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That we must love one God only is a thing so evident that it does not require miracles to prove it.

-Blaise Pascal, Pensees

 

I love reading.  You name it I’ll read it—books, articles, blogs, newspapers and notes on cocktail napkins if need be.  Good writing and reporting turns me on, and I know that sounds suggestive, but oh well.  I thoroughly enjoy thoughtful conversation and dialogue. 

Truth be told, I also have an affection for good food, dogs, lakes, and art of all kinds—but not a one of them holds a candle to my passion for literature.  Of course I have my preferences—call me picky if you like, there are several genres and styles I simply can’t tolerate let alone enjoy.  But give me anything by Eugene Peterson and I’ll dive right in.  When it comes to books I dig—I can tell you a good one from a great one no problem.  When it comes to a couple of prints I have framed on the other hand, I don’t know an expensive painting from a dud.  And I haven’t always been this way mind you—although, even as a kid in elementary school when I had time to put down a baseball bat or a hockey stick I did to take in a good read from time to time (but I was sure not to tell anyone for fear I might get teased). 

There is a difference between an affection and an allegiance.  People toy with affections—they’ll die for an allegiance.

Following Jesus means being so passionate about him that we have no comparisons—no dual allegiances. Sort of in the way a young man would take a bride.  He forsakes all others.  He may have affections for another woman or two, but when he marries, he forsakes those affections.  There have been instances in which I have been reading that I get so engrossed in what I am doing (or not doing depending on who you are asking) that I have lost track entirely of everything else going on in the world—which reminds me—when we love Jesus we just don’t get all tied up in the same things that used to consume us. 

Jesus knew what it looked like for his disciples to be passionate followers of his.

 ‘You can’t worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you’ll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. You can’t worship God and Money both.

‘If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.’   (Matthew 6:24-26, The Message Bible) 

Who is it that you love with no equal?

Now we see, how many good things, interwoven, spring from the cross.  For, overturning that good opinion which we falsely entertain concerning our own strength, and unmasking our hypocrisy, which affords us delight, the cross strikes at our perilous confidence in the flesh. 
         
-John Calvin 
 
     
There is a story that goes something like this—This guy’s strolling down the street when he stumbles and falls into a manhole with walls so steep he can’t get out.  A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, Hey you, can you help me out?  The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.  Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts up, Father, I’m down in this hole.  Can you help me out?  The priest writes a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on.  Then a friend walks by and the guy excitedly shouts up, Hey, Joe, it’s me.  Can you help me out?  And the friend jumps in the hole.  The guy says, Are you nuts?  Now we’re both down here.  The friend says, Yeah, but I’ve been down here before—and I know the way out.
           
Jesus sensed that his disciples were having a hard time with this and said, ‘Does this throw you completely? What would happen if you saw the Son of Man ascending to where he came from? The Spirit can make life. Sheer muscle and willpower don’t make anything happen. Every word I’ve spoken to you is a Spirit-word, and so it is life-making. But some of you are resisting, refusing to have any part in this.’   (John 6:61-64a, The Message Bible) 
      
The King James Version of the Bible puts it maybe even better—the flesh profiteth nothing.
                        
Think you can beat sin, handle temptation, master your lusts, and manhandle the Devil?  I tried, and my advice—don’t try it—there are some things not worth trying and destined to fail.

It is not experience of life but experience of the Cross that makes one a worthy hearer of confessions. The most experienced psychologist or observer of human nature knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the Cross of Jesus. The greatest psychological insight, ability, and experience cannot grasp this one thing: what sin is. Worldly wisdom knows what distress and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the godlessness of men. And so it also does not know that man is destroyed only by his sin and can be healed only by forgiveness. Only the Christian knows this. In the presence of a psychiatrist I can only be a sick man; in the presence of a Christian brother, I can dare to be a sinner.

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

  

In business and sports—not to mention other arenas I may be skipping over—it’s not a sin to admit and face your failures.  No, rather the transgression is in avoiding and skirting around it when it’s the elephant in the room no one wants to address.  A small oversight can be the beginning of the end for a prospering business or a successful sports franchise.  Like cancer unchecked—so is our refusal to deal with the reality of a world gone bad that we just happen to live in.  You’d think by the way some of us act that to get touched by it’s consequences (hard as we try to avoid it)—is some sort of huge sin.  And the way we avoid one another when we are drowning only confirms the suspicion—when we do come around, we have the perfect advice.  

Job’s friends thought so.  And to top it off his own wife lost her mind before they even got started on him.

Satan left God and struck Job with terrible sores. Job was ulcers and scabs from head to foot. They itched and oozed so badly that he took a piece of broken pottery to scrape himself, then went and sat on a trash heap, among the ashes.

