Thursday, December 29, 2016

My Bible Reading Trap

This time of year I love making lists. I have a list of lists, in fact. Just moments ago, I created a file called, "Life Lists 2017." And reviewing my list of lists from 2016 is actually kind of fun. *pats self on back*

But this check-it-off mentality gets tricky in real life. I mean the real, eternal perspective. Does God even care about my lists? Part of my spiritual check list is reading the Bible through every year. That works together very well with my goal of reading the Bible every day. Those are important items to check off the list.

Then one Saturday a few weeks ago, I sensed God challenging my pride about my spiritual check list. Could I go for a day without reading the Bible? My Bible reading had become a source of my sense of spiritual worthiness. God needed to show me that my status before him was not contingent upon my effort. I'm still learning that lesson.

Here's my current dilemma. I'm on track to finish the Bible in 2016 (following the devotional guide, Dare to Summit: Read It Thru, by my friend Guy Andrews). I could actually finish the Bible today or tomorrow, which would put me ahead of the game. But if I finish the Bible on Dec. 30, then what Bible reading will I do on Dec. 31? Of course I could read any random passage on Dec. 31. But if I start the Bible over again this year, then it could mean that I don't read the whole Bible in 2017--the first day's reading would have been done in 2016. 

OK, as I write this, I realize how stupid it is. But it shows how weak and fallen my faith is. Do I need to brag that I read the Bible through in 2017? What if I don't quite finish it? What if I miss some days of reading the Bible? It's ridiculous that I put such stock in my own performance.

What does God really want from me? Is he really going to say, "Well done, thou good and faithful list checker?" He really wants my heart, not my check boxes.

More often than not, giving him my heart has nothing to do with my lists. He doesn't love me because I perform. He just loves me. That's what has to sink in to me.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Getting Christmas

It's been a long time coming, but maybe, perhaps, I am finally getting Christmas. For some reason, it has been a life-long struggle for me to embrace this winter holiday, celebrating the birth of Jesus. I have been a scrooge before. I have often found Christmas music annoying. I have watched in amazement as others get so amazed at Christmas. Really?

Today, on the day after Christmas, I don't feel any let down at all. I believe this is a first. And I hope I feel this way because I finally, to some small degree, get Christmas. I'm certain that getting older has helped me. And perhaps being forced (by virtue of my vocation) to be all up in Christmas has allowed God to get through to me.

There are a lot of different ways to view Christmas.

Some ignore it entirely, but that's extremely hard to do in America.

Some tolerate it as an excuse for people to celebrate. The gift giving, excessive partying, ugly sweater wearing, song singing, overeating, and family visiting are bound to happen. It's just what people do. Calling it a celebration of Jesus' birthday works just fine.

Some despise Christmas with all its phony, sentimental claims of magic and seasonal happiness. Everyone knows that Christmas is fake, and only a rare, honest person will actually admit it. But the truth tellers have to be very careful not to express this discovery in the wrong company. The willfully deceived can't stand to have their bubble burst.

Some people persuade themselves that they experience the peace and joy of Christmas, but deep down they realize that they have to suspend their disbelief to get there. It's like a journey to Middle Earth: the magical feeling can only come when you tell yourself that hobbits, elves, and dwarves are real. For them "believing" equals make-believe. But it's worth it, because you can really enjoy the holiday.

Some have tried to experience peace and joy at Christmas, but they never quite get there. They tell themselves that they have not tried hard enough to do Christmas right. They approach Christmas with a deep longing every year, and always find themselves disappointed. Maybe next year.

Some have given up on Christmas. They go through the motions of the holiday, but secretly they can't wait for January. They put on a happy face and pretend to enjoy it all. They wonder if it is really real to all those Christmas lovers, but they doubt it. So Christmas becomes a grand interruption of normal life. You just smile and nod, knowing that it will eventually be all over.

And some people get Christmas.

Christmas is about believing. And there are different levels of believing. Some believe in the shallow aspects of Christmas: the glitz, the stuff. They believe they will have fun, and so they do.  Some believe a little more deeply in the relationship aspects of Christmas: family, sharing, volunteering. They believe that they will love people, and they do. Some believe in the depth of God's love, intimately revealed in the birth of his Son. They believe that God reveals himself, changes hearts, and restores this broken world. And he does.

So how am I finally beginning to get Christmas?

Well, God is doing this work in my heart. I can't take credit for it. But here's what I am realizing more and more.

I am loved. Jesus loves me and that changes everything. The world looks different to me when I remember that I am loved.

I am blessed. God speaks good things over me. He doesn't keep me from struggle or all harm, but he constantly reveals his goodness to me. I can trust him.

He is with me. Whatever I face, whatever mistakes I make, whatever evil is aimed at me . . . he is walking with me. Not only is he for me, he is with me.

When I am secure in Christ, I have real freedom. I can smile. I don't have to fix people. I can let his goodness flow through me to others.

I'm not expecting magic at Christmas. I'm learning to receive what God pours out in my life, every day, including the Christmas season. So Christmas doesn't annoy me so much anymore. My attitude is better. On the day after Christmas, I still feel his joy. Maybe, just maybe, I'm getting Christmas.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Welcome, Jesus!

As we enter the night of Christmas Eve, we remember that Jesus broke through from heaven to earth. He came helpless, vulnerable, humble, and powerless. Yet this powerless baby was and is the most powerful person ever to walk this earth. We often fail to recognize this real sort of power.

He calls everyone of us to participate in his goodness, live the truth, and see his beauty. Here, in Jesus, God pierces the veil between heaven and earth. He is now God with Us, Immanuel. He has not forgotten us.

He reminds us that life is not about collecting toys or power; life is not about comfort or privilege; life is found in relationship to him. This life overflows to the world around us.

We celebrate the new life of the Baby Jesus at Christmas. And he brings real new life. He reconciles the world to himself. He completed this work by giving his life on the cross and rising from the dead.

God is with us. God is for us. God is in us. We celebrate this Jesus!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Christmas on Sunday: Uh oh...

Occasionally Christmas falls on a Sunday--about one-seventh of the time, I would think. I have to admit that I don't like it. It messes with our Sunday routine and our Christmas routine. This interruption forces us to make choices, and it may make us think a little more clearly.

How is a Christian to celebrate Christmas on a Sunday? Some will bag the church service entirely; some will opt for part, but not all, of the Sunday services; some will probably go all out for Christmas at church.

Of course that will depend on what their church is offering.

Some churches have cancelled services entirely on December 25.
Some churches will have streamlined services, like we will at Crossroads.
I imagine that some churches may have even more elaborate services than usual.

Christmas on Sunday brings to my mind some questions.
Isn't Christmas all about Jesus? Isn't church all about Jesus? If so, wouldn't it be twice as celebratory to have both on the same day?

Or maybe Christmas is about family, food, decorations, music, and gifts. We have to consider our stated beliefs in light of our practices.

