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Friday, April 27, 2012

Maybe it's the Oatmeal...

I'm trying to develop the habit of taking easy to fix lunches that don't kill me and leave me somewhat satisfied.  Fulfilling all of those requirements is more of a trick than I thought but I feel as though I've made some headway thanks to oatmeal.  Seeing as how I'm not a "foody", cook, critic, health expert, nutritionist or personal trainer I'll gratefully leave the conversation about my lunch now except to tell you that as I write this I'm not hungry.  Which is to say that my appetite has been satisfied - not lost.

Why does that matter?  Sometimes I've found that I can quickly confuse physical feelings with spiritual ones - or maybe it's the other way around.  Am I at peace because I've finally made an important decision or is it the peace that comes from God and surpasses all understanding like it talks about in Philippians?  Am I feeling satisfied in the Lord's presence or simply because of food's presence in my belly?  For what it's worth I believe it is completely possible for us to feel physically and spiritually satisfied, the two are not inherently opposed but it is important to understand the difference.  Why?  Well consider Jesus' words in John 4:13, 14 "Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."  Listen to him again a little later on in John 6:26-29 "Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval." 28 Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?" 29 Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."

 Being satisfied because of Christ is always long lasting.  In fact I'm pretty sure that when I've found myself feeling unsatisfied it has had everything to do with me, not him.  I've wandered.  I've moved away.  I've looked elsewhere.  He's been there the whole time waiting for me to figure it out and at times intervening to help open my eyes.

I love what the sons of Korah write in Psalm 84:10 "Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked."  I've sung the first phrase of that verse many times and found it easy to embrace.  The second half clarifies, qualifies and challenges it though.  To be someone of little status can still bring deep, lasting joy?  To the point that it is preferred over having a place of honor in any other place?  Look, take off your CVGs for a minute (Christian Vision Glasses) and don't just rubber stamp the end of the verse where it talks about the wicked.  Of course no one who loves God would want anything to do with anything wicked, I get it and I'm with you but sometimes wicked things can appear... well ... inviting?

Here's the deal.  Most, if not all of us desire to be appreciated, applauded and esteemed by our peers.  We desire to have our needs met, physical and otherwise.  We chase after things searching for feelings of pure delight and enlightenment.  The psalmist is saying that being someone of low status, a doorkeeper, in God's house is more desirable than being a "great" person in any other house.

If you're popularity is stripped away but you get to remain in His house - Are you okay with that?


If you're health is snatched from you but you stay with Jesus -  How does that add up?


If you're income is reduced or eliminated but Christ stays -  Is He sufficient?


If no one ever thought your idea was the right one, or even one worth listening to but you get to be a part of God's family - would you prefer it?


Not everything in my life is going just the way I'd like it to at the moment but I'm okay with it.  I'm even thankful for it.  God's got it.  The harder stuff will be dealt with and He'll still be there no matter what.  I know, I just had lunch so maybe it's the oatmeal... nah... 


I'm in His house.
 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Stop Trying

I have personally known Jesus for over 30 years now.  I've listened to preachers, sung songs of praise and worship, attended youth group, gone on retreats, gone to camp, served in church, traveled to foreign countries to share the gospel, graduated from Bible College and am serving as a pastor.  If my list of "good Christian activities" impresses you then allow me to dissect your impression.  You see I don't look at my life as a list of accomplishments to be admired but a long series of God-given opportunities to "get it right" with Christ.  If anyone has had the opportunity to figure out how to live for Jesus, I have.

The reality is that all of those things don't make me any better or purer or holier or righteous-er than anyone else.  In fact one of the biggest myths we buy into is the idea that if we do more church stuff we'll become better people.  It is true that we are called to serve God and share of our gifts and talents with each other and I'm not here to bash that concept.  The problem we have is that we equate activity with spirituality. 

Over the last 30 years of knowing Jesus I have also fallen short in numerous ways.  I've struggled with pride, I've had to battle lust, I've lost my temper (even though I'm a pretty easy going guy), I've coveted things, I've looked for satisfaction from things where only God could satisfy.  Now the Lord has given me victory after victory and I've noticed one consistent thing about each one.  I stopped trying.  Seriously, when I gave up I won.  At the risk of being an heretical idiot - let me clarify - I stopped trying and trusted God to do it all instead.

