Category Archives: Meditation/Reflections

Purifying Grace

I got sideswiped. I was hit by a collision so violent that it weakened the walls of my lower intestines, but it wasn’t an impact by a drunken driver or a distracted teenager trying to find their last text message while taking a left turn. Instead, it was the unpredictable juggernaut called life.

It’s the ninth month of adjusting our family to life with chronic illness and the Lord has once again shown us lessons only learned while on the grill. Heat alone refines.

The news of my wife’s chronic auto-immune disease and skin cancer troubles felt like tires bending and my fender buckling, but I couldn’t quite identify the noise. A sudden sense of tremendous weight grinds into every pore of your skeleton. It’s a pressure melded with fearful gravity and so much heaviness that its true impact takes weeks and months to set in, and yet on the other side of the blistering flames, vise grips and frightful walls we find greater compassion. Genuine empathy is an acquired virtue and its classes are held in the pit.

When true saving faith meets adversity it produces persevering joy just as God said it would in James 1:2-4, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

It isn’t that the trials themselves are joyful; they are always loaded with confusion and pain. What we must see is that the end result is our purification and the difficulties and overwhelming circumstances are the means that God has sovereignly orchestrated for the development of Christ-likeness in us. You won’t become like Christ while riding a comfort wave on a golden surfboard. Anyone who tells you that God doesn’t want His servants to suffer has a misplaced gospel and a closed bible. You only grow in your faith when you actually have to use it for as Scripture plainly teaches us we shall enter the kingdom through many tribulations. (Acts 14:22)

Suffering exposes our weaknesses and dispels the myth of self-reliance. We need our church family and local Body to bear our burdens with us. (Gal. 6:2) We need more times of communal weeping.  In our moments of great despondence the light of faithful friends carrying the Savior’s voice becomes a tender balm to a weary soul.

Have you spoken the wonderful Words of Life to your brothers and sisters lately? Who around you needs you right now? Let us not forget our own family of God and remember that it is not a part-time commitment. We are familial forever.

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A Moment of Thankful Reflection

We are thankful for our friends and family who endure our weaknesses daily as we learn to imitate Christ.
We are thankful for our spiritual family who must do the same as we sojourn in the bond of peace towards the new city of unending joy.
We are thankful for the government’s role in our community keeping us safe and secure and we are even thankful for its inefficiencies, for it gives us an opportunity to remember our own personal responsibilities. Our hope is not in princes.

We are thankful for the hundreds and hundreds of volunteers that have come to labor along side of us during a trying season of life.
We are thankful for the yearly cyclone reminders of who controls all things.
We are thankful for all who have donated goods and services to us and for those who have given to us monetarily.
We are thankful for community organizations that are not ashamed to serve openly under the banner of the living God.

We are thankful for the church.
We are thankful for food and shelter no matter how meager it may be for against the world’s standards the United States is still extremely rich.
We are thankful for having clothes to wear and clean water.  We are thankful for liberty and the means to operate freely despite her receding glow.

We are thankful for your prayers. We are thankful for the Trinity’s unstoppable work in our lives. Thank you Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. May we press on till the final coming.

The Anatomy of the Imaginary Other PERSON

imaginary other personEveryone is into comparisons.  We constantly compare ourselves to this person or that person. We evaluate our progress and see who is further along than we are presently in this virtue or that situation. However, we are never called to compare ourselves to each other. Our comparison as believers is vertical.

Horizontal comparisons are easy and mostly useless for we are not in a spiritual race with each other; we run our race alone.  At the throne of the consummated end, we are not going to bring our pastors with us before the LORD, nor will we have our mothers, fathers, bankers, brothers, sisters, gurus or any one else for that matter with us.  That final evaluation will happen alone. Utterly alone.

This sermon discusses part of this phenomena whereby we look towards other people as example or duty-fillers or excuses only to find out that they don’t really exist.

I pray you find encouragement as you listen.

