Crossing the Line

Today, more than at any point in my life, people refuse to associate with other people. They refuse to forge friendships due to their differences. Different races are divided, politics are divided, churches are divided. There seems to be no end of reasons to isolate ourselves from just about anyone we choose.

Even when I feel that I should erase some of the division in my life, I wonder what refusing to embrace the rules of division will do to me. What will people think?

Of course, what people think isn’t that big of a deal. If I were to form a religion based on what people think, it might be popular but it wouldn’t be the transformational power of God’s grace that I desperately need in my life.

Luke 15:1 Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. 2 This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!

Nothing is quite like sitting down to a good meal. Barbecue hot off the grill, big baked potatoes with globs of melting butter and some fresh bread are some of my favorites. Usually, I try to reserve my really good meal times with friends and family.

Jesus didn’t just have his food with his disciples, though. He sat down with people who other people divided themselves from. The religious leaders and teachers wouldn’t dare sit down with “those” people. They would, however, gripe about Jesus doing it.

It is pretty easy for me to sit here this morning and wave my finger at those religious leaders back in Jesus’ time. But the fact is that we live in a culture of division and if I accomplish nothing at all in this life but to love others by crossing those imaginary lines that race, politics and the church has drawn, I would have learned to be a bit more like Christ.

It isn’t my job to make others behave or even believe, just to give them a place to belong, even if they never see things the way I think they should. The bible doesn’t say that every person that listened to what Jesus had to say became a believer. In fact, many of those that cried out for his crucifixion had heard. Jesus knew this would be the case. He still did the right thing rather than the popular thing.

I really have to change what my perception of being Christian is. I’m afraid I’ve been molded far too much into man’s own image rather than into God’s. I’ve kind of become the guy that wants to walk into church and be what everyone thinks is a great man rather than what God thinks a man should be. I didn’t mean to let it happen but to some extent it gets to everyone.

I guess I can’t change the world today but I can look for a line to cross, a boundary to start tearing down. If I can do that and love whatever is on the other side, that’s a pretty good day.

I Ain’t Skeered!

“I ain’t skeered!”

I’ve learned over the years that the person that says this is extremely skeered most of the time. The one that says it the loudest is often to the point of being terrified and petrified by fear. I’ve learned this because I have come to recognize this denial in myself and once it becomes evident that I am a fearful being, it is easier to see others deny this part of life.

Ever since man’s disobedience in the garden, fear has driven man to do the irrational and non-sensical. Adam and Eve attempted to hide their sin from God even though they knew him intimately and had to know that there is no hiding when it comes to God.

Denying that I have fear is not going to diminish fear’s grip on me. It simply causes me to eliminate my fear from my decision-making process. Say I climb up on the wrong roof and I am supposed to be on the one next door. I just might be able to jump to the next roof. Fear causes me to look closer and decide that I can be sure to get on the right roof if I climb down and move over one house. Denying that fear will probably cause me to be a lawn ornament somewhere between the two houses.

My real life fear of heights usually causes me to stay off the roof in the first place. That’s one of the reasons I stay off ladders. If I don’t get on a ladder, I probably won’t be on a roof unless I develop the ability to fly.

I used to claim I wasn’t afraid of much and I’d punch anyone in the nose that said otherwise. The truth is that I was very afraid but I embedded it in a ton of anger. When I was afraid, I rarely cowered back but I charged forward in a rage. Today when I feel a lot of anger, I can usually dig in deep and see what I am afraid of.

On this morning, I sit here and type confronted by a couple fears. I know I have to face them today. I know that I can choose to do right or choose to do wrong.

Psalm 27:1 The Lord is my light and my salvation—so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble?

If I refuse to admit to my fear, how do I grab hold of these scriptures? How can I hear what God is saying? He is speaking to me and my fear. He is giving me something to live this day by. Now is not the time for pride to allow me to deny what I am feeling. It is a time to push that pride away and hear what God is telling me.

Psalm 27:2 When evil people come to devour me, when my enemies and foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. 3 Though a mighty army surrounds me, my heart will not be afraid. Even if I am attacked, I will remain confident.

When others attack me, I don’t have to knock them down, I don’t have to spew clever words of hate, I don’t have to launch an assault of any kind. They will just stumble and fall. That’s the blessing of grabbing hold of this fear and placing it in God’s hands instead of carrying it with me hidden in a giant ball of anger and hate.

