Pass the Lemon Yellow

Today is my day to study, to rest, to write, and to plan. I'm not in the office (yea!), I'm not answering my phone (yea!), and going to get most of the thoughts and ideas that are rattling around in my head out into plans and dreams (yea!). Its a study day / Sabbath day, and I've been holding my breath waiting for it to come. As I have every other time I've set a day aside like this, I immediately begin to wonder why I don't do it more often. I put it off, run my little race, and act like I'll never get tired or worn out. But I do. And then I come crawling to God, spent, tired, and down. He always sits with me, quietly, and listens. He loves me, cares for me, bandages my heart, tells me it's all ok because He's always had it under control. He pulls me up into His lap, and tells me stories of wonder and beauty. He gives me crayons and paper to draw out my dreams, and hangs them on his fridge next to Abraham's pictures, and David's school photos. I love it. And I wonder why I put it off like I do?

I choose to listen to the lie that busy is good. Production = pleasure. Results in papers, projects, and numbers = holiness. I know that I know that I know it's not true. But I run to it. I get a couple of "wow, you work so hard around here comments", and I'm off to burn more fuel in a hell bent race for production. Yeah, my tires are getting low at times, and my heart's fuel gauge is flashing, but there's a race to win. Only, the promise of a checkered flag and a trophy never come. Just more laps. More projects. More meetings. No end in sight.

So, today, I pulled into the pits, have climbed out of the car, handed it over to my Team Owner, and am listening and dreaming. God has taken the racing helmet off my head, handed my crayons and paper, and invited me to sit down at the kitchen table.

I'd encourage you, there's an empty chair, a huge stack of paper, and extra crayons. Why not join me?

You smell like a monkey...

Today is the day. Again. January 28th, my birthday. I was serenaded by my two girls this morning with the whole song, including the "you like a monkey, and you smell like one too!" with the trilling high notes at the end. It was beautiful. In fact, it will be my actual birthday in about 20 minutes. I've been told I entered this world at 9:50 am on that cold January day in a tiny hospital in Virginia.

I'm really enjoying the day so far, too. Honestly, I am. I was sure coming into it this year how I would feel. They're beginning to pile up on me at this point. I realize I'm not "old" per say, but they are starting to add up. People are beginning to point out that 40 is just around the bend. But today, I'm enjoying it.

In one of my devotionals I read, it was talking about Isaiah 40:31. "Those who wait on the Lord will mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint." It's a good verse for today, that's for sure. It also referenced Psalm 103:5; "who (God) satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagles."

You see, I wonder, sometimes more often than others, if I will ever get too old for what I do? Not in the sense of "I hate overnighters and lock ins" too old. I passed that mark 10 years ago. But too old in the idea that the students will be more embarrassed by me, and feel alienated by me. It's not so much a pity party as a desire to serve them the best I can. I've seen a couple of other guys hang on too long, and hurt their ministries. I simply don't want to be one of them.

But, I want to follow God closely and rely on Him all the time in what I do. I want to take the years of mistakes and help students and leaders succeed. I want to encourage and love kids to let them see Christ more clearly. So, my fears drive me one way, and my hopes tug the other.

That's why reading a verse about those who are watching for God be renewed, I get excited. If God can use me to reach students and families, then it's a miracle. I've never been cool one day of my life, and each year drives that point further home. So for God to use me has to be all Him. Exactly as it should be.

So, as I sit and look and smell like a monkey on this day, I am thankful that God never gives up on me. The bigger the challenge, the more glory He gets. I am grateful that He has the power to renew me, to make me fresh and new each day. I need it. I am so happy that my fears aren't what determine what I need to do, but that His love and grace are the drivers behind this world. Those are some beautiful gifts.


The Creeping Vine

I haven't written yet this week. And I've started this particular post with two other ideas, only to delete them both. It's been one of those times where I've allowed my schedule to run me over and I haven't pulled it in. So, I have little to write about. And I am taking Monday to walk away from it for the day, and regroup.

