Tuesday, August 19, 2014 

No Spare Parts

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but there is a plethora of talent shows on television now. I think American Idol might have been the first but now it is just one of many. There is The Voice, So You Think You Can Dance?, X-Factor, America’s Got Talent, and a host of others.

I was watching a YouTube video of a young man on Korea’s Got Talent. He was very shy and awkward. The judges asked about his life. He told them he had been homeless for many years. There are some stories people tell on those shows that are a little hard to believe. This one was not. The scars of his life seemed obvious. The crowd watched and wondered why this awkward and socially stunted 22 year old was doing on a televised talent show. It seemed like his whole life was a story of being unwanted and this few minutes on the stage of a talent show was going to reinforce what he had known since he could crawl. That he just wasn’t any good.

After the judges finished their questions they told him to sing. The crowd seemed like they just wanted it to be over. Then he began to sing.

It was glorious. The judges sat transfixed. The camera scanned the audience and young women began to cry.

At the end of the performance the crowd erupted. The young man had given them a gift. It was his unique gift to give and for a moment it filled their lives with beauty and awe.

I think that’s what heaven will be like. I think it’s what God intended earth to be like. God created each one of us with a gift intended to be given to others. A gift so wonderful, so perfect, that it fills a little space in the universe with beauty and a bit of glory. Heaven will be filled with little bits of glory going off all the time like millions of fireflies.

The church is supposed to be the beginning. Every person filled with God in such a way that He sifts through our particular personality and then graces the people around us in an extraordinary and breathtaking way.

Don’t ever underestimate how God can sift through you. Don’t ever downplay your part in shattering the darkness with glory.

Watch the video and know God has gifted you to impact his world now and in heaven everyone you meet will be like Sung Bong Choi.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rntM7oUeFAc

 

“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads,with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” Romans 12:4-8

Tuesday, August 12, 2014 

It’s What You Don’t See

We have a fire pit in our backyard surrounded by a beautiful brick patio. The other night I stepped off our deck and stumbled.  At first I thought I’d just sprained my ankle but then I saw the bricks had buckled and my foot had actually dropped into a four inch hole. I was lucky to avoid a viral video worthy wipeout. It was something I never saw coming. Our deck is made of wood and stands about three feet off the ground. If I had been walking on the deck and one of the boards had snapped it may have surprised me but I would at least understand. Besides, wood tends to give you a warning that it’s weakening and in distress. My brick patio is a different animal. Bricks don’t give a warning. And the bricks sit on the ground. What could be more solid?

The ground beneath the bricks had actually been washed away. I don’t know when it happened. My guess it had been happening for quite a while. The bricks were weakening with no outward sign. But last night the pressure hit them in just the right spot and the once sturdy bricks buckled.

Years ago I created an initiation into manhood for my son Jeremy. I had a dozen men meet him at different times during the 36 hour endurance test. They were men who had influenced him and also had walked for more years on this earth and with Jesus. One of them was my dad. He sat and talked with my son as Jeremy chopped down a 90 foot tree with an axe. During that time my dad used the assigned task to teach Jeremy a life lesson I hope he never forgets. He said, “Jeremy, a tree is not taken down by a single blow from an axe. It’s hundreds of blows. But there will be a final blow that will bring this tree crashing down. It’s the same with decisions in your life. One decision doesn’t bring your life crashing down. It’s hundreds of decisions. But in the end if you have made enough of those decisions there will be one final one that will bring your life crashing around you”. It’s a solid lesson.

I wake up every day and sometimes it feels like groundhog day. I make coffee, take a shower, then sit in my chair and read my Bible and pray. Every day. It’s the same. I guess I’m just trying to make sure the ground beneath the bricks isn’t washing away. Sometimes everything on the outside can look great but it’s what no one else sees that’s important. How are your bricks holding up? Better question, how is the ground under your bricks doing?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014 

A Distant Thunder

I check the weather a lot. Mostly because my preferred mode of exercise is riding a bicycle. I’ve been caught more than once in a down pour miles from home. Today the icon on my phone app showed a thundercloud with a lightening bolt in the middle. I went out for my ride early and kept one eye on the horizon waiting for the storm. After I got home and showered I heard the thunder in the distance. It was good to be safe at home. My home is a shelter in the time of storm in more ways than one.

The nightly news has not been good lately. The Russian Bear is stirring from it’s post cold war slumber. Once healthy Europe seems like it’s teetering on an economic cliff. The unrest in the Middle East seems more ominous than usual. Here in America it feels like a thunder in the distance.

