Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Don't You Hate It When That Happens

Captivated. Seized within a moment. Overwhelmed by a thought or movement, a sound or a sight. Stopped at the crossroad of my attention.
It happens regularly. Out of the ordinary or out of the blue, something grabs me and draws me in. It can be intentional or stumbled upon, like the blind squirrel finding the acorn. I can go after it or discover it has gone after me. I can expect it or be surprised. But when it happens, I am often amazed.
God built life with adventure in it. He hid nuggets of brilliance underneath piles of regular stuff. He inserted treasure within the ordinary things that seem so common that we easily take them for granted. He provides a day full of busyness with fifteen seconds of exhilaration like when we notice a sunset, hear a wind chime, smell fresh coffee, hold a baby, imagine Heaven.
We can read scripture and suddenly sense the heartbeat of God, feel the fresh wind of the Spirit, realize a verse has been written for us. In prayer, we become aware that the veil is being lifted, not by our words but by the very presence of the Lord. We are no longer just going through an exercise but being transcended into the divine. We are captivated. Seized within the moment.
Time loses its demand. Needs are no longer necessary. We are there, with God and nothing else matters.
Then the cell phone rings…

Friday, May 27, 2011

Tornadoes Don't Have the Last Word

Until we actually receive beauty for ashes (Isaiah 61:3 KJV), we live in the “great not yet.” During that time it is hard to imagine God is going to make good happen. We’re caught between what was and what will be, doubtful that what will be will be good enough to replace what was.

 The people in Joplin and other tornado ravaged places are in the “great not yet.” All they see is the destruction. All they understand is what they have lost. For most of them, the overwhelming mess left behind shouts more loudly than the hope that good days are coming. The pain they feel hurts like heck.

Time slows during the “great not yet.” Our thoughts race faster than our faith. We trust and then, whosh, doubt rushes up front and grabs the megaphone. We are constantly chasing him down and taking him captive. Then he slips away and pushes up to the front of the line again. It is a constant battle.

Jehosophat faced an overwhelming enemy. He couldn’t stop them, couldn’t defeat them and was afraid of fighting them. Their presence had worn him down. The prophet came in to change his focus. Jehosophat was concentrating on the enemy, not on God. He was looking at how bad things were and not at the good God intended. He cried against the darkness but then he called out to the Light.

The prophet said this was God’s battle to fight in Jehosophat’s behalf. Jehosophat’s responsibility was to look to God and trust.

I believe those are instructions for the “great not yet.” To look to God and trust. They keep the damage from overwhelming us.

With each doubt or despairing thought, we counter with, “No, I’m trusting God.” It is a reminder to the enemy there are boundaries here, to us that we have a future and a hope, to God that we are remaining faithful in the midst of our darkness.

Tornadoes don’t change God’s faithfulness. They just give us the opportunity to trust God on a whole new level.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Not Fond of Snakes

Finding a snake where you think I a snake ought not to be is quite unsettling. A friend hit a golf ball into a small pond. The ball was right there, just underneath the water. So was a snake. The ball stayed put and he went on with his game.

Another friend woke up in the middle of the night with a snake in her bedroom. She and her husband corralled the snake in a boot and took him outside. Snakes should stay outside and not come into the house.
Most of the time I’ve run across snakes, I’ve been the one out of place. They were right where they should be: in the woods, beside the river bank, under the boards, in the bushes. But even still, seeing a snake, period, rattles me a bit.

I pulled into my brother’s driveway the other day and opened my door, only to stare face-to-face with a four-footer. Needless to say I stayed in my car until he decided to move on. I wasn’t scared, mind you, just apprehensive.
We’re supposed to be apprehensive of snakes. Some of them bite. I’ve been bitten before. Sure the bite hurt a bit but it wasn’t the act of biting that got to me, it was the venom. The bite stung, like a wasp on steroids, but the venom is what became the problem. It stayed in my leg and began to spread.

I don’t think it is by coincidence that Satan first appeared as a snake in the garden. Had he been a lion or grizzly his attack would have been brutal, quick and deadly. But because he was a snake, he had a weapon that would make far greater impact. The venom he injected venom had long-term affect.
Snake venom targets the nervous system. It shuts down the victim from the inside until he is so paralyzed he just gives up and gives in to the wishes of the snake. Without the venom it is unlikely he’d hang around and let the snake eat him.

