Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Audacity (and Agony?) of Hope

I have started and stopped this blog many times.  Deleted it once, as well, before hitting "publish."  It's been a difficult thing to figure out, but I have been pressed internally to write about hope. 

Hope seems for me to be a foggy subject at best.  I have great difficulty with it.  I remember a time in my life when I was a very optimistic person.  But life has a way of rubbing away the luster of things.  Life has a way of oxidizing the shiniest of memories and the most promising futures and turning them to rusty old "use to be's" and "could've been's".  I'd be lying if I said life hasn't nearly beaten the hope right out of me.

And that's a tough place to be...hope-less.  Not totally without hope, but close.  I refuse to watch the news.  Don't read the newspapers or magazines.  Very rarely do I give a cursory glance at the headlines on FOXNews. com.  Too much pain and suffering.  Too much lost hope in morality of humankind.  Too much war and lying and distrust and pointing fingers.  It's hard to feel hope in a world like ours.  To be "ignorant" like I mentioned in a previous post is dangerous because then you become insulated from the important things going on in the world around you.  To a certain point, one needs to be educated or you run the risk of being taken advantage of, of being abused emotionally, or simply feeling left out and clueless.  That's not healthy.  But how does one become brave enough to hope in a world filled with so much evil and sin?

Hope does require courage.  Hope requires a bold fortitude that speaks out through word and/or deed against the world and what it stands for.  Hope is painful.  Hope is thankless.  Hope requires commitment and perseverance and diligence.  It's agonizing.  It's heartbreaking.  But it's necessary in order to live a life that is fully what and how God intends us to live. 

Lacking Hope means lacking Faith, right?  I think that's true.  Maybe not, but in my line of thinking, if you have hope you have faith.  If you have faith you have hope.  That SHOULD be how it works.  Faith in God and Jesus would ultimately lead to hope in the future regardless of circumstances.  If we have faith that when we pass from this earth we will gain a life with God, then there's no need to fear any sort of malady, evil, or stain of this world.  Our perception of our future on earth, good or bad, is pointless because Faith in God and His Son and belief in the work Jesus did on the cross cancels out any calamity we will face here.  Hebrews 11:1 says “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  I love the word "conviction" here, because it carries such weight to it.  To be convicted in the intangible workings of God is a daunting task.  It goes against EVERYTHING we grow into as we move from the innocent musings of a child to the critical eyes of an adult.  It means we must protect (or relearn) that part of our nature that is in awe of and fully embracing of that Power in our lives that is Greater Than Us.  That belief that was once pure and unperverted by the world. 
That belief also gives each of us hope.  If we have hope, then there is a strong element of faith tied into it.  Hope means that we have a certain positive expectation about our future, and that can only come from a strong belief that God will lead us along the path that He knows is right for us.  It's knowing that things will turn out right no matter the experiences we face during  the journey.  It's also having a unquestionable trust in God, and not limiting what He can do and accomplish through us.  It's not trying to define "turn out alright" by our limited standards but rather by God's, which is incomprehensible to us. 

And this is where I agonize over faith and hope.  I have trust issues.  It's hard for me to give over that part of me that basically breaks the chains of control and offers them to God to use as He sees fit.  I struggle with deep deep valleys of distrust.  And those dark places are not pleasant to visit.  Trust can't be forced.  It can't be manipulated into being.  Trust comes with life and with experience.  It comes with a mind over matter mentality that says, "No matter what, God has my back and everything will be A-O-K."  But that is so difficult for me.  It's an agonizing process, and I envy those who have it.  Those people who have mastered the lifestyle of hope and faith and trust.  To me, the struggle has been life-long, and, ironically, even more difficult at times now that I have re-dedicated my life to God.  Isn't that terribly ironic or am I simply a terrible student?  Who knows other than God?

Hope and Faith are goals of mine.  I'm journeying along at this point....two steps forward, one step back; sometimes one step forward, three steps back.  It's agonizing this audacity that is required to be a hope-filled and faith-filled person in this world.  But ultimately the reward is eternal.  And that gives me hope. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Ignorance of Bliss...or Vice Versa?