But at the same time, there is grace and freedom in Jesus. Celebrating Christmas (which is never called for in the Bible) should not become a legalistic requirement. Even Jesus missed some weekly synagogue services. Can we skip church on Christmas, and truly celebrate the freedom we have in Christ?

Do we really celebrate Jesus in our Christmas family gatherings? Or is Christmas just a good occasion to gather family and friends?

Maybe I'm the only one to get so analytical here. Or maybe a lot of believers are thinking this, and I'm just saying it.

Here's my encouragement to you: Let Jesus break through to you as you celebrate his birth on Sunday this year. Enjoy your freedom in Christ, purchased for you on the cross. Know that he came for you and longs to enjoy your fellowship--whether that is around the fireplace, the dinner table, or in a worship service.

Receive the blessing of Jesus this Christmas!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Stop Picking on Millennials

Please excuse all the broad brushstrokes below.

I'm getting a little tired of hearing people dump on millennials. They are depicted as spoiled, arrogant, easily offended, coddled, and idealistic. They live in their parents' basements and play video games all day, wearing pajamas.

They are searching for themselves, but don't know where to look.

I'm at the tail end of the Baby Boom, and I never felt like I really fit in that generation. Most boomers are older than I, and I always felt like the little brother. But boomers were well known for disagreeing with the older generation. I remember hearing constantly about the "generation gap." Old people just don't get the young folks.

Now the boomers are the old folks, and--shocker--the old folks don't get the young folks. But we boomers have taken on the challenge of putting millennials in their place. We ridicule the youngest adults for their participation trophies and "safe spaces." Heck, I remember getting a participation trophy for baseball in 1972, and I was glad to get it. I don't think my team won any games.

Yes, millennials have different perspectives than their elders, but that doesn't mean they are stupid. It doesn't mean that they have nothing of value to say. It means that they can see what we are blind to.

Part of what ticks off boomers, at least in church world, is that millennials point out the inconsistencies and hypocrisies of typical Christians. The evangelical church is built for comfort, not justice; for big numbers, not big impact; for big budgets, not sacrifice. We have an Americanized version of Christian faith, and it is, necessarily, a distortion of the true gospel.

Boomers pointed out the hypocrisy of our parents. Anybody remember, "Don't trust anyone over 30"? The younger generation has a knack for pointing out those bothersome gaps between principles and practice. Boomers objected to the Vietnam War. What were we really fighting for? Boomers rejected arbitrary rules about guys having long hair. And I think we objected to some other equally important things.

Then boomers turned 30. Over time, boomers became the establishment. But we are not acting like our parents, just ignoring the silliness of the young. Boomers are offering open ridicule of a new generation, because they are idealistic. They want to save the planet, fight for justice, end racism, feed the hungry, cure diseases, etc.

They don't want to sit in pews to hear excellent music and inspiring sermons, and just leave their faith there. They want to make a difference. They want to head into the danger of fighting systemic injustice. They want to engage in fair trade. They want to help create sustainable economic health in developing countries. They see that Americans don't have all the answers. They see that Americanizing the world is not a desirable goal, and certainly not the role of the Church.

I think it's time for the boomer generation to stop picking on millennials and begin to listen to their hearts. Yes, they lack our experience, but that's a good thing. It helps them look at the world's issues more open-mindedly. They don't take for granted that more stuff is better. They don't really want--dare I say it?--the American Dream. Christian millennials want to see Christ's Kingdom come.

After all, this is not an "us vs. them" thing. It is us together, the Body of Christ. We really need each other: old and young, rich and poor, American and international. We can do better at making disciples of all nations. We can do better at loving orphans and widows. We can do better at using our resources. We can do better than merely counting people in pews on Sunday mornings. We can engage in this world with the power of Jesus.

A Daughter named "Not Loved"

Reading through Hosea this morning, I was struck by God's command to the prophet. God told him to marry an adulteress. And when she conceived her second child, a girl, Hosea was to name her Lo-Ruhamah (Hosea 1:6). Translated from Hebrew into English, the name means "Not Loved," or "Not Shown Compassion." A few verses later we learn that she was weaned. Other than that, we know nothing of this person.

God used the names of Hosea's three children as object lessons for the nations of Israel and Judah. He also used Hosea's marriage to Gomer as an object lesson. God had a bigger purpose in mind. Hosea willingly obeyed the Lord, and the prophetic message went to the Hebrews and endures forever in scripture.

But I feel compassion toward this little girl born around 750 B.C. I want to imagine that Hosea loved his (only?) daughter with great tenderness and strength. Surely she needed the warm, loving embrace of her father, and surely Hosea found the time and heart to show her God's love. Apparently she would never find that attention from her mother.

My point is that we don't always understand what God is up to. When he leads us into dark places and situations we want to avoid, we need to shine his light even brighter.

May those today who feel like Not Loved find the Lord's ambassadors and know that they truly are loved--by God and by his people.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

How to Write a Christmas Family Newsletter

Here they come. Those Christmas Family newsletters, folded neatly into so many Christmas cards. (I suspect that we see fewer of them now, with social media offering instant updates...) In fact, the happy-faced, polished profiles on Facebook look like ongoing stories inspired by actual Christmas newsletters.

This Baby Blues comic from Dec. 5, 2016 sums it up perfectly.

It may be annoying to read about the perfect lives of friends and family, but it could be worse. We could read about all the dysfunction and disappointment plaguing the world, and this delivered with a personal touch.

Yeah, this year was even worse than last year. Joe lost three jobs, and Jane gained another 50 pounds. The kids are flunking, and their friends reject them. But when the house burned, we did save three photo albums and an iPod. Everyone's got the flu now. Maybe that's why the dog ran away...

So, how do you craft a sincere, honest, uplifting newsletter? I offer these as theoretical suggestions, because we don't send out a family newsletter, and never really have. And we DO like to receive them from others, even if they are airbrushed.

Keep the focus on gratitude.
Yes, the kids made good grades, but aren't the teachers extraordinary? We are blessed with a great school!

Little Johnny is loving his basketball team, especially his encouraging coach.

Share some growing edges for the family.
Times are still tight for us, but we expect to see the family business turn the corner next year.

Mary's cancer has returned, but we have so much support from our friends. We couldn't do it without them!

Acknowledge the big picture.
We are thankful that we have this time of year to reflect on God's love for us and you.

In the joys and the struggles, God has shown us such goodness. We rejoice at being part of his story.

So, enjoy all the holiday greetings, and don't get too proud if your family is better than mine.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Washington's Advice to Us

George Washington has some wisdom for us. As he prepared to turn over the reigns of leadership to John Adams, he offered some suggestions, in his Farewell Address.

Watch out for those who would pit areas of the country against each other:

            One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.

Work against the human tendency toward the “spirit of party.”

            I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.

            This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

Resist the temptation to “pay back” the other side.

A party spirit can lead to severe pendulum swings in governing, often accompanied by efforts to “pay back” the party recently removed from power.

