Restored

I was just thinking about Mark 9, where Jesus is about to cast an unclean spirit from a boy who has been inhabited by it for years. Jesus has just seen the boy convulsing and asks: “How long has this been happening to him?”
The boy’s father answers “since childhood,” and explains a little more about the nature of his affliction. Then he asks Jesus “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

Jesus responds “’If you can?’ All things are possible for one who believes.”
The father realizes who he’s talking to and says, “I believe! Help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:20-24)

I think that’s how we are with gratitude sometimes. Our kids are ungrateful, and we throw up our hands. Or we’re ungrateful if the circumstances aren’t to our liking. We tell ourselves we don’t have anything to be grateful for, because life is too hard.

Sometimes it is hard, and in those times it can be difficult to feel gratitude. And we forget what we believe and who we believe in.

That happened to me over the past few months, and one day it occurred to me to say “I believe, help my unbelief.” Or perhaps said another way, “I’m grateful, help my lack of gratitude.” Which really means help my selfishness.
God has been allowing me to know I have plenty to be grateful for.

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Life can and will be extremely hard at times. Sometimes things are profoundly dire, and it can seemingly go on forever. It can eat up the years, and what we are left with sometimes is a crappy attitude and a huge pile of years and wounds and lies we believe about God.

Then we have Joel 2:25, which is not exactly the most commonly used verse of encouragement in scripture. But God has promised restoration. “I will repay you for the years the locust has eaten…”

Belief can be restored.

Gratitude can be restored.

The vast pile of years, destroyed by the locusts of life and littering your life with desiccated corpses, can be restored.

Not by you, man. Not by anything you’ve done.

By God.

Years don’t magically return. You’re still old, and you’ve still had a rough life. Restoration is not the same as returned.

He will restore to us the years the locust has eaten. We can look forward instead of behind.

All things are possible for one who believes.

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When Life is Rocks

Sometimes I look around me and I see how terrible people are to one another. It can be politically nasty–Lord knows that’s everywhere. We just don’t seem capable of understanding that people are different, but that doesn’t mean they hate someone else.

Also we are killing each other for various reasons at unheard of rates.

We take things from people because we can.

We hurt people, perhaps because in some way that makes us feel better about our own pain.

We prey on weakness, including that of children.

Sometimes our words cause as much pain as our fists.

We forget kindness, even everyday kindnesses.

And it seems like there is no hope and we are just whiling away our days.

It’s like the desert, where I work and live. So unmercifully hot, and barren, and sparse.

There is this one area at a particular test site, where there is gravel spread out across the ground, and twisted metal from various things–relics of a time gone by. There is rust, and damaged wood, and a couple old chairs.

Old garbage, long forgotten.

This place seems forsaken, and bereft of hope.

But there’s this one spot, and it makes me think of hope. It makes me think of beauty from ashes when the rest of the place makes me think of waste and uselessness.

Tiny flowers, purple, fragile and beautiful reach out from the rocks, in the midst of nothing of use.

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I think that’s us sometimes. We don’t feel useful, we don’t feel beautiful. We’re waiting to die.

Yet like these flowers, we can reach out of the rocks and detritus of life.  And when we reach out of those rocks, we find there is a hand reaching back to take ours.

We don’t have to lie under a pile of rocks, and there IS hope, no matter what the world may look like, and sometimes is.

The hand reaching out to you and throwing the piled rocks to the side belongs to Jesus, who knows a thing or two about how hard it gets.

Don’t despair–things will turn around. Hold tightly to the promises made by God. He has plans for you (Jeremiah 29:11).

Cling to hope, even when all you see is rocks.

Hebrews 10:23 “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”

Who Will Go For Us?

Sometimes (even now), I get a little frustrated with the blazing, glacier-like speed of my life’s “metabolism.” I want things to go the way I have envisioned them, and feel that I know where my affinities lie, and what I should be doing with my life.

I think now that the first thing I should realize is that God doesn’t give a rip about what I think my affinities are, or how I should employ them. He knows who I am, and how he made me, and to what end.

I just need to be faithful on my end, and kick my expectations and inhibitions to the side and ask God to reveal my course.

“He who hath the steerage of my course, direct my sail.” (Romeo & Juliet)

I need to develop a posture of listening, and turn to these words from Isaiah.

“And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8)

But I need to be careful, too. Because he will.

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Yeats Confuses Me

I think it’s true that as a people, we have come to an unprecedented time of opportunity. What we could accomplish because of the advances in so many things seems to be near limitless. Yet in many ways, it also seems we are devolving in a way. And today I was thinking of that old Yeats poem, The Second Coming, written just after WWI. I think it is also surprisingly timely today. But it’s also quite confusing. No one ever said Yeats was the arbiter of truth or clarity about life, but his work does–at least in my instance–make a brother think.

