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Friday, February 6, 2015

Who You Lookin' At?

Have you ever wondered what your life might be like if just a few particular details were different?  Say you were born in a different place or into a different family but the rest of you was the same - would you turn out the same?  Do you find yourself wishing that things were different or are you grateful that for some reason God's plan for you and all the details of your life have worked out just perfectly?

What if... 
                 You were 15% smarter  - or  -  15% less intelligent?
                          
                             You were more athletic - or - more clumsy?

                                          You were better looking - or - more "average"?

                                                        You had been born into wealth - or - extreme poverty?

                                                          
You and I could play this game all day long but there is something of a point nearly on the tip of my fingers.  I've noticed that our human experience is as unique as it is common.  What I mean is that, while we experience many of the same things our lives are in no way identical, or even equal, or close to "fair".  We live through vastly different amounts of pain, success, defeat, victory, bliss, heart-ache, health and sickness.  No doubt we are products of our own choices but we have to admit that things far beyond our control greatly impact our lives and the people we become; the man living in the Amazon Jungle is going live a life very unlike mine.

As I bring my considerations back to the Lord, two things cut through the pondering.

First, God is not nearly as interested in our lives being equal or fair as we sometimes think.  At least in my observation.  We may wonder where the justice is when certain people appear to gain success unfairly or are preserved from the pain we are currently experiencing.  Meanwhile God is patiently waiting for our gaze to leave certain people and return back to Him.  I know that "context is everything" but sometimes we need to slip into a vacuum with God, just the two of us.  


Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, "Lord, who is going to betray you?")  
When Peter saw him, he asked, "Lord, what about him?"
  Jesus answered, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me."
   ~ John 21:20-22

Fairness?  I get it, especially if you're someone battling the seemingly impossible and just wish God would give you a break from all of it, noticing how great someone else's life is going is pretty easy to do.  But your life isn't about them - ultimately it's about you and Him.  And I am convinced that He is fully invested in developing you into the person He intended for you to be.  He's busy refining you; chiseling, shaping, sanding, polishing, reshaping... doing whatever it takes to accomplish His plan for you.  This is the grace of a loving, compassionate God experienced in the present.  It makes you wonder, what is God accomplishing during this current season of life?

Second, you and I were born in the right location at the right time to the right parents.  Don't think for a moment that we somehow got misplaced in the shuffle of creation.  I'm not saying that you deserved lousy parents or a crumby childhood (and if that's you, I'm sorry) I'm saying that you are occupying the time and space God intended.  You're here on purpose and you were created with a purpose.  Your life, as crazy and complex as it may be, is right on schedule.

My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
 your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. 
  ~Psalm 139:15, 16

The Bottom Line:  Keep your eyes on Christ because even the greenest grass is still just grass.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Myth of Anonymity

On occasion I find seemingly obscure, trivial details ascending to the surface of my memory a lot like a raisin in a glass of Sprite.  Unfortunately, just like that gas-elevated dried grape, the memory only just breaches before plummeting back down.  So I'm learning.  I'm learning to grab the raisin at its apex if it seems worth plucking out... and if my fingers aren't too slippery at the moment.

So  - I'm sure you will find it no surprise that at the prompting of a book written to pastors on a completely different train of thought I immediately recalled a moment from the movie, Mission: Impossible, yes the first one with Tom Cruise.  There's a moment when he discovers that "Max", an arms dealer, is a woman to which she says, "Anonymity... is like a warm blanket."

Now I'm sure that if your method of generating income is shady, questionable and possibly nefarious, anonymity would be a great comfort.  I wonder, though, if there aren't a lot of us attempting to hide under the covers when what we really need is to get dressed and out the door?   Anonymity is a benefit to those with secrets and it can't help but give birth to loneliness.  I'm not talking about whether or not your neighbor is some sort of "Jason Bourne" spy with a completely different identity that only the government knows about.  I'm saying that there are a LOT of people walking around these days that would be mortified if other people knew what they are really like.

We do our best to present the very best version of ourselves to the people around us possibly hoping that we'll convince them, and ourselves.  Maybe I'm just off my rocker here - that's entirely possible.  Maybe I've decided to snatch a raisin out of carbonation that is nothing more than a dry, dead lump of fruit.  Let me ask you - who knows you?  Is there anyone in your life you've held nothing back from?  You know... the person you talk to without any sort of filter.