Psalm 27:5 For he will conceal me there when troubles come; he will hide me in his sanctuary. He will place me out of reach on a high rock. 6 Then I will hold my head high above my enemies who surround me. At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy, singing and praising the Lord with music.

Today there will be fear. There will be opportunities for me to mess things up pretty bad. I have to let those opportunities go, take my hands off of the outcome and stand back and watch God knock my fears on their backside before he runs them off into the next county. He will keep me out of reach of danger and hold my head high.

When I sat down to write this I felt as if there was a heavy rock upon my heart but God’s Word has spoken to me and told me that it is time for this rock to be lifted from me and that he will put me high atop it. I’m seeing a lot of music and shouts of joy for this day for the Lord is with me and will never leave me alone to face my fears.

The Broken Toy

When I was in about second grade I started seeing commercials for a new toy. It was some sort of character that was rubber and could be bent around and posed into any position. I think it was a secret agent. I loved secret agents back then. After seeing this wonderful toy being played with by really cool kids on TV, I knew I had to have it. When we would go to stores I would get my parents to let us look in the toy section. I had one mission. I would find that toy and admire it. The packaging showed the toy shooting guns and climbing and doing all sorts of secret agent-like things. After seeing how neat-o the packaging was, I knew I really had to have it. I began to ask my parents for it. I don’t remember how hard I had to work on them but I do remember that I got it. I finally had it.

I ripped it out of the package. It was a little smaller than I had envisioned it but it was still pretty cool. I made the little guy climb lamp cords and fall down the steps. He was a lot of fun. I was so proud to be the only kid on my block to own one of these. I asked mom if I could take it to school to show my friends. She said no. I didn’t understand why. She said that it would just get messed up if I took it to school. I think she meant it but I think she also meant that I would create a huge distraction playing with it during class and I would get into trouble. So I went to school and told my friends about the cool bendable secret agent toy. They were dying to see it. They thought I was so cool. I asked mom again but I made lots of promises about how I would take care of it and not get in trouble. She still said no.

So I took it anyway. I showed it to a kid on the bus as we were heading from my bus stop to the next. He wanted to see how much it would bend and ripped the head clean off. All that was left of my cool secret agent guy’s head was a little piece of wire sticking up out of his neck. It was a really long day. I was dreading telling my mom that I had disobeyed and gotten my great new toy destroyed just like she said. I didn’t even make it to the next bus stop.

This happened to me. I know it sounds like an episode of ‘Leave It To Beaver’. I wish I had only suffered as much as Beaver for all my disobedience. But this pattern of disobedience went on for a long time and caused much pain for me and anyone that loved me. I lived in turmoil and anxiety because I was disobedient. I selfishly did the things I wanted to do and wounded myself over and over again even though I was being told how to get through life encountering far less self-inflicted pain. The thing is, that I may feel independent and rebellious when I disobey God but I am not. I am obedient to someone else. I live under a set of rules and obey them. If I don’t choose God then someone else rules me.

Ephesians 2:1 Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. 2 You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. 3 All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.

I would live under the rule of the devil. The devil would reward me with temporary happiness followed by pain and regret. God continued to offer me mercy through it all. Sometimes I wish He would have just pounded me a good one on the head and forced me to do the right thing. But He allows me to come to Him.

Ephesians 4:4 But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, 5 that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)

He takes me in His arms when I come to Him and confess my disobedience. He doesn’t say, “I told you so!” He instructs me and disciplines me so that I can have peace when it isn’t possible to have peace, joy when there is not joy to be found and hope when all hope is lost. God’s grace does all this for me and more! It is only by His grace that I have been saved from the rule of the devil.

Is Enough Enough?

This morning I sit here listening to the rain fall, recalling the lightning and thunder that accompanied it during the night, waking me from time to time.

At this point, I’ve had about enough rain for a while.  It has rained and flooded and flooded some more and the thought of more of that just doesn’t do a lot for my positive outlook on the day.  A couple of weeks ago, the rain got so bad that they had to close Noah’s Ark Daycare.  No, not a bad joke, but a true statement.  Maybe we should change Missouri from the ‘Show-Me State’ to the ‘Better Have a Boat State’ or perhaps the ‘Show-Me Some Higher Ground State’.

I’ve lived my whole life near the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and I know one thing about them, some years they go wherever they want to go.