I continually keep coming back to the issue of time and energy management. I over involve myself in way too many good things. It's a subtle creeping of a vine growing on the side of my life. Before I know it, it has covered the whole east wall, and is blocking out the sunlight. So, I have to trim it again. For the 37th time. But, at least it gets trimmed.

I really don't enjoy this stage, the last few days before I turn the tide on the schedule. I find myself over extended, stressed, lacking in exercise and laughter, and tired. Definitely not the way we were created to live.

But I know from times past that it will be better. I'll drop some of my scheduled tasks, delegate others, rest, run, and get a balance back. I hope that next time, I'll be able to maintain the balance just a little longer than this time.

So, I am looking forward to next week. Tomorrow, I spend time snow tubing at Perfect North with 60+ other students and leaders from our group. I'll enjoy it, but how much more would I be able to give and gain from it if I were entering the day healthy and rested? Man, I've got to keep getting better at this.

I hope that this weekend finds you balanced in schedule, heart, mind and rest.

Who's a Snake to Blame?

I've been reading "In Search of God Knows What" lately, and Donald Miller is discussing our cultures foundation on comparison. So much of what we do socially is based on trying to impress others, to compare to others, to one up others. We need to prove ourselves, that we are worthwhile because we are better. But of course, in order to be better, someone else has to be less. And the rub comes in.

Of course, Adam and Eve come directly into this discussion, due to this being the nature of the fall. When they were unconcerned with who held what position, when it was everyone equally under God, then it was Paradise. As soon as the ascension was tried, the fall came. I noticed in the story recently that when it all unravels in small pieces, God confronts the three characters in the story; Adam, Eve, and the serpent. Adam blames Eve and God, Eve blames the serpent, but when the serpent is called out, there is no defense offered from him. Why doesn't Satan try to pass the buck? Is it simply that He knows God better than we do? Or is it that he doesn't care about God's opinion, and doesn't fear Him? I'm not sure, but it's an interesting part of the story.

So anyway, this Fall of Comparison, if you will, is so crucial in my own self worth. I am always evaluating myself verses others. It never makes me happy or peaceful. I just feel distanced and guilty. So, I'm beginning to really wrestle with fighting off the comparisons. It's like fighting off exhaling. It's such a core part of who I am, my fears, my hopes, my plans. "I want to achieve ...." whatever. Because then I'll be better. But I won't. I'll still be me.

And I realize it's not just a matter of flip flopping and being worse than everyone. That leads to a false humility that covers pride. It's the old "I'm the most humble guy in the room. Sweet!" thought. Equally ridiculous.

No, I am striving for God is great, and we are all His creation. 100% His creation. That is our identity, our value, our hope. It's just so nebulous, it scares me. Much harder to grasp and hold. But maybe that's the idea.

Playing Dress Up

Some friends and I were looking at the passage in Luke 12:35-40 last night, and discussing it. Jesus tells His followers to be dressed and ready to go with their lamps burning. It's an amazing passage encouraging us to be always ready for service, and watching for Christ's return. But as I read it more, and consider it again, I want to do more than await His return. Mind you, I do want to be ready for that day. But I think the key is to be ready today. He's here, in a real way, leading and calling me today. I need to wake each day, ready to go. I want to expect amazing things each day from God, not for me, but through me for others. I want to be dressed like an expectant servant, eager for action. I find as I do, life flows more freely and beautifully around me. Now, understand, while I want these things, I don't often actually pursue them. My selfishness, my pride, my fear keeps me looking for a dark place to hide from God's plans, or has me trying to sneak and put on the clothes of the Master of the House. I play dress up, and pretend that I'm in charge. In my childish mind, it's my money, my house, my clothes, my symbols of power. But as soon as He walks in the room, I rip them off and try to act innocent. But Christ knows better. He knows I've been trying to pass myself off as Him. Yet He calls me to dress the part of a servant, and come along.

