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hollywood-party

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ – Matthew 22:8-9 (NIV)

The US Presidential inauguration kicked off the season of parties, balls and gala for the powerful, rich and famous.  The season continues and rounds into form with this weekend’s Super Bowl.  There will be countless Super Bowl parties, but I’m not referring to the kind where hot wings and nachos are on the menu.  I’m talking about the kind of parties attended by “A-listers” where formal tickets are issued and scanned for admission by security and where gift bags of expensive tchotchke are distributed to people who really don’t need them.  The celeb party season rounds to a close later this month with the  Oscars and all its parties.

In the text above Jesus tells a parable that started out with a VIP guest list, but ended up being an open call.  A king’s son, a prince, was getting married so it seems, and the king sent his servants out far and wide to invite the movers and shakers (Matt 22:3).  The king enticed the invited guests with a menu of oxen and fatted calf, yet they still did not come. A parallel telling of the parable in Luke reveals the guests offered every imaginable excuse for not coming (Luke 14:18-21).  Upon hearing about the number of declined invitations, the frustrated king extended an open invitation to all.

The king in the parable is God and his son is of course Jesus Christ.  God called the Jews to be his chosen people to showcase himself to the rest of humanity.   The Jews largely rejected Jesus’ messianic claims.  John 1:11 states, “He [referring to Jesus] came unto his own and own received him not” (KJV).  Jesus’ death and resurrection become a gateway for God’s message of salvation to all humanity.  The invitation to the wedding feast was extended to all.

The King of King’s invitation is to the ultimate party, the wedding feast of the Lamb of God – an eternal celebration in God’s presence.  The best thing about this party is that everyone is invited!  You don’t have to been on the Forbes 400 richest people list or trending on Twitter.

However, like many exclusive engagements admittance is based on who you know.  You must know the bridegroom – Jesus Christ.   Knowing not from a sense of giving mere mental assent to his existence as a historical figure or teacher of moral principles, but knowing from a sense of placing your very life in his hands.  It is this transfer of trust that purchases your wedding attire and admittance to the party.  In the parable those who were attired inappropriately were cast out of the wedding feast (Matthew 22:11-14).

The invitation has gone out.  My question is, have you RSVP’ed in the affirmative?  If you have, terrific.  My second question is, are you telling others about the party?  In the Lucan account of the parable the master tells his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full”(Luke 14:23)(NIV).

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let each one who hears them say, “Come.” (Revelation 22:17a).

Truth, What is Truth?

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Lance Armstrong confesses to Oprah Winfrey about his use of banned substances (courtesy of Washington Post)

Lance Armstrong confesses to Oprah Winfrey about his use of banned substances (courtesy of Washington Post)

“What is truth?” Pilate asked. – John 18:38a (NIV)

Just this past week, the carefully constructed narratives of two prominent athletes came crashing down.

Cyclist Lance Armstrong finally admitted in an Oprah Winfrey interview to using banned substances in the pursuit of his seven Tour de France victories after vehemently denying the same for years. Armstrong went has far as to sue the London-based Sunday Times for slander and attacked former teammate Floyd Landis to cover his tracks.

It was first reported by DeadSpin.com, that Lennay Kekua, the girlfriend of Notre Dame linebacker, Manti Te’o never existed. Te’o who previously reported Kekua died of leukemia last fall now claims he was the victim of an online hoax. Apparently he never met the love of his life in person but only corresponded with her online and via phone. I can’t help but think of another virtual love, Karen, the computer wife of Plankton from SpongeBob SquarePants. (Am I the only parent who watches their kid’s television shows with them?)

We live in an age of moral relativism, and for many there is no longer such a thing as absolute truth.

You may have even heard someone say, “that may be true for you, but it’s not true for me.” Yet when stories like Armstrong’s and Te’o’s break, there is a general sense of outrage. Why? Because there is something inside of us that innately bristles against falsehood. In order to know that something is false, we must know the converse, that something else is true. There are proponents of moral relativism who do actually believe what they profess, but there are others who simply refuse to acknowledge the truth. To acknowledge the truth is to be held to the standard of that truth.

