Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas and Mr. Shoe Doctor

This is by John Coleman.  He is a friend from college and law school. He left the practice of law to go to seminary and was the rector at Ascension Episcopal in Montgomery.

I wasn’t sure where the conversation was going, or if it would be a conversation at all.  I went to get my car washed.  As I was waiting, a man, whose apron identified him as Mr. Shoe Doctor asked if I would like to get my shoes shined.  I sat down at his stand and the revelation started.

He would call out a day of the week and then take a rag and slap it against my shoe.  “Monday.  WHAP!  Tuesday. WHAP!  Wednesday.  WHAP!”  I suppose this is routine, at least the part about the rag, when getting your shoes shined, but this moment seemed anything but routine.  I could tell by the cadence of his voice that he was about to tell me something.   It was barely more than a whisper, spoken to the air more than me, but it was building in intensity.  He went on, “Thursday.  WHAP!  Friday.  WHAP!  Saturday.  WHAP!  Sunday.  WHAP!”

 And then he paused and said, “Everyday.”

 “Everyday?”  I asked, thinking after all that there was surely something more.

 “Everyday!”  He said.

 I decided to push a little.  “Everyday, what?”

 “Everyday is holy.  Each day is a day to tell about the Lord.  That’s the business I’m in and business is good.”

I discovered that Mr. Shoe Doctor (I asked him his name and he just pointed to the apron) had shined shoes in many places.  He liked to talk about Chicago’s O’Hare airport, so I figured he served there the longest.  He told me about his life.  How he had lost a son and moved back to the area to take care of his mother.  He got excited when he talked about being diagnosed several years ago with cancer and how God had given him his life on this earth back through treatment and remission.  Each story was peppered with talk about Jesus, Holy Scripture and faith.  He said God had been so good to him that he had to tell it, and tell it he did.

I’ve been thinking about my feet ever since the encounter with the Shoe Doctor.  Feet probably aren’t what most contemplate during the holidays, but, the more I think about it, the more it seems fitting.  After all our feet, literally and figuratively, carry us into the season and beyond to tell about what God has done.  The familiar hymn instructs us to “go tell it on the mountain” that salvation was born on Christmas morning.  “How beautiful on the mountains” the prophet Isaiah tells us “are the feet of those who bring good news.”  (Isaiah 52:7).

I sometimes wonder if my feet really carry me to the places in this world that need to hear the good news.  Of course, I join with the world to shout it during Advent and Christmas, but when the tree is by the curb, the children are back in school and everything returns to “normal” where do my feet carry me?  Do I really look for the opportunities God gives me to “tell it?”

The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary with the announcement that she would conceive and bear a son.  After a moment of questioning and doubt her response was resolute. "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."  (Luke 1:38).

This “Yes” to God took Mary on a journey to the manger, but following the singing and the visiting royalty, the journey continued.  It was a life filled with joy and anguish.  There were some parts that I’m sure Mary would have avoided but her feet, with God’s help, carried her through.  She gave birth to salvation on Christmas, but she continued to give birth to salvation through her life in the world by nurturing a life with Christ and following the call of God.

The angel appears to all of us this Advent and echoes the words he spoke to Mary.  “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”  (Luke 1:28).  We are favored and blessed, not because of what we have done, but whose we are.  We may pause and look around, thinking the angel is surely asking someone else.  Mary did it too.  We may question our qualifications and ability, but make no mistake-each of us is being called.  We are asked to bear Christ in the world through our lives, not just around the tree or at a Christmas pageant, but everywhere, even at the car wash.

Our shoes are shined and ready to walk.  Where will our feet carry us and will we have the courage to tell it? Everyday.
 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Lost Sheep? Prodical Sons? GOOD NEWS FOR YOU

Before Christ’s coming into the world, all men universally in Adam were nothing else but a wicked and crooked generation, rotten and corrupt trees, stony ground, full of brambles and briars, lost sheep, prodigal sons, naughty unprofitable servants, unrighteous stewards, workers of iniquity, the brood of adders, blind guides, sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death: to be short nothing else but children of perdition, and inheritors of hell fire.

But after [Christ] was once come down from heaven, and had taken our frail nature upon him, he made all them that would receive him truly, and believe his word, good trees, and good ground, fruitful and pleasant branches, children of light, citizens of heaven, sheep of his fold, members of his body, heirs of his Kingdom, his true friends and brethren, sweet and lively bread, the elect and chosen people of God.

— Church of England
"Homily on the Nativity"

Friday, December 16, 2011

Two Gifts

“When God planned the great work of saving sinners, he provided two gifts. He gave his Son and he gave his Spirit. In fact each person of the Trinity was involved in the great work of salvation. The love, grace and wisdom of the Father planned it; the love, grace and humility of the Son purchased it; and the love, grace and power of the Holy Spirit enabled sinners to believe and receive it.

The first great truth in this work of salvation is that God sent his Son to take our nature on him and to suffer for us in it. The second great truth is that God gave his Spirit to bring sinners to faith in Christ and so be saved.”

— John Owen
The Holy Spirit, ed. R. J. K. Law
(Edinburgh, UK: Banner of Truth, 1998)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

How do you make cobra wine?

Another good piece By Jon Acuff at Stuff Christians Like:


How do you make cobra wine?

I’m glad you asked because recently on our trip to Vietnam, I learned the recipe.

Step 1 – Catch cobra.
Step 2 – Put cobra in jug of rice wine.
Step 3 – Seal lid on. Tightly.

From what I can tell, the hardest part of making cobra wine is catching the cobra, but isn’t that true of most cobra-based beverages?

What’s that you say? You’re more of a scorpion wine guy? You feel like it tends to have better undertones of raspberry and oak and scorpion? I’ve heard that myself.

But I can’t say for certain, as I didn’t taste either variety of wine. (Although I hear 2009 was a particularly excellent vintage of cobra.)

Snapping photos of the fun sights in the mountains of Vietnam was a blast, but it wasn’t my biggest takeaway from the trip. Despite my obvious penchant for snake jokes, seeing those jugs of wine was not what I will remember most from the trip. In addition to the miraculous story I told you about a guy named Hoa, what stuck with me from the trip most was something someone said off hand one day.
Tim, an American who has lived in Vietnam for 18 years as a missionary, mentioned something while we were driving around Hanoi. Here is what he said:

“You know, when the Vietnamese bump into Christ, they go deep in their faith really quickly. They get gifted deeply and really build a strong faith in a short amount of time.”

That surprised me a little, and I asked him why. His answer surprised me even more:
“Well,” he said, “the Vietnamese are a spirit-based people. They grew up with animism and ancestor worship. They get that we’re spirit beings living in a world that is not our final destination. They’re in touch with the role of the spirit in our lives. They get the Holy Spirit. Sometimes Christians in America have a harder time grasping that part of faith.”

That short conversation caught me off guard and exposed something in my own life.

I’ve got a whole lot of religion, but very little spirituality.

For the last year, I’ve worked as hard as I possibly can on being a good steward of the talents I feel like God has given me. I’ve spoken all over the country. I wrote Quitter. I balanced my family and my dream and hustled more than I ever have before. And the truth is, I put blood, sweat and tears into my own effort-based natural results.

