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Warning: Do Not Duplicate

Jesus was unlike any other the world has ever seen.  If we fit in… if we look like everyone else… if we choose normalcy… then we aren’t showing the world Jesus.  We aren’t Christ like… We aren’t Christians.  To “put on” Jesus isn’t to attend church or learn a few rules. Rather, we are called to be consumed by Jesus, to partake of Him, to be Him.

People generally had two reactions when confronted with the complexity and humility of their Savior.  They would follow Him, or they would plot to dismantle Him and all He stood for.  Love or hate.  He either offered you freedom, love, salvation, and healing… or he threatened your earthly world and needed to be dealt with.

But true to form, He did something no one expected.  Something incomprehensible.  Who would have ever imagined that the feeble and selfish plans of a hateful and corrupt legalistic group would have actually worked against the God, maker of man?  Shouldn’t He have had a fail-safe?  Shouldn’t He have seen it coming?  Couldn’t He stop it?  Sure.  But He chose not to… for us.

Can you imagine having the ability to defend yourself against the scum of humanity and choosing not to… because you love the scum… all of them?

This goes against all logic.  That is not the thinking of earth dwelling humans.  And when some met this man, they followed.  They witnessed the difference first hand.  This man doesn’t serve himself, he serves God.  He doesn’t accumulate, He hands out.  He doesn’t demand, He assists.  When He could rightfully strike back, He hugs.  When He has been cheated, He prays.  It’s like the opposite of everything life teaches us.

And now, with Jesus having proven He was all and more than He promised, but also gone from this world, He left one thing to bring everyone to Him in the end and finish His great and wonderful plan…

Us.

We may be generations removed.  But we have a relationship anyway.  We may have never witnessed the pages of the Bible lived out before being recorded, but we do have that perfect hindsight where the entire story has played out save one part.  The return our ancestors spoke of is approaching us just as it was for them.

What were the commands?  Be ready.  No time for leaven bread.  Like a thief in the night… Go into the world and speak Jesus.  Pick up our cross and follow in His footsteps.  Be persecuted for His name.  Be the person unlike any other… except that one.  Be like Him.  Be the man who inspires strangers to change their lives.  Be the woman who looks past the setting sun and sees the coming Son.   Be the young adult that refuses to follow week minded and selfish ambitions.  Be the child that yearns for something more.

Be unlike any other.  If we can’t be like Him, we will be just like everyone else.  The world has seen that over and over and over.  The world doesn’t follow normalcy.  The world doesn’t reject status quo.  We are the gift left to finish the plan of God.  We are to be Jesus to the world.  Some of us have never shown Him because we don’t properly understand Him ourselves.  Or we are too scared.  Or being just like everyone else is too comfortable.  Or excuse number 7, or exception number 19, or reason number 312…  We know how to make anything sound acceptable.

If we conform to the world, if we follow in the social expectations, if we don’t stand firm and tether to Jesus… we will never show Him to the world.  And if we don’t, no one else will.  I can’t think of a more cruel punishment to the world (or anything more un-Christ-like… to deny them Jesus, when He allowed us to kill Him for just that very privilege).

While you are planning diets, new budgets, and other personality traits you want to alter in this new year, might I suggest the greatest goal you could ever imagine?  Would you consider something more life changing than good health, and more valuable than extra wealth?  Stop being like everyone else.  Be like Him.  Don’t judge your neighbor… Become a neighbor.  A good one.  A compassionate one.  One that lives in the hindsight of redemption, freedom, and salvation.  Be like Him.

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We Can’t be Obedient if We Aren’t Rebelling

To be obedient to God, we must become disobedient to our previous way of living.

We have to rebel against the life of self satisfaction.

We have to reject the tendencies to serve worldly desires and systems.

We have to sin against our former gods.  (wealth, reputation, status, legacy, etc)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die”.  Death to our old way of things.  Death through baptism.  Death to our lives centering the universe.  Death to an old law.  Death to prison.  Death to loss and pain.

We can’t take on the new without properly burying the old.  If we truly nailed our sins to the cross and watched them breath their last, we can burst up from the depths of the waters a new creation by and from God.  An obedient servant.  Dripping with the holy waters of salvation met with loving freedom and creation.

Then we can follow the Man.  The one who said “you are forgiven”.  The Man that walked on water and raised the dead… yet came to give up His own life.  The definition of power and majesty who decided to yield to frail men with evil agendas.  The leader who brought a plan with me in mind and then said, “it is finished”.

Obedience.  Following a God who stooped to the level of humanity, so that we could enter the kingdom of a Fatherly deity.  He became like us so we could be made like Him.  And now, we choose to obey, not because we have to, not because the rules say so, not because we promised or feel guilty… but because it’s the most exciting thing we can imagine.  I get to follow God.  I get to walk in the footsteps of the greatest sacrifice ever made.  I can see the path to follow and treading between its borders is the most wonderful form of worship and praise I can give.

