Tuesday, October 21, 2014 

Out of Control

On December 14, 1985 our little family arrived back in America after spending 6 months in Bolivia, South America. We landed in the Miami International Airport with our two toddlers and a load of luggage. My parents picked us up. It was a great reunion and we decided to go to McDonalds for some good ole American cuisine and to celebrate my son Jeremy’s third birthday. He had turned three while we were in the air. After feasting on familiar hamburger and fries we started out to the car. Everyone was busy talking and laughing and no one was paying particularly close attention to the birthday boy. A car zipped past me on the way to the drive through. I remember thinking he was going too fast. I looked up in time to see the brake lights flash and the tires squeal. I could see from the back window through the windshield and just above the hood of the car I saw Jeremy’s head. I heard the sickening thud as the car hit my son.

The last month in Bolivia had been particularly difficult. There was a national strike that impacted every sector of the economy. It was difficult to travel, communicate, shop or work. The whole country seemed like it was careening out of control. By the time we left for home I was longing for the stability of America where I could finally have some control.

I ran to the front of the car and cradled Jeremy in my arms. He was shaken up but seemed ok. As I handed him to his mother I distinctly remember “hearing” God say to me, “Joe, you are never in control”. That was it. So ended a life lesson. Jeremy was fine and ended up growing into a hulk of a man. Karen and I were shaken and thankful. But I’ve thought a lot about the lesson since.

Every once in a while something like Ebola hits our consciousness. Panic becomes as much an epidemic as the epidemic. Everyone feels just for a moment the reality that they are not in control It’s the only time we experience reality. The rest of the time when we feel like life and death are in our control we are just dreaming. We are never in control.

The really good news is we know who is and He has said he is very fond of us. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or the sword, (or Ebola). No. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”. Romans 8:35-39

Monday, October 13, 2014 

Winning is Good but Losing is Worse

So, the Browns won yesterday…big. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Can I hear a hallelujah?! It was sweet. After losing 20 out of the last 22 games against our arch rivals the Browns finally emerged with a decisive beat down of the Black and Gold.

While that paragraph was fun to write, here’s what I find interesting. Winning is good but losing is worse. My wife is the one who noticed. She said to me after the game, “You’re not nearly as happy when they win as you are sad when they lose”. I don’t think sad is the right word. Dark, bummed, frustrated with a tinge of hopelessness. You get the picture. She’s right of course. Winning is a little like eating cotton candy. It’s full of flavor and fun and then it’s gone and it leaves you wanting something more. Losing gives you a meal that’s horrible but it sticks with you longer. My question is why.

This is my answer.

Winning promises more than it can deliver. That’s why winning is good and losing is worse. This truth of the promise is the answer to both experiences. Imagine if “Winning” could talk. What was it saying before yesterday’s game? For the Browns fan it was saying something like, “If only we could beat the Steelers. That would be awesome! We would feel good for days. Imagine seeing all those smug Steeler fans tomorrow. Beating the Steelers is all I really want. It would be enough”. Today, I find myself looking at the next 3 games in the Browns schedule and “Winning” is saying, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if in 3 weeks we are 6-2”?

The cotton candy of beating Pittsburgh is already gone and I’m looking for something else, something more.

Here’s the thing. False gods are things that promise us more than they can deliver. They are also insatiable. They are never satisfied. Think of all the times you’ve said to yourself, “If only…”. If only I could get that job. If only my child would be healthy. If only I could find the spouse of my dreams or get rid of the spouse of my nightmares. If you are honest you have already gotten dozens of “if onlys” and still you want more.

Every false god is the same. Always demanding more and always delivering less.

And then there’s Jesus. Jesus says, “Come to me you who are weary and heavy laden. Come to me you who have gone from one “if only” to another your whole life. And I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me for I am meek and gentle and you will find rest for your souls. So, if you are a Browns fan who has already moved on to the next “if only” or if you are a Steeler fan sick of the meal served up to you yesterday afternoon, Jesus invites you to the banquet that never disappoints and always satisfies. Jesus is the final resting place for “if only”.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014 

EBOLA

The Ebola virus has the attention of the world. And it should. It’s deadly, contagious, and mysterious. I just returned from Texas where patient zero landed a week ago. He came from West Africa and was infected before he boarded the plane. Every news station in Texas led with the story. It also seemed they were making a special effort to calm people’s fear. And they should.