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Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

the ceremony of innocence is drowned;

the best lack all convention, while the worst

are full of passionate intensity…

This poem says much about war, and the chaos it brings. In many ways now, we as a people are at war. “Anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

And I think about who the enemy is in this war. Many these days would say it was the President. Yet if one follows in and believes scripture, and in the sovereignty of Jesus, we must also consider what scripture says about the state of things. I don’t know that this president, or any president, is named.

From Ephesians 2: 1-3–

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Like the rest of mankind. To me that suggests none of us are blameless, whether donkey or elephant, progressive or conservative.

among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind.

If it feels good, do it. If it’s right to you, how can it  be wrong? Must all things hold to the same order?

What about the ceremony of innocence being drowned? I don’t know about there being a ceremony of innocence. In other words, a ceremony or graduation which at the culmination declares us innocent. Why would we need a declaration of innocence? Aren’t we innocent until proven guilty?

Sure, in a court of law. Except that is not what this is. It’s a world where to many, life has no sanctity, no matter the color of skin, or the tenets one holds to. No matter the age, or gestational status of a person.

In the immortal words of the poet and prophet Ice T, on the latest Body Count album, “no lives matter.”

And I think that’s where we are today. Culture and many beliefs would dictate that life is not significant. To some it seems like climbing to some height and raining bullets onto a group of people–or into a group of people–is the thing to do to ensure that your life means something in the end, even if what it means is that you’ve taken life as part of your own life, and ensuring that you are noted, and a part of history.

No lives matter.

Except they really do. I believe that. Even with the turmoil my life has occasionally been, I believe it. Even with the second law of thermodynamics (entropy), I believe it. Even with the pontifications of William Butler Yeats (things fall apart, the centre cannot hold) I believe it.

I believe it because of Psalm 22, and the depiction of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53.

I believe it because of the 40 or so words of the apostle Paul to the Galatians:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20, ESV

Consider also Psalm 139:16: “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

Yet with all that, murder is still murder. And each of our lives matter. We can make something of them. We can matter, too, even if it is only to God. So, yes, Mr. Yeats. Things do fall apart. But I disagree with you on whether or not the center can hold.

I say it can, if we make Christ the center. If we hold life as sacred–created by God, to be taken by God. Not by a madman or madmen, to whom a human life is nothing. That person has their fame now, their infamy.

And an empty eternity to think about it.

 

 

Down by a River

A friend shared an article today about faith and baptism. Or perhaps salvation and baptism, better said. Before I had any real notion about what either meant, they both seemed little more than something “religious” people did. For my part, now that I understand just a little more about faith, the two are intertwined for me like DNA strands.
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I had a deep curiosity about “why” in all forms, but mainly I wanted to know why life seemed to be slipping through my fingers without much participation on my end. I wanted to know why things hurt, and bled, and died. I wanted to know why, if God so loved the world, did he create so many people to be jerks?
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I began to learn things about Jesus, and I wanted to know more. But I also knew me at the same time, and that I wanted to forget. I’d been both chasing and running away from that guy my whole life.
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I began attending church, out of curiosity. I had friends who went–good friends–and I wanted to know what it was all about. I’d also known people who were hypocrites about faith, and church, and Jesus, and I didn’t understand how the two could exist at the same time.
So I heard the gospel. I heard about God, and creation, and Jesus, and death, and resurrection. I asked God “why?” and it was like he said “come and find out” in my heart.
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At first my faith was like an old-fashioned lantern that had just been lit inside me, and the…little lamp adjuster thingy was slowly increasing the brightness within, but not by my hand. I knew that the increasing brightness within was edification, and Jesus quickly became more than a concept. More than a metaphor. More than everything else.
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Because Jesus stirred faith within the deep parts of me, as the light increased within me, I began to see “why” and I began to see God and I began to see myself coated with the mud of my life. It cracked sometimes when it dried, and I looked like an old dried-up river bottom. But there was always more mud.
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What to do about the mud?
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I heard someone talking about Jesus washing feet in the upper room and while it sounded gross (because feet are gross), getting the dust and dirt washed off also sounded wonderful. And while the dirt covering me was metaphorical in nature, it still needed to be washed off. Because I knew that it would eventually be the death of me otherwise.
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One day by a river, I asked Jesus to make me clean. I accepted him and asked him to accept me, in all the mud and muck and grime of my life. He said “come to me, all who are weary” and I was weary. He talked about finding rest for my soul and I knew that was what I wanted. My words were not poetic and were not arranged in a beautiful bouquet of words–no, there were tears and great, wrenching sobs. But it was the real me, and unlikely as it seemed to me, that was what he wanted.
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I could see all this mud, and I wanted it to go away, to be far from me. What to do?
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I talked to people who knew a lot more about all that stuff than me, and it was not long after that a very close friend helped me take a walk down three steps into a pool of warm water. I went under dirty as a wet dog after a backyard roll and I came up different. Cleanliness than became less of a concept and more of a reality. But I also realized that Jesus saw me in spite of my dirtiness, my darkness. He’d always seen me, and wanted me.
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It’s the same for you.
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He doesn’t say “Come to me, all who are ready.” You’ll never be ready.
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He just says come to me.
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Come to me tired from your journey not yet over. Come to me dirty and I will make you clean. Come to me hurting, and covered in lies about yourself and about me and let me reveal the truth.
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Having faith is just the beginning. Baptism is the next step on the path. The picture below is where I began my walk. Literally.
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Look Behind You