I started thinking about something else; I am not anonymous and neither are you.  In fact, we cannot be anonymous.  Not to God.  1 Corinthians 13:12 "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror;then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."  The good thing is that in spite of this reality, knowing that all of who we are is totally exposed to Him, we are loved.  

Jesus knew ("saw") Nathaniel even before Philip pointed him out and knew his heart.  (John 1:43-51)

Jesus knew the tawdry details - and the heart - of the woman he met at the well. (John 4)

The Apostle Paul even sheds light about us being known before God in the end: 
"My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God."
~1 Corinthians 4:4, 5


You see, to be fully known by God is also to be loved by Him, even as it pertains to judgment.  Judgment - just that word makes you want to grab that blanket of anonymity doesn't it?  "You can't really tell it was ME that did that awful thing!"  But knowing us as we are exactly is why the events of the cross had to happen.  Justice has been meted out - perfect love has driven out any and all reasons for fear.  Anonymity is no longer an ally.


"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
~John 3:16

Friday, January 16, 2015

What Are You Doing With Your Freedom?

So there's this guy who blogs about the things that are important to him.  He writes about what people believe in and encourages freedom of thought, especially about religion and politics.  He has refused to be silenced by a government that not only insists but attempts to enforce conformity of thought in its people.  The only problem is that Raif Badawi lives in Saudi Arabia and has received a sentence of 1,000 lashes.

He has managed, with words alone, to commit crimes perceived as so heinous to his country's leaders that nothing short of being whipped one thousand times will be satisfactory to make amends for - you know ... thinking thoughts.  I've never been flogged but I've seen it done in movies and read about it in books and I'm pretty sure I'm right in understanding that it HURTS!  Could one man actually take 1,000 lashes and survive?  The Saudi leaders have accounted for this; he gets 50 in a session and then is given time to heal.  That way he can't tap out and gets to feel every last one???

Badawi's story is making headlines.  Other governments are outraged and disgusted, as well they should be!  We all should be!  His story is not an anomaly: while there is no authoritative number out there, approximately 10,000 Christians are killed because of their faith every year.  And there are thousands of others who are killed for speaking their minds as well.

So it makes me wonder, what the heck am I doing with my freedom?  What are you doing with yours?  Social media is the obvious target here.  I'll be the first to admit that sometimes I post things because I'm in one of those moods.  I'll also admit that I get a kick out of some of the things the rest of you post and if we can make each other smile from time to time that isn't such a bad thing.  Laughter has antioxidants in it doesn't it?

We need substance.  You know I'm right.  If the only things we deem worthy of sharing with the world amount to bragging about what we did, where we went, what we ate and who we were with at the time, we're not exactly milking this freedom thing for all its worth.  Social media doesn't have to be a collective ditsy-valley-girl-meets-meat-head experience.  In fact, life doesn't have to be that way in any aspect.


(To read more about Raif Badawi read the link below)
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-30856403

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Listening

There are moments for each of us that give us reason to pause; a decision needs to be made and it isn't nearly as obvious as we'd like it to be.  At times there are multiple good options and others appear void of adequate solutions.  We want to live life with certainty, knowing that we're making the right choices resulting in a life without regret.  Following Jesus brings in another decision making dynamic; being obedient to His will requires knowing what it is in the first place.

And we often have trouble listening.

We want the Email from God.  The lightening-bolt-thundering-voice experience.  Even the still, small but audible voice would do.  In those moments when we feel like we most need to hear from Him, it can seem like He is mysterious or withdrawn.  Where are you when I need you God?

The reality is that the Holy Spirit has come to provide counsel to those of us who trust Jesus.  He is even called "the Counselor" but we live in such a crazy, fast paced and distracted world that we find ourselves questioning if we're actually hearing from Him or if it is something else.  I've felt that way at times too but I'm fully convinced that God isn't playing a spiritual game of hide and seek, giggling to Himself when we can't find him.

Two little tidbits that can help (at least they've helped me).

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.
~ Romans 12:2

Learning what God's will for us in general as believers and in more personal situations starts with a rejection of old thinking and accepting his transforming work in us.  Expecting to know and understand the heart of God or His will concerning your life while hanging on to "the pattern of this world" is unrealistic at best.  I'm not saying you wont hear from God, I'm saying there is something in your spiritual ears muffling your ability to hear. 

