12/14/12

In Response to Evil

Romans 3:10-18 has some surprising words for us...
 as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”
 “Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
     “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
     in their paths are ruin and misery,
 and the way of peace they have not known.”
     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Times like today bring us all to sense of awareness, a sense of wondering, "What is the world is wrong with us?"  We wonder what the cure can be for all this evil, the answer to some God-awful riddle.  In this post, I won't get into the philosophical question of evil, but if you interested in why God lets bad things happen, read this post (click here) about why He allows evil .

Aside from theology and philosophy, I want to grieve.  I want to, for some reason, really breath in the breadth of this bad day.  I want to ponder the power of an evil person, and how we could all fall off the sanity train and commit atrocious evil, too.

In countless news stories and web posts, people are seeking the answer to prevent awful tragedies.  Gun control, tighter laws, securer school buildings, more security, these are all well and good, but I can't help but hope there is a bigger and better comfort.

Thanks to brother in law, Trevor, I began thinking about man's ascent.  How we all try every day to create our own utopia.  Whole civilizations want it, and one of the most passionate longings of the human heart is to be in a utopian paradise. C.S. Lewis said:
If we discover a desire within us that nothing in this world can satisfy, also we should begin to wonder if perhaps we were created for another world.
We want to want to really want to strive for perfection, but hey, we can't.  If we could, don't you think you would be over that bad habit you swore you would be over by now?  If we could, would we still have massacres on the news screen?  Would there still be fatherless homes and broken souls?

At some point, we must humble our weary hearts and realize WE DO NOT HAVE ANY CURE FOR EVIL.  That does not mean there isn't a cure.  There is a cure.  Let's give Him a try...

When the world thinks we should keep trying to ascend to Utopia, or Paradise, Jesus LEFT Paradise to bring it down to us.  And if He left there, then we should follow His advice on how to get there.
 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:6-8
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  -Jesus, Matthew 11:28-30
"I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me."    -Jesus, John 14:6
 "I am leaving you with a gift--peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don't be troubled or afraid." -Jesus, John 14:27

These Bible passages and quotes, however, only apply to those who willingly submit their lives to Jesus Christ and accept that His way is right, and our ways are wrong.  That His love is perfect, and ours is broken.  If this were not true, then why haven't you succeeded in life yet?  Give it up, give your heart over, and find rest, peace, and security in the arms of God.

May God bless the families and lives hurt by today's tragedy, and may the peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with us all.

11/30/12

"Unrelenting" and "Lovers Work Better" (poems)

I wonder if when I look back I can see you had my back
Being there all long through thick, thin, right, wrong
Wanting more, but never in want, nothing good I lack
Here is my song, o my Lord, let me be on track.

"Here am I!" I yell out, so you start a-sendin'
Ascending my soul to highest mountains, Your love-unrelenting

Simplistic Gospel, never failing, healing hurt, sick, ailing
Yet you make me feel like an alien, here I cannot belong
I will lead and go and even follow, the world's pill- I will not swallow
And when I wallow, please take me back-Grace me with peace to stay on track

This fire flowing in my skin makes my mind wander again
What kind of love would take Deity, to human, make Him akin?
Sweet waves of Spirit, roiling tumble, causing me to stumble, fumble
What words to use? Though oft abused, I rejoice in Heavenly language.

Dancing, spinning, You're never ending
Be my last, my now and beginning
Of Your grace, freely spending
Of my flesh? You're only lending
Of my fate? It's not pending
Of my plans? Always rending
Of Your plans? You are hinting
To lose my life and in You find
My spine, my mind, my ques, my lines, my heart, my hands, my feet, my ties
Whoever said You're impersonal, lies.

___
Sometimes I like complete structure in poetry, but others... the real nitty-gritty lyrics that are tied to my actual life cannot be manipulated into a format.  Call writing a love poem to Jesus girly or lame, but I am certain I have more joy in my life when I find my identity in a God-man who gave up everything He had to ransom my soul.
___


He is my all, I am His son
To make Him proud is what I have become
I strive and toil and work and strain
All day long but He said "That's in vain"

But like drugs to my vein I try all the more
Looking at my sin, I wanna even the score
Do better, read more, make the Bible my core
"All those are good, but do you truly want to soar?"

