They Had No Clue

And when his friends had gone away and night had fallen they took him and ridiculed and slandered him. Charges were trumped up against him in late evening when few were aware or present. He was alone with his enemies. And things got terribly worse for him. The wounds inflicted on him seemed more about hate than retribution.

Yet he gave no defense because he’d done no wrong. The world didn’t understand him so they viewed him as a threat to their own politics and power. They had no clue who they were really dealing with. He allowed them that night to do with him what they wished. He didn’t fight back or rail. He knew his purpose. He paid a heavy price that night. He carried a weight beyond measure. 

The next day there was surely a hush over the landscape. The preacher had been put down and silenced. He would not longer be able to gain the attention of the masses. His friends, no doubt, would now be quiet and go away.

How or why did this escalate to the end of the gentle healer? Through a blurred and salty vision this man that night saw past the offences of his revilers. He saw them with a compassion and love that they couldn’t know or ever embrace.

Unbeknownst to all, those darkest hours were ushering in a new light that would never fade or fail. Waiting, hoping, longing – they all waited in silence not knowing the direction of the future for all. They all just had to wait.

The Exclusivity of the Christian Faith

I wholeheartedly believe that the only way to gain entrance into the heavens is via experience with the Jesus of the bible. He was a real person who lived a sinless existence and died at the hands of an angry mob. Yet it was all a part of the grand plan of the creator of this universe. Believing who he was and embracing him as the only bridge from the state of human sin to arms of a holy God is what I am convinced of is what is needed to become a child of God. Every fiber of my being tells me this is true. I would hope that all who identify with the name and person of Jesus feel the same way. I guess you’d say I am ALL IN, and wonder who in their right mind would only be “partially in”?

The thought for this current writing is something that is a bit hard to write about. It shines light on a subject that “ought not be”. It examines from real life view about something that seems missing from people who are “sold out” believers in Jesus the Christ. It is in the subject of giving. But before you grab your wallet, I’m talking about giving in a different sense. I’m talking about giving of one’s self to others in a exercise of faith. I’ve noticed for quite some time that Christians, and churches, create events or “ministries” with the purpose of helping others or meeting some need that they see in the community. They plan, they recruit others for help, they spend large sums of money, they craft events for the community to participate in for little or no charge whatsoever. Yet, by design, they sometime leave you with the feeling that they are a stingy bunch. They want the outsider to come and participate, but boundaries are put in place that make it seem restrictive or even miserly.

What made this thought come to the surface is a recent event that we attended. We took our young granddaughters to a “fall festival” (Halloween substitute). The event started pretty early so we had to rush to get there in time to park, walk and then take the kids to booths set up for games. Each booth had large tubs of candy for kids to have after completing whatever challenge each game afforded. Yet each child was only allowed 2 pieces of candy. The place was full of booths and people. So busy in fact, that the kids had to wait in line for each game. This place was full and kids of all ages and all seemed to be having a great time.

But after one of the games ended my granddaughter was digging through the candy looking for something that was not chocolate (she doesn’t care for it?). The lady manning the booth told her “dear you must only get 2 pieces”. My wife was puzzled at that rebuke since the she was just looking for something other than chocolate? It wasn’t as if the kids were “loading up” at each stop. So we carried on to the next booth for the next 20 minutes or so and waited our turn in line. After about the 4th booth a man (obviously in leadership) from the church walked by and waived at the booth attendants as if to say the event was over. So when it was our child’s turn the booth people just said “sorry it’s over”. So we went quickly to three other booths hoping our girls could get a few more pieces of candy before calling it a night. But it happened several more times and the event was OVER. The tubs of candy were still half full, yet it was 7:30 and we were all done. Our oldest was not only upset by not getting very much candy but wanted to simply play the games.

I know this all sounds a little silly, but we felt like outsiders at our own church. We brought our granddaughters for a fun experience at OUR church. But it was over in a flash and we took them back home with buckets almost empty. This event underscored how I think we as Christians behave in this world at times. We have the one true answer in the person and work of Jesus Christ, yet we place so many rules and restrictions on the prize that we leave the unbelieving world still in unbelief. The true gospel is one of inclusiveness and fullness, not one that closes the gate and refuses the prize because the ending hour has come. We have a redeeming work to do as believers yet we are shirking that calling if we limit what we do to time and space, and candy.

