Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Jesus: "Let me ask you something..."

It was almost eleven years ago, while reading daily from the devotional work, One Year with Jesus, that I wrote in my journal: "One of the most profound questions Jesus ever asked."

The event is recorded in John 5:1-9. A bunch of people are gathered around a particular pool in Jerusalem because a legend stated that, from time to time, an angel would stir the water in the pool and whoever got in first when that happened would be healed of whatever sickness or infirmity they suffered from.

One particular invalid had been unable to walk for 38 years. The inference is that he had been laying there by the pool, trying to be the first one in whenever the waters moved, for most of that time.

Thirty-eight years.

No wonder Jesus went up to the man and asked, "Do you want to get well?"

Now, the story has a happy ending, but it's this question in the middle of the tale that caused me to stop dead in my tracks.

DO you want to get well?

Do YOU want to get well?
Do you WANT to get well?
Do you want to get WELL?


Do you?

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...there are some things about me that I SAY I wish were different, but I wonder if Jesus looks at me, grins to himself, and asks the very same question.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Big Bang In Reverse


That's the term scientists use for the theorized super-dense essence of what went bang at the Big Bang. According to general relativity, the initial state of the universe, at the beginning of the Big Bang, was a singularity: a point in spacetime in which gravitational forces cause matter to have an infinite density and zero volume.

It strikes me that the first Christmas was a bit of a reverse Big Bang.

Out of all the galaxies spread out across the incomprehensively-massive universe, God seems to have focused his attention on one called the Milky Way.

From among the tens of billions of solar systems in the Milky Way, he picked one swirling around a fairly unremarkable yellow sun, as described by Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, "far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the [Milky Way]."

The Lord of the Universe then paid particular attention to the third planet out from that small star.

On that planet, with seven great continents to choose from, Yahweh picked out the mostly-desert land-bridge between Africa and Asia, and made it the homeland of an insignificant fellowship of twelve tribes, full of slaves and sheepherders.

Choosing one of those tribes, and one particular family line within that tribe, the God of all creation looked across the entire scope of human history - past, present, and future - and went to a young teenage girl in an insignificant village in a time of political oppression.

At that singular time, at that singular place, as part of the hopes and dreams of that singular people, the supreme being of the universe, who spoke the world and everything beyond it into existence, caused himself to become...a single...human...cell.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...the Lord has come; joy to the world!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Not a Suicide Note

Currently being in a transition between jobs (In need of a technical or creative writer (or voice-over artist, or guest speaker, or communications specialist)? Please take a look at my LinkedIn profile.), the oft-repeated Christmas thought...that it's not about spending a bunch of money on gifts, but about celebrating Jesus' birth...is coming to my mind a bit stronger this year.

I'm also thinking about how the Bible doesn't really make all that big of a deal about Christmas...that the resurrection of Jesus is far more important than his birth.

Another recurring thought is that the winter holidays see more suicides than the rest of the year.

Now pay attention. That's not a veiled cry for help, just a recognition that Satan would love to combine my joblessness and inability to be a generous gift-giver into dangerous, dark thoughts of uselessness...and that he can go suck eggs because greater is he who is in me than he who is in the world. (I John 4:4)

Truth is...I know that if Saint Nicholas was here, he would agree that Jesus gave the greatest gift of all to you and me. They led him to the slaughter on a hill called Calvary. And mankind was forgiven when they nailed him to the tree. (Randy Stonehill)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

May God Keep You Happy: "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" Prosified

Another experiment in getting around the poetic language and digging into what an old hymn is really saying.

May God make and keep you happy, my friends. Don't let anything worry you or cause you to fret. Remember that something miraculous happened on that first Christmas: Jesus, our Savior, came to earth as a baby...and not just to give us a sweet story to tell, but so he could save us all from wandering away from him and straying right into Satan's scheme to destroy us. Now THAT is news that should fill us with a peaceful calm and a deep joy!

