Seeing yourself in your children can be enlightening. If you have children you are in them, probably a lot. You just need eyes to see.
I was talking with my youngest daughter yesterday and I saw me. She has always been in a hurry to grow up. That’s understandable for the baby of the family. I think having older siblings makes you feel you are missing out on most of the fun stuff because you’re just not old enough. Now Becca is grown but still feels it isn’t going fast enough. She is in a hurry to see what her life will really be like when it is all fleshed out.
I remember when I was her age feeling like I was made to be a lead pastor of a church and I remember being in a hurry to get there. Instead God took me the long way. The long way included several stops I never saw coming. One was a six year stint teaching Bible at a Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy. Looking back those six years were better preparation for being a lead pastor than seminary. Those students taught me how to make the Bible come alive not just for them but for myself. Teaching one lesson five times a day prepared me to preach the same message four times in a weekend. They showed me how the Bible speaks to every day life or it doesn’t speak at all. God did all this in a way I never expected.
It reminded me of the movie Karate Kid. In the original movie Mr. Miyagi teaches Daniel Laruso karate. Mr. Miyagi makes Daniel do what seem like random chores including waxing a dozen cars. Daniel sees no connection but ends up learning exactly what the master intended for him to learn.
I told Becca the story of Karate Kid yesterday. It’s my story. It’s probably your story too. It’s what Paul the apostle was talking about when he said that God causes all things to work together for good.
Becca needs to relax. God makes Mr. Miyagi look like an idiot. She just needs to pick up the rag and remember, “Wax on, wax off”. God will take care of the rest.
In the Chronicles of Narnia there is a witch who put the land under a curse of eternal winter. I think after she was cast out of Narnia she resettled here in Northeast Ohio. This is the toughest part of the year for me. Today the gray sky moves seamlessly to a gray landscape making my soul a little gray as well.
But I remind myself that it’s March and the silent rumblings of life are happening and soon the gray will give way to an explosion of color.
I remember hearing Tim Keller say there is enough life in a single acorn to cover the whole earth in wood. What he was saying is that inside an acorn is a tree waiting to explode to life. That one tree will produce thousands and thousands of acorns. Inside of every one of those acorns there is another tree. Hold an acorn in your hand and you’re holding a forest trembling to get out.
You simply cannot overestimate the power of life. I drive by parking lots and see blades of grass that have pushed their way through the asphalt. A blade of grass that I can reach down and snap off without a thought is strong enough to push its way through a parking lot.
Jesus was born into a gray world. He walked the gray streets under a gray sky. There were many prophets who came before him. The prophets would all talk of a world that was coming bursting with color. But it was Jesus who said, “The Spring has come. I have come to give you Life. Come to me and let my Life set you free”.
Then Jesus planted the Holy Spirit like a seed inside of his followers. And the Life began to spread. Within 300 years it had covered the Roman Empire with Life.
If you are a follower of Jesus then that Life is within you. As gray as your world may seem, God is always rumbling deep down.
Frederick Buechner said, “All the death that has ever been when set next to life would scarcely fill a cup”.
Whatever is going on in your life right now, stop and listen to the rumble. Spring is coming. Jesus has brought color to this gray and lifeless world. There’s enough life in you to cover the whole world with disciples. Life.
I have two grandsons. Connor Joseph is my namesake and was born on my birthday a little over 2 years ago. He is a little ball of energy and has two states of existence; complete flat out, pedal to the metal full speed and unconsciousness. That’s why it was such a surprise to find out that he will sit still for me to read him books. His favorite is the story of Adam Raccoon and the Race up Victory Mountain. The Adam Raccoon series is designed to communicate biblical messages with a wise and gracious lion named King Aren. Adam is every man and King Aren is Jesus. I substitute Connor’s name for Adam Raccoon so it becomes personal.
Anyway, last night we were reading the story together. We got to the place where Adam Raccoon is tempted to disobey King Aren’s instructions and attempt a shortcut up Victory Mountain. We were right between pages. One page was the act of disobedience, the next page was going to detail the consequences. All of a sudden Connor put his little two year old hands over his eyes and said, “I can’t bear to watch”.
He said it twice. It made me laugh out loud but it also made me think.
Many times there is a gap between disobedience and consequences. In between those pages we can feel it coming and we want to put our hands over our faces and say, “I can’t bear to watch”. We know it’s going to be bad.