            The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism.

Don’t give too much power to anyone.

When public policy swings to greater and greater extremes, people can long for someone to take charge and fix everything. Such a person may be hungry for power, and may consolidate power and threaten the liberty of citizens.

            The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

            Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Breakthrough to Revival

I don't know how I missed it.

We have been praying for God to break through to us personally. We have asked God to jolt us out of our ruts, to get our attention, to shake us up.

The Spirit took over our worship on Sunday. The music ushered us into the Lord's presence. He spoke as we applied his word. People responded to his challenge. We encountered him as we celebrated holy communion.

God is breaking through to us. Thank you, Lord!

What I missed is this: Real breakthrough from the Lord is actually revival. When he breaks through to us, he breathes new life into us. He REVIVES us.

May we continue to embrace your Spirit, Lord! Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Good Thing about this Election

Tomorrow is election day. Like most Americans, I am ready for it to be over. But in the spirit of looking on the bright side, here are a few positives that I see:
  • People are taking a fresh look at government.
  • Both major parties are forced to admit flaws with their candidates.
  • Third parties are receiving much more attention.
  • The Washington ruling class (of both blue and red stripes) recognizes a deep fed-up-ed-ness in the American electorate.
  • Many Christians see more clearly that government is not the answer.
  • Christians find that they must sincerely evaluate what really matters, in terms of policy and character.
  • The church can turn its attention away from partisan politics, and focus on sharing the gospel, with its call to faith, repentance, and justice.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Washout to Breakthrough

I have been preaching on Breakthrough, and how God uses various means to break through to us. We can't take those steps of faith when we are stuck in a rut. We don't grow when we are not stretched.

With the major flooding in eastern NC, people are responding with kindness and generosity. Mobile feeding stations provide hot meals; trucks loaded with supplies bring hope; one store offered to fill propane tanks for free.

But I was surprised to see another perspective on this disaster in today's News and Record. The story quotes Lumberton resident Keira McGirt saying, "Lumberton needed this. We needed this to come together as a city." The town has struggled for centuries as black, white, and Indian residents have worked through racial tensions. This 23-year-old mother believes her city can do better.

The town has flooded before, but this may be the worst on record. Now, people have to work together to rescue the stranded, to care for the elderly and young, to find ways to prepare food, to obtain clean water. Working together brings healing. Our differences become trivial when we are united for survival.

This could become a Breakthrough moment for Lumberton. Fellow residents become friends, neighbors become co-laborers. The town can break through with a new spirit of cooperation, a new attitude about others, a new faith in God who brings them together. I pray that the Spirit of God works powerfully to change hearts there.

Right now, they need some of what we've got--like clean water and clean clothes. So this Sunday we are collecting cases of water bottles, packages of new socks, and boxes of baby wipes. We will deliver them on Sunday afternoon to those who need them.

But right now we need some of what (apparently) they have got--a powerful trust in God, a spirit of loving one another, a determination to make a difference.

We all need a Breakthrough of some kind. A flood of water can bring a flood of prayer; and that can bring Breakthrough to our souls.

May the power of Jesus Christ overwhelm this hurting city. May God break through to them and to us.

Image result for flood in lumberton

Friday, October 7, 2016

Politics: The Most Persuasive Liar

The airwaves reek of campaign commercials. Candidates love to say that their opponents are lying. They try to find any vote or sound bite that will make the opponent sound untruthful or extreme.

This is Tim Keller, not a politician. I did not have
a picture of a politician speaking.
Generally there is a kernel of truth in the charges, but far too often, the "facts" are devoid of context. Candidates try to counter the accusations with equally outrageous accusations.

We all know that mudslinging in a campaign goes with the territory. They only sling mud because it works. Enough people in the public buy the lies that elections are won and power is delegated based on untruths.

Think about it: the candidate who wins is typically the candidate who is the most persuasive liar.

We keep falling for the lies and government becomes more and more corrupt.

Can't we choose leaders on the basis of honor, truth, and good will?

They say that a nation has the government that it deserves. That's a scary thought.

Friday, September 30, 2016

The Real Power of Martin Luther King

As our church prayed last Sunday for racial reconciliation in our country, someone mentioned the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I suddenly realized how blessed we are that he, and not a voice of violence, rose to such prominence in the 1960s civil rights movement.

Revolutionary leaders have emerged in other countries, calling for vandalism and armed rebellion to throw off oppression. But in America, we are blessed--more than we can imagine--that Dr. King is our nation's conscience for equality.

Even now, 50 years later, civil rights leaders look to the example of Dr. King for inspiration. Think of the powerful principles he embodied.

King firmly believed that might doesn't make right. Right makes right. King called us to recognize equality because it is right in the eyes of God. His peaceful resistance spoke truth to power.

King applied the gospel of Jesus Christ to the problem of racism. This gospel demands that the oppressors repent, and it empowers the oppressed to forgive. Only through such changes of heart can healing begin.

The methods of King, inspired by Jesus, kept the tensions from spiraling into civil war. Protesting for equality with peaceful but defiant actions forced our nation to repent.

Yes, things have gotten better, but we have a long ways to go.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Out of Gas

What do you mean we are out of gas? How can that be? There's no oil shortage.

Suddenly we evaluate every trip we make. We wonder if we can find fuel at our destination.
I can think of a few errands I could run, but I really want to preserve my fuel. My process of evaluating has changed.

I see again how much I take for granted. I never really thought about where this gas comes from. It comes out of hose at any gas station. I had no idea that we rely on a pipeline that covers 11 states, from Texas to New York.

Yesterday I went to three gas stations before I found one with fuel.

One leak in one pipeline puts a serious cramp in our daily lives. Turns out, we can't imagine life without gasoline.

What else is essential to life for us? And is gasoline essential? I'm just glad this is not a food shortage.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Why We Need a Breakthrough

We all need a breakthrough. Life is more than survival and accumulating things. God can break through to us so that we see what really matters, what life is really all about.

This is why you need a breakthrough:

  1. This broken world is a closed system, except for the revelation and intervention of God.
  2. Unless something jars us into new ways of thinking and doing, we will march on mindlessly in our daily drudgery.
  3. Drudgery leads to an unfulfilled life of regret.
  4. Life's interruptions are times when God can break through to us.
  5. These interruptions can wake us up to a better life, if we are tuned in to Jesus.

We need breakthroughs regularly in life. Life gets better when we get better (says motivational speaker Brian Tracy), and we can't really get any better without taking life to the next level. Those life leaps take place when God breaks through to us.

In our Breakthrough series, beginning this Sunday, we will learn to find and harness those Breakthrough moments of life!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

"Stranger Things" and Thin Places

I'm not a big binge-watcher, but I watched the whole first season of Stranger Things in about a week. Okay, there are only eight episodes, so that's barely more than one per day. To call that binge-watching is like calling Hurricane Hermine a thunderstorm.

