Monday, May 29, 2017

The Reason for Hope...

Anthony de Mello in his book The Heart of the Enlightened, page 19 writes:
Once upon a time in a concentration camp there lived a prisoner who, even though he was under sentence of execution, was fearless and free. One day he was seen in the middle of the prison square playing his guitar. A large crowd gathered to listen, for under the spell of his music, they became as fearless as he. When the prison authorities saw this, they forbade the man to play.
But the next day there he was again, singing and playing on his guitar with a larger crowd around him. The guards angrily dragged him away and had his fingers chopped off.

Next day he was back again, singing and making what music he could with his bleeding fingers. This time the crowds were cheering. The guards dragged him away again and smashed his guitar.

The following day he was singing with all his heart. What a song! So pure and uplifting! The crowd joined in, and while the singing lasted, their hearts became as pure as his and their spirits were invincible. So angry were the guards this time that they had his tongue torn out. A hush descended on the camp, a something that was deathless.

To the astonishment of everyone, he was back in his place the next day swaying and dancing to a silent music that no one but he could hear. And soon everyone was holding hands and dancing around this bleeding, broken figure in the center while the guards stood rooted to the ground in wonder.

Two thousand years ago, thinking to silence hope, the devil looked at the Singer of life and love said, “Destroy this One, and we destroy any hope that humanity ever thought of having!” And he did his best. Satan used one of Jesus’ friends to betray Him. The mob took Him. They spit on Him; pulled out His beard, beat Him until He was almost dead. Then forced Him to carry his cross up a rugged hill, and there, they crucified Him.

“That should do it!” Satan beamed. And for a while, it looked like it would work. The disciple’s world caved in. They locked themselves into a room for fear of the Jews. It was as if a hush descended on the camp, a something that was deathless.

All seemed bleak. Hopeless. Dark. But then someone found the crack in the concrete. A small hole with a single blade of grass hope. “Hey, I wonder if it’s really true?” “What’s that?” “Well, you know, what He said about the third day.”

It seemed hopeless to all, but to the astonishment of everyone, on the third day, Jesus was back in His spot once again singing hope.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Be Amazed...Again...(For the very first time)

Exhibit B in our journey this week on learning to be amazed once again.

Your name is Jairus. You’ve come a long way to find Jesus. Your only daughter is dying. The doctors have all given up and you’ve taken her home to die. But somehow, you just can’t give up without trying everything. One of your servants has seen Jesus heal and suggests that if you could just find Jesus and have him come, your daughter might not die. You search frantically, from one town to the next. The reports are all the same. “You just missed Him. He was here about 2 days ago and healed most of the people in the town.”

Hope grows stronger, while on the other side of the emotional roller coaster, you become frantic as you realize that you are a few days behind him. You redouble your efforts, trying to reach Him and get Him home before it is too late. Finally, you come racing into a town and discover a large crowd of people gathered around. This must be Jesus. Pushing your way through the crowd, you come face to face with Him. “Master, you must come now!” The urgency is in your voice as you try to get Jesus to follow you back through the crowd. He motions for you to lead and begins to follow. You look back and realize that He has stopped and is asking who touched Him. You turn back to urge Him to hurry when one of your servants rides up to the edge of the crowd on horseback and motions for you.

You can tell by the look on his face that it’s too late. “Don’t trouble the Master any further,” he says, “She’s dead.” Grief wrenches your soul and you slump to the ground. The "if only’s" come. If only you had found Him quicker. If only He had been closer to your home. If only she had held on for a little while longer. If only there were no crowds to slow Him down.”

A hand on your shoulder jars you back to reality. “Don’t worry, just believe.” Jesus helps you to your feet and begins walking towards your town, He and his disciples helping you as you stumble along in a haze of grief. You sleep little that night, and the next day is a blur as you head home. As you come near your house, the mourner’s are there in full force. It really hits home. She’s dead. 

Jesus simply quiets them and says, “Don’t mourn. She’s sleeping.” Laughter meets His statement. How can Jesus mock your pain with such a statement. You enter to find your wife weeping and lying across the bed holding the lifeless form of your daughter. Jesus gently lifts her and you rush to hold her, to hold each other, as Jesus now looks at the little body on the bed.