Connor sees it coming because we’ve read the book a dozen times together. There are three pages that happen one right after another. The first page is the temptation. Adam Raccoon sees the shortcut but also remembers the instructions from King Aren. The second page Adam convinces himself that the short cut really does make sense and he heads down the path full speed. The third page takes Adam to a place he never wanted to be. Adam acted more surprised than he should have been.
We always do. The book is intended to help little boys like Connor see the connection between all three pages. If there was another book where Adam Raccoon resisted the temptation then Connor would look forward to the pages between the action and the consequences instead of hiding his eyes every time.
My hope is I will be watching Connor years from now and look forward to every page. My Father in heaven is hoping the same for me today.
People love telling a story with a moral. These are intended to be little life lessons. Usually they don’t make much of an impact on me. But there is one that continues to change the way I approach life. It’s the story of the poor man with a beautiful horse. Everyone in town told him he was a fool for keeping the horse. One day the horse ran away and the town people said, “You see old man. You are a fool. Now you have nothing”. The old man said,”You don’t know if this is good or bad. All you know is my horse is gone”. Later the horse returned with 20 wild stallions in tow and the people of the town said, “You were right old man. It is good you kept your horse. Look what you have now”. But the old man said, “You don’t know if it’s good or bad. All you know is my horse is back and has 20 horses with him”. Later the old man’s son fell off one of the wild horses and broke his leg. The town people said,”Your were right again old man. It is bad your horse came back and now look what happened to your son”. The old man smiled and said, “You don’t know if this is good or bad. All you know is my son fell and broke his leg”. Later a war broke out and all the sons had to go to fight except the old man’s son who had broken his leg. And all the town people said…
You get the idea. It’s hard to tell what is good and what is bad. Anyway, I was flying yesterday and my flight was 3 hours late taking off. Instead of getting upset I sat and thought, “I don’t know if this is good or bad”. I missed my connecting flight but as I walked to the customer service desk I thought, “I’m tired but I don’t know if this is good or bad”. The lady at customer service told me the next flight to my destination left in a little over 2 hours and she handed me a ticket. I thanked her and put the ticket in my pocket.
Two hours later I prepared to board and finally looked at my ticket. I had seat 3E. I flew the last leg of my trip in first class.
I was reminded again that I don’t know what good or bad is.
The disciples watched Jesus die on a cross and they thought it was the worst thing that had ever happened. It was the best but they didn’t know. Grace is like that in my life every day. God is giving me gifts constantly and I miss them all the time because I don’t even know what I’m looking for. Grace will come to you today and you probably won’t even see it coming. Just sit back and enjoy the ride when it comes. God is the giver of all good gifts. He gives to his beloved in his sleep. Psalm 127:1
This morning my wife told me she dreamt about me last night. So far, so good. In her dream someone was chasing me. Ok, understandable considering what has gone on with Tom Randall this past month. Then she said I was in a penguin suit. That’s where she started to lose me. She said I was trying to climb in a getaway car but couldn’t because I was in a penguin suit. As she got close to me she saw I was starting to cry.
I’m not sure how she could see that with the penguin suit and all but at this point I had quite a few questions that needed to be answered. But Karen woke up and the dream ended and so all the answers to my questions are now buried deep down in her very troubled sub-conscious.
I think we can all agree that’s a weird dream. What’s interesting is your mind will keep circling back to that dream to try to figure it out. Maybe your imagining me in a penguin suit. Just fyi, I don’t have one, never have, quit trying to make sense of it.
Mysteries have a way of capturing us and not letting us go. If I finish the story and answer all the questions then the mystery becomes a story that I have and no longer something that has me.
My favorite professor in college once started class by writing on the blackboard. JESUS IS NOT THE ANSWER. JESUS IS ALWAYS THE QUESTION. The whole rest of the class he helped us recognize there is a reason we don’t understand everything God does. There’s a reason why the trinity is impossible to explain. There’s a reason Jesus being 100% man and 100% divine is simply impossible math. And we will never know all the reasons. God himself is a mystery because He has us. We don’t have him.
So when people try to figure out why Tom Randall was in a Philippine jail for 22 days or the test came back and the results are terrible or any number of tough to understand things I wonder if we are trying to do the impossible. We have a longing to be the one that understands everything. We are not that one. When we begin to trust there is One who does understand everything and he loves us with an indescribable love we may begin to feel peace. Peace is not having everything just the way you want it. Peace is not even having all the answers you want to have. Peace is allowing the mystery of God and his love to swallow you whole. When that happens then He will finally have you and you will have as much of Him as you will ever need to have.
