Thoughts and Meditations from verses and stories through one guy's head and heart... Psalm 124:7
Friday, August 29, 2008
This next picture is one Anna took of Norah at the zoo... we think it's a really cool picture and that Anna has a very stylish eye for composition:
Well, it’s finally over. Yesterday we closed on our new house making it totally official that we’ve moved. Actually, the first thing we did was close on the old house… the house we sold and then, without getting out of the chairs in the lawyer’s office, we closed on the house we bought. It was pretty cool… we were actually homeless for forty-five minutes without ever leaving our seats. And so, after signing my name and initials so many times that I sort of started to forget how to spell my name and initials… you know, like they were just a bunch of strange, abstract shapes rather than actual letters that formed words… after doing that 1.5 million times, we were once again home owners! It was awesome.
Well, after taking Christy back to the house, I went to Nancy’s to get the kids… they were not happy about having to come to the new house only to take naps. They pretty much whined about it the whole way home, and here’s the thing: they’ve been whining for days! I mean, just the other day I took them to Target to let them pick out brand new sheets for their new beds, which I thought would be a pretty cool thing. They were excited about this prospect for a while, but in no time they had dissolved to complaining about something. Later that day they begged us to go to a restaurant, which we had to do because we were basically homeless and when we got there, they complained like crazy! Never mind the fact that they were getting a new house with a big, fat play room. Never mind the fact that they were both getting new beds, new sheets, and some awesome food from McAllister’s… they were whining it up about everything! It was like a barrage of selfishness and take, take, taking without the slightest moment of gratitude. I felt like saying, “Hey! Chill out for a second and look around you… you’ve got it pretty good!”
Then I read this verse in Mark chapter 1 and put the shoe on the other foot… John the Baptist says, “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” You know, there have been so many times during this whole house buying process that I have freaked out and dissolved into a mass of blubbering complaint. I have whined and fussed time and again, wondering what’s going to happen and trying so hard to work the angles just to get what I want. I have freaked out, lost my cool and have had those feelings of “this just isn’t fair…” over and over again… the whole time forgetting something very important.
Jesus has been so ridiculously good to me. He has been so good, and here’s the thing: He doesn’t have to. I mean, I have been forgetting the fact that He is the Creator and sustainer of the universe. He commands mighty angels and even Satan must ask His permission before making a move. Jesus sees the faraway explosions of nebulas and He sees the blooming of wildflowers where no one’s ever been. He calls the stars by name every night and sets the sun on its course every single day. He is so high and holy, so absolutely exalted that I am lower than His shoelaces… whoa. And sometimes I forget that even though I am lower than His shoelaces, He spilled His blood for me. He gave His life until it was gone and He did it for me. I did not deserve this, and yet it’s true. I have nothing to complain about, nothing to whine about and nothing to freak out about. I have been loved and provided for beyond my wildest dreams by Him who is higher than all. I’ve got it made in the shade.
What a month… We are currently boxing up our house to move into a new one, the new baby is kicking harder than ever, Justin and Grace are about to get married, my little eight-month-old buddy Dylan has got some rocking new teeth, five awesome kids just got baptized, another awesome kid just met Christ, everyday I am more and more excited to come home to the girl I love and Michael Phelps just dominated water (which, let’s not forget is one of the elements) for like the millionth time. Whoa. My head is still spinning!
I guess it just feels like life is all around me. Everywhere I turn there seems to be this excitement and activity. Every night after the kids are in bed I can’t wait to tune in to the Olympics and watch greatness on parade along with the rest of the eyes in the world… just amazed at what humans can do. Pretty soon we’ll be sitting up on the hill on Friday nights cheering on the Wildcats underneath stadium lights and forgetting that we’re not in high school anymore. Then folks will be gathering at a neighbor’s house on Saturday afternoons to grill out in their orange t-shirts and watch the Vols, including themselves in this team of elite athletes by referring to them as “we.” I just love this time of year… school is back in session, which means that for those of us in Young Life, it’s go time. We’re back at the school too, just looking for folks who need Jesus and haven’t yet heard about this great love.
It’s weird. I feel like a little kid… I feel like Anna seemed to feel the other day when we told her we were going to the zoo! I mean, she was over the moon with excitement. She couldn’t have been happier if I had told her that we owned the zoo! I just feel like I can’t wait to wake up tomorrow and see what it is that God has for us… I’m actually so worked up that I can’t sleep… see, as I type this it’s almost 11:00 PM and I should be in bed, but I’m all filled up with I don’t know what! Excitement… expectation… life!
In John 10 Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” All around us God is doing amazing things… just this month a really hardcore guy met Jesus at the Anderson County jail because of Tom’s preaching and even though you didn’t know about it, all of heaven was having a party! All around us there are new marriages, new heartbeats and fresh new starts. Sure, there are tons of not-so-happy things around us as well, but God reigns over them and is working them all out for good. We’ve only got this one life to live in joy. We’ve only got this one ‘fall of 2008’ to wake up excited and live expectantly. We’ve only this one day to trust God and live life to the full. It’s why Jesus came… it’s what He paid for and all around us, it’s happening. Life… real life, new life and full life is coming at you. Why not decide today to live it up?