To obey is not to say, “I guess so”.  To submit one’s will is to jump up shouting… “there is no other way!  This is how life is meant to be!”  Psalm 119:97 says, “Oh how I love your law!  It is my meditation all the day.”  A huge portion of that chapter addresses how wonderful the law is.  Not as a book of decrees or a hierarchy to submit to, but as a loving and protecting testament to the relationship between God and man.

Obedience is an honor and privilege.  It is true freedom.  We take off a heavy burden and put on a loving and light one.  A burden that is tremendously unbearable when people try and resist it.  A burden that is graciously easy, when willfully followed.

Obedient to the one who created us to be eternally happy.  We are crafted to sit at the thrown with God.  How can we fight the natural way of things?  The enemy is near.  It is he who deserves our disobedience.  It is he we are to die to.  Whomever we do not die to, we will live eternally with.

Grace, More than Once

We have a young foster child in our home.  Recently, he had an opportunity to speak to his parents on the phone.  When they didn’t answer, my wife reached the phone out to him and put it on speaker so he could leave them a message.  Only, he didn’t want to.

His face curled down to sad and his fingers started entangling amongst themselves, while he stared at the floor.  My wife prompted him verbally, visually, and physically and he just sat traumatized before the recording mailbox.

He was given plenty of warning, lots of time, and a plethora of opportunities to speak up.  He refused them all.  So she hung up and then the tears started to flow.  When we asked what was wrong, he wouldn’t answer.  We knew part of it already.  He comes from a background where he always gets his way.  Being offered things that he doesn’t want or like causes some outrageous reactions.

So we started to chalk this up to yet another episode where he is making sure that he is in charge.  His tears turned to fits and his fits soon became bellowing screams.  All because he chose not to talk.  We hadn’t even indicated that any form of discipline was in order.  He simply wasn’t going to talk to his parents this day by his own choosing.

After he calmed down some, we tried to figure out what happened.  He is an excellent communicator when he wants to be.  He let us know that he was scared and sad and that he wanted to try again.  But the problem is that we had already let him know the rule based on many of these outbursts before.  Once he passes up an opportunity and chooses to ignore us, disobey, etc.  He loses that chance for the day.

So here we have a child that refused to do something he actually wanted to do and now is whining, crying, and complaining, because he can’t do it anymore (at least for the day).  And while I’m struggling to not pull out my hair over how he reacts and over reacts and then constantly comes back and wants to try again even though he totally blew it before, I finally realized… He’s just like me.

Ignoring God, thinking I know best, doing my thing, living my own way, my rules, my terms, my conditions… then, when things don’t work out, the whining starts.  Why me?  What have I done?  I don’t deserve this!  It’s not fair!

The saddest part?  All of it, every last piece of it, can in some way be traced back to me not wanting to talk to the Father.  If I spent the right time with the right heart in His presence everyday… none of this would happen.

Buts that not all. I actually thought, this is a great opportunity to teach him grace. I could let him talk to his parents and make him so happy and teach him biblical truth all at the same time.

But I was so scared he would expect grace every time… I let the moment pass.

Because I know how he is already. I know how I am. I need grace every time.  All of the progress we made would be lost, he would become dependent on grace and never act correctly on his own the first time.  He would be just like me.  And I can’t stand that thought.

Desperate to teach this child important life lessons, I refused him the most important teaching of all… the one I depend on every day.  I pray God forgives my ignorance and continues to pour grace over undeserving, frequent offenders.  And I’m thankful He keeps His sense of humor up while teaching me through the foibles of a four year old.

Turn that Frown Upside-Out

In Genesis 40 we learn about the cupbearer and the baker.  They upset the king and were tossed into prison.

I can’t be sure what the conditions were like there, but the ESV uses 3 different words to describe the event.  Prison, confined, custody.  None of those sound extremely pleasant to me.  I only point this out because we know Joseph had favor in all things, including with the captain of the guard who put him in charge of the other prisoners.

While this might be an improvement for Joseph (over the other prisoners), 3 things still remain.  He is in prison.  He is confined.  And he is captive.  We get a small window into his desire to leave when he interprets the dreams of the cupbearer and baker.  He asks them to remember him and speak to the king on his behalf so he can be removed from this place.

But before we get to the dream interpretations, one other line stands out.  How long were they in prison?  “They continued for some time in custody”.  I don’t know what the social etiquette for “some time” was back in the day, but this clearly is more than a few nights.  I get the impression that each of the 3 men were settled into their roles and had formed a bit of a relationship.

After both of the King’s officers had a dream and were “troubled” by it.  Joseph immediately noticed.  And he felt compelled to ask about it.  So he walks in, addresses his fellow inmates and asks, “Why are your faces downcast today?”.

