Saturday, September 23, 2006

"What's In Your Wallet?"

“What’s In Your Wallet?”

What would you think of a man who carried his god around in his wallet, pulling him to bow down to him or talk to him at appropriate times? Never talked back, never did anything, never acted like you’d think a god would act. My bet is that you’d give him plenty of room. “I mean, really,” you’d probably say to me, “How can that thing be god if he can carry him around in his wallet?”

Truth is we carry around our gods in pockets and purses and don’t even realize it. C’mon, admit it – the things that tend to rule our lives are held in our hands or, if too big to physically hold, they possess our minds. God spoke through the prophet Isaiah about this.

5“To whom will you compare me? Who is my equal? 6Some people pour out their silver and gold and hire a craftsman to make a god from it. Then they bow down and worship it! 7They carry it around on their shoulders, and when they set it down, it stays there. It cannot even move! And when someone prays to it, there is no answer. It has no power to get anyone out of trouble. Isaiah 46:5 - 7 (New Living Translation)

So what’s the job description for god? What’s the resume require? Let me give you some suggestions.

If you can contain it, it is not god.
If you can understand it, it is not god.
If you can create it, it is not god.
If you can control it, it is not god.
If you cannot depend on it, it is not god.
If it changes, it is not god.

Now think through the things at top priority. We may not literally bow down to modern “gods” but they rule our lives. Apply these tests and see if they stand up. Money is god to many. Can we understand, create, control, and contain it? Can we depend on it? Does it change? 6 for 6 and it doesn’t qualify as god. Run through the others people put at the top of their lives: power, popularity, success, cars, sports, beauty, possessions, people, and on and on. None qualify.

Do the same with the real and only God, Jesus. Can we understand Him? Not a chance. Can we create Him? No, He created us. Can we control Him? HA! Much as we think we’d like to at times, we can’t. People couldn’t even when He walked here. Can we contain Him? The entire universe could not. Can we depend on Him to be there for us, true to His promises? Absolutely. Does He change? His character, personality, and purposes never, ever change. HE PASSES!

That being true, don’t you think it a good idea for us to stop carrying around god and allow Him to carry us? As it should be.

Boldly, Herb

Friday, September 08, 2006

“Mayor O’Connor, the Steelers, and 9/11”

Mayor O’Connor, the Steelers, and 9/11”

Do me a favor, click your fingers. You know, using your middle finger and your thumb, click them.

I’m waiting. I’m not going on until you do, ‘cause this is an object lesson.

C’mon… indulge me. There, you go! Now don’t you feel better?

Do it again to get the feel. How long does the snap sound last? A fraction of a second.

What is the use of clicking your fingers? To feel the rhythm of music, as a signal that you forgot or remembered something, as a warning to your dog or children. There’s one more. The most important. That “snap” represents your life.

Whoa, that’s heavy. Yep. A fraction of a second, a breath, a moment – that’s our lives. On the CD of history, reaching thousands of years back to Adam’s first heartbeat and forward to who knows when, you and I are a “snap.”

Today we buried the beloved mayor of Pittsburgh, Bob O’Connor. 61 years young, still so much life to live and good to do for the people of the Steel City. Who would have thought this would happen less than a year ago when he realized his life long dream of becoming mayor, or when he stood at the podium with the victorious Steelers, or when he put such effort into the Baseball all-star game? No one. Not one. He went into the hospital with flu like symptoms and never came home. “Snap.”

Today the Pittsburgh Steelers begin defense of their Super Bowl title. Long awaited and much celebrated. Five months from now, no one will be talking about them unless they are playing for the title again. They will be a buried story, old news, yesterday’s paper. All that effort and hype. “Snap.”

On Monday we will remember the tragic events of 9/11 five years ago. Over three thousand people lost their lives that day. And our nation has never been the same. Do you think any of those people had any inkling that it would be their last day? It was a day like any other, a bagel on the desk, dinner plans for the evening, a birthday gift to buy at lunch time, a ball game to catch with a friend. “Snap” and everything changed.
Five years ago I wrote the following words in my email article for “From Where God Sits.” I thought it appropriate to say again.
“As I prayed following the events of 9/11, I sensed God saying to me, ‘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.”

