Friday, September 27, 2013

Who Do You Think You Are?

There are two questions that every person must answer...and how we answer these two questions will determine the course of our lives.

1. Who do you say that Jesus is?
2. Who do you think you are?'

I just finished reading Mark Driscoll's book called Who Do You Think You Are and it has caused me to wrestle again with my answers to the 2nd question. As I go on, let me say this isn't a book review, nor am I even really discussing the book. However, as I was reading I found myself wrestling with the question that appears on the cover..."who do [I] think [I am]?" Not the intellectual answer...I could write on a piece of paper a good answer and probably get an "A" on the test. But if my actions and thoughts were to be evaluated, what would they say I believed about myself?

The core issue is this: many Christians don't live as Christians should. I'm not talking about sin and such, nor am In interested in sounding harsh or critical of us at all...but many believers I know, including myself at times, too easily forget who we are and as such, don't live as Christians should. Kind of like this...

I know I am a son of the living God, the highest King of the land. I know I have a destiny and treasure awaiting me that I cannot imagine, (heaven). I know that I have power at my disposal that no evil can stand against, (the Holy Spirit). I know that through prayer I have direct and instant access to that very same God that has saved me and loves to give good gifts to His children. I know I am an heir to the kingdom, that I've been adopted into this great family, that I am loved deeply and unconditionally. I know I have been saved from death, and brought into life. I know all these things and more...this is the very essence of being a Christian. And yet, too often I see in myself and other believers that we don't live in the light of these astounding truths.

As I read Driscoll's book I found myself often asking this question; "To whom or what have I attached my identity?" I was reminded that we are in a war and satan, through his crafty lies, is bending all his power to get us to come up with and live out the wrong answer to those two questions. I was reminded of my need to spend more time in God's Word, and in prayer, in order to fight against my enemies and remember my true identity, not my false one. Satan would love nothing more than for us to attach our identities to anyone or anything other than Christ. True freedom is found, however, in remembering who and whose we are.

"I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe...But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus...But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ."

Heavenly Father, helps us this day to remember who we belong to, and may it change us. Help us fight against the lies of our enemy and instead, fill us with the truth of Your Word. Amen.

Friday, August 2, 2013


So last night we had a mini-crisis in our family. My three year old son, Brennan, lost his security...namely, his blanket (Babba). It was bedtime before I realized Babba was missing...we scoured the house, looked high and low, in the car, behind the couches, outside, everywhere...but no Babba. After re-tracing the day along with his last known whereabouts, we guessed that Babba had been lost at our public library, but alas, the library was closed and it was bedtime. Brennan did ok until about 4:00AM when Mama had to sleep with him for the rest of the night...because Brennan really missed Babba. This morning, Babba indeed was found at the library and all is well again in our son's world (and truthfully, in Mommy and Daddy's world too).

This whole episode got me thinking again, and served as a great reminder...where is your security? Where is your trust? Who or what is your "Babba?"

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, 
for I will yet praise him,
   my Savior and my God.
- Psalm 42:11

I think you know where I'm going with this post...the application is simple. There is only one thing in all of creation that will never fail us, one person to be more exact...Jesus Christ, our Savior. Everything else is smoke and mirrors...everything else is "chasing shadows."

This also got me thinking, is there something in my life like "Babba" that if I suddenly lost it, I'd be a wreck? Do I feel that passionately about my relationship with Christ?

There's nothing to feel bad about, just a call for all of us to remember that there is ultimately only 1 security. If everything and everyone fails, if you lose all you have, there is one who will never fail.

God is our refuge and strength,
   an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
   and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
   though its waters roar and foam
   and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
   the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
- Psalm 46:1-5

Friday, July 19, 2013

I Remember

"Green as spearmint..."
God recently spoke to me while I was driving around...through a store mannequin. No, I'm not losing my marbles (yet), and no I didn't hear an audible voice. But I was reminded of a few things that I needed to hear...let me try to explain.