Why are your faces downcast today?

In prison… he asks those incarcerated with him… one of whom we find out is essentially on death row, (he dies at the hands of the king 3 days later, per his dream).  This further tells me this isn’t likely a minimum security scenario.  This “prison” is where he put the man who was accused of advancing on the wife of the king and an officer that was killed instead of released.

And after a lengthy stay in jail, a dream that doesn’t make sense changes the demeanor of not one, but two of the prisoners.  Was it because Joseph took such great care of these men that they didn’t have anything else to worry about?  They obviously slept since they entered the REM levels of sleep and had memorable dreams.  I’m guessing they had beds and blankets.

In my mind this all points to Joseph, who while wrongfully imprisoned (for actually doing the right thing, but being accused of the opposite) decided to make the best of the situation.  It sounds to me like he created an environment that was extremely hospitable and easily livable.  The men under his care weren’t scrounging for food, freezing in corners, or fearing the guards.  They were sleeping, dreaming, and sharing their experiences with one another.

While much of this is speculative, he took enough care, that a downcast face in his ward was something that concerned him.  (again…. IN PRISON!).

Does this sound right to you?  Isn’t it considered rude to ask certain things in certain situations?  Can we actually ask:

The prisoner why he is sad?

The hospital patient why she is worried?

The accident victim what could be wrong?

The outcast why they look lonely?

The mourner what is bothering them?

You can when your purpose for living isn’t tied to this world.  When you have a relationship with God and you go about His business, its much easier to understand why Paul found contentment in prison as well.

What can we complain about today?  Traffic.  Responsibilities.  Money.  Relationships.  Health.  Jobs.  Churches.  Politics.  I’m sure, if we brainstormed, we could come up with a few hundred things.  All of those things are prisons.  Each of them has only power in this world, and only the power we allow them to have.

Our friends might not be bold enough, so its a task left up to us.  Spend some time in the mirror each day and ask… what do we have to be upset about?  What could worry us?  What could deter us from the cross?  In light of what Jesus has done for us… how could our faces possibly be downcast?

We can turn that frown upside down fairly easily when good things happen to us here and now.  Joseph turned his inside out by focusing on good things to come.  Eternal things.  They made all circumstances currently endured null and void.  With the hindsight of Jesus, we can do both.

 

When Should We Pray? Too Late!

I keep seeing it.  Someone calls us out.  All of us.  Our prayer lives are not what God intended.   We all shake our heads.  It’s sad.  We are sad.  It’s not that we choose failure specifically… it just keeps turning out that way.

We see how bad we need to fix it. In our hearts we want to fix it. And yet we go to our heads to try and fix it. Logically, we will attempt to put plans into action when it makes the most sense. When I’m healthy. When I have more time. When I finish this class. When I fix other issues.  We let the brain try and fix a fault that lies in our hearts and souls.

This is not God helping us to better our spiritual life, this is THE devil actively destroying our relationship with God.   To concoct a plan that implements any form of waiting is in direct contradiction to the call to pray without ceasing.  Time and time again, I see this.  It’s a two part answer from two different enemies at odds with one another.  (part 1), “I need to fix this!” This is the good and Godly part  (part 2 comes immediately after without pause and usually in the same sentence), “as soon as I get back on my feet.”

I’m going to pray better tomorrow after I get some rest.

I’m going to pray more once I get the job with fewer hours.

I’m going to spend quiet time with God once I get a bigger house.

I’m going to be more obedient once the kids move out.

I’m going to start reading more during the summer.

I’m going to pray more earnestly when its not so crowded.

I’ll pray deeper once I get healthier, I can pray when I go running.

Do you see what we do?  We take the will of the Father and the will of the enemy and merge them into a single thought.  This is how the devil works.  We see the truth in the will to do right and we think we are being good sons and daughters.  Rarely do we realize we carry out the will of the enemy in our tasks.  His will (that of the enemies) is that we wait.  Postpone.  Prolong.  See if we can get distracted.  Forget.  Get busy doing other things. 

The issue?  It’s the timing.  There is only one time we should attempt to fix our relationship with God, which greatly includes fixing our prayer life. Rather than try and pick a less than perfect word, allow me an example.

Last week I received a bill from my doctor.  This has happened before.  I recognized the envelope.  I paid him in full, up front.  Yet another bill has come.  It’s an injustice.  At best, they are letting me pay for their accounting errors.  At worst, they are a fraudulent and crooked organization.  I didn’t care which it was.  I was not going to let them do this to me!  Who do they think they are dealing with!!???

I tore open the envelope and jerked the thrice folded and neatly perforated paperwork out.   Just undoing one fold was all I needed to get the full story.  This was indeed another errant bill against my favor.  One hand clinched the bill while the other had already started dialing billing services.  A young lady answered the phone and this is when I noticed the envelope was just settling down on the counter from when I ripped it open and flung it out of the way.

