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Ruff Season (or I’m just not feeling it and need to ramble on about it for a bit…)

tumblr_lwf5nxSuGP1r0k32bo1_500It could be the fact that I’m getting older.  It could be  the fact that this time of year is just extremely busy and filled with lots of last minute things to do.  Maybe it was the migraine I had yesterday that is still lingering behind my eyes.  Or, perhaps it is the never ending rush of hate filled diatribe on the internet.  I just do not feel very Christmassy this year.  Something feels off.  Maybes its my focus, maybe its my heart, honestly I wish I knew.  Oh sure the lights are up, the classics are playing on TV and radio.  We’ve preached messages about God coming to us, and sung Christmas carols.  Yet, there is this fog of yuck that is just floating over everything.

This country is suffering from a severe lack of accountability in its dealings with others.  You see videos of people being abused, animals being treated cruelly for no reason, children being abandoned only find follow up comments with the likes of “LOL” or “ROFL”.  Follow those nonsense letters with a profanity laced rant of ignorance and you get my drift.  People simply do not know how to people anymore.  We cannot blame a political candidate, or leader for this problem.  We have allowed it.  We have allowed it with our social media “freedom” and our lack of compassion and empathy for any one other than ourselves.  Possibly the worst thing that has happened to our culture is the ability to comment on anyone’s picture, post, or article without accountability has torn a whole in our moral fabric.

So what?!

I was teaching last night, and some of it made sense at least.  The birth of Christ occurred at a rather rough time in History.  Governments were shaken outside of Rome, and even within Rome they were pretty unstable and definitely not beneficial to the vast majority of the populace.  There was ,in fact, a massive lack of accountability to one’s fellow man.  And so Jesus is born.  He isn’t born in grand hall, or golden room, or any of the opulence that He deserved.  He is born, in the open air, or a cave (sorry, but the idea of an inn is a not really a fitting part of history, and is most likely a poor translation or scribes addendum).  His birth is announced to a group of shepherds.  The lowly, not well thought of part of society that was untrusted to the point of being barred from testimony in court.  Why?  Because God is beginning breaking down boundaries between the mighty and lowly.

It is amazing to me that this time of year we see so many barriers get put up.  This “War On Christmas” nonsense pops up and we go to our corners, and other sides go to their corners and as Ben Carson says we “Just hate”.  If Christmas really means that much to you, then why does your life outside of this season not reflect it?  I have a few thoughts on that.

It is easy to care about people this time of year.  Thanksgiving and Christmas usher in this season of looking out for those less fortunate.  We have created a slot of time to think about it.  We have sales, and food drives, and meals, and all of these things that makes empathy easy and non threatening.  Just like the Nativity Jesus is non threatening.  There is nothing threatening about an infant.  An infant is cute and adorable, and cuddly and all those things that make us feel good inside.  The lifestyle that infant calls you to however is not such a simple thing.

You see that infant grew up.  He ushered in God’s Kingdom on earth and called al who would to come follow Him and live in that Kingdom here, now, and then on the other side in the perfection of creation.   But it isn’t pretty.  It requires us to do more than be dismissive of others in a comment box.  It requires more than 25 days of giving a rip about your neighbor.  It requires a death to self, a death to what you understand as freedom, and rebirth into something much grander, and yet far more humble.  That my friends is a threatening thing.  The cross of Christ is not a pretty sight.  It is a deep contrast to the manger.  Yet we cannot have one without the other.  Beauty, I suppose can only be magnified but its opposite.  Christmas is easier than Easter.  Giving a present is easier than giving your life, your self.

So what?!  What is my point?

The beauty of Christmas, the feeling I should have is not based on an evergreen tree with shiny wrapped gifts under it.  It is not in the “magic” of the season.  The beauty of Christmas is the leveling of the field.  The birth of Christ announced the change of the world from a place of desperate hopelessness to a world filled with hope because it’s creator was setting about redeeming it and making it new.  He was announcing that each and every person born, was going to have the ability to be made whole.

So as we wander around (anti) social media, and we read the news, and listen to the reports of the nastiness of the world.  Know this and be comforted, God is still in control.  There is nothing that has or will occur that He does not know about.  Do not despair and do not fear, for the Angel announced it to the shepherds on the night of Christ’s birth.

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

People will continue to be a source of disappointment and discouragement.  Trolls will always be in the comment section waiting to drag you down to their level.  But Jesus was still born for them as well.  Christmas is about recognizing that we are all equally in need of grace.  If you can give a measure of grace to your fellow human, do so all year, not just when Coca Cola puts Santa Claus on a can (did they even do that tis year).

