. The entire police force consisted of the county sheriff, Cliff, and 3 part-time officers. Several hours later, Cliff showed up at Bob’s house.
“No”, Cliff said. “Nothing has been reported about missing money.”
“What should I do with this? It’s not mine and someone is sure to be missing it.”
“I don’t trust the office to hold that much money. My officers are out of the building most of the time.”
“I have a commercial safe here at the house. I could keep it here for now, especially if no one else knows about it.”
“Not a bad idea. I’ll check the nationwide reports for any clues,” Cliff replied. “That sure is a lot of money, Bob. You know that if there’s no report after a year, the money will be yours.”
Now there was a thought Bob had not even considered. Bob looked at the calendar. June 9th. He was an honest man with a comfortable life and had not even contemplated keeping the money. The thought was fleeting. “C’mon,” Bob thought to himself. “What are the odds that a million dollars will not be missed.” Bob laughed as he pictured it, someone looking into their trunk, realizing their box of a million dollars was missing and saying, “Oh, well. Didn’t really want that anyway.”
Cliff called Bob the next day to let him know there was still nothing being reported about missing money. “Just keep it safely tucked away,” was all the advice Cliff provided. It was a very small rural town, after all. Bob wondered to Cliff, “Do you think the owner might give me a reward?” He got a bit excited, “What if he gave me just 1/10th of the money to say thanks? That sure would go a long way!”
Several months went by uneventfully. Most of the time Bob hardly remembered “the money”, except when he opened the safe to get his wife’s jewelry or check his insurance papers or grab a new book of checks. One day Bob mentioned “the money” to his best friend and told him the story of finding it. Ron thought Bob was pulling his leg, so Bob opened the safe and showed him “the money”. Ron whistled in awe and congratulated Bob on being such an honest person. In fact he made such a big deal about it that it made Bob feel really good about himself. So good, in fact, that he began to show the money to some of his other friends. “The money” became a topic of conversation, a focus of visits by friends. Bob found himself opening the safe, pulling out the box and showing people several times a week. It became a source of pride for Bob’s entire family.
One day in January, Bob carried the box out to the dining room table yet another time and said to the visitors with a bit of flair, “Here it is, MY million dollars.” Bob’s wife, Maggie, looked at him in shock. “What did you say?” “I said, ‘Here’s the million dollars.’” Bob replied. “No, you didn’t. You said, ‘Here’s MY million dollars.’” “No, I didn’t. Why would I say that? It’s not mine, I’m just keeping it safe.” “You said ‘MY’ not ‘the’” Maggie insisted. Because there were visitors, they both dropped it.
The next week the money was on the dining room table again between Bob and Ron. Both were quietly looking at it, simply admiring the money. “You know, I think my money deserves a better box,” Bob said as he went to another room. He came back with a plastic case with a hinged top and Bob’s name displayed on the front. He placed the money gently into the case and admired how well he was taking care of the money. Ron and Maggie both noticed the change. It was no longer “THE money.” It had become “MY money” in Bob’s mind and words.
In February, conversation turned to what Bob was going to do with HIS money after June 10th. He decided that he would give half of it to charity, invest 25% to put his kids through college and pay off his house and share the remaining 25% with his friends.
In March Bob decided that he would give ¼ instead of ½ of HIS money to charity, invest 25% to put his kids through college and pay off his house, keep 25% for himself, and share the remaining 25% with his friends.
By April Bob was spending time every day looking at the money, worrying about the money, thinking of ways to avoid taxes on the money. He was no longer coaching his son’s teams, helping his daughter with her homework or taking walks with Maggie. Ron no longer dropped by because he was tired of looking at “MY money.” As Bob looked at the money on tax day, he decided he was going to be very generous and give 10% to charity, invest 25% to put his kids through college and pay off the house, keep 50% for himself and share the remaining 15% with his friends.
In May Bob stopped going to work and stopped showing the money to visitors. He pulled the blinds and didn’t answer the door. Maggie took the kids to stay with her mom until after June 10th and told Bob she wouldn’t be back then unless the old kind, fun and loving Bob came back. He sat by the safe thinking about “MY money.” And he decided that he would give 1% to charity, (“that’s a lot of money, you know”), invest 25% to put his kids through college and pay off the house, share a few thousand with Ron and keep at least 70% for himself.
On June 2nd Cliff knocked on Bob’s front door. Standing with him was a distinguished, elderly gentleman. Bob’s heart went to his throat. Cliff kept ringing the doorbell. “I know you’re in there, Bob. Open the door. He let them in and was introduced to Charles, a resident of the Dutch Hill Retirement Center.
“About a year ago I was preparing to move,” Charles began.
Bob knew what was coming. Not the particulars, but he knew that this old man was trying to take away “his money.” He had to be a crook or a con man.
“Growing up during the depression caused me to mistrust banks. So all my life I saved my money in the attic. I kept it in a metal case I brought home from the war, so it was safe from fire. When we were packing up my house for the move, my son finally convinced me to put the money in the bank.”
“A likely story,” thought Bob. “He’s even got Cliff duped.”
“Last June I was on my way to the bank with the box of money. I’d counted out exactly one million dollars to put in the bank and I gave the rest to the grandkids.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. He’s really worked up all the details.”
“I realize now that I shouldn’t have gone by myself, but this has always been such a safe town, and it was only two blocks to the bank, and it was such a nice morning, that I decided just to walk the box of money to the bank. That’s really the last thing I remember. Evidently, about halfway to the bank I had a stroke, fell to the ground and dropped the box. A couple of joggers found me, called the ambulance and I’ve spent the last year recovering from that stroke. My short term memory was erased by the stroke and I’d forgotten completely why I was out that day until my son recently checked my bank statements and realized the million was not there. We called Cliff and here we are.”
Bob was dumbfounded. His mind was in overdrive trying to conceive of some plan to keep “HIS money.’ His stomach was in knots. His emotions were ready to erupt.
“Bob,” Charles continued. “I know that you must have thought the money would be yours.”
“Oh, not at all,” Bob said sarcastically. Charles didn’t seem to notice the edge in his voice.“
I would like you to give me 10% of the money. That is all I really need right now to live on.”
