Monthly Archives: April 2011

Check Your GPS

Following Jesus will take you places you never dreamed of. He has a plan and most of the time He shares it with us on a “need to know” basis. In other words, when you need to know He will share what you need to know at the exact moment you need to know it. He rarely unveils more than a snippet or snapshot because our tendency is either to freeze up in fear or hijack the whole thing like it was our idea in the first place. Just relax—the journey we are experiencing is as important as the ultimate destination we will one day encounter.  The eternal and abundant life of Christ does not begin in heaven but is realized at all points along our daily walk.

This passage we’re booked on has been designed to fit us for eternity by stripping away everything that weighs us down or hinders us along the way. We all have baggage, both good and bad, that is unnecessary both now and in the future. The sheer weight of this spiritual and emotional luggage always crushes our desire to dream the dreams God has imprinted in the DNA of our spirits. One thing is for certain; a moment is coming when the Lord will point to that backpack of junk we’re lugging around and guide each of us to the appropriate dumpster for its dispatch. In these instants you either dump it or redistribute the load. Sadly, most of us want to repack, rearrange, refurbish, or recycle the contents rather than ditch it in God’s garbage can. This refusal to abandon always results in another lap around the track. The more laps we take the heavier the junk in our truck becomes. Either you leave it behind or you discard a divine dream.

This journey also enhances our abilities of perception—what we see and hear. Our walk with Jesus is designed to build relationship through the ebb and flow of the experiences we encounter along the way. These are fraught with hardships and stresses that should force us to stop, look, and listen. If we do this we learn to hear what the Father is saying and see what He is doing. Jesus did this, and He expects us to follow His example. And let’s face it—that’s what this little trip is all about. Somewhere along the way we either become familiar with the tenor of His voice and the gentleness of His touch and intimacy develops or blindness and deafness overcome our senses and we wander aimlessly enjoying ourselves with the sights instead of the Savior.

All of us are situated somewhere—someplace in this excursion called life. Perhaps you’re running laps on weary legs around a garbage can wondering why the scenery never seems to change. Perhaps you are looking at the sights through dark sunglasses with your ear buds tuned into the mind-numbing jam of a world bent on separating you from your Guide and don’t even realize it. Perhaps you are so fixated on eternity that you are missing the opportunity to be the hands and heart of God to the people He has placed in your path. Perhaps your hearing and eyesight is becoming more acute with each step you take. Perhaps you are overwhelmed with the love and grace of a God who would walk with you step by step and pick you up and brush you off whenever you stumble and fall. Perhaps you’ve tuned into His voice and are exhilarated with everything you are encountering, especially the beauty of His presence.

You must determine the “perhaps” that best fits you and adjust accordingly. Check your GPS. This trip could be a long one or it could be over in a moment. Don’t waste a moment.

The Victory

For the past three hours, the earth had been bathed in an eerie black darkness. The awful smell of death hung thick in the dark silent air as the man hanging on the middle cross struggled to gasp small gulps of hot dry air. With each desperate gasp, the muscles in his taunt legs knotted in excruciating cramps. The nerves of his feet and wrists, exposed and ravaged by the Roman spikes that held Him impelled on the executioner’s tree, sent searing pain not only through His dehydrated body, but also through His tortured brain. The pressure in His chest continued to build as the fluid collecting in His lungs slowly and methodically smothered Him. The hollow rapping of death’s knock was becoming clearer and closer.

In this sunless gloom, another transaction was transpiring. Experiencing for the first time in His eternal existence the awful aloneness of total separation from intimacy with His Father, He drank deep from wrath’s cup. Now under the cover of creation’s shame, He bore not only His own body’s crushing weight, but also the suffocating shame of all humanity’s sin placed on His back by the unseen hand of Heaven’s Great Judge. “It now pleased the LORD to crush Him, to bruise Him, making Him sick” with our sin (Isaiah 53:10). The struggle was so intense that all heaven bowed its head and looked away in horror.

And then, in a moment it happened, without warning an abominable change occurred in the face and the broken body of the Son. Pure, holy, and undefiled, the Beloved One ceased to simply bear man’s sin; He now became sin. God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin…” (2 Cor. 5:21). Unable to bear the utter despair of that solitary moment, the only begotten of the Lord, cried out for the first time not “Abba,” but “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Forsaken, broken, bruised, despised, and fully crushed, the Son bore our deadly iniquity alone on the cross.

