Mar 272016
 

good newsAnother sleepless night. My excuse? The neighbor’s very small dog with a very piercing bark. Incessant, all night long. Good news? Not so much. The disciples excuse? Their Savior crucified and buried. Their futures questionable. My solution? I’m up writing. Their solution? Mary, the one who had been forgiven much,  went back to the tomb. Why, I don’t know. Maybe searching for connection with the One Who knew and loved her best?

Finding Jesus missing, a series of sprints take place with Mary telling the disciples, John and Peter coming to look. Would no news have been good news? Did they think that the Jewish leaders or the Romans had done away with the body to discredit them?

Mary, grief-stricken, asks the gardener where the body has been taken so that she can retrieve it. Only when she hears Jesus say her name, does she realize that she is speaking to her Savior. Talk about Good News! She races back to the disciples, again, this time with a different story.

I was reading this account in John 20 with my kids class at church. We talked about good news. One student said, “That’s not good news! That’s freaky, good news!

While the sun is threatening to spill over the eastern edge of my valley, am I just calmly thinking of Jesus’ resurrection as good news, okay news, traditional news, old news, news I’ve head before that I’ve built resistance to?

Or, am I amazed and awestruck yet again that the Jesus story is real. That with His resurrection, He made good on His promises. That the God/man who dove headfirst into this hell of sin to save us proved that love conquers all, proved that His equality statement, God = Love, is true, proved that He had and has power over death. That our truly superhero, Captain Universe, is not only alive, but is working for us right now! He stands before the Father, and the rest of the universe and says,”My life and death walk proves my right to move my redeemed ones to SAVED status not because of what they’ve done, but because my name, and my blood, covers them.

Now that’s not good news..

That’s Freaky Good News!!

Nov 082015
 

unconditional surrenderUnconditional. Absolute. Complete. Also maybe harsh, inflexible, intolerant. Unconditional surrender. What was required of the Axis powers by the Allies at the end of World War II. What was NOT required of General Lee at the close of the Civil war. Confederate soldiers were permitted to keep their sidearms and their personal horses, one small right act before federal policies and practices continued the devastation of an already crushed South.

Unconditional. A word that refuses forgiveness and opposes redemption.  We even have idiomatic expressions for this [and no, I don’t use that “i’ word very much]. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. A more obscure one- Don’t throw out the champagne with the cork. The idea of going to extremes, such extremes that we discard good along with the bad. We do this all the time. We evaluate an action or decision by a person and write them off completely for that one thing. Unconditional.

Have you ever noticed that the truth about God is often opposite, inverse, antonymic (is that a word?) of and to the truth about us and the sin in our world? God takes that same word, unconditional, and applies it to the way He loves us. Yes, absolute, complete, yes inflexible. And maybe this is why we just don’t get it. When we think unconditional, all we can think of is negative. We can’t seem to let love be in the same sentence with that word!

And yet God continues to force those two words together. Unconditional. Love. In a way that boggles and confounds us.

I am a thorn in Your crown
But You love me anyway
I am the sweat from Your brow
But You love me anyway
It’s like nothing in life that I’ve ever known
Yes, You love me anyway
Oh, Lord, how You love me.
-Sidewalk Prophets

We pull away from God because we… just…. can’t… believe that anyone could love us with no strings, no conditions, no if’s.

I paid a huge price for you:
all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in!
That’s how much you mean to me!
That’s how much I love you!
I’d sell off the whole world to get you back,
trade the creation just for you.  -Isaiah 43:4 The Message

There it is. The message is clear. He would give…anything…everything… to get you back. That is the measure of His love for you. When that doesn’t make sense to me, it is when I am measuring love from my view, through my eyes. I try to limit God to what I can do, how I can love. This takes me down a path of rejection and denial. No! Not Him rejecting me, but me rejecting a love that makes no sense to my narrow, limited, conditional mind.

I enjoyed the sound of the rain in the predawn darkness this morning. That gentle, uniform, unconditional sharing of life-giving water that blessed our entire valley. I am reminded yet again that God loves me with a love that won’t stop, a love with no strings.

Unconditional.