There was a former student of mine who I admired greatly for her blissful ignorance to the world around her.  She was one of the happiest kids I have ever taught, and I chalked that up to her complete inability to see how she fit into the immediate world around her.  Because of that detachment, she never fell prey to the rumors, the gossip, the stress, and all the other day-to-day shenanigans of school life.  She was simply a "happy camper."  And I envied that.  I envied it because I saw how LIFE, in effect, beat down kids daily.  I saw how the stress of performing well in school and on the dreaded PSSAs sucked the enjoyment of growing up right out of the lungs and the souls of the kids.  I watched as betrayed friendships, nasty gossip, and verbal bashings beat away at the soft, fragile essence of the innocence of childhood.  Growing up, I realized, was a brutal affair.  Lost, the blissfulness of being ignorant to the ways of the world.  It's true, to a point at least, that ignorance is bliss! 
What is it about maturity and growing up that drags the soul of a person down into the abyss of uncertainty and  fear?  When and why do we get to a point where the infliction of comparing ourselves and our lives to that of others becomes a standard notion in day-to-day life?  When knowledge was of such a nature that we only needed to know the basics of life to keep us safe and secure in our immediate surroundings, life was uncomplicated and pure.  Blissful.  We were ignorant to the selfishness of the world.  Yes, we knew pain; but not the pain that comes from the heart.  Now I know the biology and physiology behind pain and know it truly doesn't come from the heart, but rather the mind.  Yet how many of us have felt heartache?  Pain that radiates from such severe emotional (and spiritual?) hurt that one can easily trace its origins to the bottom-most tip of his/her heart.  No, the pains we first knew were physical in nature.  They came from messages carried to the brain through the nervous system of  bodies to the brain so that could acknowledge the hurt.  The pain that comes from a burn, a cut, a brush burn, an illness, or even hunger-pangs.  These pains taught us about nature and about cause and effect:  touch a hot stove, you will get burned.  Fall off a bike, you will get cut.  Eat uncooked meat, well....good luck! 
We learned about the world but only within arms reach.  We remained ignorant to heartbreak.  To loss.  To jealousy.  To selfishness.  To discrimination.  To persecution.  To hate. 
But as we grew and expanded our reach so that our emotional fingertips stretched into the world, we started to come in contact with a terribly violent, unforgiving place.  We became aware. 
And awareness stole the ignorance of our youth away and replaced it with reality.  And that reality can be a scary, scary dimension. 
I have lived in this reality, this dimension, aware and cognizant of bad places this world has and holds, and I can become very resolute in my anger and hatred of it and towards it.  I suffer from these attacks partly for selfish reasons and partly because I know that every second of every day, another blissfully ignorant person is becoming aware.  And that saddens me.  Because that awareness can lead them to a hurt much more powerfully diabolical than any physical suffering.  Emotional pain is the worst kind of pain to know and experience.  It rattles all of your bones.  It exhausts all your energy and will to live.  It tears at logic and makes the illogical seem rational and sound.  It tempts you to become a shadow of what God designed you to be.  It coaxes you to hate, to envy, to lust, to lie, to short-cut, and to run astray from a life centered on God and His son.  It tells you to replace that unseen God with the tangible:  sex, cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, TV, sports, food, clothing, lavish spending, and all the other addictions one can possess that self-edifices, self-promotes, and self-indulges.  Gone is the blissful ignorance of simply knowing Love and trusting in that love to keep you safe and secure.  Gone is the blissful ignorance that precludes doubt and distrust and uncertainty.  And in its absence, the pain from despair and loneliness and a misdirected life slowly creeps into our hearts, pinning the love that once so filled it to the sides of membrane tissue-thin and corroded.
There is a solution to this loss of ignorance.  Some will say Awareness is the answer.  Awareness of one's place in God's kingdom.  Awareness of one's place in the entire scheme of life and life-eternal.  But I cannot be a card-carrying member of that club for I believe that although Awareness is important, it is what we do with that Awareness that supersedes the enlightenment thereof.  See, once we become Aware, I feel that we need to unlearn what the world tries to teach us about life with that Awareness, for if we leave it to stew and ruminate in our hearts and minds, it, like the evil Maleficent and her magic apple, will poison us down to our very souls.  No, Awareness, is not the answer.  Ignorance is.