That's why the second part of these verses is so amazing. Christ says that when we play our part, and are ready to serve, He comes in from the party and switches roles with us. He serves us, feeds us dinner, washes our feet. Him. Serving us. It's crazy talk. But that's what He does. I agree to serve and be ready, and He blesses me. For no good reason other than His love and mercy. It's good stuff.

So today, what are you wearing? Are you sleeping, ignoring the plans He has? Are you dressing like the Master, pretending to be in charge of everything when you aren't? Or have you taken on the clothing of a servant and lit your lantern so you can be ready to go? When we don't play dress up, it becomes even more fun.

At Work With Both Hands

Have you ever tried to do two different things with your hands at the same time? I mean, have you ever tried to have your left hand doing one action, and meanwhile your right hand is working on a completely separate and different project? If you're a guy, it's likely you haven't. Even if you're one of God's amazing mulit-taskers we call women, you may not have pulled this one off yet. It's too elaborate, too beyond our abilities. I'm sure with sufficient training, we could convince our hands to do one specific action separately. But none of us are able to operate in this way on a daily basis.

But last night, as I was speaking with one of our students, I realized that God often, if not always, works like this. Right now, in this student's life, God's left hand is working with a friend who is on the run. The friend was a close brother who shared the deepest parts of faith and joy with this student. But now, due to poor choices, is trying to run from their faith, their family, their friends, and their life. Yet God is working in this person's life. As I and the student spoke about this joint friend of ours, our hearts were breaking in pain for them. It's so difficult to watch an amazing person throw so much blessing and hope away for a shadow of control. We commiserated about the loss, the hurt of standing and trying to help, but being turned away. And we discussed how God was still active, always pursuing, always loving, ready to pick this person up and carry them home. God is working in their life, even though He is unwanted. We can still see God's left hand in action.

Immediately following this, this same student told me of an answered prayer in his family. God is working with his parents, and they are making small steps of progress in faith. It is seemingly small to see, unless you have spent time and sweat in prayer over. Then this victory feels huge, as it still does to me today. Just the fact that this student's parents are praying at dinner now is a quantum leap forward. A leap that would be impossible short of God's hand in the matter. His right hand. God is stirring and working in this family, and will continue to do so, even though He has been uninvited for so many years. Hope is working it's way through the soil, and a bloom is on the horizon. You can feel it, smell it, sense it, even though we don't yet see it. God's right hand is so beautifully at work.

So I walked into the parking lot last night to drive home, with this picture of God working on two very different fields, in two very different ways, at the same time. He is working with both hands, at the same time. Pain and joy. Loss and love. Fear and hope. Together, flowing from the same One at the same time.

God's love for us defies description. We want to give up, to let go, to call it a day, and go home. Yet He works. So often, we see one hand at work, and label God by His hand. He's Good. He's Bad. He Cares. He doesn't care. I'm Loved. I'm Left. We see so very, very little. Even in this case, we see two of the things He is doing, and I'm overwhelmed at the very thought. Yet what of the others. I mean, He is at work, actively, right now as you read this, in over 2 billion lives. Now. With both hands.

How can we doubt such a God?

Words to Live By


More than just soup.

Last night, at our senior high youth group, we started a new series on dating called "Nerds; and the Women who Love Them." Of course, anytime you're going to discuss dating, there is only one Bible passage to start with, Genesis 25:27-34. It's the story of Jacob and Esau. Clearly dating material, if there ever was any.

We discussed how Esau does four things wrong that sent him to ruin.
1. He allowed his hunger to control him
2. He settled for a mediocre meal.
3. He allowed himself to be conned.
4. He forgot that his purpose was unique.

I'm not going to go into how the students tied it into dating, but I have been thinking about these four ideas quite a bit the last few days. I don't date anymore in the high school sense (thank God above for that! phew.) But I still act like Hairy (Esau) and settle for a bad bowl of soup sometimes. I so want to be acknowledged and respected. I want to be known as great. I want to be seen as someone important. Basically, anything that flies in the face of Jesus' teachings of our position in this world, and I seem to have this built in burning for it. I think the Bible has a big, fancy word for it. What was it? . . . Oh yeah; sin.

