Thoughts and Meditations from verses and stories through one guy's head and heart... Psalm 124:7
Thursday, April 30, 2009
What Is and What Will Be
Last week I was at the high school, doing what Young Life calls ‘contact work,’ which basically means meeting kids and trying to build relationships so that you can tell them about Jesus. Well, when I’m doing contact work, I have my eyes peeled for high schoolers… the ones I know and the ones I don’t. I’m almost constantly praying and I almost never even notice adults who happen to be around. Last week though, as I started down this ridiculously long hallway that leads from the basketball arena to the main lobby, I noticed an older lady all the way at the other end and instantly had the thought, “Oh, there’s Mrs. Skeen.” I immediately dismissed this rash thought due to the fact that this lady (whoever she was) was about seventy yards away and I hadn’t seen Mrs. Skeen since the fifth grade. Not only that, but why would she be at the high school? She taught at Linden Elementary!
Well, as I continued to walk down the hallway and we continued to get closer and closer together, I realized that I had been right! It was Mrs. Skeen!! My elementary school art teacher was coming toward me with every step, only her hair was completely white now instead of dark as it had been. She glanced at me without recognition and I called out to her… “Mrs. Skeen?” She looked up and that great big smile flooded her face as she said, “Well, hello!” and then… “Now, you’ll have to help me.” I offered, “I’m Lee…” but, before I could say my last name, she said, “Oh yes! Lee Younger! How long has it been?” I told her that she had taught me in the late 80’s and we both laughed. She asked about what I was doing these days and how my little sister was. She gaped when I told her I had three kids and that one of them would be starting kindergarten this fall. As I walked away from that little meeting, I was struck by the fact that I had been her student twenty years ago!
I wondered what Mrs. Skeen thought about all of us back in third grade art… Did she see anything in those days that would tell her who we would all become? Did she know some of us would own businesses and some would stock shelves? No, she was a great art teacher, but all she really saw were our novice attempts at Batik and Conte Crayons.
This week I’ve been reading the story of Gideon… the guy God raised up to save Israel from the hands of the Midianites in the book of Judges. I remember hearing this Bible story as a kid and thinking how awesome, brave and strong this guy must have been to take on a massive army with only 300 men, but the truth is, he wasn’t really like that… in fact, when the story opens up, Gideon is hiding in a winepress, doing his farm chores in secret so the big, bad Midianites don’t see and kill him! In Judges 6, the Angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” Gideon, a mighty warrior?! Are you kidding me!!?? The dude was shaking in his boots in his little hiding place! There wasn’t anything mighty or warrior-ish about that at all!
But God saw something no one else did. He looked at Gideon and didn’t just see the guy cowering in a winepress… he saw the man who would go on to rout the Midianites, tear down all the wicked idols and kill the enemies of God’s people with his own sword. God doesn’t just see what is, He sees what can be… what will be because of Him. You might look at your own life sometimes and wonder if it means anything. You might consider yourself a benchwarmer in the kingdom of God, but when He looks at you, He already sees you as you will be in Him! He sees stuff no one else sees in you. He sees things you don’t even see in yourself, and He’s the one who knows where this thing is going!
We can't find the replacement battery pack for our camera, so we haven't taken any pics this week. Therefore, I rifled through the external hard drive looking for some old pictures to post. Naturally, I got a little carried away... rest of the pics after the post.
So, I was just feeding Jack some solid food and he did such a great job eating it! I was watching him watching me so expectantly while I got that next spoonful ready and I just felt so pleased… I was simply pleased with him. It made me happy just to see him tearing up that food. What’s more, I was impressed! I mean, he did a whole lot better than I would have done with pureed sweet potatoes. In between bites I would tell him, “Good job, sir!” and his perfectly round face would just break open in the most radiant grin… oh man, I was having the best time ever. After he ate, I got him out of his high chair and held him close. There was a particularly groovy Sara Groves song playing on the iPod, so we just started dancing and as usual, when I started singing, he smiled (if possible) even more than before. It was a blast.