1 John 5:18-20 says:   18We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. 19We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 20And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ.

Once we rekindle our relationship with God and His Son, ignorance to this world will bring us back to the original design God intended for us.  Awareness perverts our judgment because with it comes a we believe the love and bliss we had in the ignorance of our childhood given to us almost like a pilot-light of love by God himself or do we accept the reality of the world we have come to know and accept as "educated", experienced adults?   I am not saying we need to walk through this world asleep or in that foggy state between awake and sleep.  No.  We cannot close our eyes to the suffering in this world, rather, we need to be an advocate for Christ.  We need to crave that once ignorant blissful way we learned to love and hope and dream unadulterated by the sins of this world.  And now, as those reborn in Christ, we have found a rebirth in the love of Christ, the hope of His second coming and our eternal life with Him, and the dream of bringing as many people to Him who has loved us, yes, even though we are sinners. 

Ignorance is not an excuse to be lazy.  It's not a justification to do stupid things or to live lives without regard to the consequences of our actions.  No, ignorance is not a lack of intelligence or knowledge either.   On the contrary.  Ignorance in its truest sense is the beauty found in the knowledge that comes from that purest relationship with God and His son; simple; unfiltered, uncensored, unclouded by the lies, tricks, doubts, and perversions of this world.  It calls us back to the most intimate of relationships with God, found at the foot of the cross with us looking up at our Savior who has died for us and He looking down on us with love.  And it's that love that is in our hearts when we accept Him as our Lord and Savior, and it's that love that is truly blissful.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Bleeding Me

I'm a Metallica fan.  Or at least I was.  I don't really listen to them on purpose anymore, but when I'm cutting grass or working out and a song of theirs happens to come on on my iPod mix, I listen enthusiastically.  The other day, "Bleeding Me" by the band came on as I was cutting my mom's grass, and with nothing better to do than follow behind while the machine did all the work, I listened a bit more intently (over the grinding sound of the motor and the blades) to the words.

I'm diggin' my way
I'm diggin' my way to something
I'm diggin' my way to somethin' better

I'm pushin' to stay
I'm pushin' to stay with something
I'm pushin' to stay with something better

I'm sowing the seeds
I'm sowing the seeds I've taken
I'm sowing the seeds I take for granted

This thorn in my side
This thorn in my side is from the tree
This thorn in my side is from the tree I've planted

It tears me and I bleed
And I bleed

There's more to the song, and much of the rest of it really doesn't pertain to what dawned on me.  But as I listened to the words I couldn't get away from the fact that they speak a lot of truth into where I am headed as a Christian and how I have come to view God.  Now, don't get mad or offended at my next statement.  Please be sure to read the rest before passing judgment.  But I cannot get rid of the idea that God makes a great leech.

Most people, myself included, would look upon a leech with mild to severe disgust.  Rightfully so.  They're not at all pleasant to look at, and what they do to you can be down right nasty.  But what I know about leeches is quite fascinating, and this why I am able to make the comparison between a leech and God.  

In ancient times, people would use leeches to try to cure people suffering from all sorts of medical issues.  They believed that leeches could "bleed" the sickness out of  someone who was ill.  

I believe God does that.  I do.  

In medieval times, doctors used millions of leeches each year to help treat patients suffering from various maladies.  The idea that leeches would bleed impurities and harmful illnesses out a person by pulling the harmful things out of them and taking these things into their own bodies seemed logical.

Doesn't God do that?  Doesn't He promise to remove the impurities in our own bodies--primarily our hearts and minds--and take them into Himself?  Didn't Jesus tell us that the burden was too much for us to bear, so He would take it from us?  Isn't that leech-like?

Modern medicine has found that the saliva of a leech actually has a chemical characteristic to it that allows blood to flow smoothly from a wound, slowing the clotting process.  By using leeches today, doctors are able to more efficiently reattach limbs, ears, fingers, toes, etc...that require the minute reconnect of veins that would, before the idea of using leeches, would commonly clot before the reattachment could take.   This would cause severe post-surgery clotting and venous engorgement which could permanently damage a person's body or, worse, lead to death.  

