Thursday, October 29, 2009

A day at the ZOO!!

Jack was not a fan of the sand pit... really not a fan.

Super Powers

Okay, before this goes any further, let me just give you fair warning that this will be a bit of a nerdy post, or thought, or whatever these things are that for some reason you read. I’m just letting you know in case you want to go ahead and stop reading due to the impending and excessive dorkiness, which is on its way…

When I was in the sixth grade, Dad bought me a comic book. I was traveling with his football team to a long distance away game and he wanted to get me something to read. It was a “Wolverine” issue with a thick, card stock cover designed to look like a top-secret CIA manila folder. This top-secret folder had three huge gashes in it, which allowed you to look through to the next page and see the contents of said folder. I didn’t know anything about comics or Wolverine or why there were three gashes in the cover of this book. Neither did Dad. He chose ‘Wolverine’ simply because we are both fans of the University of Michigan Wolverines. I opened the book with care and within a few minutes discovered that this Wolverine guy had six retractable, metal claws that came out of his forearms. Wow. I was instantly hooked.

Within a couple of months, I became an expert not only on Wolverine, but just about every major comic book character I could get my hands on. I read about them, I collected their cards, I discussed their powers and exploits with my dorkiest friends and I even drew them during class. Superheroes became something of an obsession for me. To this day I am still fascinated by the fact that throughout history, human beings have created stories about people living among us who are not normal like us… people who are extra normal, different, more powerful. When I was a kid, I truly longed for that radioactive spider to bite me or for a meteor to land on my bedroom. I wasn’t just into this whole super power thing, I wanted to be super powered! I wanted to throw cars, climb walls and wield a light saber!!

As it turns out, there are folks living among us who are not normal. There are people milling about with powers and abilities that not every one has. Not only that, but I’m one of them! This week I’ve been reading 1 Corinthians and in the beginning of this letter Paul rebukes his audience by saying, “Are you not acting like mere men?” He expects them to be something more than mere men! In the beginning of Chapter 4, he says, “So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and those entrusted with the secret things of God.” He goes on to say that, “the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power.” Folks who know Jesus are the holders of powerful secrets that make us something more than normal! Whoa, this is like real-deal superhero stuff!

The thing is, I can’t fly or dodge bullets. I can’t teleport or swing through the city on my own webs; so what are these secret, extra powers all about? What is it that sets Jesus’ followers apart from mere men? In this same chapter Paul says, “When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly.” Our powers are all about love, patience, endurance and self-control. It may not seem as cool as leaping a building in a single bound, but sometimes it’s just as hard to do, and not very many people can do it. God is making us into something new and powerful… something more than what we were.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Anna lost her first tooth!

Still a little freaked out, but happy right after it was pulled:

And... FALL is HERE!!!


In most cities, if you write checks that you don’t really have the money to write, you just get fined by your bank, which is enough of a deterrent for nearly everyone. Some places of business post those rubber checks, the names and even pictures of folks who overdraw their accounts. In the town where I went to college, it was worse… I remember driving to work one morning and seeing someone walking on the sidewalk around the courthouse wearing one of those gigantic sandwich signs. From really far away I couldn’t read it and assumed it would be one of those nutty “The End is Nigh” people you always see in movies, but it wasn’t. As I drew closer I could read the sign, which said, “My name is Tony Craig and I write bad checks.” (I made up that name by the way) Later that day, as I was driving home from work, I saw the guy still walking around the courthouse with this sign displaying his name and crime for everyone to see! He had been there all day telling thousands of people about his empty bank account. That punishment was old school!

In the town where I now live, there is a labor dispute going on between a business and a group of its workers. For months and months there have been people in a few different locations throughout town sitting in lawn chairs beside a 25 foot-long sign dumping shame on this business. After months of driving by these signs, you get to where you don’t even see them anymore… they’re as much a part of the landscape as the Bradford Pear trees that shade the disgruntled workers. The other day I noticed their sign, though. You see, one of the signs had changed. I drove past and read, “SHAME ON ROBERT MORRIS.” (not his name) It didn’t just cast shame on the business, but on one individual person.

Now, I don’t want to get into this labor dispute. I don’t know the issues or who’s right or wrong. That’s not why I’m writing this. I’m am writing this because when I drove past that sign, it struck me that I would be horrified to find my name on a 25 foot-long ‘shame’ sign in giant capital letters for all to see. I mean, my daughter can sorta read now… what if she saw that sign? The thing that really got me though, was that someone could make that sign… I don’t know what this guy’s sins were, but I know I have sinned. I know that I have done things that deserve public disgrace. If there were a sign for every cruel word I’ve said or every unfair or messed up thought I’ve had, this world would be covered with them! And that could be said for just about any of us. What if my worst sins were broadcast on a billboard for random passers by? What if my crimes became a public spectacle?