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Infinitely More

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Infinitely More

I have sat, I have paced.  I have read, scoffed, laughed, shrugged, rolled my eyes more than a Robert Downey Jr. meme. and felt a general sense of nausea.  There have been feelings of rage, sadness, fear, helplessness, and so many more mixes of feelings that quite frankly I cannot process them all at once.  People say, oh you’re just being dramatic, you’re just being this or that, or you’re being bigoted, racist, insensitive, disagreeable, the list just goes on continually.  The reason the list just continues to grow is that no one else knows how to feel either.  We want to be upset, we want to feel better, we want to feel vindicated.  Fact is we want all of these things and we want what we want, the way we want it, and yet we will never have it.

This country is divided, more so now than ever.  Christians cannot agree on how to deal with a red cup, let alone how to answer the problem of refugees.  It is a disease of ignorance, where one side wants to blindly obey everything leadership hands out as long as it makes them feel good, and the other side rages against the machine.  It is an election year and as Americans we throw away our unity for the cause of one party or another, or the ever present middle ground where no one yells at you.

It’s time to stop.  It’s time to step back and look around, grasp the bigger picture of what is happening in the world.  It’s time to read the news, to really examine what is being told and what is really happening.  This cycle of panic and outrage is doing nothing for us as a people.  What are the facts that we know?

We know that there are nasty individuals who want nothing more than to kill and destroy.  there is nothing more to it than that.  They are not trying to usher in any new world order, they see chaos and destruction.  This is not some vague James Bond villain seeking a model utopia.  This is an enemy that desires death in the name of fanatic hatred.  If we cannot recognize that as a fact, then there is little hope in the face of this evil.  We cannot be delusional and try to classify and declassify and divide along lines of race, class, and religion.  This enemy does not care what you call it, because this enemy only wants you dead.  There is no such thing as a one sided diplomatic solution, there is only victory or defeat.

We also must realize that the right decisions are not the ones that are the most popular.  The happy feel good decision that makes you happy, is probably not the one that is best for everyone involved in the long run.  This idea that we have to make decisions based on what makes us feel good about ourselves is flawed and immature.  Eating donuts makes me feel good, but in the end if thats all I do it will kill me.  The same is true about decisions for our country.  It requires the ability to see a bigger more far reaching picture.  You can get mad, you can disagree, but in your disagreement do not act like a spoiled child and call everyone else names because you did not get your way.

You may be reading this a wondering why, why waste my time with this, this piece is probably just going to turn it in to some sort of Christianity based stance in favor of Islamaphobia, or racism, or GOP support.  Or you may call me a liberal, unpatriotic, bleeding heart, and weak.  Label it whatever you wish to label it.  Disagree with me, I do not care, and your disagreement with me does not offend me.  I think we’ve forgotten how to disagree with one another in this country.  Anytime some one doesn’t think the way we do we want to call them names and become offended in our deepest being because someone else did not see life the way we do.  I see things the way I see them based on my own understanding of the world.  That is based on 35 years of experience, years of college and study, and my own research and observation.  My thoughts are my own, your agreement with them does nothing to change them.

I do not have an answer to the problems facing this world.  I don’t, and really, telling you my thoughts and opinions on what we should do will do nothing in the end.  Yet, I know what we cannot do as Christians, we cannot allow ourselves to become divided over the issues and forget our mission.  You can post all the scripture out of context that you want and claim that it speaks directly to the problems, yet your mission is not that.  We are not called to throw truth bombs and shame other Christians because we disagree. If you don’t like what your government has done, tell them that in a calm and articulate letter.  But for these so called “Christian leaders” to cast about words such as “shame” and “disgust” is quite frankly what makes them unfit leaders.  The amount of church members you have at your church does not make you a leader, nor does your book sales, or your twitter follower count.  Your ability to speak life in to the hearts and minds of people makes you a leader.

I do not think God cares about your blog readership.  Nor do I believe God cares about whether or not you held a political line with your social media profile.  It is unfathomable for me to think that God is watching to see if you said the snarkiest response to the other side of the issue, or reposted the correct feel good message on social media.  God is infinitely more invested in whether or not you pointed people to His glory, to His Son, to His grace, to His love with your life.  If you want to argue that , “well, I use my social media to do that”.  Then I would ask you this, when did your social media feed a refugee, or clothe the homeless, or care for a foster child?