When others see Christians like myself I believe they should see people who are givers and people who go way beyond the call of duty in serving others. We are called to serve God. I learned long ago that the only way I can honestly and effectively serve my God is by serving others. And when we serve we should do so lavishly, as if each person we serve is our own child or grandchild.  People should see and experience the grace and mercy of the cross by seeing me lay down my own wishes and desires by the way in which I love and serve. That’s how people are drawn to the love of Christ. Words can be optional, but the way in which we treat others gives us opportunity to share they hope that we have within us.

Narrow IS the gate to salvation, but everyone should be given opportunity to see the path by the way Christians love and serve.

 

Time to Pay Our Respects Again

Our founders started out as a ragtag group longing to be free at any cost. They fought the good fight against insurmountable odds. The crown of England surely had a strangle-hold on our fledgling nation. Those brave men who came before us marshaled their determination to beat back the oppressors who were determined to crush us. Our patriots were really the underdogs in that fight. But they had something the king did not have – RESOLVE.

In the process of forming our wee nation our forefather worked tirelessly to forge a document to seal our republic into a strong bod. That document has surely stood the test of time thus far. Our constitution became a framework so we’d have a government that was FOR, WITH and BY the people. It’s mission was to insure balance between the power brokers so we’d be governed, yet not dominated. Have strength, yet be kindly bridled.

Each year about this time we’re reminded of the sacrifices made to secure, protect, and keep our freedoms. Throughout our history we’ve made our share of enemies, most of which were borne completely out of a burning thing called jealousy. Our nation was designed to give the commoner a share of the pie. It was also designed to allow someone (anyone) and an ability and a passion to become great, even with little.

Our foes have historically be people in other nations. From time to time we’ve had haters of freedom within our own ranks. Detractors of freedom will always be nipping at our heels. Kings, princes and tyrants can’t stand to see the common man have and utilize opportunity, and then succeed. It makes them look bad. It also diminishes their own ill-placed hunger for power.

For the brave men and women who’ve stood for our ideals in the middle of a blinding rain at 3 a.m. And for the patriot whose risen early and stayed up late training in order to serve. And for the servant warrior who has spent tireless effort standing watch over our republic and protecting our ideals.

For all of those who’ve even given the ultimate sacrifice for us – we salute and honor you this Memorial Day. We revere you. We’re humbled at your effort as you’ve stood in our place and given your all so that we can sleep at night with that joy of freedom in our hearts. To the servicemen and women of every rank in every generation and in every location – we stand up in honor of your memory and your service. We wave old glory in your honor.

God Bless you and God Bless the United States of America!

How Can We Be So Foolish?

I’m often amazed at a missing depth of reason for when it comes to the word of God. Many times the lack of understanding is from well-meaning folks who’ve purportedly walked by faith for many years, even decades is hard to understand?

The scriptures were penned by human beings who were inspired by the third party of the trinity, that we know as the Holy Spirit. Woven into the words on the page is the unwritten and unseen “Word” who is the one and true God. We understand and know his heart if we honestly seek to know His purposes and plans for our lives.

The way I was taught to understand the scriptures by very learned and revered teachers is to first look at the context in which a passage is written to find true understanding of what was (is) being said. Pulling passages from within a context to make them fit something you want is called proof texting. That is extracting a portion of a complete passage out of a larger story to prove your point or wishes. That is just plain wrong. It’s very much like misquoting someone in a media interview so that the narrative fits an intended target or thought. But this is a much more serious issue because it is a twisting of the truth of the word of God. That is serious business in my book.   Erring in this can cause others to stumble and miss the true meaning and can even cause issues for generations to come as they follow a path of deception by mishandling the word of God.

When you study the bible please consider the context of the message, the intended target audience and please, please, please ask the Holy Spirit to guide you as you study. And when in doubt in the interpretation or understanding of a particular passage it is wise use the scripture itself to help you with the understanding. Since the bible is inspired by one god there is a harmony throughout the scriptures. The concepts and precepts of God’s heart are penned in different ways and in different ages of historical Judeo/Christian history. So what better way to understand the word than letting the word itself be your guide.  And I should add that your ultimate guide must be the Holy Spirit. He can and will guide you into the truth.