Hustle, I understand. If you work hard, certain things happen. If you work harder than the next guy, certain things happen. If you push and strive, good things can happen.

But, along the way, I feel like I lost touch with the Holy Spirit. I got so focused on my own natural results, of seeing the progress of my effort, that I lost sight of the supernatural.

My faith became mechanical and mathematical. Here’s the thing, though: I don’t want to live a life based on my efforts.

It’s exhausting. Before I was a Christian, trying to fix myself and numb the things that hurt was
exhausting. Now that I’m a Christian, trying to make life work on my own is just as tiring.

I don’t want that kind of faith.

I want spirit-driven faith. I want deep, soaked-in-the-Holy Spirit faith. I don’t want to experience the best of what Jon Acuff is capable. That’s small and tiny and insignificant. I want to experience the best of what God is capable. A supernatural God who breathed life into me and set the stars in place and moves with as much mystery and creativity as he did when he wrote a message on the wall for a king or burned a talking bush for a prophet.

I don’t want to be in charge of my growth, with effort-based faith that hollows me out and leaves me shiny on the outside and empty in the middle.

I want Christ to be in charge of my growth. A Christ that didn’t say to the disciples, “Come and you will learn how to be fishers of men.” A Christ who said, “Come and I will make you fishers of men.”
If you and I believed for a second that the same power that raised Christ from the dead was in us, can you fathom how different that day would be?

I wish I could wrap this post up with three neat little steps on how to fix the situation and live a spirit-based life. But to do so puts me right back into effort mode.

Today, my prayer for me, and maybe for you if you’ve been living a 2D faith too, is that we won’t get comfortable in the natural. That we’ll learn to rest and return to a God who is, always has been, and always will be supernatural.
 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Cop Cars and Grace

 By Jon Acuff at Stuff Christians Like

I recently hit A-list status on Southwest.

Which means, well, absolutely nothing.

When the packet of info came in the mail announcing my new status, I kept flipping through the brochure looking for the benefits. “I already check in early, so A-status check in isn’t special. But surely there’s something?” I thought. Nope. There is nothing.

There’s no special club at the airport that smells like lavender.
There’s no first class for you to sit in.
There’s no diamond, platinum or gold package you earn.
You get to receive 25% more miles every time you fly. And you can apply those miles to … nothing.

I’m fine with that, though, because that’s what I love about Southwest. They’re cheap. They’re low priced. They give you great service and very little else. It wouldn’t make sense for them to be low priced and have some blinged out rewards programs.

I get it. I do. But my oldest daughter L.E. didn’t. A few weeks ago, we flew out to Las Vegas for a speaking engagement. On the flight home she asked me, “Will we get a meal on this plane?” In a classic father/daughter moment, I turned to her slowly and said, “L.E., let me tell you a little about Southwest.”

We’re getting peanuts. If all goes well, the peanuts will have a light glaze of honey roast. But it’s just going to be peanuts. And that’s OK.

During the four hour flight home, I answered a lot of other questions for L.E. She’s 8, and 8 year olds are full of questions. That’s kind of what they do. And in the middle of the flight, looking at L.E., I thought of one of my own:

“Why did Christ say we needed receive the kingdom of God like a little child?”

Have you ever thought about that? We often talk about “faith like a child,” from verses like Luke 18:17 that says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” or Matthew 18:4, “Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Kids are interesting role models though. I guarantee you’ve never been in a meeting at work and someone said, “In order to hit our sales numbers this quarter, we’ve got to have discipline like a child.” No politician has ever said, “If I’m elected, I’ll run the country with wisdom like a child.” No coach has ever said, “In order for us to win Saturday’s game, we need to work hard like a child.”

It’s difficult to find another context in life where being “like a child” is held up as something to emulate. (Except for maybe the arts.)

So why then, of all the examples Christ could have used, are children the example he picked? I’ve heard someone say it’s because kids are dependent and in need of being taken care of, and God takes care of us like that.

But I think there’s an even simpler possibility.
Because kids get grace.

Grace makes sense to kids. They’ve got the imagination and creativity and “anything is possible” attitude that can accept the unbelievable nature of grace. We adults are the ones who have a hard time with it.

We’ve spent 10 or 20 or 30 years learning how “things work.” There are consequences, cause and effect, A+B = C situations. Grace doesn’t fit those.

We get something we don’t deserve. Something we can’t control. Something we can’t earn. Something that makes no sense when you try to break it down logically. So you’re saying that when I make a mess of my life, when I wreck everything in it, that there’s a God who loves me so much that he sent his only son to die for me so that I could repent and be forgiven?

That’s crazy.
But not to kids.

McRae, my youngest daughter, reminded me of this a few months ago.

While we were leaving Chuck-e-Cheese, the only place she ever picks for our daddy/daughter dates, we heard a police siren. Into the dark fall night the blue lights of a cop car sped by. In the backseat, I heard McRae sigh and say,

“Ohhhh, I love that sound.”

That’s a strange thing for a six year old to say, so I asked her why. Without missing a beat she said,

“Because that’s the sound of someone getting rescued.”

Have you ever thought that?

I haven’t. When I see a cop car with the lights on behind me, my first thought is “Was I speeding? Oh no, he’s coming for me. There’s no way I was going as fast as that other guy. I just kind of ran the red light. He really ran it!” If the cop passes me, I wonder who he’s going to get. I imagine someone has broken the law and is about to be caught.

Kids? They get rescue. They get grace.

And in case I wasn’t paying attention that night, God gave me another example from McRae. One day she told me about a boy in her pre-school class who was really bad last year. (Bad in pre-school usually means you’re a biter.)

In the midst of telling me how bad he was, McRae said,

“He used to wear really soft and fuzzy slippers to school. Even when it wasn’t pajama day. I bet his mom heard how bad he was, and she let him wear those fun slippers because she wanted him to know that no matter how bad he was, she loved him.”

That’s how kids think. If you’re loved, you’re fully loved. If you’re in need of rescue, it’s coming. If you’re bad, you can still come home.

Kids get grace.

I think Christ wants us to get it too.

That’s why I think he wants us to have faith like a child.

Friday, December 2, 2011

No Mute Button

Father, thank you that we don’t have to mute our emotions, window-dress our stories, or doing anything to get ready for grace. Grace is for sinners, not for the competent. Mercy is for messes, not for the manicured. Strength comes to the weak, not to the promising. Hope is for the heartless, not the hardy.  
- Scotty Smith
 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Jesus In the Background of Christmas

By Pete Wilson
I read a blog post yesterday from my friend, Ian Cron, (when I grow up I want to be able to write like him).  It convicted me in so many ways and I just had to share a portion of it with you guys. He wrote…
A year ago Rob and I were sitting in a Starbucks in Connecticut, drinking lattes and catching up when he turned his gaze toward the ceiling.
“Do you hear that?” Rob said, his expression darkening.
“Hear what?” I said.
“Listen,” he said, glaring at the white speaker grilles above our heads. “Do you know that song?”
I closed my eyes and strained to hear the music over the hiss and gurgle of milk being steamed for someone’s cappuccino.
I shrugged. “Nope,” I said. “I can’t make it out.”
Rob threw his hands up in the air. “That’s a cut off Miles Davis’ record Kind of Blue,” he said, his voice rising with indignation.
“Alright,” I said. “Apparently this bothers you.”
“It’s MILES DAVIS!” he said, slapping the tabletop with his hand.
I’ve known Rob for 30 years. He’s talented. He’s smart. He’s not afraid to speak his mind.
“When brilliant compositions are used for background music it desensitizes people to their genius,” he continued.
I paused. “You mean familiarity breeds contempt?” I said.
“Precisely. If an amazing piece of music is constantly playing in the background your admiration for it doesn’t increase, it diminishes. It becomes no big deal,” Rob said, imitating someone trying to speak and yawn at the same time.
At the time I thought Rob’s remarks were insightful but overstated, and yet something about them rang true. They stuck with me.
Last week I was sitting in another Starbucks, this one two blocks from my home in Franklin, TN reading Max Picard’s The World of Silence and drinking coffee when I made a connection between what Rob had said and the world I live in.