“10%!! He’s asking for $100,000 of my money. A few hundred would be fine, but that’s way too much money.” thought Bob to himself.
“I want you to invest the other 90% and use the interest for your family, your friends and other worthy causes.”
Bob’s mind began to spin. “He wants to control ALL the money!! How could he ask such a thing,” he thought.
“From time to time I may ask you for a portion of the money for a special cause, but other than that I want you to manage it for me.”
Bob sat down as the room began to spin.
“And, Bob. When I die the money becomes yours. As your reward.”
Bob’s emotions exploded as he jumped to his feet toward Charles. “You want $100,000 of my money right now?” he screamed at Charles. “You want me to hand it over just like that? That’s 10%, 1/10th of all my money that I’ve worked so hard to protect!”
Cliff stepped forward. “Bob, it’s all his money,” he said trying to calm him.
Bob kept shouting. “And you want to call the shots on the rest of it?”
Cliff grabbed Bob’s arm, “He’s offering you an incredible gift, Bob. Don’t you remember when you first found the money, you said you’d be happy with 1% as a reward. Now you’re acting as if it’s actually yours and Charles is taking it.”
“Well, it is!”
“No, Bob. It’s not your money and Charles is giving you the chance of a lifetime. You need to apologize and take him up on it.”
STOP Here for a moment. What is the ending of this story? You can finish it any way you would like, because it is your story. Charles represents God and Bob is each one of us. Here are some possible endings.
1. Bob grabs the box, runs and tries to keep the money. The result: the police track him down and haul him off. We can try to do that and we will face God as a policeman at the judgement.
2. Bob pretends to agree, but keeps the money for himself. The result is the same as the first.
3. Bob accepts Charles’ offer, returns 10%, manages the other 90%, enjoys the benefits and at Charles’ death receives a great reward. That is God’s plan – provided for now, pleasing to God and in heaven we will receive a great reward.
So watcha’ goin’ do? The choice is yours.
Mat 6:19-21 (NIV) "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Monday, September 22, 2003
It has been a lifetime crusade for Indigo Montoya in the movie Princess Bride, this search for the man with six fingers on his right hand. He explains that this man commissioned Indigo’s father to craft a special sword that took a year to make. The six fingered man returned and demanded the sword at 1/10 the promised price. The man killed his father when he refused. Indigo loved his father and challenged the man to a duel. He spared him but scarred his face on both cheeks. He was eleven years old. "So I dedicated my life to the art of fencing. Then I began to search for the six fingered man. When I find him I will say, ‘Hello, my name is Indigo Montoya. You killed my father, prepare to die.’ But it’s been twenty years and I’m starting to lose confidence."
Later in the film, Indigo finds the six fingered man and chases him through the king’s castle. As he rounds a corner, his enemy throws a dagger into Indigo’s stomach. He gasps, falls against a wall and whispers, "Sorry, Father. I tried. I tried."
His adversary mocks, " you must be that Spanish brat I taught a lesson all those years ago. Incredible. You’ve been chasing me all these years only to fail now. I believe that is the worst thing I’ve ever heard. How marvelous!" Indigo pulls the dagger out as he attempts to stand.
"Good heavens! Are you still trying to win?" jeers the six fingered man. He walks toward Indigo and thrusts his sword. Indigo has just enough strength to block the attack and step forward. "Hello, my name is Indigo Montoya. You killed my father, prepare to die" he mumbles as he falls against a table. Again the murderer attacks. Indigo defends himself a little stronger.
"Hello, my name is Indigo Montoya. You killed my father, prepare to die." He begins to walk haltingly forward as he protects himself against a third attack. With every step he regains strength, "Hello, my name is Indigo Montoya. You killed my father, prepare to die." His passion returns. He moves from defense to offense and shouts, "Hello, my name is Indigo Montoya. You killed my father, prepare to die!"
"Stop saying that!" barks the six fingered man as Indigo backs him against a table. He stabs each shoulder. The man knows he’s in trouble.
"Hello, my name is Indigo Montoya. You killed my father, prepare to die!" Indigo slashes the man’s left cheek.
"Offer me money."
"Power, too. Promise me that." Indigo slashes the man’s right cheek.
"All that I have and more. Please."
"Offer me anything I want."
"Anything you want!" The six fingered man raises his sword to swing. Indigo grabs his hand, delivers the death thrust, and with faces inches apart says, "I want my father back." Indigo drops him to the floor, dead, justice accomplished for his father.
While praying, walking on the treadmill last week, God brought that scene to my mind. Then my soul surprised me. From the depths of my heart came this cry...
"I WANT MY HEART BACK!!"
I want every corner cleared and free. I want to live and love with passion. I want to be free to be all God created me to be.
I believe that is the cry of your heart, too. The heart-cry of every person.
Problem is that early on our enemy began to steal our hearts. Through temptations, hurts, disappointments, lack of love, abuse, condemnation, legalism, unreasonable expectations, and on and on the list of his methods go. Satan steals a corner here, a corner there. Until either we lose heart or build such a wall around it that we no longer function "with heart."
I’m not talking about feeling or emotions. Rather, I’m talking about the real you. Your heart is who you really are. It is the place of motives, desires, creativity, courage, commitment, dreams. It is the location of conscience, creativity and deepest thinking. Emotion is simply the real you coming out. Your heart is where God gives life. Through giving into temptation we give Satan pieces of our hearts. Through the actions of others Satan causes us to hide our hearts. The result is we live "without heart", without the abundant life Jesus came to give us.
I know what some of you are thinking, "But I’m a Christian, so my heart is already back." Not quite. There is a difference between forgiveness and reclaiming our hearts. Forgiveness cleanses us of the guilt of sin. Reclaiming our hearts, our true selves only comes from allowing Jesus to kick the devil’s influence out, transforming our hearts into His image and living in step with God. Intimacy and freedom.
Indigo was not a murderer, he was a man with a little boy’s heart – still stinging from the loss of his dad.
We still sting from the loss of our heart until we snatch it back and give it to God.