Thanks be to God for His grace! Because I’ve believed in Jesus, I am totally forgiven for every wrong word, thought or deed in my past present or future; and even if I did have to circle the courthouse with a sign, I am completely free and forgiven in the only court that really matters. In Colossians 2 Paul says, “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” Isn’t that awesome!? Because of His grace, I’m not a spectacle and the only thing written over my life is, “Holy.” In the face of Almighty God, I can stand with no shame and no sign.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Silver Lining

When I was a junior in high school, our football team was loaded with more talent than some schools see in a quarter century. Everyone knew we were destined to win state, simply because there was no one who could compete with our athletes. Four of the players on that team went on to play Division 1 college football, three of them in the SEC; and at least five other guys on that team played football at smaller colleges. We were a totally dominant team when it came to speed, skill and experience. Everyone expected us to go 15-0 with a perfect record and a state championship ring, but it didn’t happen. Right in the middle of the regular season we lost a nail-biter to a team that didn’t really beat us… it was poor officiating at its worst. This team wasn’t in our region, which means the game didn’t affect our playoff standings, but it was a loss, just the same.

After the game was over, we all just stood around in shock at what had just happened… we had been robbed of a victory we earned and everyone there knew it. Our head coach herded us quickly into the locker room to avoid anyone making a scene when the shock wore off. Ninety guys were huddled in that locker room in palpable silence waiting for our coach to make sense of it for us… I remember him pacing back and forth outside of the door. I could tell he didn’t know what to say. He was grasping for a way to handle this thing when all of a sudden it was handed to him.

A senior linebacker who never, ever played (even when we were destroying the opponent) spoke into the silence. “It’s okay guys, it’s not a region game, so it doesn’t really matter.” It was all the cue Coach Gaddis needed… he burst through the door into the locker room with fire in his eyes and asked, “Who said it!? Huh?! Who said it?!” Everyone on the team pointed at the unfortunate soul who had dared to find a silver lining and Coach Gaddis said, “Get out! Just get out…” He went on to say that he hated to lose more than anything, region game or not… that we had really won and that what had just happened wasn’t right. Look, everyone loves the silver lining, right? I mean, when things go really bad, we all love that person who can help us spin it… who can remind us of the good that’s bound to result, or the blessing in disguise. Of course, if the silver lining turns out to be more tarnish than luster, it doesn’t really help all that much.

On the other hand, what if the silver lining is more than just a lining? What if the blessing in disguise or the resulting good is so good, and so filled with redemptive power that it actually goes back in time and infuses everything with good, so that what we called ‘bad’ we now call wondrous… The other day I was reading Matthew 16 where Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” This was a shock for Jesus’ friends. I mean, they thought following Him was going to be about building the glorious kingdom of God, but Jesus makes it sound like suffering and death. But that’s not all He said. You see, right after that He said, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” Then I realized that Jesus never mentions His own impending death without talking about His resurrection. For those who seek to follow Christ, suffering, problems, trials, hardship and even death await, but He says that by laying down your life, you find real life. With Him, death never ends in death, but in resurrection and eternal victory. This isn’t just some silver lining, but the truth that is so deep and good that goes back through time and gives purpose and meaning to all the suffering and pain. He arose from the dead and He promises that no matter how bad or how hard it gets, my story will end (or actually, begin) with my own resurrection and victory!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Prep Work

It had rained for almost a week straight. It was this strong, constant storm that just kept us soaked for days and days. Christy was taking Anna to school one morning and on the way asked her if there was anything she could pray about for her day. Anna said, “Mom, could you just pray that the rain will stop when you drop me off so I won’t get too wet going into school?” Now, as I said, it had rained pretty steadily for about a week, so the chances for a mid-storm shutoff seemed slim, but Christy prayed anyway. “Lord, would you let the rain ease up while Anna’s walking into school so that she doesn’t get too wet?” she prayed as the windshield wipers creaked past. They sat in line at the school for a few minutes and then, right when Christy was about to pull up to the drop off… right before the safety monitor opened the door of the van, the rain let up. It just kinda stopped. Anna got out of the van, said goodbye, and trotted off into her school. The safety monitor closed the door, Christy pulled out and as she was leaving the parking lot, the rain started up again with that same consistent fervor of the past few days.