Yesterday we drove through our old street to see our next-door neighbors, the Cunningham’s. Mrs. Jo had made us some of her delicious food to take home and while we were visiting with them, her husband Jack said the sweetest thing about our little Jack. “Come over here Jo,” he said, “Look at this little fella… he’s so friendly.” And he’s right! I love that description because that’s exactly what our little boy is like! He’s friendly. If you make eye contact with him, smile, and say, “Hi” he will return that gesture with the sweetest smile around. I was thinking about what the Cunningham’s were saying while we were dancing and my heart was just full to overflowing with pleasure over this little guy.
I was supposed to be putting him down for a nap, but I was waiting on a fairly reluctant burp, so we kept on dancing as the songs changed. Eventually the song How Deep the Father’s Love For Us came on and the first line cut me straight to the heart… “How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure, that He should give His only Son to make a wretch His treasure.” It wasn’t the first time I had ever heard that song, and it wasn’t new information. In fact, it’s the most basic thing about our faith, that God has given His only Son for us, to make us His own. But standing there, holding my only son in my arms… the little dude in whom I am so very pleased, the love of God just broke me open and gratitude spilled out all over place in hot tears that ran from my face to little Jack’s.
I thought of Abraham walking back down Mount Moriah with his grateful arms around his living and laughing son. I though about Jesus going down into the waters of the Jordan like a picture of the death that would come, and how the blue sky split open, the Dove descended and the voice of the Living God said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.” And a question occurred to me that I had never thought of before… was that heavenly voice trembling?
We went to the awesome Aquarium in Gatlinburg this week!
Last Friday at 8 PM, President Obama gave the Navy permission to use lethal force in the rescue operation of a merchant ship that was taken over by pirates off the coast of Somalia. After a scuffle with the crew of the merchant ship, the four pirates took the captain as a hostage to a lifeboat. The USS Bainbridge came onto the scene to negotiate the release of the American captain. One of the pirates, who had been injured by the merchant crew left the lifeboat on an inflatable vessel to seek medical attention from the U.S. Navy. Then the lifeboat ran out of fuel and agreed to let the USS Bainbridge tow them to calmer waters. A Navy Seal team parachuted onto the back of the USS Bainbridge to takeover negotiations…
So this is the situation: Navy Seals were on the back of a US battleship that was towing a lifeboat with three pirates and one hostage on it. Two of the pirates were visible through the glass of the engine room with the captain and the other pirate came above deck at the same time that one of the pirate’s AK47’s was pointed in the back of the captain. The commander of the Seal team gave his orders and three shots were fired… it was over in an instant. These Seals fired only three shots and each one was fatal. Here’s the really impressive thing: this was at night on the open sea! The lifeboat was listing up and down with the waves, two of the pirates were indoors and the three simultaneous shots were all right on their mark!
When I read the report of this story, I thought about those Navy Seals and all the training they went through… all of the target practice, the stationary and moving targets… the millions of times they have taken different types of shots in different situations. Did they ever feel like, “I don’t need to practice shooting today, I’ve got it down.”? Did they ever just get tired of practicing different scenarios where they had to simply take orders when they were given even if they didn’t have all the information? Did they ever get tired of doing the same fundamental things every single day, hour after hour? And yet… when it came down and they had to step up and do the very thing they had been trained to do, they were ready! More than ready, they were perfect.
Sometimes when people get into the trial of their life, they feel like they are suddenly drowning… they look around and panic because they realize they are in over their head and they simply don’t know what to do. Tom always says, “When you don’t know what to do, do what you know to do.” That usually means that when there’s nothing around you can do, you can always pray. Here’s the thing… what if you never really pray? What if you’re not really in the habit of talking to God? What if you don’t really spend any one on one time with Him? That’s like a marksman who never takes a shot… you get rusty. The Apostle tells us in 1 Thessalonians to “Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Maybe part of the reason it’s God’s will for us to always be joyful, praying and thanking Him is that these are our fundamentals! These are the things we need in a pinch! If you are always training, then you’ll know what to do when you get in the trial of your life and you just don’t know what to do.
Last night I asked Christy what Holy Week was making her think about this year… how the memory of Jesus’ death was impacting her heart this time around, and she reminded me of this story: Six and a half years ago we lived in Cookeville, TN. We had been married just over a year and these were our last few months in that town before we moved to Oak Ridge. I was working and Christy was finishing up her last semester of college; which for an education major means student teaching. By the way, student teaching is where you work someone else’s full time job while they sit and watch and get paid for what you’re doing. Anyway, there was this one day that sticks out in her mind because of how bad it was… it had been a hard day with kids and a hard day with her supervising teacher. The final bell of the school day was a sweet relief that probably felt like being released from prison. You know those days where you doubt every life choice you’ve ever made and hate your job like poison? Yeah.
