Thursday, April 30, 2009

Lord Have Mercy On Me, A Sinner

- "He Walks Among Us"

Saw that an inmate in Nebraska was refused a name change this week. The man, a proud pagan worshipper of the Norse god Thor, wanted his first name changed to "Sinner", because he wanted to let everyone know that he wasn't following Jesus, but was in active opposition.

Well, I'm not seeking a name change, and I know that Jesus has purchased my pardon with His own blood on that cruel cross, but there are times when my old nature just jumps up and bites me on the leg. Every happen to you?

Walk through this scenario with me.

We receive a call that someone is in need. Our church is constantly looking to follow Jesus who "went about doing good" and so we operate a "pass through" process called benevolence where God gives us money and we pass it along to people in need. It has grown to encompass all sorts of ministry here, but the most common is still food and occasionally gasoline.

Today a routine opportunity occurred. A member of New Hope, on the mission field (our words for everyday life), found out someone had that kind of need and passed it along to one of our deacons. He called me, and we determined that he would get to the church before I would, so the process was put into motion to provide whatever food needed and a full tank of gas.

A little while later when I arrived at church, the deacon's truck was outside our fellowship hall, and sitting beside it running was a Mercedes with a little girl in the back seat. "I wonder if that's the person's car who needed help?" was my question. Then I thought (to myself), "You know I have never owned a Mercedes." Then I went inside and saw a person who was maybe 30 years old,with a basketball player's physique, accepting two bags of groceries.

I had already had problems with my judgmental spirit when I saw the Mercedes, but now the sparks caught fire. Inside, I was making decisions about what was going on without one shred of evidence. And the Holy Spirit very clearly told me "SHUT UP. take another look around."

Upon further review, the Mercedes was an older model worth maybe $3000. The young man was on disability,living in an apartment converted from an old hotel that I've been in and wouldn't want to live in. The young man only took two of the three bags offered,saying "I don't have anywhere to put them, but thank you so much." And when I looked back out at the car, the little girl looked straight at me and smiled.

God likes to rub it in.

This was my sin.

It's forgiven. But it hurt my heart.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The story behind "I Will Rise"

I didn't know why this song gripped me so hard. Literally would find myself singing the lyrics several times a day in the last few weeks. Now I know.

We'll be doing this in worship for the first time this Sunday.

Community Garden - featuring a celebrity you know

Our community garden will roar into life this week, and will feature the famous "Bob" of Veggie Tales fame. Carol Stoy took the Veggie Tales seeds we bought for the girls and has raised them to the point where they are ready to be planted in the soil.

The idea behind the garden is to grow vegetables that can then be given away to people in need as well as providing space for people within the community who would like to raise their own produce. If the tomatoes thrive, we should be able to give everyone in Valparaiso a basket full sometime during the growing season. I really hope we get some of our neighbors working alongside us. That would be awesome. But energizing people to use their time and talents to love their community in Jesus' name will be a win too.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Thinking about Creation

The creation is not a study, roughed-in sketch; it is supremely, meticulously created, created abundantly, extravagantly, and in fine... Even on the perfectly ordinary and clearly visible level, creation carries on with an intricacy unfathomable and apparently uncalled for. The lone ping into being of the first hydrogen atom ex nihilo was so unthinkably, violently radical, that surely it ought to have been enough, more than enough. But look what happens. You open the door and all heaven and hell break loose.

The creator goes off on one wild, specific tangent after another, or millions simultaneously, with an exuberance that would seem to be unwarranted, and with an abandoned energy sprung from an unfathomable font. What is going on here? The point of the dragonfly's terrible lip, the giant water bug, birdsong, or the beautiful dazzle and flash of sunlighted minnows, is not that it all fits together like clockwork -- for it doesn't, particularly, not even inside the goldfish bowl -- but that it all flows so freely wild, like the creek, that it all surges in such a free, fringed tangle. Freedom is the world's water and weather, the world's nourishment freely given, its soil and sap: and the creator loves pizzazz.
- Annie Dillard, from her book, "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek"

Saturday, April 25, 2009

It's Been Seven years

Seven years ago today we witnessed the birth of our only granddaughter. Her death had occurred a day or two earlier. The heartache came in waves, each building one upon another. It crashed upon us and threatened to sweep us away.

We've just returned (at almost 11 PM)from a trip to Macon where we spent some time trying to help my father in law cope with the loss of his wife of 62 years - Bunny's Mom, Dot. While we were there we visited Ana's little grave and placed some flowers and butterflies there. She'd have liked them.