Jesus was heading to the cross. The disciples couldn’t comprehend the whole concept. Peter least of all. As things came to a head Jesus had to have a talk with Peter. It was more of a warning than a talk. Jesus warned Peter that Satan was coming for him and would sift him like wheat. Peter told Jesus to keep his shirt on and quit being such a worrier. Jesus looked at him with sad eyes and, “I will pray for you and your restoration after he’s done with you”. It was probably the best thing Jesus had ever said to Peter and I think Peter barely heard him say it. Peter would emerge as the leader of the early church. He would preach a sermon less than 2 months after being sifted and 3000 people would become believers in Jesus.
Sifting wheat is a violent ordeal. The wheat is shaken and tossed and thrown until all that remains is the part that’s useful.
This last two weeks I’ve watched my friend Tom Randall as he has been sifted like wheat. He has been accused of terrible things. Seemingly convicted in the court of public opinion. Betrayed and abandoned by a long time friend. Thrown into a jail cell with inmates accused of everything from drug trafficking to murder. Sick enough to wonder if he would live to see his 60th birthday in February.
I have watched him tossed and shaken and thrown about and what has emerged has been breathtaking.
Tom has slowly been burning brighter and brighter in the darkness of Cell Block 1. Today he texted me…”I had a great day sharing Christ to so many different people! I feel great. I’m having the time of my life Joe!!!Head of a drug gang talked to me about Jesus. The walls are coming down”.
No one chooses to be sifted. It hurts. It’s happening to some as they battle cancer or tragedy or injustice of one kind or another. It may be happening to you today.
But here’s the thing. Jesus knew Peter was going to be sifted. Jesus didn’t say, “Peter, you’ve had this coming for a long time. You are half full of crap and always have been”. Jesus could have easily said that because it was true. Instead Jesus said, “I’m going to pray for you Peter”. Would you want anyone else praying for you? If it takes being sifted to have Jesus pray for me, bring it on. If you are being sifted then Jesus is praying for you now. He is praying you will have the time of your life as you experience him in a way you never have before.
Tom Randall is my friend. I’ve been proud of that for the last 18 years. He’s a remarkable person in a number of ways. He has made my life richer and my relationship with God deeper. He challenges me in ways no one else does.
He went to the Philippines a month ago to spend time with the children of his orphanage and take some men from the States on a basketball trip they will be talking about for the rest of their lives.
Before Tom left he started to receive calls from the Philippines from a missionary he has known for 30 years. It started small and began to morph into something unrecognizable. All the accusations were coming from the same source so it is very suspicious that the accusations would change. The accusations resulted in a full blow investigation from the Philippine version of Child Services and the FBI. After 2 weeks of exhausting interviews Tom and the staff of the orphanage were completely exonerated. Tom called me to rejoice and then left on the basketball trip.
The accusor was not pleased. He refused to meet with Tom to discuss the Child Services and the FBI report. He went quiet. We hoped he would realize the damage false accusations can do. Instead he went to the U.S. Embassy and Homeland Security. The original charge was that a worker at the orphanage had kissed one of the girls. That ended up to be untrue. The girl recanted the story and said she made it up because she was angry that privileges had been taken away as discipline. By the time the accusation was presented to the U.S.Embassy the charge was that the World Harvest orphanage was actually a front for sex trafficking. For those of us who know Tom the charge borders on insanity but to Homeland Security it seemed all too possible. The charges morphing from a worker kissing a child to Tom being guilty of aiding and abetting a sex trafficking ring is something someone will have to account for some day.
Tom has been arrested and at this moment sits in prison. We are working to get him out and for the truth to come out. Right now the two agencies have not communicated so the FBI agents that completed the investigation 2 weeks ago in cooperation with Child Services have not been able to get their report to the agency that has now arrested Tom. It would seem simple enough but these kinds of charges and this kind of deceit is never simple especially in the Philippines. Please join me in praying for my friend Tom Randall. This is the verse someone sent me this morning and the one I’m praying now.
“The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry; the face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth.” Psalm 34:15-16
We appreciate all of the care and concern everyone has been showing for Tom and the comments you’ve been leaving. We’d like to reply to them all, but can’t currently, so we’ve temporarily disabled the comments section. Sorry for the inconvenience.
When I say, “Baby it’s cold outside”, I mean it’s Will Ferrell in Elf cold and it makes me want to go screaming into some lockers. It’s cold enough to make you mad just walking to the mailbox. My car seemed to grumble when I tried to start her. My house creaks and pops. I read that 1500 flights were cancelled yesterday. Everything feels the cold.