But Stranger Things depicts a reality that's right here, but in another dimension. Researchers in the story have opened a portal to this underworld, dubbed "Upside Down" by the main characters. Other portals to this hidden world appear and disappear as the story unfolds. No one knows when, why, or how these portals open, but they provide glimpses and gateways into this dark reality.

Back to the real world. There is another dimension to this reality, a spiritual dimension. We encounter this dimension on some rare occasions in our lives. A mother senses something significant about her child--an accident, an illness, a broken heart. All alone, we feel like someone is watching us. Coincidences occur, as if someone is writing a story. We stare up into the night sky and know that there is meaning in the universe.

The realm of the supernatural sometimes bleeds over into this natural world. Many have declared that certain places lend themselves to encounters with the supernatural--cathedrals, caves, mountain tops. The Celts referred to these locations
as "thin places." There the veil between the natural and the supernatural is so thin that we can almost see through it. The supernatural is here, in our midst, and sometimes we sense it.

There are thin places that do not depend on location. In conversation, we sense something about the other person, something they have not said. In personal or corporate worship we feel the weight of God's presence. God reveals deep truth to us about ourselves or about a relationship. In prayer, the typical static from heaven becomes high definition conversation.

In thin places, heaven touches earth. God reveals himself. He gives us a glimpse into the deeper truths of reality. The closer I come to him, the more thin places I experience.

We need him to break into our lives. We all know it. And he eagerly desires to show his glory.

Our Breakthrough series begins on September 18.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Breakthrough Series

Stuck in a rut? Need a miracle? Ready for something MORE?

You need a Breakthrough. Join us at Crossroads for our new series, beginning September 18.

Every week we will see how breakthroughs in history mirror the way God breaks through to our hearts.

Pardon the Interruption, September 18
Our world is a closed system, except that God breaks in and shows us truth. His supreme breakthrough was coming to live on earth with us. As he breaks in, he reveals reality to us! See John 1:14.

A New Mind, September 25
Our thought patterns are twisted and corrupted, even though we don't realize it. God reveals our faulty thinking and helps us live in the truth. See Romans 12:2.

Better Lenses, October 2
We see reality through our own lenses. Everybody's view of the world is distorted, and we need God's perspective to see people as they truly are. See Acts 10:9-47.

Discipline, October 9
Some breakthroughs require effort over time. Persistence in spiritual discipline brings deep personal development. We don't always see it right away. But if we believe that discipline pays off, we can stick with it and find breakthroughs. See Proverbs 1:1-7.

New Challenges, October 16
Life is full of new challenges, and new challenges are opportunities for breakthrough. See 1 Timothy 1:3-7.

New Friends, October 23
It is easy to label groups of people, but if we get to know individuals, we can have a breakthrough of understanding. See Philemon 1-25.

New Reality, October 30
When circumstances radically change, we have to adapt. Our new way of handling reality can bring breakthrough. See Acts 1:12-14.

Hearing the Spirit, November 6
God leads his people through his Spirit, even today. Rather than groping in the dark, we can live with confidence and assurance, following the Spirit. Now that's a breakthrough! See Acts 8:26-29.

Being Childlike, November 13
Children see the world through eyes of wonder. Adults learn how to take things for granted. But the adult who breaks through the layers of cynicism and boredom can really live! See Matthew 18:3.

The Power of Beauty, November 20
Exposure to beauty actually changes us . . . for the better. God's beauty has supernatural power to transform us. See Psalm 27:4, 8.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

White Supremacy

Disillusionment is under-rated. It is good to have one’s illusions exposed. Many of our illusions about life stem from the lenses through which we see the world around us. From childhood we learn how to interpret the people and events we encounter. We notice how our parents and family respond to various situations. We note the way others treat us. We see how people receive our good and bad behavior. We shape our lenses accordingly, to help us know what to see and what to expect in our world.

With my set of lenses, I saw the world as a place of opportunity. The systems of society have always seemed neutral to me. I don’t expect to be treated with favor or resistance at the DMV, a department store, or a restaurant. I expect the workers at these places to do their jobs normally for all patrons—because that has generally been my experience.

My lenses are shaped by my experiences. It’s how I see the world.

But no two people have the same experiences. Our lenses are all shaped differently. For those who have experienced rejection or poor treatment in public places, the world feels potentially hostile. They don’t fit seamlessly into the system because of sex, skin color, hair color, accent, size, or shape. Those outward characteristics shape the way others perceive us, and probably how they treat us.

Those experiences shape our lenses. We expect a certain kind of response from others, and usually we see what we are looking for. I expect and find a neutral business environment. Others expect and find a biased environment. What I now realize is that the world is not nearly as neutral as I had believed.

It took the writings of Richard Rohr, another white male, to pull back the curtain and let me see my illusion. This has rocked my world.

When the horrific stories of racial tension increased recently, I could not sit idly by. I texted a black friend to invite him to lunch. Over the meal, I acknowledged that I now see that the world’s systems are designed by and for people like me: white men. I had never noticed that bias, because it had never stopped me. I fit perfectly through the system’s filter, so much so that I never knew it was there.

As I described for my friend my realization that there is a biased system, he said, “We call that white supremacy.” Oh wow.

Many call it “white privilege,” which seems much less harsh. But the term “white privilege” also fails to strike deeply enough in my soul. I can deny white privilege all day. “People don’t treat me that way because I’m white.” (How can I really know?) But white supremacy says, “Whites make the rules, set up the systems, and if you will just follow the (white) system, you will get along just fine. What is your problem?”

Forgive me for failing to propose sweeping systemic solutions here. I’m still reeling from my new corrected lenses. I’m trying to find my balance. I’m trying to see reality more from God’s perspective. Disillusionment may be good, but it’s not easy.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Olympic Identity

Two American Olympians who won a silver medal for synchronized diving both acknowledged the Lord after competing. See the video here.

Many athletes thank God, along with coaches and parents. But David Boudia and Steele Johnson independently downplayed the significance of the Olympic medal. Each man said "my identity is in Christ." The medal is a great honor, but not necessary for their self-esteem.

With identities secure in Christ, the men were free to perform their best. They had nothing to prove. They could dive in peace.

So what is this "identity in Christ" stuff?

When we have right standing before God, nothing else really matters. Through a relationship with Jesus believers receive, as a gift, the righteousness of Jesus. It is not earned but received. We don't have to work for it.

Paul puts it this way in Romans 3:21-22: "But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known...This righteousness from God comes through faith in Christ Jesus to all who believe."

The believer's "identity in Christ," then, is that of perfect righteousness, given as a gift. It is "apart from the law," not earned by being good. It is received by faith.

I find it very hard to live from this identity in Christ. I am constantly striving to prove myself, trying to be good, trying to be productive. But when I experience deep in my soul the security of Jesus and his righteousness, I am at peace. I don't look for any silver medals or perfect dives, but I can truly do my best when I remember that I have nothing to prove. Jesus proved it all on the cross.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Overcoming Division

What in the world is happening? As I drive past flags flying at half-staff, I try to remember why. Was it the massacre in Orlando? Since then, we have cringed as story after story reminds us of the brokenness of this world: Minneapolis, Baton Rouge, Nice, Dallas, Baton Rouge. When is the flag ever flying high any more?