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me-- just as the Father knows me and I know the Father--and I lay down my life for the sheep. 
~ John 10:14, 15

God is not a magic 8-ball, or even an expert.  He knows us and desires relationship, relationship only happens over time.  He never intended for us to approach life decisions with him as though each experience were isolated in a vacuum, rather there is a growing history of Him leading and us following.  He knows us completely (1 Corinthians 13:12) and pursues us, patiently revealing to us exactly what He intends to.  Grace for  the moment (see Max Lucado).  If you desire to make decisions pleasing to the Lord, spend time with Him whenever you can!

There will be times when we don't hear God as loudly or as clearly as we'd prefer.  There will be times when we are asked to wait and that's okay.  He is not, however, distant or disinterested.  He has come near to us and understands us and our needs perfectly.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin.  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence,so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
~ Hebrews 4:14-16

Sounds like He is ready for you doesn't it?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Message on the Back

After dropping off my son at school this morning I found myself following a car that had a message for everyone, "End Hate", albeit in license plate form.  My immediate internal response was, "I couldn't agree more!"  Hate, that loathing mentality that exceeds the temporary emotion of anger and holds hands with bitterness, is typically fueled by fear and a lack of understanding.  Fear and ignorance are two traits that Christians are never supposed to embrace; love and truth are to be prominent features of Jesus followers.

I also started thinking about "hate" as a verb, directed at something or someone specific.  I don't know the owner of the vehicle and I can't say for certain but I'm pretty sure the long version of their two word message would be something like, "stop hating each other".  I don't think we're supposed to remain neutral on evil though: the actions of Isis, abuse, corruption, perversion, lying, stealing, murder, (the list could go on) ... sin, I think we should hate sin.  People, we're not supposed to hate people, we're called to love them.

Somewhere between the words on a page and the actions and nuances of everyday life, interpretation and confusion can settle in.  What is hate exactly?  What does it look like?  Can I hold a strong opinion, a firm conviction, that someone else's opinion or behavior isn't just different but wrong? I don't think anyone would believe that a firm spine equals hate but set two strong-minded folks on opposite sides of an issue and you'll see respect, love, and decency all tested.  Feelings may be violated, one or both may feel as though the other hates them.

"You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him." ~ Leviticus 19:17 (NAS)

Sometimes just one verse speaks volumes.  Hate is never to be a part of the equation.  Period.  And yet we see room to "reprove" (correct, rebuke) as it pertains to sin, anything that displeases the Lord.  The people of Israel were to love each other and speak into each other's lives.  God alone sits in judgment of our heart and actions however the notion that we are called to live as muted, passive spectators tolerating any and every choice made by one another is nonsense.  

Need some New Covenant confirmation?  The balance of love and correction carry through here as well.

"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
~ Matthew 5:43-48 (NAS)

and 

"And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another."
~ Romans 15:14

Maybe license plates can produce more conversation than I thought!  One last ingredient: personal relationships.  Hate has a tough time developing roots in respectful, face to face conversations or in the context of shared lives.  It blossoms behind the anonymity of a computer screen (see comment sections in political news articles) and behind fences and in propaganda.  Of course our primary relationship is with Jesus, He is the one who continues to refine and transform us.  He has loved us sacrificially, forgiven us exponentially and wants us to be with him eternally.  Want to remove hate from your life?  Walk closely with Christ!



Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What I've Learned As A Fan

To be fair, I wasn't even seven at the time and life is far more dramatic and intense and serious when you're only six.  I was absolutely invested into my hockey team, the Vancouver Canucks, as they made an improbable run through the playoffs.  Our goalie went from "some guy" to "King Richard" as they knocked off better teams one by one.  It was impossible not to get sucked in to the excitement and anticipation of what might ultimately happen.  Could they actually become NHL champions and win the Stanley Cup?

I knew they would win.  It didn't matter that they had a losing record during the regular season.  I was cheering for them, so that would surely (and miraculously) give them the extra skill/luck/energy to conquer everyone else.  And it was working!  They made it into the finals, a best of seven series against the New York Islanders.  The Islanders were tough, mean and really, really good but I had faith in my guys even if their jerseys were super ugly!