We'd rather have been holding our seven year old's hand and pointing out the real thing. Seeing her discover the world would have been our greatest joy.

It still hurts.

This link is to last year's post, which was a compilation of previous posts.

It still hurts.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

If We Are Willing To Love

"Mookie", the child we sponsor through Compassion.

There are days when the frantic nature of our life around here literally crushes my spirit. Trying so hard to hold onto what I've heard from God, I find myself being pulled into pragmatism - "let's just get through today." Maybe it's a problem unique to me but I don't think so.

One of the things that helps me regain my heart-footing is reading certain passages in Scripture, and certain books. There are places I return to again and again in God's Word, and there are passages in books that call me home. Today I picked up a book I have read at least 5 times - Donald Miller's "Searching for God Knows What." I opened it to the chapter on Jesus and begin reading it again. Here's where the book fell open today.

"A few years ago I sat down with a man named Ron Post. Ron was about to retire from a ministry he had started twenty years ago called Northwest Medical Teams. Northwest Medical Teams is an aid organization that sends doctors to volatile regions of the world to help the sick and dying. We met at a coffee shop across town, and I asked Ron questions about how he had built this eighty-million-dollars-a-year ministry, with 98 per cent of the money going directly to the work being done in the field. I asked him how he structured his time, how he delegated responsibility, and finally asked him what was the key to his success. To answer the last question, Ron pulled from his pocket a tattered envelope filled with pictures.

For the rest of the morning the man laid down pictures of people he had met, the first of which was a young Cambodian woman, who at the age of thirteen, was being used as a sex slave by the Khmer Rouge. He told me that they had rescued her from captivity and given her a new life filled with the knowledge and love of Christ. As he showed me picture after picture of blind people who, because of a simple surgery, could now see, crippled people who could now walk, the starving who had been fed, he told me their names. He knew their names - every one of them. I had asked the man what the key to his successful ministry was, and he told me through his stories the key to his multi-million dollar ministry was a love of people. And I believe now and will always believe that if we are willing to love people, God will pour out His resources to bless our lives and his efforts."

I believe that too.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Reflecting on Today's Message

The Bible is summed up in two sentences: First, cheer up; you are a lot worse than you think you are. And second, cheer up; God’s grace is a lot bigger than you think it is. - Jack Miller

The balance has to be there for it to be the gospel.

Yes, we are sinners. There is nothing in us that should attract a Holy God.

And yet, while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

There are times when I hear people speak of their unworthiness that I wince if they take it what seems to me to be too far. But I don't know them and what they have gone through as well as they do.

Yet I know God's pursuing love intimately. Personally. So I know His love is large. Expansive. Lavish. Amazing.

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

How would you describe Southern Baptists?

Thom Rainer wanted to know... so he asked folks on Twitter. This is a wordle created by someone to contain all the words. Those most often occurring are the biggest.

Just for fun, find "Jesus" and "Loving."

Monday, April 13, 2009

What I Heard - What I'll Do

Since our DSL has been down almost all morning and into the afternoon, I've been watching DVD's and reading. Monday is that kind of day for me anyway. Today I spent an hour or so watching Donald Miller, author of "Blue Like Jazz" and others, talk about the power of "Story."

Miller, speaking to a group in Nashville, explains how finding your place in God's Story, and inhabiting the "story" God has created you for, can make all the difference. I think his seminar needs to be viewed by a great many Christians I know, and that the application of what he's identified as critical might just be a strong weapon in our battle for the redemption of the culture.

There is probably no communicator in the world more intent on getting their message across to their listeners than an evangelical Christian preacher on Easter morning.

Certainly others are intensely devoted to their craft. Most assuredly there are some who believe in the content of their presentation. But within the insider's groups I have belonged to - of other pastors and preachers, Easter is described as "The Super Bowl", "The World Series", "The Big Day", and other terminally superlative terms.

One of my gifted communicator friends said this about the intensity a preacher must exhibit on Easter this way, "If a preacher can't get 'up' for Easter, then he ought to quit." "Up" means passionate about the day and what God did - I'd agree 100%. But if "up" meant "performing at your best", I didn't. So I moped around yesterday evening, tried to put it behind me using a variety of analogies "Babe Ruth struck out XXXX times", "Michael Jordan missed XXX buzzer beating shots", and some spiritual consolation from a pastor friend. When I went to bed last night, I asked forgiveness and requested more of His wisdom for future messages.