It is time we as Christians stopped playing the world’s game of words.  It is time we stopped trying to make everything about how we can start a new movement.  It is time we started doing the mission we were called to do.  Right now nature is doing a far better job of crying out God’s glory than His people are.  The stars in the sky do not display the nature of a God who panics at the first sign of trouble.  Rather they steadily proclaim that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Times like these have been ordained.  It is for us to recognize that the urgency for us to show Jesus to others is all the more serious.

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Stretch

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I hate to stretch.  I do not like to stretch.  It hurts.  It hurts all over when I stretch.  It always has.  Even when I was younger and in far better shape.  Though, I do like power yoga, no idea why.  The pain is not such an unbearable thing.  It is extremely uncomfortable.  Stretching makes my brain question very seriously why I am doing this to myself.  Then usually my brain says stop.

They, that group of notoriously anonymous know-it-alls, say that stretching is good for you.  I have no doubt that it is.  It makes your muscles more supple.  It makes you less prone to injury when physically active.  I’m sure it does any number of other wonderful things for my body.  But it hurts.  No one likes to do things that hurt.  Wait, most normal sane human beings who are healthy and happy, do not like to do things that are painful with no hope of instant reward.  (Those of you who enjoy pain, there is another article for you coming one day.  It will probably be a short one.)

Physical improvement means pain and hard work.  The old muscle must be broken down and regrown and doubled.  With changes comes pain.  I always enjoy thinking about the Marine Corps Drill Instructor informing his recruits that pain is weakness leaving the body (though in some case its actually a serious injury).

Spiritual and life improvement will mean pain as well.  We are creatures of habit.  Breaking habits is a difficult thing.  Think about the statement, breaking habits.  Its actually a violent statement.  Something is going to be broken.  What that something is depends on the situation.  It could be a way of living.  It could be a way of reacting.  It could be a way of thinking.  Change will bring something we do not understand.  Newness is exactly what it is.  It is new, unknown.

The letter ,James, the Brother of Jesus, wrote to the church at Jerusalem had a lot of change and growth.  It called for a radical change of thinking in a very boot camp style.  The new Jewish-Christians were being persecuted in their own communities.  Not violently, but socially, and financially.  In many ways, that could be just terrible to live with.  Violence is quick, the social ostracism that these early Christians faced was much longer lasting and further reaching.  It caused a lot of them to fall into old habits, bad behavior, and incorrect thinking.  James’ response was to stretch them.  He called for change in the way of thinking.  He echoed his half brother.  He called for love on a level that had never been seen.  James called for people to act in a way that made no sense.  James told them to put themselves at the bottom of the list.  Not to be doormats mind you.  But to be servants.  To not consider what the world calls good a thing to be sought after.  Thats stretches the mind and spirit.  It stretches us socially.  It stretched us in our faith.

Yet, our spirit needs to be stretched.  It needs to be more flexible.  It needs to gain strength.  We should be in a place where we are in fantastic spiritual shape.  That way, when the real problems of life hit us, we have the strength to stand (notice I did not say fight, that is God’s job.)  If we are in good spiritual shape, nicely stretched and ready, we will be much more able to

move when God calls us to

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Silence

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graphic by Hillsong, edits by author.

There was nothing.  Tears had fallen, pain had been screamed.  Bargains had been offered.

Now only grief.

The numbness that consumes the empty place where joy once was.

Its not the memory that eats at the day.  It is silence.

The deafening sound of nothing.

It would be fine to think of the loudness of Friday.

Friday was full of noise.

Accusations

Betrayals

Lies

Political maneuvering

More lies

A people turning their face from the truth.

A people screaming for innocent blood.

The sounds of a whip.

Crack-crack-crack-crack-thirty times crack.  Each time the sound changes.  The crisp becomes the wet.

Then more cries for blood, blood and a tree;  a tree, an impromptu crown, and three nails.  Now the hammer rings.

Ping

Ping

Ping

A Savior cries, “It is Accomplished”.  The Earth shakes, barriers fall.

A Mother cries as she holds her son one last time.

A stone is rolled…………Silence………Night………..Dark………………………….Nothing.

But…

It is a nothing…

So that there can be something.

Something greater.

Under the silence there is movement.

Under the silence there is battle…conquest and victory.

We hear nothing.

Eternity hears the voice of a King.

We hear weeping.

Heaven hears the joyous victory over sin.

We hear nothing…because death is nullified.

It cannot whisper to God’s children.  Its sting had been removed.  It has been beaten.

