Cracks in the Windshield

This morning God is teaching me things – for me and perhaps for you…

Every month, I try to dedicate a day to fasting & prayer.  I say ‘try’ because some months it simply doesn’t happen.  But when it does, It’s a way of quieting the pace of what we would normally associate with working, but not the same as a day off.  A day off is for resting the mind and will from effort…allowing oneself to just go numb & dumb for awhile…or it’s for grocery shopping & lawn mowing, etc.  This is very different, because although it does not resemble productive work, it is.  In fact, more of God’s activity is advanced in my life through these prayer outings than just about anything else I ever do.  They help me to hear His voice more clearly.  Prayer & fasting is a spiritual discipline we see throughout the history of those who seek to follow Jesus…it’s a practice that has unearthed treasures and deeply impacted my relationship with God.  I highly recommend it.
Anyway, this morning I started like I usually do, in Bible study & prayer.  I’m on the tail-end of a year-long reading through the entire Bible, and am currently in the Old Testament book of Hosea.  He was a prophet during the time in Israel’s history just before they were overthrown and taken into captivity by foreign armies.  At that time, Israel was God’s chosen people to demonstrate His presence to a deeply corrupted world.  Hosea was God’s mouthpiece to pronounce His judgement against Israel because they were totally blowing it – disregarding the commands and ways of their Heavenly King, doing whatever they wanted, and worshipping false gods.  I was struck by how far the nation of God’s people had gone from Him, and was reflecting on the sinfulness in my own life as well as people I love.  Scripture says that the things written in the past are there as examples & warnings for us…like guardrails or signposts.  As I sat reflecting & praying for myself and others, my mood was morose and needy of God’s encouragement.  He is quite alive and well, and abundantly able to provide for our needs…emotional included.  However, He was silent.
After getting bundling-up for what I thought was going to be a frigid hike in the woods (where I often go for long prayer walks) I got in my frost-encrusted car and felt compelled to sit there while the windows de-frosted.  It was 28-degrees this morning.  As I sat gazing at the ice patterns on the other side of the glass, and the defroster air began heating up, the bottom of the windshield began to thaw.  It was a very slow process, but I could just discern the movement of the thaw lines working their way upward and outward, turning the hardened, opaque shield into clear rivulets of falling water inside the circles created by the heat.  To me, this was a picture of how the truth & love of God slowly softens & enlightens us when we get stuck…frozen & bound-up by the troubles & evils of this world.  This is the constant consequence of being a fallen being in a fallen world, and we need to come to Him constantly to be released from the lies and hurts that freeze on our souls.  As I was thinking about this first lesson, something happened.
I was startled by a “crack!” At first I had no idea what had happened, but then I saw the fracture line growing outward from the center of the windshield where a loose rock on the freeway had hit last week.  Apparently, the combination of the cold air outside and the now-hot air from the defroster put pressure against the weakened area caused by the rock.  I literally watched the white line extend inch-by-inch until it reached almost to the end of the passenger side of the windshield…then, suddenly, the same thing happened on the driver’s side.  A new fissure appeared and extended to the left before my eyes.  I immediately recognized that I needed to get this dangerous thing fixed ASAP, and I’m thankful this happened with me rather than my son who’s about to get his driver’s license!  Then the realization hit of what a perfect object lesson this was for the effect of sin in our lives…and its interaction with the presence of God.
Sin is like that initial rock hitting my windshield…not in how it wasn’t my fault, but in the affect it had.  Sin creates a weak spot, a chink in the armor, a little bastion of defiant independence from the reign of God in us.  We all have them….many of them…and they screw up our connection with God.  His love for us, and His pursuit of us, are not lessened by the dents & cracks in us…but those lesions certainly obstruct our vision of Him.  Untended, they also tend to get worse with exposure to time, the elements, and even His efforts to reach out to us.  Although we tend to chase after other remedies (gods), only He can repair our damaged souls.  This takes time, attention, and priority…but we’re often unwilling to make the time, give Him undivided attention, or make choices that prioritize His will in our lives.  Our God-given nature is to walk through life dependent on Him, but our fallen nature is to seek independence from Him.  Expressions of self-determination and defiance against our Heavenly Father are what the Bible calls “sin”…it literally means “missing the mark.”  Rebellion against Him, and neglect of relationship with Him, allow cracks to get bigger and multiply, until ultimately our vision of reality is obscured and we are in danger of falling shards.  He is the one who repairs, our role is to trust and obey.
“So the trouble is not with God’s law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.  I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.  So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.  So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” (Romans 7:14-8:2)
I should have gone to get my windshield repaired last week, but I didn’t think it was a big deal.  Apparently, I was wrong.  It’s always better to do the right thing earlier, isn’t it?  What could have been a minor repair turned into a complete replacement.  In any case, thank God.