His wife said, “Still holding on to your precious integrity, are you? Curse God and be done with it!”

He told her, ‘You’re talking like an empty-headed fool. We take the good days from God—why not also the bad days?’

Not once through all this did Job sin. He said nothing against God.   (Job 2:7-10, The Message Bible) 

You may whip the world, but you are bound to have people in your life who need you when they are on the other side of the whip—who aren’t as lucky—but instead find themselves the whipped  (and I know some of us think it’s our right living that’s got us sitting pretty and if everyone else would just live like us they’d be honky-dory too). 

There are those (and could just as easily be you or me) in our lives who desperately need the touch of someone who can be broken with them. 

Will you be too together to stoop down and help your fallen brother when he needs it most?

 Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.

-G.K. Chesterton

 

Several years ago my pastor was teaching and told a story about a young couple he counseled in the months leading up to their marriage.  He could sense the excitement and was feeling happy for the bride and groom.  About a week after the wedding took place however, Dr. Richard Alberta received a phone call that he was not prepared for nor expecting whatsoever.  The new groom had called to inform him of his broken heart—upon returning home he had discovered to his horror a voice mail that had been left while away on his honeymoon with his new wife.  The call was from her lover (that the new husband had no idea about) and went into explicit detail regarding their intimate relationship.

When you get married, your new bride is your pride and joy—you consider every other woman inferior.

 The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.    (Philippians 3:7-9, The Message Bible)

Jesus is in a league of his own—and for us who know him—there is no comparison.      

If you desire to believe rightly and to possess Christ truly, then you must reject all works that you intend to place before and in the way of God. They are only stumbling blocks, leading you away from Christ and from God. Before God no works are acceptable but Christ’s own works. Let these plead for you before God, and do no other work before him than to believe that Christ is doing his works for you and is placing them before God in your behalf.

-Martin Luther

          

We’ve all surely heard the old joke about the religious man who climbed up onto his roof when a flood hit, praying for God to save him. A boat came by, and he waved them off—Save someone else, God will save me.  A helicopter came by—same thing. The flood waters rose higher, and he drowned.   When the religious man got to meet God, he demanded, Why didn’t you save me when I prayed?   God simply responded—I sent a boat, I sent a helicopter…

The help that God sent in Jesus Christ is all the help we need—for without him we can’t fight our way out of a wet paper bag spiritually.   Our chances of getting into heaven without the free gift of salvation in Christ are zilch—nada—nothing.  And when it comes to living the Christian life without the empowerment of God the same holds true—we don’t stand goldfishes chance in a pool filled with piranhas.

We can’t add a pennies worth to all the riches of heaven—anything we have to offer God was a gift in the first place.

 Jesus sensed that his disciples were having a hard time with this and said, ‘Does this throw you completely? What would happen if you saw the Son of Man ascending to where he came from? The Spirit can make life. Sheer muscle and willpower don’t make anything happen. Every word I’ve spoken to you is a Spirit-word, and so it is life-making. But some of you are resisting, refusing to have any part in this.’ (Jesus knew from the start that some weren’t going to risk themselves with him. He knew also who would betray him.) He went on to say, ‘This is why I told you earlier that no one is capable of coming to me on his own. You get to me only as a gift from the Father.’   (John 6:61-65, The Message Bible)

We have no chance of following Jesus without the grace God gives—namely, the power of the living Christ flowing and breathing through us.

The largest part of Jesus’ life was hidden… When we think about Jesus we mostly think about his words and miracles, his passion, death, and resurrection, but we should never forget that before all of that Jesus lived a simple, hidden life in a small town, far away from all the great people, great cities, and great events. Jesus’ hidden life is very important for our own spiritual journeys. If we want to follow Jesus by words and deeds in the service of his Kingdom, we must first of all strive to follow Jesus in his simple, unspectacular, and very ordinary hidden life.

-Henri Nouwen

          

We all played the popular hide and seek game when we were greasy haired and wild eyed kids.  And while the version we played or where we played may have differed—the object of the game remained the same—to find a clever spot to hide.  And if you weren’t the one hiding, the task at hand was to look anywhere and everywhere until you found your counterpart.

When people look for us do they find only us—or do they see a representative of the living God?  Do they find a Jesus-follower or a self-promoter?  I have folks in my life that when I get near them I can sense the presence of God.  Can that be said of you?  While God resides in every nook and cranny of our world and the worlds we know not of—he is in every valley and on every mountain top—and he’s in the cry of a new born baby.  The question for us is: Is he hidden within us—and if so—we don’t have to tell anyone, they can’t help but see his countanance upon us.  When we follow Jesus, others shouldn’t have to seek very long to see some mark of his impact upon our lives. 

