Reminder of God
August 30, 2005Usually they come to me late at night, when I awaken to hear only the sound of Glenda’s breathing, maybe the snore of one of our dogs (or visa versa). The visitors are, of course, the imponderables. The questions of life and existence, like “Are manila envelopes really made in the Philippines?” or “Does Cyprus mulch really come from Greece?” And then there’s the big one we all want to try to ignore: What does God want of/from me? Fortunately, God lets us know in writing. Consider this:
He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?
Again, like yesterday’s passage, sounds simple enough. Why, however if that is the case are we so much more likely to apply this passage to others, to think on where they fall short, than we are to turn that spotlight on our own heart, to see where change in my life may just need to be made? Another something to ponder… But God has said exactly what He wants from you. Will you muster the courage to apply this to yourself then, or hide behind your perception of how another has failed in this task? Only when we apply Gods truth to our own lives will our hearts change.
August 29, 2005Most of you know that I love my dogs, so the next admission may surprise you. It is very true that within the hierarchy of animals, dogs aren’t really very smart. Seriously, The humpback whale, the elephant, the giraffe, even the tiny hummingbird check in as “brighter” (the dog still comes in light years ahead of the horse, and cats, well cats refused to be tested…). Still, it blows my mind how well my dogs know me. They know the sound of the engine on my Mini so that when I pull into the driveway, they are waiting for me at the door. When the Mini was in the shop for a week (someone backed into it while it was parked at the library) and I had a rental car, it took them just two days to learn the sound of the engine of the rental car. By virtue of what shoes I am putting on, they know if I’m going to take them for a walk. They anticipate simply based on of how I put my fork down when I’m eating if I’m pausing, or if I’m done (and there will be a plate for them to clean). How does an animal who is not supposed to be very bright know these things? Well, simply this: Glenda and I are the focal point of their lives, the center of their universe. They study us prodigiously, because we are of central importance to them. Whenever we are home, literally they are always where they can watch us. With then the minds we have, can it be said then that we know God as deeply as my dogs know me?
Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace in time of need.
Simple verse, short verse. Yet it begs the question; would my dogs know me as well as they do if they were fixated on their own tails, chasing them throughout the day? Could it be that we are so woefully lacking in our knowledge of God because we are so fixated on chasing our tails—much more so than our dogs chase theirs? We have open access to the throne room of God. Any distance we may feel from Him is not because He has moved! Let us then avail ourselves of that access to Him, study Him, know Him, and enjoy that personal relationship that He invites us to. The door to the throne room is open. The invitation has been made.
August 23, 2005When is it for you that those times come crashing down around you and leave you with that feeling that this time, well this time you’ve really screwed it up? That this time, there is no chance for recovery, no forgiveness waiting for you, that even God must surely have turned His back to you now? Learn that voice my friend, because that is nothing less than a voice from hell, and it has no reality in your life; and once you are able to discern that voice, you can tell it to go back to hell where it belongs. Yesterday in his usual very good pulpit ministry, my buddy Mike Glass quoted F. B. Myer, a British preacher/social reformer from the 1800’s, when Myer stated "It is ever so sweet to rest on a love which is dated not in time, but eternity. Because one feels that as God’s love did not originate in any unforeseen flash of excellence in us, so it will not be turned away by any unexpected outbreak of depravity. It did not begin because of what we were and it will continue in spite of what we are.” What an excellent reminder. No, God did not wait until we did something to “deserve” salvation, instead He met us where we were at the time. Similarly, He will not abandon us WHEN (yes, when, not if) we fail Him. Think for a moment on that—God will never turn His back to you. That is because at a point in History He did turn His back to one Man, His Son, when He was hanging upon a cross, paying the debt of everything wrong you have, will, or could do. With that debt paid, you, then, are secure in God’s Love. This security transcends behavior, transcends circumstance. Take a look at what Paul had to say regarding this:
2nd Timothy 1:12
For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.
Paul knew that as he wrote those words, the executioner was sharpening his axe. This was, then, one of the things he deemed most important, that he wanted to remind his disciple, Timothy about before he died. So great is Christ’s love for us that He will guard our souls without fail, even when we fail. I mean hey, do you really think that after saving you by virtue of no merit of your own, He’d turn from you by virtue of some screw up in your life? Isn’t that a contradiction? Doesn’t that, then give you confidence to face this day, knowing that the God of the universe will never leave you, never forsake you. You cannot fall far enough down that His hand will loose its grip upon you. Pursue this day then with the confidence that you are indeed loved, remembering that eternity with God does not begin when we die, but it begins now. Let us then live in accordance with this reality!
