Monday, December 22, 2014

The Night God Showed Up

I looked around the room. I'm seldom nervous when it comes to speaking, but this day I was just a little.  It wasn't because I was worried about "performance."  I just wanted to make sure I connected.  I wanted to be sure I related to a group of people I struggle to relate to sometimes.  I didn't want to just get up there and yak for the sake of yakking.  I wanted to speak words that brought life, and hope.  I thought I knew what I was going to say, but in a moment all of that changed.

On the way to the nursing home I noticed a road sign that said, "Dead End."  I thought to myself how ironic that sign was.  What a horrible declaration for those brought here, but the reality was sobering. This is the last stop for many of these elderly ones.  On the way home one of my boys asked me, "Dad, the ones that were here last time that aren't here anymore? Did they go home or did they die?"  The answer I had to give was a hefty dose of reality.  The residents here are brought to this place and often are left here and forgotten about.  I don't think any loving family member ever wants to make that decision to drop off a loved one at a place like this, but sometimes that decision has to be made.  And I'm sure that most have the intention of visiting regularly, but then life happens and many of these elderly people are left staring out the window waiting for those visitors who seldom come.
They seemed happy to have visitors on this day.  Some clapped to the Christmas songs, some sang along, and some had smiles on their faces.  But, when I stood up to speak, I saw tired, empty eyes looking back at me.

I remember years earlier visiting my grandmother in a place not much different than this.  I watched as my Mom would talk to her, comfort her, and kiss her on the cheek or forehead.  I usually stood paralyzed not knowing what to say or do.  I wanted to pray a prayer and have her walk out of there with me, but the reality is that never happened.  She never got better.  She just got older and weaker. I hated it.  I hated seeing her like that.  I hated the fact that I couldn't do anything to fix it.  So, I didn't go much.

Perhaps that's the same reason many never stop in to see those that have been put in homes like this.  It makes us uncomfortable.  What do we say? What do we do?  What if they don't know who I am? What if they smell? What if, what if, what if?????? So, we just don't go.  And there they sit staring out a window waiting for the visitors that never come.

As I stood there with all eyes on me, I was reminded of the reality of the Christmas story.  I was reminded of a God who made a promise to pay us a visit.  A God who had made a promise to show up.  He had sent out announcements centuries earlier announcing His arrival. Prophets such as Ezekiel and Isaiah were messengers He used to let people know He was coming.  Then to make sure nobody missed His arrival, He spoke through the prophet Daniel and gave us a pretty good idea of when He would show up.  Then, after much waiting, He showed up.  He came just like He said He would.  He wasn't one second late.  He showed up right on time, just like He promised.  He didn't forget about us.  He didn't leave us on our own.  No, this God, came to us. No, He wasn't wrapped up in nice shiny wrapping paper and placed under a tree like most Christmas presents.  He was wrapped in rags and placed in an animal feeding trough, right smack dab in the middle of a stinky, dirty stable.  He stepped out of the comforts of heaven and stepped into our broken world.  Like those residents in that home, we were incapable of moving one step toward Him.  We couldn't meet Him halfway, but that didn't stop Him from coming.  He made the decision to come to us.  So, past our mess, past our weakness, past our inabilities, past our disease, past our brokenness, past our filth, past our stink, He came.  He came just like He said He would.

He came to connect with us.  He came to have a relationship with us.  He came to reconcile us back to Him.  He came to make things right between us.  He didn't simply come to visit, He came to journey through life with us.  He came to love us without conditions. Then, He challenged us to love others in the way He loves us.  He challenged us be a reflection of Him to the world around us.  He instructed us to be His hands and feet.  To be His mouthpiece. To represent Him and His love to this broken world.

I pray I was His mouthpiece yesterday.  But I also pray I was His hands and feet.  I pray the hugs and handshakes were a reflection of Him.  I pray the visitation brought joy and a sense of hope.  I could really care less if any of them remember my name or what church I was with.  I hope and pray though that when our group left they were left with an idea of what it was like that night in the manger when God showed up. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

You Be The Judge

"America has voted!" This, Nick Cannon's famous line, precedes the announcement of who stays and who goes on America's Got Talent.  In recent years, the idea of letting America be the judge has become common place. From American Idol, to AGT, to The Voice, shows like this put viewers in the drivers seat.  "We the people," hold in our hands the power to judge the talent of performers.  We have the power to judge who is good enough to stay and who deserves to go home.  Never mind if we ourselves can't carry a tune in a bucket or have little to no recognizable talent, we have the power to judge whether or not someone else has talent.

I'm not sure what the fascination is with shows like this, but I'm thinking it's less about being entertained and more about being empowered to pass judgement on others.  After all, who doesn't like being elevated into a position where we have say so.  I mean, this is America.  We were built on the idea of being an empowered people.  A concept I happen to really appreciate. And I know, with the decision to audition for a show such as these, one is willingly submitting themselves to being judged by those who view the shows. Still, I can't help but think that in our culture today, we are being conditioned to sit in a seat we were never meant to sit in.

As I observed my two boys the other day while watching one of these programs, I noticed I had two young "experts" in my household.  My 8 year old in his animated voice will proclaim, "they are HORRIBLE," when in his opinion someone needs to be voted off.  My 11 year old on the other hand will often walk in from the other room, needing only a few seconds to form his opinion and proclaim his judgment in very matter of fact way.  It's all fun and games right?  Or, is there something more here that we should be concerned about?

I want my children to have great reasoning skills and critical thinking skills.  I want them to be able to rightly judge right and wrong, truth and deception. I want them to think for themselves and have personal opinions.  What I don't want is for them to grow up thinking that their opinion is the standard for defining others.  I don't want them judging others from an elevated position of pride. I don't want them judging others with even a hint of condemnation.  From what I see in Scripture that behavior is completely inconsistent with the nature of Jesus and really unacceptable for followers of Christ.