Is Jesus becoming background music in my life?


No matter where I go someone is talking, singing, arguing, writing a book, blogging, putting on a conference, or making a record about…Jesus.
(Yes, I’m aware I’m guilty of doing this right now.)
Not a day goes by when I don’t see tee shirts with Bible verses printed on them or a tattoo of Jesus’ crucifixion inked on someone’s arm. Billboards with warnings about hell dot the highway. I can’t turn on the radio or television without someone talking at me about Jesus; he’s quoted (or misquoted) on bumper stickers, and recently while standing at a urinal in the men’s room at a restaurant I looked up and discovered a framed print of John 3:16 hanging on the wall in front of me. Some people don’t do subtle.
If Rob is right my experience of constant exposure to all things Jesus isn’t increasing my admiration or devotion for him, it’s diminishing it.
Read the entire post HERE
What a timely post. We’re getting ready to enter a season called Christmas that is really all about Jesus, yet it’s so easy for him to quickly become a sort of ambient background music.

I don’t know about you, but I refuse to allow the commercialization of Christmas, along with my self centered, ego-driven, materialistic desires to push Jesus from his rightful place.

So how do I combat this? It takes a lot of focused intentionality but let me give you one practical example.

Over the next four weeks you’re probably going to see hundreds and hundreds of nativity scenes.

One of my Christmas traditions is every time I see a nativity scene (as biblically incorrect as it might be) is to pause and say, “Wow! That really happened. That REALLY happened. God actually stepped into human history and gave us what we really needed, a Savior who bathed us in his life changing, soul shaping grace.”

It’s easy to allow all of these nativity scenes to get lumped into the same category as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy… but it was an actual event that changed everything!

How are you going to keep Jesus from becoming background noise this Christmas?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Caesar or the US?

“Our lives are bracketed, or, boundaried, not by the decisions and actions of Caesar, not by the rise and fall of Rome, nor by the rise and fall of the United States. Our lives are boundaried by him, ‘the first and the last.’ Whatever else happens in our history and whatever else happens in my history, Jesus is there as the first word and Jesus is there as the last word. And Jesus is here in the middle with the Word that gives us life.”
 
— Darrell W. Johnson
Discipleship On The Edge: An Expository Journey Through The Book of Revelation

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Watering Seeds Already Planted

Prayer from Archbishop Oscar Romero who served the people of El Salvador and was assassinated in 1980 while he was saying mass in San Salvador.


Father,

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
Amen.

A Prayer about Two Very Different Fridays

 By Scotty Smith
 
So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 
Matt. 6:31-33


Lord Jesus, there’s more traffic than usual on the roads early this morning, but not as much as last year. Though it’s just a little after 4:00 am, Black Friday got a jump start this year with doors opening at midnight. People have already been pushing against doors, running up aisles, and grabbing for items for many hours now.

Jesus, I’m not sitting here in condescending judgment of anyone, for there’s no one, by nature, more greedy or grabby than me. I am just as inclined to “run after these things” as anyone else. I thank you that I get to live in a time and place of abundance. I praise you I’ve never had to be concerned about what I’ll eat, drink, or wear. And I’m grateful that many people will enjoy fine savings and get real bargains today.

But all the hubbub of Black Friday, simply makes me more grateful for another Friday—for Good Friday and what you accomplished that day for us on the cross.

At your expense, the riches of grace are freely lavished on ill-deserving people, like me. It’s only because of you, Jesus, that I know God as Abba, Father—who knows my every need; who answers before I ask; who gives me all things richly to enjoy; who satisfies my hunger and slakes my thirst, with the manna of the gospel and the living water of the Spirit; who has clothed my shameful nakedness with your perfect righteousness.

Anybody that knows you is wealthy beyond all imagination, measure and accounting.
We praise you.
We adore you.
We worship you with humble and grateful hearts.

Two days after this Black Friday we will celebrate the first Sunday in Advent. As we reflect upon the promises of your coming and the wonder of your birth, teach us anew what it means to seek your kingdom first, above anything and everything else. What new chapters of your story of redemption and restoration would you write through us?

Even as your righteous has come to us by faith, how might it come through us to the broken places in our communities? Rather than spending more money on ourselves, how would you have us invest our time, talent, and treasure in serving others? We praise you for your transforming kingdom and we long for its consummate fullness. So very Amen we pray, with grateful hearts and great anticipation.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Man’s Maker was Made Man



He determines the number of the stars;
   he gives to all of them their names.
Ps. 147:4


 “Man’s maker was made man, that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast; that the Bread might hunger, the Fountain thirst, the Light sleep, the Way be tired on its journey; that the Truth might be accused of false witness, the Teacher be beaten with whips, the Foundation be suspended on wood; that Strength might grow weak; that the Healer might be wounded; that Life might die.”

                   — Augustine, quoted by Trevin Wax

It’s A Gift, Not Punishment

By Pete Wilson
I think one of the first steps in embracing the Sabbath is you’ve got to get it out of the category of I “have” to do this and starting thinking about it as I “get” to do this.

It’s funny, but growing up I always thought the “Sabbath” was some legalistic rule that only Jews still followed. In fact, the neighborhood that I grew up in as a kid had a pretty high population of Orthodox Jews living there. I can remember on Saturday morning watching families walking to church and feeling sorry for them because they couldn’t drive their car. I had heard that they couldn’t even watch TV on the Sabbath. Sounded like a perpetual weekly grounding to me!

In my mind Sabbath was some sort of punishment.

In reality, the fourth commandment, to take a Sabbath, a day each week and not do any work was a gift from God to His people. In Egypt, the Israelites were forced to work every day without a break being treated as objects to be exploited, not people. Many people think part of the reason the Sabbath was commanded was to remind them that they aren’t in Egypt anymore, that their value doesn’t come from how much work they can produce.

Their significance comes from the God who rescued them, the God who loves them.

I think once again we need to be reminded of this truth. So many of us are virtual slaves to our culture mistakenly thinking our value is in what we can produce. So we work harder and harder. Sleep less and less. And we, in fact, produce a crazy amount of stuff, but the irony is this “full” lifestyle leaves us feeling quite empty.

Why?

Because God cares more about who you’re becoming than what you’re accomplishing.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

WORSHIP

"Worship is humble and glad; worship forgets itself in remembering God; worship celebrates the truth as God's truth, not its own. True worship doesn't put on a show or make a fuss; true worship isn't forced, isn't half-hearted, doesn't keep looking at its watch, doesn't worry what the person in the next pew may be doing. True worship is open to God, adoring God, waiting for God, trusting God even in the dark.