The announcement of this good news from God came through an angel to a particular group of shepherds, who were told that the very Son of God had been born in Bethlehem: "So don't be afraid," said the angel, "In fact, there's no need for you to ever be frightened by anything ever again, because today a virgin has given birth to the Savior, who will free everyone who trusts in him from the grip of sin."

Okay, everybody, this should really give you a reason to sing praises and greet each other with heartfelt hugs: this amazing event that we call "The Christmas Story" served to demonstrate God's unmerited favor toward us...to the point of wiping out our sin and winning us back into God's loving arms.

Oh, good news indeed! What comfort! What joy!

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...while Christmas songs are beautiful, they are also really, really good news.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Hagar the Holy?

When perusing the comics section of the newspaper, you probably don't expect to find a spiritually-significant revelation of truth...especially from the Dik Browne-created, Chris Browne-continued strip, Hagar the Horrible.

Prepare to have your expectations demolished.

Last Thursday...Thanksgiving Day, you will recall...our friendly, neighborhood viking, Hagar, found himself in dire straights: damaged ship, violent storm, tossed up on a barren rock.

And just like many of us, who find ourselves in similarly desperate situations...damaged marriage, violent health, tossed out by an employer...Hagar questions the way God is treating him.

Then the second panel kicks in with God's response, which aligns perfectly with how He could respond to each of us as well.

Truth is...while there's a lot of talk about God's grace and how we get so many blessings that we don't deserve, it wouldn't hurt to remember that God's mercy keeps us from receiving a lot of nastiness that we certainly DO deserve. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

ABCeason of Thanks

Things for which I am thankful:

A - Angel Brooke Roth Stanley, our oldest child, who came through our first floundering attempts at parenthood with flying colors.

B - Beloved, which is my pet name for my wife. She has lived through much and loves to encourage others.

C - Christmas may or may not be an attempt to Christianize basically pagan celebrations, but it's the one time of the year it becomes positively stylish to smile at strangers and love your neighbor as yourself.

D - This letter is the beginning of the names of all my siblings, who each had their individual impact on making me the person I am. And when specifically thinking of my older siblings, I'm thankful for the laughter and singing while doing dishes together.

E - Emanuel...yes, that's with just one "m". It's my son Curtis' middle name; taken from his maternal great-grandfather. Curtis is a living example of God's grace being a free gift and good works being a response.

F - Forgiveness...I need it, but could never earn it. And there's a joy that comes from giving it, too.

G - Georgina, my mom, who married young, raised five children, taught us to pray, loves tenderly, laughs easily, and now misses her husband of 67 years.

H - Hobbes, the tiger half of Calvin & Hobbes.

I - It's a Wonderful Life stars Jimmy Stewart and makes me cry every time I hear "To George Bailey, the richest man in town!"

J - Jesus is so much more to me than my words could ever hope to express. I am so thankful for his patient love, his ruthless determination to make me a better man, and his selfless sacrifice on my behalf.

K - Kelly Jo Roth Haug, our youngest child and free-est spirit. She embraces life and love and friendships with an open heart, in spite of having reasons to close herself off.

LLaparoscopic surgery was an excellent choice when removing my gall bladder.

M - Music has a way to touch our hearts and move our keisters that can't be approached by mere words. It also gives me a language with which to worship.

N - Larry Norman was one of the originators of what is now called Contemporary Christian Music...he made music that expressed a down-to-earth belief in an out-of-this-world love.

O - Oswald Chambers, author of My Utmost for His Highest

P - Paul, as in the Apostle Paul, wrote an awful lot of the New Testament.

Q - Queen Esther's story not only gave us the great line, "who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this," but also was at least part of the inspiration for a great song by my next object of thankfulness.

R - Rich Mullins, the ragamuffin troubadour who wrote "Awesome God," but more importantly, imperfectly lived out his faith for the benefit of all the rest of us who can't quite seem to get it right either.

S - Shonda Diane Roth Hall is our second daughter and lives the farthest from us. Her hugs are missed by us but her tender heart is demonstrated to the children she works with daily.

T - Thanksgiving is not only a great excuse for temporary gluttony, but offers the opportunity for families to spend some time loving on each other.

