Why You Crying?

I’ve heard this question a lot. Now that my grandson is nearly four, I find myself asking that question a lot.

It seems that the word “no” often signals the end of his world to him.

Hysterics often follow not being allowed to play in the street, eat a third dinner or play with dynamite.

Telling a kid “no” or any answer other than the one they are wanting to hear often meets with tearful wailing and temporary loss of sanity. The loss of sanity is usually mine.

Why you crying?

I’ve been asked that question and although I don’t recall many of my toddler temper tantrums, I do recall asking sarcastically, “Why do you think I’m crying? There’s a fish hook caught in my ear lobe!”

I think maybe sometimes it is good to ask myself why I am crying.

Yeah, I have some long and interesting conversations with myself. Mostly, I talk to myself a lot because I always get my jokes and think they are hilarious. But, in these question and answer periods, I often find that my emotions are getting the best of my reality.

John 20:11 Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. 12 She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.

Why you crying?

Mary was really upset about the death of Jesus. He was the center of her world and that center was now gone.

I can picture her sniffling, eyes red from tears, her making that weird catching your breath sound as she tried to speak, “They took him and I don’t know where they put him!”

She may have had more to say if she realized that she was speaking to angels and not thought it was just two weird dudes that spent their spare time sitting in abandoned tombs.

But, she went back to crying more, maybe even wailing and throwing a real fit of hysterical proportion, or maybe she just sobbed, I don’t really know.

John 20:14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”
She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

Mary turned and saw the gardener.

How many times had God spoken to me and I dismissed him as something less than what he truly is? When I have one of those question and answer periods with myself about that, I give myself some shivers.

I’ve dismissed God a lot. I’ve demoted him to gardener, simpleton and mental patient. Seriously, I have taken the words God has spoken to me and put them into the context of nothing more than the guy with the John 3:16 sign that gets to go to all the football games. How does that guy afford to get into football games? I can’t afford one ticket every decade or so!

Why you crying?

Mary turned to Jesus and told him the answer she was seeking.

“Tell me where he is and I’ll go get him.”

Mary couldn’t have been more sincere, loving and willing. But she was wrong.

The answer she needed wasn’t to go get him, it was to go TO him.

John 20:16 “Mary!” Jesus said.
She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

Why you crying, Mary?

There must have been something in the way he said it, something familiar, something that awoke something inside her that she had laid to rest.

When he spoke her name it all made sense and she completely forget about her plan to find out where he was so she could put him back inside that tomb.

When she heard her name, her spirit ran from the tomb, the death that had enveloped all she believed in lost its grip on her and the resurrecting power of Christ did a lot more than bring Jesus back to life, it brought all hope back to life.

Why you crying, Mike?

Hmm, I guess there are a lot of times I need to hear Jesus speak that to me. I remember hearing it when I was sitting in a Celebrate Recovery meeting waiting to tell God, “Nice try, buddy. Time for me to give up now.”

I heard my name and the answer that seemed so obviously right to me became absurd and the futility I felt was transformed miraculously to hope, my tears of sorrow became the water that moistened the hard soil of a dead heart and caused it to beat again.

Why you crying?

Maybe this a good day to lay aside the answer you want to hear and listen to something bigger than you hoped for. Maybe this is the time hope appears in the place of your desperation. Maybe this is the time your tears pave the way for some real joy.

Maybe this is a time to have a good long talk with yourself to remind yourself that these emotions don’t dictate your future.

Maybe this is the day you see the gardener for who he really is and hear truth.

That’s a lot of “maybe’s”. That is because, with God, there are more possibilities than we can ever imagine. When I start looking at all the amazing “maybe’s” that God can provide, hope snowballs and becomes bigger than all my worries.

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No Pain, No Gain

I really hate the saying, “No pain, no gain.”

Seriously, what’s to love about that?

Except, it is true.

I’ve been trying to get this old body of mine, a pile of bones that have been busted and bent, skin that is wrinkled and scarred and muscles that have yielded to fat back into shape.

While it isn’t necessary for me to inflict pain that cripples me to make things fit together like they are supposed to, if my workouts consist of playing patty-cake and whistling, there’s not going to be much in the way of positive gain.