The venom Satan shot into Adam and Eve messed up their lives and all the lives that followed, even our own. But the anti-venom is available. The venom resulted in sin. The anti-venom results in forgiveness.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Feel the stinging bite? Call for the anti-venom.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Goober and the Wedding Ceremony

Irma and Frank had set the date for June 2nd. They had met with Pastor Jerguson twice already to learn about how to get along and stay married. The final counseling session was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. It was the one where they actually planned out the wedding ceremony.

Mrs. Jerguson’s call to the church early that morning was quite unexpected. She said she was taking Pastor Jerguson to the hospital. Seems he had woken up with a pain in his lower right side that now had him doubled up on the floor. They suspected appendicitis. Joyce Kelly, the church secretary, told her not to worry. She had everything under control.
Joyce called Irma and told her to come on in and she would help her organize the ceremony. At their scheduled time Irma and Frank sat before Joyce and worked everything out: what music would be played, when the mothers would be seated, where everyone would stand, how they would light the unity candle. It was going to be beautiful.

Irma asked about Pastor Jerguson. “Do you think Pastor J is going to make it?”
Irma shrugged and said, “If not, we’ll have someone take his place. After all the pastor is the least important person in the ceremony.”

Later that day, Mrs. Jerguson called the church and told Joyce it was, indeed, appendicitis and Pastor Jerguson would be having surgery that evening. As soon as Joyce hung up the phone she called Goober. Goober was thrilled when Irma told him he would need to perform the wedding for Irma and Frank.
Joyce had handled the rehearsal and told Goober where he was to stand and what he was to do. In his pastoral mode he simply smiled and nodded to everything she said. “Now, Goober, the unity candle will be right behind you, so watch out you don’t back up into it.”

The auditorium was beautiful. The flowers, the candles and all the fancy dresses made the place quite festive. Goober wore his blue suit he had been given when he graduated from high school. Had he not grown those couple of inches had added those extra pounds it probably would have fit a lot better. He couldn’t sit down and had to suck his gut in to keep the pants fastened. But all in all he looked the part and kept smiling and nodding at everyone.
Joyce had given him a copy of the last wedding ceremony Pastor Jerguosn had done and all Goober would have to do was read the message and do the vows.  Which was going along just fine until the vows came up. Seems Joyce forgot to change the names. As Goober read away, he ended up marrying Sally Jo and Elbert instead of Irma and Frank. Now, you would think Irma and Frank would have noticed but the distraction with the fire had grabbed most everyone’s attention by then.

Directly behind Goober was the unity candle stand. Above it was an archway covered with delicate lace and ribbon. It was assumed the blaze started when Goober stepped back and caught the tailend of his coat on fire. The flames ignited the double-knit and shot up his back and jumped over to the lace and ribbon. The sprinklers above the platform and choir loft opened up and quickly doused the fire and drenched the wedding party which stood in shock as a smoldering Goober said calmly, “I now pronounce you husband and wife.”

Friday, May 20, 2011

Please Fence Me In

I saw a brand new colt yesterday, only a few days old. She seemed so thrilled being alive. She’d pounce around a while then tear out running. She was a bit clumsy but if you consider the fact that a few days ago she was folded up inside her mom, bound by the restraints of a womb, she was amazingly agile.

Freedom does that. It opens us to a whole new experience of life. The little colt’s joy was genuine.

Then I noticed the fence around the small pasture. Oops, she’s restrained again. Her freedom, as wonderful as it is to her, has limitations. Why would someone set her free then restrict how far she can take her freedom?

I also watched her mom who was grazing in the same small pasture. Though she was enjoying the grass she never lost sight of her fold. She was an every-present overseer to the activity of her baby and was prepared to take on any intruder that might want to harm her little pony.

Okay, the obvious parallel: Paul said we are free in Christ but not given a license to live by our fleshly desires. We are free so that we can refuse the impulses of the flesh and live by the power of the Spirit. With such a strong flesh, I need boundaries.

The little colt needs a fence to keep her from taking her freedom toward danger. There’s a highway nearby, there are dogs around, there are unscrupulous people who would steal her away. She has no clue. She has no concept of danger. She has no discernment of what to fear and what to trust.

To help her, the owners have fenced her in. Harsh in terms of restricting her freedom but loving with regard to her ignorance. She needs boundaries to keep her safe.

I do to, but for a different reason. If I give in to my own desires I’m going to get into trouble. I cannot do what I want, because what I want isn’t always what God wants. Freedom brings responsibility. I am free to rebel but not without consequence. I am free to obey but not without denying the urges to disobey.

The little colt is going to be a show horse. She was bred for success. She’s not a pasture horse. She’s going places no pasture horse has ever gone. But whenever she’s in the pasture she’ll have to get used to the fences.