"Worship will never end; whether there be buildings, they will crumble; whether there be committees, they will fall asleep; whether there be budgets, they will add up to nothing. For we build for the present age, we discuss for the present age, and we pay for the present age; but when the age to come is here, the present age will be done away. For now we see the beauty of God through a glass, darkly, but then face to face; now we appreciate only part, but then we shall affirm and appreciate God, even as the living God has affirmed and appreciated us. So now our tasks are worship, mission, and management, these three; but the greatest of these is worship.

"And do you see why it's so easy to create that pastiche of 1 Corinthians 13, substituting 'worship' for 'love'? Worship is nothing more nor less than love on its knees before the beloved; just as mission is love on its feet to serve the beloved . . ."

-- N.T. Wright, For All God's Worth (p.9)


I like Tom Wright's thought of substituting "Worship" for the word "Love" in 1 Cor. 13:4-8.  Try also substituting "God" for "Love" and if you are bold try putting your name in for "Love" and see how it fits or in my case, doesn't fit that well.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Bright

 The Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because he loves us; just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it.
            --C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Civil War?

Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel.

Enemy-occupied territory--that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.

--C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Sunday, November 6, 2011

WHY DID JESUS GO TO THE WEDDING?

By Max Lucado

Why would Jesus, on his first journey, take his followers to a party? Didn’t they have work to do? Didn’t he have principles to teach? Wasn’t his time limited? How could a wedding fit with his purpose on earth?

Why did Jesus go to the wedding?

The answer? It’s found in the second verse of John 2. “Jesus and his followers were also invited to the wedding.”

Jesus wasn’t invited because he was a celebrity. He wasn’t one yet. The invitation wasn’t motivated by his miracles. He’d yet to perform any. Why did they invite him?

I suppose they liked him.

Big deal? I think so. I think it’s significant that common folk in a little town enjoyed being with Jesus. I think it’s noteworthy that the Almighty didn’t act high and mighty. The Holy One wasn’t holier-than-thou. The One who knew it all wasn’t a know-it-all. The One who made the stars didn’t keep his head in them. The One who owns all the stuff of earth never strutted it.

Jesus could have been all of these, but he wasn’t. His purpose was not to show off but to show up. He went to great pains to be as human as the guy down the street. He didn’t need to study, but still went to the synagogue. He had no need for income, but still worked in the workshop. He had known the fellowship of angels and heard the harps of heaven, yet still went to parties thrown by tax collectors. And upon his shoulders rested the challenge of redeeming creation, but he still took time to walk ninety miles from Jericho to Cana to go to a wedding.

As a result, people liked him. Oh, there were those who chaffed at his claims. They called him a blasphemer, but they never called him a braggart. They accused him of heresy, but never arrogance. He was branded as a radical, but never called unapproachable.

His faith made him likable, not detestable. Would that ours would do the same!

When God Whispers Your Name
Copyright (Thomas Nelson, 1994) Max Lucado

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Short Prayer

A prayer by Donald Coggan (former Archbishop of Canterbury):

Take our minds, and think through them.
Take our lips, and speak through them.
Take our hearts, and set them on fire with love for thee.
What we know not, teach us.
What we have not, give us.
What we are not, make us.
For Jesus Christ's sake.

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Prayer about “Trick or Treat” Spirituality

By Scotty Smith:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great cloud a of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.   Heb. 12:1–2
Lord Jesus, over the course of the next 24 hours, many people in the world, mostly Roman Catholic and Anglican, will be celebrating All Saints Day—a day for remembering commendable examples of spirituality, departed men and women worthy of the title “saint”. It’s also Halloween—a celebration of strange attire, doorbell ringing, and tooth decay. I can now see how much these seemingly antithetical celebrations have in common.

For a good part of my life I thought the “cloud of witnesses” referred to in this passage in Hebrews was a select company of spiritual giants, peering down from heaven onto the earthly playing field of Christianity, cheering us on in the righteousness race—pulling for us to make it across the finish line. Noah, Abraham, Moses, King David, the apostle Paul—all winners and worthy saints, charging us to do well, persevere with sweat, and finish strong. What a burden to wear. What an utter distortion of the gospel and a colossal misrepresentation of you.

That version of spirituality fueled my pride, when I did well; and stoked my fear, when I did poorly. Actually, it was a “trick or treat spirituality.” I got the “treat” if I performed well. I got the “trick” if I performed poorly. What a mockery of your cross, Jesus. I now realize there’s no more ghoulish or ghastly costume to wear than my own attempts to appease and please you. The one thing Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Paul all had in common was their abject brokenness and consuming need of your grace. They’re in a “hall of fame” of faith, not of works (Hebrews 11).

So today I remember the heroes of grace you’ve sent into my life—the men and women who preached and still preach the gospel of grace to my heart. I don’t fix my gaze on them, but on you, Jesus, for you are the author and finisher of our faith. The only reason I’m a saint is because the Father has hidden my life in yours. My only “dress” is your perfection plus nothing; for you are our righteousness and sanctification and redemption (1 Cor.1:30).

I will run and finish the race because in you, Jesus, I live, move, and have my being. Nothing can separate us from your love. I will make it to heaven not because of my efforts but because of yours. There are no tricks nor treats, there’s just you; and everything that is yours, you have made to be ours. What wondrous love and eternal inheritance is this, indeed! So very Amen we pray, in your holy and worthy name.
It's good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace Hebrews 13:9

Thursday, October 27, 2011

More Questions than Answers on Prayer

PHILIP YANCEY from the book Prayer:  Does It Make Any Difference 

"Everywhere I encountered the gap between prayer in theory and prayer in practice.  In theory prayer is the essential human act, a priceless point of contact with the God of the universe.  In practice prayer is often confusing and fraught with frustration.  My publisher conducted a website poll, and of the 678 respondents only 23 felt satisfied with the time they were spending in prayer.  That very discrepancy made me want to write this book.

Advances in science and technology no doubt contribute to our confusion about prayer.  In former days farmers lifted their heads and appealed to brazen heavens for an end to drought. Now we study low-pressure fronts, dig irrigation canals, and seed clouds with metallic particles. In former days when a child fell ill the parents cried out to God; now they call for an ambulance or phone the doctor.

Prosperity may dilute prayer too. In my travels I have noticed that Christians in developing countries spend less time pondering the effectiveness of prayer and more time actually praying. The wealthy rely on talent and resources to solve immediate problems, and insurance policies and retirement plans to secure the future. We can hardly pray with sincerity, 'Give us this day our daily bread,' when the pantry is stocked with a month's supply of provisions.

Increasingly, time pressures crowd out the leisurely pace that prayer seems to require.  Communication with other people keeps getting shorter and more cryptic:  text messages, email, instant messaging.  We have less and less time for conversation, let alone contemplation.  We have the constant sensation of not enough:  not enough time, not enough rest, not enough exercise, not enough leisure.  Where does God fit into a life that already seems behind schedule?
 