Even while I type this morning, I can feel some weakness in my shoulders. I never realized I used muscles in my shoulders to type until I started working out and doing standing military presses.

But when I work out and steal the strength from my muscles (which doesn’t always feel real great) it becomes more difficult to do it the next time.

My muscles, even though I am kind of the old geezer at the gym, respond naturally to the strain and stress and pain by getting stronger.

They don’t respond like my brain does seeking the path of least resistance to comfort. They respond by making the path of more resistance simpler and easier.

I think it is really good for my lazy brain to see what my atrophied body is accomplishing.

After all, my brain likes to hear, “Hey, Mike! You aren’t so fat anymore!”

No pain, no gain.

It’s pretty scary when a person first accepts this premise and starts to do something about turning loss into gain.

I’ve seen it ring true physically, mentally and spiritually.

I believe that often I have tried taking too many spiritual shortcuts to a carefree life, ended up losing what little I thought I had and neglected taking the road through the valley of the shadow of death and come out the other side having gained.

Christ didn’t give us the example of the cross to tell us that life is going to be unicorns and puppy-kittens.

Nope. He didn’t do what only he could do for us so we could watch Andy Griffith reruns for hours on end and sip Pina Coladas till we fell asleep on a Serta Perfect SleepeJohn 19:28 Jesus knew that his mission was now finished, and to fulfill Scripture he said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips. 30 When Jesus had tasted it, he said, “It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

He finished what he set out to do.

That wasn’t the end though.

Why did he do it all?

If you are thinking he did it to save YOU. You are partly right.

But, he did it to save ALL. He left us with the greatest commandment, TO LOVE.

It isn’t the easy kind of love. It isn’t looking around for people I like, people that have something I want or seeking out people that aren’t too bad to be saved.

This love is the “no pain, no gain” kind of love. If it doesn’t hurt sometimes, well, then it is just lazy love that isn’t reaching out, isn’t willing to make a sacrifice, isn’t genuine, heartfelt, super-love like Christ showed us.

This love requires me to become spent, unable to love anymore, not able to do one more rep, to drink the bitter wine and declare it is finished and then wake up the next day ready to hit it again.

I’ve seen people that extend love like that. Their disappointments are still real but the ability to withstand them is a lot stronger than mine. They are good people to have around when loving others hurts.

Loving others may smell bad, expose me to germs and tiny little bugs, take resources that I think I can’t live without, infringe upon my time, cause stress with my friends and family and even make me feel lonely and broken from time to time.

But it is what Christ called me to do. It is what he was trying to teach me to do when he uttered, “It is finished.”

Those words didn’t signal utopia with free biscuits and gravy for everyone and big, fat bank accounts for life. They signaled to me and you that it has begun.

It meant that the era of Christ in me has begun and my life should impact the world like he did, without conditions and without prejudice, willing to lay it all out there even if it hurts.

No pain, no gain.

Even as I type this, I’m looking around for cover, someplace to retreat to when it all goes wrong. Instead, I am going to look for a way into the fray, into the storm knowing that what he has finished is more than enough to get me through to the other sided a better man.

Don’t Call Me Shirley

“Surely, you can’t be serious!”

“I am serious and don’t call me Shirley.”

I was totally not expecting the way that conversation turned the first time I saw the movie “Airplane!”.  I laughed way too long about it.  Even today, I am sitting here thinking of other really bad puns that compare but it is pretty tough to beat the deadpan face of Leslie Nielsen insisting to not be called Shirley.

I don’t know why but I was reminded of this when I was reading the Book of Ruth.

Ruth 1:20 “Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?”

I am serious and don’t call me Naomi.

People used to put a lot of stock in the meaning of their names.  Naomi meant “sweet, pleasant”.  When Naomi went back to her home she didn’t feel sweet and pleasant any more than Leslie Nielsen felt like Shirley.

So she decided to rename herself Mara.  Mara means “bitter”.

Now, I must insist you do not call me Naomi.  But, I can relate to wanting to be someone else.

I became a Christian at a young age.  Not so young that I didn’t understand the concept of salvation but perhaps too young to understand that this life is small compared to the life that Christ purchased for me.

Everything about Christianity related to me on a physical level and it primarily was about today or tomorrow.