Pundits and politicians seize on every new story to advance some political agenda. They try to manipulate public opinion for the sake of votes and power. They sow seeds of division to advance their side. The more one side fights, the more the other side responds in kind. People are labeled, defamed, ambushed, and murdered.

The masses want to fight fire with fire. Rhetoric ratchets up. People stop listening and dismiss everything they hear from those people in that camp. They stop thinking for themselves and listen to the loudest voices on their "side." These voices stir up hate and suspicion, calling out the worst in human nature. Clearly this pattern makes our problems worse.

This is an opportunity for the church to stand up and call people to conversation on a higher plane. We are all broken. My perspective is not the only perspective. It's not even the right perspective. No one but God has the right perspective.

Christ calls us to this kind of humility at the cross. We are broken. We need redemption from our
sinful natures. Jesus paid the price for this redemption on the cross, giving his life as a sacrifice to atone for our sins. This is good news, but it can only be received with humility, admitting that we need a Savior.

Everyone around us is broken, too. No wonder we don't trust people. No wonder people hurt others. No wonder people find groups of others to hate. No wonder crime escalates.

There is no law, no politician, no policy that can diffuse the hate and fear of the human heart. Only Jesus can do this.

That's why the church needs to stand up and stand together, across those barriers that divide us. Jesus has broken down the wall of hostility between people who are different. (Ephesians 2:11-22) Only Jesus can change the heart. He does that every day as people surrender to him.

We can't put our hope in politics. We need good government, but government can't give me the right perspective. Only God can do that.

Let's rise above the name calling and division. Jesus calls us together. He calls us to repent. He calls us to love. And he changes our hearts so that we can.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Celebrating Independence

Today we celebrate the 240th anniversary of the independence of the United States. We have much to celebrate.

Here's what I value about our country.

We are founded on timeless principles, as described in the Declaration of Independence.
  • All persons are created equal, and therefore equally valuable.
  • Our inalienable rights are given to us by our Creator.
  • We have the right to create that government which can best preserve our freedom.

Further, in the Constitution, we have specific rights enumerated, including the following.
  • We have freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly, and redress.
  • We have the right to have guns, to protect freedom.
  • We have the right to due process and equal protection under the law.
  • We have a government limited in its ability to search and seize.
  • We can be creative and reap the benefits of our new ideas.
  • Leaders are subject to the consent of the governed.

Our country's principles declare that people matter, regardless of who they are. In a state of freedom, all people are allowed to pursue whatever endeavors they wish.

We have, unfortunately, found that living out these principles is quite difficult.

Europeans who claimed this continent failed to treat Native Americans fairly in many cases. The issues were certainly complex, and many whites tried to deal honorably with the Indians, but too often, brute force outweighed justice.

As the Constitution was hammered out, wording was included to allow slavery, at least for 20 years. Without these provisions, many states would have rejected the document. The most costly war in our country's history was fought to settle the issue. Even so, fallout from the institution of slavery remains to this day.

Government has grown far beyond the scope anticipated by the Founders. There are tens of thousands of federal laws, and hundreds of thousands of binding regulations. Someone has asserted that the average person breaks three federal laws every day.

The American system of justice seems to favor the powerful, the rich, the connected, and white people.

Our country's foreign policy mettles in the affairs of almost every other country in the world. In every war, every conflict, we take sides. We often try to manipulate the outcome in issues that are none of our business.

We create policies that lead to dependence on government. As a result, personal effort is too often replaced by a sense of entitlement. Rather than relying on God, we have come to rely on government.

In spite of these issues, our country has brought much good to this world. We can and should celebrate our country, coupling national pride with healthy humility. May we reclaim our founding principles and seek liberty and justice for all.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

What Would You Protest?

I don't think I've ever waved a picket sign. I see the protesters on television and wonder why they
don't get a life. Some things are not worth protesting.

Right now I'm reading Richard Rohr's book, Simplicity: The Art of Letting Go. He speaks of his work organizing peace protests years ago. Shortly afterward, the Soviet Union began shaking up.

I had no idea that he was one of them.

Here's what I want to say to protesters: Why don't you stop complaining and do something? Live your life following the rules, work hard to make a living, and everything will work out fine. The world is what it is, and you just have to quit complaining and adapt. Yes, it's unfair. Get over it.

Here's what I need to hear from protesters: You don't see the problems, because it all works for you. There is a problem with the way society is structured. If you were not so privileged, you would see it. There is hunger, disease, poverty, abuse of power, injustice. The power brokers of the world ignore the situation and often make it worse. The truth needs to be told.

I'm so busy living my life that I can't take time to notice injustice. I wonder what matters to me enough to make me carry a picket sign. Surely there's something. I need to wake up.

What about you?

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

On Being Hated

Jesus said that the world would hate his disciples.

18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. --Jesus in John 15:18-19

The world hated Jesus so much that they crucified him. He challenged people's assumptions, exposed their abuse of power, and criticized their desire for wealth. The downtrodden and outcast really liked him; people in power despised him. Those for whom the system was not working flocked to his teaching. Those who benefited from the system resented his reckless disregard for a time-tested system of honor and reward.

This teaching about being hated really bothers me. I don't want to be hated. I go out of my way to avoid offending people. If the world recognizes Christians by their love for each other, who could hate that? If we forgive and give to the poor and love our neighbors, how could that offend?

That's my disconnect. Jesus says that we will be hated, and he gives us the ministry of reconciliation and love. If we follow him with abandon, why would anyone hate us?

Obviously Jesus followed his own teaching. He loved the unlovely. He gave himself willingly. He lived with humility.

But Jesus also pointed out the flaws in systems and individuals. He called out the abuse of power. He pointed out the hypocrisy of religious elites. He refused to buy into the system of his day. He exposed selfish motives. He debated theology, and challenged dogma. His pushback against the system made people hate him.

And in the modern, Western world, the followers of Jesus don't seem to be hated too much. We try to live out the love component, but don't want to rock the boat. We don't push back against the system. To a large degree, churches and Christians work quite well, thank you, within this system.

We market our causes, leverage social media, and show the world that there is no reason to hate Christians. Yes, I know that elsewhere in the world, believers are tortured and executed. They are experiencing the hate of the world. I also know that in America Christians are overlooked for promotions and marginalized in the media. Christians are often made the scapegoats for all the ills in our society.

But I don't feel hated. Being hated is not my goal. That would be foolish. But Jesus did say that his disciples would be hated by the world. Is that no longer true? Or am I failing to challenge the system like Jesus did?

