Saturday, December 29, 2007

Object Lesson #2 - Tool Shed Demolition

I spent several hours today demolishing an old tool shed in the bottom of our back yard. The building was old and leaky and had become a haven for pests. The demolition process was painstaking and frustrating, taking it apart piece-by-piece, salvaging the good material and tossing the useless into a pile to burn or discard.

Recently Alan Wright (author of "Shame Off You") returned to our church for a mini-conference. During a lunch appointment with the staff, he spoke about an unhealthy or ungodly paradigm as a "house of thoughts" that has been built in a person's life, a way of thinking that has developed. God combined my tool shed and Alan's house of thoughts to communicate a truth to me. From time to time I may find a house of negative thoughts constructed in the bottom of my mind/heart/psyche of which I wasn't fully aware. How did it get there? When was it built? What is it made of? This house resembles my shed, providing sanctuary for unwelcome squatters in an otherwise modestly healthy environment. Though it is leaky and old, this house will not be demolished easily. No, God takes me by the hand and begins the slow process of deconstructing this house piece by piece. He is a master at finding the good material in my negative situations and redeeming it for his purposes. He also pulls out every rotten board and rusty panel to discard. Oh, how I wish he would back his heavenly Hemi to my shed, hook up a chain and pull it all down in one quick tug! Instead, the demolition of my "shed of thoughts" takes time (a lot of it), painful work and patience. However, when it's all done, my heart is healthier for the process.

Object Lesson #1 - Dirty High Chair

Two object lessons came to mind as I was going about my daily stuff today; one involves a dirty high chair and, the other, an old tool shed in the process of being demolished.


We all have pet peeves, certain things that must be a particular way for all to be right with the world. One of mine is Holton's high chair after a meal. Of course, our one-year-old makes a glorious mess when he feeds himself. In the process of cleaning the kitchen, Vanessa usually leaves the chair as the last project and often ends up called away by more urgent needs before she gets to it, thus leaving it dirty longer than I would like. When I see the high chair in a mess, it makes me feel sick. I can't handle it. I want it clean before the food dries and I most DEFINITELY don't want anyone to see it in such a state. Initially I would fuss about the dirty high chair. However, I have found that if I want the high chair cleaned immediately after a meal, it works best if I am the one to clean in.

We all see areas in life that need work - in our marriages, jobs, churches, etc. These are real needs that we are keenly aware of and they need to be addressed, but for some reason no one else is making an effort to fix them! Could it be that God has opened your eyes to that particular need? Others may not see it so clearly or feel the urgency of addressing the problem, but God has gifted you to be aware of it. You have "eyes to see and ears to hear." With that awareness comes responsibility. It may be your job to wave the flag for the need you see, but most likely it is your calling to actually do something about it. Don't wait around for others to see the need, criticize them when they don't and move on to another marriage/job/church when the need remains unmet. You see the need, you meet it. It could be divinely appointed that you're the right person for the job!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Pursuing the Withdrawing Lord (Matthew 14:13-21)

In order to withdraw and deal with his own pain, Jesus left his ministry to the masses. However, "when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns." The crowds were in such need of Jesus that, even when he withdrew his presence, they chased him. As he traveled by boat to a desolate place, the crowds beat him there on foot around the shore of the lake. What did the crowds hear that motivated them to follow? Did they hear about Jesus' reaction to John's death? Were they trying to comfort their leader? Or did they simply want more of his presence and touch? Regardless, they would not be deterred when the presence of God withdrew. They did not stand around and bemoan the lack of God's touch - they chased him!

"When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick." Jesus was moved by the pursuing crowd. Like the judge with the persistent widow or the sleeping tenant with his midnight visitor, Jesus responded to tenacity.