August 22, 2005Hard to believe that a new Semester begins for me tomorrow! Got me thinking on the issue of teaching, and on those who teach effectively and really do change lives by virtue of their choice to educate others. Mentors like Jim Breeden, Lanier Burns, Tom Constable, and Lyn McLaughlin, come instantly to mind. In Seminary I was a Graduate Assistant for Dr. Jim Slaughter, a man whom I respected (still do), a great deal. I was honored when Dr. Slaughter asked me to be his assistant. I showed up for the first day as an assistant to grade papers, red pen in hand. Jim took one look at it and laughed “that’s a bit cowardly, don’t you think?” I asked what he meant. He replied “anyone can point out errors and mistakes. It takes a person who has confidence with the material at hand to tell what has been done correctly. Focusing on another person’s errors is just a power trip”. Ok, that was worth about a semesters worth of tuition! The red pen went into the trash can. And you know the Jim was right: anyone can point out errors—especially it seems those without any talent themselves. What we really learn from are those moments when we do something right, and then from the people who point out to us where we have succeeded, with possible suggestions of where we might be able to do even better next time. This basic premise in education holds true even with animals: Our dogs learn new things based on a system of predictable rewards and affection. A stick or rolled up newspaper may beat an animal into submission—love and reward bring learning. So, do we practice this basic of education within the Church?
Take care, bretheren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today”, lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
It is a truth that criticism brings hardness. Encouragement brings growth. Tomorrow is a new semester, and again I am a graduate assistant. The only pen I am bringing to work and school tomorrow is blue. I pray that I know the material well enough that I can point out where each student has succeeded. Then they might be encouraged to excel further. I pray also that Church members/leaders have the courage and knowledge of the material at hand to deal with individuals both inside and outside of the Church in like fashion.
August 19, 2005An interesting little tidbit here on bank security. The Treasury Department runs a class designed to instruct banking professionals how to spot a counterfeit bill. The class is very detailed, and so well taught that nearly all who take the class can spot even a high quality counterfeit right off the bat—and that’s not the remarkable part of the story. What is remarkable is this: during the whole duration of the class the students are never once shown a counterfeit bill. Instead, they are educated in depth as to what the real thing looks like, feels like, even sounds like when it is folded or crumpled. In learning the real thing intimately, the graduates of the class are able to spot a fake immediately. That my friends, got me thinking: those are the kind of disciples we need to be making within our Churches today. No, not good bankers, but instead, we need to be acquainting people with the depth and detail of Christ, and life with Christ. We need to get away from the namby pamby superficiality of things and really show people Christ—and here’s the scary part—letting them see how Christ interacts in our lives not just when things are pleasant and fun, but when they hurt, when we’ve fallen, screwed up, when our need for Him is of crucial intensity, and how He is then faithful to come, to forgive, and to bind those wounds. Seriously, think on this—can you model faith to another if you are not willing to expose to that person where you are weak yourself? Yet we are so seldom prepared to do that, but instead are quick to point out how this world is going to hell, as we prop pour feet up and watch TV. John Eldredge made a good point in his book Waking the Dead, when he wrote “This is our primary antidote to the counterfeits the world holds out to us. If you do not have God and have Him deeply, you will turn to other lovers.” Do we serve as models of those who have God, and have Him deeply? Heck, do we really have Him deeply, know Him well enough, intimately enough to recognize what is genuine, or are we vulnerable to the counterfeits of this world?
1st Timothy 6:11-12
But flee from these things, you man of God; and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
Not much in that list there about comfort, affluence, or ease is there? You know, something to note: Glenda took that Treasury dept. course years ago. To this day she counts her money not by the numbers on the corners, the obvious and most easily misrepresented part of the bill. She counts by the faces, by the substance. She has discovered many counterfeits. Are we intimately acquainted enough with God that in a spiritual sense we can do the same? If we do not have Him, and have Him deeply, we will turn to other lovers…
August 18, 2005Did you know that no matter how large or how thin a peace of paper is, you cannot fold it in half more than seven times? Tissue paper, newsprint, copier paper, it doesn’t matter—it is an impossible feat! And yet, doesn’t it seem as if it should be so very easy? Very similar, isn’t it, to the issue of thinking that we can please God by our works, by being “religious”, in that that as well sounds easy, but is in fact impossible. This has always been true, even for the great heroes of the faith in scripture. Take David for example. No one would deny that David is a hero in scripture. God even called him a “man after His (God’s) own heart”. And yet, David was a murderer, and an adulterer. In fact, it was after being confronted with his sin of adultery with Bathsheba that David wrote these words:
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, Thou God of my salvation;
Then my tongue will joyfully sing of Thy righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
That my mouth may declare Thy praise.