One of my absolute favorite Jesus stories from the Gospels occurs right at the beginning of John’s account… John the Baptist had been telling his followers that Someone was coming who was greater than he, and when Jesus finally showed up at the Jordan one day, some of John’s guys started to follow Him. They were seekers; interested in spiritual things… searching for God, looking for eternal life and wanting righteousness. They started walking behind Jesus. He realized He was being followed, so He turned around and asked these guys what they wanted. They asked where Jesus was staying… basically inviting themselves into His day. Jesus didn’t dodge them or blow them off. He looked at them and said, “Come and see.” Then follows one of my favorite verses: “So they went and saw where He was staying, and spent that day with Him. It was about the tenth hour.”
I love that verse so much because John, who wrote the Gospel, was one of those two guys following Jesus around like some kind of star struck tourist. The fact that he told us what time it was is very significant… When people have an important story to tell you, they always include details as a way to emphasize that this isn’t just another thing that happened… this is something they’ll never forget. By mentioning the time of day, John is basically saying to us, “I’ll never forget the day Jesus made time for me… it was 4 o’clock in the afternoon.”
I bring this up because I have a similar story that I’ll never forget. I was in high school and was troubled, confused and seeking like crazy. I had a lot of teenage drama all mixed up with a bunch of theological confusion and I felt like no one in my church really wanted to listen to me. A friend told me to call this one pastor in town who wasn’t even my pastor. Well, I did and I’ll never forget the next day. He asked if he could meet me for lunch, so the next day, we ate sandwiches his wife made for us on some park benches and he just listened to me unload my emotional and spiritual baggage for a long time. Then he caringly gave me this seemingly tender advice that wound up cutting right to the heart of my problem.
I was just a random kid with a bunch of petty and trivial problems who didn’t even go to his church, and yet he made time for me. I’ll never forget that. It was about 12 o’clock…
Not that I’m saying this guy was Jesus or anything like that, but he loved me like Jesus and he showed me who Jesus is, and who Jesus needed to be in my life. Nowadays, he is my pastor, and he earned it. I am writing all this because he just left for Spain and I already miss him. I am writing this because I want to say to the rest of the folks in our little church that God has given us a treasure in Tommy. He is the kind of guy who makes time for people. He’s the kind of guy who gently speaks loving truth into the midst of confusion and hurt. He’s the kind of guy who loves like Jesus, and I’ll never forget the day I met him.
Does anyone else have a good story about Tom Job? Leave your story as a comment!
Here is a tune I wrote this week about how this world is not our home, but sometimes we want to try to make it just that... we want to be comfortable, and we want to have a lot, but that's not really what we were made for. The Apostle said that if we have food and shelter, this will be enough... that's because we're just pilgrims and we're just passing through.
By the way, it was long believed that the last hymn sung on the Titanic before it went down was "Nearer My God to Thee." Well, as it turns out, the last hymn was actually an episcopalian hymn that some folks called, "Autumn." I used the last lines of that hymn for my chorus here.
If you follow this link, you can listen or download this live performance of the song for absolutely free... enjoy.
The World to Be
Fill my hands or break my heart It’s the way I’ve lived and how we’ve been taught Give me more than I’ll ever need It’s how you say that you love me But these hands weren’t made to hold onto this world They were made to hold up and out
To give and give and give again what God has given me; To spend myself and not count the cost To serve right gloriously The God who gives the world to be
I’m just a stranger passing through And when this life ends I’ll fly to you My pilgrim days are almost done Til I reach my home in the Son So what have I to do with all I can see, Since I cannot take it home with me? (CHORUS)
Last Tuesday night I was in Chicago with some of our high school and college folks on a trip to serve some of our missionaries. We spent the whole day serving... working in the hot sun on people’s houses who needed help, and then we went to Mission:USA’s weekly service called “The Bridge.” Our kids welcomed and met folks who had spent their lives on the streets and in jail. They listened to their stories and worshiped God with them. When the service was almost over, our kids slipped out of the back door and got ready to serve them all dinner. They served, talked to and prayed with folks they had never met and they had the time of their lives. Shortly after we arrived back in Tennessee one of the moms of a kid who went told me that her daughter had not stopped talking about The Bridge. She said it was the greatest trip of her life!
Now, I knew that hauling it up to Chicago, seeing the sights and loving on folks up there was going to be a fun trip for these kids, but it was much more than that… some of these kids have been snow skiing every winter and on the beaches every summer. They’ve been to Europe and Asia and had all kinds of amazing experiences and yet going to a little church in a rough neighborhood in a big city to serve up fried chicken and hang out with ex-offenders was the best trip of their lives… What is up with that?
