Saturday, February 23, 2008

You Deserve The Best of Me

Many of you know I'm in the process of writing a book, but for those of you who do not, I periodically send out "raw data" for digestion and comments. Here is a little something that HE pulled me out of bed one night to develop.

So I'm laying in bed in the twilight of slumber when Mr. God decides I need to write - again. You know me, rarely am I one to tell Him "talk to the hand!" I did say "rarely." I had just turned off Mad TV and SNL when BOOM! Like a bad John Madden skit this line of thought hits me, and I'm afraid if I go off to sleep I won't remember a word of it in the morning, so here I sit sleep-typing a message to you all.

As I lay there trying to ignore the Ancient of Days, my shoulder keeps nagging me with this constant rotator cuff throb - no doubt the result of my 4o something years as a major league baseball prospect. Thoughts were rolling through my head like dough in a giant vat of Dunkin Donut grease, and sure enough Mr. Big Guy breaks out the powdered sugar and before you know it we were eating scrambled eggs!

Whilst I tossed and yearned for slumber, I was thinking about my wife and kids, and water-color paints, and diapers, and football, and popcorn, and the courtyard project, and Microsoft excel, and a host of other non-related items. I was also thinking about how we (me, Ally, Whitney, Katie, and Caleb) often just take each other for granted, and each other's love for granted because by golly - that's what unconditional love is about right?! Aren't we supposed to love each other in spite of who or what we are? Then the Holy Spirit began surgery without a whisper of anesthesia.

What about the other side of the love coin - the "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" side? What would my family be like if I took the initiative to be my very best? What would it look like if I determined to lose 20 lbs? What kind of impact would it have on them if I took the initiative to be more patient and less grilling? How would it look if I were more proactive in my support and love, and less about accountability and accusation? Will my passion for encouragement ever match my need to negate? Why can't I be a hero? I know I'm not a zero, but mediocrity still smacks of - well - mediocrity. Then came the haunting voice, "We deserve the best of you." Their cry to me through the Holy Spirit. That simple. That poignant. That perfect.

They deserve the best of me. He deserves the best of me. When He gets the best of me, He'll have the best of me. When He has the best of me, then so will they. He deserves it because His offering demands a response. It demands MY response. It demands my BEST response.

What He offered is inconceivable.
What He went through is incomprehensible.
What He gave is unfathomable.
What we give back is too often our scraps.

He deserves our joy and our passion.
He deserves our discipline to follow through with our decision to follow.
He deserves our desire to dare to be better, and our diligence to run after Him - wheezing if we must.
He deserves to delight in us.
He deserves our days and our nights. He wants our fears and our fights.
He deserves our praise, but more so wants our ways to be His.
He seeks after us like the treasure we are to become - like the treasure He is.
Our Bread, our sustenance, our sustainer - the remainder of all we are when we are through.
He's the Spirit of Life, and the Redeemer of death.
He is the First and the Last - our CONception and our REception.
He deserves our very best but fills the gap of what He gets.
He's so much bigger than when we get it wrong, and always delights when we get it right.
Regardless, He is never ashamed to call us His own, and neither should we be.
The Husband of Heaven, the Father of all that is, the Shepherd of all that we will be refuses to let go of you and me.
So do I.


Friday, February 15, 2008


On the road to my ultimate Home, my Savior has taught me some simple truths that I still find challenging in application. Their current runs contrary to the natural instinct of my human condition. I find they thrust me against the gravity of a hostile climate and my sojourn of struggle. So I continue to learn this: It is only in surrender that I find freedom, and only in death that I find life. It is only in the bowing that I am raised, and only in my submission will I be exalted. For me this is simply difficult.

The insurgency of my soul is being summoned to defeat, yet it fights on for its rights with the vigor of a militant terrorist. It contends for its country, its domain of darkness to ensure the strongholds of the enemy are secured with the tyrannical chains of sinful pride. It reluctantly peers through the cracks of battered fortress walls to see rays of righteousness seeking to pierce their garrisons of weight and sin.