Sep 112015
 

9 11 facebook timeline cover banner for fb in memory of twin towers sept 11 2001 facebook cover photo

Fourteen years ago. Do you remember where you were? I was standing a few feet from a portable radio in the laboratory just outside of the Emergency Room at Tennessee Christian Medical Center. While the hospital is no longer as it was, I have strong memories of that morning. I remember calling for hospital staff to meet in the chapel. I remember bowing at the front of the darkened room, begging God for a message to encourage and strengthen. I remember, minutes later, speaking to a full chapel, the huge display bible open in my hands, sharing the message of Moses at the Red Sea. When trapped between the sea and Pharaoh’s army, he spoke:

Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. Exodus 14:13 NIV

Just like I knew then that the message I spoke was not from any thought of my own, I know now that my God does not want His people to fear. The terrorists on that day hoped to instill a spirit of fear in America. They were physical instruments of the evil one, just as he continues to plague us with a spirit of fear in our hearts now.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. 1 Timothy 1:7 NKJV

A spirit of fear darkens the spirit of the young father who just lost his job. A spirit of fear of failure weakens the intellect of the brilliant high school student, her ability masked by it. A spirit of fear clouds the mind of the elderly woman feeling the end is near, not sure of her future.

I know that  the future of this great country does not lay with its people cowering from an evil power. I don’t know about you, but I know that my God has no interest in me living my life in a spirit of fear, frightened of what my life on earth will bring and uncertain of my salvation.

I believe in America. Even though we make shockingly poor decisions, about our government and as a society. I know that as long as we refuse to accept the spirit of fear and move forward, working hard and doing right by those around us, we can prevail.

I believe in my salvation through Jesus Christ. Even though I often neglect Him, even though I make shockingly poor decisions and disappoint Him often, I know that He wants to remove my spirit of fear and replace it with power to do right, love to care for those in my reach, and a sound mind to think and act in ways that please Him.

Jun 212015
 

Father's DayDavid, accomplished poet,brave warrior, brilliant military leader, was a failure! Yeah, you heard me! Father’s day and I’m starting a rant? We’ll, let’s take stock.

Michal, Ahinoam, Abigail, Maakah, Haggith, Abital, Eglah, Bathsheba. That’s a list of David’s named wives! There were many more that are not named in the Bible. Let’s remind ourselves of God’s plan for families.

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Genesis 2:24 NIV.

This oft-quoted text is a hanging sentence! It starts with “That is why”. In other versions, “For this reason”. What reason? What why? As usual, context is everything. Let’s try this text again.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found.  So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Genesis 2:20-24 NIV.

Ah yes. God made two from one, and His plan was for two to become one again. This is where it all starts, guys. Let’s see what happens with David, distracted and unfaithful husband, weak and permissive father.

Bathsheba, wife of a decorated officer. David had an affair with her, covered it up and murdered her husband. Her first son died in infancy,her second son was Solomon.
Amnon, David’s firstborn, from his second wife Ahinoam, raped his half sister Tamar, sister of Absalom who was the third son and son of Maakah, a foreigner. Absalom had Amnon murdured to avenge his sister. Absalom staged a military coup and was murdered by Joab, David’s general.

Adonijah, the fourth son, born by David’s fourth wife, staged a political takeover.

Here’s what the Bible says about Adonijah.

His father had never rebuked him by asking, “Why do you behave as you do?” He was also very handsome and was born next after Absalom. 1 Kings 1:6 NIV.

Solomon, second son of Bathsheba and seventh named son of David was put on the throne by a bedridden David to compete with Adonijah. Solomon had Adonijah executed, had hundreds of wives,  and supported idol worship including child sacrifice.

What a mess! I wonder what David’s Father’s Day was like? The Bible has a lot to say about the role of fathers and their effect on families and society.

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? Heb. 12.7 NIV.

The righteous who walks in his integrity- blessed are his children after him! Prov. 20.7 NIV.

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. Psalm 103:13 NIV.

In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge. Proverbs 14:26 NIV.

A Science Daily article states- “A father’s love contributes as much — and sometimes more — to a child’s development as does a mother’s love. That is one of many findings in a new large-scale analysis of research about the power of parental rejection and acceptance in shaping our personalities as children and into adulthood.”

I challenge wives and mothers- Celebrate the wins in your husband’s life at work or home, big or small. Find ways to encourage even the smallest right direction or good course correction we make.

I’m a sucker for my wife or daughters [and some others] when they say, “I need a strong, tall man to…”  Ladies, use that power for good...

Fathers, I challenge you, and me this Father’s Day –  Accept the powerful and eternal effect you have on your children, young or grown.