U - United States of America...living here has it's negative aspects, to be sure, but my limited amount of time spent on foreign soil has helped me appreciate the abundant blessings that come just from having been born here.

V - Valley Christian Church is a group of loving people that has been our church family for over 20 years.

W - Living water, as in Christ living in me: "Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:14 NIV)

X - There was a xylophone (okay, actually a marimba, but I needed an X) in the music room of the house of one of my best friends. Good times.

Y - Yahoo's free email

Z - The zest of life; full of adventure, boredom, thrills, surprises, love, insecurity, laughter, and hope.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...I had to really think hard to come up with some of these. It's not a bad thing to put some effort into recognizing one's blessings.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Undragoning of Eustace

"There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it" is probably my favorite opening line in all of literature. It is the first line of C. S. Lewis' The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader", which is Book 3 in the Chronicles of Narnia. (Book 5 in the modern all-in-one editions of the series, but they're wrong...not bad, just wrong.)

Also high on my list of favorite literary moments is Eustace's account of how he got changed back into a boy after having been transformed into a dragon by sleeping on a dragon's hoard while full of selfish, dragonish thoughts.

"I knew it was a well because you could see the water bubbling up from the bottom of it: but it was a lot bigger than most wells - like a very big, round bath with marble steps going down into it. The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg. But the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I don't know if he said any words out loud or not.
"I was just going to say that I couldn't undress because I hadn't any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that's what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.
"But just as I was going to put my foot into the water I looked down and saw that it was all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as it had been before. Oh, that's all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I'll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this under skin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.
"Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.
"Then the lion said - but I don't know if it spoke - You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
"The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know - if you've ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.
"Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off - just as I thought I'd done it myself the other three times, only they hadn't hurt - and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me - I didn't like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I'd no skin on - and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I'd turned into a boy again."
Truth is...we can try to better ourselves through self-help and determination, but it takes the drastic work of a mighty lion (of the tribe of Judah) to really make us what we were born to be.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

You Can't Gross Out God

In first-century Palestine, people afflicted with the lesions, pain, and ulcerated hands and feet of leprosy were Untouchables. They were generally quarantined and required to warn anyone that may happen to come near: "Unclean! Beware! I am unclean!"

Nevertheless, there was at least one such sufferer who went against common practice and actually approached someone...someone pretty well-known for his ability to heal diseases:

Then a leper came to Jesus, knelt in front of him and appealed to him, “If you want to, you can make me clean.” Jesus was filled with pity for him, and stretched out his hand and placed it on the leper, saying, “Of course I want to — be clean!” At once the leprosy left him and he was quite clean. (Mark 1:40-42, Phillips)

Jesus didn't have to touch the leper. There are plenty of examples in the Bible of Jesus healing people without actually touching them. And yet, for this person at this moment, Jesus was moved by sympathy to break through convention and connect on a personal, physical level. He wasn't grossed out, he was compassionate.

Truth is...God is never repulsed by anyone. No one is ever disgusting enough for God to shy away from. And we're not just talking physical attractiveness here, okay? Even the worst of sinners is welcomed with open arms. All it takes is an approach and a request.

Thank you, Yahweh, for not gagging when you think of me.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me...

It is oh so very easy to find fault with the person we see in the mirror. We know the dark secrets about ourselves that we keep hidden from the rest of the world, and we are fairly certain that if the world really did know all about us, they wouldn't like us much at all.

Shine the light of this passage from Brennan Manning's Abba's Child into your dark corners and see what happens:

God loves who we really are - whether we like it or not. God calls us, as He did Adam, to come out of hiding. No amount of spiritual makeup can render us more presentable to Him....His love, which called us into existence, calls us to come out of self-hatred and to step into His truth. "Come to me now," Jesus says. "Acknowledge and accept who I want to be for you: a Savior of boundless compassion, infinite patience, unbearable forgiveness, and love that keeps no score of wrongs. Quit projecting onto Me your own feelings about yourself. At this moment your life is a bruised reed and I will not crush it, a smoldering wick and I will not quench it. You are in a safe place."