The thing I love about that story is how little Anna knows about all that went on behind the scenes. For Anna, she asked for prayer, the prayer was uttered, and then the prayer was answered, just like that. She walked into her school as dry as a bone and smiling to boot. What she didn’t realize was the incredible amount of meteorological and logistical planning that it took in order for our smiling Father to orchestrate that seemingly simple moment. Consider how big a seven-day thunderstorm is… how many states did it stretch across? What maneuvers of wind and water took place over the days and days of that storm to bring a break in just the nick of time? What manipulations of barometric pressure were employed to sew seeds in the heart of a young girl about the God who answers prayers? How far had that break in the clouds traveled before its moment in the spotlight, and how many other prayers had He answered with that break before it kept my little girl’s pigtails dry? Was it born in Arkansas? Did it allow a nervous someone to carry a wedding cake to her car unscathed so it could be delivered on time? Did it provide a moment’s peace to a hard conversation in the rain? Who knows…

In Matthew 6 Jesus said, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” Not only that, He’s already at work behind the scenes to bring about the answer to your every need. You may realize today that you have a need, and without you even knowing it, He’s been working on the answer for six days across three states. Do you ask Him for what you need? Do you take your problems and questions to His doorstep believing that He cares about you and is able to help? Do you run to your heavenly Father with even the small stuff? It’s a big deal to Him, and the prep work involved in answering a seemingly small prayer might just surprise you. Tell God what you need. Ask for His help. Tell Him where you’re hurting and tell Him what you want Him to do for you. The God who made the sun stand still in the sky for a whole day in the Bible also made the rain back down for a six-year-old girl in Tennessee. So go ahead, pray.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Hot Air Balloon Festival!

On Preaching To Yourself

We all have certain songs, movies or books, which elicit in us some specific and consistent emotional response each time we return to those familiar melodies, scenes or pages. For instance, the Smashing Pumpkins album, Siamese Dream just gets me fired up. When I hear those songs, I’m ready to sprint or drive fast or just strap on the football pads and hit something! But when I hear the sacred songs of Sandra McCracken, songs like Shelter, Guardian and Jesus the Lord my Savior Is, my heart aches and breaks with the purest devotion and love for the Lord that I can muster. As my little girls say, “It makes me cry happy tears.” Here’s my question for you: Do you ever listen to those songs, watch those movies or read those books on purpose because you want to feel those feelings? Do you ever find yourself using those works as a mode of transport to take you to that certain emotional country that you so love to visit?

This morning I did just that. I opened up the Scriptures to 2 Timothy with a mind to read the whole book. Whenever I approach this letter, I think of an old man who can barely see, writing his final instructions and farewells to his beloved friend while feeling abandoned and alone. It’s a sad little book. In every chapter, Paul names people who should have walked with God and didn’t. Paul knows he is going to die soon. In fact, in chapter 4 he says, “I am already being poured out like a drink offering and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” He tells Timothy to hurry and get there before winter and to make sure and bring Paul’s cloak and his books. This last letter of the Apostle Paul always stirs in me a potent mixture of sadness, longing and exultant joy. Today I read it on purpose because I wanted to feel something. I wanted to feel those things! And guess what… I did feel them! In fact, I felt them more than ever because I saw something in Paul’s words that I’ve never seen before.

Paul talks a lot about death and life and he talks a lot about people who loved and served the Lord who have already died. The letter begins like this: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, according to the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus.” Paul says that he serves God as his forefathers did. Then he starts to talk about Timothy’s mother Eunice and grandmother Lois who loved the Lord and have gone on. In the very next paragraph, Paul says that Christ Jesus has “destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” So, why all this talk about folks who have died and gone on to be with the Lord? Why this focus on ‘the promise of life’ and destroying death and the idea of immortality? Was Paul, who knew he was about to die, afraid of dying?

I admit this is speculative, but consider it. What if Paul found himself a bit worried about dying now that he came to it? What if the slightest pang of doubt or fear touched his heart now that he was staring an almost certain execution in the eyes? Maybe he wasn’t afraid at all, but supposing he was, there’s nothing better a fearing person can do than what Paul did here. He preached the truth to himself! In writing this letter to Timothy, he reminded himself that Jesus has promised life! He reminded himself that there was a crown of righteousness in store for him when he saw the Lord! He reminded himself that there were faithful men and women who were already with the Lord and would receive him with love and everlasting joy! He reminded himself that Jesus, by His resurrection from the dead has destroyed death completely! That word ‘destroyed’ really means ‘to take away the power of.’ In other words, there is still death, but it has no power and we don’t need to fear it. Maybe Paul wasn’t afraid, but I’m afraid sometimes… and when you’re afraid, there’s only one thing to do: Get some truth, grab hold of yourself and preach! Tell yourself the cure for your own fears! D. Martyn Lloyd Jones said, “The essence of the matter is to understand that this self of ours, this other man within us, has got to be handled.”

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