Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The attack and the baby Jesus

He is so subtle, the enemy.

Satan picks little, innocuous things that seem insignificant to so many to throw us off.

Satan knows just when and where to attack, and always do so when huge things for the Kingdom are on the horizon.

This is the story of my day, which really began last night. I am in the middle of planning and organizing a little weekend of spiritual renewal that will involve between 100-150 men. Some will be new to the event, others will be there because somehow God used the weekend as a tool in His redemptive story in their lives.

The weekend is a well-thought out event, all shedding significant light on the love and grace offered us by Jesus Christ. Detail after detail make up the planning and organizing. In many ways I am an "as the Spirit moves" kind of guy, but also have a level of reverence for this weekend that has me doing all I can to pay attention to the details.

Last night, a thoughtful, well-intentioned phone message was left asking if I had remembered, of all things, popcorn!

POPCORN! Significant enough for one person I know to petition to have it declared the fifth food group. Significant enough to send me into the tank this morning.

There are hundreds of details going into this event and popcorn gets me. See what I mean about subtle? It isn't as if I don't have cooks to provide meals, or people to clean up after the meals, etc. Those would be significant details, but Satan gets me with popcorn.

I have long proclaimed that I don't really care what people think about me and carried a confidence level in the things I do (because I do everything I can to stay away from sure failure), but the fact of the matter is that this has been a lie. We all have a desire to be well-thought of, to have people appreciate us and the things we do, and to, frankly, be loved.

I know I do - some of you may, too, if you cut through the bull and be real.

The morning attack sent me reeling. "Why did I think I could be involved in this, in this position? I can't even remember popcorn." "You're no good at things like this." "I can't believe you forgot that!" "Why would anyone have ever entrusted this position for this weekend to you?"

Takes me into John 10:10. It reads like this: "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full." The words of Jesus for you and for me!

After shaking off the sucker punch from Satan, that scripture came to me. So did all of the acts of love, grace and mercy Jesus has shown me in the course of my days on this earth. I praise Him that He is giving me eyes to recognize the attack and that He is better equipping me to handle the attack all the time.

This weekend I am talking about has nothing to do with me - it never has. I am aware of that. Popcorn or no popcorn, the weekend is going to be what God wants it to be and how God wants it to be.

Sometimes it takes a four year old to make the point stick.

Having made my way out of the attack I stopped home for lunch. Our fourth child, Anna, is the only home with mom during the day and seems to be our biggest mess maker. I made my way through the living room and one of her messes to encounter her at the island in our kitchen making another mess.

This is the moment at which I sometimes have something stupid to say, get upset with her and the like, but today I just took it in. There she sat, with some Dora dominoes her grandmother had given her just an hour earlier, standing vertically. They were all facing inward, and inside the oval was a couple of dominoes stacked on top of each other with some others on their sides acting like walls.

"They're all looking at baby Jesus," Anna says.

"What?" I ask.

"They're all looking at baby Jesus. All the wise men and people are looking at baby Jesus."

It wasn't until after these words that I noticed the detail described above in the little nativity scene she had created.

God blew me away through that little girl - our little angel. Here I had been running around sweating some silly little detail that is fixable, having allowed Satan to get in my way for a time this morning, when I really should have been looking to Jesus...should be looking to Him at all times in all things.

More and more, as He tweaks my sight and gives me eyes to see exactly what it is that is going on around me I am blown away. They continue to be exercises in experiencing His grace and His peace in my life!

My prayer today for anyone who happens to come around here is simply this:

Abba, Father, may I always know (I MEAN REALLY KNOW) that the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy and that You, Jesus, came that we may have life and have it to the full. In the holy, precious, healing name of Jesus I pray. Amen!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

It's all about love

It's February, which means that commercialized season of love. Valentine's Day is just around the corner, and Robert Hruzek over at has launched his latest writing challenge, "What I Learned from...Love" this week. Click on over to the Middle Zone to check out some other thoughts once you are finished reading my take on experiencing grace and peace through the topic of love.

It's all about love, this life we are living. This life is about loving our spouses, loving our kids, loving our neighbors, loving our "framily" and friends, and loving people to Jesus.

