Monday, January 31, 2005

The Road Makers

"Go through, go through the gates. Clear the way for the people. Build up, build up the hightway. Remove the stones, lift up a banner over the peoples..." Isaiah 62:10



We shall not travel by the road we make

Ere day by day the sound of many feet

Is heard upon the stones that now we break.

We shall but come to where the crossroads meet.



For us the heat by day, the cold by night,

The inch-slow progress and the heavy load,

And death at last to close the long, grim fight

With man and beast and stone: for them the road.



For them the shade of trees that now we plant,

The safe,smooth journey and the ultimate goal:

Yea, birthright in the land of covenant.

For us day-labour, travail of soul.



And yet the road is ours, as never theirs;

Is not one thing on us alone bestowed?

For us the master joy, oh pioneers --

We shall not travel, but we make the road!



Author unknown





Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Call of the Wild

The Call of the Wild! For months we had been planning a retreat for nearly 40 men in Pine Mountain. We were going to get together to plot, plan, and seek God's direction for the upcoming year.



In the days leading up to our event, we kept a close eye on the weather. There was the threat of a winter storm heading our way. Several calls came into the office, "Is the leadership team still getting together? There may be a winter storm headed out way. Ice and possibly snow, you know!"



"Cancel? No way! This is The Call of the Wild, not the Call of the Wimps!" -- a typical male response.



As it turned out, the threat of a winter storm was not an idle one!



Friday night we got together to eat, spend some time in God's Word, and listen to testimonies of how God was at work around us. The weather was a little nasty, but not too bad. When we left the conference room some of the rain was turning to ice -- nothing serious.



Early on Saturday morning we could see the streets lights flickering off and on through the venetian blinds. Outside we could hear some peculiar "snaps" and "pops." We opened the front door to see trees covered with a crystal coating, gracefully bowed to the earth. A closer look revealed trees with their spines broken and their limbs snapped and splintered. The roads were polished and skimmed with a slick veneer.



"No big deal. The electricity is still on!" we said to each other.



After a great breakfast, we gathered to make our plans. We were barely underway when we heard a transformer explode. "Blink...blink!" The lights went out. "Crash!" Don's car now had a new design -- a limb landed square on the roof -- significant damage!



Sitting in the dim light of the conference center, we answered the call -- The Call of the Wild!







Friday, January 28, 2005

Exposed and Exploited

We don't like our weaknesses. We pray about them -- we want them gone! If the truth be known we don't even like to think of them -- when we do our thoughts are focused on how to hide them! Nobody wants to have their weaknesses "exposed" and "exploited." Neither of these are friendly words.



What would you think about these two words if I told you that to expose weaknesses is an opportunity to cooperate with God in exploiting them for grander purposes? Would these two words seem a little friendlier?



The apostle Paul exposed at least one of his weaknesses -- the tendency toward pride. Because of his unique spiritual experiences of "visions and revelations" a door was opened for Paul to possibly "outstage" Christ himself -- he could shamelessly promote himself as a spiritual celebrity.



Paul testified that it is Satan's tactic to expose our weaknesses and then exploit them -- they were like an "impaling stake in his flesh." We often cooperate with Satan's diabolical self-destruction by going about the draining effort of trying to hide our weaknesses!



Paul put all the cards on the table -- let me paraphrase, "I have weaknesses -- I have prayed and asked God to take them away. His response was 'No. I have a grander plan in mind! I am going to make your weaknesses a platform for my strength! In the midst of your obvious weaknesses, everyone is going to recognize my hand on you. Paul, we will expose them and then exploit them! At your weakest points you will reflect my profoundest strength.'"



2 Corinthians 12:1-10







Thursday, January 27, 2005

Jed (part two)

“Jed, I have been asking God to give me the right words to say. I have been at your side in this kind of situation before -- you are destroying yourself. You are following your father’s example and living outside the law -- you are trying to dull the hatred and resentment you have for the misery your parents have passed on with drugs -- just like your mother does with alcohol. You are angry, full of yourself and violent.



“You live in total rebellion against God. Yet He continues to pursue you. He sent us here to point you to Him one more time. There is no human remedy to your situation. We have tried them all. You have no hope outside of God’s miraculous deliverance.



“You are also someone that we love. God loves you even more.



“You are lying there with that cross resting on your chest, but you can be as close to God as that cross that lies inches from your heart and never receive the forgiveness that He offers. God wants to deliver you from your sin. Christ died on the cross for that very reason. You must come to Christ with all your sin and ask Him to forgive you and grant you repentance.

You know the gospel, but I will go through it with you again.”



I did.



Tears filled Jed’s eyes and we knew that this conversation was different from the many others in times past.



I asked Jed a series of questions:



“Do you want to repent of your sins and receive God’s forgiveness and deliverance tonight?”



“Yes, I do!” He replied.



“Jed, are you willing to confess to God that you are wrong -- that you have sinned? This is not about your parents' sin. It is about your sin -- they could repent of their sin or not repent of their sin, and you will remain the same person unless you will say, ‘I am wrong, Lord. I have sinned against you.’



“Jed, are you sorry for your sin? Not the kind of sorrow that results from feeling sorry for yourself, your arrest, your drug addiction, and losing your job and license. I am asking you if you are sorry for sinning against God by your life of disobedience, rebellion, immorality, and selfishness.”



“Yes I am!”
He responded.



“Jed, are you ready to ask God to do something only He can do -- forgive you and free you? If you are not ready to forgive your parents and others that have wronged you -- then you are not ready to receive God’s forgiveness. Listen to what Jesus said,"



'For if you forgive those who have sinned against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive those who have sinned against you, neither will your Father forgive your sins against Him.'



“I do -- I don’t want this sin anymore. I need God’s forgiveness. If He can forgive me of all my sin -- I can forgive them!”



Jed believed that not only was forgiveness toward others necessary -- but also possible. Jed confessed his own sin – Jed also released his parents into God’s hands and forgave them.