He speaks so gently, His voice I long for
Behold, all day long He knocks on the door
There is no handle on the outside
So He only asks for us to let Him inside

But I refuse.
I think I have too much to lose.
How can He come in when my house is a wreck?
Filthy with sin and darkness and the rest...

So I work and work and work and work
Checking under tables and beds and search
Thinking for Him to come in I must be the holiest
So I pretend that my life is whole and just

But it is not so with dirty rags I wipe
But they do not clean, they just smear my strife
My life is wasted how can I be better?
All the while He knocks, left out in my weather

With a mighty roar, yet like a gentle song,
He speaks, "Let me in, I will right all the wrongs."
Visions of glory then burst in my sight!
As my God and redeemer erases the night!

The dirt and the mire I once abused and admired
was washed by His love and now has inspired me
To work out of love which is who I aspire to be
Because lovers work better than those who are hired

11/22/12

Being Available, Even on Thanksgiving

This may be the most enthusiastic post I have posted... ever.

 Thanksgiving was great.  Phenomenal time.  Love the fam, yada yada.

As I got back to my home and was settling down for the evening, my friends Mike and Francis decided we would all meet up at the local Waffle House and support one of the many establishments that force poor folks to work on national holidays!

I threw on my jacket and was half out the door of my bedroom when... it happened.  That still small voice of the Holy Spirit said, "Grab a tract and a twenty dollar bill."  Usually I fight things like this because, well, I am dumb.  I was in a hurry, so I grabbed a sweet Max Lucado pamphlet I had that explains John 3:16 and why Jesus died for humankind, stuffed it in my sweet new green jacket, and off I zoomed.

Sitting at the grungy excuse for a restaurant, I ordered some magical "pumpkin spice" waffle and a cup of WH coffee.  "Drinks are on me, boys!"  So Mike and Francis got some, too.  We are heavy coffee drinkers... especially before seeing a new movie.

Our waitress, bless her heart, looked tired.  She had been serving ungrateful folk for the better part of her Thanksgiving.  She was super kind and gentle, despite the surprisingly large crowd gathered there for the holiday's evening.

I paid for our stuff (which at WH never amounts to much of nothing... its like McDonald's and IHOP had a baby and named him Waffle House) and asked the lady if she would take time to read this booklet before she went to bed tonight.

She thumbed through its five or six pages, and asked inquisitively, "What's it about???" with a near sense of urgency.  He prompt seriousness caught me off guard, because normally people just smile and say thanks.

I stammered, "Well, it is about Jesus.  He means a lot to me, and I think this could help you."

Her eyes filled up with the sweet tears of someone gripped by the love of our Heavenly Father as she spilled her guts...

Her life was devastated recently.  Her family was torn apart by a fire in Nevada.  She had two kids, 8 and 7, who made it out alive to be put on life preservers though now they are doing much better.  Her other two children were stuck in the building, and she was unable to get them out.  Now, she carries the guilt, pain, and anger that comes with not being able to save her children.  My heart ached as she softly said, "The guilt follows me. You know, as a mother... because I was supposed to protect them..."

She continued...

"I really needed this.  I need God in my life so bad."

"Jesus is so real and wants to heal those wounds, because, ya know, He is trying to get your attention, and all those events brought you to tonight so you would follow Him.  Can we pray for you..."

I started those words, "can we pray for you..." as she dropped the bottle of syrup on the table and frantically stuck out her hand for me to hold while we prayed.  I had intended on telling her we did not have to right now if she did not want to, but well, she apparently wanted to!

Right there, greasy semi-truck drivers, hobos, waffles, fellow waitresses, and all... we prayed a prayer over this gentle lady.

