What You Hear

There’s another king that we’ve got to get our foot on, what you hear. Isn’t that a big one, what you hear? Jesus said “be careful what you listen to.” Be careful what you allow to come into your ear and go into your spirit because it can contaminate your faith.

The bible talks about how we have to control our hearing; we have to get victory over what we hear. And in the Old Testament there’s a great story about the prophet Elijah and how everybody was saying recession, everybody was saying poverty, everybody was saying there was a famine in the land, and everybody was saying lay-offs, and everybody was saying its bad, and on top of that, you’re probably going to catch the swine flu too.

You’re going to lose your job, you’re going to get the flu, you’re going to lose everything, you’re not going to make it, and right in the middle of all those bad reports on ABC, NBC, woe is me TV, right in the middle of all of it, the prophet said, “I hear the sound of abundance, an abundance of rain.”

See, I’m talking about faith. I’m talking about believers who just don’t join in with the negative spirit of the world. We have to put our foot on what we see and what we feel and what we smell and even what we keep hearing every day. Elijah said, “I hear another sound. I’m tuned into another frequency, and I know it’s more than just mind over matter, it’s faith over unbelief.”

It’s believing God’s Word and what He says over what everybody else says, because God has this problem in hand. He thinks he hears God, and he says, “I don’t care what everybody else says. I hear the sound of an abundance of rain.”

We’ve got to get to that place that we can put our foot on what we hear because God makes the sounds of victory. Choose to hear the sound of blessing coming. Choose to hear the sound of favor coming. Choose to hear the sound of healing coming. Choose to hear the sound of good things rising up.

You are NOT destined to be unemployed. Your kids aren’t destined to be rebellious. We aren’t slaves to the way were raised. We aren’t victims of life; we don’t have to just accept what happened before will always happen.

That is not the way God describes it. I’m not going to listen to all that stuff. I believe His report, and as believers, we are not to allow the enemy to get us, to just succumb to what he shows us and what he feeds our ears with.

And I’m telling you, the amazing thing is when we get victory over our hearing and say, “Lord, I’m going to tune in to your report. I believe what you’re saying.” But you say, “Well, you don’t know what kind of bad news I’ve got.” God wants to tell you this: God is able, in spite of what you feel, in spite of what you hear, in spite of what you smell, in spite of what you see. God is able to turn it around.

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What Are You Looking At

Ramblings on Faith
What We See
10/18/2009

Spiritual and emotional vulnerability can come from any of our senses: what you see, what you smell, what you touch, what you taste or what you hear. Any of your senses can be faith killers if you let them. Today I want you to think about what you see. What you see can easily “talk” you out of God’s blessings. The Bible says, “We walk by faith, not by sight.”

There is a cool story in the Old Testament about the prophet Elisha, and the Bible said he was surrounded by the Assyrian soldiers, and he turned to his servant and said, “Walk out there and tell me what you see.” And the boy walked out and he saw the enemies’ chariots completely surrounding the house, and he walked in and he said, “Oh my, oh my, what are we going to do, Prophet? They’ve got us surrounded.” And so Elisha prayed what seemed to be an odd prayer for that moment. He said, “Lord, open his eyes,” and he walked right back out on the same porch, but this time he saw more than just the problem.

When we get in a struggle, sometimes we can only see the problem. But as believers, we are to “lift up our eyes unto the hills from where our help comes.” Our help is the Lord. And I’m saying to you, when you get bad news, when you get a bad X-ray, when you get something going on in your family and your home and you’ve got what seems to be an impossibility, when you’re facing a difficulty that seems too big for you to overcome, you cannot allow what you feel, what you smell or what you see to talk you out of what God has promised you.
Ultimately, God has promised you victory in your life. You may go through this and that, you may go through the fire and through the flood, but ultimately God has planned no defeat for His children. Even in death, the scripture said, “To live is Christ, but to die is gain.” And so we cannot be deterred by what we see.

And the Bible said when he walked out, the servant didn’t just see the Assyrian army, but he lifted up his eyes and he saw chariots with angels coming down. And I don’t know what you’re seeing. You may be seeing the enemy, but if you’ll pray and look through faith, you don’t just have to see the enemy, you don’t just have to see problems, you can see promises, and you have to choose, what are you going to focus on? Are you going to focus on the problem or are you going to focus on the promise? Are you going to stand on the promises or will you remain sitting on the premises?

What are you looking at? What are you seeing? What are you focusing on? Remember that God’s Word is just as real as the bad report. Truth is truth no matter what the situation is, no matter what a person said, no matter what clever logic you have to explain it away, God’s truth is still The Truth.
Remember also to be careful about what you see because you can also focus on your neighbor’s successes and how good somebody else is doing, and you will lose focus on what blessings God has for your life. Get your foot on what you see and say, “Lord, I believe what you said is true.”

Keep putting your foot on the neck of what you see and know in your soul that God has plans to prosper you and not harm you. You can’t go by what you see. You can go by what God says, and God is faithful. Our God is able.

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Sense of Taste

Sense of Taste
10.12.2009

Emotional vulnerability can come from any of our senses: what we see, what we smell, what we touch, what we taste or what we hear. Any of our senses can be faith killers if we let them. Emotional vulnerability can become spiritual vulnerability very quickly. God in us and living through us empowers us with the strength, wisdom and skill to understand and master these vulnerabilities.

Today I want to talk about gaining victory over our sense of taste. There is a story in II Kings 4 of a time of famine. People were doing what they could to find enough food to sustain them and if they could find something that tasted good in the process, they were feeling really good. The Bible said there was a pot of stew and one of the guys cooking it went out during the famine to find some herbs to flavor the stew but all he found was an old vine with bitter gourds on it. And so he cut them up and put them in the stew. The people began to eat and they discovered that the gourds had actually caused the stew to be poison. And so the prophet of God said, “Put some flour in the poison stew.”

For us we can say that flour represents the bread of life, which is the Word of God. And let me recommend that whatever is poison in your life, take some Word and put it in it. Is your marriage poisoned? Then add the bread of life to your marriage. Are your children not acting right? Then start praying back to God what God has already said to you in His Word.

Please try to understand this: Faith places no limitations on God, and God places no limitations on faith. Go ahead and say that out loud: Faith places no limitations on God, and God places no limitations on faith.

Take some flour, take God’s Word and put it into your poison. Instead of getting up every day and saying, “Well, I’m going to go to work, but I know I’m not going to get any business, I’m not going to sell anything, no contracts,” take the Word and put it in the stew. Get some scriptures and put it in your poison situation. You’ve got to get victory over taste.

Refuse to become bitter. You may have been hurt in life, but let me tell you, you get victory in your life when you can put your foot on that situation that Satan sent to make you bitter, to make you angry, to make you upset, tense, messed up, mad, and you put your foot on your sense of taste and you say, “I refuse to take bitterness in, because the power of Christ rests in me, I can forgive, I can love. I can be joyful.” That’s the power of a faith filled life.

I don’t know what you’re facing; I don’t know what the enemy is showing you, I don’t know what negative circumstances seem overwhelming. It doesn’t take a lot of faith, it just takes mustard seed sized faith, just a little faith. You don’t have to have great faith, just a little faith. We serve the God of more than enough? Take 5 minutes to add some “Word” to your life and to the situation that seems to defeat you. Let the truth of God speak to that situation and allow your heart and mind to be renewed and transformed. Keep adding the bread of life to your stew and it will no longer be poison. It may not taste the best, but what doesn’t kill you can definitely strengthen your soul.

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Your Stinky Emotions

God Can Overcome Your Smell
9/18/2009

Let me start by telling you how much I missed writing articles the last few months. I left you hanging in my last article by telling you about my life-long struggle with depression. I want to let you know that I took some time off to get some specialized treatment and work on the health concerns I was having. I am in a much better place today. It feels like someone hit my “reset” button. I knew I was struggling but I didn’t realize that I was stuck. I appreciate the thoughts and prayers that many of you shared with me the last several weeks. My door and my email are always open to anyone who needs to talk.

I wanted to share with you some things I have learned recently and over the years that have been helpful to me. First let me say that God is my primary helper and He never gives up on me, even when I give up on myself. His Son has made it possible for me to sit here today in my complete humanity and still have hope and abundance.

One of the areas of my life that I continually strive to master is my emotions. Emotions are good but sometimes they are deceitful, especially if you struggle with a biological or genetic predisposition that makes you vulnerable to emotional illness. Emotional vulnerability can come from any of our senses: what we see, what we smell, what we touch, what we taste or what we hear. Any of our senses can be faith killers if we let them. Today I want you to think about what you smell. Let me also say that this idea was inspired by a sermon I watched and then read recently by Jentzen Franklin who preached his sermon as part of the OnePrayer 2009 program.

There is a great story that many of you know about in the Bible in Daniel, chapter 3, about the three Hebrew children who were put in the fiery furnace but God protected them and when they were brought out of the fiery furnace not a hair on their head was burned? The scripture makes an interesting point in saying that they went through a circumstance where they should have gotten burned, but they came through that fiery situation without even the smell of smoke. That is an important point.

If you want to get subdue your emotions then you need to get a handle on your sense of smell. God doesn’t want you to go through fiery trials and smell like them the rest of your life. Simply surviving isn’t enough. You may have been a victim, you may have endured an addiction, you may have overcome a sin or you may have pressed through a severe hardship but that experience does not define you.

Have you ever met folks who’ve been through a fiery trial and every time you get around them that’s all they talk about, that’s all they complain about, that’s all they whine about? Well, maybe you got burned in a relationship or you got burned in a business deal or you got burned at a church or somebody hurt you and now you judge everybody that same way? If you’re going to have victory in the faith fight, you’ve got to get victory over what you smell.

I don’t want to smell like everything I’ve been through. I’ve been through a lot of stuff in life and in ministry. I don’t want to take home or take over to someone else’s house, or take back to my friends and family the smell of life’s crap.

You may recall in Luke, chapter 11, the Bible said that Lazarus was dead three days, and remember that Jesus came along and said, “Remove the stone.” But the family says, “He’s been dead for three days and by now he stinketh.” That was a statement of unbelief, because Jesus had already said, “Move the stone.” I don’t care what condition he’s in.

What Jesus is saying to us is “sure, it may stink, but still believe.” Maybe your marriage stinks, but still believe. Maybe your finances stink right now, but still believe. Maybe your children are going through a season where it seems like they just can’t get their act together and you feel like giving up, and maybe you say it stinks but Jesus says roll the stone away. Our God is able in spite of what we see, in spite of what we feel, in spite of what we smell, in spite of what we sense. Our God is able.

But if you’re not careful, you will carry around that smell of disbelief and doubt and that bad thing that happened to you. And if you’re not careful, you go through so much stuff, you get burned by so many people, you go through so many situations that you start going around with an old stinky attitude and old stinky words and negative attitude, but God says to us that just because you’ve been through the fire, you don’t have to smell like it, you’ve still got a future.