As the eternal seconds slipped slowly into history, with the last ounce of His waning strength, His regal body straightened and with arms outstretched like a conquering king instead of a dying criminal, His voice, rich and deep, rolled forth into the depths of hell’s abyss and up into the heights of heaven’s paradise with one defining word, “Tetelesti.” It is finished! The eternal transaction was paid – paid in full! And then His head dropped, His body sagged, and He died, alone on the cross.

Three days later, Jesus Christ would emerge victorious from death’s fist with the keys of hell and death. No longer would sin reign unchallenged as king. Today we celebrate in reverence the grace, the mercy, the righteousness, and the life purchased in the pain of Golgotha’s Cross. Today we celebrate the Risen Savior who took our forsaken place in the darkness and so that we could live forgiven in the Light.

The Priority of the Resurrection

The Resurrection is the single most important event in the totality of human history. Some might argue in Christendom that the birth or crucifixion is of equal importance. Both are eternally significant, but the Resurrection is essential. Without the resurrection of Jesus the other two events are really non-events.

Now that might not sit very well with you. If so, hang with me for a few moments and perhaps you will change your mind. Jesus came to seek and to save, and by doing this He would destroy the works of the devil. He came with a purpose, planned in eternity past, fulfilled in the Resurrection.

The conception and birth of Jesus through the womb of a young virgin named Mary was the doorway of the Incarnation. Through this miracle God became flesh and dwelled with the rest of humanity. God the Son became human without losing His divinity. He was fully God and fully man. But this one event did not complete His redemptive plan or purpose.

Jesus also lived a sinless life. That is, He never once disobeyed the Father, fully accomplishing every commandment and assignment He was given. Sin’s filthy grip never soiled His spotless life.  This enabled Him to fulfill His role as the Second Adam and qualified Him to be the Spotless Lamb, our sacrifice for sin. This was essential, but without the Resurrection, it is meaningless.

For most Christians the cross is the single most powerful image of their faith. On it the sinless Son of God was offered as the payment for the sins of the whole world. The Incarnate One was nailed to a cross—His sinless life qualified Him to be the Passover Lamb. On the cross, Jesus shouted, “Tetelestai!” This first century Greek word means that from that moment forward the sin debt had been paid in full and its benefits will continue forever. The declaration had been made, but the One who declared it succumbed to death as His blood became the offering for sin. His lifeless body was then taken and placed in a tomb. The cross was the provision for sin’s atonement, but would that payment be enough?

The body of Jesus now rested on a limestone shelf in a borrowed garden tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea. In the Jewish way of reckoning time Jesus was in that tomb a part of Friday, all day Saturday, and into Sunday—a three-day period that had been foretold earlier by Jesus Himself.

The testimony of Scripture is clear that on the morning of the third day God the Father raised God the Son from the dead through the power of God the Holy Spirit. That one act declared forever that God’s sacrifice of His Beloved Son had been enough. The Resurrection is the foundational doctrine of all Christianity. Apart from it nothing else is its equal. It is the fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan and the life-giving fountain from which all must drink. For the believer every day is Resurrection Day. Without the Resurrection our preaching is all in vain, our faith is worthless, and we are still condemned shackled by sin—eternally helpless and without hope.

But…Jesus is risen! Yes, He is risen indeed!

Honoring a Fallen Hero

Reality has a way of shaking all of us out of the lethargy of the comfortable life of freedom we all experience here in the good ole U. S. of A. Turning onto Highway 80 on the way back from lunch I noticed a fire truck sitting in a rather unusual location. “That’s odd,” I thought, but then it dawned on me why. Today, a hero was returning to town, but not in the way everyone had planned. Crowds of people were parking on either side of the four-lane and hurrying to their positions along the grassy shoulders with American flags of all sizes in hand.

Police cars were positioned at every intersection, ready to move into position and block off the traffic on command. They were awaiting a hearse bearing the flag draped coffin of a fallen warrior on his return from an unpronounceable battlefield located in a foreign country halfway around the world.