Thank Full

I love Thanksgiving!

I love food…sometimes even more than I love people!  I love the flavors and textures, the sensations of chewing & swallowing delicious & creamy morsels of decadent indulgence.  There’s a lot more to food than simple survival and nourishment.  There’s a full-ness I associate with Thanksgiving feasts that brings me warm fuzzies.  All Thanksgiving meals end with me feeling so overly satiated that I’m honestly a bit uncomfortable for awhile.  It’s my annual gorging event.

Indulging in good food & drink makes me feel physically full…temporarily rotund…and generates thanks.

Thanksgiving means mud football, which appeals to the adventurous sport-o in me…although the risk of injury gets closer & scarier each year.  Running & throwing & tackling relatives & friends in the mud…throwing passes to my fleet-footed children & nieces & nephew whom I held as infants…Watching with pride as my beautiful & sophisticated wife laughs uncontrollably while being caked & spattered with mud.  That’s good stuff.  It awakens something in me that gives me joy and hope.

Being zany is good for the soul of us who must act like adults in this serious world…it generates thanks.

I love being with family…catching up on what’s going on, but mostly recalling old memories that are cherished.  I have flashbacks every year of Thanksgivings past with aunts & uncles, with Grampa Bob, playing hide & seek with my cousins.  Holidays like Thanksgiving create a direct connection with my childhood…which for me is mostly fond memories.

Cherished memories make me feel socially full…with a grin….and generates thanks.

When I’m filled to overflowing with thanks, it gushes out to others all around me.  That’s how it’s supposed to work…that’s how God designed it.  He creates and provides, we receive and are filled with thanks, then we share what we’ve received with others.

In a world that constantly beckons & pulls us to believe we need more to be happy, I love the opportunity Thanksgiving provides us to examine the treasures we already have, express our gratitude to God, and experience the pleasure of loving others.  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!


Blaming Your Crap on God

I heard a story yesterday about a particularly naive young man who seems to think that everything that happens in his life is God’s fault.  He’s quite sincere in his beliefs, but just immature in understanding the dynamic tension between God’s sovereignty and our accountability for choices we make.  

His friends arrived early in the morning to pick him up and take him to PDX for an early 6:00am flight…he was moving from Oregon to the midwest to start a new job, and new life.  When his friends arrived at his house at 4:00am, he wasn’t awake.  After rousing him, they discovered he had not yet packed.  After packing suitcases & loading the car, he insisted on taking a shower.  Finally, they reached the airport 35 min. before his plane’s departure and dropped him at the curb to run for it…but received his phone call halfway back home that he had missed his flight.  Dutifully, they turned around and went back to the airport to pick him up.  After getting in the car, disappointed and trying to make sense of what had happened, the guy says “I guess God has a different plan for my life.”  
I think God gets blamed for all kinds of crap that’s our fault…for one reason or another, we sometimes have trouble taking responsibility and humbling ourselves.  It’s also just plain Bad Theology.  Scripture certainly paints a picture of Almighty God as being sovereign, and often thwarting the plans & wills of people who oppose His.  However, it’s easy to take these golden nuggets of truth and melt them all down into a lazy, entitled theology that pictures God as a puppet-master who controls all decisions and outcomes for all people of all times.  That’s just simply not the God of the Bible.  
The God of the Bible….the God of reality…is the one who is deeply involved in our lives and decisions, yet allows us to make our own choices.  We choose all kinds of things all day every day…involving matters that are trivial as well as matters that are incredibly important.  The miracle of God in us is not that he makes us senseless drones to serve His wishes…but that He invites into relationship with Him, to partner with Him in bringing His light and truth and love into the world through our lives.  Often, this happens through our mistakes/sins…but that doesn’t mean that the mistakes belong to God.  GOD’S WILL IS NOT TIED TO OUR FAITHFULNESS….OR LACK THEREOF.  Thank God!
Here’s a good model I use for walking out of stupid decisions I make, and getting back on track with God:
1) Acknowledge that I screwed-up
2) Ask forgiveness…agree with God’s way
3) Admit my screw-up to any other people who were involved or impacted by it.  Ask forgiveness
4) Resolve to follow Jesus, focusing on my relationship with Him in the midst of my daily life & decisions.
5) Repeat the next time I screw-up

Treasures in Heaven

Written by Catalyst volunteer, my friend Lloyd Schulze, following the Brooks Project in Cornelius:
“I woke up about 2:30 am with my back and legs quietly talking to me about yesterday.  I remembered some of the comments we made while building the cabinet in Cornelius.  I wondered to myself, did we think for a moment that we were laying up for ourselves treasures in heaven?  I hadn’t thought about that scripture till that moment.  I’m sure none of us thought about that –  we were just enjoying each other as we did our job.  Perhaps a reminder that the projects are a twofold blessing would be good for the group.  Twofold, one we can see while we are doing it, the other a promise we may forget because caring for the needy comes naturally to Jesus people.  
Example:  When we got to the project, it was raining.  The sun was shining but we didn’t see it because it rained all day.  In the hustle and bustle and noise of the job, one could hear comments like “I’ll sure feel this tomorrow”  or, “Soak it out in the hot tub.”  We joked about not getting paid for the last job we did for Catalyst.  Perhaps the time keeper lost our time cards.  Would we get time and one half pay for weekend work?  

