The Problem

My friend from college, Randy Streu, posted this earlier today, in response to the tragic events that took place in Charleston, SC at Emanuel African Methodist Church just two days ago. He eloquently articulates what I surmise is the sentiment of many, if not all Christians, every time we read the news or listen to commentaries on the news…that all evil in the world is a matter of the heart, first and foremost…and external influences will do little to solve it until we meet the Truth.

In addition, this is a time, now more than ever, that we need to lift up our pastors, churches and communities in prayer.  Daily prayers for these matters can be read by visiting www.bringme70.com

Shared in its entirety with permission of its author; I share with you…

The Problem:

Folks, we have a Problem.

No, there’s no point in denying it, because the evidence is all around us. When peaceful people can’t study the Bible in Church without being shot down for no other reason than the color of their skin, it’s clear we have a Problem. When white cops kill black men, and we start digging for justification instead of lamenting another life lost, we have to admit there’s a Problem. When we’re so afraid of a people because some folks that looked a little like them murdered a bunch of other people that we can’t help looking at them suspiciously — or even declaring their very religion an enemy — then we must look and see we have a Problem.

And the problem with the Problem is, we don’t even know what the Problem is.

Racism is not the Problem.

When we have to lock our doors at night, and feel trepidation every time we send our kids out to play, we have to acknowledge we have a Problem. When we check the internet to make sure the sex offender living down the block wasn’t convicted of crimes against children, we find evidence of the Problem. When we feel the necessity to carry weapons, and to learn to defend ourselves from petty criminals and government tyrants alike, we’re trying to deal with the Problem.

But we fail, because crime is also not the problem.

When thousands of people across the globe are murdered daily, not by bullets, but by hunger and disease; when children cry because they can’t get away from the water dripping onto their heads from the makeshift homes they’re living in; when women and children alike are forced to sell their youth, bodies, and self worth just to eat, we must see we have a Problem.

But poverty isn’t the Problem.

Moms on welfare aren’t the Problem, and neither are the rich (regardless of how honest they are or are not). Black people aren’t the Problem. White people aren’t either (not even white cops). Immigrants, legal and otherwise, aren’t the problem. Neither homosexuals nor bigots, Republicans nor Democrats, feminists nor misogynist are, in truth, the Problem. The Problem isn’t hatred, it isn’t murder, it isn’t disunity, it isn’t theft, and it isn’t disrespect.

The Problem lives everywhere, from shanty towns to high rises, from mosques to churches, from small business to Wall Street, from house to house and street corner to street corner.

The problem is, we can’t deal with the Problem, because identifying the Problem is problematic in a society that wants to believe its problems are its own. But this problem is global.

The Problem is what it is, and remains the Problem whether you or I acknowledge to truth of its existence or not — and the evidence of its pervasive nature lives on in every cry of hunger, scream of fear, or shout of rage.

The Problem is sin.

And the Problem lives in me, and it lives in you, and there’s not a damned thing any one of us can do about it.

But thank God, we don’t have to.

Jesus Christ took care of the Problem for us over two thousand years ago, when He took the burden of the Problem on his back and pounded it, through His own wrists and ankles, into a wooden stake.

So why is it still here? Why do we — you and I and this whole world — still have to deal every single day with this Problem? Because He can’t lift a burden we won’t admit exists.

It’s true, we can’t change the world. You and I, we can’t take care of the Problem. We can’t even alleviate its symptoms! But we can acknowledge the Problem in our own lives. We can hand deliver our Problem to the God who loved each one of us enough to wrap Himself in our flesh and sacrifice Himself on the altar of our stubborn selfishness. And we can, by His example, love those of us who haven’t yet admitted their Problem to themselves, and guide them to the hands of the One who can take it away.

So, yes. We do have a Problem. We have a big Problem, and it’s killing us, one by one, a soul at a time. But we also have a God who is far greater than any Problem we could ever have.

Where God Is Found

I happened to catch an interview with Philip Yancey, earlier today, talking about his latest book, The Question That Never Goes Away.   You may remember Yancey, as 30 years ago, he published Where Is God When It Hurts.