I didn’t see any big picture or grand plan for mankind.  I saw today and maybe tomorrow morning.  If things looked bad today, they pretty much seemed to be bleak for the rest of my life.

After I began to experience depression and other maladies of the mind and soul, I still had that kid’s mentality that said if today sucks, life sucks.

Naomi had been through a bunch of days that sucked.  People had died, famine had overtaken the land and she was just pretty much done with it all.  Call her Mara, she’s toast.

I have been there.  I’ve been through so many bad days that I thought I was not who I used to be anymore.  I wasn’t Mike.  I wasn’t a child of God.  I wasn’t made in God’s image.  I was no longer covered by the blood of Christ.  I was no longer looking toward a future in Christ but into a past filled with failure, regret and emptiness.

Don’t call me saved, Christian or anything else that God says I am.

But flip forward a few pages in the story of Naomi and Ruth, to the end of the story.

Ruth 4:16 Naomi took the baby and cuddled him to her breast. And she cared for him as if he were her own. 17 The neighbor women said, “Now at last Naomi has a son again!” And they named him Obed. He became the father of Jesse and the grandfather of David.

I can see her sitting there holding that baby, tears in her eyes as the last of the bitterness melted away, her heart full of love and hope whispering to the child quietly, “Call me Naomi!”

If you are struggling and have lost your identity in the mountain of lousy breaks, broken dreams, depleted hope and futility, cling to one thing.  Cling to your name even if it seems to mean the exact opposite of your circumstance or situation.  Cling to the birthright that was given to you by Christ when he made you a part of the family.  Hold firmly to the hope that endures even thought this world transforms into something you no longer recognize.

Because, once your name is written in the Book of Life, it is eternal.

I have announced a few name changes over the years.  Call me lost.  Call me broken.  Call me trash.  Call me whatever you want but don’t call me God’s child.

But his mercy that endures forever has easily endured what I could not.  It has brought me here to this place on this day and even though the past that seemed would once define me has faded into a powerless heap of memories, it is standing strong and firm, unmoved and overflowing.

Hello, my name is Mike.  I am a grateful believer in Christ who has saved me.  I struggle, often, everyday but I am victorious through the strength of the resurrecting power of God.  I am forever plunged into his care and will be His now and for all of eternity.

You can even call me Naomi or Shirley if you want.  I am who I am because he has made it so.  No man can ever change that.  No circumstance can alter it.  No devastating blows dealt by life can break it down.  Even if I cannot see it, it will remain from now on.

 

 

A Perfect Spring Day

When I think of what a beautiful spring day should be like, surprisingly my first thought isn’t of me fishing somewhere. It is more of a surreal kind of thing. I remember a day a long time ago and we had taken a road trip down to Puxico, Missouri to see my Aunt Mary. It was just warm enough to have the windows in the old Plymouth rolled down a little. Yeah, back then you actually rolled the windows down with the old cranks on the doors. You had to, the car didn’t have air-conditioning.

We arrived at my aunt’s house (she was actually my great-aunt) and being quite a bit farther south from our home in St. Louis, it was a few degrees warmer. The grass had greened up and flowers were blooming and there were a lot of them. Everybody went inside but as the grown-ups got to doing boring grown-up stuff talking about boring grown-up life, I went back outside. It was perfect out there.

I was the only kid on this trip and after a while I got tired of playing all alone. I was tired from the ride in the crowded car (my Grandpa and Grandma Ridenour had gone with us) so I opened the rear car doors and crawled in the back seat. I laid down and the sun shone on me as a little breeze washed slowly over me and I fell asleep.

It was the perfect spring day, at least that is how I remember it fifty years or so later. That uneventful dull day sticks in my brain and I can still feel it all these decades later. But with this being Missouri, it seems that there have only been a handful of perfect spring days since then. Oh, I know that there have been more than that but spring is short here. Once winter’s icy grip is released, spring darts in and out and suddenly it is full-blown summer. Spring never settles in here. It is constantly fighting for its time and never really gets to be much more than a brief moment of transition.

It seems like no one here in this part of the world is ever really satisfied with spring. It is always welcome but it is usually too windy, too cold, too rainy or too whatever to remind us of what our brains tell us spring ought to be like.

