A little crazy, well, maybe a lot!

Passion isn’t just about lust or sex, though that is what some think when I use the word. Passion is ardent love, abounding enthusiasm. Passion makes a person do ‘crazy’ things! It’s much more common among the young than the old. Usually those with the most to lose in terms of wealth or reputation are more guarded in their expression of passion, carefully concealing their desires and/or dreams. I know I risk offending some of the more sensitive among my readers by using that slang term, ‘crazy.’ Please give me some latitude, as I’m not making fun of anyone who struggles with mental illness, OK?

Anyway, back in 1992, a man named H. Ross Perot (remember him?) launched a run for the Presidency as an Independent candidate. He got almost a fifth of the votes cast in the general election! He was driven by a dream, a passion to change the nation, that was so unrealistic that he used the old Patsy Cline song, “Crazy” as his campaign song for several months. It was a great way to state the obvious – “this campaign flies in the face of all expectations, a quixotic effort. You see, Perot was the anti-candidate. He wasn’t telegenic, nicknamed “hand grenade with ears” by those outside of his campaign. His voice had an irritating squawky tone and a Texas drawl. He was terribly plain-spoken, folksy, and simplistic. But he had passion, plenty of it. (It didn’t hurt that he tons of money to finance his own campaign, either!) He didn’t play it safe and millions admired him for his ‘crazy’ passion to be the President of the United States!

Are you passionate about anything? Now, a follow-up – is that about which you are of strong emotion or abundant enthusiasm really worth your passion?

Many who claim to be Christ-followers, live a calculated experience of little risk; a dutiful ritual, practiced at minimal involvement, with the hope of gaining a guaranteed entrance to Heaven – at the moment of a hopefully far distant death. In other words, they are ‘buying’ a kind of eternal life insurance policy. I don’t know many people other than insurance agents who are passionate about life insurance! I know I’m not. Of course, I send my premium payment faithfully, month by month, but I am not in any rush to file a claim. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about my policy, re-reading it, or going over how my surviving family will use the funds that the company promises to send them when I die! I just make the payments to keep the policy in force.

Sometimes I get the feeling that ‘insurance’ is the concept that many people have about Christianity- making the ‘payments’ to keep the ‘policy’ in force, for that inevitable appointment. Jesus said something quite different! Here it is –
“A religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus.
“Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?”
Jesus answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”
He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence— and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”
“Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”” (Luke 10:25-28, The Message)

Jesus was not suggesting that any of us can ‘earn’ a place in Heaven with good works, no matter how passionate we may be about them! He was pointing out that passion is required to really know the quality of life now that will lead us to a forever life with God! Jeff Vines says, “There are plenty of passionate people in this world. But what separates us from an erroneous religious system which dominates our worldly culture is not our passion, but our truth. Passion does not determine truth, but truth of Christ when authentically and genuinely embraced always results in passion.”

When a Believer has really taken hold of God’s grace, when the Spirit has shown him his sin and God’s love, the seed of a passionate love is planted in that one’s heart. Jesus acknowledged that when a woman who had been given back her life, forgiven and restored from a life of depravity, came and poured her tears on His feet, wiping them with her hair. The self-righteous ones in that room pointed out her disgustingly passionate behavior. Jesus told them that the real problem was their own lack of a sense of need! He then observed, “She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal.”

Are you a little crazy for Jesus?
Do you know what He’s done for you, let that love touch you deeply so that you live radically for Him – loving Him with ‘all your heart, soul, mind, and strength?’

May God deliver us from our dutiful, risk-free, religious rituals. May the Holy Spirit cause us to love Him in a way that does not calculate risk and return, that causes us to abandon ourselves to the pursuit of Him so that we will enter into forever life right here, right now!___________________

This is the air I breathe,
This is the air I breathe,
Your holy presence living in me.

This is my daily bread,
This is my daily bread,
Your very word spoken to me.

And I, I’m desp’rate for You.
And I, I’m lost without You.