“Snap.” Click your fingers again. Someday that will be you and me. Could be ANY day. What are you doing to make it count? Little things, big things, in between thing. Reaching toward those you love, reconciling with those where hurt has gotten in the way. “Snap” and the chance is over.

Start with this prayer of David, listen for God’s answer, and live life BOLDLY.

""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." Psalm 39:4-5 (NIV)

Boldly, Herb

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

"Looters of Our Lives"

“Looters of Our Lives”

We guard what we value.
Walk through a parking lot. To the left, an old, “seen way better days” pick up truck, more body putty than paint. Windows open, keys in the ignition, maybe even running. The owner as much as put a sign on it, “Take me, take me, PLEASE, somebody take me!” To the right, a late model Mercedes Benz, Corvette, Jaguar and Cadillac. BREATHE within three feet of them and an irritating, squawking horn erupts to make you the horrified object of passerby’s laughter and gawks. What’s the dif? We guard what we value.
Tell me what you lock, protect, guard, insure, defend, and I’ll tell you what you value.
Why is it, then, that we don’t guard our hearts?

Military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan wear body armor and helmets. Why? To guard their most vital organs, to protect their lives as much as possible. Why? We guard what we value.
Why is it then that we do not guard our hearts?

Why? Is it that we don’t value our hearts? Must be, because we do not guard them?
Is it possible we don’t know what we have?
Is it possible we allow them to be trampled like yesterday’s newspaper, because we do not realize they are the very key to our lives? Listen to the words of the wisest man who ever lived.

"Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." Proverbs 4:23 (NIV)

“Above all else,” = more than any other possession, as our most valuable asset in all the world, as that which we would defend to the death, protect with every ounce of strength. “Above all else” said Solomon. Yet we don’t… because we do not realize it is the source of all that matters.

Instead …
we give our hearts, or in the very least, open our hearts to so many things that steal, plunder, ravage – we allow our hearts to be turned into playgrounds for activities we would never admit except under duress.
we open the door of our hearts just enough to allow them to be polluted, thinking it is still clean and end up with toxic hearts, not realizing a little poison destroys.
we sometimes resist the intruders of our hearts at first, but allow them to keep their foot in the door until they talk their way into our hearts.
we sometimes allow the neighbors to convince us to open the door of our hearts. Even when we can see the devastation the intruders have caused in others’ lives when they cannot.
we sometimes believe the pleasant sounding promises of the intruders to fool us, even when we the angels of God are shouting that they are all lies.

How often do we wade through the aftermath of the raiders of our hearts, view the havoc wreaked, the mess made, the filth flowing to feel the regret of allowing such to tramp on our hearts, vowing “Never again!” Only to foolishly unlock the door of our hearts once again?

Is the problem that we do not realize the treasure we possess as owners of our hearts?
Is the problem we do not value the Presence of Christ more than the marauders? Do we forget that to allow the marauders into our hearts is to expel Christ? Only one can occupy the heart. When the intruders walk in the front door, look to the back door. You will see the sad face of Christ, a tear slipping down his cheek as He shakes His head and walks out.

There is another option. If, at the appearance of the intruders, we call to Christ, He will join us at the front door of our hearts. At the nod of our heads, He will close the door, lock it and stand guard over it. And no intruder, marauder, looter, barbarian can come through with Him there. Appealing, but He only aids if we ask.

So, how’s your heart? Guarded or given to pollution? Not sure? There’s a sure fire way to know. Hear Jesus’ words.

Mat 15:18-20 (NIV) "But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.' 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what make a man 'unclean'; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him 'unclean.'""

So how’s your heart. No time like right now for some house cleaning.

Boldly, Herb

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

"Fearing the Right Thing"

“Fearing the Right Thing”

It is not that we will never have fear. There is some kind of psychological term for THAT disorder. To not fear is a recipe for disaster, it is not healthy, proper, right or good. Having no fear leads to harm. Just try living a day without it. It was one of Ben Roethlisberger’s mistakes on a motorcycle. One moment, one car, one mistake almost cost him everything, and the roar could be heard around the world.