I love how God does not respect our holidays so much.  He never takes days off.  He, just like the waitress, was working all day.  He brought some peace to that lady tonight.  Will you keep her in your prayers?  And will you make sure you are available for Him to use?

11/17/12

What is Happiness Anyhow?

Happiness- Feeling, showing, or expressing joy.  Delighted, pleased, or glad as over a particular thing.  Characterized or indicative of pleasure, contentment, or joy.

So, having been feeling fairly well the past few days, I wanted to take an assessment of my feelings, and what it means to be happy.  I used to think happiness and joy were two different things.  I even declared recently from the pulpit that they are different things.  However, after some dictionary diving and thinking, I suppose they are closely related.  Not like brothers or cousins, but more like maybe light is to the sun.

I think I am on to something.

So it is 5:17a right now.  I look out my window, and no light.  The sun is hiding.  He is chilling somewhere in Nantucket or something right now I bet.  In a few hours though, as he blazes his way across the east, he will reach the Hoosier state and meet me where I am so I can go on that hike later. Working third shifts now prevents me and the sun from hanging out sometimes.

It gets difficult.  Why?  I have alllll  kinds of excuses.  I typically want to sleep around 8a-2p.  Then I eat, shower, get ready for my day, and by then I usually only get an hour or two of good sunlight, especially during the winter.  So my skin gets pastier than ever, and I get colder than I otherwise would.

So happiness and joy are like light and the sun.  The sun radiates light, and joy radiates happiness.  Ya dig?

I know though that things happen.  Maybe your life feels like a big third shift.  You never get the light.  Or maybe your life forecast is cloudy, hazy, foggy, with a 99% chance of precipitation.  You never feel like you will see the light of the sun!  It does not mean the sun is not there, he is just being blocked out by circumstances.  Even on the stormiest of nights, the light the sun radiates is still in existence, you just are not experiencing it this moment.

So do this with me, think seriously... Are you happy?  Or are you not able to experience happiness due to outside circumstances?  Correction... are you choosing not to experience happiness due to circumstances?  Cause joy is the root of happiness, and is always available, therefore you can always have happiness.  I am not talking about "fake it til you make it," but real, true, genuine happiness.  The kind that makes your smile while you are alone and wave at random people while driving.

Light comes from the sun.
Happiness comes from joy.
Joy comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
A relationship with Jesus comes from opening your eyes to the fact that He is always there even when you feel like circumstances block Him from your sight, that He has guided you to this very point in time, that He loves you with a perfect love, and that He would rather die and go through Hell for you than to go back to Heaven without you.
By the way, He did that.

Do you know Him?

11/12/12

Jesus = Action

I dig a good action flick.

I like how funny it can be to name an actor, and know exactly what the new movie starring him/her will be about.  Example:  Nicolas Cage.

I am not sure if there are people who genuinely enjoy his movies, but when your buddy says, "Bro, lets check out the new Nick Cage movie this Friday!"  You know a few core things about that movie right off the bat...
1) Explosions
2) Over-theatrical one-liners like, "I will destroy your hope of surviving my retribution, punk!"  Or, "You want to die today, tough guy?" in that classic Nick Cage growl
3) Receding hairline.

Whatever your thoughts on Nick or action movies, you gotta admit, sometimes (usually) names are attached with meaning.  Right?  So it is with our God.

I was reading earlier a few things... and it dawned on me, Jesus just does stuff.  He rarely engaged in petty discussions or spent more than a breath or two rebuking a sinner.  Rather, God just acts.

Think of Jacob when he wrestled with God.  He asked God, "Tell me your name!"  And God just says, "Why do you wanna know that?" and immediately just blesses him and changes his name to Israel!

Names pack a punch.  For example, Jacob meant sly or sneaky since he was always lying and cheating.  But now God re-named him Israel, meaning "wrestled with God."  Dude, if you can wrestle Hulk Hogan I am impressed... but GOD?  Talk about guts.