Christy tells me that when I arrived at Cane Creek Elementary to pick her up, she was in a bad way. She was frustrated, she was hurt and she was just plain ‘over it.’ She piled her stuff in the car and got in. We didn’t say much, but just started to drive off. The Sara Groves song that had been playing in the background suddenly became the soundtrack to our drive home. It was a song written by Pierce Pettis about the death of Jesus and how it’s supposed to change our lives that’s called, “You Did That For Me.” Christy told me that in the middle of all the emotional strain of the problems of that day, she heard these words from the bridge of that song:
"Man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief, drug down to the city dump, spread eagle on a cross beam, propped up like a scarecrow and nailed like a thief, there for all the world to see, You did that for me, You did that for me, You wore the chains so I could be free, You did that for me…"
Upon hearing those words and thinking about Jesus and all He endured, Christy says she just started to cry… Suddenly the problems of that horrible school day vanished under the weight of love for the Savior and sorrow over the sin that held Him to the cross. That’s what Good Friday is all about. It is a chance to stop and remember. It is a chance to look at all He did because of who I’ve been and remember that somehow… Hallelujah… somehow, it was all because of love.
1 John 3:16 says, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.” Everything He endured, from the arrest, through the trials and torture, the ridicule, the piercing, the bleeding and the abandonment of the Father until He gave up His life unto death… it was all about love for you and me. When I think about who I’ve been and realize that somehow He loves me in spite of all that, and loves me so much as to die for me, it makes me different. It puts my problems and pains in perspective and fills me with something else instead: love for Him.
I was reading something kind of sad this week. It was in the book of Deuteronomy, which is sort of like Moses’ farewell speech to the Israelites. The Lord had already said that Moses would not be going into the Promised Land with the rest of the people, so when they were almost there and were camped out on the very threshold of Canaan, Moses unloaded everything else he had to say. This speech, which lasted 34 chapters, was full of instructions about what life in the Promise should look like; and in chapter 15, he said, “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.” To me this just seems sad… it seems sad that after all those hundreds of years of slavery, God’s people were finally going to enter the land of milk and honey and enjoy God’s blessing, but still there were going to be people who didn’t have enough to make it, and that’s not all…
See, Deuteronomy 15 is a chapter about how every so often (7 years to be exact) all debts were to be canceled so that people had a chance to start over. Mistakes were to be forgiven and I.O.U’s ripped up. It was like a do over for the unfortunate; and by the way, who doesn’t need a second chance? Well, right in the middle of this section (and right before he says there will always be poor people in the land) he says, “There should be no poor among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, He will richly bless you.” Do you see what’s going on here? First he says, “There should be no poor people in the Promised Land,” and then he turns around right after that and says, “There will always be poor people though.” I just think that’s sad! It’s like he’s saying, “There will always be poor people, but there shouldn’t be… because I’m going to bless everyone.”
If God was going to richly bless everyone but there would still be poor people, then the only explanation is that some people wanted more than they needed. Humanitarian organizations tell us that our planet has the resources to provide every person on earth with enough to eat and drink, but thousands and thousands die every day because they don’t have enough to drink or eat… isn’t that a mess?
I was looking around on Compassion International’s website this morning and they have a place where you can click on pictures of poverty stricken kids who need someone to sponsor them and you can read about them. Jagruti is a six-year-old girl who lives in India. She carries the water her family uses in her tiny little hands and her favorite thing to do is play hide and seek and jump rope. She needs help! There is a boy in Ethiopia named Akalu and he’s seven. He loves soccer and playing marbles. He runs errands and helps in the kitchen. He lives in a region devastated by AIDS and he’s been waiting for a sponsor for six months! There is a ten-year-old boy in Ecuador named Luis whose favorite activities include soccer, swimming and singing…
It only takes 32 dollars a month to sponsor a child through Compassion. They get food, water, medicine, education and the Gospel of Jesus. It’s the best dollar a day you will ever spend. There will always be poor people among us. There shouldn’t be, but there will be, so let’s open our hands toward our brothers and sisters.