The sound of thunder tells me there is a storm someplace. It may not be directly overhead but storms move more quickly than anyone expects.

When Christian people hear the sound of thunder in the distance our thoughts turn to the book of Revelations. We look for signs to see if this may be the last and the greatest storm. It could be. But the book of Revelations is not primarily about storms. It is about shelter. It’s about home.

There is something wonderful about standing and watching a storm from a safe place. Thunder and lightening makes our pulse quicken. The rain comes down in sheets and washes the world as far as our eye can see. There is hardly anything worse than being caught out in a storm without shelter. But being home makes all the difference in the world. So, go ahead and listen to the news each night. Hear the thunder. But never forget you have a home, a shelter in the time of storm. His name is Jesus.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014 

Freaky Squirrels

My wife Karen and I like to go for walks. Recently we ventured out on a new path. We met them there. The Freaky Squirrels. They were bigger than normal squirrels but that wasn’t the thing. It was their boldness. They stood on the path waiting for us. As we got closer they slowly moved closer to us. It was a game of chicken with a squirrel. Now, I’ve seen Planet of the Apes so I know what is possible in the animal kingdom and it can get weird fast. At one point in our walk there were three of them, all moving slowly, too slowly, showing no fear or even respect. I found myself wondering how high a squirrel could leap and then I remembered they were made to be fast climbers and realized all they had to do was leap up to my shorts and in an instant my neck would be all too vulnerable.

We finally made it through Squirrel-Nam and ran into some other walkers. I tried to warn them about the Steven King novel they were about to become a part of. They told us that people had been feeding these squirrels peanuts for years. And I thought to myself, “So, that’s how weird a squirrel can get if you just give them a handful of peanuts a day”. It all made sense.

My friend Kris just got back from a trip to San Diego. He mentioned that he saw several teenagers driving 100k sports cars. He talked about them the way I talked about the squirrels. They had too many peanuts too fast.

We all want peanuts. Gosh, I’ve thought about winning the lottery which would be enough peanuts for a lifetime. I think we probably should be more careful. Too many peanuts can make almost anyone weird. The people feeding those squirrels peanuts probably thought they were blessing their little socks off. Instead they were making them really freaky. If you are any type of normal it’s probably because God has protected you from getting everything you asked for. So, enjoy a peanut every now and again but be thankful you still are hungry.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 

My Vacation Tree

Trees come in all shapes and sizes and personalities. Some trees are all needles and look to be on edge all the time. I have an Ash in my backyard that’s putting on a good face but the Emerald Ash Borer has done it’s work and what was once a strapping proud tree is fading fast into firewood. There are other trees that look lush and rich. But only one tree really looks relaxed to me. The Weeping Willow.

I first noticed when I was on vacation twenty years ago and trying to relax myself. We were vacationing near a lake and between our cottage and the lake stood a huge Weeping Willow in perpetual relaxation. It seemed a tree that was always on vacation.

I did some research and found out that a Weeping Willow is always found near a water source. It appears it requires more water than most.

Since I read that I’ve paid attention whenever I see a Weeping Willow and sure enough it’s always next to a lake or a stream.

I recently preached from a passage in Jeremiah.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He will be like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit” Jeremiah 17:7-8

A tree that has a water source doesn’t fear the weather and is not anxious. The Willow Tree has no worries. Hakuna Matata is what Puumba sang in the Lion King. No wonder a Weeping Willow looks so relaxed. Deep down it’s singing Hakuna Matata.

Jeremiah says that a human being can have the same feeling. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD”.

My goal is to be a little more like the Weeping Willow this year. I want to plant myself near the source of life so the weather will not be so worrisome.

I invite you to do the same. Let’s put our trust in the LORD and quit worrying about the weather no matter how dry it may seem. I could use a little Hakuna Matata. How about you?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014 

Moving Sidewalks

I’ve been traveling more this year than normal and that means I’ve spent quite a bit of time in airports. It seems there’s a proliferation of moving sidewalks. I’m a bit conflicted. Walking on a sidewalk that is moving is pretty exhilarating. It makes me feel fast. I look down my nose at the mere mortals who failed to step on and are pulling their little carry on bags behind them huffing and puffing while I glide by effortlessly. But then I think, with a nation that really is huffing and puffing and losing the battle of the bulge, is a moving sidewalk what we need? Not wanting to walk all the way to get on a airplane is a little ironic when you think about it.