John 3:16 is a pretty popular verse that churched people know well.  But it would seem many do not know the following verse.  Here, we are told that Jesus did not come into the world to condemn it, yet, for some reason many followers of Christ are very comfortable doing just that.  Oh, we don't call it that but that's exactly what we do when we are quick to pass judgement on others based on a sound byte, reading an edited statement often taken out of context, or hearing through the grapevine what someone has said or done.  Why is that?  What in us compels us to think this behavior is becoming of a believer? Why do we think it is so imperative to jump on social media and proclaim to our couple hundred friends that this person is an idiot, that person is a heathen, that person is a heretic, and that person is either the anti-christ or his brother.  What in us drives that need to jump in the seat of the judge and pass judgement on others many of whom we have never met? Why do we so desperately feel the need to stand on our personally erected soap box and expose to the world the faults, failures, and sins of others. I mean, when Adam and Eve sinned, God chose to be merciful and "covered" them.  Hmm.... what a stark contrast!!!

Think for a moment just how backwards this behavior is for followers of Christ.  Jesus, the Creator of the Universe, the only One worthy to cast the first stone, refused to do so.  That idea of "casting the first stone," came from an instance where Jesus refused to condemn a woman everyone else was ready to condemn to death.  Instead, Jesus chose mercy.  No, He didn't ignore her sin.  He didn't pretend she was innocent and He didn't simply sweep her sin under the rug.  He hated her sin as He does all sin.  But, Jesus didn't come to condemn her.  His purpose was to rescue her.  His purpose was to help her and to restore her. The religious leaders of the day were the ones who made the decision to expose her sin to the rest of the community.  It was the religious leaders who got it wrong that day.  Jesus chose to cover her with mercy and grace.

Mercy, what a concept!  No, it's not signing off on sin or granting others a license to sin, it's just offering them a safe haven when they do sin.  It's offering them a hand up when they fail.  It's offering them a second and third and forth and fifth chance. It's allowing them to blow it big time without pointing a finger in judgment or condemning them in the aftermath of their failure.

Let's face it, we are all in this same "sin" boat together.  Is it not insane to walk around comparing our sin with that of others?  I mean, pardon my frankness but that's as ridiculous as comparing the stink of our poo with that of others. Come on, isn't the measure of the stink irrelevant?  It's all poo! I don't know about you, but when I look in the mirror I see a man with issues.  A man far from perfect.  A man who will miss the mark at some point today.  Maybe, within the next hour or half hour.  Geez, I may blow it before I've completed writing down my thoughts here.  If I were to cast the first stone, I would need to make sure I was the target.  Concerning myself with my own challenges is hard enough without me worrying about others and how messed up they are. Jesus instructed us to quit worrying about the speck in other's eyes and to concern ourselves with the log in our own eyes.  The idea He's trying to get across is that if we'll take care to judge ourselves, we won't have time to sit in judgment of others.

There is a Judge, and I know for a fact, He looks nothing like me.  If you're comfortable trying to sit in His seat, go for it.  All I know is there is a story in Scripture of another who tried to sit in His seat and things did not turn out too good for him.  So, if you're confident enough to try to hop up in His seat, go ahead, you be the judge.  As for me, I'll stay away from attempting that. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

I Thought He Was Jesus

I remember when I was a child, I thought he was Jesus.  No, he didn't have long hair and a beard and he didn't wear a robe and sandals.  As a matter of fact he wore a suit and tie and his hair was slicked back in a very conservative hair style.  Still I was convinced he had to be Jesus.  When he spoke, it was as if God, Himself was speaking.  I remember he spoke with authority and his voice filled up the room.  I felt like his eyes could see right through me.  He was a bit intimidating without being scary, if that makes sense.  Perhaps intimidating is not the word I'm looking for but the picture I'm trying to paint is one of reverential fear.  An awe inspiring type of thing.  One who was real and approachable, but one who was to be honored and respected.

I later discovered that this man, Wayne Brashear, was not Jesus.  He was my first pastor.  And while I only sat under his ministry until I was about 8 years old, his impact on my life has continued until this day.  My family left Urban Park Assembly of God nearly 40 years ago when my father was transferred to the Houston area.  I thought it was odd that even after many years we still received a monthly newsletter from the church.  What was even more odd was that at a young age I looked forward to reading it every month.  It was as if, even though we were 200 miles south, we were still connected to the only church home I knew as a young child.  When we would visit family back in Dallas, we would often pay a visit to Urban Park Assembly, something I always looked forward to.  To this day I can't tell you why exactly, but I can tell you it wasn't the pinched cheeks or the "my, they look so grown up," comments we always received.  There was just something about this man of God that I was drawn to.

I remember years after we had moved and left the church, my dad was in the hospital in the Dallas area.  Somehow word of my dad reached pastor Brashear and he showed up at the hospital to pray for him. This wasn't a "token" visit because throughout my dad's hospital stay, he showed up regularly. We hadn't been members of Urban Park for a couple decades at this point, but that seemed to be completely irrelevant.  This wasn't an isolated case either.  We had extended family members who never stepped foot into the church he pastored, yet, whenever they needed him, he showed up.  Whether it was hospital visits, a death in the family, or something else, you could count on him stepping in if he was ever needed.  I think the thing that amazed me the most was when my father died and he drove 200 miles to be a part of the graveside ceremony and to be there for our family.  A family that hadn't been members of his church in over 30 years!

