Tangled

“Whoever flatters his neighbor is spreading a net for his feet.”Proverbs 29:5

“An evil man is snared by his own sin.” Proverbs 29:6a

“Fear of man will prove to be a snare.” Proverbs 29:25a

It sure looked good. It sounded good at the time. Thought it was a good idea. I didn’t know. Did it again. How many times have you said or thought one of those statements this week? Or already today? We have a knack for getting caught up – tangled – and the Deceiver knows it. So he sets the trap, changing the appearance of it if necessary, and waits. Before long you, and I, are lying face-down in the mud. Again.

First, don’t beat yourself up. You’re not alone. But second of all, fight smarter. We can get much farther when our shoelaces aren’t tied together. Jesus has so much more he wants to show you. Maybe you should just take off your shoes for the walk.

“Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” James 4:17

Often the first time that we stumble is a valuable life lesson. Learning the hard way, as we like to put it. It appeared to be one way, but the experience proved to be entirely different. The commercial made drinking seem like a party; the next morning made it feel like a boxing match. The woman on your computer screen seemed like beauty to look at, but what you saw made you feel nervous that someone might find out what you just did. The position that you took seemed like a good fit, but the compromise of your values started to eat at you. The relationship seemed like a promising friendship, but you never saw it becoming a shameful affair. Deception. Tangled. Just as the young boy or girl starts hanging out with a crowd promising unconditional love finds themselves suddenly trapped in a very conditional and controlling relationship, so too can our search for the good leave us stuck. That is exactly what happens when we “learn the hard way” but never untangle our shoelaces. We are soon unable to move with freedom. Unable to fulfill our purpose.

Jonathan and I found something like that. At Boston’s Museum of Science, my sons were able to choose an item or two from the gift shop. There were many fascinating (and overpriced) items, but Jonathan selected Newton’s Cradle. You have seen it before, often on someone’s work desk. It’s the string of five suspended metal balls, and when you raise and drop one of the end balls, the one on the opposite end kicks out. Equal and opposite reaction. I liked his selection. Until we opened the box. The picture you see is what Jonathan brought to me after he opened the box. In fact, that’s the picture of Newton’s Cradle after I had already spent five minutes attempting to untangle the lines. It was NOT what we had expected it to be. But don’t we find that out all the time?

I don’t know what trips you up, but I know that you know. And it’s quite possible that you have started to just believe it is part of you. You’re right and you’re wrong. It is a part of you, but it is not a part of your design! If we had decided to leave Newton’s Cradle as it is seen, the one who purchased it would never have seen it fulfill its purpose. Now let’s rewrite that sentence. If you or I remain tangled up as we are, the One who purchased our freedom will not see us fulfill our complete purpose.

First, you must recognize that you are stuck. We look more like that picture than we care to admit. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 You’re a mess. That’s ok. Second, we must be brought to the One who can complete our freedom. Third, we allow whatever needs to be moved to be moved. It took me 45 minutes to completely untangle that mess! Thirty minutes just to set one of them free! And for the first ten minutes, I could not tell that anything was changing. And it might seem that way to you as you go through the process. But do not give up!

There were several times that I thought of just cutting the lines and trying to put it back together. That would have completed the freedom component, but not the design component. In order to truly be untangled AND the way that God designed you, it will take patience. And it will take time. And Jonathan helped demonstrate another aspect of our freedom as we drove home – the potential to be tangled again still exists. However, once you are again untangled, you also have the capacity to fulfill your purpose again and again and again.

What is it for you? I’d really like you to think about that. Hold up the present picture of you to the picture your Creator has of you. Now, are you willing to let Him move the parts that He needs to UNTIL He sets you free and EVEN THOUGH you might not see the progress right away? “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

You were not purchased to look like this, but you were purchased WHEN you looked like this. But now it’s time to start looking like the picture on the box, the picture the Creator envisioned all along.

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Responsible Thinking

“But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” Genesis 3:9

It is my desire to keep this very simple, because the effectiveness is in the simplicity.

I have worked with a curriculum called Responsible Thinking for two and a half years. It is designed to engage someone’s thought process through a series of questions. The questions then allow for a change in behavior. They work if asked consistently and produce change when answered honestly. The questions are: 

What are you doing?

What are the rules about that?

What happens when you break those rules?

Is that what you want?

What are you willing to do now?

What will happen the next time you break those rules?

Very simple and very effective. People think that I am joking when I say that they even work on my dog, but I promise you that I am not. When he starts drooling around the dinner table, I ask, “Boxer, what are you doing?” He starts to walk around the table, but not away from it. Then I ask, “What are the rules?” and he will go lie down away from the table. I never have to ask the third question of him. After this long of asking the questions, it has become second nature. But tonight, much like Adam, I was asked.

God doesn’t ask us where we are or what we are doing because He doesn’t know. But He does want to hear our response as it relates to the standard. In case you had not noticed, God has purpose and order and everything. There are rules, and sometimes we need to answer those questions simply to have a chance to change. Tonight He asked me:

What are you doing? “Doubting…you.”

