Thursday, September 30, 2010

Something To Say

You know that feeling when you think something is going to be the worst thing of all time and it actually winds up being pretty great? Well, a few weeks ago we had to take Anna to the dentist to get a tooth pulled. One of her two front permanent teeth was coming in too far back and wasn’t putting any pressure on the two little baby teeth in front that needed to fall out, so they weren’t getting loose. We took her to the dentist so he could have a look and he encouraged her to keep working on making the two baby teeth loose for another month or so. If they didn’t come out, he very quietly told me he’d have to pull them. Every day we told Anna to work on those teeth, but no real change came. Finally I told Anna the news I knew she wouldn’t want to hear... if she didn’t get them out, the dentist would have to pull them. Anna’s eyes instantaneously filled with tears and she ran into the bathroom crying. A few minutes later she emerged having yanked one of the two offending teeth out of her head with so much force, she actually broke it.

Thing was, that main front baby tooth wouldn’t budge, and we had to have it pulled. Anna was devastated and freaked out, but in the end, it was awesome! The dentist was amazing and gentle and Anna was glad to be free of those teeth. In the same vein, last week I was reading the book of Isaiah and came across something that had me spiralling down into a state of instantaneous freak out. In chapter 43, the Lord says, “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth- everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

Created for His glory?! Do you realize what this means? I t means I have been a total failure! Glory just means that you really and truly represent something... You fully express who or what that thing is. If God created me for His glory, I was supposed to be saying all kinds of stuff about Him! In fact, every single person ever made was supposed to express some individual and beautiful thing about who God is. We were all supposed to have something to say about the One who made us, but... no one really has! I mean, every now and then you see glimpses of something about Him: leadership in Lincoln, courage in Churchill, humor in Twain, tenderness and love in that person most dear to you, but for the most part, we haven’t said what we should have. As the Apostle Paul said, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Which means that as a race, we have failed and have nothing to say, right?

Actually, no... in spite of our failure, really because of our failure, we have something beautiful to say. We have a new and precious something to say that glorifies out God more than anything we could have said without having failed. So what is it? Well, in Luke 7 Jesus was having dinner at the home of a Pharisee named Simon when all of a sudden a woman walked in uninvited. She was a big-time sinner and everyone knew it. But she had found the forgiveness of Jesus and no one was going to stop her from showing it. She went up behind Jesus weeping uncontrollably so that her tears fell on his feet. She poured out her most treasured gift, a jar of expensive perfume, onto His feet and it mingled with her tears. She wiped his feet with her hair and though the Pharisees were scandalized, Jesus loved every second of it. Gratitude. Love. The glory of God. Even though we failed to be who we were made to be, Jesus came and offered Himself for our forgiveness. Now we have something to say: gratitude overflowing from a saved and thankful heart of love for Jesus is glorious indeed!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Here are some old pictures of Anna and Norah for those of you who appreciate nostalgia:

Unless There is a King

Disclaimer: I fully intend this to be my last post involving The Lord of The Rings for quite a while. I know it’s been a little excessive lately, but humor me just this one more time...

I just finished reading an article saying that the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held hearings today to determine just how bad the threat of a terrorist attack on the U.S. actually is. At the end of the hearing they basically decided that we’re hosed. The reporter I read suggested spending the weekend hiding under a couch. Janet Napolitano said, “The threats come from a broader array of groups and regions. It comes from a wider variety of harder-to-detect tactics. And it is aimed at harder-to-secure places than before.” Translation = the world is scarier than ever! How are we supposed to protect ourselves against these threats? How are we supposed to decide who to trust? How are we supposed to sleep at night? If the findings of these committees are right, we live in a dangerous, scary world and should probably be shaking in our boots all the time!

Well, that is to say, we should be afraid all the time if there is no God.

On the other hand, if the Bible is true and the Risen Lord Jesus Christ is seated on a throne at the right hand of God Almighty, then we shouldn’t waste one more second being afraid! If the Lord Jesus is the King of everything, we should take all that energy we invest in to fear and reallocate it to loving and reaching those who would seek our harm. If Jesus, who died and was raised on the third day is Alive and in control as the Bible says He is, then we should remember and obey His command in Matthew 10 which says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Folks who believe in and love Jesus ought to be intensely passionate about loving and reaching the lost, but cool as a cucumber when it comes to the ever-mounting threats propagated by fear mongering news outlets. Jesus told us not to worry about tomorrow, but demographic analysts and experts who study population trends would have us quaking in our homes about what they say will happen in 15 years’ time. They would have us desperately trying to biologically reverse the growing numbers of our so-called enemies by going on some kind of crusade of procreation, but those of us who have and love the Word of God know that we have been “predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity to the purpose of His will.” There is absolutely nothing outside of God’s control and He already knows how this all ends. You see, there is a King over everything and soon, He will reveal Himself to this world.