“Jed, your life is a mess, but you are not beyond God’s reach. God can clean up your life. You cannot do it on your own, but at every turn He will be there. Where reconciliation and restitution is possible -- God will show you how to respond obediently. The Spirit of God will enable you to live with Him controlling of your life.”



We took plenty of time to show Jed how he could walk in the Spirit and how to recognize when he was walking in disobedience.



You may be thinking, “Your conversation sounded rather severe.” It was, but if you had been there listening the words would not have sounded condescending or mean-spirited. In fact, they came from two broken hearts and voices choked with emotion. The words made it into Jed’s soul -- carried there by the Spirit of God.



Jed called on his Heavenly Father and received the help, freedom, and deliverance that only Christ can bring.



Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Jed (part one)

Jed lay slightly propped up on the bed. A heavy gold chain circled his neck and a large gold cross rested on his chest. His muscular arms, covered with many tattoos, were on top of the linens. His body trembled, craving more drugs. He was in de-tox -- again.



I looked on a face and shaved head that bore the scars of many brawls. “How many more times can Jed cheat death?” I thought.



I had known Jed since he was twelve -- he was now in his twenties. My visiting partner had grown up with him -- they began to talk. I had the distinct impression that my assignment was to listen and pray. Hearing from God was the key to the entire visit.



As Jed talked, much of his conversation was about his parents. His father had recently been paroled from prison -- his mother was an alcoholic. He spewed angry, bitter, and resentful words. His recollections were more like reenactments -- each story surged with great emotion from somewhere deep in his soul. His fists clenched, his body stiffened, and his eyes flashed. Then like a passing storm, his conversation and composure changed. He bowed his head and words filled with child-like yearnings came out. He was pitiful, broken and scared.



Soon there was a lull in the conversation. Jed turned to me and said, “You've been very quiet. What are you thinking?”



My assignment changed -- God had called me to pray -- He now called me to speak. I breathed a silent prayer asking God to give me redemptive words. He did.



To be continued...

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

He appeared in another form

"After that, He appeared in another form to two of them as they walked and went into the country." -- Mark 16:3



The Gospel writer Mark tells us that Jesus had just performed his greatest miracle -- He resurrected from the dead. Mary Magdelene was one of the first to whom Jesus appeared. Mark tells us that Jesus had cast seven demons out of her. Why would such an unlikely candidate be so privileged -- Mary was a recovering demoniac!

Today you and I met with many privileged people -- privileged because Christ dwells in them by faith -- Jesus in a different form. Did we recognize Him? If not -- why not?




Is it because He has revealed Himself in people we would never choose?



Monday, January 24, 2005

Didn't God have fun...

"Didn't God have fun in yesterday's service?"



That was a comment I got today in an e-mail. Someone believed that in the presence of God's people there is a dynamic that reflects the joy of God -- He's having fun. If fun has any connection to joy then God has fun and God had fun yesterday.



How did God have fun yesterday?"



We heard a testimony, "In my early 20's I was further away from God than I ever thought possible," then we listened to the same voice give praise to the faithfulness of God -- He remained nothing but faithful. The person testifying was being wonderfully and tastefully candid about the struggle that was part of her journey. The people who listened connected with the transparency -- they found joy in her redemption.



She could have set a tone that focused on her tremendous gift -- she did not. God's people found joy in that.



The sermon outline in the bulletin had to be scratched -- the message their pastor had planned was not for that day -- God intervened. The message lacked length but not substance -- God's people found joy in that (go ahead, smile)!



A couple came forward to profess faith in Christ and a desire to follow Him in baptism. Others came forward to pray or to unite with our body of believers -- God's people found joy in that.



Do you believe God ever has fun? I do.











Saturday, January 22, 2005

Looking for a Trophy

The wet grass captured some of the glitter of the nearly full moon. I walked along a dam that ran north and south. In the 5 acre pond, to my right, I could hear the pops and splashes of the shad that were being driven to the surface by the large mouth bass in pursuit of them. A little further and to my immediate left would be my destiny. I was in pursuit myself -- I was looking for a trophy.



Even though it was dark I knew where the deer stand was. A towering pine stood just behind the oak tree that held the platform I would climb onto. I quietly picked my way through the narrow barrier of woods that separated me from the "green" field. In just moments I had my 308 slung over my shoulder and was going hand-over-hand up the slippery steel ladder. Twelve feet above the ground, I was perched in a perfect position -- with just the slightest turn of my head to the right or left I could cover the whole field below. I was looking for a trophy buck-- and the trophy would be looking for me!



As the darkness gave way to increasing light I tried to get the "lay of the land." Seeing to my left would cause me to turn my head the most -- the back edge of this field was almost behind me. In front of me the field had two sections -- a thin line of trees separated them. Beyond the back field and slightly to the left was an area that had been recently cut -- I could see clearly for about 100 yards. To my right the field was short -- no more than 50 yards. The field ended and a white sand road made a straight line along the edge.



Why was I looking for a trophy? A trophy buck is a challenge: elusive, rare, smart, and wiley! A trophy buck can put you among the "Boone and Crockett" elite -- and I am proud!



The hunt ended -- and I was still looking for a trophy.



Later that morning, I joined two friends at the pond to fish (no trophy there either.) Among the bantering, jokes, and other conversation, one of my friends posed this question: "Why do some of the strongest Christians end up as casualties?"



My answer was immediate, "I guess Satan's looking for a trophy."





Friday, January 21, 2005

Part of the Journey

My wife wrote this poem, which details a part of our journey. I wanted to share it with you:



His wife stood looking out the window,

Unseeing --

Strangely reminiscent of a photo taken

When she was a child and stood looking

Out the window --

Dreaming.



The child wore a pink leotard, pink tights, pink slippers

And a new pink tutu.

In her dreams she swirled and twirled and

She was beautiful.



The woman had forgotten how

To dream --

But something always drew her to the window --

Perhaps a hidden yearning

To once again

Be the child.



He found that old photo in the attic,

Seeing

In the child what he once saw in her.

He sat for a long time, looking

At the picture --

Dreaming.