The word “truth” appears throughout the Gospel of John over 50 times, more than in any of the other Gospels. It is most often associated with Jesus saying, “I tell you the truth.” Why did John place such a great emphasis on the truth?

The best evidence suggests that the Gospel of John was written between the years of 85 AD and 95 AD, well after the other Gospels were written. John would have witnessed the spread of the gospel throughout Asia Minor, into Africa and to Rome. He would have experienced the gospel’s persecution externally by the Jews and the Romans. John battled false teachings from within the church such as Gnosticism.

Yet the Gospel not only survived but thrived through all of these withering attacks. John saw Roman Caesars who encouraged their worship as gods die as other mortal men. He witnessed the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, the center of Jewish life, just as Jesus predicted before his death. John instinctively understood what Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. put to speech centuries later in his “Give Us the Ballot” speech, “truth crushed to earth will rise again.”

Perhaps you are reading this as someone who has doubts about or flatly does not profess the Christian faith. You may have troubling and perplexing questions about Christianity such as, “how can an all loving and all powerful God allow pain and suffering in the world?” or “why does the Bible condemn homosexuality and yet God allow people to be born with these feelings?” I would encourage you to at least temporarily suspend whatever objections or doubts you have about the faith and read the Gospel of John. If you come to the reading with a truly open mind, you may still have questions when you’re done, but you will also discover simple yet profound truths.

After reading the Gospel of John I am left with a perplexing question myself, “why would the God of the universe subject his son, Jesus Christ, to such a grisly death on the cross to grant me the gift of eternal life?”

Wear Your Own Clothes

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Could it be a Batman and Bale sighting in Vegas?  Alas, it is only several of the army of celebrity impersonators

Could it be a Batman and Bale sighting in Vegas? Alas, it is only several of the army of celebrity impersonators.

Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic.  He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head.  David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.  “I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.”  So he took them off. – (1 Samuel 17: 39-40) (NIV)

I am writing this blog post in Las Vegas while attending the New Media Expo Conference.   Las Vegas is known for many things.  Before your mind wanders down unintended corridors, what I’m referring to in this case are the slew of celebrity impersonators — everyone from Elvis, to Marilyn Monroe to Michael Jackson.  Some impersonators have gone to great lengths, including cosmetic surgery to pull of their grand illusions.  While we might admire their skill, dedication and uncanny ability to mimic, in the back of our minds we know we are see imitators and not the genuine article.  We are left longing for the authentic.

The scripture above is from the almost universally known story of David and Goliath.   Even atheists use the idiom, “David versus Goliath” to describe a situation when there are opposing forces and one side has a seemingly overwhelming advantage over the other.  Although David killed the giant with a well struck stone hurled from his sling, the sling was not the first weapon placed in David’s hand.  David was first given Saul’s sword along with his armor and helmet.   Scripture tells us that Saul was a head taller that his countrymen (1 Samuel 9:2).  David was not yet an adult (1 Samuel 17:34).   He must have looked like Tom Hanks in the Movie, “Big” when he transformed from being an adult back to a kid but was left wearing his adult clothes.  David quickly realized that Saul’s armor did not fit him.  If David was going to be successful against Goliath he would have to do on his own terms using the weapon that God allowed his to master.  Before taking on Goliath, David recounted his past victories over a lion and a bear (1 Samuel 17:36).   The Bible does not state, so we cannot say empathetically, but we can surmise in these instances that David’s weapon of choice was his sling.

We all know the outcome of the story.  David’s skillfully flung stone found its mark embedding deeply in Saul’s forehead.  “So David triumphed over the Philistine [Goliath] with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him (1 Samuel 17:50) (NIV).  What if David had attempted to kill Saul with a sword? He would have likely failed miserably.   A sword is an effective weapon when used in close quarters.  Goliath dwarfed David and it highly improbable that David would have been able to get so close as to wield a lethal blow.  On the contrary, a sling is most effective when there is a bit of distance between the person using it and the intended target.