Indigo refused everything, all the offers of the six fingered man. His request for money, power, everything he wanted was only because he wanted to prove that there was nothing of value that could buy him.
When we value nothing more than God’s possession of our hearts, we will begin to reclaim our hearts and be transformed.
Just as the six fingered man mocked our hero, telling him how marvelous it was that Indigo was going to fail, that he wasn’t good enough, that he was a loser, our enemy attempts to convince us of those same lies.
When we cling to the truth of God, we will respond to life "with heart" to be what we were created to be and accomplish what God has created us to do.
How about you? Want your heart back? Then you’re going to have to fight for it, in the power of God. Start today. Tell Satan, "I want my heart back!" Tell God, "I give my heart back to You, do whatever You want." You will rediscover your heart.
"Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." Proverbs 4:23 (NIV)
NOTE: This edition was inspired by John Eldredge’s book, "Waking the Dead." I highly recommend it in your crusade to reclaim your heart.
Friday, July 25, 2003
waiting for the future God promises to deliver.
“Doesn’t my dad love me? Doesn’t he care?”
Wondered the fifteen year old boy.
“He could change these circumstances
He could make life so much easier, if he only would.
He has the power. He has the freedom.
Why, oh why, does it seem he likes me to squirm?”
“Why is it so painful to help my son?”
Wondered and wept the dad.
“It would be so much easier to cut him free of the discomfort,
the frustration, the anxiety.”
But he didn’t.
Though he could hardly restrain from doing so.
In truth, he intentionally forced the teen into uncomfortable
circumstances that could have been sidestepped.
Because he knew the discomfort would not last,
But that the character and confidence would.
Though the child could not see it nor understand.
All that the lad could see and feel was the pain.
It seemed deeper knowing the dad could remove it and didn’t.
Sometimes he felt betrayed though the father repeatedly voiced,
“I love you, son. Dearly. Undyingly. More than you know.”
Yet the pain seemed so much louder than the words.
The dad wanted him, oh how he wanted him,
To see beyond the pain to the father’s heart.
His eyes moist often as he watched the struggle
Heard the cries, wiped away the boy’s tears.
The father’s heart was blurred from his child,
His distress and inexperience held that vision away.
Only now that the boy has become a man
Can he look back to see the father’s heart.
to see the pain was temporary.
to see the benefits are lasting.
to see that he could trust the father’s heart through it all.
Only now that the boy is past the earlier pain
Seeing it in the 20/20 vision of hindsight
Can he understand that it would not have been kindness
or love or care or help at all to remove the pain.
Rather, now he understands that had the father removed the pain
It would have been the greatest cruelty of all,
For the father would have stolen from the son’s present and future
The ability to be all that he was meant to be
And have the heart of the father beating within him.
(July 6, 2003)
Curtis and Libby,
(and all readers of From Where God Sits)
I pray that increasingly you will be able to see past
the financial, mental and emotional discomfort of these days.
To catch glimpses of the Father’s heart.
Not only with the intellect of faith that comes
When the mind is wrapped around knowledge.
But with the hearts of children pulled up
onto the lap of the Father, wrapped in His arms,
feeling the tingle of His whiskers
and the breath of His words as He expresses His delight in you.
Dearly loved, protected, provided for
And promised a hope-filled future.
Trust the Father’s heart. No matter what comes or what you feel.
Trust the Father’s heart.
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back from captivity."" Jeremiah 29:11-14a (NIV)
(This poem was inspired by God and written especially for a good friend of mine and his wife following a phone conversation. Curtis has been out of work for over a year, in spite of the fact that he is one of the smartest and most talented men I know. God has closed door after door after door after door. Would you pause to say a prayer for Curtis, Libby and their three sons if this poem encouraged you?)
UPDATE - September 22, 2003 - THANKS!! to all who prayed for Curtis and Libby Fletcher. Within 2 weeks Curtis was offered a job by a company that had told him they didn't have anything for him, though they had all but promised a job for a couple months. I'm convinced your prayers made all the the difference!!
Sunday, June 22, 2003
There once was a boy, or so the story is told, who went for a hike in the woods. He came upon a group of youth, about his age, gathered in a circle. “C’mon over,” they invited. Tentatively he walked toward them to notice that each one had a small animal looking thing. It was tiny, furry and friendly, crawling over the one who was obviously its owner, nuzzling and purring. He stepped into the circle. Introductions were exchanged. He stared at the animals until one boy laughed and said, “You’ve never seen one of these before, have you? This is a “nis”. See, on the side of each are the letters, n, i, s. It’s a wonderful pet, easy to care for and it makes you feel incredible. Here, hold one.” With that the boy reached into a box, pulled out a black and white nis and handed it to Charley. It was furry and had a long body. As soon as it touched his hand it crawled up Charley’s arm, on to his shoulders and laid across his neck. “It likes you,” one of the girls in the circle squealed. Indeed, it did, purring and content. Truth was that Charley liked the nis, too. As it laid across his neck it radiated a warmth that started at Charley’s neck, ran down his back and legs, through his arms. Charley felt good, very good. The warmth lulled him into a twilight relaxed state. There was something about this nis,” thought Charley as he sat down to join the others in the circle.
When Charley returned home that night he took the nis with him. Every day it would curl up quietly in a corner until Charley came home and every evening he would spend time with it. He didn’t have to feed it, it found food for itself and it seemed to draw energy from their time together. As the days went by, the nis grew. Soon it stretched from one arm to the other when it lay on Charley’s shoulders. It still sent good shivers through Charley but he could feel the weight growing, not uncomfortable, but certainly noticeable.
One day Charley was so busy that he didn’t spend any time with the nis. The next morning he awoke to find the nis crouched 2 inches from his face, with a purr that sounded much like a wheeze. Strange, thought Charley. He had never heard that sound before. He picked it up, placed it on his shoulders to realize that it wasn’t quite as warm as before. Throughout high school the nis comforted and seemed to help Charley.