Let your children see your faith.
Let your children see your struggle.
Let your children see you treat women with honor, respect, and care.
Let your children see you love your wife as Christ loved the church and gave His life for it.
Let your children experience discipline in its truest sense- disciplemaking- helping them to follow the course you set.
Let your children see you model strength, grace, acceptance, and fierce, unstoppable love.

Whether you have children or not, whether your family is split, recombined, or nonexistant, God has a father role for you somewhere in your circle of influence.

This Father’s Day, men, don’t just enjoy whatever gifts and attention you receive, take some time in thought and prayer to consider your influence on the children all around you, in your family or not. You are the single most powerful human factor in their lives and for their salvation. Step Up!

-excerpted from sermon given June 12,2015.

Oct 242011
 

I recently enjoyed sitting with a group of teens around a roaring campfire. We ate, we laughed, we talked, we laughed! We sang praise songs together and we worshipped together. I asked them a question. “How could you best show love someone you meet on the street, someone you don’t know?” Several  felt that hugging the person would be the best way to express love. Another thought that listening to them would be a good way to show love. Great answers, I thought.

God, the Father asked Himself the same question. How do I show love for people who don’t know Me? Worse than that, how do I show love for people who hate Me? How do I communicate the simple equality, that Me = Love, to them? How do I share with them a picture of what unselfish love really looks like?

In my Bible, I read many stories of God showing grace, mercy, love to a rebellious people who kept running away from Him. Over and over, He welcomed them back. Did more than that! He ran after them!

A couple of weeks ago, I viewed The Passion of The Christ, the 2004 film directed by Mel Gibson.  In a very  graphic and violent way, the film let me experience the last twelve hours of Jesus’ life. It was the best of films. It was the worst of films. It forced me to experience Jesus in a way  that I had never done before. Although the spoken language is either Latin, Aramaic, or Hebrew, even without the supplied subtitles, the message comes through loud and clear.

What message is that? Our Father God sent His Son, His only Son, to live, and then to die in the most vicious, violent and degrading way known to man. And this death was at the hands of the very ones for whom the message was intended!

This movie is not for the faint of heart. If you don’t want to be affected to your very core, don’t watch it.  Yet, I urge you to watch it and let the message wash over you, pierce you, trouble you, sadden you, anger you, amaze you.  And change you.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were  still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5 NIV.

Father, I am amazed at Your message of violent grace and love. How could you give that way? How could you love that way? Help me to love that way. Help me to look more like Your Son.

Jun 252011
 

How do you convince someone that you mean what you say? Repeat it? Say, “I mean it!” I learned a new literary term recently. Adynaton- an expression that refers to an impossibility. Here’s an example: When pigs fly! or Not in a month of Sundays! You can probably think of several others. We use them to help us express how unlikely it is that something will happen.

One student says to another, “I’m going to make an A on the next Algebra test!” “When pigs fly, his realistic friend replys”

A father says to his daughter,” I’ll love you always!” She replies,”Really dad, how long?” “Until he** freezes over,” he responds.

When I read the Bible, I see God using so many methods to convince us of His love. Through stories, in David’s Psalms, in the gift of His Son. He has left no stone unturned in His attempt.

Did you know that God even uses adynatons? Yes He does! Jeremiah was a prophet during a very bad time. Israel had fallen away from God and into captivity. Their country was in shambles. Try this adynaton on for size! This one’s a direct quote, something in God’s own words.

This is what the LORD says,

he who appoints the sun
to shine by day,
who decrees the moon and stars
to shine by night,
who stirs up the sea
so that its waves roar—
the LORD Almighty is his name:
“Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,”
declares the LORD,
“will the descendants of Israel ever cease
to be a nation before me.” Jeremiah 31 NIV

Will ocean waves fail? Will the moon and stars cease their shining? Will the sun turn dark? I don’t think any time soon, especially since God is in charge of each of them.

Well, our place in God’s eyes, and our place in His heart, is as constant as the world that He created!

If that’s not enough, God shared another one for Jeremiah to share with us-

This is what the LORD says:

“Only if the heavens above can be measured
and the foundations of the earth below be searched out
will I reject all the descendants of Israel
because of all they have done,”
declares the LORD. Jeremiah 31

I love that! Can I take a yardstick to the heavens, to a limitless universe? Can I know everything about the earth we live on, even down to its core? I don’t think so. In that case, God will never, NEVER, reject me, even considering all they mistakes I have made!

As unsettled as our world has become, as unpredictable as the tornadoes and weather disasters are, all of us search for constants in our lives, things we can count on, things that never change no matter what happens.