Ok, maybe I can’t dial THAT fast, but you get the image?  Like a cartoon I felt capable of reaching through the phone cord and smacking someone across the back of their head.  I felt like I could still see a faint outline of myself as I made my way in from the mailbox.  I was that fast.  This issue was urgent.  It was dire.  It was all about me!!!!

And this continues the pattern I’ve seen before.   When it affects me, I manage to blur the lines of priority a bit.  I’ve learned to take care of myself very well.  Or my loved ones.  I can justify giving them priority over everything.  Everything.  Sadly, that sometimes includes our God.

I believe most of us.  Quite honestly, all of us… need to start attacking our prayer life the same way I attacked that errant bill.  And with the same concern and urgency.  But it needs to be all about Him!!!!

When we let Satan have access to our priority structure, we will never be able to get our relationship together with God.  When we can see His schemes and attempts to keep us apart, our priorities can be realigned.  What could be more important than spending a moment with the Father right now?  The brain doesn’t understand, ‘now’.  The enemy has too much access to that space.  ‘Now’ is a term of the soul.  It’s immediate, and yet its deeply routed into eternal.

When should we pray?  When should we read?  When should we repair that relationship with God?  Drop to your knees and be speaking to the Father before your legs hit the ground.  That is when.  Not just now… super-now!  Faster than that even.  Am I being too silly, or too demanding?  Not really.  You see, every moment you ponder your next move, adds more red text to the statements above.  When you drop to pray and include God in your next decision, you yank the reigns out of the enemies hand (while hopefully leaving a bit of a mark) 😉

If you think, “I really do need to start…” you have already let the enemy in.  If your next thought is, “God and Father in Heaven…” you have already boxed the enemy out.

How about a little nudge…

[God and Father in Heaven, I need You.  Oh how deep and how wide do I need You.  I desire a relationship with You.  A very true, meaningful, and reciprocated journey that You and I will walk together…. ]

Keep it going (and if possible, don’t stop until we reach the throne of God).

Fake Grenades and Popsicles… do we behave like Christ?

I was wondering why Jesus spent 3 days in the tomb.  Jesus had to die to save us.  Jesus took on our sin during that process.  I understand it all the way up to the tomb.  Why even bother with a burial place?  Why be wrapped?  Why the guards?

Couldn’t Jesus have said, “It is finished”, and then 3 seconds later, “Tada!!!!” and then hop right off the cross?  Wouldn’t this have still effectively bought our sins?  He still sacrificed.  He still technically and actually died in our place.

I think He added that extra bit of drama for us.  Not that its a part of salvation, but that He did it for our benefit.  He spent 3 days in a guarded tomb to help clarify what actually happened.

For example.  Lets say Jesus did the bare minimum.  He cries “it is finished” and hangs his head to die.  Then, after breathing His last, he jumps off the cross a fully healed, living God and He whooshes back to heaven proclaiming that we should also carry our cross to follow Him.  In this example, I fear we would see Him as more God than man.  We may even question what pain He felt.

Sadly, we might possibly even question whether a true sacrifice was made.  If the real story of the crucifixion were a personal letter, this theoretical event would be more like a text message.  It’s less personal, less detailed, and the exact meaning is confusing.  We might even debate whether He actually died or not.

I’d like to offer that Jesus came, not only to sacrifice Himself for us, but also to teach us.  He taught by doing.  He only asked us to give as He gave Himself.  And in His final act, He taught us to sacrifice.  And one lesson that is painfully difficult to understand is what true sacrifice actually means.  And He showed us this, while being fully man.

Our foster child went to the ER and refused to take his medicine.  The Doctor told him that if he was good, she would let him pick any flavor Popsicle he wanted.  He screamed, flailed arms and legs, spit up medicine… he was not good.  An hour later when 4 people left the room exhausted and defeated, he asked… “where is my Popsicle?”.

And I know exactly what is going through his mind.  The nurse said, “if you are good”, and he is now on the other side of the event.  In his mind, he suffered.  It wasn’t fun.  But now its over and he is ready for the reward.  Through all the kicking, screaming, and agony he both suffered and caused, what he heard was plainly, “if you make it through, you can have this”.

Our minds haven’t changed much as adults.  Have you ever promised yourself rewards?  If I lose 10 pounds, I’ll get myself a new outfit.  And the weight never leaves, but you still feel like you accomplished a triumphant feat of strength because you drank Diet Coke that one time.  Oh, the sacrifices I made!!!!  We can justify the rewards quite easily.