At the end of The Lord of The Rings, the beloved Hobbits made it back home to the Shire to find everything changed. All the land had been ravaged. The leadership was overturned by cruel and hateful men. Their entire way of life had been destroyed and every Hobbit was hiding behind their doors, afraid all of the time. That is, until Sam, Frodo, Merry and Pippin returned. They saw the changes and although they were troubled, they were not afraid. In fact, they laughed a little. Why? Because they had been with the King. They knew he was in charge and would be coming soon to make all things right and all things new. When one of the new ‘Ruffians’ tried to scare the Hobbits, Frodo replied, “For one thing, I see you’re behind the times and the news here. Much has happened since you left the South. Your day is over, and all other ruffians’. The Dark Tower has fallen, and there is a King in Gondor... your precious master is a beggar in the wilderness.”

The world is indeed a dangerous and scary place, unless there is a King on His throne, and if you know and love Him, you never need fear another moment in your untouchable, eternal life.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

With Great Praise

I’ve cried too much today. Now my face feels sore and my eyes sting and I feel simply emotionally tired. The worst part? All those tears were over something that didn’t even really happen!! I’ve spent the last thirty minutes or so sobbing over a couple of hobbits who don’t even exist and now the only thing I feel like doing is writing about them! Yes, I know, The Lord of the Rings is just a book and Frodo and Sam are not real people. I know that Gondor, Ithilien and Orodruin were just inventions of a middle-aged English linguist and that none of the great battles and brave deeds described in those pages really happened, but something I came across in that amazing story shook me to the core today. To borrow Professor Tolkien’s term, it smote my heart.

You see, I want to turn loose of this world. More and more as I go through the days of my own pilgrimage here, I want to relax my grip on all the earthly things that both pick me up and burden me down. I want to forge a gaze so fixed on the rock solid reality of the world to come that both the present troubles and prizes of this world fade into the ethereal mist that they really are. In other words, I want a homeward heart.

This afternoon, as I was trudging along with Sam and Frodo at the very end of their quest, something happened in the story (Yes, I know it didn’t really happen) that resonated with my homeward heart. When it happened, I burst into tears, because it’s the thing above all things that I’m looking forward to. You see, a few years back, my pastor pointed me to a verse in chapter 4 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians which has become one of my very favorites. Paul says, “Judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive His praise from God.”

Behold the grace of God! He sends His own Son to die in our place, forgives our sin and makes a place for us in His eternal kingdom; but not only that, at the world’s end, the King and God over all, who has forgotten our offenses and crimes will praise those He has bought to the wonder and bliss of our quaking, grateful hearts. Wow. Can you dare to imagine the joy of that moment? It’s something I love to think about and long to believe with all my heart, but sometimes I forget and get burdened down with my own failures and filled with doubt.

That’s where I was today when Sam and Frodo made it to the very end. The ring was destroyed and the hobbits fell asleep from dreadful pain and weariness on the crumbling slopes of Mount Doom. As they slept, they were carried off by the Great Eagles to the camp of the King. When Sam awoke, he found himself in a bed within a tent, surrounded by the smell of flowers. Gandalf was there and said that he and Frodo must dress and present themselves to the King, so they put on their old ripped and torn rags and left the tent. When they did, they saw knights in shining mail, bowing down to the hobbits, then drawing swords and shaking spears, blowing horns and trumpets and proclaiming with loud voices, “Praise them with great praise! Frodo and Samwise!” Then Aragorn, the King placed them on his throne, bowed down to them and shouted out, “Praise them with great praise!” Finally, a minstrel of Gondor sang a song of their long toil and...

“When Sam heard that, he laughed aloud for sheer delight, and he stood up and cried: ‘O great glory and splendour! And all my wishes have come true!’ And then he wept. And all the host laughed and wept, and in the midst of their merriment and tears, the clear voice of the minstrel rose like silver and gold, and all the men were hushed. And he sang to them until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.”

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Part Of The Story

This week our pastor is off across the Atlantic Ocean having an adventure in Spain. He is waking up to fair mornings in a rustic stone farmhouse out in the middle of a picturesque landscape of rolling green hills. Hundreds of people with longing hearts from countries all over this world will walk past his door today wondering if God is, and hoping they can find Him. Our dear brother will tell them of the Lord in their own language with all the compassion, humor and love that dwells in that remarkable heart of his. When all is said and done, this will be a week for the missionary record books filled with stories worth telling and retellling, again and again.