What are the rules? “To trust you.”

What happens when you break that rule? “I feel like this..”

Is that what you want? “No.”

What are you willing to do now? “Trust you.”

He didn’t ask the final question. I already know. When I start to doubt again, start to put more stock in the natural and the human ways, I will be denying myself the chance to experience the rules of the spiritual – that God’s love never fails, that no one lands on a cloud, and even if I land on my butt, He will pick me back up.

What is it for you? If God decides to ask those questions of you today, or this week, or in this season, how will that go? Why don’t you find out? Listen as He speaks to you. The reason He reached out to Adam was to restore the relationship. He desires to have things as they should be. So even if you do not hear Him asking these questions of you, consider your answers as it relates to God’s desire for your life?

What are you doing? 

What are the rules?

What happens when you break those rules?

Is that what you want?

What are you willing to do now?

What will happen the next time you break those rules?

Answer honestly. Receive the grace that allows you to change your course. Then move forward in a restored relationship with Him.

The Fruit of Hope

“For the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, hope..” Wait, no. Try again. “For the fruit of the Spirit is love, hope, peace…” Nope. Wrong again. Where’s Hope? (She’s in Minnesota, and she’s a great hugger. You should find her.) Why isn’t “hope” a fruit of the Spirit? Doesn’t it seem like it should be? It seems like it should be, but it’s not. And we should all be very thankful that God set this gift aside. Let me explain.

The fruits of the Spirit appropriately bear resemblance to fruit – taking years, at times, to mature, and growing better fruit with deeper roots. You know about praying for patience, right? If not, try it, but not on a Monday. Patience, and gentleness, and peace, are fruits that we start to bear when we grow new blooms, and stretch beyond where we were before. For example: the young lady that I referenced before often called for me when things were not as she’d like. One particular Friday she called when the bad news, which she had known was coming, had become evident to everyone else. News that would impact her freedom, her privileges, and her upcoming court hearing. After staying later on a Friday than I had in a long time, I drove home. On the drive home, I can even tell you where, I prayed, “God, help me to love more deeply.” I can just imagine God, upon hearing that from me, simply responding with, “Okaaaaay…”

About four hours after that short prayer, two different friends informed me that the young lady had run away. Deeper roots. She returned. She ran again. You see, in order to bear the best fruits, we must put our roots down deep. Deep enough to withstand the storms of life and keep standing. That’s good fruit. But that’s not hope.

“Not only so, but we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Romans 5:3-5 This passage puzzled me for a while as I tried to understand why hope does not fit the bill of the fruits of the Spirit. The piece on suffering and character sure sound like what we would attribute to the fruits. Want peace? Go through a storm. Want patience? Teach middle school. Yet there must be something different about hope, and there is. The key is in the last part of that passage.

Hope is a gift. It is what we receive with the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is the gift promised by Jesus in Acts 1, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (verses 4b and 5). When we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, we experience the reality of another truth, one found in Proverbs 18:16, “A gift opens the way for the giver and ushers him into the presence of the great.” You know the words of Proverbs to be true without too much deliberation.

Picture the hard-to-shop-for person on your Christmas list. Now imagine that for months you have studied their needs and considered what would benefit them. With a great deal of excitement you watch them open the gift, and their choice of response will alter the course of your relationship. Choice A: They look at it, look at you, and ask if there is a gift receipt. Your response is to close off a desire to pour into them anymore. (Or, like our loving God, you continue to pursue their hardened heart. Bless you.) Choice B: They look at the gift, look at you, and without a word come over and embrace you, whispering in your ear, “Thank you.” The result? A channel connecting the two of you is permanently etched in your hearts. If we don’t recognize that God gives us hope with the Holy Spirit, we might be like the receiver in “Choice A” above.

We could miss that God freely gives us this gift; He “poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” That’s beautiful! And now, like any good gift receiver, we have to recognize the purpose of the gift. You don’t give someone a diamond necklace so that they can throw it in a drawer. No! You intend it to be an adornment and something that reflects the love of the giver. Aha! Now we’re getting there. If the fruits of the Spirit, like well-rooted trees, are a reflection of the growth we have in God as we drink from His Living Water, our God-reflecting hope is an indicator of the growth of God IN US.

Back to Romans 5. God “poured out his love into our hearts.” Of course He did. Our hearts are at the center of all that we do, and all that we are. So, by the Holy Spirit, God enters our hearts. Why? Umm..because we need it! I know it, you know it, God knew it and wanted to do something about it. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put a new Spirit in you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:26, 27) We had (and have, apart from God’s gift) a heart of stone. But, as Jesus promised in Acts 1, and Paul reminds us in Romans 5, a new spirit is given which leads us to a heart of flesh.