Yet there are times when those who appear to have no fear are celebrated. A firefighter runs into a burning building to save a child. A soldier, against all odds, captures a machine gun that is killing his fellow soldiers. A parent marches into the principal’s office to defend and champion a child’s education. A passing motorist jumps into a lake to rescue a stranger, though he cannot swim. Heroes, we call them. Subconsciously, we think, “They must have no fear.” Not true. We may think we are applauding people because they have no fear.

In reality, we are applauding the courage that we see, not the lack of fear that we perceive.

Interview those heroes. What do they say? “Afraid? I was scared spit less! I thought I was going to die. I’ve never been so terrified in my life. I don’t know how I overcame my panic, but I HAD to do something.” What are they saying? “I was MORE afraid of what would happen if I did not do something.”

It was not that they had no fear, it was that they feared something even more than the obvious, in their face, what we see kind of fear.

TRUTH: We will fear. Thus, we have to decide what we will fear most, because THAT will determine what we do.

When I was about 7 my sister and I were playing on the playground at our elementary school. I climbed to the top of the monkey bars, looked down and froze. I was scared spit less. I had just enough spit to cry out to my sister, 6 years old, “Bobbi, go get help. I can’t get down.” Oh, where is Lassie when you need her? Timmy didn’t know how good he had it!

Being the caring sister, she just stood there. Smiling. Didn’t get help, run for home or even show empathy. If I remember correctly, she laughed that evil, younger sister laugh. At that moment we heard it, “THE WHISTLE.” Everyone in the neighborhood knew, “THE WHISTLE,” heard for blocks and hated by dogs, dad’s signal for the Shaffer kids to get home and quick. It was never explicitly stated what would happen if we didn’t get home quick enough, but my imagination had conjured up all manner of torture. I can picture neighbors standing at their doors, watching to see how quickly frightened little legs can move. “THE WHISTLE” struck fear in my heart as little else. I’m alive today because I answered the call of “THE WHISTLE.”

Meanwhile, back at the monkey bars. One moment I was paralyzed, pleading for my sister to get help. The next, hearing “THE WHISTLE,” without concern for safety or thought of method, I climbed, no, flew down, and was running the block back to the man whistling. Did circumstances change? No. Was I miraculously infused with climbing abilities? No. Did I suddenly have no fear of heights? No, I still hate them today. It was an autopilot, internal decision, because of what I feared most. Just as the firefighter, soldier, parent and motorist, I realized there is something greater to fear. From somewhere deep inside I decided I would rather risk breaking my neck than having my dad wring it.

PRINCIPLE: What we fear most will determine what we do. Without exception. So what do you fear?

This is what Jesus was talking about when He said,
4“Dear friends, don’t be afraid of those who want to kill you. They can only kill the body; they cannot do any more to you. 5But I’ll tell you whom to fear. Fear God, who has the power to kill people and then throw them into hell.” (Luke 12:4-5, New Living Translation)

We will always have fear. That fear will control our actions. If we fear God more than all else, other fears will submit. If we truly believe that He alone controls our now and our eternities, then we will not allow those things to control us. Even monkey bars or whistles.

So what do you fear? What you do when you don’t have time to think reveals it. Not what we say, sing, or claim in our controlled moments, but in moments of danger. Only God deserves that place and only by giving it to Him will we find what we really want.

Boldly, Herb

Friday, August 04, 2006

"What a Melt Down Means"

“What a Melt Down Means”

I know very little about Mel Gibson’s recent problems, except that he was stopped for driving with an illegitimate level of alcohol flowing through his veins, that he raged with anti-semitism when stopped, and that he appeared contrite in asking for forgiveness in national media. I know even less about his personal life – what was going on behind the scenes.

But there are some things that we do know for sure about him, us and the human race.

First we know that Mr. Gibson has been all over the map with his movies. And that movies are not real life. Thus, when he did his Lethal Weapon movies, he displayed anything but the character I want my kids to emulate. When he portrayed Braveheart, he inspired me to give myself for something beyond myself. In The Patriot and We Were Soldiers I was challenged to determine what I am willing to fight and die for. When he sacrificed and endured criticism to produce The Passion of the Christ, I wept in sorrow at my sin and the suffering Jesus went through for me. I was disappointed and refused to see What Women Want because of the huge amount of sexual content.
So who is the REAL Mel Gibson? Can’t tell by the movies.

