Posts Tagged ‘salvation

22
Nov
21

Thanks for those scars

(Not my scar, by the way)

For the most part, I don’t have a lot of scars.

(Not that you can see, at least).

There’s this one on the front side of my left index finger. That’s from getting it caught on the top of a sharp chain-link fence I was climbing.

There’s this one on the back of my left hand. That was a freak accident caused by a sticky French door I was trying to close. I apparently yanked on it too forcefully, dislodging one of the panes at the top. CHOP! It came down… just like a guillotine blade, cleanly severing my middle finger tendon.

Those two – besides the dark spot on my right thumb where Donnie Avery stabbed me with a #2 pencil in the 10th grade – pretty much complete the list of “scars I did not intend to receive.” 

And just because of sheer, dumb luck, my list of “scars I planned on” is pretty limited, too. All I have to show are one on each shoulder from two different “shoulder decompression” surgeries, five years apart. 

As I alluded to earlier, I also bear other scars. The kind the dermatologist doesn’t see at the annual skin check. [BTW, have you had yours yet? If not, I highly recommend scheduling it ASAP. Especially if you are “of a certain age.”]

I have emotional scars. Mental scars. And if it is possible, spiritual scars, too.

Some are recent. Some go WAAAAY back. And even though each of them had a definite influence in shaping me into the person I am today, they all involved PAIN. 

The gauntlet I am throwing down for myself today… the Monday of Thankskgiving week… is the question: “Am I able to truly GIVE THANKS for each of those scars?” 

You are more than welcome to offer yourself this same challenge. I have no ownership claims on this exercise.

My quest stems from the exhortation the Apostle Paul made to the small band of believers gathered there in Thessalonica nearly 2,000 years ago. Included in Paul’s list of, “Here are the things God wants you to do,” is this one: “… give thanks in all circumstances…” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NRSV).

As much as I might like to think otherwise, I am pretty sure Paul also meant to include, “Give thanks for all circumstances” in this instruction.

Wait… do you really mean;

  • Give thanks for the scars left by being cut from the eighth-grade basketball team?
  • Give thanks for emotional damage of being tormented by the neighborhood bully?
  • Give thanks for the pain of hearing, “Sorry, Rusty… no” the first time I screwed up my courage to ask a girl out on a date?
  • Give thanks for the anguish of my divorce?
  • Give thanks for the church leaders who said, “We don’t want you as our pastor anymore”?
  • And MORE?

“Hold on, Paul… give thanks for all of THAT? Are you KIDDING me? That’s about the goofiest advice I’ve ever heard.”

And yet, despite my protests, Paul is unmoved. Paul… you know… the guy who was whipped, beaten, ship-wrecked, mocked, rejected, arrested, thrown in prison, and eventually executed? 

Yeah… that guy. 

He holds fast. 

He keeps telling me to give thanks. 

IN all circumstances. FOR all circumstances. For all the scars.

“Just do it,” he says with a wry smile. “One day, you’ll find out why.”

Abundant blessings;

26
Dec
20

An Unfinished Christmas

I may have mentioned this before (apologies to you if this is old, stale news), but Joan and I are in the middle of a giant remodel in our home.

Shortly after moving in to this house, we decided to flip the locations of the kitchen and the dining room. And just for fun, we decided to throw in a living room fireplace replacement project at the same time.

Yes indeed, we are the kind of wacky, carefree scalawags who get our jollies from doing that sort of stuff.

We started planning the project in the spring, just after the onset of COVID-19. Allowing for a little extra time for delays and setbacks, we conservatively estimated it would be finished by Labor Day… and then Thanksgiving… and then Christmas. 

As you can see from these photos, it is almost, but not quite, finished, here on December 26, 2020. 

Having no kitchen for the last three months has been something a struggle for both of us, but especially so for Joan. True to her Italian heritage, she is most at home in her kitchen, cooking up big servings of love for friends and family. 

When the goal of cooking Thanksgiving dinner in the new kitchen died a reluctant death, all eyes turned instead to a lavish Christmas feast. “Sure… you’ll have a functional kitchen by Christmas,” our contractor told us. 

“Functional,” we noted, is not the same as “finished.” And that is exactly what we got when he knocked off for the weekend early Tuesday afternoon. 

Undaunted, we set the dining room table back up, pushed the wet/dry industrial vac into the corner and started COOKING and DECORATING!! And you know what? It actually worked out pretty well.

We nicknamed 2020, “the unfinished Christmas.” And when you stop and think about it, in a way, God could have given the very first Christmas the same name.

Yes, God came to earth in human form, just as the biblical Christmas story tells us. God’s purpose in making this Cosmic House Call was to – as we were told in Matthew’s gospel, “… save his people from their sins.”(Matthew 1:21, NRSV). 

SAVIOR. That is who Jesus is. That is what his name means. In Jesus, God provided a doorway that humanity had never had access to before… a doorway from sin and death to life and peace. 