We worked and ate lunch and had fun in our toil as we enjoyed working together.  Someone was there among the workers keeping time, but we didn’t notice because we were busy helping someone in need.  No one thought about laying up treasure in heaven as we worked and enjoyed each other’s company.  The kingdom of heaven is right living, peace of mind, and joy.  Did I mention the word “enjoy”?  Yes, the Son was shining as we worked, but we didn’t see Him!”
Good words, Lloyd, thanks for the reminder!
Matthew 6:19-21 –  “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”
1 Timothy 6:17-19  –  “Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life.”

Forgiveness v. Justice

I want to elaborate on yesterday’s blog post, about forgiveness.  I wrote it before hearing anything about the cowardly attacks by idiot ISIS terrorists in Paris yesterday.  Forgiveness does not mean holding up one’s hands and allowing evil to flourish!  Forgiveness does not cancel-out justice!  It’s both/and.  Forgiveness in this circumstance is about seeing evil monsters for who they are, and responding with justice, but seeking God for healing & hope within so that we don’t fall prey to their twin masters of hatred and retribution.

I’ve taught my children, their whole lives, that revenge doesn’t work.  It perpetuates evil by turning a corner of our own hearts dark.  So how do we protect our hearts from evil while making sure that the perpetrators of evil get what’s coming to them?

1) Carry out justice in a manner that is commensurate and emotionally under-control.  Witch-hunts are emotional endeavors that end with punishments that far outweigh the crime….and they do more damage to those to carry them out than on those they punish.

2) Trust God for vengeance.  Romans 12:19-21 says “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Careful now, don’t assume that “feeding the offender” means giving-in to evil demands or letting perpetrators escape consequences.  Look beneath the surface…Why does someone like an ISIS terrorist want to kill innocent people?  Because they’re ignorant, emotionally weak, and confused.  Those are the areas where they are hungry and thirsty.  Is it possible to hold out expressions of love and understanding to those who are misguided and evil, even while pursuing to end their lives with justice?  Yes, it has to be.

Let me be perfectly clear.  I am not a pacifist, and I believe that terrorist organizations and those who fight for them should be hunted down and brought to justice.  Yes that means killing a lot of them.  That is justice.  But I also know that I am in danger of letting evil have a foothold in my heart if my desire for their death overwhelms my devotion to loving my neighbor.  That is about forgiveness.

Forgiveness and justice are not mutually exclusive.


Fore Giveness

I was thinking about the etymology of the word forgiveness this morning while I was swimming laps.  How was THAT for an opening line?!  Etymology is “the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history” says the dictionary.  I was thinking about it because I found myself having hard feelings about a few somebodies in my life while my body worked and my senses were numbed by the repetitive motion.  I pray alot when I workout.

Anyway, what is forgiveness…really?  Letting someone off the hook? Giving them a break?  What about when people do wrong and desperately need to suffer some consequences in order for lessons of wisdom to to bore through their thick skulls!  Like mine.  Yes, consequences are good….and we need them.  But dismissing wrongdoing, in my opinion, is not forgiveness…it’s stupidity.  It’s actually really confusing, isn’t it?

Forgiveness is what someone does wrong to me or someone I love…or to some random person but I find out about it and get pissed off.  The anger that arises in me is the issue of forgiveness, not the action I take regarding the offender.  Forgiveness is something that must happen in me, regardless of what happens to the offender….if not, the lack of forgiveness in me will give birth to other, more sinister masters.  Ah…I said “masters!”  YES, because as we all know, the result of unforgiveness is the cruelest of masters!… and it will captivate you and shackle your joy until you bring it out into the light and ask forgiveness for it.

Interesting that we must ask forgiveness in order to be released from the demons of unforgiveness.

When Jesus’ followers asked Him to teach them to pray, He said (among other things), “…’Father…Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us’…For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  

Really?  It’s there, check it out.  Deal with it.  Pray about it.  Learn from it.

Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well. (Wikipedia)

None of this means that the offender should get away with whatever he or she has done.  Actually, that would not be good for him/her…and would certainly not promote justice.  Consequences are necessary and good, but the hardness of hatred inside us when we do not forgive is like cancer.

