On Grace and Good Friday…

 

On Grace:

Sometimes laughter is

the medicine best consumed

Removing any bitter pill

catching our fill of joy

hopefully by the bucket full

While we scratch and scrape to obliterate

The evidence of the empty

 

Other times there exists

this wish, this droaning desire

the brush fire of urgency

to unwind the vivid recall

that catches our fall

into this levity

 

we attempt,

we yearn to protect

this fragile sanity

casting shadows on the walls

of our iniquities

all the while struggling

refraining from peering

at that tree on Calvary

 

Could this be our undoing?

The unraveling of life’s

Guilt and selfishness

We have been pursuing this…

We the murder guilty

Hands crimson and stained..

Our eyes struggling to ignore it

Pulling our attention away

Yet discovering the end of our wit

Our wisdom, our inadequate understanding

 

Yet this heart,…

This shackled slave to self

 is crash landing

bailing out…expanding panic

I think I’ll be sick

As I find myself wading

Through my own filth

Which eclipses feeble strength

Within these tired hands

This vacant soul…

Hallowed and emptied out

I have lost control

Shattered, bits and pieces

Sharp and jagged

Course as no longer whole

 

And glancing once more

Rugged cross in view

Life’s blood is spilt

Redemption, salvation, new life

Comes Crashing through…yet I will not

Comprehend it… just yet

No, not yet…

For hell has to relinquish

Diminish in the world…in me…

Then three days  

Three gut wrenching, tear bursting

Sleep fleeting days…

To grave side

Torn pride, without guide

I will make my way

To mourn, to break again

But only then…only then

Will I meet nail shattered hands

Light from the cave of death

I will catch my breath,

I will catch His grace

And from His lips I will

Hear I love you, this…

This…was all for you.

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Here comes the pitch…

“Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you”

Psalm 55:22

 

I always get this image in my mind when I think of this passage of some guy throwing this big heap of cares in the general direction of Jesus like a pitcher would a ball to home plate.  Yet when I pause and truly consider the implications of such a passage however, I quickly realize that this passage is about my cares, my concerns, my frustrations.  Everyone who reads this passage ought to find some peace of mind in the knowledge that this verse is for us! 

 

Do you have cares?  Concerns?  I know I do, and what I am reminded of is that I don’t have to carry these concerns and troubles alone.  I am reminded of the promise at the end of this verse, not only do we find peace of mind in that we can cast our worries, concerns and cares onto Him, but the verse promises that He will sustain us through it all!  The word sustain is an interesting word to me it means to support, to keep something in position and also to nourish.  With so many descriptive definitions of this one solitary word I can begin to find more comfort in what it is that He will do for me when I relinquish control of my cares and concerns. 

 

He will hold me steadfast, support me and also nourish my feeble strength…now that’s a promise worth checking out today!  I’m at the pitcher’s mound…here goes.

 

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Calling… the freaks, the geeks, the rejects and the not good enough!

Mark 2:13-17 (NIV)
13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.

 

 

The sounds of the crowd echoed off of the small lean-to as they passed.  Some of the people scowled as they walked by then shaking their heads in disgust and finally disappearing out of sight.  This repeated numerous times within the hour, and the occupier of the rickety shack was used to the looks his line of work emitted from the population.  He was a tax collector after all, and the reputation of such an established profession was despised by most and avoided by the rest.  The whispers and cursing under the breath was all a part of the hazards of the job.  He lets the moment pass by, exhales a deep breath, and then bends over the weathered table again to resume his work. 

 

He is so consumed with his “paperwork” that he almost misses the most epic moment of his life.  As the sound of rustling paper replaces the echoes of the passing crowd he begins to sense that he is being watched.  He looks up from the stack of papers still needing to be inspected, and sees a man looking directly at him.  He doesn’t know how long the man had been there just looking at him, but the tax collector is nervous.  “No one looks directly at a tax collector” He thinks to himself, “Why is he just staring at me?” he wonders.  Then the most peculiar thing happens.  The man calls this collector of taxes by name, “Levi, come with me” He says.    For a moment, for one single solitary moment, Levi is absolutely still, as if he is firmly glued to the ground within his work space.  “I can’t just get up and go…can I?” He wonders to himself.  His entire future hinges on this one pivotal moment in time and he doesn’t know it yet.   On one hand if he says “no I’m not going anywhere, I have work to do” then things will remain the same.  Taxes will be collected, harsh expressions on faces, and he will always be unwanted within many social circles around town.   On the other hand, if Levi does go with this teacher what will happen?  What will happen to his family?  Will he be able to return home?  So much hinges on this decision, so many variables and yet Levi, finding the strength to move once more picks himself up and makes the decision to follows Jesus. 

 

Levi, known to us by the name of Matthew made a crucial decision that day which would  not only change his life, but the lives of all those who would one day read his writings also known as the gospel of Matthew, one of the four gospels of Jesus Christ. 