2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.   (Colossians 3:2-3, ESV)

To be a Jesus-follower is to be hidden away in Christ no matter where life finds you. 

We have retreated into our nice big buildings.  Where we sit in our nice cushioned chairs.  Where we are isolated and insulated from the inner cities and the spiritual lostness of the world.  Where we give a tip of our hats to world missions and evangelism while we go on designing endless programs that revolve around us.  And while we should be on the firing line for God, many of us are still in the nurseries of our churches drinking spiritual milk!  We have two options: Retreat into a land of religious formalism and wasted opportunities, giving ourselves to a nice show every Sunday pleasing our conscience but not really making a difference in the world—or we can risk everything for the purpose for which we have been created…

We will either die in our religion or we will die in our devotion.

-Dr. David Platt 

               

A fellow blogger I read—Amy Graham of Birmingham, Alabama—posted the aforementioned on her blog and stated the words she recalled from a message one Sunday morning changed her life.

I believe her. 

My gut tells me that I am a man in conflict.  I have knowledge of what to do but fail so often to do that which I ought to do.  I am torn between my will and my Masters will.  My lower nature wants to be heard and followed when the last thing it wants to do is follow Jesus, or to put it bluntly—help anyone else.  I have too many carnal goals, and not enough sanctified priorities—too many vain lusts, and not enough holy passions—too many broken promises, and not enough quality relationships—too many carefully put together excuses, and not enough Godly fruit—and too many worldly possessions instead of heavenly valuables.

We work to feed our appetites; Meanwhile our souls go hungry.  (Ecclesiastes 6:7, The Message Bible)

Spiritual anorexia is the epidemic of our day—is your soul going hungry?  Getting a tattoo of some ancient Chinese jibber-jabber below your midriff will never satisfy your soul.

Only Jesus can do that.

One cannot consent to crawl when one feels an impulse to soar.
        
-Helen Keller
     
                                 
I had what one might call an epiphany last night.  There has been a stirring in my soul of late and I feel as though I have been stripped naked of every disguise and shadow I use—to hide behind my selfishness.  It’s not like I haven’t sensed this before—it’s been a slow and tedious process—and anyone who’s been through it knows exactly what I am talking about. 
        
My gut tells me that I am a man in conflict, I have a knowledge of what to do but so often fail to do that which I ought to do.  I am torn between my will and my Masters will.  My fallen nature wants to be heard and followed when the last thing it wants to do is help anyone else.  I have too many carnal goals and not enough sanctified priorities—too many vain lusts and not enough holy passions—too many broken promises and not enough quality relationships—too many hidden excuses and not enough Godly fruit—and too many worldly possessions instead of heavenly valuables.
                                              
The David Crowder Band sings in their song Obsession:
                                   
And I’m so filthy with my sin
I carry pride like a disease
You know I’m stubborn, Lord, and I’m longing to be close
Your burn me deeper than I know
And I feel lonely without hope
And I feel desperate
Without vision
You wrap around me like a winter coat
You come and free me like a bird
                                       
Why is it that I can’t get away from my lower self?—One day I cut his life-line and the next day we are pals.  Like a cruise ship that leaves for a far-away island destination—it’s as if I leave the shores of selfishness to set sail in touching others for Christ only to return prematurely time and time again to a sand-bar of my own muck and mire.  What is it with me—will I ever be relieved of this ongoing struggle?  I wish I could tell myself so. 
             
 Worship God if you want the best; worship opens doors to all his goodness.  Young lions on the prowl get hungry, but God-seekers are full of God.   (Psalm 34:9-10, The Message Bible)
                                                 

I am hungry—for more of God than anything else.

Not only do we know God by Jesus Christ alone, but we know ourselves only by Jesus Christ.  We know life and death only through Jesus Christ.  Apart from Jesus Christ, we do not know what is life, nor our death, nor God, nor ourselves.     
      
-Blaise Pascal
           
               
I launched a new blog yesterday where I can do a little more venting and reflecting of my own—a place where I can let some of my free flowing thoughts roam.  It kind of sounds dangerous now that I think about it.  And the name I selected is not much safer—Unpackaged Me: some of my selected thoughts on culture, politics, truth and faith—unpolished, unrehearsed and unfiltered.  I have a hunch that those who may be reading this and know me are thinking the same thing—dangerous.  It’s too late now—I already put up the first post.  In putting the blog together I wanted to add something to the author section rather than just merely paste and stick my previous bio that I use on some other blogs.  If you have attempted to do so—you know it’s always work to write about yourself.  Knowing ourselves, even though we spend every waking moment with ourselves, is no minuscule task.  
 
