in.him

There is a man named Jim Bayless who will always occupy a deep place in my heart. My love for him is rooted in his treatment of me when I was a young, married man, working my way up in an architectural firm. He was well-respected in our church, a leader of men. By appearances, you would consider him a man of influence. He was always in the middle of the things going on with the church – land, buildings, ministries, budgets. Compared to him, I was just a naive, young, inexperienced pup.

But, he did not see me that way – at least he never portrayed that. In fact, quite the opposite. He recommended me to the building committee and would publicly ask my opinion about things being discussed, as if I were as experienced as anyone. He would give me public credit for good ideas we spoke about privately. He would say things like “men like us, Herb” when discussing life. He was an unofficial mentor to me, expecting great things as if I could live up to them.

Continue reading in.him

oxygen

God often brings to my mind people for whom to pray. Sometimes He brings specific people to mind, like Kevin. Sometimes He asks me to pray for a “general” group, like teachers, soldiers, and waiters/waitresses. Today God asked me to pray for another “general” group: those who were called to ministry, but for one reason or many, are not yet doing what they’ve been called to do. Continue reading oxygen

press

My two kids are now grown, one in college, one finished college and now in the workplace. I had them both home last weekend. Sunday night, I prepared myself for their departure. I took on a disinterested attitude thinking it wouldn’t hurt as much when they drove away. I was wrong. I cried after they were out of sight. Continue reading press

grateful

This morning as I was listening to the radio on my drive to work, I heard the story of a soldier. He was the point-man for his unit as they walked across a bridge. As they were crossing, they were attacked, and he was severely wounded.

He is now a quad-amputee. I listened to this soldier, who lost parts of all four limbs, talk about how grateful he was. He was grateful to be alive. I did not hear any sadness over his injuries, or lament of an altered future. All I heard was a man grateful to be able to share life with his wife.

I heard his wife speak too. She is overjoyed that he is alive. Her only “negative” statement was that she couldn’t do anything but pray while he was still in-theater. Now he is home, and she can’t even imagine a life without him.

12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:12-13)

When Jesus said those words, he was fully aware of what he was going to do very soon – die on a cross, first for his friends, but ultimately for every human being to ever live.

Try as I might, I’ll never understand what it means to be that willing. In my mind, I feel sure that I would be willing to give my life for my family, and my friends. But for people I don’t know? Hard to say. Jesus decided to do just that for people who were not even born yet. Yes, he knows us before we are even conceived, but that is not the same thing as an abiding personal relationship. He had that with the disciples, but not with me or you – not yet anyway. I cannot begin to express the depth of gratitude that I have for God’s grace.

Back to that soldier. Perhaps the only people who can truly understand that kind of love are those who have put their lives on the line. But, what I do understand is that an incredible depth of gratitude wells-up in me today as I consider what men and women like him are willing to do. Politics aside, that guy is a hero to every person who loves freedom. And what’s even more amazing is that there are about a million other men and women willing to place life and limb on the line.

Happy veterans day to all who have put on a uniform in our armed services. May God bless you, richly and immeasurably.

photo.journal

About this time last year, my bride and I were given a precious gift by the people of Thrive Church – a mini vacation. We didn’t spend a lot, and we didn’t go far, but it was a precious gift to us – a much needed rest.

We spent the first day with friends in Nashville, then caught a flight to Atlanta, where we spent a few days. We spent some time at a few tourist favorites, like the Georgia Aquarium. But mostly, Angel and I spent some time together. We talked about things – our children, Thrive Church. We never hurried, and while we had a list of things to do and see, we determined that we would do them if we felt like it. Time was our slave, even if it were just for a few days.

I took a lot of pictures, and I really do look at them often, bringing my mind back to that peaceful and rejuvenating excursion. Recently I decided to get a personalized, hard-cover photo-journal printed (thanks, iPhoto). It arrived today, at the office. I spent a few minutes sharing it with coworkers, smiling at the memories released by each tuned page. We’ll have this tangible reminder for years to come.

The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God endures forever.”
(Isaiah 40:8)

Isaiah had the privilege of announcing the coming release of the people from a long captivity. His words are a mix of warning and celebration. “We will be free soon,” he says. “But let’s not forget why we went through that.”

While they endured their exile, God did not abandon them. He sent men like Isaiah to urge them towards repentance and change – making them ready for they day they resume their call to be the priesthood for the world. Through it all, God continued to speak to them through His Word. Nations may fall and people may sway in the wind. But God’s Word is forever.

No matter where we find ourselves – in exile or the mountaintop – God’s word is with us. Just like that nifty photo-journal, always at hand. With each turned page, God’s grace is released into our lives, encouraging us at life’s bends and slopes.

go.first.then.see

I was an entrepreneurial kid. If I saw sycamore leaves all over a yard, I’d knock on the door with a rake and trash-bag in hand, and convince the homeowner to let me rake the yard. But, I requested payment up-front.

I remember getting into a few negotiations with people over this, and my argument went like this, “if you pay me now, then I won’t have to bother you later.”  It seemed to work every time – well, except once.

There was an elderly man who always came to the door with his military-issue garrison cap. He would never agree to pay me up front and negotiations failed. I’d just walk away.

One weekend, I was about $10 short of getting a new bicycle, so I decided to give the old soldier another try. I agreed to be paid at the end of the job, but I wanted to nail down a price. He said, “you’ll know the reward once the job’s done.”

How absurd! I can’t agree to a job without a set fee! How ridiculous!