What prompted this post, was a brief story he shared, where 30 years ago, an interviewer opened by saying that he hadn’t had time to read the book prior to the interview, but requested Yancey summarize the book in just a matter of minutes. Yancey replied, that the follow up question to where is God when it hurts, is to ask, where is the church when it hurts? The answer, Yancey continued, is that God is with His people.  Returning back to today’s interview, he pointed out, that it’s interesting to note, that Jesus, when He came to earth, was located where He was, because He wanted to  make sure the religious community understood the point of grace.

Grace, as explained during the show, is NOT fair. If we always stand to the letter of the law, eventually we won’t be free. As Ghandi observed, if we always expect an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, eventually all of society will be blind and toothless.  Grace makes room for our faults. Experience of that grace should make us not want to take advantage of it, should we never get it again, whereby we make every effort to correct our faults.

That said, I experienced grace this morning. And what caught me about Yancey’s statement is what puts this post back on track. I knew God was in control of this situation and while I handled this morning on my own, I knew God was with me. And how did I know? Because outside of my immediate family, nobody knew of this mornings’ circumstances, except for 6, maybe 7 people.

And who were those people? Well, 4 or 5 of them are from my church. I knew God hadn’t left me alone in this matter, because close friends in the body of Christ, are people of character who I could confide in; that I knew weren’t sharing with people who I don’t know as well, and that when they said they would pray for me, I knew they would do so. And a few of them did pray with me right there, moments after sharing details of the situation.

Thus, it’s entirely possible, that people don’t know what God is doing in their life or where He is at work in their life, because there are not people of faith, close enough to them, to share the goodness and grace of God and how He has worked in their life and will continue to work in the life of the one in need.

Case in point… a lady this morning, shared her recent experience and why she was in the same building as I was… I gotta tell ya, it wasn’t long before I felt stupid for being anxious and nervous about my situation.  Suddenly, I felt prompted about what I could do to be a blessing to her, despite my circumstance.

People don’t know where God is, because they don’t know where the body of Christ is. Or they think we are unapproachable and off-limits. This is why Jesus’ ministry took place where it did. Because the religious community was unapproachable…and seemingly “off-limits”.

Two-thousand years later, and the world still doesn’t understand grace. People still think God is not involved… and sadly, it’s probably because there is not a Christian in their life, pointing out God actually is involved. Religion requires it’s holder to be involved, but not of the object of that religion.

Relationship, however, requires both parties to be actively and openly engaged in each other. This is how it works with Christ. Religions fail and come and go, because it is one-sided…human. And humanity, without fail, fails every single time. However, when one actively seeks God and has a relationship with Christ, there is naturally, an active and participating engagement on Christ’ part to work out His plans and purposes. Much like a healthy friendship or marriage… you like hanging out and being a part of those who enjoy having you as a part of their life.

Is God found outside the church? Absolutely.  But finding Him, happens more often and more quickly, when the people of God are more active outside the church.

Faith in God needs to be active 24/7, especially if you desire God to be actively involved in your life 24/7.

We can’t pick and choose when we want God around. Granted God is more gracious than your friends or your spouse, but try picking and choosing when you want your friends and spouse around, and one day, they’ll probably be nowhere close to where you hope. The fact, that very easily, God could decide to be that way, out to be compelling enough to make the most of our relationship with Him. Ultimately, though… it’s not a relationship based on fear, but willingness.

Who wouldn’t want a friend or a spouse who would not hesitate to fight to the death because of the value they placed on their relationship with you?

Yet, that is exactly what Christ did for each and every person, who has walked the face of earth since the last day of His ministry.

And to those who had relationship with Him at that time, He told them where He was going and what would happen next. Relationship works better with grace. The law of religion will make you wish there was grace.

This is the very heart of God. There IS grace!

 

12+ Hours of Awe

Last night, I visited a church of the same denomination I attend at home. Traveling for work,  I was debating back and forth if I would have the time to go or not, but made the decision to find one close to where I was.  A quick google search turned up a few miles away, and services had started 5 minutes previously.  Off I went.

They were having their Wednesday Night Prayer service…just like our home church was having.  I caught the second half of the devotion, Jesus discussion on the vine and branch.