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Focus On Your Faith, Not Your Feelings

Ramblings on Faith
Sense of Touch/Feel
10.5.09

Last week I started a conversation about how important it is in my faith life to master my emotions. It is one of the struggles of my life and if you have read a handful of my articles then you will notice how I tend to talk about it a lot. It’s just one of the unique ways God created me and so I try to embrace that part of myself instead of ignore or despise it. It is part of my “personal therapy” to myself. I have observed in life that many people tend to become experts in areas where they have the greatest challenges. This can be a great thing as long as it does not become my primary focus.
Emotional vulnerability can come from any of our senses: what we see, what we smell, what we touch, what we taste or what we hear. Any of our senses can be faith killers if we let them. Today I want you to think about what you feel. If we aren’t careful we will begin to get into our feelings more than our faith and what we feel can be a real enemy of our faith.
There is a story in the Old Testament about a guy named Isaac and how he was on his deathbed and he had gone blind. The scripture said that his son Jacob came in and wanted to deceive his father, so he took goat hair and put it on his arms so his father would think it was really his hairy brother Esau. Jacob walked into his blind father’s bedroom to try and steal his brother’s birthright. Jacob said: “Who is it?” And he said, “It’s me, Dad. It’s your oldest son Esau, who you’re supposed to give the blessing to.” And the scripture said the old man reached up and started feeling his arm because he knew his oldest boy, Esau, was a hairy man (I hope I am not remembered in perpetuity by how hairy I am).
He said, “You sound like Jacob, but you feel like Esau.” And he decided to go on his feelings instead of what he was hearing, and he gave the blessing to the wrong son. My point is simply this, if we go by what we feel instead of what we hear from God’s Word, we will miss the mark. We’ve got to get to the place that we get beyond our feelings. Your fickle feelings can mess you up.
Sometimes in church you get your feelings hurt. Sometimes in life you get your feelings hurt. Sometimes in marriage you will get your feelings hurt, but we’ve got to learn how to subdue our feelings. We’ve got to put our foot on the neck of our feelings and say, “I can’t let my feelings stop me. I didn’t get my way but I am not going quit.” “I’m not going to let my feelings get so hurt that I’m going to stop working for the kingdom.” I’m not going to stop being productive in life, on my job or in my marriage. I am not making healthy choices in my life to please a person or a job or a family member or a church, I’m working for Jesus.” We’ve got to get victory over our feelings.
Most of you probably have read or heard the story of Noah’s Ark. Consider the fact that Noah’s Ark had all the animals on it and many of those animals were natural predators of one another. Notice that the scriptures don’t talk about one fight breaking out on that Ark. Let me suggest to you an answer: because all those animals understood there’s only one boat in this storm. There’s only one boat and we’re in it. We can’t afford to be fighting against the one boat we have. And you can just imagine the last command that God gives Noah before He shuts the door: “Keep the woodpeckers above the water line.” Why? Because every church, every business, every family has a few woodpeckers that will get below the water line and get to pecking away and sink the whole thing, because they got their feelings hurt.
We can’t allow our feelings to stop us from doing what God has called us to do. And if you’ve had your feelings hurt: what they said, he said, she said, they hurt my feelings. Oh well, get over it! You have to put your foot on the neck of those feelings and say, “You know what? I’m going to go on anyhow.” If you don’t, you’re going to live a life of defeat. Don’t be deceived out of your blessing. Focus on your faith and not on your feelings. They are important, but they are also fickle. God will not fail you. His Word will always be true. You can count on that!

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Can I Get A Little Help?

8.3.2009

Have you ever found yourself doing some chore or everyday task in front of others and realized that everyone around you was just sitting around watching? It occurred to you that you are the only one doing any work! Better yet, have you ever found yourself overwhelmed with a task and you felt like you had been gasping for air for some time and that someone should have obviously noticed and tossed you a life preserve? You may find yourself at times thinking or screaming the words: “Can I get a little help here!”

This scenario (the first at least) plays itself out between a lot of married couples especially when it comes to household chores. I am usually quite content doing what I am doing when my wife decides to start cleaning up some mess around the house. I figure she is an adult and she knows her limitations and she knows how to ask for help if she wants it! Of course, we all know that doesn’t do much for the marriage relationship. A little sensitivity and a few brief moments of lending an extra hand can do wonders for any relationship. It seems like an obvious choice doesn’t it?

What may be true between husband and wife may or may not be true when it comes to a friend, a coworker or even a neighbor. It can be difficult to discern if and when to help those around us. We do not want to intrude. We do not want to overstep their boundaries. We do not want to do harm. And then there is that attitude: “they are adults and if they need help then they should ask for it.”

You know as well as I do that asking for help, sometimes in even the most simplest of matters can be a difficult undertaking. On the one hand I have a tendency to think I do not deserve the help. On the other hand I have a mindset that seems to believe people should see my need and help without me having to ask. Sometimes I am short-sided and think I can handle it. Other times I think I have waited too long and that asking for help now would be an insult to the other person. We start “shoulding” all over ourselves: I should have done this; I should have done that; they should….”  There are even more rare occasions when we honestly believe we cannot be helped, it is futile, and I am destined to whatever the particular circumstance may be. This is a rotten place to be.

That is where I find myself these days. I am a life-long struggler with depression. Whether it was nature or nurture or a combination of both, I can’t remember a time in my life when depression and anxiety wasn’t a part of it. Besides taking medication and seeing a host of counselors over the years, I have never really understood how to ask for help, even when I truly need it. Sure, I have cried out to God asking Him to do something about it. I have likened it to the “thorn” in my flesh that balances me with as much good as it does bad but the fact is I hate it. Fact is, it’s as bad now as it ever has been. I am 41 years old, have two degrees, lots of experience and spend lots of time helping others but I am still not sure how to let others help me when it comes to this issue. We all get stuck somewhere and this is my somewhere. Pray for me and I will pray for you. In the mean time, if you need some help with something, please ask somebody.

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The Lord Is Good

The Psalmist declares in Psalm 100:
Shout for joy to the Lord all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness: Come before him with joyful songs, Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us and we are his; we are his people the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise, give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Sometimes we simply don’t feel like it! The fact is, sometimes our feelings are deceptive. Sometimes it feels like all of life is bad. Sometimes it feels like everything in life is perfect. All of us probably understand that neither is true all of the time. Most of life can be characterized by a little bit of bad mixed in with a whole lot of good. I contend it is all about perspective, which is something we struggle with when we don’t get our way or we get too much of “our way.” We need to be careful about depending too heavily upon our feelings because they can cloud our perspective. Feelings aren’t bad and they shouldn’t be avoided, they just need to be kept in perspective. Most of my counseling with others tends to involve helping people gain a wider or greater perspective.
I believe that positive events in my life are more powerful than negative events in my life. The problem is I don’t always feel that way. When my “feeler” gets stuck I have to rely on what I know more than what I feel. What I know is that the Lord is good and His love endures forever.
When my “feeler” gets stuck I try to see the things I may be overlooking. Normal everyday occurrences, people, places and things that perhaps are so normal we take them for granted. Maybe things like your funny bone. I mean, when you knock your elbow against something you get this weird little feeling. It’s painful, but it’s not like normal pain when you hurt yourself. Isn’t God neat to think of something like a funny bone? I think God has a great sense of humor. God is good. I thought to myself, I bet no one has probably ever given thanks for their funny bone.
What about dimples? I wonder why some people have dimples and others don’t. Is there like a string inside your cheek pulling the skin back so as to make a small dent? I have a few and I think they are kind of neat. God is good. I thought to myself, I bet no one ever gave thanks for dimples. What about fingernails or toenails? Where in the world do they come from? You cut them off, they grow back. You rip them off, they grow back. You can bite them, gnaw on them, file on them, paint on them, and just do all kinds of things to them, yet they never go away. They just keep coming back. God is good. I thought to myself, I bet no one ever gave thanks for fingernail or toe nails.
The body is really a mysterious thing. It all just fits together: organs and blood, skin and bones, all working together to keep us alive. We start out as a seed too tiny to see with the naked eye. We are carried around inside our mother’s body for nine months as we grow. We go from the womb into life in a matter of seconds. We begin to grow. Everything about us just keeps getting bigger. We are uniquely and divinely made in the image of God, no two people are alike. We are created in the image of the Creator; formed in our mother’s womb; known by God before we knew ourselves. God is so good to us. I thought to myself, how often do we give thanks for our bodies? And it seems to me that we overlook many of the blessings of life regularly. Remember: “For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

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Meaningless Repitition

A Minister in Maryland named Ethan Magness wrote an article recently in The Christian Standard that began by saying: “Meaningless repetition can be a dangerous thing. Meaningless repetition can be a dangerous thing. Meaningless repetition can be a dangerous thing. Meaningless repetition can be…” You get the point: meaningless repetition can be a dangerous thing.

 

His article was about the observance of the Church ordinance Communion, also called the Lord’s Supper. The fact that he is talking about Communion is irrelevant to the idea that meaningless repetition can be a dangerous thing. Just about anything to do with religion or worship can become a problem if it has degraded to meaningless repetition. The key to this is the word “meaningless.” There are plenty of things that are completely healthy about repetition.

 

The author made several other statements that I found especially thought provoking. The first thing he did was remind me of the old cliché “you are what you eat.” Then he put a spin on it that really does make more sense if you think about it: “you are what you continue to eat.” He later spun his thought to: “you are what you repeat.” I like that idea. I have been known to eat something healthy every now and then, but I am lot more likely to be known by my “normal” eating habits; those things I eat everyday: cheetos and cookies. That’s not a pretty picture, but it is more accurate. My wife sees to it that I eat a few healthy meals a week, but since she does not get the pleasure of seeing me eat every meal, I have been known to eat more bad than good. My glorious figure more accurately reflects those cheetos that I continue to eat than the occasional healthy meal I eat. That said, it is not the process that is the problem…repetitious eating…it is the food I am putting in my mouth.

 

The article makes a strong point that the power of repetition can also be used for good. He said: “Repetition is the key to becoming physically fit, learning a language, perfecting a skill, and developing spiritual discipline. It is, in fact, essential to all meaningful growth. The wrong repetition can cause injury, but the right repetition brings strength.”

 

I am not sure where I am going with this other than to say be careful about what you find yourself doing “all the time.” Habits set in gradually and usually without much fanfare. I am not sure why the “good” habits seem harder to do than the “bad” habits, but the fact is we have a choice about both. I certainly understand that it doesn’t always feel that way. There are things in my life for which I feel completely helpless to change and/or overcome. However, I know that my feelings lie, whereas the truth of choice is fact.

 

How is your speech these days? Think of this in terms of what you find yourself saying out loud to others and the internal conversation you have with yourself. How are your eating habits, both around others and when no one is looking? What do you do with most of your free time? Like most people you might say you don’t have free time; but also like most people I suspect you have more idle time than you guessed. How are your relationships with friends, family and neighbors? Do people know you love them? Do your neighbors your name? Are you in a grumpy rut and just don’t know it?

 

Meaningless repetition can be a dangerous thing. However, meaningful repetition, which is the way we spend most of our lives, can be a deeply rewarding and positive influence on your life. Remember, you are what you repeat.

