Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Speaking the Truth in Shove

I originally wrote this item in February of 2007. I ran across it today and thought it worthy of posting. TM

Eph 4:15-16 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

I’m still working out my salvation with beer and trembling. As I travel this journey of mine with Him, I find it difficult to see Him in a fearful way. I know I should honor, respect, and stand in awe of Him, and I do sort of, but I also see my Jesus in so many other ways. I see him as a High School buddy that would go out and TP someone’s house with me, or eat Sausage and Jalapeno Pizza, and yes, drink a beer with me. I know – “blasphemy!” to so many of you. Just stop it! Please! Drop your sacred cows and step away from them, or I’ll have them slaughtered on my altar of self-indulgence!

Now back to my suds-sucking Savior hangin with his homies.

Matt 11:1919 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners." 'But wisdom is proved right by her actions."

I’m so glad He lets me be who I am, and then changes what He needs to on inside of me first before it manifests outwardly for all to see. What an amazing concept. I so want that for my kids. I want to impact them in a way that starts on the inside and moves outward. I know fathers that start on the outside with a belt or paddle, but isn’t there a way THE Father has shown that can take us deeper into the hearts of our kids and change them from the inside out?

That song, From the Inside Out is one that just disassembles my soul into a blubbering pile of clay. Oh to be pliable clay for the Potter’s hands so He can turn me inside out. How I love it when He just shows up down deep in there without knocking first because He knows He’s always welcome there – it’s His home.

What used to pass for authenticity with me was usually just arrogance. John Mc was a friend I met at work. We used to discuss all things political and spiritual every afternoon during our break time. We called it popcorn church because about four or five of us used to sit around the table eating a bag of microwave popcorn and discussing the issues of the day. We became unlikely friends. He called me RX4 which meant Rightwing Radical Religious Republican.

I was definitely a zealot of the conservative kind unwavering in my convictions, be it conservatism or Christianity, but I bristled at the notion I was religious. I was, but denied it nonetheless. He was a wounded Catholic, betrayed by God (so he thought), the Church, and people he loved, and he thought loved him. He had this giant hole that wanted desperately to be filled.

We started going to lunch and our conversations went deeper. He told me of the loss of his mother and how that terribly affected his faith. He cried. So did I. He told me she was a Saint and worthy to be left alone, untouched by anything painful or hurtful. Where was God when she suffered so?

I told him that I think we have it all wrong about God. We blame Him for stuff that goes wrong, and never seem to give Him credit when it goes right. I told him we live in a hostile environment and that the enemy wants to take us all out. Some of our illnesses come from our own hands, some from the generations of procreators before us, and some from our enemy – Satan himself. But let’s not blame God.

As a father, I would never ever put a disease on my child, nor would I kill them for someone else’s good or punishment. How much more will our Heavenly Father give us good things? I could see him thinking and wrestling with the notion that God loved him and his mother, and they could be friends.

He told me the first time he met me, he thought I was an “asshole.” I assured him I was. I still am at times. I drop deuces daily and it stinks! I can be someone who thinks the truth is needed, and speak it in a way that clarifies for all that I’m still in process and in need of grace. I like to say I can sometimes speak the truth in shove. Thank God His arms are longer than mine, and if He chooses to He can shove back. Most times, He just wraps ‘em around me.

I think I’ll go have a brew now and ponder some more the mysteries of the Creator of the Universe having a “thing” for me.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Freedom to Fail

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28

I have become convinced over the years that many people walk a "defeated" walk because they have this idea that being a Christian is about being "good." Let me remind that scripture teaches us that "None is good, no not one." Might I suggest to the reader a review of Romans chapter 3? Indeed the heart of the believer is to do the will of God, or at least that's our confession, yet we still at times think coming to God is about ritual instead of relationship. Many have embraced the performance and plastic over the reality of the eternal elasticity of the journey. We should expand and contract with the heating and cooling of the kiln of Christ, yet some just crack up.

Many of us are trying to exchange the deposits of the Father for the stocks and bonds of others. I truly believe that He doesn't want to change who we are (personality), but whose we are (relationally). He wants to change how we are who we were made to be. If we are intimately connected to the Father then He will redeem that which is His deposit. It's about letting Him use the fabric with which He's woven us together. If you're burlap, don't try to be silk. If you're an extrovert, don't suddenly become introverted. Be who He made you to be and let Him transform and redeem that into His image and likeness. Don't hear something I'm not saying – if you are a drunk, get sober, and if you're a whore, go and sin no more.

