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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I Want to be the Guy

Seriously, folks. What do you want to be remembered for?

Participation in a march? A protest?

Your excellent rhetoric, or an eloquent turn of phrase?

How about the size of your paycheck, or the length of your business day?

Your car? (I remember a Dead Milkmen song from many years ago: Bitchin’ Camaro. Always wanted one)

It could be lots of things. Look at those Egyptian tombs or pyramids: piles of gold and jewels everywhere, mummified cats. Mummified people.

I don’t care about that. My circle is small, and probably no one will know me except the people in it. And that’s ok with me.

I want people to think of me as the guy who worked hard, but not too hard.

I want to be the guy who put his family before his self. I want to be the guy who loved his wife and honored her the way God wanted him to.

I want to be the guy who told people about Jesus. I want to be the guy who showed him to them with his life. I may have spent a great deal of my life sucking at that, but not anymore.

Don’t misread this, but I want to be the guy who is Jesus to his kids–in the sense that I will be anyway. It may not be intentional, but their image of Jesus is affected by their image of me. Their ability to relate to Jesus is in part formed by how they relate to me. No longer will I be pissy with them because of some stupid me thing.

That’s not showing them anything of use. That’s not showing them Jesus or anything he represents.

He came not be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many (Matt 20:28).

I want my kids to know that while they are not my life, I’d gladly give it for them. I want them to know what is really important.

So with that in mind, why would I get caught up in thinking of some stupid thing I might not be able to do when I want to do it because of something else?

That’s junk, like my kids would both say.

Makes me think of a book that football player Gayle Sayers wrote many years ago. “I am Third.”

I want to be the guy that is intentionally third. God being first, family and friends second.

Then me.

I want to be that guy.

Morning Gratitude #1

Starting today, I’m going to start out my day by listing some of the things I’m grateful for. Perhaps insignificant to many, but not to me. I’m grateful that…

Last night I was able to feed my family. Today I will, too.

Today I woke up coughing a little, and drooling like Cujo after a bat bite. But I woke up. I opened my eyes and I took a breath, then another.

Today I woke up and I heard my wife breathing, too.

Today I woke up in a bed, in a house, in a free country.

Today I listened to a sermon on the way to work, and I can play some of my favorite music as I work.

Today it occurred to me that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Me. Hard to believe, but Psalm 139 assures me it is true.

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.

Yeats

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.

Path