A Reminder of the Good News

crossDeath comes swiftly and death comes expectedly for none of us escape its call. Suffering, death and decay are all effects of the fall of man where sin entered the world and so, too, did death.  Through Adam’s transgression, his single disobedient act of the will against the Law of God, all of us will see death; yet those who believe in the gospel of Christ will escape its finality.  No one avoids their funeral, but we can be rescued from our final judgment. Like Adam, we eat what we shouldn’t eat and think what we shouldn’t think and as a result we will be held accountable for each and every action and heart attitude.

However, those who trust Christ as their Savior and righteousness will not taste the tomb forever.  Those who know Him know that just as the Lord’s tomb was found empty, one day in the final Day of the Lord, their tomb, too, will be vacant. And not only that, but when it comes to the time where the Lord of all Creation examines their life in accordance with His prescribed Law, they will be found guiltless.  This verdict will not be because of their righteousness or ability to ever have lived up to God’s requirements, but rather their freedom from punishment will be because they, by faith, believed in the perfect work of Jesus Christ. He was sent here by the Father to invade time as a man so that he could accomplish fully the redemptive work of our Triune God.  Christ paid what we owe in full and He alone was qualified to do so.

It was His flawless life in thought, word and deed that is accepted by God.  It was His sacrificial death at the hands of the world where He paid the penalty owed by His adoptive faithful; where the wrath of the Father was poured out into His every being – where the satisfaction was satisfied. His atoning death covers the sins – past, present and future – of all who believe that this gloriously good news is true.  God proved the truth of Christ’s mission on earth with a resurrective seal of authenticity. Christ being raised from the dead on the third day proves that this grand narrative of God’s ultimate work in human history is not merely a fable.

Helpless men radically corrupted by sin, incapable of rescuing themselves or even fully understanding just how deep they are drowning are saved by the grace of the Living God so that God may receive the glory of his mighty work in salvation. God changes hearts so that they will believe and worship in spirit and in truth. This, friends, is the good news. The good news is not what God will do for you; the good news is what has already been done on behalf of His people.  The gospel is not man-centered self-help, it is a Christ-centered miracle that points our eyes to the Cross where the Lord of Glory died so that men who deserve nothing from Him might live forever in perfect fellowship with their Creator.

Death Comes Quickly

no cementaryBy now, no doubt, we are all weary of the seeming avalanche of celebrity reports in the news related to the high profile deaths in Hollywood as of late – Jackson, Fawcett, McMahon, Malden, Mays, Travalena, Storm… These deaths bring to mind the quick passing time scroll that we call life.  In some ways we think that time is paralyzed in movies and pictures and with those whom we haven’t seen in quite some time. How often have you run into someone you haven’t seen in years and suddenly find yourself in shock that they look so different?  Time is the ferry that waits for no one.

God tells us that our expiration date has been sealed in heaven for “there is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven–A time to give birth and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted. A time to kill and a time to heal; A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.” (Eccl.3:1-4)  While our end is fixed we are not given the hour or day of our departure (Deut. 29:29); instead, we are firmly told to redeem the time we are given here on earth wisely for we do not know what tomorrow’s events may bring.

As James tells us in his epistle, “…you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that. But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.” (James 4:14-16)

jazz funeral

Thinking that tomorrow is ours is evil. Not acknowledging God’s providence over each inhale and every exhale is arrogant boasting. Our lives are indeed in His hands.  As we age, we become acutely aware of our inevitable stop. Our ‘vaporism’ is revealed. Skin loosens. Bones ache. Our frailty is made more and more evident as we ante up more frequent co-payments and attend more frequent funerals. The ferry plows on.

Death’s immediate impact on us is directly proportional to how close it is to us relationally.  The impact of a Sudanese dying in England whom we’ve never met is not even close to the impact of our spouse or parent passing. According to the U.S. Census bureau, there are approximately two and half million deaths per year in the United States – that’s five deaths per minute.  Interestingly, we don’t live as though this is the case; taking each day more precious than the next.

As you continue through your activities this weekend, remind yourself of these passages and another truth from the book of Ecclesiastes – It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart.” (cf. 7:2)  May we take life to heart as the gift that it is and may we continue to warn those who are in danger of losing it forever.