Several years ago, I was afforded an opportunity to minister along side of him.  My grandmother had passed away and the two of us were asked to minister at her funeral.  I remember sitting there beside him and although now a minister myself, the awe factor was still there.  He had done hundreds of these while this was my first. Yet, he didn't treat me like a rookie.  He treated me with mutual respect, as if I was no different than him.  I was honored to minister along side him that day and when it was all over I was left with the sense of how awesome it would have been to serve along side him in ministry for a season.

This week he'll step down as senior pastor at Urban Park Assembly of God after more than 55 years.  After more than 5 decades of loving people and proclaiming the Word of God. To put things in perspective, I'm coming up on year number 7.  If I make it 55 years, I'll be well into my 90s. I'm different than he is.  He speaks with a booming voice that is clear and concise. I sound like you would expect someone to speak with DNA from West Virgina and East Texas.  He wears a suit and tie.  I wear a jacket with jeans and seldom strap on a tie.  He speaks behind a big wooden pulpit.  I use a music stand.  But that's enough of the irrelevant stuff.  Our goal is the same.  To make a difference in the lives of others.  To love others with the love of God and to challenge them to be who He created them to be.  To proclaim the gospel of the kingdom in a world that desperately needs it.  And above all, to live our lives in such a way as to reflect the image of the One we serve to a world that needs to see Him instead of us.  Perhaps some 40 years ago, he was already getting this last thing right and that's why I thought he was Jesus. He's got a bit of a jump start on me but my goal is to follow him as he has followed Christ.  And who knows, just maybe someday I'll too be mistaken for Jesus.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

I Used The Jedi Approach

The arguing was driving me up the wall.  My boys had been at it all morning. They were arguing about everything.  After several warnings had gone completely unheeded, they had pushed me to the brink.  So, I stood up determining to put a stop to the nonsense.  I walked into the bedroom, opened my closet door and pulled out the thing that would put an end to all the arguing.  Yep, my robe would do the trick.

I strapped it on, located the closest lightsaber, checked the mirror to make sure I looked good in my Jedi attire, and walked back into the living room.  I then declared war on the arguing subjects and for the next few minutes engaged in one of the most intense lightsaber fights ever.  I fought valiantly but the two of them proved to be more than I could handle.  I took a lightsaber in the side followed by one to the neck.  I wanted to continue, but everyone knows you can't survive those kinds of blows, so I fell to the ground in defeat.  When the dust had cleared the arguing was gone and laughter filled the room. As a matter of fact, those same two boys who moments earlier acted like they couldn't stand each other were celebrating their joint victory with one another.   

Now, I don't always use the Jedi approach.  As a matter of fact, this was my first time using that technique.  Most of the time its a tough scolding followed by grounding or other forms of discipline.  This day however, I went another route.  And, it worked.  The atmosphere in the home changed.  Imagine that, a 15 minute make believe light saber battle and the atmosphere in our home was changed. My only regret is that I didn't do it sooner.

I'm a little over 11 years into this daddy thing, and I'm still learning on the go.  Some days I get it right and some days I get it wrong. Sometimes I forget that my role as dad is to correct wrong behavior not simply punish it.  Believe me, there is a huge difference.  It's easy to lay down the law, but it takes a bit more effort to be engaged and relational.  The latter doesn't exclude discipline, it just understands that discipline is simply a tool and not the goal.

I could have scolded my boys that day, sent them to their room, and grounded them.  At least the room I was in would have been free of the conflict.  But the longer I live the more I learn that life is not just about me. I didn't just want silence, I wanted to see the two warring mini-mes at peace with one another.  I wanted to see them getting along.  It's amazing how me simply challenging them to a lightsaber battle transformed these two opponents into a team.  Instantly they became a united force working together for a common goal.  Now, if I could just bottle that up and have them take a dose of that whenever they are at odds with one another.

Scripture instructs us to, "train up a child in the way that they should go and when they are old they won't depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6).  That "training" is so much more than demanding compliance to a set of rules.  It requires more than demanding obedience because "I said so."  Sometimes it requires the time to explain the "why."  This training is about creating an atmosphere of honor and respect so they can see firsthand what a biblical model is in regards to how we interact with others.  It's about so much more than demanding they get along, its about showing them how to get along.

I am less interested in making my boys get along and more interested in them wanting to get along.  That will never happen if I choose to be a relationally detached dictator.  Therefore, I'll choose to get out of my recliner and strap on a lightsaber, or put on a batman mask, or pick up a football.  Whatever it takes to train up my boys in the way that they should go.  And for the record, this Jedi could have taken them both down, but shhh, don't tell them.  They are convinced they really beat me, "together." And that is far more important than me proving my superiority in wielding a lightsaber.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

I'm Hoping That He Can Finally Laugh Himself!

He made me laugh.  He made me laugh a lot.  There are dozens of roles Robin Williams played that left me in stitches.  Although I enjoyed watching him on the the big screen, he made me laugh when he was simply in "impromptu mode."  There's not many in Hollywood I would like to meet, but he's one I would have loved to meet.  He's one I think I would have enjoyed getting to know.  One I would like to play Pictionary with, or Taboo, or Catch Phrase.  I'm thinking that would indeed be a blast!

The news of his death came as a shock to me as it did everyone else.  As I sit here taking it all in, I can't help but think how broken our culture is.  I mean, here was a man who entertained us.  A man who made us laugh.  A man who made our journey better by the laughter he brought us.  He made us laugh.  He made us all laugh.  And that's really all we wanted from him.  Never mind the inner turmoil he walked through life with.  Never mind the struggles he had as he tried to navigate through this life.  Because we are so programmed toward being entertained, all of his issues were irrelevant to us. Until a moment like this.  Then all of a sudden we sit in front of our television numb. The laughter all fades and we are hit with the harsh reality that all we choose to see is not all we need to see.