God is a lot like that.  God has a spiritual characteristic that allows love, grace, humility, and kindness to flow into and out of an otherwise hardened heart and soul.  By having God in our lives, it allows each of us to save the parts of ourselves that the world would otherwise destroy.  Without God, how much more at risk are we of losing our hearts?  Our minds?  Our souls?  And, ultimately, our eternal lives?  How easy would it be to allow the world to permanently damage us?  By having an intimate relationship with God, by going to church and fellowshipping with like-minded  and like-spirited people, by taking time for prayer, by taking more seriously your time with God and His Word, we are allowing Him to reconnect our disconnected lives to His.  The world will do us harm.  The world will damage us; it will sever our connections to and with God if we let it.  And even if we do stray, the God of the Universe, the Great Physician, like a leech, will willingly bleed the impurities out of us if and when we let Him.  He will increase the flow of his holy-oxygenated blood in our lives so that we can reattach ourselves to His side.  I believe that.  I am living that.

God's bleeding of me has been and continues to be a long, drawn-out process.  I've been sickened by this world quite a bit; and I still find myself falling into its lies and lures and eases.  God has had His work cut out for Him when it comes to dealing with the likes of me.  But every day God attaches another leech to me.  Slowly, painfully at times, I'm seeing the change and "pushing to stay".   "The thorn in my side is from the tree I planted" but God is helping to remove it, roots and all.  slowly.

The people He has put in my life who encourage me to persevere...leeches.
The church He has made me a part of...a leech.
The music I listen to nowadays; music with uplifting, inspiring words and messages...leeches.
My wife and children...leeches.
My friends...leeches. 
The books I'm motivated to read...leeches.
The Bible...a leech.
The Sunday Sermons...leeches.
Inexpressible wonders that I see in nature....leeches. 

Slowly, God is bleeding me.  I'll take it. I'll take the leech. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

I'm glad I'm not God

It's late and I can't sleep.

Too many things going through my mind.  One thought in particular stands out and that is this:  I'm glad I'm not God. 

I think many people would love to play the role of God, even if just for a week, a day, an hour?  Maybe.  But not me.  No, I don't want the heartbreak.

Imagine the pain you would have to feel if you were God.  Millions and millions of sons and daughters, each and every day, living lives that run counter to your wishes for them.  Thinking thoughts that are gray and misguided.  Doing things that bring you pain.  Saying words that don't reflect the love and hope and compassion and kindness that you wish for them to speak.  Perverting your rules and guidelines to make them fit into their idea of a healthy life. 

I think if I was God, I would end up doing a lot of crying.  Ceaselessly.  Nothing can hurt worse than watching your children fall.  Seeing them get hurt.  Observing the decisions they make each and every day and how those decisions bring them further from you rather than closer.  Knowing what's best for them; pleading with them to see, only to feel the chasm between you and them expand and deepen.  Knowing that if you chastise them you run the risk of pushing them further from you, yet allowing immoral and irresponsible behavior to continue will send them down that same path.  Fighting to keep them close only to have them push you away with more conviction.  Wanting them to need you yet seeing how independent from you they have become.  Wanting to give them their freedom yet watching with the utmost heartache as they pervert that gift into a life of sin and suffering and senseless wandering.  Calling to them but never being able to get them to listen.  Reaching for them and only grasping air.  Losing them and never really knowing if they will come back. 

God's job would be a bit too much like having your heart surgically removed from your chest.  You would have to be numb to everything.  You would need to not care or at least be completely indifferent and separated from the very things you create.  To survive as God, I think, would require you to be more like an insect or a sloth.  Nearly unaware.  Simply a being without feeling.  Instinctual rather than intellectual.  Apathetic as opposed to affectionate.  God would continue to be all-knowing but not all-caring.  All-powerful but not all-forgiving.  Concerned about process rather than people.  Singular rather than plural and never needing  reciprocity. 