I think a great many of us do the same thing with God.  He has effectively made the same promise the ER doctor made to my boy.  Roughly translated, ‘if you are good, I will reward you’.  And most of us mean well.  But our definition of “good” can’t in any way be linked to what God actually meant in the Bible.

But… because we went to church, and we sang, and we even tithed a bit, which was a HUGE sacrifice for us… we feel justifiably ready for this reward.  But just like that ER doc… that wasn’t the deal.  Being a faux Christian was not what God asked of us.  He drew very specific, tangible lines.  We are to sacrifice.  We are to give.  We are to suffer.  We are to pick up our cross and follow Him.  We are to stand apart from the world.

It’s because we don’t understand what sacrifice really is.  We think we can act up and still get the Popsicle.  This is why I think Jesus spent 3 days in the tomb.  So we would know that He gave up His actual life.  So we would know He actually suffered.  For sacrifice to have any meaning, a true price must be paid.

In the movie, Captain America: The First Avenger, there is a scene where the tiny Steve Rodgers dives onto a grenade carelessly thrown on the ground by his superior officer.  The officer’s point backfires as the overly qualified military men run for cover, while this unexpected hero jumps on the grenade to save the others around him.

grenade

His life… for theirs.  This is sacrifice.  If the grenade were real, he would have died a hero and all the others would have lived in debt to him.  But he did not know it was a fake grenade.  So even though he performed a heroe’s action, he got up, dusted himself off, and kept living life.  Only now with heroic accolades.  Many of us think that this is true sacrifice.  We are willing to dive on the grenade… but only if its a fake.  When the grenade did not blow, the sacrifice was removed.  He didn’t actually pay anything.

We don’t mind facing peril, but we expect Jesus to intervene and then flash back up to Heaven after we are rescued from potential discomfort.  The mere definition of sacrifice is to give something up. Jesus gave up position when He ate with the poor.  He gave up status when He cured the sick.  He lost empathy when He chose the ‘losers’.  And He finished His lesson by giving up, once and for all, His human life.  Not just temporarily, but eternally.  That is what I think those 3 days are for.

To remind us that the world is filled with sick kids, unpopular people, lonely individuals, and needy folks who will fully deviate us from our path down Team ME.  Most of us are up for some sacrifice so long as we are done and back to normal by 5 p.m.

The enemy is using live ammunition.  There are no fake grenades here.  The call to Christianity is the call to spend 3 days in the tomb.  It’s to fully and without any bartering, give up everything until Jesus comes back to call us out of the grave announcing the beginning of our eternity with Him.  It’s knowing that our lives are meant to be spent.

The great sacrifice isn’t figuring out that we can tithe 10% of our net rather than gross and still feel good about ourselves.  Suffering isn’t sitting through sermons on Sundays.  Mission work isn’t buying a stocking stuffer once a year for a card on a tree.  Jesus could have told us what sacrifice means.  But that doesn’t cut it.  It never will.  Words have no meaning.  He showed us.  And the way we show we learned the lesson is not to speak it back.  We show what we have learned.

The pharisees where a noisy bunch.  Always quoting scripture, always pointing out wrong, always blaming and judging.  Jesus spoke very little.  But His actions are what we are to be known by.  They will not hear it from us… they will see it in us and in our works.

It’s All in the Name

We received a new foster child that will be in our care until the parents sort out a few issues.  In this case he has a great relationship with his parents, so calling us mom and dad is not an option.  With all the stress, frustration, and fear that the child is going through, we have our own issues.  The bigger things matter to us as well, but sometimes the logistics can feel pretty important.

What should he call us?  It’s been a week and 99% of the time he shouts, “Hey guys!” when he wants our attention.  I really don’t care what I’m called, but in an effort to help teach respect for others I’ve really tried to reinforce, Mr. Barry.  It hasn’t landed.  It’s not a battle I’ve really chosen to fight, but he hasn’t grasped the name anyway.

There are multiple anecdotes where he has asked for “the other lady that lives here”, “the person downstairs”, or any other descriptor that fits his recent memory of us.  While playing ball, he decided to make everything into a race.  Of course, with his energy and his rules, he won.  That night at dinner he calmly said, “hey slowpoke, it’s time for dinner!”.  He then used the term later in the evening as well.  Not with a smirk or grin, but just in passing to identify me.

It took a week, but I now have a name.  It’s slowpoke.  Had I known… I might have run a little faster and tried a little harder in the races that preceded it.

We often give ourselves our own names. Sometimes we let the world identify us. They call us mistakes and we listen. They call us loser and almost prophetically we make it so. They call us failure and we wallow in it.  These terms are often handed out with as much forethought as our foster child used.  Spur of the moment with a notable smidge of perceived truth.  And we wrap ourselves in it and display in shame for the world to see.