We also know that Satan will do all he can to discount God’s truth. When Mel Gibson took on the project of making The Passion of the Christ, he placed himself in the crosshairs of the devil. Doesn’t matter whether Mel personally lives out the truth presented, the forces of the evil one were put in motion to discount in every way possible the truth presented. The criticism during the film’s release were just the tip of the ever present iceberg. It will go on as long as we continue to view the DVD. Thus that which Mel struggles with most and drove Mel to heavy drinking will be used by the enemy to make people wonder if the truth of the movie is a farce.

We know that none of us is perfect. Though I have a friend (Gary O) who claims to be, in jest. I hope. We have no idea why Mr. Gibson made these particular blunders, but we do know he is not perfect. Neither are we. And, as Augustine said after viewing a sinner caught in terrible sin, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

Finally, most importantly and what is most disconcerting, we know that what we do comes from somewhere inside of us, regardless of the circumstances. Please don’t misunderstand me here, there are NO EXCUSES. But there are reasons. And the reasons should cause us to freeze in our tracks. We do stupid things because of what is inside of us. “Garbage in, garbage out.” It is exponentially stupid to dismiss actions with “I didn’t really mean that, it is not really me.”
Mel Gibson made a series of mistakes that led to the debacle of his ranting. It might be that he fights the feelings his dad drilled into him growing up, that he is struggling to give up alcohol, that there is conflict in his family or that he is stinging from a recent deep hurt. If any or similar conditions exist, my heart goes out to him. HOWEVER, what came out in the traffic stop was inside of him. What we do is determined by who we are. Our character is revealed in the hardest of times, when the chips are down, when the bullets are flying, when danger boils and especially when we are alone. Mel is guilty of stupidity and shameful behavior, made worse by his fame and moral claims. He needed to apologize and ask for forgiveness. He needs to get help for the root causes. He should not expect people to easily forget, but rather to earn their respect. So are we, so do we, so should we.
So here’s the important question. What stupid and shameful things are you guilty of in recent months. What does it reveal about you? Fear, faith, anger, peace, hurt, joy, worry, confidence each result in different actions. What’s inside comes out in our behavior.

Jesus said it this way…
Mat 7:16-23 (NIV) "By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. 21 "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' 23 Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'"

The only hope for Mel, Gary, you and I is to get the inside changed. That’s a job only God can do and only if we turn to him with no excuses, full submission and a willingness for Him to do extreme spiritual surgery. I pray that for Mel and for you.

Boldly, Herb

Friday, June 23, 2006

"Do You Trust Me?"

“Do You Trust Me?”

I hate it when someone asks the same question over and over and over again.
“Are we there yet?” “Did you take out the garbage?” “Do you like me?” “You’re not going to wear that shirt, are you?”

I hate it when someone asks the same question over and over and over again.
It usually means they aren’t listening or they don’t like the answer. “If I keep asking, maybe I’ll get a different one,” seems to be the thinking.
“What do you want for supper?” “I don’t know, you choose.”
“What do you want to do for supper?” “I don’t know, I said you choose.”
“Hey, what are we going to do for supper?” Sigh.

I hate it when someone asks the same question over and over and over again.

So you can imagine my surprise when the “someone” turned out to be God.
“Do you trust me?” “Lord, of course I trust You.”
“Do you trust me?” “Lord, I said I trust You.”
“Do you really trust me?” Sigh.

You get the idea. On and on it has gone for over a decade. That quiet, inner soul-voice keeps asking.

“Do you really trust me?”
“Okay, Lord, I’m getting the feeling You’re probing for something here.” I can be dense, but I eventually catch on. “Alright, Lord, it seems obviously must be some ways that I’m not trusting You. So, SHOW ME!” I try not to yell at God much, but He can get pret-t-t-ty frustrating.