This idea came up during one of our discussion times recently on Tuesday night from someone else because the Lord clearly works like that in their life as well.  I'll go out on a fairly sturdy limb here and suggest that He works like that consistently in most of our lives!  The work of revival, of spiritual maturity, of bearing spiritual fruit is His work.  Not ours.  Not mine.  Not yours.  Our job is to remain attached to God.  Stop trying to do what only He can do.  When you recognize some flaw in your character or some form of sin in your life - don't try to fix it in your own strength.  You can't.  Seek Him and allow Him to do that work in you.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. ~ 2 Peter 1:3

There is a list of spiritual fruit-like attributes that come in the following verses of this passage and we are encouraged to "make every effort" toward them but the productivity is from Him.  Let me say it another way, if you want to be more patient don't make patience your number one goal, make the Lord your number one pursuit and He will grow the attribute of patience in you.  If you want to overcome pride in your life, bask in the glory of God for awhile and you will be unable to feel anything other than overwhelming humility - not the contrived fake stuff either.  If you desire to love more, jump headlong into the ocean of God's love and let yourself be overwhelmed.  Loving others will be inevitable. 

Stop trying - Trust God!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Man-nerisms: Self-Control

Just because you can doesn't mean you should!

Case in point: When three (3) buddies get together to watch all five (5) Rocky movies (yes even the last one) in one (1) night and consume two (2) large pizzas and roughly four (4) liters of soda between them you can assume they are doing this because they can, not because they should.  I also write that fully knowing that most other guys have feasted equally as much or more than that.

Sometimes the only reason we need to go and try something is because we want to see if it is possible.  Better yet, someone else said "you can't" which of course is a direct challenge to the substance of our masculinity.  "Man vs Food" is riveting stuff because as crazy as that guy is - secretly we all want to try that too.  If you don't know what I'm referring to you can see a short clip here.

                           
It isn't just about food either.  Us guys have been trying to prove our strength from the first time we wrestled on the living room floor with our dad or older brother.  As we enter our teen years we grow into adult males becoming stronger, faster and taller.  Strength feels good.  Strength can be used for great things like building and protection.  Strength without restraint can cause an incredible amount of damage.

When us guys fail to develop the man-nerism of self-control we seriously tear down the people around us.  The extremes help us to understand ourselves a little better.  The guy who rapes cannot control his sexual urges and perhaps his felt need to control women.  I'm not that guy and I hope you're not either but we need to exercise control over our sexuality - it should never control us.  The guy who bullies others in general or is constantly getting in fights cannot control his anger.  This same guy probably does the same thing to the women and children in his life.  Again, I'm not that guy and I hope you're not either but we still need to control our physical bodies and minds.  The guy who continues to drink - and get drunk - has no restraint over his habit.  It doesn't matter if the habit is alcohol, some other drug, sex or overspending, ruin is just around the corner.

I kept using the word "guy" in the previous paragraph for a reason and I could have used "grown male" just as well.  There is a difference between that and a man.  We become men not because we've grown up or strong or fast.  We become men because we demonstrate restraint as an ongoing pattern in life.  

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

These man-nerisms will evidence us as men who are impacted by God.  They do not declare us to be soft little weaklings who are incapable and impotent.  They are the result of a powerful and majestic God who transforms us into exactly the men He wants us to be.

Be blessed my brothers!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Pardon The Inconvenience

So this morning I'm sitting having a cup 'o joe and I flip on the Big Brother device to have my brain microwaved into vanilla pudding and then reprogrammed into.... never mind - different subject.  So I did turn on the TV and take in a small portion of the morning news to learn that some bad stuff happened, I shouldn't eat too much plastic and there's some new thing called "hot yoga" where you go in to a 107 degree room with some insane amount of humidity and do your best human pretzel impersonation so that you can sweat out all the toxins in your body - maybe the plastic you ate for breakfast?  No thanks, if anything I'm looking for ways to sweat less - not more.  They get to the weather portion of the mind-meld and I set down my coffee (note: no plastic mug) because this should be riveting.  Right?  Some new guy's delivering the life altering details of what we all already know; it's springtime in the northwest so expect some sun, clouds and the occasional downpour and no, we will not be warm.  Nonetheless I pay very good attention through his segment and am inexplicably rewarded with a graphic across the top of the screen, "Tim's Inconvenient Weather".

"Cool - his name's Tim too and that has to be the dum-best thing I've seen this morning.  The weather's going to be inconvenient?  How anti-fun/exciting/spellbinding is that?  It's true though, kudos Timmy, good job."  I sipped another bit of morning nectar, munched some breakfast and kept all those thoughts to myself until just now.