Anyways, I decided I’d list my favorite meal in the section—less the green beans—My favorite meal would consist of a juicy rib-eye served with a lobster tail drenched in butter, a tasty salad drowning in blue cheese dressing, a baked potato smothered with sour cream, a pint of Guinness, and some kind of devilish dessert made with dark chocolate to top it off.  Enough to kill me an hour after consumption with my elevated cholesterol levels.  
       
Peter Rollins writes;
               
It’s an almost impossible task to describe oneself with any degree of accuracy or honesty. Who we are changes over time and also in relation to our context. On top of that we rarely have enough insight into ourselves to know what really drives us.
                      
It’s easy and spiritual sounding to say that we only desire God or that we never disrespect authority (as mega-church pastor  Joel Osteen was silly enough to say last week at his wife Victoria’s trial)—and on and on about what wonderful Christians we are, which gets me thinking—teeth whitening procedures don’t strengthen or make your teeth any healthier—they only hide stains and mask deficiencies.  We do that with our stories I am afraid.  The trap we fall into is glorifying ourselves while minimizing God’s grace.  It’s the coffee stains on our teeth that regular people need to know we have—a real life has a cavity or two.  Crest Whitening Strips might make for a nice television smile, but masking the mess that Jesus is redeeming only lessens the impact we can have.      
        
We are the culture fixated with cosmetic alteration all the while we ignore our internal affairs. 
                  
To be transparent is an altogether different story than a story that pats ourselves on the back—no disrespect to Osteen, but last I checked, God was the Authority and every time we sin we are disrespecting him.  Guys like Osteen need to get real and stop promoting such nonsense.  Honestly knowing oursleves—is much more painful than merely admitting we can be passive
                     
When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.   (Colossians 3:4, The Message Bible)   
                               
Who are you?                         
The things I thought were so important—because of the effort I put into them—have turned out to be of small value. And the things I never thought about, the things I was never able to either to measure or to expect, were the things that mattered.
      
-Thomas Merton
     
 
Victoria S. Schmidt writes;
 
Let my hands heal thy broken body are words purposely placed near a broken crucifix in the Home for the Dying run by the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata, India.
       
The story behind the broken corpus of Jesus is that a mentally ill person, in anger, took the cross from the wall and threw it at Mother Teresa. In that instant, Mother Teresa picked up the broken Jesus and instructed one of her sisters to place it back on the wall with those words.
           
Do we picture our hands as the instruments they are—the way a doctor would?
 
In Saturday’s post I shared a thought or two about following Jesus—which by the way, I struggle with more than I like admitting.  Nonetheless, I’d like to submit my own Americanized version of Matthew 10:35-36—if I had not fallen into this kind of pattern myself I wouldn’t be able to identify and write about it so poignantly.
                    
I was hungry and you fed me so long as I had very good reason to be out of work, I was thirsty and you gave me a cup of water so long as I lived among the half of the world’s population that doesn’t even have a clean glass of drinking water.  I was homeless and you gave me a room so long as I agreed to be out within a week.  I was freezing cold and shivering out of control so you gave me clothes, but as soon as I could pay you back for those clothes—you required re-payment with compounded interest.  I was sick and you stopped by to give me a list of the local clinics I could visit although I had no money for medicine.  I was in prison and you came to see me so long as it wasn’t my fault I was there—and if I was not to blame, you still proceeded to remind me to change my ways and be good like you.
 
Jesus lays down the gavel and allows for no such caveats or cop outs.
                
Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—
                    
   I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
   I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
   I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
   I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
   Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’ 
(Matthew 25:41-43, The Message Bible)
         
The down and out bum on the corner by the freeway entrance represents no one less than broken Jesus.  And although passing out a cup of water won’t get us any closer to earning our way into heaven, it does say something about whether we truly follow Jesus—or are merely out taking a walk.   

Jesus came to raise the dead. He did not come to teach the teachable; He did not come to improve the improvable; He did not come to reform the reformable. None of those things work.

-Robert Farrar Capon

 

During the Protestant Reformation, reformer Martin Luther and the humanist-scholar Desiderius Erasmus were debating about what best presents the nature of salvation and our need for grace.  Erasmus, a theologian himself, admitted that sin had made man sick, and went on to say that our need for grace is like a young toddler who is learning to walk. Erasmus reasoned that a person is able to take some steps towards God—but sometimes man also needs his heavenly Father to catch him and help him along.  Luther—the lightning bolt for grace—was offended by such a weak and pitiful view of grace.  According to Luther, Erasmus had it flat out wrong.  Luther went on to explain that our salvation is more like a caterpillar that is completely surrounded by a ring of fire and unless someone reaches down and rescues the little critter—it would certainly fry to a crisp.

