Thor, the Abomination, and a couple of pizza slices

Strange title, huh? Not from my seat. You see, I’m currently sitting in the food court at the mall with my soon-to-be 3 year old son, watching him play with two action figures as he eats a slice of pepperoni pizza almost as big as he is. He’s having a marvelous time, covered in pizza sauce and grease, happily playing and eating.

I’m having a pretty good time myself. It’s nice to be able to just stop and smell the roses from time to time. Or, play superheroes over pizza.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, Brandon and I have to go save the city. And finish the pizza. There’s also a chance some cookies might need liberating along the way.

“Where There Is No Vision…”

Yesterday I wrote about how so many people fail to tap into the strength they have as believers by finding their joy in the Lord and not their circumstances. This failure to find joy in the right place relates directly to lack of vision, or at least, the right kind of vision.

If I take out my contacts, or take off my glasses, I can’t see. Well, that’s not exactly true. I can see a little, as long as it’s close. Anything beyond about 20 feet just goes blurry. I always say that when I look out on the congregation without my specs they look like a bunch of M&Ms spilled out all over the place.

I’m used to it, mind you; I’ve worn glasses since the 3rd grade, and contacts since the 8th. But it’s starting to change. You see, this December I will be 40. The big four-oh. And it seems that the dreaded lens of “old age” is calling me.

Bifocals.

With my contacts in, I need reading glasses to see up close. With my glasses, I have to peek over the top of them to read things up close. Why must vision be so complicated? My brother-in-law is in his last year of residency for opthalmology, so I’m hoping he’ll remember how close we’ve always been and give me LASIK when he starts his practice (actually I’ll let him practice on a few before he does mine 🙂  ).

Proverbs 29:18 says that “where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained; but happy is he who keeps the law.” Jesus tells us that the greatest law is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and all your strength” (Mark 12:30). Right on the heels of that, He says: “And the second, like it, is this: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment (law) greater than these” (verse 31).

When we are loving God the way we should through His Son Jesus, trusting Him with all we are and all we have, then we will find our heart aligning with His. When that happens, we will see people the way Jesus does, and love them with His kind of love–a love that doesn’t judge based on appearance or past action, but offers forgiveness to all who will choose to receive it.

Jesus tells us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). We lose our vision when we take our eyes off the goal. The goal is to glorify God, to attain the Mind of Christ, to follow Him and His example. When we do this, we find a joy in His presence that can’t be found anywhere else, a joy that surpasses our circumstances. If you’re having trouble with your spiritual vision, maybe it’s time to go see the Doctor and get a new prescription.

Laugh It Up

Proverbs 17:22: “A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.”

Every day I see a lot of people with dry bones.

Part of being a pastor is dealing with huge volumes of people on a daily basis. As such, it stands to reason that I would make a number of observations about life based on these interactions. A prime example is my observation that there are a lot of people who don’t spend enough time laughing. Whether they are going through situations where laughter seems a distant memory, or they simply prefer to be sour, or somewhere in between, too many people have absolutely no joy in their life.

Now when I talk about laughter, I don’t mean we should go around cackling like the Joker, but I do mean that we all  need a good laugh-out-loud session now and then. The author of Proverbs said that a merry heart is like medicine that heals and restores. The prophet Nehemiah says that “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (8:10). Sometimes we just need a good laugh.

One of the perks of having small children is being able to watch cartoons without guilt. I love Spongebob Squarepants, and the whole cast of characters. I love The Penguins of Madagascar, and, of course, the classic Looney Tunes cartoons with Bugs Bunny and the gang. Why? They make me laugh. I love goofing off with my family. Why? They make me laugh. I just discovered “The Office” last night on tv, and I laughed because I am more like Michael than I would like to admit. Laughing is good.

I see enough hardship and difficulty in others’ lives to make me really appreciate a good laugh. Take advantage of the opportunities you have to enjoy life and laugh it up. There are a lot of people who are having trouble remembering how.