It occurs to me as no small thing that we make a lot of decisions in life based on convenience.  Some of those choices are of little consequence, "Shall I cook my eggs in the microwave or take the trouble to bust out the pan and cook them on the stove the way I like them."  Other issues are far bigger and demand thoughtful attention, but do we give those things adequate time and energy or are we so used to convenient things that we neglect anything important?

Consider your relationship with God.  There are times when living like Christ is convenient enough that most of us are able to consider Him and even make genuine offerings of praise and worship.  If you find yourself in the midst of a bunch of other believers and there's the right kind of music without too many wrong notes then sure, no problem ...  "Lord you have my heart, and I will search for yours..."  Easy right?  Or perhaps you're someone who connects with the Lord in a natural setting.  During a beautiful hike around one of our majestic mountains our out by the Pacific Ocean worship comes quickly to you.  I don't mean to sound trite but it is convenient in those moments to consider the Lord.  It is easy to talk about Jesus with others who won't condemn you for it. 

What about those times when taking a stand for Jesus is not so easy?  What about the times when you come to church expecting one thing but you get another?  What about the times when it may cost you a little more to align yourself with Christ?  Have our lives become so busy and our focus so selfish that we find sold-out, passionate, Biblical Christianity too hard?  Do some of us find Jesus embarrassing in front of certain friends?

I don't think you need me to tell you that Jesus didn't make decisions, at least big ones, based on their convenience.  Just think about the implications for us if he found the cross to be just a little too much work?  I mean if so many people are going to reject him anyway and only some will accept the free gift then why bother?

Here's the thing though, Jesus didn't find the cross too inconvenient.  Our sin caused him pain beyond our understanding and it is true, millions of people flatly reject the gift of eternal life.  I also believe he has no regrets about his sacrifice.  He loves us so much that the cross was no problem for him.  "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." ~ Hebrews 12:2
  
I'm not here to beat anyone down.  I'm just saying that Jesus didn't hesitate when it came to demonstrating his love for you.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Man-nerisms: Gentlemen

"Gentlemen, start your engines!"  No doubt four of the most famous words in sports.  They also seem at least slightly ironic as they all drive anything but gently.  I have never actually watched an entire major race: F-1, Indy or NASCAR.  I've tried a few times but can't seem to stay interested enough to devote my time. 

That word though, gentlemen, seems to get used a lot and in multiple meanings.  It can describe someone born in an upper class of society, a chivalrous man or be attached to a more seedy meaning as in gentlemen's club.  How the behavior that takes place there could possibly be described as belonging to gentlemen is beyond me.  There is a meaning of the word that is truly admirable, "a man whose conduct conforms to a high standard of propriety or correct behavior". (Def. 1.d.(2) of Merriam-Webster)  That doesn't get us all the way to a Biblical view of gentleness but it is a good start.

Gentlemen don't look for an opportunity to stir the pot for the sake of creating chaos.  We don't need to door-mat our way through life but we're also not out looking for a fight to some how prove our manhood. 
"A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." Proverbs 15:1 (NIV)  No man wants to be viewed as weak but gentleness has to do with our character not our strength.

The Lord is mighty, strong, and powerful.  He is also gentle and reveals himself this way to us in Scripture.  "After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper." 1Kings 19:12 (NIV)  This was the encounter Elijah had with the LORD as he waited to hear instructions from him.  Listen to Jesus speak, "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." Matthew 11:29 (NIV)  Once again we learn about the character of God and find it to be the opposite of harsh. 

As we abide with Jesus we will continue to take on his characteristics.  As we remain in the Spirit we expect to produce spiritual fruit.  The true test of gentleness is when it is plopped squarely in the arena of conflict.  Any man can claim to be gentle when everything is going along nicely at  home or at work.  It is relatively easy for us to be gentle with our wives when they're not upset with us.  When some hothead barges into your office or space at work, when someone intentionally laces a conversation with inflammatory remarks or barbs, when someone falsely accuses you of something - anything - gentleness is tested.

Nonetheless we are called to live gentle lives.  Ephesians 4:2 states it clearly, "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love."  Notice it doesn't say "Be partially humble and gentle".  Our mandate is spelled out for us as men who love the Lord.  It is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that the man-nerism of gentleness will permeate our lives.  

Lord, do your work in me! 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Unplugging

In the stillness, in the quiet place...

Sometimes I think the more we plug in the more we tune out.  No I'm not talking about the great ill of society - just my own home.  This past week we've been participating in a media/electronic-ish fast.  The point of which is to help break some patterns.