Don’t be deceived into believing that somehow you’ve been given a “handle” or “corner on the truth” when it comes to God’s word. God is an equal provider of truth to all generations. As he is ageless, so are his immutable unchanging truths. He does not change and his word has remained through the ages.

 

Passion Week – What Does that Really Mean?

By many, the week leading up to Easter Sunday is referred to as Passion Week. For some the word passion might be a confusing term, especially in the world in which we live.

For me that word has a much deeper connotations than just a sensual human response. One definition of passion says “having a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something”. Another is “intense, driven, mastering a feeling or conviction”.

I admire musicians who have true passion in the way they display a total surrender in the the way they perform. They can convey a message with such force that you are left with little doubt about the importance of the message. They just lay it all on the line with unfettered emotion. If you cannot sing with passion, why bother?

People are passionate about many other things in life too. They can encompass the entire spectrum of humanity. Even in the realm of business there are those who are totally engulfed with a passion for their goods or services. The truth of the matter is, if you bring a passionate zeal to your work or avocation, you will excel and exceed in whatever you do. Regardless of your craft, people will follow and respect you because of your depth of commitment.The intent of my writing today is to examine a passion that far outweighs all other human pursuits or desires.

There was a lowly man who took up residence on earth and walked among us. He was from humble beginnings and led a simple life. This gentle man of whom I speak had a calling and a purpose. He may not have been a master builder or a great musician of ability or craft. But his goal and purpose pushed him to the ultimate level of passion. His resolve was born out of who he was. He was bred as a servant. His DNA fully tilted him to love people with a unique passion unknown before he came. His strong resolve led to his ultimate demise very early in his life. You’ve probably guess that I am speaking of Jesus, the Christ.

When he looked people in the eye, his gaze went directly to their core. He saw them where they were, yet loved them in spite of who they were. He was a magnet to those around him. He exuded a passion for life, but it not his own. The compassion he had for people was powerful enough to make rugged fishermen drop their nets and follow him without reservation. He just commanded a presence about him that was inexplicable. And he still does now.

For those of you who know and follow this man Jesus, he still has that magnetic draw and power. To become like him empowers you. To walk with him encourages you. To know him changes you.

As we ponder this week of “passion” we should be reminded how far his care and concern took him. It led him to to an early grave as “religious” leaders declared him their enemy because he obviously had a greater influence than they. Those same people took him down, or so they thought. There’s more to this story. Stay tuned.

Celebrating a Birthday – Especially in Heaven

He was my sounding board and confidant. And spiritual younger brother/friend. We pulled each other back from despair a number of times when life just didn’t make sense. He was Encourager-Par Excellence. He was the “get it done” person in the room. If you told him “Sorry that idea or project just isn’t possible” it was his signal for “watch and see it happen”. He’d go into high gear and make things happen. That thought process wasn’t just a human determination. It was coupled with the understanding and belief that our God is bigger than our problems or any obstacle we might face. The word “no” was just not a valid answer to my friend. He simply wouldn’t accept failure or defeat. He had a zeal for life that many will never attain. The enthusiasm and determination he exuded had a way of rubbing off on you.

One day he wanted me to come over with my pick-up to help him with a chore. It was one of those cold and blustery North Texas days late in the winter. I was sort of in a mess at that time because I was recovering from a broken arm and torn rotator cuff. The plan was to load a horse into a trailer and then take that horse to a breeder somewhere down close to Tyler, Texas. Because of my injuries I was still in a sling, but I could still drive.

We (bride and I) arrived at the land across from Jeff’s house and one of the guys who lived next to  the pasture had captured the horse in question and was trying to load said horse into a single stall horse trailer. After some wrangling, the horse finally reluctantly complied and they tied his bridle to the inside of the trailer, with what I thought was a flimsy rope. While watching being loaded I noticed that this little trailer had seen better days and I was a bit skeptical of the road worthiness of the wheels and tires for a 90 mile trip. But knowing Jeff, we were going to at least try.

Before I could back the truck up to latch onto the now loaded trailer and leave, this horse starting bucking and kicking in the trailer. I really thought the horse (and trailer) were about to start rolling down the hill. But while Mr. horse bouncing around in that trailer the rope with which he was tied broke free. So now this horse was confined, but loose, inside that little trailer. You are not going to believe this next part.