There are seasons in the Christian life where the presence and activity of God are almost tangible. However, there are seasons in between these experiences when God seems all but absent - if it weren't for his promise that he would never leave or forsake us, we would be certain he was an absentee landlord or distant clockmaker! When Jesus withdrew, he did not do so because he was tired of the crowd, displeased with the people or unconcerned with the details of their lives. In our seasons when God seems distant, we tend to interpret his aloofness in many ways, and rightly so! We must take inventory of our lives when the Spirit doesn't seem to be moving. However, there are times that God withdraws and, like a father playing Hide-and-Seek with his children, he longs to be chased after and found. He is not playing a divine version of "hard to get," but he does at times withdraw so that his children will exercise their spiritual muscles and chase him.

Jesus, help me to pursue you in the times when you feel distant. Help me to meet you where you are going.

Matthew 14:13-21
Luke 18:1-8
Luke 11:5-10

Ministry in Desolate Places (Matthew 14:13-21)

I was caught recently by two events in Matthew 14 - the death of John the Baptist and the feeding of the five thousand. They are in the same chapter but, in my recollection of them, I did not realize the connection between the two. From this chapter I gleaned two major lessons that have ministered to me in the past few weeks. One is "Ministry in Desolate Places" and the other is "Pursuing the Withdrawing Lord."

Jesus' response to the death of his friend, cousin and ministry partner colors the feeding in such a human way. When we think of our Savior's expressions of human emotion, a certain few events come to mind - the death of Lazarus, his weeping over Jerusalem and the Garden of Gethsemane. However, Jesus was also deeply moved by the death of John. When he got the news, the scripture says, "he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself." The blow of such tragedy effected Jesus and he felt the need to get alone and deal with it. The emotional pain that Jesus was feeling was represented by his withdrawal to "a desolate place." Jesus was in a desolate place on the inside, so he retreated to a desolate place physically in order to mourn.

The crowds followed Jesus (see "Pursuing the Withdrawing Lord") and, when Jesus saw them, "he had compassion on them and healed their sick." As the day grew late, the disciples came to Jesus and said, "This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves." Jesus was moved by the needs of the people in their sickness; the disciples were now moved by the needs of the people in their hunger. Notice the phrase "desolate place" coming up again. The disciples saw the need but felt ill-equipped to supply it. However, Jesus' response challenged them - "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." When the disciples protested that they had only meager supplies (obviously not enough for such an incredible need), Jesus said "Bring them here to me." And we know the rest of the story...

We are surrounded by people in desolate places; pain abounds in our world. Two things from this passage are incredibly encouraging when facing the reality of our current desolation.

1) Jesus finds himself in desolate places. He is not immune to our pain but, instead, "in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." He did not simply mimic humanity; he was (and is) completely human in every way. "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses..."

2) Jesus will use what little we have to minister to others in their desolation, even when we are there ourselves. Like we often do, the disciples felt dramatically unprepared to meet the needs of the masses. However, their supply didn't determine their ability; their Savior did! Certainly the disciples were also hungry, feeling their own needs in this desolate place. However, when they gave their supply to Jesus, he was able to minister to the crowds.

As we find ourselves in desolate places, let us be encouraged that Jesus is with us in our desolation and he longs to use us to minister to others in the same place. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God."

Matthew 14:13-21
Hebrews 4:14-16
2 Corinthians 1:3-4

New Layout

I just spent a couple of hours designing a new layout for this blog. This post is a test to see if new entries will work correctly.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Advent Devotion Excerpt - Love

This is my submission for Heritage Church's 2007 Advent Devotional. Hope you enjoy!

This year in Heritage Youth we are studying the gospel of Matthew chapter by chapter. We ended out 2007 with the theme "On A Mission from God," and we recently discussed Matthew 12:1-8. As I studied this passage and let its truth settle in my heart, I became very passionate about the simplicity of the life God longs for humanity to live. We all desire a sense of purpose, an assurance that our days have impact and meaning. However, in our attempt to live "On A Mission from God," well-meaning Christians work themselves into a frenzied busyness and often burn out, all in an attempt to please the Lord. I'm positive this isn't God's plan for us; he promised us abundant life, not flash-in-the-pan faith.