What does that look like? This is where the suffering, perseverance, and character come into play. The good news is that even stone can be broken down. We often think of the verses in Ezekiel as reflecting an immediate transplant. I believe that yes, there is immediate life and a heartbeat that comes with receiving the Spirit. But I also believe (unless I’m the only stubborn one out here), that God continues to work at the large and the small stones in our lives. He is often graciously gentle in the process, but He does have a hammer and He does know how to use it if necessary. So we go through this process sometimes called “sanctification.” If you prefer an easier term, just call it “God at work.” He breaks our large stones into small stones. He breaks our small stones into pebbles, and He breaks our pebbles into sand. And guess what He can do with sand?

Oh boy, this is where it gets exciting! You may know that, when heated to the right temperature for the right length of time, sand can be turned into glass. Glass reflects. So God’s growth IN US results in a reflection of the Glass Maker. That, my sisters and brothers, is hope! That our hearts can reflect God’s love is an incredible testimony to share. When Romans tells us that “hope does not disappoint,” it is because of the outpour of love into our hearts.

While we grow and are outwardly pruned to develop good fruit, God is also at work on the inside! And again, there is a purpose to this work. Glass reflects where it is pointed. If properly directed, as in Romans 5:2b, “And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God,” our lives will point others back to the Glass Maker. We are not meant to bear the weight of hope. If we allow anyone to place their hope in us, they will ultimately be disappointed. Psalm 147:11, “the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” That – God’s unfailing love – can bear the weight of our hope.

Now what does this mean for how we live? One application of it, I believe, is that we share our story and include the words, “But God.” Here’s what I saw. At Young Life camp this summer, we were privileged to hear a speaker do this very, very well. He continuously challenged the leaders to do the same. “If your kids keep you on a pedestal,” he said, “they will never know how to handle their own problems.” I reluctantly tested his theory. I opened up a time of discussion with a brief testimony in my own life, and I said that I believed I should share it because someone there needed to hear it.

When I finished, I called on a young man by simply saying, “You look like you have something to say.” And he sure did! I did not know his story, but he went on to share about losses of close family members and the blame he placed on himself. He had found a safe place to share because He knew what God had done for me. And then a second young man shared words of encouragement to the first! Now allow me to interrupt myself here before I tell of the second young man. I have a small, compact mirror. (YOU try shaving your head without one…actually, it’s not that hard.) It contains glass. But it only reflects if it is open. Too often we would like to keep our glass covered or closed. It seems safer, right? After all, glass is fragile.

That is often me, but I’m learning. That second young man helped and is helping me. We nearly sent him home from camp on the second day based on allegations about his conduct. While looking for evidence of said behavior, God chose to have this conversation with me: “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” (God didn’t yell, I’m just capitalizing to distinguish His voice.) “Looking for evidence to send him home.” “WHAT DO YOU THINK I WANT?” “You probably want him to stay.” “WHY?” “So he can hear the Gospel.” “AND?” “Umm, and for us to be the light in his darkness?”

God helped us get it right, and the young man stayed. And, as I was mentioning above, he wanted to share after my testimony and the testimony of another young man. Honestly, I hesitated when he asked because the night before his only contributions had been to talk about the beautiful girls. But God helped me say “yes,” and he went on to share words of encouragement with the first young man, and he even quoted Ezekiel (he nearly gave me whiplash in that “Who-is-this-kid?” moment). And, as I made mention in another post, he now is the one to tell others to listen at camp so that he can enjoy it.

I was testing a theory. Correction, I had a theory about a truth. The truth is that reflecting the “But God” moments in our lives will always give life to that same possibility in the lives of others. The possibility that God can do it again. God simply gave me a very real experience of that. The picture of the jar is what I very often use during my devotions – a collection of big and little stones, sand and a candle. It reminds me of this “God at work” process. The way that God moves, pouring His love into our hearts, is like the flow of wax within the sand. Sand is in no position to resist. By God’s grace, I will continue in that process, to become a reflection.

So, no, hope is not a fruit. It bears something different – the image of our Maker. Point your heart in His direction; He will not disappoint.

*Did you know that there is a National Bible Bee? It’s a pretty amazing event. It made me think of the question I jotted down a while back: If I had to travel to a place that did not allow the Word of God, how much of the Word would I be able to share (from memory)? Oof, I have some work to do. Check out http://www.biblebee.org if you are interested. There are activities for you to do individually or as a family.Image

Two Sparrows

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father..So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:29, 31

I do not start with this text to remind you of your worth – chances are you know that already. You might even have the song in your head already. If not, let me help you, “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me! I sing because..” It’s not that you don’t need to hear that, or be reminded of your value. But I want to make you think of the bigger picture – and your view of sparrows.

What is often missed is the context of that passage. Those verses come in the middle of some of Jesus’ more potent instructions to the twelve. They were told to do things such as “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” (Matthew 10:8) Before Jesus finished, he had told the twelve disciples, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (10:28a) and “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (10:37a). Jesus was not sending the twelve out to sing songs around the campfire; he was sending them into battle. In fact, in the proper context, the words of comfort we take from verses 29-31 would really sound like this: “You might die; that’s a possibility. But God is watching you and guards your soul.” NOW try singing that happy little song.