I figured that when I got up this morning, God would have moved on to more pressing matters with far more important servants, but I was wrong. He still wanted to weigh in on the subject with me. While I was praying through what happened yesterday at New Hope with my part in the celebration of Easter, I did not get the message to quit.

But I did get a very clear message to quit frittering away my time and the attention span of the congregation unless I have a clear, cogent, and compelling story to draw them into. (Hey, three alliterated points. I must be having a stroke!) Every single time I lose sight of how God has wired me to communicate His Story, the result is so much less than it should be.

Mea culpa

So I am determined to seek and find more and better ways to communicate the truths contained in God's "Big Story", and want to grow my own "story line" so that when I come before the "King of Kings" and the "Lord of Lords" I will be breathless - having been snatched from another great adventure with Him.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday Worship Recap

When I got home tonight I was ready to collapse. Two days of work culminated in an hour fifteen minutes of worship. It felt like a funeral. Which was the intention.

Some of those reading the letters became very emotional.

I won't mention names, because Diane and Amy know who they are. They were pulling people into the raw emotion of that Good Friday evening. It was so powerful.

Everyone who sang - Emily, Kristen, and Craig did well too. It was an emotional night, and emotion reached up and snagged Kristen. Her heart was singing even when she couldn't. Emily reached out and touched many, and Craig slammed the door with "Hurt."

Powerful, powerful service. Visually and aurally stunning. I winced when I heard the whip hit Jesus' back. I flinched when I heard the hammer hit the nails.

Thanks to everyone who read, who helped prepare, to Michael Weech who somehow made it all work.

"It is finished"


Unfinished business. Most people's lives are rife with it. There's the unfinished project you meant to complete this weekend, but something came up. Or that college diploma you are going to get when you go back to school. Or the back of the house, but why paint it? You can't see it from the road anyway.

Bargain hunters can find the exercise equipment we were going to use. Or the old car we were always trying to find time to work on. Even jigsaw puzzle makes have had to downsize their puzzles, because they say Americans won't stick through to completion if the number of pieces are too great.

We rarely focus on seeing a task all the way to completion. We know we should, and we believe we could if we put our mind to it. The inconsistency of our lives causes us to live at a level far below God's best for us. If we could just stay faithful.

The Greeks used to end their prayers with this word - tetelestai. The word can also mean goal or finish line. As in I have run the race to the finish, to the completion. I have accomplished my goal.

30 When Jesus had tasted it, he said, "It is finished!" Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:30 (NLT)

Yet here Jesus yells in victory, "It is finished!, (completed!) (done!)

What's finished?

Sin's power over the believer is finished.

Until Christ's sacrifice, thousands of animals gave their lives every year in an effort to pay for sin. Picture the priests at the temple as they spend hour after hour ritually sacrificing these animals. Hear their cries as they are slaughtered. See the rivers of blood flow from the temple into the Kidron Brook.

Day, after day, after day. When Jesus cried "It is finished!" sin's power died.

Once for all time He took blood into that Most Holy Place, but not the blood of goats and calves. He took His own blood, and with it He secured our salvation forever.Heb 9:12 (NLT)

Once for all time, Jesus paid the price for our sins. Now our past is just that - past. Don't let guilt strangle the life out of you. If you've confessed your sins to Jesus and accepted His forgiveness, you should experience the freedom of Christ.

As we prepare to celebrate Easter, make sure you thank God for the finished work of Christ.

"It is finished!"

Good Friday Service 2009

This year, I chose to use a wonderful resource from CSS Publishing company called "Letters From A Good Friday World." It consists of a series of letters from people who were participants in the events of that day, when Jesus suffered and died. Reading the previews, I was blown away. I never really considered what it was like for them once Jesus' body was laid in the tomb - or how they dealt with the loss.

We'll do some nontraditional music as well as some traditional. Anytime you hear Neil Young and Trent Rezner in Baptist worship I think you score 100% on the "they killed the sacred ficus" meter. But this is a service where we'll invite the Holy Spirit to grab our hearts and confront us with the enormity of our sins... and the raw cost.

Video this year will be less than in years past, but we still may use a couple. Thank you Sermon Spice. Still praying through the list of elements. My hope is that people come away convinced of the amazing grace we'll sing about Sunday. God's wrath was poured out onto the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.

He died in our place. He died... in our place.

It's why it is called Good Friday.

Hope to see you there.