This horse was not happy and was not going to have any part of this trip or this trailer. His eyes were bugging out and then his head was sticking out the window of the trailer. Believe it or not, that horse proceeded to come out that side window. I was certain this whole thing was about to get really ugly with a horse half in and half out of a trailer window. But somehow he came out completely and then headed for the hills! It was the craziest thing I think I ever witnessed.

Horses became one of Jeff’s passions during the final chapter of his life. He left us way too early. But we are only given so many days on this earth by our creator. God’s purposes for Jeff had obviously been accomplished. During our friendship some great spiritual lessons were learned by both of us. In the pursuit of trusting God we both witnessed God’s hand in our lives and in lives of others too.

Jeff Thompson would have turned 52 years old today. He left an indelible mark on those around him, especially me. I might have a few impossible tasks in my path, but those are not really obstacles in my estimation, thanks to my buddy Jeff. Happy Birthday in heaven little brother and friend!

 

God. Is He Someone I can Pray to?

God is our Father and our creator. That is my story and I’m sticking to it. That is something I was taught in my upbringing.  Since God is our Father, that makes him in essence and in character, our Dad.  Being a perfect Father, we know that he must enjoy the interaction, respect and reciprocal love from his kids.

Long ago in my life experience I gained a great respect for God. That was even before I could say that I had a personal “experience” or relationship with him. As a child, when others would pray, I was taught to bow my head and close my eyes (simple I know). But if I knew nothing else personally about God, at least I knew to respect Him and revere who he was.

When we speak God’s name, mention him in passing or even simply think of him, he is acutely aware of us and at full attention and ready to hear from us. The scriptures instruct us to pray without ceasing. I think we all know what that really means. It means that in every situation we should have God’s name on the tip of our tongue asking him for guidance, comfort, and every other thing we could possibly need. Prayer is reaching out to God. It is also acknowledging that He (and he alone) is our source and strength. I’m a guy who loves fun and find some sort of humor in anything. It’s just how I’m wired. But mixed in with my humor there is a serious side to me as I think of who God is.

God expects us to call on him in thick and thin. I think it has to be a wonderful thing to him, when we call on his name to a simple conversation with him and lovingly thank him for being who he is. This conversation can be equated to telling our earthly father – I love you daddy.

Our paw owns it all. He’s really a rich guy. He lavishes his wealth on us each day. At times I feel like a spoiled brat the way he blesses and cares for me, even when I’ve been a fool. But in his goodness he knows what’s best for us. He also knows full well when to withhold his wealth from us and correct us.

The next time to have the need to reach out to your father for advice or strength or even to just thank him, don’t hold back. Speak his name, call out to him boldly. He will hear your voice and respond to you in grace and love.

God inhabits the praises of his children, all day – everyday.

Scabs and Scars

I’ve personally been met with obstacles and challenges in my life that left me battered, bruised and broken. I bear scars of failure and defeat. Some wounds have been deep and lasting. Some battles I’ve faced seemed to have lasted for a lifetime. Then there are are those really tough events that defined my life, at least for a time.

The human condition gives us all episodes of life where we get punched and slapped and knocked down. It’s just life. Some battles leave you with evidences of your survival. Some skirmishes can leave you with nasty little scabs. Then there are those events that leave indelible marks on your life. Those seem to stay with you. Scars left behind can be reminders of failure and brokenness.

A few years ago I was at crossroads in my life. Failure and despair seemed to haunt me. That thinking seemed to be a new norm for me. I decided one day that I was far better at failure than I was at winning. Let me tell you, that is not a place you want to be. That feeling takes you captive and makes you its slave. It seems there is no escape from that dungeon.

But then I found some really wise counsel, from some very honest and godly men. They didn’t ridicule me, they didn’t shun me. They didn’t try to figure it all out for me. They came along side me in my pain. They prayed with and for me. They hounded me with compassion and care, in an humble yet strong kind of way.

It was a rather odd and new time for me. Men were taught to suck it up, take it on the chin and just deal with it. Don’t show your weakness, don’t display your pain. And whatever you do, do  not tell any other man your weaknesses or failures. If you do, your man card is cancelled permanently. Does anyone know who wrote those rules?