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The Last Thing He Told Me

I remember vividly the only two times my father spanked me. Luckily they were about 5 years apart and I had time to recover. My first fatherly beating was the result of “I don’t feel like it.” We were living in Asheville, NC and I was about 7. It was a Saturday and it was time to cut the grass.

                My job was the side yard. It wasn’t all that big, but things don’t have to be big to a seven year old to seem like a lot. I had carefully surveyed the land and determined that the side yard had just not grown enough to warrant being cut. I was seven and I knew how tall the grass needed to be before it got cut!

                After making my final decision I went inside to watch some television. I was not inside long before my father arose from his room to ask why I was not cutting the grass. I told him that I did not feel like cutting the grass, not to mention the fact that I didn’t feel the grass was tall enough to cut. He began in the living room and he spanked until I was in my bedroom where I stayed until I felt like mowing the grass.

                More recently, there was another time that I just didn’t feel like it. I just did not feel like exerting the necessary energy to fulfill an obligation. God was not pleased. God dealt with me in much the same way my earthly father dealt with me except worse. It wasn’t my rear-end that was hurting, it was my heart. 

                I have heard testimony after testimony of people that have tried to run from God.  Somehow we rationalize within ourselves that God isn’t really talking to us. “He really doesn’t mean to say that to me. It really doesn’t apply to my situation. God doesn’t really mean for me to take up His cross. He just wants me to be a good person. He just wants me to be kind and generous to my neighbors. He just wants me to help keep my community clean and not litter. He just wants me to donate $100 to my favorite charity. He doesn’t really mean it when he says to go and share the gospel with my neighbor or my coworker or my cousin. He doesn’t mean “me” when he says feed those who are hungry and give water to those who are thirsty, not just for food and water, but for righteousness. He doesn’t want me to have dinner with the tax collectors and the prostitutes. He doesn’t want me to hold and comfort those with leprosy or aids. He doesn’t really mean it that way.”

We are convinced God isn’t calling us to that kind of ministry. I know all about the thoughts that go through our heads. We all like to think we are different from everyone else. “Me and God, we have our own little agreement. I am heading in that direction and doing those things would require me to go in this direction.”

There is a story about a battleship on maneuvers: While on maneuvers, a battleship look-out notes a light in the dark, foggy night. After noting the light’s coordinates, the captain recognizes his ship is on a collision course with that other vessel.  “Signal the ship: We are on a collision course, advise you change course 20 degrees.”

                The return signal comes, “Advisable for you to change course 20 degrees.” The captain says “Send I’m a Captain, change course 20 degrees.” The reply, “I’m a seaman second class, you had better change your course 20 degrees.” By this time the captain is furious. He yells, “Send, I’m a  battleship…Change course 20 degrees.” The reply comes back… “I’m a lighthouse.”

                God’s authority is never changing, it is always constant. Whenever a change of course is required we are to make the correction from our end. When it comes right down to it, we do what we are told and all we have to go by is God’s word. But so often situations confront us that we don’t change our course. After all, our course is more comfortable and we are used to it. It is easy. It’s the way I have always done it.

                Let me kindly remind you that the right job or house or car isn’t worth loosing your soul over. The right relationship or social life or the right amount of rest and comfort aren’t worth losing your soul. When it comes down to it all those things are useless. The only thing that is going to matter in the end is the right relationship you have with the right God who has sent his right son to make us right before God.

                Everyone is calling out to their own gods. It seems few people want to listen to the truth. Everybody is trying to get into heaven by climbing over the fence instead of going through the gate. Jesus says in John 10:9 that, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.”

We know the truth. We know what we should do. When things don’t go our way we cry out to God and ask why things are so wrong. We want a new message from God because we don’t like the one God has already spoken. And until we commit ourselves to the Will of God, to what God has already clearly spoken to us, then we are in for some troublesome days. If you can’t figure out what God is telling you at this moment, just go back to the last thing He told you, and do that.

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Freedom To Fail

In Galatians 5:1 Paul wrote: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Another way to say that is “Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.”

Paul was writing to the Galatians because some other preacher types had come along teaching a different “message” about Christ. Essentially these other preachers were telling the Christians their new found faith was a “religion” still based upon living under the law i.e., how good a person you could be living by all the rules.

This is something we all struggle with in life. Many of us are driven by the need to “do everything right.” We take great pleasure in following the rules, being good…enough, so that we can feel in right standing with God. In other words, we want God to be proud of how good a Christian we can be. Most of us grew up wanting to please our parents. Same thing, we want to please God.

There are a few important things that we learn from this verse. First, God’s heart for us in salvation is “true freedom.” In other words, God isn’t some cosmic killjoy trying to cheapen our lives, but quite to the contrary. God’s concern for those who love His Son Jesus is their joy, freedom and experience of the abundant life.

Second, to NOT find this “freedom” in Christ leads to a life of bondage, a “yoke of slavery.” And finally, if we’re going to experience the kind of freedom that God has purchased for us in Jesus we have a role to play, namely, we must “stand firm.”

While salvation is a free gift of God’s grace, our experience of this freedom is contingent upon fighting those things that lead to bondage: false gospels, false saviors and everything in this world that parades under the banner of “freedom” but in actuality places us firmly in the grips of a “yoke of slavery.”

Of course, we may be free to do as we choose, but we cannot be foolish enough to believe we can choose the consequences of our actions. When we function in life under this type of “freedom” without the thought of consequences…this leads to death. One modern sage has quipped: “it’s true that man has freedom of choice, but man is not free to choose the consequences of the free choices.”

There are “natural” laws that govern all aspects of life. If you have a poor diet then it will adversely affect your health. If you treat people in anger it will damage your relationships. If you dump toxic waste into a river it will destroy the environment. This is true of every aspect of life. Thus we see freedom of choice and not freedom of consequences. The same is true when it comes to our spiritual lives. God clearly tells us that the pathway to freedom and joy is through the gospel, and in no uncertain terms, He communicates that there is only one gospel that leads to life.

The heart of the gospel is that it deals with the chief problem of all men, women and children without exception. Namely, we are out of a “right” relationship with God, our Creator and Redeemer, and in order to experience the life that we were created for we need to get connected to God. We need to be made “right” with God.

Unless we’re in a right relationship with God we cannot ultimately be rightly related to anything else, including ourselves. And, it’s only the Gospel of Jesus Christ that gives us access to this freedom. The point: you have the freedom to mess up. You have the freedom to fail. This is not the same as freedom to live like you want without any concern for the consequences. Elbert Hubbard said: “”A failure is a man who has blundered, but is not able to cash in the experience.”

In our text we find Paul calling out those people who were telling the church in Galatia that in order to be right with God, they had to really toe the line on a whole set of rules. Paul said no; we are right with God by virtue of living in relationship with Him, accepting the gift of life and forgiveness He gives in Christ.

Truman Capote said: “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.” Let me say that Grace is the condiment that gives life is flavor. You have the freedom to fail. “Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.”

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Don’t Follow Me, You Will Get Lost

I had the opportunity to teach at a workshop this past Saturday for a Church in West Des Moines. They wanted me to share some of my experiences and expertise in the area of pastoral care. I only mention the expertise part because it ties into a funny story about my experience getting to the workshop and then a point I made in my teaching. I don’t really consider myself an expert at anything, although I did spend a lot of time in school and in training for pastoral care. It must be a sign of my old age (41) that other people are now starting to consider my experiences and my education to be useful.

 

My only experience with Iowa is that I have lived in Earlham for three and a half years. I pretty much know the Interstate system around this part of the state and I know how to get to all my favorite stores and dining establishments. I am somewhat familiar with West Des Moines, but not familiar enough to figure out which way is up when I come across a detour. I was supposed to be going to the Racoon Nature Lodge in West DSM. I thought I knew where it was, but I went ahead and printed out a map and directions from the internet just to be certain. I have complete, unabashed faith in a printed map and directions. I trust it more than I trust my experience or my gut feelings.

 

I learned a few things Saturday morning. One thing I learned is that there is a detour/road closed sign on Grand Ave on the East and West sides of the place I was supposed to be going to. There are no – open to thru traffic – exception signs. The East side is literally closed and is barricaded all the way across down into the ditches on both sides so there is no getting through. I know this because I checked. The West side does not say it is ok to go ahead and drive through to get to the places on the road that are beyond the detour…it just says it is detoured.

 

The second thing I learned is that there is a Raccoon River Park in Des Moines and Raccoon Nature Lodge in West Des Moines. Though they sound like they could be the same place, they are not. The third thing I learned is that although I had the wrong name and wrong address, the phone number was correct…go figure. Of course the young lady on the other end of the phone was only giving me landmarks I didn’t recognize, so that wasn’t helpful. After an hour I decided to go with my gut and almost ended up in Booneville. Luckily some guys were at a Landscaping business there and told me that I need to head back in the other direction and just drive through the detour signs and not worry about the road closure. He said sometimes it’s open and sometimes it’s closed but the place you want to be is beyond the detour sign. Sure enough…driving beyond the detour sign eventually led me to my destination: Raccoon River Lodge in West DSM. Wow, what an impressive place! We ought to get us one of those here in Earlham.

 

I was teaching my lesson and I used my driving experience as a perfect point of illustration for all these “would be” pastoral care givers: point people to Jesus. I encouraged them to make sure the people they are caring for know the source of their strength. Don’t let the care receivers build their confidence in the counseling methods or the friendship developed or the “good feelings” that can come from talking to another person about a problem. Care givers like me will eventually lead you to the wrong place and let you down even when I am considered to the expert. I had a map and some experience and still couldn’t find the correct destination. I don’t need people following me. Point people to Jesus! Follow Jesus! Don’t follow personalities, people, church buildings, denominations, friends or family: they can all end up at the wrong place and you don’t want to be following them if and when they do. You will never be dissatisfied with the places Jesus takes you to. Follow Jesus!

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God Is Great…People Are Crazy

I recently make a trek across some of our Country to visit my mother. Or, as we like to say in the South, “I had to get out ‘n see momma.” I drove from Earlham to Atlanta, GA. I stayed a day or two with a friend and his family, and then drove to Oxford, GA to spend a few days with my mother. While there I also drove to Blue Ridge, GA to see my nephew’s graduation. I drove a long way to go see family and then I spent most of my week driving. The one most notable bit of truth I gathered from my trip there and back is that a person can tune in a Country Music Radio Station in every part of the country no matter how remote, mountainous or flat it may be. The Christian stations came and went. The Rock stations came and went. The Country stations just kept coming. I caught up on the last couple of years of Country music.

 

There was one song I heard over and over and over (among the many others) that I found to be quite funny and true at the same time. Keep in mind that I do not drink alcohol of any kind but neither am I opposed to people enjoying a drink or two with their meal or at a social function. Having literally been raised around the bar room, I have seen up front and in person the evils of alcohol addiction and it would be my desire that no one have to struggle with that, but I really don’t see a problem with a drink in moderation. Anyway, back to my story about that song. There was one particular song I found amusing and surprisingly true that is performed by a guy named Billy Currington. The song is People Are Crazy. Essentially the chorus is “God is great, beer is good and people are crazy.”