But back to the moving sidewalk. I make the decision regarding getting on the sidewalk but from then on the sidewalk takes me the direction it’s going. I’m being taken further down a particular corridor and I’m going with a particular group of people whether I like it or not. I might see someone on the sidewalk going the opposite direction but then they’re gone. I saw a friend a couple of months ago and scarcely had enough time to recognize his face and blurt out his name and then he was gone.

It struck me that we are getting on sidewalks all the time. Not all of our decisions are moving sidewalk decisions but some definitely are. We may not realize it for a while but eventually we will look around and realize our decision has taken us down a very particular corridor with a particular group of people.

A bunch of graduates have chosen colleges. Every college and university is a moving sidewalk. Once there they will make some other choices and some of those choices will be bigger than they seem at first.

Some sidewalks are well marked and it’s easy to tell you’re getting on one. Jobs, spouses, having children, choosing churches etc.  But with other sidewalks it’s harder to tell you’ve gotten on. The first step can be a small one.

My point is that our decisions are moving us places. The responsibility of making the right decision every time can be overwhelming.

The first Bible I ever received was a gift from my dad. He inscribed a verse on the inside cover. It was Psalm 16:11. “You make known to me the path of life. In your presence is fullness of joy and at your right hand are pleasures forevermore”.

My dad is a wise man. He knew there were going to be countess decisions facing me. He was inviting me onto the most important sidewalk. All the other decisions i would make would still be moving me in the same direction to the same destination if i would just get this one right. It’s still the best decision I ever made.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014 

GOAL!!!!!!

Every four years a fever sweeps over most of the world. It’s called simply The World Cup. It’s the soccer tournament for the civilized and uncivilized world. It’s a little like the Olympics but with much more national fervor.

Soccer is much more popular outside of the good ole USA. I have my theories. Part of it is the flopping. Think of a whole team of Dwayne Wade’s falling down every 10 seconds or so, half grimacing, half crying, rolling around trying to get every call even ones that don’t exist. Ok, I may still be having a little trouble with the Miami Heat even though last month the whole world seemed set right again as the Spurs dismantled them like they were a start up AAU team. I digress.

It could be the running clock that continues to run even when the ball is not in play allowing teams that are ahead to milk the clock without a conscience. Or it could very easily be the whole concept of “added time” where the referee gets to add as much time to the game as he sees fit after the aforementioned seared conscience milking has taken place. A simple American solution has been to actually stop the clock. Just a suggestion, you can thank me when the riots stop.

But the main reason is Americans have had trouble appreciating a game that often goes the full 90 minutes and ends up without a single goal being scored. The rest of the world sees that as part of the beauty of the sport and a testament to the difficulty of playing a sport without using your arms or your hands

Actually I have learned to love this part of the game because when they do score the fans come completely unglued. They have watched every minute, knowing if they take their eyes off the game even for a second they could miss the one goal that they had been waiting to see. So they stand and watch without daring to go to the bathroom or turn around to say hi to a friend. And when the goal is scored there is an unleashing of such joy and ecstasy it makes the stadium shake. And that’s what I’ve learned to love.

Last Sunday after the third service I was introduced to a young woman named Alesha. It was the first time in her life she had walked into a church. Later that day she gave her life to Christ. Scripture says that the angels rejoice when a person comes home to the King. It made me wonder if the angels are like the soccer fans I’ve been watching. Are they watching every moment of our mundane lives but daring not to look away for fear of missing the moment? When Alisha bowed her head, did an angel in heaven yell, “GOAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!” the way South American announcers do? I say yes. For the rest of the World Cup I will watch with the angels in mind and thanking the King for loving us more than the most rabid fans love their team.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014 

Water, Money, and the Pursuit of Happiness

I’ve always thought humans have a strange relationship with water. We need water. Without it we die in a matter of days. Most of us wake up thirsty after going a few hours without water even though we were asleep. If we exert ourselves at all our desire for water increases. So far, there’s nothing weird about us and water.

But there is something inside of us that draws us to huge bodies of water. As summer hits many of us will make our way to the beach or to a lake. We recreate in and around water. We wade into the ocean even though we know it contains creatures both large and small capable of fueling our worst nightmares for years. We water ski on the surface of lakes knowing that if we fall and are rendered unconscious face down we will die within a matter of minutes. Every year scores of people drown in water and yet we continue to stream to the beach and even as I write this I can see a lake outside the window.

Water is both life giving and life threatening.

I was thinking of the similarity of water and money. We have a strange relationship with money too. Human beings need money. Even in the poorest countries in the world people still need money to survive. But there is something inside of us that is drawn to money. We are lured by big piles of money even though we know we can easily drown in it. Lottery winners are plunged into the deep end of a pool of money and many don’t come out alive.