Broken.  Lost.  Poor.  Uneducated.  Simple.  Sinner.  Trash.  Some of these terms come about innocently enough.  They are never intended to carry such poisonous barbs.  But the wrong person overheard, or we were just trying to be funny, or we simply didn’t think before speaking.  What a lesson we could learn in how we treat each other.  But some of them are more hurtful.  More intentional.  In our current social climate we toss out such hate and slander.  Bigot, racist, hateful, evil, monster, …

I’d like to say we don’t have to accept the names given to us by others.  And its true that we don’t.  But, I also know how psychologically difficult it is to shed the perceptions of the masses once that hook sinks into our hearts.  But what does carry great weight, and what should lift those unnecessary burdens off of us, is that we are promised a new name.

Listen to just a very tiny list of only a fraction of the names that belong to God:  Healer, Savior, I Am, Lord, God, Almighty, Truth, Light… Father.

The God of many, many names…. one of which is our Father, has a new name for us.  Each of us.  It’s not a title or a credential.  It’s not our profession and it doesn’t relate to our social status.  It’s a unique, handpicked name just for you.

May I encourage you to live for THAT name.  To let only God define who you are.  To proudly stand against all the sinners who throw that useless tag at you… because you know that Jesus wore that tag on the cross.  It’s been spent.  It’s over.  You are no longer that person.  That name, the old one, has been ripped off and burned in fire.  You will be called something new.  From the lips of your heavenly Father, you will be called it.  Just for you.  Set aside.  Set apart.  Special.  Fashioned with love.  Solely for you.

Just like the tried and true ‘kick-me’ sign, Satan has attached to us something that doesn’t belong.  We can ignore that temptation and brush it off knowing the full truth.  Or we can accept that lie and bend under the weight as the world accepts his faulty claims.  As always, its our choice.

Leading the Target

If you are a quarterback throwing a pass, you have to release the ball before the receiver is in place to catch it.  You will throw the ball to a place where the receiver is not yet.  He will be en route, but not quite there.  This is why there are so many incomplete passes in the sport.  If the receiver gets bumped too far off the line, or if he runs the route too wide, or if he gets off to a slow start, or if a boost of adrenaline sends him too far… Many factors come into play for just the receiver.  But the QB has his own issues.

The defense could blitz, a lineman could miss a block, His intended target could draw double or even triple coverage… Each player on the field, both offense and defense, add exponentially to the list of issues that could thwart any given play.  But we should also factor in non-human obstacles.  Wind, rain, crowd noise, bad umpires (definitely not human!!!).  When you really start to understand the complications behind all the different positions of this sport, you stop seeing incomplete passes as mistakes, and you start seeing completions as a thing of beauty. 

larry-fitzgerald-catching

Hitting a moving target is a very difficult task.  It’s what Quarterbacks work on every day.  If you are a hunter, you have to employ the same tactics.  It’s call leading the target.  If you aim and shoot at where the target is currently at, you will miss every time.  You have to think ahead.  It’s never about where is my goal now… it’s about where it will be when my object arrives. 

So many things in life work this way.  In order to drive without incident you have to learn to break before you need to turn or stop.  You don’t break at the light… you start slowing down well before.  It’s about visualizing and understanding what comes next as a consequence of your actions (or even inaction). 

Life is hard.  In football there are only 22 people on the field.  In life, we have no control over all of the people that can impact our days.  And exponentially the stress adds up.  Family expectations, friendship struggles, relationship pitfalls, job training, bills, taxes, scheduling conflicts, personality conflicts, co-workers, deadlines, illness, transportation breaks down, financial issues, credit card gets stolen, computer gets hacked, dog runs off, clothes don’t fit… And we really haven’t scratched the surface, have we?

With so many moving pieces and so much going on, we really do need to stop looking at our mistakes as such tragedies.  Instead, we need to learn to see and appreciate our successes.  They are miracles amidst an evil world at work to tear us apart.  Forgive yourself.  Dust off.  Let a teammate help you up.  And run the next play.  Each team in a football game averages between 60 and 70 plays per game.  That leaves a lot of room for mistakes, and yet still win the game.

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Thanks to the love of Jesus, we have an opportunity every day to start over.  But its more often then that.  We don’t have to wait until tomorrow.  A new day is a beautiful analogy, but its really about the moment.  The time, the precise second that you realize that you weren’t built to tackle life alone and expected to perform with perfection 100% of the time.  Even elite baseball players walk back to the dugout over 60% of the time.

Companies are selling cloud based storage and they charge based on the time you use it.  They started off selling by the hour, but this wasn’t very appealing to consumers who may only use the service a few minutes at a time.  They were billed an entire hour every time they turned on the feature.  In the highly competitive market, companies took notice and reduced billing to per minute billing.  I would have thought this should satisfy everyone.  What takes less than a minute?