© 1995 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing (Admin. by Music Services) CCLI License No. 810055

A Personal Savior

Once upon a time, I regarded emotion as a sign of weakness. The strong did not cry, nor did they laugh too much. It was best, I thought, to live above one’s emotions. Life was about thinking clearly, learning the ‘right’ concepts, and seeking to be self-sufficient. Then, I grew up! Perhaps some would say, I became more human. In truth, the Spirit of God healed me and gave me a new heart. Through some painful experiences I learned that emotions have real purpose. I endured a bout with depression that was caused, in part at least, by my refusal to express my emotions in a healthy way. In spite of being raised in a church tradition that is known for emotional expression, I was reluctant to let my faith touch my heart. My Christian faith became much deeper when my heart was restored, for I discovered that God is not just a Concept to learn; He is a Person to know. I was no longer afraid of people who were actually passionate about God and my relationship to God was transformed from dutiful obedience to genuine love for Him.

If asked, most Americans would say that God is a Person. The Bible, from which we learn about Him, is rich with personal language about Him: God loves, God provides, God is our Father. But despite acknowledging the theological truth, many do not relate to God as a Person. God, for many, is an Idea, a distant Force, or a remote Figure- unknown. They may recite an orthodox creed, go through accepted rituals, and even live by a moral code as an expression of their Christian religion, but it is all very sterile, very intellectual, and bloodless!

Reading through the Gospels which tell the stories of Jesus, the Man who came to live among us and to show us the face of God, we see a real Person who was fully engaged with those around Him. He was a true Friend to real people. He empathized, loved, shed tears, and shared jokes! And He said, “I and the Father are one.” John writes, “The only Son, who is truly God and is closest to the Father, has shown us what God is like.” (John 1:18, CEV)

What does this mean for us? It means that we can share our lives with God, that we can know Him, relate to Him; yes, really love Him! Those without faith may mock us, or think that we being childish – rather like the little girl having a tea party with an imaginary friend. But we will know Him and sense His Presence because, though He is invisible to us, He lives with us, by His Spirit! This will change how we live.

In the Word, we are told that “we have a great High Priest who has gone to heaven, Jesus the Son of God. Let us cling to him and never stop trusting him. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it.” (Hebrews 4:14-16, NLT) In a world that is depersonalized, where we often feel like a number or a function, where we live in multiple environments each making different demands of us; there is One who cares for us, who loves us, who knows our greatest fears, our secret dreams, our hidden sins, our public successes, and our heart! He loves us and desires that we love Him. He is our Personal Savior- accessible and understanding.

So what’s your need today?
Is it for guidance? Is it forgiveness? Is it empowering to tackle some new task?
Is it strength to stand up to evil, to make a Kingdom difference? Is it just for Someone to care and share your joy and/or sorrows?

Come to the Savior! He is our Friend.
Find a quiet place and talk with him in prayer, making it personal.
Then, wait; listen, and receive the grace that He promises to those who love Him.

What a friend I’ve found,
Closer than a brother;
I have felt Your touch,
More intimate than lovers.

What a hope I’ve found,
More faithful than a mother;
It would break my heart
To ever lose each other.

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus — Friend forever.

What A Friend I’ve Found
Smith, Martin
Copyright: 1996 Curious? Music UK (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)

Caring like He does

Every Sunday School kid quickly learns the shortest verse in the New Testament – “Jesus wept!” It comes in handy when the teacher asks for a quick recitation. But those two words give us a profound insight! John records the story for us in the 11th chapter of his Gospel. Jesus was called to the home of his friend Lazarus who had died. When he arrived in Bethany the dead man’s sisters were angry with him for not showing up earlier to heal their ailing brother. The crowds that gathered whispered about Him – “This man healed a blind man. Why couldn’t he keep Lazarus from dying?” The Master’s response to all this was not detached serenity, nor did He chide His critics for lack of faith! According to John, He was deeply moved by all the pain, the confusion, and the doubts. He cared, not professionally, but personally!

