Monthly Archives: September 2010

Catfish, Confusion, and #5 Circle Hooks

Beware the hook!

In the natural world catfish are the fresh-water rulers of the dark depths near the bottom—tough skinned and insatiable in their foraging for food. They eat whatever they find, wherever they find it, with little or no investigation or concern. They see it, they swim over to it, and if they can catch it, they swallow it. Over time, like us, they grow fat off the garbage they ingest.

The secret to successful jug fishing is really no secret at all. Take a #5 circle hook and cover it with something that smells really bad or looks really good. I prefer the latter and a live hand-sized bream is almost too much for a big ole catfish. You suspend that delectable piece of squirming sushi in the water and look out—it will be an evening of fun as you sit back and anticipate those golden brown filets melting in your mouth.

We are a lot more like catfish than most of us would like to think. Living in the dim shadows near the bottom, we tend to grow fat off the debris of worthless teachings and the decaying scraps of sermonic cadavers instead of swimming up near the top where the water is warm and the food is fresh, and our ancient enemy is fully aware of these tendencies.

He knows our feeding habits and how easy it is to confuse us. He cleverly baits his hooks with forbidden morsels that seem to dance in the dim water we are used to swimming in. The bait is not the issue; it’s the exploitation of the fish’s hunger that lands it on the hook and on the stringer. And so it is with us; we can blame the devil and his tackle box filled with an alluring assortment of baits, but the real culprit is the lust that resides deep within each of us.

But each one is tempted when he is carried away and entrapped by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death (James 1:14-15). The bait simply excites the lust, and in the accompanying confusion of our feeding frenzy, the barbed hook finds its mark, or as we might say in the mother tongue of a jug fisherman—“Fifty pounds of catfish ain’t a bad night for ten empty milk jugs, some #5 circle hooks, and seven or eight scrawny bream. Grab the filet knife—heat up the oil—we got fish to fry!”

The Trauma of Change

Most people dislike change. Change disrupts. It creates trauma, turmoil and unrest. It turns my little playhouse of life upside down and inside out every time I get things in place like I like them. Let’s be real honest here—most of us don’t just dislike change; we hate it and we fight against it with every cell of our being.

But, change is the basic building block of life. If one does not change, one soon becomes a dinosaur and extinction is just around the corner. But for some reason, most of us believe we can hold on to things and keep them just like they are. We do this in our families, but our babies grow into adults who don’t need us. We do this in relationships by holding on too tightly and they falter and fail. We do this in the church, and…perhaps this is why we are not very effective in reaching our world. You may be playing dodge ball with change, but eventually you will get flattened by it. Change is inevitable.

At this moment my frustration with change is creating a volcanic anger deep within my being. My head wants to explode, and I want to launch like a Saturn rocket. The details are unimportant; suffice it to say, it has to do with a computer that will not obey me. I am helpless—and I don’t like that feeling. It’s a machine; I’m a man. I just don’t get it. The directions seem so simple, but they might as well be written in a foreign language. I don’t understand them and I feel like a dinosaur shivering alone on a glacier, waiting with dread for the temperature to fall as the dark night of the soul sets in. Change shakes you to the core and then like a snow globe allows all the pieces to settle back into place—but the past is now the present and the future is coming like a bullet train.

There is one ray of hope—one glimpse of glorious sunlight in all this. God never changes. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. But, before you get too excited, just remember; everything and everyone He touches must change. It is inevitable.

“Stop dwelling on past events, and brooding over times gone by; it’s springing up—can’t you see it? I am making a road in the desert, rivers in the wasteland” (Isa. 43:19 CJB). I guess I should take a break, get a drink from that river, and take a stroll on the road. Who knows, the change in scenery just might do all of us some good. Well, at least it’s warm in the desert and this old dinosaur won’t freeze to death tonight.

Daddy’s Big Hands

This morning God used a childhood memory to encourage me as He brought a real sense of security to what had been a rather tumultuous week. As a kid, my family would travel the twenty or so miles to the Roebuck Shopping Center twice a month to buy groceries, clothes if needed, and supper at Jack’s Hamburgers. For my brother and me, it was like a trip to Disneyland.

We would ride on the grocery cart, clinging to it like it was a roller coaster, as my dad pushed it down the long aisles filled with a seemingly endless supply of gastronomic delicacies like Cocoa Puffs, Sugar Smacks, and iced oatmeal cookies. Then it was off to shop at Pizitz’s and J. C. Penney’s. This was my mother’s idea of fun and relaxation. We didn’t get a vote here, so we made the most of it, playing hide and seek in the ladies department under the dense foliage of the dress racks. And then, it was off to Jack’s for the long anticipated dining extravaganza of fifteen cent hamburgers, salty French fries, and cokes. For a kid, life seemed pretty simple and safe.