The world is silent, because it is waiting.

Anticipating

Hoping

…And Finally…Silence is broken.

What are you listening to?

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The Joy Thief

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Sunrise over Lake Lanier(photo by author)

One of the inevitable facts of life is that at some point you will find yourself in a position of feeling…well, bleh. I have no other words to sum up just what I mean. Say the word out loud, BLEH. Say it loud. There is meaning in that, the louder you say it the more bleh you will get. Its that sick feeling that something is just completely wrong and you cannot put your finger on it. Its just a nasty feeling that can only be summed up with a sound. Bleh! This week I found myself feeling that way. It has been a very eventful and tragic week since last Thursday. It seemed that for several days the world simply ceased to function properly in the small town where I serve. Near death experiences by some, death in other cases, misunderstanding, ignorance, closed mindedness, and just an overall sense of losing focus just fell upon us. And so I felt bleh. I’m sure others had a much more profound sense of something else deeper and more life changing. The feeling left me staggered, confused, empty almost. Like I had no direction in which to travel. I stared at the screen with no thoughts. I listened to music with deaf ears. I made plans without really knowing what was happening. It was as if I had walked too close to a speaker at a rock concert. I could feel nothing but a steady rumble of something other worldly and strikingly frightening, yet nothing was truly wrong.
There was a time in my life when I would spend a great deal of time deer hunting. I would wake up early in the morning ( who are we kidding if its dark, its night). I would go deep into the woods climb a tree in the inky blackness, and sit. The forest is silent when there is no light. Your ears become attuned to every little sound in the brush, yet there is nothing. Only the wind whispers of something. The animals are all asleep, bedded down, waiting for something. The longer you sit, the more you become aware of the still silence. Then it happens. In the east the black begins to become grey. Stars that were once the only pin pricks of light in the dark curtain of night fade. Sound returns to the world. Birds chirp softly, small rodents stir in the leaves. The dreams carried by the wind become the sound of life waking. And as the rest of the sky begins to fall in love with the light you begin to feel like life is coming back to you.
Sunrise is a wonderful thing. It is life returning to the world. Certainly there is life in the city at night. The lights never go out. Yet the light of the sun is simply different. It is far grander than anything electricity could create.
David, my favorite mistake make in the Bible, had an issue. He had caused some serious problems in his life. He had sinned greatly with infidelity, murder, and lies. He broke three commandments in one situation. Yet, he was convicted, he was moved, and he repented and was restored through forgiveness. He penned these words, “Restore to me the joy of my salvation” (Psalm 51:12). And his prayer was answered.
It is amazing to me that these words are penned by David in his despair, because they speak beyond the times when we are being convicted. The world, and the devil, will do whatever can be done to steal your joy. God, in His infinite and wonderful wisdom does not stop such things from happening. Tragedy comes, troubles come, trials come. Not because God is mean, or angry with you personally. These things happen because they must. There is a purpose behind them. Also, if they did not come, then why would we feel the need to rely on God? Why would the Bible speak of a NEW Heaven and NEW Earth? The world is broken. And thus it will seek to break you. It will try to convince you that the black night is all that exists. It is a thief that revels in taking your joy from you. And yet, the sun rises.
The sunrise declares God’s power, God’s love, God’s care. Jesus spoke about the troubles of the world. The apostle John recounts His words in John 16:33. “In this world you will have trouble, but take comfort, I have overcome the world.” The sunrise declares that. Spring declares that. The cross declares that. Do not allow thieves convince you that they have taken from you that which cannot be taken. Salvation cannot be stolen. Be restored to joy. Step into the sun. Bask in the glow of a risen Savior.

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A Gate Called Beautiful

The pain is searing. It feels as an icepick between my shoulder blades. No position brings relief, no stretch, no twist, nothing. Not even the prescriptions dull the invisible knife that tears constantly just 8 inches below my neck. But it doesn’t matter. Pain is an inevitable part of life. What matters is position and understanding. So…I find myself sitting outside the gate called Beautiful. Just like the man in Acts 3. I come every day for the same thing. Just to beg for what I think I want.

What I need however is not quite what I may be wanting. Far below the physical pain is damage that no surgeon or specialist can repair. It is a spiritual need. The Apostles offered the lame man at the gate more than he wanted, but exactly what he needed. The gave him what Jesus promised. It was a meeting of the unheard desperate cry of the soul and the penultimate grace of the cross. The man walked away in praise and adoration for the gift of God.

