Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Would you give me five minutes?

I'm not sure what it was about the place that drew me to it time and time again. Perhaps it was the solitude of the place, or the sound of the rushing water, or maybe it was the fact that I was seldom interrupted while I was there. The place was a a refuge for me from a rapidly disintegrating life.

There have been few places like that in my life since then. 

That place was a spot on a waterway called the Bayou Meto in my hometown. There were a number of us who found the place while on one of those adventures that 13 & 14 year old boys like to have. That great adventure brought us to a wide spot on that creek. There were a number of rocks at this particular spot, perhaps an old road bed that had long been abandoned. We set about moving the rocks in an attempt to create a crossing through the rapidly moving water. We visited there often during that summer, but the fall pushed it farther down the list of priorities and we eventually quit going to "the Rapids" as we called them. 

Except that I didn't forget. I would visit there often in an attempt to get away from the mess that was my life. I would spend weekends there just so that I didn't have to face my reality. But life caught up with my escape and eventually I abandoned that place as well, leaving it to other young adventurer s.

But I sometimes find myself longing for a place like that again. 

Psalm 46:10 reads "Cease striving and know that I am God" (NASB). Other translations translate the opening phrase as "Be still," but I believe the better translation is cease striving. There could be no better instruction for our busy, distracted, connected lives. As a 14 year old I cherished those moments when I could escape the constant warfare that was "home." As a 54 year old I have to admit that I grown weary of the constant conflict and heartache that fills our world. The only anchor that I have is found in my relationship with God, and that relationship too often gets pushed farther down the list than is healthy for me. 

By nature I'm a fixer. Whether it's cars, small appliances, or spats between my kids, I've always tried to fix things. But the truth is that there are things we cannot fix. Not you, not me, not the. But we just keep on trying, growing more and more frustrated. The answer is to just let go.

There are things that happen in our lives that we cannot do anything about. Our response should be based on our relationship with God. Children of God do themselves and the Lord a great disservice when we keep wrestling with things that clearly are beyond our ability but are clearly His responsibility. The struggles that fill our lives are far more often beyond our control but within God's ability. 

Beyond that is the issue of all the "conveniences" that are really nothing more than chains that keep us enslaved to a way of life that is destructive spiritually. We fill our lives with computers, cell phones, televisions, text messages, tweets, and a million other things that are of questionable value at best. The life that all of this connectedness gives us is filled with activity but completely devoid of meaning. What we need is to unplug, withdraw, and cease striving.

If Jesus would regularly withdraw for times of spiritual renewal and fellowship with the Heavenly Father why do we think that we can do without those same types of times? I'm more guilty of that than anyone I know. Will you find the time today to "be still"? 

I'm about to put the phone on silence, turn off my computer, shut my door and spend some time in the presence of the Holy One who loves me. 

I encourage you to join me. I don't think any of us will die from it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

If You're Perfect Don't Bother Reading This

I had just come back to church after my heart surgery in 2010 when I was asked this question:

"What sin did you commit that caused God to punish you like this?"

Now that may seem to be a completely inappropriate and unthinking question to ask a man who had only recently had bypass surgery, but it doesn't come close to the following question I was asked after the death of our second son:

"Why do you think God took your son?"

I must confess that I did not answer that second question very well...in fact, I unloaded on the person who asked me that question. I have asked the Lord to forgive me many times for my attitude toward the person who asked me that question. 

Let me answer those two questions in the order I have listed them.

First, it was not a "sin" that I committed that caused God to punish me with heart problems. My heart problems sprang from diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and genetics. My choices, and my choices alone are the causes of my heart problems. 

My sons (our first and second) died from immaturity. That means that they were born too soon in the pregnancy to survive. They died because their lungs and hearts were not developed enough sustain their tiny bodies. It is bittersweet to me that if they had been born today that at least one of them would almost certainly have survived. 

Those questions reveal what I call an Old Testament understanding of how God works. When reading the Old Testament it is easy to draw the conclusion that God zaps people immediately when they step out of line. That's a wrong conclusion, but easy to draw nonetheless. But the truth is something altogether different. 