What is the lesson for us in this? God has created us all from the same basic building blocks, but has   arranged the blocks in such a way that we are each a one of kind, unique design.  Even identical twins who share the same genetic makeup do not have the same fingerprints!  God has gifted each of us with unique skills, abilities, temperaments and personalities.  We can all learn from and attempt to emulate the positive traits of role models, but we must apply these lessons in our own way.   We must each wear our own clothes!  You might earn a living being a member of a cover band, but doing so does not add any “new material.” Cover bands do not leave a legacy.  If you want to leave your mark on the body of Christ and the world at large, be the authentic, one of kind creation God intended you to be!

The Invisible Fence

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Dogs-Contained-Invisible-Fence-Sign-K-8743

So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground – Matthew 25:25a (NIV)

The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Do you know what an invisible fence is?  If you live in a suburban or rural area in United States, you likely do.   An invisible “fence” consists of a wire buried around the perimeter of a yard.  The wire transmits a mild static electric shock to a receiver located in a dog collar.  Any time a dog wearing a receiver-equipped collar approaches the fence, the dog receives an uncomfortable, but nonlethal,  shock.  After a short time, with the assistance of a trainer, the dog learns where the boundaries of the fence are located and stays confined therein.

Over the last several days, I’ve been reflecting on 2012.  By some measures, it was a pretty pedestrian year, a cocktail of successes, failures, victories, defeats, breakthroughs and setbacks.  My career went a little sideways, but it was that movement that really caused me to embrace my true passion (see my previous blog entry, Are You Making Tent or Pursuing Your Calling?).  After a previously aborted attempt, I got serious about blogging consistently, writing 26 posts.  I got to travel more for pleasure than I have in recent memory, including a family vacation with my brother and in his family to the St. John in the US Virgin Islands.  (That is certainly not our “typical” family vacation.)

I looked back at the things I failed to accomplish last year for clues as to their root causes.  Was I constrained by other people, finances or health?  No.  In the vast majority of cases the answer was one four letter word beginning with an “f”- “fear.”  I had erected my own invisible fence of fear.   I allowed feelings of anxiety and in some cases dread to keep my within a confined space.  I allowed fear to “train” me like a dog wearing a receiver-embedded collar.  There are several similarities to fear and the invisible fence:

  1. While both are extremely uncomfortable, but neither is truly life threatening.
  2. Both are confining
  3. Beyond both lay freedom.

In 2013 I am committed to push against the limits of my invisible fence.  I am committed to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and run with perseverance the race marked out for me” (Heb. 12:1).   Will I always be successful? No, but that’s where the perseverance part come in. If I set out to do this in my own strength, I will fail miserably, but I serve a God who has promised to displace my fear with his power, love and self-discipline (2 Tim 1:7).

The scripture snippet in the introduction of this post is from a parable that Jesus tells of three servants entrusted with talents (Matt 25:14-30).  Two of the three servants invested their talents wisely and earned a return for their master.  The third servant, motivated by fear, hid his talent, earning nothing.  I don’t know about you, but I want to live in a way that yields a return.

I leave you with this quote that I came across credited to Mark Twain, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”

What Extra Crap Are You Carrying in Your Backpack?

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This poor little girl is so weighted down by her backpack that she looks like a Himalayan Sherpa! (courtesy of  spineuniverse.com)

This poor little girl is so weighted down by her backpack that she looks like a Himalayan Sherpa! (courtesy of spineuniverse.com)

“let us throw off everything that hinders. . . ” Hebrew 12:1a (NIV)

 My favorite Swiss Army backpack had seen better days. The zippers no longer remained zipped and I became fearful that as I walked I would start to leave a trail of debris behind me like some modern day Hansel and Gretel. Taking the suggestion of a colleague, I opted to order the free backpack available through my employer.  After all, I was lugging around a company furnished laptop in my old backpack anyway.

To say my new backpack was less spacious and luxurious than my old one was an understatement. I quickly realized that in order to use my new backpack, I was going to have to jettison some of the non- essential items I had been carrying around in my old backpack.  As I went through my old backpack I realized I was carrying around a bunch of extra “crap.”    Crap is not the word of choice to describe something that is valuable or necessary.  The extra stuff in my backpack did not start out as crap.  It was useful once.  However like bread at a thrift store bakery, that had started out fresh but had gone beyond its useful shelf life, it was time to throw it out it.  Although I do not care for my new backpack as much as I do my old one, it is certainly much lighter and easier to maneuver as I observed on a recent out of town business trip.