As the days moved on, the nis continued to grow. Instead of lying in a corner, it would bother Charley in the morning as he prepared for work, it would greet him at the door when he came home, it would follow him throughout the evening constantly crawling on to Charley’s shoulders whether he wanted it to or not. As the nis grew heavier, it also grew colder. In fact, it seemed to suck energy and warmth out of Charley instead of putting it into him. The nis became ever more demanding. It was staring Charley in the face when he awoke, when he ate, when he read, whenever he did anything. And it seemed to be losing its soft fur and the once alluring purr was sounding more and more like a hiss.
Charley didn’t know how it accomplished such a feat, but one Tuesday he answered the phone at work to hear a hissing calling his name. He thought it was a crank call and was about to hang up when he to recognized that sound. No, it couldn’t be, he thought. He listened. It was, but how? This creature was calling him at work. As he listened he felt the weight of his nis upon his shoulders though it was not there and they sagged. Every day the call would come. Sometimes several times a day. His production decreased, his mood declined, his relationships suffered.
A couple weeks later, having awakened, washed, shaved, and eaten to the stare and hiss of this animal, he headed for the door looking forward to the privacy of his ride to work. In front of the door stood the nis, blocking Charley’s path. Having grown to the size of a Labrador, it was impossible to step over. Charley walked to the back door, but the nis raced to block it. To the side door, the garage door, the same. When Charley tried to push it out of the way, it bit him. Charley was not seriously hurt, but shocked. This was not what he had brought home so many years before. “Just this once I’ll stay home from work with you,” said Charley, thinking perhaps the nis was sick. All day it lay around his neck, sinking him deeply into the couch.
The next day the nis attempted to block Charley’s way. He knew he could not stay home from work so he resignedly placed a leash on it and took it with him to work. Though no one seemed to notice or perhaps care, it was a pain to have the nis at work. It went wherever he did, staring and hissing and weighing him down. Charley’s productivity, already declining from the impact of the phone calls, nose dived with the thing actually at work. Yet he couldn’t get out the door without it. At the end of the week Charley’s boss pulled him aside. “I don’t know what’s going on, son. You used to be such a good worker, but lately, well… If you don’t pick it up, I’m afraid we’ll have to let you go.” So that was it, the nis was going to get Charley fired.
And as for relationships, that was a bigger problem. Charley’s friends had at first thought the nis was cute, but as it grew and began to hiss, they refused to be around it. They feared it and warned Charley it was taking over his house and his life, but he didn’t believe them. Some of Charley’s other friends had their own nises. They, too, had discovered they couldn’t get out of the house without theirs. And his girlfriend had long ago given him an ultimatum. He hadn’t intentionally chosen the nis over his girlfriend. It was just simply that as much as he tried, Charley couldn’t part with it. So alone he was. With his nis.
Even on Sundays, when he went to church, it was there. Charley would try to leave the nis at home, but it would somehow, always go with him. It seemed to especially bother him there. Charley would try to listen to the sermon or lesson or words of encouragement from a friend, but the hiss would get so loud he couldn’t concentrate.
He was thinking about all this, how his life had not gone as he had imagined and how the nis was the source of so many of these problems when he felt the nis on his shoulders and strangely around his neck. When he reached up to his throat, he realized that instead of draped across his shoulders, it was somehow wrapped several times around his neck, getting tighter. Instead of fur he felt scales. He looked to his right, where the head of the nis would always lie purring. It appeared to be changing. Like a strobe light that flashes, one second it would be the nis he always knew and the next second be a creature he had never seen before. Beady eyes, a split tongue flipping in and out of a scaley mouth, and somewhere to his left rattles. Then back again to the soft, warm, furry, black and white pet that he loved and added so much to his life.
“Charley,” hissed the creature. “It’s over. It’s time to take you home.”
“What was happening?” Charley moaned in terror. “The nis is my friend, my companion, my strength. It is so small, so soft, so gentle, so delighting, so invigorating. How could it be changing into something ugly? How could it have taken over my life, my relationships, my work, my everything?”
“Oh, I’ve not changed,” hissed the creature. “You’re seeing what I’ve been all along. Now I am fully in control Its time for me to take you to the other side. Nothing can help you, you are mine!”
“NOOOO!” Charley screamed in confusion. “Someone, anyone help me! Isn’t there anyone who can rescue me?”
At that moment the front door burst open. Calmly an unassuming man, dressed in white, walked in surrounded by a group of people also dressed in white. Gently, but firmly, he said, “Charley, this creature has been ruling your life for a long time and you didn’t even realize it. You’ve been unwilling to see it? Do you realize it now?”
“Yes,” said Charley meekly.
“Charley, I can rescue you, free you from this creature. But more than rescue you, I offer to treat you as a son, provide for you, make your life what you were created to be. Look at these people with me, they are free and you can be like them. Do you want that?”
“Yes,” choked Charley, the pressure increasing around his neck.
“Charley, listen carefully. If I rescue you, you must surrender your life to me forever. No more playing with this or any nis. Are you willing to do so?”
“I guess so.” Charley mumbled, more focused on the nis than the man’s words.
“NO. Charley, look at me. You must make a deliberate choice to serve me. Will you?”
“Yes, but I don’t see how I can do that.” Several of the folks in white walked to Charley, put their arms around him. “We didn’t think we could do it either, but it is possible. Just surrender. And we’ll help you.”
“Charley, one more thing,” continued the man in white. “You must be willing to allow me to destroy this creature.”
Charley balked. He remembered all the times they had together, back in the early days when it was small, and soft, and made Charley feel so good. Maybe it would be that way some day again. Surely it wasn’t as bad as it looked right now. Maybe it was just having a bad day, or maybe it was sick. We could have those good times again, couldn’t we? Charley vacillated even as the nis squeezed tighter and tighter.
“Charley, look at your nis. Hear the rattles. Feel the hiss. It is evil. It does not love you. It has deceived you all these years, waiting to control your life and eventually murder you. There is nothing good in it. It only wants to destroy you, now and forever.”
The man in white waved his hands over Charley’s eyes. As he did, something like rose colored contacts fell from his eyes. Charley looked, saw the nis, really saw it, for the first time saw it. He saw the ugliness, felt its grip around his throat, smelled the stench of its scaly body. As the light of understanding came on, Charley realized that the nis was moments away from killing him.