Would it be simpler if  God was just a  sanitized manufacturer of life rather than a personal, loving deity?  I think it would be.  I might be more apt to sign up for that job.  There'd be a lot less pain; or at least pain that people would try to make sense of.   God's job would be so much easier and more straight-forward.  There would be much less drama.  Less confusion.  Less anger.  Less tears.  Less of everything.  Managing life would be more stream-lined and efficient.  Expectations would be clearer.  There would be little room for error and doubt, which would make life in general a lot less crazy and messed up.  I could go for that.

Alas, though, naysayers would argue that with less drama comes less laughter.

Less confusion would come less accomplishments.

Less anger would create less forgiveness.

Less tears would come less gratitude.

Less error and doubt would come less spirit of invention, less creativity, less ingenuity.  

Efficiency would lead to complacency.  Complacency would lead to boredom.  With boredom would come less responsibility.  Less vitality for life.  Less joy.

Clarity would lead certainly to a sense of independence and self-reliance.  Self-reliance would lead to a life without God.

Life without God would lead to chaos.

That would be the argument.  And I think the naysayers would have a point.

I'm not interested in being God.  There's just a bit too much involved with that sort of management.  Too much pain.  Too much to think about.  Too much to manage.   It's hard enough being a parent of four kids.  And maybe, just maybe, that's what this was truly all about.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Hint, Hint, Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink

I use to say those words to the kids in my classroom whenever I wanted to lead them to a certain answer or a certain line of thinking.  It was a way to get them to move in a direction that I knew would lead to some understanding or enlightenment, if you will.  Not that what I did in a classroom paralleled the work of Socrates or Plato or Shakespeare, but as teachers we try to impart some wisdom and some practical life lessons in between and underneath the curriculum (and the testing). But it was often very difficult for kids to "get there".  They wanted to take the easy way, the quick way, the painfree way.  THEIR way.  In fact, more times than not, my words of wisdom seemed to fall pointlessly by the wayside. 

I have found that God has borrowed my methodology, if you will, in getting me to see how I should be living my life.  He's tweaked my "hints, and nudges, and winks" so that He can better direct me to that right, narrow path.    

He has claimed this "Hint, Hint..." thing as His own!  

God is sly.  He is one slick customer, and I am A-O-K with that!  I think the deity is ingenious!  But, I know that like the kids in my classroom, I can be a very stubborn, very deaf, very obtuse person when it comes to taking God's hints.   Thank the Lord, oh my Lord, that He is patient, kind, and above all understanding!  Let me tell you what happened to me about two weeks ago and how God "set me straight."   You may or may not agree with me on this one, and wither way I'm fine with, but I would like some honest dialogue, please...

So, a couple weeks ago I was faced with a very, very precarious situation.  A decision, if you will, but not a decision in the truest sense of the word.  I wasn't given the standard two choices; but, in my mind I created options that shouldn't have been there in the first place.  Without going into detail, because that's getting just a bit too personal, suffice it to say, I put myself in a situation that offered two distinct paths.  A right one.  And a wrong one.  A tough one.  And an easy one.  A God one.  And a me one.

I can be a very selfish, very self-centered person.  I like the things that benefit me--especially the ones that benefit me immediately.  I'm a think-last kinda guy.  Action: good.  Thought: bad.  It's taken me decades to first realize this and second, understand it and accept it. And because of that, I've painted myself into a lot of bad, hard-to-get-out-of corners.  Corners with sharp edges that haven't just negatively impacted me, but have taken there toll on the people in my life I love the most.

This situation I was in (self-made, by the way), had two possible choices:

Act or think.

My previous self was crying out to act.  Was screaming at the top of its lungs to charge forward with both hands on my impulses and just "go for it".  Test the water then dive in.  Run recklessly into a situation that I knew, knew, knew was wrong. 

My new self was begging for me to stop and think.  To find peace and comfort in prayer.  To wait.  To pray.  To ask God for help.  It grabbed both my hands, tore them free from my impulsivity, and placed them folded in front of me in supplication.

But it wasn't easy.  In fact, it was going to be near-impossible until God stepped in and indeed, hint, hinted...nudge, nudged...wink, winked.   Here's what the sly old dog did...