After having spent some time in prayer, I somehow found myself ending with thoughts of family and career…. always a delicate balance with a fair amount of struggle and we’ll leave it at that.  (More career-related, but that’s my only hint.)

I remember specifically praying for my relationship with my wife and how I come across in working on or through our marriage. This was shortly followed with thoughts of how I interact with my kids… another delicate balance, not easily navigated.

Having had my share of career-issues, I prayed about what God desires to accomplish in and through  my life while I support this family He has given me… a third delicate balance. Naturally, I took this moment to pray over my current position and boss.

In closing… and I’m not sure why I prayed this, but I closed out this family-oriented prayer with the fact that our conversations would be those of grace and “seasoned with salt.” A biblical phrase, but I couldn’t place where in Scripture it was… at the moment

Even as I prayed it, it seemed odd, that I would personally close my own prayer in such a manner.

Here’s the “awe” moment.

I’m back in my seat reflecting, bible still open and I have one of those “drawn to read Scripture but don’t know where” moments.

I grab my bible, which was still open and flip towards the back… seemingly headed to a verse a random.

Colossians 3 on the left page.  Chapter 4 on the right.  And right above chapter 4 of Colossians, the section heading:

“Rules For Christian Households”.

*I chuckle.

Verses 19, 21 & 23 stand-out.  And those familiar with this passage understand why.  My prayer had just been reiterated.

v 19: “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.”  *Wow… I could do better in that.

v. 21: “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” *Wow… I could definitely do better in that.

v. 23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as for the Lord, not for men.” *Wow… this is unbelievable!

After laughing in my spirit for a few moments at the uncanny timing of Scripture and a prayer, something inside said…”Read a few more verses.”

Okay…

…then, here comes chapter 4, verse 6 for the game winning point.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

God, you’ve got to be kidding me!!

Our pastor always says, “Whenever you read Scripture, Scripture reads you.”  God has a way of knowing what you have need of and where you need to make application of His Word, when you are open and willing to work on your life according Him and not self.

This is the final, delicate balance.  Which shouldn’t really be a balance. He gave His life for mine, therefore, mine is not my own. There’s really nothing to balance between God’s way and my way, except that it is a constant, daily decision as the apostle Paul reminds us, to put aside self.  He uses a much harsher word, than “put aside” which is why most of us have such a hard time doing it.

That said… 15 hrs later and I am still in awe.

A seemingly random church.

A debate over whether I’d have (make) time to go.

A late arrival.

An open and willing prayer of my faults.

And an amazing confirmation from God that I do have faults… and my work cut out for me.

The Critical Apex

“I was doing fine until about mid-corner when I ran out of talent.”  -unknown

Similarly, Don Garlits is quoted: “Everything was fine until I left, and then I ran out of talent!”

I came to a humbling realization last night in my life; it’s one I’ve known about for quite a while and one I’ve struggled with for just as long, but sitting in a parking lot late last night and saying these words out loud, really hit home.

I know it’s not about doing “things”, yet I still try to figure out what I need to do. And even if it were about “doing” things, I’m still not doing it right.

So, not only have I failed on the TRUE point of the matter, I’ve also failed on my own MISGUIDED point of the matter.

Typing this out just now, reminds me of the words of Henry Ford:  If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”

As in life, so it is in racing…there are many lines that can be taken along the track. Yet when making the turn, only one, allows for maximum velocity, traction and vision for what’s next if you have properly positioned yourself before entering the turn.

There’s another unknown racing quote:

“Never run out of real estate, traction and ideas at the same time.”

There’s no fun on the race track, if you are just meandering along.  Granted, life is not, ultimately, about who got there first, fastest or whatever, but the enjoyment and fulfillment of driving and racing alike, is to know what you are doing, where you are going and making the most of the talent within you and the tools in front of you to do something spectacular, whereby others take notice.

As someone once said, “Gotta work on the nut behind the wheel before you start fixing bolts on the car”.

Suffice to say, I’ll be the first to admit we all, still need work. And I’ll be the first to admit I keep trying to tell people something is wrong with the car.