Much of what I have learned about love can be attributed to two recording artists. My life has been much like a two-act play to date. The first act looking a lot like a tune recorded by Tina Turner called "What's love got to do with it?" The second act, I pray, is looking a lot more like the Steven Curtis Chapman recording, "It's All About Love."

Love is a tough word to define, isn't it? We fall into love, we love things, love is a feeling, an emotion, a commitment. Huh?!?!

In those days when I lived life wondering "what's love got to do with it" I often played this silly little game in my head. Remember, I am 6-5, 475 (exaggerated for effect), so the thought of me plucking petals from a daisy thinking "He loves me, He loves me not" might be pretty amusing.

I dare say we probably all played this game at one time or another, though. You know the drill - I helped that woman across the street the other day (he loves me); I told a lie (he loves me not). I taught Sunday School this week (he loves me); I yelled at my kids again (he loves me not). You get the picture.

This isn't really what Christ's love is supposed to look like, but for many who don't grasp grace and peace, it has a pretty strong hold.

But as Christ grabbed hold of my life, he began to explain to me and to show me what love looks like. THE good news, John 3:16, reads this way: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life."

As experiencing grace and peace has overtaken my life, those numbers of hope (3:16) mean everything as God so loved the world (and everyone and everything in it) that he willingly sent his son to this earth with the sole purpose of redeeming us from this fallen, broken, messed-up world.

What is love? In the Greek, Agapao (verb) and agape (noun) is the Christian love of the Bible. It means affection, benevolence, good-will, high esteem and concern for the welfare of the one loved. It is deliberate, purposeful love rather than the emotional or impulsive love most of us are familiar with. Agape love is a brotherly or sisterly love that is the kind of unconditional love that comes when a child is born. There isn't anything a baby does to receive love - to earn love - rather affection and high esteem come naturally to us.

As I move away from Tina's thoughts of love being a "second hand emotion," John 13:34 speaks to my heart. "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another."

Stop and chew on that for a second (pause). As Jesus Christ gave up his life for me and for you, we are supposed to give up our lives for others. As I contemplate this passage it becomes clear to me that we are to love in every aspect of life. If I truly get 3:16 and 13:34 then I will love people with all of my heart in every way imaginable.

I Peter 4:8 from the Message continues the theme: "Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything."

Love each as if my life depended upon it? Really, Jesus?

Am I really supposed to do that? My shallow, narrow little mind raises points like: "I know too much about that person to love him; I know how they are; I know who they hang with; I know what they did. Besides, how can I do that? Do I really have to make enough time to get to know someone well enough to like them, let alone love them?"

Living into the scriptures is everyone's battle, isn't it? We don't love because we have to obey the law, but rather we love out of this deep love and appreciation for all that Christ has done for us.

Read these words from I John 3:16-18: "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need, but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth."

I John 4:7-11 reads like this: "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another."

Love. We who follow Christ have learned that we love because he first loved us. And if we say "I love God," and yet hate our neighbors, the Bible calls us liars.

Love. I John 4 tells us that God is love, which leads me back to Tina Turner and her hit song. Tina poses the question, "What's love got to do with it?" She calls it a second hand emotion.

If you and I can agree that I John 4 says that God is love, isn't Tina Turner really asking "What's God got to do with it?"

This tour through scripture would tell us that with God, "It's All About Love."

I have seen love first hand, acts of agape love that are carried out in this world - sometimes simply because God first loved us and because of what Jesus did on that cross. How can you show love to someone around you?

Perhaps when someone is hurting and has nowhere else to go, you listen to them and pray with them. That's love.

Perhaps someone needs their sidewalk shoveled or their lawn mowed, and you do it for free!?! That's love.

Maybe someone needs a lift somewhere and you give them one!?! That's love.

Perhaps you write a note, send an email, make a phone call - you fill in the blank!

Experiencing grace and peace in this life has come in many forms for me - the greatest being love. Love of my God who could've turned his back on me. Love of my wife, family and friends in the toughest of times and in the best of times.

That love has transformed my life, has put love in my heart for God, his Word and a desire to proclaim it that I have a hard time containing. For me, it's all about love!

Check this Jeremy Camp song out - this is the result of what I am experiencing right here, right now!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Have You Seen Jesus?

I once was blind, but now I see!