Do you ever wish you were part of some adventure like that one? Do you ever long to be part of the Story? Do you ever look at your own life wondering if it mattered in the spiritual scheme of things that you got up and did your thing today? This morning I woke up early, got out of bed and went to work. A bit later I took my car to the shop to get repaired, hung out with my two younger kids while the bug guy sprayed the house and then went back to work. Hmm. Doesn’t sound too adventurous, does it? And yet, I’m not so sure we can make that call.

Jesus said that if you want to be great in God’s kingdom, you have to become like little children and like servants; and they aren’t the ones who go off to war, fame and valor. He said there’s just about nothing more important than getting someone in need a cup of cold water. Paul said we should make it our ambition to lead a quiet life and mind our own business! He also said that the whole point of the church is to prove to invisible armies of spiritual forces just how wise and awesome God really is, and they sure do have to watch a bunch of normal, old, everyday lives! What if living our normal little lives with sincere faithfulness, genuine love and devotion to Jesus is the most adventurous thing we could possibly do? What if you are an essential character in the Great Story already? What if working your job, raising your kids or making your way through school is exactly the adventure He’s called you into, and living your plain-ole life with persistence and endurance by His strength winds up being one of the brave deeds of the children of men in the history of this world?

I’m re-reading the Lord of the Rings right now and I just finished the part where Sam and Frodo are almost to Mordor and Sam begins to reflect on the stories and songs of old. He says, “We shouldn’t be here at all, if we’d known more about it before we started. But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of sport as you might say. But that’s not the way of it... Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually - their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t.”

You, whoever you are, are right smack dab in the midst of a crucial point in the Great Story and no one can live your tale but you. Today you find yourself facing challenges and problems that were laid out for you alone and the adventure does not lie in the scope of the deed, but in simply seeing it through. Great or small, you have a part to play and the One who set the board is waiting for you to call out to Him for strength and guidance. Your calling is that of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 16 which says, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love.” And one day, you’ll see that you were a character in the Tale, a hero in the Song.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

The Kingdom

Every month our board of elders meets to discuss the state of our church and make various leadership decisions. We begin these meetings in the only way leadership meetings ought to begin: with prayer. During the prayer time at the beginning of our last meeting, one of my brothers in the group said something that took me aback. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard someone pray this sentence before...

In the midst of a sweet prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord, he said, “And dear Lord, I thank You for the kingdom of God.”


Have you ever heard someone pray that? I don’t think I have. Man, I liked it though. Since that Tuesday night, I have been mindful not only of that prayer but about how thankful I actually am for the Kingdom of God. When you step back for a second and think about it, it’s an amazing and beautiful thing God is doing and has done... The Father of life and love has not only made a way for rebellious villains to be forgiven, but when we come to Him in faith, he brings us into a fellowship of ex-rebels turned children of God! The Apostle John said it better: “To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.”

This is fantastic and amazing news! As soon as I trusted in Christ I gained brothers and sisters and fellow soldiers and subjects of God! My all-time favorite heroes are my real-life big brothers! One day I’ll really meet folks like C.S. Lewis, Casper Ten Boom, John Newton and Isaac Watts! When I go to heaven, I am going to get to spend time with people I didn’t get to know for long enough here on earth! My Dad’s precious parents are there, along with my dear Aunt Jean. Pastor Stuckey is there, (the man who kissed me the very first and only time I got to meet him) and because of the Kingdom of God, that precious saint is my brother! We are the kin of folks like Paul, Daniel and Job! We are related to thousands upon thousands of brothers and sisters who have lived and suffered and died and served Christ in total anonymity to the wonder of the angelic armies of God!

But it gets even better! You see, since God has made us His kids through the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus, we are surrounded by family right here and now! We get to be the body of Christ actually at work in the world; healing the hurting, loving the broken and reaching the lost! We are connected to Christians in other churches, other towns, other countries and other continents all over this world! Whenever we meet to pray and praise our Lord, we join that praise to the worship of millions of His beloved children all over the place! And not only that, but we are connected to saints right here in our little church... men and women of God gifted by Him for service and empowered by the Holy Spirit Himself! We have friends who love Jesus... friends who love us... friends who are fighting alongside us and are there for us! We have people. They’ll pray if we need it and help when we need it. We have people who need us and they are our kindred, bound to us by the precious blood of Jesus. We are not alone in this world, but are living stones being built up into something sweet, strong, beautiful, eternal and filled with the love of the Father of life! In the words of my brother, “Dear Lord, I thank you for the Kingdom of God!”

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