Thoughts and Meditations from verses and stories through one guy's head and heart... Psalm 124:7
Thursday, December 31, 2009
“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him, to give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven…”
When John the Baptist was born, these were some of the first words out of the mouth of his previously mute father. Mary was still pregnant with Jesus when this prophecy was uttered, but He was almost here. Soon would come the trip to Bethlehem for a poor young couple on their own. Soon would come the Braxton Hicks contractions, and then after that, the real thing: labor. Soon would come Baby Jesus. Soon after that would come some scruffy and wide-eyed shepherds to see the baby in the middle of the night. Were they nervous and awkward while holding Him? Probably depends on whether or not they had kids of their own. The seasoned vets probably showed the young guys how it was done; swaying and shushing the tiny boy, praying and saying a blessing with tears in their eyes, as my dad did over my three babies.
Have you ever stopped to think about the fact that Almighty God allowed people to hold Him in their arms? He allowed dirty fingers to touch His perfect hands. In the Garden of Eden, God made clothes for that first fallen couple, but in Bethlehem God let a fallen couple dress Him. The Word of God allowed people to teach Him how to talk. The Creator of rain and crops let people provide his nourishment. God let old men ruffle His hair and old women pinch His cheeks. He let little kids cut Him in line. He allowed Himself to be ignored, talked about and picked last in dodge ball. He permitted people to mistreat, lie about and betray Him. God let people arrest Him for no reason, torture and kill Him and He never said a word to stop any of it.
He could have thundered. He could have exploded in rage and wrath. He could have dealt out justice for every sin. He could have snapped His fingers and this world would be undone… unmade with a word as it was made with a word, but He never did. Zechariah, prophesying after his son’s birth talked of Jesus and how he would deal with sin by forgiving it because of the tender mercy of our God. He came helpless, restrained, permissive and patient. In His mercy, He made a way for forgiveness without opening His mouth.
In Philippians 2, Paul says, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” Jesus had every right to respond to sins against Himself with frustration, anger and justice for the sinner, but He didn’t stand on His rights, He stood on mercy. Tender Mercy. We’re supposed to be like Him, which means that we don’t really have the right to any anger, revenge, grudge, bitterness, explosive frustration or even personal justice. We have the right to be tenderly merciful and leave the justice and vengeance to God. In this next year, people are going to drive you crazy and treat you unfairly. They may talk about you or hurt your feelings, but don’t be ruled by your natural response and don’t think only about what’s wrong and right… instead, be like Jesus. Let it all happen. Have mercy.
Yesterday my Great Aunt, Jean Pratt went to be with her Lord. She was 92 years old and I loved her. She was really kind of my grandma, because she’s the lady who raised my mom from a young age on up. See, Mom’s parents had both died by the time she was 10 years old and she was taken in by Uncle Sam and Aunt Jean. Aunt Jean was always the cutest and spunkiest person in the room and she had a great laugh. She was the best cook anyone had ever known and always told the greatest stories about the old days in Nashville when Uncle Sam owned his barber shop…
I am flooded with old memories of Aunt Jean, like the time all the cousins were playing hide and seek in the house and Jodie and I hid in the bathtub behind the shower curtain; but before we were found, Aunt Jean came in to use the bathroom… or the many times we sang old country songs and hymns and Aunt Jean patted her leg and sang along with us. I’ll never forget the smell and taste of her chicken and dumplings or the time she fried a whole chicken and I literally sat at the table and ate until it was completely gone. I’ve spent my whole life keeping snug and warm under her handmade afghans and quilts… once she even made one for our dog…
Every night Christy and I still tuck in under a quilt that Aunt Jean made. It’s my favorite quilt in the whole world and quite as old as I am. It’s huge, soft, warm and mainly red, though many other and variously colored fabrics make up the design. A few weeks ago Christy and I were looking really closely at that quilt and talking about how crazy some of those 1970’s fabrics are. The colors clash like mad and some of the patterns are downright hideous. When you really zoom in on the quilt and focus on the cloth that makes it up, you see just how weird it really is. Then you start to see stains, tears, worn out edges and frayed seams. In fact, up close, the quilt is such a seeming disaster of colorblindness and disrepair that anyone might wonder why it hasn’t been stored away…
Something magical happens though, when you zoom out. When you just look at the whole quilt for what it is, (not looking too long at the way pink-ish patterns clash with orange) it becomes something beautiful. Sure it’s frayed and worn and covered in awful remnants of the 1970’s, but as a quilt, it’s perfect. In Romans 8, Paul said this: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.” God uses everything in our lives, the sweet stuff, the soft and warm stuff and the broken, awful stuff and he sews it all together for our best. He looks at the whole life as a bigger picture, like the way Aunt Jean sewed all those crazy cloths together to make the perfect quilt. Just like the way God sewed all the happy moments and all the hard moments together in Aunt Jean’s life for her best. Now she’s home with Jesus for her best Christmas ever and she gets to see the finished product of all He did in her life. One day I’ll see her again, and when I do, I’ll see my life, not as a series of things broken or sweet, but as it is, the whole of God’s perfect working.