There is one constant, one thing only, that will never change. That one thing is our Heavenly Father’s love. It is not dependent on our behavior, on circumstance, on whim, on hormones, on politics. Count on it.

Apr 122011
 

“Weren’t you with the guy who’s on trial?” the girl questioned. Peter winced as he heard the words. He had tried his best to melt into the crowd, not wanting to be noticed, but unable to tear himself away from the courtroom drama unfolding as the night wore on.  “I have no idea what you’re talking about!” he answered defensively, fear making his voice just a little louder than he had intended.

Peter eased himself away from the group, attempting to be casual. Hoping to regain anonymity, he joined a circle of  court staff warming themselves by an open fire.  The firelight cast harsh highlights and shadows on his face as he turned around, trying to let the warmth from the flames soak in from all sides. Slowly, he became aware that someone was staring at him across the fire.

“Yeah, this guy definitely was with him. I recognize him!” Peter slowly turned, seeing the pointing finger directed at him. “&$#%@!, you’re crazy. I don’t know him from Adam!” Peter retorted, letting a little anger turn his voice harsh. Peter finally made an admission to himself. He was afraid. He was really afraid! Ever since the garden, seeing Jesus captured violently, he had been afraid. His one attempt to defend Jesus failed when he missed the attacker’s head and lopped off his ear instead. And then, to have Jesus miraculously re-attach the ear and tell him to put up his sword-  He was the Christ, wasn’t he? But he was going down! Peter lost all the will to resist and started thinking about survival. He had no desire to be captured and tried as a troublemaker like Jesus!

 He felt someone jab him in the shoulder. Turning, he saw a relative of the man he had attacked in the garden. “Deny it all you want, but you are definitely with that guy! Besides, your accent says you aren’t from around here!”

Peter stared dumbstruck as his heart pounded several heavy beats. This was it. He could almost feel the rope being tightened around his wrists, hear the tearing sound of his coat being ripped from his shoulders, feel the bite of the chunks of metal woven into the whiplash as it ripped into the muscle of his back. No, no, no! Not him, not here. Not tonight!

He inhaled through his nostrils. Opening his mouth, the most vile curses poured out. Everything he had heard from the rough fishermen on the docks in Galilee. He lost all reverence for God’s name, saying things that no Jew would ever utter, thoroughly denying that he had ever known Jesus.

And then he heard the sound, the unexpected, yet normal sound piercing the early morning air. The sound of a rooster crowing. Once, then silence, then once again.

Horrified, Peter instinctively looked behind him toward the courthouse hoping against hope that…. But there he stood.  Jesus, beaten, bruised and bloody. Jesus, the one who had heard him promise loyalty to the death just a few hours ago.  Jesus, the one who had predicted his failure.

Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!  John 13:38 NIV.

Peter could feel the guilt weighing heavily on his shoulders. He stood rooted to the ground, unable to move. Tears began to make their way down his face. He felt their saltiness on his lips. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from Jesus. What would he say? What would he do? Had Jesus heard his every word?

No words came from Jesus’ lips. No harsh expression showed on his face.  Peter stared. Sorrow filled Jesus’ eyes. Recognition that Peter had failed him just as He said he would. But there was something else in those eyes. Something that made Peter feel even more guilty. Something that could only come from God.

The tears were free-flowing now.  His body racked with sobs, Peter finally turned from Jesus and staggered toward the courtyard gate, trying to get away from those eyes.

Father, let me stand for You today. Let me be willing to be counted for You today. Let me joyfully be recognised as Yours today. And if I fall- no, and when I fall, look at me like Your Son looked at Peter. Amen.

Part 1 of a 3 part series followed by 153 Miracle Fish and Triple Commit After Breakfast.

Jan 152011
 

The world is full of striving people. People working to be worthy. Worthy of advancement in the workplace. Worthy of love by parents or spouse. Worthy of love be the God of the universe. Worthy of heaven. How much peace would flood our lives if we believed the truth, the truth that our Heavenly Father loves us just the way we are, that there is nothing we can do to make Him love us any more or any less than He does right now!