Gently, yet with authority he says, “Little girl, I say to you arise!” Her eyes flutter open as you heart beats wildly. Your wife screams with joy and leaps toward the bed as your beloved daughter sits up. Suddenly the three of you are laughing, crying, talking, hugging, kissing, and marveling at what just happened. You look again…and He is gone.

Are you amazed yet? Can you just shrug it off with an "I've heard all this before!"? Or is there something, even now, that is begging you to be astounded and astonished at a God who cared so much for you and me that He came and gave us a peek at what God is like. Someone who calls the unloveable. Someone who forgives the hookers... Someone who wants to turn your grief into joy. Look again...for the very first time. And be amazed!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Look Again for the Very First Time

Are you ready for another round of look again...for the very first time? The game where we take a fresh look at some perspective of Jesus life that we may have heard so often that we fail to be amazed by it. Here we amazed...

Your name is Mary. You’re a hooker. A street-walker. A prostitute. Nobody at the church wants you hanging out in front of the entrance, and you assume that if the church people don’t want you, their God doesn’t want you either. You watch from your corner as the people leave the evening service, giving you cold glares as they walk by or drive off. Not a problem for you. You’re not wanting what they have to give anyway. You’re waiting for a certain someone to come out of the church. Here he comes now. One of the Pastoral staff. He shakes hands with the last of the parishioners and watches as they disappear around the corner. He locks the building and then looks your way. You’ve seen that look hundreds of times before. The look of a man hungry with lust. He looks around to make sure that no one is watching and then gives you the signal. You leave your corner and head for your previously arranged meeting place a few blocks away. By the time you get there, he is already inside and waiting. You are barely undressed when the door comes smashing in. It’s the rest of the pastoral team. Grabbing you, dragging you from the bed as you clutch at sheets and try to cover yourself, they half-lift, half-drag you out into the streets.

Your mind is swirling. This is it. This time you lose. Set up by the pastors. You know the rules. You mess around and get caught, you die. You’ve played the odds and this time you lose. You’ve been in and out of a hundred beds, and so you figure it must be your time to go.

Inwardly you cry for a God to save you. But why would He? His people know you’re scum. His word says that an unfaithful woman should be stoned. No. No use crying out to Him. Take the punishment with as much dignity as you can muster. Suddenly you are flung in front of the Teacher, your sheet being ripped away as you hit the dusty street. Curling up you try to cover yourself from all of the laughter and leering eyes as the pastors say, “Teacher, Moses and the law say that we should stone this woman. What do you say?”

You know what any holy man will be forced to say and you brace yourself for the rocks. Abruptly, you realize that all has grown quiet and then you hear the question. “Woman, where are your accusers?” Looking up slowly from your curled up position, you realize no one else is around. It is just you and Jesus. He is taking His outer cloak and covering you. You respond, “I don’t see anyone, Lord.” And then His response takes you totally by surprise, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin.” You look again. And you see for the very first time that He is smiling.

Go amazed!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Be Still--and Breathe!

It had been a week on an emotional roller coaster. First the people’s hopes were lifted, and then they were dashed. They were trying to follow God, but it didn’t look like they had always dreamed it would. The political machinery of the day looked as if it were going to swallow them once again and relegate them to the bowels of society. They had been there long enough. They knew what that was like and they didn’t want to go back!

And now the Lord had finally freed them. They had put blood on the doorposts—not the typical way of finding relief from oppression, but it had worked. The command came to leave and they instantly obeyed before Pharaoh changed his mind. He always did. It was just a matter of time. So they left Egypt both rejoicing and looking back to see if they were being followed.

And about the time they started relaxing, someone sees a dust cloud on the horizon behind them. Looking ahead at where the giant pillar of cloud was leading, all they could see was water. They were trapped, and they knew the outcome of dealing with Pharaoh’s army. Many of them would die. Most would be re-captured and re-bound into the very slavery they had just escaped. Let’s pick up the story in Exodus chapter 14. Beginning with verse 10.

Ex 14:10-14 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the LORD. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” 13 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Some things never change, do they? At the first sign or even sometimes, at the first hint of trouble, we grow terrified. And we start complaining and even believing that the very things we are being rescued from would now be preferable to what we are now facing. Look at vs. 11, 12 again.