The Soothing Soul of Music

bassMusic is a gift from God that soothes our weary souls. Naturally, an aesthetic switch flips on in our minds whenever certain musical packages are unpacked. Ever since Jubal’s first chords on the lyre and pipe (Gen. 4:21), music has always had an ethereal substratum floating in between each time signature creating a vibe and groove and providing us with audio medicine.  Even ungodly musicians recognize that something else is at work in musicology.  As creative artists, they understand that while they train and learn various techniques, scales and theories; there is a supernatural component to well-written pieces.

Many of us have the experience of curling up to favorite songs in order to reject distress and cope with loneliness.  Certain tunes are cathartic remedies that carry us through hard spots in life. Carefully crafted harmonies and grooves can create an endorphin rush that coats worry with a melodious membrane when the right songs are sung to us during depressing circumstance.  The right tune can uplift our spirits and put a tattered mind to rest. Sweet melodies tame beastly constitutions and can sedate tense infractions that invade our day.

In the book of Samuel, music’s panecean virtue is seen when David refreshed Saul and drove away an evil spirit with a well-played instrument proving that power rests in the flow of tones and string.

“Saul sent to Jesse, saying, “Let David now stand before me, for he has found favor in my sight.” So it came about whenever the evil spirit from God came to Saul, David would take the harp and play it with his hand; and Saul would be refreshed and be well, and the evil spirit would depart from him.” 1 Samuel 16:22-23

Bill Solley handsThere is no denying the emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental intermingling that exists between staff and heart, beat and rhythm, note and piece.  Mothers have known this truth for quite some time as they, for centuries, have sung lullabies to relax restless infants as they lay in their arms. Friedrich Nietzsche is accredited with having said that “without music life would be a mistake.”  Indeed. God makes no such errors.

The universality of music’s ability to soothe our stress and be our symphonic sensei overreaches borders and cultures and peoples of all time. Just as God ordained the calming sounds of a fresh brook He has given us the seven-strings of a great jazz guitar. For us, as those who have received such wonderful and useful gifts, we must learn to handle this treasure rightly. We must learn how to first understand it and then secondly, to discern our way through it. To fail to do so will ensure that we end up malnourished; feeding on stockpiles of stale and poisoned tunes.

May you find beauty, solace, refreshment, and energized motivation through the right use of song and piece. Amen.

Living Created Canvas

gods mosaic

Reflecting upon the beauty of creation draws me closer to the One who made me and the promise of restoration.  Even in their fallen state, autumn leaves and sunsets bring awe and wonderment.  All around the skyline, His paintbrush colors in hues. Bright-blue and golden clouds are alive, drifting in paced succession.  At each turn of my head I see water vapor sculptures floating like parade balloons overhead, stretching across a stationary canvas. Beneath my feet, the ground bristles with active paintings.  Sometimes the dirt floor seems alive.  Scurrying insects, amazingly designed for specific purposes, crawl over and under shelter and food; each micro-functioning organism a display of greatness and artistry.

If this is the groaning creation that longs to be redeemed into a new fullness, then what will the renewed lilies and life be like when we live in perfected radiance?  If the fallen beauty of this present age brings in intense awe, then what unimaginable incredibleness awaits us in the New Jerusalem valley?

While we wait for the final consummation, God’s mosaic patterns swirl and breathe before us each day displaying His glory for all to see.   His power and majesty are seen in the forms and features as the time line moves closer and closer to the end of the End. Each day we are one day closer to His coming. Each day passed is another move forward to the grand day of completeness where all of our tears will be erased and grace’s abounding pleasure reigns forever. God has loved us with an unending love! Oh, the great things the Lord has in store for us, His people!

This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!

It’s a Little Life

Right after Katrina I met Brad Knull, an Ohioan with a big heart.  Little known to me, he is also a wonderful videographer and even more unknown to me, he writes songs. This song “Little Life”  is simple and moving.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Another version is here:  http://www.myspace.com/bradknullmusic

Techno-Evangel

techno airportI’ve done quite a lot of traveling over the past few weeks – over 2,500 miles of driving through nine states followed by a week in the Texas sun learning new building and construction techniques.  On the way to San Antonio, we flew through Houston and as always, I had that awkward experience associated with plane flights.