But I have learned that the weather is the weather and I can’t change it. I have had to learn to adapt to it and manage to get something done even if it is too foul outside to lay in the grass and take a nap. I don’t need to lay in the grass and take a nap anyway. I’d just wake up covered with chiggers.

If I can learn that the weather is out of my control, why can’t I accept other things that are out of my control? People do things that I don’t like. They do and I can’t change that. No amount of whining and complaining on my part is going to change that. Even if I could walk up to them and smack them on the noggin every time they did something I didn’t like, they wouldn’t really change and my hand would probably get awfully bruised.

Even if I worry real hard, they aren’t going to change. I have no power to change anyone. I never will.

I have even prayed to God, “God. I have a job for you. Get your magic wand out and give me amazing power to change that person before they drive me nuts!” Well, maybe it was really more like, “God, show me what to do to change their mind, help me show them how to change.”

This is all just silliness. God have never really given me the power to change myself. It is only through him, it is only by surrendering my power to him that I am changed. Why is it that I am often convinced that I have power over things that I am completely and utterly helpless to have any effect on whatsoever?

I need to realize that by my actions to attempt to do what God is doing that I am withdrawing my trust in him, one futile action at a time. I think I am doing the right thing but I am deceived.

James 4:7 So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

God isn’t the one deceiving me. I have to constantly remind myself over and over that I’m not God. I have to let go of my desire to control things and place that control humbly at his feet. The devil doesn’t want me to do that. He want’s me to be a weak man trying to fix everything around me while blindly stumbling all over God’s plan in confusion and disappointment.

If I want power, I must submit to God and experience his power.

1 Chronicles 29:11 Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things.12 Wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength.

Wake Up and Drown

One day, earlier in the ministry of Jesus, he had been teaching by the lakeshore. I don’t know how common this was by teachers of the day. I have always thought that they liked to hang out in more religious places. I can certainly see the value of lakeside scenery in demonstrating the nature of God since God created nature.

Mark 4:1 Once again Jesus began teaching by the lakeshore. A very large crowd soon gathered around him, so he got into a boat. Then he sat in the boat while all the people remained on the shore. 2 He taught them by telling many stories in the form of parables, such as this one:

This chapter in the bible contains several really great parables that Jesus used to give the crowd a deeper understanding of God. The truth is that most of that crowd knew very little about God. Even the very educated and religiously decorated knew far less than they thought they knew. No one at this time really knew more than a mere drop in the bucket about Jesus.

Yet a large crowd showed up here at the lakeside to hear him speak. They knew that there was something special about this guy. I would imagine that some of them were supposed to be doing something else, yet Jesus and the words he was speaking were more important.

After a while Jesus needed to get away from the crowd.

Mark 4:35 As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” 36 So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed).

I can only imagine riding in one of these boats. The smell of the old lumber and the creaking of the wooden joints against each other as the waves gently rocked the heavy vessel on the water’s surface must have really been relaxing after a long day of teaching a crowd that seemed to just not be able to get enough. Some of them were following even as Jesus was making his escape.

Yeah, it was relaxing and Jesus was catching himself a nap. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that taking a nap is a bad thing. Sometimes it is better to grab a power nap than it is to eat lunch. But that really has nothing to do with anything.

Well, the gently rocking boat began to do a little more than rock and it became a little less than gentle. In fact, a storm came rolling in. I’ve been on big water in a little boat in a terrible storm. It is what I call “scary”. Waves large enough to keep you from seeing another boat just a few yards away are very humbling. I don’t like it and I don’t blame the disciples for being afraid.

Mark 4:37 But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water. 38 Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”

They were scared. Who wouldn’t be? And they had no idea who was in their boat. If only they knew, well, then they would have hope. But they thought he was just a great teacher and this wasn’t the Magic School Bus. The boat wasn’t going to morph into a submarine and haul them off to safety. They felt like this was the end. They were all going to drown out here in the lake and head off to the big boat in the sky.

Jesus was managing to sleep through this and they woke him up thinking that he shouldn’t miss out on all this terror and imminent doom. They didn’t call on him for help. It was more like, “Wake up and drown!”

