Wednesday, July 30, 2008

MYPOD's Ears are Itching

Mark 4:23-29 “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear. Consider carefully what you hear," he continued. "With the measure you use, it will be measured to you-- and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him."

He also said, "This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain-- first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come."

It occurred to me recently that we have a whole generation of people that have the “buffet” mentality. Sometimes my son will gripe and moan about what is put before him at dinner lamenting the choice as if it were some sort of Guantanamo gumbo or something. He gets the usual comparisons to starving children in China, the brow-beating, and the reminder that it is God’s perfect provision for today.

The microwave generations have not been served well with their pre-packaged instant gratification in all things. Who could argue in favor of microwave popcorn over stove top pop with real melted butter except for some lazy ass? That’s right I didn’t stutter.

One of the things I find frustrating these days is that technology has driven us indoors and away from others. Thank God for TIVO – it’s the one invention that actually allows the opposite. Nowadays we have Cell phones, IPODs, and
MYSPACE to secure our perimeter and chain us to ourselves.

We rarely buy CD’s anymore, we just pick and choose and download to our “selections” on ITunes and create our own online playlists. Guilty. Now this kind of freedom may seem harmless and desirable, yet I find it difficult to engage when one has their “Skullcandy” ricocheting tunes at 100 decibels through their, well, skull.

I’ve approached coworkers desks only to get the stink-faced “What?!” as if I had interrupted their honeymoon. What follows is the slow disassembly of the ear-wired connection, followed by the sigh while they press the pause function, and finally the “yeah what’s-up?”

“Oh nothing, I just wanted see if you wanted any donuts, but they're gone now. A dozen were eaten in the time it took you to undock from your IPOD. Sorry to have bothered you.”

And the only wave we might get from a neighbor driving down the street these days is if they can muster the strength to raise their pinky (it might as well be “tall man”) from the edge of their Razor as the pass by engrossed in whatever conversation that couldn’t wait to have on a

When I checked out that term on Wikipedia I felt nostalgic. Give me a dialer and we’ll be down right retro! I know a number of people who don’t even have home phones anymore. God forbid they ever need 9-1-1. “I’m sorry sir – you’re breaking up. Did you say you had a burger or a burglar? Call us back from a landline please.”

How do we as a church reach a generation of techno-geeks that are more interested in being fed information and entertainment than gleaning information from a soft-covered collection of 66 incredible books? I suspect the E-version won’t make their podcast. My son can be up in his room with his door shut and August Burns Red burning through his brain and never hear me when I call.

It seems metaphoric to where society is today. God is still calling yet we’ve drowned Him out with the noise of our narcissism. We’ve used every piece of technology invented to fill up our schedules with activity and have forgotten how to rest in Him. We’ve made His world about us and we have become our own worst obstacle to intimacy with the Father and others.

How do we fulfill the two greatest commandments to love Him and others if we only hear what we pick and choose that our itching ears deem acceptable? The perimeter is secure, the personal space cordoned off, and the Do Not Disturb sign hangs conspicuously from the wires or phone stuck to our ears. We have caller I.D. and only those in our “Top 5” circle of friends can penetrate the “network,” otherwise you’ll just have to leave a message and I’ll hit you back later when it’s convenient.

Let me challenge the beloved to look outward again. Be accessible. We’ve been told that it’s important to have “unencroachable” family time, and we should, but I suspect that has become an easy excuse to get slothful and neglectful of communitus industria (community on purpose).

It is our call to “Go into all the world…” so how do we make a difference in it if we consume it for ourselves? How can we have “ears to hear” if they're plugged with the noise of our appetites. May we hunger again for His Word and His will. If you want to know if something is an “Idol,” lay it down for a week and see.

I want
MYSPACE to be His. I want my Facebook to be conformed into His image and likeness. I want my playlist to glorify Him and further His purpose in me. The passage above is tucked neatly in the middle of three parables about “seed.” First is the familiar parable of the sower, then it directly precedes the example of the grain, and finally the illustration of the mustard seed.