Bonus! Experiencing God extras

For those of you going through Experiencing God with us on Sunday nights, I’ve got a little bonus here: a good friend of mine, Jim Groth, is going to be sharing some articles for me to post up on here. Jim has great insights that he frequently shares with me, and I’ve talked him into contributing here from time to time. Here’s the first:

The first night of “Experiencing God” on Sunday night was great.  I enjoyed it immensely and am looking forward to the rest of the series.  As we worked through the first day in “Experiencing God” It occurred to me that two issues need definition.  In a sense they both work together.

 The first was found on page 6 in the quote from John 15:5: “I am the vine: you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit: apart from me you can do nothing.”

 The second was John 10:10 from page 8: “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full.”

 In the first case it is the word “bear.”  We often interpret that to mean “to produce” much fruit.  Here is where we must be quite cautious.  We are incapable of producing anything; nevertheless we often go around trying to do just that in an effort to please God with our effort.  It is the vine, the root of the plant which does the work and production.  The branches (us) only bear it as the vine produces it through the branches (us).  In our human nature we often think that somehow we have the responsibility to do what only God can do.  In addition, some branches are better equipped by the vine to bear more fruit then other branches.  We must not make “bearing fruit” into a competition to determine who are the better or more obedient branches.  In this competition fueled by our fleshly human nature we miss the joy of bearing any fruit.  Also we must take into consideration what exactly is fruit.  Often there is fruit seen only by the Keeper of the vineyard; not easily seen by the branches or even the branch bearing such fruit.  We must keep in mind what Paul told the Galatians:

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love (5:6); For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation (6:15) .”

Circumcision here is a metaphor for doing or not doing– in other words, the law.

Failure to recognize the ramifications of trying to produce fruit brings me to the second point based upon John 10:10. What exactly is meant by having life to the full?  The answer to that depends on how one defines the full life.  Many define that as having the American dream; a good house, loving spouse, caring loving children and freedom from financial and health woes.  Everyone wants that.  But is that what God has in mind by “life to the full?”

Notice what Jesus said in John 17:3: “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” 

Life to the full is fully encapsulated in Christ.  It’s about an outlook on the inner life focused on what God has done for us in Christ that we cannot do for ourselves, rather than an outlook and dependency on favorable circumstances.  Truly knowing the father and the one he has sent is life to the full.  Jesus did not have desirable circumstances, but what Christian could argue he did not have life to the full?

When we look to ourselves or others to provide “life to the full”, we will never find it.  It is only found in trusting Christ, not only for eternal life but also for daily living.  Christ came to provide life to the full: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God (John 3:17-18).”

 Without Christ there is no hope; no life to the full, only emptiness.  With Christ there is eternal hope and life to the full; for we know God can be counted upon, trusted, and that he loves us.  Knowing this and counting on it is “life to the full.”

When God Ran

Yesterday I preached on one of my favorite parables in Scripture: the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-24). It’s the story Jesus told of a young man who wanted his wealthy father to go ahead and give him his inheritance, which the father did. The son then did exactly what you would expect him to do: he blew every dime he had on wasteful (prodigal) living. About the time his money ran out, a famine hit the land. Desperate, he took a job feeding pigs, but he still had nothing to eat. About the time that the pigs’ slop starting looking good to him (ACK!!), he came to his senses, realized that his father’s servants lived better than this, and decided to go home and ask to be a servant–no longer to be recognized as the father’s child.

When he was approaching home, the father saw him coming from far off–implying to me that daddy was looking for his son, knowing what would happen and hoping he would return. When he saw his child, he ran out to meet him. This was completely inappropriate for a man of his wealth and social standing–he had people run for him. But as the son tried to apologize and offer to be his servant, the father threw his arms around him, kissed him, and commanded that a robe, rings, and sandals be brought out and placed on his son. A celebration was to be thrown, because the wayward child had come home!

Understand that when the son returned, he likely looked (and smelled) just like he did when he was with the pigs. He had no money, so he couldn’t have stopped off at a place of lodging to get cleaned up. He simply came home, throwing himself, dirt and all, at the mercies of his father.

This is, of course, a picture of God’s love for us, and a powerful one at that. Philips, Craig and Dean have a song called “When God Ran”. Here’s the chorus:

“He ran to me, He took me in His arms, held my head to His chest, and said ‘My son’s come home again!’

Lifted my face, wiped the tears from my eyes,

With forgiveness in His voice, He said, ‘Son, do you know I still love you?’