In his book Chosen by God, the layman’s theologian R.C. Sproul argues that there is a world of difference between treading water and reaching out for a life jacket that gets tossed to you to save you from drowning than there is, say, being dead on the bottom of a river and not being able to lift a finger to help engineer such a rescue—instead you’d need to be brought back to life before you could think about anything else.  And so it is with our conversion Sproul goes on to say—we had nothing to do with bringing it to pass.  It is nothing short of a miracle, not some venture we help God out with. 

If we are to accurately appreciate the gospel message and present it’s truth to those dead in their sin and on the road to hell—we need to understand the gravity of our ghastly predicament without Jesus, the exclusive Messiah. 

1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…    (Ephesians 2:1-6, ESV) 

For those of us prone to think we can add one thing to what God has already done for us—we might want to reconsider.  God has done it all in Christ Jesus—there is no escaping the ring of fire without him.

What does love look like?  It has the hands to help others.  It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy.  It has eyes to see misery and want.  It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men.  That is what love looks like.
       
-Augustine
      
            
Sitting here drinking my morning coffee waiting for my turn in the shower.  And again I find myself thinking about what in the world it means to follow Jesus?—those two words can get lost in a sentence quite easily and without a thought.
 
Bob Rowland, in a poem he entitled, Listen, Christian—reminds those of us who can feel at times  that needs can be met by prayer alone or worse yet, by well-wishing—which can come off as sounding something like bless you brother
 
In free verse the poet paraphrases Matthew 25:35-36:
 
I was hungry and you formed a humanities club and discussed my hunger. Thank you.
           

I was naked, and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.

I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health.

I was homeless and you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of the love of God.

I was lonely and you left me alone—to pray for me.  You seem so holy, so close to God but I’m still very hungry, and lonely, and cold.

Do we forget that we are responsible for one another?  It’s commendable that we pray, but when we fail to reach out and touch someone we are not exempt from our responsibility to act just because we took a moment to whisper a prayer.  We are obligated to both our brother and the unregenerate—and the same goes for our enemies if we take the words of Jesus half seriously.           
             
   I was hungry and you fed me,
   I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
   I was homeless and you gave me a room,
   I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
   I was sick and you stopped to visit,
   I was in prison and you came to me.’
 
‘Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’   (Matthew 25:35-40, The Message Bible)
 
Friends—I’d submit that it’s high time we take seriously the call to dress Jesus.

If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy.  If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin.  God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners.  Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.  We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides.  

…We, however, says Peter (2 Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. It suffices that through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.  No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.  

-Martin Luther 

         

One of my closest friends has been sporting a genuine Rolex watch for several years now that his boss gave him due to his hard work and dedication to his co-workers.  Although the thing cost about $3500 new, it doesn’t look a whole lot different than a $35 cheap imitation—the differences are many though—night and day really.  For starters, Tony’s Rolex weighs about as much as ten of the knock-offs. 

Impostors never can hide forever—with a closer look, a phony can always be identified.  And the impostors among us are those too comfortable in their sin or too satisfied in their rightousness to see their need for a Savior.  Lest we forget that Jesus is only the Savior for those lost enough to know it and unless God shows someone their spiritual bankruptcy outside of Christ—we can’t say anything to make a lost soul bat an eyelash. 

A blogger named Elissa commented on the quote above—Reading Luther always reminds me of how lightly I often take my sin. He pins me, ashamed, when he connects my flippancy with a correspondingly low view of mercy. How odd—but how needful—to pray for the grace to ‘sin strongly’. It is not a call to sin more egregiously, but to believe all my sins to be egregious rather than trifling; apart from His illuminating mercy I would not even recognize the strength of my own nature. 

I’m on the edge of losing it—
   the pain in my gut keeps burning.
I’m ready to tell my story of failure,
   I’m no longer smug in my sin.
(Psalm 38:17-18, The Message Bible) 

Jesus wasn’t too fond of the folks who failed to see their own sin but were quick as the speed of sound to name the sins of others. 

Lord, please help me see my sin and my righteousness as the serious offense it is to you so that I can see and revel in your mercy and your righteousness provided for me—not so I can self-loathe and wallow in despair.

Jesus-followers aren’t imaginary sinners—they are real sinners and forgiven ones to be sure.

There are no great things, only small things with great love.