Truth is...I suspect you need to hear these words because I know for certain that I need to hear them. And I know this, because I absolutely relate to more of Manning's words - found in the foreword of the same book:

There have been times...when the felt presence of God was more real to me than the chair I am sitting on; when the Word ricocheted like broken-backed lightning in every corner of my soul; when a storm of desire carried me to places I had never visited. And there have been other times...when I identified with the words of Mae West: "I used to be Snow White - but I drifted"; when the Word was as stale as old ice cream and as bland as tame sausage; when the fire in my belly flickered and died; when I mistook dried-up enthusiasm for gray-haired wisdom; when I dismissed youthful idealism as mere naivete; when I preferred cheap slivers of glass to the pearl of great price.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Meeting God in the Heat of It All

If you want a real workout, try swimming upstream sometime. It takes a lot of strength to head north when the current is flowing south.

It also takes a lot of strength to stand up tall when everyone else around you is bowing down...just ask Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

As the story goes (in Daniel 3), the king declared that when the signal was given, everybody had to bow down and worship this ginormous golden statue he had set up in honor of himself. Well, our terrific trio, being God-fearing Hebrews, took issue with the idea of breaking the second commandment and refused to cooperate.

The declared punishment for anyone found standing when they should have been bowing was death by burning in a furnace.

So there they were, being threatened with a fiery death. Standing on this end of history, we know that the story ends with them NOT being burned, even though they were thrown into the furnace...but for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they were ad libbing their lines.

And that's what makes what they said so amazing: "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty's hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.

Rich Mullins alluded to this story in his song, Where You Are, and makes the point I'm trying to get to. We are not guaranteed that every moment of our life will be smooth and easy, but we are promised that Yahweh will never leave us alone.

Where you are ain't where you wish that you was
Well your life ain't easy, and the road is rough
But where you are is where He promised to be
From the ends of the world to every point of need

Truth is...I am currently in a job transition. I've spent the last seven years as a lead technical writer for the world's second-largest computer network and am deeply experienced in creating clear and concise communications. As of this writing, I do not know what my next paying position will be, but the God I serve is able to open a door that will take care of every point of need my family has. But even if he does not, I want you to know, dear readers, that I will not despair...I will find that he's right there.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ding-Dong Ditch

Jesus kind of made a big deal of being persistent when talking with God.

There's the story he told about a woman who got a judge to listen to her case because she just wouldn't take "go away and leave me alone" for an answer.

And have you heard the one where the guy wakes up his neighbor to ask for some bread because he had some unexpected visitors from out of town? He had to keep pounding on the door to get his neighbor to help him out.

All this encouragement to keep at it, and yet the following quote from E. M. Bounds still rings so very true.

I think Christians fail so often to get answers to their prayers because they do not wait long enough on God. They just drop down and say a few words, and then jump up and forget it and expect God to answer them. Such praying always reminds me of the small boy ringing his neighbor's doorbell, and then running away as far as he can go.

Truth is...I don't know if it's a wait-for-God's-perfect-timing thing or a test that helps us find out just how much we really want or need what we're asking for. Or maybe it's so we more fully recognize that every good and perfect gift comes from above (James 1:17). Whatever it is, it seems to be God's standard operating procedure, and I need to be encouraged to keep in step with him.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What I Learned from a Gay Bible Professor

This space has touched on the subject of homosexuality before, and it's not something I feel led to dwell on, but I recently read a post by Jonathan Carone that gives a different perspective along with an encouragement to let the convictions of at least one gay man make a difference in our own struggles...whether or not they have anything to do with sexual preferences.

Here's just a taste:
Dr. Yuan’s big idea is that God doesn’t call us to be gay or straight. Instead, he calls us to be holy because he is holy. This concept rules every decision he makes....Dr. Yuan spoke on how we have the choice to pursue holiness or to pursue our feelings. Those two things aren’t always mutually exclusive, but when one contradicts the other, which one will we go after?