For Thou dost not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it;
Thou art not pleased with burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
Sure, you can continue to attempt the impossible, to earn your way to God. You can also sit there all day with that piece of newspaper trying to prove me wrong and fold it in half eight times as well. And in both you will fail. To please God we must acknowledge our need for Him—that what is called a “broken spirit”. We must acknowledge that we need to be delivered from our bloodguiltiness, for we cannot deliver ourselves. And in acknowledging our need for God, He will rush to fill that need with Himself. It is a true statement that forgiveness and deliverance are just a humble heart beat away.
August 17, 2005Visit with me back to the past, to your childhood, but an event that has also happened to all of us. Do you remember when you were in grade school, that time when you lost one of your front teeth? Do you remember how you would almost uncontrollably try to plug that gap left by the missing tooth with you tongue? And how, invariably, you would end up biting your tongue in so doing, and your tongue would swell slightly, making it event hat much more likely that you would bite it again? That’s because that void was never meant to be filled with your tongue, it was intended to be filled with another adult tooth. Now, remember on with me a little later in life—another event in your life, but still one which has happened to us all. Do you remember when you first realized in your life that there was a part of your heart, a part of your soul even, which was missing? What did you try to fill that gap with? You didn’t succeed, did you? William Cowper once wrote:
What peaceful hours I once enjoy’d!
How sweet the memory still!
But they have left an aching void
The world can never fill.
No, nothing in the world can fill that void. Like that void between our teeth when we were children, attempts to fill it consistently seem to cause injury. Why is that? What is the nature of that void? Blaise Pascal was the first to verbalize this truth so well when he stated, “There is a God shaped void in every man.” That is a great truth. We may try to fill that void with many things, none of which will work, will bring peace, satisfaction. In fact, most of the things we try to fill that void with bring instead injury. But there is the right thing with which to fill that void.
…so that Christ might dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth , and to know the love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
Yes, you can be filled up to all the fullness of God, so that there remains no more void in your heart, your soul. This filling not only surpasses knowledge, it surpasses expectation. And it is yours for the asking. I mean seriously, if you claim that your heart is Christ’s dwelling place, are you going to let Him in to fill it?
August 15, 2005Something has upset me lately that I have not been able to shake. Glenda and I recently had dinner with some very good friends. Our friends were disturbed over what they had just endured at a local (very large) Church service. The pastor had preached a message entitled “The Doctrine of the Biscuit”. The gist of the message was that the decline of Christian values within our civilization today is due to, and I’m not making this up, that women are now failing to teach their daughters their proper place within the home, which includes how they should know how to make good biscuits from scratch. Women do not need education or respect, they need to be in the kitchen. This is the doctrine of the biscuit. Evidently this was met with a great deal of actual cheering from many of the men in the audience. A few weeks later, the message focused (again, I’m not making this up) on how it was wrong for the Church to have a women’s softball team, because everyone knows that women’s softball turns women into lesbians. Now, I have poured through my Bible since this conversation, and have not been able to find within it anything about biscuits or the evils of softball teams and how they work to change sexual orientation. Neither the basics of the Faith nor the deepest of theology deals with either of these issues, what they all do seem to deal with repeatedly is this:
1. We all screw up. We all make mistakes. That is the great equalizer in the human condition. In Romans Chapter 3 we read, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” This is a frightening concept, for it clearly lays out what our point of comparison truly is, and will be: our goodness or lack thereof is not in comparison to our neighbor or the wino on the street, but instead in comparison to God. He is the reference, and realizing that I realize that I am in deep trouble.
2. Cleanliness and filth cannot coexist together. If there is a stain on the shirt, the whole shirt is dirty—you can’t have a half-clean shirt. If my dogs are dirty, and my house is clean and I let my dogs inside, they will make my house dirty. Same with us and God. God is good in totality. We are stained with our imperfection, stained in falling short of God. Therefore, we are separated from God. That is in the Biblical sense what “death” means. And again from Romans, chapter six, we read, “The wages of sin is death.” In other words, our stain keeps us separated from God, and away from His presence.