At my near breaking point; that place when I was so very close to caving into this terrible terrible temptation, the transmission went out on my car.  Now, He didn't leave me stranded.  in fact, the wily old veteran of awesomeness left me stranded 

So now i'm obviously distracted.  I have a $2000.00 car bill.  That temptation?  Fairly far from my mind.

But it wasn't to be defeated so easily.  In fact, a large part of me got really, extremely upset with God.  "Huh!  I pray for You to lead me away from this temptation and You nearly blow up my car?!?!?  What kind of help is that?!?"

So that selfish, self-centered part of me said, "OK, wanna play by those rules?  I'll show you!" And I put myself back into the old temptation playing field.  I wanted to show God who was really in charge! 

And you know what His response was?  "Hint, hint, nudge, nudge, wink, wink"'s a sinus infection. 

I haven't had a sinus infection in like 8 years!  But lo and behold, here one was!  Coughing.  Green snot.  Sore throat.  Exhaustion.  Nothing life threatening.  Just enough to distract me. 

Some will caution me and say God didn't cause the transmission in my car to go out.  God didn't give me a sinus infection.  Are you sure?  How does any of us really know what God does and doesn't do?  He does all things in love.  He directs.  He disciplines.  He protects.  I believe whole-heartedly that God was giving me hints.  He was pushing me away from myself. 

And it worked.  It did.  As the days went by, that temptation became less like a temptation and more like an opportunity to prove to God that with His help and with His guidance, I can defeat sin one sin at a time.  In days, I was thanking God rather than cursing Him or testing His patience.  I was listening to Him.  I finally got His hints.  I finally took His advice.  I took the right way.  The tough way.  His way.  And it became very easy to do. 

And can I tell you how good it feels?   Freeing.  Empowering!   Granted, I still don't have my car back and am stuck driving my mother's 1988Cadillac Fleetwood (which my middle school daughter particular likes being seen in....).  But tomorrow is suppose to be the pick up day for my car.  And when I pay that $2K bill for the transmission, believe me, I'm gonna be wondering why on earth ignoring God was so expensive!!!  But then again, it's only money.  It could've been worse.  Would've been worse.  Would've been alot more expensive had I listened to my selfish self.  Easy at first, but so, so difficult later.  More than a broken car and a cold.

With God, we always win in the end.  The money I paid in medicine and tissues and mechanics is nothing compared to broken families, broken hearts, broken trust.  Sin breaks everything it touches.  I wish I would've listened to God a lot earlier in life.  As I reflect back on my life, yes there's regret...but much of it comes from the knowledge that I made choices that made me happy, and me alone.  Decisions that were selfish and self-centered.  Decisions that broke people.  And I regret them not because of lost opportunities or chances, but because I can remember all the ways God gave me hints and nudges and winks and I chose to ignore them, and because of that, many people got hurt because of me.

1 Corinthians 10:13 says: "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it."

 I am living proof that this scripture is 100% Truth.  Enjoy the SOTD by Nine Lashes, who, incidentally, along with Seventh Day Slumber, is coming to our Community Day on Sept. 27 for a free show!


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Lifetime Guarantees

"We all breath and we all bleed.  We get lost in between."  These are the opening lines to "Keep Me Breathing" by Ashes Remain. 

Those lines resonate within me.  For some reason.  We are born.  We die.  And in between we walk through life lost...searching for give us meaning.  At least I have.  My wife will admit that I have a very restive nature.  I'm not the most content person.  Not a fan of routine; especially a routine that doesn't really allow me to think, to create, to dwell on life around me.  I use to think I could thrive in a fast-pace, high-octane life.  Like those ones you see on TV and in movies.  The ones where these twenty- and thirty-somethings move through the congestion of their careers and families at such a break-neck pace yet seem so "collected"; so together.  I was, for a time, mind you, a bit envious about that life style. 
But now that my wife and I have four kids all involved in some sport or activity after school, two full time jobs (although many of my "friends" facetiously ask if what I do truly constitutes a real job!), and other volunteer activities, I've wholeheartedly decided that the "in between" fast-paced stuff some times really takes a toll on a person's emotional and physical stamina.  I couldn't do it all year round and stay sane.  I admit that.  I'm cool with it. 