Admittedly, I’m ruled by my feelings all too often. I don’t feel like working out so I don’t take care of my body. I don’t feel like putting myself in an awkward situation so I don’t seek forgiveness when I screw up. I don’t feel like doing something I need to do so I do what I want to do.

Dr. Yuan’s choice was a little bigger than whether or not to watch The Newsroom on an off-shore streaming site. Instead, his was to pursue a monogamous gay relationship or to pursue God and his holiness.

For the complete article, click here.

Truth is...I do not consider, brethren, that I have captured and made it my own [yet]; but one thing I do [it is my one aspiration]: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the [supreme and heavenly] prize to which God in Christ Jesus is calling us upward. (Philippians 3:13-14 Amplified Bible)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Scientific Lies

Sci-Fi movies can be entertaining...sometimes, even challenging or inspiring...but they can also be anything BUT scientific.

The fine folks at BuzzFeedPop put together the following video to educate the fanboys among us (whatever gender) about the realities of life in outer space. (Fair Warning: This video includes a short clip of someone's eyes bugging out...almost literally out...in the vacuum of space.)

Truth is...this installment has really been about facts, not truth, and doesn't have a deeper application. But wasn't it fun?

Wait a minute...perhaps a video could be made about how Christianity is portrayed in movies and how those portrayals don't have much to do with reality. Somebody get to work on that...

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Come On, Blessing-Giver! - "Come Thou Fount" Prosified

Come on, Blessing-Giver, adjust my heart so I can sing about how you show me favor, even though I don't deserve it. The way you just keep being merciful to me deserves to be praised...loud and long.

Teach me one of the heavenly songs that angels sing. I want to praise the name that has totally captured my attention...the name of Jesus, who has lovingly redeemed me!

I'm drawing a line in the sand, Lord. Because of your love, you've blessed me and brought me safely this far, and I know your hands-on involvement will get me all the way Home.

When I was lost and had no idea who God was or that he loved me, Jesus came looking for me. He saved me from the wrong, dangerous path I was on; he spilled his blood to buy my safety.

I owe so much for how you give me all these blessings and allow me a fresh start with each day. My desire is that all the goodness you show me will help me to actually live a better life and permanently affix the core of who I am to you.

Because I can feel the awful truth...that my tendency is to wander away from you, the very God I profess to love so much. Here, Blessing-Giver, take my heart and forever make it part of your heavenly kingdom...label it Yours!

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...I am prone to wander; Lord, I feel it. Please hold on to me tighter than I hold on to you. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Long Day, Early Morning

It had been a long day for Jesus.

He preached in the local synagogue...and in such a way that people were amazed. ("This man talks like he really knows what he's saying; not like the half-hearted teachers we normally hear!") But he couldn't even get through the sermon without a demon-possessed man standing up and yelling "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!"

Well...Jesus wasn't wanting that kind of testimony just yet, so he ordered the evil spirit to shut up and move out.

After the Sabbath service, Jesus went to Peter and Andrew's house, where Peter's mother-in-law would have been happy to give them dinner, but she was sick in bed...so Jesus healed her.

After sundown, when the Sabbath was officially over, the house was overrun with townspeople bringing their sick and demon-possessed relatives and friends for Jesus to heal and deliver. He did, of course...for all we know, well into the night.

And yet, Mark records, in chapter 1, verse 35: "Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed."

Truth is...the normal thing to say at this point is "If Jesus needed to get away and pray, how much more do we need to do so?" But the thought strikes me...maybe it wasn't his need that motivated him to pray, but his relationship that made him want to pray.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

VeggieTales Creator Writes Adult Book

Assuming you are a human being, currently alive in a section of the world influenced by Western entertainment...and by that, I don't mean guys in leather vests riding horses into the sunset...with a basic knowledge of how human beings spend several years as children before becoming adults, you are probably at least aware of the existence of the Christian entertainment phenomenon called VeggieTales(R). It absolutely changed children's videos forever and practically created direct-to-video Christian entertainment.