Floods remind us of the destructive power of water. Our thirst is quenched at some point and we eventually put the glass down and quit drinking.

But something has gone wrong with most of us with regard to money. Our thirst is not quenched. The only destructive cues we pick up about money is the drought. We do not notice the destruction of floods because there is never enough money.

 Fifteen hundred years ago a man named Agur cried out in a moment of clarity and prayed this prayer.

            “Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die;

            Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither

            Poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me.

            Lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?”

            Or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God”.

Agur is not in danger of becoming a best selling Christian author today but he may have been onto something. A desire for neither poverty nor riches may be a desire God is just looking to fulfill.

 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014 

Privacy, Pride, and the Love of Darkness

Yesterday I was helping my grandson Liam get in his car seat. Liam is 5 years old now and doesn’t need much help. But getting the buckle snapped that is threaded through a car seat can be a debacle. The person who designs an easy seat belt/car seat connection should get a Nobel Prize. Anyway, I asked Liam if he needed some help getting the buckle fastened. He said no but then added, “Uh Poppa, you could shut the door. I need a little privacy”.

That kid cracks me up. I’m not sure why he needed privacy but I understand the desire.

As a species we like our privacy. I’m all for privacy but I’m not convinced it’s always a good thing. Maybe Liam just wanted to be alone with the belt buckle. Maybe he’s a little like his grandpa and if he was going to struggle or even fail he wanted to be alone in his defeat and not have an audience. I get that. There’s a thin line between privacy and pride for me when I fear failing in front of people.

But there is a deeper and darker desire for privacy within the human soul. I was talking to a friend of mine who is mentoring a gaggle of young men. My friend has teenage daughters. He decided instead of complaining about the quality of eligible young men as possible suitors for his beautiful daughters that he would take a more active approach and invest himself in the young men themselves. He told me the other day he was trying to get one big truth across to them. He said, “If I can get them to see this one truth then the battle is as good as won”. I asked, “What’s the big truth?” He said, “That they are never alone”.

The moment Adam sinned he tried to hide. He jumped under a bush for some privacy. We have been doing that ever since.

The Psalmist cried out, ”Where can I flee from your presence? Even darkness is not dark for you.”

The gospel of John says that “Light has come into the world but men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil”.

Sometimes I like being alone. You probably do too. But here’s the thing. We are never alone. When I sit and no one else is around or even knows where I am, there is One who sits right next to me. It’s a good reminder for all of us. Adam jumped under a bush and it never dawned on him that God was there waiting for him. I can never say, “Uh God, could you shut the door. I need a little privacy”. And for that I’m grateful.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014 

The Best Chapter

As I have grown older time has sped up. It hasn’t exactly sped up but a year doesn’t take as long to pass as it used to. That’s mathematics. When I was 4 years old, a year was 25% of my life. Now that I’m 55 years old, a year represents less than 2%. My years are now flying by.

Spring is a time of year when many people experience the velocity of time. This is what I mean. One day seems like any other day. It’s hard to feel yourself getting older by the day. But every once in a while there is an event that reminds you how much time has passed. These particular days are when chapters close. This is the time of year for graduations. Graduation day is a chapter day. This is true more of high school than college because high school graduation is the end of the child at home chapter. Dropping that child off at college is the final page of that chapter but it was already over.

I’ve done several weddings this Spring. Weddings are chapter days. I have watched fathers of the bride smile at their daughters as tears stream down their cheeks. The wedding chapter day is full of joy for the bride and groom and bittersweet for the parents.

The end of a chapter is a marker for us that our lives are not static. We are creatures who live in the flowing river of time. At times it flows so slowly it seems like it has stopped altogether. But it has not stopped and the chapter you are in now will one day come to a close and another will open. For some of us the chapter we are in now is really tough. We can’t wait for it to be over. For others this present chapter is really sweet and we are already dreading the day it will end.

And here is the very good news. Whatever chapter you are in, the best chapter is still to come. That’s the hope of the Gospel. The very best chapters in our lives are drops, little tiny tastes of the cascading goodness that is to come. The worst chapters will seem like a single night spent in a lousy hotel when we finally open up the last chapter and step into glory.

Spring is the season of chapters. Whether your chapter is full of laughter or tears, the best is yet to come. Glory!



Joe is the lead pastor of Christ Community Chapel with campuses in Hudson, Aurora, Stow and Highland Square, Ohio. More >

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