 

I have tasted a lot of different beers in my life time and I simply haven’t developed a taste for beer. In my opinion, none of it is good, but that doesn’t stop a lot of people enjoying the sentiment that beer is good. I am not sure why sitting around having a drink of alcohol became enjoyable but I do know that sitting around after a long day of work or sitting around when you need some time to reflect or just sitting around and being lazy doing nothing can be very good for the soul. Hanging out with friends and family has its advantages but sometimes hanging out with people that don’t know every detail of your life can be helpful in a whole set of other ways. Combine that with a nice glass of iced tea and perhaps some finger foods and you have the recipe for good times. Some people fancy their coffee and baked goods and that is probably as enjoyable, which is why there are nearly as many coffee shops as there are bars these days. You get the point.

 

God is great, beverages are good and people are crazy. I was happy that country music seemed to be more reflective of the values I share when it comes to my faith. I was happy that so many songs seemed to understand that God is the source and sustainer of all that is good in life. I was thrilled to hear so many people sing about the love of simpler things, their country, their faith and their friends. Yeah…there was a whole lot of drinking going on…but it seemed to be more in celebration of things that are good instead of a pity party over things that are wrong with the world. God is great and I hope those folks singing and hearing those songs truly believe it. God working through His people is what made our Country so great.

 

Now to the lighter side of the song: people are crazy. I am not talking about “clinical” crazy, but I suspect there is one or two of you out there that may qualify. I am simply commenting on the way some of us humans behave at times. Having spent most of my life observing people either up close or from a distance, I can attest that people do a lot of silly things. Some of our crazy moments are intentional while others are spontaneous. Occasionally we behave out of compulsion and even coercion. Fact remains, all of us do some pretty silly things that some people may observe to be a bit “crazy.”

 

We all make bad decisions at times and we all have “times of our lives” when we seem to make a series or season of bad decisions. If I had a point to all this, let me remind you of point number one: God is great! You aren’t too far gone to stop where you are and start again in a new direction. Go find a friend, one that behaves and lives responsibly, choose the meeting location and favorite beverage (in moderation of course) and just talk about it. Let me say it again: you aren’t too far gone to stop where you are and start over again on a new course. God may not choose to undo all your craziness and there may be difficult consequences for your actions, but God will give you another chance. The first step is simply to ask. If you want to know what else to do after that, find one of your friends that talks about God a lot or find one of us preacher types around town and we will do all we can to help you walk down your new path.

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Repentance Requires Action

I remember during college and graduate school dreading Christmas because I was so poor. I didn’t have a bit of spare change to buy people gifts and I knew for sure that people were out buying me stuff. Most of my friends and family didn’t get anything from me other than my smiling face at their dinner table.

I believe everyone understood my situation, but it didn’t help ease the pressure I placed on myself. I honestly felt bad when others would get me presents. Sometimes they would get me expensive gifts and I had nothing to offer them. I spent many years at Christmas events being a spectator only to have my name called and someone handing me a gift. It was always easy to say thank you and to be grateful, but the joy seemed to be partnered with regret and guilt because I had nothing to give in return.

And as a rule, I believe receiving gifts is a hard thing to do for many of us. I think for most of us we feel humbled and a bit awkward when it comes to receiving gifts and not giving a gift in return. In our give-and-take world the idea of something free is foreign. How many times growing up did someone pop your bubble in the midst of your joy by saying “there ain’t nothin free?”

We are a people raised in a society with strings attached. Giving without receiving is foreign to our culture and possibly foreign to our nature as human beings. I contend that the idea of receiving something without an expectation to give back is a difficult concept for us to accept. That being said let me turn the tables on you.

I have always had this nagging idea that I have forgiveness figured wrong. One of the most prevalent teachings of all scripture is that repentance (that is changing direction – an action) must precede forgiveness. This has always bothered me because I believe we are short on the repentance and tall on the forgiveness. We have this idea that prayer alone leads to forgiveness and hopefully we won’t do that particular sinful thing again. And after going through that motion enough, there is little effort (repentance – changing direction – an action) attached to our desire to not commit that particular sin. It becomes a habit of thought and feeling that is absent of action.

Let me ask you a personal question, not always, not every time, but ever; have you ever felt the need to go back and right some of your previous wrongs? Sure, most of the time you feel bad when you knowingly do something wrong or when you discover you have done something wrong, but have you ever felt bad enough to do anything about it? You have received an enormous gift. Its value is infinite, and yet, do you feel moved to give in return?

The point is this: As Christians, shouldn’t we at least be sensitive to the wrongs we have committed and be ever so eager to make amends when possible? Maybe it isn’t always required when we sit down and study grace. But maybe it is when we sit down and study the idea of producing fruit in keeping with our repentance – making amends, going back and correcting a wrong – putting some action behind our repentance – not just praying, but producing.

Think about the difference in your own life if you went back and made 10 things right that you did wrong, or 6 or 4 or just one. There is something profound about having to express our thankfulness for God’s gift of His Son, by us having to actually exhibit our thankfulness through our actions – repentance requires action. After all, we are to be known by our fruit. That seems like the obvious course for our lives to take to express to God how seriously thankful we really are.

I have an honest question for you: Is there another way (besides our actions) to show God we appreciate His gift to us? The only thing tangible we have to give God is our service. Maybe it sounds like I am rattling off here, but surely there is some faith building, spirit healing, and conscience grabbing advantages to this. I am not advocating salvation through works but I am advocating working out your salvation with fear and trembling.

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Gaffe: A Foolish Error

Have you ever made a gaffe? Literally, the word gaffe means: “a foolish error, especially one made in public.” I am not sure what constitutes public, but in my case I figure anytime I am talking to another person then I am in public. It is just part of my position. I may be wrong on that idea, but that is the way it seems to me most of the time. I would never survive as a politician because my thoughts and my speech simply aren’t as guarded as they need to be. I understand this truth on most days. I wish working in the public were easier. What compounds this issue for me is that I tend to care very deeply for the “public.” Most of the people I talk to in public are more than just strangers I pass by on the street. These are people for whom I have a deep interest and concern and I am always looking for ways to express my concern and interest. It is not a popularity thing or a recruiting thing or a numbers thing; it’s a lifestyle thing for me. It is the way I have chosen to live my life and it is a fulfillment of the calling and giftedness I have been given by God. People matter to me. You matter to me.

 

I enjoy writing this article for one of the same reasons I enjoy preaching a sermon: I get to spend time crafting my thoughts and feelings so that they are expressed in meaningful and genuine ways. If you know me, you have learned that I don’t always “craft” the best when I am talking “ad lib.” In fact, you could say I am a lot like our Vice President Joe Biden. I am a walking gaffe factory. I can keep people entertained and offended without much effort. I am doing so much better than I was 18 years ago when I started in ministry but I am still hard at work on this issue. It is a deeply personal issue for me and it hurts me to my core when I say things that aren’t thoughtful.

 

I used to think I grew up in a small town. I used to think I have worked and lived in other small towns. I used to think this until I lived in Earlham. I am continually learning a new way of life. The last three years have been an education for me and just about the time I think I have it figured out, I find another way to learn something new. I love living in Earlham. I do so by choice, not by assignment. I accept the concept that I am not only serving the Earlham Church of Christ, but I am also serving the Earlham community. I do so willingly and happily. I do not consider everyone in town a potential church member or convert but rather I consider them my neighbors. Please understand though, I would certainly be overjoyed if they decided to become a Christian and I would definitely be blessed if they decided to be a part of our Church. But also understand that I do not see people as numbers or givers or leaders or followers. I see people the same way I hope they see me: as a special and unique creation of God, as a human being, as a person. I love my neighbors. I love my community. I love my Church.

 

I love working and serving in ministry. There is rarely a day that goes by that I don’t question God’s choice on this issue. I am just a 41 year old kid that was literally raised in a bar by my Uncle and my Mother and whoever happened to be hanging out at the bar at the time. I am an imperfect person with much to learn but still with much to give. I will make a gaffe every now and then and once I get through stuffing all my shame back down, I will try to make things right. I would hope that you can forgive me the same as I forgive you, my neighbor. I do try hard to live by the very inspiring words that come from the Bible in Mark 12:

 

28One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 29“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

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God On A Budget

Have you noticed that the word budget has become a bad word in our society? You might here a consumer advocate or a news person talking about shopping on a budget and their point is doing less with more and buying generic and sale items. It’s almost as if being on a budget is less desirable than or somehow second place to just spending money without thought. Budget has been thrown in with cheap and thrifty and frugal and they are “alternative lifestyles”.

 

You might also here our beloved elected officials talk about budgets and you get this sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach from too many years of un-kept promises and outright lies. They have no clue what a real budget is and they throw it around like one of those games where you don’t want to be the one holding the box when the buzzer goes off. They have also tarnished the word budget.

 

Budget has become a bad word in our society. It’s just as sad a word in our Churches too. We have to talk about money every now and then in Church and it seems it always happens on the Sunday’s we have the most visitors, or at least the most “sensitive” visitors are present. Even from our constituency you hear the moans of “why do you always talk about money.” Fact is, we don’t always talk about money. We talk about it a whole lot less than Jesus did, which very well may be a sin on our part. But back to my point, even the well-tempered Church folk don’t want to hear anything about budgets or money.

 

A budget is merely an organizational plan expressed in monetary terms. See there, even I made it sound complicated. Let me make it clearer: a budget is a plan on how you spend your money. You can plan to buy generic or name brand. You can plan to get the latest and the greatest or you can plan to buy the closeout. It’s your plan, so make it out any way you like. Budget doesn’t have to mean less than, cheap or frugal. It just means you have a plan.

 

Thank goodness God has a plan. I am grateful for God’s plan even though His math isn’t all that great. I think I came out the winner in God’s budget. Certainly by now you have realized we are no longer talking about money. I fear many of us approach our “budget” with God the same way we approach our “budget” with our finances.

 

Where does God fit in your spiritual budget? Again, I am not talking about money. I am talking about your plan to make sure your priorities stay priorities; a plan that makes sure there is allotted time and resources to care for your soul! Don’t be cheap with your spirit. Don’t go for the generic when it comes to the inner-most parts of your being. Be lavish when it comes to the things of God. Be cutting edge when it comes to time and resources to meet with God and interact with God and sit with God in the high places. You do not want to come to the end of your spiritual budget and find out you didn’t spend enough on your relationship with God. God lavishes His love upon us in ways that often defy common sense. The very least we can do is use all the “sense” we have to make sure God is a priority in our spiritual budget.

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Cradle-to-Grave Health Center

I have been praying that most of you were not offended by my last article. Perhaps there was one or two that needed to find a little offense at the things I said, but I mean that in the best possible way. Hopefully most of you understood the message that local Churches are full of broken people just like you. We are your neighbors, friends and family members. Most of us do not sit around thinking of ways to judge others, but there are always a few inside and outside the church that makes it their life to put others down so they can feel better about themselves.