And the words of Jesus remain the same today. There’s no clause in the instructions to his followers that states, “Do this for 50 years after I’m gone and then I’ll take back over.” No! If we believe that Scripture is living and active, it means that the commands of Jesus remain in place for his followers today. So how are we doing? Well, if we’re honest, we would have to acknowledge that we are treating a lot of our would-be brothers and sisters like sparrows.

“What’s wrong with our young people?” Ever asked that question, or been asked that question? Chances are you have a list of standard answers: absent fathers, pervasive technology, poor educational systems, government involvement, broken families. It’s pretty easy to toss up your hands there isn’t it? “Well, there’s nothing I can do there – it’s just a mess.” If that has been your approach, I would like to point something out: the Scripture I read only records one person who washed his hands of a situation, and I think you know how that went (if you don’t know, call me; we’ll talk).

But maybe I’m being too hard on us, so I’ll give you agreement on one of your causes for the problems of our youth: messed-up families. But, to be fair, I should also note that WE are the messed-up family. That’s right – we as believers, followers, the Church, are messing up. Shane Claiborne made the very profound point that fatherlessness is NOT the problem in our society. Everyone has a Father, and His name is Almighty God. The problem then becomes the fact that we, having met and entered the restorative relationship with our Father, have not found our brothers and sisters and introduced them to Almighty Daddy. Think about it. Have you, or I, done something extraordinary to receive our Father’s love? (If you have, call me; we’ll talk.)

What we have done is simply been overtaken by God’s pursuit of us, and that pursuit (unless you are formerly named “Saul”) probably came in the form of one of your brothers or sisters – even if they were cleverly disguised as your parents. “Who are my mother and my brothers?..Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Jesus’ words in Mark 3:33, 34) We sing the song that declares God calls us “friend.” It cheers us, warms us, right? But why don’t we sing that Jesus calls us “sister” or “brother”? It feels different, doesn’t it? But it’s truth.

And it’s also true that we feel a different sense of urgency to help our family than we do our friends. Yes, there are tried-and-true friendships out there; many have been fortunate to find them. But in the best friendships, don’t they start to feel like family? Maybe you even call them “brother” or “sister”? That’s because we instinctively know the commitment level raises for family, so we draw in our dearest friends to that level and, in so doing, distinguish them from our “friends.” And everyone knows we care more about our friends than we care about the sparrows. That’s a no-brainer.

My friends…sorry, my brothers and sisters, we need to shift our “family to sparrow” ratio. What do I mean by that? I’m glad you asked. When Jesus used two sparrows as an illustration, he was really telling the twelve that God cares for the “least of these,” those that no one else would notice if they were gone. If someone could purchase two sparrows for a penny, how much thought went into their value? None. But aren’t there sparrows in our own lives? People who fade away without us even noticing? Who are the sparrows in your life, all around you? Are there young people who seem lost? Homeless people that pass you, or are passed by you? Prostitutes? Drug dealers? Drug addicts? Gang members? People who only come to our attention when they are shot and make the news? Aren’t they sparrows to us? Don’t we find it easier to twist God’s promise and say, “Well, I guess God is watching over them so I don’t have to.”

Yes, He is. And yes, we have to also. Here’s why. God gives us this reminder through His precious Son Jesus: “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” So then we should discern God’s will. It’s pretty simple, really. Jesus, as he began his instructions to the twelve, said, “Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 10:6). By the end of Matthew, his instructions were essentially the same, but now with a broader territory for us to claim, for his authority: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nation, baptizing them..and teaching them..” (Matthew 28:18-20). So there you go – do that and be called a sister or brother of Jesus! But why baptize AND teach? Can’t we just do one? No! Again, think of the “lost sheep” as your brother and sister who has not yet met Almighty Father. They are in the same position that we would be in if a brother or sister had not shown us who our Father is. The truth is, they have been looking for Him all this time, but they followed a lie instead of truth. They have become enslaved to a master, and it’s time to bring them to one who can redeem them!

Recently I was thinking of some young men I know – lost sheep claiming gang affiliation. I wondered, what would make someone hate another person that they don’t even know? I’m talking about being willing to hurt someone simply because they claim a different affiliation. As I allowed my mind to consider that, I realized that the enemy has twisted and re-worked his plan to enslave. Young people (and old people) seek unconditional acceptance, with promises that they will be cared for. They buy the lie. They think that a gang, or drug use, or many other vices will fill that void, only to find out that the acceptance was not unconditional at all. One may enter a gang only to find that there are rules and costs for loyalty, not to mention costs for disloyalty. One may find initial acceptance in using drugs, only to find that the drug refuses to stop using them. Another may look for love and beauty, only to find that they are following lust and pornography – and again, they are not free to leave. Still others may seek acceptance in the material world, only to become a “slave to fashion” or indebted to our debt. The slavery to our vices is very real, and it is time to act.