In another passage that is found in Matthew’s Gospel, we read – “Jesus made a circuit of all the towns and villages. He taught in their meeting places, reported kingdom news, and healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives. When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. “What a huge harvest!” he said to his disciples. “How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!” ” (Matthew 9:35-38, The Message) He saw their bruised and hurt lives and His heart broke!

Problems, pain, and predicaments are part of life! Sometimes they just arise… we have no idea why; sometimes they come our way because of our choices. Good people – including you and me – make dumb decisions, become victims of the ‘system,’ get deceived by life’s vanities, are mesmerized by devilish lies, and too often choose short-term relief over long-term healing. In my calling as a shepherd for God’s people, my phone rings often and I hear a voice saying – “Help me!” Sometimes the caller has created a mess for herself, snarling life into a tangled web. Other times, the difficulty and/or pain has just dropped on the sufferer out of the blue, uninvited. Some of the situations are relatively easy to resolve, needing only a little counsel. Others appear to have no earthly answer or remedy. Still others are so packed with suffering that it makes me catch my breath and thank God for His grace!

Jesus loves us! He is not a god hiding in the shadows, playing games with us. He is a Friend who comes alongside of us in our suffering. Even when it is our sinful choices that have brought us pain, He does not turn away saying, “you made your bed, now sleep in it!” Instead, if we turn to Him, He forgives and leads us into recovery and healing, into hope and new life. He doesn’t always take away the pain. He doesn’t always give us the miracle we think we need. He gives us grace, wisdom, and patience!

This love of Christ for us, inspires love for others in us, according to John. “We love each other as a result of his loving us first.” (1 John 4:19, NLT) Genuine love that is like that of Jesus, does not let us turn away from those in pain. It does not let us judge others as unworthy of care, leaving them in their predicament! It requires that we weep, that we give when we think that we have no more to give, that we stay engaged with the foolish, the fallen, the stubborn, the stupid. It demands that we offer our hand to the unlovely, the critics, and yes, even to those who take advantage of our love. My prayer is that we will learn to be like Jesus, understanding that sometimes the best expression of love is just to ‘cry with those who cry!’

It’s a broken world out there. Some of you are reading that only to respond – “Out there? No way, Pastor. My life is broken!”
I want you to know – Jesus cares – really, He does. And, I hope that you have someone who loves you with His kind of love – gentle, empathetic, and engaged.

Think on this today — “My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love.” (1 John 4:7-8, The Message)

The Will of God

Little Janie (not her real name) had spent 3 of her 4 years with my Mom and Dad, the only parents she knew. The State of NJ placed her with them when she was an infant because her mother was incapable of parenting and her father was in prison. They loved her and eventually hoped to adopt her until yesterday when a judge decided that NJ law required that Janie be taken from their loving care and placed in the custody of a relative. With the bang of a gavel, the child’s life was completely re-defined – all she knew and loved swept away. It was a sad day for us all.

The dilemma that I worked to resolve was about acceptance or resistance. Was I to accept this as the will of God or resist this as an expression of evil that needs to be over-turned? There is no obvious answer! That Janie has a relative who wants to care for her is probably a good thing. That she loses the relationship with people with whom she has bonded is a terrible thing. Will she be taught to love and serve God by her new family? That’s unknown. So, in my confusion I prayed, “Lord God, help me to know how to think, what to pray.”

Some Christians might say that since it has happened, it must be “the will of God!” That’s a little too easy for me to believe! I am not a fatalist and while I know that God reigns as King of the Universe, I also believe that He has given humanity the privilege of choice. I cannot ignore the reality of pain and suffering; the frustration of the perfect purposes of God that is all too evident in the world around me, which is the a result of the work of the Evil One and people who rebel against God. Just because something happens, does not make it God’s will.