An oh-so true refrain from the classic "Amazing Grace," true of me and perhaps true of you.

While Shawn McDonald is not a hymn writer, but rather a former drug addict and drug dealer who found Jesus, his lyrics from the song "Open Me" are appropriate for consideration today.

Would you open up my eyes, so I can see?
Would you open up my ears, so I can hear?
Would you open up my mind, so I can know?
Would you open up my heart, so I can love you more?

That is my prayer - EVERY DAY - that he would open up my eyes, my ears, my mind and my heart, that I can love him more!

When I was blind and could not see, it wasn't even a thought - I could have cared less.

The other day I was led to recall a conversation I had with my old college baseball coach - a conversation that occurred one day before graduating from college way back when.

"How do you want to be remembered? The way you are known around here is probably not how you want to be remembered!?!"

He went on to challenge me in a number of areas of my life, none of which was any good at the time. While the conversation is nearly 20 years ago now, I remember it to this day and thank God for his having enough interest in me to have the guts to pose the question and make me think - even if the reaction was delayed for at least a decade-and-a-half.

Like I said, I was blind but now I see...and with that sight comes a constant desire to see Jesus, to hear him, to know him and to love him more.

If you are new here, music has a significant influence in my life. I love to sing and to worship our King - it feels like that is one of the reasons I am still here. I have already listed two choruses that have meaning in my heart - here's another.

"Have you seen Jesus, my Lord, he's here in plain view.
Take a look, open your eyes, he'll show love to you!"

I love how it seems that stretches of time seem to fit together. Saturday I saw Jesus, and Sunday was challenged by my pastor to see Jesus in all things. He challenged us to stop and think when we here of the cancer diagnosis. Does that have the last word, or do we look to see Jesus? When we fall on economic hardships, do they have the last word, or does Jesus? When our lives are falling apart, does whatever is happening around us win out, or do we look to Jesus?

A powerful message.

On Saturday, I saw Jesus in the middle of the afternoon. He showed up in the lives of two of our dearest friends who were present at a meeting to show their love and support for my wife and for me. They shed tears with us, they prayed with us, they hugged us and they laughed with us. Jesus in the flesh is quite something!

He came in the form of a woman with whom I share elder responsibilities in our church. Her loving kindness, her caring in situations where most people want to judge and/or gossip inspires me.

I also saw Jesus in the form of a pastor-friend from a neighboring community whom I have gotten to know over the past several months. When I was stuck with a computer file, I called him. Dave figured out the solution within an hour and was back to me. But more than that, we had a great conversation on Saturday - one that will not leave me anytime soon - talking about where we've been, but more importantly, where we are heading.

I saw Jesus on Sunday when I sat down with a family facing one of life's greatest challenges - living with five children while being caught in the middle of this economic downturn or depression, whatever we are calling it today. With no income thoughts are normally desperate and of the poor-me variety.

"I guess God has something else in store for me. He must know that I wasn't supposed to spend the rest of my life at that job. Maybe I will go back to school and find something part-time to help the situation, but it seems people who hire want people with college degrees."

That's seeing Jesus, isn't it?

More and more, I am seeing Jesus. I saw him on Friday night at a basketball game, for just a couple of minutes when it was all over, when he told Kathy and me how much he appreciates us.

I see him all over the High Calling Blogs network when I take the time to sit down and read blog posts there.

I see him in the lives of those who are dearest to me. The lives of the people in my inner circle are so ooozing with the love, care, grace and mercy of Christ that it is impossible to miss.

I just finished reading Patty's post over at where she talked about Jesus' desire for us to "bear fruit - living fruit." She is just one who is doing it - where it just oozes in what she writes. There are tons of others, as well.

It oozes out of the two guys (I was gonna call 'em old guys, but thought better of it) who were driving around Saturday afternoon inviting people to church on Sunday. They dropped by after several stops to tell me what they had been up to. The younger of the two is 61, the other close to 80, and they have a love for Jesus and a desire to see others come to him...I saw Jesus in those two guys this weekend.

All of these sightings now have me wondering where I will see him next? At the game tonight? On my next sales call? Over the phone? On Facebook?

Have you seen Jesus, my Lord? He's here in plain view! Take a look, open your eyes, he'll show love to you!