God and The Great Eclipse …

 eclipse

After months of hype, the eclipse is finally here.  Parties have been planned, schools are out, glasses are purchased, and we’ve been warned: “Don’t look directly at the sun!”

We’ve known this was coming.  In fact, astronomers tell us they can predict every eclipse for the next 1,000 years (good thing; I need to make plans for 2915).  Have you ever thought the universe does not have to be predictable?  In fact, the Big Bang suggests the universe should be chaotic, not predictable.

God, however, made the universe to have order and predictability.  Though free spirits may chaff against the routine, the routineness of gravity makes us feel secure.  None of us ever worry about the sun coming up in the morning.  We know the most important thing a child can receive from his or her parents is a sense of predictability.  Our heavenly Father has given us a predictable universe we can count on.

Do you know why eclipses work?  The moon places itself between the sun and the earth and its shadow falls across earth.  How is the moon able to completely block the sun?  Isn’t the sun much larger than the moon?

The sun, in fact, is 400 times larger than the moon.  But the sun is also about 400 times farther away from earth than the moon is.  Amazing coincidence?  Or one more clue that the universe has an intentional design by an intelligent designer?  Maybe God gives us the experience of an eclipse so we can remember God arranged things on purpose.

Although the math is difficult, ultimately the universe is a giant rotating clock, beautiful in its complexity and simplicity.  I have an image of God holding the universe in his hand, just as a man holds a pocket watch in his hand.   Christianity teaches the God who holds the universe also holds me.   He knows our names, and the number of hairs on our head.  Events like the eclipse remind me the God who does life with me, holds the universe together with his grace.

Psalm 18:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”  Pause and ask what the eclipse tells you about the glory of God.

But keep your glasses on.

Charlottesville Thoughts…

charlottesville

 

By now you’ve heard the news stories about the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia this past weekend.  Once again, we are confronted with the reality we are a divided nation.  Can I offer persepctives as you think about Charlottesville?

  • Jesus said to pray for your enemies.  We are doing Jesus’s work when we condemn racism.  We leave his work undone if we do not pray for our enemies.  Pray for James Alex Fields who drove his car into the crowd, killing Heather Heyer.  Pray for God’s love to drive hate from his heart.  Pray for Richard Spencer, a leader for the alt-right movement.  Pray for God to call him to Jesus’s side.  Pray for others who find a twisted hope in the belief of white supremacy.
  • The core of Christian teaching is “In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ… (Galatians 3:28).”  Every human being needs Jesus.  Once a human being accepts God’s gift of grace, he or she becomes a brother or sister in Christ.  Skin color doesn’t matter.
  • Racism and hatred are defeated by the strong determination of Jesus followers to love our neighbors as ourselves.
  • “Let not many of you become teachers… because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly (James 3:1).”  People who teach hate will be judged by God.
  • Events like this should cause a pause.  We must examine our hearts to see if there is an bigotry, any prejudice, any profiling.  If it is there, we must confess, ask forgiveness and ask God to teach us to love our brothers and sisters.
  • I now understand a new dimension of the commandment, “You shall not make a graven image in the form of anything in heaven above or earth below…”  People attach meanings to statues, beyond the original intent of the statue.  Now people are worshiping the monuments.  You worship something when you allow it to set the agenda for your life.  Sounds like what happened in Charlottesville.
  • People are attracted to the alt-right movement because they feel like no one understands them.  I wonder if Jesus followers have even made an effort to understand them, and envelope them with the love of Jesus?
  • Acts of Congress, speeches by the President, and political commentary does not change a human soul.  Jesus does.
  • Our country is divided.  Asking the other side to change their mind does not bring people together.  Serving each other in the name of Jesus just might heal our land.

Missing Grace…

grace 

It’s so easy to miss grace.  We miss grace when:

  • We have to prove we are right about everything.
  • We don’t take time to understand people, especially the ones that ignite our anger.
  • We forget God made us with the capacity for peace.
  • We make decisions from the broken parts of our soul, not the healed parts of our soul.
  • We let our passions control us.
  • We never stop and ask “God, what is your purpose for my life?”
  • We make ourselves responsible for someone’s bitterness.
  • We make all battles personal.
  • We decide to fight fire with fire and get even.
  • We forget country wisdom: “Never get in a fight with a pig; you’ll get dirty and so will the pig, but the pig with enjoy it.”
  • We sell out, thinking money is more important than grace.