He came to understand that the gate is a place that we cannot stay. It is no place to live. When we understand that God wants to meet our needs, our wants become changed. We become free; freed to serve a God who in turn serves us, even though we don’t deserve it.

Let us not stand at the gate called Beautiful. Let us enter the temple, the city, the world and become that which meets the needs in someone else’s world. Bring others in from the gate into a place where abundance flows like a fountain unceasing. In my mind, whatever exists behind a gate called Beautiful must be far greater than what is kept outside. Its time to go in and live more abundantly.

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Trusting God with your Present (Trusting God Series Part 2)

Trusting God with your Present (Trusting God Series Part 2)

“41 Sitting across from the temple treasury, He watched how the crowd dropped money into the treasury. Many rich people were putting in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and dropped in two tiny coins worth very little. 43 Summoning His disciples, He said to them, “I assure you: This poor widow has put in more than all those giving to the temple treasury. 44 For they all gave out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she possessed — all she had to live on.”

Mark 12:41-44

Human beings have an issue with trust. Some of us trust everything we hear and see. For example that poor girl in the insurance commercial who says if its on the internet it must be true. Then there are those of us who simply do not trust anyone whatsoever. We like to pick and choose how we will trust people. My personal favorite is the statement made by Ronald Reagan’d administration, “trust, but verify”. Fact is we find it difficult to trust people.
When it come to trusting God, the story is almost completely different. We are willing to trust God with our prayers and concerns, and yet at the same time we continue to worry and fret over every thing that we have just laid at the feet of Jesus. We seem to be able to trust that Jesus can save us, but we do not have the ability to trust Him with the minor things or day to day lives that we experience.
In Mark 12, we are introduced to a poor widow who gives all the money that she has in an offering to God. The rich priests and scribes and other people give only a small portion, yet this woman gives all she has, though it is already such a small amount to begin with. Our first reaction to this story is to think that this verse is about money. Actually it is about much more than that. But let us look at money. In America money is everything. It is how we provide ourselves with food, shelter and many varied forms of comforts and unneeded gadgets. Without money life is extremely difficult to get through, trust me on this one. Thus our culture would expect us to place a huge priority on money. The world would have us strive for more and more of it. God, however, would have us do otherwise. He would have us trust Him with our money.
You see, when we trust God with our money in today’s culture, we are in essence trusting Him with our lives. The poor widow has given us a wonderful example of what it means to trust God in the present. Jesus tells us that she gave all she had. Since He is Jesus, we can take that at face value. This woman gave her last two cents to God. She trusted that God would provide what she needed. She knew that God would give her exactly what she needed in order to live.
Ephesians 4:24 tells us to put on a new nature, the new nature that God has made in us. That means the we must begin to trust God in our daily lives. God’s word is where we find our ability to trust Him. It is full of His promises to us. It is how God is relevant to us in our lives right now. When we live by our new nature following His word, we find that by trusting in God, all of our needs are fulfilled.
Not only is God relevant to us right now, God is sufficient. You don’t sit down and eat a sufficient meal and leave wanting. Likewise, when we trust God with our daily lives, we find that His provision, what He gives us, is more than enough for us. And beyond that, God is reliable. The promises that He makes, He follows through with them. There us testimony after testimony on how God has come through for His people. There are stories throughout the Bible, and stories throughout the church worldwide. God will do what He says, and He says He can handle what you need.
Should we start small, or go all in trusting God. The choice is really yours to make. The widow in the story went all in. But perhaps you need to build up to it. Maybe life has left you feeling burned. Start small, but more than anything start. Just because your parents or your friends, or other leadership in your life has proved untrustworthy, that is no reason to cheat yourself on the trustworthiness of God. he has never failed, and He never will. So how do you trust God? How do you start?
Pray, take your problems to God in prayer, then leave them with him. Don’t think about them again, just trust that He will present a solution or handle it without you ever doing anything. Start by leaving your problems, worries and concerns at the feet of Jesus, and never try to take them back. Peace comes when we truly allow God to work. And more than that, spend time reading God’s word. It is one thing for me to tell you about what God says, but it is much more real when you read and experience it for yourself.

If you are struggling to find a starting point. There are many apps for iOS and Android that are daily devotionals and Bibles. Also check into our Live Event on You Version’s Bible app. If you don’t have a smartphone or tablet, thats perfectly fine. Pick up a Bible (NIV, HSBC, NLV, or NRSV) and begin by reading the book of John. Of course you can always contact me and I will be happy to help point you in the right direction.

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