"Prayer to the skeptic is a delusion, a waste of time.  To the believer it represents perhaps the most important use of time.  Why, then is prayer so problematic?  The British pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones summed up the confusion:  'Of all the activities in which the human engages, and which are part of the spiritual life, there is surely none which causes so much perplexity, and raises so many problems, as the activity which we call prayer.'

"I write about prayer as a pilgrim, not an expert.  I have the same questions that occur to almost everyone at some point.  Is God listening?  Why should God care about me?  If God knows everything, what's the point of prayer?  Why do answers to prayer seem so inconsistent, even capricious?  Does a person with many praying friends stand a better chance of physical healing as one who also has cancer but with only a few people praying for her?  Why does God sometimes seem close and sometimes faraway?  Does prayer change God or change me?
   
The psychiatrist Gerald C. May observed, 'After twenty years of listening to the yearnings of people's hearts, I am convinced that human beings have an inborn desire for God.  Whether we are consciously religious or not, this desire is our deepest longing and most precious treasure.'  Surely, if we are made in God's own image, God will find a way to fulfill that deepest longing.  Prayer is that way."  (pp. 15-16)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Are We There YET?


By Christine Cain:

Today I am flying home from Memphis with my girls, and Sophia came into our room at 7:30 this morning asking, "Mommy and daddy, how long will it take to get home from Memphis? Is it a long drive to the airport? Is it a day flight or a night flight?" (Remember my kids have traveled with us around the globe since they were born, and gauge the length of a flight based on whether it is a long night flight or short day flight.)

The point of this story is that we had not even left the hotel yet, and Sophia wanted to know when we would arrive at our destination. And I have no doubt that we will soon be going down the runway, and she will lean over and whisper, "Mommy are we there yet?"

I am smiling as I anticipate her question and simultaneously wondering how many who are reading this blog have quietly whispered in their heart to God, "Are we there yet?"

God, when am I going to find a life partner...are we there yet?

God, when am I going to get my breakthrough...are we there yet?

God, when am I going to get my promotion...are we there yet?

God, when will I reach my goal weight...are we there yet?

God, when will I get my ministry breakthrough...are we there yet?

I want to encourage you today to simply rest in God's love and trust His perfect timing in your life. God is a good God.

And if you look at your life right now and think God is doing nothing, realize He is actually preparing you for the thing He has prepared for you.

There is always more going on than what you can see. If what you see is all you see, then you will never see all there is to see.

You will not make the journey any quicker by asking God every five minutes, "Are we there yet?" If you are a parent, then you know the only thing achieved when a child asks this question over and over again is frustration.

So today...
Breathe
Trust God
Remove any obstacles from your progress
Wait for your breakthrough

At the appointed time, and in the due season, you WILL reap if you faint not. (Galatians 6:9)

I believe your breakthrough is coming. Hang in there and let patience have its perfect work in you. You will lack no good thin

Monday, October 10, 2011

Grace (Les Miserables)


Jean Larroux writes about this clip:
"My eyes fill with tears every time I watch it. I remember when my daughter was young and particularly troubled one night about her sin. She could not sleep. She told me that she could not ‘forgive herself…’ I gathered the family and we watched this particular clip from the movie. We all wept. She got it. The picture of grace in this artistic expression is inspired. Anyone who doesn’t think grace leads to obedience and holiness needs to watch the rest of the movie. Victor Hugo understood what so often seems to elude us…the powerful reality of Grace is the ONLY thing that turns us a man from evil to good."


Outrageously affluent in the currency of kindness, tolerance, and patience.

Scotty Smith:  A Prayer about God’s Kindness Leading Us to Repentance

Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? Rom. 2:4
Heavenly Father, I’ve seen many crazy things in my life; I’ve encountered a few crazy people; and I’ve certainly done my share of crazy things. But the most certifiably insane thing I do is to show contempt for the riches of your kindness, tolerance, and patience toward me in Jesus. I do this when I bow my neck, dig my heels in and refuse to follow your kindness into the green pastures of fresh repentance. Have mercy on me, the sinner.

The GPS of the gospel will never direct us to a destination of harm but only to a place of greater freedom and health. When we fight humbling ourselves; when we refuse to acknowledge the ways we love poorly, act immaturely, rebel openly; when we say “No!” to grieving our attitudes and actions that rob you of glory and us of grace, this is sheer madness. Showing contempt for your kindness is the ultimate destructive folly. Have mercy on me, the sinner.

Father, I praise you today for being outrageously affluent in the currency of kindness, tolerance, and patience. There’s no economic downturn in heaven—never has been, never will be. But I don’t presume on the bullion of your loving-kindness. It’s only because Jesus willingly endured the judgment I deserve that I’m in a position to be dealt with so mercifully and graciously. It’s only because he took the bankruptcy of the cross we get the inheritance of your grace.

Father, thank you for kindly leading us to humility, not to humiliation; to shelter, not to shame; to repentance, not to penance. For when I repent, I’m not the one making promises for change—you are. Only you can change us, and you are changing us, for you have covenanted to do so. That’s what the gospel is all about—simply collapsing upon Jesus, once again, as our perfect righteousness and sure hope of a new and changed heart.

So this morning, kind Father, I repent. I repent of not trusting that you are at work in my current irritating circumstances. I’ve looked at the weaknesses of others more than I’ve kept my eyes fixed on Jesus. It’s been easier (and at times more satisfying) to gossip than to pray. I’ve been moping about and plotting like an orphan, rather than rejoicing and trusting as a beloved son.

I’ve been more preoccupied with the ways of broken men than thrilled with the occupied throne of heaven. I’ve acted as though I care more about Jesus’ church than he does. How arrogant. I repent—because the gospel is true and you are so kind, I repent. So very Amen I pray, in Jesus’ merciful and mighty name.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Blessed

Paul ran from Christ; Christ pursued and overtook him.  Paul resisted Christ; Christ disarmed him.  Paul persecuted Christ; Christ converted him.  Paul was an alien; Christ made him a member of the family.  Paul was an enemy; Christ made him a friend.  Paul was ‘in the flesh’; Christ set him ‘in the Spirit.’  Paul was under the law; Christ set him in grace.  Paul was dead; Christ made him alive to God.  How does one give reasons for this?  He does not give reasons; he sings,  "Blessed be God who blessed us . . . even as he chose us in him.”

Lewis B. Smedes, Union With Christ (Grand Rapids, 1983), pages 86-87.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Because those guys aren’t just Kevin and Danny.


By Jon Acuff at Stuff Christians Like 

My wife and I own an unbelievable amount of junk.

Had you asked me how much junk we owned a year ago, I would have said, “Not much.” And I would have been gravely, gravely mistaken.

I realized just how much nonsense we owned when we decided to move twice in a year. In the first move, we boxed and packed our entire house ourselves. Then a group of 7 men with nicknames like “Tiny” put it all on a truck. Then they had to add an extension to the truck to fit other stuff. And then add a trailer.

It was like watching a prequel to an episode of the show “Hoarders.” In my defense, we don’t have any pets so we’ll never be on the even scarier version of that show, “Animal Hoarders.” I once saw an episode where a guy was living with 60 full-grown chickens inside his house. If I ever tweet out a picture of a chicken sitting next to me on the couch watching TV, please come over my house and have a poultry intervention.