It caught me by surprise when God ran.”

What an amazing thing. Picture it: when you and I come to God, dirty as all get out, He comes running for us. Why? Because He loves us. Don’t think you have to clean up before you come to the Father–you can’t get clean enough anyway. He just wants you to come to Him. And when you make that turn to come to Him, He’ll run to you.

Why would you turn that kind of love down?

Trying To Figure It Out?

Every Thursday I teach a Bible study at Benson Chrysler Dodge Jeep here in Greer, and I’ve been teaching through the Gospel according to John. I have highlighted a recurring theme that is so obvious now that I just marvel and it’s power and simplicity, and yet wonder how we so often miss it; stop trying to figure out spiritual truth with physical understanding.

No brainer, right?

So why did Nicodemus have such a hard time understanding what Jesus meant when He said, “You must be born from above?” What about the Samaritan woman at the well, who couldn’t figure out how Jesus could offer her water that would keep her from ever thirsting again when he had nothing to draw with? What about those who were completely confused when Jesus told his listeners that they had to partake of His body and blood?

He’s told us that His ways aren’t our ways, so why then do we try to understand Him according to our limited view? Only the Holy Spirit, instructing us through the Scriptures, can give us what we need to figure it out the right way. Trying to do otherwise is like attempting analytic geometry before you know basic arithmetic.

“I Wanna Go Back”

I really like satellite radio, mostly for two reasons: 1. the 70’s channel and 2. the 80’s channel. That’s the music I grew up with right there. The 80’s channel especially hits me because that was the music I listened to while I was in high school. What’s funny is some music I didn’t like then I will listen to now, simply because it is from the 80’s.

I went to Seabreeze high School in Daytona Beach, Florida, and yes, it was as good as it sounds. We were right across A1A from the Atlantic Ocean, and summer was never very far away (appealing on a day like this, while it is snowing as I type here in Greer). The Spring Break craze hit Daytona my sophomore year, with MTV bringing their unique brand of madness to town. By today’s standards, it was family fare, but back then, it was cutting edge.

Several of my friends decided to skip school so they could go to one of the concerts: Eddie Money. Now Mr. Money has not had many hits since, but he got pretty big back in the 80’s. I didn’t feel like skipping to see him. Now don’t think I was a goody-two-shoes or anything. I would’ve skipped for Phil Collins and Genesis, or even Journey, and especially Billy Joel, but Eddie Money just wasn’t a favorite. I liked him fine, but he wasn’t worth the skip and resultant risk. A comedy of errors ensued for my friends who went (their car ran out of gas, for one thing), but I’ll save that tale for another day.

What made me think of all this was when I heard Eddie Money on the 80’s channel recently, singing a song of his I liked pretty well at the time: “I Wanna Go Back”. For those of you who don’t know it, the chorus goes like this:

“I wanna go back and do it all over, but I can’t go back I know.

I wanna go back, ’cause I’m feelin’ so much older, but I can’t go back I know.”

While it’s fun to reminisce about the good old days, as Billy Joel says in a song entitled “Keeping the Faith”, “The good old days weren’t always good”. Are you feeling older, and guiltier, about the old days? We’ve all done things we wished we hadn’t done, but the fact of the matter is that we can’t go back. Eddie Money was right.

So was the apostle Paul. In reflecting on his own life, he saw good and bad in the past. Then he wrote this: “Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

Don’t anquish over the past. It’s just that, and you can’t do anything about it. Instead, press on toward what God has for you today. “The good old days weren’t always good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems”. Sing it, Billy. Keeping the faith, indeed.

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow!

I am so tempted to make a snide global warming comment here, but I will refrain. For about the 50th time this winter, it is snowing in Greer, South Carolina. It’s not sticking–at least, not here at the office–but it’s coming down pretty good. The kids are getting out of school at noon today, as it’s possible it could get nasty later on.

If you’re in an area where global warming is hurling it’s wrath at you from the sky (sorry, couldn’t resist), be careful out on the roads. People in South Carolina don’t know how to drive in the snow.

I’ll post something more substantial and serious later. Right now, I’m just going to look out the window and lose myself in a winter wonderland for a few minutes.