That said, let me circle ’round to affirm the omniscience of our God. He knows what is happening. He helps us while events are unfolding. He is capable – amazingly so – of taking the circumstances of life and bringing them into line with His purposes. The 8th chapter of Romans teaches us to trust Him, even as we work with Him, to see His plans brought to completion. “…the Holy Spirit helps us in our distress. For we don’t even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray. … we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8:26-28, NLT)

In the Bible, James tells us that even as Christians we must intentionally live in the will of God. Consider this – “Look here, you people who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what will happen tomorrow? For your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise you will be boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil. Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.” (James 4:13-17, NLT) He reminds us that when we make our own plans without prayer, without seeking the Lord’s guidance, we may fall into the sin of living outside of the will of God!

My questions about little Janie remain unanswered at this moment. But, even in my sorrow, I am at peace! Why? Because I choose to trust, to pray, to rest in the power and wisdom of the One who invites me to let Him lead. Here’s another word from James that shows us how to live while we work out our understanding of God’s will – Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.” (James 5:7-8, NIV)

Plant good seed.
Pray for God’s gracious rains.
Patiently wait!
See the harvest of good fruit that glorifies God.

Spirit of God- Descend upon my heart,
wean it from earth,through all its pulses move.
Stoop to my weakness mighty as Thou art,
and make me love Thee as I ought to love.

Hast Thou not bid us love Thee,
God and King?
All, all Thine own –soul, heart, and strength and mind.
I see Thy cross — there teach my heart to cling,
O let me seek Thee and O let me find.

Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh,
Teach me the strugglesof the soul to bear —
To check the rising doubt,the rebel sigh:
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love,
Only holy passion filling all my frame.
The baptism of the heave’n descended Dove,
My heart an altar, and Thy love – the flame.

Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart
George Croly
Copyright: Public Domain

Praying together…

I love prayer time more than any other part of our Sunday worship gatherings! When I extend the invitation to people to come for prayer, anywhere from 20-30% of the congregation makes their way down to the front of the church. There I see extended families stand with their arms around each other. Tears fall freely as hearts are open to God’s presence. As I, and other elders from the church, move down the line anointing people in the Name of Jesus, symbolically calling on the Spirit of God to bring healing, hope, and restoration – I see the light of faith come in the eyes of those who are standing there! Sometimes the crush of the weight of the human need standing in front of me breaks my heart, and I too, begin to lead in prayer only to find myself too choked with emotion to speak because I know that it is a cancer diagnosis, a pending divorce action, a threatened lay-off, a heart broken by disappointment – that people are bringing to God. The connection that is formed by the Spirit of God, the pure love that fills the room at that moment, is indescribable.

What a holy moment: people bringing their needs to the Almighty God. To someone seeing this with human eyes it might appear to be foolishness, just an exercise in wishful thinking. To me it is an intersection of Heaven and Earth, amazing, powerful, and unbelievably life-giving. The Bible says, “Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.” (James 5:16, The Message)

Do you pray with others? To be honest, I find prayer meetings distasteful if they are allowed to become displays of piety, filled with pathetic attempts at feigned spirituality, where some feel the need to go on and on, stringing Bible phrases and church clichés together in long, boring speeches to God. Jesus says, “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered only by repeating their words again and again.” (Matthew 6:7, NLT) Some of the most powerful prayers I have ever been part of had few, even no words. A wordless hunger for God’s Presence, a humble silence before Him, brought people together and the Spirit of God connected them together with a divine ‘electricity.’

Even Jesus knew the value of shared prayer. On the night before He became the Sacrifice for the sins of the world, He was crushed by the knowledge of the way of Cross that lay before Him. The Lord of Glory made this request of his friends – “They came to an area called Gethsemane. Jesus told his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James, and John with him. He plunged into a sinkhole of dreadful agony. He told them, “I feel bad enough right now to die. Stay here and keep vigil with me.” (Mark 14:32-34, The Message) Somehow Peter, James, and John failed Him that night, falling asleep when just needed them to be with Him. They missed the opportunity to experience the Presence of God.

