Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Top Ten Things....

As a society we love to count and rank things. We are constantly counting how many people are at this event, that event. We rank people in political races, athletes, books, and so on. I turn on ESPN daily, to check the rankings and comparisons. Television shows, bookstores, and Internet pages are covered with “Top Ten” list. Although we don’t publicize it we too have top ten lists of places we like to eat, songs we like to listen to, even top ten people we like to be around.  It is part of our human nature to compare, or keep track.
We even do that in church. We all have our top ten moments in the life of our faith community. Some are positive memories some are not so pleasant.
And I think if we read the Bible carefully, we find that there are certain stories or characters in the Bible that just stand head and shoulders above the rest in terms of importance or impact. One such story that should stick out to us is the stories of the Exile. It is nearly impossible to overstate the importance of the Babylonian exile for the people of God. The fall of Jerusalem fundamentally challenged the predominate view of the Promised Land and Israel’s place in it. The destruction of the temple led the prophets and priests to think in new ways about how God is present with the people and what authentic worship of God, when things are going very badly looks like.  The people lost everything. Their homes, jobs, money, church, and were driven out of only life they new. They were totally defeated and destroyed. King David’s royal line prompted the people of God to lament their circumstances and vehemently protest their current situation. They looked inward, outward, and upward for explanation and answers to painful questions about the nature of suffering, hope, and divine presences. I wonder if for any of us this sounds familiar.

As devastating and traumatic the situation is there is still a word of hope. Jeremiah begins to tell the people to take a deep breath, settle down, and begins to tell them what the future will look like. For one thing, hopeful expectation looks to the future by understanding the past and the present. The odd thing about hope is that is never ignores the past or the present; rather, hope pays close attention to life in honest and open ways. Hope doesn't need to be kindled on bright days, but on stormy days and during dark nights. If fact, hope is a truthful commentary on the here and now, a prophetic thought that looks to a new dawn, but it is no sugarcoat fuzzy feel good notion.

We see this clearly in the story of Jeremiah. God says, “I have actively watched over you, my child, but not always in the ways you might have hoped or thought.” He reminds us that things are not always the way we want them, the way we like them, but he is still watching over us. The promised good times that are just around the corner do not erase difficult past. Hopeful expectations means admitting that our present condition needs redeeming and that we alone are powerless in making that happen. Even in the midst of great evil, plucking up and breaking down, being overthrown and destroyed, even in the midst of all that, God is still present and at work.

It is awesome to be reminded that no matter what is currently happening in my life, God is still there and still active. But God is not done yet. Destruction, defeat, pain and evil are not the last words. Notice the powerful verbal images to describe the future: sow, build, plant, and forgive. These are all words of great anticipation pointing towards the future, a new beginning, a new chapter in your life. Hopeful expectation understands that the future begins by digging a hole for planting a seed by saying, “I forgive you.” Yet hope, and all the expectation and anticipation it carries, never gets ahead of itself. Strong trees don’t grow up in a year; trouble relationships don’t heal fully overnight, new habits are not formed in a day. No.. a small and vulnerable beginning is a common theme in all these verbs, and that is just how God works. That’s just how about all of our top ten biblical stories work also. If we see nothing else here, we see that hopeful expectation never lets go of the possibility that salvation and redemption can come to us in the most unexpected ways: on an ark, in a basket floating in the weeds, in exile, in a stable, on a cross, out of a tomb, or in a small committed faith community who dare cling to hope. 
Hang on to hope, take care of yourself and one another.....

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The day I Almost Became a Criminal.....