Again, the thunder is rumbling and the lightning is flashing and the thoughts of “enough” are dancing through my brain.

I suppose I could sit and pray that the rain would stop and the light show would end and the sound of thunder subside.  But after decades of living in a state where weather is anything except predictable, I’ve learned that what falls from the sky tends to work out in the end.

Just because I’ve had enough, doesn’t mean it is enough.  It just means that I am more concerned about what I want than what the planet needs.

I pray quite a bit but I don’t always show reason in my prayers.  I tend to just tell God I’ve had enough of this or enough of that, enough sorrow, enough struggle, enough inconvenience or just enough of other people.  (I can’t help but notice that the more I type ‘enough’, the stranger it appears on the page.)

I tend to pray for God to stop the storm but seldom pray that he equips me to endure it.

I often tell God I’ve had enough but seldom ask him to make me enough.

Philippians 4:13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

If God were to step in and change things when enough was enough, why would this verse ever even need to be written?  No one ever became more by doing less.  I don’t need divine intervention all the time, I need supernatural power.

It is about time for me to get the rain jacket out and head out into the storm.  My mind still thinks that there has been enough rain but apparently God has other plans for this day.  I’ll deal with it as it comes and be even more grateful to see the sun when it shows its face once again.

The World’s Best

I’ve visited a few places that claim to have the world’s best burgers, best pizza, best steaks or best fried pickles. I’m sure that with some people, the psychological edge of having them believe that they are about to bite into the world’s best of anything before any of it hits their taste buds makes it taste a little better than it really is.

But I’m not like that. I immediately start going through my memory banks upon the first nibble seeking the one chicken wing that was immeasurably better than the world’s best one I have in my hand.

Yep, that chicken wing I ate twenty-six years ago at a restaurant, the name of which I can’t recall, was definitely better.

I am wired so much to try to contradict what the sign outside a business says about being the world’s best, that it spills over into other parts of my life.

Even when I sit in church on Sunday mornings, I begin to think back about things I thought were better. The messages were better some other time or some other place. The music would be better if they turned up the bass. The music would be better if they turned down the bass.

I forget that I’m not going to church to be given a big dose of what I want, when I want it.

Philippians 1:25 Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith.

Church isn’t time for me to sit back get the world’s best of anything. It is time for me to go to work. Paul says he remained alive to help believers grow and experience joy. I can do this regardless of how talented the leaders of my church are. If a sermon contains God’s word preached truthfully, it is up to me to get something out of it. If the bass or the piano isn’t exactly to my liking, it is up to me to look past it straight into the depths of heaven and glorify God above.

I remain alive to help others. If God has placed me in a church that gives me opportunities to do that, it is probably the world’s best place for me to be. It is almost certainly God’s best place for me to be.

I’ve sat on my seat in the church, mind wandering about thinking of things the church could do better instead of what I can do better. I love my church much more when I am serving others instead of waiting to be served better.

I guess it is time for me to stop wanting the world’s best and focus on giving the world the best, helping them experience the joy of faith.

Serving gets hard from time to time. But not serving slowly turns me into a spiritual parasite with no real purpose other than hoarding as much “me” time as I can get. If I am truly a Christ follower, how can I refuse to live for others as Christ did?

I have an opportunity to truthfully let everyone know that the “World’s Best is Served Here!” I need to choose to live as Paul did, as Christ did, to help and nurture. I’ve learned that is where my help and growth and joy come from in this life. I just need to be willing to do it more.

Just Have to Share This One!

Reblogging this really nice post!

I remember when I was a young child, my parents did some remodeling to our house and it involved purchasing paint, which they did from Sherwin-Williams. That was my introduction to Sherwin-Williams and I have always associated the name with high quality paint and beautiful colors. Recently, those memories were revitalized when we were driving […]

via COVER THE WORLD — The Ruminant Scribe – Snapshots of God’s World and Word

Put Me in Coach!

I used to play ball on a pretty good fast pitch softball team. I played middle infield and outfield, mostly shortstop. We had two really great pitchers during the time I played. Larry Brooks would sling that ball hard and pull the string and get guys swinging out of their shoes. He was good but Paul Bryant was great. He not only could throw pitches that broke in on your hands and made it feel like you were hitting a telephone pole with the bat but it did it with such evil intent. He was a pretty big guy that had a mustache that belonged in the old west and below it was a sneer that let you know that if you somehow managed to hit that ball he would remember. He would remember and the next time he faced you, you were going to pay. He combined overpowering and crafty with mean and nasty. That’s what makes a great pitcher. I really learned a lot about pitching watching those two guys work on people from my position on the field. I learned so much that I decided that I could do it. So I began to practice.

