Misery Meets Grace

            My eleventh Christmas started out as the worst Christmas experience of my life.  That was the year I had the bright idea that it would be fun to secretly find out what all my presents were before Christmas morning.  So, two weeks prior to Christmas I snuck into my parent’s room and spoiled the surprise. 

            Waking up that Christmas morning was worse than waking up for the first day back to school after Christmas break.  The guilt and shame were so heavy that I thought I would need the fire department to extract me from my bed. 

            As I trudged down the hallway to the living room that morning I was met by my overly enthusiastic little sister who was under strict orders to wait until I got into the living room before evening touching a single present.  She met me halfway and began dragging me down the hallway with the strength of two teams of firefighters.  Normally this would have been cause for evasive action, but this morning I welcomed the helping hand as I lumbered down my personal death row.  When we finally got to the living room I could barely look up at my parents.  Their smiles and excitement made my stomach convulse even more, a feeling that was further accentuated by the box that my sister thrust into my stomach with a giggle and a, “Merry Christmas Mark!”  I looked down at the box, “a lego set,” I thought.  You would have thought I was holding a king cobra.  In my mind I had dropped the box and stepped back screaming like a little girl, but on the outside I had mustered every ounce of willpower I had to keep hold of the box and forced a smile.  I had to do this for Mom and Dad.  I may have ruined my Christmas but I didn’t need to ruin theirs too.  Déjà vu resulted from each present that was placed into my hands; socks, coat, baseball glove, forcing me to fake surprise for the family.  It was miserable and as I came to the last present I couldn’t take it anymore.  I had a feeling my parents could tell something was wrong, so I hung my head and confessed every sordid detail right there in front of the Christmas tree. 

            I thought every present would immediately turn to coal.  Then I thought my parents would just gather everything that lay in front of me throw it in the trunk of the car and take it to some eleven year old who would really appreciate it.  Neither of these things happened.  Instead, my Mom began to cry and my Dad looked at me and said, “We already knew, we just wanted you to tell us yourself.”  It turns out I hadn’t been as covert as I thought I was.  Through her tears Mom explained to me how she had noticed something out of place in her closet a couple weeks ago but didn’t think much of it until she saw me getting more and more miserable.  She put two and two together and realized I had gotten into the Christmas presents.  My parents were disappointed over missing the surprise on my face as I opened the presents, but their hearts broke more over the misery I had inflicted upon myself.  Pushing aside their own pain they asked me if I had learned my lesson then gave me a hug and told me they loved me. 

What happened next turned my worst Christmas experience into my best.  While I was hugging my Mom and apologizing through the sobs, my Dad slipped something onto my lap.  I thought I was going to look down and see a present that would again prompt déjà vu but instead when I looked down my mind drew a blank.  Finally, I reflexively looked into my parent’s eyes with a face full of surprise, wonder, and a good measure of perplexity.  My parent’s faces beamed right back.  Maybe in spite of, maybe because of, maybe both my parents had secured one present for me they knew would be a surprise on Christmas morning.  As I tore into the present I didn’t care what it was and honestly I can’t remember what it ended up being.  I had already received the greatest present.  I knew I didn’t deserve this gift.  I knew I didn’t deserve my parent’s forgiveness and kindness.  I knew my parents were well aware of all this and still gave the gift. 

That Christmas, grace was the greatest gift I received, and as I look back now I realize how much my parent’s actions helped me understand the grace of God wrapped in a babe in swaddling cloths and lying a manger.  Its a gift we don’t deserve.  Its kindness and forgiveness we don’t deserve.  With full knowledge of this God still places the gift on our laps inviting us to receive it with wonder and maybe even a good measure of perplexity.

Babies, Bulls, and Buddy Lee

            Love is one of the most sought after and needed things among the human race.  Studies have shown that babies who are depraved of love actually experience long lasting physical, emotional, psychological and physiological damage.  This was clearly evidenced by some information compiled by Rene Spitz. In a South American orphanage, Spitz observed and recorded what happened to 97 children who were deprived of emotional and physical contact with others. Because of a lack of funds, there was not enough staff to adequately care for these children, ages 3 months to 3 years old. Nurses changed diapers and fed and bathed the children. But there was little time to hold, cuddle, and talk to them as a mother would. After three months many of them showed signs of abnormality. Besides a loss of appetite and being unable to sleep well, many of the children lay with a vacant expression in their eyes. After five months, serious deterioration set in.  They lay whimpering, with troubled and twisted faces. Often, when a doctor or nurse would pick up an infant, it would scream in terror. Twenty seven, almost one third, of the children died the first year, but not from lack of food or health care. They died of a lack of touch and emotional nurture. Seven more died the second year for the same reason. Only twenty one of the 97 children survived, most suffering serious psychological damage.   Love isn’t a luxury it’s a necessity.