One of the concepts Pops God has me embracing these days, is the "freedom to fail." I mentioned this in an earlier post. It's a lot like when I played baseball. As a boy, I used to take a tennis ball and glove out into the front yard and literally throw it against the bricks for hours, "pitching" to a spot and then subsequently taking "grounders" over and over and over and over again. I didn't do this because I had to, I did it because I loved it - it was part of my fabric. This communion with my gifting did two things: It compounded the joy of it within the discipline of practice, and it created the muscle memory necessary to execute the skills required to play. It is not possible to number the "errors" made in the context of that practice time. Conversely, never could I number the errors it prevented in the game.

This pursuit was a result of my childlike mindset to "imagine" a game played with the holy ghosts of my soul without the intimidation of failure. Practice became a place I could repeatedly fail and still know the love and joy of the game. I never knew the Holy Spirit was such a fan of mine. It wasn't until recently that I understood He was playing beside me and with me on those lonely summer days. I knew the pain of rejection of neighborhood kids, but found the companionship of friends unseen. I didn't really know it at the time, but my Trinitarian teammates surrounded me with the love I needed and knowledge that failure was just another opportunity to succeed.

I'm reminded too, of the times my earthly dad let me pitch to him. What a lovely reminder that even when our peers protest our presence, and our playmates pretend then offend, the Father will always show up to give us what we need. Dad simply played "catch" with me for hours upon hours. How boring is it to just throw a ball back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth? To some it would seem like monotonous menial minuscule misery. To me and my dad, it was a catalyst for communion and construction of relationship and recreation (read re-creation). God is found in the daily details as much as He is the Sunday Spectacular. I'm thankful to see his hand at work in the magnificent and the mundane.

When I was in my mid-twenties I played in a semi-pro baseball league in Fort Worth. It was classified semi-pro because we got paid "prize money" for winning, so let's not glamorize it too much. My positions included short-stop, second base, third base and pitcher, and I was our "lead-off" hitter. For those of you unfamiliar with batting line-ups, the lead-off spot is reserved for someone who, as a batter, is most likely to make contact with the ball and put it in play. This person would not necessarily hit for power, but would usually have a high "on-base" percentage (of their plate appearances). On our team, this person was me. This is not always a coveted reputation when the chips are down.

We were playing in a divisional final trying to secure a spot in the tournament championship. We played well coming into the bottom of the last inning. It was a 1 run game. Our player-manager and my good friend, James Masters, was giving the signals, and was our also third base coach during this time. We had a man on 2nd and 3rd with two outs and I was coming to the plate. A base hit would tie, and most likely win the game.

James called "time-out" and met me halfway down the third base line and said these most encouraging words, "Tim. There is no one else I would rather have at bat in this situation." Wow. Such high praise. His recognition of my skill was only surpassed by my inability to deliver. I struck out. He walked up to me afterward and put his am around me and said, "I still mean that." I was encouraged because I knew there would be other opportunities.

Little did I know opportunity would knock in the very next tournament. As if God were writing a Fairy Tale script, we found ourselves in the semi-final again, and you guessed it, the same scenario played out with me coming to bat with two outs and a chance to tie the game with a base hit. James, in his infinite wisdom, called "time-out" again, and walked down the baseline to greet me with those now immortal words, "Tim. I meant what I said last time, and I still believe in you." All the while I'm thinking, "C'mon James. Don't you think I've already got enough pressure!?!"

His faith was unmoved as I went down 0-2 in the count. As the next pitch whirred in, I took my step and my swing like I had practiced a zillion times. THWAP! That was the sound of the ball hitting the catchers-mitt, not my bat. Ballgame over. I slammed the tip of my bat into the dirt and lashed out at James imploring him to please never tell me that again. He just smiled with crinkled mustache and congratulated the other team.

It wasn't until years later that I understood the heart of James and our heavenly Father working in that situation. We can fail and still be embraced to run the race. We can fail again and again and again, and still be an important part of the team. James was saying the very thing The Father is saying to each of us, "no matter how often you swing and miss, I'm just glad you're on my team, and I know that more often than not, you're going to make contact. Sure you will strike out on occasion, and even at inopportune times, but I still love you and want you to keep stepping up to the plate and giving it a go. Just like the character from the movie Signs, the Father is calling out "Swing away Merrill. Swing away!"