Patterns like, "Dad(or Mom), can I play wii?"

"No."

"Can I play on the computer then?"

"No."

"How about a movie in the back room?"

"No!  Will you stop asking to do that stuff all the time?  It is all you ever want to do and you're driving me crazy.  Go read a book or play with something - anything - in your room."

"Fine."  Angry walking to the bedroom followed by a few moments of pouting silence and then, "Can I at least listen to my iPod?"

"Sure."  Maybe we have a soft spot for music.

What gives?  To be fair, our children don't always behave like that in fact there are a lot of times when they do accept our "no" just fine.  It just becomes very frustrating when you feel like the same issue comes up over and over.  They also aren't the only culprits in the house.  I've been known to get sucked into a Myth Busters episode or two, football is a given, and now it is hockey playoff time and yeah - I want to watch.

There's been a delightful quietness in our house over the last few days.  I thought there would be more complaints from the kids but they've been great about the whole thing.  They know it isn't an option and the pestering has ceased.  All of us have read more and the inevitable sibling battles have been far less frequent.

In the stillness, in the quiet place...

Like just about anyone's home, ours moves with enough pace to keep us slightly off balance.  Removing the media dynamic has helped us to breathe - well it has allowed me to breathe at least.  I believe we've been blessed through this time and refreshment has come in the absence of noise.

Sometimes you just need a vacation from all that.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Looking For Evidence

Yesterday Megan's elementary school held an event called "Walk-A-Vaughn" (for those who don't live around here, she attends Vaughn Elementary).  It is one of those deals where the students go out, get pledges and then walk... apparently 'til they drop.  Her teacher sent us a picture of Megan peacefully sleeping on a couch in the classroom after they were done.  Zonked right out and didn't wake up even when the rest of her classmates returned from recess.  The teacher woke her up to get her on the bus and send her home at the end of the day.  Of course when she arrived home she promptly crawled into her bed and slept until 5pm when I woke her up to prevent one of those had-a-good-nap-but-can't-fall-asleep-at-night things (a.k.a. every parent's nightmare).

There are times when she complains that she's tired and she's really not.  Usually this is tiredness due to chores.  Her amazing parents see right through this charade because there's no real evidence of being tired.  Evidence of being whiny on the other hand abounds.  Yesterday was different though.  The proof was in the pudding - or maybe the snoring.  She couldn't stay awake even when she wanted to.  There was no chance of confusing the child's condition as perky, giddy, silly or even cranky.  No one needed to ask her how she felt.  She was tired.

There are a lot of times when I wish us Christians had stronger symptoms of Christ in our lives.  You know, evidence that leaves no room for doubt in the eyes of the investigators.  So often we claim Jesus with our words and deny him with our actions.  Too often we slip into a hypocrisy so effective that we actually fool our unbelieving friends into thinking we're just like them.  We've recognized the emptiness of actions without faith but what about faith that doesn't result in action?  Myth:  To love your friends you need to like all the things they like.  Reality:  Your friends need you to love them like Jesus loves you - full of grace and never, ever afraid of the truth.

Your outside matters.  Not in a worldly image-centered way that only leads to vanity.  When your inside is changed by Jesus the outside will be forced to conform.  True faith can't help but leak out.  Your words, your actions, your choices are all evidence of who you are and who you love.  When you've sold out for Christ you don't have any money to buy anything the world is offering.


"No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.  ~ Luke 6:43-45 (NIV)



Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Man-nerisms: Faithfulness

But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. 6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. ~ 2 Timothy 4:5-8 (NIV)

Consider yourself warned - and encouraged. When I was a younger man I was zealous to do great things for God. The majority of my life was presumably still in front of me and I wanted to make every year, month, day, and moment count. I committed my life to ministry in some form or other at 16 years old. I made vows before God, my wife, our family and friends to be her faithful husband at the age of 21. God has not taken away my zeal for ministry and my love for Tina is still growing at the age of 36 but passionate commitment now has a running mate, perspective. I have no regrets about the life-long choices I've made and now I'm learning in much greater detail what each of those commitments mean.

When I read Paul's words I am truly inspired. Look! Here's a man who unashamedly pursued Christ's agenda for his life from the moment he surrendered to Jesus to the very end of his life. I want to leave that kind of legacy. For me to be able to say with full integrity that I've poured my life out for the cause of Christ; that I didn't leave anything on the table. I also look at Paul's words and feel nearly overwhelmed; his life wasn't easy, comfortable or stable. He was misunderstood, abandoned, physically persecuted, imprisoned and shipwrecked - all for the sake of Jesus. His faithfulness wasn't contractual; no negotiations or bargaining sessions. But - it was joyful.