 

Some of the feedback I received thought perhaps I had been burned by someone and I was writing out of the pain and anger of that event. It would be much easier to point to one event and admit I had succumbed to those emotions and needed to vent my point through my pen, so to speak. The fact is I have heard the shouts of hypocrisy from just about every angle in every Church community I have served. I can’t say what got me thinking in that direction, but I was thinking it and I had an opportunity to write, so I did.

 

I really like to think of the Church as a cradle-to-grave health center with a fully functioning emergency room, and intensive care unit, a rehab wing, a few rooms dedicated to the crazy folk (I say with a smile and compassion in my heart), regular hospital rooms and a retirement center. We have care facilities for every condition and every concern of life and once you get to feeling better we have jobs for you to take care of those who are sick and in need of care. Come as you are, wear what you like (as long as you cover yourself of course), be tended to or tend to others.

 

I worry a lot of the condition of the Church in our culture today. Please understand when I talk about Church I am not necessarily talking about the church I serve here in Earlham, but the Church in general. Of course, I worry about the church I serve here in Earlham too. I worry too a lot about people especially today with the financial and employment concerns that face almost every one of us. How are you holding up? What are you doing to keep things together? How do you keep your family going? What do you do when you car breaks down or your child gets sick? How you found a new job yet? Are you able to keep current with your bills? How are you and your spouse or your family getting along with one another? Is there any joy around your house?

 

I worry about you. I want you to be well and to have hope. I want to take a moment and make a shameless plug for my Church. If you need some solace, if you need some hope, if you need a shoulder to cry on, if you need a place to vent, if you need a place to meet with God in the community of His Children, then I pray that we are the kind of church that can help you with that. I ask for your forgiveness if I or this church has not been that to you or for you in the past. If not here, find a place you can go and get the care and the community you need. Though moments and days can drag on when you are in crisis; you and I both know that life is too short to live alone and in pain. If your burden is heavy it’s because you were never intended to carry it for so long. You were not created to bear burdens alone. Christ bore the heaviest burden: your sins, your life, your death, so that you wouldn’t have to do so. Let Him take some of the weight off your shoulders. Ask Him and His people for some help. They can’t read minds and they don’t know unless you ask. Christ makes it clear in scripture that you do not have because you do not ask. Please ask.

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I Hate Hypocrites

Ramblings

April 11, 2009

 

“I Hate Hypocrites!” At least that is what I hear so often, especially when I am talking to a person who doesn’t care for the Church. A hypocrite is loosely defined as a person who does not practice what he or she preaches. Let me ask you a very serious question: who practices what they preach? How many among us claim one thing and do another? How many among us live up to our own standards? How many among us do exactly what we expect ourselves to do in each and every situation?

 

I need to confess to you that I am a hypocrite. I don’t always live by the standards I believe and have the opportunity to teach and preach. The point is I believe that we are all hypocrites. There is not one of us who always does the right thing even when we strongly believe in the right thing. Somewhere between utter failure and perfection we live out our lives trying to do the best we can do. I admit, there are those far and few between who make a point of pointing out my worst moments; but by far those are not the people who fill the pews most Sunday mornings.

 

I have now been a Christian for over 20 years and I simply have not met this wicked host of mean hypocrites that many people are so eager to detest. Nearly all the people I have met along the way have been decent hard working hypocrites who are simply doing the best they can do. Some are more broken than others; some of more outspoken than others; and yes, some behave more righteously than others. The fact is they have all been hypocrites at one time or another and I am ok with that because I am one of them.

 

I promise you that there is not a vast Christian conspiracy whose primary goal is to note and point out your weaknesses and failures and inability to be perfect. We are all too busy dealing with our own junk to sit around and worry endlessly about your junk. We only worry about your junk when you ask us to and we often mess that up because we are too busy taking care of ourselves. Our kids misbehave; our brother’s are crooks; our friends drink too much alcohol; our spouses are on antidepressants; our families are enslaved to debt; the best among us get divorces and quite regularly you might hear a curse word cross our lips.

 

We simply don’t have it all together and we don’t sit around in prayer meetings and small groups talking about how your life is messed up. Instead, we get up every morning and try to live under grace. We seek forgiveness sometimes moments at a time. Somewhere between our ideal and perfection we find reality that is covered in grace offered us by a Lord and Savior who abandoned His own goodness so that we could have a shot at eternal life. We are certainly not saved because we deserve it and we can never do enough good stuff to earn it. We are saved by grace and we like to get together as often as we can in large gatherings and small groups and celebrate God’s goodness. Certainly there are jerks among us and I hope you can see past that small number of people to understand that there is a larger group of people willing to go through the muck of life with you if you give us a shot.

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A Credit To Sin

Using credit may be a sin. I suspect that got your attention. It pains me to say it as much as it pains me to hear it. The use of credit can easily become a sin. Proverbs 22:7 says, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.” It doesn’t take a theological expert to see that credit is a slippery slope that can lead into sin quite easily. As Christians we are called to serve only one person and that is not the lender.

 

I was watching Fox News last week and the lady reporter was interviewing Dave Ramsey regarding the stimulus plan that was being heaved on the American people. Naturally the discussion got around to Dave’s favorite topic of credit cards and how dangerous their use can be. The reporter was either not listening or couldn’t fathom what Dave was saying when it came to not using credit cards for any purpose. He is a stickler when it comes to credit cards and he is unforgiving an unbending on his teaching that a person should never use a credit card. This is such a foreign idea for us in the United States. Your grandparents, depending on your age, may have lived their entire life without ever using one and they seemed to do ok. What happened to us?

 

Let me just encourage you to live simpler lives. Let me encourage you to do more with less. Let me challenge you to give up your materialistic lifestyle for just a little while so that you can taste and see that it is good.

 

I am 41 years old and have been married for nearly seven years. We still do not have night stands in our bedroom. I use a plastic table and my wife uses a chair from the dining room. We do not have a bedroom suite. We have walls in our house that are finally getting repaired this week because it wasn’t a spending priority for us. We have lived in this house for more than 2.5 years. We do have a mortgage but we could easily pay it on one salary. We both drive cars that have salvage titles. Our stuff is paid for and when we buy more stuff we only buy it when we can actually pay for it. We rarely use credit cards and if we do then we are one of those “one-out-of-ten” Americans that actually pay them off monthly or before the interest and payments kick in to effect. If we use credit it is because we are “using” credit and not the other way around. We work very hard to not allow “credit” to “use” us.

 

I tell you these things not because I want to elevate myself to some esteemed position or tell you how good I am. I tell you these things because it is important for you to know that it is possible to live without debt. It is possible to live paying cash. It is possible to live without brand new stuff. The fact is I enjoy buying your “stuff” for pennies on the dollar when you sell it. Ok, I admit, that was kind of mean. Anyway, it is possible for you to live without being a slave to the lender. God desires that you not be enslaved by anything or anyone. It is possible for you to live that way. The government may tell you otherwise. The banks may tell you otherwise. The people at Experian, Trans Union, Equifax and FICO may tell you otherwise, but they have a vested interest in you staying in debt. Dave Ramsey says: “live like no one else so that you can live like no one else.” I like that advice better.

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Starting Over is Harder than Starting

Ramblings

Earlham Advocate

02.09.09

 

I have met very few people in life who have been unable to start. Just about everyone has started something worthwhile to help themselves or help others. You might say you can’t get started or get going but the fact is you probably have a harder time starting over than you do starting. Animals get conditioned fairly quickly to not even start if they get “burned” more than a few times, so to speak. The reward simply becomes unimportant and unattainable if it is at the expense of getting hurt. Once animals reach this phase during research they usually become “obsolete” and no longer useful to the testing. It doesn’t take too much imagination to figure out what happens to test animals when they are no longer useful.

 

At the risk of sounding like a Darwinist or Evolutionist, let me say that we humans are too much like our animal friends when it comes to trying and starting over. It is not for a lack of knowledge that many of us struggle with the same sin(s) in our lives. Most addicts are not addicts because they are stupid. Most obese people do not stay obese because they don’t know any better way to live. I rarely make a social blunder because I don’t know how to behave in certain social settings. It was the Apostle Paul who quickly admitted he knew how he should live and he sometimes just didn’t do the right thing. And, he knew behaviors he shouldn’t do and yet he did them anyway. He didn’t lack in knowledge or motivation.

 

Many of us are good at starting but we struggle with starting over. Let me illustrate some more. The last few days have been a great breath of fresh air outside with warmer temperatures and hours of sunlight. It sure beats the last couple of months of cold air and dreary days. We all enjoy season changes because it displays the best of what this great earth has to offer. It gives us hope of better and newer days ahead. Of course, the last few warm days are only a tease. We still have some more winter and snow ahead of us. Don’t get out your rakes, garden shovels and tillers just yet. We know from experience that if we planted flowers or tilled the garden or started an outdoor project today that we would probably soon be met with dissatisfaction and perhaps destruction (of the flowers and efforts). It wouldn’t take. The freeze will come, the snow will come; more freezing and thawing will take place and perhaps even more warm days followed by snow days will come. That said, we aren’t pessimists because we wait until the real spring arrives. We are simply realists.

 

Being a realist can sometimes be detrimental if your reality is based too much upon “your reality” and not “reality.” If your reality is that you have tried and failed enough then there are good chances you don’t try anymore. If your reality is that you mother, brother, cousin, uncle and best friend “never” seem to get over the hump, then you might believe you are never destined to get over the hump. However, the reality is that many people get over the “hump” (whatever that might be for you…finances, relationships, health, addictions, etc). You are not destined to failure. You are not destined to mediocrity. You are not destined to eternal winter. You are not destined to be just another branch in your broken family tree. You can go plant, sprout and grow in some other field. You are not a failure just because you failed before. Your weight, health, finances, relationships and emotions can get better simply by choosing to start over. People improve in these areas every single day and today may be your first day on that path. You have to start over despite what your history has told you. Have your pity party and then plan your victory party. God said His mercies are new every morning.

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God Cures

I am working on an unfinished thought this week. I may not have any answers for you and I may not even be able to bring any resolution to the idea I present, but I want to be obedient to what is on my heart and share it with you anyway. I went to a Pastoral Care class on Saturday with some other folks and got reminded and encouraged. I was reminded of many things I already knew but had forgotten. I was encouraged by the people and the Spirit that was present. I was also reminded and encouraged by the fact that God cures people, not me.

 

If you are one of those soft hearted people like me then you tend to find yourself helping or wanting to help. Sometimes you get to be a lot of help and other times you just help in little ways but you still get to help. Sometimes your help is motivated out of a deep concern for another person or situation and sometimes God convicts and encourages you to help a person or situation that you might normally ignore. Sometimes you even help because it makes you feel better about yourself. Please note, I don’t think that last way is the best way to go about it because you will eventually tire out and crash because you will never be able to do enough good things to feel good enough. Nevertheless, you were helpful.