“Charley, you must hate this thing and surrender yourself to me.”
“I do,” he cried.
“Charley, the nis must die. I know you are unable to kill it. That is why I’m here. I only need your pledge to me and your permission and I will kill it.”
“Yes, yes, I surrender. Save me.”
With those words still hanging in the air, the man in white grabbed the creature with amazing strength and lifted it from Charley’s neck. Oh, the freedom in that moment. Freedom he had not experienced in, well, forever. He felt safe and loved and light hearted and giddy and so many things that he couldn’t describe. What wonder!
In the exhilaration of rescue he had almost forgotten about the man in white. Finally Charley glanced to the right to see the man lifting the snake. For a moment it appeared he would dash it to the ground. Instead, he draped the creature around his own neck. Without resistance the creature wrapped itself around him, choking, squeezing. The man dropped to the floor in agony, yet did not resist. The creature continued to squeeze until there was no more life. Charley was in shock. How could this be? The man was so strong. He saved Charley, he could have saved himself. Fear began to grip him again. With the man dead, surely the creature would return to do the same to him.
Frozen, Charley could only watch. The nis did not move. In fact, it could not. It was as if the murder of the man by the nis had also taken its life. Both lay still.
As he stared at the man and creature in an awful heap, he noticed for the first time in years the letters on the side of the animal. The letters long ago pointed out by the youth in the circle. They were different. From this angle, with the light of understanding, in the freedom granted Charley by the man’s sacrifice he realized that the letters were not “n, i, s”, at all. Rather, they were “s, i, n.” Sin. It was not a nis, but a sin that had lured him, manipulated him, controlled him and nearly destroyed him. The man in white had taken Charley’s sin, wrestled it, and died to set him free.
Still staring, suddenly the man in white sat up, threw off the sin, smiled at Charley. Scars from the attack circled the man’s neck. “Deadly, nasty, horrible creatures, those sins. But not deadly, nasty or horrible enough to destroy the Son of God or those who surrender to Him. Now, let’s experience the life I have for you.” With that He put His arm around Charley’s neck and gently guided him away. When his Savior’s arm touched Charley’s shoulders, a strange thing happened. A warmth radiated into Charley’s neck, across his shoulders, down his arms and legs. But instead of lulling him toward twilight, it filled him with a keen awareness of life and reality. In that moment Charley realized that the warmth of the nis/ sin was a counterfeit of what he was experiencing now.
Every day Charley sees the creatures. Every day Charley hears the whisper of invitation again. Sometimes another type of nis, often the same breed as his. Sometimes the whisper is nearly overwhelming. But when he looks up, into the face of his Savior, the power comes to walk away from the invitation and into the warmth He provides. Much to the anger of the creatures.
"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." Matthew 6:24 (NIV)
"Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." John 8:34-36 (NIV)
Tuesday, April 29, 2003
Looking at the back of the head before them
The building ornate with sculptures
Stained glass all around
Watching as a man in a robe talks
Looking up or looking down
Solemn words in solemn tones
He pronounces a dignified and reverent “Amen”
The crowd of individuals file out
They call that “prayer”
And heaven weeps
A hundred people kneel
Looking at the back of the head before them
The building austere
Windows covered, no one seeing in or out
Watching those around them
All kneel with their foreheads to the ground
On special rugs for this special act
Several times each day
Repeating special words they’ve been taught
By men who are “holy.”
After the final bow, the crowd of individuals file out
They call that “prayer”
And heaven weeps
A community gathering is called
A special need has arisen
Varied people from varied walks of life
The building used for assorted occasions
A woman walks to the music stand
Unfolds a piece of paper at the proper time
Where her name is printed beside the word “invocation”
Asking the group to stand and bow their heads
(it’s the way these things are done here)
She puts words to voice
Far away, very old, very formal
Obvious by what she says
At the end the crowd joins in
Repeating words from the Bible starting with “Our Father”
After the final amen, the crowd of individuals file out
They call that “prayer”
And heaven weeps
A family gathers around a browned bird
Pumpkin pies, cranberries and stuffing
The event of autumn
For family members far and near
Anxious to glutton themselves
But obligated to pause to “give thanks”
Grandfather voices words to One he barely knows
Hesitating not to speak with Him
Pressured by those around the table
Who also have not spoken to Him
Except in emergencies and wants
The stiff words are completed
All say amen and dig in
They call that “prayer”
And heaven weeps.
A young boy misses his dad
Called to defend his family and country
In a place far away
With a name he can’t pronounce
Tears running down his cheeks
Hidden in the darkness
The little one pleads out
“God, if You can see my daddy
From where you’re sitting
Please put your arms around him
Like he does when I’m scared
And make him invincible like Superman.”
From beside him shines a smile
Heaven calls that “prayer” …and responds
A small group of believers
Gather in a small house because they care
One reads from a well worn black book
As if reading a letter from an familiar hand
Another leads in a song sung in several keys
Very little talent, but very deep passion
As if sung in honor of a intimate friend
They pause, speak in turn to that One
In deep conversation that brings
Tears and laughter and peace
From within the circle shines a Smile
Heaven calls that “prayer” …and responds
A runaway truck
A minivan full of family
A country road on a rainy day
A squeal of tires
A cry from front seat and back
“God! help us!”