Yes there are a lot of roll-up-your-sleeves-and-grin-and-bear-it moments that come with remaining faithful. There are also a lot of laugh-til-you-cry and wow-I-can't-believe-it-finally-happened moments. You see now I am more careful with the things that I commit myself too because experience has taught me to count the cost more carefully. I am also encouraged to jump in when my heart is ready because I can look back at something of a track record. Quite frankly it isn't a story of Tim's faithfulness, it is a beautiful tale of God's great faithfulness and my obedience (admittedly imperfect) in response to Him. Like all of these man-nerisms, faithfulness is a fruit of the Spirit- so we should expect to find the purest form of it in God himself.

I have watched God supernaturally provide for me and my family. Our needs are more than met.

He has supplied me with an amazing wife and children.

He has surrounded our family with incredible friends and a great church to serve.

There is peace amidst the challenges of life.

My blessings outnumber my trials by a greater ratio each day.

As I stop to reflect on God's faithfulness I find being faithful to Him and to the things He has called me to a quick and joyful response. They're not always easy but they are always worth it. It changes the way I view my wife, my family, my wealth, my job and my worship.

Let me be found faithful!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Dream Machine

You'd think I had brought home a corvette by his reaction. We've been talking about this project for a while now - exchanging ideas about what kind of vehicle to work on. He even brought home a book full of classic American cars from school for inspiration. Ultimately, practicality has teamed up with boyhood daydreams and decided that we're going to work on a 1985 Chevy pick-up. Not that I'm complaining in the least. I've been not coveting another truck ever since we sold the previous one in exchange for every man's dream-machine a.k.a. mini-van. And yes I might as well have bought myself a new corvette judging by my own reaction. Perhaps the nut doesn't fall far from the coco - or something like that.

I can't tell you what pure joy it brought my heart to see my son ask me for the keys so he could check it out. I gave him his space for a few minutes and then came out to find him firmly planted in the driver's seat, legs extended in an attempt to reach the pedals while craning his neck to help see over the steering wheel. I knocked on the passenger window and he unlocked the door to let me in. Sitting there beside him produced two simultaneous thoughts intersecting each other in rapid succession: 1) This is going to be so cool to do with him, and 2) I'm gonna have to teach this kid how to drive - better pray a lot!

The truck is in decent shape for its age, it was even driven - however tenderly - to our house. It has a flat tire and all four have roughly the same traction you'd get form a porcelain cherub's bottom. The interior needs a remarkable cleaning and the engine needs a pile of tlc. I fully expect bloody knuckles, a few choice words between the two of us, multiple trips to the parts store followed by multiple trips to the parts store to actually get the right part, and a lot of joy.

My prayer is that we get to tinker and fix the truck to produce a great father/son friendship.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Man-nerisms: Goodness

"How are you doing?"

"Fine. How are you?"

"Yeah, I'm doing good too."

Does this sound familiar to you? No doubt most of us can navigate our way through the first few lines of a casual conversation on auto pilot. Don't worry though, I'm not writing to rag on you about being sincere, just to point out how casually we use significant words. We use and overuse the word "good" almost like it was "nice".

When it comes to the fruit of the Spirit we need to extract "goodness" out of the quagmire of thoughtless responses and plunk it squarely in the light. So often we look for superlatives to describe something exceptional and relegate "good" to the level of "okay" and "alright". This could be a battle of semantics and it could also be that we need to be reminded about God's view of being good.

Then Moses said, "Now show me your glory." 19 And the LORD said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live." 21 Then the LORD said, "There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen." ~ Exodus 33:18-23

Talk about an encounter with God! He is so good, so glorious, that He had to protect Moses from certain and immediate death. Is there anything mediocre here? This is a defining attribute of who God is.

God not only is good, He does good things. In the Genesis account of creation He repeatedly declares it to be good. He was pleased with what His creation and took satisfaction in it. When He created people He looked over all He had created and saw that it was "very good".

So what does that say about you and me? God, who is exteremely good, (see - there I go adding descriptors to "good") fills us with the Holy Spirit to produce that attribute in us. In fact that statement could be made of any of the 9 fruits identified; when we meet with God He will do the necessary changes in us to make us more like Him.

Are you trusting God to develop the man-nerism of goodness in your life?