I also think about times in the Gospels where folks would beg Jesus for stuff because they new He did miracles.  Or when the pastors and preachers and politicians of the day would try to engage Jesus in debate.  Jesus had a way with words.  That was is being short, sweet, and to the point.

In stead of wasting an entire sermon on making the whore at the well feel guilty, He called her out and forgave her, encouraged her, and just told her basically she knows right and wrong, do right now, cause you're forgiven.

Or when the preachers were mad at Jesus for healing a dude on the Sabbath (day of rest where no work was allowed).  Jesus just was all like,
"Dude, if your camel is hurt, I know you help it on the Sabbath.  I healed this guy cause I am allowed to cause its good and cause I am God.  P.S.  I just forgave all his sins too."  (paraphrase)

So when I think of Jesus, it makes me think of action.  Not theological studies, not Sunday school class, not religious routine.  It makes me think... wow.  He did all that living perfect and dying for me so I could go free and enjoy Paradise instead of Hell?  And all He asks me to do is now share this joy, hope, love, healing, and forgiveness with others?  Sweet, no problem.

Jesus = Action

11/5/12

The Invitation

(This post owes dues to the books Loves Does by Bob Goff and The Invitation by Billy Graham's two grandchildren, both wonderful reads.  The former is a book on love where Bob takes his life stories and points out how we can all live a "whimsical" life of loving and being loved by Jesus.  The latter is a picture book scattered with stories of conversions through Billy Graham crusades, radio and television broadcasts, and literature)

Imagine this with me for a moment:

You are visiting Washington, D.C. wandering outside the White House.  The President happens to be holding a magnificent ball where the worlds' most powerful are to be drinking cocktails and shooting the breeze about whatever rich and famous shoot the breeze about.  Everyone from prime ministers, to princes, to pop stars are to be in attendance.

However, you notice that there seems to be no one around.  The party is a bust.  The president's ball is nearly vacant.  You and your family recently spent up some savings to take the kids on a great vacation to the capitol.  You don't have much more money to do much more cool stuff, so you wander around aimlessly at all the free attractions.

As you are thinking over the flight back home to your seemingly insignificant life in your seemingly insignificant house at your seemingly insignificant job.  Just then, a gentleman in a black suit walks up to your family...  Did your kid pee on another statue?!  You are certain you have somehow desecrated some national monument or stumbled on some grass that is not meant to be walked on.

However, he politely asks if you and your family would like to come to the ball room at the White House, compliments of the Prez.  After you stagger and stammer at the thought of meeting Chuck Norris and Kofi Annan in the same room, you and your family quickly say yes and begin to run to the car to get to the hotel room to get in your best clothes!  The secret service agent politely interrupts and explains there is no time and to come along now!  You ask how your family got invited to the amazing gathering.

The gentlemen explains that many of the distinguished and important folks invited did not show up... in fact most of those who are supposed to be the most important declined the invite.  So the President asked to have normal people, like you, to come in, because there is still room.
_____
Believe it or not, Jesus thinks you are worth the invite.  While many of the best of the best decline His love and invitation to feast with Him in the Kingdom of Heaven, we will probably be shocked to find that it is us normal folk who will be gathered around.  Us misfits and broken up people.

Jesus went out of His way to make sure the seemingly insignificant realized that they were worth everything to Him. You see, He would rather go through death and Hell for you than to go back to Heaven without you, and He did just that.

He is whispering to us day in and day out, every moment of every day, "There is still room at my table for you."

He said it to the harlot, the leper, and the sinner.  The thief and the sexually immoral often learned it better than the church people.  Those who experience His love and forgiveness in the greatest ways often are able to give it away in the greatest ways.

So, are you feeling dumb?  Ugly?  Stupid? Unworthy?  Too sinful?  Then Jesus has some great news for you today from Revelation 3:20...
Look at me. I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you. Conquerors will sit alongside me at the head table, just as I, having conquered, took the place of honor at the side of my Father. That’s my gift to the conquerors!
_____
Check out Luke 14 (click here)


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