Saturday, March 31, 2012

Veni, Vidi, Vici

They say Julius Caesar fought a very short war in Turkey and when someone asked him about it, he very uncharacteristically (Caesar liked to hear himself talk) quipped "Veni, Vidi, Vici" - "I came, I saw, I conquered." They threw a Triumphant Parade for Caesar when he came home.

They threw one for Jesus too.

We are on the cusp of a very special week as I write this. Sunday will begin Holy Week in Christian churches all around the globe. In thousands of languages and dialects, the story of Jesus' Passion will be told. Don't miss it. Give your time and attention to this week and use it to regain your focus on what really matters. Palm Sunday is a day of beginnings.

John 12:17-19 (Msg) The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb, raising him from the dead, was there giving eyewitness accounts. [18] It was because they had spread the word of this latest God-sign that the crowd swelled to a welcoming parade. [19] The Pharisees took one look and threw up their hands: "It's out of control. The world's in a stampede after him."

If Gallop, Barna, or Harris had taken a poll, Jesus would have been proclaimed king in a landslide that Palm Sunday, as even his enemies admitted that His popularity was at an all time high. People thronged to see Him enter Jerusalem. But within a few days, people in Jerusalem were crying for Him to be executed as a criminal. And so He was. How did Jesus handle not just a change in popularity, but intense rejection? How can we learn from what He did?

Now we'll never enter Jerusalem at the head of thousands of our followers. But we enjoy being praised, and we like being liked. What happens to our convictions when we aren't? How do we handle it when our beliefs are opposed, ignored, or even ridiculed?

What principle can we look at to guide our way?

Well what did Jesus do?

John 12:27-28 (Msg)
"Right now I am storm-tossed. And what am I going to say? 'Father, get me out of this'? No, this is why I came in the first place. [28] I'll say, 'Father, put your glory on display.' "

Knowing that this celebration would end, and that the week would find Him bruised, battered, and crucified, Jesus looked not to His circumstances for direction, but to God. He didn't put a finger into the wind. He didn't take a poll. He didn't ask His friends.

He went to God the Father. It was God's will that He used like a homing beacon. It was His passion to please God and glorify His name that kept Him going. And it was His love for the Father that drove Him to the cross.

What are you here for?

Glorifying God. That's why you were placed here in the first place.

Take the next week and use it to redirect your focus off the things of this life. Use the lens of Jesus' Passion to help you push toward deeper things - toward God. People aren't going to always be cheering your efforts you know. Sometimes you will miss that shot at the buzzer. Sometimes you'll dribble off your foot.

But God will always be in your cheering section, encouraging you. The cheering may stop here, but heaven will raise a ruckus when you come home. Jesus came. He saw our needs. And He conquered death.

That's Grace!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Cleaning Up Everything But the Memories


Well, it finally happened. Those of you who know me well will laugh (maybe even out loud) when I write that I cleaned up my office this week. No, not the one at church - that's a national treasure trove - but the one here at home is almost organized. It was time and I had time.

In the process I found a lot that I needed to keep.

Some of the things, like my Mother's New Testament that she carried during World War 2, or the picture of my friend Henley the Great Dane, I keep close to me always. But as I waded through the bits and pieces of literally a couple of years, I found a lot that made me think - that made me remember times both good and bad.

I found the note from the bank that precipitated the crisis but turned out to be only the tip of the iceberg we had struck. I laughed quietly thinking about how bravely I went to the people of New Hope and said "We have an opportunity to see God do the impossible." We committed ourselves to pray and to trust our God to provide.

And He did.

It didn't rain manna. No waters parted. But notes began arriving from people - some who had never attended New Hope - and many who had. The notes had checks from Maryland, Alaska, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, Georgia, Florida, even Nigeria. Miracles every one. Answers to prayer.

As I found each envelope, I stopped and took a moment to remember the people who sent them, and thanked God again for every one of them. One note said to wait a couple of days before depositing the check as the funds had not been transferred yet. I wondered if someone tapped their 401K or emergency savings to help a church they used to be a member of (and are still a part of ) make it through. Other notes asked about how Bunny and I were doing. The crazy thing is that we knew that the situation was perilous, but we believed that no matter what, God was on our side. Even if New Hope ceased to exist, and we had to find a way to make a living and learn to live without our friends of almost 13 years, God could be trusted. He was good. He is good.

Friends, you have never truly lived out your faith until you are on that tightrope. No skill can save you. Nothing can get you over except God.

He did.

And He still is.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Beast

The beast in me is caged by frail and fragile bars.
Johnny Cash

We watched "Walk the Line" years ago and were moved by the story and began to appreciate Johnny Cash more. Johnny Cash was one of those things that you take for granted growing up, assuming that they will always be there. Now he's not. Just when the world realized what a treasure we had, he left for heaven. His video of "Hurt" filmed in the months before he died was the most raw video I have ever seen. It was like seeing poetry, art, drama, and music pressed into one. Sitting like Solomon writing "all is vanity," Cash showed us just what "vanity" looked like.

He was a man who had horrendous flaws in his character. And he didn't excuse them away. His understanding led him to turn away from his strength - that frail and fragile strength - to search for something more than fame and success. He turned to faith in Jesus.

