Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Longest Night Of My Life

Living in southeast Texas most of my life, I have dealt with severe thunderstorms, the threat of tornadoes, hail storms, and tropical storms pretty regular. Even an occasional hurricane from time to time, but nothing I’ve ever been through compared to Ike. Now, living about 90 miles from the coast we expected to get hammered a bit, but I really didn’t expect to get hit as hard as we did.

As the storm arrived, my two boys were out cold, totally oblivious to what was going on. I on the other hand was just beginning my sleepless nighttime adventure. Now, the high winds would not have been all that big of a deal, had our house not been surrounded by 75-85 foot pine trees. When I say surrounded, that’s exactly what I mean, they are on each and every side of the house. Although Ike showed up at night, there was still just enough light to be able to see the tops of these trees being tossed by Ike’s hurricane force winds. I don’t know if you have ever seen pine trees swaying in the wind, but at 40-50 mph they look like they could snap. Now, picture 75+ mph sustained winds with 100+ wind gusts and that’s what we were watching. Those pine trees appeared to be made out of elastic, swaying and bending to a point that seemed well beyond their limit.

Of course, there was really nothing I could do but pray. And perhaps that’s the very thing that I struggle with at times. Not so much praying, I pray a lot. But it’s the not being in control that I struggle with. I mean, I like it when I can fix things and solve problems. I like it when I can protect my family, and provide for them. I like it when I am at a point where I can trust my ability to get done what needs to get done. But, here I was unable to do any of that. It would have been great if I could have pulled off a “Jesus calming of the storm” moment, but I couldn’t. Here I sat, watching my two boys and my wife and realizing it was all out of my hands. I had reached my limit to protect them and take care of them. I was in a position where I had to totally rely on my Heavenly Father to take care of us. Perhaps you can relate. It’s like when your little one becomes sick and there’s nothing you can do to fix it. If you could you would take the sickness on yourself rather than watch them have to deal with it. Or, how about those times when you are watching a loved one die and there is nothing you can do in your power to change the situation. If you are at all like me, you feel powerless in those moments. You have all this ability to do so many things but none of it does you any good when it comes to moments like these.

I’ve discovered throughout the course of my life, that it is in these moments that we find there is One who can be trusted when our ability has run its course. One who can be trusted to carry the weight that we so desperately try to carry, but were never designed to carry. It’s moments like these that God is waiting in the wings for us to release to him the role and responsibility of being God that we so often try to step into. Its in these moments where he proves to us that he does a much better job at being God than we do. When Ike rolled into town, he was much bigger than me. I couldn’t stop him, slow him down, or weaken him. His fury came through at full throttle and I had to release the role of protector of my family into the hands of my Heavenly Father. And just like always, He pulled through. As we drove through our neighborhood to check out the post-storm damage, there are literally hundreds of trees down. Homes, and cars are damaged, but it didn’t appear at first glance that anybody had been seriously injured. As for our pine trees, they are still standing, a testimony of a God who can be trusted.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

I Caught A Thief

While fishing the other day with my family I came across what I thought was an extremely cunning fish. Now, I’m not a great fisherman by any stretch of the imagination, but generally if I get a nibble or two I can hook the fish. It may take me a worm or two, but not too many fish once they’ve made their presence known escape my hook. This one was different though. I’d bait the hook, he’d steal the worm. I’d bait it again, and he’d steal it again. Time after time this was the way it went. Determined to catch him though, I kept after it. Not sure how long I was at it, but I know I baited that hook at least 6 times. I knew he must have been a small one, but that manly, man thing in me was determined not to be outdone by this fish. Then all of a sudden, I did it. I hooked him and as I reeled him in he seemed a bit bigger than I thought he would be. As he reached the surface of the water, I realized he wasn’t a fish at all. The worm thief was a turtle. My kids thought it was awesome and I was impressed by my skill and persistence at catching the big guy. Still, he was not at all what I thought he was and had I known it was a turtle I wouldn’t have wasted my time and worms on him.

Throughout our life, there are times when just like this turtle, we encounter a thief. I know there are some things that we bring on ourselves through lack of planning, lack of knowledge, and lack of wisdom. But, its important to note that we do have an enemy and there are times when he is at work and we don’t know it. We are trucking along through life and we get hammered by this thing and that thing. Our finances take a hit, our marriage takes a hit, our friendships take a hit, our job takes a hit. We do everything right and still seem to be getting it from every direction. If we are not careful, we’ll blame others, or even worse blame God.

Scripture tells us that our enemy is not flesh and blood. It’s the devil not others. Scripture also tells us that our enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy. When we realize what our enemy’s job description is, it goes along way in determining who’s at the bottom of this kind of stuff in our lives. Once we know who’s at the bottom of it, it makes it easier to deal with the real problem. Once, I discovered it was a turtle stealing my bait, I didn’t throw any more out there for him to steal. In the same way, when we discover the enemy at work in our life, we don’t allow him to continue. Using the Word of God and prayer, we take the fight to him and watch him tuck tail and run. If we need to change the way we are doing something, we do it. If need be, we get some brothers and sisters in the faith to stand with us. The point is this, we identify the thief and then do whatever it takes to make sure he doesn’t continue.