"I thirst"

Jesus knew that everything was now finished, and to fulfill the Scriptures He said, "I am thirsty."John 19:28 (NLT)

I was heading to class that evening, running late, but as I approached I heard - "Just grow up!" said one young woman to another, as they were sitting under the oak trees on campus. "There's no superman, no batman, and no god. No one is coming to save you, so you'd better get over that fantasy."

It has been over 18 years since I heard that conversation, and it still bothers me. A bright, intelligent, educated young woman attending a Baptist University - how could she possibly believe that. How could she possibly not believe in Jesus Christ?

Well, she was reflecting what she was taught. Marx said religion was "the opiate for the people." Sigmund Freud said "religion is a pack of delusions", and "Men and women cannot remain children forever. They must in the end go out into hostile life. We may call this 'education to reality.'"


I'll give you an education in reality Sigmund.

Christianity is anything but an escape from reality. It is instead a journey straight to the center of everything that is real. That reality might be dark, and cold, and startling for some. I'm not sure all the story is suitable for any but 'mature' audiences - that is, people who are willing to "test and see" or "seek to find." We hide that reality when we reduce the facts to "Bible stories", when we seek to cover the dangerous nature of our sins with today's trite phrases and when we minimize the extent of God's love.

I've had the opportunity on several occasions now to watch children react to the telling of the Easter happenings. Watching them as their emotions come out when Jesus is cruelly treated tugs at my own heart. And then thrilling along with them to see God raise Jesus from the dead makes me want to cheer too. So I do. :)

But showing the reality of the depths men went to try to kill God is almost too much for children. One mother told me that she had watched "Jesus of Nazareth" with her kids, and because the crucifixion scenes were so real, she had to fast forward to the end to reassure her little ones that Jesus was alive. "He's okay mommy, isn't He? They didn't kill Him, did they?"

It was only when they saw Jesus walking with His disciples after the resurrection, that they were calm enough for her to get them off to bed. Real life, and real death.

In a small mission I once served, Bunny took the older kids in the kitchen and had them make impressions of their hands in some good Georgia clay. Then she read the crucifixion passage to them and gave each a nail. When she asked them to consider their sins had caused nails to pierce those clay hands, one young girl grew very quiet, with large tears beginning to fall upon the clay. She knew. For the first time in her life, she knew reality. The reality that "God had laid on Him the sins of us all." Her sins. (Not long after that day, that young woman pledged her heart and her life to Jesus.) Real death.

Is that real enough?

So the fact that the Son of God was placed on a cross with nails through his hands, hanging there throughout most of a hot Palestinian afternoon meant that He was thirsty. Of course it could have been the result of having His back flayed until the flesh hung as tattered ribbons, or maybe due to a crown of thorns that pierced one of the most vascular rich parts of the human body. Yes, I suppose sheer blood loss could have caused Him to say, "I thirst."

But you'd miss something great if you jump to that conclusion. No, not great - wonderful. And wonderful not just for that day's scene, but for today's - and tomorrow's - and the day after that - and beyond. Go back and read the verse again.

28 Jesus knew that everything was now finished, and to fulfill the Scriptures he said, "I am thirsty." John 19:28 (NLT)

Jesus was in complete control of reality. He was mentally aware - no opiate for Him - and He summed all of His 33 years of life in human form with the knowledge that He had done everything He needed to do.

And so... "to fulfill the Scriptures..."

Beloved, there's a deep fountain of love for you in that phrase. Promises for many of us rise and ebb with the tide of convenience and whim. We say, "I'll always love you", and crowd the counters at the county clerk's filing for divorce. We tell each other, "I'll always be there for you," and then, "I can't do that." Our promises don't mean much.

But here Jesus, DYING ON A CROSS, makes sure He keeps His promises. Every single one!

That's real love. Every promise of God is yours if you know Christ as Savior. Every blessing, every joy, every hope! Through the real life, real death, and real love of Jesus Christ, we can know God personally - intimately - forever!

Do you know Him?

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

"Woman, behold your son... Behold your mother."

John is the gospel of goodbyes. While all the others focus on Jesus' ministry, John zeroes in on the last two days of Christ's life. Spending 12 chapters on 33 years, and 7 chapters on two days gives you an idea of just how affected John was by his Lord's goodbye. In those seven chapters, there is a long passage where Jesus tries to teach the disciples how to live when He is gone. His intention is to equip them for the day after Good Friday. So He gives them this commandment.

