My wife and I were out for a walk yesterday. It was a bright, early morning. Suddenly, my better half stopped, turned around and pointed down at something shining on the pavement.
A dime! I reached down to pick it up, but it wouldn’t budge; the hot sun, and perhaps a passing car, had fused it to the asphalt. No worries, most men of my generation carry just the tool for such a situation.
I took out my trusty pocket knife and pried the picture of our 32nd president from the pavement’s syrupy grasp. Check out a close up of the crater it left behind!
The face of FDR–that’s Franklin Delano Roosevelt–was relatively unscatched, but the flipside of the coin (the pavement down part) looked pretty icky.
Again, no fear. Most self-respecting males, of legal age, have a secret solvent on the shelf. A few applications and a little elbow grease, and the dime was as good as new!
I’ve been friends with God since 1977. The journey began at the age of nine– when I received Christ as my Savior –but there have been many sticking points along the way. God has pried me from the pavement, cleaned off the ick, and put me back on the right path many times. As it turns out, he has a secret solvent too.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9
It was during one of my polishing sessions, that the following thought came to me via the Holy Spirit:
Worship is repentance.
Worshipping God in Spirit and Truth means recognizing who He is, who we are and realizing the difference. Real worship is a clean heart recommitted to Christ.
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
My blogging buddy Jeffrey has a daily series where he shares a scripture passage and then provides some brief thoughts. The topic this July 4th was, “Let it go,”– based on Colossians 3:13–and it was all about forgiving the faults of others because, after all, Jesus does the same for us.
Jeffrey is quite the wordsmith when it comes to encapsulating truth. And somehow, this pithy statement (below) jarred my memory about a rush to judgement involving someone who later became famous.
We’re all in the ditch. Who’s got the right to say I’m muddier than they are?
I recently learned an interesting fact about country music legend Willie Nelson. In the 1950’s he taught Sunday School at a Baptist church in Fort Worth, Texas! However, his pastor gave him an ultimatum–either stop playing music in beer joints, or stop teaching Sunday School.
Nelson, who told Rolling Stone magazine in 1978 that he once considered being a preacher, left the church (and organized Christianity) for good. Understandably, he was disappointed by a policy that arbitrarily condemned people like him. According to a 1997 interview in Texas Monthly, “Willie’s God was always willing to give a guy another chance.”
*Maybe it’s just me, but that pastor sounds a bit legalistic.
No, playing music in bars and teaching Sunday School don’t exactly go together, but was it REALLY necessary to give Willie such an ultimatum?
“Don’t conclude before you understand. After you understand, don’t judge.”
Instead of firing Willie, his pastor could have suggested starting a Saturday night concert series at the church, where Nelson and his music buddies played alcohol free shows featuring gospel and G-rated country music. Monetary donations for the musicians could have come from church members and the community. Who knows, maybe the “Red-headed Stranger” would have said yes?
That church missed a unique opportunity to reach people with the gospel.
This brings up the idea of repentance. It means the same thing between everyone and God–a turning around–but it doesn’t always happen the same way. Some have an all-at-once-life-changing testimony, but others do not.
Please observe the following crudely drawn illustrations:
My good friend, and brother in Christ, came up with a saying that’s a great example of the picture on the right:
“Two wrongs don’t make a right, but three lefts do.”
Just in case you’re wondering, the idea that people can repent in stages, and not just all at once, is in the Bible.
2 Kings chapter 5:1-19 tells the story of Naaman, a brave Syrian army commander. He was a successful soldier, and the king’s right hand man, but Naaman had an incurable skin disease called leprosy. Through a captured Israelite girl, he is encouraged to seek healing from the prophet Elisha.
The General is healed of his leprosy, and pledges—going forward—to worship only the God of Israel. However, he asks for forgiveness, when, back home with the King of Syria, he visits the temple of the pagan god Rimmon and customarily bows to the idol.
Elisha’s response? “Go in peace.”
So, there it is. One of the greatest prophets of Israel’s history didn’t condemn a man for wrongly bowing to an idol; he knew Naamon would keep turning left until he was right.