Ironically, that out of town business trip was to attend an executive mastery session hosted by consulting firm, Gap International.   During the session, the Gap consultants walked us participants through completing the year.  We reviewed our successes and accomplishments as well as our disappointment and regrets.  We discussed what we would need to do “get complete” for the year.  This might entail acknowledging the work of our staff, or having a difficult conversation with someone that we’d been putting off.   The idea was to “close the books” on the year, so that one could enter the new year with a fresh start.

After the session, I came to see that cleaning out the extra crap in my old backpack was a metaphor for other areas of my life.  Was there stuff I was carrying around that had outlived its purpose and was no longer useful?  Was there bitterness I had failed to release?  Were there grudges I was harboring? Was I carrying around regrets over failures in the past that were thwarting my current progress?  I was reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” A yoke is a device for joining a pair of oxen together.  It is meant to redistribute the load the oxen are carrying, making it easier to carry the burden.   When we “team up” with Jesus, he makes our load lighter.

While you’re making year-end preparations, why not “close the books” with Jesus?  Dump all of the hurt, pain bitterness and disappointment from your backpack into his.   Like releasing the ballast from a submarine, or sandbags from a hot-air balloon, you will be able to ascend to higher heights.     “The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights” – Habakkuk 3:19a.  I can’t think of a better way to close out 2012 and begin 2013.

What’s Next?

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. . . .but the righteous will live by his faith – Habakkuk 2:4b – NIV

After two years in the media spotlight and two billion dollars spent by the candidates, the US presidential election is finally over. (Gee, I wonder what everyone will post on my Facebook timeline now?) Current President Barach Obama has been reelected. The President’s staunch supporters are jubilant, his ardent critics are depressed and many in the middle are just glad the whole thing is over. One Arizona woman was so distraught by the President’s re-election that she ran down her husband with the family car for failing to vote. The irony is that her preferred candidate, Mitt Romney won the vote in the state of Arizona with or without her husband’s uncast vote.

One of my neighbors made a comment that I think reflects the sentiment of many, “I wasn’t thrilled with either candidate. I was afraid that Obama is going to plunge the country into financial ruin and I’m afraid that Romney is going to plunge us into war.” We have the same President, the same Speaker of the House, the same parties in control of the houses of Congress and an impending fiscal cliff. If past results are any indication of future performance, the directions on a shampoo bottle might well describe the political landscape over the next four years, lather, rinse, repeat.”

Whatever reactions to the election might be, I think they reveal a bias in many Christians of over reliance on the civil government to cure our societal ills. Some on the left would argue that more government programs are needed to provide for social needs while those on the right would argue that more laws governing moral conduct are needed. Mankind’s greatest needed are not economic, militaristic or social. Man’s greatest need is spiritual and no government or political ideology is going to fill that need.

While it might appear that I am being overly critical of our political process, by comparison, it’s wonderful. I heard a radio show host make a remark that in the history of mankind and all of the countless billions of people who have ever lived on the face of the earth, how many ever had the opportunity to elect their leaders? The pages of history are marked with pharaohs, kings, emperors and dictators none of which were elected by the people they governed. Even today, nearly 20% of world’s population is from the country of China were free elections are not held and the church is persecuted. Democracies like Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom do not directly elect their Prime Ministers, the closest equivalent to the office of President in those countries. Rather, citizens vote on their parliamentary representatives who in turn select the Prime Minister. Every four years in the United States there is a peaceful transition of power. While the transition might be marked by mudslinging and name calling, it is devoid of violence and bloodshed.

Back to the question I posed earlier, “what’s next?” or to borrow the title of a book by Francis Schaeffer, “how should we then live?” The prophet Habakkuk complained to God about the injustice he was seeing in his day. God answers Habakkuk and lets him know that he is sending the Babylonians, a people more wicked that than the Israelites to administer justice against them. Habakkuk complains to God again asking how he could allow the more wicked to punish the less wicked. God again answers Habakkuk letting him know that the Babylonians will not ultimately escape justice, but they too will be punished. While God is revealing this Habakkuk, he reminds him, “but the righteous will live by his faith” (2-4b). Habakkuk is a relatively short book, comprising only three chapters. Over the course of the three chapters we see a transformation in Habakkuk. In the first chapter he is complaining to God, but by the last chapter, he is praising God. Habakkuk realizes that God’s justice will ultimately prevail and that God’s goodness and love toward him cannot be appropriately assessed through the lens of current circumstances. Habakkuk is so overwhelmed by this realization that he composes lyrics and puts them to song, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.” (3:17-18).