When your pastor says, “let us pray,” don’t allow your mind to wander off. Don’t just go to sleep. Instead, join your heart with others. Pray earnestly for the needs presented and your own needs as you enter in to His love. Ponder this amazing promise – “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:19-20, NIV)

Let us pray!

What makes you tick?

Try to imagine a world filled with people who were just like you! You’re laughing, right? While you and I may be very good at some things, we are not complete in ourselves. Well, I certainly hope that you realize that fact is true. Some of us are warm, friendly, and team-builders. Others of us are calculating, risk-takers, driving towards getting the job done. Some of us keep the organization functioning with our dedication to paying the bills and keeping the systems intact. Others can’t plan a day in advance but we make people feel so valuable because we really love them.

Studying personality types is interesting. Since ancient times wise people have realized that their colleagues often think differently about the same situations in life, and not because of a lack of intelligence or skills. We are simply different in the way that God has wired us! There are many ways to label the various personalities. Gary Smalley uses animal names to describe our predominant personality type. He observes that some of us are Lions– those self-reliant leaders who set goals and love to ‘get the job done.’ Others are Otters -social creatures who enjoy being influential, surrounded by many friends. And some are Golden Retrievers -very loving, resistant to change, and steady at the job. Then, he says that some are Beavers – who work hard, maintain tradition, and make sure everybody is keeping the rules.

There are other systems that help us to understand ourselves and those around us. Very likely, if you work for a large corporation, your human resources department has used one of the many tools available to help you to understand your way of relating to the world and organizing your life. The point is that we are different. There is no ‘right’ personality type, nor should we use our temperament as an excuse for sin. For example, I am predominantly a lion (using Smalley’s description). Along with the strengths that come with being a goal-oriented leader-type, I have a tendency to be insensitive (hey, I heard that ‘amen.’) and to use people in pursuit of the mission. I could just say, “That’s who I am, deal with it.” Or, knowing those weaknesses, I can wisely watch the way I interact.

An ancient maxim, revered by the ancient Greeks, and often attributed to Socrates says – “Know thyself!” What a wondrous thing it is to become self-aware, to begin to understand the impulses and prejudices that reside in our hearts and minds. You might be ready to raise the objection that we are incapable of really knowing ourselves, that we are mired in sin to such an extent that we cannot begin to discern the content of our inner person. Perhaps that is true before one comes to Christ, but after we are converted and filled with the Holy Spirit, we have a Teacher, who reveals the secrets to us! Yes, it’s true! We don’t have to hide the ugly stuff from ourselves. We don’t have to pretend or live in ignorance.

In the book of Hebrews, we read this passage – which could be terrifying. “For the word of God is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires. It exposes us for what we really are. Nothing in all creation can hide from him. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes. This is the God to whom we must explain all that we have done.” (Hebrews 4:12-13, NLT) Were it not for the assurance that immediately follows that passage, I would be terrified by the project of being laid open, left vulnerable, by the work of God.

But here is what comes next – “That is why we have a great High Priest who has gone to heaven, Jesus the Son of God. Let us cling to him and never stop trusting him. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it.” (Hebrews 4:14-16, NLT)

God lays us open, reveals our secrets, and then gives us His merciful grace. His gift is forgiveness, first, and then, transformation. No, it isn’t very likely that God will change your basic personality type. After all, He originally made you who you are! What He’ll do, if you will cooperate with Him, is make you Christ-like, holy and useful to His purposes. Friend, I believe that unity within the Church will result when we ask Him to help us to understand ourselves and others. When we let the Spirit teach us our strengths and help us with our weaknesses; when we let Him teach us how we can best relate to others, valuing them precisely because they are different, unbelievable things will happen in the work of God.

Here’s my prayer for you today – “May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it!” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, The Message)

Not him, not again!