Beyond our laughter was a man with problems.  Beyond the characters he played was a man, just like all of us.  A man, who faced major challenges.  And while the masses screamed, "Make me laugh," he obliged, all the while struggling to make it through the next day. He made us laugh, but I'm thinking he should also have made us pray.  I'm talking genuine prayer, standing in the gap, asking God to help this man who makes us laugh find the joy that escapes him.  Afterall, he didn't hide his problems.  They were out there for anyone who cared to see. But who among us really cared?  As long as we were laughing, how many of us really cared about the one making us laugh?  At his death we sit here stunned wondering how one who could make others laugh struggled to enjoy life himself.  The truth was always there, however, below the surface for anyone to see who truly cared to see it.

I know we don't really know him.  We watched his life from a distance.  We watched as he put on the masks and we determined not to look beyond them.  That would require something from us and we simply wanted something from him.  That's how we approach all the entertainers in our culture.  I don't know how many times, when those "stars" among us give us a glimpse of who they really are, and I just want to pretend I didn't see the "real person."  I think, "please sing or act, because I like the entertainer much more than the real you."  Perhaps, you're not like me but I think there are more like me then not when it comes to this.

Over the course of the next few days, the television will be saturated with news of Robin Williams'  death.  The internet, social media, and our personal conversations will be full of the same.  Then, it'll all fade to silence and another story will captivate our attention. Someone else will make us laugh. I know there will never be another Robin Williams, but there will be another who will make us laugh. There is never a shortage of those who are willing to step out on that stage and do a song and dance for us.  So, someone else will entertain us.  And when they do we'll not care about the issues that haunt their lives.  We want to be entertained and as long as we are, all is good with our little world.  Yeah, we'll laugh again.  And the whole time we are laughing we'll fail to truly see just how broken this culture is that we insist on maintaining.    

Robin Williams was so much more than a goofy alien from Ork, or a genie in a bottle, or a boy dressed in a green suit that taught us the power of "happy thoughts."  His gifts and talents are well documented but we make a huge mistake when we try to define him by what he brought to the stage.  It's equally important that we not define him by the struggles he walked through life with. As with us all, who we truly are and the value of our lives is determined only by the One who created us.  God looked far beyond the roles and all the characters he played and all the masks he wore, and saw not a star, but a man.  A man He created to be His son.  A man worth loving regardless of what he did, what he didn't do, or the value he brought to the table.  Jesus saw a man who was worth rescuing even if the cost required His life in exchange.  Williams stardom was irrelevant in God's assessment of his true worth and it played no part in who he was in God's eyes.  Hmm, wondering how things would be different if we could approach others with that same perspective?

I have no idea as to where Williams was in relation to His Creator.  I could easily take some of the news I hear and form an opinion that in the end has no bearing on his eternal destination.  I've finally determined to let God sit in that seat rather than me.  While I would love to hold to the hope that I will one day see him again so he can make me laugh, I think the point I'm trying to get across is that life isn't just about "me."  With that in mind the message I'm trying to communicate is, I'm hoping that, after a life long struggle to find real joy, the man who we first got to know via television's Happy Days can, once and for all, finally laugh himself!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

My Angel Visitation

It was just a normal day.  Nothing really out of the ordinary. We were making a few cuts to our monthly budget and in doing so were making a change regarding our internet service provider.  I was awaiting the arrival of the technician when the doorbell rang.  I went to the door and there stood an Angel.

He wasn't 10 feet tall, wielding a sword, or adorned in white.  He didn't have wings and I didn't fall to the ground "sore" afraid.  He was cloaked in technician attire but I knew immediately he was an Angel.  How you ask? I'll get to that in a moment.

After he did most of his installation procedures, he was about to wrap things up.  The two of us were alone in the office, when he looked at me and began to share something very heavy on his heart.  He was weighed down with something and he needed a listening ear.  He didn't need advice, he needed truth and he took a chance with me a complete stranger.  I say a complete stranger, but this fellow believer seemed to understand the concept of the "household of faith."  He knew I too was a believer and for him that seemed to indicate we had a relational connection that made this a safe place to share his heart.  So, he went for it.  He held nothing back.  He spilled it all out there hoping I could hear from heaven for him.

At first I was a little dumbfounded.  I couldn't believe what was happening.  I just ordered internet service and thought this would be a quick in and out procedure.  But, while waiting for the lights on the newly installed modem and router to indicate the install was complete, I found myself engaged in kingdom business.  I knew this was not a chance meeting but a divinely ordained encounter. I sat there staring into this young man's eyes and I saw hurt, disappointment, and confusion. Suddenly my internet speed and how much money I was going to be saving became irrelevant.  I was no longer simply a customer here, but was now an instrument in the hands of God.  I was an ambassador from another kingdom entrusted to speak on behalf my King.

After I listened carefully to him sharing his heart, I spoke.  I didn't shy away from speaking the truth even though it ran the risk of being rejected.  I didn't sugar coat it in order to try to make it appear more palatable.  I looked him in the eye and I spoke to the root issues in his life, and he acknowledged I was right on.  With humility he sat there in front of me, hanging on every word.  He was man at a crossroads in his life and longed for change.  Real change.  He didn't need to hear a 3 point sermon on how to change followed by an altar call.  He was determined to change right then and there in my office while installing my new internet service.

When we were finished I asked him if I could pray for him and his eyes filled with tears. I prayed for him, and assured him I would continue to pray for him.  As he left I thought to myself, how often are we surrounded by people just like him?  Individuals who are hurting.  Individuals who a looking for real answers.  And how many times do we hurry through life distracted by things that blind us to the needs of those people.  This encounter was easy for me because he started the conversation.  But how many out there are longing for us to start the conversation?  How many of our waiters/waitresses are needing us to start the conversation?  How many of our bank tellers are wanting someone to start the conversation?  How many of our neighbors need desperately for us to start the conversation?  I'm convinced there are people all around us that are a simple conversation away from a life changing encounter with their Creator. I'm just wondering who among us is willing to speak?