Something tells me, had they lived at the same time and place, Willie and Naamon would have been good friends.
Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
Jesus –Luke 6:37
*Perhaps it’s hypocritical of me to judge Willie’s pastor. Like my buddy Jeffrey H. King says, let it go.
From the fullness of His grace we have all received one blessing after another.
In my little hometown, there’s a Blessing Box. It’s an old soda cooler repurposed by a kind family and filled with non-perishable food. People take what they need and leave what they can. The box has only been active for a few months, but it looks like items are both coming and going.
Whoever came up with this idea is an angel! A barrier to giving and receiving has been broken down, because those using the box can remain relatively anonymous–its, quite simply, take it and/or leave it.
A friend from South Korea once remarked that people in the West find it easier to show kindness than to receive it. Do you agree?
Frankly, I see her point, it’s harder for me to receive than to give. However, the early Christians in the book of Acts were comfortable with both.
All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone who had need.
The passage above doesn’t mention in detail how the receivers responded to the gifts, but it appears both give AND take were welcomed.
Interdependent generosity still exists among Christians today.
My brother and sister-in-law live on eleven acres at the edge of a local city. Full Quiver Farms (they have seven children) is always abuzz with back and forth blessings.
The Boy Scouts need a place to store a massive trailer filled with canoes? Not a problem. “Park it in the back,” says my older brother. A friend’s mom was flooded out by a hurricane for the second time? “She can stay with us as long as she likes,” says my sister-in-law.
But the gate also swings the other way. When my brother’s family needs something (maybe a pickup truck and trailer) they reach out to their ‘blessing buddies’ and borrow it. Back and forth it goes, and it’s been happening for years!
Christians can be Blessing Boxes with skin on!
Take what you need. Leave what you can. But, above all, be blessed.
By yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.
For many of us, these times we’re living through have brought forceful emotions to the surface. For me, this has been particularly visible through mood swings and dreams.
I’ve always been susceptible to up and down emotions, but COVID 19, and now racial tensions on a national level, have taken things up a notch. The hills, drops, and loops of my life roller coaster are larger and occur more frequently.
Hyper-vigilance is the new norm. An unexpected loud sound–FedEx guy rings the doorbell and the dogs go nuts–sends my adrenaline soaring. A typically low-grade frustration takes me from sea level to death valley in a microsecond. It’s like I’m sailing on an even keel one moment, and slipping on a banana peel the next.
Uncertainty impacts the mind.
My pre-covid emotions were driving a Toyota Prius. Currently, I’m cruising in something more like this:
Dreams: they reveal our subconscious desires, and lately mine have been most enchanting. Two nights in a row, I’ve dreamed of intense platonic interactions with others.
Dream number one involves a heart-to-heart conversation with a former colleague I haven’t seen in years. In the second dream, I’m bear-hugging a childhood friend. I’ve also dreamed I’m at some sort of adult summer camp with a bunch of strangers, hiking through the wilderness and making smores by the fire.
Obviously, I’m craving connection with others.
Isolation impacts the mind.
Uncertainty and isolation pack a one-two punch that can put you on the canvas in a heartbeat.
For me, it’s always comforting to look in the Bible for someone who faced a similar situation. Evidently, the psalmist was going through a bit of a dry spell when he wrote this:
As the deer pants for the streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God, when can I go and meet with God? (Psalm 42:1-2 NIV)
Clearly, here’s a person craving connection, but with God, not man. Maybe this is the secret.
In another psalm, there’s a different deer:
It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; He enables me to stand on the heights. (Psalm 18:32-33 NIV)
Thirsty for a drink, or standing on the heights, God is the one who sustains.
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.
The roofers finally arrived that morning and began to work. They were here all that day and the next, and the roof was two-thirds finished. But the following morning they did not show up.
I called our contractor. He said the crew leader told him they were getting caught up on other jobs and would return the next morning. They didn’t. The contractor contacted them again, and they promised to return that afternoon at 4PM. Again, they didn’t.
My wife and I were beginning to think they weren’t coming back.