Stephen Sondheim, renowned American composer and lyricist, wrote a ballad that for some reason has long been a favorite of mine; my flavor being an arrangement sung by renowned jazz vocalist Mark Murphy. The song is about a store mannequin who somehow escapes and gets out into life for awhile, but then the magic is gone and the mannequin is back in the store, remembering. The song is aptly titled, "I Remember." Take a moment and read the lyrics, or you can listen to it here;

I remember sky, It was blue as ink, or at least I think, I remember sky.

I remember snow, soft as feathers, sharp as thumbtacks, coming down like lint.
And it made you squint, when the wind would blow.

And ice, like vinyl, on the streets
Cold as silver, white as sheets, rain like strings and changing things, like leaves...

I remember leaves, green as spearmint, crisp as paper.
I remember trees, bare as coat-racks, spread like broken umbrellas.

Parks and bridges, ponds and zoos,
Ruddy faces, muddy shoes,
Light and noise and bees and boys and days.

I remember days, or at least I try.
But as years go by, they're a sort of haze.
And the bluest ink, isn't really sky.
And at times I think, I would gladly die, for a day of sky.

Think for a moment. What if a store mannequin really did escape and had the chance to experience life for a few moments, or days, or years, but then had to go back to being a mannequin? What would they tell us? The power of this song, of course, is its call to us to slow down and see the beauty around us, and not to move so fast through life that we miss it all.

"The heavens declare the glory of God;
     the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
     night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
     no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
     their words to the ends of the world."

(Psalm 19:1-4)

As a Christian, I believe whole-heartedly the Scriptures that proclaim that God has revealed Himself to us through His Creation. I also believe that God has designed us to need rest...a day called "Sabbath." A day to slow down, a day to connect to Him, a day that should be different from the other six. I believe that the "noisier" my life is, the harder it is for me to hear God. I've written on this before (click here), and as summer is in full swing I find myself fighting to live out what I believe.

I am a fast mover, my wife always trying to get me to slow down. What I need most on the Sabbath is to sit, read, rest. To get out into the wilderness, talk with God (which includes listening) and bask in the beauty of His creation. To observe things; a bird, an owl, the summer breezes, a sunrise or sunset. To listen; God speaks through many voices, but almost all of them are hard to hear if I don't slow down. I am learning...slowly.

What about you? Do you move through life so fast that maybe a store mannequin appreciates creation more than you? What is your plan? Do you have one?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Chasing Shadows

Light and Shadows created this image
Ever catch a shadow? I think the only person I know who has ever succeeded in this is Peter Pan. I hate to say it, but he's not real. Shadows are created by light. With no light, there are no shadows. Shadows can be subtle, on a cloudy day, or very vivid on a bright, sunny day. Shadows can be short, when the sun is directly over-head, or very long, when the sun is low on the horizon.

As a photographer, I love shadows...shadows help to create beautiful images. And yet, without light there are no shadows. Shadows are important in good pictures, but not nearly as important as light. There's a term called "magic hour" that photographers use to describe the times of day where the lighting is usually most conducive to great photos. That time varies, but it's always around sunrise and sunset. That's when you get the coolest pictures. It's all about the light!

"And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind." Ecclesiastes 1:13-14.

Those words should alarm us. Why? Because they were spoken by the wisest man who ever lived. Solomon. He set his heart to discovering all that is done on earth and his conclusion? It's all vanity. Work, wealth, power, play, feasting, all of it...everything we do on earth is a "chasing after the wind" or as I have come to say to myself, "chasing shadows."

Ever catch a shadow? I haven't. So why would the wisest man who ever lived conclude that all we do on earth is vanity and a "striving after wind?"

"Also, he has put eternity into man's heart." Ecclesiastes 3:11

That's why. Because God has put "eternity" into our hearts...and guess what; we can't take it out. All you can do is try to fill it. "Eternity" in your heart is that part of you that expresses itself in lots of ways;

- it's that part of you that searches for happiness
- it's your search for meaning
- it's your longing for answers to deep questions
- it's that part of you that often feels "down" or even "depressed" and you can't identify why, (because this isn't your home)
- it's that part of you that longs for a life that counts, to "make a difference"

Eternity. You can't take it out of your heart, but you can try to fill it. And all too often, too many of us try to fill it with shadows. Shadows aren't bad...they aren't good either. They're just shadows. Shadows are things like good food, friends, hobbies and passions, sports, vacations, travel, cars or games, quilting or scrapbooking, writing or reading, a good book or a good movie. These are shadows. They're not good or bad. But they are things we try to fill our lives with hoping to quiet that "eternity" part of our heart. But in the end they leave us wanting...