12 I command you to love each other in the same way that I love you.13 And here is how to measure it--the greatest love is shown when people lay down their lives for their friends. John 15:12-13 (NLT)

Jesus was trying to make these men understand the value of a Christian community. He was beginning to build His church. Community matters.

So now as Jesus hangs on a cross, He's continuing that work.

Have you noticed yet how unselfish Jesus remains to the last? The first three statements deal with others' needs - forgiveness, pardon, and now community. John would point to this very act as the beginning of the church.

Seems a strange place to start a church. Jesus didn't do any market research. He apparently hasn't stopped to consider the demographics or the programming needs of Mary and John. After all, they are from different generations. Mary would need at minimum a senior adult group, maybe a small group for coping with grief. John may have a family with both small children and teenagers. How can these two possibly have all their needs met. And what about music? She might prefer the Psalms, where John might enjoy praise music. Oh and are we reading in Hebrew or Greek? So many details to consider when starting a church...

And yet, just like John and Mary at the foot of the cross, Jesus has put together His church. Rich and poor. All colors, all sizes, all nations, all together. The Republicans and the democrats. The 'Noles and the Gators, the Jackets and the Dawgs. And at times, there's not a whole lot of "like" to be found.

"But what law say we got to like each other? We just gotta love each other. Likin' each other ain't part of the bargain."

And here at the cross, there are two people who need each other, and a Savior besides. Can't you see them there? An old woman, head draped in a dark shawl, shoulders weighed down with grief. A younger man, himself racked with sobs, reaching over to put his strong arm around Mary as they stumble away toward his house, now their home.

That is a picture of Christ's church beloved. Everybody has hurts. Everybody needs a family.

What Calvarys have you walked away from with a friend's arm around your shoulder, helping you bear a burden too heavy for you alone? The church is where Jesus is creating a family out of strangers. It may not be a place of "like", but it had better be a place of love - or it is not a church.

In his latter years, John realized what Jesus had done that day, and he wrote this to you and me, so that we too might understand how Christ grows His church.

Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is born of God and knows God.8 But anyone who does not love does not know God--for God is love.9 God showed how much he loved us by sending his only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him.10 This is real love. It is not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.

11 Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other.

12 No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love has been brought to full expression through us. 1 John 4:7-12 (NLT)

This Holy week would be an excellent time to rediscover Christ's family. Come home to church. Experience Christian community. Learn to love each other. If you can't, then you'll miss heaven by a mile.


45 At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o'clock. 46 At about three o'clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani? " which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"[

Matt 27:45-46 (NLT)

He had never been alone.

From the beginning, Jesus had always been in communication with the Father. While here on earth, His disciples would sometimes awaken to find Jesus not among them. But after a careful search, He was always found in prayer. Even the boundaries of heaven never kept Father and Son apart. Three separate times the Father's voice rang out from heaven - "This is my Son. My beloved Son."

He had never been alone.

Of all the agonies that day - above them all - was this. In everyone's life there are times when we feel alone. As if. We can pick up a phone and call family, or we can head to see a friend. Even if we are out of town in a land where no one knows us, we can go to a place where there are people and generally find a listening ear...

But Jesus' "alone-ness" wasn't about that at all. There was a crowd of people surrounding His cross, and His companions still hung on each side of Him. His agony was in separation from the love of God. Because of His position as sin-bearer, the Father could no longer have any relationship or intimacy with Jesus.

The agony was shared, as the Father caused darkness to descend that was so deep, it caused people to stumble. Jesus was bearing the weight of the world's sins upon Him. Every careless thought, every gossipy whisper, every hurt inflicted in pride and rebellion. All the sins of the world were placed to His account - the sinless Lamb of God.

Jesus then quoted Psalm 22: 1

Today while you are thinking about Jesus, read the whole Psalm.