 

Sometimes we try to help and we get discouraged because the situation is too large and too complicated and too dismal. These are the situations that will take weeks and months and possibly years for things to get “better.” When you are faced with a health, financial, relationship or career crisis, there simply aren’t any easy answers and one time fixes. In those cases it can be overwhelming as we are reminded of the fragility of life and the sheer complexity that can be present in this world. This is a perfect time to remember that God cures. Governments, churches, counselors, money, people…you name it…they can all be helpful but none of them can cure. Only God can cure. Don’t place your faith and hope on any of those things as your primary resource for getting help or helping others. You can be an instrument or an obstacle for other people. If you really want to help someone, point them to something, or should I say someone who can truly cure.

 

If you want to be a good friend and a good caregiver to others, then here is my advice to you:

  1. Pray that God would use you as an instrument and that you wouldn’t become an obstacle
  2. Be there
  3. Listen without judging
  4. Avoid offering solutions
  5. Respect their privacy
  6. Trust God to act
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Vulnerable Just Feels Yucky

 

There aren’t too many times when I dread going to work, especially on Sundays. One of those few times happened this past Sunday. I have been struggling with a cold or sinus infection or bronchitis or perhaps a little bit of everything and I simply didn’t want to get out of bed. Sunday worship service is already a tax on my system because it is the one day of the week when I get to see “everybody” and “everything” needs to work properly so that “everyone” can get in and out in an orderly fashion (it just occurred to me how spiritual that sounds). Let me put it another way.

 

Imagine you have been putting together a project at work with people in other offices and things have finally progressed enough that the other workers are coming to your office to see your presentation. At the same time you have some potential clients coming in to see the same presentation as they may want to get involved in the project too. As you can imagine, you work hard to prepare your presentation and the days leading up to it get a bit more harried. You get the office ready. The conference room is all spruced up and you purchase some drinks and snacks and prep them for the big day. The day arrives and you wake up feeling like you haven’t awakened yet and you would just assume the grim reaper be standing outside your door. He doesn’t take you because you seem so bad off so you drag yourself to work anyway and prepare to do your best. You get there and you realize you just can’t do it and so you find someone else to help you pull it off. You hate asking at the last second and you hate putting off your responsibilities, especially such important tasks, on someone else.

 

Now that you know how my day went on Sunday, let me just say that I hate asking for help when I am helpless. It’s so much easier to ask for help when I am in control. I feel so vulnerable when I am helpless and vulnerable just feels yucky. Yucky isn’t wrong or bad, it’s just yucky. Vulnerability is a tough thing for me to engage. Thing is, vulnerability is the place God engages us and transforms us. Vulnerability is the place in life that enables us to learn hard lessons and change. Vulnerability trumps stubbornness and hard heartedness. Learning is easy. Learning and changing is much harder and only comes when we engage God in the deepest parts of ourselves. It is more than just guilt and pity. Almost everyone feels guilty when they get caught. Almost everyone has a pity party when they go through a difficult time in life. A person can be helpless without being hopeless. Engaging God in our helplessness is our best shot at getting what God wants for us. In Matthew 5, Jesus said:

 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
      for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 Blessed are those who mourn,
      for they will be comforted.
 Blessed are the meek,
      for they will inherit the earth.
 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
      for they will be filled.
 Blessed are the merciful,
      for they will be shown mercy.
 Blessed are the pure in heart,
      for they will see God.

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That’s Life

Earlham Advocate

Ramblings on Faith

1/12/2009

 

I heard a great statement on Sunday night while watching some recorded television shows on my TIVO. This particular statement came from a show called Numbers. The plot line is this: a young man from a previous episode has escaped prison so he can seek out the FBI agent responsible for putting him behind bars and shooting and killing his girlfriend/partner in crime. The girl essentially decides she isn’t going to jail and does one of those “death by cop” scenarios. The boyfriend escapes from prison so he can eventually “join her” in the same type of scenario. He is facing 215 years in prison at only 19 years of age. The entire show points to the standoff in a synagogue with the young man and the agent. Words are exchanged and the FBI agent makes it clear he doesn’t intend to shoot the escapee. The escapee begins to cry and then says something to the affect: “I have 215 years and I have to pay for things I can’t take back.” The FBI agent respectively and compassionately says: “that’s life.”

 

That is life! Most all of us, at one time or another finds ourselves at the cosmic counter of life paying for things we can’t take back. Sometimes it’s a quick transaction and things are soon forgotten. Other times it’s a very complicated transaction that takes days, weeks or even years of reconciliation. There are some cases where we pay for something our entire lives. There are situations and complications and consequences that simply cannot be “taken back” and forgotten. That is the reality of life.

 

The good news is that even when there are consequences, whether brief or life time, there is forgiveness. There is plenty I want to take back. There are many scenarios I would like to do over. I still carry the consequences of bad transactions but I always remind myself that I am a new person in Christ and that I have forgiveness. Reconciliation in this world may not always be possible, but reconciliation in eternity is possible through Jesus. As much as I would love to keep beating myself up about certain choices I have made in life, Jesus continually reminds me that there is no shame and no guilt in Him. There are no lost causes, no overwhelming odds, no beyond repair, no helpless or hopeless situations when it comes to Jesus. If someone has told you otherwise, they lied and they don’t truly know the Jesus of the Bible. God specializes in situations that “can’t be taken back.” Just ask.

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Spring Cleaning in January

I have been spring cleaning in my office all morning. The dust bunnies were getting aggressive and threatening to form a Union. Not wanting them to unite, I had to take preemptive action or face severe allergic consequences. Some of the dust mites already had name tags and one was bigger than my big toe. Their buffet included beetle shells of all shapes and sizes. Even the spiders took off because it was just getting too crowded. So, I got one corner of my office cleaned and hope to have the other three done by the end of the week.

 

I have also been working on the laptop computer we have at the Church. Unfortunately someone inadvertently installed a virus on the computer and it has taken over. I have done everything I know how to do to get around it long enough to remove it, but I can’t. That virus is clever and will not let me get to the programs I need to get rid of it. I am going to have to get the hard drive scrubbed or replaced. That’s a bummer. I guess the laptop will have to sit around unused a bit longer until getting it repaired becomes a priority. The laptop is a convenience and it’s a nice luxury, but it’s not a necessity as we have several fully functioning computers at our disposal.

 

That idea sort of reminds me of life. That is the mantra of life for many of us. As I have heard it said more than once, we rarely change until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change. Though the terminology isn’t the best, many areas of our lives we simply see as “luxuries” and not “necessities.” We rarely make changes until we are forced to do so. We have a lot of standards and beliefs, but we don’t often uphold them unless we have to do so. 75% of Americans identify themselves as Christians, but fewer than 20% attend Church on a regular basis. Only 14% of self identified Christians have ever read the Bible from cover to cover and only about 20% read it on a regular basis. Practicing our faith is often a luxury and not a necessity.

 

Our lives are crowded and Church has become just another activity to attend. As more activities are added to our lives, our time and energy for our faith slims down thus relegating our faith to a belief system (i.e., religion) and not a relationship (way of life). I assure you that Christ did not come to earth to create a religion. He beckons you for a relationship. The very word religion comes from a Latin word which literally means to bind or tie. Christ came to set us free. I rarely feel free in the midst of a crowd. If I do not remove some of the clutter in my life, the clutter will take over. We do not typically do it on purpose, but it does happen unless we intentionally clean and straighten and prioritize. Life is full of things that invade our space whether we invite them or not. Our job is to clean up and straighten out.

 

Isaiah 1:16-18 (ish)

Go home and wash up. Clean up your act. Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings so I don’t have to look at them any longer. Say no to wrong. Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless. This is God’s Message: “If your sins are blood-red, they’ll be snow-white. If they’re red like crimson, they’ll be like wool.

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Happy New Year

Earlham Advocate

Ramblings on Faith

12.29.2008

 

                Welcome to the New Year. 2009 is the last single digit year that most of us will see assuming that our average life span doesn’t get increased a decade or two. I would love to sit down with someone over 85 and just talk the morning away about all the things in life that they have witnessed and seen change. About the best I can do is point to electronic gadgets, some of which I still don’t own. I still like my music CD’s and haven’t gotten them all burned to my computer. I suspect I will need another 6-7 hours to get that done. Of course, then I would need to move them over to an IPOD or MP3 player, which I still do not own. I do have a fancy mobile phone that can play music, but it already does way more stuff than I need it to now. My three favorite electronic advances are my cell phone, my computer and my TIVO. Once you go TIVO, you never go back!

                There is often a fine line between progress and change. Whereas change comes whether we want it or not, progress isn’t usually as accommodating. I am not suggesting that all change leads to progress but I am saying that progress isn’t possible without change. If you are like me, you might be wincing just thinking about the parts of your life that may need some “progress.” Most of us know what needs to get done and we probably all have a long list. When I start thinking about my list I remember the Apostle Paul’s words to the Romans: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do (Romans 7:15).” I find his words very comforting and very troubling at the same time. Of course, that is where I spend most of my life: in between!

                I want to encourage you pull out your list of progress. I know you have tried more than once in some of those areas and you always failed. I know that it can be discouraging to fail, but rarely ever does progress happen on accident. People succeed everyday and this day may be yours. Do not give up before you even try. And, perhaps, give up the word “try” and just use “will.” As Christians, our burden is light. Why carry more than you have to? There is progress to be made and yes, change is part of it. Keep these words at heart as you set out to live abundantly in Christ in 2009. Romans 8:5-14 says:

 

                Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn’t pleased at being ignored.

                But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!

                So don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!

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It’s Christmas 2008

Published week of 12/22/2008 in Earlham Advocate

 

In the famous musical Mame, there is a production number that continually repeats this refrain: “We need a little Christmas right this very minute.”  Many people in our world feel this way. For many of those people the Christmas holiday inspires them and makes them ready for the New Year. The fact is we can have a Christmas whenever we need it because Christ is constantly present.

                It is true, we need Christmas right this very minute and the good news is that we have it. The good news is that Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin; He gives us light where there is only darkness.

                There was a story I read years ago about a couple named Bill and Doris Forsthoffer. The birth of a baby meant new life to their daughter Jennifer. They could do only one thing to save the life of their daughter who was dying of leukemia. The only thing they could do was to have another child whose bone marrow could be implanted into Jennifer’s. In a very real sense, the birth of a baby brought new life to Jennifer. We cannot help but be reminded that the birth of the baby Jesus means new life for all of us.     One of the prophecies about the coming of Christ says that every valley will be exalted and every mountain and hill will be made low. Another prophecy says a highway shall there be made. Christ takes all the mountains and crushes them to get to you. He takes every valley of death and despair and leads you out to green pastures. He takes a terrible road of life and makes a straight and narrow path that leads to safety.

                Christ takes the obstacles of life and makes them a safe passage way. He takes the stumbling blocks that cause us so much trouble and makes them stepping stones. So rejoice in the Lord! There will always be a Christmas because there will always be Christ. There is good news for us:

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

  

                There is no better news than this. There is no dark cloud that can withstand the light of the world. There is no despair that cannot be penetrated by the power of God. Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. And don’t take my word for it; these are the words of angels.