Forgiveness is giving a precious gift to someone who has just spit in your face…BEFORE they say sorry.  I used to think that forgiveness was something I give after someone says sorry…but that’s not it.  It’s FOR-GIVING.  Giving something before.  This is impossible without the resources that God has planted inside us.  Seek Him.


Causing Others To Sin

“One day Jesus said to his disciples, ‘There will always be temptations to sin, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting! It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than to cause one of these little ones to fall into sin. So watch yourselves!'”  Luke 17:1-3

Today I’m furious because someone I love is being influenced by someone else’s promotion of evil.  As difficult as it is to watch someone you love struggle, the emotions are less complicated and more raw toward those who act as the stumbling block.  Anger wells up in me, desire for justice and vengeance when wrongdoing is promoted and perpetrated by selfish idiots toward others for their own pleasure…but I must, in that very moment, digress and seek repentance myself for my own sin…my own propensity to desire and act upon what is against my Creator.  I cannot totally control my own behavior, much less anyone else’s!

I do pray for justice, but only the same as that which I would desire for myself when I fall into sin….as well as those I love.

“A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants.”  2 Timothy 2:24-26


Byproducts of Obedience

Contrary to popular belief, seeking & experiencing God is not about you.  The Bible is not a self-help book for seeking emotional benefits or material prosperity.  It’s His Story, not ours.  Our role is to understand His work in human history, learn to hear His voice, and grow in obedience….everything else is byproduct.

He’s really there, and here, you know.  The Spirit of Jesus (aka “The Holy Spirit” or “Holy Ghost”) is given to us as guide, counselor, chastener, comforter, etc., not with the end result of making us better…but for bringing us closer into daily connection with our Heavenly Father and His work in us & through us.  The result of this does, indeed, produce wonderful results of love, joy, peace, etc. in us…but these are byproducts, not the goal.  When we make our own benefits the goal, we start worshipping them instead of the giver of gifts…and fall into a self-centered cycle of idolatry.

Following Jesus…being a “Christian”, or literally “Little Christ”… is about knowing Him better & better each day, learning to hear His voice and to love and obey Him all day every day in increasing measure…trusting that, with Him in control, our life circumstances and emotional health will fall into conformity with His character and His plans for us.  He can be trusted.

Here are some nuggets I’ve gleaned lately from author Henry Blackaby in “Experiencing God”:

  • “Now that the Holy Spirit has been given to believers, He is the One who guides you into all truth and teaches you all things.  You understand spiritual truth because the Holy Spirit is working in your life.
  • “Too often when the Spirit of God speaks to us, we launch into a protracted discussion with Him, questioning the correctness of His directions.  Moses tried it at the burning bush (see Exodus 3:11-4:13), and it limited him for the rest of his life.
  • “I encourage you to review on a regular basis what you sense God has been saying to you.  If God speaks and you hear but do not respond, a time could come when you will not hear His voice.  Disobedience can lead to a ‘famine of hearing the words of the Lord’ (Amos 8:11)…Make up your mind now that when the Spirit of God speaks, you are going to do what He says.
  • “He wants you to recognize His voice and know His will.  Your relationship to Him is the key to hearing when God speaks to you  If you do not already have that kind of relationship with God, start right now by praying.  Ask God to guide you into such a relationship, and commit yourself to invest the time and effort to know Him better.


Church as people, not place

Did you know that, of all the times the word “church” is found in the New Testament, that it never once refers to a place?  This is a very important issue facing American Christians today, because for the most part…we’ve forgotten what The Church really is…
My wise dad, Taft Mitchell, writes:
“The institutional church’s preoccupation with “place”…having a church building…filling it with staff…spending the necessary dollars to build it, maintain, and fill it…has contributed/resulted in its gradual withdrawal from the real places and relationships where people live in their conduct of life. A place implies programs, the majority of which don’t work. The institutional church is, after all, institutional, so place is central and is the focus of the attractional model.

I did 8 groups for unchurched but curious people, 2008-2012, comprised mostly of agnostics with a sprinkling of atheists…skeptics. In each group I asked what they thought of the church. Without exception each group agreed that “they (Christians in the church) talk too much and do too little, and much of what they have to say is mean-spirited.” In this media saturated, I-phone connected, emailed and noisy culture we live in, talk has never been cheaper. When we approach each day, our filters are in full gear and we actually hear very little of the noise that is directed at us. The institutional church is part of the noise. Hugh Halter and Matt Smay wrote a great book called “The Tangible Kingdom.” They say that the actions we do and the character of the fellowship we form are essential to getting a reasonable hearing from the people we wish to talk to…that the Kingdom of God is essentially tangible, not essentially verbal. Loved it.”
Maybe if the people of the Church stop acting like “going to church” was the end…and start acting like Jesus acted in the midst of the world, and understand that “going to church” is the means…we can join God in rewriting the impression our countrymen have of us…and the wonderful Lord we serve.
Be the Church.