At first I threw balls high above my target or skidded them across the ground. I struggled to find my release point but after some practice I found it. Then I began to learn to put my forward momentum into increasing the speed of my pitches. After that I started to change grips and releases to curve the ball or slow the pitch down. I soon had a variety of pitches at my disposal and could hit my spots. I knew I was ready to try my pitching on live people. I had worked hard and I knew that in playing ball hard work always paid off. I was confident. I was ready to go on the field and mow them down.

I was playing second base and our team was well in the lead and suddenly Larry, who was also the coach, turned to me and told me this was my big debut. I was getting the ball. We were playing about the worst hitting team in the league and this was as good a time as any for me to show my skills. I made my way to the rubber and with great confidence I got shelled. Everyone hit me. Nobody could miss my pitches. I was puzzled as one great pitch after another got smacked all over the place. I just wanted to get out of there. I knew this wasn’t for me. The bases were loaded and there were no outs. I wanted out but my coach just told me to pitch through it. I couldn’t believe he didn’t pull me. After our lead had shrunk to nothing I finally saw out number three and with great relief I got off the field.

I don’t know how many pitches I threw in that inning. I felt like it was a whole game’s worth. Here is what I learned. I was not a pitcher. I was a good shortstop, second baseman and outfielder. I was an OK third baseman or first baseman. I already knew that I was a terrible catcher. I now knew that I was a horrible pitcher. I had lots of pitches. I threw pretty hard. I looked like a pitcher standing out there. But I couldn’t get anybody out. I couldn’t get the old guy on the team out, the one that was just there so they wouldn’t have to forfeit the game, the one that had only played ball games on the radio. I was an awful pitcher. I gave the ball back to Larry and never asked for it again.

I can’t do it all. I learned that relatively young about playing ball but I wish I had learned it about the rest of my life at that moment. I wish I had handed the softball to Larry and handed the rest of my life to God right there at that point in time. Instead I wanted to be the pitcher, throwing pitch after pitch up against highly skilled and angry opposition. I feel like the first fifty years of my life I have been on the mound getting shelled, giving up bomb after bomb, my best was never good enough as the score rung up against me. I have worked hard just to survive another inning only to see that to win was impossible. Losing was inevitable as my scores were too few and the opponent’s lead was too great. I have finally learned that I need to go to my rightful place. I am not to lead God. I need to hand Him control and let him lead me. I know this now. That’s a good start.

Romans 8:6 So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.

I have seen school kids, maybe I have been one of these kids, run out to the mound at recess and pick up the ball and argue over who gets to pitch. I think that even though I know that only my sinful nature drives my desire to take control of my life through pride, fear, selfishness and a myriad of other flaws I possess, that I still run out to the mound and grab the ball. Sometimes yielding my grip on it comes hard. I am starting to get better about it. The more I see how skillfully God carves up the competition the easier it becomes. I wish I could just give it to Him without having to see results. I am working on having faith in Him. He has already won after all.

Romans 8:7 For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. 8 That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.

So the next time I am not happy with how things are going, the next time I feel like things are out of control and my best efforts are a calamity, I need to stop and make sure who has the ball. This doesn’t mean that everything is going to be beautiful and happy happy joy joy! Times are still going to get tough. There will still be drama.

Romans 8:35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

There will be dramatic victories ahead. I will not be the winning pitcher listed in the stats for any of them. I will be where He puts me.

To Live and Die

I was asked how I would fill in the blanks in this statement, “To live is _______ but to die is _______.” I was told not to just give the Sunday School answer but to give the answers I give my in my daily life, my rubber meets the road answer.

I realize my answer wavers about quite a lot. Living is often my job, my desires, my family, my problems and my afflictions. I know in my head and my heart that to live should be all about Christ and that he will change the way I respond to all the other things I want to fit in the living blank.

Philippians 1:21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

When I replace Christ with things I want, things I covet and things I fear, to die is nothing but loss.