They didn’t know who was with them.

A lot of the time I don’t know who is with me. I have my little ideas and notions but they are about as accurate as calling Jesus a plain old teacher. I don’t understand the power and awesomeness of Christ and that he is always living in me. I just don’t get it that my trust can be solely in him at all times because he will not fail me…ever. He is more than I can comprehend.

Sometimes, I not only realize that things are out of my control but I feel that they are out of his control.

Mark 4:39 When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. 40 Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

Sometimes, I still have no faith. I need to stop and realize that he is greater than the wind and the rain, the lightning and the waves that come crashing against me. I need to realize that he is greater than my logic and intellect. He can do what I cannot fathom and conquer the unconquerable. I need to realize that he is God, and that is something exponentially greater than any power I can imagine.

Who is this God that calms my inner storms, that brings me from ruin to restoration, from disaster to a new life, from dying to eternal life? It is good to ask. If I ask, he will show me and my faith will grow.

Mark 4:41 The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”

Being Right

A week or so ago, I was reminded of my stubborn, deeply rooted desire to be right.  It seems that the first thing I do when I am in a conflict is to assert my “rightness” and the other person’s “wrongness”.

Conflict seems to signal a competition in my mind and I am off to the races at the very first whisper of a disagreement.

Before long, I have run so far proclaiming I’m right that I have committed dozens of wrongs in doing so.

Then I look back at how far I’ve come carrying the banner of rightness all over someone else’s feelings and want to just sit down and wait for a boulder to fall from the heavens, hit me in the skull and maybe knock some sense into my mind.

I’m not the only one in this boat.  In fact, this boat is full to capacity and is in danger of capsizing.  I think I’ll name this tub the S. S. United States.

But the United States and all the craziness that makes up this place isn’t responsible for my actions.  That is all on me.

I think I must feel I have something to prove, some idea in my mind that I have to show I really do have worth and I am not just a failed attempt by God to create something.

I start thinking about how to be smarter, more wise, stronger, faster and more ingenious than my accusers.  Even is my accusers are right as rain.

1 Corinthians 1:20 So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. 21 Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe.

When I rationalize and attempt to dazzle the world, deny my frailty and shove others down to raise myself up, I am using my brain.

However, it certainly isn’t being used to reach others for Christ.

And if I win an argument, what have I won?

This isn’t about me going out on a street corner and carrying a John 3:16 sign and shouting, “The end is near!”

This is about how I react when I don’t like what I hear, when I am about to take the blame for something I did or didn’t do, when I am tired and can’t take any more.

Conventional wisdom tells me to stand my ground, do whatever it takes to beat the opposition and preserve my great self-image by tearing another down.

Let me tell you this, I have lived like that a long time. I have laid in bed with my eyes wide open reliving the moments I have hurt others, times I have lashed out in anger, memories of my fists swinging at anything that stood in my way, watched tears I caused to roll down the face of someone that I was responsible for.

All those moments have brought me some form of guilt, pain and regret.

I have never lost a minute of sleep by putting my ego aside and being a peacemaker.

Life isn’t a competition about who is right and who is wrong.  It is learning to bring God to them through the foolishness of thinking of other before us, doing what is right for everyone instead of just what is right for me, working to bring love to people without any regard to whether they deserve it or not.

This is how we preach.

There has never been a time in my life when conventional wisdom looked more foolish.  Yet, people seem to be swallowing that Kook-Aid and asking for more even though it has a funny taste and the ones serving it seem to look eerily like Jim Jones.

I have to resist the urge to fear looking foolish.  The ones that would have me believe I am do not know foolishness.  They also do not know Christ and my primary focus cannot be making me look like a rocket scientist but as a humble follower of Christ that has more than he deserves, more than he can contain and more than he can imagine.

I don’t have to be right.  Christ has been right for me.  He continues to be right and forever will be.

I suspect a lot of opinions on who is right and who is wrong will change when we see what side of the resurrection we stand upon.  But for now, I suppose I should be trying to preach my foolishness by living the life Christ has called me to live, even if everyone tells me I am wrong.

Of Time and Things

My very first car was one with pedals. It was nice looking and when I got it I felt like it was going to be the toy to end all toys. I would get in it and experience the thrill of driving for about fifteen minutes.