Merry Christmas Aunt Jean. Can’t wait to see you again!
Aunt Jean with Uncle Sam:
Aunt Jean back in her nursing days with some patients:
To quote my boy Tom, “I don’t know what people do who don’t have the Lord, and I sure am glad I don’t have to know!”
Before I start this story, let me go ahead and say that everyone is okay… no one got hurt, but last week two trees fell on our house. A few good days of constant rain coupled with unusually strong winds got together to create the perfect storm. There is a creek behind our house with quite a few trees growing on its edge and those fierce winds blew the roots of a humongous and ancient oak and cherry tree right out of the rain-soaked ground and over onto our house. The bonus room off the back of the house where we keep the kids toys was crushed. The roof was punctured in many places all over the house, but that one room was smashed to bits. Sheetrock, insulation and boards were broken, bent and splintered all over the floor. A huge branch had sliced right through the roof and was about three feet from the ground.
The amazing thing was, the house was still standing. In fact, other than that play room, the roof and a hole in our living room ceiling, the rest of the house was really okay. We didn’t even lose power or phone service. We had heat and even the Internet! On its way down, the oak tree grabbed the cherry tree with its massive branches and brought it down as well. As the oak fell, one massive branch struck the ground in the backyard first. Amazingly, this one branch acted like a crutch and held the whole tree in check. Everyone; from the construction crew to the tree guys and all the neighbors who came by said the same thing, had it not been for this one branch, the house would have been chopped in two, down to the ground like a hot knife through butter.
I am so thankful for our church. It really is (and acts like) the family of God! I sent a text message to my boy Joe Pendley, who is sort of a wizard with trees. The experts told me you couldn’t get those trees off of the house in less than five days and you definitely couldn’t do it without a crane. Well, Joe brought five guys, a climbing rope and a chainsaw and had everything finished in seven and a half hours! So many friends gave up their whole day just to help us. I was inundated with calls from brothers and sisters offering food, shelter, babysitting and anything else we could possibly need! Oh man, what do people do without the family of God!?
To top it all off, our precious Father had already shown Himself to be so tenderly in control that whole day. You see, when the trees fell, we were there, inside the house. I had been grocery shopping with Norah and Jack, and when we got home I told Norah to go play in the playroom while I changed Jack and put him down for his nap. She told me, “No Dad, I can’t do that.” I asked her why and she said she needed to use the bathroom. Two minutes later the room I had told her to play in was demolished while she was (thankfully) safe in the bathroom on the other end of the house. After the trees fell, I walked into that room with the shattered ceiling and felt sick, thinking about what almost happened. Praise the Lord. He moves (bowels) in mysterious ways. Again, I don’t know what people do who don’t know the Lord, and I’m glad I don’t have to know…
Psalm 91 says, “I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust... He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”
Well guess what? Somebody stole my identity. That’s what they call it, anyway. No one actually stole my identity… I mean, I’m still me. In reality, certain items in my personal information were compromised, allowing a complete stranger to open up lines of credit using my name and spend money gobs of money without penalty to them while my credit file swirls around the drain. I used to have this lovely, untarnished and impressive credit score and now (on paper) I look like some deadbeat who ought to be breaking rocks in the hot sun. There are debt collectors from all over Tar nation calling my house telling me that my sob story sounds fishy. Frankly, I think these debt collector guys sound fishy! They’re rude, disgruntled and they know way too much about me! All this business has given me a sudden affection for my thumbs and a desire to keep them intact.