The virus plays into our deepest fears. A deadly virus with no known cure that seems like it could spread around the globe as quickly as modern air travel will allow. At present it is not an air borne disease so it is not contagious enough to cause a worldwide epidemic.

But suppose it was. And suppose there was a single person with the antidote in his blood. The whole world would look to him. We would drain every drop from him to cure as many as we could.

Ebola has me thinking of Jesus. Sin is the epidemic that has swept over the globe. There was no known cure. Then Jesus came and in his blood was the antidote. We drained him dry.

I don’t worry so much about Ebola or Isis or any other threat to my physical life. It’s because I know what it is to be more deeply infected by something far more deadly. And I know what it is to feel the cure course through my veins. If you know Jesus then sleep well in the midst of the storm. You have the cure already and nothing can take that away. So pure is the blood of Jesus.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014 

Why Is It So Hard?

I worked out today. Stop. What comes into your mind with that last sentence? You may think I ran or biked or lifted weights or jumped on the elliptical. One thing that didn’t come into your mind was me sitting in front of the TV with the remote or lounging in an easy chair watching the rain. Why?

Working out means resistance. If you want to get stronger, or at my age try to keep from getting weaker, your muscles need resistance. Resistance actually damages the muscle and then your body mends it stronger. It’s amazing actually. If your muscles experience no resistance then they atrophy and begin to waste away.

I’m always looking for patterns in God’s world. I think God is impish about patterns. I think when we get to heaven He will delight in showing us how everything from the smallest cell to the biggest galaxy contains the pattern of eternal truth. That’s why the most common phrase in heaven will be, “Of course”.

Anyway, I love the list of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I want them all. So do you.

It hit me that they are all spiritual muscles. All of them. The people I’ve known who really love have faced tremendous resistance. People with real joy are paradoxically people who have experienced real pain. And on it goes right down the list from patience to self-control.

My problem is I like to plan my workout. It feels different if my wife asks me to move all my books from upstairs down to the basement. The result may be the same for my muscles but they feel totally different. I wonder how much more pleasant I would be if I could see them as the same.

I wish I could wake up and say, “Today I’m going to work out the muscle of joy”. And then at the end of the day I would fall into bed exhausted but knowing that tomorrow I might be sore but I’d have more joy.

Here’s the amazing thing. I think God plans our days like that. He is the One who plans your workout. That’s what Romans 8:28 means when it says, “All things work together for the good for those who love God”.

So today, allow God to be your personal trainer and when you wake up tomorrow you might just be surprised at the muscles you’ve see.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014 

Coin of Excellence

I’ve been doing a series at church on the Armor of God. The first week I mentioned why Paul the Apostle uses a military metaphor. He wanted to remind us as followers of Jesus we are more like soldiers than normal employees. A soldier has a different mentality than a normal person. I’ve always liked military personnel.

I like it that death is part of their life equation. A lot of us go through life and we ignore death and we are shocked when anyone dies. I talked to a friend the other day whose 90 year old mother recently passed away and she seemed stunned. Soldiers understand death the way coaches understand losing. It makes me think they understand life better and take it more seriously.

Soldiers draw straight lines with their character. I mean they aren’t sloppy with their loyalty or their values. Anyway, I’ve always liked soldiers and deep down wanted to be one.

This series has military guys stoked. They are coming out of the woodwork giving me tidbits about armor and battle and bootcamp. I like the glint in their eyes and the seriousness in their tone.

Yesterday a man named Jeff called to ask if he could have 5 minutes of my time. Jeff is military so I knew when he said 5 minutes he meant it. Jeff came in and sat down. I knew Jeff had served in Vietnam. I knew it had done a number on him as it had many men of his era. It had kept him from God for many years. I also knew that Jesus had broken through into Jeff’s life and changed him. A heart that had been sealed off dark and cold from violence and war had been broken and warmed and set beating again by the love of God. Jeff explained how God had used the metaphor of the Armor of God to break through to him. He then explained that at the end of his military career he had been given the honor to hand out “coins of excellence”. A coin of excellence is given to a soldier by a commanding officer for observed excellence. It’s a great honor to be given one. Jeff explained this and then stood and reached in his pocket. He said, “Pastor Joe, for what you have done for me and for many others I present to you this coin of excellence”. And Jeff shook my hand.

I don’t know when I’ve been more honored. The coin is etched with the armor of God. I will keep it with me to remind me of what God has done for me and also for men like Jeff who serve this God with me and remind me that I’m a soldier after all.

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
{Uh}
[Chorus:]
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.

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



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

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