But how can I convince the darkness of my soul and flesh to conform to the contrasting light of Life? How can I serve self with the writ that suspends my Habeas Corpus? In Latin that means “we command that” “you have the body,” or in simple terms – you have the right to petition the (body) court. Unfortunately my “body” commands its lazious corpsus. Even after the spirit has surrendered to the custody of Christ, the soul and flesh continue to seek the loophole by which justification is subverted. When none is found, they seek to plea bargain as a means of escape instead of deferring to the mercy of the Father and His body.

As part of the body of Christ, can I rely on the body to function in concert with the Head? I should be able to but I can’t just yet. Not because the body doesn’t want to reach that goal, but because we haven’t quite embraced the white raiment strapped to a pole. The discomfort of our sin has not surpassed our ability to medicate our pain. We continue to treat the wounds without regard to the cause of our injuries. We war on with ourselves and each other. We bring our agendas and battle plans to the table ready to own them at the expense of others, and yes, even our own redemption, because we know we’re right – god told us while we looked at him in the mirror this morning.

Thank God for His mercy; the mercy that bleeds. What greater price was ever paid? None. Ever. Jesus is the soldier that jumped on the grenade that otherwise would have ripped mankind completely apart. He took up arms against sin and submitted them to the cross. He strapped on a backpack and carried it on his open wounds to bring us wholeness and soundness. Yet, if I’m honest, I’m ashamed to admit there are times I’m unwilling to carry the burden of another. I’m pretty good about “throwing up a prayer” and leaving it at that, but to actually get in the quagmire of cost and shouldering another’s cross, I fall woefully short.

Most days I let my own cross lay in the dust of lethargy and complacency. I try to ignore it which works for a season until I succumb to the awful sound of its base dragging behind me, carried by the One who bore it in the first place. In my spirit I see Him smile and wink as if to say, “I’ve got your back.” I know He does. This gives me strength to take it up again and soldier on. He willingly hands it back to me for my benefit, wipes my brow with his holy “Do-Rag” and reminds me His grace is sufficient. Amazing grace found in surrender of the soul and flesh. I surrender again. I journey on.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Part 2 – The Promotion Ceremony

Ps 116:15 (NIV) Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.

It was a great day for a funeral. Can that statement ever be true? Really? Dorothy’s celebration was a little over a month prior to her 82nd birthday. The day was a cold, breezy, and damp north Texas winter day. I remember thinking at the gravesite that the sting of the frigid wind was metaphorically appropriate while death’s sting was still so bitter and raw. The rain fell as did many tears; mist filled the air and the eyes. Love cried as Dorothy’s children and grandchildren wept. Jesus was there and He wept too through His body of believers.

In part 1 of this narrative I mentioned the passage in John 15:16 “You did not choose me but I chose you…” The rest of that verse says “…to go bear fruit – fruit that will last.” I believe the Father wants our lives and our deaths to bear fruit. Our lives are truly seeds for the generations to come. How are we impacting them? Do they see in us a resolute faith covered in grace, or do they see us “judge” when others do it “wrong”? (1 Cor 13:5) At the service, the pastor told of how Dorothy led someone to Christ in the last week of her life while in the hospital. I can almost see the Heavenly Sports Page Headline: Grandma Kicks Satan’s Ass One Last Time Then Heads Home.

Just a few nights ago I also lost a relative. Aunt Inez was just four days past her 96th birthday. She was one of the most jovial, sweet, loving, and kind people I have ever had the privilege of knowing. For most of my life, I would only get to see her once a year at our family reunions. She and Uncle Leonard were the highlights of these gatherings for me; my own mother and the chocolate mayonnaise cake notwithstanding. Leonard and Inez alone would have made the 90 minute drive worth the trip. We often talk about people who light up a room when they enter it, well whatever room they were in, they “owned.” I had the hardest time wrestling it away from them, so I would just team up with them and laugh until we wanted to pee on ourselves.