Once upon a time they had swirled and twirled together –

They had made a life together.

In his eyes -- once upon a time --

She was beautiful.



He found her at the window, and

Handed her

The photo, saying “Together we can find

This spirit that’s still in you –

To once again

Be the child.”

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Can't sleep

"I will bless the LORD who has given me counsel;

My heart also instructs me in the night seasons.

I have set the LORD always before me;

because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices;

My flesh will rest in hope." Psalm 16:7-9



I can't sleep -- because I am worrying? No.

I can't sleep -- I am listening to my late night Counselor

I can't sleep -- my Instructor has more to say

I can't sleep -- He wants and enjoys my company

I can't sleep -- my heart is filled with gladness

I can't sleep -- my heart insists on celebrating

I can't sleep -- because now my rest is hope!



The Adventure

"I wonder what sort of tale we've fallen into?" J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings



Sam posed that question to Frodo. The quote came to me as 5 of us were praying together early on Tuesday morning. Why? I was the last one to pray -- I am always given that privilege to close out the adventure of prayer. I never know exactly where the Spirit of God is going to take me and my traveling companions when we pray. But often, as their hearts are revealed through the words of their prayers -- I wonder, "What sort of tale have we have fallen into?"



More and more I am learning that prayer is an adventure. It is not always a precise journey. The soul of God's people is a wild frontier. Our souls are big. How big? The soul that God breathed life into, through the "New Birth", is as vast as the universe -- big enough to be a dwelling place for the Creator! The Holy Spirit, like a wind, blows through it. His effect is like the wind -- He wafts through the alley ways of the soul, moving things, changing things, and making His presence known. He can be resisted, but like the uniqueness of the desert mesas -- He chisels away and leaves His intriguing shape. I have witnessed His presence cause the soul to howl like a strong wind. Sometimes His presence is a low groan that comes from deep in the spirit. Sometimes His presence is soft and rhythmic -- like the lullaby sung by a nurturing mother. Prayer is always an Adventure.



Listen to the Wind. What do you hear? As you pray with others -- ask "I wonder what sort of tale we have fallen into?"

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Where can I find Faith?

“My little daughter lies at the point of death. Come and lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live.” MARK 5



"Jairus, your wife asks that you come home immediately!” As he rushed across the stone floors, his sandals slapped and echoed with each hurried stride.



Jairus was the ruling leader at the synagogue -- which had become a hectic place lately. A young rabbi was raising difficult questions. Jesus' poise, command of the Scriptures, and ability to connect with everyday people had caused a stir in the community. He seemed to question everything -- worship, the Sabbath, the authority of the Traditions, even the Kingdom of God. For years people had been losing interest in what the Elders taught, but now they were curiously alive with deep concern about their relationship with God -- Jairus had been spending more time then ever debriefing his subordinates on how to answer the many questions this Jesus’ teaching had raised. Questions were not the only thing Jesus raised—there was no shortage of ire and resentment among the spiritual leadership.



Jesus’ own family had been to Jairus -- they thought their brother was crazy. His activities had drawn the kind of attention one does not need -- that of the Jewish authorities and the Roman government. Jairus dutifully went to see him. Soon he was engaged in conversation with the carpenter's son. “This maverick teacher is engaging,” he mused. Jairus also sensed something else -- beneath his own cool exterior a struggle was going on. Much of his carefully constructed religion seemed flimsy, ready to collapse, and indefensible. Jairus left with the sense of being the one counseled not the counselor.



“This Jesus is not to be taken lightly!”



Jairus had listened to many spiteful words from his peers regarding this one from Galilee, but Jairus did not share their sentiments. In fact, their brief encounters had driven him to re-think his own relationship with God. For the first time in many years he was experiencing a deep spiritual thirst.



The moment Jairus stepped across the threshold of his home, he knew something was very wrong. A house servant took his outer cloak and directed him to his daughter’s room. Crossing the room, he began to connect thoughts and events. “Children have been ravaged by some strange sickness of late. It has been raging through the community.” Panic began to well up in him. “But I am a devout ruler of the synagogue!” He pushed the panic down. In seconds he learned that being a devout leader had not spared him; the sickness was indiscriminate. This fact went against everything his pious mentors had taught him.



The room was dimly lit -- his wife’s shadowy figure was bent over their little girl. Tenderly, she placed wet strips of linen over the convulsing body. “She is burning up with fever. We’ve got to get it down or she will die!” she desperately pleaded. Frightened eyes searched her husband's, looking for strength and answers.



“She was fine last night...what happened?” he asked, his balding head furrowed with concern.



“I…I don’t know! She didn’t come down for breakfast, so I came up to awaken her. I found her shaking and muttering incoherently. What are we to do?”



Jairus -- clear thinking, highly educated, and a leader of leaders -- stood frozen. “I...I don’t know! Have you sent for the physician?”



“Jairus, the physician’s son died last night! It started with a temperature that just kept climbing…is our daughter going to die?”



Without responding, he turned and flew out the door. “I must find this Jesus...It should not be hard...I will just look for the crowds that are flocking to him!” In just moments, Jairus was standing in the midst of a crowd being jostled toward a small group of men. Looking at the mob, Jairus thought, “What a troubled bunch they are! I feel like I am in a sea of every sick person, indigent, and outcast of the city.” He and the other rabbis had spent many unsuccessful hours trying to cram ever-increasing Traditions into already confused minds. The “holy men” were always glad to see the "needy ones" leave.



Miraculously, the frenzied crowd calmed and began to part. Jairus felt like Moses at the Red Sea. The disdain with which he had looked at them seemed so inappropriate now -- respectfully, they gave him a clear path to the young rabbi.



Memories of his beloved daughter popped through his mind. In an instant her entire twelve years flashed before his eyes. His little girl—so beautiful, so bright, so happy -- their only child. They had just celebrated her twelfth birthday. Would she see another?