The feeling that overwhelmed me at that moment was one I had experienced only once before almost 18 years ago, as the small navy skiff pulled up and I stepped out onto the U. S. S. Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. Now, like then, I was overcome, almost choking on the surge of raw emotions. Tears filled my eyes, and for a moment I couldn’t get my breath, as waves of grief washed over me and I struggled to keep my truck on the road. As quickly as it had welled up it was gone, and a peace descended marked by a deep and distinct sense of gratitude, pride, and humility.

I am grateful for the men and women who have and are serving this country. Everything I enjoy on a daily basis has been purchased by their sacrifice. That selfless attitude I’ve seen expressed as mommas and daddies kissed their sons and daughters goodbye and watched as these brave soldiers go off to war elicits a deep sense of pride in the heritage of sacrifice woven into the very fabric of my country. And…I am humbled that any person would willingly put their life on the line so that I might enjoy the abundance and joy of freedom. On days like today, its staggering cost is a weighty reality. Freedom is never free, and its fee is eternal vigilance and the sacrifice of blood.

No feeble word of human tongue can lessen the grief or pain of this family. Only the Holy Spirit’s intimate ministry of healing comfort, the love and support of family, church, and friends, and the passing of time will bring solace to the pain they are experiencing. Though one thing is evident by what I witnessed today—this precious family will not suffer alone. This community has joined them with their prayers, love, and support.

I was struck by the sincere and simple ways the people of Brandon honored Staff Sgt. Jason Rogers along the road today. Those solemn resolute postures, the crisp salutes, the gentle waves, the fluttering flags, and the tear-filled faces all communicated the same message: “Thank you!” There are moments in life when the silence speaks far more than any words can ever say. Today its shout echoed its gratitude for a fallen son of Mississippi—a hero who has paid the ultimate price. Semper Fi!

The Pursuit of Humility

The greatest single element missing in the 2011 edition of the Church is the precious attribute of humility. It is the essential building block needed in constructing a character of obedience to and a love for Christ, as well as the people around us. Its glaring absence seems to cast a long, dark shadow of serious doubt on anything else we claim to personally believe, publicly witness, or practically carry out in our communities. The alter ego—the hideous Mr. Hyde—the dark side of humility is arrogant pride and sadly, the church is filled with enough of this to permanently choke the life out the 9.6 billion people presently living on this blue-green planet.

Humility for most of us is like catching a fistful of wind or a handful of water. Once we’re convinced we have achieved it we find it has vanished through our fingers. The reason is simple: humility is not something you add to your collection of achievements, rather it is a choice you make—moment by moment—in that painful process of dying to yourself. We enter this world selfish, self-centered, and self-consumed. All we think about as infants is what we want. Truth is, we could care less about the rest of the little Johnnies and Jennies scattered around us. If you doubt this, visit a nursery or pre-school and quietly observe the little human inhabitants that populate it. No one teaches us to grab for what we want or scream for that holy grail of someone’s personal attention—we are born with that defective DNA. It’s a gift from the original inhabitants of the Garden. Sadly, we carry that with us as we mature emotionally, as well as spiritually. This terrible tendency does not miraculously evaporate just because Christ comes to live in us. We have to kill it; and believe me, its death will be a bloody one.

Humility is hard to define, but we all know it when we see it. Its presence refreshes us like water on the parched lips of a thirsty soul. Its encouragement pushes us to reach for more than we ever thought possible. Its validation empowers us to be everything God intended. Humility has a way of bringing forth the best of what we were created to be. It is a catalyst for real life—the quality and nature of that life Jesus died and arose to impart to us.

No man or woman is more like Jesus than in those moments when humility guides their actions and attitudes. It is cultivated, not acquired, through the seasons of our life as we willingly exchange what we desperately crave for what Jesus longs to give. As we surrender those areas of our will to His will, His kingdom comes in our lives and humility takes root and produces the sweet fruit of selfless service. Selfless simply means less of me and more of Him.

Perhaps that is the ultimate definition of humility—“me” dies and He lives in and through me. Perhaps it would do us all good to remember that if we confess Christ as Savior and Lord, it means we were crucified with Christ. For me that means I died the day Christ came to live in me. The goal of crucifixion was death, and as far as I know, not one person ever climbed down from a cross. I no longer have a right to what I want or what I need. Rather, Christ is set free to do in and through me whatever He wills because I am dead and the dead offer no resistance.

A life marked by humility has an aroma that attracts both the dying and the desperate and offers a quality and quantity of life that can be found in no other place. To be a person of no reputation allows the reputation of the risen and living Lord to be lived out in a vibrancy of color that nothing else in creation can rival.