Scripture repeatedly states and seems to constantly remind me, as it did again last night… Seek first the kingdom of God AND His righteousness. Seek what God wants and right relationship with Him… and all these [other] things.  Why do we… rephrase… why do I; keep things first.  And it’s not the things… it’s OTHER… it’s not even the right stuff. And we’re not dealing with heavy issues of morality or blatant, public immoral living here.

But as the great Jackie Stewart once said: “It is not always possible to be the best, but it is always possible to improve your own performance.”

Each of us, in our life and our walk with Christ could do and be better.  And that should carefully be our focus, as we conformed to the image of Christ. It’s not doing it on my own that I need to worry about, but allowing Christ to work in my life.

Granted, it seems easier to worry about trying to do it on our own, for fear of the unknown of what Christ might accomplish in and through us, but then we would be settling, not for second best, but for the earthly inferior instead of the superiority of God. The is no second place to God’s plan.

Dennis Anderson once said: “Second place is the first loser.”

My way and your way will fail… each and every time. And it’s not enough to recognize, as I’ve officially lost count I many times I have made it that far.

When will be the day that we are no longer deceived that we are on the wrong line going around the track?

It’s a balanced analogy, because again, life isn’t allows about first, fastest, most efficient or what-have-you. But again, life is about stewardship; which requires making the most of our time, talent and resources, which in the racing world, does result in winners. And not just at the finish line, but as those known for great exploits and great accomplishments. Known for their talent, insight and understanding. Known for their diligence, their passion, their contribution. Known for their wisdom. Known for their friendship.

They became leaders in the world the operated. They became legends that their world spoke of for years beyond their time.

This is the parable of the talents.

To the men who produced tangible evidence upon their master’s return…”You good & faithful servant.”

To the man who did nothing… and it wasn’t that he did nothing; he did DO something… he HID it in the ground!!

Stirling Moss put it this way: “To achieve anything in this game you must be prepared to dabble in the boundary of disaster.”

The servant put it in the ground for fear of His master’s response…which in reality, was probably worse than he thought it would be. “You wicked servant.”

It is not for the fear of God that should prompt us to act, but the understanding that time is of the essence. God has determined to invest in you and I that we would accomplish something great for His glory…. as God does nothing halfhearted.

The wicked servant had the opportunity to be called “good & faithful”

Not only did he miss the apex, he did, in fact,  run out of our real estate, traction and ideas at the same time. He mistakenly thought the only thing he could do was what he did and his consequence was worse than he imagined.

Today’s a new day and I for one have a critical decision to make. Perhaps, so do you. If for no other reason, than the words of the great legend, Enzo Ferrari…

“What’s behind you doesn’t matter.”

Afflictions Eclipsed By Glory

Stealing a line from a David Crowder Band song, the phrase clicked this morning, shortly after reading the books of 1st, 2nd & 3rd John.  I have been the worst offender of late, getting caught up in the circumstances and frustrations of life and the seemingly, never-ending on-goings thereof.

Never-ending on-goings. There’s a paradox for the day.  Say that five times and smile. You’ll feel better.

During the same period of time, the radio dj of the christian station that I was tuned into, shared a concept that a co-worker expressed,that in the gyms, the rooms don’t have clocks, so that you stay focused. Alternatively, the dj shared that being aware of the time helps focus on the fact that it will end.

I realized that been a significant portion of my frustration has been, partly in wondering if it will end (which I know it will), but when it will end…which obviously remains unknown.

The pessimist is me thinks it will be 1 day short of 40 yrs, so when I ask God what took so long, heavenly sarcasm comes forth with the following response: “Well, it was shorter than the Israelites’ time in the sand.”

Never the less…while the times and plans and purposes for the circumstance and struggles we face are frustratingly difficult to navigate, it is the over-shadowing glory of God that illuminate our way through this time we call life.

The same dj also shared, that the original word for Yahweh had no vowels. When written, appeared as Y H W H.  It practically rolls of the tongue, almost without effort…like breathing.  So as we have been given the breath of life, so our breathing can be considered a form of worship to the giver of Life. A pretty powerful concept, seemingly reinforced through numerous scriptures where we are encouraged to “trust in the Lord” and “cast all our cares on Him” or the one I struggle with most; “be anxious about nothing.”

Easier said than done, God!