My iPod is on shuffle and I was just getting started on my day’s work when I stopped for just a second to listen and take a breath. I wanted to think about blessings, and see how that would affect the course of my day. Yesterday was pretty good.

I woke up and I took a breath, and then another. Each followed in succession–a chain of little blessings.

I stared at the bright numbers on my bedside alarm and felt my wife’s warm hand on my shoulder. Across the hall, my six year-old had the CD from his VBS playing in his room. Something about his God being so big and so mighty.

Word.

After service, I had the privilege to pray with someone who I didn’t know before but am glad to now. Later, after church, my older boy told me he wanted to start tithing.

When I stood at the front of the stage, I made brief eye contact with my counterpart on the other side and then someone came up to him as well. So great for people to come forward in boldness of faith and humility of spirit. God is always faithful.

My wife and I are a little sore from tearing out carpet and throwing stuff around at the new building, but being able to do that is a blessing, too. I really hope that we have the opportunity to help the people of Yuma and elsewhere to see God with eyes opened anew to possibility.

I’m fortunate to have a job that keeps us fed and housed–many do not.

I have the opportunity to give, but I’m not very good at it in my own right, and pray I will do better–both locally and globally.

The funny thing about blessings is that when they come, we don’t always see them. Sometimes, they are clothed in struggle, or obscured by the world.

Nevertheless, with each person coming into our life in some way–any way–also comes opportunity to show Jesus to someone. They are not obstacles to our ends, but opportunities for ministry. That’s how Jesus looked at them–shouldn’t we as well?

Blessings so often come through hard work, even toil. Shouldn’t we be grateful? After all, Jesus was not afraid to get his hands dirty. Sometimes bloody.

We look at our lives and the world and we want things to change, and change yesterday, so to speak.

They aren’t going to.

Sometimes we aren’t delivered from circumstances–perhaps even most of the time. Yet God is faithful to bring us through them. That’s a blessing, too.

When I look backward and try to follow the path that brought me here today, what I see are jagged and sometimes halting steps. Yet they eventually pick up again. I see path lit by a chain of blessings, like little golden lights.

I will not try to minimize your toil, your suffering. How could I? I don’t know what it’s like to be you. Yet I will promise you this. There will come a point when you are able to stand and look backward. You will see how you got to were you are, and your path will make a lot more sense. It’s easier to see the blessings in your path by the light of your journey.

Psalm 119:105. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

Look behind you and you’ll see where that happened.

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A Few Thoughts on Redemption

In the wake of this business in Manchester, I’ve been wondering something: is anyone beyond redemption? Should they desire it, of course.

If it were up to me, I’d say some people are. People who harm children, for one. I think about these youngsters in England, having hardly begun their lives. I think of these…terrorists, seeking them out with intent and purpose. I think of men like Jerry Sandusky (the Penn State “coach” and chicken hawk ) and others of his ilk. If it were up to me, people like that would have no possibility of redemption. Only justice.

The answer I found was not what I wanted to find. I wanted my position to be justified–I wanted to be right.

People who do evil things should be punished–period. And perhaps society and the law will punish them. Yet punitive punishment sometimes seems like it should be eternal. At least it does to me.

Thankfully, it isn’t up to me. Here’s what just a few scriptures say about redemption, and who can be redeemed:

Ephesians 1:7, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the richness of his grace.”

Colossians 1:20-22, “And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.”

Romans 3:24-26, “And are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

Titus 2:14, “Who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

Isaiah 44:22, “I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.”

Those are just a few verses, and there are many more. The short version is that the answer to my question is “no one is beyond redemption, should they choose to be reconciled before God, with God, because of the blood of Christ.”

No one. That’s why he came, and did what he did. I may not like it, but that ability to redeem when most find it all but impossible to simply forgive…well, that’s what makes him God.

My inabilities and my shortcomings in that way are why I need him–why we all do. We can’t be God–only God can do that.

Redemption is possible for all people.