Hebrews 12:15a says, “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God…”

God’s people are to be people of grace.  God’s grace fills us and we share it with others.

How do we catch the grace of God?  We catch the grace of God when:

  • We realize it such a little thing for us to be right and everything for God to be right.
  • We seek to understand before we are understood (warning: this requires a mature soul).
  • We learn to be a peacemaker, which is the same as learning to be a child of God.
  • We let God heal all the brokenness of our souls, so our woundedness doesn’t wound others.
  • We give our passions to God and let Him control them.
  • We live out our God given purpose each day.
  • We refuse to own someone else’s issues; instead, we pray God’s peace for them.
  • We recognize most fights are about something besides what we are fighting about, so we seek to discover the real issue.
  • We let God handle making things even.
  • We stay out of the mud.
  • We prize grace above wealth, security, and status.

Wouldn’t you love to be part of a church, a group of God’s people, who daily catch the grace of God?

What are you doing to make church a place of grace?

Time for Peace…

time for peace

Chaos is quick; peace takes time.

I create chaos when I hurry.  I pack too much in my day.  This results in clothes not put away, a desk left a wreck, and meals grabbed on the run.  The house is chaos, my health is chaos, and I’m exhausted.

Peace requires time.  To live a centered life means carving time to put myself before God and listen, not just talk (ever thought about how chaotic our prayers are?).  Peace is found when I let the arms of God embrace me.   That means I have to sit still long enough to be in His presence.

It also takes time to think through my day.  The key to changing any human behavior is preparation.  If I want to lose weight, I need to prepare to eat well.  If I want to exercise, I have to prepare my schedule so I will have time.

Peace in relationships takes time.  It takes time to understand instead of blame.  Most of the anger in relationship is driven by urgency to fix this now!  What if I slowed down my urgency?  What if I trusted a different reality than the power of the nagging voice in my head that pushes me to solve an issue today?

It would mean I would have to clear out unimportant things, like pretending to have it all together; like trying to impress others; and like mindless time that is not restful.  Then I would have time to put things where they belong.  Then I would have time to listen.  Then I would have time to understand.

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t do this well.  But when I do, life is better in the peace groove.

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid (John 14).”

The world gives you a peace that is the temporary numbing of the deepest longing of your heart.  Jesus offers you a peace that centers on him.  His peace calms your heart.  His peace drives out fear.  His peace is peace for the deepest part of your heart.

If you want true peace, make time for Jesus.

Chaos takes time too.  John Wooden, the greatest basketball coach ever, said, “If you do not have time to it right, when will you have time to do it over?”

If you don’t have time to do a relationship right, when will you have time to do it over?  If you don’t have time to organize your life, when will you have time to do it over?  If you don’t have time for Jesus, when will you have time for a do-over with him?

True Love…

true love

The True Love Quiz:

Q:  Do you miss him/her when you don’t see him/her every day?

Q:  Do you feel like you are in an endless whirlwind when you are with him/her?

Q:  Do you wake up happy because you know you get to see them in the day?

Q:  Do you love the way he/she spends money on you?

Q:  Do you think about him/her all the time at work/school/driving?

Q:  Does he/she make you think about puppies, walks in the rain, jewelry, and being in front of a fire in a mountain chalet, snowed in for a week?

Okay, I confess.  I ripped off the questions from some internet quizzes.  Most of these quizzes really tell you if you are infatuated.  They are less helpful telling you if you know true love.

Infatuation isn’t bad; for most of us, it’s where love starts.  Infatuation is an intense feeling of passion bordering on obsession.  Infatuation is fun.  Infatuation, however, is like a seed that sprouts quickly, but fades when the sun gets hot.  The root isn’t deep enough (hint:  Jesus told a story about this).

I’ve seen people get infatuated with God.  They have an amazing spiritual encounter.  That’s good.  It’s fun.  Their encounter opens their souls to God.  But passion fades.  The root never gets established.  Their relationship with God fades to a memory.

True love is not just burning passion, whether we are talking love for God or love for each other.  True love is the sharing of yourself and being selfless.

This is the love Jesus has for us:  “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).”

Try this True Love Quiz:

Q:  Do you love to serve him/her?

Q:  Does it bring you joy to yield to his/her wants?

Q:  Would you rather give a present to him/her or receive a present from him/her?