Ex 14:11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”

Why do we do that? Why do we, at the first sign of anything remotely threatening to our security and well-being, start complaining and crying out in fear? To be sure, because we are human. But might it also be that we haven’t developed the ability to be still and trust that God is still in control? Could it be that we feel like we have to rescue ourselves and we don’t see how it’s going to work out? Look, once again at Moses’ command in vs. 13 and 14.

Ex 14:13-14 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

And you probably remember the story, don't you. God provided a path through the sea and when Pharaoh and his armies tried to follow them, the walls of water came crashing down on them. The Lord had done their fighting for them. They only had to stand firm and watch the Lord's deliverance.

Either we never knew, or we have already forgotten that the Lord will fight for us, we only need to be still. That’s harder than it sounds. Be still. Ok…and do what? Ponder the problem? Seek solutions? Wring your hands in anxiety? No. Psalm 46:10 says:

Psa. 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

That’s what Moses was trying to get the Israelites to see in the middle of their crisis. They didn’t have much choice, did they? The sea on one side, the army on the other…they had to be still…physically. But not all who are still physically are calm emotionally and spiritually. Have you noticed that? But they have no where else to go. So they wait on the Lord to do something. And He does.

What solved their problem? Did they solve their problem? Did they form a giant think-tank to discuss, deliberate and vote? No. How was their problem solved? They waited on God. They had to be still. Was that all? No. They also had to obey God and walk the direction He led. If they hadn’t done the walking, they would have stayed on the other side of the sea. They had to be still. Then they had to obey. Inhale, exhale. Be still, inhale, obey, exhale. We have to learn to breathe spiritually.

We talk a lot about our need for prayer, about how good prayer is, about how necessary it is to our spiritual walk, yet we seldom seem to take the time to pray. It has been said that prayer is the breath of the soul. If this is so, then perhaps the reason we so often feel anxious or overwhelmed in life is because we are not breathing!

In order to do away with the anxiety and panic in our lives, we must allow our souls to breathe deeply. And one of the primary reasons we are not breathing deeply enough is because we are not still long enough to do so. “Be still”, God says. Being still is the first requisite to breathing well.

When difficulties come; breathe. When it feels like life is going to run you over; breathe. When you feel uncertain or scared or anxious; breathe.

Ellen White, in her book Desire of Ages, page 667, says, “The path of sincerity and integrity is not a path free from obstruction, but in every difficulty we are to see a call to prayer. There is no one living who has any power that he has not received from God, and the source whence it comes is open to the weakest human being. {DA 667.4}

In every difficulty we are to see a call to prayer. A call to breathe. A call to Be still. Why? So we can
gain perspective. So we can live life without having to panic. So we can know that He is God. Being still allows God the chance to work in our lives before we go out and do something stupid in our typical reactionary mode. Being still allows us to realize Who is fighting for us. Being still will allow us to remain at peace. Isaiah tells us that.

Is. 26:3 You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.

Phil 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Do you want peace in the midst of life’s storms? Learn to breathe. Be still. Seek God. Keep your mind fixed on Him. Allow Him to bring you peace.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Conspiracy of Grace

Mike Yaconelli, in his book Messy Spirituality relates the following story that I think illustrates what God is doing in what Yaconelli calls “a conspiracy of grace.”

Little league baseball can be a brutal sport, especially for nine-and ten-year-olds who compete in national tournaments. It was the area Little League championship game. The stands were packed with families of each of the players. One young man brought his mother and father, both grandparents, and three uncles and aunts to watch him play.

The bottom of the seventh-inning was a nail-biter. The other team was ahead by one run, the bases were loaded, two outs, and the little boy with the large family was up to bat. If he made an out, the game would be over and his team would lose. If he walked or hit the ball, he would be the hero of the game. He swung at the first pitch and missed.

“Strike one!” the umpire yelled.

The families from the other team cheered, but his family cheered even louder. “It’s okay, Carl. No problem. You almost hit the ball! Now clobber the next pitch!”

“Strike two!” the umpire yelled after the next pitch.

Pandemonium broke out. Both teams and their families were yelling back and forth at each other. Carl’s family and team was encouraging him; the players and families of the other team were taunting. It was so loud no one could even hear themselves think.

Wrinkles appeared on the nine-year-old’s forehead as he waited for the next pitch. As the ball left the pitcher’s hand, it became very quiet. The ball sped towards Carl. It seemed like it took forever to cross the plate, but cross the plate it did, and Carl swung with all his might.

