Saturday, February 24, 2007

Thoughts for the Journey

"Loving other people, it turns out, is all about them. Then in serving and loving the other person--after making that person's cares my priority--the reward from that eventually comes back to me. That means hanging on. Praying without ceasing.
"...Love one another as I have loved you. Jesus meant that for real, it turns out. And what a Savior. He showed us how to do it: Love imperfect people because I have loved even you."

-- Patricia Raybon, from I Told the Mountain to Move.
"I simply argue that the cross be raised again
at the center of the market place
as well as on the steeple of the church,
I am recovering the claim that
Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral
between two candles:
But on a cross between two thieves;
on a town garbage heap;
At a crossroad of politics so cosmopolitan
that they had to write His title
in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek. . .
And at the kind of place where cynics talk smut,
and thieves curse and soldiers gamble.
Because that is where He died,
and that is what He died about.
And that is where Christ's men ought to be,
and what church people ought to be about."

-- from, "I simply argue that the cross" George MacLeod, as quoted in Charles R. Swindoll, Come Before Winter (Carol Stream, III: Tyndale House, 1985)
"A man prayed, and at first he thought that prayer was talking.
But he became more and more quiet until in the end he realized that prayer is listening."

-- Soren Kierkegaard

"If our prayers are to mean anything to God, they must mean everything to us."

-- Frederick D. Haynes III, from "Prayerfully Handling Situations beyond Your Control," in No Other Help I Know: Sermons on Prayer and Spirituality, ed. J. Alfred Smith, 1996.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Lord Waits on Us

The Bible tells us to wait on the Lord.

For example, in Psalm 27:14, David says, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

And in Isaiah 30:18, Isaiah writes, “Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!”

But very often, it’s the other way around—the Lord waits on us.

In Exodus 12:42, it says that the Lord “kept vigil that night to bring them [the Israelites] out of Egypt.”

In Joshua 3:17, the Levite priests carrying the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood in the middle of the Jordan River and waited while the entire nation of Israel, about 40,000 armed for battle, crossed over before the Lord on dry ground.

Think about 40,000 people. That is literally acres of people. To make a modern-day comparison, Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon that seats 46,000. Imagine the time it takes to empty a stadium of that size. Now factor in that the people aren't wearing their running shoes and carrying little felt pennants; instead, they're wearing armor and carrying big, heavy shields and spears. There is no question in my mind that the Lord, and the priests, waited patiently a very long time.

Isn’t it astounding that the creator of the universe loves us so much that He will, and, He most often does, wait for us to cross safely to the other side regardless how long it takes?

Recommended Reading

In If you’re looking for books to help you in your walk with Christ, here are some recent recommendations from my personal bookshelf.

I Told the Mountain to Move, by Patricia Raybon. With painfully honest and captivating writing, Patricia Raybon takes readers on her journey from lukewarm Christianity to a thrilling and powerful relationship with Christ. She starts her journey out of disillusionment by focusing on prayer. She vows to learn as Richard Foster describes, the “real” way to pray: to “Pray so things healed. Pray so things stopped. Pray so things started. Pray so things changed.” She learns not only how to pray with power, but also how to mend a broken life. Highly recommended.

The Power of Your Words: How God Can Bless Your Life Through the Words You Speak, by Robert Morris. If you think that what you say is expendable both for yourself and those around you, think again. In The Power of Your Words, Morris provides solid Biblical evidence that the words you speak are either a blessing or a curse, and they always have a consequence. By the end of the book, you’ll know “Oh, how much your words matter.”

What Your Do Best in the Body of Christ: Discover Your Spiritual Gifts, Personal Style, and God-Given Passion, by Bruce Bugbee. In this practical and highly readable book, Bugbee provides a sequence of text and evaluation tools to help you discover what you do best as a Christian and within the Church. He guides you to find God’s purpose for your life, your spiritual gifts, personal style, and your passion.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

The Greatest Hero of All

Ever since I can remember I wanted to be a hero. As a boy I would play Tarzan in the mulberry tree in our yard or I would tie a towel on myself and become the caped crusader. I’m sure you know what I mean.