The answer? Stop chasing the shadows. Chase the Light!

"So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever." (2 Cor. 4:16-18 - Message)

I'm not against the shadows...even Solomon acknowledged that many of these things are gifts from God for us to enjoy. But they are not God. They are shadows of something so much greater. 

"What then does this craving and inability cry to us if not that there was once a true happiness in man of which there now remains only the mark and empty trace? We try mainly to fill it with everything around us, seeking form things absent, the help that we do not receive from things present, but they are all inadequate because only an infinite and immutable object that is God himself can fill this infinite abyss." (Pascal)

The key question is this; are you looking at the shadows to fill what only the Light can fill? If so, stop chasing shadows, and instead, chase the Light. Enjoy the shadows as gifts from God to you, for you, but never, ever expect them to do what only the Light can do. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Dependent or Independent?

It's July 5th and I've been reflecting all week on this simple thought; we celebrated our country's independence yesterday, and yet, as a Christian, I'm called to live as a dependent. In fact, it is this very trait in me, this trait of "independence" that is the root cause of so many problems.

If I had to summarize God's desire for all believers in one word, it might be the word "surrender." Read these words of Jesus;

"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul." (Matt 16:24-26)

It's a simple equation - give up your life and gain a new one. Lose your life and find a more meaningful, joyful, purposeful one in Him.

And therein lies the rub - I get stuck on the first part often. "Denying myself," "giving up my life"or "losing it."And in those moments and times when I fail to deny myself, fail to give my life, I find that Jesus' words hold true...the things I hang onto lead to emptiness. However, in those moments when I am able to deny myself and get lost "in Him," there I find life, and I find Jesus.

The "losing your life" or "denying yourself" is not a one-time event. It is an on-going, ever-present denying of yourself, surrendering to Him. Why? Quite frankly, because the life Jesus has for you is so much more than the one you want to settle for. 

There are two ways to motivate people towards something:
1) You can tell them how great it will be when they get to the new place, or
2) You can tell them how awful it will be to stay where they are

A life of denying yourself will lead to eternal life in ongoing, constant stream of joy, purpose, impact, power, thankfulness, and hope. A life that leaves a legacy, makes an impact, and builds eternal rewards in heaven. That sounds pretty good...

A life of living for yourself will lead to hopelessness, a lack of purpose, a longing that will never be filled, a constant "minor depression" that medicine and psychology will never fix. That sounds pretty bad...

So join me, make every effort to deny yourself, give up your life, stop being so independent and surrender to Him. It's worth it!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Praying with Purpose

Check out this great prayer by Paul found in Colossians...

"And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him,bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God."

Some things really struck me in this prayer, that made me want this prayer for my life.

First, that I might be "filled with the knowledge of God's will..." I want this! I want to know what God's will is in every situation.

Second, "in all spiritual wisdom and understanding..." It's not just God's will I want, but His will in spiritual things...that as I read His Word, He would reveal more and more of Himself, His truth, His wisdom, to me.

Third, it's not just wisdom and understanding and knowledge so I can be smarter, but "so as to walk in a manner worthy of The Lord..." It's acting on what He reveals to me...application! The doing doesn't save me, but the doing pleases Him. The doing is what leads to "bearing fruit in every good work." The doing is the fruit. Wisdom with Application is what I need.

Fourth, how does this prayer end? Right where it started; "increasing in the knowledge of God." It's like this...

Knowledge leads to Wisdom/Understanding leads to Plesaing Him leads to Bearing Fruit leads to Knowledge Increases.

That is a prayer I need daily...Amen!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Short Term or Long Term Gain?

Earlier this week I got a gift...a morning to myself. I decided to do one of my favorite things; go out for breakfast. I brought a newspaper, my Bible, and my journal. It was a beautiful morning and I sat outside reading, thinking, praying, and eating.