10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”
(Exodus 3:10-12)

What a crazy proposition! Go do “this thing” and you will know that it’s the “right thing” after you’re done doing it. Say what? If we read on, we’ll see that Moses was not inspired either. He continued to press God for assurance.

Hmm. How many times have I done that with God? How many times have I pressed Him for assurances? Too many – and I’m ashamed to admit it. But, what I’ve learned from it all is that the leap requires faith, not assurance. Assurance is the reward for faithfulness in (and trust of) God.

P.S. I accepted the old soldier’s deal. At the end of the job, not only did I get a crisp and clean $20 bill – I also got a conversation and a new friend. Oh, and I trusted him to do right by me the next time around.

are.you.hurting?

I noticed in my stat logs that nearly everyday someone comes across a particular post on this blog.

The post deals with when a Christian hurts. I felt compelled to re-post it.

Christians hurt. It is real hurt, about real issues. For Christians, part of our struggle during hurt is the sense of guilt about some of the things we feel about God while we hurt. We feel abandoned. We feel forgotten. We feel punished. We feel distrust. We feel bewilderment. We feel doubt. Yes, we “feel” these things. As we experience them, intense feelings emerge. And then we feel guilty about feeling these things, convinced that we’ve finally stepped out of His favor because of our lack of perseverance and strength.

I recently received a cry of help from someone I care about. As I wrote I searched for the Holy Spirit’s words because I had none. As I wrote, His words began to flow, and something that I had never considered came forth. I decided to write a blog post about it because I do feel it sincerely to be Holy Spirit inspired, and could give some comfort or perspective to some Christian who is hurting.

Here is what came forth (edited for grammar and clarity):

I’m not going to patronize you with the whole “all things happen for the good of those who love Him,” or “God is walking this road with you.” You know all that, but it doesn’t help. The fact is that life really sucks sometimes and “sometime” happens to be right now for you.

I wish, for all the people I care about, that God will immediately lift the burdens they are suffering. But, the painful fact is that for whatever reason, God permits our trials. Of course, we know that none of this is God’s fault – we are products of the failure of our first parents – the whole of creation bears it’s pain. But that hardly matters when we are hurting.

So what do we do? Do we curse God because of His permissive position regarding our suffering? Do we abandon Him because it feels like He has abandoned us? Do we just give up and let the flood overtake us – figuratively if not literally?

I am reminded of David’s struggles. While mostly self-induced, his pain was, nonetheless, quite real and quite debilitating. Yet even in his cries of frustration and anger – sometimes squarely directed at God – somehow David was able to overcome his pain and ultimately, time after time, he was able to praise God.

His praise was not because the pain was magically eradicated during his song, nor because the broken was magically restored. His praise was rooted in the knowledge that God’s love is perfect and His end-game plan was assured.

Could our comfort be so hokey as the promise of a “light at the end of a tunnel?” I struggle with that notion. That peace is found outside of my circumstances, in something that transcends my plight, is difficult to fathom. After all, doesn’t He care about every hair on my head? Isn’t He supposed to care when I hurt?

Yet, even though I may not feel like it, I know, from others too, that somehow Grace is enough – not some self-absorbed notion of Grace, but a view of Grace that binds all of humanity to the hope of being redeemed – restored to our place in His purpose.

The trials that we face, as hard as they are to endure at times, are being creatively and actively redeemed and rewoven into the fabric of a restored creation. The redeemed threads of others are bound with ours as we walk this journey together – touching one anothers’ lives with Grace.

Nothing I said makes it any easier to endure, I know. But I can only offer the hope of God’s perfect plan. I believe that all of our pain will be redeemed to help someone else in their redemptive process. One day, I pray soon, your pain will be redeemed to help someone else in their redemptive process.

I don’t know how or when the end of your tunnel will come. But, the one thing I can assure you of is that He has already empowered you with the ability to see it through to redemption.

2.the.created

Part 2.

Each part of this series builds upon previous entries. I suggest reading the prior entry to activate the context of this post.

God created everything. The God who has always been, decided, at a certain point in time, to create. Everything that exists is something that He created. Even things that are man-made are mere assemblies of things that God created from nothing. Yes, nothing – as hard as it may be to consider. There are several viewpoints about how this took place. Some take a strict and literal view of the Bible’s creation stories. Yet others try to merge scientific observation with a less literal viewpoint. Between these two extremes, there is a vast ocean. But, all of these points of view are secondary to the essential truth: God did it. (John 1:3)

He created people to be like Him. No, we’re not gods – far from it. But, He did make us “in His image” – but how so? Since a physical similarity seems improbable for a transcendent God, “His image” in us shows up in things like our ability to reason on our own, our propensity towards relationship, and even in our creative tendencies. We even have a God-given spark of curiosity about Him embedded within all of us. The point is that we are not hapless creatures operating on a survival instinct, but unique individuals, able to make (and be responsible for) our own choices. (Gen 1:27)

He created us perfectly. Everything God creates is created perfectly. The universe, and everything in it, was perfectly crafted by God. Everything was created to work together in perfect harmony. But, when we look at these things now, they are certainly not perfect. The planet is broken, and torn up. The weather is volatile and often violent. And human beings – well, you’ve heard it, maybe even said it, “I’m just human – I’m not perfect.” But, imperfection is really nonhuman – it’s not how we were created to be. So, what happened? Well, for that, you’ll have to check the next post in this series. (Genesis 1:31)