All of these memories are my treasures, but there is one that is far more precious than any of the others. It happened every time we visited Roebuck, or for that matter, any other place with traffic. As we climbed out of the back seat of that sky blue and white 1956 Chevy into the parking lot, my dad would grab our little hands with his and he would not release his grip until we were all safe inside one of the stores. We hated it. Oblivious to the danger, we did everything we could to get loose, but alas, there was no escape. Daddy’s big hands were far more secure than the infamous Alcatraz prison. As far as I know, neither of us ever came close to escaping.

This morning, as I was reading Isaiah 43, my heavenly Father reminded me once again that I am safe and secure in His hands. Like my daddy, His record is spotless—He has not, nor will He ever lose even one. We are safe and secure in Daddy’s big hands.

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…” (Isa. 43:1b-3a).

Bone Valley

You won’t find Bone Valley on any scenic roadmap. No chamber of commerce will advertize its location on a website. It’s not a top-ten destination site for anyone, but all of us have been there. It’s a dry place filled with the skeletons of faded dreams, failed plans, and fractured relationships. It’s the elephant graveyard where hope is buried and the vultures of disappointment and despair grow fat off the flesh of failure. It is a dreary place that was never meant for habitation; only brief visitations.

Scattered as far as the eye can see are the bones of what might have been…or that’s what most people see. What do you see? The glare from the sun may be so bright that this might be all you can see, but there’s far more if you’ll shield your eyes and take a second look. No, the bones haven’t changed—they are the same pearly white clavicles, tibias, and vertebrae strewn across the barren wasteland. But, what if instead of dead carcasses you saw construction material? What if instead of the debris of your past, you saw the building blocks for your future? What if you rubbed your eyes, squinted hard a few times, and refocused your attention not on what is, but on what could be? What if you asked God what He sees?

His answer might just surprise you, because it will be another question—“Can these bones live?”

Be real careful right here. Don’t answer His question too quickly. Take a long, deep breath and remember the concept of impossible does not resonate with God. All things are possible for the One who lives in the realm of the impossible. If you can entertain the least bit of faith at this moment you may be surprised at what it could produce.

God is speaking to your spirit right now and He is saying to you, “Prophesy over these bones and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.” Freaked out? I thought you might be, but don’t panic. Instead, speak exactly what God is putting in your mouth right now. Don’t hesitate! Don’t vacillate! Don’t let your left-brain rationale highjack your resurrection or restoration. Speak to the bones! Tell them what God is telling you.

Ezekiel once stood at the same scenic overlook you are precariously balanced on. You are looking at the same bleached bones he gazed at. What will you do—speak or remain painfully silent?

Prophesy to your bones. No one else can, and no one else will. Say to the Spirit, “Come and breathe life into these dead dreams—these disastrous plans—these decimated relationships.”

Shhhh…can you hear it? Surely you can. Be very quiet and listen. I think I hear a noise—a faint rattling that seems to be growing louder. Look…the bones are beginning to move!

Broken Pots and Hidden Treasure

Second Corinthians 4:7-10 greets me each morning as I fumble for the key that unlocks my office. It is the superscription below a picture that hangs on the wall opposite my door. The picture and the verse arrest my attention and focus my perspective of why I am here—today—on this planet—at this very moment.

The scene is a sporting event. The stadium is filled with people—not an empty seat to be found. The sky is darkening and the lights are slowly coming on. The crowd roars in anticipation as the home team enters the field. There is no doubt as to what will be the outcome. If you or I were sitting in the bleachers this would be our perspective of the event about to be played out before our eyes. The problem with perspective is that what you see is not always reality.

The scene I witness each day is not the perspective of the crowd but the reality of the visiting team. For them this is not a sporting event. Rather, it is life and death. A doomed little group of men, women, boys, and girls are huddled near the wall on the floor of the Coliseum in first century Rome. Their names are not stitched on their jerseys, but everyone in attendance knows exactly who they are.

The gods of the city sit perched on the Palatine Hills and the Forum above the great stadium like modern day team owners in their sky boxes. The blood lust roar of the crowd erupts and the place is electrified as the great cats slowly enter the dirt floor, signaling the beginning of the main event.

As the evening shadows fall, a man dressed in red, lights the tar-soaked bodies of men who have been crucified all around the perimeter of the stadium floor. Their brutalized bodies will provide the light needed to illuminate the horrific events about to unfold just inches below their nailed-pierced feet.

In this terrifying scene painted by Jean Leon Gerome (The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer), a gentle peace seems to hover over the tiny group kneeling near the wall. They are praying…they are Christ-followers—real Christians. This is the church. These are the shoulders on which we stand, the fathers and the mothers who at the cost of their very lives passed on what we claim to preach, teach, and believe. These were the martyrs who chose to experience a violent death rather than live a lie and renounce their Lord or recant their faith. These were the ones whose blood became the seed of the Church (Tertullian). Their treasure—their hope—was not in their children or their possessions or even their own lives. Roman crosses could not kill it. The fires could not consume it. The lions could not devour it. Their hope was not a religion—their hope was the Christ who had overcome the cross and would deliver them through the fire and out of the mouths of the wild beasts. They were not just dying for their faith; they were living out their faith in a magnificent display even to the very end.