After our move from Atlanta to Nashville exposed the innards of our attic, we decided to get rid of a lot of stuff. We gave it away. We sold it. We threw it away. So when it came time to do a cross town move in Franklin, TN, I thought it’d be a lot easier.

It wasn’t. We still had a tremendous amount of stuff, including a ridiculous amount of books. Have you ever carried 800 or 900 books? Not all at once, you’re not huge like me and Tiny, I get that. But have you ever had a moment when you actually wanted to punch your stuff in the face? That’s where I was after my wife and I made 59 trips in our cars across town to load and unload the small, random stuff we could carry.

For the bigger items, we hired a moving company that our friend recommended. This turned out to be a mistake.

For starters, they showed up an hour after they were supposed to be there. My wife told me that was actually early for movers. It always drives me crazy that there are still some professions where an hour behind schedule is considered early or on time.

But after 60 minutes of tracking them down, they did show up. Both of the guys got right to work. They started hauling things out of the house quickly, but there were some things they tried to talk us out of owning. They looked at some potted plants we had in our courtyard and said, “I’m not sure if those are going to fit on the truck.” Which is a weird thing for a mover you’re paying by the hour to say. The plants were three feet tall. If they didn’t fit on the truck on the first run, we’d just bring it back and make a second run.

Then they started to complain that they were having to carry heavy items. Again, weird thing for a mover to be surprised by. I assume that carrying heavy items is one of the first things they teach you at moving school. If you’re an accountant and you showed up at work and someone said, “Can you please move that fridge to the truck in the driveway?” you’d probably be thrown a little. As a mover, carrying things kind of comes with the territory.

The grumbling got louder and louder throughout the day, the pushback from the movers more direct and off-putting. Finally my wife, who had literally dealt with the mafia on a job site in Boston when she was in construction, said, “I don’t feel comfortable being around these guys. Can you please handle everything from here on out, even if things get put in the wrong place?”

So I did. And we came to a bit of a crossroads. The truck was so full we had to make two trips. The movers started talking about coming back tomorrow to finish the job. But the remaining items at our old house were our beds. And, if I paid them that day for the job, the chances of them driving back out the next day to finish were slim at best. So I convinced them we were completing the job today and drove them back over to the house to empty it out.

On the way, I was praying about my attitude, which stunk at that point. (Even reading those paragraphs above, I sound whiny and ridiculous.) And I prayed that God would let me see the movers Kevin and Danny the same way he did. I was kind of hoping that would be a prayer he slowly answered, so that I could still be grumpy that day. Then maybe a week later he’d reveal how he saw them, and I could write a post about it without actually having to change the way I behaved that day.
But I felt like his response was almost instant.

“How do I see Kevin and Danny? They’re two of my favorite people.”

Dang it. They were. I saw Kevin and Danny, the belligerent movers. The guys who were an hour late. The guys who took a bajillion smoke breaks. The guys who banged and bruised our furniture. The guys who creeped out my impossible-to-creep-out wife. The guys who seemed determined to complicate moving day.

But that’s not who God saw.

He saw Kevin and Danny.
 
He saw two guys he loved.

Two guys he sent his son for.

Two guys he was crazy about.

Two of his favorite people.

After we got back to my house, Kevin asked me if I could pay in cash instead of a check. The owner of the company called and asked me to do that too because the banks were closed and Kevin wouldn’t be able to get his money that night. In a near empty garage, Kevin quietly told me, “Tomorrow is my eight-year-old son’s birthday, and I don’t have anything for him yet. If you pay us tonight, I can get him something.”

Kevin was carrying my furniture all day, but he was also carrying the weight of being a dad without a gift for a little boy’s birthday. And that was heavier than anything I owned. He was carrying the realization that on a Saturday he wasn’t at home with his family, he was at work with someone else’s.

I don’t know if you’ve got a grumpy mover in your life. Someone who feels like an opponent to your day. A coworker whose hobby seems to be making your life difficult. A neighbor who walks their dog into your yard to use the bathroom. There are a million possibilities, and ultimately I don’t know who that person is for you. But I do know how we’re called to respond.

With love.

With prayer.

With more compassion than they deserve, more forgiveness than they’ll ever ask for and more kindness than they’d ever expect.

Because those guys aren’t just Kevin and Danny.

They’re two of God’s favorite people.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

I dare you. Search.

From Max Lucado:


I was mulling over a recent conversation I had with a disenchanted Christian brother. He was upset with me. So upset that he was considering rescinding his invitation for me to speak to his group. Seems he'd heard I was pretty open about who I have fellowship with. He'd read the words I wrote: "If God calls a person his child, shouldn't I call him my brother?" And, "If God accepts others with their errors and misinterpretations, shouldn't we?"

He didn't like that. "Carrying it a bit too far," he told me. "Fences are necessary," he explained. "Scriptures are clear on such matters." He read me a few and then urged me to be careful to whom I give grace.

"I don't give it," I assured. "I only spotlight where God already has."  Later I had a great thought. A why-didn't-I-think-to-say-that insight.

If the subject resurfaces, I'll say it. But in case it doesn't, I'll say it to you. (It's too good to waste.) Just one sentence:

I've never been surprised by God's judgment, but I'm still stunned by his grace.

Story after story. Prayer after prayer. Surprise after surprise.

Seems that God is looking more for ways to get us home than for ways to keep us out. I challenge you to find one soul who came to God seeking grace and did not find it. Search the pages. Read the stories. Envision the encounters. Find one person who came seeking a second chance and left with a stern lecture. I dare you. Search.

You won't find it.

Seems to me God gives a lot more grace than we'd ever imagine.

We could do the same.

I'm not for watering down the truth or compromising the gospel. But if a fellow with a pure heart calls God Father, can't I call that same man Brother? If God doesn't make doctrinal perfection a requirement for family membership, should I?

And if we never agree, can't we agree to disagree? If God can tolerate my mistakes, can't I tolerate the mistakes of others? If God can overlook my errors, can't I overlook the errors of others? If God allows me with my foibles and failures to call him Father, shouldn't I extend the same grace to others?

One thing's for sure. When we get to heaven, we'll be surprised at some of the folks we see. And some of them will be surprised to see us.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Walking again in the Garden

On the third day the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realized the new wonder; but even they hardly realized that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn.
      - G. K. Chesterton

Friday, September 30, 2011

Impatience Is An Enemy To Spiritual Growth

By Pete Wilson

I think all too often in Christian circles we view spiritual transformation as something that should always be charted up and to the right. While I wish this was true, the reality is it isn’t, is it?

I love to study the life of the apostle Peter. I’ve got way too much in common with that dude.
Matthew 16-23: “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
What a huge spiritual victory for Peter. You’ve been there.

You walked away from a certain temptation.
You loved someone you thought was unlovable.
You forgave someone you thought was unforgivable.
You had a moment of incredible generosity.

But just a few verses later we read…
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
 Listen, I don’t care where you are on your spiritual journey, when Jesus calls you “Satan” it’s a major set back. No matter how you look at it that’s a bad day.

Peter is a great reminder to me that this journey of having Christ formed in me is not an overnight deal. You can’t microwave spiritual formation.

And yet “impatience” which might be the most accepted sin in our culture today drives us to constantly want to speed up the process.