God is the ultimate sovereign ruler. He cannot be voted out of office, impeached or overthrown by military coup. Any earthly leader only leads by God’s will. Proverbs 21:1 reminds us that, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.”

How do we as Christians make the greatest impact in our communities? It’s not primarily by espousing our political ideologies on Facebook, Twitter or other social media outlets. These efforts at best only serve to educate like-minded people, and do little to “convert” anyone to our way of thinking. We make the greatest impact for the cause of Christ when those around us see us passionately and authentically living our faith. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 – KJV).

Equipped For the Storm

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Courtesy of http://www.uvm.edu

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24-25)

In the last two weeks I experienced two ‘firsts” in my life – visiting the Island of St. John, USVI and riding out a tropical depression during its formation. (This tropical depression ultimately became Hurricane Isaac that is still currently active and leaving a path of destruction in its wake.) Living inland some 500 miles from the nearest coastline, I had certainly experienced heavy rains associated with the aftermath of past hurricanes and tropical depressions.  However this was my first experience with a storm forming over largely open water.    St. John is a popular vacation destination because of its remoteness and unspoiled charm.  The island does not have an airport and can only be accessed via ferry from nearby St. Thomas.  Over two-thirds of the island of St. John is a national park and can never be commercially developed.  After being on the island for several days, news of a tropical storm forming in the Caribbean began to get greater attention. The feelings of peace and tranquility I had felt the first few days on the island had now been replaced with feelings of anxiety. Fueling these feelings were the constant weather reports updating the storm’s approach.  Thanks to satellite TV, St. John does receive the major mainland cable news channels. The only thing being whipped into a greater fury than the winds and rain of the storm was the reporting about the storm!

When I broached the subject of the approaching storm with several local residents, they had a completely different take. Instead of being worried they were indifferent.  Our tour guide, James Penn, who at the age of 60 was a lifelong native of St. John, was not at all concerned. He pointed out that homes in the USVI were built out of concrete and designed to withstand hurricane force winds. Indeed I did see exposed rebar from several houses that were under construction. Mr. Penn also noted that the roofs of the homes were made of metal and designed to not easily blow off.  Our enterprising tour guide joked that any debris from a storm would be good for his business since he owned a trucking company that held contracts for garbage removal on the island.  I did not have to worry about flooding where my family and I were staying since our villa was on a hillside.  Several other locals I spoke with also echoed Mr. Penn’s lack of concern about the impending tropical depression. So do you know what?  After speaking with them, my entire mindset changed. Despite what The Weather Channel, CNN and other news outlets reported about the storm, I had a sense of peace about the outcome. I had placed my trust in people who had experienced storms in the past and were equipped to deal with them.

Then another thought interrupted my thinking.  Why didn’t I always trust God this way when “storms” hit my life?  The St. Johnians Islanders I met were certainly experienced, but they were not clairvoyant.  They could not predict with certainty the outcome of the storm. Additionally, the St. Johnians could not control the severity or path of the storm.  A change in the storm’s path or intensity could have spelled trouble for St. John even with its preparation.  The island was equipped to handle storms but it was not completely impervious to them.

We serve a God who has control over the storms of our lives.  God can quiet the storm as Jesus did in when he was with the disciples in the boat on the Sea of Galilee.  God may elect to allow the storm to rage, but he can quiet our hearts as we faithfully endure the storm.  The Apostle Paul, in route in Rome encountered a storm that destroyed his ship, but he and all the ship’s passengers were saved.  While the ship was being battered Paul offered these words and prevented panic from breaking out, “But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed.” (Acts 27:22).  This was sound advice to a group of first century sailors and it remains sound advice for us today.