Jairus found himself at the feet of the one called Jesus. Kneeling before this "Revolutionist" (as the Elders and Scribes had taken to calling him) he heard himself pleading, “Please come to my house. My little girl is desperately sick...You healed others...Please come heal her...She is our only child! Just touch her and she will be healed!”



Jesus spoke, “Take me to your daughter.” Simple, yet commanding words. Jairus was only too willing to obey.



The gathered crowd was so thick and compressed that the heat and odors from their bodies made it hard to breathe. The frantic jostling started again. Along they went at a quick pace toward Jairus’ house. “He is going to help! This Jesus is going to heal my daughter!” Doubt was gone -- replaced by faith.



Jesus stopped so suddenly that the crowd nearly trampled them. “Somebody touched me, for I felt power going out from me.”An emaciated hand had reached out in faith -- just as Jairus had. Nobody saw it -- not even Jesus -- but he felt it! Peter, one of his disciples, said what everyone else was thinking: “You see this crowd pressing against you, and you ask, 'who touched me?” Jesus’ question seemed ludicrous.



A trembling woman weaved through the crowd and fell at Jesus feet. Jairus’ euphoria and faith left -- anger and impatience swept into its place. “It is that women! The one banned from the synagogue! The one with that disgusting blood problem! She is unclean! Why must she come now? Why is He stopping for her?”



The pitiful woman stammered, “For twelve years I have had this sickness!” As Jairus listened he began to change on the inside.



“She started getting sick when my daughter was born.” Jairus thought.



“I have been to every Doctor—they take my money, yet take not the disease." cried the woman.



"My doctor was unable to save his own child!” Jairus realized.



They told me I was unclean. But now...now I am healed! My faith is in Messiah, not hollow religion!”



Light began to fill Jairus’ heart. He couldn’t miss the correlation. “Faith -- real faith -- is found in the same place."



Where can I find Faith? Faith is in the Person, the Messiah -- not religion.

Monday, January 17, 2005

A Sad Story

"Then they raised over him a great heap of stones, still there to this day. So the Lord turned from the fierceness of His anger."JOSHUA 7:26



Leaving the smoldering ruins of Jericho -- Achan was about seven pounds heavier than when he first hurdled the massive stone wall amid the blasts of ram’s horns and shouts of ferocious warriors. Under his rough woven clothing he concealed forbidden loot from Jericho—five pounds of silver and about two pounds of gold.



Alone now in the dim light of his tent, his guilty eyes glanced in every direction. He quickly peeled off his rough outer clothing. “Striking! This garment is absolutely striking!”



The smooth and beautiful fabric of the Babylonian garment looked and felt good against his powerful body. Beneath the exquisite garment was a money belt. Opening its pouches he let the silver trickle through his fingers -- a glittering mound formed on the floor of his tent. .



Achan shook his head resentfully as he mumbled Joshua’s command that was given the morning just before they entered the defenseless city, "And you, by all means take nothing from this city, or you will be destroyed with it...and bring destruction and trouble on everyone."



“What’s the big deal about a little silver and gold -- they would just burn this beautiful garment!”



With big callused hands he folded the garment and stashed everything under a heavy leather mat -- the floor of his tent. Foolish Achan! He had looked in every direction -- except the one that matters -- up! If he had, just beyond the glowing sun he would have seen the glowering anger of the LORD!



Joshua had sent the minimum of soldiers to defeat the little city of Ai. Something went terribly wrong -- for the first time these fighting men were filled with fear and experienced just how insignificant they were without the Lord’s blessing. It was not supposed to be this way. Ai was an inferior foe -- they should have folded like a tent. Achan and Elim ran for their lives.



Achan’s eyes bugged out in horror when he heard the thud and saw the point of the javelin explode through Elim’s chest. Elim, who had fought with Achan in many a campaign, staggered and fell to the ground -- dead!



God did not let Achan die so honorably on the battlefield.



When Achan stumbled into the camp he was not prepared for what he heard and saw -- widows and children were gathered in a cluster, inconsolable. One of the first families he saw was Elim’s. Elim’s wife stood there -- numbed and staring off into space. Her little ones clutched at her robe. The entire community was in the grip of panic and fear.



Joshua and the elders were lying face down in the dirt crying out to God. God had removed His protective hand. Without it they were hopeless. Suddenly, Joshua stood to his feet, “God has told me to get my face up from the dirt and quit praying! There is sin in the camp! In the morning God will reveal it!”



Achan went sick inside -- he knew it was his sin! Achan’s last night alive on planet earth was not spent sleeping.



“Daddy, where are we going?”



Achan did not respond.



“Mommy, what is wrong? Are we moving? Where are we going?”



Achan and his wife trudged along, their eyes were wide with terror -- faces ashen. The column stopped. Achan stood with his family and all his earthly belongings, and stared down at the mound of silver, the wedge of gold, and the finely woven garment that had been placed in the middle of his gathered family. The sparkling silver taunted him -- it seemed their former owners were enjoying payback. The gold dulled to the color of the sand upon which it lay -- for the first time, Achan noticed the embroidered images of the Babylonian gods woven into the garment.



The last image Achan and his family saw was the hailstorm of stones.



Years later, as a family trekked across the searing desert, a curious little boy pointed and asked, “Daddy? What is the meaning of this pile of stones?”



“O my son! A man named Achan, his entire family, and everything he owned lies in ashes beneath it.”



“What happened Daddy?”



“Sit down, little one. It is a sad story.”

Friday, January 14, 2005

Cover Me

At about 5:15 Thursday morning I stepped out of our house. With my first breath I could taste the humidity. The air had the smell and feel of rain -- a damp, cutting breeze brought a shiver. Later in the morning I was outside again -- the darkness was giving way to gray light. But today, a canopy of low hanging clouds would cover me. I found my self yearning for clear days -- a canopy of deep blue skies and a warm bright sun to cover me.