The guy that stole my identity probably won’t get caught and is probably enjoying his stolen merchandise right now. My little sister’s boyfriend worked at a humongous bank and said that if they only lose 10 million a year in identity theft cases, they’re doing okay! WHAT!!?? How messed up is this thing? It’s overwhelming and worrisome to have your identity stolen, but more than anything, it’s just tedious. I have spent days and days on hold on the phone, scouring through the novel that is my credit file, searching for anything and everything that some guy somewhere else illegally did in my name. The whole thing just leaves you with so many questions and you’re not sure what to do… Who should I call? What calls should I answer? How much should I tell them? Will this thing eventually be over? Will it go away?
The sweetest Scripture found me in the midst of all this mess last week. I have been reading through the Psalms and as this storm was breaking open I landed on Psalm 62, which says, “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken... Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”
I love this Psalm because it’s like a job description for God. He’s saying that God is my safety, my defender, my protector and my rest. He’s my salvation, which means that He is the way out of messes. He’s the deliverance. He has a master plan, so I don’t have to have the answers, I don’t have to be really clever, I don’t have to be gifted or even wise. I don’t have to be strong because He is my rock. I don’t even have to be responsible… I just get to be His little kid. My honor depends on Him, so I don’t have to prove how awesome I am. My hope comes from Him, which means that He not only knows the future, but sets the future, so I can simply chill, knowing that I’m in good hands. The only thing this Psalm tells me to do is to rest, trust and pour out my soul to God. That’s my plan of action: chill, believe God and tell Him everything I’m feeling. He’ll sort this out… it’s in His job description.
Yesterday I looked in on the weight room at the high school during football workouts. The season only ended a short three weeks ago and already they are back at it… lifting weights and getting in shape. I can still vividly remember doing those same exact exercises with those same exact bars and weights. Sure, it’s been twelve years since I was in the weight room getting in shape for another football season, but power cleans, lunges, and shoulder presses have not changed in the slightest. They still coach the same old technique for the same old lifts that can get a person physically prepared for the unique challenges of football. In fact, whenever I visited practice during the year I watched as new guys went through the same old fundamental drills we did over a decade ago… dip and rip, double team and read drills. Baseball players have batting practice and cross country runners run everyday. If you want to be in condition for those sports, you simply have to do those things; there’s no shortcut and no way around it.
I haven’t been running a lot lately and this past Sunday I played a game called “Crows vs. Cranes” with a bunch of middle schoolers. This game requires a lot of sprinting. You just sprint over and over again, and it’s not that I couldn’t handle the sprinting, because that was fine, but here I am three days later and my legs and back are still sore! Why? Because I’m not in shape! See, when you’re not in shape, you can still run if you absolutely have to, but it’s probably going to mess with the rest of your week, but if you’re in shape, you can run all you need to and you feel fine.
I have been thinking so much lately about the fact that spiritual health is a matter of fitness. Waking with Jesus in a joy-filled and victorious way has a lot to do with whether or not you are in shape spiritually… Look at David. In Psalm 63 he says, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you. On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.”
David knew that in order to walk with God, you have to nurture your faith! You have to practice your love for God! You have to work out and condition those beliefs you hold! That’s how you hold onto them. Everyone has doubts from time to time, but what do you do with your doubts? Do you feed them? Do you try to reason with them? Do you nurture them? If so, you may be getting out of shape. I don’t think David allowed his doubts very much breathing room. He didn’t have time to not praise. He said, “I exalt you, I sing to you, I think about you all the time! I cherish you, I long for you and I lift you up!” He’s working out! He’s staying fit, and look what happens… he says, “My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods.” Exercise your faith! Get in shape! Life feels better that way.