God is always gracious, seldom pouring out on us the justice that we deserve immediately. I remember a song from a number of years ago titled "God of the Second Chance." The truth is that our Heavenly Father is the God of another chance. I like to believe that as long as there is breath God gives another chance. 

Be even more than an Old Testament understanding of how God works I think those questions reveal the innate ability man has for creating additions to the way God does things. The Pharisees were masters of that....adding to what God says is enough. The sad thing is that Pharisees are not the only ones who do such things. We are all guilty of this practice. 

I was reading an article recently in which the pastor of a large church was talking about all the things that would disqualify someone from serving in his church. My first problem with the article was his constant reference to "his" church. Now I know that I'm majoring on a minor...but I've seen and been around enough pastors to know that some, if not many, have come to believe that they are the ones responsible for the church. The last I checked the church belonged to the Lord and I don't know a single pastor anywhere who gave his life for the church. I know I'm ranting, but I've got a feeling that this rant is probably more true than any of us realize. 

The second problem I had was the apparent lack of grace involved. There are so many Christians who have forgotten where they have come from...that we are all sinners with no redeeming qualities of our own. I've worked in some churches that were like that; unforgiving of any mistake, unwilling to extend grace, legalistic while proclaiming that they are loving.

Please don't misunderstand me...I am not saying that there should be no disqualifiers when it comes to serving in ministry. The Bible is quite clear about the qualifications. But I am saying that we must be very careful not to take on a responsibility that is not ours. None of us, no one, is the Holy Spirit for another person. The truth is that we are all messed up and that we will be messed up all of our lives. It is only the grace of God that redeems us, not our goodness, real or perceived. 

Questions like those at the beginning of this blog and articles like the one I read recently only serve to fuel the misconception that we have to have our acts together before God can love us or even do anything with us. Nothing could be further from the truth. God loves us and has loved us long before we ever thought about our unworthiness. It seems that we've forgotten that fact. 

Maybe it's time to remember.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Michael Phelps and Fallen People Like You and Me

Michael Phelps has been in the news again. On September 30th Phelps was arrested for driving under the influence. This was not his first arrest for driving while impaired. Phelps' was suspended by USA Swimming for six months and will miss next year's World Championships. This is a black mark on Phelps' image and reputation that could potentially tarnish him for years.

In case you are unfamiliar; Phelps has won more Olympic medals (22) than anyone else in history. He has graced Wheaties boxes and made millions in endorsements. But there has been a dark side to Phelps' greatness. There have been rumors of PED use (never verified) and other arrests for DUI. It seems that Phelps' single minded determination doesn't extend to life outside the pool.

Tragically, Phelps is not the first and will certainly not be the last of our heroes to take a hard fall. There have been many who have followed the tragic arc that Phelps seems to be set upon. The recent spate of stories concerning domestic abuse and NFL players; performance enhancing drugs and baseball players leave us wondering with Simon and Garfunkel: "Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?"

The truth is that Phelps and all our other fallen heroes are all human, just like you and me. None of us are able to overcome the allure of evil. There is none of us who are good. The Bible tells us that no one has ever been wholly good. People are fallen and need help. Yes, I'm going to say it: We've fallen and we can't get up (I'm sorry, I can't help it).

So before we rush out to condemn Michael Phelps or any other fallen hero lets remember that we are all capable of his transgression and so much more. Perhaps what Phelps and so many others need is not another dose of condemnation, but an understanding word and the gentle guiding hand of one who has walked the path before. Jesus instructed that "those without sin" should cast the first stone.

I wonder what we could be doing instead of ignoring Jesus' words. Perhaps our witness and our churches would be more effective if we started loving more and judging less. I'm not saying that we should turn a blind eye to Phelps' issues, or anyone else's for that matter. The church, and Christians in general, have become known more for what we're against than for our Savior. But perhaps we should learn to deal more redemptively than punitively.

At any rate, I will cheer now for Michael Phelps to get back on the right track...and not necessarily in the pool. Will you?