Heaven calls that “prayer” …and responds
An old man in tattered clothes
Beaten hat, beaten eyes
Softly enters a very old church
When no one is around to look down their nose
He lights a candle, lays coin in a cup, kneels at a rail
Whispers words that only One can hear
Words of desperation, of repentance, of sorrow
He rises to return to his cardboard house
His life changed only on the inside
Meeting eternity tomorrow alone but for the angels unseen
Heaven calls that “prayer” …and responds
A noisy office filled with people going
All directions for all reasons in all hurry
Telephones ringing, copiers copying,
Fax machines faxing, doors banging,
Conversations from every corner
Rats running the human race
At the desk in the back with the worn chair
Beside no windows and free of doors
A man puts his hand on the shoulder of another
Without bowing his head or closing his eyes
In the middle of the cacophony of the race for success
He asks for One beyond all the mess to reach out
Into the life of his friend and fails to say amen
From between the two One smiles
Heaven calls that “prayer” …and responds
Much of what the human race calls “prayers” are simply
Sounds uttered by human tongues without passion
Touching not the One prayer is intended for
Done for the benefit of humans
Out of duty, ritual, tradition and rote
The One is not touched
Power is not moved
And earthlings miss their destiny
The words of the sincere who speak out
With intensity, deep need, deep love
Touch the heart of the One who hears
Who loves and answers and
Cares and makes a difference
In lives and eternity
Not because they speak
But because they lean on Him in deep friendship
The One is touched
Power is moved
Heaven is rapturous
And earthlings experience their destiny
"He said to them, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight." Luke 16:15 (NIV)
"We live by faith, not by sight." 2 Cor 5:7 (NIV)
Monday, April 07, 2003
The wave of sound moves closer. Conversations, exclamations, hurried calls to “come see” turn into shouts of praise and spontaneous singing. The source of commotion finally comes into view. Seated on a donkey is a man, thirty something, riding slowly through the streets of this primitive city. Men spontaneously design something of a makeshift carpet, laying their outer robes on the roadway before him. Women and children wave palm branches in some type of salute. Ah, the reason for the one in your hand. All join the chorus being repeated, known to everyone except for you, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!"
"Must be the king of the country," you whisper under your breath.
"Not yet," replies the man next to you. "But we hope he soon will not only be king of Israel, but the one who frees us from Roman oppression as well."
You watch as the focus of all the attention rides by. Doesn't look like a king. Seems awfully ordinary, much like the men in the crowd. You marvel at the whole affair. Never in your life have you experienced such emotion from an assembly. It is not only what you hear, but what you can feel. Seems the entire city is shouting, singing, waving branches.
Then He looks at you. Not a passing glance, as one stranger to another. A knowing look as if He has known you forever. And you Him. Drawing your heart toward His as time stands still. Ordinary on the outside, but extraordinary in that look. You now grasp the reason for the excitement, He is more than a man.
You feel the power in the crowd. Surely they will crown him king whether the city fathers like it or not. The air is magnetic, pulling you into the momentousness of it all. Even you, a stranger from another time and place, can see the rightness of the parade. You wave the branch and shout the praise.
Palm Sunday. Surely, of all the days that ever were, that was a day of true worship. A day when Jesus received the praise and honor that was long overdue him. When God was recognized as God. We even call it, "THE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY." But was it true worship? Things are not always as they appear.
Fast-forward a few days. Same city, but the powerful intensity of the throngs has changed from “love” to “anger”. Instead of praise for His life the crowds shout for Jesus' death. The one they claimed as king, they refuse to allow to be released. The one they exalted, they mock as He is beaten. The one they believed would free them, they demand be bound and confined. The one they sang to, the murder on a cross. Had so much changed? Had Jesus done something that removed His deserving praise? That made Him deserve death?
The problem was not in the divinity of Jesus, but in the expectations of the people on that Palm Sunday. They were praising him, worshipping him, honoring him because they thought he would give them what they wanted. For hundreds of years the Roman Empire had cruelly occupied Israel and now the Israelites desperately wanted freedom. THAT'S what they expected Jesus to give them. He didn't. Though He could have easily done so, He blatantly refused. And, boy did it make the people mad. They turned their backs on Him. Their leaders killed Him. Their desires blinded them from truth… and what they needed most.
In missing Jesus, they missed what they longed for most. They exchanged God’s greatest offer to pursue an invention of their own imaginations.
Ever been there with God? We praise Him, honor Him, sing to Him, profess to give our undying loyalty to Him. Why? Because He deserves it? We’d like to believe that, but too many times it is not true. We do offer worship because we believe that God will give us what we want if we will “praise” Him. WHAT ARE WE THINKING? Same thing the crowds were thinking so many years ago. Human nature doesn’t change.
So it goes…"Oh, God, save me from this mess and I’ll serve you forever!” Or “heal me, correct my mistakes, let me pass this course, or (fill in the blank) and I'll give You first place for the rest of my life!" That's not worship, that's called, "Let's make a deal." Then when God doesn't do what we want because He knows it is not best, we bail out on Him just like the Israelites. Worship is not a way to get what we want from God.
True worship is giving “worthship”, honoring God because He is God. Period. No strings attached. It is making God #1 in our lives, everything we do and say. One form is singing, praying and studying the Bible with others on the weekend. But it is far from confined to that. Bugs me that there is a genre of music called “praise and worship.” Every kind of music by a Christian should honor God as God. Should be worship.
True worship is “worthship,” recognizing that because God is God we must give Him complete control of our lives. No deals, no if-thens, no requiring God to hold up His end of some contract we manufacture and He never signed. It is loyalty to God no matter what. Had the Israelites worshipped Jesus that way, they would have turned the city upside down with praise on Easter Sunday when God did the work He intended all along that was best for all. But NOOOO, they bailed when things didn’t turn out their way. And lost the greatest moment of all.
One of the best pictures of true praise comes from an unlikely source, Job. Not job, as in where you work. Job, you know, the guy famous for all his problems, like “the trials of Job.” Well, he ought to be famous for more than his troubles. We ought to recognize him for his worship. Listen to his words…
"Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him;" Job 13:15a (NIV)
THAT is true worthship. In the middle of the trash heap of life, when there was nothing else that could go wrong, Job still honors God as God. He expresses his total loyalty to God and then backs it up with his life. Whoa! Would we do that?
That is the question I’d like you to ponder as you approach your Palm Sunday this week. Worship well, sing praises, do church with your church. But as you do ponder…as people look at our lives, is there a fluorescent arrow pointing them to God? Do they see “worthship?”
"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)
"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)
Sunday, March 30, 2003
A good lesson, I thought at the time. Probably true in organizations. A good way to stay humble, to maintain some perspective.
