Wednesday, July 28, 2010

His Own

“Hell on wheels.” he said. “I mean, I’m trying to slow down, but right now all He would see is hell on wheels.”

Darren’s response landed hard on the linoleum floors of that stuffy, cinder-block room. I was back at the Anderson County Jail and we were all sitting on metal folding chairs in the weekly Bible Study that, for at least one guy there, is the only church he’s ever known. I asked the guys this question: “How do you think God sees you?” As soon as I said it, three guys just dropped their heads. Others averted their eyes and some just stared blankly right past me or right through me. Darren shook his head and told us all that God basically sees him going to hell and quickly. Another guy pointed to the page of lyrics that we just finished singing and said, “The first verse of this song pretty much sums it up for me. That is me. That’s how He sees me.”

He was pointing to the lyrics of a brand new song written just this morning, and specifically for those guys. The song is called “His Own” and it’s all about pointing out the difference in who we used to be compared with who we truly are now. It goes like this:


I was lost, I was aimless
I was broken, I was hopeless
I was hurt, I was lonely
Thinking of myself only
But Jesus made me His own

I’m righteous, forgiven, I’m totally clean
I’m headed to heaven, a child of the King
I’ll never be judged or condemned or alone
‘Cause Jesus has made me His own

I was hard, I was angry
I was trapped, who could save me?
But Jesus died, spilled His own blood
Gave His life out of His love
Now I am His own

I was dead, my life showed it
I needed hope and didn’t know it
Now I live, now I’m set free
Now I can be a new me
Since He made me His own

We talked about how Jesus paid for all our wrong so that He doesn’t see us in those old ways anymore and He never will again! Sure, I’ve been a mess. Sure, I’ve been a lawbreaker and a liar and a thief and host of other horrible things... yes, those things are true of me, but there is something else that is true of me and this truth is deeper and more true than anything else. It is that Jesus died for me, making me His, which means that I am forgiven and free and righteous and holy in the sight of God. I am completely loved and clean and acceptable. I am His.

This past week I got to watch my favorite songwriter, Andrew Peterson perform songs from his new album. It was a beautiful concert and I won’t soon forget it. But the moment that really stuck in my head was when he sang with such certainty these words,

“I’ve got voices that scream in my head like a siren
Fears that I feel in the night when I sleep
Stupid choices I made when I played in the mire
Like a kid in the mud on some dirty blind street
I’ve got sorrow to spare, I’ve got loneliness too
I’ve got blood on these hands that hold on to the truth
That I am a priest and a prince in the Kingdom of God”

As we left the small cinder-block room at the end of Bible Study, one of the guys came up to me and said, “Bring that new song back next week. We need to sing that one again.”

Friday, July 23, 2010

Christy and I spent this past week in Chicago serving our Missionaries there along with some of our high school and college folks. Here are a few pics I took one night with the iPhone:

The Best God in the World

Last week some folks in our church gave up a whole week just to love on the kids in our church and give them five days in a row of fun, laughter and partying in Jesus’ name. Whoa, it looked like a BLAST! Everyday my kids came home so pumped, so worn out and so totally in love with Jesus! Man, you can’t beat that. There were sandboxes, homemade t-shirts, cheers, delicious food, a bounce house, a giant slip n’ slide and about a million water balloons and the whole thing went down under the umbrella of loving Jesus... not only that, but it meant that the moms of those kids got five days off from being total, full-time moms! Man, everybody wins!

During the week, all the kids put together a little something that they wanted to present at church during the worship service. It was their version of something called ‘Cardboard Testimonies’ where traditionally, a person will basically tell their whole story in about 15 seconds, using two sides of a big piece of cardboard. One side says, “I used to be this.” or, “I used to do that.” and then they flip the cardboard over and it tells how Jesus changed their lives... well, five-year-olds don’t really have too much of that sort of thing to share about, so they just made their testimonies about “Why I Love Jesus.” Each little kid held a big board that said, “I love Jesus because...” on one side, then they flipped it over and the cards said things like, “He made the world” or, “He let my Mommy have a baby” or “He loves me.”