I LOVE breakfast food...and yet it doesn't always leave me feeling great. When I got the menu I saw a number of things I wanted to eat; pancakes with syrup, bacon, sausage, eggs, toast, Yum! Or maybe a big breakfast skillet, or the coffee cake soaked in butter. Hmmm. Intuitively, I knew my doesn't do well with a big breakfast loaded with sugar. So I decided to do something I have never done...I ordered granola with soy milk, a side of fresh fruit, and some whole wheat toast. For me, in this one instance, I chose long term gain over short term...and it worked. Two hours after breakfast I still felt great.

Now go with me to 1 Samuel 8. The Israelites have been following Samuel for awhile and things have been going ok. However, he was growing older and decided to appoint his sons into leadership roles. Turns out the apples fell quite a ways away from the tree...

"You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have."

God correctly identifies that they are rejecting not Samuel, but Him...they are rejecting "Yahweh" as king. Still, God has compassion and he tells them exactly what will happen if they have a king...namely that their sons may have to join the army, their daughters will be taken into his service, the best of their stuff (animals and food) will be taken, and oh yeah, taxes...because someone will have to pay for the palace and all that. Even after explaining all of this to them, they still demand a king.

To put it simply, they chose a short term solution they thought would work, forsaking a better solution (keep trusting in God). They ate the bacon, pancakes, hash browns, toast and coffee cake and washed it all down with 5 cups of coffee. Tasted good while they were eating it, but an hour or two later, not so good. Aside from a few incredible kings, most of their leaders took them further away from God, leading them into deep sin.

I always wonder what would have happened if they had just trusted God to be their king? Probably Samuel's sons would have been dealt with and they would have enjoyed the blessing and protection of God so long as they followed Him. We'll never know...

My one point is this; in my own life, I too often choose the path of least resistance, and settle for something far about you? Today, make it your aim to choose the long term gains...even if they're harder in the short term.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Don't be like Ashdod...

...or Ekron, or Gath for that matter.
just giving you something pretty to look at
The text is 1 Samuel 5. Here's what's going on. The ark has been captured by the Philistines and they aren't quite sure what to do with it. First they brought it to the town of Ashdod, and set it up in their temple next to Dagon, but clearly, Dagon wasn't up to the task. God afflicted the people with a plague of tumors and "brought devastation on them." In one verse we see both wisdom and folly from the Philistines;

"The ark of the god of Israel must not stay here with us, because his hand is heavy on us and on Dagon our god." (1 Samuel 5:7).

To their wisdom, they rightly understood that it was Yahweh who was wreaking havoc on them. To their folly, however, they simply passed the problem onto another town.

This pattern was repeated in the city of Gath, who passed the ark on to Ekron. The people of Ekron, were at least wise enough to not even let the ark they sent it back to the Israelites.

Here's what struck me about the Philistines and these three cities. Here they are, confronted with the God of their enemies, Yahweh. Clearly they have wisdom enough to see that Yahweh is destroying them. They must have been able to conclude that Yahweh was more powerful then Dagon. One would think their response might have been to repent, and worship this new powerful God. But no, they simply want to rid themselves of Him and go back to worshipping Dagon.

Now obviously there are bigger issues here...we know that the Israelites were God's chosen people, not the Philistines. However, it did strike me how often I do things similar to how these three cities responded.

When confronted with my own sin, or wrongful behaviours, or things I need to change, or bad habits, what do I do? I'd like to say I immediately repent, humbly, and run to God. However, all too often I shift the blame, or ignore the problem, or pretend I didn't hear, or perhaps worst of all I do nothing. These responses essentially accomplish the same thing that the Philistines were trying to accomplish; pushing God away.