And yet despite that gift… despite that doorway… God’s saving work is unfinished until we do our part. 

The life-saving rope can be perfectly thrown to the drowning man; but until the drowning man reaches out and grabs that rope, he is not saved. 

God came to live among us… to live as one of us… to throw us the life-saving rope of God’s love and grace. But the work of Christmas remains unfinished until you and I reach out and say, “YES” to the gift Jesus offers us.

He is still offering it today and will continue to offer it every day for the rest of your life.

Will you take it?

Abundant blessings;

11
Nov
19

No magic wand

The-Roman-Destruction-and-Rebuilding-of-Jerusalem-A14Have you ever played the “magic wand” game?

That’s the game where someone says to you, “If you could wave a magic wand and change ONE THING about your life, what would it be?”

If you are anything like me, you have a really tough time answering that question.

The list of things I would like to change about myself is at least as long as my arm. Would it be the bags under my eyes? Or my gimpy left knee? Maybe I should go with my dismal level of self-discipline at the dinner table, or the erratic nature of my prayer life.

I find the idea of choosing just one thing to be an exercise in utter futility.

If I were a citizen of Israel in the time of Jesus, my answer to the magic wand question would have sprung from my lips even before the person finished asking the question. I would probably have said something like, “I would wave that magic wand and ask that the Messiah would arrive and liberate us from these loathsome Roman oppressors.”

In just a few short weeks, the Christian part of the world will formally (and in some places EXTRAVAGANTLY) celebrate the granting of the first part of that magic wand wish. God’s Anointed Messiah did indeed arrive in Bethlehem of Judea. He came disguised as a tiny, helpless baby born in a barn to a frightened teenage mother and an older, forgiving, earthly father.

Poor people (in the guise of shepherds), rich people (in the guise of Magi from the East), and heavenly hosts stopped everything and celebrated this breaking news, headline event.

The problem was, Jesus’ birth did not accomplish the SECOND part of the magic wand wish. Meaning this Messiah’s arrival did NOT succeed in liberating Israel from Rome’s harsh political yoke.

Quite the contrary, in fact.

The historical record shows us that things actually got much worse for Israel in the years following Jesus’ death and resurrection. The ultimate defeat for Israel came in Rome’s annihilation of hundreds of Jews and the total destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in the year 70 AD, as depicted above.

For Israel – and for the world – the birth of the Messiah was indeed Good News. But it was certainly no magic wand. Jesus’ birth and ministry did absolutely nothing to change the circumstances of his world. What it DID do, however, was to absolutely transform the way his followers were able to relate to those circumstances.

I know, I know… this is really an inappropriately early time to start thinking Christmas and Advent thoughts, and so I will beg your forgiveness on that score. I suppose I have been prompted in this direction by looking around and observing a world that seems to be increasingly enamored of “magic wand solutions.” We buy fistfuls of lottery tickets, hoping that the magic wand of MONEY will help… we change jobs, spouses, hairstyles, homes, and sometimes even bodies hoping one of these magic wands will save us.

I think the Christmas story is meant to be a reminder that the “glad tidings of great joy” was not a magic wand when it first arrived on the scene.

Maybe a better idea for all of us this season would be to quiet ourselves at the side of the manger and remember that the real work of salvation was always intended to work from the inside out instead of the other way around.

Abundant blessings;

“She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”(Matthew 1:21, NRSV)

07
Apr
18

James? or David?

James TaylorWhat do you do when your world is out of whack?

This morning I woke up with a nasty head cold. It feels like someone snuck in during the night and stuffed my head full of cotton while I was sleeping. My thinking was so hazy I struggled to tie my shoes correctly.

PLUS… while the calendar says it is April, the weather outside clearly reads “January.” A 19-degree air temperature and frozen puddles outside greet the eye.

To add to the overall disorientation, my wife (a.k.a. confidante, companion, sounding board, lover, friend, anchor, muse, support, reality check) is 1,200 miles away enjoying some sun and sand with her daughter.

My energy is utterly sapped… and it is only 10:00 a.m.

HELP! All of my touchstones have deserted me.

I need a toehold! I need a solid piece of ground to hold onto and get my bearings.

I am sure you remember a time in your life that felt like this. Or worse.

I’m sure each of us has felt ourselves spinning a little out of control now and then.

Where do you turn when your altimeter is whirling like a top and your compass is in the middle of an epileptic seizure?

James Taylor is one option. “When you’re down… and troubled… and you need a helping hand. And nothing, whoa nothing is going right. Just close your eyes and think of me, and soon I will be there… to brighten up even your darkest nights.”

So I tried it! I closed my eyes… thought about and visualized sweet baby James… and waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

I’m still waiting for James to make good on his promise.

Today I thank God for the mentors in my life that introduced me to ANOTHER resource… that taught me how to connect with the reliable, unchanging, solid Word of God in all circumstances.