There are times when I wish it were possible to peel back the multiple layers of another’s thought process so I could see what is really going on in his brain!

What causes us to dislike another person?
Why do we take a position on some point and refuse to budge, no matter what the facts are?
How can two people look at the same situation and reach completely different and opposing conclusions?

When those kinds of conflicts arise, too often the impulse is to separate ourselves or to go to battle. I admit that there are times when I have to deal with a person who frustrates every my attempt at reasonable dialogue and I think – “Not him, not again!” There is a part of me that just wants to be done with it, to write off the relationship as irreconcilable and/or irreparable. My response is not unique to me! It’s not only happening in so-called ‘casual’ friendships. Even long-standing marriages dissolve over what the law terms, “irreconcilable differences.” Yes, even Christians who are to be first and foremost characterized by love for one another, find themselves at odds and just go their separate ways leaving the issue unresolved, festering like an infected wound.

A friend wrote to me today about a minor conflict that is swirling around me (yes, friend, these TFTD’s are written by a real man who is working out the implications of his Christianity in real life!) and he urged me to be ‘in the bridge-building business.’ I appreciate his counsel, offered as it is in concern and love. Pushed by opposition of a tiny minority, I am tempted to take the road to what looks like an easy response to these critics, “This is the way it is. Accept it, get over it, and get with the program! If you can’t or you won’t, there’s the door. See ya!” But, there is no honor for God in those words, no recognition that even critics are part of the Body of Christ.

The Bible urges us to a new way of dealing with the difficult people in life. Nowhere does God’s word tell us that we should expect to live without conflict! But He does teach us that we must approach conflict differently. Take a look – “I beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Always keep yourselves united in the Holy Spirit, and bind yourselves together with peace. We are all one body, we have the same Spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future.” (Ephesians 4:1-4, NLT) What a practical passage, but full of challenging concepts: humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance!

How do these traits become part of our response in place of the more natural anger and power responses? Only by the inner workings of the Holy Spirit! We can only grit our teeth and hold back our frustration for so long on our own. Sooner or later, we will pushed beyond our limits and explode unless Someone greater than ourselves lives in us. God calls us to die! to self. In those situations like I’ve described above, it is our privilege to take it to the Lord in prayer – not necessarily to gain the power to prevail – but to lay ourselves down before Him. When we ‘give up and give in’ to Him, the Spirit comes with new life, new love, new peace.

So, I’m going to be a bridge-builder – with God’s help! How about you?

I found this appropriate to my life today. Perhaps you will, too.

The Paradoxical Commandments by Dr. Kent M. Keith

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

© Copyright Kent M. Keith 1968, renewed 2001

Lost and Found

Lost – I really don’t like that word – except when it is used about excess pounds. The only thing I’d like to lose is about 15 lbs!

When I was a student pilot on one of my early solo flights, crosswinds blew me off the course that my instructor had plotted for me. Because I was a young rookie, I was far from the intended flight path before I even realized what was happening! When the features on the ground didn’t match the map at all I said, “I’m lost!” With the help the radios onboard I was able to figure out where I was and plot a new course back to my home airport. Becoming “found” required orientation outside of myself.

A set of keys just ‘disappeared’ from my possession. I hunted everywhere, in pockets, on my desk… yes, I mean everywhere. Two years later, while I was cleaning my car, I pushed the vacuum cleaner’s nozzle into the narrow crevice between the seat and the center console and heard a clink. There was that set of keys! They had been inches away from my possession for all that time, but out of sight and therefore, ‘lost.’

In Luke’s Gospel, chapter 15, Jesus told some stories about lost things and a lost son! He told about a shepherd who went looking for a single lamb that wandered away from the flock. Despite having 99 sheep still in his care, he cared about the one that was lost. When he found the lost sheep, he carried it home and rejoiced with his friends and neighbors that he found the missing lamb. He told of a woman lost a valuable coin. She searched until she found it and then yelled to her neighbors, “Yes! I found it! Hallelujah!”