Problem is that it doesn’t translate well, not in friendships. Especially the deep ones. Those heart to heart relationships that have been formed over years of laughing, crying, working, learning, talking, encouraging, praying, confessing, arguing, forgiving, verbally jousting, putting down, building up and just being together. Those friendships welded together in transparency, being vulnerable enough to let yourselves into each other’s souls. Those friendships that you carry with you even when the other is not physically there. Those friendships that cause you to ask, “I wonder what Jim would do in this situation?” Those friendships that can be picked up right where you left them after being apart for a month or a year. Those friendships that are not deteriorated by living on opposite sides of the country.
Those are the friendships that leave a hole. Those people stick their hands into the bucket of your heart and when they pull out the water never, ever, ever fills it again.
I know. Last month I lost one of the best friends I will ever have when Jim Harvey died of a heart attack. He was a “closer than a brother” brother, my confidant, my mentor, my priest, my prayer partner, the other soldier in my foxhole. I have many, many other friends, but a very few times in life does one come along who shares the same heart and soul in nearly every way.
Frankly, I’m ticked. He was only 54 years old. I’d assumed we had at least another 15 years together. We were discussing ways to do some ministry together. We were dreaming together. We had plans to be together in Colorado in May. The day before he died I’d made a mental note to call Jim to get together a day early to hike. Boy, did he ruin that! The last time he turned me down on a hiking offer was because he and Betsy had just gotten married. I can cut him slack for that, but not this one. I WANT that hike with him in May, doggone it! Not for the hike, but for the incredible value he always added to my life.
I’m also a bit jealous. Like one of my kids… “Why does HE get to enjoy heaven and we have to stay here and fight the battles? That’s NOT FAIR!”
Jim’s death has caused me to feel exposed. Like a platoon of soldiers who depended on the point man to lead the way forward and alert them to danger, I depended on Jim. Now that he’s gone, I feel unprotected. You can’t believe how many times I find myself thinking, “I’ll call Jim and ask him about… I’ll call Jim and ask him to pray about that… ” only to realize he’s not there.
I’m not alone. Jim touched so many lives along the trail that the tally will only be revealed in heaven.
Along with the sadness, Jim’s death thrust upon us the reality of our mortality. I’m one of the old guys now. How did that happen? I’m closer to the front of the platoon and must shoulder the responsibility of leading and protecting.
I’m not sure of the theology of this, but I wonder if God didn’t take Jim so he could pray for us from heaven. The Bible says that Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, constantly interceding for us. Perhaps, (forgive me if I’m completely off base here), but just perhaps, Jim is doing the same.
The loss also challenges me. What will I leave behind when it’s my time to ride the Harley into the sunset? I’m going to leave a hole. So are you. Question is what kind, how big and for how many? Would you commit along with me to live so that the hole is huge? Not because of who we are, but because we allow Christ in us to touch everyone along our appointed trail.
Betsy recalls words Jim spoke often to others who lost a loved one, “It will never be the same, but it will be good again.” We can take comfort from those words. As usual, one more time, Jim’s wisdom provides just what we need, at just the time we need it.
Jim showed us…
"In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness" Titus 2:7 (NIV)
How Jim would encourage us…
"Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us." Romans 8:34 (NIV)
"Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him." 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 (NIV)
Sunday, March 23, 2003
Truth is all times are times of incredible insecurity. Just ask the mom and dad who lost a child, the woman who lost her job, the man who lost his pension, the teen who lost his friends at school, who is surrounded by profanity and violence, the lady who lost her health, the grown children who watched their once strong dad lose his memory. There are no warranties on life – what seems to be secure today can be ripped from us in the next moment.
In times of incredible insecurity, what in the world shall we do?
Searching for security in this world is like trying to climb to the top of a tree. Using toilet paper. Go ahead, try it. Get that Charmin and scramble up the old oak tree in the back yard. It will may look good, even have nice flower prints and stamped in patterns on it. Problem is, it won’t work. The first tug and it’s shreds. You could even use multiple layers of the stuff to make it stronger. Still won’t work. No matter how hard or long or effectively you try, you’re not going to make it to the first branch, let alone the top. The soft, gentle replacement for Sears catalogues was never meant to provide a means to go upward.
Try climbing up and grabbing security in your todays and tomorrows. Go ahead, grab the promises of the culture that pledge to provide safety. Some might look good, even have bells and whistles. Might even appear to work for a while. But they won’t really. Everything in this world was never meant to provide security. So why do we keep trying? Mostly because it’s what everyone else does and what seems the thing to do. It even feels like we have security sometimes.
Problem is that it is a fake, pseudo security – a false sense that lulls us into believing that we are secure until some loss (child, parent, job, pension, friends, health, memory) blasts our pseudo security to bits. Then, for a while, we realize the insecurity of life and live differently. For a while. Eventually we PICK UP THOSE BITS of water soluble tissue paper, glue them back together, pretend they’re perfect and live in false security again. Why? To keep ourselves from going CRAZY! (Sorry, didn’t mean to yell.) Unless we have something to cling to for security, we will dive into the emotional tank. So we choose something rather than nothing, ignoring the only true source of security. Yet in those quiet moments of complete frankness, when we are honest with our hearts, we realize we are lying to ourselves to avoid the intense feelings of uncertainty
Stephen lived in a time of incredible insecurity. Threats of attack, loss of jobs, financial markets in turmoil, morals at an all time low. Sound hauntingly familiar? Yet he discovered complete security. No toilet paper tree climbing for this boy. Steve was part of the First Jerusalem community church and had been occupied with the presence of the Holy Spirit. He took to serving others in the controversial ministry of Gentile/Jewish food distribution. The man astoundingly lived with confident security in the midst of the same opposition that killed Jesus. Though Steve experienced fear, fear didn’t matter because his security was in Christ. Somehow he struck up a conversation with the local religious leaders. The crowd grew until he found himself in the middle of a full blown debate with the chief reigiosos of the city. Boldly, he told the truth, offending the authorities. Being religious examples, they maturely handled the disagreement by dragging Steve out of the city and rocking him with real, very hard rocks. His confident security never wavered. Just before he died, his face shone and he saw Jesus at the right hand of the Father. More rocks and Stephen was eternally secure in the arms of Jesus.