“Strike Three—You’re OUT!”

Not only was Carl out, the game was over. And he was the cause of the loss.

The winning team went crazy, their families swarmed onto the field, and everyone was dancing, laughing, cheering and celebrating. Except Carl’s team. As Carl’s team walked off the field, dejected, they mingled with their families and headed back to their cars in silence.

Except for Carl. Carl was still standing at home plate, devastated, alone, his head down in disgrace.

Suddenly someone yelled, “Ok, Carl, play ball!” Startled, Carl looked up to see his family spread out over the field. Grandpa was pitching, Dad was catching, mom was at first base, Uncle David at second, and the rest of the family had covered the other positions.

“Come on Carl, pick up the bat. Grandpa’s pitching.”
Bewildered, Carl slowly picked up the bat and swung at Grandpa’s first pitch. He missed, and he missed the next six pitches as well. But on the seventh pitch, determined to get a hit, Carl smacked the ball to left field. His aunt ran, picked up the ball in plenty of time, but the first baseman, Mom, must have lost the ball in the sun, because it went right through her hands into the dugout. “Run!” everyone yelled.

As Carl was running to second, the first baseman recovered the ball and threw it. Amazingly, Uncle David was blinded by the sun as well. “Keep running!” yelled someone, and Carl headed for third, where the throw went at least two feet over the head of the third baseman. “Keep running, Carl!” and Carl raced for home, running as hard as he had ever run. The ball was thrown with deadly accuracy as the catcher, Dad, blocking home plate, waited to tag him out, but just as Carl reached home plate, the ball bounced in and out of the catcher’s mitt, and Carl was safe!

Before he knew what happened, Carl found himself being carried around on Uncle Dave’s shoulders while the rest of the family crowded around cheering Carl’s name.
One person who was watching this amazing event commented to a friend, “I watched a little boy fall victim to a conspiracy of grace!”

Carl, the loser—the one who struck out, failed his team, disappointed his family—went from loser to hero. Carl, who would have been left with that awful memory of failure, was instead given a memory of grace, love and acceptance. He heard God’s Love song.

Just like a certain woman at the well. Just like the disciples, or the lame or the blind or those with leprosy. And God continues to sing that same song to you and I today.

Through people who show us a conspiracy of grace. Through family members who hold us in our darkest hours. Through scripture and sunsets. Through prayers and petitions on our behalf. God continues to sing His love song to you and to me. “It’s alright. I’m here…and I love you more than you will ever know. I’ve forgiven you already through the blood of my sacrifice, so whatever it is, confess it and let’s move on. I want to make you whole and happy and free. I want you truly know Love at its’ deepest level. I want you to know Me.”

All that’s left to do now, is respond.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Allowing God's Love Song to Dissolve Your Past

Haunted by your past?  Can't seem to shake it?  You aren't alone, you know.  It's  happened before.

Go to the well of Samaria in John 4 and see the search of a woman trying to escape her past and hear the Song of God's Love in response to her life. Religion has told the Samaritan woman about the possibility of a Messiah, and then she meets the real Messiah, who immediately recognizes her thirst and offers her the living water of His grace.

What this woman expects from the Messiah is a lengthy critique of her life, or an enlightening lecture on what she should do or a justifiable reminder of the consequences of her destructive choices on others. What she receives instead is compassion, gentleness, kindness and a way out of the ruins of her life. She hears God’s love song for her. Jesus goes straight for her longings, finds them and, in the process finds her. And in so doing, His love song liberates her from her past.

After her conversation with Jesus, the woman at the well is just beginning a whole new way of living, but none of the facts of her life have changed! She is still living with a man who is not her husband. She still has been divorced 5 times. Her reputation is still a disaster. Jesus often told people not to tell anyone what He had done for them, but not this woman.

Her faith is only a few minutes old and already she becomes an evangelist with a huge impact on her community. What does she say? Not much. “Uh….come see a man who told me everything I’ve ever done.” Everyone in town knows what this woman has done. Big deal. What she says is not the point. The fact that she can talk about her shameful past publicly is what grabs their attention.

Her words are few and seemingly insignificant, but her saying them is very significant. In effect she says, “I know you know who I am, but I just met a person who liberated me from my past, my reputation, and I am no longer the person you think I am. I am no longer hostage to my bad choices. I am free!”