1 My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me? Why do you remain so distant?
Why do you ignore my cries for help?
2 Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief.
3 Yet you are holy. The praises of Israel surround your throne.
4 Our ancestors trusted in you, and you rescued them.
5 You heard their cries for help and saved them. They put their trust in you and were never disappointed.
6 But I am a worm and not a man. I am scorned and despised by all!
7 Everyone who sees me mocks me. They sneer and shake their heads, saying,
8 "Is this the one who relies on the LORD? Then let the LORD save him! If the LORD loves him so much, let the LORD rescue him!"
9 Yet you brought me safely from my mother's womb and led me to trust you when I was a nursing infant.
10 I was thrust upon you at my birth. You have been my God from the moment I was born.
11 Do not stay so far from me, for trouble is near,
and no one else can help me.
12 My enemies surround me like a herd of bulls; fierce bulls of Bashan have hemmed me in!
13 Like roaring lions attacking their prey, they come at me with open mouths.
14 My life is poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax, melting within me.
15 My strength has dried up like sunbaked clay. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
You have laid me in the dust and left me for dead.
16 My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs; an evil gang closes in on me.
They have pierced my hands and feet.
17 I can count every bone in my body. My enemies stare at me and gloat.
18 They divide my clothes among themselves and throw dice for my garments.
19 O LORD, do not stay away! You are my strength; come quickly to my aid!
20 Rescue me from a violent death; spare my precious life from these dogs.
21 Snatch me from the lions' jaws, and from the horns of these wild oxen.
22 Then I will declare the wonder of your name to my brothers and sisters. I will praise you among all your people.
23 Praise the LORD, all you who fear him! Honor him, all you descendants of Jacob!
Show him reverence, all you descendants of Israel!
24 For he has not ignored the suffering of the needy. He has not turned and walked away.
He has listened to their cries for help.
25 I will praise you among all the people; I will fulfill my vows in the presence of those who worship you.
26 The poor will eat and be satisfied. All who seek the LORD will praise him.
Their hearts will rejoice with everlasting joy.
27 The whole earth will acknowledge the LORD and return to him. People from every nation will bow down before him.
28 For the LORD is king! He rules all the nations.
29 Let the rich of the earth feast and worship. Let all mortals—those born to die—bow down in his presence.
30 Future generations will also serve him. Our children will hear about the wonders of the Lord.
31 His righteous acts will be told to those yet unborn. They will hear about everything he has done.

Psalms 22:1-31 (NLT)

They heard, Master. And we will tell others about what You have done.

"Today you will be with me in Paradise"

Have you ever done your very best and found it wasn't enough? Maybe you worked for a boss who never seemed to catch you doing anything right. Or maybe you were married to someone who might have had a secret career as an East German figure skating judge. You remember the ones who gave 5.4's when everyone else saw perfect 6.0? Then there are the parents who reward a 3.7 GPA and a 1400 on the SAT with , "Couldn't you do better?"

What if you in fact are perfect and it's still not enough? Or more likely, what if you are anything but perfect?

When you read the gospel of Luke, you see how concerned God is with the lost and the broken - the not perfect. Luke's account of Jesus' ministry is full of His seeking and saving - whether it's the 1 sheep gone out of 99, or one prodigal son. Luke's Jesus is full of forgiveness, and easy to get to know. So it shouldn't then come as a great surprise that Luke begins the drama surrounding the sacrificial death of the Son of God with, "Father, forgive."

But the second word... oh that second word. Placed as it was among three men in agony, one spewing hatred, one seeking forgiveness, and the other weeping blood with the power to cancel all sins. Jesus' story began in filth and squalor, with outcasts to share the scene. No surprise then that here at the end, His companions once again are the least of society - thieves.

Harsh words for thieves He had spoken,

10 The thief's purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give life in all its fullness. John 10:10 (NLT)

Those two are usually at cross-purposes. But today they met at the cross.

Jesus had already spoken words of forgiveness. These coming through a constant struggle just to breathe meant they were costly. And one thief spent all he had in a rant against Jesus. True to the very end to what he was, he asked Jesus to prove His worth by freeing Himself - and them besides. He saw no need to hold back anything he felt. If he couldn't figure a way to save himself, then why not go out cursing everyone else.

But in this awful place, within this tortured time, a faith began as one man took stock of his life. We aren't told how he got here - what went on in his youth, the wrong turns, the bitter reverses - or whether he ever did one thing good.

What we are told is that he has measured himself and found himself lacking. Lacking by man's rule of law, and lacking in faith in God. Yet even as he saw how far short he fell of perfection, a belief grew that he was in the presence of One Who was.

"Don't you fear God even when you are dying? 41 We deserve to die for our evil deeds, but this man hasn't done anything wrong." Luke 23:41 (NLT)

And then he does something remarkable. Having heard no sermon, having received no tract, having done no act of charity, and certainly having given no offering - he asks one thing of Jesus.

"Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom."

And just at that moment, all the wheels of justice come to a sudden halt. All the momentum of a life spent in crime, all the bitterness and hatred of failure, everything in his whole life pauses as Jesus replies,

"I assure you, today you will be with Me in paradise."