Later on that day I hopped into the Expedition and drove off to an appointment. Again, I glanced up at the shrouded skies -- they were deeper and darker. I put in a CD and listened to a song by Bebo Norman, "Cover Me." Only God knows how this happens, but I began to sense a close connection to the gloomy thoughts that were trying to "cover me" and the words of the song. I desired the clear skies I have grown accustomed to -- the chorus of the song captured my attention:



"Cover up my heart, cover up my soul

Cover up this world and everything I know

You cover up the sky, you cover up the sea

Cover up the mountains and every part of me

Every single breath I breathe...cover me"



All day long I fought being "socked in" by internal storms that tried to gather strength. I prayed many times ''cover me." Later that night I heard the rains -- the sky was giving up the burden it carried -- I did too. I woke up Friday to blue skies, dotted with clouds, that covered me.









Thursday, January 13, 2005

It's not too late!

At 6:30 this morning, I was looking into 45 faces -- all men. We gather every Thursday about 48 times a year. Today we started a Bible study on the life of the apostle Paul -- a pretty significant character for those of us who are Christ-followers. If we removed his writings from the New Testament, we would reduce its content by about 66%. Without Paul we would also be in quandry as we tried to "unpack" much of Jesus' teaching -- Paul's brief epistles put most of the skeleton into the flesh of Christ's message.



My job was to give an overview of this study of Paul's life. I have had weeks to think about it and prepare, but to be honest, my assignment seemed about as feasible as trying to decipher the National Budget! Paul lived LARGE -- has a more complex man ever been chronicled? How do you do that in 20 minutes?



Paul's life teaches us 2 important truths about God:

  1. He is incredibly patient
  2. We can "get it" and become what God intended even if, like Paul, much of our life is a record of totally not "getting it!" Paul ignorantly and viciously opposed everything God was doing -- in himself and in others.

As we talked, I watched faces "get it." We were all filled with hope -- it's not too late!



On the white board in my office there is a quote. It is the musing of a man, but it reflects the heart of God. He still speaks and says,



"It's not too late to become what you might have been." -- George Herbert



Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Connect the dots

"Right now I want to live for 100 more years!" I blurted out those words after Sandy and I had just spent an hour or so talking. We had been trying to "connect the dots" How so? We were merging dreams we have long held with what is happening now. We were trying to identify God's activity in our lives. The "dots" began to connect and the clarity was incredible--we were pretty excited about what we believed we were seeing!



The merging dots in our lives seemed to form snapshots of future adventures with God -- ones we only dared to dream about. In those dreams we were in third world countries, teaching students in foreign universities, establishing house churches where none existed, backpacking through rugged country, and learning the ways of ancient people groups. Last night we both found it hard to sleep.



This morning I opened up the One Year Chronological Bible and reread the Scripture for January 6, which included Job 7:16. I was taken aback as I read Job's lament: "I despise my life; I would not live forever. Let me alone; my days have no meaning." I have slid down into those very depths of despair myself -- I don't always look forward to and hope for another 100 years.



What makes the difference? A few things --

  • The life God has for us is an adventure
  • Clarity very often comes and goes (that's why there is a word to define it)
  • I don't always see God in the events of my life
  • I don't always connect the dots.



Tuesday, January 11, 2005

What's the difference?

My assistant caught me as I walked by her office: "Pastor, would you return this call? Someone had a question about the message you preached Sunday."



I am in a series of messages about "Spiritual Warfare." I wondered what the question would be -- did they agree or disagree with what I had taught? I dialed the number and a familiar voice on the other end of the line asked, "What is the difference between God making a way out and retreating?"



Why that question? In the message I had pointed out that all the "armor" the apostle Paul listed (Ephesians 6: 10-20) described armor that covered the front of the body -- no protective covering was provided for turning and running when the battle started (retreating). I also stated our options were two: "stand our ground" or "charge forward." I had also added the caveat that God always makes a "way of escape." That sounds a lot like retreating.



The voice on the other end said, "Before you give me the answer, let me tell you what I think the difference is."



I said, "O. K., tell me what you think."



The answer was terrific! "I think it means that our way out is always a retreat -- God's way leads us through!"



Isn't that a great answer? Sometimes I wonder how well I am connecting with those who are hungry for a Word from God. Every time a man is speaking to God's people, they must struggle to decipher two voices -- the speaker's voice and God's voice! This believer was struggling with what seemed like a contradiction. Thankfully, the Spirit of God helped her interpret the spiritual truth!



"What's the difference?" All the difference in this world!











Monday, January 10, 2005

Wash your hands -- then proceed.

Yesterday afternoon I was reminded of a profound truth. The reminder came when I walked into the Intensive Care Unit at Egleston Hospital -- metro Atlanta. After riding up and down elevators, walking through a maze of corridors, and getting directions from three different information stations, I was finally at the ICU. Sandy and I were there to visit Grant Martin. Grant is just shy of 5 years old and is recuperating from open heart surgery. The surgery was so complicated and the risk so high I will not even try to explain all the details. The success of the operation and his continued recovery touches the edges of the miraculous.



After buzzing the intercom we were allowed to enter the ICU. We walked through the automatic doors and directly to the nurses station. I told the charge nurse who we were and why we were here "I am Grant's pastor -- may we visit him?"



"We are glad to have you here but, before you see Grant you will need to go over there," She pointed to an alcove. "Wash your hands -- then you may proceed." We could go no further until we washed our hands.



Before going to Atlanta we had gathered with God's people that morning to worship. Our worship had many facets -- we sang, prayed, gave, and opened God's Word. My most obvious part in the service is to teach, and I did -- for thirty minutes.



Walking into the sterile environment of the hospital reminded me of how important it is for me to be clean before God and before His people. Many are spiritually sick or recovering. Many are at high risk. They all need a miracle -- myself included. As a Christ follower and His ambassador one of my privileges is to stand in Christ's place as an instrument of healing. I am challenged by the Psalmist's question "Who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart..."



Traveling to Atlanta, Sandy and I passed through many different environments. How much disease did we touch? How much disease touched us? Walking through this world there is much to contaminate our minds, spirits, and hearts -- it is called sin. I was vividly reminded of the serious challenge to remain clean and the precious privilege to receive cleansing through confession to the only One who can cleanse me of my sin -- Jesus Christ.