What goes into our ears is seed. It is interesting to note that the seed is growing whether we sleep or are awake because it is the soil that makes it grow. We can be fertile soil for bad seed and it can grow in our slumber. Consider carefully what you hear – it may not be what was said.

What kind of earth are you?
What kind of seed is growing in you?
What kind of fruit will be harvested from you?


Monday, July 28, 2008

Embracing Gethsemane

Matt 26:36-39 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me." Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."

I often pray in the mornings on my commute to work. I started this particular day off with a T-G-I-T(hursday) because I get every other Friday off – which means it is really the “Friday” of my work week. As I was approaching the gate to enter the plant I heard one word, “
Gethsemane.” Bitter sorrow for my sins began to well up within me such that I was almost too overcome with emotion to enter the plant. I slowed my pace toward the building to allow tears and emotion to subside. I’m such a woman sometimes.

I am blessed/cursed with hyper-sensitivity - my whole family is. It has taken me almost 5 decades to understand that and walk in it in a mature way. I’m still not completely there yet, but I know he wired me this way for a reason which I am sure is not intended for an inward focus but an outward empathy. It is disconcerting to me that grace is not a strong suit of mine; so rarely in my vocabulary I had to look up its spelling. Grace. It has a sweet sound. I’m pretty sure it has a sweet taste too.

As I continued toward the building I noticed a dove drinking from a puddle. The Lord has been putting dove in my path lately to remind me of His abiding presence. I know they are native to Texas and we have an abundance of them, but every time I see one I sense He is near. I need Him here. As I walked past this dove it seemed content with my close proximity and didn’t fly away. I know He is with me to stay. I suddenly felt Him wrap His arms around me. I thought for a moment, “Maybe I should leave my sunglasses on as I walk through the plant.”

2 Tim 1:4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy.

Again I heard Him whisper in my spirit “Gethsemane. Go to Gethsemane.” My mind immediately went to Jesus weeping bitterly in the garden. He was frustrated with his disciples slumbering flesh and troubled about his impending torture and death. His faithful prayer of “Father, not my will but Yours…” rings throughout the annals of Christendom, and haunts us still today. Not my flesh but your purpose. Not my appetite but your bread of life. Not the wine of drunkenness, but the blood of the Lamb. Not me! THEE! I wanted to turn around and go home where I could weep openly because of my sin, my flesh, my will, which is often not His.

That word “Gethsemane” means “oil press.” Taken in its fullness back to the root word (sort of an “exegenesis”:) it translates to something really close to this: “the place where the richness of aromatic oil is pressed out so it can grow, enter, be set in place, come, bring, and/or accompany.” As Jesus wrestled with death and sin that he had never known, but was about to know in it’s fullest vilest form, the pressure of that inevitability brought forth (pressed) blood sweated through his pores. The olive was squeezed and the richness of His innermost being manifested in the selfless resignation of surrender. Three times he found his way to that place of “not my will but yours.” I’ve been in that place where I have to keep going surrendering something back to the Father – namely my will. I am there again.

I am in a place of repentance and surrender and it sucks, and…it is amazing. I can smell the scent of a garden where the night’s dew has fallen, and where crickets chirp, and where their song is interrupted only by the weeping of a broken spirit. The sound of snoring flesh tries to drown out the cry of my heart and the profession of my faith. I am troubled that I haven’t been here more often seeking the Father’s will and purpose in a proactive intentional way. An angry mob of fleshly minions led by selfish pride and a weak will seek to arrest my redemption. I confess I have no part with them. I’m a citizen of a different Kingdom where the oil of gladness and the anointing of the Holy Spirit reigns supreme; a place where His will becomes my pursuit.

What is His will? Simple – That I love Him first and that I love others like I do myself (Matt 22:37-40). Simple – that no one perish but all come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:9). Simple – that I be conformed into His image and likeness (Rom 12:2). Simple – That I listen and obey (John 10:-16). Simple – Give thanks in all circumstances. (I Thessalonians 5:18) Impossible when all I hear is me and not Him. He walked with us in the Garden of Eden. He walked FOR us in the Garden of Gethsemane. Meet Him there to walk with Him again. It is there He showed, and shows us now, how to do all the “simple” stuff I just mentioned.