Two hours later,the crew finally returned and finished the roof. Well, almost. After they left, I went up to take a look. The ridge was not complete–they ran out of those type of shingles! And no one said anything about coming back. So I sent an urgent message to our contractor, along with a picture, but got no response.
At 8:45 the next morning, the roofers AND the contractor showed up with the needed materials and completed the ridge.
The 72 hours saga was over. During that time we had gone through a range of emotions, but by the time the roof was finished, the soap opera level reactions we experienced had given way to elation.
With the project behind us, our earlier worries seemed overblown. A friend who worked for years in the trades told me that sub-contractors who have plenty of work don’t always get in a hurry–“they know they will eat,” he said. Our contractor assured me as well that he wouldn’t have left us with a partial roof.
I guess we watch to much HGTV.
Later that evening, I turned to the scriptures for wisdom.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.
That first day I saw the roofer’s ladder against the house, after weeks of delay, I thought the endurance part was over. In reality, it was only half-time. James said the testing of faith develops perseverance. I was thinking instamatic camera, but got 35MM. Oh, and I wasn’t too joyful about it.
When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, He said, “the Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” “But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?” (Judges 6:12-13a NIV)
It was a bad childhood habit of mine–sitting back on my ‘but’ when I didn’t want to do something. The word was one of my favorites, “But mom, I can’t clean my room. I have soccer practice.”
Another young man in the Bible had the same problem. God sent an angel with a message for Gideon, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” (Judges 6:14)
This makes the second time Gideon sat back on his ‘but” in just three verses of scripture! Thankfully, the extremely patient angel gives it another go: “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.” (Judges 6:16)
Finally, our reluctant hero accepts the mission. Apparently, Gideon doesn’t realize, until after the second but, that God will do the delivering–not him.
If God tells you to do something, don’t sit back on your ‘but.’ Get off you BUTT and do it!
Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me. (Psalm 50:14-15 NIV)
We get the deliverance, but God get’s the glory.
So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Hebrews 10:35-36 NIV)
On April 22, 2020 my house got pounded by tennis ball size hail. Inside, it sounded and felt like artillery shells were hitting the roof. At daylight the next morning, I went out to survey the damage. Parts of our siding looked like swiss cheese, and the roof had more divots than a golf course fairway!
Severe weather is common here–our home has been damaged by wind and hail twice before, but never like this. I contacted my insurance company, and the slow cakewalk began. Why are they so quick to take premiums, but slow to pay claims?
Getting paid for damages is just the beginning of a larger pain in the next. That’s not a typo. I meant to say pain in the NEXT; construction delays are REAL. It’s easier to find a live leprechaun, than an experienced roofer after a hail storm!
As I type, it two months after the storm, and still no new roof. However, there are pallets of shingles on my front lawn and a contractor’s trailer parked in the driveway. The timeline for job completion has been adjusted and readjusted and re-readjusted. Cue sound of breaking glass.
Three days later…
I went for a run this morning, fussing and fuming the whole time about our hopelessly stalled project. By the time I finished and walked in the door, I was ready to call our contractor and say, “Enough is enough.” But my wife stopped me as I walked through the living room, “Sweetheart, listen to the verse of the day.”
Yet those who wait upon the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.
Isaiah 40:31 NASB
“Ok God, message received,” I thought to myself, “I’ll at least wait until I’m not angry before I decide to do anything.” I went out back to cool off–physically and emotionally–and sat for a few minutes with a towel over my head: “God I can’t take much more of this.”
Back inside, I realized it was trash day, so I opened the garage door to take out the garbage. And that’s when I noticed the ladder leaning against the house. The roofers were here!
I hear stories like this sometimes, and I think, “Yeah right.” But then it happens to me.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV)
The other day I was hungry, so I went into the kitchen and made a sandwich. I also poured myself a tall, cold glass of lemonade. But the pitcher was pretty full and a tiny amount sloshed out on the floor. So I got a paper towel and wiped it up. Mission accomplished. I thought.