Then, my legs would be tired and I would get out and move on to the next thing. It was much harder to propel than my bike and was really only good for pedaling around in the basement of our house. Everything outside had a much tougher surface to pedal around on and so, before long I didn’t ever ride in it at all and I don’t even know where it disappeared to.

There were a lot of things that I wanted that when I finally got them, I found they were overrated and not nearly so cool in practical use as they were to look at.

One year for Christmas I got a Hot Wheels Laguna Oval race track. The track had cool-looking bank turns and the cars were electric. There was a thing full of “D” cell batteries that was shaped sort of like a gas tank. It had a “hose” that plugged into the cars that recharged the batteries in the really fast-looking cars.

I don’t recall how long that process actually took but it definitely took longer than the car would actually run and when it was finally running the car would never stay on the track around one of those cool banked corners.

It would fly off the track and then speed off in whatever direction it was pointed when it hit the ground. This usually took it under some hard to get to piece of furniture.

So, the toy that the commercials showed me with two kids watching the cars speed around the loop, racing tightly causing joy to all who watched never came to reality at our house and at some point this toy disappeared too.

These are the types of experiences that teach the value of a dollar to us all. In fact, I have learned so much about the value of a dollar that I hate to let go of one.

If only I had learned more lessons about value. I really wish I could have taught my kids the value of a minute. I have been a total failure in that area. They are grown now and hopefully have been able to learn some good things about time.

I do know a few things about time now. Today I am drawn to the connection between time and things. Things take up time. The more things I own, the less time I have. As my time is consumed every day by things, I am less happy.

I knew as a child that if I sat there waiting for a car that was all flash and glitter to charge up for five minutes and then only run for thirty seconds that I was getting cheated. I knew I had other things that would give me five minutes and thirty seconds of fun in the same amount of time.

Why is it that as an adult that I haven’t put my things to the same practical set of standards that I used as a dumb kid? I have worked and striven toward things and only got a few fleeting moments of payback for my efforts and now those things I worked so hard for are gone.

Sure, there has been a lot of money wasted but the tragic thing is this: I sacrificed moments that could have given me payback of great worth. Money can be made back but time cannot.

A few years ago, I gave up a few moments of working toward things and maintaining things and dreaming about things to sit with a dying friend. Those moments are golden to me. I will never forget that time. Those moments made me a better man. They will stand forever. When the time I waste today is gone and I wonder where it went I will still know where those moments with George went. They are still here. They were not fleeting and lost. They will be with me forever. I did practically nothing but was rewarded beyond measure.

James 4: 14 How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.

What is left after the fog? Usually not much. But I have found that sometimes I can use very little time and receive great blessings. What if I were to use my time even more wisely? What are the possibilities?

Esther 4:14 If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?”

I’ll never be queen nor do I desire to be. But what if today, I have been put where I am for just a time as this? I must be aware of the value of a minute. I must spend my time wisely.

Snap and Crackle

If I were to show you a picture of my knees (I won’t because I already have pants on and I don’t happen to have a picture of my knees handy), you’d see the left was slightly more swollen than the right, a couple of surgical scars and another scar where I wore a large hole in the skin by getting mortar between a knee pad and my kneecap.

My knees have had a rough life.

Between sports and the time I spent doing hard work kneeling on hard floors, my knees have felt entitled to some arthritis and  a few other maladies typical to a blue collar man.

So, I grew accustomed to the sounds my knees began to make a few years ago.  Two-thirds of the Rice Krispies crew set up residence.  If I got up off the sofa, Snap and Crackle would chirp away letting everyone in the room know my knees were being used.

I heard Pop never arrived because he is vacationing in Florida.  Seriously, no, I just made that up.

I figured that was just how it has to be as the knees approach sixty years old.

Snap and Crackle have been missing for the last few months, though.

Since I started doing workouts involving my legs, Snap and Crackle have been silent.  The doctor told me that I had arthritis in them, particularly the one on the left.  I thought the noise just came with the affliction.

The doctor also showed me some exercises that should help.  I, of course, ignored that advice.  Exercise had gotten to be a dirty word in my world.