God, thank You that in giving me freedom You also give me boundaries.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Whatever Happened to Sin?

You don’t see much repentance anymore. There was a day when people openly wept about their sins. Conviction would grip them and nothing else mattered but confession and cleansing. You just don’t see that much these days.

Obviously, we haven’t stopped sinning. I think it has more to do with how much sin content we regularly let into our minds. During simpler days we lived protected lives. There were movies with salacious content but you didn’t have to go see them. TV was mild. Today both mediums constantly show moral perversions so naturally that you would believe those perversions to be normal.

What’s happened is we have lowered the standard of good behavior and raised the bar on bad and blurred the line between them. What was wrong for the last generation is accepted by the next.

During college days Relativism was gaining a strong foothold. Relativism took away absolute truth—absolute right and wrong. The person became his own judge on what was right behavior for him. Almost nothing was left in the wrong category. As a result we, as Christians, were being told what we thought to be sin was merely opinion not fact. If we didn’t want it to be bad we could convince ourselves it was okay for us.

I’m not sure you could come up with a very long list of sins today. Even then, most of those items listed could be scratched off due to mitigating circumstances.

The only fix I can find is to rediscover the standard by which all sin is judged. In the Bible are references to specific things God says we should and shouldn’t do. Violating those commands is sin. Then there are other things mentioned in more general terms that we are supposed to use to classify nonspecific sins. God’s conviction would indicate we are under general obligation.

If I’m serious about living consistently before God, I will pay greater attention to what God has said in reference to my attitudes and actions. And whenever I find I have acted inconsistently with how God wants me to live, I will confess and change.

The world’s image of acceptable behavior cannot be my standard. I’ve committed to honoring a God who has greater plans for my life than the world could ever imagine.

Monday, May 16, 2011

You Made a What?

My only attempt at pottery resulted in an ashtray for my dad. It was the only use that could be determined for whatever it was I had made.

Jeremiah went to the potter’s house with no purpose other than because God said to go. While he was there, watching the potter at work, God directed his thoughts to the potter’s ownership over the vessel he was making. The shape of the pot didn’t work out the first time so the potter scrunched the clay back down and started over. Then Jeremiah got the message.

The vessel was the creation of the potter’s imagination. He envisioned what he wanted it to look like and designed it to accomplish the purposes he had in mind. His hands fashioned his thoughts into the lump of clay. Throughout the whole process the potter was in charge—that was the message.

When Jeremiah took his understanding of the clay and potter to the people they either couldn’t make the connection or didn’t want to. The thought that God was “hands on” was a stretch for them. They had separated God from their lives and kept Him in a temple structure, available as they wanted or needed Him. They didn’t have an intimate, connected relationship with their creator.

This separation theology is the bane of meaningful Christian growth. Having a God with no say in how we live or the direction our lives move, or taking away His intentions for us, basically make us one step above pagans. We have the right God but give that God no rights.

Jeremiah saw in the potter absolute authority. He saw in the clay absolute submission. He looked on the shelf and saw the beauty of the final product—well-designed, usable vessels, poised for full and meaningful existence.

Instead of arguing with God about control, I want to hop up onto the spindle and let the Potter shape me into whatever image best suites His purpose. And though I might want to be an ornate vase filled with a bouquet of freshly cut flowers, if it better serves His purpose, I’m willing to be an ashtray.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Living Low in a High Tech World

I got my first ever I-pod the other day. Amazing little device. The thing is about the size of a quarter but holds two gigs of info.  Thus far I have downloaded four complete CDs. I’m still in awe every time I turn it on.

Now if you want me to explain how it works forget it. I haven’t a clue. All I know is stuff goes in and stuff comes out. How it does so is, and will remain, a mystery to me. I don’t want someone to explain it to me. I don’t care how it does what it does. All I want is, when I press the button, music plays. It could be magic for all I care.
Okay, in the larger scope of things I’m not a techie. I’m a usey. We useys hang out somewhere at the bottom of the electronic spectrum. Our knowledge is limited to the actual buttons that make things turn on and go off, beyond that we’re lost. I can live with that. Limited understanding is fine as long as what I’m using does what it’s expected to do. That’s the bottom line for me.

When I was little I took my grandmother’s alarm clock apart. I wasn’t interested in how it worked, I just took it apart. After I had it in a million pieces I was done. It was totally destroyed and I had no desire nor ability to put it back together again. My grandmother wasn’t pleased. All the clock was to me was a curiosity, not challenge.
It’s not like I didn’t have opportunity to learn the technical aspect of these new devices. Computers were created when I was still young enough to get in on the ground floor. But I lacked interest. Nothing about them captivated my attention. Other things were more important and fascinating.