You're probably thinking as I described my Angel visitation that he didn't resemble any angels you've read about in Scripture.  I can assure you however that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the man who came into my home that day was indeed an Angel.  How, you ask?  When I opened the door I clearly saw his name tag that read...."Angel."

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Do You Have A Gopher Problem?

I had managed to hit a green.  As I walked up to the green I noticed several gopher mounds located just off the green. As I stood awaiting my golfing partner's next shot, I caught something moving out of the corner of my eye in the direction of the gopher mounds.  I turned to see the tunneling expert at work, sticking his head up and down.  Naturally, I was reminded of Bill Murray's feeble attempts to rid his golf course of the little varmint in "Caddyshack."  Instantly Kenny Loggins' tune started playing in my head, "I'm alright, nobody worry 'bout me," and I felt the sudden urge to start dancing the "gopher" dance from the movie. I resisted the urge to dance but that song played in my head pretty much the rest of the day.

As I thought about that gopher and the mounds he had made, I thought about how this tiny little varmint could do so much damage.  Sure, the grounds keepers can mow down those gopher mounds, but if they never get rid of the gopher, those mounds will be back.  After all the golf course does not have a dirt mound problem, it has a gopher problem.

Dealing with the mounds without dealing with the gopher is much like the way many believers approach sin. We place a high priority on dealing with sin.  We have our little list of things we are trying desperately not to do and our list of things we are trying desperately to do. Yet, we find ourselves just like the apostle Paul where the things we want to do, we do not do, and the things we do not want to do, we do. We fail to realize that the real issue is not a sin problem but a heart issue.  While we are running around mowing down the sin mounds in our life, we are neglecting the thing that's building those sin mounds.  While we are dealing with the sin, we are neglecting the sin manufacturing plant.  And just like the grounds keepers will have to continually deal with gopher mounds when they neglect dealing with the gopher, rest assured we will always have to deal with the sin behavior in our life if we we never deal with the real problem which is our heart.

Pride, rebellion, hatred, envy, fear, etc. all lie beneath the surface but all produce things above the surface for all to see.  They all produce those mounds, if you will, that we all want to quickly make disappear.  But when we fail to deal with those issues below the surface, those mounds will simply keep coming back. Let's face it though, dealing with those root issues is a lot more difficult.  It's tough because it requires us to be honest with ourselves about the junk that's in our heart.  It requires us to go deep and to have a transparent conversation with ourselves and with our God.  That conversation leads us the realization that will power and behavior modification will never truly fix the real issues in our heart. It leaves us with the harsh reality that we cannot fix ourselves, but we can only mask our issues at best. King David understood that dealing with the issues in our heart required a dependency on God.  After an adulterous affair, David understood that the real issue was his heart and he needed God's intervention to fix it. He prays, "Create in my a clean heart, oh God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10 NKJV).        

Do you have "gophers" in your life?  Are you content with just mowing down the mounds they create which in the end never truly fixes anything? I'm determined to get rid of the gophers in my life. However, I refuse to take on this task alone for when I do I look much like Bill Murray's character in Caddyshack who was inept to say the least.  I'm calling in a Grounds Keeper who knows how to eradicate these "gophers" from my life. Then and only then will I be able to truly sing, "I'm alright...." 

Friday, May 16, 2014

I Witnessed A Miracle On The Golf Course

I witnessed a miracle on the golf course yesterday.  No, I didn't get a hole in one.  For those who are aware of my golf skills, just a simple birdie would be a miracle.  However, I'm not sure I even managed a bogie during this round.  I didn't hole one from a 100 yards out. I didn't drive the ball 300 yards and I didn't break a hundred.  This "miracle" had little to do with me except, I was simply blessed to watch it happen. 

It had been 6 months since we last played together.  My golf buddy Carl, had walked through a 6 month period that I would wish on no one.  Back in December, his body was hammered and hammered hard.  When he went in the hospital initially, it seemed no big deal.  I thought he would be in and out in a few days.  But, things turned south in a hurry.  The days turned to weeks, and the weeks turned to months.  I would visit him then walk out to my car and cry.  My faith was challenged every time I would see him. I would walk in a man of faith to pray for him, then I would see him laying there and my faith would take a hit.  I knew he was a fighter, and I was praying he had just a little fight left.  When the doctors had done all they could do, we were left with the reality that its all up to God now. So, we just determined to trust God.  We prayed and we trusted God.

Eventually, he woke up.  And day after day, he continued to improve.  Each time I would visit, he was getting a step closer to going home.  Then, he came home.  He still had a long way to go, but he was home after more than two months. Week after week, he continued to improve and build his strength.  Then, he picked up his golf club, stepped into the back yard and began taking some swings.  He would tell me from time to time how many swings he was up to. Then one day, I got the text. "Want to play golf next week? I think I am about up for it."

Just a few months ago, we were praying he would live.  We were believing God that he would walk out of the hospital.  It was all playing back in my mind as I sat there looking at that text.  I thought to myself, whatever I have planned for next week will have to take a back seat to this moment. I assured him I would make it happen.