Unfortunately, love is also one of the most misunderstood and ill defined notions within humanity.  I came across a story in Reader’s Digest this week of just such a mistaken understanding of love.  A young man was attending a junior stock show when a grand-champion lamb, owned by a little girl, was being auctioned. As the bids reached five dollars per pound, the little girl, standing beside the lamb in the arena, began to cry. At ten dollars, the tears were streaming down her face and she clasped her arms tightly around the lamb’s neck. The higher the bids rose, the more she cried. Finally, a local businessman bought the lamb for more than $1000, but then announced that he was donating it to the little girl. The crowd applauded and cheered. Months later, the young man was judging some statewide essays when he came across one from a girl who told about the time her grand-champion lamb had been auctioned. “The prices began to get so high during the bidding,” she wrote, “that I started to cry from happiness.” She continued with: “The man who bought the lamb for so much more than I ever dreamed I would get returned the lamb to me, and when I got home, Daddy barbecued the lamb—and it was really delicious.”  Everything we perceive as love isn’t necessarily.

In the words of Johnny Lee, “[We are] lookin’ for love in all the wrong places, lookin’ for love in too many places.”  If most of were asked to give a definition of love we would hem and haw around a little, stumble and stammer a little more and then come up with some definition that was a conglomeration of clichés like, “love is a warm fuzzy,” and “love is never needing to say I’m sorry.”  But regardless of most of the definitions we give, eventually we recognize that they fall short of what love really is.  We see what we think to be love carried out but then realize it has fallen short of what we sense to be love, but still we can’t seem to get our arms around.

John, one of Jesus’ disciples, wrote centuries ago that God is love.  I would say that most of us have heard this phrase at least one time in our lifetime, but have we really let it sink in?  This is a statement about who God is within Himself.  Love originates in God and perfect love is supremely expressed in Him.  This is the love we are looking for!  But, as with any of us, this is something that we cannot know about God, or know at all, unless He reveals it to us.  Fortunately John also tells us that God has shown His love to us through giving His Son, the object of His eternal love, to forgive us of our sins.  In this great act of forgiveness God reveals to us the greatest expression of love the world has ever known.  And it is right here in front of us.  Unfortunately, we are constantly rejecting, reinterpreting, and redefining this love and accepting crumby counterfeits in a futile search for this love that God is openly offering to us.  It’s as if we are walking through life and at every turn God is offering us the very love we are so desperately searching for, but we are so focused on the phony fabrications that we miss it at every turn.  Looking for love?  If you are not looking to Jesus Christ and the forgiveness He offers at the cross then you are most assuredly looking in all the wrong places.

The Power of Mixing 2 Great Things

The following is an article written for MorningStar Baptist Church’s monthly newsletter, Revelations.  Much of the content is an adaptation of concepts found in Reggie Joyner’s book, Think Orange.  Pray for us as we seek to fill this critical pastoral position in our church.

I have a confession.  I like to mix foods.  I have another confession.  The mixtures don’t always turn out.  Sometimes it flops, but when it does it’s tastebud bliss!  For example, Wendy’s frosty’s and French fries, soft pretzels and stadium mustard, sausage and syrup just to name a few.  These combinations may not appeal to your tastebuds, but I’ll bet to some degree you do the same (how many of you eat your eggs with ketchupL).

What I have learned from my culinary combining adventures is that oftentimes combining two great things can make them even greater.  It’s a principle God established at creation when He instituted marriage, making the two humans “one flesh”.  The wisest man that ever lived validated it as well when he said, “And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Eccl. 4:12).

At the heart of our search for an associate pastor of family ministry here at MorningStar is this conviction that combing two influences will make a greater impact than either influence can alone.  Our desire is to combine the influence of the church and the family in raising up future generations for the glory of God and the advance of His kingdom in the world.  We are looking and praying for a man with a passion to continue to guide us on the journey of becoming a church that synchronizes church leaders and families around a master plan to build faith and character in our sons and daughters.

Our current task is one of prayer and understanding.  Praying that God will continue to lead us in this process to the man who passionately understands and embraces the direction God is leading MorningStar.  Understanding as clearly as we can the principles that will drive our family ministry approach and what it will potentially look like in the days ahead.  So let’s lock arms together and faithfully continue on this adventure for His name and renown!        

High Yield Investing

           

        I’m starting to think a lot more about investing than I did a few years ago.  For one thing I’m older and realizing that someday I may retire, but in order to do that I’ve got to have something stashed away somewhere.  I also have a family now and I am thinking about their security if something were to happen to me.  Needless to say I am trying to learn a little more about the investment world and put together a portfolio that will reap healthy dividends which will give me and my family a sense of long term financial security.