Where does real, lasting, solid, heavy-duty rope, security come from? Through Jesus, revealed and embraced in our lives, while we are living smack dab in the middle of a world that is upside down. It does not come from the removal from circumstances that can drive insecurity right through our hearts, but it comes while we are in the tornado of those circumstances.
Of course that doesn’t make any sense to most of the world. We often hold on to that which we can see, even if it is as frail as toilet paper, rather than depend on that which we cannot see, even if it is the Strength of the Universe. Instead we gather possessions, grab at positions, grasp for relationships to provide us with security. They all end up looking like Charmin. Usually when we’re lying flat on our back, staring up at the tree we tried to climb with a handful of toilet paper in our grasp. WHAT ARE WE THINKING? Nothing lasts but Jesus.
The more we look for security in the world, the farther we drift from God. The farther we get from God, the more we look for security in this world. What a vicious circle.
Now, I’m going to guess that you’re living in the same world I am. Just a guess. It is an incredibly insecure place. It’s not going to get better. When it appears to do so, remember it is a temporary reprieve from insecurity, not security itself. What in the world shall we do?
The life of confident security comes as we let go of our death grip on this world and climb into the arms of our loving, security-giving, Heavenly Father. It is not complicated, but it is hard. And worth it. Like Stephen, we can experience security in a very insecure world. Will you?
Open your hand, let go of all you’re depending on for security and fall into the arms of God. Right now. C’mon, you can do it. Makes a whole lot more sense than clinging to the Charmin.
"Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God." Psalm 20:7 (NIV)
"Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done." Matthew 16:24-27 (NIV)
"The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him," Nahum 1:7 (NIV)
""Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God ; trust also in me. 2 In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going."" John 14:1-4 (NIV)
Saturday, March 15, 2003
The children responded, “KID’S TIME!”, ran to the front of the worship area and slid to a stop at my feet.
Yes, it was Kid’s Time at New Song Church. The kids never know what the topic will be. Neither do the adults, but I’m suspicious that they look forward to the 5 minute story more than the sermon. “I wonder what’s in my brown bag today?” I asked.
On this day, I pulled out coins. “Does anyone know what this is?”
With a hungry smile, all replied, “Money!”
“Would you like one?”
“YES!” the group of greedy misers replied. I gave each child a quarter and told them to hold it tightly in their hands.
“What’s it worth?” I asked holding up a shiny George Washington.
“What can you buy with it?”
The older and wiser children wrinkled their noses as one said, “Not much. Maybe a piece of candy or gum.”
“I have something else in my bag.” I reached into the bag and pulled out my fist. “Would anyone be willing to give me their quarter for what I have in my hand?”
Blank stares. Can you believe they don’t trust their pastor? I could see the wheels turning in their little brains, puzzlement on their faces, dilemna in their eyes. “Should I? Shouldn’t I? What if he has nothing in his hand? What if he has something really good in his hand? What if someone else trades him before I can decide and it’s really good? What if I trade him first and it is a dead worm and everybody laughs at me? But Pastor Herb wouldn’t give me a worm, would he? But he has had some strange things in that bag before.”
Finally, Hailey the gambler, chirped, “I will!” I held out my hand, she placed the quarter in it. She held out her hand, I placed a $2 bill in it.
Suddenly, in unison, with no further encouragement, a cacophany of voices rang out, “I’ll trade! I’ll trade! I’ll trade!” I smiled.
“Why?” I asked. “What makes it better?”
“The $2 bill is worth 8 times what a quarter is worth,” one quick thinking boy answered.
“Then why wouldn’t you trade before?”
“We didn’t know what you had.”
Lesson 1. That is exactly what God says to us, is it not? “Give me what you have and I’ll give you what I have.” Hailey was willing to take a risk because she trusted me, even though she couldn’t see what was clenched in my fist.
“Do you still want to trade?”
“YES!” nearly every voice cried. I pulled out an envelope of $2 bills and traded with each child as they stood to go to class. Except for one. Sarah came close to me. With a bit of a worried look, she quietly stated and asked at the same time, not knowing if it would be okay, but hoping it would, “I’m going to keep my quarter and put it in the bank at my grandma’s.”
A voice from my right, “Sarah, take the $2! Make the trade.” Her mother.
“Are you sure you don’t want to trade?” I asked.
Shaking her head yes, as if that would convince me to let her keep it, “I want to keep my quarter and put it in my bank at my grandma’s.”
A voice from my left, “Sarah, take the money. Give him the quarter and take the money.” Her grandpa.
This was getting good. I was going to split a family right here in the middle of worship. A new experience even for me. As she held tightly to her coin the treasure she so wanted to put in the bank at her grandma’s, I saw confusion begin to creep across her face. She was hearing the voices of her greedy grandpa and her money seeking mother telling her to make a trade she did not want to make. Her heart valued a shiny, silver coin much more than a dull-green piece of paper, but those she depended on were calling out to her. She looked to me, her trusted, friendly, helpful pastor for direction.
Before she could give into those voices and make a trade she didn’t want to make, a trade she would later regret, a trade that just might bring a flood of tears, I encouraged her. “Sure, Sarah, you can keep that quarter and put it in your bank.”
Relief. Satisfaction. A smile as she skipped off to class. Bewilderment, frustration, pity on the faces of her mom, dad, and grandparents. Shaking their heads as we began the next song. Sure she could have bought more with the paper, but that was not what this was about for Sarah. Value, as well as beauty, is very often in eye of the beholder.
Lesson 2. Sometimes the voices around us don’t know what is of greatest value to us. But God does.
A couple questions…
Are you holding on to the quarters of life, when God is offering so much more? Do you trust Him enough to trade what you can see, touch and taste for what you can’t? When He asks you to give up everything for Him, does He really have something better?
To whom are you listening to tell you what is of most value? Voices coming from your left and right, or the voice of the Great Giver Himself? How easily are you swayed or do you cling to the treasure that is only in Christ?
Questions about ultimate value. Hope you’ll answer them today. Before it’s too late
Boldness and Blessings,
"He said to them, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight." Luke 16:15 (NIV)
"We live by faith, not by sight." 2 Cor 5:7 (NIV)