Hungry

I pretty much start every post with a feeling of needing to apologize.  My understanding of so many things is very limited.

This one is no exception.

Being an overweight person makes anorexia such a foreign concept but it plays into what I want to discuss.

So…  Sorry.

God has been hitting me with an idea from several sources so I feel the need to share.  I have some thinking that is just messed up.

A person that is healthy doesn’t treat food like a checklist.  The variety and tastiness of a healthy diet is not something forced, something that must be coerced.  It is actually a joy.

But then we look at our spiritual diet.

I was starving so I forced myself to read a verse out of the Bible.  I was overwhelmed so I threw out a ten second prayer.  I feel surrounded by problems, attacked on every side so I went to church and left as soon as the preacher said “amen”.

We have all been in that place where we feel like we can’t even get off the floor.  We can’t lift our hands in worship.  The songs won’t come.  There are no answers to prayer and no one seems to be listening.  The words on the page mean nothing.

The condemnation that religion would heap on us in those moments is a lie straight from the pit of hell.

But to stay there, or to never step into the fullness of a relationship with our Father, is equivalent to anorexia. Patterns of behavior based on false images, unhealthy concepts of who I am, and who I should be.

And we are dying when we should be so alive.

And so, like the anorexic, we have to force ourselves to eat, spend time in the Word and talking to God, until our taste for food returns. We have to spend time with people, many who are struggling just as much or more than we are. We have to look beyond ourselves and the absolutely screwed up view we see. Then reach out a hand – one to our healer, one to someone who needs healed.

We need to be hungry.

We need to be thirsty.

And start eating.

One Ticket Please

I like tickets.  I used to keep the stubs from movies that I really liked or concerts that I had been to.  My favorite are free tickets because, well, I’m cheap.

This was not that kind of ticket.

This was the kind that you get for not wearing your seatbelt on Memorial Day weekend when there are extra patrols cruising the boulevards.

And it was not free.

Grrrr face.

Today, I paid that ticket and as I walked into the courthouse offices I was struck by how many nice people there are.  The officer at the x-ray, metal detector station was very friendly.  The people going in and out were friendly.  The person that I paid my money to was friendly.  Truth be told, I was stinking friendly.

Mainly because I was wearing my church t-shirt and it wouldn’t be good for me to be a jerk wearing that.

As I walked away I was talking to God about how much I had to pay.  I had hoped that it would be $45-$50 for a seatbelt infraction.  It was not.  His response was so Godly, “Remember, my God will supply all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”  That’s Philippians 4:19 for anyone interested.  Yep, right there in the Bible.

“But I got a ticket for doing something I shouldn’t, that’s not included God.”

But you know what, my Daddy says He loves me so much that He can even take care of my mistakes.  Not so I can do whatever I want but because He loves me.  He walks with me through everything.  He wants me to succeed.

On the flip side, there’s my tithe.  That’s where I pay 10% of my income to my church to help them and honor my King.

I was afraid this week to pay my tithe because I knew what my bills were.  But by God’s grace, I did it.

That was a ticket too.  And one I liked a whole lot more.

In both circumstances it is about trust.  One was an obligation and one was an invitation.

And if I trust, I get to watch the performance of a lifetime.  My God, who created universes, my Lord and Savior, who conquered death and the slavery of sin, wielding His hand of mercy and generosity and touching my heart, my soul, my finances, my family as His glory is revealed.

What Are You Selling?

I’ve been involved with church for a long time at multiple levels.  I’ve done everything from preach to scraping gum off the undersides of chairs.  I’ve seen phenomenal leadership and some that was, well, less than…

I’ve seen street evangelists that were beyond weird.  Shoot, I’ve probably been the weird street guy and done so much of what I’ve done out of a sense of obligation.

Good christians go out into the streets and throw tracts at people.  They leave tracts instead of decent tips at restaurants.  They accost people at awkward moments and let them know “the way, the truth and the life.”

I’ve been on both sides of those conversations and never been successful.

Most of the time, I was more embarrassed than the person that I was talking to.  I was more afraid.

We sing the songs in church.  “How Great Thou Art”, “How Great is Our God”, so many others.  But what do I truly believe?