Now if you will excuse me I have some weeping to do to cleanse the soul. I have to make a deposit where my Father awaits with his trusty little bottle to catch my tears.

1 Pet 4:1-2 “Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.”

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Journey on Back Roads

Matt 7:13-14 "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Every now and then I see something in scripture that intrigues me. Recently I heard a sermon by
Cody that got me thinking about “roads,” and then I stumbled across an entry I had made in January 2007 that seems to fit. There are so many encounters that take place on “roads” in scripture. A few that come to mind are: Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch on the road to Gaza, the two disciples and magic Jesus on the road to Emmaus, Jesus’ encounter with the fig tree, and who could forget Paul’s encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus?

Sometimes God is found on the back roads instead of the front pews. Do we ever dare to take it "off road" with God or do we just try to keep it safe? Where is the sense of discovery when it comes to our relationship with Him? I remember being giddy when I was a young bachelor striking up a new romance with a young lady. Every thought was related to or consumed by my newfound passion, and I was Ponce De Leon set on exploration of every facet of their existence.

I should be like that in pursuing the Creator of the universe. It’s not like I’ll run out of things to discover. What is truly amazing about this experience is His ability to reveal things to me about me in the process (see “journey”).

This is a lot like marriage. I find that my innermost thoughts and issues are often revealed in how I relate to my wife in certain situations. Said another way, when the stress of life and marriage begin to tighten their grip, a good barometer of my spiritual health is how many of my own personal demons manifest. These guardians of all things self-absorbed are sure to challenge the slightest encroachment of their territory, hell-bent on preserving the flesh and the Kingdom of Clay.

So is my experience with my Jesus one that reflects a sterilized, predictable, safe walk in the park? Or am I willing to hike through some wilderness in order to find Eden? My Beloved stalks me, teases me, thrills me, and scares the hell out of me. The Comforter makes me uncomfortable. He stretches my heart to be big enough for what He wants to deposit there. Betrothed to His will, I submit to the tearing of my flesh that I may in the end be joined to Him in the penetration of my spirit; deeply touched, passionately embraced, profoundly changed.

This place is not found at the park, but in the secret place of the Most High, beneath the shadow of the Almighty. Gabriel told Mary that the power of the Most High would “over-shadow” her. I have recently begun to understand the mysterious power of that event. While it involved flesh and spirit back then, today He still wants a similar encounter with each of us to deposit His seed of love in us according to His Word.

We are meant to be partakers of the Divine nature and partners with the Heavenly Husband to reach a world struck down by separation from God and rejection from each other. With our marriage to Him, we can minister life to the lonely and direction to the lost. In being saved from the safety of ourselves, our lives can become a down payment of hope for a life of meaning and mission. Some missions take us down lonely dusty trails, so it’s nice if we’ve explored a few first.

Sidebar: I know the analogies here have not escaped the reader. What I find interesting is that much of the spiritual journey is related to the tearing and breaking of flesh. First we have circumcision. Then we have consummation (broken hymen) and the initial “deposit” of the seed or word becoming flesh. And finally we have birth, or the product of that communion, which again “tears” the flesh. Don’t lose the beauty of these analogous events in how the world has perverted them. There are genuinely some deep spiritual truths here.

P.S. Editor’s note: The greatness of Steve Perry was he could sing as well live as mixed in a studio. Wow.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Resistance Training

1 Tim 4:8-11 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things.

Heb 12:11-12 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.

Have you ever waded in a river or stream where the current rushed around you, or the ocean with it’s waves relentlessly pounding against you? The struggle and pressure can provide quite a workout. After such waterobics the muscles can seem weak and tremble with exhaustion. Ultimately the benefit is added strength.

Over time these spells of opposition, whether lifting a heavy load and carrying it, standing beneath the weight of it for some period of time, or the course of opposing force can strengthen our feeble knees.

The stressful current of the world presses harshly against us and it seems at any moment it will carry us away. We live in a hostile environment, and the prince of this world would like nothing more than to steal, kill, and destroy those of us serving the Prince of Peace.