Apparently some things do, as those companies now offer per second billing.  And just today I saw someone advertise, “better than per-second billing”.  How do you get better?  It takes me longer than a second just to think of the word, “second”.  This is how time is with God.  There are no finish lines.  There is no cut off.  There is no retest.  You don’t have to wait until Sunday.  God isn’t more reasonable on Easter than any other day.  You don’t even have to wait until tomorrow.  Your next thought can be what reciprocates the relationship back to Jesus.

Forgive yourself.  Your mistakes aren’t as serious as you think.  And stop shooting at targets that don’t move.  Those are mediocre, low hanging fruit, that lead to bad places in life.  Setting goals so low that you can’t fail, effectively means you don’t ever want to win.  Winning requires risk, effort, and genuine failure.  Winning requires failure.  The kind where you gave all you had and still fell short.  That is how you win.  By giving it all, failing, and then trying again.  Bettering your aim, learning from your mistakes, and envisioning where your goal really needs to be.  Then throw into the future and nail it.

We were God’s goal.  Look at what He had to do to hit us.  He didn’t fail either, though I wonder if He thinks we gave Him a good run with all of our efforts that could have deterred Him.  With God, we will not fail.  Our mistakes are just that.  Mistakes that quickly diminish into the past and become steps to build on.  He is our guaranteed win.  All we have to decide is how many seconds do we want to lose before realizing our mistakes will not keep us from Him, nor will any part of our past.

 

 

 

 

 

The Devil’s Roll Call

I’m starting to see certain issues as red flags.  And this is an improvement for me as it gives me a chance to slow down and proceed with caution.  With any luck, I’ll avoid making the mistakes of my past.

Social media is one of those places.  I’ve noticed a trend.

Gun violence occurs over the weekend, Monday morning the blogs and comments roll out about gun control.

Terrorist attack over the weekend, Monday morning the blogs and Facebook posts roll out on immigration.

Wherever you stand on these issues, these aren’t the issues that Jesus was worried about.  They tried to corner Him politically by asking a tax question, and He replied with the famous, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what belongs to God”.  He had no interest in the quibbles of the day.  He was on an eternal soul mission, which to God, was much more important.

So, if you are the enemy, and you have already lost, what can you do to try and bring down as many people with you as possible?  My guess is to keep people off track.  Off mission.  Jesus said, “I have to be about my Father’s business”.  And so should we.  But if we can get sidetracked, especially over issues that divide, then we become easy pickings for the Devil.

It’s OK to give him the credit, he is incredibly smart (conniving).  In my mind social media has become the roll call of the Devil.  He wants to see how many people he has steered off track.  How many people he has taken away from the Father.  And so after every event, he watches.  What will they post about?

Will they post about God and His forgiveness?  Will they talk about love and salvation?  Will they build each other up and focus on the hope the world has?  Or will they go back to gun control, immigration, taxes, foreign policy, racial tensions, etc, etc, etc.  Hand up , hand up, slowly raised hand up.  It’s a temptation just like any other.

To fire up the log-in page, cracking knuckles and salivating at what argument you have prepared… that is falling into the trap.  It’s no different than passing by the adult book store, the drug dealer, or the bookie.  You have a choice to act on the feelings you get.  And you will act on them.  The question is, in what way will you act.  Will you pass by and pray and continue to work through whatever addiction you face.  Or will you give in and raise that hand for the devil?

Some of you may be thinking that I’m advocating we can’t ever discuss politics.  That is not my intention.  My point is that Christians should be known for Christ.  Not political stances.  If you have a political blog, that is the perfect place to post about politics.  But many of us are blurring that line between God and Caesar.  We use our religious platforms to share political spin.

I’m reminded of the Bible story of the man who wanted to go to Heaven.  He confronted Jesus and told of all he had done.  It was an impressive list of sacrifice, worship, and honoring God.  He asked what else can I do?  Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19) After hearing Jesus’ answer, the man became sad and walked away because he was rich. 

He wanted both.  He wanted to blur the line.  He wanted a foot in heaven and one in the world.  Jesus basically said, I need you all in.  I need all of you.  But the man wanted to keep his possessions.  For those trying to minister somehow in social media… God wants all of you.  We can’t leave one foot in political turmoil and then try and share the story of peace and hope while bickering amongst ourselves.

Jesus prayed for unity for us.  He knew the world would face fear and uncertainty and when they turned to look at those who called themselves “like Christ” He wanted them to see a united front pointing to the Savior.  How does that look when some of us are using the pulpit to sway votes, or counter unrelated arguments?  I find it equally offensive when someone from Hollywood uses the entertainment stage as when someone from the church uses the religious stage.  Outside messages don’t belong in either place.