I recently read a book by the creator of VeggieTales(R), Phil Vischer, titled Me, Myself, & Bob: A True Story About Dreams, God, and Talking Vegetables. It's a very interesting tale of the creation of Big Idea Productions and its rise to near-empire status, rapidly followed by bankruptcy.


Contrary to what The Average Joe Christian might think, the tale of VeggieTales(R) isn't all sunshine and lollipops. Vischer learned some very hard lessons about making plans and striving for success and does a great job at sharing what he learned in the pages of this book. For instance, this quote from the penultimate chapter:

As I write this, I am growing increasingly convinced that if every one of these kids burning with passion to write that hit Christian song or make that hit Christian movie or start that hit Christian ministry to change the world would instead focus their passion on walking with God on a daily basis, the world would change. What is "walking with God?" Simple. Doing what he asks you to do each and every day. Living in active relationship with him. Filling your mind with his Word, and letting that Word penetrate every waking moment.

So why do I believe a thousand kids walking with God will have more impact on the world than one kid making a hit movie? Because the world learns about God not by watching Christian movies, but by watching Christians. We are his hands and feet. What I put in my movies is more or less irrelevant if it isn't coming out in my life. I realized I had become so busy trying to "save the world" with my visionary ministry that I was often too stressed and preoccupied to make eye contact with the girl bagging my groceries at the supermarket. And where does Christianity actually happen? Where does the "rubber meet the road," as it were? Up on the big screen in a movie theater? On TV? No. Across the checkout line at the grocery store, between me and a girl who makes a fraction of what I make and assumes I don't give a rip about her life. That's where it matters. And that's where, I realized, I was blowing it every day.

Truth is...it is far too easy to spend all my time, energy, and emotions on I, me, and mine. How quickly I forget that "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me...." (Galatians 2:20)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Bound To Come Some Trouble

Stop anyone, anytime, anywhere and ask them if they've got any trouble in their life...I'm pretty sure the answer will be yes.

...with a capital "T" that rhymes with "P", and that stands for "Plenty".

When you've got the opportunity, pass along this bit of wise encouragement to them...and be sure to keep some of it for yourself:

"Reach out to Jesus and hold on tight. He's been there before, and he knows what it's like...and you'll find he's there."

Truth is...being a follower of Christ doesn't take away all the trouble in a person's life, but it guarantees you won't have to go through it alone. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Chambers Refuses To Be Condensed

Almost every morning, I post on my personal Facebook timeline a quote from that day's reading in the devotional classic, My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers. A few weeks ago, the reading was so rich...so full of exquisite truth...I just couldn't leave anything out in order to create a two-sentence pithy statement.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit..." (Matthew 5:3)

Beware of thinking of our Lord as only a teacher. If Jesus Christ is only a teacher, then all He can do is frustrate me by setting a standard before me I cannot attain. What is the point of presenting me with such a lofty ideal if I cannot possibly come close to reaching it? I would be happier if I never knew it. What good is there in telling me to be what I can never be - to be "pure in heart" (5:8), to do more than my duty, or to be completely devoted to God? I must know Jesus Christ as my Savior before His teaching has any meaning for me other than that of a lofty ideal which only leads to despair. But when I am born again by the Spirit of God, I know that Jesus Christ did not come only to teach - He came to make me what He teaches I should be. The redemption means that Jesus Christ can place within anyone the same nature that ruled His own life, and all the standards God gives us are based on that nature.

The teaching of the Sermon on the Mount produces a sense of despair in the natural man - exactly what Jesus means for it to do. As long as we have some self-righteous idea that we can carry out our Lord's teaching, God will allow us to continue until we expose our own ignorance by stumbling over some obstacle in our way. Only then are we willing to come to Him as paupers and receive the first principle in the kingdom of God. The underlying foundation of Jesus Christ's kingdom is poverty, not possessions; not making decisions for Jesus, but having such a sense of absolute futility that we finally admit, "Lord, I cannot even begin to do it." Then Jesus says, "Blessed are you..." (5:11). This is the doorway to the kingdom, and yet it takes us so long to believe that we are actually poor! The knowledge of our own poverty is what brings us to the proper place where Jesus Christ accomplishes His work.