Today! With Jesus! In paradise! Old life ended in agony and shame. New life begun - Today!

Can I ask you a question?

Which kind of thief are you?

I don't mean to be harsh, rather just the opposite. Because that hill Jesus was on isn't very different than the land we live on. You know that at the moment Luke records, the area around the cross was populated with only two kinds of people. Just as the world is inhabited by today.

There are those who are blind to any need of a Savior, and those who have faced up to the facts of just how much they have failed and just how perfect the Man on the middle cross is. Nothing has changed. You are either blind to who you really are, or you know.

At this point maybe you think such guilt by association is weak. Maybe you have never filched a Brach's candy "sample" from your local supermarket, or "fudged" a little on that 1040A. And maybe when you compare yourself to a Hussein or a Hitler, or even a bank robber, you feel pretty good.

But just because you've never been caught in a crime doesn't mean you are exempt from the human condition. "All have sinned and fallen short" includes, well, all. You. I'm thinking today about the myriad of ways we fall short.

Have you ever stolen the smile off a child's face, who cannot help but grin at the incredible joy of life - by harsh words like, "Will you cut that out and straighten up"? Or maybe you've crushed the dreams of a teenager when you said, "You'll never amount to anything. You are just like your ____ ." Then too there's the puncture of a vision, the deflation of a hope with, "we've never done that before and it will never work."

There are all kinds of ways to steal. And we are all thieves. We all have sinned and fallen so, so, short. We aren't almost perfect, and even if we were, we'd be lost in our sins.

On a cross next to ours though, hangs a man eager to hear from us. A man Who even here, at life's very extremity, is still seeking to save the lost.

Do you know him?

"Father forgive them, they know not what they do."

"Sorry doesn't cut it!" were the words I heard as I crossed a parking lot. The following sounds were a slammed car door and a screech as a woman exited a local parking lot, leaving a man there watching the car get smaller as it sped away.

Asking for forgiveness has never been most people's strong suit. Truth be told, many times when we say "sorry", what we are really sorry for is that we have to say it. Then giving forgiveness - well, let's just say that it usually comes with strings and stipulations. "I'll forgive you if..." - for some, you have to pass the "I am really, really sorry" test.

Today's words from Jesus weren't prompted by those who needed forgiveness - but by the heart of the one Who they wronged. Amazing love, your name is Jesus.

"Father, forgive."

That Roman soldier, who nailed the hands that had given sight to the blind, didn't know what he was doing. Jesus prayed for him, "Father, forgive."

His companions helped as they lifted the cross with Jesus on it, and slid it into the hole with a thud. Every nerve in Jesus' hands and feet screamed in agony as the weight of His body hung from them. And Jesus prayed, "Father, forgive."

Around the cross were His enemies. Shouting cruel taunts they urged Him to call for help. "He saved others, Himself He cannot save?" Looking into their eyes, Jesus prayed, "Father, forgive."

And then there were the religious leaders. They had studied God's Word all their lives. Full of a desire to do good, to be better, they had memorized whole books, and become expert in the Laws God had given for life. With such exhaustive preparation, they believed they alone were ready for Messiah - should He come.

And yet Messiah had come. Fulfilling every single prophecy, even as He hung on the cross, Jesus was the sum of God's love for people. All the Truth, all the Way, and all the Life was right in front of them.

But they failed the test.

"Not all people who sound religious are really godly. They may refer to me as 'Lord,' but they still won't enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The decisive issue is whether they obey my Father in heaven. Matt. 7:21

Love is action, beloved. Too many people have walked in and out of church, maybe even walked the aisle pledging their heart to God and their life to Christ, then never gave either. They will fail the test. Maybe they stayed in church and soaked up knowledge. They learned the ins and outs of religion. Had the Bible down - cold. Yet they never changed in their behavior, never grew in God's grace, never exhibited any difference. The Bible wasn't the only thing they had cold. They will fail the test.

Jesus prayed for them too that day. But the time is coming when the real test will be given. All our work will be meaningless. Only our love for Christ will last.

3 Then He said, "I assure you, unless you turn from your sins and become as little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. Matt 18:3 (NLT)

Life for a child is not a test - it's a joy! When they live in the love of their father and mother, they are secure, they are happy, and they live in faith and in hope. When we are right with God, we too can experience that joy. And nothing other than repentance and obedience will work.