Then He told the most poignant of the ‘lost’ stories – the story we call, The Prodigal Son. The young man lost his sense, lost his way, lost his fortune, and lost his love for family! He was in terrible shape, to all appearance beyond hope. But there was a Waiting Father whose love remained strong, and the memory of the Father’s house pulled at the heart of the lost son until he said, “I will go home to my father!”

I cannot read the next part of that story without feeling strong emotion – “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long distance away, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20, NLT) Why does that move me so? Because I, too, once was lost. I had rejected the guidance of God, been blown ‘off course’ by the winds of life, fallen into a dark place. It is the plight of every living soul! The Enemy of God and good whispers the Lie to lost ones – “God does not care for you. He’s abandoned the search. You’re abandoned, alone – and you’re so lost, you can never go home!” Don’t believe it! The Waiting Father and the Searching Spirit are looking for the lost. The love of heaven beckons us to turn toward home and guides us back to the Way. The only thing we must do is obey the call!

Believer, have you wandered or wavered? Maybe worse than that, you have willfully chosen to break away from the way you know God has for you? “Go home today!” Tell Him you’re sorry, own the failure without excuse and He’ll embrace you again.

Friend, maybe you’re reading this from a place of loneliness or even despair, feeling very lost! You don’t have to live that way. Invite the Holy Spirit to speak to you, to guide you home, and let God love you to wholeness.

Here’s a word from the Word – Read it prayerfully, carefully; and rejoice in the wonder of the amazing grace that found you!

“It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin.
You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live.
You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience.
We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us.

Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us.
He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us!” (Ephesians 2:1-5, The Message) ____________________

Crash! What then?

A few years ago, I was driving home from the hospital. I saw the left turn signal flashing on the car that was ahead of me. I took note that it was stopping, and decided to go around it on the right shoulder of the highway. Then, there was an impact; a loud crashing sound, and I realized I had misjudged the distance and struck the car! I was stunned for a moment, left reeling and wondering- ‘what happened?’ In moments as I assessed the damage, I realized it was my fault! There was no denying that I had allowed my attention to wander and that my car had hit the car that was turning in front of me. Thankfully, no one was injured but the crash cost me (and my insurance company) dearly.

Sometimes human relationships crash, too. It could be that we just don’t pay attention to how we’re living until – CRASH! – we find that ourselves in the middle of a broken mess. I’ve counseled with many spouses who were cruising down life’s highway, only to hear the wreckage of their broken marriage crashing around them. It could be that someone zooms into our life bringing all their pain and dysfunction, colliding head-on with us. Years ago, a man I’ll call Sam came to the church where I was serving as Pastor. He appeared to be a broken man, hurting and wounded, so we opened up our hearts to his family and to him. What a mistake! Sam was a vicious and selfish man who abused others and who despised authority of every kind. (Classically, he had been raised by an rigidly authoritarian father who he hated!) He crashed head-on into me as the Pastor and did his best for several months to destroy that church under the guise of super-spirituality.

What do we do after the crash? That is a question that I’ve asked myself hundreds of times.

Some just ‘walk away.’
When the sound of conflict crashes over them, they run – leaving the scene of the accident. What a tragic response. Our traffic laws make it an offense to drive away from an accident regardless of whether you caused it or not! We are required to stick around for the paperwork! Conflicts and crashes are inevitable as we live. If we are mature, when we find ourselves in a conflict we’ll stick around to help clean up the mess, to work for reconciliation, to try to help those who are hurting. A person who just walks away from a crash in life takes the pain with her. The next time, and there will be a ‘next time’ everytime, there is a crash she will have to deal with pain piled on top of pain.

Some start pointing the finger of blame. “It’s not my fault. I didn’t do anything.” Maybe that’s true, maybe it isn’t. Blame really isn’t the issue. Most of the time a failed human relationship results from many factors involving all parties in the crash! Even when we have minimal responsibility for a crash in relationships, Jesus asks us to take on the responsibility for attempts at restoration and reconciliation. That’s tough to do!