Isn’t it amazing that Jesus selected a tax collector, a profession despised by most people in society to help him spread His story of redemption to the world!  Among his other disciples were the rejects, outcasts and the not-good enoughs.  He turned the world upside down with His message of love, redemption and grace.  He used both men and women, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, the educated and the street smart to convey this all inclusive message to the lost, seeking, and broken. 

 

Still today, the Lord calls to you and to me to follow Him!  We may be far from perfect.  We may be lacking education, self-confidence, social and peer acceptance and many other inadequacies.   Yet He calls us, and can use us if we are available to accept His direction for our lives.  Matthew couldn’t have imagined that day where Jesus would lead him, yet he followed.  We too are asked to do the same.  “Follow me” Jesus says to us…what will your answer be? Image

Prayer: connecting the finite with the infinite

Children do not find it difficult or complicated to talk to their parents, nor do they feel embarrassed to bring the simplest need to their attention. Neither should we hesitate to bring the simplest requests confidently to the Father.” –Richard Foster

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Prayer is often misused, abused, and treated more like a bartering system with God than a moment by moment, daily conversation with our Father in Heaven.   It’s something that we’re all guilty of, but if we are to grow, we need to adjust and change our perception and importance of prayer in our lives.  Brother Lawrence once said on the topic of prayer; “One way to recollect the mind easily in the time of prayer, and preserve it more in tranquility, is not to let it wander too far at other times. You should keep it strictly in the presence of God; and being accustomed to think of Him often, you will find it easy to keep your mind calm in the time of prayer, or at least to recall it from its wanderings.” 

 

Misconceptions of Prayer:

 

We are obligated to pray.

Prayer should not be considered an obligation.  If we feel as if it is our duty to pray and that we are forced into prayers of penitence, petition and supplication then we are more inclined to just go through the motions with little or no true significance or meaning.  When prayer becomes routine and obligatory we lose the true significance of communing and fellowshipping with our God who greatly desires a moment by moment inclusion in our day. 

 

Prayer is like a fire alarm

We only pull the fire alarm in a building if we are in great need of help and for the fire department to come out and extinguish a fire.  We sometimes treat our prayer life like this as well.  We think that God is only available to us in times of need.  It’s like the quote “as long as there are tests there will be prayer in school”.  We often treat our communications with God as if they are for emergencies only.  We pray prayers like; “Lord if you get me out of this situation I will…,” and the fire alarm of prayer is pulled and we expect God to honor our cries for help when our discipline of prayer in all seasons is nonexistent. 

 

We have to pray in King James Vocabulary. 

Believe it or not, God doesn’t want our big and lofty words when we pray.  He doesn’t require of us to speak eloquently by using words like Thee and Thou and speaketh…if you don’t talk like that to your friends and family then why would you need to speak to God in that manner?  Of course we are to be reverent before God, but that doesn’t mean we need to have all the right words and pray with intricately crafted archaic speech.  God knows who you are, He knows where you come from and He will meet you where you are at in your life right now.  He doesn’t need us to speak in a way that is foreign to us.  Simply communicating to Him as we would our friends and family is what is best and most sincere when it comes to prayer. 

 

The Facts on Prayer:

We need to discipline our minds and hearts when we pray!  Prayer is more of a constant conversation with our God than just about kneeling at our bedsides before bed time.  He wants us to talk to Him and include Him in our daily routines through a moment by moment relationship to Him.  Prayer can and will become much, much deeper when we train our thoughts and surrender who we are to Him with every opportunity that we get.  It might be one of the most difficult things that ever do, many times we will fail, yet if and when we train our thought processes to constantly consider God in our conversations, actions and decisions, our perspectives, priorities and motives will drastically change!  Prayer is a mighty and powerful thing that connects the finite with the Infinite!   When we can find true discipline within our thought processes to consider the Almighty in every aspect of our lives, our spiritual walk and relationship to Him will greatly deepen and we will wonder how we ever lived without this deep connection to our Father in Heaven.

 

 

“Let Go!” -the hardest sentence you will ever face!

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There’s an old story that goes like this: A man named Jack was walking along a steep cliff one day, when he accidentally got too close to the edge and fell. On the way down he grabbed a branch, which temporarily stopped his fall. He looked down and to his horror saw that the canyon fell straight down for more than a thousand feet.   He couldn’t hang onto the branch forever, and there was no way for him to climb up the steep wall of the cliff. So Jack began yelling for help, hoping that someone passing by would hear him and lower a rope or something.  “HELP! HELP! Is anyone up there? “HELP!”   He yelled for a long time, but no one heard him. He was about to give up when he heard a voice. Jack, Jack. Can you hear me?”  “Yes, yes! I can hear you. I’m down here!”    “I can see you, Jack. Are you all right?” “Yes, but who are you, and where are you?”   “I am the Lord, Jack. I’m everywhere.”   “The Lord? You mean, GOD?”