-Mother Teresa

         

Back some years ago when I was what I now consider a kid youth pastor at the not so ripe age of twenty-one we had a youngster in our youth group who was as promising a young man as you’d ever meet.  John (we’ll call him) was class president at a well-known high school in our community and was as keen and smart as they come—his capacity and energy for leadership was unparalleled.  John was gifted and well liked—he was what you might call a go-getter—a driven individual to say the least.  He was also a multisport athlete and a tremendous communicator as well—he was charismatic, electric, and like a magnet when it came to his occasional talks I’d ask him to give to the youth group.  I enlisted John as my point man when we decided it was time to give world missions a whirl and he did a better job than I would have been able to do in collecting and rallying a core group of young people within our group who would eventually give up their paper-route money and trade it in for annual summer trips to remote villages and major cities all over the globe to share the gospel of grace. 

Once John brought me a list of one-hundred goals he’d set for himself that he had thoughtfully compiled for the foreseeable short-term future—he wanted me to look it over and give him my opinion—as he was about to embark upon his senior year.  After taking it home and sharing it with my wife I told him I thought maybe it was asking a bit much of himself—I mean short of flying to the moon in a kayak he had some pretty lofty goals.  Hey, we are told to shoot for the stars after all—and I suppose goals are fine and dandy.  But you have to ask—are the stars we shoot for the stars God has for us—or is the target we are aiming for about us when you get down to it? 

 When you tell God you’ll do something, do it—now.  God takes no pleasure in foolish gabble. Vow it, then do it.  Far better not to vow in the first place than to vow and not pay up. (Ecclesiastes 5:4-5, The Message Bible)

After I exited full-time ministry some years ago now, I got a call shortly thereafter one evening while sitting down for dinner with my family.  The call was concerning John and the news was grim—John had hung himself in his basement.  A life of promise down the drain.  To this day I wonder if the need for approval of others and a hunger to live up to too lofty of standards might have been John’s undoing. 

We serve a big God—but we must remember we aren’t him—and to put any kind of pressure on ourselves to attempt to play God might be what has a good many of us feeling like we could go insane any minute now.  Wouldn’t it a better idea to use the energy we do possess to trust and inquire of God as to what he might have for us instead of coming up with a list of promises to him, ourselves, and others that is a mile long? 

It might be just one thing God has for us to do—but if it’s the one thing God has for us to do, nothing could be more important.

Circumstances may appear to wreck our lives and God’s plans, but God is not helpless among the ruins.  
     
-Eric Liddell, Olympian
             
     
I wept not too long ago and the tears flowed in what seemed like a river.  One afternoon a few weeks ago while munching on some chips and salsa I caught a piece on ESPN about the gripping story concerning Australian golfer Stuart Appleby who tragically lost his wife and former caddie Renay back in 1998.  Appleby recalled how devastated he was and how the loss sent him to depths he never dreamed of—they were on a get-away together unloading their car on July 23 just outside a train station in London when another car backed up into her doing somewhere between 10-20 mph, crushing her to death between the two cars.  She was 25 years young—Appleby just 27.  I remember hearing the news and the feelings I had ten years ago—to watch the story again just stirred up the same emotions and maybe even more-so being that I too have lost a wife—only mine, to divorce.  I think I know why we cry and grieve—I suppose it is just a reminder that we are made in the image of God—who weeps over us by the way.
 
Appleby told his story and shared how—once Renay was gone—his desire to play golf was gone with her.  In the days that followed her death he made a promise to himself that he wouldn’t play golf again—only to break the promise less than a month later, showing up to play at the ’98 PGA Championship at Sahalee Country Club just outside Seattle, Washington—knowing his departed wife wouldn’t want him to do anything but be there to compete.  
           
In his first interview following the tragedy—‘The tough times…’ Appleby started, before tears welled in his eyes and his voice began to crack.  ‘The tough times are when you do a lot of thinking,’ he said, fighting to continue. ‘You just wish things were different. I’ve just got to bust through this little bubble in front of me.’  Renay Appleby’s death sent shock waves across PGA tours around the globe. She was a favorite among players and their wives, having caddied for her husband when he was trying to make it on the Nike Tour.  When he won for the first time on the PGA Tour two years ago, she nearly pulled his thumb off as they nervously held hands behind the 18th green in the Honda Classic as the last group came through.  ‘I feel very lucky that I knew her,’ Appleby said. ‘The time we spent together was good quality. She was the first prize in a raffle, and I was lucky enough to win. She changed a lot of people’s lives.’  (source: sportsillustraded.cnn.com—August 11, 1998)    
      
This weekend will mark ten years since Appleby’s return as he competes at Oakland Hills here in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan—at the very event he returned to—to begin with. 
               
I know who I will be pulling for.
 