Q:  Can you let him/her share anger, sadness, fear, disgust, and joy with you?

Q:  What are you willing to sacrifice for him/her?

When I look at couples that are truly in love, I see giving, sacrifice, and maturity.  Love is wanting something for someone, not wanting something from someone.

All this applies to God’s relationship with you.  God wants something for you.  God wants to give you grace, forgiveness, and peace.

A True Love relationship with God happens when you love God back.  You want something for God, not just something from God.  You want to give to God, serve God, and be vulnerable with God.

Check your relationship with God.  Is it true love?

The Last Sleepover…

sleepover

Sleepovers were a way of life in my house for years.  When it was the boys, there would be all-night video game binges.  With the girls, there was giggling, dancing, and movies.  I lost count of the mornings I tiptoed over children sprawled out on the living room carpet, in the deep contented sleep of children exhausted by fun.

The sleepovers ended for the boys in high school, but the girls continued.  When Sarah left for college, I thought we’d seen the last of the sleepovers.

Sarah, my youngest, and two of her life-long friends – Heather and Noelle, reconnected earlier this summer.  They went out to eat and came back to our house.  When I got home, there were unfamiliar pillows and backpacks littering the hall.   Three grown young women were giggling on the couch.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“We’re having a sleepover!” came the reply.

“What are you watching?”

“The Hannah Montana Movie!”

A time warp engulfed me.  Had these young women slipped back to 5th grade?  All the signs were there: an open bag of chips, five plates and cups for each girl, and blankets covering everything but faces.

Just like in the old days, their desire to stay up was greater than my ability to stay awake.  I bade them “Good-night” and went off to bed.  As I faded into sleep, giggles continued.

It was the next morning when I realized things had changed.  They were all up at 7:30 (that never happened before, I assure you).  One had to go to work; another had to get ready for a trip; and another one had stuff to get done.  I offered to go get them doughnuts or Chik-Fil-A biscuits.  “No,” came the groans.  “We just want coffee.”

As they pulled out of my driveway, I thought of these remarkable young women.  I saw them grow up under my roof.  They’ve gone from playing with “World Traveler Barbie” to being World Travelers themselves.

In the crush of parenting, it’s easy to forget to be in the moment.  Older, wiser folks told me to enjoy the moments; they would pass too fast.  They were right.  Loving anyone means to be present with them.  Loving your children means enjoying the years that come by only once.

Our Father in Heaven is the perfect parent.  He teaches us how to “be there.”  One of Jesus’s names is “Emmanuel” – God with us.  God provides moments of joy and then celebrates them with us.

I admit I didn’t celebrate the moments as I should have.   But now, I miss the days of being the hero who brought the girls doughnuts (after sampling one or two for quality control).  I miss the days of them sleeping all over the floor.  I miss the days of dancing all-night long to “Dance, Dance Revolution.”

But for one wonderful night, there was giggling again.  There was one last sleepover.

Church Fights…

church fight

I’ve seen my share of church fights.  I’ve even been the subject of one or two.

I didn’t witness it first hand, but family legend has it that my Aunt Ouida and Mizz Eva Robertson nearly got in a wrestling match over the color of the carpet when my home church built a new building (my bet would have been on Aunt Ouida).

When I was ten, I remember sitting through a church business meeting when one of my parent’s friends made a motion of “No-confidence” in the pastor.  At ten, I thought he said, “The pastor has no car sense.”  He probably didn’t; but the motion failed.

When I went to college I was introduced to the whole idea of church splits.  In rural Alabama, every time someone got mad, they went down the road a piece and started another church.  They usually named it: “Unity.”

I am not making this up:  in one Alabama community, there was Old New Hope Baptist Church, New New Hope Baptist Church, New Hope Baptist Church #1, and New Hope Baptist Church #2.  All were splits off the original New Hope.  I wonder what was so important that they kept splitting?

I recently read about a pastor who was hit in the jaw during a church business meeting.  Thankfully, that’s never happened to me, although I’ve had to duck a few verbal swipes.

When you get to bottom of it, most church fights are about two things: prestige and power.  Someone wants recognition and feels hurt if they don’t get it.  Hurt people are like hurt dogs; they don’t just bark; they bite.

There are always folks in church that want power.  They are used to being in charge at work, so they want to be in charge at church.  More than once I’ve known men who were henpecked at home to throw their weight around at church.  I guess they needed to feel powerful in some area of life and it wasn’t going to be at home.