See, I know a little bit about Him.  And He actually is amazing.  What I offer to my friends and family is a King who will never leave them.  He doesn’t judge them or hate them.  He doesn’t condemn them for their choices.

Yes, He wants to heal.  He wants to bring life and peace and love.  He has a reason for why I’m here, why my life matters, why there has been pain and how I can do better.  And He promises to go with me through it all.

I can’t offer anything better.

No one can.

 

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Send Them Away

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.””‭‭Matthew‬ ‭11:28-30‬ ‭ESV‬‬

His first disciples seemed eager to send people away.  Before Jesus fed the five thousand, before he placed the child on his lap, the followers of Jesus first sought to send them away.  Let them find their own food.  Let them find acceptance and love from less important people.

Both responses were rebuked.

“You feed them.”

But they couldn’t.  They didn’t have enough.  And they were right.  Not in their hands and not in their hearts, truthfully they did not have enough.

“Don’t hinder them.”

No question of whether the disciples had anything to offer here, and children smell a fake a mile away anyway.

Now I’m not writing to rebuke anyone, but to ask a question.

Are you hungry?  Come to church, come to God’s word, come to His heart.

Are you lost and hurting?  Just come straight to Him.  His people can help you and those who know Him best help the most.  His word, the Bible, is rich in healing and talks so deeply of His love.  But come to Him.

Seek His presence, listen for His voice.

All He is asking, right now, is for you to come.

The Let Down

So you found out you’re human?  “Normal” has come back to haunt you and you thought you’d never see it again.

I’d tell you to suck it up and quit whining but since I’m talking to myself, it seems kind of pointless.

Why do we seek God, or feel like we’re finding God in the emotional highs of conferences, worship nights, church services or mission trips?  There’s always the let down.  We thought we had a handle on things, that we had gained a better perspective, a cleaner heart, a mind that could understand, an improved me.  But then life comes back in and proves us unfaithful, shines the spotlight on how weak, how inadequate we are.

Yeah.

I’m going through that right now.  I’m home from Nicaragua after seeing and experiencing God in so many tangible ways.  But, I’m still just me.  I still can’t be a pastor, my business is still failing, my family still has the same issues.  I still work in a factory.

But, that is not what defines me.

We need the highs, not as an addict needs a buzz, more like an inventor needs a lightning bolt, more like a good night’s sleep, more like a kiss from the person you love the most.

Maybe you’re like me.  The voices calling you failure, the evidence that weighs against you, the darkness that seems to cover you make you believe that that is who you are, the limits you must accept.

God would tell you, tell me something else.  Not that we can experience highs all the time but that we are more than our humanity, more than our weakness.  He would have us know that He is more also, more than we can possibly imagine.

The let down just reminds us that we can never get too much of Him.

Anger and Vengeance 

Everyday we are offered opportunities for anger and vengeance.  As I listen to some, I think it is what gets them through their day.

It is cyclical.  People – anger – vengeance – people – anger – vengeance.

It starts with people interacting with their environment.  Alarm clocks, weather, traffic, work, food, music, talk, money, the list goes on.  We come in contact with the world around us and immediately there is conflict.  Much of it stays beneath the radar, beneath our consciousness.

I woke up the morning to the alarm clock.  It is cold, the bed was warm.  I do not want to be up.  I want to sleep.  I was torn between being actually too warm under the covers and not wanting to experience the shock of cold when those covers were removed.  I got dressed in the frigid air while my wife remained warm and sleeping.  I walked to the kitchen where there was no coffee and my lunch was not made.

In the space of ten minutes I had already been offended multiple times.  I had offended myself.  

This is normal.  But it can build.

Traffic.  Don’t get me started on traffic.  Worries start to bombard us.  And then we meet people.  The cheery morning person, the grumpy one, all take their toll on our sensitivities.  Everything is fine (sort of) until someone says something that can be perceived as against us.  We want to stop the offense, make it like it never happened, make it like it has no effect on us.  Sometimes, too often, it illicits a response of lashing out, verbally, physically, mentally.  We want to control.  We want to survive.

It happens at home, at school, at work, even at church.