There are brief moments in life that change our how perspective and outlook on life. We all share brief moments that just sticks with you forever that change our moral compass in life. These are life changing moments that are really insignificant to the rest of the world. It happened to me on bike day. It was bike day at my daughter’s daycare. We were a struggling young broke family. When I say our family was broke, I mean counting out change to buy food broke. We had a dose of reality that children were way more expensive than we figured. My wife was trying hard to raise two kids, our daughter and myself, and times were tough. Our marriage, our relationship with God, our finances, our sanity, everything was stretched passed the limit. Every aspect of life was at the breaking point. To top it off it was bike day. I got an old bike that our daughter’s grandmother had bought her at a yard sale and we headed off to school. Abby arrived at school with the excitement of a four year old on bike day. With this old used, too little, scratched, beat up bike in one hand, and Abby holding on to the other, we head into to school. We opened up the first door and there in the entry way were lined up beautiful shinny new bikes. Pretty bikes, princesses, Disney bikes, all types of shinny new bikes as my daughter’s face lit up like the fourth of July. She looked at the others bike and then looked at hers as I sat it down besides the others. She did not say a single word, but I stood there and watched as excitement, awe, enthusiasm all drained from her face. She looked again at the others bikes and then back at hers. She then paused and looked up at me, with those beautiful eyes, and said, “Its OK Daddy, I love you.”
My world with those words came crashing down. No father felt as low as I did at that exact moment. I kissed her bye and left. She be-bopped on in and joined her class. Instead of driving to work I drove to Target. I sat in my truck, tears rolling down my face waiting for the store to open. I was devising my plan on how I could steal my baby girl a bike. That transformation on her face was etched into my conscious. As I waited for the store to open, I kept looking at the clock, the store was suppose to open at 9:00 it was already ten after and the store was not open yet. As I pondered why the store was not open yet, I recalled her words. Simple words all fathers hear from their toddlers. “Daddy I love you.” She loved me, not a new bike. She loved me despite my ability to get her a material possession that others had. God granted me the serenity to see that I possessed the most precious gift of all. I had a daughter who adored me, who looked to me for protection, guidance, understanding, love, self image, and security. She looked to me for how to navigate in the world, and I was about to steal her a bike? She didn't need a new bike, she needed a new father. Call it a mystery, call it God’s intervention, call it coincidence, but I thank God for whatever reason Target did not open on time that morning. I left a different person. I left with my cup overflowing.
In the familiar song of David, Psalm 23, we are reminded that God anoints our heads with oil. It is a phrase we hear but I am not sure we all know the true depths of its meaning. God told Moses to make special oil and anoint specific things with the oil. The oil was to be used sparingly. When the items were anointed with the oil, they became holy. The ordinary becomes holy. It means they are set apart from the rest. It is call kadosh, in Hebrew by anointing with oil takes something plain and ordinary and makes it Holy. Those who are anointed with oil become an offering to God. This Holy thing becomes an offering to be used by God. God chose in Jesus Christ to anoint us, you and I, make us Holy and to be used to glorify God. Anointing with oil also had another purpose as a healing agent. It was used to remove the dangerous influences on us in our life, those things that are harmful or cause disease. Oil was used for medicinal purposes to heal us. God heals us, sets us apart, and makes our lives Holy.
You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows. Our cup overflows, the vessels of our lives can not hold all the blessings God has in store for us. It is superabundance. God is able to do more than we can ever ask for or think of. God will accomplish more with us than we could ever imagine. God’s grace, mercy, a life with God will never run out. We have an unlimited supply of God’s blessing only if we desire to drink. The more we drink he more we want, and the closer we get to a right relationship with God. The more right relationship with God, the more we want.

Want does that mean for my life? I thought this was about stewardship. It is. Stewardship begins we realize we are anointed by God, by the blood of our Savior Jesus Christ. We are set apart from others to connect people to love of Jesus Christ.  When we acknowledge our anointing, we become like no other person, no other father, mother, grandparent, child, old adult, young adult, Elder, deacon, whatever we are in life. Even with all our flaws, frailties, uncertainties, pain, and anxiety. We realize we can do more than we have ever imagined. We might be at the lowest point in our lives and realize what’s truly important. Not in the moment but in the longevity of our lives. We may realize what we are to others is more important than our current situation. We may hear the words of one who loves us, say I love you Daddy. We may realize God anoints our head with oil, and yes, our cup is overflowing.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Fat Daddy Ministries: Life's Scale

Fat Daddy Ministries: Life's Scale: There are defining moments in our life when we have to make a conscious decision on what to keep and what to hold on to. Dr. Fred Cradd...

Life's Scale

There are defining moments in our life when we have to make a conscious decision on what to keep and what to hold on to.
Dr. Fred Craddock tells a story of one of his schoolmates who spent many years ministering in China. He was under house arrest and the soldiers came one day and told him that he could return to America. The family was celebrating.
The soldiers said, "You can take 200 pounds with you." They had been there for years! Two hundred pounds! They got the scales and they started the family arguments-two children, wife, and husband. Must have this vase...Well, this is a new typewriter...What about my books?...What about our toys?
They weighed everything and took it off, weighed it and took it off, until at last they had it right on the dot: two hundred pounds. The soldiers asked if they were ready to go and they said, "Yes." "Did you weigh everything?" They said, "Yes!"
"Did you weigh the kids?" "No," we did not. "You will have to weigh the kids."
In the blink of an eye, typewriter, vase, books, all became trash. Trash. It happens. Treasures become trash when we have to weigh everything and we can't keep it all.

When the values in our life begin to shift, things of greater worth begin to surface. We've all had to trash things that were once of great value. We have tearfully and reluctantly taken things off the scale in some defining moment-cherished ideas and plans, crumbling relationships, pride of mind and body, financial gain. There are things tangible and intangible that has to go when life calls on us to "weigh your kids."