To which I can hear the sarcasm again…

“Easier than breathing?”

No…breathing is easier.

“Then do that… and let me work out what I will.”

In the end, what would your rather remember. On what would you rather devote your time, energy, focus and resources? The cares of the world, which will pass away anyway or His glory which never fades and His Word, which will never return void.

The afflictions are only made more frustrating when God isn’t glorified in them. Then it feels like a waste. An unworthy cause. An undo process. An incompletion.

There is no half-way or half-done. Unbound by space and time, God sees completion and wholeness and is the same, in his character.

My present struggles pail in comparison to the greatness of God. Yet, God, in His greatness cares for my present struggles.

Afflictions Eclipsed By His Glory.

I need to make the effort to focus on God more. Perhaps things will change, if for nothing more than my focus will have changed and then we’ll gain some traction in accomplishing the plans and purposed He desires to fulfill in and through my life, as well as your own life.

What Future “Selfies” Want To Know!

Well…has it changed?

Did you do yesterday what you said you would do tomorrow?

Did you learn your lesson(s)?

Did you fail at repeating same mistakes?

Did you defeat procrastination?

Did you become what you always looked up to?

Are you still wishing or finally living?

I hope for the sake of Christ, you have influenced the Kingdom of God

I hope for the sake of Christ, you put yourself together and made in impact in the world

I hope for the sake of humanity, that you have lived honorably; with integrity.

I hope for the sake of humanity, that you were not a burden to those around you… that you did not wear them out with your frustration.

I hope for the sake of your family, that they thank God for how you have lived and what you have accomplished.

I hope for the sake of your family, that you have lived real & genuine… having known God and kept the faith.

Have you found and fulfilled your purpose? For it would be a shame that you wasted your life on something other than that which someone was waiting for that was of the utmost importance and relevance.

I trust for your sake, that you did not hide or bury your talent in the dirt. For you would be deemed as stupid as you once thought that you were. And we both know, you are not.

I hope for the sake of the world, that you raised your children in the fear of God, not the fear of Dad. Not that you aren’t important, but unlike God, you will one day be gone from their lives.

Have they discovered their calling? Fulfilled their purpose? Did you teach them how to do that, since you once struggled with the same?

Are they prepared to take on the world, not because of who they are, but because they know the power of Christ of with them?

Do your enemies envy your life…not because of your self-greatness, but because of the great blessing of God upon you?

Have you learned from the generation before you?

Have you participated in the generation you live?

Have you taught the generation that follows you?

You used to try and get as much as you could for one dollar. Have you offered the same value from your one life?

Have you produced as much as you have consumed? For one who always takes is a leach. One who contributes will be sought after, shared and respected. That which simply takes up space and collects dust is often not kept for long.

Have you learned to live in a manner of which no one in your circle of influence desires to rid of you or have you leave their life? For if no one will miss your passing, then perhaps you have made the mistake of passing through life without participating in the lives of those who needed you most.

How I Almost Missed God

For the past three weeks now, I have found myself attending a church service, not of my home church…all 3, in fact, far from home. Interestingly enough, the themes built upon each other…in sequential order of all things. The first two tied into how we focus on our circumstances, then proceed to doubt our ability, when we should believe that we are indeed capable of great accomplishments. The alternative, is that we focus on the same circumstances, then proceed to doubt God’s ability to bring us through what seems insurmountable. Both these sermons utilize the story of the 12 spies of Israel that checked out the land of Canaan, promised to the people of Israel.

The third and latest service, discussed again, how we miss the greater picture. We ignore God and His Word and what He calls us to do and be and how to live…we do things our way, diss those who have mistreated us, get all bummed about the affairs of life and then wonder why God’s not there, not speaking, not helping us out of our plight. We do the opposite of what King David did, which was to acknowledge, despite the storms of life, that his good days outweighed the bad.

OUTWEIGH. He gave more worth, focus and attention to the good that had transpired in his life and what God had done for him on his behalf; sentiments later re-iterated by the Apostle Paul writing more on than one occasion, his circumstances “serving to advance the gospel” and his ability to be content regardless, as he had known plenty as well as insufficiency.