When I walked outside that morning the weather was incredible.  Absolutely perfect weather for a round of golf.  It was if God, Himself was joining us in our celebration.  I walked up to the tee box and did what I normally do. I hit it into the trees.  Carl then stepped up to the tee box.  He teed up the ball and went through his pre-swing ritual.  I stood there taking in the moment. This was huge.  This was a miracle, I was watching.  God had answered my prayers.  Not just my prayers but the prayers of his family and friends.  There was a few times on this journey when I struggled to see this day as a reality.  But, here it was, playing out right before me.  I took out my phone and snapped a picture, so that I would forever have a memory of this moment.  I didn't care if he hit it ten feet, pulled it left, or pushed it right.  All that mattered in this moment, was that my buddy Carl was back on the golf course. He stepped up to the ball, started his back swing, and then let it rip. When the ball came to a stop it was in the fairway! I chuckled as I thought, you couldn't write a better script than this. 

We played on from there.  With each hole, our scores became increasingly irrelevant.  To be honest, I threw the scorecard in the trash immediately following the round without even adding up the score.  This day, it wasn't about pars or bogies.  It wasn't about staying out of the trees and sand traps.  It wasn't about making good putts or pounding out long drives.  This day wasn't about winning and losing and it wasn't even about how you played the game.  Today was about just playing the game.  It was about just getting on the golf course and taking your swings. It was about just showing up, strapping on the golf glove, lacing up the golf shoes, teeing up the ball, and just swinging the club. This round of golf was not about golf balls, golf clubs, and a golf course.  This round of golf was about life and about being alive.  It was about staring death in the face and saying, "I win!". It was about a God who is real.  A God who answers prayer.  A God who has power over death, hell, and the grave.  This round of golf was about so much more than a simple sport.  St. Irenaeus once said, "the glory of God is man fully alive." If that's true, then this day was about seeing that very glory of God. For on this day I witnessed that very miracle, because my golf buddy Carl, was and is fully alive!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

I Hate That Rule!

The score was 24 to 24.  The group of boys I coach in basketball had played their hearts out.  There was just under a minute left and all we needed was a stop or two because I knew we could score and finish this thing out.  Then the whistle blew.  The ref looked toward the scorekeeper and said that's one point for red.  I couldn't believe it.  Not only did this foul grant the opponent a point they also were awarded the ball. Still we had a chance, but now we had to step up our defense.  My boys were all over their men trying to get a turnover then the ball handler went to the ground and the ball landed out of bounds.  Again, the whistle blew but instead of getting a turn over, once again a foul granted the opponent another point and the ball.  I could not remain silent.  I had to speak my mind.

Now, those of you who know basketball may be thinking what kind of rule awards a team a point automatically when they've been fouled.  I'll spare you the details but I'll just say that this is a league with a running clock that doesn't stop.  So in the last minute of a game, there are a couple of special rules.  I know the rules well.  It was just 3 weeks ago, when the score was 24 to 24 against the same team and we lost as a result of a foul in the last 20 seconds that awarded the other team the winning point.  I bit my lip in game one, but now I just could not remain silent.  I had to speak my mind.

So, once the buzzer sounded I went straight to the refs and told them how ridiculous that rule was.  "How in the world can you award a team a point when they have not earned it?"  "How is that fair to these boys who busted their tails only to have the game taken completely out of their hands?" "Put the kid on the line and if he sinks his free throws, they earn a win.  But, to just give them a point is completely unjust!"  They let me talk and blow off steam.  Then with class the head ref looked at me and said, "Coach, I understand your frustration.  But, its the rules.  I'm just enforcing the rules.  If we want to change the rules that's fine, let's talk that over with the league.  But, right now, that's the rules."

The truth is, he didn't make the rules.  He may hate it as much as I do.  While I was ranting and raving how unjust this was, he was actually acting justly.  His job was to enforce the rules and he did just that.  I wasn't upset with him.  He called a good game.  In fact he always calls a good game.  Of all the refs who ref in this league, I would rather have him calling the game. The two fouls at the end, were spot on. As much as I hate the rule, it's the rule.  If we are going to play the game, we have to play within the rules.

My arguments seemed so valid when I spewed them out.  I'm sure most of our team's parents would have easily agreed with me. But I couldn't get the ref's response out of my mind.  "It's the rules." Oh, how many times, I hate the rules.  No, I'm not just talking basketball now.  I'm talking about sitting in a turn only lane waiting for the green arrow when there is no oncoming traffic.  I'm talking about  having to pay 15% of my self employment income to the federal government.  I'm talking about having to pay lots of money to get my check engine light to go off, just so I can get my car inspected. I hate being told I have to wear a seat belt (I wear my seat belt, I just hate being told I have to). I could go on and on but I'll stop here.  Regardless of what I think about certain rules, justice demands my compliance.   

Scripture tells us that the punishment of sin is death.  That's a rule that many may struggle with, but there's no getting around it.  Regardless of what we think about that one, there is nothing we can do to alter it.  To go a step further, Scripture tells us that because of Adam's sin in the garden of Eden, we are all born into sin the moment we take our first breath.  So, because of Adam's sin, we are all born with a death sentence facing us.  The punishment for sin is death  and this death is not simply a physical death but it is separation from God for eternity. There are many who may hate that rule.  Many who feel like its a ridiculous rule.  Many who feel that certainly a loving God would never truly enforce that law.  Yet, still there it is, set in stone with no way around it. Well, at least no way for us to get around this on our own.

This just God must deal with our sin in a just way.  Think about this for a minute, if a judge had a murderer come before him who had confessed of murdering someone and there was overwhelming evidence to support the case against him, what would you say about the judge if he simply said, "I know you're a pretty good guy so I'm going to let you off this time?" We would all say that judge was unjust.  Now, what would we say of a God who refused to deal with our transgressions and simply swept them under the rug?  Like that judge, wouldn't God be unjust?  I can assure you God is not unjust.  And because He is perfectly just, He must deal with our sin.

