Tuesday, September 16, 2014 

Do You Hear What I Hear

Having five senses is a wonderful thing. I don’t often think too much about it. I take it for granted that I can see and hear, taste and smell and touch. I’ve been trying to be more aware of the things I take for granted. Today it’s the sense of hearing.

There’s a song by an artist named Pharrell made famous in the movie Despicable Me 2. It’s called simply Happy. Below are the lyrics.

It might seem crazy what I’m about to say
Sunshine she’s here, you can take a break
I’m a hot air balloon that could go to space
With the air, like I don’t care baby by the way
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do

Now, reading those lyrics should do nothing for you…unless you know the tune and the tune was running through your head while you read. The song makes me smile. My wife Karen was at a seminar the other day and one of the speakers talked about this song. The speaker said there is a beat that can actually lift our mood. Happy has that beat.

I’ve been re-reading Lord of the Rings. There are lots of battles. At one particular battle a horn is blown. It’s not an ordinary horn. The sound of the horn puts fear in the hearts of the wicked and courage in the hearts of the pure.

All this has me thinking about heaven. Heaven will be full of sound. Your ear was created for what it will hear in heaven. There will be sounds that will fill your heart with such joy you will think you might burst. There will be the blowing of trumpets that will make your knees quake and your heart soar. The sound of the trumpet will make you want to lay your life down for the King.

But the sound that will make you want to weep will be the sound of your name on the Savior’s lips. You have never heard anything as wonderful as that. As you listen to the sounds around you let them fill you with anticipation for the moment you have longed for since you heard your first sound.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014 

Mirror Mirror

Most of us know the children’s story of Snow White. Oh, by the way, do you have any idea how creepy the original stories are? Wow. The brothers Grimm were pretty messed up. And it’s always women who are the villains. Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel, even the big bad wolf was dressed up like grandma. What in the world?!!

But I digress. In the story of Snow White there is a wicked queen obsessed with her own beauty. And she has a magic mirror that affirms her beauty until one day the mirror decides there is a greater beauty in the kingdom. Her mirror talked to her. It told her the thing she wanted to hear the most and then told her the thing she feared the most. The wicked queen ended up going down a very dark path because of what the mirror said.

Mirrors talk.

We all have mirrors we listen to that tell us who we are and how we should feel about ourselves. The simplest mirror is in the bathroom where we check to see what damage the night’s sleep has done. But the world is full of mirrors that talk to us. We make mirrors out of our children or our friends or our paychecks or a hundred other things. Some of our mirrors tell us what we want to hear but others tell us what we fear the most.

This is where true Christianity is really interesting. Some go to religion because it tells them what they want to hear. Others avoid religion because it tells them things they don’t want to hear. But true Christianity tells us both things at the same time. My deepest fear is that deep down I’m not ok. That if you really knew me you would run away. My deepest longing is that someone would see who I really am and not run away but run to me and never leave.

If you are a Christian you have the only true mirror. His name is Jesus. He will tell you the truth about yourself and still not run away.

So today when you are tempted to look into one of the hundred mirrors you will pass remember the only mirror you ever really need to care about. “And God demonstrated his love toward us in this, that while we were still sinners Christ died for us”. Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all? Jesus

Tuesday, September 2, 2014 

Don’t Forget Who’s In The Boat

My son Jeremy and I climbed into a two-man kayak the other day for an adventure. We were up at Lake Erie. Lake Erie is interesting. Sometimes it is calm and looks like glass and other times it can look very much like the ocean with crashing waves. The day Jeremy and I went out was not a calm day. “The sea was angry that day my friend”.

Jeremy was in the back so I couldn’t see him. We laughed and yelled to each other as the waves knocked us around. We hit a couple of waves wrong and the water sloshed around our feet. One really good thing is that I didn’t have to worry about Jeremy. Jeremy has finished 3 Ironman triathlons. That means he can swim 2.4 miles in a pinch. We never went out of sight of the shore. It was nice to not have to worry about him. Of course that left me but my wife was worrying enough about me for both of us so I didn’t have to do that either.

Jeremy and I ended up having a great time even though we capsized a couple of times. I don’t know when I’ve laughed so hard or enjoyed swimming beside a kayak more. Of course had I capsized the kayak with one of my grandsons it would have been a different story. It matters who’s in the boat.

The disciples headed out to cross the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee is much like Lake Erie. The water could be smooth as glass or have waves that would rival the ocean in a storm. This was not a calm day. Water sloshed around the legs of the disciples. Finally the disciples ran to Jesus and shook him awake. “Don’t you care about us? Aren’t you worried for us?” Jesus looked at them, rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, and then calmed the storm.

I always wonder what the next trip was like for the disciples. Did they climb in the boat, cast a sideways glance at Jesus, give each other the thumbs up and secretly hope for a storm. Storms would only be great adventures with Jesus in the boat.

Storms in life can be the scariest things ever or they can be nothing but adventures. It matters who’s in the boat.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014 

A Violent Love

I’ve had a couple of health issues as of late. Nothing really serious for you moms out there but it did get me thinking. The body is a remarkable piece of equipment. When I do get sick then my body becomes a little like a war zone. A virus gets through my defenses and a signal goes off somewhere. A bunch of little anti-bodies are released and their one mission is to seek out the invaders and take them out. I picture them with blue and white face paint like William Wallace in Braveheart. “At least I didn’t get all dressed up for nothing”. At first it feels like I’m losing the war but in time the tide shifts and I start feeling better. I don’t ever like getting sick but I never appreciate health as much as I do the week after being sick. It’s the human body at it’s finest.

I think God makes things in patterns. I was wondering what it would be like to be really spiritually healthy. I mean what the Bible calls holy. Jesus felt it. I have not. It seems like there’s always a low-grade fever in my spirit. There is a war raging.

If nothing else there is always pride working it’s way in somewhere like an insidious virus. Grace works like the anti-bodies of my soul. Whenever sin is in my soul there’s an alarm that is sounded. I can hear it when I’m quiet in the morning and spending time with God or when I’m at church in worship. If I’m busy enough or loud enough it can take a while before I hear the alarm. Anyway, once it sounds it’s the gospel that it is calling for. The gospel is the wonder of God’s love. It struck me the other day that God is the only one who has ever truly loved me because God is the only one who has ever truly known me. The gospel is not gentle sometimes. Not with pride. The gospel attacks. Grace is God’s way of loving me violently.

If you are spiritually sick I want you to know there is a remedy. It’s a battle sometimes to get back to health. It’s worth the fight. It’s a reminder of the love of God. I never appreciate his love more than after he has once again washed and purified this soul that one day will finally be as healthy as it was intended to be. Until then I will lean into the violent love of Jesus.

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.



“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.

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

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