I imagine Jesus gets tired of his people fighting for prestige and power.  I imagine Jesus would say to his church, “Look, all the glory goes to the Father.  What part of that do you not get?  And why are you so intent on power in my church?  You do remember it’s my church, right?  I’m the one who gets to make decisions, not you.”  Maybe Jesus does speak that bluntly, but people who pursue prestige and power don’t listen to his voice.

Jesus, through his servant Paul, actually makes it clear believers need to fight.  Paul told his protégé Timothy, “Fight the good fight of faith.”

What’s the good fight of faith?  The good fight of faith is to fight for what is right, not expedient.  The good fight of faith is to fight for everyone to be loved.  The good fight of faith is to fight for everyone to discover God’s way of life and live it.  The good fight of faith is to fight for a world that lives by values of humility, justice, and servanthood.

These fights, Paul said, cause you to take hold of eternal life.  In other words, fighting these fights gives you a life that matters.

I wonder if churches fight over prestige and power because they forgot they were supposed to fight a good fight of faith.  It’s easier, I suppose to fight over the color of the carpet, than to fight for the way of Jesus.

Still, wouldn’t be great to see a church fight break out over how to love each other like Jesus loved us?  I’d go to a church business meeting to see that fight.  Wouldn’t you?

Maybe that’s why so many churches are half empty on Sunday:  nobody wants to see another fight over prestige and power.  If you want to see that, just tune into CNN or Fox News.

Maybe every seat in church would be filled if we fought the good fight of faith – loving each other like Jesus loves us.

Try Something New…

try something new

You need to try something new.  Your organization needs to try something new.  Your church needs to try something new?

Why?  Isn’t the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” true?

Nope.

Just because something is working in this moment is no guarantee it will work tomorrow or even the rest of the day (ask any farmer about this; he can tell you equipment breaks down at worst possible moments).

For the Jesus follower, this is critical.  Jesus always invites you to take a next step.  This means you must embrace a life that requires a focus on Jesus and a willingness to move from what is comfortable and familiar.  Jesus regularly invites you into the new.

Why do we not do something new?

We’re afraid to fail.

Failure is the last thing God’s people should fear.  God can redeem every failure of ours and make it new.  Learn from our failures – sure.  Let our failures keep us from trying something new?  Absolutely not.

It’s time to try something new in your walk with Jesus.

So if you read the Bible every day, that’s good!  But if it feels stale, then switch it up and listen to the passages of scripture instead of reading them.  Read it in a different translation.  Read a whole book through in one sitting.

If prayer feels stale, try praying in a different physical posture.  Instead of praying sitting in a chair, pray on your knees.  Pray on your knees?  Try praying standing up with your arms outstretched.  Have a familiar pattern of prayer?  Switch it up.  Confess your sins first, then ask God to meet your needs.

If the worship service you attend feels stale, sit in a different spot.  Take notes on the sermon for a change.  Maybe visit a church way outside your worship tradition.  If you are Pentecostal, go to an Episcopal Church.  Baptist?  Go to a Pentecostal church.

Your organization needs to try something new.  Re-arrange the furniture.  Offer a sale at an offbeat time.  Roll out an experimental product.  Change the meeting schedule.

I know your church needs to try something new.  Instead of Sunday night worship, try a three month experiment of having worship on Monday night.  Instead of a big Christmas musical, take the choir to the Walmart parking lot and sing carols.  Maybe your pastor needs to try something different in his preaching – like asking random people at McDonald’s what kind of sermons would interest them, then preaching those sermons.

God said through the prophet Isaiah, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

Join God in what is new.  Get uncomfortable.  Grow.  Stretch.  Fail. Learn.

Try something new.

Bad Decisions I Have Made…

bad decisions

I’ve made some bad decisions in my time.

I decided to kiss the Methodist preacher’s daughter in high school.  I was so thrilled, on the way home I wrecked my parent’s car.  Later, she dumped me at the prom.  In hindsight, the kiss wasn’t worth wrecking the car.

I decided the creek couldn’t be that deep.  Four-wheel drive would get me through, right?  Four-wheel drive is amazing, but it doesn’t help when the truck floats.   Do you know what happens when a truck engine sits in water overnight?  I don’t really know either, but it cost me a two hour lecture when the bill came in.