It reminds me how fragile we all are.
There is something called the Anthropic Principle. It’s a premise built on dozens of measurements that need to be precisely what they are in order for earth to be inhabited by us. These measurements include the tilt of the earth, the distance of the earth from the sun, the strong and weak nuclear forces, the relation of the gravitational force to the electromagnetic force etc. The idea is the universe appears to be designed just for us to exist. One little change and human life is not possible. Today we feel the truth of that deep in our bones here in Ohio. The temperature dropped 20 degrees. That’s it. Just 20 degrees. What if it drops another 20 degrees? Then what?
Why does the weather stay so constant? Why is 9 degrees below zero an anomaly even here in cold and blustery northeastern Ohio.
I just finished a book titled Extravagant Grace. The author used a very interesting illustration. She said that the toy maker Mattel made a Barbie doll pretty perfect except for her feet. She can’t stand by herself. It’s a brilliant move by a toy maker to entice little girls to play with the doll. Anyway, the author said that God made us like the Barbie. If God takes his hand away from us for a moment we fall.
“He’s Got the Whole World…in His Hands” is a classic American spiritual. It’s the only gospel song to ever hit #1 on the pop charts here in the U.S.I like the song because it sticks in my head. It should be stuck in yours right about now.
If God didn’t have the whole world in his hands you would be frozen solid by now. Who knows where you would be if He ever took His hand off you for a minute.
Barbie’s feet remind her that she can’t stand up by herself. Let your cold feet remind you of the same tonight. And go ahead and keep humming He’s Got the Whole World…in His Hands…because he does.
Come hell or high water is a profane way of saying we don’t really know what’s coming but it could be pretty bad. Today marks the end of a year and the beginning of a new one. No one knows what the New Year holds. It could be filled with one great thing after another. It could be a year of hell and high water.
After the resurrection Jesus stood with his disciples. They were still trying to wrap their heads around all that had happened since dinner the last Thursday night. At this point the disciples had no idea what lay ahead. Jesus didn’t tell them much but what he did tell them was enough. Jesus simply said, “Whatever lies ahead for you this is one thing you can count on. I will not leave you. I will not forsake you. Come hell or high water, I’m with you till the end and then beyond”.
That was all Jesus told them and that was all the disciples needed to hear. In truth what lay ahead for the disciples was quite a bit of both. They experienced the hand of God in exhilarating ways that few human beings will ever experience. They watched lame people jump up a do a jig in front of hundreds of people. They preached the good news and thousands felt their sins fall off and joy overwhelm them. They watched the Holy Spirit fill people like helium balloons and the light of God annihilated the darkness. But they also experienced hardship, rejection, physical beatings and imprisonment. They watched as their homes burned to the ground and the ships they sailed in broke in half and sank to the bottom of the sea. The highs and lows of the disciples have probably never been equaled and through it all they would cling to the promise Jesus made to them on that day they gathered after the resurrection.
When Stephen was being stoned to death he looked up and saw Jesus standing at the right hand of the throne of God. Maybe it surprised him at first. The promise was for Jesus to never leave them but here was Jesus standing waiting for Stephen. And that’s when it must have clicked. Jesus does both. He is present with us and is waiting for us.
So, we stand on the edge of 2014. We have no idea what this year holds. But this we know, Jesus is already waiting for us in 2014. Come hell or high water this year you will never be alone for a moment.
The discovery of the “third place” is a fairly recent phenomenon. The third place is where people get together. You have your home, the place you live, your office, the place you work, and then you have a place you meet friends. That is your third place. For me it’s Starbucks much to their delight. Being someone’s third place is the goal of Starbucks.
I meet a lot of people at Starbucks.
I had one friend that couldn’t meet me there. We met every month for over two years while he was in hospice care at his house. John was too sick to go anywhere so I would go to him. I would make my way over to his house, slip in without knocking and show up at his bedside for our monthly chat.
This is Christmas morning. Today I woke up thinking about Jesus. Jesus could have chosen a third place to meet us. Better, he could have just called us to his office. But today it’s Christmas. At Christmas we don’t celebrate a third place. We celebrate a Savior who came all the way here. We were way too sick to go anywhere to meet with him so he came to us.
Today we worship a God who slipped in without knocking and showed up at our bedside. I didn’t come to Jesus, He came to me. I love him because he loved me first. Merry Christmas