I was thinking about the movie "Tommy Boy" the other day.  One of my all-time favorites.  May Chris Farley rest in peace, the man was a comedic genius!  He made the prospect of "living in a van down by the river" an attractive alternative...but there's a scene in the movie where a prospective customer wants to know why Tommy's car parts don't come with the word "guaranteed" on the box.  Watch the edited version here...

I have always loved that part.  So unbelievably truthful.  It seems there are guarantees everywhere.  We seem to guarantee everything.  Joe Namath probably made the most famous of guarantees when he said his Jets would beat the highly favored Colts in Super Bowl III.  He and his Jets held true to that guarantee, but how many of those things really are legit?  And the Lifetime Guarantees are my favorite.  Lifetime Guarantees can be found on appliances.  On sporting goods.  On furniture.  On car parts.  On kids' toys.  Even on wool socks!  Yep, my son has a pair of wool socks that come with a lifetime guarantee!  No lie.  But whose life are we holding it against?  Mine?  My son's?  Billy Parker's, the skinny dude running the assembly line down at the factory?  The company CEO?  Why do we throw "lifetime guarantee" around like we need to say it in order to survive?  Why is it so adulterated?  Shouldn't we really just get rid of the phrase and be done with giving people false high expectations that things will work for a lifetime or they will get a replacement or their money back (as long as they have the original receipt)?  Can we move on?

There are three guarantees in life to my knowledge.  Three. 

You are born.

You will die.

In between your birth and death, you will have one vitally important choice.  To accept Christ as your personal savior or to deny Him.

That's it.  Three.  That "lostness" in between you being separated from your mother's placenta and you being placed in the ground or in an urn is a battleground.  It is a fight for your soul.  It is a war for your next life.  The replacement you get when this "lifetime guarantee" expires.  You want a brand new life when this one breaks, snaps in two, falls apart, or stops working properly?  Accept Christ.  Admit you are not God.  That you need Him.  That you need His Son in your life.  Right now.  Admit you cannot manage life on your own.  It's impossible to strive to be good without having a definitive moral compass.  That compass is God.  His Son is your guide.  Times will suck.  Times will be hard.  Hectic.  Terrible.  You will suffer.  You will get lost.  You will feel alone.  You will feel that there is a better life AWAY from God than WITH Him.  You will be tempted.  You'll fail.  You will sin, sin, sin because you are human.  However...WITH God, you are saved from all of these terrible spaces in between birth and death.  Because He never judges you.  He never hates you.  He never rejects you.  He never goes back on a promise.  He is love.  A love that never fails.  That's a guarantee.

Or you can reject God.  Deny His existence.  Pretend you don't need Him.  Hang with friends who care even less.  Live a life of sin without remorse.  Have no true North.  Feel lost but have no hope.  Fail without knowing that someone loves you even in that most desperate state. Covet, lust, curse, lie, steal without hope for forgiveness.  Knowing these things are wrong yet not understanding why each sin comes with a specific price tag of guilt with it.  But not understanding why you feel that guilt.  Not accepting that the reason is that there is a God who is trying to tug at your heart strings regardless of your resistance. You can look in the mirror and wonder what will happen to you when you die.  When your lifetime guarantee is over.  When you are too broken to breath.  Too weary to figure out what love is.  Too sick to heal.  Too far gone to beg for forgiveness.

Those are your three guarantees.





Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Tank Top Faith

If you have had the unfortunate experience of seeing me with a tank top on rather than a regular t-shirt, you've probably noticed the immense amount of body hair radiating from all corners, crevices, and curves from the waist up.  It's not a pretty sight.  "Friends" and family have asked curiously if I was shooting for a Sasquatch-esque appearance.  They've asked in a pseudo-concerned manner if my body was being attacked by flesh-eating ground squirrels.  I've heard it all.  And it's ok.  I'm fine with my BHO--body hair output.  Except the hair coming from my ears.  That's bothersome, but that's a story for another BLOG. 