Derailed

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Picture of Indian train derailment from 2010 (courtesy of “Colonel Speaks”

De·rail [dee-reyl] .  1. to cause (a train, streetcar, etc.) to run off the rails of a track.  2. to cause to fail or become deflected from a purpose; reduce or delay the chances for success or development of:

Arnold Swarchenegger, Lance Armstrong and Joe Paterno. . .what do these names have in common?  The answer to that question would depend upon when you asked it.  If you asked that question in 2009, you might likely say that Swarchenegger, Armstrong and Paterno were all role models and men of accomplishment.  They achieved success and acclaim in various walks of life.

Swarchenegger gained notoriety first as a champion body builder, then as a movie star and lastly as the two-time governor of California.  Armstrong won admiration as the winner of seven consecutive Tour de France races.  He became an inspiration for many as he competed while battling cancer.  His “Live Strong” foundation has done much to raise money and create awareness for cancer research.  Joe Paterno was the highly successful and respected Penn State football coach.  He preached integrity, hard work, and academic excellence to his players.  Known affectionately as “Joe Pa” to the Penn State faithful, he was admired not only for his success on the field, but for the graduation rate of his players as well as his philanthropy on behalf of the university.

Instead of asking the question in 2009 let’s ask the question today in 2012. What do the names, Swarchenegger, Armstrong and Paterno have in common?  You might think of a phrase used in another context in 2 Samuel 1:25, “how are the mighty fallen!”  Swarchenegger, admitted to fathering a child with a member of his household staff resulting in his divorce from Maria Shriver.  Armstrong, was formally charged with blood doping by the United State Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and suspended from competing in cycling and triathlon events.  An independent investigation of Penn State’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal revealed that Paterno and other school officials buried the crimes instead of exposing them, for fear of damaging the reputation of the university and its esteemed football program.

Armstrong, Swarchenegger and Paterno are just a few of the names of great men strewn through the annuals of time who lost their way and became derailed. The Bible adds its own names to this list.  Sampson, the mighty judge of Israel, fell prey to the wiles of Delilah and ended his days blind and imprisoned by the Philistines. David, the king of Israel and “man after God’s own heart” committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband murdered.  Peter was not only one of Jesus’ twelve disciplines but also a member of the “inner three” along with James and John.  Yet Peter, who said he would defend Jesus to the end, denied ever knowing him.

Why did these great men and even those lesser lights among us become derailed?  The simplest and most obvious answer is that we’re all are sinners.  Romans 3:23 states, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (NIV).  Christians are not exempt from this truth.  While we are given a new nature, we still struggle with the sin nature that we were born with.  Paul sums up this frustrating battle with sin in Romans 7:21(b), “When I want to do good, evil is right there with me” (NIV).

The sin that derails manifests in myriads of ways.  Tasting success after having labored long and hard to achieve it, some let their guards down.  They feel a sense of entitlement and seek to enjoy the spoils and trappings of success.  This is what occurred with David.  Scriptures indicate that he first spied Bathsheba bathing nude at a time when kings go out to war.  David was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  What was David doing home at the palace?  He previously achieved a string or military victories and felt his personal presence was no longer needed on the battlefield.  David rested on his laurels.

Some become derailed not by losing sight of their purpose but rather becoming so consumed by it that they are willing to do anything to achieve it.  They lose their moral compasses and come to embody the phrase, the “ends justify the means.”  They fear losing what they fought so hard to gain that they’ll go any means to preserve the wins.  This was the motivation of Lance Armstrong and so many other high performance athletes for using banned performance enhancing remedies.

How do we successfully fight and win the battle against derailment?  How do we become upright once becoming derailed?  I’ll address these topics in my next post, “Remaining Upright.”

Spiritual Asthmatics

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The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. (Matthew 13:22)

Most people give little thought to the act of breathing.  It happens involuntarily and automatically.  Children who pout and attempt to hold their breath sooner or later give in to these natural forces and against their stubborn little wills resume breathing.  Most people do not give conscience thought to breathing, but for some it is never far from their minds.  Those who suffer from chronic respiratory problems such as asthma, COPD or emphysema are reminded with each labored breath of the necessity of breathing.  They are reminded by the inhalers, oxygen canister and in some cases wheelchairs that are their constant companions.  Severe respiratory problems impose punitive physical limitations and impact the sufferer’s quality of life.