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It’s Just A Dream Joseph

                I have always been challenged by Joseph’s life and faith. I don’t know if we have ever learned to appreciate Joseph. He gets very little attention in scripture and really, very little attention in the church. The most we know about Joseph comes from v. 19 “Now Joseph was a righteous man,” or as the KJV says, “he was a just man.” That’s pretty much the most we are told in scripture on this extremely important man. I believe he is a perfect model of faith. Joseph was a righteous man.

 

Matthew 1:18‑20 & 24‑25.

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”  vv. 24,25 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

 

Has it ever occurred to you that Joseph obeyed the Lord because of a dream he had? What is to say he didn’t eat too many burritos the night before and his dreams were the product of indigestion? Just think what might happen if he was told to do something really crazy in his dream, would he respond? Is he the kind of man we want roaming the streets, the kind that thinks all of his dreams are reality? He had a dream. A dream of all things! And from that dream came an amazing and radical faith.

Would you believe it if God stood in front of you? I am not so sure I would. I would think it was some nut case or some person trying to swindle me. I doubt I would have faith like Joseph’s faith. What kind of faith does it take to respond to a dream? It seems to me that Joseph was more naive than anything. If we use our logic then Joseph’s actions don’t make a lot of sense. Maybe you are like me, I don’t know. I have a hard time accepting God’s commands and being obedient to God when it doesn’t make any sense. That seems logical enough.

But if that is the case, then someone needs to tell Joseph that God doesn’t really mean it when He asks you to do something crazy. Are you with me on this? Some of us have become our own judge and jury on what God will or will not call us to do in our lives. But Joseph wasn’t that kind of guy. He was a just and righteous man because he did exactly what God told him to do without question. “Well,” you say, “he had a dream. He knew God better. He….” I say he knew the same God we know and he knew him the same way we found out about him: Genesis, the Pentateuch, the prophets. He didn’t have any special information that you or I haven’t yet received. He knew God the same way we know God.

To be considered a just and righteous person perhaps we have to follow God in such a way that others can’t believe we are doing it. We have to have a radical, a real faith; not this faith we like to put on before others. It is much easier to talk about our faith than it is to act out our faith. We like to appear as though we have all the answers. Now let me just stop here and say I am not writing this to bust your chops; but let’s face it, we have rationalized our faith. In many cases our faith isn’t exactly inspirational to the world around us. Our obedience to God is often conditional. We often only obey those things we feel like obeying. If it’s outside our logic or comfort zone, we just rationalize it away and don’t do it.

Sometimes being righteous means we chose to live a life that might be viewed by some as odd or different. Let’s face it, we are different. We have a different set of rules to live by than the rest of the world. Being a good person isn’t good enough. We must be bold in our witness, not only in word, but in deed.

The more I think of this man Joseph, in whom meekness was a strength, the more I want to honor him. In every story about the birth of Christ, most people are talking. Everyone has something to say about it, but not Joseph. He didn’t talk, he obeyed. Silently and steadfastly, he acted. He served God.

When the baby Jesus was born and Herod was going around killing all the children, Joseph didn’t have to leave his home to run from Herod. He didn’t have to hide a baby that wasn’t even his flesh and blood. When he looked into the crib of Jesus he didn’t see his own reflection. Jesus didn’t have his eyes or his nose or his dimples. He didn’t have to care for that child. But Joseph, kindly, righteously adopted Jesus. At least Mary could say she gave birth to Jesus. Joseph didn’t have anything but a dream. He was nothing more than a front for Mary and Jesus.

Joseph was God’s tool because he was obedient without question, without rationalization and without doubt. By faith and obedience this adoptive father still chose to be the father. Joseph was accomplishing a task of terrible glory, raising a child who was born in the image of God. Has any parent or grandparent a different task? He fulfilled his parental role and his role as a follower of almighty God precisely because he didn’t do it for his own benefit. By loving God, Joseph loved Jesus. By following God, Joseph led his son out of the house, into adulthood and into the purpose for which he was born. A righteous father raised a righteous son, and then released him to fulfill all righteousness.

Please take a hard and long look at Joseph. Joseph may have the least written about him, but he has the most to offer us today. We can’t go wrong by imitating Joseph. In ignorance and in humility we are called to obey. We are called to seek the wholeness of others by giving ourselves away to them. We are called to follow God even when it makes no sense, when it’s not easy or practical.

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Room at the Table

 

 

 

Ramblings on Faith

11/24/2009

 

The Thanksgiving holiday is great. It might be the one day of the year when no one is worried about their health. It is the one day of the year where you feel less than satisfied if you come away from the table anything other than bloated. Full isn’t enough on Thanksgiving; miserable is the order of the day. The weird thing is that getting miserable is somewhat enjoyable! And, if you get miserable before desert then you know you are in big trouble and you love every minute of it.

My mom always started cooking the night before. The turkey went into the oven before she went to bed, which may attribute to the fact it was always dry. But I think my dad liked it that way and now I sort of like it that way too.

 

The big project for my mom every year was the stuffing or otherwise referred to as the dressing. I never ate my mother’s dressing, mostly because it had onions in it. I was totally anti-onion growing up. I can stand a few today, but still not a fan. Of course, even being able to stand a few onions, I can’t say I would eat her dressing today. The way she goes about making her dressing is reminiscent of workers on a construction site trying to piece together enough scraps to finish the job. They don’t want to buy more supplies so they take stuff out of the dumpster and out of heaps of scrap until they get enough to finish the job. To an extent my mother’s dressing was like that. Only God knows what she put into that stuff because I don’t think she knew what she was putting into it. Anything that closely resembled bread, crackers or cornmeal got mashed up and put into her dressing. 

What is more colorful than the food are the people who you invite to sit around the table. Some people are pretty particular about the people with whom they eat while others could care less as long as the food is good. I think Jesus was more concerned about the good cooking than he was the company. He wasn’t too particular when it came to the people who sat at the table: prostitutes, tax collectors, religious leaders, fishermen, etc. 

If you read the Gospel of Luke you will find that Luke seems to make a big deal about whom Jesus chose to eat with. Jesus eats dinner with a lot of sinners. If you bored over the holiday I challenge you to read the entire book and just notice how many times exciting things happen over meals. I think what you will find is that Jesus is particular about who he shares a meal with in so much as he doesn’t believe anyone should be excluded from the table. He think everyone ought to be invited to the table and He gets pretty indignant when someone suggests a certain person doesn’t belong around the table. 

 

 

 

So, what can we learn from this? Perhaps we could learn to be more patient with the people who gather around us this Holiday. Perhaps we could be more inclusive by making sure we don’t leave anyone out. Perhaps we need to consider the idea that we might be that person other people have to be patient with and thus try to be a bit friendlier and hospitable. Maybe you will consider going next door, going down the street or going through your contact list and making sure no one else is eating alone this Thanksgiving. Maybe you need to reach out to someone else so that you aren’t eating alone. Whatever your lesson may be, let me encourage you to make room for one more at your table, even if no one shows up. At least you will know that you made room for one more and that may be enough room for God to teach you something new.

 

 

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It’s Not Who, It’s Whose

 

 

 

Have you noticed how you can have a hundred things going right for and one negative comment can completely devastate you? Someone can tell me a hundred positive things about my life and then share one area where I need improvement, and I can walk away thinking about nothing other than that one piece of constructive advice.

You can have 16 waking hours a day of joy. Then one three minute phone conversation before bed can ruin your entire day. For whatever reason, I don’t know why it is, I find it easier to believe the bad stuff and internalize the bad stuff, than I do to internalize the good stuff.

I am not bragging, but I can put together a list of accomplishments, awards, scholarships, opportunities I have received and leadership offices I have held and I can fill up two or three pages of paper. Then I can get out a 3” x 5” index card, cut it in half, and list one mistake I have made, and just feel so much shame and embarrassment. I give all my attention to the mistake and forget everything else in life that has been so good and so rich and so meaningful.

Isn’t it a bummer we do that? We could all benefit by closing the door to those negative words spoken about us, and opening only one door – the door of truth. Whether or not you are a Follower of Christ, you are at the very least a reflection of the Creator. When God made you, He said it was the very best He could do. It gets better if you are a Christ Follower. You are not who others say that you are. You are who Christ says you are. Let me remind you of three biblical truths: in Christ you are forgiven; in Christ you are secure; in Christ you are free!

I encourage you to consider these scripture verses: II Corinthians 5:17 says: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Ephesians 1:7 says: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” II Corinthians 1:21-22 says: “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” John 8:36 says: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

Whenever you feel insecure, remember, you are secure not because of who you are but because of whose you are. You are secure because you are in Christ; because the same Spirit that raised Christ from the grave is living inside of you. You are secure because you have been sealed with the precious blood of Jesus. You have access to the very throne room of God’s grace. You are an overcomer by the blood of the Lamb and by the words of His testimony. Greater is the one who lives in you than the one who lives in the world.

When Jesus sets you free, you are free from the past. You are free from the hurt. You are free from the negative words. You are free from those voices that continue to haunt you. You are free from the addictions that once used to hold you. You are free from the baggage that slowed you down. In Christ, you are free. You are free to be everything that Christ created you to be. So take that emotional baggage, and dump it.

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Obey Tomorrow

Ramblings on Faith

11/5/2008

 

                Have you noticed that every now and then you say something, and as it rolls out of your mouth, you think “Wow, that’s pretty good!”? If you’re like me, you may have even said it before, but the statement didn’t catch you before. I had one of those moments a couple of weeks ago, and I took the opportunity to reflect on it and develop it in a recent sermon.

                We recently completed a sermon series called 30 Days to Live. The gist was to encourage people to live more boldly, more meaningfully, more abundantly; to live as if we literally had 30 days left on this planet. With only days left to live, our focus on the world changes, our priorities are clearer, our actions are more intentional, and our eternity is more important. It was a great series! In conjunction with the series, we offered opportunity for small group formation, and I was blessed to facilitate one. I walked in the door, and the facilitator of the group said, “Rex, I am going to let you handle this tonight.” So much for being prepared!

                In the midst of my “punt” to facilitate the discussion, I caught myself saying that obedience is always about tomorrow. I talked about how we look for reasons to start a diet or quit a certain behavior or do something different…but we always set a later date for it. It’s always next week, next month, next year. We know we need to be obedient about something, that life is but a vapor and that we have no promise of tomorrow. Yet we make big plans for tomorrow. Obedience tomorrow always seems easier than obedience today, as if giving it a start date some how makes God ok with our sin until then.

I said it, and I caught myself off guard. I was forced to wrestle with my words, and as I prepared my Sunday sermon, I was forced to act on my own words. I couldn’t possibly ask someone else to act on words that I didn’t take seriously. Sometimes life is just like that. Sometimes God is just like that. He might use your own words to convict you to make a change you put off and promise to address tomorrow. The fact is, when we need to make changes in our life, the best time to do them is now. Later means never.