Today I have met with many people, but before I did, I was reminded -- "Wash your hands -- then proceed."

Saturday, January 8, 2005

No Remedy?

A sense of total helplessness paralyzed him as he watched his young son writhing on the ground. The strange guttural sounds coming from the boy made his skin crawl. Veins in his neck bulged -- swelling with every rapid pulse of his heart -- fingers clawed at the earth. His tortured and twisted face was grotesque.



“Thank God there is no fire or water. Thank God!” It was a simple prayer the troubled father had breathed more times than he could count.



At some point a demonic spirit began its merciless assault against his son. The timing of the torments was unpredictable. How many times had he pulled him from a fire, his clothes smoldering with glowing embers, the stench of burning flesh and singed hair gagging him? How many times had he dragged his son from murky depths and frantically compressed the salty, brackish water from his lungs? How many times had he pressed his lips on the muddy, blue lips of his son, breathing precious life back into his board stiff body -- only God knew. This one thought kept him going -- God knew.



He sat cradling his son’s head in his lap. The boy was quiet now -- the demon was quiet. Memories of the first time he held his newborn's miniature little body flooded his mind. Wet and shiny, sparse black hair smeared in all directions, little eyes squinting and fragile hands flailing at the air.



His attention was brought back to the present. Sunken eyes began to flutter open. Groggily, the boy came to. As he looked into his son’s ashen face, commitment to save him came back with full resolve. He would not give up! There must be a way to free his son.



He was not sure why he knew—but he knew—his son’s problem was spiritual. In part he knew because he had tried everything else -- the best of physicians could do nothing.



It was rumored there was One who healed sick people and freed others strangely and unexplainably vexed by demons from the netherworld. Religion's elite despised him -- this Jesus. To the father this was a good sign! He had seen them with feigned sorrow hanging around the homes of the desperate long enough to separate them from some of their silver. They constantly scrambled for the power seats in the synagogues. Their prayers would gag an angel! Splashing mud on their long flowing robes was an opportunity he never missed.



“He healed people and freed them from demons -- I must find this man.” Helping his weakened son to wobbling feet they started toward town.



"Dad, is there any hope for me?"



“We are going to seek out a man who helps people just like you!” The father’s response was immediate.



Ordinary looking men stood in the middle of a crowd, fending off the questions and criticisms of the local clergy. The boy and his father stopped and listened to the heated dialogue. Realizing that the plainly dressed men were the disciples of the Healer, the father broke in passionately pleading: “Heal my son—anyone—someone, please!”



The robed ones tilted their heads back and looked down their noses at the anxious father. The disciples began to call out to the demon to leave -- nothing happened. Instantly the father ran toward Jesus. “It is you I have been looking for. I brought my son to your disciples but they could not help us. Please, have pity on me and my son and heal him!”



Jesus turned to his disciples and the robed ones saying, “You are faithless, you and this entire generation. How long will I be with you displaying the glorious power of my Father? Bring the boy to me!”



“If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us,” the father pleaded!



Jesus spoke authoritative words. The demon cruelly resisted—it was an epic battle. “Was his son dead?” The thought was on everyone’s mind. No! The strong hands of Jesus reached down and pulled the boy to his feet. It was over. The same voice that freed the boy ordered the demon to never return—he was free indeed!



When a problem is spiritual there is no human remedy.

Friday, January 7, 2005

Definitely feeling better!

I walked through the door of our home earlier this week and asked Sandy my customary, "Anything exciting happen today?"



"I just got off the phone with Justin. He is really excited about the wedding. He and Erika have their budget all planned and everything is falling into place," she replied.



We sat down, had some beef stew together, and shared some more of our day. When we finished eating I got up from the table and noticed, as I walked by my cell phone, that I had a message on it. I picked it up, pressed the icon and retrieved the voice mail. It was Justin -- he asked me to call.



In the short time between his bouyant conversation with his mom and the one he and I were now having, he had received a call from his employer -- he was being laid off. Justin is a good worker with a very good relationship with his employer -- they had actually grown up together. The business was a fledgling one and they were facing some significant financial pressure. You know what happens to the "low man on the totem pole." Justin needs employment -- wedding bells are scheduled to ring in October!



The next morning my sister called, very early, from Maine. Sandy took the call. When I got out of the shower she relayed the message to me.



"Barbie called, they had to take your father to the hospital. He is completely disoriented. He may have had another stroke." I called my sister immediately.



I went off to work and started into my day -- a day peppered with meetings and conversations with many other people I love. Some of them were trudging through some pretty significant stuff themselves -- marriage, medical, spiritual, or financial issues. I also had several meetings with leaders in our community of believers. We have a lot on "the plate" as we enter the new year.



As I write it is Friday. My son is still unemployed, but has some really good opportunities to re-enter the work force immediately. We have had several conversations since that first one. He has been rock-solid from the start. I am really proud of the way he handled it all. He's a good man.



I talked with my dad a few minutes ago -- he is something else! Along with a battery of tests the doctor had given him three words to remember (he had to remember them for 2 days) to test his awareness.



"Dad, what are the three words the doctor gave you?



"Well let's see...they are...I made them into a funny poem so I could remember...O yea! I took a KEY started my BICYCLE and ran into a TREE! Key! Bicycle! Tree! I'll fix that joker!



"Bill, you know what really makes me mad? They took my clothes! If they hadn't I would have called a taxi and got out of this devilish place already!"



"Yes dad, you are definitely feeling better!" I said laughing.



And so am I!

Thursday, January 6, 2005

Protector

"There were even instances when I thought he should have shown a little less meekness. But that day he thought I was in physical danger and intervened. He was my protector. I liked what I saw. I liked what I felt.”



Baseball was a big part of growing up. My parents rarely missed a game. Before one of our games, we stopped at a country store to buy some cokes and candy bars to have during the game. I was the first one to leave the store. As I was walked out of the store, out of the corner of my eye I saw a guy walking toward me. He was loud and had a menacing presence about him. It quickly became obvious he was under the influence of something. I casually drifted to my right to avoid him -- never making eye contact. He drifted with me to his left. Now I knew he had me in his sights -- I was in was trouble.