They were all really cute, and I even got choked up a bit when Anna and Norah flipped their little signs, displaying their sweet love for Jesus for all to see, but my favorite cardboard testimony that morning was written by a little girl named Bethany. She walked to the front of the stage, held up her sign that read, “I love Jesus because...” and then flipped it over and it read “He’s the BEST God in the whole world.”

Wow. I’ve been thinking about that unbelievable bit of theological insight ever since Sunday morning! There are so many things in this world that are trying to be like gods... so many things making promises to fill you up, give you life, tell you you’re important, and on and on, but they can’t deliver! How often do we expect things other than God to do things for us that only God can do?! We think money will make us feel important. We think the right job or the best houses and cars will make us feel like our life has real meaning. We think that government or a specific party or ideology can meet our needs. We think certain relationships will tell us we are loved and wanted and yet, none of these things can really, truly fill us up! None of these things can do for us what Jesus can! There are many things in this world making promises, many things acting like ‘gods’ but only One can really be God. Of all the ‘gods’ in this world, only One can really fill you up! As Bethany said, Jesus is “the BEST God in the whole world.”

Psalm 48 put it this way, “This God will be our God forever and ever, He will be our Guide even to the end.”

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Taking Words With You

Raising humans is hard stuff. Mainly because you wind up spending most of your time furiously arm-wrestling that hereditary selfishness which was passed from Adam to the nameless generations of goofballs, through you and right on down to them. You spend years training them to use their manners and ask for things politely, only to watch them clank their fork down on the plate, down their whole glass of juice in one, (complete with raucous gulps) slam the glass down and belch so loudly the neighbors scoff and shake their heads in horrified disapproval. Then, while you’re still reeling from such a Viking-esque display of barbarous impropriety, that same child looks at you and says, “Hey, Dad. Juice. Here. Now.”

Wait, how did this happen?! You’re thinking to yourself, “They’re so cute, and we’ve been so consistent! How is it that they still don’t always use the so-called ‘magic’ words?” That’s when you, the parent, decide enough is enough. You bow up and take your stand... “No girl, I don’t get juice for people who rudely demand things.” Boom! Deal with that! The challenged child (hopefully) backs down, says I’m sorry and politely asks for the juice.

The question I’ve been asking myself lately is this: “Is it a big deal? It is really all that important that our kids say “Please” and “Thank you” about everything? Are we teaching them a true and valuable lesson, or are we merely passing down a meaningless convention? Well, I actually think it matters, and here’s why: The word ‘Thank’ actually comes from the word, “to think.” It’s like saying, “Hey, someone did something for you. Think about that... you should express your gratitude.” Please and thank you are ways of expressing the fact that you are at someone else’s mercy... it’s humbling and good. It’s as if certain words actually temper and steer your attitude.

This morning I read a really cool verse in Hosea chapter 14. He says, “Take words with you and return to the LORD. Say to him: "Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips. Assyria cannot save us; we will not mount war-horses. We will never again say 'Our gods' to what our own hands have made, for in you the fatherless find compassion.”

Wow. Not only are we supposed to go to the Lord, but we aren’t supposed go empty handed! We’re supposed to take words with us... take words that temper and steer our attitudes. We’re supposed to go into His presence asking for forgiveness! We’re supposed to go in asking to be received! We’re supposed to express the fact that other things in our lives we used to trust in can’t save us! We’re supposed to admit that only He can fill us up! When we go to meet with Him, we ought to go armed to the teeth with certain words that will guide our hearts into a place of worship and trust. We ought to live all day with words on our lips that express that fact that we are at His mercy! If we take words with us on purpose, we’ll prime the pump for the kinds of hearts He’s looking to find!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

For His Own Sake

Jack likes walking. When he first started moving about on two legs, he couldn’t decide whether he liked walking or crawling more, but that was only because he was still a bit faster on all fours. Now that he has the balance thing all worked out, he loves to walk and I believe that one of the reasons he likes walking is that he hates having dirty hands. If Jack stumbles in the dirt or mulch, he scoffs at the debris hanging on to those little chunky mitts. He wipes his dirty paws on his hair and on his clothes... anything to get the gunk off. Back in the day, when his hands got dirty, he would just look at them, crinkle his face up and cry until someone wiped them off, but now he takes charge because he likes to be clean.