So He showed me. All assortment of ways I need to trust Him more. In the early days of this saga I’d think, “Okay, God’s identified it. I’ll trust Him with this and we’ll be good to go.” Sometimes I’m dense, but I finally caught on. This question is not going to disappear. “Do you trust me?” is laser burned into our conversation. So I’ve taken to responding with, “Yes, Lord, I trust You. Show me how to trust You more.”

During one prayer conversation a picture popped into my mind… I was standing on a narrow bridge, very much like the Indiana Jones movie, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” as Indy attempts to cross the bridge over a deathly deep gorge. The bridge is narrow and camouflaged to look like the terrain below. Standing on that narrow piece of rock (with my fear of heights fully flourishing, mind you), I looked up to see Jesus saying, “Do you trust me?” Changes the flavor, don’t you think? “Yes, Lord.” Then a new wrinkle sprung to life as I heard, “Just keep in step with me.”

Pause the tape for a second. We find in Galatians 5:25 these words, "Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit." (NIV) I LOVE that scripture. Having been in high school marching band, I had always pictured Jesus at the head of the Christian band and we Christians marching in step with Him, being sure to look to the side to match strides with the Holy Spirit. So when I heard, “keep in step” that is the image that came to mind.

Restart the tape. I expected Jesus to turn His back so I could keep in step. Instead, He continued to face me, holding out both hands for me to grasp. Locking eyes with me, He took a backward step, clearly inviting me to take a step forward. “Trust me,” He seemed to say without speaking. It wasn’t long before I looked down, down, down, down, waaaay down, to the treacherous bottom of the crevasse. As soon as I did, I heard, “No! Do not look down.” I knew better before my eyes dropped and I half expected the correction to my deep fear. But then came the unexpected, “Just keep looking into my eyes. Keep in step and keep looking into my eyes and I will guide you across.”

I confess, saltwater seeped past my clenched eyelids as God spoke so clearly in the depths of my soul. Nothing audible, but absolutely unmistakable. I was overwhelmed by God’s message, the love behind it and the assurance He promised. That picture has changed how I see that scripture and how I hear that persistent question, “Do you trust Me?” No longer is it a disconnected COMMAND by a drill sergeant, but rather an INVITATION to walk through anything and everything this life throws at me. In the middle of danger, confident, strong, bold, focused, resolute, courageous.

I still hate it when someone asks me the same question over and over and over again. So don’t even think about it. Except when that someone is spelled SOMEONE and reminds me to grasp His hands, keep looking into His eyes and keep in step with Him.