Leonard used to tell the story of the carousing drunk that learned his lesson about drinking. The Pastor came calling on the drunk one evening when his wife answered the door. She invited him in for a visit and told of how her husband was out drinking even as they spoke. Being the wise man of God he said, “I tell you what, I know how we can break him of that drinkin! You take your fattest hen and slaughter it and pour the guts in the toilet. When he comes in and gets sick he’ll think he barfed up his guts, and that’ll cure him!”

Sure enough that evening when the drunk got home he went directly to the water closet and proceeded to violently throw up. His wife could hear him from the other room and could tell he was in terrible distress. She resisted the temptation to go in and console him, knowing that this might be the time he learned his lesson once and for all. A few moments later he came to bed and she asked him if he was okay. He said, well I am now. At first I threw up my guts, but thank God there was a wooden spoon on the counter and I was able to get ‘em back down again.”

On delivering this punch-line Uncle Leonard would just roar with laughter and Aunt Inez would chuckle and give him that “will-you-ever-tire-of-that-story” look. Every year when I came into the banquet hall he would ask me if I had my wooden spoon handy (that was code for sit a spell and let’s visit). Those times together would invariably turn into testimonies of God’s goodness. They were people with limited earthly possessions, but a wellspring of spiritual wealth.

I can remember only once Aunt Inez being downcast or dispirited. She had apparently not been feeling well for an extended period of time, and she confessed it was taking a toll on her and that she was discouraged. Then in a moment of faith’s manifestation and revelation, she began again to confess God’s goodness and faithfulness in her life. She built herself up in her most holy faith and it served as a great witness to me. At the end of that discussion she thanked me for visiting with her as if I had somehow been a comfort. The reality is I just happened to be the one listening, and learning. She did more for me and my faith than I ever could have done for hers. Never could I leave without Inez grabbing my neck and whispering in my ear, “You stay close to the Lord” – her eternal exhortation.

Uncle Leonard passed several years ago, and welcomed Inez home Saturday morning. I’m sure that was some kind of homecoming. She leaves a legacy of Christ’s love in her wake. Everyone she met or talked to knew of her faith. At some point she would turn every conversation to Jesus. She did it in a way that was disarming and genuine – not in your face, but in your heart. She had a hospitable spirit and welcoming way that you knew when she said, “I’ll be praying for you” she meant it and you could take that to the bank. Aunt Inez bore the fruit of joy, and faithfully shared the love of Jesus. She walked the walk. She finished the race.

Death’s sting is painful, but the death of a saint is precious to the Redeemer. He paid the price to ensure it is so. Knowing this, as a believer, and as part of His body, I desire to be part of the redemptive process of such trying times as these. So as I stumble awkwardly and headlong into the discomfort of complicated circumstances and messy emotions, yet I’m comforted that His grace is sufficient and that ultimately these three remain: Faith, Hope, and Love - the believer’s legacy. At the funerals of these precious lady saints, there was a healthy dose of all three on display. Merely three weeks apart, I stood in the cold at the final resting place of each and I witnessed pain and loss mitigated by that legacy. I was encouraged by the thought of generations to come welcoming their promise. What we sometimes see as a loss, in the end looks a lot like victory, like a race well run by good and faithful servants.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Cliff Diving

There’s a great conversation going on out in the world. I think we ought to be a part of it since it’s about us…and Him. You know – “Him”…the guy we like to talk about with each other, but not about “Him” with them. Too often we’ve either painted this picture of an unpleasant angry tyrant of a father, or left them to figure it out on their own. They’ve chosen the latter – much to the master’s joy.

We can’t enter into this conversation with them until we first have a relationship with them. We can’t have a relationship with them if we don’t listen to what they have to say, or make it clear we don't like the way they say it. I used to think I needed to convince people I was right about God and they needed to embrace my view of Him. I find more and more I’m embracing some of their view of Him. I truly believe “authenticity” – buzz word or not, cliché or not – is where God is taking His people. Can we be real enough with Him to be real enough with them, and each other to reach them?