I bring up body hair and tank tops, because this past Saturday myself and 8 others from Gravel Hill UMC returned from a short-term missions trip in Staten Island.  We were there helping with Hurricane Sandy clean-up.  Yes, that storm that hit the east coast 17 months ago.  Do you know that on Staten Island alone there are still scores of homes to be rebuilt, families without running water or electric, and people without a place to live or food to eat?  It's amazing the devastation that that storm caused; but more amazing is the fact that still after nearly two years there's so much work yet to be done.  One of the ladies that was with us on the trip reminded me that New Orleans is still not close to full-recovery from Katrina!  Terrible.

So why the body hair? Why the tank top?  Well, it dawned on me the other day  as I reflected on my experience on Staten Island that I still have a ways to go in my faith walk.  I was moved by the unselfish giving from the people in my group...their time off work, their money they gave up to pay for the trip and to pay for fuel to and from the island, their talents and gifts which were used over the three day period of the trip to finish off basements, siding, kitchens, bathrooms, etc...I was there shoulder-to-shoulder with these people doing what my limited skills allowed me to do; but what struck me the greatest was, in retrospect, how little I share my faith with people.  Yes I worked, but I'm not sure I shared anything inspirational with anybody.  Some may say that the work itself and the time I gave is enough...proof that I'm a faithful person.  But I'm not sold on that. 

You see, there were many people who I interacted with or who I heard talking who, to me, wore their faith on their sleeves.  Long sleeves.  They are confident in their walk with the Lord.  They know where God wants them to be and what He wants them to do.  They speak courageously about their faith and can quote verses from the Bible that pertain to any and all situations.  They trust God.  And through their words and actions, they live into a joy-filled life that only comes when there is an unspoken trust in God's plan in their lives. 

Me?  I don't wear my faith on my sleeve.  I'm the tank top guy.  Shirts without sleeves.  I don't walk boldly in my faith.  I question almost everything.  I'm happy but not joy-filled.  Content but not totally trusting in God's plan for me...or if He even has one laid out.  Is that bad?  I don't know.  I just don't know. 

I know I'm saved.  I'm saved because I believe in Jesus.  I believe He gave Himself up to redeem my sins.  I know He forgives me.  I know He loves me.  But I constantly get the sense that I have so much more room to grow.  Like I'm on the path, but just starting out.  I have a map but can't quite picture the destination.  Like wearing half a shirt.  A tank top.  The key parts are covered but I'm still missing the sleeves.  And in the summer, that tank top is very comfortable.  I can air out and not feel the sweaty restrictions of sleeves and armpit vents.  Like life, when the weather is good, my  convictions and faith are unquestionable.  But when the weather turns and it gets rainy, cold, or snowy, that tank top really stinks.  Yes my chest and back might be covered, but boy do my arms get exposed to the elements quickly.  And so it is with my faith.  That tank top faith.  It wavers during those dark, cold, rainy times.  It has no teeth.  No protection.  Not a fan of the tank top in the winter.  Not a fan of tank top faith. 

I like to cut my old t-shirts and make them tank tops.  They're comfortable to work out in and to do yard work in.  But I can't wear them all the time.  Don't wear them to work.  Don't wear them to my kids' events.  Try not to wear them on the rare date-nights Erin and I have.  I don't wear them to family gatherings, to church, or to any doctor appointments either.  There's a time and place for them.   But faith?   My faith can't be something that I put on and take off depending on the weather, the circumstance, or my mood.  Faith and comfort don't go hand in hand.  Maybe sometimes, but not often.  In fact, faith is at its best when things are uncomfortable.  That's when it protects.  That's when it warms.  That's when it harbors my heart and mind from the vicious elements in this world.  I need to work on wearing shirts with sleeves.  I need something to pin my faith on.  I need to be more outspoken with how I feel about God and what His plans are in and with my life.  That doesn't mean I'm going to stop wearing tank tops though.  Sorry.  But it does mean that I need to work on adjusting my spiritual wardrobe a bit.  With time, with experience, and simply by surrounding myself with people who love the Lord and can speak freely about the joy He brings them, I trust I can get some pretty neat long-sleeve shirts....