“Hey little leaguer, be a big leaguer and have a drink of beer.” he slurred. I kept my head down and tried again, unsuccessfully, to step around him. He stepped back into my path. I tried to step around him again. Again, he stepped in front of me. Suddenly, he grabbed me by the front of my uniform and shoved a bottle of beer in my face “I said have a drink!”


What happened next was a blur! The guy disappeared! Where did he go?


I looked around just in time just in time to see the faded back pockets of his denims and the soles of his boots going through the passenger-side window of a car -- to this day I'm not sure it was his car!


"If you ever touch my boy again, I'll hit you so hard your clothes will be out of style when you wake up!" my father said, leaning over him into the open window. Now the drunk was the one with his head down trying not to make eye contact -- with my father!


I do not know if that sobered him up -- I do know it quieted him down!


My father is not a violent man. I have never heard him swear. I have never seen him treat anyone unkindly. There were even instances when I thought he should have shown a little less meekness. On that day my father thought I was in physical danger and he intervened. I saw him differently than I had ever seen him before. He was my protector. I liked what I saw -- I liked what I felt.


To any one reading this story, I am not suggesting you go out and stuff some mean drunk through a car window or immediately resort to violence when you are threatened -- people are in jail or have been sued and lost everything for less. What am I saying? Our children will see us from many angles -- one should be that of a defender and protector. God never intended that they fight all their battles alone. We are to forever watch over (not smother) our family. There will be times we will need to intercede on their behalf and protect them. This relationship is never to be lost. -- even when our children leave home.

Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Accepted -- Forgiven -- Safe

He stared at the horizon. Nothing moved. Weathered brown hands came to rest just above his hips -- hands of a working man. These same calloused hands had firmly yet gently held the moral reins that guided the two boys he had raised on his own.



A few miles away a bundle of tattered rags staggered along a cattle path under a blazing sun. Hot, arid winds blasted and whipped a shaggy, tangled mop of hair. A face, once young and innocent, was etched deep with fatigue and worry. Olive skin, overexposed to the sun, glowed reddish brown. He bore all the markings of a beaten man.



“Is it even possible what I am experiencing is real?” The young man mused.



The hot sun forced him into the shadow of a rock.



The sun made its steady march across the sky; the rock no longer provided shelter for the young man. Sweat soaked his shirt, making it cling to his back. Curly locks, pasted to his forehead, dripped salty brine into his puffy eyes causing them to sting. It was an effort to even stand. Stiffly, he raised himself to his feet.



“How much farther is it?” he wondered.



The next thoughts were his rehearsed lines. Even his body language was choreographed; bowing his head, he pitifully mumbled “Father, I have sinned against heaven…”



A subtle change had been taking place. Tears of regret began to carve muddy streams down his cheeks. He felt genuine sorrow. It was so different; he was no longer sorry for himself -- he had sinned against his God and his father.



Just then he crested a hill -- there in the valley was the homestead.



Inside, the old man strode to the window, hands on his hips, gazing out across the expanse to the elevated horizon. The boy was always the first thing on his mind. Through the crinkled heat waves something appeared -- it was wraith-like. All of his senses were brought to bear on the faint image descending toward him. His heart began to race. Suddenly, his old legs became young again and he bolted for the door!



As the youngster began his descent down the sloping terrain, the entire yard below burst into activity. Fear gripped him. His still twisted thinking immediately convinced him that the workers, like an angry mob, were coming to exact revenge for all the pain he had caused their beloved master! His thoughts deceived him -- again!



Running away was not an option. In a split second the prodigal came to this morbid conclusion: “I would rather be dead than live as I am. Let them do as they wish. It will be over soon.”



As the throng closed in, what he saw filled him with the greatest terror yet: his father was leading the charge! Closing his eyes, he stiffened and waited for the impact. His only hope for mercy spontaneously poured out across his lips at the last second: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son…”



No furious collision took place. Instead, compassionate arms enveloped him. His matted head was pressed against his aged father’s chest. It had been a long time since he had heard -- or understood -- the beat of his father’s heart.



The trembling father could not stop kissing the filthy face he now held in his hands. “You were dead but are alive again!” Over and over his father tearfully repeated his own rehearsed lines.

This day had been prepared for, intensely prayed for, and dreamed of since the day the young prodigal walked away.



Immediately the ragged clothing that bore evidence of the strain and wear of his sin was stripped away. His nakedness was covered with a beautiful robe. The family signet was slipped over the dirty nail of his ring finger. A servant knelt before the prodigal -- soft leather now covered his bruised, calloused feet.



The prodigal was home -- safe -- forgiven -- accepted.



Off in the distance a young calf struggled against the slick edge of a knife crossing its throat. The sweet aroma of a wood fire wafted in the air. There was laughter again! Singing echoed across the hills. Music for dancing filled the house.





Tuesday, January 4, 2005

What shall I give you?

At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask! What shall I give you?” First Kings 3:6-14



Young Solomon was not sleeping as soundly this night. In the twilight between slumber and alertness he could still hear the distressed bleating of the sheep. Though his eyes were closed in sleep, the streams of blood that flowed down the altar and formed a crimson puddle at his feet were still visible. His deep devotion and love for the LORD had compelled him to offer one thousand sacrifices in a single day. It was the most intense day of worship the nineteen-year-old ever experienced. It was the most intense day of his life—period!



In the midst of political unrest and rebellion Solomon was installed as the new king in the stead of his larger-than-life father, King David. This great calling weighed heavily. The mind-boggling responsibility of it all invaded his dreams. He went to bed with a deep longing for the same divine guidance that graced his father’s reign with understanding and discernment. What a leader of God’s people his father had been! The holy men said he was a man after God’s own heart.



The smoke of each sacrifice Solomon offered up that day had carried this fervent prayer into the throne room of God. “Give to your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to be numbered or counted. Therefore give your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?”