It is time for us to be abolitionists and seek the freedom of our brothers and sisters. Isn’t that what you would do for your family? When Jesus said to baptize them, that is their freedom from enslavement! He HAS paid their redemption, but we must bring them to him to cash it in! How long would you let a family member sit on a winning Powerball ticket before you made them turn it in? Not long. And then we must also teach, just as someone cared enough to teach us. You don’t let your baby brother walk unguided down a flight of stairs! You walk with them until they know “to obey everything” that Jesus commanded. Family, there is slavery everywhere.

Maybe to you, like to many of our forefathers, it just seems normal. Well, normal don’t make it right. We must open our eyes to see those around us who have walked into some horrible arrangements. There is no way out except for their freedom to be purchased. It’s time to step up to the plate. And it does no good for us to attempt to free others if we are enslaved ourselves! Maybe you have found freedom from your vices, but now you are enslaved to fear. What was it again, those words that Jesus said before he mentioned “sparrows”? “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) In other words, you could die saving a lost sheep; but you could also die from that Big Mac you’re eating while you drive past the person with the cardboard sign – pretty sure only one option there glorifies God. You don’t have to go it alone. Find a person with a passion and do what they’re doing. Or just try what you’ve been thinking of doing, it just might work!

Lastly, to those who have a hard time seeing brothers and sisters among the sparrows – you who find yourself stuck in apathy against your will: find out their names. Feed them. Open up your home. Only then will you know them. My son Jonathan met two sparrows, er, parakeets. He named them. He used his birthday money last year to pay for Moonlight and Sunshine, and purchased a home for them within our home. Sunshine met a tragic end last year, and he wept.

After some time, he opened up his heart to bring home Snowstorm, who found a home with Moonlight in our home. He cared for them, loved them, fed them, and cleaned up after them. Tonight, when we returned home from our trip, I noticed Jonathan was crying – weeping. I thought for a moment and ran upstairs. Both Moonlight and Snowstorm were dead in their cage. You see, while we had made arrangements for someone to take care of the dog, no one checked on the birds. In theory, they should have been fine. When we left, they had plenty of food and water, and were safe within their cage. The tragedy, however, was that their food container had somehow slipped off from the cage, and had fallen in such a way that they could not reach the food. I felt sick to my stomach and wanted to weep as Jonathan wept. The worst part (and I’m sorry for this, but you need to hear it) was that I could tell they tried to reach the food that had fallen under the rack in the bottom of the cage – their beaks were pointed down in a last, vain attempt. I had no words, but asked Jonathan if he wanted to hold them. He did, and I left him alone with them. When he was ready, he placed them back in their cage, and came downstairs.

I don’t know if that story brings tears to your eyes (it does mine), but I can explain the tears if it does: you cry because you know their names – Moonlight and Snowstorm – they were helpless in their situation, and they were loved by someone, and now you know their story. Moonlight and Snowstorm, even as birds, had become part of our family. Brothers and sisters, there are sparrows with names walking by you every day. Just like the tragedy in our home, they are dying to live. They are desperately seeking the Living Bread that you have found, but they are unable to reach it on their own. Helpless, unless you come into the picture. There is a Father who weeps for them when they die too soon, or alone. What you have been seeing as sparrows are actually children – God’s children – which makes them your sisters and brothers.

I know that Jonathan would tell you his life is better for having cared for those two birds. That crying is connected to loving. And that he would have them here all over again. Who knows how God will yet work healing and restoration in this situation? You could do as I am doing now, wrestling with the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” questions. Or you can learn the names of those who have been sparrows and open your home to them. You can love them. You can learn their story and become part of it – aren’t they much more valuable to you, and our Almighty Daddy, than two sparrows?

Note: I had intended to write a much different message than the one I just did. I intended to focus more on enslavement, but the course of events altered my writing. I will trust God’s guiding, and write more of the other message soon.

*I don’t mean to make too much or too little of Jonathan’s loss. When I use the word “tragedy,” I am considering his perspective. I have a long enough view to know that he will be okay, but I know that it hurts now, and will for some time. And feeling “sick to my stomach” is accurate. It was as if we – he, I, us – had been punched in the gut after an otherwise great week. I did not like feeling helpless to help the helpless who loved the helpless.

Speak Across Water

“The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.” Psalm 24:1,2

I am fascinated by my relationship with two particular things: travel and water. Let’s look at travel first. My passport is still in a like-new condition, and I have lived in the same state my entire life. Yet when I do travel, I feel comfortable in those places. I don’t feel out of place at all. I would almost say that I feel more comfortable in other places. I don’t really know how to explain it. Maybe it is the same way that the Yankees can play better on the road than at home (or at least the same when they come to Detroit). There are fewer pressures, perhaps. Less worries. For me, it is a chance to just be me.