But for the last couple months or so, I have started working out.  I figured my knees wouldn’t get any better because there are no real exercises for bones and joints.

But my knees have gotten better.  They still don’t like being bent for long periods of time or being placed on a hard surface but they work without protesting for most things.  I get up and the silence is unbelievable.

See, all this exercise has strengthened the muscles all around my knees and they have the support of the rest of my body.  All the parts that were trying to work on their own and struggling now have a team to align the joint, strengthen the movements and cause less wear and tear inside these old knees.

It turns out that doctor was right.  Who knew?

Ephesians 4:16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

When I go to church, I see a lot of knees.  They bend and flex and bear the weight of a lot of the work that gets done around there.

I gotta admit, there are a lot of times I just sit back and wonder why the knees don’t do a better job.

Sometimes those knees make a little noise, “Snap, crackle, pop!”

I join the crowd whispering, “Why don’t the knees just do their job and stop complaining?”

I forget too often that I am part of what surrounds those knees.  I am supposed to be growing stronger and stronger to support them.

This growth requires some tearing and rebuilding.  It is far easier to just figure the knees can do just fine without me and relegate myself to the church sofa (pew).

I suppose that if God hasn’t called me to be a knee or a toenail, he must have called me to support them.  I need to build what God has called me to build, even if it requires me to do some things that make me pretty sore.

My muscles grow by rebuilding after hard work and experiencing increased blood flow.  I grow by being put to work and experiencing a love flow.

I’m going to stop right here and lean back and enjoy the silence of my knees.  Have a great day!

About Friends

I’ve had a few really close friends over the years.  Back in the day, there was Eddie.  We had some fun times together through grade school, junior high, high school and even into adulthood.

But Eddie got married at some point and it was clear to see we were no longer running in the same circles and he just disappeared into another life and I guess I did, too.

There was George that was a friend for a long time and far into adulthood.  Even through the times in life we were not seeing each other a lot, he would take the time to call (I have always been just awful about calling and staying in touch) and be sure we laughed for a while.

But George died a few years ago and disappeared into a new life.

There was one other friend.  One I thought would be around to grow old with chasing fish all around this country.  He just decided he would discontinue our friendship because someone told him to.

That hurt a lot and, to be completely honest here, it still does.

I’ve tried to be friends with a few other people in the last couple of years and I am just holding back too much to experience a close friend again at this point.

There are times I sure feel lonely.  I think everyone could use that one friend that just sit on the other side of the table and drink coffee and not care if you talk or anything, listen to just about anything you have to say without taking it too serious and, of course, go fishing at the most illogical times.

I don’t think this whole holding back from others that I am doing is healthy.  I tried that with God and it just cheated me out of a huge part of my relationship with him.

I was reading today about the disciples.  They had a friend that decided to betray them and their leader and then hung himself.

If I applied my logic to their situation, there would have been eleven disciples from there on out.  There might have been even been less because I probably would have been casting suspicion on others.

Acts 1:21 “So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus—22 from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrection.”

How do you find a replacement for a disciple?  What does it feel like to be a replacement?

Sure, Judas may have set the bar pretty low but this guy was going to step into the circle of the personal friends of Christ.

But, come to think of it, they all set the bar pretty low, Jesus is the one who raised it.

I’m sitting here this morning and wondering how far I have pushed my others friends away over the last year and a half because the one close friend pulled his own brand of Judas on me.

God is telling me to find a replacement.  But, he is telling me not to look for someone that appears to be successful and honest, says all the right things, fakes confidence with ease and is an expert at pulling the wool over peoples’ eyes.

He is telling me to find someone like me, that likes coffee and fishing, quiet times and raucous laughter, music and nature, someone who has witnessed a lot of the same things I have and has the desire to do more.

Today I am really preaching at myself.  Over the weekend I realized that I have allowed someone else to create a huge hole in my life and it is time to quit walking around whining about it and fill it.

I really need to stop keeping others at a distance to keep them from falling into that hole because I feel it should stay empty.

I hope you haven’t read through all of this and thought, “Wow!  Why didn’t Mike just keep all of this to himself?”

But, I really needed to find a way to put this all in words.  Things seem to make more sense right now.  I think I have been wrestling with this for a while now and it has been wearing me out.