So…what is your treasure—your hope? What are you carrying around in the clay pot that is you? Is it worth dying for? If so, don’t just talk about it—live it! Let your treasure be a reality to the crowd and not just a perception in your head. You never know who might be watching.

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.”

2 Cor. 4:7-10

Check Your Address

Your address is an important possession. It establishes your residence—where you live. It communicates stability to your creditors, and it proclaims a sense of legitimacy to the community around you by saying, “I live here.” It enables you to receive vital information by phone and by mail. Without an address, a person is considered “homeless.”

An address is essential and even more important in the spiritual realm as well.  Every believer’s address is “in Christ,” but not every believer lives at that address.  Many have received a letter of occupancy, and the O.K. to move in, but most have never taken up residence at that address.  That is, they are “in Christ” positionally, but practically they are somewhere else.

Most Christians exist in a fantasy world of “What If.” “What If” is a zip code tacked on to an address known as “What Was,” better known as the past.  They are trapped in the past by a wound, a disappointment, an untruth, an indiscretion, a sin, an unforgiven hurt, or a thousand other mistakes made by them or committed against them. You may be living at “What If.” What if my father and mother had not divorced? Or what if my husband or wife had not left me? Or what if that man had not molested me? Or what if I had not been late to that interview? Or what if I had not been lied to? Or what if a thousand other real, imagined or perceived things had not happened?

Instead, there is a better way. Instead of “What If,” spend your means, your energy, and your time on “What Is.” “What Is” is the zip code at the end of the “What Can Be” address. You will never move into “What Can Be” until you choose to deal and lay to rest “What Was.”

The enemy will use “What If” as long as you allow him to visit “What Was” with you. Understand this; he won’t just visit when you want to go there. He will take you kicking and screaming against your will at the most inopportune times to accomplish the most damage in your life. “What Was” is the address of a prison where the only thing you can envision for the future is “What If.” It’s living life while looking in the rearview mirror.

God’s way is far better. Those things in your past are real, they did hurt, and they have affected you, but they can be dealt with. “What Is” requires coming to grips with the reality of the situation. It means you must face it, deal with it, walk away, and leave it. It requires a partnership between you and God. You must choose to face the problem and at that moment, even in your weakness, God will give the ability, the answer, or the action to overcome the past. Then you must walk away and leave it with God. When you deal with it, God buries it, but be very careful in answering the devil’s invitation to revisit that gravesite because his purpose is to trick you into exhuming that memory’s remains so he can breathe death back into the wound, the hurt, or the pain.

You must live in “What Is” if you ever plan to walk in “What Can Be.” Your destiny “in Christ’ is fixed in God’s mind, but your ability to experience the joy of that destiny is determined by the address where you choose to pick up your mail.

Alligators, Apathy, and the Adversary

The sun was setting as we eased the boat back away from the campground on the Ross Barnett Reservoir. The pallor of the sky was a grayish orange and the cool breeze was a brief respite from summer’s oppressive heat. We were headed out to jug fish at a spot among the lily pads where the Pearl River empties into the Reservoir. Jug fishing is an inexpensive way to catch big fish. All you need is an empty milk jug, a hook, some string, a lead weight, and the bait. You drop the baited jugs out, find a nice place to tie off, sit back, enjoy a Coke, and wait for the big fish to come for dinner.

As we were turning to head down the narrow canal toward the open water, we came face to face with a seven foot alligator who had been silently watching us for a long time like we were a couple of rotisserie chickens from the grocery deli. Alligators are common here and protected by law, so most people pay little attention to them. I’m not from here, and so every time I see one, something primal from deep within me starts screaming, “Run for your life!” Since I’ve never walked on water, I chose to be still, stay on the boat, and hide my feelings of terror from my fishing buddy. As silently as the gator came, he submerged and disappeared. No sound—no splash—not even a ripple—vanishing like a phantom into the dark green water.

In that moment of panic, God decided to pull up a chair, make it a teaching moment, and remind me of a spiritual truth. His lesson was not about fear or faith. It was an exercise in alertness. The Father reminded me that we all have an enemy lurking out there, watching us with steely red eyes like that gator. Our adversary is looking for that moment of opportunity where he can seize the advantage to kill, steal, or destroy something God is doing in our lives. He lurks—quietly waiting for someone to devour. He’s always there, even if we don’t see him.

The lesson of the alligator is this: it’s not the adversary, but our apathetic nature that poses our greatest threat. In Christ, we are more than conquerors, but if we allow the caress of apathy to embrace us and forget to be alert, we are in danger of becoming dinner for the devil. Or, if you will allow me to paraphrase 1 Peter 5:8 in the vernacular of a hesitant jug fisherman: “Watch out, be on the alert. Your adversary, that big gator, is seeking someone to devour. Don’t let it be you!”