I’ve got a friend named Brent that we have nicknamed “Cliff.” The reason we call him that is sometimes He can take a thought, or comment, or joke, right to the edge, and then in a fit of unbridled insanity push it right over the edge into the abyss. I now call this “cliff diving.” What was laughter now turns to moans and groans. A lot like a dog and a leg.

What I love about Brent is he’s often saying what others are thinking but just don’t have the courage or “audacity” to say. Audacious and bodacious, or said another way “BIG AND BOLD” are qualities I can embrace in anyone these days. The pious stuffy attitude of “well I never!” is not a part of his fabric. However, the genuine love of Christ oozes from him whenever he’s around.

I love when he’s around because I know I can be me with all of my dirt. He might look at me and say “Hey! You might want to sweep that up! And then after a short pause bust out in a chortle and say “NAH! I wuz just kiddin. Leave it there, it looks nice on you!” He will then bust into this booming laugh, and cough, and silent shake that makes everyone stop what they’re doing to see if he’s going to pass out – again.

That is Brent embracing my life in Christ, and recognizing the Potter isn’t finished with me yet - I'm still the lump of clay. Why can’t I do that for others? There’s a part of me that wants to hold people accountable so we can all grow in God’s love and maturity - well maturity. For Brent Jones (he asked me to use his last name if I ever put it in a book or got published :) his cliff diving may be more maturity than any piety that could be on display – an understanding that God ain’t leavin us even if we drop the dust pan.

That type of genuine friendship and acceptance is what the world is looking for. They know they can get it “out there” but they’ve not been sold on the idea that they can get it “in here” (in the community of believers). It should be part of our mission to change that misconception, but first it must be a misconception and not a reality. Until we change and become the corner pub, we’ll never be a hospital or even a classroom. Maybe we can start in our living rooms.

Most relationships are based on one criteria: How a person makes us feel when we’re around them. If someone makes us feel special, desired, needed, wanted, intelligent, or essential in their eyes, chances are good we are going to spend a lot of time with them. On the surface that sounds pretty selfish. Stroke my ego – get my time. Give the cynicism a rest for a minute.

We are selfish creatures by our very nature. We exit the womb pissed off that someone drained the tub and ran us through a vice grip turning us into the seed of Beldar Conehead, and then covered us with cottage cheese and blood. As soon as the nurse has us cleaned and dressed like a Havalina hog at a campsite, we’re screaming for the teet and messing our drawers. Our very first relationships were built on what we can get, and getting it by whatever means necessary (which usually involved crying and crap) - little "Me Monsters" as one comic put it.

As adults, hopefully we have learned a more covert method of manipulation. However, I still see a great deal of crying and pooping going on in the church. As we mature, I think it is incumbent upon us to learn truth in communication instead of the art of exploitation. The person that can be authentic in word and deed while conveying to their counterpart their value will have a friend for life. Ally always tells me, “People just want to matter.” They want to be in that place like the theme song from Cheers,

“Where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came. You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same. You wanna be where everybody knows your name.”

It’s crazy to me that the pub can be a better place of community than the church; a place where you can speak freely unencumbered by the fear of rejection. The secular world can teach us a few things if we’ll just watch and pray. If you can let someone know that they are truly valued and matter to you, and what happens to them matters to you, they will have your back because they know you’ve got theirs. On that note, you can’t have someone’s back if you haven’t first looked them in the eye. And conversely, you can’t get in someone’s face unless you’ve first had their back.

Ally and I try to put this into practice. We’re pretty transparent, and some might say she’s even anointed at it. She'll drag out some piece of our "dirty laundry" and show off a stain or two. What is great about that is there is often an interesting or funny story of what left the mark, so we get to laugh about the once shed tears. We wrestle with what is TMI, or what is Tim, or Ally, or yes even Jesus, or all of the above, or none of the above.

As I continue my pursuit of his hem and his Him, I’m sure I’ll take a flight off a cliff periodically and even splat a belly flop or two thanks to my buddy Brent. Then we can compare bruises at the bottom and laugh about them on our way back up. I love you Brent Jones – you inspire me to new depths of love and laughter in Him. Thanks for having my back.