            I’ve had different people share with me differing opinions concerning where my greatest investment potential lies.  There have been those who have strongly recommended real estate and others the acquisition of land, still others have proposed putting my investments in gold, and others have thrown the word ‘diversify’ around quite a bit.  Though all of these have their benefits and, of course subsequent draw backs, I have found an investment with far greater potential than any of these.  It’s an investment that promises multiplying yield not only within my lifetime but in the lifetimes of my children and my children’s children.  Now that is an investment opportunity that I am ready to jump into with both feet. 

            This is an investment that is not primarily financial and it is not focused on the financial security of my family.  It is an investment that capitalizes on the greatest investment potential we have as human beings, but it is not real estate or gold or diversification.  The greatest investment we can make is in the spiritual and moral development of the next generation.  This is an investment potential given us by the God of the universe, that if heeded can reap infinitely high yield but if ignored has devastating results.  It is an investment strategy that God lays out for us in what is known to orthodox Jews as the ‘Shema’ which is found in the fifth book of the Old Testament, Deuteronomy.  There God admonishes in chapter six verses two and three, “…you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and ?that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.”  The principles and promises found within this investment strategy still hold true for us today.

            I recently came across some statistics that showed the estimated percentage of each generation that are considered evangelical Christians.  That would be individuals who adhere to such beliefs as Jesus deity, His death on the cross and subsequent resurrection, and the resulting salvation that comes to mankind only as a result of His death and resurrection by grace through faith.  In each of the last four generations there has been a steady decline in the percentages.  In the generation that went through the great Depression it is estimated that 65% professed to be evangelical Christians, but the estimation for this generation that is currently filling our school halls is a mere 4%.  In just three generations things have taken quite a nose dive.

            Maybe it’s time we as parents and families take more time thinking about the moral and spiritual development of our children than their financial security.  We and our children can have all the money in the world but Jesus put it best when He said, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).  There is only one investment on the planet that promises eternal yield and not just temporal.  You may have heard it said, “you can’t take it with you,” which is a statement that rings true for every investment you make except the one which is in the spiritual and moral development of the next generation.  Do you have a living and abundant relationship with the God of the universe through the shed blood of Jesus Christ?  Are you passing it on to your children?  I assure you it’s an investment strategy you will never regret adding to your portfolio.

Keeping Company with God series #3

keeping company with God copymessage title: Kingdom Kids

message text: Luke 18:1-17

message date: 09.13.09

Prayer is about relationship with our heavenly Father.  It is the childlike heart that knows the Father best.

 

Heirlooms series #1

heirloom2_edited-2message title: Arrows in Our Hand

message text: Psalm 127

message date: 08.16.09

There is nothing of greater value that we can pass along to future generations than our faith and teh personal sacrifices required are worth the resulting reward.  Family is God’s reward and our heritage for living a life He builds.

 

Seat Belts and Crock Pots

crock potAs I watch my children grow and experience the bittersweet frustration of needing to repeat things over and over and over again only to have them still not get it, I am struck by how similar this is to our spiritual growth, at least my spiritual growth. Through the years I have heard these stories of men and women who have walked into a closet with God, left their sin behind, and came out never to struggle with that particular thing again. Those are great stories, but I can’t relate to that. My path to maturity has been much more like my children’s journey to remembering that the first thing we do when we get in the car is buckle in. I have been repeating it for years and wouldn’t you know it – I still have to repeat it or the seatbelts won’t get buckled. I feel like a broken record and I wonder if my voice is just on some frequency that isn’t registering. Of course then suddenly it happens. It’s like a light goes on and they get it and when they get it I really never have to say it again. Those are glorious days – and when we finally ‘get it’ in some area spiritually it must be glorious for God too.
I was wondering if this was just a ‘me’ thing, but then I started thinking about the 3 years of ministry Jesus spent with His disciples. Talk about a group of guys who heard it and saw it over and over and over again and yet just didn’t get it. It’s kinseatbeltd of funny to hear Jesus say things like, how long have been with me and still you aren’t getting it. That’s a paraphrase of course but it captures Jesus’ message. I relate to the disciples in that way, but I also want to relate to the disciples when they finally did get it, because when they got it, man did they get it. That is one of the many things I love about the book of Acts. The disciples finally get it and the church spreads like wildfire.
I know there are areas right now in my life that Jesus just keeps repeating…the first thing you do is…and I’m just not getting it. But the day is going to come, and watching my kids is just an encouragement that just as I am patient with them and willing to repeat and keep molding and shaping until they can walk on their own two feet, God will continue to do the same with me. He’s OK with the crock pot journey of spiritual growth rather than the microwave – and you know, I am too.