Sometimes a child's faith is misplaced.  Those Islanders were way too much for my beloved Canucks and they swept the series 4-0.  The first game went to overtime to be decided but the rest featured domination by the other guys.  I was SO MAD, and frustrated, and sad.  I was mad at my team for playing so good and then being so bad.  I was mad at the Islanders for being so good, and for not letting my team even have a chance and for being so pushy on the ice.  I think my parents got a little concerned for their son who had clearly geeked out and lost it over a game.  There may have been more than a few tears.

I'm very pleased to tell you that I've grown up since then and I've grown up because of then.  There are a lot of articles and books that talk about the lessons and values we can learn from playing sports and many of these have had an impact on me.  I think there are also important lessons we can learn from being fans of sports.

I shared this particular story with you because it is the most disappointed I have ever felt as a fan.  My young heart and mind weren't able to place the event in proper perspective; I didn't understand emotionally that it was just a game and that yes, the sun would come back up the next day.  I still invest emotionally into my teams because it is part of the experience.  Life has taught me, though, that I'm not actually the one writing the script and that there may be a result that I don't like at the end.  And that my life is still incredibly blessed regardless.

I've learned that as a fan, Henry Russell Sanders couldn't be more wrong when he said, "Men, I'll be honest. Winning isn't everything," (pause) "Men, it's the only thing!" (commonly attributed to Vince Lombardi).  My happiness isn't dependent on any of the teams or athletes I follow.  Disappointment, like euphoria, is fleeting.

The most important lesson I've learned as a sports fan is an ongoing one: be careful as to who (what) you give your heart and passion.  It almost seems silly in a conversation about sports but all I need to to do is pull up my Facebook feed during a Seahawks game to know that I'm in the ball park here.  The lesson certainly applies to much more than sports.  If you need people constantly applauding your achievements to feel satisfied you will be disappointed.  If you need flirtatious attention from the opposite sex and admiration from your own to be happy then, at some point you will feel neglected.  If you need promotions (read victories) to feel like you're important then you're pursuing dreams that ultimately lead to emptiness.

As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame."  ~ Romans 10:11

That verse has kept me afloat through so much.  It reminds me that it's safe to go all in with Jesus and cheer for His Kingdom.  Put my heart and passion on the line.  Don't hedge the bet.  Watch the whole thing.  Buy the jersey and get the hat.  Paint my face and cheer like I don't have to use my voice for the next week.  Don't be fooled, there's pain and heartache along the way, gut-wrenching moments that knock me back but never defeat.  Not with Jesus.  With Jesus I can be six again.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Get Smart

It doesn't matter what I'm doing or where I happen to be in the house at the time, I WILL drop everything and go as fast and directly as possible to the source.  I despise that sound.  It triggers an inner response that would make sense if say - the house was on fire or there was an earthquake.  Something terribly wrong must be taking place if that noise is being made; danger is certainly immanent.  It is unfortunate that the oven still works just fine because I'd love to give the timer a little Elmer Fudd treatment.

It is precisely for this reason that I've been hesitant about getting a smart phone.  I do not want or need something in my hand or pocket that chimes, beeps, whistles, flashes or in any other way alerts (read "alarms") me and plucks me out of my peaceful (albeit ignorant) moment to inform me of impending doom... or Facebook updates.  It has appeared to me that at times, our technology bosses us around.  I know this isn't actually true but occasionally I've wondered if smart phones are actually the ones taking us out and showing us around instead of the other way around.

But I'm learning stuff and sometimes learning can change your mind.  It turns out that you can actually train your device to obey and serve you like a good device should.  If you don't want it to buzz at you just change the settings.  Want it to assist in being more productive?  There's an app for that.  You don't actually have to play Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja or Candy Crush to use the phone correctly.

So I think I'm going to get one.  I think data rates are ridiculous but I'll pay them anyway.  There are enough actual perks to smart phones that I'm ready to go for it.  This phone will be a part of my life; I will own it and it will do as I command, subject to my control. In fact, for this relationship to work well I will need to practice phone-control self-control.  You may recognize it as part of the fruit of the Spirit.  It is an incredible gift from God and we get to use it more than any generation before us.  It is the counter-punch to impulse-based-gratify-now-don't-think-just-feel world we live in.

Want more self-control?  Hang out more with the Holy Spirit and less with the people selling you something.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
~ Galatians 5:22, 23 ~