I had a great day at church.  A great day right up until someone offended me.  It damaged the rest of Sunday, ruined Monday and began to poison today.  

Here’s the thing though, I talk to God.  The God who loves me unconditionally, who sent His son to bear my offenses and die for me.  I talk with a King who forgives.

Can I see that no one wanted to offend me?  Can I see that I am loved and appreciated?  Can I let go of my anger, my desire for vengeance and pour out the love that has been poured out on me?

It should never be that the Church of Jesus, our Messiah, is anything other than a place where all can find peace, all can find forgiveness, all can find love.

And it starts with me.

Right now.

Forgiveness

What happens when we won’t forgive?  Rightly described as a poison we drink ourselves, unforgiveness eats away at everything we are and live for.  It kills our hopes and dreams, sucking life from every facet of our being.

I am finding forgiveness difficult right now.

Some hurts reoccur with a regularity that makes it so difficult to let go of.  Some offenses cut so deep that they will not heal with band-aids and platitudes.  Marriage, brothers, parents, old friendships are where these things happen.  It finds no ground in the new relationship, the acquaintance, for they are easily let go of.  But in the soil of what should last, we find the place that seeds of anger, bitterness, hatred, unforgiveness find their environment for growth.  The place where we are hurt, and then hurt again, and again by those who should never want to cause us pain, that is where this poison does its work.

And out of this venom, we lash out at those around us, hurting others out of the hurt that we feel.

And nothing can stop this juggernaut of destruction.  It will go on ad infinitum, through generations, through changes in culture and politics, despite all that we do to cover it, to medicate it, to deny its existence.  And the only way out, the only thing that can set anyone free, is to forgive.

I will not hold to your account the debt you owe me.  I will not make you pay for the wrongs I have suffered.  I forgive you.

This malignancy will no longer live in my heart, in my family, in my church, in my home.

I forgive you.

That Wasn’t What I Meant

A church from Pennsylvania replied with a request for more information and seemed genuinely interested in me as a prospect for their worship leader position.  I had been sending out applications for a couple of years already and had probably submitted somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty of the little gems.  Each time I thought God would lead them to notice me, to see the heart that I was bringing to ministry.  I felt I had no need to brag on myself musically and believed further that my passion for Jesus was the greater issue to stand on.  I was ignored.  By the few that did respond, I had been informed that, at the age of 37, I was too old.  Churches wanted younger pastors.  I thought that was just silly, paranoia on the part of older, jaded people that already held positions in churches.  I could not understand why they wanted to discourage me from ministry.  Wasn’t it their calling, their passion?

Then the response came from the church in Pennsylvania.  What did I think of ministry in the church?  How did I respond to authority?  What were my views on biblical truths?  I answered each question honestly and from my heart.  But I misstepped.  I informed the pastor that I believed in standing for the truth and that should a person in authority say something untrue I would consider it my duty to stand against that.  My words were taken as an underling who would fight with this pastor on any disagreement.  Not what I said or intended but that is how they were taken.  They were no longer interested.  I explained that I considered myself under their authority and considered it also my duty to submit to what God had placed over me.  Nope, still not interested.

I was angry.  I was hurting.  It was so unfair.  What was wrong with me?

Fast forward a few years.  I am working in a church as a volunteer and apply for the open Youth Pastor position.  Three candidates are being interviewed and I am one of them.  After the interviews are conducted I am informed that the position is being offered to one of the other candidates and that if he did not accept, and the other person wasn’t interested either, that they would still not hire me, considering me not good enough for the position.  I told them that though I knew my struggles and, in my insecurity, saw how they would be crazy to hire me, I also knew that with Jesus living through me they would be crazy not to hire me.  The pastor came to me to rebuke me for not accepting their decision and let me know how disappointed he was that I let my emotions so confuse my judgement.  Many were hurt by their decision including their chosen candidate, the youth, the pastor who lead in the decision and the church as a whole.

I was devastated.  Why did no one want me?  Why were they willing to make a bad decision rather than risk anything on me?  Why didn’t God intervene?

Hah!  Satan does not have the final word.  Defeat is always his plan but I am no longer his child.  Joseph said it so well, “You meant it for evil but God meant it for good.”

What a story!  What an adventure!