Truth is...while we talk in terms of submitting to Jesus and humbling ourselves under his Lordship, there's an awful lot of getting-from-him-what-we-really-need involved...could almost be considered selfish on our part.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Kid President Gives a Pep Talk

Not all truth is found in a book with HOLY BIBLE printed on the cover.

Not all wisdom is proclaimed through the lips of the old.

And not all good advice is encased in solemn tones and piercing eye contact.

I've told you about the excellent videos produced by Soul Pancake before, but it's time for another example.

Kid President is a character created by Brad Montague and his young brother-in-law, Robbie. He is full of energetic encouragement that applies to us all. As his website declares, "Don't be in a party. Be a party."

Truth is...this video applies to us all because we are all teachers and we are all students, whether or not we spend our days in a building with SCHOOL engraved on the front.

And just for the fun of it, here's the outtake reel:

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Live On, Dad

Saturday morning, July 26, 2014: My 89-year-old dad drives my 85-year-old mom to her weekly hair appointment. This is unusual. Mom usually drives herself. It's her one chance a week to get out on her own. But this day, Dad has a couple things he wants to do, so he takes her to the salon and drops her off.

Dad goes to a farm where, in his earlier retirement years (say, from age 70 to 85), he drove tractor for the young buck in charge. He picks up some sweet corn and delivers some of it to an older couple of the church, then drives back to the hair salon to wait for Mom to be done.

"Clarence just pulled into the lot," says the stylist.

Ten minutes later, Mom walks to the van saying, "Oh brother, look at him, pretending to be asleep." Only he isn't pretending. And he isn't asleep.

He isn't even there.

It's in moments like that when it really hits home...what C. S. Lewis said about us not being bodies that have souls, but souls that temporarily have bodies.

The next few days are a flurry of visits and people bringing food and service arrangements and getting names pronounced correctly...but mostly, looking into the misty-eyed faces of people who are hurting because you are hurting.

Nobody knows what to say, but everybody says something. There are a lot of "I'm so sorry"s and "He went doing what he loved to do"s and "He's in a better place"s.

Truth is...I don't know the whole timing of leaving this life and experiencing a face-to-face with Jesus. The Apostle Paul said that to be absent from the body was to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8), but I don't really know if that's instantaneous or if there's a holding area until the end of time...or whether when we die we step outside the constrictions of Time and are part of the always present. I'm guessing God does it the way that's best for everybody involved. What I do know is that I'm grateful for the way I was raised by "a plain man and his wife who somehow knew the value of hard work, good love, and real life."

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Who Ya Gonna Call?

Let me just say this and get it out there in the open: God is not a Cosmic Vending Machine. We ought not to enter the throne room of the creator of the universe, hand him a list of grievances and requests, slap on a verbal "in Jesus' name," and expect everything we want, just the way we want it, to come tumbling into our outstretched hands. Prayer didn't work that way for Paul, and there's no reason why we should expect it to work that way for us.

And yet . . .

There is a reason why, for centuries, believers have taken their grievances and requests to God.

For one thing, Jesus told us to: "Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete." (John 16:24-NIV)

There's that phrase again..."in my name." That's got to mean more than an open-sesame-like password. It must imply that the person is abiding in Christ (John 15:4); in complete union with the purposes and desires of Jesus; in a practical sense, acting - and asking - on behalf of the son of God.

And none of us is perfect at doing that. Case in point, what I alluded to earlier about the Apostle Paul: "I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness'." (2 Corinthians 12:7-9)

And yet . . .

There have been, and continue to be, times when God chooses to withhold his blessings or put his plans on the back burner and waits for his people to ask. It's like he knows you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. He waits until we're thirsty enough, and dependent on him enough and humble enough...he waits for his children to recognize the source of all hope and help, to give up on trying to do things on their own, and to ask.

And then he acts.

Like Max Lucado has written:

Truth is...prayer generally "works" best when it's less about getting God to do what we want and more about getting us in line with what God wants.