I can honestly say, at this point in my life, that I wear my scars as badges of honor. I know I am a survivor of the rarest kind. I’ve been in the trenches of life and am still here to tell of them. I have a marriage that has stood the test of time. I have folks around me that I’d willingly give it all up for. I’ve seen ugliness and pain yet I smile in spite of it all.

There’s nothing special or gifted about me, yet I’ve found the secret to success in life. It is not about reaching some pinnacle of fame or fortune, or reaching some lofty goal or getting some large reward.

I’ve learned to simply rest in what my God has shown me, in my pain. He’s a trustworthy teacher that takes you to the highest of places of submission and tests you to see if you really do trust him. When I’m shaken and thrown down I know that He still loves and cares about me, especially in my pain. It must seem odd to those around me, but I’ve been blessed beyond measure in some of the darkest places in life. Yet God is good. All the time.

 

Riding the Rails

The emotional roller coaster in the aftermath of devastation is quite the ride. The ride takes off with tons of adrenaline flowing that moves you to action as you take that first steep dive down the tracks. Then as you start up the next hill you get a bit concerned about how high the next drop might be .

Then after a few days of riding you are dizzy and downright tired of the ups and downs. The downhill falls seem to get steeper when they come. But pockets of adrenaline arrive to alieve some of your fears.

About a week in you realize that your life (all of it) will never be the quite the same. Planning for a life change and implementing that plan is quite different than being forced to change every single plan and thought you had about your future.

Yesterday was one of those days. It started out stressful at work with tons of things to do and not knowing where to start on them because they were all urgent. It was so overwhelming it made me want to just walk away. Then I found a happy place with earbuds in place with some soothing music that took me away. That’s when work started cranking out. At the crest of the ride I decided that I needed to go “home” at lunch to survey the mess to see what we still need to do in the mopping up process. That little visit sent me back to a bad place.

Life has its ups and downs regardless of the date or your station in life. Challenges that we all face can take us from contentment to worry and doubt, in short order.

As I reviewed my life (and not just the past 10 days) I was reminded of some words from Isaiah 54:10 that lifted me up.

“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.” NIV

That’s all I got today, and all I need.

O Holy Night – Part 1

On the early morning of this new year I find myself awake early. The past week has been a bumpy ride, literally. Following Christmas day there were errands to run and  the decompression after the buildup to Christmas Day. Upon settling in my old easy chair to watch a little TV, little did I know that silent night was about to become anything but silent.

The networks were being preempted by the weather on this warm and sticky December Texas evening. We knew we had a cold front on it’s way and heavy rain coming the next day. Texas weather is a crazy thing. We laugh, but all four seasons can happen in a single day.

As I watched the weather guy track a heavy thunderstorm, that was starting to turn ugly, little did I know that weather front had a late Christmas present for us.

One storm had produced a tornado south of Dallas and it had tracked almost to the downtown area of Big D. As I watched the trajectory of that storm, I told my bride that I was more concerned about the eastern side of the track because that is where we were sitting.

A few minutes later I lost satellite signal. Usually when this occurs it will rain pretty heavily within a short time. I waited for the sound of rain on my chimney. Nothing.

As I sat in my recliner looking out through my patio door I could see some flashes of light that were most likely lightning strikes from an approaching new storm. Being the constant weather watcher that I am, I stood and looked out to the southwest to see in the back-lit sky what surely looked like what they call a wall cloud.

I summoned my better half for a look. She saw what I saw. It was a cloud hanging lower than the surrounding clouds. And there were flashes of light that made it evident it was more than a wall cloud.

I opened the door and stepped on the patio for a better view. That’s when I heard “that” sound. It was a roar with a loud motor grinding pulsating. It appeared several blocks from us. I quickly tried to determine if it was headed left or right. It was neither. It was coming our way.

I loudly called out to my wife that we needed to head to the main bathroom. I’ve always been a scoffer at the warnings to get in the tub. This time I knew better than to question what my ears and eyes had seen.

So with pillows in place and Miss Sadie in (our dog) we closed the door and waited. A mere 60 seconds had passed when we heard a couple of loud “booms” and a little vibration. Then quiet. I said it’s over. And it was.

The “easy” part was now over.