I am often conflicted when I see good people go through tough times. It pisses me off. The last ten days has been one of those seasons for a dear friend. It was a flashflood of angst and illness.

Isa 59:19 So shall they fear the name of the LORD from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun. When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD shall lift up a standard against him.

One of my very best friends on the planet went into the emergency room last week with a terrible headache. A day later we find out he had a tumor on/around his pituitary gland and pressing against his optic nerve. What the? He’s 42 years old in a couple of weeks, has a wife and two sons, and now he’s got to deal with this crap?!!!

What is so awesome is that our God doesn’t leave us to traverse these raging streams alone. I will try not to steal Barry’s thunder, because I know many of you will hear his testimony of God’s greatness in the near future. What I will say is this – no more tumor – lots of Glory for God. That is so cool.

Barry and family witnessed firsthand the love and grace of God that says, “I can and I will.” They witnessed firsthand the extension of the arms and legs of the Body of Christ. They witnessed firsthand the power of God manifested in the difficult circumstance transformed into a testimony.

They witnessed firsthand the power of God from His people loving and crying and praying and waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting. They witnessed firsthand the power of God in the bad report becoming the praise report. Benign. Caution. Peace. Rest. Wholeness. Soundness. MRI. Tumor - gone – all of it. Miracle. Going home whole. God is faithful.

I witnessed first-hand the graciousness of friends, family, and brothers, and sisters in the Lord rallying to Barry and family’s side. I witnessed first hand the application of faith before the verdict was in.
I witnessed firsthand the confession of faith regardless of the outcome.

I witnessed firsthand the intercession, the love, the tears, the stress on faces, the pain in expressions, the joy in their eyes, the hope in their voices, the songs, the healing, and the recovery. Thank you Jesus. Forever Faithful and True.

The enemy is defeated. We know this. We proclaim this. We believe this and procalim it again. But please also know this: Faith is not necessarily the absence of all fear and doubt, but the momentum of the seed of Light and Life growing inside the heart of the believer. It illumines the shadows and dispells the darkness and overtakes the storm with the Peace that comes from the Prince.

Faith understands that The Father is here and that is all I need know. Faith renews. My faith is renewed. The exercising of it builds spiritual muscles that brings strength to walk through raging waters if needed, and on top of it when necessary. My friend is well and I am filled with joy.

John 16:33 "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

Friday, July 4, 2008

Nothing is Free so LET FREEDOM RING!

You were bought with a price therefore honor God with your body. 1 Corinthians 6:20

As we celebrate "Independence Day" I was struck with the thought that most countries on the planet have a day on which they gained their independence from someone else. Most of us can relate to being freed from something - like school at the end of May, or work when we go on vacation or holiday breaks, or God when we want to enjoy sin for a season, or sin when we turn to God in repentance.

I like the thought of independence. It has a nice ring to it - like a liberty bell might have. Seems there may be some cracks in the concept however. You see, we were made to be codependent creatures not independent islands.

Take the movie "Cast Away" for example. Chuck Nolan (Tom Hanks) is stranded on a deserted island after a plane crash. Over the course of four years he adapts pretty well, but it takes another "face" to keep him sane - "Wilson." The guy was in such need of another that he invented one out of a bloody volleyball.

Interestingly (and symbolically) this friend was forged out of a painful experience. Not only this, Chuck found a way to leave his impression and fingerprints on Wilson's character. Chuck is such a great friend, he is abe to carry the conversation for the both of them. Some relationships are like this, very one-sided.

Do you have any friends that you feel like do all the talking (besides me)? Do you have friends that just sit on "mute" as you pour your heart out? These may not be friends at all, but instead may be an illusion of our own making to comfort us in our aloneness. Ouch.

Our codependent nature seeks to be nurtured and loved. Oh sure we have our moments where we think it's us against the world and we "don't need anybody" to make us happy, yadda, yadda, yadda. We're just lying to ourselves if we really think that to be true. Every "loner" I've ever met was unhappy and bitter.