I love talking politics with the correct minded individual.  (just like me?  no?  but able to calmly discuss views that might not be our own).  I can’t do that with strangers on the internet.  Tone can’t be inflected, facial features can’t be portrayed.  And no matter how many words I choose to try and drill down the point, someone will always miss it (most of the time its my fault).  So, like Jesus, I save politics for when its kosher to do so.  And the rest of my public life… I pray I’m always about the Father’s business.

What if, when the next disaster strikes, we see the red flag and avoid that topic altogether?  Instead, we pointed to the King who can get us through anything.  What if we helped people past their fears and gave them hope?  Many of us get these two issues backwards.  We worship in secret and the whole world knows our political stances.  There is a reason they put the curtain on the election booths.  I believe we should vote in secrecy, contact your representatives, write to law makers, donate as you see fit, etc.  But all of that can be done without a single person knowing.  Then let the whole world see Jesus.

 

When Life Stinks, Do it Anyway

I went with a minister to visit someone in the hospital.  This man’s wife was in bad shape.  We first met with the man.  Ready to take mental notes I witnessed this seasoned pastor ask some of the strangest questions.

“Have you eaten?” was one of the first.  I thought, OK, probably not the strongest start but maybe its a warmup.  We are gonna chase the enemy clean out of this hospital at any moment…you’ll see!

“Will you eat if I get you something right now?”.  Yeah!, take that spiritual warfare!!!!… wait… what?  The man refused.  OK, he’s not hungry, lets stop messing around now.  The preacher asked the man to sit.  He had been standing for hours.  “You have to eat, even if you don’t feel like it”.  The man started to fight back tears… “I can’t” he exclaimed.

Having been through this level of trauma on many occasions the preacher knew several key things that had never crossed my mind.  First, we have to eat.  Not because food tastes good or because its socially correct, but because we need fuel.  When we get wrecked, when our life is turned sideways or upside down… we don’t think about the most basic things.

If this man doesn’t rest his legs and put some food in his body, then he risks having health issues on top of what his wife is going through.  What if she needs him and he has passed out?  What if she wakes, or has a complication and the doctors need his permission and he is too delirious to give a coherent response?  It happens.

And so this minister cut right to the chase.  If you want to be helpful, you have to help yourself.  Lets start with the most basic.  Get yourself on a steady regiment of fuel.  And not just once, but all throughout the process.  He trained the man too.  And if anyone else shows up, make sure they eat.  Its not thoughtless, its not tacky, its doing what is best for your wife.  And that is something they could all agree on.

He asked other helpful questions… Are there pets at home?  Anything turned on that needs to be turned off?  Any children need rides?  Any major assignments or events due immediately?

The next thing I learned from this preacher, is that there is a time to preach and a time to not preach.  This man didn’t want to hear how great it was from a heavenly perspective that his wife was in pain.  He didn’t want to know the Biblical reasons that his life was shattering.  He didn’t need to hear a psalm or someone’s favorite verse.  He needed to think.  He needed physical help.  He needed tangible hands and feet.  Healing would come later.  Right now, he needed human, practical, love and intervention to help him accomplish the things a man in shock can’t take care of.

Cramming God into a void rarely brings about healthy fruit.  In most cases, it has the opposite effect.  Ecclesiastes was right… there is a time for all things.  The man who rests his legs and feeds his stomach is prepared to deal with the coming battles in life.  He can’t be caught off guard if he is prepared.

Eat, even when you think you can’t.  Rest, even when you don’t want to.  What if we carried that same lesson to our walk with Christ?  What if we read our Bibles and studied His word even when weary?  What if we prayed even when angry?  The same principle applies.  If you prepare your spirit, it will be ready when needed.  If you neglect it, for whatever reason, you will risk being dried up when the real attacks occur.

The enemy, who just happens to know how spiritually depleted we can get, will wait for just the right time to attack.  Wouldn’t it be great if we never allowed him that opportunity?  If we never left that window open for him to whisk in and take advantage of?  We can do that by staying fueled.  Steady doses of biblical and Spiritual energy and we can make the same suggestion to loved ones around us.

I think, in some ways, this is what scripture is talking about when it talks about being prepared.  So we aren’t taken advantage of by a thief in the night.  We are told to stay sober, alert, even in cooking we should not expect to have time for the bread to rise.  Preparation.  We can prepare for the coming of the end times, and we can also prepare for any of the enemy’s attacks.  We do so by putting on the full armor of God, and by constantly communing with Him.

What if the next time we didn’t feel like reading, we saw that as a threat from the enemy?  What if the next time we didn’t have words for God or thought it best not to pray, we remembered how desperate he is to separate us from the Father who protects us?  “I’ll catch up tomorrow…”  May very well mean disaster is on the way for tomorrow.

But in case I lost my point somewhere, I’ll sum up.  We need God more than we need food and rest.  If it makes sense to keep our bodies going even during times of weakness or sickness, how much more important is it to keep our souls in check?