The Bible can become like that. How long has it been around? How long have we owned one? How much time have we spent reading, reflecting and dissecting its message? Do I read it with the intention of obeying what it says? In other words, if I stop at only reading, I am a usey. Useys often aren’t interested in seeing how it works in their lives.
I don’t have to become a scholar or a theologian to discover what God has said in His Word, but for that word to have any influence on my life I do need to develop a desire to obey. When wanting to know and do what it says overwhelms me, I will be met with a deep longing for God, His Word and His mission. It’s called inspiration. When the power that inspired it inspires me, I will move to the next level in my walk with the Lord.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Light for the Darkness of Soul

Typically darkness creeps in. It only suddenly appears when the lights go out. Most of the time we can prepare for darkness but when it’s already present we never can get away from it. Our souls carry the darkness.

Darkness of soul happens over time. It begins when we give permission for dark thoughts to linger after they should have been taken captive and removed from our minds. They fill whatever space they can, most often hiding in the crevices and shadows, folded beneath layers of flesh that unwillingly refuse to reduce their importance in controlling who we are.

Like roaches, they seek out their hiding place when the light comes on and wait there until the light goes off again.

Like it or not, the battle to captivate us is within our own minds. The attack may come from outside us but the target is a point within that is prone to defeat, a weakness willing to succumb to the lure of temptation. Darkness has an inroad—my unwillingness to expose everything to the Light.
John said, “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” (1 John 1:5f)

I have dark spots, but I do not have to allow those dark spots to define me. Darkness of soul indicates I have given in to those spots and am not walking in fellowship with God, that I am choosing darkness over Light, that I am refusing to expose my dark spots to the Light so they can be removed.
Darkness and light cannot abide together. Turn on the light and the darkness is gone. Turn off the light and the darkness is back.

My intention for today is to allow God’s Light to chase away the darkness. I expose to Him every nook and cranny so that His truth can drive the blackness out of my soul. I aim to take my thoughts captive and refuse them control of my mind. I’m going to live by what is true, and that is: “if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
I submit my soul to You, Oh Lord. Shine on me, my bright Morning Star, and chase the darkness away.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Day Song for a Dark Night

Our senses are amazing. They make us aware of our surroundings. They connect us with what’s going on around us. They take the general and make it specific. Sounds are noises until our hearing clarifies the message. Smells are random until our noses detect scents. Sights are overwhelming until we focus. Flavors all run together until we identify the taste. We are isolated and disconnected until we touch.

I sat outside last evening during the transition from day to night. A lot goes on in those moments. The birds are high-tailing it to their roosts, the bugs are making music, the mosquitoes are hunting victims, the humans are heading inside. Everything is settling down.
What captured my thoughts while all this was going on was how my senses were adjusting as well. I’m highly visual. My eyes are constantly taking in everything they can. But when night fell and the sky darkened, sight gave way to hearing. I suddenly realized that I was more aware of the sounds of night than the sights.

When Israel was captured by the Babylonians they entered a darkness of soul—a darkness so black that, to them, the songs they sang in the light of Jerusalem were inappropriate now. They asked, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”
What they didn’t know was the Lord’s song doesn’t require light or location. In fact, it is sung best in dark places. When we enter the foreign land our senses have to give way to that which is more capable of functioning in the moment. Our eyes may work great during the day but darkness requires another kind of sight—eyes of faith. Faith gets us through the night, knowing that joy comes in the morning.

We can sing the Lord’s song in the foreign land as long as we realize where the song comes from. It comes from our hope in a God who accomplishes that which concerns us, who works all things together for good, who completes the work He begins in us, who has granted to us the assurance of His presence, power and purpose.
Faith is God’s gift that allows me to connect to Him, feel His presence, taste His goodness, smell the aroma of His favor, hear His voice, see His handiworks. It is an abiding constant that cannot fail. Even though life gets dark, and all my natural senses reach their limit of usefulness, faith will remain.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Believing is Seeing

I look out my window and see green. Trees, bushes, weeds, grass—all green. Generally speaking, when a lady looks out she will see a thousand shades of green. Now I can also see the shades but my senses are overwhelmed with only one color—green. If I take a moment and look more carefully I see Hunter Green, Lime Green, a blueish green, a yellowish green, a dark green and a light green. Even still I haven’t a clue what their real names are.

Why do some see details and others see only the obvious?
The Bible speaks of seeing but not perceiving. Looking but not seeing what’s really there. Seeing without understanding what I’m looking at.