“That’s Me.”

“God, please help me! I promise if, you’ll get me down from here, I’ll stop sinning. I’ll be a really good person. I’ll serve You for the rest of my life.”

“Easy on the promises, Jack. Let’s get you off from there; then we can talk.”

“Now, here’s what I want you to do. Listen carefully.”

“I’ll do anything, Lord. Just tell me what to do.”

“Okay. Let go of the branch.””What?” “I said, let go of the branch. Just trust Me. Let go.”
There was a long silence.
Finally Jack yelled, “HELP! HELP! IS ANYONE ELSE UP THERE?”

Sometimes we’re like Jack hanging on by a branch…or twig…and we’re afraid to let go.

Worry is all around us.  Look, there goes worry now with your medical bills.  Made you look!  Isn’t it interesting that worry is all around us and many times we allow it into our lives, hearts and minds?  You might argue that we don’t really want to allow it into our lives yet it seems to find a way all by itself.  Stresses of life, difficulties, and anxieties have been around since Adam and Eve stressed about which fig leaf they were going to wear after they were kicked out of the garden.  We struggle daily with these stresses in our lives but do we really have to?  Are they a part of you and me?  Do they dictate whether or not we will sleep tonight?

Truly Jesus’ words about worry are for all of us today, when He said; “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  (Matthew 6:31-34)

We are spoken to directly from the Son of God in this passage and told not to worry…so why do we still continue to struggle with this issue in our lives?   Could it be that we have not relinquished control over every part of our lives to Him?  Could it be that our trust of God and his providential care only goes so far and then we take back our control again?  I have found this to be true in my life, all too often and ashamedly so, I have allowed God to work in my life up to a certain point, only until something or someone gets the better of me and then WHAM I’m taking charge and trust of God goes out the window.

Learning to trust God in all aspects of our lives is very difficult.  It was never meant to be easy.  Yet, when we relinquish control and allow Him to lead and to handle our areas of anxiety and fear we can begin to grow and fully mature in the grace and knowledge of Christ.

Do you have worries today?  Then: Let go!  Let go and allow God to accomplish something amazing in your life!  Just…let…go…!

Therapy of Holiness

Founder and first General of The Salvation Army William Booth once said, “The greatness of a man’s power is the measure of his surrender.”

There is an old saying that goes like this; “No Pain, no gain”…have you ever heard it?

A number of years ago, when I was still playing soccer and desired to play at the collegiate level and beyond, I began having trouble with one of my knees.  No matter how much I stretched before and after our practices, I inevitably came away sore and concerned that my years of playing my favorite sport were over.  It finally got so bad that I consulted a doctor who in turn referred me to a physical therapist who specialized in sports injuries and recovery.  He took a look at my knee, frowned, and then said something that shocked me.  He said; “I’m sorry I can’t help you…”  There was suddenly a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, my dreams seemed dashed and I pulled myself up from the table completely and utterly defeated.  But, my physical therapist wasn’t finished speaking.  “I’m sorry I can’t help you…because you have to help yourself!”  He finished saying this and looked at me with penetrating eyes.

What?  What did that even mean?  For a moment the darkness that had initially descended upon me with what I thought was bad news slowly dissipated.  Was there still hope?  My physical therapist went on to explain to me that he could show me how to heal my knee, but the work, the pain and effort would have to come from me.   I would have to decide if I was going to follow through with it.  There would not be a quick fix, no secret remedy; it was going to be a lot of sweat and tears.  I considered myself an athlete and was familiar with that old saying “No Pain, no gain”, but I wasn’t prepared for the pain and hard work that lay ahead of me.

Every appointment with my physical therapist began with thirty minutes of full out effort on a stationary bike, followed by stretching that ached every muscle and some muscles I never knew I possessed.  After which, he showed me a series of weights that I would need to lift with my leg while focusing my effort on my hurting knee.  It hurt, I did grimace many times, stopping to catch my breath and dull the screaming pain.  Every time I stopped, however, my therapist would encourage me, he would push me…sometimes I would hate it, but he kept reminding me he couldn’t help me if I didn’t do the work.  I thought he was a slave driver, a real mean, uncaring person, but his promptings kept me going, kept me focused and finally I would complete my workout, very sore yet slowly mending my injured knee.   After many appointments, frustrations, and tough encouragement I finally felt whole again.  I had been mended.

Physical therapy is a lot like our Spiritual walk with God and that of Holiness.   His Holy Spirit comes along side of us, identifies damaged areas of our lives and prompts us to do something about them.  God has all of the power, encouragement, and strength for us, but He too looks us in the eyes and says, “I can’t help you… if you don’t help yourself.”  It’s not an indictment, but a focused statement to get our attention to remind us that we have a real choice to make.  God can change us, transform us, renew us and make us whole again, but we have to want it!  We have to have the desire for Him, and that of the image of Christ reflected in our lives.