Even when I was in elementary school, I loved when our high school had exchange students. It was great to meet someone from another country. I had this habit of writing to them (pre-email pen-pals) when they returned home. My mom could probably tell you how I used to run out to the mailbox to look for mail from Germany or Sweden. It was exciting! In high school, I went to Cary, Mississippi for the first time and I felt strangely at home. The same was true of my trip to Nicaragua, and to Colorado, and to Boston. Certainly these trips were not under any hardship, but they have been reminders to me of God’s faithfulness. Of His changelessness. And His love.

Last year I read David Platt’s book, Radical. He challenged our often-comfortable thinking about spreading the Good News. He pointed out that we often like to insulate ourselves from God’s command to spread the gospel around the world. He called out thinking such as, “Well, if no one has told them the gospel…they will still go to heaven.” Where do we get that from? And what if we’re wrong? I gotta tell ya…that could keep you awake if you really thought about it. So maybe you should really think about it. I don’t know what the Lord has in store for me, but I look forward to the journey. A while back, when I began to consider writing more faithfully, I told my friend that I saw myself going over waters, but I really didn’t know what that meant. I do know that God will often wrestle us away from the comforts of home, and in those times we realize just how much we need him.

The second element here is water. I love it. And I cant swim. Doesn’t make sense, right? But time after time I think of illustrations connected to water. My favorite pictures to take involve water. And I could sit and watch an ocean or a river for hours. Last Saturday I took a walk around Timberwolf Lake. I was amazed at the conversations that I could hear on the other side of the lake. Later that night, we had quiet time to speak with God. I stood right by the lake. I remember thinking, “If I just whispered, I could be heard.” That’s what I want to do – to whisper.

Maybe now is not the time that I travel the world – but God’s Word can. And I’ll ask your help. If you have a friend in another country, would you consider inviting them to this group on facebook? (Don’t worry, they would be free to leave.) Or they can follow the posts at http://rootedandreaching.com Or, on twitter, the posts are linked to RootednReaching. If God’s Word, through my writing, can make a whisper across the water, who knows what that can do? And now, especially now, I invite you to think about your own whisper. The psalmist declares that “The earth is the Lord’s,” and your story is a part of that! You were made for more than just your neighborhood – you have brothers and sisters around the globe!

What would you like to share? Maybe it’s time to send a letter of encouragement to the missionaries that you support. Or maybe you can redirect your Christmas gifts through an organization such as Compassion International, World Renew, or the Haitian Bead Project. You don’t have to be someone other than who you are, just play your part in God’s big family! When I traveled to Nicaragua, I went with a very unassuming lady who simply did the things that she could offer. And I was fascinated at her and her husband’s story of missionary world travel. Even now they support refugees in their area and support the church’s missionary ministry. Use YOUR gift, submit it to God’s will, and speak across water.

Watch a sunrise, see the Son rise

The other morning I watched something that I rarely watch – a sunrise. I had no choice; I was in the front passenger seat of a van heading East. And I watched God paint. It was glorious. I believe in a creative God. If you don’t, look in the mirror this morning – He IS creative. I believe that He has put layers and layers..and layers..of meaning into the world so that we can discover more of Him. Because, like Him, we are creative. And we barely scratch the surface. But as I watched the sunrise (just had a typo and put “sinrise” – that will be a topic another time), I thought of similarities that take place when the sun rises and when the Son, Jesus Christ, rises in our life.

ONLY ONE We do not see more than one sun. You will not find, nor will you need, another Son in your life. “what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son?’” John 10:36

DRIVES AWAY DARKNESS The sun brings light into every area if darkness. Darkness cannot hide, and cannot win. “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” John 1:4,5

SHOWS THE WAY If you ever had to find an address in the dark, you know that it is so much easier to find in the light. “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” John 14:6

BRINGS LIFE We breathe out death – carbon dioxide. God, in His infinite wisdom, created something to absorb our death breath and turn it into life – oxygen. The leaves around us do this, but they need the sun. Jesus, the Son, makes it possible that our spiritual death is absorbed and turned into life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

NEW MERCIES The sun has a way of softening our hearts, of giving hope even in our darkest times. “And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your heart.” 2Peter 1:19

NEVER FAILS Think of the last time that the sun did not rise. Think…..okay, that’s enough. Think of the last time the Son failed to show up. “’Woman,’ he said, ‘why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’ Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher).” John 20:15, 16

REMINDER OF GOD’S PROMISES “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:11, 12

CREATES REFLECTIONS – MIRROR IMAGES There can be no reflection without first having the light. So too, we cannot reflect God without the Light in our lives. “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:45b -47. I assure you, this command to reflect our Father is impossible without the Son.