Do you have the freedom to fail? Have you come to terms with your propensity to project an image other than His? When you do, it will make you more flexible in His hands. Our ability to be conformed and be transformed will directly correspond to our willingness to humble ourselves under His mighty hand. Please don't make a dead "work" out of that process and make it a contingency to relate in so doing. Understand it for what it is; an obedient response to His wooing. He continues to call the children to Him and still gets a little miffed when anyone tries to come between them. That's a pretty good picture of a Dad who loves to play catch with his kids.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Chilrens and Villains

Mark 10:13-16(NIV) People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth; anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.

I can love and serve a God like that.

The childlike heart is pure. It comes to the table without pre-conceived ideas or self-awareness. It often fails to recognize environment or protocol, but relishes the moment. I think Jesus loves the idea of the innocence that revels without prerequisites and loves without condition. I long for that place – spiritually and geographically. I know I’m headed there in my spirit, and I’m determined to invite others along to share it with me.

Consider for a moment the scene of our Savior in the scripture reference above. In the previous chapter, in Capernaum, Jesus had sat down with the disciples and took a child in His arms and said, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me.” Now their subsequent 60ish mile travel across the Jordan into Judea probably took a few days, so when the kids began to boldly approach the Messiah, they had apparently forgotten his admonishment that if anyone causes one of these little ones to stumble they should don the millstone bling.

The disciples may have discerned Jesus was wearied by the Pharisee’s cross examinations and was no doubt was ready to retreat into the house for some down time. As he was visiting with them about divorce and marriage, people started bringing their kids into him to touch and bless them. You see where this is headed right? Completely divorced from His earlier teaching, he has to re-instruct them on the value of being a little child and coming to him. He is never inconvenienced by our coming to Him. Again, He is never NOT home.

Many of these people had no doubt traveled long distances and were probably dirty and stinky from their journey. Even worse, since, as I understand it, pampers had not yet been invented, the likelihood is there were some unpleasant odorous encounters with some of their children. I’m pretty sure the nursery was closed. Scripture paints this beautiful picture of Jesus taking these children in his arms (up close and personal), just as He had done in Capernaum, placing his hands on them, and blessing them. In my mind’s eye, I can see Him blowing raspberries on toddler’s bellies and their laughter and snorts filling the air. I think I actually heard one *poot* from laughing so hard. What a scene, the Creator of the Universe in the house, lovin on kids. I can love and serve a God like that. But can I imitate Him?

I remember an incident when I was a young man in my mid-twenties. I was at my parent’s house with my wife Ally, and my sister Mary Ann, and her oldest son Joshua. I don’t remember the specifics surrounding the visit, but it was probably one of mom’s wonderful home-cooked meals. At some point little Joshua was putting his humanity on display as children will often do. Being the longsuffering self-righteous saint I was, I snapped at him in a very un-Godly way while providing rebuke with a fair amount of attitude and tone. My villainous assault became their momentary prison of pain.

Mary Ann reacted by loading Joshua up in the car and leaving; both now wounded and scarred, and I suspect a little indignant. I felt shame. As I recall we were on the phone within the hour, she explaining my encroachment and defending her son, and I offering my apology and owning my sin. While our relationships were restored, I still feel the sting of my offense even today. Regardless, her parental response was the proper one. It is on us, the community of believers, to not just suffer, but usher the little children unto Him, for such is the Kingdom of God.

The father worked something in me through that encounter. Over the years I have learned (for the most part) to love kids and let them be kids. When I find I’m irritated, it’s usually that a whole bunch of me is in the way. As we live in His Kingdom, it is so important that we give ourselves and others the freedom to fail and the forgiveness that follows. In that situation, my sister did for me what I was unable to do for Joshua in the moment – provide the environment where there is the freedom to fail. I know it is the heart of the Father to let us worship Him and commune in a way that is childlike, bringing palm leaves and shouting Hosanna, running and giggling as giddy kids on Christmas morn.

I think that is why I love Christ’s Mass – I get to celebrate His coming to me, and my coming to Him in a way that is full of surprises and treasures of love. And if I happen to get it wrong occasionally, I rejoice that His love endures throughout all generations. It even embraces the youngest one that is full of spunk and spit. I remember my manic days of immaturity which were followed by days of encounters with purity – the King of Heaven off His throne and in my living room changing my diapers and helping me do laundry. I can love and serve a God like that.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Paper or Plastic?

When I was 17 years old I went to work for Tom Thumb grocers in Euless, Texas as a “sacker.” The Cullum Companies used to own that chain of stores, and when hiring sackers back then, they would send us to “sacking school” for a day to teach us how NOT to smash the bread. In addition to product integrity, the sacker training class also stressed “safety.” Apparently one of their ace sackers of that era had cost them dearly in the form of a lawsuit.