Boldly, Herb

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Greatest Group Ever

“The Greatest Group Ever”
Frankly, I don’t NEED to be part of one more organization that sucks the life and time out of my schedule. I’ve had the chance to serve as a volunteer and a leader in enough ‘til death do us part. Most involve committees. No one aspires to committee membership. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Never in the history of human existence has a child or adult answered with, “I want to be a committee member.” Why? Because it usually comes down to attending meetings at which few meaningful decisions and even fewer accomplishments are made. Necessary, but not necessarily pleasant.
Is that what the church is all about? Sadly, for many, that is often what it becomes.
Is that what Jesus intended? Not in the least.
In Dan Brown’s book and the recently released movie, “The DaVinci Code,” the church is portrayed as an organization made up of power grabbing men. Our experiences can perhaps identify with that – bureaucracy, institutionalism, do’s and don’t’s. Sadly again, that is too often true. But not in the true church.
In America, if you ask a person, Christian or not, about a particular church, they will direct you to a building. Nearly without fail. You may even be wondering why I mention this. Isn’t the church a building? Sadly, we have gradually exchanged an understanding of the Biblical church for a cultural one. A little better is when people refer to a particular church as the organization that meets in the building. Closer, but no prize.
So what is it?
The church is ALWAYS people, never a building or organization,
God’s means on earth to reveal Himself and to do His work
The Church for whom Jesus gave up His life to create, to whom He sent His own Spirit to empower, to whom He has left the promise of His return and reward is not an organization, it is an ORGANISM. A living, growing, changing, dynamic group of people in relationship and on mission.
The Church is the creation of God to reveal His wisdom to demons and angels.
Eph 3:10 (NIV) "His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms,”
The Church is the creation of God to bring Him glory forever and ever.
Eph 3:20-21 (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."
Here are a couple of pictures the Bible gives us of the Christ created Church.
a The “Family” of Christ
Mat 12:49-50 (NIV) "Pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.""
A family to provide relationships that can be “closer than a brother,” united for eternity. We were created for relationships, we desperately need people who love and accept us for what we are. Kind of like “Cheers” only so much better.
a The “Army” of Christ
Eph 6:11-12 (NIV) "Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."
An army to battle the devil for the souls of people, to be the Army Seals that will rescue those who are captured by sin and headed for Hell in eternity. We are left here to be on that mission.
Either of those pictures sound like committee meetings in any organization you’ve been a part of? Jesus created the church as a group of people with whom we can share deep, meaningful relationships and accomplish the most important purpose on earth or in eternity. THAT’S the church.
You may be thinking, “Herb, you are looking through some glasses pretty deeply colored rose. You’re awfully idealistic.” Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. I’ve been in this church going business for nearly half a century and will soon “celebrate” a quarter century of leading congregations. I’ve seen the worst and the best. And, now more than ever, I believe in the Church Christ created. I just now know that it takes more effort than I ever imagined. Worth it, but full of ups and downs.
Imperfect? Yes. (Find one that is perfect, join it. But be forewarned, as soon as you do, it will no longer be perfect. Because of YOU. Sorry.) But when you find one that is striving to be God’s church in relationships and purpose, you’ve found a treasure. No matter how imperfect.
The church is the church when it being and doing what God through the Bible instructs. When it ceases to do so, it is no longer God’s church, just another human organization. Commissioned to do the work of Christ in His Power, in His way/ to make a difference in eternity and to rescue those captured by sin. Because it is made up of humans, it must always be held against the pictures given to us in the Bible.
If you’re part of one that is close to the Biblical picture, thank God and then give yourself fully to it.
If you’re not, do not rest until you find one, because you will never experience life as God designed until you join the family and the army.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Clay Jars or Crack Pots

Clay Jars or Crack Pots

"Fragile human beings who handle difficulty so differently that people are attracted to them."

That is my definition of the Biblical reference to jars of clay in the first century.

Those in palaces did not use clay jars for their valuables. Oh, you would have found them in the kitchen and the outhouse. For everything but the most ordinary functions, they used gold, silver, other metals, and well cured ceramics. Expensive liquids were not put into clay jars; they were stored in expensive, sturdy containers. In fact, it would be easy to be as impressed with the container as it was with the contents inside. "What an impressive pitcher you have," you might have said as the hostess poured your drink. Those were not ordinary clay pots presented to Jesus by the Magi, as they worshipped Him with gold, frankincense and myrrh. Those were expensive containers.

Clay jars in the first century were ordinary, common, easily broken, often discarded. They were used for carrying water and other ordinary functions, as trash containers, even as toilets. They would not have appeared as a main character in the cartoon version of "Beauty and the Beast." Bottom of the household totem pole, but functional.

So it's terribly humbling to realize that the Apostle Paul tells us we are clay pots. Harshly unflattering. It would not be so bad if he was talking about our lives B.C. (before Christ), but he's talking about after we have Christ in us. What is that about? Look at this.

2 Corinthians 4:4-12 (NIV) "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. 6 For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you."

Here it is:

God puts the unbelievable, inconceivable, unthinkable, unimaginable, implausible treasure of the Universe "the very Presence of the Almighty God of the Universe" IN US! You'd think that would make us expensive containers. Precious contents go in valuable containers - that would make perfect human sense. But no.

He places this most precious treasure in "jars of clay." Why? So that others will see and experience the treasure of Christ rather than being impressed with us. Remember the earlier definition of clay jars? �Fragile human beings who handle difficulty so differently that people are attracted to them.�

What happens when a clay pot gets jostled around, bumped, passed from one person to another, or even cracked? The contents spill out. Or in the Apostle Paul's words, what happens when a fragile human being who is filled with Christ is 'hard pressed' perplexed'persecuted'struck down'faces death�' That person spills out the Presence of Christ on all in the area, filling the place with the aroma of Christ. What happens if it is not jostled? That treasure just sits there.