Funny thing was, he once had been a regular attender at church. It was easy. "You went every week, put in your time, and went home. But nothing changed. You still lived the same way during the week."

It wasn't until Johnny had almost lost it all and had contemplated taking his own life - that He and God "got back together."

"How well I have learned that there is no fence to sit on between heaven and hell. There is a deep, wide gulf, a chasm, and in that chasm is no place for any man."
Johnny Cash

Thank God that Johnny was able to have the time he needed to come home - to get off the fence and leave that chasm behind forever. There must be millions though who are still stuck there.

We saw a man dressed in black. And yet, inside him, was the Light.

Eugene Peterson's Message Bible gives us this version of an awesome piece of Scripture. Just a scrap, really. But as I sit here and think about my own walk with God- as I sit among tokens of both failure and success - I realize again just how far God had to reach to save me.

If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That's to prevent anyone from confusing God's incomparable power with us. 2 Corinthians 4:7 - The Message

Friends, it's never too late to let God take over. Incomparable power is there if you'll just let go, seek forgiveness, and turn toward God. For me, it was a life saver. It could be for you too.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Good Place To Be What God Wants You To Be

I'm sitting in the lobby here at New Hope Baptist Valparaiso

In front of me is a bulletin board filled with faces of kids people in our congregation sponsor around the world. You can do this! Check out Compassion, World Vision, or Amazima.

To my left are bags made by women in Africa that we sell to help give them better lives. Check out

There's a banner from Soles4Souls, Inc., flyers from The Water Project who we've helped drill wells - our congregation exists to love God and love people - all over the world. 

I was sitting here thinking about how instead of asking for money to pay salaries, or build bigger buildings-instead of  asking people to give to help New Hope - Bunny and I field calls from people asking "what do you need?" and we spend most of our time during the announcements telling people how to send their money away to other ministries who we feel God has His hand on.

We're delivering over a 100 meals in our city now every week. It's totally an act of God's provision. Totally.

And we should thank Him every day for the privilege of seeing Him at work in such a clear and present way.

If you want to learn how to be a giver and live a generous life - this is a place that will teach you how and give you a chance to make a difference. If you need to "be fed" you probably can find a place on every corner.

But if you want to feed people - if you want to feed the Spirit of Christ in you by service and sacrifice?

Come and see.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Rubber, Meet Road

When I looked at this week's Scripture, I knew that all I had to do was get out of God's way and let the Scripture speak. It's a very counter-cultural message. The world tells you to live for today. Christ calls us to die to self and forsaking all else - follow Him.

We spend so much of our lives and lead our children and others to do it as well - on things that really don't matter. Day after day, we make decisions about how to spend our time, what priorities to set, how to use our resources. Then we get to the end of our days and realize that we have reaped what we have sowed.

We have to make the decision in advance to give our lives away. A few years ago in Iraq, two Marines were sent out to man a guard post on the main access point into a base at Ramadi. They met that morning for the first time. One was from the barrio the other from Long Island. They probably got their orders from their SGT in typical Marine  fashion. "You know what to do now go do it."

They did.

When did they make that decision?

When they swore to protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

How did they prepare for that day?

By living a life of sacrifice, dedication and commitment every single day.

The motto is Semper Fidelis - Always faithful - not sometimes faithful - when I feel like being faithful - when it doesn't fall in conflict with band, or baseball, or soccer, or Nascar, or the beach, or what someone thinks is important.

The law of sowing and reaping isn't up for debate. It isn't going to change.

You only get one chance at life.

You only get one shot as a Dad or a Mom to parent a child in the way God would have you do it. They look to you to learn what really matters in this life. And yet we worry more over how they are doing in school, in sports or some other earthly pursuit than we do about the most critical question of life - are they a disciple of Jesus? Ultimately that's all that matters. And most of us would give lip service to that, but day after day, week after week we keep sowing to the world and not to eternity and then we're amazed when our projected future turns out so differently.

I've been a pastor for a long time now.

Believe me when I tell you, I've seen the results of sowing the wrong seeds.

Don't waste your life.

Plant it deep in Jesus.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Fast friends

These two just met each other.

One of the girls was new to us yesterday - a transfer from another school in the district. They are new to the laptops too.

The laptops were a donation from a person who is both retired military and a retired teacher who has children serving now. I've received 4 so far and I am so thankful for them. When I posted about what I wanted to do in my classroom on an IBM Thinkpad forum, they responded with "what do you need?"

My immediate answer was more technology - specificially - laptops. And they came. So generous. We're so grateful.

The district provides 3 desktops for a classroom. We now can have up to 8 kids on at one time with the laptops that have been donated and if I let them use mine.

They are setting up their avatars for a math game that every student seems to be crazy about. Math. Crazy about. They can drill against the computer and every play each other online. Why there was even a rumor that one of the junior math wizards beat the teacher... twice. Hand eye coordination skillset is strong in that one.

Amazing what good technology can do. If I was able to get every kid engaged at the same time... :)

The FCAT is coming in April and my kids started the year behind. They won't finish there.
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