Hero’s captivate our imaginations and find their way into our hearts. Everything from rescuing a kitten from a tree to the incredible men and women who risked their lives in the 9/11 tragedy.

Every legend, every movie, every sporting event and epic battle has a hero. It’s the person who stands out the one who is spoken of with reverence. That’s who I always wanted to be.

“I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead I do the very thing I hate.” Romans 7:15

At 41 years old I stood guilty in a courtroom as an honorable judge looked upon me as if I was the most despised criminal he had every seen. At least that is how it felt. He looked right at me and sentenced me to 2 ½ years in a state prison. That night I went down and he went home – justice served – who’s the hero?

I had become a drug addict, a thief; I abandoned my family, my business. I had become the most selfish person I had ever known. I have done things that to this day haut my imagination. The power of addiction, one of Satan’s greatest lies, enticed me to do, to be, the very thing I hate.

The pain of facing the guilt and the shame caused bitter depression within me. I had the sour taste of defeat in my mouth and as hard as I tried I just couldn’t spit it out. I was stripped of everything; even the last ounce of pride I cherished was gone. Amidst the tears and despair I could hear a voice inside of me, I just couldn’t understand it.

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.” Ephesians 2:10

My dysfunctional way of thinking and my addiction to chaos created great void within myself. As I moved through my own life, I learned to live with a distorted view of who I was.

Even though in the middle of all my confusion I could faintly hear that voice glowing louder. Then, as I found myself in prison the voice was as plain as day.

“I have so much more planned for you than you have planned for yourself.”

Now, if I can believe that God loves me enough to send His son to die for the sins that I committed so that I may be freely pardoned to the Kingdom of Heaven then how could I possibly believe that God would spend His time creating me so that I would grow to 41 years old and become totally and utterly defeated.

This is something that deserves some thought. God has called us His masterpiece – the King James Version says we are His workmanship. I have recognized that the way we view ourselves is a long way from the way God views us.

I built roads and bridges in the outside world. I’m a crane operator, heavy equipment operator; I’m experienced in concrete and even owned my own contracting company. When we would get a job I would review the blueprints, survey in elevations, cut and fill in dirt to make the roadway smooth and straight, a little concrete here and a little concrete there. Soon the whole environment resembled the vision of the designer. This roadway has a specific purpose.

God works the same way. He takes the time to design us with purpose, then He sends us out with a plan and we screw it up. It’s like sneaking into a museum and drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa with a magic marker. That’s who I had become, 41 years old walking around with a magic marker.

“Forget former times, do not dwell on the past, see, I am doing a new thing!” Isaiah 43: 18-19

Things got a whole lot easier for me when I truly realized that God was for me an not against me. He is a God of many chances and we should give many thanks for that.

But honestly, I have looked in the mirror and wondered “What can God really do with me?” I have wasted so much and quite frankly coming to prison has felt more like the end than a new beginning.

Here is what I know – this I understand, I know what it is like to have an uncontrollable addiction. I know what it feels like to abandon people who love and depend on me and I know what it’s like to be abandoned. I know the severe pain that comes with guilt and shame. I know what it’s like to lie, cheat, steal, rob, hurt someone just to finance an addiction. I know what it’s like to lose all my respect of myself and the respect of others, to lose everything and to sleep behind dumpsters or on the steps of a broken down building.

I know what it’s like to raise my hands up to Heaven and beg God to let me die. How could God possibly use this …?

“Greater love has no one that this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

As I was laying in my bed last night I realized for the first time in my life what a true hero really is. You see I always wanted to be a hero so that I would be recognized, maybe a parade, or a medal or the front page of a magazine. I waned to be a hero for me.

A hero is someone who becomes self-less in adversity not selfish for notoriety. A hero puts others before himself and uses what he has to help them, like a fireman uses a ladder – it’s what he knows.

If I could use what I know to help even one to see he Saving Grace of Jesus Christ then I would become the hero that god created me to be. My desire to be a hero has been his plan all along. In fact, He calls us all to be heroes.

The circumstances of our past can be used like a coat that we can through over a puddle so other won’t get their feet muddy. We lay our lives down maybe not literally but figuratively, just as Jesus did – The Greatest Hero of All.