I believe that truth with all my heart! I also know that when most of us speak of that kind of love, we follow it with a “but”, a qualification of some kind. There is no “but”. There is an “and”, however.  Our Father loves us unconditionally, not based on our actions AND He knows that our lives will be filled with so much more joy when we learn to love like Him. Listen to the words of the song, You Lift Me Up, by Rachel Lampa: 

Climbing on a cloud
Dancing on a day dream
I don’t have a doubt
Just how good this life can be
You lift me upRunning in the rain
Singing in the sunshine
Telling all the world
Why I’m so in love with life
You lift me up
You lift me up
And I’m touching the blue sky
You lift me up
I’m on top of the world
I’m getting closer to heaven
In every little thing I love
You lift me up

Father,  You lift me up! Whenever I let you power me to love like You, I look more like You! Prompt me to let You do that more and more. Not to earn anything from You, but just for the sheer joy of pleasing You and reflecting You!

Nov 182010
 

Do you ever get into the middle of your day and realize that you have had unkind words with more than one person? How about a grouchy comeback to your spouse? An impatient response to a plea from your daughter? Where do those things come from? They just seem to slip out of my mouth without conscious thought, like some kind of automated response. It’s like drinking fountain with the handle stuck on- spewing forth and out of control. I’ve counseled employee colleagues about this. I’ve counseled myself about this while on my long commute home. I hate it, but it seems so natural. Yuck! Blech! (Yes, that’s spelled b-l-e-<phlegm>)

Rachel Lampa figured it out in one of my favorite songs entitled, My Father’s Heart:

Let everything that breathes
Praise You
The earth, the sky, the sea
Praise You
Just as nature shows to us
Your blessing
Soon I find my heart
Confessing

My love is not my own
It all belongs to You
And after all You’ve done the least that I
Can do
Is live my life
In every part
Only to please my Father’s heart

Did you catch it? The secret is right in the middle. We can’t control all our nasties. Can’t help it. Nothing we can do about it. Until-Until we admit that what controls our interactions with others is love, a love that comes from only one Source, my Father’s heart. My only hope is to get as close to Him as I can, letting His love spill all over me and flow out to others. So, do you have those moments when you realize that your words and actions are totally out of control? Or am I the only one?

Father, I can’t treat others the way You want me to unless You fill me. I can’t speak words of kindness and caring unless You give them to me. If I do it right today, it’s only because my love is not my own, it all belongs to You!

Listen to the entire song if you wish-

Nov 032010
 

Redeem.  What comes to mind when you hear that word? I asked my family abut that this last weekend. My dad reminded us of something that only the more seasoned of you might recall: Green Stamps! Wayhahayyy back when, in the time before cellular, even before faxes and pushbutton phones, certain stores would give out these stamps along with your purchase. They would get carefully saved by licking and sticking them in a book. When the book [or books] were full, they could be redeemed either through the mail or at a redemption center for cool stuff like a portable AM radio or a set of curlers. Wow!

Dictionary definitions for the word redeem include to buy, to buy back, to make up for.

Let’s try a different word. Ransom. What images come to mind? Our family could only think of negative and scary ones. Images involving kidnapping and slavery.  Images of losing precious loved ones.Ransom. In the 1990’s Mel Gibson movie by that title, he is a father driven to go to any length to get his kidnapped son back.  Ransom. Dictionary says the redemption of a prisoner, slave, or kidnapped person. It’s a noun. It’s a verb. Ransom. Redeem.

What I make is mine. What I create, I own. God created us. He lovingly designed us, breathed His life into us so that we could freely return His love. But, we freely chose to move away from Him, choosing a life of selfishness and following a sinister imposter who enslaved us.

 In his love and mercy he redeemed them;

When someone is kidnapped, stolen from the ones who loved them, a price, the ransom, is extorted from them. They are asked to pay for something that they originally owned! In the Old Testament, law allowed for a family member to redeem, or buy back, property that had been lost through debt in order to keep it in the family.

It wasn’t enough for God that we belonged to Him in the first place. When we strayed from Him, He loved us so much that He bought us back with a price so high, so horrible, so bloody, that it is hard to understand. The price was His Son. The price was willingly and freely paid with no guarantee of getting us back! The price was paid, knowing that some would actually choose to remain enslaved!

I will tell of the kindnesses of the LORD, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the LORD has done for us— yes, the many good things he has done for the house of Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses. He said, “Surely they are my people, sons who will not be false to me”; and so he became their Savior. In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. Isaiah 63:7-9 NIV

Oh Father, You loved us first. You loved us best. You love us still. Even when we don’t love you back! How can You do that! Am I that important to You?

Amazing love,
How can it be
That You, my King, should die for me?
-Chris Tomlin

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