Still, nothing has changed. But everything has changed. Her neighbors can hear it in her voice and see it in her eyes. Her words are all they need to race to the man she describes. For reasons they don’t understand, who this woman is now seems more relevant than who she was then.

The implications for us are almost overwhelming. Those of us who want to move on from our past, those who have come to the end of the road, can start with our unchanged life, now. We don’t have to wait until we are “mature.” We don’t have to move to a new town or convince others we are serious; we simply start. We begin. We hear God’s Love Song and respond. We take the first bumbling, stumbling, teetering steps toward the spiritual life, even if we are not very good at it.

What a gift of God.  To leave the past in the past.  And as we continue to tune into the Song of Love and allow it to permeate our guilt-ridden hearts, our very lives begin to change and a daily new beginning will allow that past to melt into the story of our lives, where it has meaning and significance but no power to harm us anymore.  It simply is the setting to show off still another example of God's Amazing Grace.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Deck Chairs of Life...

One of my favorite Peanuts cartoons starts with Lucy sitting in her five-cent psychology booth, where Charlie Brown has stopped for advice about life.

“Life is like a deck chair, Charlie Brown,” she says. “On the cruise ship of life, some people place their deck chair at the rear of the ship so they can see where they have been. Others place their deck chair at the front of the ship so they can see where they are going.” The good “doctor” looks at her puzzled client and asks, “Which way is your deck chair facing, Charlie Brown?”

Without hesitating, Charlie replies glumly, “I can’t even get my deck chair unfolded.”

Mike Yaconelli, in his book Messy Spirituality asked, "Ever felt like that? I know the feeling—especially in the spiritual walk. Everywhere I look on the cruise ship of Christianity, I see a crew of instructors, teachers, experts and gurus eager to explain God’s placement of my deck chair, but I still can’t seem to get it unfolded. No wonder when I check out the titles in a Christian bookstore, I feel like I am the only klutz in the Kingdom of God, a spiritual fool lost in a ship full of brilliant biblical thinkers, an ungodly midget in a world of spiritual giants. When I compare my life with the experts in the church, I feel sloppy and messed up in a world of immaculately dressed saints…and I’m a minister!"

Can you relate? What happens when you feel like you can’t even get your deck chair open? You long for a deeper relationship with God, you seek it, but your spiritual growth chart looks more like a kindergartners scribbles than an upward line towards God.

Or perhaps there was a time when you were going pretty good in your spiritual walk, but something huge happened and it sent you reeling. A death in the family. A divorce. An unplanned pregnancy outside of marriage. An abortion. One moment you were happily walking down the beach enjoying the view, and the next you are rolling over and over in the surf trying to get your feet back under you, a hapless victim of one of Satan’s sneaker waves that suddenly lashed out and knocked you over and then began pulling you out to sea. And you go from worrying about getting your deck chair unfolded to just wishing there were a life raft somewhere. Forget about which way you face the chair.

Do any of you know what I’m talking about here? There are times in our spiritual walk where things don’t seem so spiritual. There are times when our own messy spirituality seems to get in the way of our walk with God, causing us to question whether or not we really even know Him.

Times when you call out, but God seems so silent or distant. Times when you can’t hear the music of your soul, anymore. Times when you wish you could do better in your spiritual walk, yet lured away and enticed by your own evil desires, you end up messing up again and again, and the persistent call of the devil to just give up and be swept out to drown in a sea of despair washes over you and everything within you wants to stop trying to reach the shore and simply go with the pull of the world. It all feels so useless and pointless…and yet, in the midst of all of the pounding surf rolling us over and over, listen carefully, and you will hear a song that breathes hope. It is not a loud, raucous song. Rather it is a simple, yet persistent song of love that is meant to bring the hearer courage and hope.

It is when you feel the most hopeless, and at your weakest that God sings His song of Love to you. Actually, God is always singing His love to you, but it seems we have to be down and out before we really hear it.

But know this…No matter what you are facing, in whatever situation you find yourself, God’s Love Song will reach your need. He sings it in many situations. He does it in all sorts of ways, but the message is always the same. God loves you and wants the best for you, no matter what you’ve done or where you find yourself.  Will you let yourself believe that and rest in it today?