The first step to humility is the transfer of personal value. That is, everyone else must become more important than we think we are. That, my friend, is a bloody decision to embrace death. If you think not—just try it.

Useful Not Just Fruitful

He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. And His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, to gather the wheat to His barn… (Luke 3:16-17)

I am a creature of habit. I like things to stay where I put them and routines to be, well…routine. It gives me an exhilaratingly false sense of control in an otherwise out of control existence. Change bothers me and I adapt at a begrudging snail’s pace. If evolution were true my picture would be front and center in the dictionary alongside eight track tapes, leisure suits, and pet rocks. For some reason I have convinced myself that everything is all right with me and if that’s so then the way I do things must be alright with God. Now I know that concept is far from true yet I clench my fists and hold on like a city under siege. If confession really is good for the soul, it would probably do you good to join me at the altar. We are legion, but God has a recipe for this faulty belief system. I call it God’s threshing floor.

The threshing floor is a metaphor for God’s workshop. Here the accumulation of life’s trash is removed by God to reveal the treasure He has sown in us. Like a grain farmer, God intends to get His investment back, plus interest. The threshing floor is where that fruitful crop (you and me) becomes a useful commodity. We are fruitful if Christ lives within us, but not all of us are useful to the kingdom in our current condition. A transformation must occur.

There are few things in creation more beautiful than a field of golden wheat at harvest time. It’s wonderful to look at, but worthless for human consumption. That wheat must take a journey to the threshing floor where it will be broken and crushed until the wheat grain is released. Often oxen were used to thresh the wheat or barley. Their sharp hooves pressed the wheat stalks against the stony surface and over time the grain was set free.

Perhaps you find yourself in a rut from time to time as I do. Ruts are nothing more than graves with the ends kicked out. God hates ruts and will often use His threshing floor to rescue us from that habit-filled grave. All of us have had those moments when we awaken to find our worship of, intimacy with, obedience to, or faithfulness in God a bit less than exciting and certainly not fulfilling. All of us have stalled at this address, and if you find yourself there right now, you may have a trip to the threshing floor in your future.

It occurs when we get comfortable. It is so easy to focus our attention on what people see (our exterior) rather than on the things God gazes into (our interior). When this happens, we resemble wheat far more than we care to admit. A sheaf (bundle) of wheat is mostly fluff with a small amount of grain. That description probably bothers you as much as it bothers me, but it’s true. When it comes to our faith walk with Jesus it is often more chaff than grain. God is out to change that.

Through times of testing, hardship, and trial, God threshes us. He never does it to destroy, only to bring the release of our destiny hidden deep within each of us. His desire is to liberate us from all that chaff to become living, breathing facsimiles of His Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ. The threshing floor releases the Christ in us to live through us, but you and I must be broken before it will happen on a consistent basis.

The fruitful wheat of the field must go through a process of transformation before it becomes bread on the table. Bread is useful to hungry people. Like wheat, God’s desire is to transform all of us into living examples of the Bread of Life. For this to happen, we must all visit God’s threshing floor from time to time, so that we might become useful, not just fruitful.

Perception vs. Reality: The Power of a Well Placed Conjunction

Chaos is the name of the world I live in…but the Lord is my shepherd.

All around me swirls a teeming mass of overwhelming need…but I shall not want.

The faces of war—earthquakes—tsunami—famine—disease melt my mind…but He makes me to lie down in green pastures.

The noise is deafening and the demands never end…but He leads me beside still waters.

Rush here—rush there—do this—do that—I’m totally exhausted…but He restores my soul.

My eyes and ears are assaulted by perversion and indecency at every turn…but He guides me in the paths of righteousness.

All cry out for popularity and demand their own way…but for His name’s sake.

Death and darkness shout their claim of victory…but even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

Evil is loosed and terror stalks the streets…but I fear no evil.

Loneliness and emptiness poison the masses with despair…but You are with me.

There is little peace and lots of pain…but Your rod and Your staff—they comfort me.

The opposition is overwhelming and their attacks withering…but You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

I am wounded, worn out and desperately want to quit…but You have anointed my head with oil.

Overwhelmed and helpless—I am pursued by the dark hordes of hopelessness…but surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.

Some days God…You seem a million miles away…but I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.