In our class they told the story of a young man who had the habit of swinging the paper bag to “pop” it open with a rush of forced air. On one such occasion, as he swung the bag and it popped open, a little girl happened to be walking by in the opposite direction of the bag’s flight. At just the right moment, the bag opened and its serrated edge cut her, laying open a gash across her face. Negligence causes wounds and scars.

I was one of the best sackers in our store, only surpassed in speed and efficiency by my buddy Jeff, my best friend from Junior High. He was lightning-quick with the cans, and his product was usually in the bag before the next item hit the counter. He never smashed the bread. I never did either - unintentionally. Coincidentally, we were among the first human beings on the planet to ask the question, “Paper or plastic?” About 6 months or so into my employment, the introduction of the plastic grocery bag had arrived.

The chagrin with which people responded to that now age-old question was a lot like the feeling you get when a doctor says “you’re going to feel a little stick.” You would have thought we were asking them to give away one of their children, although I was convinced some of them would have in order to secure the bag type of their choice. It wasn’t long before opposing camps passionately emerged. In retrospect, I think the “I prefer plastic” or “I prefer paper” T-shirts would have been a big seller. I often wondered why that simple question was so inflammatory to some – “It’s a stupid bag for Pete’s sake! Get over it already!”

As youngsters will often do, we expressed our disdain for others in the “assembly of the afflicted” after work. Throughout the shift we would suffer insult after insult and offense upon offense just because of our lowly state as “bag boys.” I’m reminded of Mel Brooks, Harvey Korman, a bucket, and a coin in History of the World Part I. The condescending attitudes came flowing freely from the lips of every Einstein in Euless that made sure we understood our place in their own personal play.

Our rallying cry at the end of the day was “I hate people!” At an early age, I had learned to personalize and project. I personalized what came from people that didn’t even know me, and projected their offense on the rest of humanity – “They’re all jerks!” I would proclaim.

As I’ve matured, I have come to understand just how much people hate change. It’s our nature to resist it, yet it’s the one thing we can always count on in life. I really believe if we would embrace that idea more readily, our transformation process would be a lot less stressful. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not suggesting all change is good, but I am suggesting that if we will let Him, the Holy Spirit will take the change in our lives and use it for our spiritual growth and benefit. The very concept of transformation demands it, and the process of being conformed into His image ensures it.

Ironically society has come full circle on the issue of grocery bags. The profits of the plastic are now being supplanted by the realization that the organic is better for the environment. There’s something analogous to this within the context of the body of Christ. I’ve been around so many people who are trying to be something they are not. They are trying to carry spiritual food in a plastic vessel. We were made to be organic vessels for a reason. Our Heavenly Dad wants us to have a freshness about our walk that is pure not perfect. Let’s call it the journey of the genuine.

He allows us to decompose and be transformed into the beneficial rather than recycling the simulated. Who wants to be the bag stuffed in a closet until time to transport trash? Paper and parchment put on display the words of truth and life, while the phony simply displays someone else’s counterfeit conscience. My heart longs to house the soul of the sincere rather than the slickness of the synthetic. It cries out for the natural over the non-nutritional. I desire to experience community in the messiness of men who seek to serve God in their vulnerable humanness, rather than the cries of the contrived that imitate the insincere. Give me real and rough over polished plastic any and everyday.

Jesus was real. He was real loving. He was real honest. He was real open. He was real naked. That is the reason I so love the telling of His struggle in Garden of Gethsemane. When God Himself will put His “humanity” on display, then we should be free and encouraged to do the same. There is this frustrated part of me that wants to scream out “Forsake the FAKE!” Actually, there’s another F word that comes to mind that my brittle clay would like to use, but I submit it to the process of conforming to the image of Him who is faithful.

There is no life in the place of plasticity - period. If we can embrace the truth of the mirror, then we can watch the “extreme makeover” up close and personal without the pretense of the pretend. Pastor Doug White once said of the Apostle Paul, “He wore his chains like bracelets.” He walked openly with his loving limp. Brothers and sisters, sport your scars for the beauty marks they are, and forget about the plastic surgery; we are not a masquerade of mannequins but the assembly of saints.

Rom 8:29-31 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Debris of My Heart – A Spring Cleaning

Isaiah 43:18-21 "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.