I think I know the answer.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Enemy Love

A Vietnam veteran spoke to me on Sunday after I had preached about loving one's enemy. He had seen real enemies who wanted to take his life. This "love your enemy" talk seemed to require the impossible. How can one love a person who would kill them?

As I spoke on Sunday about that passage in Matthew 5, I failed to make an important clarification.

When we think of loving someone, we think of having a warm spirit of affection for them. Because of that spirit of affection, we express love through action.

Jesus is calling us to express love through action toward our enemies, but not calling us to generate warm feelings of affection toward them. Because of love, we should cooperate with the person making unreasonable requests, Jesus says. We refuse to retaliate when harmed. We freely lend to those who want to borrow.

Rather than treating people with hatred, we treat them with love. Clearly Jesus is not expecting us to love enemies as we love our own families.  While we may not have affection for our enemies, we can behave toward them in a loving way. This is love through action without a spirit of cursing toward them.

In Luke 6:28, Jesus puts it like this: "Bless those who curse you." Loving enemies is never easy. Jesus calls us to live and love through his power. Only through his power can we experience the kind of life he wants for us.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

In Danger for the Gospel

Our mission team is pictured here scattered among the people of
Spanish Town Tabernacle in Spanish Town, Jamaica.
We did construction work on the church building, pictured left.
Two American missionaries were killed in Jamaica last weekend. Here is the link to a CNN report of the incident. This hits home to us at Crossroads, because in 2009 we sent a team of men to do some construction work in Spanish Town, Jamaica, not far from Kingston. I first learned of the murders through email with our mission contacts from Jamaica. Our contacts, who served as missionaries for years in Jamaica, now live back in the U.S., but they knew the men who died.

The victims had no known enemies, and reportedly felt safe in Jamaica. Their work included building homes for needy people. They were sharing the love of Jesus with abandon and enthusiasm.

Another friend told me about folks he had met in India years ago who recently lost their lives for the gospel.  In March a pastor, his wife and two children were murdered and burned. Many are concerned that Christians in India will suffer persecution again, as they did in the early 2000s. Tens of thousands of believers died as entire villages were purged. I don't remember any media reports about it.

Historically, Christians suffer persecution. Governments, cultures, and institutions tend to single out Christians for blame.

Today, Christians in America seem to be magnets for blame. They won't toe the party line. They think independently. They answer to a higher authority.

I wonder if we are ready for real persecution. Living the gospel is dangerous.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Pushups and Crunches, Risk and Reputation

In my typical workout, I will do some pushups and crunches among my other exercises. It seems like I dread the pushups more than any other exercise. I used to put them off until last.

Crunches, on the other hand, are not too bad. I feel like I could do varieties of crunches for an hour or more. Not that I actually have, of course.

Upon reflection, I have discovered why I prefer the ab exercise. When I do crunches and need a rest, I just lie on my back and catch my breath. I crank it back up when I'm ready. Even if I give out, mid-crunch, I just flop back. It's no big deal.

Pushups, however, require more effort. When you stop between reps, you are really in plank, an isometric exercise. When you are resting, you are not fully resting. And, if you give out while doing pushups, you fall flat on your face. That can hurt your pride as well as your nose.

A mid-stroke fail looks much worse in a pushup than a crunch. No wonder I prefer crunches. The pushup may provide more fitness payoff, but it provides far more humiliation when my muscles reach fatigue. No one wants to be seen falling flat on his face.

This same principle applies to risks and rewards. The riskier a plan, the greater the payoff may be. But, the riskier an endeavor, the worse it looks when one fails. This is also a principle of economics: the greater the risk, the greater the potential reward, and the greater the potential catastrophe.

When a risky ministry succeeds, the payoff for the kingdom is huge: changed lives, people trusting Jesus, a high profile picture of the power of God. And when a risky ministry fails, you fall flat on your face. It hurts. It's embarrassing. It's public.

The success of a low risk, crunch-type ministry doesn't pay off much. A few people are challenged. Some get a new perspective. Some people might even come to Christ. That's not bad. It's better than nothing. Then, when a low risk ministry fails, we just stop the ministry. No harm, no foul. We don't miss a beat. No one ever knows that we blew it, or it fell apart.

In ministry, it's easy to pick the crunch-type projects. Low risk, maybe some reward. But no embarrassment when it crashes. And so we see the low risk ministries prevail, and the kingdom of God looks like a controlled playground kingdom--very safe, not much action. Our reputations are kept intact.

But if God be for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31) Why wouldn't we risk it all? Why wouldn't we go for it?

Risky ministry is dangerous. This is the kind of ministry God would have us embrace. These are the pushups of the spiritual world. They cost more, take longer, require more faith, and bring the kingdom with power.

I'm looking for some pushup, God-sized challenges. Just don't laugh at me when I fall on my face. And cheer for Jesus, if something goes right.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Honey, Do Get a Better Attitude

A few days ago my wife shared with me a "to do" list of household projects. These are items we need to do by early summer. There were items on the list that I expected, and some that were a surprise. In all fairness, these projects need to be done.

However, my initial reaction to some of the items was not good. How can I get out of that? How can we put it off until it's too late? How can we do that on the cheap? How can I make the kids handle that?

Of course I did not say any of that out loud. I'm not that stupid. I nodded, and quietly began my plan of selective execution of the list.

On Sunday, a friend told me that his wife had given him a similar list. He immediately created a spreadsheet with costs and deadlines, so that the entire list could be fulfilled with time to spare.

Yeah. I saw my silly, petty, selfish, lazy, sneaky self in that moment. And I have since told my wife that we need to make a spreadsheet.

A little repentance is good for the soul. And it really helps a marriage, too.

Now, I really need to jump on that list...

Monday, April 18, 2016

Why do you want to believe that?

I have to give credit to Dr. Laura Schlessinger for a penetrating question she asked a caller years ago on her radio show. The caller explained her situation, then described her conclusion that someone was against her. The host questioned the caller's conclusions, based on the evidence presented. There was not enough evidence for the ill will perceived by the caller.

The doctor realized that the caller was choosing to believe something, even without sufficient evidence. The real question was why the caller would want to believe something negative.

I have come to ask myself this question regularly. Why do I want to believe my wife would forget that important thing? Why do I want to believe that this person would stand me up for an appointment? Why do I want to believe that God would delight in my failure?

If we ask ourselves this question, we can catch ourselves in our prejudicial thinking. We can become more objective, and actually come closer to the truth.

To account for bias in the media, we can ask ourselves why we want to believe certain news reports. When I hear a negative report about that politician I don't like, I'm all too eager to believe it. But when I hear a negative report about one that I favor, I give him/her the benefit of the doubt. In my limited experience with the media -- as a local newspaper reporter, as the subject of articles, and as a consumer -- I realize how inaccurate news reports can be. Even so
, there are some things that I want to believe and others that I don't. That's true for all of us, whether we want to admit it or not.

We can also ask this question about others. On occasion it may be appropriate to come right out and ask the question. But more often, we can use that question to help us understand others' points of view. Why does she think I'm angry? Why does he think I'm trying to trick him? Why does he think so-and-so hates him?