BRILLIANT The sun, as you know, is brilliant. Too brilliant for us to comprehend. Jesus showed us the glory of God here on earth. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

MADE TO BE FOLLOWED Don’t you follow the course of the sun throughout the day, and measure where you are in relationship to it? Do the same with God’s Son. “I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.” John 16:28 “Then he said to him, ‘Follow me!’” John 21:19b

Don’t be like me and observe a sunrise once every five months. Find one soon and be reminded of God’s great love for you.

RECEIVE!

“Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!”( Ecclesiastes 1:2b) Nothing quite like a dose of Ecclesiastes on Thanksgiving Day. In the midst of celebrating, spending time with family, eating more than I should, and reading a book about being more thankful, God’s Word calls out: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) The writer of Ecclesiastes clearly comes from BBF times. That would be: Before Black Friday.

After a couple more “chasing after the wind” verses, I opted for a walk. A beautiful sunny day in November, and a walk should be the cure for my ill. The writer of Ecclesiastes was wrong, right? There has to be meaning. So I walk into Needham, home of 2012 Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman. That seems significant, especially if I ignore that my nine-year old told me that gold medals are actually made up of more than 90% silver. I keep walking and see a very old sign pointing to a site for Needham’s powder house. My sister later informs me that the powder houses were sites on the edge of town where gun powder was made – on the edge of town so that an explosion wouldn’t ruin the whole town. Interesting, but not really significant. She also told me that the local pound used to be for stray pigs before it became a landing spot for dogs. Hmm, still not significant, but funny to think about.

“I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me.”( Ecclesiastes 2:18) I kept walking, and I finally found it. Significance? Meaning? You be the judge. Let’s start with the white picket fence (not of wood, but it still counts). On either side are the solar-powered lights (conscientious). Behind the fence is a manicured hedge line. In the driveway are two shiny vehicles (car and truck, of course). But let’s not forget the pristine motorhome on the side of the house (who doesn’t want a home on wheels?) The rhododendrons in front of the house have been trimmed (seriously?), and there is a large pile of chopped and split wood to the side of the driveway. Hello? Americana called and they want there house back. I told you – I found IT.

It is the house that captures that elusive dream. It’s the secret home of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley (pretty sure they were working the grill in the fenced-in back yard), and Michael Jackson goes there for holidays. I almost knocked on the motorhome to look for Tupac, but that will have to wait for tomorrow. This is the home where, if you didn’t know better, you expect everything to be just right.

“Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2:11) That is a truth that we just don’t want to believe. Although not all scholars agree upon Solomon as the author of Ecclesiastes, it clearly was a person who had it all. He oversaw “great projects” (2:4), owned more livestock than anyone in Jerusalem ever had, had slaves, hired singers (that’s why Tupac was in the motorhome – he technically doesn’t “sing”), and uses a word equivalent to “harem” that is found nowhere else in Scripture. And still, he felt empty. I don’t believe that the writer had simply become a grumpy old man who could no longer enjoy his pleasures. He speaks also of his pursuit of wisdom and comes to this conclusion: “For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief” (1:18). What the writer seems to have discovered was that having it all is having nothing at all.

In the book Soul Detox, Craig Groeschel makes the point that to “have it all” you would have to own one of everything in the world. Then you would have it all – until the newer version comes out. That is a chasing after the wind; going after what you will never be able to have.

The seed of this message actually comes from a one-year old. An adorable one-year old. I hope that you have some time around one this holiday weekend. If not, observe one (I did not say “take one”). I was privileged to observe one last weekend. It is a precious age (minus the diapers- did my time already). What struck me is that, for the most part, a one-year old can only receive. They are in no position to take over the world. They will not claim your parking spot at 5am outside of Target. They receive what you give – especially from their parents. The reason that quality struck me is because I have come to realize what terrible receivers we are. Once we really start to walk and talk, we start the terrible path of independence (Watch out Eden, here we come). We learn how to say, “No,”..sorry, I mean, “No!” We learn how to master skills which translates into pride in our accomplishments. We then learn how to earn for ourselves, and accumulate for ourselves, and build houses with garages that wont even hold our trucks because we needed a bigger truck (plus we have all of Elvis’ clothes in there – that fat season of life is a killer). We, unfortunately and to my grandmother’s chagrin, are much like Calvin.

Calvin observes to Hobbes, “Look at all those ants. They’re all running like mad, working tirelessly all day, never stopping, never resting. And for what? To build a tiny little hill of sand that could be wiped out at any moment! All their work could be for nothing, and yet they keep on building. They never give up!” Hobbes notes, “I suppose there’s a lesson in that.” And Calvin responds, “Yeah…ants are morons. Let’s see what’s on tv.” Isn’t that us? Whether you are the ant piling up your sand, or Calvin who sees it all and doesn’t get it, you are missing the point.