So, He did just that.  He dealt with our sin.  Because our sin resulted in a death sentence, He chose to carry that punishment out on His Son. Jesus took our place.  That's what the cross is all about. Its about a just God carrying out a just sentence on sin.  Sin requires death.  Jesus didn't simply snap His fingers and our sin was erased. He became our sin and God pronounced judgement on that sin condemning His own Son to death. When Jesus was explaining why He came to earth to a religious leader one night, He declares that He did not come into the world to condemn it but to save it.  He goes on to say that we condemn ourselves by rejecting Him and what He did for us. Jesus made a way for us to avoid this sentence of death by receiving Him and the gift of life He offers us.  In rejecting Him, we condemn ourselves.

I personally hate the idea that because of one man's sin, (Adam), all are condemned.  But I happen to love the idea that because of one man's death (Jesus), all can be saved.  Regardless of how I feel about either rule, it is what it is.  One day I'll stand before God with no fear of condemnation because He took it on Himself to rescue me.  Some ask me from time to time how can you know for sure that you're saved?  I know because I serve a just God.  A God who made the rules and carries them out with perfect justice.  My hope is not in my ability to walk through life sinless, but in a God who condemned His sinless Son in my place and in doing so, liberated me.  My salvation is not based on me keeping a list of rules, but in a God who is perfectly submitted to the rules He, Himself established.  Because my salvation is based on what God has done and not in what I have done, doubting my salvation would be doubting God's ability to save me.  Trust me, God is more than able to save us all.  That salvation however, can only be obtained through compliance with His salvation plan.  You may not like the rules or laws that God has established but rest assured He's not moved by your disapproval.  He has, and always will approach those rules with complete and absolute justice. 

By the way, before I even exited the the gym that day, I apologized to the ref and acknowledged that I was out of line. Oh, I still hate that rule and every time it results in points for either team, I'll cringe a little.  But it is what it is.  I would rather have a ref who upholds the rules instead of one who compromises them based on how he's feeling in the moment.  The same holds true for how I feel about God.  I am so thankful for a God who refuses to deviate from the rules and insists on upholding them with absolute perfection.  Since my salvation experience many years ago, trust me if God was not a just God, full of integrity, He would have thrown me out of this game along time ago.   

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The "REAL" State Of The Union

Tonight our President will give his annual State of the Union address.  He'll give us his perspective on how we, as a country are doing.  No doubt he'll speak about the economy, health care, jobs, environment, foreign affairs, etc.  After he's done, there is a line-up from the right set to rebuttal his remarks.  We the people will be left with the task of who we believe.

I myself will be opting out of the whole experience as I have come to the realization in recent years that this event is tainted with political ideologies and therefore falls short of a correct perspective as to how things really are.  I am not blind.  If something is blue, it is futile for anyone to try and convince me its red.  There are things I see and regardless of what my political slant is, neither side can convince me that what I see is not what I see.  With that in mind, I offer you my perspective on the state of our Union.

Around 1 million babies are murdered in the womb here in the U.S. every year.  Compare that with the nearly 4 million births and we're left with the reality that 1/4th of this generation is wiped out prior to breathing their first breath.  So, when you go to school plays, concerts, sporting events, or graduations just think a fourth of their classmates never made it to their first day of school. While there a some who are outraged by this holocaust, most either justify the madness or just remain indifferent toward it all.  How did we get here?  How did we get to a place where murdering the unborn is something that we simply sweep under the rug?  How did we get to a place where this conversation has two sides?  Can any of us truly sit back and think this is not a country with a major issue here?  A hundred years ago, there was no debate regarding this topic.  In 1973 the debate was whether or not a woman had a right to choose to kill her baby or not.  Over the years we went from debating is it okay to murder a baby in the 1st trimester, then the 2nd trimester, and today in 2014 that debate has digressed to whether or not a woman has the right to kill her baby as it is being born. We throw around words like abortion and fetus to dupe us into thinking we aren't doing what we are really doing.  Are we a nation with a serious case of blindness or are we a nation that knows full well what we are doing and chooses to spit in the face of the Giver of life?  How did this mass murdering genocide ever become a political issue?  From where I stand, the state of our Union is not at all healthy in regards to securing life for the least among us.

The spirit of greed permeates nearly every area of our society.  The "haves" want more than they have and the "have-nots" want what the "haves" have.  Contentment is a forgotten value and proof of that is seen every "Black Friday" when people risk life and limb to obtain more stuff that none of us really need.  Never mind if we don't have the money to buy it, we're a nation that is completely okay with pulling out the plastic and paying later for something we crave and are convinced we must have today.  We rarely take thought, if ever, of those who live in lands where running water and electricity are not even on the radar for generations to come.  If we do think about it, we are seldom moved to do anything about it.  After all my "need" for a bigger TV trumps a foreign child's need for clean water.  God forgive us!  I'm thinking the state of our Union is in need of some tweaking.

We have a growing spirit of entitlement while at the same time a decreasing sense of responsibility. We have plummeted into a society of self-consumed consumers who seldom have any motivation to produce in order to benefit others.  While we boast of being the Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave, it could also be said we have become the Nation of Me, Myself, and I.  While our "Lady of Liberty" stands proudly in the east, perhaps we need a "Gentleman of Responsibility" built to remind us that true freedom can't exist without personal responsibility. Please tell me what society can ever remain when those who are responsible are forced to support those who "refuse" to be?  There is a huge difference between being "in need" and choosing to stay "in need."  Any culture that facilitates one's desire to stay "in need" has determined to cripple them not help them.  Ours is a nation that needs to reevaluate how we are "helping" those in need.