The thing is, as much as Jack likes being clean, it’s nothing compared to how much Christy and I like him to be clean. He loves his bath and even says the word “bath” with much enthusiasm, but we’re the ones who take the initiative to clean him up. I would never have been able to explain this to my fourteen-year-old self, but there is almost nothing cuter and sweeter in this world than a little baby fresh out of the bath! Toweling off that soft, pudgy skin and slipping fresh pj’s over that fluffy head is one of the best things about being a parent... there’s just something in our hearts that not only loves that baby, but loves him to be all fresh and clean. As much as he wants that, we want it even more.

The other day I was reading Isaiah 43 and I was asking God to encourage me... to tell me He loved me and fill my heart with something for that day when I came upon a verse that says, “I, even I am He who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”

Whoa! Sometimes it would be easy to think that God simply tolerates me... that out His outrageous mercy He saved me because I was so messed up and needed to be saved, and wanted to be saved, but that deep down He doesn’t really like me all that much; but look at this! He saved us and forgave us for His own sake! Can you handle this? Sure, I need forgiveness and I love being forgiven, but that’s not the only reason why I’m forgiven! My relationship with God isn’t based on or rooted in my desire or even my need so much as His love! When I wasn’t seeking Him, He was coming after me! When I was running the other way and didn’t want Him, He wanted me! When I needed Him but didn’t even know it or want Him, He saved me for His own sake... in other words, because He just wanted to! He wanted us. As much as we love being His and being clean, He loves having us as His own even more! He doesn’t just tolerate you or put up with you... He is absolutely crazy about you!

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Wedding Day

This past week I found myself hiking up Sharp Top Mountain in Jasper, Georgia surrounded by 400 something high schoolers and Young Life leaders, when one of my favorite high school guys asked me to tell them the story of how Christy and I wound up together. It was a hot morning on day five of Young Life’s week long summer camp at Sharp Top Cove and I was glad to have a story to tell and questions to answer, because it made the steep climb that much more enjoyable. Step by step, the story of our life together unfolded in my memory and came out on the trail. I talked about our first kiss and about those two long years dating long distance. I talked about finally living in the same town and then getting engaged... it was at this particular point that we realized the small group of four or five girls hiking in front of us were listening in... I told the part about how I am the only boy my wife has ever kissed and well, they sort of exploded with girly sighs and admitted that they were listening intently to every detail and asked me to please continue.

I told these kids about how almost everyone tried to talk us out of getting married in college but how it wound up being the best decision we ever made. I told them how sweet and fun it was to know you’d never be alone again now that you could have a slumber party with your best friend every night... I thought about the day we were married almost nine years ago, August 3rd, 2001. I remembered being outside at the Museum of Appalachia surrounded by peacocks and sheep and everyone we loved. I remembered how it had rained all morning, but when that hot august sun burst through those clouds, the rain that had fallen became a mist rolling along the tall, green grass. And I still remember the way I felt when my bride appeared at the end of the aisle smiling wide and walking toward me through the mist like a princess from the very best of fairy tales.


I was a man undone by love, gratitude and joy... joy like palpable flame... red hot gladness pouring from my eyes, down past my cheek to my freshly pressed suit. I was happier than I had ever been... happy in my bride. She was all my joy.

This morning I woke reluctantly and dragged my groggy self out of bed early. I opened my journal and started scratching out illegible prayers. I told the Lord that I was about to go to the Scriptures and I needed Him to open my heart to His word and to open His word to my mind. I asked Him to tell me something... to give me something for this day. I turned to Isaiah 62 and read this: “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.”

Wow. Really, Lord? That’s the way you feel about me? The way I felt that day when Christy came down the aisle? The way I felt last night when I watched her beautiful face fall so sweetly asleep? You feel that way about me?! You love me like that? Oh man... who can bear this? Who can handle it? How can I cope with the gravity of this love, this truth, and yet, how could I ever live without it?

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