 We need to start now, not tomorrow, not on Monday, not on New Years day or not after our birthday. Now, today! God only asks us to do what we can do and then He will do what only He can do. II Corinthians 12:9, God says, “For my grace is sufficient for you. For my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” My prayer for you this week is that God’s power may rest on you!

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Tolerate This!

Ramblings

10/31/2008

 

I am one of those people who like boundaries. I try to stay within the boundaries and obey the rules and laws. I appreciate boundaries. I do understand that there may be reasons to go outside of the boundaries and sometimes everything will still work out for the good…the world doesn’t end…and the planet keeps spinning. That doesn’t mean it was a bad boundary or rule; it just means there can be exceptions. Exceptions are, however, exceptions and not the norm. I doubt I will regularly be the person to challenge a rule enough that it gets redefined. These things do happen; I am just not programmed to be a part of that process. Some of you are.

 

Boundary stretchers are always testing the limits. It’s not that they are intentionally bad people who love to break the law, rather it is just the way they are created and explore life. It is woven into their personality and has been since the first time mom and dad noticed they like to climb out of their crib to explore. Some people are bent towards expanding the boundaries and some people are bent twoards guarding the boundaries.

 

Not every boundary or rule is made to be stretched, broken or rewritten. Some rules literally are set in stone. There are a host of laws that have been abolished or changed in the not too distant past that have affected the very fabric of our how we define society. Whereas some changes needed to be made and adjustments needed to be worked through, other rules have simply been hijacked by a small but vocal minority of people who have enough clout to change the laws for everyone. I do not always agree that a minority should be able to dictate boundaries for the majority all in the name of tolerance.

 

Tolerating someone or something used to mean putting up with a person or thing without the need to fix him, her or it. Nothing or no one has to change, we just have to put up with it or bear it. It seems every family has that one family member or one friend who shows up for all the gatherings and requires loving tolerance. It doesn’t mean that family ceases to exist as a family or that they have to redefine their family. They just lovingly tolerate his uniqueness, but they don’t let him set the agenda for the whole family gathering.

 

These days tolerance means all values, beliefs, lifestyles and truth claims are equal. That might make some people feel better, but it certainly doesn’t make it true. Saying something over and over until other people repeat it doesn’t make it true. The author George Orwell in his book Animal Farm said all beliefs are equal but some beliefs are more equal than others.

 

Certainly people are entitled to their opinions, but we don’t have to call them truths just because those people believe what they are saying to be true. Everything in life can’t be up for a vote. All truths cannot be equal. Some boundaries are meant to keep us from harming ourselves. Most laws and rules help us live happy and healthy lives.

Christian author and speaker Josh McDowell challenges us to practice love in our pursuit of truth. In a Focus on the Family magazine from 1999, he said:

We must humbly pursue truth. It may be difficult to speak the truth in today’s climate, but Jesus said, “The truth will set you free.” Pursuing truth in this context means countering the new doctrine of tolerance. It means teaching our children to embrace all people, but not all beliefs. It means showing them how to listen to and learn from all people without necessarily agreeing with them. It means helping them courageously but humbly speak the truth, even if it makes them the object of scorn or hatred. The Apostle Peter told us: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have,” he added, “But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

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Broken Toes are Still Broken

Ramblings on Faith

October 19, 2008

A crazy thing happened on the way to bed the other night…I think. My wife tells me I tripped. I do not recall it happening. I do know I went to bed on Saturday and woke up on Sunday with a bruised, sore and swollen big toe. I have chronic insomnia so I take one of those sleep aids that helps me fall asleep. I know…too much information…but it is what it is.

 

At any rate, those sleep aids are interesting in that they help me fall asleep without feeling like I just got shot with a tranquilizer gun. I am not sure how it works but it does. I occasionally take the aid and get sidetracked between the kitchen and my bedroom and stay up too long. When I do I end up having a conversation with my wife or watching some television or tripping and have no memory of it. I can’t tell you how many times my wife reminds me of a conversation I started or something I told her and I cannot for the life of me remember a word of it. What I do know is that my toe really hurts. I have bumped and bruised that toe several times since mid summer. I seem to go from one bruise to the next. I have had a continuously “bad toe” since July 11 when I had an unfortunate experience with a skid loader and an untrained driver (perhaps I will tell you about that another time).

 

The point of all this is that life can be similar to my big toe issue. I keep aggravating the same wound and it does not heal. It’s just a small part of my life and yet it keeps clouding my overall wellness. It does not matter that I cannot remember how I keep bumping it. I just know that it keeps getting bumped and I keep experiencing pain. Sometimes in life it is simple small things strung together over weeks and months that add up to a big issue. You can be bummed out, irritable and maybe even a little depressed and not know what led to it. You are in a rut and you don’t remember taking a wrong turn.

 

Well, let me be the first person to encourage you to get over it. Snap out of it. Wake up and smell the roses. Get back on your horse. Pull yourself up by the bootstraps. Dust yourself off. Wipe that frown off your face and smile. It might be a little awkward at first, but give it a try. Quit analyzing why you are unhappy and decide to be happy. It can get worse and you do have some control. You may not be in the perfect situation and you may not have everything you want, but you still have a lot going for you.

 

There is a passage of scripture in II Corinthians 4. The Apostle Paul is discussing his hard times. I am in no way comparing my bruised toe or your bruised life to the difficulties Paul endured, but I would like to share with you the choice he made in the face of those difficulties. He chose to find something good to think about even when the reality of his life was torturous. That’s all I am asking you to do. Consider his words in II Corinthians 4:16-18, as interpreted by The Message translation of the Bible:

 

So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever. 

So, since you do have a choice, I encourage you to have a great week. Let me hear from you! rex

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A Good Woman Is Hard to Get Rid Of

Ramblings on Faith

October 2008

 

I am not sure how to say what I want to say this week, so I am going to just go ahead and put it out there. Good Women Are Hard To Find and Even Harder To Get Rid Of! Now that I have your attention, I will need to do a good job of explaining. Otherwise, I am going to get in trouble. On Friday, I saw the movie FireProof, and it inspired me. I don’t generally get impressed or inspired by too many movies, and I was already feeling uninspired after paying $9.25 for a ticket, but this movie impacted me. If you are married, dating or want to be married one day, you need to see FireProof.

 

I confess my discomfort in writing this. I feel least qualified, not because I haven’t seen a good woman or read enough books about Godly character and righteous living, but because I don’t want to embarrass myself and somehow embarrass my wife, Heather, in the process. She is the reason I write. She is what I hope to point to as a great example. She is the rock in our marriage. She is the stability in our relationship, not because I am weak or unstable or wishy-washy when it comes to our marriage…but because I do such a poor job of matching her commitment to serve our marriage. Don’t get me wrong, I am not unfaithful, neglectful or overtly detrimental to the integrity of our marriage, it’s just that I don’t come at it with the same passionate pursuit, energy and thoughtfulness that she possesses.

 

I am more of a typical “man” than I care to admit. I started out my marriage thinking I was a “catch” of special proportion. Little did I know that God was going to ask so much of me in marriage! For all you folks thinking that life would be so much easier if you were married, get over it. That is simply not true. Don’t get me wrong. For me, married life is better than single life, but it is much more complicated. Of course, my beautiful wife would completely understand what I mean, because she often knows my thoughts before I have an opportunity to express them. Heather is very patient and understanding, not to mention extremely intelligent in nearly every area but one: why she puts up with me.

 

Gentleman, a good woman is hard to find but she is even harder to get rid of! Perhaps it’s better stated: she is not quick to jump ship when things aren’t going in her favor. In many cases, she is more determined to work through the hardest parts of life than many of us men. We tend to bail out, either physically or emotionally much quicker than our counterparts. Women are fighters and lovers, and they tend to make life a lot more exciting than we can muster. No, it’s not Mother’s Day or your anniversary or her birthday. It is just another day for you to take the time to tell that special lady in your life how valuable she is and how insanely bad your life would be without her!

 

I want to draw your attention to a great passage of scripture. In Proverbs 31:10-31 we find a detailed praise of what a good woman is like. Let me paraphrase some of it for you: 

 

A good woman is hard to find; and worth far more than diamonds. Her husband trusts her without reserve and never has reason to regret it. Never spiteful, she treats him generously all her life. She shops around for the best…bringing back exotic surprises. She’s up before dawn, already serving her family and organizing her day. First thing in the morning, she dresses for work, rolls up her sleeves, and is eager to get started. She senses the worth of her work and is in no hurry to call it quits for the day. She is skilled in many things. She’s quick to assist anyone in need and reaches out to help the poor. She doesn’t worry about her family when it snows; she already has them ready for the weather. She always looks great and is elegant. People think more of her husband because of her. They wonder how he ever got a gal like that. She always faces tomorrow with a smile. When she speaks she has something worthwhile to say, and she always says it kindly. She keeps an eye on everyone in her household. Her children respect and bless her; her husband joins in with words of praise: “Many women have done wonderful things, but you’ve outclassed them all!” Charm can mislead and beauty soon fades. The woman to be admired and praised is the woman who lives in the Fear-of-God. Give her everything she deserves! Festoon her life with praises.

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All Tuckered Out

Ramblings on Faith

July 2008

It’s been a crazy few weeks around Iowa. Between the tornadoes and the floods, God has been throwing in some heavy stuff like divorce, disease and death. Add a few surgeries on top of that and a fellow like me starts to thinking there is a pattern. Of course, I am always seeing patterns. It’s just the way my brain works!I served for several years as a Chaplain in a Trauma Center, in addition to serving at various Churches for nearly 15 years. The craziness of life always seems to come in lumps. There hardly seems to be a time when just one serious or life-changing event occurs. I have found myself to be emotionally drained and spiritually tired during many of those periods and right now seems to be one of those periods. As we like to say in the South, “I’m all tuckered out.”

Some people seem to live life always tuckered out and others do a good job pretending to be full of energy and high spirits until you start asking a few questions and you find out things aren’t so good there either. Still others have the wonderful ability to take things in stride, roll with the punches, go with the flow…you get the picture. What I have learned in life is that “this too shall pass.” The fact is life keeps coming at us and for most of us it’s usually pretty good a lot of the time. There are always exceptions and there are always extremes and you may be one of them. However, what I have learned in life is that there is usually somebody worse off than me even when I am taking some heavy hits. That said I totally forgot what I was talking about! Oh yeah…emotionally and spiritually tuckered out.

You might be in that situation and you might be thinking this sure is lasting a lot longer than I figured it would. That’s O.K. God is good…all the time! I know, it sounds trite and it sounds too easy but it is a fact. You may need to spend a few more minutes praying, perhaps even a few more times a day you may find yourself needing to pray. You may also need to hold on a little tighter to a friend or a loved one. God never intended for you to go it alone. You weren’t created to be in isolation and to carry burdens alone. Use the opportunities and the people God has placed in this life to help. You might be surprised to find out just how good God is being and you might just find a way to give your “all-tuckered-out” emotions and spirit a well needed rest! If you are going through a period of craziness then take a deep breath, rub your eyes and refocus on the world around you. I am certain you will find God close by, ready and willing to help!

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