The jostling in our lives is not because God has abandoned us at all. It is because He believes in us as His treasure holders who spill His Presence.

Problem is that too often we whine when we're jostled, spilling out stuff that does not look, smell or taste like Christ because we've never learned or somehow forgotten that we are clay pots filled with Christ. Rather than cracked and leaking a treasure that attracts toward Heaven, we've simply become "crack pots."

What will it be for you?

Boldly, Herb

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Living for the Dot or the Line

Imagine you and I are standing together in my back yard. I have in my hand a stake with a roll of paper 3 inches wide wound around it. I ask you to drive the stake into the ground, which you do with finesse and strength. A helicopter descends, a passenger reaches out, takes of the roll of paper, flies north, carefully unwinding the 3-inch roll of paper. At 25 miles, it reaches the end of the roll, lands, and the passenger drives another stake in the ground, attaching his end of the roll to it. (Okay, Herb, where are you headed on this one?) Hang with me.

We begin to walk along the roll, reading the history of time. We see the story of Adam, Eve, the serpent and the expulsion from the Garden. Cain and Abel. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and the exodus from Egypt, conquering the Promised Land, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah. The kingdoms of Babylon, Greece, Rome. David killing giants and writing songs, Solomon exercising wisdom (as judge if not at home), the enslavement of Israel for disobedience. We come to a picture of a huge cross, the story of Jesus "earthly life" Christmas, His temptation, miracles, death, resurrection and the gift of His Presence through the Holy Spirit.

We continue on to see the early Church continuing the work of Jesus, we see persecution after persecution, the acceptance of Christianity by Caesar Constantine, the fall of the Roman Empire, the Middle Ages, the sad irony of the Crusades, the Dark Ages, the Enlightenment, George Washington and the American Revolution, Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, two World Wars, the Civil Rights Movement, the embarrassing hairstyles and clothes of the seventies, the upheaval of the past two decades, September 11. We finally pause, after many miles of history, at the present day.

You look carefully for your own life, (as we always do, trying to find ourselves in a picture), but can't quite make it out. I hand you a very powerful magnifying glass, with which you finally see your name and birth date. After checking for a date of death (sorry, it's not there), you look closer to see the symbol representing your life - a dot. "A dot!" you roar, "My life is only a dot! All the time and energy I put into living on this rock, and it is only a dot!"

Yep, a dot. In the scheme of history you and I are only a dot, a spot, a pencil mark, a speck, an instant, a moment, a mark on the long march of time. Perspective is humiliating. Read on.

Only a dot, but we are on the long line of time. A dot in the context of all that is before and all that will be. I found a definition: "a line is a straight one-dimensional figure having no thickness and extending infinitely in both directions." (

What catches my eye is the phrase "extending infinitely in both directions." Standing on our dot we can see the line extending forever, (not human history, but God's existence). Looking forward we see the same, except there is a change. Somewhere ahead the line fades into a vast, golden carpet that leads to a mansion beyond anything the lives of the "rich and famous" have ever imagined. At the door stands the Savior Himself, open armed. Catch the picture? You are an almost invisible mark on the history of time, yet part of the eternity God has created.

All of which begs the question, are we living for the dot or the line? And another, should we be living for the dot or the line? The second question is easy to answer; it is a simple matter of mathematics. The first is harder, challenging us to surrender what we can see, touch, taste and feel, for what is mostly unseen but claiming to be more real. The dot will quickly be over; the line and all the dots on it, will last forever.

Living for the dot of this short, earthly existence or the line of eternity that lasts forever and ends in an existence in Heaven that, for Christ followers, is beyond our best imagination is the choice we make every day. Just that most days we don't recognize we are making it. What will you do today?

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?" Mat 16:24-26 (NIV)

Boldly, Herb

Saturday, February 25, 2006

God of Do's Not Don'ts

God of Do’s, Not Don’ts

It would be easy to conclude that God is all about “Don’ts.” Listening to preachers, parents and misinformed media, you’d think God wants to stop us from pretty much everything that is appealing, limiting us to activities that put our teeth on edge.