3. Like a stained shirt is powerless to clean itself, we are powerless to remove the stain of our sin. We need sin stain remover, and fortunately, that’s just what God has provided. In 1st John 1 we read “…but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” That in a nutshell is why Christ came, As the Son of God, He lived the perfect life, a life without sin, without stain. He endured death that we deserved and in so doing took our punishment upon Himself. His blood that was spilled is our sin stain remover.
4. We can’t work our way to purchase the stain remover, it is a gift. A gift by its very nature cannot be earned—if it must be earned, it is not a gift, but a wage. Therefore, like any other gift, the life stain remover of Christ’s sacrifice must be individually received in order for it to be of benefit for any individual! From chapter one of the Gospel of John: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” We cannot cleanse ourselves, but we can receive the gift of cleansing God offers in the sacrifice offered by His Son. Then we will be cleansed, then we will be able to enter Gods presence, and know what eternal life really is. In receiving Christ’s gift, we receive the fact that He took the punishment we deserve: He died, so we, if we place our faith in Him, might live. If you want to do that, all you have to do is tell Him you are accepting Christ into your life. That’s called “prayer”.
That is the essence of the Christian message, of Biblical theology. Notice there is nothing in it about biscuits. There is nothing in it about women in kitchens. There is nothing about softball, or even an insinuation that playing it turns a woman into a lesbian. The message is about a Love none of us “deserve” or can earn. It is about forgiveness, about acceptance. Christ foresaw a time in which the Church would be filled with bizarre and false teachings like the “Doctrine of the Biscuit”, even when those bizarre teachings would be met with applause and cheers. In brief this is what He said about it:
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me.”
It’s important to notice that the door upon which Christ is knocking here is the door not of the heart of the “unbeliever”, as is so commonly mis-taught, but the door of the Church (check the context for yourself). Can we hear His knocking above the din of applause and cheers to the “Doctrine of the Biscuit”? Will we have the courage to open the door of the Church to God, or do we prefer the simplicity of cultural criticism and ignorance to the presence of God? What then will we do? I write this for this reason—I have a lot of folks very dear to me who don’t yet know Christ. I don’t want to stand passively by when the grace of God is grossly misrepresented, and the Christian faith is presented as a works based system designed to return us to a “Leave it to Beaver” culture that never even existed in reality. That is not the gospel, it is instead from the pit of hell. The Church must stand for the true Gospel, and present it clearly. The unmerited favor of God, offered to man, that is the Gospel, and upon that I choose to stand. Plenty of room here for anyone else who so desires. Where will you stand?
August 11, 2005Went with Glenda today to the Atlanta Arboretum. It was a day of delicate beauty and enchanting scents, but, enough about Glenda, we had an absolutely wonderful time at the arboretum, too. I thought I’d share a few pictures from the day with you all: (sorry, pictures can't post here--they were in the e-mail version--Just imagine a a beutiful redhead surrounded by flowers and human size frog statues--kinky, I know)
Yes, Glenda has had to kiss a few frogs in her day… Now here’s the funny things: Glenda and I had an absolute blast. We’ve been members of the arboretum since we first moved here, so the fun was free, and yet, this is only the fourth time we’ve been there in the past three years. The Arboretum is open seven days a week, virtually every day of the year. It never goes anywhere, and we always love our time there. So, we can go whenever we want, admission has already been paid for, we always have a blast, we are always thrilled with the beauty we see there, and still we so seldom avail ourselves of the pleasure. And it is so very easy to do the exact same thing with our God, isn’t it?
“For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, but My lovingkindess will not be removed from you, and My covenant of peace will not be shaken”, says the Lord who has compassion on you.
What we perceive as the most stable things in this world may be obliterated, but God remains with us, offering His love, His peace, His compassion. He doesn’t take vacations. Admission to His presence has been paid for. Do we make the most of that opportunity, or instead let it go by the wayside…and then wonder why we feel distant from God, and seem to strive for a sense of meaning which is so quick to evade? The price of your admission to the throne room of God has been paid. Will you give that simple intellectual assent, or will you choose to enter?