Some decide to withdraw from life.
When we’re disappointed and/or injured by a crashing relationship, there is a temptation to say, ‘I’ll never trust someone in that position again.’ When a person is hurt terribly by a divorce, they may determine never to let love in again. When a person goes through a church fight, he may abandon church all together, which is real loss for all concerned. As tempting as it may be to withdraw into the imagined safety of our own little world, we rob ourselves of God’s best when we do. Instead we must secure ourselves in His love, and try again at life and love!

Here’s are words from the Word. Meditate on them today.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.” – Matthew 5:9 (You might know it better in these words, “blessed are the peacemakers.”) The Message

“Try to live in peace with everyone, and seek to live a clean and holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord. Look after each other so that none of you will miss out on the special favor of God. Watch out that no bitter root of unbelief rises up among you, for whenever it springs up, many are corrupted by its poison.” – Hebrews 12:14-15 NLT

Are you hearing sounds of a crash?

Don’t run, blame, or withdraw! Ask God to help you to stay steady, to help those who are hurt, to become a part of a resolution. It’s hard work, but there are rich rewards – both for you and for others- when you make peace and reconciliation a priority.

Heavenly vision, earthly service

“What are you doing? Why are you doing it?” – not just at this moment, but overall in your life. Are you ‘killing time?’ – frittering away day upon day watching TV and playing meaningless games? Or, are you living to make a Kingdom difference? That last phrase sounds so grandiose, doesn’t it? But it is a question worth asking because we can fill up our lives with activities, be exhausted by all the running around, and yet have nothing in the way of significant results to show for all our busyness.

I read a phrase in the book of Acts this morning that caught my attention- I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. Here’s the context. Paul was arrested in Jerusalem after narrowly escaping death at the hands of mob incited to riot as he was entering the Temple court supposedly with Gentile men who were not allowed in those restricted areas. He was held for two years in jail by Roman authorities who knew he really didn’t deserve to be in prison, but who wouldn’t free him because of political pressure from the Jewish religious leaders. Finally, he was called to make his defense. He recounted his experience, how he had become a Christian as a result of a vision of Jesus Christ that stopped him in his tracks on the road to Damascus. He told of his commission to take the message of Jesus, the Savior to the whole world, then he summed up saying, “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.” (Acts 26:19, NIV)

Such is the power of vision! Paul lived on the road with discomfort, often persecuted by those who did not believe that non-Jews should hear the Gospel. He was arrested several times, beaten by authorities more than once. He worked to write the letters that now make up a large part of our New Testament, instructing Believers in the Faith. Why? Because he had vision, a transforming experience from God, that made him passionate about making a Kingdom difference in his world!

The word, vision, can, as I mentioned at the opening lines sound grandiose. There are those who hid their own ambitions and pride behind spiritual language, claiming they are executing a vision from the Lord, when they are just building their own little kingdom! That’s not the kind of vision that pulled Paul through the difficulties that came his way. He heard from God, ‘saw’ Jesus giving him a commission, and obeyed- with all of his heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Note this well. It was not results that Paul used as his measure of success. If he had, he would have given up and gone back to making tents in Tarsus! He was a faithful servant of the Lord and that, to him, was enough! That is why when he was nearing the moment of his death at the hands of Roman authorities, he wrote to Timothy a message that celebrated God’s call and his obedience. He didn’t recap all the conversions that came about from his sermons. He didn’t tell of the churches that he established across the Roman empire. Here’s what he said, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness that the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that great day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his glorious return.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8, NLT) Obedience to the vision – that what mattered.

So what does God want from you?
Have you heard from Him – from the pages of Scripture, from the voice of the Spirit, in the circumstances He sovereignly directs around you?
Then obey the vision of Heaven and get about your service!
That’s all that really matters in the end.