God places a particular point of emphasis on breathing.  He physically formed man from the dust of the earth, but man did not become alive until “[God] breathed into his [man’s] nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7b) (NIV).  In fact, in koine Greek, the original language of the New Testament, the word “pneuma” meaning “breath” is also translated to mean “spirit” and is used to describe the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead.

Just as there are physical asthmatics, there are also spiritual asthmatics.  In these spiritual asthmatics, the free flowing breath of the Holy Spirit is constricted just like the airways of a physical asthma sufferer.  The sources of spiritual constriction are not allergens or airborne pollutants, but rather “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth.”  Jesus spoke these words and in other teaching discourses he warns of the asphyxiate effects of worry and undo focus on wealth, “you cannot serve God and money, therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life” (Matthew 6:24b-25) (NIV).

In these passages we understand what not to do, but that is only half of the equation.  In order to effect real behavior for every “no” there must be a more compelling “yes.” If not, we are left with something like the ill-fated anti-drug slogan popularized by former First Lady, Nancy Reagan, “just say no.”  Jesus offers the compelling yes; “But seek first his [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

If we seek God’s kingdom first, he promises to meet our temporal needs; the source of much worry and anxiety even in the life of believers.  Genetics and heredity often figure prominently in those who physically suffer with breathing problems.  These things are outside of the sufferer’s control.  Those who suffer from spiritual breathing problems have the ability to control their “breathing” by what controls their minds, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

When God Removes Your Floaties

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An old picture of my son Ryan before he learned to swim


When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. (Isaiah 43:2)

Have you seen a young child learning to swim?  A caring swim instructor does not expect a child to be able to swim the first time the youngster encounters the water.  The instructor does not immediately take the little tike to the deep end of the pool and ask him or her to dive in.  Learning to swim is a process.  At first the skilled instructor simply wants the child to be comfortable and not fearful of the water.  The instructor’s first objective may be to simply have the child become comfortable putting his face in the water.  The instructor may next have the child stretch out in the water with little hands still firmly affixed to the side of the pool and ask the child to kick in the water.  This is the beginning of learning basic strokes.  Next, the instructor might use apparatuses like kickboards or floaties, inflatable cushions that slide over the child’s upper arm, to help him stay afloat.  The wise instructor will over time reduce the reliance on these devices as the child becomes more skilled and learns to trust the natural buoyancy of the water to keep him stay afloat.  Eventually the child will not need these aids and will be free swimming and ready to tackle the deep end of the pool.

Our heavenly father is like the wise swim instructor.  He lovingly and caringly takes care of us.  When we first enter our new life in Christ, his visible means of support will be evident.  We embrace the words of 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (KJV).  However, like the swim instructor, God will remove those objects we rely on to help keep us stay afloat – He removes our floaties.  God is not trying to teach us to swim.  He has a greater goal in mind.  God is trying to teach us to live by faith, with him as our sole means of support.  What is faith?  Hebrews 11:1 lets us know that, “now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (NIV).  We can “see” a kick board or a floatie, be we cannot see the natural buoyancy of water.   We have to trust that the water will support us.  God lets us know that living by faith is essential to living a Christian life,  “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those that earnestly seek him” – Hebrews 11:6 (NIV).

Are you struggling with poor health? God has removed your floatie.  Are you having relationship difficulties?  God has removed your floatie.  Do you find yourself in financial stratis?  God has removed your floatie.  This lesson was brought home to me over the last several week with the death of my former pastor and spiritual mentor – Delano R. Paige, Sr.  He officiated my wedding, dedicated my children and licensed and ordained me to preach.  In many ways he was a second father to me after my own father passed away.  I celebrate his life and legacy, but I miss Pastor Paige terribly.  As I have reflected over his passing, it’s as if God has said, “you were buoyed by Rev. Paige’s love and affirmation for you, but like water is the true source of buoyancy, I [God] and the source of true love that can keep you from sinking.”  As I close I am reminded of one of Pastor Paige’s favorite commentary on Isaiah 43:2, “when God puts you in deep water, remember he’s not trying to drown you, he’s teaching you to swim.”

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