Monday, September 29, 2014

The Meaning and Necessity of Scars

My body is covered with scars. My first scar came when I was five years old and fell and split my head open. I have scars from the top of my head to the bottoms of my feet. I counted my scars once (I know it's creepy) and have over 30 all across my body. I've been pretty hard on my body through the years.

I can tell you the stories behind almost all of the scars, or at least I how I came to get them. Some are accidents, some are the result of poor and reckless choices, but there is one that saved my life. Starting at the base of my neck and extending nine inches towards my navel is the scar from my heart surgery. That scar is a constant reminder of the fragile nature of life and the gift that God gave me when He guided the surgeon's hands.

But I'm not taking your time today to talk about my heart surgery...I want to talk with you about what scars mean. So many of us try to cover up our scars, to remove the memories that they carry with them. We all share an aversion to pain, it's written in our genes. But without this massive scar in the middle of my chest I in all likelihood would be here today. The scar in the middle of my chest is no longer a reminder of the pain that I endured but a symbol of the life that it gave to me. 

One of the most difficult things I have ever done was make a trip to the hospital after the death of a church member just months after my heart surgery. He was younger than and I dropped dead going up the steps to his home one evening. I struggled to perform his funeral service and I struggled to understand the "why" of my survival and his won passing. My own scar seemed to constantly haunt me with the what might have been. My soul hurts for him and his family even today.

But scars carry different meanings, come from different origins. Jesus bears scars. The gospels record for us that Jesus' resurrected body bore those scars. They are a testimony of the power of God's love. That love which willingly gave His life for each of us. Jesus is not afraid of those scars, he embraces them willingly, gladly. He took them into himself so that we might be redeemed. You might say that Jesus' scars display the truthfulness of his claims about himself. Who else but the Savior of the world would willingly receive the scars that proclaim our redemption. 

What story do your scars tell about you? Do they draw you into a life of appreciation and thankfulness for the scars that Jesus bears for you? I have come to be thankful for this one particular scar and am learning to be grateful for all the rest. May they all remind me of the love that truly saved my life.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Anonymous and OK with it?

I recently met some new friends....well, they are new to me. They are actually friends of my wife. They are really nice people and I look forward to getting to spend time with them as our friendships develop. When meeting them I received compliments on this blog. The person said that they had read these posts and made a (joking, I'm sure) remark about my internet presence and, in their words, "fame"


I believe that this blog has a grand total of nine followers and that my last post was seen by a grand total of thirty-two people. Did I mention that I have something like thirty-six followers on Twitter? I have never pastored a megachurch, never been asked to chair any important committees or task forces. In short...I'm anything but well known and famous is not a word that I would associate with myself.

And I've become ok with that.

I must confess that this has not always been the case. My childhood was very difficult and it left me with a huge void in terms of self confidence and a sense of my purpose and worth. For many years I longed to know that I was worth something to someone. I tried playing sports, mostly in an effort to gain the approval of my father, but that didn't work. I participated in drama and speech contests with some success but not the recognition that I hungered for. My college career was nothing special and was noted more for my lack of academic achievement than anything else. With the possible exception of the cafeteria food fight...but we don't talk about that.

I struggled into adulthood and marriage feeling lost in a way. I desperately wanted my life to mean something to someone. I believed that God loved me but I wasn't sure why. I was convinced that my wife was going to wake up one day and realize the loser that I was and leave me for someone who would make a difference in the world. 

I was anonymous and miserable. 

I wish I could tell you that there was a Damascus-road type experience in which God broke through my misery and overwhelmed my disbelief with his love. That's not the case. The truth is that I struggled for many, many years and that I came to spiritual and emotional health through small doses of that still, small voice and the Bible. The Job like patience of my wife was so very vital in all of this. She continued to model for me the love of God...the truth is she still does.

I reached a turning point one day through the actions of one of my kids. One of my sons had inadvertently caused a minor disaster while I was working on our car. It was nothing major but was just one of those "perfect storm" moments. I overreacted and exploded all over him, saying things I didn't mean and should never have said. He ran into the house in tears and stayed there while I laid under the car fuming. 

I'm not sure how long I laid there but my fuming turned into self loathing. I was certain that my actions were proof of my absolute worthlessness. But then I heard my son come outside. I came out from under the car and before I could apologize he rushed up to me and threw his arms around me and told me he loved me. I was stunned that his heart would want to be on the same planet as me, much less express his love for me. 

God had me right where he wanted me. I was listening to Dr. David Jeremiah the next morning and he read Psalm 27:10 - "My mother and father have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me up." A light went on in my head. 