I'm persuaded that if we dig below the surface, we can see what's really going on at the heart level. We might have more understanding and compassion, for ourselves and for others.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Rock Bottom for Worriers

Twelve-steppers know that real change for addicts only happens when one reaches rock bottom. How low can you go? You only know when you reach that lowest possible place in your life. You can no longer fight. You can only give up. The consequences of your actions have become so severe that you can no longer pass the blame off on someone else. You finally own your problem.

When you are down, flat on your back, you have nowhere to look but up. You are helpless, crying out for help, because you can no longer handle it.

An alcoholic may reach rock bottom when she has killed another driver. A drug addict may get there when his crack buddy dies of an overdose. A sex addict may get there when he contracts an STD.

What if you are addicted to worry? What could cause you to reach rock bottom?

Some worriers are fixers. You worry about things until you figure out how to fix them. Then you worry until your fix them. Or you worry until the situation blows over. Or you worry until some other hero comes in to save the day.

Worry has seemed to work for you. If you didn't worry, everything would fall apart. Other people should thank you for worrying. But they rarely do.

You rationalize: Your worry is not hurting anyone else. You can stop anytime you want. Everybody worries about something. You deserve to worry because of all your responsibility. It's just your temperament to worry.

Is there a 12-Step program for worriers? Is it an addiction?

Worriers can reach rock bottom. It hurts. It is depressing. Rock bottom comes with a circumstance that is completely beyond your control, so severe that there is no way out and no turning back.

You finally realize that your worry won't help. (It never has, but you've never admitted that.)

You realize that your effort cannot fix it.

You are finally flat on your back, powerless, forced to look up.

God loves you enough to allow you to face that rock bottom. He is freeing you from your addiction to worry. Not over your worry yet? Then this is not rock bottom.

Look out.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Boss, Freedom, Politics, and Bathrooms

The Boss has made it official.  We now have a national debate about who can use the Boys' and Girls' rooms.  Seriously.  If you take a step back and think about it, this is beyond silly.  Who is going to check people as they enter restrooms?  Are we going to have government employed bathroom monitors?  You only thought the TSA frisking was invasive.

The City of Charlotte merely expanded its anti-discrimination policies regarding public restroom use to include sexual orientation and gender identity.  They want to be as open as possible to all kinds of people.  I could not find the exact wording of the ordinance on line, but articles indicate that its most controversial provisions allow people to use the public restrooms that best suit their preferences.  Thus, cross-dressing and transgender people could use restrooms normally designated for the opposite sex.  Oddly, the term "opposite sex" itself seems unclear in this context.  For the bisexual community, apparently they could use which ever restroom suits them on any particular day. 

Making everyone feel welcome doesn't happen without a lot of effort.

My opinion is that Charlotte should handle its own bathroom rules.  (I also believe that their new ordinance is irresponsible, confusing, and potentially dangerous.  The city could set itself up for lawsuits alleging that their ordinance allowed for sexual assault.  Charlotte joins the chorus of celebrating any and every form of sexual expression.  If it is sexual expression, it is good.  If you don't like it, then you are backward and bigoted.)

The story gets even more twisted at the state level.  I did find the verbiage of House Bill 2.  It is five pages of minding other people's business.  It begins with definitions of various kinds of restrooms and biological sex.  Then it spells out exactly who can use which restrooms.  And it has some other provisions limiting discrimination lawsuits.

When you boil it down, the whole issue revolves around Freedom.  Freedom is a tricky thing.

  • Some want everyone to have the freedom to live as they please regarding sexual expression.
  • Some businesses want the freedom to keep their customers feeling safe in their restrooms.
  • Some want to retain the freedom for businesses by taking the away cities' freedom to set the rules.
It seems that someone's freedoms must be curtailed.  Which freedom is the most important? 
  • The freedom of individuals to express their sexual identities?  
  • The freedom of business owners to set rules for their bathrooms? 
  • The freedom of municipalities to set ordinances for their cities? 
As these freedoms compete, there seems to be a wave of support for the first freedom.  Entertainers, sports leagues, and corporations have all condemned the law, and pulled back from connections with NC.  The governments of Charlotte and the State of North Carolina have effectively driven a wedge deep into our society.  Public pressure makes it difficult to stay out of the debate.  One is either a bigot or pervert.  Choose your side.

Notice that everyone wants to tell other people what to do. 
  • You public places must let me express my sexuality as I see fit.  If that bothers you, that's your problem.
  • You businesses must let customers use any bathroom they choose.  If your customers object, then that's too bad.
  • You municipalities can't make ordinances that we state legislators don't approve of.  We can overrule any law you make.
Our culture sounds like 7-year-olds pointing fingers and screaming, "Make her do what I want!"  It's all about me getting what I want, and I want other people to do what suits me.

Mature dialogue would result in people making responsible choices for themselves.  It would involve a sincere desire for understanding others' points of view.  It would result in caring for people more than caring for an agenda.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Video Games and Life

I never thought I would say this, but life is like a video game.  In my very limited experience with video games, I see some profound similarities to real life.  (If my ignorance about video games becomes too apparent, please forgive me.)

When you play a game, you can start at the elementary level.  When you have mastered that beginning level--by finding the prize or killing the enemy--you advance to level 2.  This level might be much like the initial level, with more difficult obstacles or trickier enemies.  It's like level 1 on steroids.  Several levels might show the same kinds of increasing difficulties.

But then there are some levels at which the rules are completely different.  Rather than walking, you are flying.  Rather than working alone, you work with a team.  You are no longer looking for a hidden treasure or a sneaky foe; you are achieving a goal or building something.

At these advanced levels everything changes.  The terrain is like nothing seen before.  Colors and textures feel like another world.  The music evokes different desires.  It's the same game, but not.

This is how video games are like life.  As we mature, we go through stages of life.  The world looks different to a 2-year-old and a 32-year-old.  It's the same world, but the rules are different.  The goals are different, the feel is different.  The other players are different.

And there are differences in the adult perceptions.  A 72-year-old doesn't see life like a 32-year-old does.  The rules are different, profoundly different.  Think about it:  If a young woman sees life like a grandmother, something is wrong.  If an old man sees life like a college athlete, he has never matured.

Some of these transitions of perspective can be sudden and immediate.  A child is born, and the new mother loses her selfishness as well as sleep.  A man has a heart attack, and suddenly he cares about relationships.

A person is freed from addiction, and the world no longer wreaks with temptation.  A couple stops competing and begins working as a team--and the home is filled with joy.  A man recognizes a life of accomplishment, and sees that life is about more than building wealth. 

Life looks different as we mature.  The important things change.  The more we mature, the more we "get" life.  We look back and see our unhelpful--and just plain wrong--assumptions about ourselves and the world.

As we work through life, we break through to new levels.  Everything changes.  We see our true selves.  We take ourselves less seriously.  We finally recognize what really matters.  We really begin to live.