After reading this passage, I was left with a question which I leave with you today. Is there something God is trying to get your attention about? If so, are you responding to Him, or pushing Him away? Let's not make the same mistake the Philistines made...but instead, embrace our Father. After all, He did demonstrate His love for you on the cross...I think we can trust Him.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Background Matters

If you read this blog at all, you know that I'm a passionate amateur photographer. I love getting out with my camera and finding beauty. One thing I've learned in photography is that "background matters." Take a look at these two pictures of a Heron;

They're both ok pictures...however, the first one them "pops" quite a bit more. Why? Simply because of the background. The water background is a dark color, and is smooth, which contrasts the color of the Heron and causes it to draw our focus. In the second picture the bird has moved a little, and the background has gotten a lot busier, and lighter in color, diluting our focus leading to a less striking picture. Quite often photographers, myself included, pay too little attention to the "background." We focus on the subject but ignore how the background of our photo can add to or take away from the subject.

It's the same in life. Too often I pay little or no attention to the "background" of my life...and yet the background affects so much of who I am. Very rarely do any of us stop what we're doing, put on a cd or song, and sit still and listen to the song. However, we often have music playing "in the background." That music has an effect in you. It can lift your spirit, or take you back in time, or give you energy (like my "running" playlist), or make you feel blue or depressed. And yet music is kind of a "background thing."

There are other "background" things that effect us. The shows/movies we watch, the news we choose to read, the radio stations we listen to, food we eat and drink, and more. These things may seem trivial, and yet they affect us.

"If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is,seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth."
What is in the background of your life, perhaps diluting the striking subject that God has made you to be? Is your background stuff helping you or hurting you? Is it drawing you closer to God or pushing Him away? Maybe it's time to move a little, and change that background.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Getting Dressed

Something we all do, every day, is get dressed, and I'm guessing most of us put some thought into it before we just throw on some clothes. I usually consider, (briefly), a number of things such as the weather, my activities, any meetings I may be having, whether I'm riding my scooter or driving my car, etc. Maybe my favorite time of day, clothing wise, is after I've put my son to bed and I slip into my "loungey" clothes - cotton sweats and a favorite hooded sweatshirt. Recently I was reading in Romans and this verse got me pondering...

"So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh." (Romans 8:13-14).

I love how verse 14 reads in The Message; "Get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!"

What would it look like if I started each day "putting on Jesus" like I put on clothes? Immediately I think of two things;

1) Putting on my proper identity, and
2) Putting on Christ's character and attributes.

The most important thing about any of us what we believe about God and Jesus, our "theology," but perhaps the second most thing about us is what we believe about ourselves. Part of that answer can be found in the book of Ephesians. In the first 14 verses of chapter one alone, we learn a number of things about ourselves. We learn that those who are "in Christ" are Saints, are Blessed, are Chosen, are Adopted, are Sealed, are Redeemed, have an Inheritance, have Salvation, have the Holy Spirit, and more. And that's just what the first few verses of Ephesians say about our identity. I wonder how many of us live with a proper identity? I know I don't...

Clothing ourselves with Christ also means wearing his character and attributes. Of course I immediately think of the "fruit of the Spirit" - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Some of those fruit come natural to me; others I have to work at. But all of them should be part of my outfit. In addition I think of one huge quality of Jesus that God loves to see in all of his...his humility. 

"And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesusevery knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:8-10).

So tomorrow morning, when you get dressed, remember to not only put on your physical clothes, but put on your spiritual clothes as well. Choose your outfit carefully, and make sure you wear your proper identity, accompanied with the character and attributes of Christ. Clothe yourself in Him.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Your Greatest Gift...?

What is the greatest gift? The greatest gift you've ever received? The greatest gift you've ever given? Certainly for all believers the greatest gift we've ever received is the gift of Jesus. But what is it about that gift that makes it so great? Ok, that might seem like a really dumb question, but hang with me for a few...

That gift, that gift of Jesus means a lot of things...
  • It is a gift of forgiveness...that our sins will no longer be held against us. Huge! We deserve death but get life.
  • It is a gift of a future...that we have an incredible future awaiting us in heaven.
  • It is a gift of power...that because of Jesus, we now have an amazing power at work in us; (The Holy Spirit).
  • It is a gift of intimacy with God...that we now can have a direct conversation with the Creator of the Universe, is in-comprehensible.
  • It is a gift of value...our lives matter...they matter to Him. Let's camp on this one for a minute...
One of the things that we easily forget is this gift of value. I often imagine what life apart from Christ would be like. For me, at least, apart from Him, what's the point? There is no point. If there were no God, there would be very little (if anything) to live for. 