God Speaks on Mondays, Too

Sundays are always fun and exciting for me. I look forward to getting together to worship, hear what God is doing in people’s lives, and dig into His Word.

Mondays? Well, they’re often… Mondays. I’m still tired from Sunday usually, physically and mentally, and it can take a little bit to get going. I usually try to make hospital visits on Monday, so I was doing just that when I got a text from the office. I had sent out a letter last week to people who hadn’t been to Sunday School for a while, just to let the know they weren’t forgotten, and to let them know I was available if I could do something for them. The text from the office said that someone had called and wanted to tell me why they hadn’t been to Sunday School.

Unsure of what was on the person’s mind I called as soon as I got the message. The person answered, and was immediately concerned that I was talking while driving. I assured them that I was on the speakerphone but would stop if I needed to, and that relieved them. The person then indicated that they recieved my letter and wanted me to know why they hadn’t been there for a while.

To be honest, at this point, I’m thinking that this might not be a fun conversation. What if someone had done something to offend this person, to cause them to stumble? What if was something I had done?

The person begins to share their story: illness had kept them away for a considerable amount of time, and it was simply too difficult for them to come. Their Sunday School class stayed in touch with them, though, and they watched our service on tv every Sunday morning. They had not received a letter from the pastor before, though, and they really appreciated the one I sent last week. I pulled over and prayed with them over the phone, then ended the call.

I’ve been thinking about that ever since. Here’s someone that wants so badly to be able to experience fellowship and corporate worship, and yet they can’t. I have the privilege to worship and then complain about being tired.

Today, I am so thankful that God let me be tired.

I am so thankful that He has blessed me the way He has.

I am so thankful He is always at work around me, and you, even when we are tired. Or sick. Or shut-in.

Even on Monday.

Experts Aren’t Born…

We spent the day at the Greer Dragway today. Gorgeous weather, great time together as a family. The funny thing about racing? It looks really easy until you try it yourself.

Back in November, my wife Lea Ann gave me an early birthday/Christmas/anniversary/everything else present: a day of high-speed driving at Road Atlanta, one of the world’s premier race tracks. The idea of driving at ridiculous speeds without the threat of speeding tickets or jail time sounds great. Until you’re sitting there, in your own car, with a helmet that feels like it’s squeezing your eyeballs out, you’re gripping the wheel tighter than you’d like…and you’re just sitting in line, waiting to be given the green flag. Then you realize: this is not at all like playing a videogame.

My first session on the track was spent following a pro driving a race-prepped Porsche 911 GT3. We got up to pretty significant velocities, but nothing beyond what I felt comfortable with. My next session, however, was totally different. Randy Pobst, a professional race car driver, offered to take me out on the track in my own car and “show me the line”. I jumped at the chance to have an expert teach me the ropes.

And then we were off.

For those of you old enough to remember what an “‘E’-ticket ride” was, this was about a dozen of those. I have never in my life experienced such mind-numbing terror and ridiclous amounts of fun as I did while Randy was calmly talking to me about high-speed technique at 130+ mph. Sure enough my next session was very different, as I was able to drive the car much more “on the edge” after I was shown how to do so properly and without having to explain to my insurance agent the difference between a race and a “performance driving school”.

I learned much more than how to drive around a racetrack. I learned, once again, that experts are not born, they are made. I have grown up around cars, and have driven many powerful ones over the years. I know what to do and what not to. I thought. Then you meet someone who knows so much more, and you feel like a 15-year old again, trying to figure out how to work a clutch, a gas pedal, and brakes with any sort of fluidity..

So many times we feel like there is nothing more God can teach us. We’ve heard all the stories, know all the songs, have memorized all the verses. We feel that we have spiritually arrived.

Then you spend some time with Jesus. The Master. The only One who has arrived. And you realize: I know so little. I am so unworthy.

And then Jesus gives you an invitation that is almost too good to believe: “Abide in me, and I in you” (John 15:4).

Don’t feel bad that you don’t know everything. Don’t feel bad that you haven’t arrived. None of us have. And Jesus knows it. And He still loves us, and offers us the chance to grow with and through Him, if we will just trust Him enough to toss Him the keys and go along, learning from His instruction.

Have you taken advantage of the Expert’s offer?