As I made my way through x-rays and security arches and long tile corridors with echoing loudspeakers, I noticed that most individuals carry gadgets and gizmos that preclude social interaction.  Ipods, cell phones, laptops and books occupy the majority of available arms as everyone shuffles off to wherever they are going; yet, they rarely seem interested in conversation. Earbuds say “I’m listening to something else other than you right now.” Faces buried in intense reading broadcast a “Do not disturb” door hanger to all within ten feet and hurried tapping on computer keys tells everyone that you are busy.  It is interesting how the very same technologies that aid us and help create new social venues also facilitate a new type of virtual cocooning.

This techno-inwardness has peculiar implications in evangelism for even though we seem to be more connected it is harder to meet naturally.  Electronic webs seem to be strewn over once interactive spaces and despite being inches away; we don’t talk to each other anymore. The nuances of body language and inflective speech have been overtaken by ‘crackBerries’ and a new texting code has emerged as standard communique.  This same phenomenon exists inside elevator cubes as well, where small crowds stand together as tall pines and yet most hardly ever mumble a word.

Finding a way to enter the silence becomes evermore difficult when chitchat seems to be dying a quick wifi-death.  On the plane, I did manage to speak to a man who was reading a book by Hitchens entitled God is not Good. As he bowed his head into the pages, I curiously asked questions about the title and engaged him in an irenic conversation about life, the true nature of God and social justice.  It is possible to naturally penetrate the ever-growing social techno-cubists and the interesting part is that we do so in the same fashion that Christ, Paul and the other early evangelists and believers did – we exercise humble boldness, true compassion, and listen while we speak the truth of the Gospel in love. Communications and societal paths may change, but the Truth never waivers.

A Reflection on Amazement

bluenessOur God is amazing. From the smallest quantum particle to the largest earth mammal, nothing escapes His grip. Every divine attribute cascades over all creation like a perfect fountain, blanketing each movement and course. In God’s tremendous mercy and infinite wisdom, He has revealed Himself to us through the Scriptures even though we should feel as mere ants would, staring up a hill at the One who is completely and utterly unlike us. God alone is righteous. He alone is sovereign. He alone answers prayer.  He alone inhabits eternity. And He alone is faithful.

God’s unique purposes are fixed in the heavens – “Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure.’ ” Is. 46:10

Who else can make such claims? We may attempt to pierce the veil of prediction but only find ourselves lying flat again, for although we make plans and plot our ways, the Lord is sovereign over our journey. We indeed choose what we will do, but nothing ever erodes, alters or thwarts God’s purpose.  This is perhaps the grandest truth of all for it is the highest attribute in His many characteristics.  His sovereignty is also the hardest of all things to accept and comprehend, given our time/space restraints and limited knowledge.

Circumstances arise, but God is not unaware.  It must occur to us that nothing has ever occurred to God. The beauty of divine sovereignty comes in knowing that we serve an Almighty Redeemer of pure amazement who rules over every atom in the universe and that those molecules, planets, peoples and events all move forward in history’s footpath to the cadence of His will alone.   James spoke about God’s controlling ordinance and complete sustaining grace in our lives when he wrote, “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit. Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’ But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.” James 4:13-16

If the Lord wills it, we shall live in accordance with what we have decided. As Christ cosmosemphasized while tutoring His disciples in prayer, we must seek that His will be done on earth as it is done in heaven, for He is the pinnacled purpose of existence.  Faith in God’s promised decrees, goodness, mercy and ultimate justice is the lens we must peer through no matter how foggy and desperate it may seem. As Job said long, long ago, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.” Job 13:15

Too often in dealing with our discontentment we are trapped between two garbs –the stoic robe and the religious jacket. One is lined with prideful linens and the other with clichéd ribbons and fare. Yet, like a lead-infused coating hanging on our flesh, the truth of God’s amazing sovereignty begins to weigh upon us and we drop the spurious in favor of the divine. We settle back before the throne of the Amazing One where true peace penetrates our souls and completed joy fills all space. We rest in Him. He, who alone we adore.