Perhaps that is a bit harsh, but, c’mon, haven’t you ever felt that way?

Look at God’s ultimate top 10 list delivered by Rev. Moses to a people living in desert tents, eating flour that miraculously appeared each morning with the dew. (Deuteronomy 5:6-21). There are only two “Do’s” in the bunch.

In our relationship with God,
Don’t… have any other gods, worship any idols, misuse God’s name
Do… keep the Sabbath holy

In our relationships with other people,
Don’t …murder, commit adultery, steal, lie, covet.
Do… honor your parents, (which, as a parent I’ve come to embrace and lovingly exhort my children to follow God by keeping the commandment. They love me for it).

So is it that God is holding out on us by restricting us with all these don’ts? Is He trying to squelch our desires, desires that he hard-wired into us at creation?

No, no, no. God is the God of Do’s! Because behind every don’t is a bigger do.

Take a look at the list above. Why the first 3 don’ts? So we can experience the bigger do of a relationship with the real God of the Universe, discovering the meaning and fulfillment that only He provides. It is what we were created for and what only He can deliver.

Take a look at the other 5 don’ts. What are those about? So we can have healthy relationships with other people. We have to get the unhealthy barriers out of the way before we can experience the incredible value. I mean, if you murder your friend, what are the real chances of ever building a lasting friendship. And before you get too smug (“Well, I never murdered anyone”), move to the New Testament and gander at the explanations Jesus gave. Murder = anger. Adultery = lust. On and on it goes.

REALITY: when we settle for doing the don’ts, we miss what brings meaning. The don’ts are counterfeits, fakes, empty promises that provide a momentary rush, and lasting guilt. Not a good deal. But by obeying the don’ts we swim past the shallows to experience the exhilaration of the big waves of God’s great blessings. God is the God of do’s. Let me say it again, behind every don’t is a bigger do.

C.S. Lewis in “The Weight of Glory”, (Copyright 1949, C.S. Lewis Pte.Ltd), says it this way,
“…Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

WOW! “far too easily pleased.” Trespassing the don’ts, we forfeit the depth of the do’s.

The apostle Paul discovered it.
"What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ" Phil 3:8 (NIV)

Is it possible you and I need to work harder at mining it out as well?

Boldly, Herb

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

What is it?

What is it?

What is it, really, that causes us to get into trouble when we say we don’t want to?
That causes us to say something that we know we’ll regret yet we allow it to escape?
That causes us to eat something that we know will go to waist?
That causes us to purchase something that we don’t have money for, think we can’t live without, yet later ignore? (Except for the monthly payments that scream at us degradingly through the envelope?)
That causes us to entertain ourselves in ways that cause us to neglect what is truly important and later heap guilt on us like the bad aftertaste of cheap cough drops?

We’ve been told that it is because our hearts are not right. Sometimes that is true.
But is it possible that sometimes it is because we have not trained our moral muscles to respond in the right direction? That we are still stuck in the lifestyle of our natural, selfish desires? That we have not retrained our moral muscles to respond in a virtuous direction?

James Spiegel in the book, “How to be Good in a World Gone Bad,” tells us that virtues are moral skills that require skill training.

Is it possible that the reason we often fail in our quest for living as we desire is that we have not taken up training our moral muscles, somehow expecting the moral fairy to sprinkle pixie dust on us, instantaneously transforming us into mirror images of God?
Is it possible we have ignored, forgotten, denied, or believed there is another way to living up to God’s standards other than the clear teaching of scripture?

1 Cor 9:25,27 (NIV) “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize."

“Strict Training!” Sounds like work! Yep, but it’s so much better than paying the price of giving into our frustrating failures. What does it mean? Sorry, I can’t give you the entire training regimen in one bite, but here’s the start: Every day choose some things to say “no” to and some to say �yes� to that you don’t have to. “No” to a TV show, an extra dessert, an angry response or too much time with the newspaper and “Yes” to opening the door for a stranger, getting a cup of coffee for a friend, complimenting a family member, reading an extra chapter in the Bible.

By exercising our muscles in small ways we begin the training that develops the moral muscles in the big things in the future.