So often my hunger, my desire for these things will drive me to settle for a really bad imitation of what I'm after. I'll try to manipulate a conversation, or set up a situation, so that I come out "looking better". I've gotten moderately good at it over the years. But it always leaves me empty. I'm ready for a change.

I want to pursue God's love and attention. I want to live for His pat on the back. I want to eat at the table He has set for me, and skip the junky bowls of soup all around me. I want to know Love, and be loved, and give love (to quote Bradley Hathaway). I am tired of settling for 28th best. I want to go straight to source of Beauty, Laughter, Hope, and Peace. Not as "New Year's" deal. As a daily opportunity to live in Love.

What about you? Where are you being conned into settling for mediocrity, or worse? It's not worth it, you know. There is better. Infinitely Better. I'll see you at the Table.

I Don't Know, and It's Okay

I always feel like I need to have an opinion. This has often caused some level of pain; either to myself, others, or both. Yet I press on with this idea that I need to have some level of thought about every topic I encounter. It's ironic, actually, because I really value learning, and growing, and changing. Yet, in spite of that value, I discover that there is no room for simply not knowing something in my life. Wherever I don't know facts, I inject opinion, for surely that will do just as well. Right?

But it doesn't. My opinion is not often in the majority. I find myself forming half developed ideas, and then having to stand alone. It happens all the time. I can justify it in a dozen different ways, of course. I'm like Elijah, standing alone as a prophet. Only, when he said that to God, God gave him a smack down and told him to get over himself. There were thousands of others God had set aside besides Elijah. So, usually, the Elijah stance doesn't fare very well.

I can claim that I am misunderstood. But if that is true, how much of it is my fault? Am I really speaking in grace, love, mercy, and hope? No, not usually. If I were, people would react differently. I wouldn't get the look of confused amazement that conveys "You actually believe what you just said?" quite as often, I think. I don't believe this is really the root of the problem.

Or I can realize it comes down to fear and pride. That's where I usually land with my feet on something solid. I'm afraid of what will happen if I have nothing to add to a conversation. I'm afraid I'll be passed over, forgotten. But isn't that the whole point of this idea of following Jesus. Shouldn't I be living a life where I am remembered and noticed less and less, and He is seen more and more? If so, then it's okay to be passed over, to be missed. I can rest easy in His care. If I'm needed, He will open that up in my life. If not, that is equally beautiful.

It's so hard to take a gun to the lecherous animal of pride and kill it. It's so integral, so destructively comforting, that it's hard to separate from. It's much like one of the ghosts in C.S. Lewis' book The Great Divorce. This soul is at the gateway to heaven, being pursued by one of the angels. But the ghost has a small, foul lizard on his shoulder. It whispers in his ear to run, to be afraid, to ignore the angel. The angel repeatedly asks if it can kill the lizard on the ghost's shoulder. Finally, in desparation, the ghost agrees. "Kill it!" he cries. Immediately the angel rips the lizard from the man's shoulder, leaving the man screaming in agony. But, the man begins to transform into something new, something solid, something beautiful. As he looks at the lizard laying dead on the ground, he is free. The lust, the dark passions of his life, are gone. And as he watches, the lizard goes through a transformation as well. It changes into a gorgeous, powerful stallion, which the man mounts and rides into the hills of heaven. The narrator explains that passion turned inward becomes a terrible, dark voice in our ear of self destruction. But when we allow God to rip the lust away and kill it, He gives it new life as a powerful passion that can drive us ever closer to Him.

So, I stand, asking for God to take my fear and pride, and make it something new. Something beautiful. Something which will carry me closer to Him. Maybe then I can finally learn to be okay with not knowing. And with keeping my mouth shut. Maybe.
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