Can I encourage you today to slow down. Don’t beat yourself up if you’ve met recent spiritual failure or you just feel stuck. There are seasons to this spiritual growth process.

Today’s a new day full of new opportunities to connect to God’s grace in new ways.

Have you ever felt like Peter, up and down in your spiritual growth?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Such a Savior as your circumstances require.

“Jesus is no longer visible upon earth; but he has promised his spiritual presence to abide with his word, ordinances and people, to the end of time.  Weary and heavy laden souls have now no need to take a long journey to seek him, but he is always near them, and in a spiritual manner, where his Gospel is preached. . . . Therefore, come unto him.  That is, raise your hearts, and breathe forth your complaints to him. . . . He is just such a Savior as your circumstances require, as you yourself could wish for.”

John Newton, Works (Edinburgh, 1988), II:462.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Clear like the Sun

Luther on Galatians 3:6--
A Christian is both righteous and a sinner, holy and profane, an enemy of God and yet a child of God.

Those who do not know the true manner of justification will not admit such opposites. But we must teach and comfort the afflicted sinner, saying,

"Brother, it is not possible for you to become so righteous in this life that you feel no sin at all. Your body cannot be clear like the sun, without spot or blemish. You have wrinkles and spots—and yet you are holy. You will say, 'How can I be holy when I have and feel sin in me?' Your feeling and acknowledging your sin is a good sign. Give thanks to God, and do not despair. It is one step toward health when the sick person acknowledges his infirmity. 'But how can I be set free from sin?' Run to Christ, the physician, who heals those who are broken in heart and saves sinners. Do not follow the judgment of reason, which tells you that he is angry with sinners. Kill reason, and believe in Christ. If you believe, you are righteous. . . . The sin that remains in you is not laid to your charge but is pardoned for the sake of Christ, in whom you believe and who is perfectly just. His righteousness is your righteousness, and your sin is his sin."
--Martin Luther, Galatians (Crossway, 1998), 134

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Calvin and Hobbes on Principles


Sunday is not a second Saturday

Post from: Ray Ortlund

If we would stop treating Sunday as a second Saturday, one more day to run to Home Depot, one more day for the kids’ soccer games, another day for getting ready for Monday, if we would rediscover Sunday as The Lord’s Day, focusing on him for just one day each week, what would be the immediate impact between today and one year from today?

By one year from today, we will have spent 52 whole days given over to Jesus.  Seven and a half weeks of paid vacation with Jesus.

He’s a good King.  Maybe we should put him first in our weekly schedules.  Not fit him into the margins of our busy weekends, but build our whole weekly routine around him.

Just a thought.

What do you think?  Is Ray being like the Pharisees who criticized Jesus about the Sabbath?   Or is he on to something?  I think partly both...Jesus clearly changed the way we view the Sabbath:  “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”  Clearly all the rules that the religious leaders had put on the practicing Jews were wrong.   But Ray is right that we only fit Jesus into the margins of our week.   Especially for me the weekend.  What if we spent one Sunday a month only in worship, prayer, celebration.....?  Would our relationship with God look different?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I’m going to trade in my plan for a party.

By Jon Acuff at Stuff Christians Like 

“Are you going to be an author who speaks or a speaker who writes?”

Someone asked me that question the other day and the truth is, I’m not sure.

These have been three of the weirdest years of my life and people keep asking me things like that.

And right now, I feel like everyone on the planet has a plan for their life except me. Have you ever felt that way?

I look at other Christians and, in my head, I imagine that they’ve got a perfect ten-year plan. They’ve got some well defined vision and know exactly what they’re going to work on for the next year. They’ve got emotional, financial, spiritual and physical goals and are simply checking them off one by one as they march confidently into the land of awesome. They all know what they want to be when they grow up, and they are currently doing exactly that.

Me? I can’t seem to get my hands around a plan. I want to. I’ve got a few steps laid out, but they are floaty and soft and not at all structured with the level of detail the guy in the show Prison Break had. He had tattoos that outlined his plan perfectly. Me? I’m like the guy in Memento, scrawling messages in sharpie like “Write a new book. Be a better dad. Make sure your wife knows you love her. Work on your core.”

Now clearly the core’s not an issue. I do a lot of medicine ball exercises and push this weighted sled at the gym that I’m almost positive Satan himself handcrafted in the bowels of hell, but what about my plan?

Don’t I need a plan for my life? A perfectly structured, flawlessly executed plan?

That’s where I’m at, right this second, which is why I was caught off guard recently by the story of the prodigal son.

I’ve read that story a thousand times. I’ve blogged about it dozens of times. I wrote a draft of a book about it, but despite all of that, I saw something new in it last week. Here’s what I bumped into:
The prodigal son had to trade in his plan to get the party.

After wasting his inheritance and essentially telling his father he wished he was dead, he came home to the farm. And he did not return empty handed. He was carrying his plan. He crafted it carefully when he “came to his senses.” He filled his hands and his heart and his mouth with that plan.

On the road, his father ran to him. The son tried to pay his way back onto the farm with his plan. He thought that was the price of admission. The plan was what would bring him back to life. He was wrong.

His father met him and wouldn’t even let him say the entire plan out loud. The son didn’t even get to outline the whole plan. His father, God, cut him off. There was a party to discuss. And in that moment, the son had a choice, continue with his plan, or drop it to the ground, there in the road and open his hands.

He chose the party over the plan.
Into those empty hands, the father placed his ring.
Into those empty arms, the father placed his best robe.
Into that empty heart, the father placed his love.

I don’t know where you are on that road. Maybe life has fallen apart and you’re in the midst of a divorce and a new plan for a new you feels so appealing. Maybe you’re unemployed, and you feel like if you could just figure out the perfect plan, life would get back on track. Maybe you’re single and, while that’s fine for everyone else, for you that was never part of the plan. And a better plan would get you where you need to go.

I don’t know what’s in your hands right now, but I do know one thing.

I know what God wants to put into them.

His ring. His robe. His love.

Am I going to be an author who speaks or a speaker who writes? I’m not sure. This has unexpectedly become a season of letting go for me.

So that’s what I’m doing.

I’m going to trade in my plan for a party, which I think is always a deal worth making.

How about you?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pity...maybe. Love....unbelievable.

“Can you imagine it, that God, who is greater than immensity, whose life is longer than time, that God the all-boundless One, should love you? That He should think of you, pity you, consider you, this is all very well—but that He should love you, that His heart should go out to you, that He should choose you, that He should have engraved you on the palms of His hands, that He should not rest in Heaven without you, that He should not think Heaven complete until He brings you there, that you should be the bride and Christ the Bridegroom, that there should be eternal love between Him and you—oh, as you think of it, lift up your hands with adoring wonder and say, ‘Your love to me was wonderful.’”
 
— Charles Spurgeon
"The Love of Jonathan and the Love of Jesus"

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Incessant Whisper

By Pete Wilson 
I think most of us begin our Christian journey with this simple truth.
I’m broken. I need Jesus. The end.

However as we launch out on this new journey it doesn’t take long before we begin to hear this growing and incessant whisper that says, “Try harder, do more.”

Sing more.
Memorize more.
Journal more.
Preach more.
Pray more.
Evangelize more.
Serve more.