I came to realize that God picked me up all those years ago when I accepted Christ as my Savior. He knew what was coming then and He loved me anyway. His plan for my life included all the struggles, all the heartaches. He has been there all the time, wanting and waiting to wrap me in His arms. All those youth leaders, the senior adults, my wife and so many others were the instruments of His grace and love in the long, slow drawing of my burdened heart to Him.

I discovered that I wasn't so anonymous after all. I was the object of the affections of the Creator of the universe. He picked me up all those years ago and had been carrying me. 

The truth is that none of us are anonymous. God knows each of us in ways deeper than we can imagine, and He loves us with a love so passionate and fierce that He gave up his son for us.

No one from high school, college, or even seminary may remember me. No one at the headquarters of the SBC may know my name and I may never be remembered as a great pastor...But God knows me, loves me and has prepared a place for me. 

If that's anonymity I'm okay with it.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Where Never is Heard a Discouraging Word?

Oh give me a home
Where the buffalo roam
And the deer and the antelope play
Where never is heard 
A discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day. 

This blog was originally intended to be about the power of words...the power to build up, to tear down. I had intended to address the foolishness of Victoria Osteen's words...the President's seeming obsession with calling the Islamic State "ISIL" and what the meaning of "is" is. But technological issues derailed that post and so I find myself thinking of other things this morning. 

Mondays tend to be "Mondays" for me. They are often the most physically, spiritually, and emotionally challenging days of my week. I know many pastors who feel that way. It seems that the preparations for Sundays consume our emotions, intellects, and efforts and then we find ourselves spent come Monday. This is especially true for me because I don't sleep well or in great quantity. So I find myself on many Monday mornings struggling to get started; much less build any great momentum.

I have to admit that this was true this morning. I don't drink coffee (I know, I'm a weirdo!) and was having a hard time generating anything resembling enthusiasm for the day (I've been up since 3:30 am) when someone sent me a text message. I didn't recognize the number, but that's unimportant. 

The message was one of encouragement. The sender wanted to thank me for my service to our church. 

There was power in that message, at least for me. My heart was encouraged by the simple message and the words of thanks for my preaching. Those words penetrated my heart and unleashed joy. I cannot say that they made my day, but they sure helped me get off to a better start than I would have otherwise. 

So I guess I am still speaking about the power of words...but in the positive sense. We live in a world that delights in tearing things down, especially people. What a joy to receive a message that was intended to build up, to encourage, to strengthen. 

My response to that test message? To be someone who encourages others today. 


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Read This Before You Give Up

Our world is full of strife.

I doubt that anyone anywhere would argue with that statement. The situation in the Ukraine, ISIS, murders, assaults, seems as if everything is caught up in turmoil. Our world has become a place of war, pain, and despair. Hopelessness appears to be the theme of our days. Who could blame us if we decided to throw our hands up and give up?

I will.

I have known my share of heartache and troubles. An abusive childhood, abandonment, disappointment seemed to be the story of my life...and that was before I turned 18! The death of children, chronic health conditions, dismissals, personal attacks, and struggles have filled my days since. But I will not give up, will not give in. I can no more give up on this life that I could suddenly grow eight inches and regrow all my hair (if you're reading this but don't know me....I'm short, fat, and bald). But I have learned one or two things during my troubled time on this planet and those things give me the ultimate hope. I will list the most important thing first:

I know Jesus as my Savior and Lord.

Jesus became my Savior as a ten year old and I have been trying to submit to His lordship ever since. I haven't always followed Him as I should but He's never given up on me. That alone is the greatest hope I will ever know. I am not dependent on being smarter than everyone else, or faster, or more handsome or anything. In fact, there is nothing that you or I or anyone can do to be worthy of God's grace. I depend on the sacrifice of Jesus for my right standing before a holy God. That grace is a gift of God and I will never be able to do anything to make Him love me less or remove His grace from me. 

That grace is available to all men because God loves all men. I'm not going to debate predestination or election, or any of that stuff. All I know is that God loves all of us...offers His grace to all...and doesn't desire that anyone be separated from Him. He actively calls men and women just like me every day and as many as who will receive Jesus by faith will be saved. In a world filled with hopelessness and futility that's truly good news. I believe God is going to keep things under control until his plan it finished and then wraps things up. Not a day sooner or later. God is in control.

I will never give up because His grace shows me that it is never too late for God to reach down and change the world. 

Please think a moment or two about this for a day or two....I promise you that this truth alone will change the way you look at this world.