August 8, 2005Ok, for this project, you’ll need a book of paper matches (wooden matches won’t work for this), a strip of aluminum foil about half an inch wide and an inch an a half long, a straight pin, and a standard size paper clip. Ready? Take a single, whole match out of the book of matches, and lay the straight pin along the match, with the point of the pin lying about midway up the head of the match. Now, holding the pin straight and in place along the match, place the match on the foil, so that the foil and match form an “L”. The match head should extend about three quarters of the way up the short side of the foil. Now, wrap the foil around tightly; making sure that the match head is fully covered all around with foil. Now, fold the foil over the top of the match head, still holding the pin in place. Alright, carefully pull the straight pin out. This will leave a tiny vent hole pointing down the match. Congratulations, you have just made a tiny little rocket. Now, take the paper clip and bend the inner loop of it up so that it’s about at a 45 degree angle. That is your rocket launcher. Place the paper clip on a non-flammable surface, and place your little tiny rocket so that it lays with the head on the upper part of the small loop (pointing up at a 45 degree angle). Now, get another match and light the new match. Hold the flame underneath the foiled tip of your rocket. In about three seconds, you’ll hear a small Whoosh, and your tiny match rocket will have soared off of the launch pad about six to ten feet in the air. Now, pick up your rocket (be careful, it’s hot) and dispose of it carefully. If you want to fly a match rocket again, you’ll have to make a new one, since once they’ve done their thing, all the fuel is used up. Try as hard as you want to, they can’t be re-used—you’ll need more fuel (another match head). You know, there is actually a parallel here for our lives as well. Often we can embark on a grand venture. We can make careful preparations and make sure everything is done right. We may even see initial success, but then we find that we are spent. Still, we try to push ourselves, light a fire under ourselves, all to no avail. New fuel is needed, and there will be no success, no soaring to new heights, without it.
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
I know you have all probably read that verse a thousand times, but is it being put into practice? Know this: a used match rocket looks exactly the same as a new one. But the used one won’t fly. It will just burn up on the launch pad. And you, well no one can tell by looking at you if you’ve been allowing God to renew your mind, to give you fresh fuel daily by time in His Word and His presence in prayer. But an awful lot of you are burning up on your launch pads. Having known what flight was once, you now need to be renewed, and there is nothing wrong with that, for we all need that each day. And God wants to do it. So carve out the time for Him to do so; time for three things—prayer, time in His Word, and fellowship with others. Then you will know renewal. Then you will fly again. With new fuel in place, you won’t have to be ”foiled” again!
August 2, 2005Putting the finishing touches on a paper today where I’m looking briefly at the changes in medical technology over the past fifty years. It brought to mind a statement made just ten years ago by Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu (aka Mother Theresa) when she said “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB of leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love.” We all need love, need to know we are loved. There are those around us who are so easy to love. There are also those whose psyches have been so traumatized as to make them more difficult to love, and love is the cure to that trauma.
1 John 3:16-18
We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s foods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.
Hey, even porcupines need intimacy! That is, if we ever will see another porcupine. You are loved. God Himself has chosen to love you. Having received so much, will you withhold such a precious commodity from another? To put it another way, did you have to prove something to God before He would love you? Of course not! Why then are we so prone to place conditions on the “love” we offer others? Truth is, that is not love at all, but instead just another control game. Love is given, never earned.
August 1, 2005Received a phone call today from a good friend. We talked about forgiveness, in that he and his wife are friends with a couple who have been at odds with each other for awhile now. Our talk reminded me of a line from a sermon by Laurence Sterne some 250 years ago when he said “Only the brave know how to forgive…A coward never forgave; it is not in his nature.” How very insightful, for to forgive means to cease to hold in account. To forgive is to open oneself up to the possibility, the obligation even, to love. In our sitcom world were everything is portrayed as being resolved within a thirty minute time frame, minus commercials, we seem to have become confused on what forgiveness is, as well as its need to be exercised. “Forgive and forget” is often stated as if the two are synonymous, yet only God has the luxury to forgive and forget, for we cannot erase our memories. As well, forgiveness is not the same thing as to return everything to the way it was prior to the offense: We may give someone a trust to begin with, but once that has been broken, it may very well be wise to allow the offending party to re-earn that trust, even though they are forgiven. We are called upon to forgive, not to be idiots, or to put ourselves purposefully into harms way.
And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.
Seriously, is there anyone whose offense against you has cost you more than your offense cost God? Look at this verse—it calls upon us to bear with each other—that presupposes that that will in fact be a bit difficult from time to time! The reason for this is that everyone else is in fact just as flawed as you are, and thus just as much in need of being forgiven. My beautiful wife has been bearing with me now for twenty two years, in that we have just celebrated our anniversary, and trust me, I have given her plenty of opportunities to exercise forgiveness! I am firmly convinced that when we choose to forgive, that is when we are most like God. To forgive is an act of the will (not an emotion) that holds that a human is more important than an offense, perceived or real. It is to extend to another that which has already been extended to us, and in so doing it is to imitate God.