“Like the fool, the wise man too must die!” (Ecclesiastes 2:16b) I kept walking a little farther, still thinking about that house. In my head I knew that the house of Americana did not guarantee happiness. In my heart, I wanted to test that theory. You see, I’m terrible at receiving also. I am quick to see it in others, like my friend who felt “bad” when she received chocolate, but it’s hard to wrestle it out of my own life. I am the grown-up version of a five-year old who still wants to go to the store and get my own toys. Our materialistic world has us hooked. In the middle of the disaster called a football game, I saw a car commercial. Maybe you did too. The son pulls up in the driveway and is clearly home for the holidays. He comes in the house to find that dear old ma and pa have taken off in his car rather than greet their own child. It is an attempt at humor, but is absolutely awful. We need to start recognizing what is going on around us and call it exactly what it is – a lie!

I turned around to head back, pausing only to tell the nice man in the Lexus that I did not know where the football field was located. (Yes, I noticed that it was a Lexus. I’m on record in my high school yearbook as planning to own a Lexus by the time I was 30. Either my Dodge turns into a Lexus under a full moon, or I’m still 29, not sure which.) The ending of the sidewalk caused me to cross back over – right in front of Americana. Then I saw another “it” – something I had missed the first time because of the glare from the motorhome. On the white picket (plastic) fence was a Storm Troopers costume. Why is that significant? Glad you asked. Because my oldest son has the exact same costume. Why does that matter? Again, I’m glad you asked. It matters because of what God is telling me and telling you.

If you read, “Stop Drawing. Be Drawn” you read some pretty incredible testaments to God’s movement. Here’s one that I didn’t share. On Sunday morning, I was in the bathroom getting ready and so was the boy who had been expelled for bringing a gun to school. He would occasionally vocalize some rap lyrics as he got ready – nothing I recognized, my rap days are almost done. Then he said a line that stopped me: “I like to make myself believe..” That sounded familiar. What was that from? He kept rapping; I kept puzzling. Finally I asked him about that line. He rather sheepishly answered, “That’s one of my favorite songs..it’s by Owl City.” If you know anything about Owl City (the song in question is “Fireflies”), you might see why it seemed odd this same boy could sing his favorite rap songs and toss in lines from a West-Coast suburban insomniac. It did more than shatter my initial perception of him; it gave me a touch point in my own life.

Owl City is my oldest son’s favorite group. There is an Owl City station on our Pandora that drives me bonkers, and he persistently asks why I haven’t bought him a cd of his favorite group even though I have for his brothers (put it on your wish list, Caleb). So, for the rest of the day last Sunday, I wrestled with what it meant that my son and the boy who brought the gun to school loved the same music group. I started to get it, but didn’t get it clearly until today. The Storm Troopers costume clicked it into focus: the arbitrary will of God. What separated my son from the boy who brought the gun from the boy who lives with Elvis? The arbitrary will of God. What separates me from the lost man in the Lexus? The arbitrary will of God. Your anthill, my anthill, could be gone tomorrow. And if it is, what was the point? I contend that the point is to receive.

“Remember your Creator in the days of your youth” (Ecclesiastes 12:1a) The one-year old that I saw knew his parents and gladly received what was given. I wish I would do the same. I have a Creator who desires to meet my needs, but I am often so busy looking at the other tables that I miss what is in front of me. I seek approval and acceptance rather than allowing myself to be looked on with approval and acceptance. Why? I want to earn. I want to believe that I can accomplish something great. “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). I have convinced myself that the draw of Black Friday is related to our poor ability to receive.

For one, you look for things for yourself – to upgrade what you have our increase your anthill. Second, if you do shop for someone else, it is still really for yourself. I examined my motives and found this hidden deep: try it on for size, if it doesn’t fit you can stand in line to return it. The reason I look for really nice gifts for someone is to avoid the emptiness that I would feel if I gave them nothing. I am not enough to be accepted on my own, so I must give them something of value. See how a lie can twist something good? Even after years in the helping profession, even after getting better at giving, I still find selfish motives tucked into my actions. Pride. Desire to be accepted, to be valued, to have more sand on my anthill.

Lord, help us.

My favorite observation of the one-year old was that he would look at someone, smile, and loudly declare, “Da!” It was as if he wanted everyone to know that he was happy because of his father, and I know that he could only do that because he had been receiving the love of his father and his mother (I tried to get him to yell, “Ma!”- no luck). Do you do that? Do you loudly declare your love for your Father? Have you received His love? If not, if you feel bad that you didn’t get everyone else some chocolate, maybe you should stop for a minute. The reason you might feel that way could be because you think you have to have more to give more to be loved more. Wrong. That’s a lie. The one-year old gave exactly what he had received, and it was exactly enough: unconditional love. Receive that. Then give that. I think that’s in aisle G-O-D, and it goes on sale..oh, look! Right now!

For more reading on the arbitrary will of God, read Jonathan Edwards’ sermon at http://whatsaiththescripture.com/Fellowship/Edwards.Sinners.Angry.God.html

Loving Father, help us to kill the pride that creeps up within us. We desire to receive your love and to trust your plans for us. Be the Rock beneath our anthill, Lord, and hold us when we fall. Amen.