Bring it down even further...many people struggle with their identity. There are so many people who walk through life feeling lonely, or worse, worthless. This was one of the things that Jesus did so well...he came near to people, and gave them value. He was blind to the prejudices and judgments that often cloud our value systems...instead, he would come near to someone; a homeless person, a cripple, a tax collector, an adulterer, and He would look them in the eye and show them value.

A couple of weeks ago I was at Starbucks with my "almost 3 year old" son. There was one particular person who caught my eye; he was outside, in a wheelchair, wearing a "Desert Storm Veteran" hat. He looked cold, looked homeless (although I don't know), and so I bought him a cup of coffee and brought it out to him. That was the easy part. He then came inside to add cream and sugar and stuff, and that's when I heard God whispering to me; "Mike, what is easier? Buying him a cup of coffee, or engaging him in conversation?" So I put a video on my ipod for my son, and as this man filled up his coffee, I asked him one question, I think, about serving in Desert Storm. 30 minutes later, he was still sharing stories with me and it was so apparent that he was starved for community, and perhaps starved for a life that has value.

I share this story not to brag on myself, for I am far too often the one who goes through life "too busy" to stop and engage...but it did dawn on me how little effort it took on my part to help bring worth and value to someone who, in God's eyes, is every bit as worthy as I am. Jesus died for his life...and mine.

" 'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?'
Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Lesson from Mr. B

I recently got word that my art teacher from elementary through High School, Charlie Brown, (yes, that's his real name), was retiring after 50 years of service to Bellevue Christian School. Mr. B (as he is affectionately known) is a great man and I am reminded of something he taught me long ago.

I believe I was in Junior High at the time, in Art class, and I was working on a drawing, trying painstakingly to put on paper what I saw in my mind's eye. I made a mistake and grew increasingly frustrated, which Mr. B picked up on. He came by my desk and asked what was wrong...I showed him my blunder. He replied simply, "there are no just make it into something else." He then proceeded to take his pencil and turn what I thought was a mistake into something beautiful.

Little did I know at the time the valuable lessons he had just imparted on me.

  • At the highest level, he saved my drawing that day.
  • Going a little deeper, he gave me a way to approach problems and mistakes...that instead of brooding on the mistake, you turn it into something else. Sure the end result might look different from what you had intended, but not necessarily worse...and quite often, better.
  • At the deepest level he showed me God. I believe this is one of God's greatest joys; taking what we think are mistakes and blunders, sins and scars, and redeeming them for His glory. In essence taking what we think is ugly, and making it into something beautiful.
"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28 - NAS)

"That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good." (Romans 8:28 - The Message)

The lessons here are two-fold; first, remember that there is no blunder or mistake, no sin or scar, that is so great that God, the great Healer, cannot redeem. He can make anything beautiful. The second lesson is this...because of Mr. B's retirement, I was able to email this story to someone who is compiling these memories for him. So take moment and think of someone who has greatly impacted you, and write them a note or send them an email. Let them know how much it meant.

Friday, February 15, 2013

So You Really Think You're In Charge...?

Today, two stories have dominated headlines across the world. First, a surprise...over Central Russia a 10-ton meteor travelling at approximately 33,000 mph streaked across the sky. As it entered the earth's atmosphere it disintegrated, shattered into pieces, creating a massive shockwave (explosion). That shockwave, took a few minutes to reach earth but when it did it caused windows all over the area to explode, the broken glass injuring over 1000 people. (Read about it/video here).

Secondly, in apparently an unrelated event, an asteroid named 2012 DA14 that scientists have been tracking for awhile is passing very close to earth right now...(only 17,100 miles away). This is just one of many asteroids that scientists/astronomers are tracking that have a potential to hit earth. What would happen if it did hit earth? Nobody knows for sure, but it would be a big deal. This particular asteroid is 50-meters wide. An asteroid this size would likely explode in the air...good...except when it exploded it would release the energy of 187 atomic bombs...bad. Especially if it just so happened to explode over a densely populated area. Consider one asteroid we know 1908 an asteroid exploded just a few miles above earth. Even though it technically didn't strike solid ground, the airburst obliterated an estimated 80 million trees over an area of 830 square miles.