Don't let this holy weekend - this day pass without knowing that your life will pass the test.

Grace! Freely available - but not cheap.

Good Friday

Thursday, April 09, 2009

It's Not Enough To Know

It's been a long period of reflection - this Lent. I went into it ready to experience more of what it means to follow Christ in His suffering. My decision was to give up certain things in order to get what I sought. For the most part, it has happened, but not just through a change in what I ate.

I've read the gospels over and over, studied through literally hundreds of pages in commentaries, and listened to a number of sermons during this Lent, but the best teacher I have had during this time has been... life. It's not enough for me to just know about Jesus, what He did, what His friends did. It's only when I have to rely on following Him through challenges big and small - times when I have choices to make - that I begin to understand and grow in faith.

Going through the last few months with Bunny and trying to help her honor her father and mother as her mom slipped away made me draw on every ounce of Christ's compassion I could beg for. It made me depend wholeheartedly in God's provision more than in years. It drove me more often to my knees. And when it ended, I knew God in a deeper way, had increased the level of my trust in His loving care, and opened a freer dialogue with Him than I had ever had before.

If I could pass along one bit of knowledge gained, it is this.

Knowing Is Not Enough

All that Bible trivia you have stored up about feast days, coinage, Jewish customs, Roman laws, declensions and the like - only matters when it causes you to love Jesus more with your everyday life. If that's not happening - you are good to go on Bible Jeopardy, but not in following Christ.

It is in those countless decisions you make in the everyday that you reveal what you believe - really believe. It is in the times when the shadows are darkest that His light becomes the brightest. It becomes evidence of His faithfulness and a touchstone for you to say to others "My God Saves, My God Cares, MY God Provides.

In our case, I really feel that God is getting ready to use us in a way far past our previous comfort zone. Pray for us,that we might be ready.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Hollywood's Idea of Making A Difference

Blame Bunny. She shared with me the news tidbit about the $3 Million Dollars raised to help teach kids to meditate.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

The Road Less Traveled

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

- Robert Frost

Jesus had a choice. He chose the road that led to shame, suffering, and death. Not out of compulsion, but out of love. Knowing that, and living in light of it, makes all the difference.

The End of the Beginning

It's a beautiful Saturday here. And yet I'm almost in tears as I type this.

Knowing what Jesus went through that final week gets to me. It always has. And ever since I came to New Hope almost ten years ago, we have done a Good Friday service because I believe that unless a person knows what their freedom from sin cost, they will never fully appreciate grace. In most years we do a service where it gets progressively darker during the service and we leave in sorrow.

So this morning I began to put together the elements of that service. And it grabbed me again.

He did it for me. He died in my place. He took the wrath of God upon Himself - He who was sinless - for me.



Holy week begins with Palm Sunday tomorrow. It was the end of the beginning.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Passivity Is Death

There's so much swirling around us in our culture today. North Korea has nukes and is getting ready to test an ICBM. Iran is close to having them too. Pakistan is unraveling. Europe seems to be ignoring external and internal threats. Here in America we have an economic crisis, a leadership crisis, and cultural challenges continue to rise.

Even in our little corner of the world, Valparaiso Florida, we have our city suing the Air Force to stop the F-35 from coming. We have a rising tide of crime, of homelessness, of poverty - and not just material poverty - poverty of spirit. People are drifting from "shiny thing" to "shiny thing." They seek life and fulfillment through experiences and possessions.

A phrase jumped off the pages of a book I was reading this morning.

"Passivity is death."

The world, our nation, and the people in it cannot sit back and wait to see what the outcome is from all the threats we face. We cannot wait for someone else to come and fix the problems. And those of us who follow Jesus must act to change the status quo. We cannot just be a Christian, we must act in ways that show that we are - that sync with what Jesus would do.

I'm reading the gospels again and again this week as I prepare for Palm Sunday and Holy Week. One thing is apparent - Jesus was a man on a mission. The man was not without the reality of fear and anguish, either. But he chose the hard path because not doing so would have left things as they were, and they were rotten.

7 The Lord God will help Me;
therefore I have not been humiliated;
therefore I have set My face like flint,
and I know I will not be put to shame.
Isaiah 50:7 (HCSB)

It was an act of His will, out of His love for the Father, and for us.

So here's the question.

Do we love God and our neighbors enough to fight the urge to sit on the sideline and let someone else handle the problems of our communities? Are we asleep in the light, or ready to push back the darkness?

Passivity is death.