Holiness is extended to us all, as children of God, but we have to want to change, we have to want to surrender our afflictions and our marred selves completely to the task of Holiness.  Yes, Holiness is God’s transforming work and power He gives to us, but our responsibility lies in our measure of surrender.  Holiness without surrender is like physical therapy without the drive to get better.   Romans 6:22 says, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.”   Becoming a slave to God brings us face to face with our inadequacies, our imperfections and God’s deep desire not to leave us there in our broken state, but to transform and make us whole. But we must decide if we will let Him begin this therapy of holiness in us.  The pathway is painful, there will be difficulties and discomfort but to reap such a reward of Christ-likeness and complete surrender is priceless and this is what He desires from us all.  Remember: “No pain, no gain!”  Let’s do this together!

 

 

 

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“Woe to me” -A Holy Response

“Holiness is not absolute perfection, which belongs to God only; nor is it angelic perfection; nor is it Adamic perfection — for, no doubt, Adam had a perfect head as well as a perfect heart before he sinned against God. But it is Christian perfection — such perfection and obedience of the heart as a poor fallen creature, aided by almighty power and boundless grace, can give.” –Samuel Logan Brengle

Isaiah 6:3-8 (NIV)
3 And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” 6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

This is probably my favorite passage on holiness, anointing, and appointing.  Recently our church has begun a bible study series and sermon series on the topic of metamorphosis…and I can tell you right now that it is very difficult – next to impossible to preach and teach on such subjects and not be compelled, convicted and motivated to do the same in my personal life.  This topic of metamorphosis is more about holiness than it is about a self-help topic to church goers.  How can we, sinners saved by grace transform ourselves by our own power…the short answer is we can’t!  The power to do such saving, delivering and transforming is God’s alone.  His Holy Spirit alone has the power to transform us from the inside out, but don’t think for a moment that we do not have some responsibility in this transforming process.  Our responsibilities begin and end with our free-will.  We have to choose, we have to want this transformational power.

The prophet Isaiah writes in these verses that when he was in the presence of God he was convicted of how imperfect and unholy he truly was; “Woe to me!” I cried.  “I am ruined!  For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (v5)  I do not believe this to be some sort of preamble or allegory to explain his message to the people of Israel; I believe this to be Isaiah’s actual response to the very presence of God.  This is his eye witness report and his response. When God’s fallen creation stands before Him, we cannot but help notice our imperfections, our failures, our unworthiness in the light of His perfection and might.

Do you want to know a really wonderful fact about our God?  He is not content to let us remain that way!  God, through the power Holy Spirit, desires each of us to come face to face with our inadequacies, our imperfections, our faults.  When this happens, one of two things takes place, we either reject these promptings and ignore what He’s revealing to us, or we are brought to our knees in repentance and conviction declaring like Isaiah, “Woe to me, I am ruined!”   It might not be exactly that drastic, but the sense of heart wrenching conviction ought to drive us to our knees again seeking not only God’s forgiveness, but God’s power to be transformed, renewed and holier than before.

You see, God has the remedy for our imperfections, our faults and our failures.  Like Isaiah, who was broken in the presence of God, we too have to be broken vessels before we can be vessels for His purpose and His purpose alone.  When He breaks us, He replaces our imperfect pieces with His holiness further restoring that image of Him in us.  When Isaiah is touched with the hot coals by the Seraph, God’s purity touched impurity, and guess which one won?  Of course the purity and holiness of God cleansed and removed the guilt and shame of sin!

The awesome thing here for us to glean is that God wants to do this with you and me as well!    We may not be a mighty prophet like Isaiah, but we are children of God and because of this, God will not settle for the old imperfections and sin in our new lives and we shouldn’t either!     2 Corinthians 5:17 says; Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”  Christ is and should be the blueprint of godly living for us in our lives today!  When we give up our selfish desires, our foolish pride, and surrender our old ways of living, God can then begin this amazing transformation in us.

Lastly, the evidence of a transformed and holy life is the yearning and painful groaning in our hearts for the rest of humanity.  When God has saved us, and is transforming us with His holiness; when our pride and our selfishness is no more, we then begin to see how desperately the people around us also need this transformation in their lives as well…when that happens, we cannot help but say like Isaiah, “Here am I, send me!”  Because it is then no longer about us, our pride, our desire for notoriety, it is about the power of God and His desire for right relationship with His creation – mankind.

This transformation of Holiness begins on our knees, as we too declare “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”  It’s not about beating ourselves up, it’s about humbling ourselves before God and allowing Him to penetrate our hearts and lives with His transforming power!

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