What's my point, you ask? Let's start here...

"Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." (James 4:13-14)

Most of my Christian life can be boiled down to one over-arching struggle. Control. I want to be in control, and God wants to be in control. Me being in control is at best an illusion; God being in control is the only safe place. When I sin, it's because I've wrestled control from Him. However, when I am closest to Him, obeying Him, loving Him, worshipping Him, it's because I'm letting Him be in control, just saying "yes Lord, lead me, whatever you ask, I will do."

I just read about a pro-athlete who got traded to another team. He was shocked he had been traded, mainly because 2 days before he got traded, the General Manager of the team, (the one who traded him), told him he should by a house and settle down because he was going to be there a long time. Two days later that same GM traded him. He had no idea.

Most of us have no idea what tomorrow holds. There are any number of incredibly good things, or incredibly bad things that we might face. So where can we find comfort and peace in a world of growing uncertainty?

You know the answer. The challenge remains the same...the wisest man who ever lived put it this way;

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Not easy, necessarily, not always fun, not always happy, but straight. In a world that is in many ways spiraling more and more "out of control," one thing remains the same. God loves...oh how He loves. He loves you, He loves me, He loves to save and rescue, and He wants to lead you.

I leave you with this...

Psalm 121
I lift up my eyes to the hills—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Power of a Song: Before the Throne of God Above

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea
A great High Priest whose name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me...

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Saviour died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.

(The full hymn can be found many places, like here)

Revelation leads to Response...and this hymn is filled with the profound revelation of God, which in turn should lead to a powerful and heart-felt response from me, and from you.

I first became aware of this hymn over 15 years ago when a group called SonicFlood recorded was an instant "must-do" and yet for whatever reason, I have not used this song in worship...until now. A couple of weeks ago I listened to it again felt that the time had come. We taught this song last week to our church and I hope it impacts them as much as it has me. Every line of this song is rooted in Scripture; rooted in who God says He is. All of these lyrics deserve our contemplation, but there is one verse that moves me every time we sing it...the second verse. This verse finds its roots in many places, one of which being Psalm 32.

"Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity
I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord'—
and you forgave the guilt of my sin." (Psalm 32:5)

You and I have something in common with every single person on planet earth...we sin. We sin with our thoughts, we sin with our actions, we sin with our words, we sin with our motives...we sin. It is this sin that brings us to two ends; death, or life. Life is found in Jesus, death is found in every other attempt to remove our sin.

For those of us who have surrendered to Jesus, God has pardoned us, based on the death of His Son. And that, my friends, is the best news we could ever hope to receive.

Here's the problem, though, at least for me, and why this song (and Psalm) mean so much to me. Even after I sin, even after I confess, even after I receive God's forgiveness and know that I stand before him as one who is clean, I struggle...I struggle with guilt, condemnation, and shame. God, however, even has an answer for that...

"...and you forgave the guilt of my sin..."

You see, God doesn't just forgive our sin, He also forgives the guilt that our sin leaves behind. His forgiveness is so complete, it covers not just the sin itself, but even the guilt and shame that sin leaves behind. God's healing is total.

You ever have a situation where someone hurt you, and then came to you and apologized, but you were hurt so much that even though you said "I forgive you," deep down you wanted them to feel bad for awhile? Maybe you could "milk it" and get something out of it? Maybe you hold onto it so long that eventually that other person says "how long are you going to hold this over my head?"

Well this is the opposite of how God treats our sin. He forgives the sin, forgives the guilt of the sin, and then... 

"as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us." (Psalm 103:12).

Bringing it back full circle, back to the song - this is one of the reasons this song has gripped me so. That second verse...let's read it again, and chew on these words, and the truth in them.

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Saviour died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.

A song that moves me to worship, fully.

soli deo gloria - He alone is worthy.