With the symphony of sounds and smells of spring bursting forth like a volcanic eruption of emerging joy, I’m reminded of the beauty of the simple truth that creation itself declares the Glory of God. As the sound of cooing dove and the remix of the mockingbird’s medley fills the air, the wonder of His Majesty in all His majesty saturates my soul. The One who made all of these made you and me, and did so uniquely for His purpose. As He continues to reveal that to me, I am comforted that we don’t need the approval or acceptance of others for it to be accomplished in our lives. Yet if I’m honest with myself, I still find I try to make disciples of me and I’m stung when rejected. I press on to operate in His re-vision of me. Whatever new thing He is doing is painful and precious all at the same time. I know the same applies to you also, so let me encourage you too - press in and press on.

The harshness of winter has subsided and the grand entrance of spring’s fling is announced by March’s roar - almost always a lion and rarely a lamb. Thunderstorms in north-central Texas can be as comforting as they are violent. Sitting at the southern tip of tornado’s alley, we are likely to see plenty of hail and super-cells spawning twisted sisters. Thankfully I’ve only experienced one up close and not so personal. The announcement of a Tornado Watch used to fill me with the conflict of anxiety and excitement, and always followed with a sigh of relief when it was cancelled or expired. Nowadays, I often sleep best to the rumble of thunder, knowing I’m secure in the shelter of our home while the storm rages. Father – my home is You. How fitting it is that in the Masters scheme it takes seasons of storms to bring forth life and new growth and the beauty of flora de amore’. The harshness of the tempest is tempered by the promise of the rainbow and the reservoir of the runoff. The April shower is the investment for the return of the May flower.

Isaiah 44:1-3 "But now listen, O Jacob, my servant, Israel, whom I have chosen. This is what the LORD says-- he who made you, who formed you in the womb, and who will help you: Do not be afraid, O Jacob, my servant, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen. For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.

As a youngster I remember the yearly exercise of what we called “spring cleaning.” It usually involved washing down the house inside and out. We would take the water hose and spray windows and screens and eaves and sidewalks. Armed with the spray-gun attachment, windex, and washcloths, we attacked the dirty domicile like Katrina on the Superdome. We unleashed our torrent to knock down cobwebs, old mud-dauber nests, and caked on dust blown in from west Texas over the recent months. As the March winds moderated, and the promise of July’s jet-blast looming, we readied ourselves for summer’s vacation and the eventual arrival of family from far away places. We cleaned out closets and cabinets to the point of obsession, but when we were done, it just made me giddy to know everything had a place, and everything was in it. I see the master’s hand at work in that simple principle, so let me remind you – you have a place in the Kingdom of God and He’ll see to it you find it.

I was recently walking down the aisle at work and thinking about how many cesspools I’ve had to traverse so early in this year. Quickened in my spirit that life can deal us a pile of pooh in a moment’s notice, I was challenged by the thought that we can either lament its odor, or broadcast its benefits as fertilizer for the spirit. So as winter fades, I’m brightened by the suspicion that great and wonderful things are about to “spring” forth. As I wash the windows of my soul, I offer up the debris of my heart to clear the clutter of His temple, and I purpose to make room for new growth and His blessings. As this season dawns, I sense an expectation of added new life in Christ and I see the budding in my spirit of flowers becoming fruit. The cold night is thawing and a fresh breeze is blowing through the now open windows of my spiritual house.

Not everyone embraces the storms of change or even the birth of spring. Their spiritual allergies flare up and they go into hiding afraid of the pollination of the precious. The delicate photosynthesis of the Spirit can illumine the dirt therein and cause a fit of sacred sneezing. Eyes will water for sure. I know many who will barricade themselves in isolation and miss the beauty of the butterflies. Instead of application of the organic to feed the garden of their heart, they apply synthetic weed-killers and guard themselves with glyphosates. Rather than accept the benefits of transformation, they fearfully spread the pre-emergent that suffocates the assembly of the soul. I love that the pruning of the dead wood of my tree of life, and the clippings from scalping the lawn of my selfish will are composted and decomposed to make me a fertile seed bed of His love. It is interesting that He sees fit to reintroduce the dung rather than remove it. He redeems my muck and transforms it into marvel. It’s kind of cool that the morning of Jesus’ resurrection Mary mistook Him for the gardener. I think she may have had it right at first sight. Eden is on my mind as the dead of winter is gone and spring has sprung into full bloom.


Debris in my heart clutters my soul,
Come be a part of making me whole.
Clear my heart with your matchless grace.
I turn back to you here in this place.

Love without end
I find once again
Love without end
Broken me mend.
Love without end
The lost you will send
May I be a friend
and show,
Your love without end.