God heard!



Solomon heard a voice reply “Ask! What shall I give you?”



It was the voice of God!



What Would Your Answer have Been?



Solomon was probably nineteen or twenty years old when the LORD visited him and posed this question -- keep in mind that the One asking this question could deliver!



In that moment of God’s visitation nobody knew about God’s offer or Solomon’s answer. This was a very secret meeting between a young man and the LORD. God could have thundered this question out of the heavens for all to hear -- He could have written it across a wall for all to see. He had done such things before -- but He did not.



Secret desires expose our true character. Later on in his life, Solomon's journal would reveal "For as he thinks in his heart so is he." What was he saying? We get the truest glimpse of our character when no one is looking. Like Solomon, these questions are answered in the deepest recesses of the soul.



God’s question and Solomon’s answer may have never been known had God not chosen to reveal and preserve it for us. As Solomon’s life unfolded through the years his words and deeds clearly displayed the desires of his heart.



So, too, our words and deeds will display the desires of our heart. Do you hear God asking "What shall I give you in 2005?"

Monday, January 3, 2005

Photograph my good side

All of us have watched someone turn, lift their chin, strike a pose and say “Photograph my good side.” If the lighting and background are right, certain angles can capture our best side -- the side we want seen and remembered.



Reality tells us that life has a way of turning us so that every angle is exposed. We strike poses we cannot hold. As we are turned, our profiles change and less photogenic images appear! At times we will see a picture that is a consistent reflection of the perfect relationship that was secured through faith in Christ. At other times we will see startling contrasts -- dark sides. Like I said, we just can’t hold that perfect pose.



Thankfully our Heavenly Father is the master potter! Jeremiah tells us He puts us on His wheel and makes us into a new vessel (brings out our good side). If we remain soft and moldable like clay, He will reshape us.



At times the shaping process is enjoyable -- the transformation is fascinating -- the picture striking! At times the process brings pain -- He finds a hardness that needs to be broken -- His loving hands have to apply pressure to bring about a more vivid “family resemblance.”



Take heart! God is also called Abba. The word means “Papa” or "Daddy". Abba reads and sounds the same frontward as backward-- a reminder that God is the only one who never has to say “Photograph my good side!” We are reminded who He remains when our “bad side” appears.



God’s Goal remains the same: He will continue to shape us until, no matter how life turns us, we can say “Photograph my good side.”

Sunday, January 2, 2005

Look How Far You Have Come! Part 2

When I sign in at the trailhead, I say hello to a guy just breaking camp. “Are you going up the mountain?”



“Haven’t decided yet,” he answers.



My backpack has everything I need in case I get stranded—it weighs a ton. I go a hundred yards and then stop—over and over again. If I leave this pack here, can I find it on the way back? I stop and weigh my options—and that other voice comes back: “You can’t make it.”



Behind me I see a solitary figure leaning into the wind and trudging up Elbert. I squat down, curl into a ball, and wait for him.



“My name is Bill. You wanna’ go to the top together?



“I was hoping you’d wait!”
was his reply.



He is a young man, 27 years old—his name is Ben. He is a professional guide on the way to Utah—he has been guiding in Maine for the last four summers! Coincidence?



Traveling up and down the mountain, we learn a lot about each other. Ben is Jewish and grew up in Missouri. He has traveled around the world. He is very bright and contemplative. Ben has Christian friends but he is not one—he can’t wrap his mind around the claims of Christ. He looks for his heart out in the wilderness. Ben and I share a lot in common. We read many of the same authors—in our hearts are many of the same questions. I share some of the answers I have found in Christ.



At the bottom of the mountain Ben and I shake hands—I give him my business card and let him know our home is open to him. This leg of my journey is done. I am enjoying the euphoria of accomplishing a goal, communing with my God, and the experience of an encounter only He could orchestrate.



Ben goes west and I go east.



Now I am alone again and pondering this day the Creator has given me. The wind is rattling a few stubborn leaves on aspens and hard wood trees. I hear the Voice again “Look how far you have come!”



Saturday, January 1, 2005

Look How Far You Have Come! Part 1

I am west-bound on Delta. The 757 is packed, but tomorrow morning I’ll be climbing the second highest mountain in the lower 48 states—Mt. Elbert (14,442 ft.). Alone!



Underneath the anticipation of backpacking, adventure, and the “Wild at Heart Boot Camp” lies reservation. I am afraid. Is my fear the fear of disappointment or the fear of the solitude that will force me to spend time with myself—the self I’m not so sure I know? This on-going process—discovering the heart God gave me—brings with it pain before the joy. I know I have to be alone with God. He must validate me. He holds the blueprint. Too long I have sought validation from others. Yet I also wish I had a traveling companion—a sage, mentor, or guide. For now, the journey must be solo.



Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. That’s not the kind of adventure I desire for myself or others. My desire is to launch out into dangerous and unexplored territory with the wildest of adventurers—God! Not a geographical change—a spiritual change. I want to live—with others—out of the heart God gave me.



I arrive at the foot of the mountain. My destination is 5.8 miles up. The temperature is 34 degrees. The trail through the tree line twists and turns—it is dotted with icy spots. The rising sun flashes through the trees like a strobe light. As I leave the tree line behind me, the scenery reminds me of vistas from “The Lord of the Rings.” A chorus I wrote many years ago comes to mind:



With my whole heart I praise Thee

Your works, I’ll help all see…

My Glorious God Upon High.

For my joy is in Thee

For all e-ter-nity

My Glorious God Upon High



Somewhere past 12 thousand feet the thin oxygen is noticeably affecting my breathing. The winds are fiercer than the hurricane winds I hiked in just a few weeks back. The trail has disappeared under the snow that stings my face like BBs. Visibility is about 100 yards—I can’t see the summit. Up here the temperature is down in the single numbers. I stop to catch my breath. The howling winds scream at me “You can’t do this!” Another Voice says “Look how far you’ve come—keep going!”



To be continued…