It is time to accept defeat and move on to the next victory.

The Lions’ Den

There comes a time when all this talk about faith is put to the test. The time to make the choice to stand and face a fiery furnace comes and stares me right in the face and I have to either cut and run or say, “OK God. You got this! It looks really bad but I am committed to riding this out and ending up wherever you take me trusting you to make it someplace good.” That’s a hard thing to do. It is harder to stick with.

Daniel had to make the decision over and over again to allow God to take control. It had to be so tempting at times to do what was easy, to allow himself to be conformed to the culture and lifestyles of everyone around him and become invisible and unnoticed. There seems to be a lot of safety in that but one thing that the bible tells me everyday is that God does not want me to be unnoticed. No, he doesn’t call me to be a sign-waving lunatic on the news. He calls me to be noticed by my love and obedience to him.

Daniel had to fight the urge to pray in secret. If he compromised and changed his routine and faithful obedience to God because of the schemes of men, that would just show them that Daniel’s God was just like theirs. Daniel trusted God and chose to allow God to demonstrate his mighty power through Daniel’s obedience.

So Daniel did not waver and you might think that God should have rewarded him by making everything all happy happy joy joy right then and there. Here is the point that I have tended to bail on God. I pray and pray and pray and God still allows that tough time to come along and hurt me. He still allows me to hurt and struggle. He still allows me to feel like I am alone and on my own. So my impatience and arrogance of thinking that I know what God should have done and wondering why he can’t see what he should be doing causes me to lose faith and run away trying to fix things myself. I always fail miserably.

Even though Daniel was faithful and righteous, God allowed him to go into the lion’s den.

Daniel 6:16 So at last the king gave orders for Daniel to be arrested and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to him, “May your God, whom you serve so faithfully, rescue you.” 17 A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den. The king sealed the stone with his own royal seal and the seals of his nobles, so that no one could rescue Daniel.

Things were looking pretty bleak.

Life looks pretty bleak sometimes. There are times I have just not had enough courage to go into the lion’s den. But as I sit here this morning, thousands of years after Daniel was thrown to the lions, I am so grateful that he made the choice he did instead of choosing what would appear to have been self-preservation. He threw self-preservation out the window and chose to be preserved by God. This inspires me and shows me that I can choose the same things and be blessed by the same huge, almighty God.

The journey that Daniel chose didn’t turn him into dinner.

Daniel 6:19 Very early the next morning, the king got up and hurried out to the lions’ den. 20 When he got there, he called out in anguish, “Daniel, servant of the living God! Was your God, whom you serve so faithfully, able to rescue you from the lions?” 21 Daniel answered, “Long live the king! 22 My God sent his angel to shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, for I have been found innocent in his sight. And I have not wronged you, Your Majesty.”

Daniel not only was still alive and not missing any limbs, he was full of grace for the king that had been deceived into placing Daniel in harm’s way. The king was still held in high regard by Daniel. I have a hard time being so forgiving of this country’s leaders, especially as April 15th looms on the horizon.

I need to push forward in obedience even when it seems to make more sense to bail and get the heck out of Dodge! I am not only cheating myself out of the greater things God wants for me but others are not seeing just how big God is. If I really want others to come to God and be rescued from their sins, I need to be obedient at all costs.

Don’t worry about the lions. Sure they missed out on some healthy portions of Daniel, but he was getting old and he was probably pretty dry and tough.

Daniel 6:24 Then the king gave orders to arrest the men who had maliciously accused Daniel. He had them thrown into the lions’ den, along with their wives and children. The lions leaped on them and tore them apart before they even hit the floor of the den. 25Then King Darius sent this message to the people of every race and nation and language throughout the world: “Peace and prosperity to you!
26 “I decree that everyone throughout my kingdom should tremble with fear before the God of Daniel.
For he is the living God, and he will endure forever. His kingdom will never be destroyed, and his rule will never end. 27 He rescues and saves his people; he performs miraculous signs and wonders in the heavens and on earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.”

The king came to know about the one true God. However, he still had a lot to learn about grace. I guess he was pretty good at sending a strong message. I’ll bet no one ever tried to trick him into signing a law like that again!