We were created for relationship - first with God then with each other. In our relationship with God, we discover things about each other, and in our relationships with others we discover things about God. In our relationships with both we discover things about ourselves.

When I was a kid, I had a friend named Tommy that lived directly across the street. Check that, he probaby was not a true friend, just a neighbor, and my main antagonist. He found great pleasure in my disappointment. I would have done nearly anything for Tommy's approval. He was smart - a straight "A" student - and a head taller than me.

I felt as though he always looked down on me figuratively and literally. We played together often, but over the years I have come to understand these times as his own personal little clinic of torment.

He would suggest a sleepover that would never materialize. I would ask him to come out and play only to be turned down, then I would find him ten minutes later in his front yard playing. When he woud see me, inside he would go.

And so it went on like this for years, some days we would play, and some days he would manipuate. He was definitely the power broker in that relationship. One day he began to brag on his mom and her college education. My mom got her G.E.D. after leaving school in the tenth grade when her mom died.

Before I knew it I had punched him in the face. Much to my chagrin he just stood there with this pretty pissed look about him. Then he punched me in the stomach and I fell in a heap of regret, rejection, and sobbing frustration.

My only recourse was to run inside and tell on him. I remember there was a phone call and some discussion, but most of the "resolution" is a blur. The irony in all of this is that the first time I recall "making a decision for Christ" was when I raised my hand in a neighborhood bible school that Tommy's mom would conduct every summer.

They were Wesleyn Evangelical Methodists and we were Nazarenes. They were "once-saved-always-saved" and we were not. This may explain Tommy's mischieviousness. "Ahhh I'm in. I think I'll torment Timmy now."

This may also explain why I raised my hand every summer to get saved all over again, and again, and again. I just couldn't figure out why Tommy wasn't raising his, because if anyone needed it, it was darn sure that little devil.

I once witnessed he and Buzzy W. slice open a lizard on Buzzy's front porch. They discected it while it was alive, like it was a science experiment or a lobster being readied for the grill. I remember leaving in the middle of it nauseated and crying all the way home and thinking "those Methodists are messed up folk." They probably just needed to be saved again.

Those were simpler times with toasters and without microwaves. We had LP's not CD's. Turntables not IPODS. No one had ever heard of a cellphone, email, texting, or MYSPACE. Today's generation has shut the rest of the world out and have become the antithesis of selfless. (I'm speaking in generalities here.)

How self-centered is the concept of "MYSPACE"? Put down the rocks - I've got one too. I don't go there much, but you get the point right? E UNUM PLURIBUS! We've become individuals hell-bent on promoting our individuality.

We don't buy CD's anymore, but choose our favorites and download our playlists. Our kids control the message that goes into their heads and shut the rest of the world out via their IPOD. Society has achieved this sort of narcissistic self-sufficiency and we've put out the DND (Do Not Disturb) sign on the doorknob of our lives.

We are trying to decide what the terms and conditions of what we want from relationships all the while people need what God has deposited in you. We've put up the crime scene tape and arrest anyone that tries to cross it.

The crime scene is our heart and the crime is our indifference to others. The terms are the return on investment and the conditions include my ego. We don't reach out unless there's something in it for us.

We had ten commandments that went to two and somehow we've managed to erase those as well. The Body of Christ seems dismembered like a lizard under the scapal of a deranged surgeon. The spotless bride we are not.

Our spiritual and social masturbatory motives are taking a toll as we decide who is "in" and who is not. We limit our circles to convenience and cost. We fail to understand that the smallest investment can pay the largest dividends, and the failure to do so can literally crush another.

Beloved, being part of the body of Christ will cost you something besides a few bucks in an offering bucket and a trip to the local church for a couple of hours a week. It will cost you everything because He paid it all and bought it all with His blood.

Now let's get off our duffs and call someone we know who is hurting and needs to see Jesus with skin on Him. If you ain't there yet then get off your duff and get on your knees. If you have a "Do Not Enter" sign up, take it down. Your "freedom" to check out is nothing more than bondage to yourself. You have the key so unlock those chains an Let Freedom ring.

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. Galatians 5:13