If I look out at my future and see death as nothing but a tragic end to a miserable life, I am not living Christ. To live Christ does more than give me a ticket into heaven. It transforms my life, even when I don’t think it possibly can be happening that way at all.

I cannot look back at a single trial in my life that hasn’t changed me in some way. Living Christ has allowed those changes to be great things. Replacing Christ with my own thoughts, feeling and wants has caused me to allow myself to be less.

Living Christ makes me sure that there will be some good come of my life, that my life will still mean a little something after I leave this earth and that I will have eternal life in a place that my understanding cannot comprehend.

It gives me hope that this life can’t get so far negative that bringing my account to zero would be an improvement. There is always a reason for tomorrow to happen even if I can’t see it.

To live is Christ. That should be my first thought when I open my eyes in the morning, not that this day is going to just suck and I want it over right now. If I refuse to allow myself a shot at treasuring each and every day, I certainly will be a poorer man for it.

Even though I strive to be my best, I fall short in remembering these four simple words when I go out and live each day. I replace Christ with all sorts of things time and again. When Paul wrote these words, he could have instead written that to live is prison, because that is where he was at the time. No one would have blamed him. But, as an example to me and you and whoever else reads this a couple thousand years later, he looked beyond his situation and penned truth.

To live is Christ and I need not fear what comes next because it is gain, it is what all of this life has been leading up to. The only things I have to lose are the things that afflict me, imprison me and hold me down when I fall. I think I can handle that.

To live is Christ. May we all live those words a little better today.

The Dumb Bunny Club

I have often felt like the odd man out, the guy that sees things sideways, the goofball that cries for no reason and is hard-hearted and cold at the same time. I have felt like the kid that just couldn’t ever seem to do anything right no matter how hard I tried. I have done things I thought would be funny and someone ended up getting hurt. I have wanted to be the center of attention and then wanted everyone to leave me alone.

People liked to be around me when I was fun and making them laugh but when I was angry or sullen they wanted nothing to do with me. I brought that on myself. I was never much for being the “be angry but sin not” type of guy. I was more into being angry and flying completely off the handle and sinning lots. I used anger as an excuse to whatever I wanted to do and feeling completely justified in doing it.

When I was depressed it didn’t drive me into a circle of friends that lifted me up. It drove me into an isolated spiral that only went down. I didn’t want anyone to touch me as I fell into the pit that welcomed me with open arms. Of course, it welcomed me.

Back when I was a kid I used to set a trap back in our garden. If I didn’t put bait into it, it would just sit there for weeks. It was ready to work but not even a stupid ‘possum was going to go poking around the trap when there was a garden full of delicacies to munch on. We’d bait the trap with whatever was getting poached from the garden the most, the most popular thing on the menu.

It was always fun to go check the trap and see who took the bait. We’d get squirrels, rabbits and an occasional opossum (does anyone pronounce the “o” at the beginning of that word?). I wasn’t a very good trapper. After catching the garden invaders, I would simply open the box and let them go to come back and munch on the garden on another day. We had more than we could use and I felt like trapping was cheating.

One of the traps that I was always so willing to take the bait on was that I just didn’t belong. I believed the lie that I was a freak of nature, something completely unnatural. I even at times thought that I was a mistake that God made somehow.

I became a Christian at a very young age but that didn’t stop be from being deceived and taking the bait and falling into the trap over and over again. The trap is smelly and dark and is a place where death seems not so far away. That’s why I find it so important to fill myself with the truth. Even a dumb bunny that knows the truth about the bait in a trap will pass by the little treat at the edge of the garden and go for the abundance of good stuff smack dab in the middle of the garden.

But I’m not here to moan and groan about all the time I wasted being a dumb bunny. I’m talking about reinforcing the truth.

1 Peter 2:9 But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

I have never been God’s mistake. I have never been the one of a kind guy that had no place. I have never ever been a man without a purpose. I have belonged to him since that day I asked him into my heart. He has been pleading with me for years to put down my membership in the Dumb Bunny Club and to step out of the darkness and into the light where deception and lies cannot hold up and fool me anymore.

I am learning that when life gets really tough that I need to walk into more intense light. Examining my problems in the dark doesn’t ever seem to lead to a solution.

I’m thankful that God has released me from that trap over and over again. But I am even more thankful that I am finally finding my place of belonging. All of my weirdness and faults and flaws seem to make more sense now.

1 Peter 2:10 “Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy.”