I decided to turn a paper in after a deadline in grad school, figuring it wouldn’t be a big deal.  Turns out, it was a big deal.  A very big deal.  A humiliating big deal.  Being on probation in grad school is not a good thing.

I decided once to tell my fiance’ (now my wife) I knew more than she did.  Turns out, I was wrong.  She knew all kinds of things I didn’t know, including some precise observations about my character and lack of good judgment.

I decided once to tell off the deacons of the church I pastored.  I did it in a sermon.  I preached with power and passion.  It felt good to step down after that message.  It didn’t feel good a couple weeks later, looking for a new job.

Bad as these decisions were, they aren’t even close to my worst decisions.

Too many times I have decided I know more than God.  Ever sign, ever message from Him told me to run the other way.  I decided I could handle the temptation and went my own way.  I gave in, every single time.  Every single time.  Bad decision not to run.

I’ve known God wanted me to love my enemies, but I was convinced God didn’t understand how much I had been hurt.  I held grudges, carried bitterness, and with great hypocrisy, pretended everything was all right.  Grudges, bitterness and pretense are heavy loads to carry.  I’ve worn myself out holding onto past hurts.  Bad decision not to forgive.

I’ve judged people because of their poor choices.  I’ve smugly looked at their life wreckage and thought “I’m too smart to let that happen to me.”  I’ve wound up pretending like nothing is ever wrong in my own life.  I’ve put forth a face that says, “I’m a pastor and I have it all together.”  The truth is, I’ve got plenty of my own wreckage.  It’s exhausting to live like you have it all together all the time; no one does.  Bad decision not to be real.

I’ve been quick to speak and slow to listen.  Sometimes, before people finish their sentences, I’ve already thought of a good reply.  I rush to speak because deep down, I hunger for people to say, “What a wise man he is.”  In my anxiety, I miss the person and their reality.  Bad decision to not be “slow to speak and quick to listen.”

Looking at all my bad decisions (and there are plenty more), I can get discouraged.  Then I remember the best decision I ever made.

Long ago, in a moment of humility, I admitted to God I was failure (sinner was the word we used).  I asked God to forgive me.  I told him I wanted Him to be in charge of my life.

That day, God adopted me as His child.  Whenever I make a bad decision, God forgives me.  He teaches me.  And, amazingly, He takes my bad decisions and brings good out of them.  He straightens out the wreckage of my life and gives me hope.

That one decision takes care of every bad decision I ever made.

Now, I need to make a decision about a piece of chocolate cake…

Sitting in the Pilot’s Seat…

f-16 cockpit

 

We filmed a segment for At the Movies today at Shaw Air Force Base.  Through the gracious provision of Dan Tindall, one of our members, we were able to use the training mockup cockpit of an F-16.

I had to take a moment out of filming to sit in the cockpit.  Even though it wasn’t a real plane, it felt real.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed.  There are so many buttons, so many things to look at.  The control handle to fly the plane was off to the right.  I gripped the “stick” and just for a moment imagined flying an F-16.  It was a cool daydream, a wonderful moment of fantasy.

Then my reality gear took hold:  What if I was really flying an F-16?

A little background:  I got my pilot’s license in college.  For a few years, I few small Cessnas and Pipers.  Then I got married, had kids, and realized I wasn’t a good enough pilot to keep flying (I wasn’t wealthy enough either).

Going from a Cessna 172 to an F-16 (even a mockup) is like going from a tricycle to a Porsche.  The principles are the same, but the power is different – exponentially.

It’s easy to sit in the pilot’s seat of your life and think you’ve got it all under control.  You seen others pilot their own lives; how hard can it be?

Maybe you can be in control of your life when you are living straight and steady, but what about when you have to land?  Or make a decision?  Or face an attack? Or try to make a quick change?

There is more power in your life than you know.  You have the power to hurt yourself with poor decisions.  You have the power to hurt others.  You have the power to get out of control.  You can get overwhelmed.  Your power can get out from under you.

It’s a nice fantasy to believe you can get good enough one day to handle life on your own.  I’m not sure any human being ever gets that good.

The one sure-fire solution?  Put Jesus in the pilot’s seat.  He can see what you can’t.  He knows exactly how life operates.  He can respond to an attack faster than you can.

How do you put Jesus in the pilot’s seat?  Simple.  Pray, “Lord, not what I will, but your will be done.”

Then get out of the seat.  Let Jesus pilot your life.