Like when I go into the pantry to get something. I look all over and come out and tell Jan it’s not there. She goes in and, in less than a second, reappears with what I was looking for, hands it to me and gives me the look. Guys know this look. It’s the one that asks the simple question, “Can you be any stupider?”
All I know is it wasn’t there when I looked. I don’t know what she did, but it wasn’t there.

Are women just that much better at seeing things? Do guys only see the obvious and not the details when they enter a pantry? I look at the shelves and see stuff. Why can’t I see the specific?
Answer: because I am seeing but not perceiving. My eyes are taking in the sights but there is no connection with what I am looking for. What I’m searching for may not look like what I’m looking for.

Faith is a visual exercise. By faith I am trusting in something unseen with as much confidence as if it were seen. To find it, I have to focus its image on a point much deeper than the backside of my eyeballs.
If faith required literal sight then seeing would be believing. If that were the case blind people could have no faith and those with 20/20 would have the greatest faith. Fortunately it’s an internal matter.

If I only can use my eyes to trust God, as a guy, I might miss the details by getting focused only on the obvious. But since I get to use faith, the color-blind dog can see the rainbow.
I wish to see all God has for me to see, so I’d better close my literal eyes and open the faith eyes. Wow! Where did all these colors come from?

Friday, May 6, 2011

So, You Want Revenge?

Al-Qaida has announced their plans of retaliation in response to bin Laden’s death. Interesting concept retaliation. When chosen as a justified response to someone else’s actions, retaliation becomes an unending cycle of destruction.

As I understand it, bin Laden was guilty of organizing the terroristic assaults against the US. As the main player in Al-Qaida’s network of senseless brutality against the world, he had a price on his head. That price was extracted last Sunday.
To sensible people that should settle the score. To Al-Qaida it justifies retaliation. Which means this thing will never end.

War isn’t like conflict. War has enemies and expects those enemies to be taken out. War isn’t personal. The fight is against national ideals. Both sides consider themselves right. In the end the stronger wins and the matter is resolved.
A conflict is personal. The fight is against my ideals. Your actions offend me. If you say anything against my thoughts, convictions, leaders or belief system, then you have insulted me. I therefore have the right to pay you back for your intrusion into my life.

To us, we are fighting a war. To Al-Qaida, we are engaged in a conflict. Which means, their right to retaliate can go back to the Crusades if they want to, or it can be as fresh as killing a renegade and jihadist Muslim. Whatever they believe we have ever done to dishonor them fuels their justification to retaliate. Apparently we have hurt their feelings. The result: hurt people hurt people.
Once upon a time you could have a fight, beat the snot out of someone and that would settle the matter. Now, you just tick off a whole bunch of friends and family. And no one ever stops to consider how right the fight, who started it and what it was about.

Retaliation is an unending cycle of destruction created by people who know nothing about resolution. They think two bads make a good. They expect their actions to even out what’s been done against them. They are living an impossible dream at our expense.
“Vengeance is Mine,” says the Lord. Only He can settle the score and that day is fast approaching.

Monday, May 2, 2011

If Osama's Death Doesn't Bring You Peace...

What gives someone closure? That moment for which something that happened is reconciled. I find it hard to think the death of bin Laden will bring closure to anyone for what he’s done to the United States. I agree with the operation that took him out but I’m not sure the results will help matters.

Maybe it is my lack of trust of Al Qada, but I suspect a plan was set into motion at the announcement of his death that we should anticipate evidence of before long.  Reason being, this is a war with terrorism. It’s not a chess match. We captured the king but the pawns are already empowered to keep jihad alive.
Bottom line for us—we belong the real King. Because our lives are entrusted to Him, whatever happens in this world will not remove us from His hands. If we are caught up personally in the conflict with evil, we may lose the battle but we will not lose the war.

The only One who can damage our souls is the One who has chosen to secure our souls to Himself. We need not fear the one who can destroy the body since our souls remain safe within God’s grip.
In the meantime, we keep vigilant. We keep on the alert. We have an enemy that prowls about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may destroy, which includes us. But realize this: we do not cooperate with his intentions but resist him by drawing near to our God.

Our military will not be our salvation—as good as our military is. Our hope is not in the machinery of our government—no comment about its goodness. Our trust is placed in an Almighty God who will accomplish what concerns us in all areas of our lives.
Regardless of whether our nation as a whole is under His care, we, His children, are. And being under His care is the best place we can be no matter what happens or what’s going on.

His plans for us do not change simply because the world is going crazy. Rest in Him my friends. Rest in Him and be at peace.