My wife comes into the kitchen while I’m eating, and as she passes the fridge she freezes in her tracks, looks down and says, “There’s something ALL over the floor!” I say, “Where?! I cleaned it up!” “Can’t you see it? Right there,” she says, pointing at an invisible spot in front of the Frigidaire. I’m crouching down like a golfer reading a line for a putt, but I don’t see it. “It’s sticky,” she says. “Did you spill some lemonade?”
Isn’t this how we are with God sometimes?
God: “There’s something ALL over your life.” Me: “Where?! I cleaned it up!” God: “Can’t you see it? Right there.” (He points to my heart.)
Question: What’s a passing grade with God? My son asked me that once. I hated to break it to him, but I told him it’s a 100 A+. He looked at me with huge eyes. Even at nine years old, he knew getting a 100 all the time is next to impossible.
There is no one righteous, not even one; (Romans 3:11 NIV)
There is good news, as you probably know. God may not grade on the curve, but He DOES show mercy.
If you , O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared. (Psalm 130:3-4 NIV)
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you that we can be reunited with you through the blood of Christ. Without Him, we could never make the grade. AMEN
I read a story recently about a plane that crashed into a mountain because the pilot, while on approach to an airport, unknowingly followed the wrong navigational beacon. The cockpit instruments told him his true position, but he kept flying off course for over a minute–until it was too late. Post crash analysis confirmed: the pilot had not noticed a one-degree-per-second turn to the right. The autopilot was dialed to the wrong navigational aid.
There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.
The story above brings to mind the error of the Pharisees and Sadducees in the New Testament. They took God’s law and added their own rules to it. And just like the story of the pilot, following the wrong navigational beacon led to disaster.
Now, to my own story of getting off course from Christ. For most of my adult life I’ve struggled with social anxiety; last year, after suffering two panic attacks in as many weeks, I sought relief through mindfulness meditation.
Sitting quietly, one chooses a focal point–like the breath–and keeps coming back to it when distracted. The idea is to let your thoughts (good or bad) float by like clouds while you observe with curiosity. The result is like pushing a pause button on life, and it really helped with my anxiety.
I downloaded a couple of meditation apps, read some great books by mindfulness experts, and participated in live-streamed offerings. But the more I delved into mindfulness, which is rooted in Buddhism, the more I realized the navigational beacon of my teachers was Buddha, not Jesus Christ.
It dawned on me, I was taking a one-degree-per-second turn away from the Living God, inadvertently setting my auto pilot on the wrong flight path. Thankfully, I listened to the Holy Spirit and got back on course with Christ.
Jesus answered, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
I still meditate occasionally, but now I keep in mind where the true airport is!
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24 NIV)
“Measure once, cuss twice,” it’s a favorite saying of Ben Napier, from the HGTV show Home Town. On the show, Ben and his wife Erin renovate properties in Laurel, Mississippi. One of the latest episodes features the Napier’s taking their old Airstream to Sunny Campers, a business that restores vintage travel trailers. It was fascinating to watch, as they described the process to Ben and Erin.
First, they completely clear out the inside of the trailer–all the way back to the shiny aluminum skin. As it turns out, many older Airstreams have moisture issues. They leak. A ‘full gut’ makes these clearly visible. The company then moves to the outside of the trailer, where they pull EVERY rivet, clean out seams, reseal and re-revit to make the trailer better than new.
Once everything is replaced and triple checked, it’s time for the ultimate test– the water chamber. The chamber resembles a car wash, with high press jets soaking the trailer from every direction. Everything must be leak-proof. Only after passing the water test, can the empty shell become a camper again.
Sunny Campers says the biggest mistake people make is to take an older Airstream and fix it up on the inside, without considering that it probably leaks.
The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7b NIV)
When it comes to dealing with the old David, I’d be satisfied with a surface remodel. God, on the other hand, prefers a frame-up restoration.
This was the story in the third chapter of John, when Nicodemus came to Jesus. He was a respected religious leader (undoubtedly a good man) but Jesus told him, “You must be born again.” (John 3:3)
Nic wanted a superficial remodel, but Christ called for a complete re-do.
Today, and everyday, may we allow the Holy Spirit to restore and test our hearts. He’ll go farther than we ever could on our own.
The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart. (Proverbs 17:3 NIV)