This approach can look quite spiritual to those around us; however, it’s often rooted in a inner conviction that our worth as a Christian is dependent upon our ability to outperform those around us. Behind this spiritual facade is a fragile and insecure heart desperately attempting to get God to love us more.

The cross isn’t something we start with and then move on from. The cross isn’t just the starting line of our faith, it’s the centerpiece. Grace isn’t something we need just for salvation, it’s like air for the believer.

So today when you hear that whisper in your head that says “Try harder, do more,” go back to this.

I’m broken. I need Jesus. The end.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Picture of How the Gospel Cures What the Law Cannot

From Sarah Vowell's engaging history of the Puritans, The Wordy Shipmates:

When John Cotton's grandson, Cotton Mather, wrote his Ecclesiastical History of New England in 1702, he told a story about [John] Winthrop that I would like to believe is true. In the middle of winter, Boston was low on fuel and a man came to the governor complaining that a "needy person" was stealing from his woodpile. Winthrop mustered the appropriate outrage and requested that the thief come see him, presumably for punishment. According to Mather, Winthrop tells the man,
"Friend, it is a severe winter, and I doubt you are but meanly provided for wood; wherefore I would have you supply yourself at my woodpile till this cold season be over." And Winthrop then merrily asked his friends whether he had not effectually cured this man of stealing his wood.

I know what you are all thinking......."That's not fair...He didn't get what he deserved and got what he didn't deserve...."   Exactly.  Us too. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Prayer about God Owning Our Battles

From Heavenward by Scotty Smith:
The Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s. 1 Sam. 17:47
This is what the Lord says to you: “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.” 2 Chron. 20:15
Dear Father, I’m thankful when you’re selfish with things I don’t really want anyway—especially when you claim ownership of my battles. Though following Jesus involves intense warfare and wearing the armor you provide (Eph. 6:10–18), you are the Divine Warrior we must trust. Whether it’s a mere skirmish or an all-out assault, the battle belongs to you, Lord. Fear and discouragement are not the order of the day, faith and hope are.

We’re never more than David standing before Goliath (1Sam. 17); Elijah facing 400 prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18); Gideon taking on the Midianite army (Judges 6-8); Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in a fiery furnace; Esther against the Persian government. It’s not our competence but your presence that matters. Not as disengaged pacifists, but as fully engaged worshipers, we will behold the salvation of the Lord.

Father, when it seems like evil and terror will triumph, let us hear the laughter of heaven. Give us eyes to see your already installed King, the Lord Jesus, reigning over all things (Psalm. 2).

When we’re under attack by the seducer, accuser, and condemner of the brethren, once again let us see Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. He is our wisdom, righteousness, holiness, and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30–31). Our boast is in Jesus, not in anything in us.

Lord, when we have to confront darkness in very broken people and very broken situations, protect us and empower us through the gospel. When we get pulled into petty fights with our brothers and sisters in Christ, humble all of us by your mercy and grace, and bring us back to faith expressing itself in love, quickly.

When my own divided heart wages war inside of me and I’m tempted to look for another savior; when I begin to lose confidence in the sufficiency of your grace, the trustworthiness of your promises and the hope of the gospel, come to me in the storm, Jesus, and make peace in the warzone of my soul. So very Amen I pray, in your loving and triumphant name.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

I Love God Like My Wife Loves Frogs… From a Distance

By Kurt Willems at The Pangea Blog

My wife Lauren makes me laugh out loud nearly every day.  She is amazing!  One thing that I find humorous is her fear of frogs… or should I say her love for frogs? Honestly, I’m not quite sure what description describes the situation.

About six months ago, Lauren downloaded an iPhone app called Sleep Maker.  I hate it, she loves it!  Basically, if you enjoy falling asleep under the intoxicating sounds of nature, this app is for you.  Melodic sounds of creeks flowing, crickets chirping, thunder roaring, birds harmonizing, waves crashing… and yes, you guessed it – frogs croaking.  For a month straight, we listened to the setting titled “medium frogs near brook.” Of course, she always falls asleep within 5 minutes of hitting the pillow, while I get to enjoy the full 45-minute duration of croak-age!   Seriously, they should change the name of this app to “Sleep Stopper!”

We currently live in a housing development with an irrigation canal that passes through the neighborhood.  I’m pretty sure that more frogs live in this man-made creek than humans in the whole sub-division.  It makes me wonder if the plague of frogs in Egypt under Moses could even compare to our population of Kermit’s cousins.

When we take our dogs out for an evening walk, the croaking sound is wonderful.  As long as this sound isn’t disrupting my slumber, I enjoy it quite a bit.  For Lauren, it might qualify as one of her favorite sounds on the planet.  She loves frogs from a distance.

But then there’s the other side of my lovely wife’s disposition towards these green wart covered amphibians.  When it gets dark enough, she is terrified that a frog might jump out in front of her.  This fear is somewhat justified as many of the frogs venture into the neighborhood to help cut down our insect population.  The thing that brings her near the point of trepidation involves the possibility of stepping on a frog, which results in two negative results: 1) such a frog would lose its life, 2) said frog would make a “squishy noise” under her feet.

To summarize: Lauren loves frogs from a distance, but fears close contact.

The more I think about my wife’s love and fear of frogs, the more I’m reminded of my life with God.  

From a distance:
  • I sing songs about God.
  • I study the Scriptures.
  • I listen to dynamic sermon podcasts as I commute 40 minutes to seminary.
  • I have deep theological conversations in coffee shops about the mysteries of the Creator.
  • I prepare sermons.
  • I read books about the way of Jesus.
In all these things, I attempt to engage God from a distance.  I deceive myself into believing that these activities are guaranteed to lead me into closeness with Jesus. Sometimes they do, but more often than not, God feels far away.  I think that I’m actually afraid of what it would cost to take my spiritual life to the next level.

I fear that close contact might mean self-sacrifice beyond the simple luxuries I might be willing to give up as a privileged American.  If I get too close:
  • I might lose my comfort.
  • I might have to serve more.
  • I might need to give my life fully to others.
  • I might feel compelled to live in authentic and intrusive community.
  • I might find myself in situations with people I’d rather not spend quality time with, because as much as I may abstractly believe that I’m called to love those in the margins, this takes work.
  • I might even find myself in situations where turning the cheek is a literal demand!
If I am completely honest, most of the time I love God from a distance.

But there’s something more beautiful in this picture. All of the things I fear about getting close to God are the very kinds of things that Jesus did perfectly during his life!  Whereas my tendency is to love God from a distance rather than up close, the pattern of Christ works in the opposite direction. Consider these familiar words from John’s gospel:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made….  14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  John 1.1-3, 14
And then these words from the Apostle Paul:
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross! Philippians 2.5-8
Jesus doesn’t love us from a distance; he loves us by drawing near.

So, when we feel like our relationship with God is at arms length, may we remember that his arms spread wide open to embrace us all. When we feel guilty for the expanse between our lives and the life of God, may we be encouraged that the resurrected Christ invaded earth from the throne of heaven to eliminate all relational chasms between the Divine and us. And just as frogs may be wonderful from afar but scary up close, may we begin to realize that God comes close to us to cast away our fear. May God’s nearness to us empower our lives to bring Jesus near to those for whom God seems distant.