Of course, with the turtle I was humane. I removed the hook and put him back in the water. With our enemy though, there is no need to be humane. Once you get him on the hook, finish him off!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Lessons From A Belly Button

A little over 2 years ago, my wife gave birth to our second child, a bouncing baby boy. On the day we were set to take him home from the hospital, I had taken my then 3 year old son down to the car to get something. On our way across the parking lot he made a statement that worried me at first. "Dad, I don't want to take the new baby home with us!" Assuming that he was just having a bit of a struggle with the idea of sharing his mom and dad with his new brother, I instantly began searching the depths of my intellect for the right words to say to help him overcome this hurdle. Having found nothing profound with which to respond, I responded by saying, "Why?" To which my toddler answered, "Because, his belly button is really gross!"

Naturally, I was relieved that is was only a "belly button" issue and he wasn't feeling threatened by his new baby brother. I was pretty sure that I could help him come to terms with this and everything would be ok. Needless to say, we brought our little one home with us and in just a few days our toddler was elated when the gross belly button fell off. As I sit here thinking about that story, it seems so funny to me that nobody has to teach us to be uncomfortable with others who aren't like us. It comes naturally. I remember growing up as a kid and seeing people without arms or legs and I found myself fighting the urge to stare. Let's face it, my toddler wasn't acting all that different than we adults do at times. His issue was with a different looking belly button, but we struggle with different tones of skin sometime, or different genders, or different political philosophies, or different theological beliefs. Let's face it, sexism, racism, and other forms of prejudice don't get near as much energy from little ones as it does from us adults.

Truth is in this year's presidential election, we all know that there will be some who will not vote for Obama simply because of his skin color, while on the other hand there will be those who vote for him simply because of his skin color. At the same time, there will be those who won't vote for John McCain simply because his running mate is a woman, while there will be those who will vote for him just because he has a woman on the ticket. Let's go even deeper. There will be those who won't vote for McCain because he's too old, while there are those who won't vote for Obama because he's too young. It's crazy isn't it? But, we all know its true.

I've lived in the Bible-Belt my whole life and grew up in a "full-gospel, spirit-filled" denomination. Of course, that denomination was a step above all the rest. At least that's the way we felt. Then I left that denomination and found a non-denominational, charismatic church and realized that I was in error all those years and now had found the type of church that stood above the rest. Yep, we even do it in church don't we. We elevate ourselves and those institutions we are a part of and we look down at those who aren't like us. We often struggle with the fact that people don't share our views, opinions, and beliefs. So much so, we have difficulty connecting and interacting with them.

God's desire is that we walk in unity with one another. Jesus prayed and asked the Father to make us one. He also said that the world would know that we are his disciples by the love we have for one another. For years, I was so little in my thinking as to apply this only to my local congregation and denominational affiliation. I had no concept of the global body of Christ. I struggled with the idea of how I could ever walk in unity with the Methodists, and Baptists, and Catholics, and Pentecostals, and all the other denominations and independents.

I found the key though and here it is. You can not focus on the things that make you different. When we brought our newborn infant home, he was constantly clothed and wrapped up. Because of that our toddler could not see the gross belly button, which made it easy for him to accept his little brother. He held him, he kissed him, and absolutely adored him. It was only those moments during diaper changes or bath times that the thing he struggled with was even visible. As he connected with his little brother the gross belly button became lesser and lesser of an issue. Here's my point, when we choose not to focus on those things that separate us, we are quick to find the things that bring us together.

We truly have to get to the point where we no longer care if the church down the street sings out of hymnals or breaks into a 30 minute spontaneous worship tune. We have to come to the place where we no longer care if some raise their hands in worship or have no worship at all. We can no longer allow things like "once saved always saved", "falling from grace", "tongues", eschatology, or style of worship drive a wedge between us. When we choose to connect despite our differences we'll find that in the grand scheme of things our differences don't really amount to much.

I've discovered on my journey that my theology is not what identifies me. Scripture tells us that we are complete in Christ. My identity is found in Him alone. Not in theology, doctrine, church affiliation, or worship style. I know what I believe, I know in whom I believe, and those who hold a different belief or interpretation in no way threaten that. When Christ is at the center then He trumps everything and anything that we don't see eye to eye on. I think that when we understand that, it makes it alot easier to love others the way God intended for us to love them. Let's face it, if we can't love our brothers and sisters in the faith, how are we to love those on the outside? Think about it, if we can't love someone who differs with us on the ministry of the Holy Spirit, how can we ever love those who not only disagree with our theology and worship style but our belief in the God who's the very foundation on which we live?

I'm happy to say that our two boys are connected in a way that only brothers can connect. Sure, the gross belly button is a thing of the past but the two are as different as night and day. From the outside looking in, I can see all the things that make them different, but to them it just doesn't seem to matter. It's as if they can't see them. Or, maybe it's just that they choose not to focus on them.