The spirit of anti-christ has masked itself in the form of political correctness, attempting to suppress any hint of the truth.  Having a differing opinion than the accepted norm is no longer okay, but is often promoted as "hate speech." God forbid we call sin, sin and hurt somebody's feelings. So, while we determine to coddle this generation and those to come by suppressing the truth, we have paved the way for their self-destruction.  We have laid the ground work for a culture where homosexuality becomes more and more common.  A culture that sees a rise in unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, and maliciousness.  A culture full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and evil-mindedness.  A culture full of whisperers, backbiters, and haters of God.  A culture full of those who are violent, prideful, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, and unmerciful.  I didn't write that by the way, that's what God describes happens to a society that insists on suppressing the truth (Romans 1).  From where I stand, it seems we are headed that direction.

We are a nation whose leaders look like us.  While we sit back and criticize those who lead us, the truth is Washington is simply a mirror image of a society that is pulling away from God.  Lack of integrity, manipulation, power-plays, lack of courage, lack of morals, selfish agendas, and apathy are not unique to D.C. Those "qualities" are found in every fiber of our society.  An election alone will never change the quality of our leadership.  To change the quality of leadership, a society must change from the ground level.  To have "spiritually awakened leaders" a society must welcome a "spiritual awakening" across the entire culture.  As a nation, as a whole, the truth is we will always have what we are willing to accept in our leadership.  From my perspective this nation could use a bit of a spiritual awakening from the north to the south and from the east to the west.

Regardless of where we find ourselves, we are a nation with hope. No, that's not an empty campaign promise.  There is hope for us as a nation.  But it isn't in business owners producing jobs.  It's not in a powerful military (although I honor and respect all those who serve and have served).  Our hope is not in our form of government or those who lead us.  It's not in our economy, a balanced budget, socialized health care, or either political party.  Our hope isn't in a renewed spirit of patriotism, the elimination of social classes, or insisting on political correctness. The hope for our country rests on the shoulders of a God who loves us.  That's it, plain and simple.  I know some will disagree, but that doesn't change the truth.  A nation that accepts Him as Lord and submits to His authority has hope.  Those who don't, have accepted for themselves a future without hope. The future state of our Union, rests on our shoulders as a people to either reject God or receive Him. I know where I stand on that matter, and I'm just hoping others join me.

May God bless each and every one of you, and may God bless the United States of America!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Happy Are Those Who Are Poor In Spirit...

I thought I was pretty good.  At least compared to others.  I mean I had my little list and I did a really good job keeping that list.  I didn't drink, I didn't smoke, I didn't curse, I didn't sleep around, and I didn't listen to that secular music.  I went to church, I prayed (a little), I read my Bible (sometimes), and I loved others (or at least pretended to).  As far as "my" list went, I was doing great.

Now, I look back at that foolishness and think how utterly ridiculous.  I realize now that when it comes to keeping "our" lists, its really nothing more than self-righteousness.  And as far as God's concerned, it measures up to about as much worth as "filthy rags."  Sure, it may make us feel good about ourselves when compared to others who fail miserably at keeping our lists, but this pride offers us a false sense of security and spits in the face of Christ and the price He paid to redeem us.  Our position in the family of God as sons and daughters, isn't earned or maintained by how well we fulfill "our lists."

Grace is the key to our salvation.  Its a gift that we cannot earn.  Salvation is beyond our own ability to obtain on our own and in the same way its beyond our own ability to maintain.  Self-righteousness leads to pride, but it is humility that leads to salvation.  Jesus declared in His famous Beatitudes, "blessed or happy are those who are poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."  The kingdom of heaven is only obtained when we recognize our pathetic condition apart from God.  It is only when we realize that we are spiritually bankrupt and cannot fix our situation on our own, that salvation is a possibility.  This concept of "poor in spirit" is like having a (spiritual) debt we could never pay and crying out for mercy in hopes that someone hears us and pays our debt.  That someone of course is Jesus, who willingly paid our debt and offers us salvation based on the price He paid.

My list, however, was developed after salvation.  I remember well that moment I reached out to Jesus with humility and received His gift of salvation.  But somewhere along the way, I got off track.  I became puffed up and prideful.  I knew it was Jesus who saved me, but I had fallen in to the trap of believing that it was the keeping of my list that kept me good with God.  While our initial coming to Christ must be through the door of humility, this "poor in spirit" is an attitude we need to maintain once we've been saved by His gift of grace.  We do that by never forgetting where we came from.  No, we don't live in the past, but its important to constantly remember that apart from Him, I am nothing.  It's important to keep in mind that any good that is in me, is only because of Him.  Rather than patting ourselves on the back for our ability to abstain from sin or for doing good, we need to recognize that it is not our ability, but His ability working in us.

Back to "our lists."  What we do or don't do is important.  I don't want to belittle righteous living.  The key is "why" we do what we do.  If we are doing good because we think we are gaining or maintaining favor with God, we are missing it.  If we are trying to become righteous by living righteously, we are missing it.  Living righteously comes from being righteous not the other way around.  Being righteous isn't something we can obtain on our own.  It comes from humbling ourselves, and allowing Christ to do that work for us.  Years ago I thought I was "all that" because of what "I" did.  Today I understand that I am "all that" because of what "He's" done.  Years ago, I boasted in me.  Today I boast in Him and what's He's done.

It's important for those who have been walking this Christian life for a while to never lose sight of who He is and who we are apart from Him.  There's a great picture of this in the first chapter of Revelation when one of Jesus' best friends saw Jesus in all His glory.  This buddy of His, John, was so overwhelmed by the sight of Jesus that he fell down like a dead man.  He passed out at the sight of  this Jesus, who he knew better than most anybody.  It takes only a quick glance of Him to remind us of how far we all have left to go on this journey. It is that recognition that leads us to living the happy life.  Happy are those who are poor in spirit...