So, even as those in the third service were challenged, so was I, in that God does work in our lives, but it’s only recognized if we are paying attention to it. Spending time with God with His Word.

Meditating…reflecting…focusing…concentrated thinking.

So I sit with my Bible and find myself, getting drawn back to Scripture… Proverbs 29 leads to looking up a passage in Deuteronomy which results in reading the last 14 chapters of Job. (29-42)

Job, in an entire conversation with his wife, 3 friends, a man named Elihu and God, work out a righteous man’s worst nightmare. And in the end of it, Job acknowledges before God and man what many in modern society fail to recognize the respond appropriately with:

…”I know that you can do all things…surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things to wonderful for me to know…therefore I despise myself and repent…” Job 42:1-6

What does this have to do with my missing God?

The first service, I ended up attending because I made a bad decision. But God had me there for a reason. The second service was a prompting, that that was the particular church I was to be at the Sunday following the first service. I thought otherwise, but couldn’t shake what I genuinely believe was God directing…don’t look for a closer church; I told you where I want you to go. So I did.

And the third service? Yet again, God arranged the day for me to be a in particular area. I pick a church to attend, only to get there and hear that service was cancelled…a pipe had burst earlier that very day.  I check the GPS for surrounding services…4 nearby churches weren’t even having services that evening. Finally call on a church and service had started 20 minutes prior to my call. “Really God? Is it gonna be worth it go?”

So, it’s the next closest one….I guess this where I’m supposed to go. And God knows what He is doing and where he is placing me to get my attention and help me understand.

It’s what we all need to understand.

When we do as Job did and speak of things we do not understand, we do what the Lord describes Job as having done: “Obscure [His] counsel without knowledge.”

This is how we miss God. Three occasions, I could have dug my heels in frustration to my circumstances…this isn’t working out and I’m not bothering to go to church. The first service…I was that frustrated. That decision 2 days before, I really struggled with, for most of the week that followed.

The second service wasn’t exactly next door. I had to decide the night before, if that’s the church I was going to step into the next morning.

And who but God directs you to one church, by having the pipe burst in the attic of another church…the Pastor, by the way told me had left a meeting early that morning to head back to the church and it burst just minutes after his arrival. He’s been at the church 6 yrs and didn’t know there were even water pipes in the attic.

I did actually consider still not going to that third service because they were going to be 25-30 minutes into when I arrived. Yet it was still a powerful, practical, relevant message.

Funny enough, the pastor of the 3rd service was talking about how we blame our bad decisions on outside influences or people or the devil. Yet, step into any jail cell and ask them about the moments leading up to the arrest and you’ll hear “Something told me NOT to do it…just knew, something wasn’t right” We don’t hesitate for he or she or they made me. Adam says “This woman you gave me.” Eve says, “the serpent deceived me”. Yet when our spirit is prompted by advance notice, we don’t attribute to God watching out for us, but it’s “something told me.”

How belittling to God. And this how we miss Him. Failing to recognize His desire for relationship with us, we’re quick to tell everyone our troubles and fail to trust God. Or if your me, spend more time online wasting time than on my knees in prayer, investing time.

God is working out the details of your life, as much as He is mine. But if you are not looking for His way, especially when things are not working out “your” way, you’ll miss Him. I was watching an episode of The West Wing the other night, and Chief of Staff Leo McGarry is trying to push for the Defense Missile Shield. During the test run, the target is missed…by 137 miles. While discussing with some senior staff the results, Toby asks how much the miss was and embarrassed, Leo says something to the effect…”it doesn’t really matter”, as a miss is a miss…by how much is irrelevant.

This is how it is with God and the Kingdom of Heaven. Close isn’t gonna cut it. The only that is going to matter that can be described by the word “close” is our relationship with God. And there will be evidence to support that, just like one would ask what makes you close with your best friend or your spouse. And it needs to be deeper than, “Well we were tight back in college” or “We live under the same roof.”

Like any great friendship or marriage, your relationship is never complete. You can always be closer. And God has literally had me travel many miles to help me realize that I could and need to be closer in my walk with Him.

Don’t let your circumstance obscure your knowledge of Him or interfere with your ability to draw closer to Him.

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