Though he slay me, I will hope in him…    (Job 13:15a, ESV)
 
Stuart Appleby may never have all of his questions answered as to why he lost his young bride, but he has remarried (2002) and has a visible peace in his eyes and a calm within his voice.  He has even introduced his new wife to Renay’s family—he and Ashley have two daughters and are expecting their first son in October. 
Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterwards.
    
-Benjamin Franklin
    
      
Relationship guru I am not.  However, I do realize a thing or two about relationships.  As for the things I did when I was married that were wrong or that I would do differently if it were possible—there are some things I’d never change—things I’d never do over, moments trapped in time I will never forget.  And I can’t take the credit—God was good to me.  It’s too late now to do anything different or take anything back—what’s done is done.  But, it’s not too late to reflect on the fact that I could have been a better husband with a little more love and a lot less finger pointing.  I could have sacrificed more and taken less.  I could have kissed more and talked less.  I could have forgiven quicker and looked for paybacks less.
     
 At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, ‘Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?’  Jesus replied, ‘Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.’   (Matthew 18:21-22, The Message Bible)
      
In John Michael Talbot‘s The Lessons Of St. Francis, Talbot writes Perhaps you need to begin forgiving someone who has hurt you in the past.  An unforgiving spirit blocks the flow of grace and mercy into our lives, causing us to drown in a stagnant cesspool of regrets, animosities, and grudges. 
 
Who do you need to forgive?  Is it a parent or sibling who slighted you?  Is it a friend or lover who hurt you?  Is it a priest, pastor, or teacher who took advantage of a position of trust and authority?  Is it a kamikaze driver on the freeway who terrorizes your morning commute?  A telemarketer who invades your dinner hour?
 
Forgiving someone doesn’t mean that what they did was right.  As Frederick Buechner writes, forgiveness is a way of saying:  ‘You have done something unspeakable, and by all rights I should call it quits between us.  Both my pride and my principles demand no less.  However, although I make no guarantees that I will be able to forget what you’ve done and though we may carry the scars for life, I refuse to let it stand between us.  I still want to be your friend.’
 
Talbot continues, Forgiveness simply means getting down off the seat of judgment and releasing those who have offended you from your hostility and anger.  And while you’re at it, ask God to forgive you for the ways you’ve let down Him and others.  Freed by forgiveness and energized by love, you can be a channel of charity, compassion, and grace in a hard and needy world.      
 
Forgiveness isn’t easy, but it is the key to a long lasting and fruitful relationship.  It can be heart-wrenching.  But without genuine forgiveness, there is no hope for a love that lasts a life-time. 
 
Forgiveness is the relationship glue. 

When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now.  

C.S. Lewis

  

I asked a close friend recently, who like me, is divorced—what she thought would be a key ingredient to making a marriage last.  Now that she’s had one fail I figured she might have an idea or two.  Her response was short and sweet—and one thing she said in particular stood out like a sore thumb—Kiss each-other every night before you go to bed.
 
Kiss each-other every night before you go to bed.  That might not be possible if you travel for a living, but the idea is simple—love on your spouse even when things aren’t all warm and fuzzy.  Cherish the one you love when you might not feel it.  Do it because you love them.  Married friends up in age have told me that being able to resolve arguments, clear up misunderstandings, and extinguish any heated disagreements has made a major difference for them–even the difference according to some.  I’d call it not allowing the weeds to grow up in your relationship–some call it agreeing to disagree while others call it still being able to hold hands while being upset with one another.  Basically it boils down to not allowing resentments to grab hold and fester.  Many of us entered marriage blindly not having a very good idea about the fellow sinner we were marrying—and if we are going to stay married, we’d better learn to forgive quickly .
 
The greatest disappointments in our lives don’t occur down at the corner market between ourselves and the guy at the meat counter who doesn’t cut our deli ham quite thin enough.  And it should be no surprise.  The relationships that provide the most joy in turn are the very ones to be the vehicle for our deepest hurts.  You might call it a double-edged sword—one blade providing the finest array of exhilarating-breathtaking moments of our life all the while the other blade able to give us the most gruesome hurts and wounds life has to offer.  Marriage covers the entire gamut, and if you are not prepared or willing to sip from the bitter cup—you’ll never taste the nectar. 
    
If you want to find a million reasons to scrap your marriage you may just be able to find them, but if you want God to save it—all you need is one reason, and God just might give you that reason if you sit and listen long enough to hear.   
                 
A good woman is hard to find,
   and worth far more than diamonds.
Her husband trusts her without reserve,
   and never has reason to regret it.
Never spiteful, she treats him generously
   all her life long.
(Proverbs 31:10-12, The Message Bible)
            
Don’t make the mistake of checking out of your marriage just to find out that the greener grass your looking for is over a septic tank—instead, try watering the grass in your own back yard with a hearty dose of unconditional love and see what God might do.