As you read today's passage, you probably wondered, "how does this have anything to do with love or Christmas?" It's all in the details! Jesus and his disciples are walking though a grain field on the Sabbath, fulfilling the ultimate "Mission from Go," the one around which all of human history revolves. These guys are literally in route to save the world! While doing something that seemed insignificant, the religious "giants" of the time approach Jesus and lambast his disciples for "doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath." The Pharisees were indicting them for "harvesting" on the holy day. I love Jesus' response - "I tell you, something (someone) greater than the temple is here." This statement alone makes me want to jump out of my skin! He goes on to quote from Hosea 6:5-6, "I desire mercy, and not sacrifice."

The Pharisees' approach to God could be compared to an awkward first date. Do you remember how it feels? The guy think he knows who his date is, feels that he may like her a bit more than the rest of the girls and hopes beyond hopes that the feeling is reciprocated. That's how he ended up on this knee-knocking night on the town in the first place! From his limited knowledge of this girl he has done everything he can think of to please and impress her - detailed the car, ironed his clothes, put on cologne, bought flowers and made reservations at the most expensive restaurant his wallet could handle! "Love" makes a guy do crazy things! How disastrous and disheartening would it be if, after all he'd done, his date comes to the door in a T-shirt and jeans, informs him that she's allergic to most pollen-producing plants and would rather eat at Wendy's than the downtown bistro! He thought he was in love but found that he really didn't know his girl at all!

The Pharisees were certain they knew what God wanted from them and had spent years perfecting their religious process to make him smile down on them. However, when they met God face-to-face in a grain field they were unable to recognize the divine spark behind his eyes. The Pharisees were sure they were on a mission from God, but in fact they were just doing "church stuff" and had missed God altogether. Jesus was on a mission from God too (for real), but his agenda and actions were totally different from the established religious community. He was chided for hanging with sinners, befriending immoral women, breaking religious rules & traditions and claiming authority to forgive sins. How could two missions, both aiming to fulfill God's will, look so different?

All the Pharisees wanted to do was please God, but they had not taken the time to find out what God really wanted from them. They became so passionate about their mission that they lost contact with their Maker. When detailing the Great Commandment, Jesus instructed us to 1) love God with all we are and 2) love our neighbor as ourselves. These are two sides of the same coin, but one comes before the other. We must love God first and love his people (and his mission) second. If we become zealous for God's work and forget to seek God's heart, we will become modern-day Pharisees and we will - let me emphasize, WE WILL - miss God when he shows up on the scene.

This Christmas season, remember that God's mission is all about love - loving God first and loving people as a result. In the hurriedness of the season, in the hustle of well-intentioned life in a happening church, remember that there is one who is greater than shopping, food, family, church, charity or presents. Don't forget to seek his heart in this season that reveals it to us so clearly. There are a lot of good things we can do during this time of the year, but let's take the time to be with God instead of just doing good.

The man doesn't choose the mix; the mix chooses the man.

That's the title of my newest iTunes playlist. I love it, so I thought I'd share it with you:

1) Junkyard Hello Dear Wind - Page France
2) Mouth Like a Magazine - Showbread
3) Destruction, Destruction - Farewell Flight
4) Wake Up Early - Starflyer 59
5) Perfect Obligation - The Myriad
6) Compliment Each Other like Colors - PlayRadioPlay!
7) The Cure for Pain - Jon Foreman
8) With Love from Me to You - Watashi Wa
9) Big Trucks - Pedro the Lion
10) One Hundred Percent - The Forecast
11) Photobooth - Death Cab for Cutie
12) You Feel Like - Denison Marrs
13) Every Gun Makes Its Own Tomb - The Forecast
14) We Are Nowhere and It's Now - Bright Eyes
15) Call It in the Air - Discover America
16) On Standby - Farewell Flight
17) Trouble Is - Jars of Clay
18) Sovereignty - The Merbabies
19) Crash - Michael Knott
20) I Am Always the One Who Calls - Pedro the Lion
21) Confines of Gravity - PlayRadioPlay!
22) Par Avion - Rose Blossom Punch
23) Dead by Dawn - Showbread
24) Sturdy Jive - Soul-Junk
25) Underneath - Starflyer 59