Well, after we served at The Bridge, I asked the kids to answer some questions by writing about the experience they had and here are some things that were written on those pages… “I loved it. I felt like we were doing what we were intended to do.” “You just feel right at The Bridge.” “Serving and praising are the only two times I find myself letting go of me” “Serving comes so easy, not like work… like that’s how it’s supposed to be… like we were made that way.” “It’s amazing to serve, there is nothing like it… I felt like I was flying.” “I felt free… I know I always want to do this” “My heart was overflowing with love for those brothers… I wish we could go every week.” “It’s an incredible feeling to put others before yourself, because that’s how God intended us to be.” “God taught me that I was made for something much greater than myself…”
In Psalm 4 the Lord asks, “How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?” See, the reason those kids would call this 'the trip of their life' is because they were so incandescently happy. They were happier in Chicago with thugs from the halfway house than they’ve ever been soaking up the sun in Hawaii or hitting the slopes in Aspen. Why, because we were made to know God, to love Him and to share His love by caring about people and serving them selflessly. God programmed us in such a way that if we realize the purpose of life, we’re happy. If we don’t, or if we focus on stuff we weren’t made for, we’re not happy… How long will we love delusions and seek false gods?
In verse 7 of Psalm 4 David says to the Lord, “You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.” We were made for God and to be used by Him. When we live there, we are filled with the assurance and satisfaction of fulfilled purpose. When we spend all our energy, time and resources on ourselves, we become miserable and confused. Our kids found themselves in Chicago. They found that they were made to love and serve Jesus and they absolutely loved it. It was the trip of a lifetime because they discovered what life is really about. Are you happy? And if the answer is no, is there a good reason why you’re not?
What if you could be happy all the time? Would you go for it? Would you do whatever it takes to have it, no matter what? Most people look at joy and sadness like drunk drivers… as if these emotions are some kind of reckless and unpredictable forces that just hit you sometimes. In this view, we are all just helpless motorists, driving around minding our own business while we become the emotional victims of our circumstances. Well, last night I sat down next to one of the happiest dudes I’ve ever seen. He had the most infectious smile you couldn’t help but catch and when I asked him how he was doing and how things were going for him he said, “Blessed! But you know, I’m always happy!” Whoa! Where can I get me some of that?!
Before I go on, let me back up and set the stage for you… I got to go to Chicago this week with a bunch of high school and college kids from Christ Community along with my boys Tom, Potts and Devon to serve some of our church’s missionaries. The group in Chicago are called Mission:USA and they reach out to gang bangers, convicts and ex-offenders in Chicago. These brothers go into the prisons and some of the worst neighborhoods in America with the Good News of Jesus. They are the bomb in every way, and they have developed a program to connect ex-offenders walking with Christ to inner-city churches that want guys like them. The program is called “The Bridge” and it’s basically a church service for guys at the Hope House (a local halfway house) and guys on work release, as well as just guys on the street who want to come where they get to worship, fellowship with and hear preaching from local pastors who are looking for these kind of guys for their churches. It rules.
After the service, everyone eats a big meal together, and that’s where we come in. Each week at The Bridge there is a “host team” that greets the guys, welcomes them, worships with them and then serves them a meal. Since the Bridge started, Christ Community has sent a yearly host team to serve Mission:USA and fellowship with these brothers and sisters at The Bridge. Last night our high school and college kids served up fried chicken with smiles on their faces, hugged and laughed, listened to and prayed with some of the most awesome folks ever, and not only did they do a great job, but they had the time of their lives.
This brings me to Jeff. After the service was over, I came out to the fellowship area where everyone was just sitting around eating and sat down next to Jeff. When he smiled, I was hooked. Jeff was a gang banger, drug dealer and addict who was in and out of prison from 1996 to 2007. During that time, he was never out of jail for more than a week. As of 2007, he had not seen his son in twelve years. The whole time we talked he kept just spouting out verse after verse that he had memorized from the Bible. He did this at least twenty times. That amazing smile would break over his face as he said things like, “I just love the Lord!” I found out later in our conversation that Jeff only recently learned how to read… he told me that while he was in prison, he learned how to read by reading the Bible and then he spouted out Psalm 119:11 where David says, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against You.”
Jeff lives in a halfway house. He has nothing and he has been to the bottom of life. He has experienced the kinds of hard times that guys like me have only read about and yet he is completely happy. He told me that his favorite thing to do is clean the church first thing in the morning. He loves to serve… When I asked him why he’s always happy, he said, “Look, Jesus has given me joy and He has given me peace. How can this world and the people in it take away something from me that they did not give? They didn’t give me this joy, Jesus did, so they can’t take it away!” He ended this absolutely mind-blowing revelation by breaking into a rapturous laugh and clapping his hands. Jeff and his emotions are not the helpless victims of circumstances… No, like Psalm 118 says, “This is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.” Joy is a choice, and it’s a choice Jeff loves to make.