I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one.  The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when incompatibility becomes unquestionable.

G.K. Chesterton

              

If we spent half the effort on praying and waiting that we exert trying to convince everyone (including ourselves) that divorce is the solution for our marriage in crisis—maybe we’d see a marriage we had no hope for become a beacon of hope for others.  Our idea of praying for a miracle can go like this: God, please change my wife, and if you don’t, I’ll take that as a sign that I need to ditch her.  It’s really the equivalent of giving God lip service.  Have you ever considered that the reason your marriage might not be perfect or that it might be terrible has something to do with you? 

Some of us make the mistake of praying for a miracle and then expecting our spouse to perform it.  Bear in mind, God may not give you the miracle you ask for on your terms—God just may perform the miracle you ask for but it might take a month when you want it to take a day, or it may take a year when all you are willing to give God is a month. 

In order for a marriage to get anywhere it’s going to take some prayer and patience. 

We want God to play to our ego—we want to look good when God pulls off the thing he is planning on doing.  There is a disconnect between our way of thinking and God’s way of thinking much of the time however—God never plays to our egos.  Miracles often require our eating some crow and enduring hardship that isn’t so easy stomach.  God hasn’t made it a habit of elevating a man or a woman when he has acted in the past, and I get the impression he’s not about to start. 

 If God doesn’t build the house, the builders only build shacks.  If God doesn’t guard the city, the night watchman might as well nap.  It’s useless to rise early and go to bed late, and work your worried fingers to the bone.  Don’t you know he enjoys giving rest to those he loves?    (Psalm 127:1-2, The Message Bible)

A beautiful marriage is the glory of God.

And a word to the wise: God makes the marriage—it’s never the accomplishment of man.   

Political promises are much like marriage vows. They are made at the beginning of the relationship between candidate and voter, but are quickly forgotten…

-Dick Gregory

 

Just imagine the wigged out Jim Jones—leader of the famed Peoples Temple cult—giving his followers down in Jonestown arsenic instead of cyanide back in 1979.  Do you think it would have altered the result if he had changed the poison in the Kool-Aid he had his nine-hundred loyal parishioners sipping on?  I don’t think so—every last one of his decieved disciples still would have died on the spot had they drank another poison before crawling too far away from the scene in what remains the largest mass-suicide in the history of mankind on record. 

My all-time favorite reason for divorcing instead of exhausting every last drop possible in reconciling or weathering the storms marriages may have to endure is the worn out—It’s better for everyone if we divorce.  Really?  Saying that divorce is good over the alternatives is akin to stating that arsenic is better to drink than cyanide.  You are only fooling yourself.  I mean seriously, arguing that a double-homicide beats a triple-homicide is pointless.  They are both atrocities. 

Wouldn’t it be best if God restored your marriage rather than your deciding to go out in your quest to find someone who deserves you more and likewise—and torturing them as well?  You may have divorced with good reason—but how many of us divorce with lame reasons?  And please—it’s better for the kids is just a crafty disguise more times than not for needing to sound like we are so giving and responsible.  The truth is—many of us don’t give a rip about anyone other than ourselves.  And if we are going to state it’s better for the kids, maybe we ought to qualify our statement with adding who says it’s better?  Did we bother asking God his opinion? It may sound spiritual to say it’s better for the kids—but who are you fooling?  I haven’t read much biblical discourse providing such an argument.  My question is—If divorce is so much better for the kids why does the overwhelming body of evidence exclaim time and time again just the opposite?   

 Don’t you realize that this is not the way to live? Unjust people who don’t care about God will not be joining in his kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it, don’t qualify as citizens in God’s kingdom. A number of you know from experience what I’m talking about, for not so long ago you were on that list. Since then, you’ve been cleaned up and given a fresh start by Jesus, our Master, our Messiah, and by our God present in us, the Spirit.

Just because something is technically legal doesn’t mean that it’s spiritually appropriate. If I went around doing whatever I thought I could get by with, I’d be a slave to my whims.   (1 Corinthians 6:9-12, The Message Bible) 

Divorce should be a last resort after every attempt to change oneself has failed—has anyone ever filed for the poison we call  divorce and pointed the finger at themselves?  Can’t say too many of the folks I know getting divorces these days acknowledge their own part in the undoing of their marriage—because if they did, they might have to face the music about the fact that they haven’t given their marriage as much as they have dedicated to thier their own selfish agendas.

a blog about radical discipleship, the gospel of grace, a theology of the cross, Christian spirituality, the mission of the church in this world and whatever else on the same wave length that may be running around the brain of a hopeful Protestant.

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