I look for those new stages, and long to see the truth in life.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Making Hay

I had planned to do some wood working on Saturday, but it was cold and rainy.  I have to set up my tools in the driveway, so rainy days are not ideal.  It was a good day to stay inside, read, and write. 

Our youth group had planned to go skiing last weekend, but there was not much snow on the mountains.  They went to the beach instead.

To get the most done, it helps to cooperate with the weather. 

While weather can be unpredictable, we can have some reasonable expectations:  cooler/cold in the winter, warmer/hot in the summer; warmer in the day and cooler at night.  Precipitation can happen any time of the year in NC.  We learn to work around the weather and do those activities that suit the weather.

Now, my moods can be like weather.  They are somewhat predictable:  more energy early in the day, better creativity when I'm not rushed, deeper thinking when away from distractions.  Unlike the weather, I can control my moods.  Being well rested always helps my mood.  When I need to use my brain-power, I need to avoid being rushed and distracted.  When I need to be out in public I want to be tuned in for interaction with others.

Here's my point:  it helps me to work with my natural mental/emotional rhythms.  When I have some flexible time, I need to work with the weather in my brain.  I need to make hay while the sun is shining.  I can allow the Spirit to use me more effectively when I surrender to his lead and sail with the wind.  Obviously much of anyone's work needs to be done whether or not you're in the mood.  But having work options available for various kinds of mental weather can boost effectiveness. 

Mindless paperwork should not be done during your mental prime.  Deep thinking should not be done in the post-lunch slump. 

Yeah, I know this is nothing new, but it recently occurred to me that our moods are like the weather.  It helps if you work with what you've got.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Defiance in Faith

Last Sunday I spoke about Daniel in the lion's den, in Daniel 6.  Daniel defied the law designed to trap him, the law against praying to any man or God but king Darius.  Daniel had a high level government job, and his rivals conspired to trap Daniel and have him executed. 

Daniel continued his normal routine, praying to the true God three times daily in front of a window in his home.  He defied the law by praying.

But any prayer is defiance.  It defies the systems of this world.  Consider:
  • The world says, “produce,” but prayer looks unproductive.
  • The world says, “Look powerful,” but prayer admits powerlessness.
  • The world says, “Take charge,” but prayer surrenders control.
  • The world loves a show, but prayer looks dull, boring, uneventful.
  • The world says, “Do the best you can,” but prayer seeks the impossible.
  • The world says, “Work the system,” but prayer denies ultimate human authority.
If you choose defiance in prayer, here's what you can expect:
  • If you pray, you are defying this world’s system.  It will cost you.
  • If you pray, you will have to repent.
  • If you pray, you will take on the heart of God.
  • If you pray, you help bring his kingdom.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Jimmie Hendrix and Heart

I watched a documentary on Netflix about Jimmie Hendrix a few months ago.  This man could shred a guitar.  His untimely death robbed us of more amazing music. 

My family collectively rolled their eyes when I brought home the 49 cent U.S.P.S. commemorative Jimmie Hendrix stamps.  I would proudly pay bills with these psychedelic stamps, and pay tribute to a great musician.  Yes, he personified the sex, drugs, and rock and roll stereotype; but he had such talent.

For him, life was all about music.  Everywhere he went, he had a guitar hanging around his neck.  Now I hack away at my Statocaster, playing basic chords and a few riffs I have picked up.  But I can't tell you many of the notes on the fretboard.  Jimmie, now, he knew the fretboard backwards and forwards.  He knew what each string on each fret could do.  He knew how to form chords from top to bottom.  It was second nature to him.  He did not have to think about playing.  It was like breathing to him. 

Jimmie could play any song that he heard.  He often did covers, and did them so well.  I wish that he had done more original work, to show his creativity.  His most famous piece might be his "Star Spangled Banner" at Woodstock.  Again, not an original song, but unforgettable as it penetrated the New York meadows.

He was great because he loved what he did, and he carried it with him everywhere.  He had a heart for music.  For him, all of life related to music.

What do you have a heart for?  Do you carry it around with you everywhere?  Is there anything to which you would give that kind of devotion?  For too many people, mediocrity works just fine.

I want to be that devoted to Jesus.  I want his word to saturate my soul.  I want his love to overflow through me, so that I bring him into the room.  I want his eyes of compassion, so I can see the need around me.

Maybe I can be as good at showing the love of Jesus
as Jimmie Hendrix was at making music.  The only way that will ever happen is by God's grace.  Yes, grace.  That's the answer.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Going There

One of my favorite YouTube videos is Bob Newhart's sketch, "Stop it."  It's a riot.  Bob's a shrink, and he's counselling one of his clients.  When she starts to blame her problems on childhood experiences, Bob quickly interrupts her, saying, "No.  We don't go there."  She could not blame anything on her past.  Bob didn't want to "go there" with her.

There are places in our souls where we just don't want to go:  Missed opportunities, bad decisions, hurts we experienced, hurts we caused, addictions we deny, conversations we need to have, regrets about parenting, habits we need to change, attitudes that damage relationships, and the list goes on.

We don't want to go there because:
  • It hurts.  We don't want to experience or relive the pain.
  • It won't do any good.  We believe that forgetting, not dealing with it, makes it go away.
  • We might have to change.  If I go there, I will have to admit my sin.  Then I'll either feel guilty or have to make the change that I so dread.
  • It will strain my relationships.  Going there means having a difficult conversation, and I have no idea how that will turn out.
  • We are ashamed.  If I keep denying this problem, I don't have to face my shame.
  • People will think badly of me.  I've worked so hard to build this identity, and if I go there, it will change me.  People will be disappointed.  They won't like me anymore.
  • We are not ready.  Deep down I know that I'm not authentic.  But I like this pose.  It's working so far..
There are some advantages to going there.
  • You can stop pretending.
  • You can stop hiding.  You have been discovered.  And it's okay.
  • You will find some company.  Whatever you are dealing with, you are not the only one.  Some are hiding it, just like you.  Others have already gone there and lived to tell about it.
  • You are set free.  Whatever is there has been mocking you, holding you captive, stealing your joy.  When you face that thing, it loses power over you.  You are free!  You don't have to worry about being caught, because you have turned yourself in.
  • Life looks brand new.  When you have been there, life has nothing to threaten you with.  And life was never really threatening you anyway.  You just didn't know it.
Are you ready to go there?  Here are some parting suggestions.
  • Pray.  You can't go there alone.  You need Jesus holding your hand. 
  • Receive God's forgiveness.  Jesus died on the cross for your sin.  You can only really be free when he takes your sin and guilt away.  He paid your penalty for you.
  • Forgive yourself.  That may be really hard.  But it is your path to freedom.  No, you don't deserve it.  That's the point:  Jesus gives you what you don't deserve.  That's how good he is!
  • Be patient.  Really going there may be a process for you.  Keep working through it.