King DavidSomehow the 18thpsalm of David seems like the right place to turn. After a long, long period of being harassed by King Saul, David finally defeated his adversary. And in the moments following his victory, David knew instantly where to turn and give the credit: “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:2, NRSV).

No doubt if God can deliver David from an entire army of enemies, he can surely deliver me from a head cold, freezing weather, and from missing my sweetheart.

Ahh! That’s better.

Sorry, James.

16
Feb
18

R is for Redemption

(This post will be the first in a series. Recently, my mentor/counselor/friend suggested I create an acrostic from my name as a way of claiming my God-given identity.)

I love the table in our breakfast room. In fact, it is the table where I now sit and write these words you are reading.

Besides being a great writing surface and just the right size and shape for Sunday dinners with the family, I discovered a whole new trick this table can perform – it can serve as an illustration of a theological principle that resides deep in the core of my identity.

Here’s what I mean: while the legs and frame of this table are new, the tabletop is made out of reclaimed barn wood. Here is a picture of the table… complete with the Table top picinappropriately colored table runner I bought one day from a street vendor in Guatemala.

If you look hard at the surface of this table you can see nail marks, cracks, scratches and a wide range of other kinds of imperfections.

The barn that gave birth to our tabletop (located, we were told, somewhere in central Missouri) had been abandoned long ago. The wood was exposed to the blistering sun, pouring rain, and dramatic temperature swings as the barn just sat there, ignored… unappreciated… unused.

No one knew what its original color was as all of its paint had long since peeled and fallen off.

One day the owners decided it was time to tear that old barn down to make way for something else. Fortunately, a furniture builder came by just then and offered to buy all of the wood planking from the barn.

And VOILA! We have REDEMPTION.

That which had been cast aside and labeled as useless was suddenly given a new purpose. Yes, it did take a little work to transform those weathered planks into a serviceable table, but here they are: living a new life as a vital element of our breakfast room… making vital, daily contributions to our family’s well-being.

Most of the time we see redemption as only about being saved. As Psalm 34:22 saysThe Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.” Psalm 72:14 makes a similar appeal when it says, “From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight.”

The barn wood variety of redemption, however, has two components: salvation and rebirth. That barn wood did not simply avoid being turned into kindling. While retaining its essential identity, that wood was transformed into something else completely!

I see Jesus as an agent of “barn wood redemption.” He not only set people free from lives that were seen as discarded, useless, and unproductive. He set them on new paths, gave them new identities, and – most importantly – RECLAIMED their original identities as beloved children of God.

I know that God has begun a huge redemption project in my life. I can’t wait to see where it is headed!

29
Nov
17

What kind of hope?

Hope imageSince the calendar tells me we are creeping right up on it, my thoughts this morning turn to Advent… also known to Christians throughout the world as the season of hope.

It is the time when we try to do the spiritual gymnastics of placing ourselves in the sandals of the pre-Jesus world of the ancient Near East, imagining the depth of their yearning for the arrival of God’s promised Messiah.

During this liturgical season, pastors everywhere attempt to re-create the sense of eager anticipation of “the people who walked in great darkness,” (Matthew 4:16) as they asked, “Is this the one? Is it finally happening?”

During this season we often talk about hope in broad universal terms… the hope of humanity for the ultimate triumph of good over evil… hope for the salvation of the soul of the world.

Good, solid hopes, to be sure.

But today I also find my thoughts turning to Scott.

Scott is a guy who lives somewhere in the middle of Missouri. For at least the last two years, Scott has been sending emails to a group of pastors from across the U.S. The emails are about the frustrations Scott is facing in his search for a better job… better than the current, very low-paying one he has now.

Scott is also frustrated about the health (or lack thereof) of his relationship with his wife.

Several times after first receiving his initial emails, I responded and offered suggestions and prayers. Alas, nothing seemed to work out and here Scott is, two years later with no prospects in sight and a very deflated spirit.

Scott’s email messages today have taken a very critical tone… expressing annoyance with the pastors on his list – including yours truly – that have not done enough to help him.

And so I can’t help but wonder: what does hope look like for Scott? Is it the same hope we talk about during the season of Advent? Or is it somehow a different kind of hope?

Jesus came into the world as God’s Messiah… the deliverer promised to the children of Israel during their days of futility and exile. He came to bring freedom and liberation to people long oppressed. He came to announce the beginning of the reign of God… right here, right now.

He came, quoting the prophet Isaiah, to… “bring good news to the poor…” and to, “… proclaim release to the captives.” (Luke 4:18).

But did he also come to bring Scott a better job? And if so, how?

As we enter this holy season, I would invite us to keep those two realms of hope in close dialogue with one another… the realm of eternal hope and the realm of hope in the here-and-now. I can’t tell you how at the moment, but something tells me these realms are very intimately related to each other.

Let us enter the season of Advent striving to be the people who confidently announce the Good News of God’s hope for the world… and for our very real neighbors struggling to make ends meet.

Abundant Advent blessings;




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