Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Where Do You Stand?

Have you ever wondered where you stand with people? There are times where you have someone who may seem like they love you one minute, then hate you the next. Perhaps you have such wonderings in your job. One day, the job seems secure, but the next week, you are teetering on the edge, waiting for the push off of a cliff into the open air of unemployment. Such an existence leads us to either push too hard to figure out our standing or give up all-together, throwing our hands up in the air, lacking the passion that we once held.

Such was a reality in a job that I once had. The running joke was that we were all cattle, easily replaceable. The tactic, which initially worked, making everyone walk on eggshells and strive to perform at an even greater level, eventually gave way to sheer apathy. Regardless of what we did, we never knew where we stood. What we did know was this - to the company, we were not important.

Anyone who has found themselves in a similar place in their lives knows that such a feeling is horrendous. Too often, that rollercoaster ride ends with a crash and burn that leaves scars for the rest of our lives. As I have grown older, I have learned that the rollercoaster ride is not worth the wait in line. Just as excruciating as it was for us to be in that position, we must wonder how our actions and our decisions affects the One who deserves our best.

I often wonder how Christ feels about our relationships with Him. Does He wonder how important He is to us? Does He know where He stands in our lives? The "Christian" reactive response is to say that the Lord is first in our lives, that He is the centerpiece, the foundation, and the aspiration of all our activity. But is He really? Do our actions, and our priorities tell not only the Lord, but also the world, where we stand?

People argue about what the lost world looks for in the Christian community. The simple answer to that is the same answer to what the Lord is looking for in our lives - consistency. Consistency shows the dedication of the heart, the direction of the soul. Consistency refuses convenience because commitment is more valuable than comfort. Jesus showed us how much we matter to Him - His love seen in the manger, demonstrated on the cross. The cross tells us that we never have to question whether He loves us, that we never have to wonder where He stands. There is zero question about the commitment of the Lord to those who follow Him. He gave His all, for all. Yet when He looks at us, what have we given to Him - who is He to us?

Jesus said, "Therefore, whoever confesses Me before men, him I will confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 10:32 NKJV) The line is drawn. There is no middle ground. Are we standing with Him, confessing our relationship with the Lord in word and in the actions of our lives, or are we trying to straddle a fence that does not exist. When Jesus looks at us, when He looks at our lives, does He know that we stand with Him? If not, we are standing in the wrong place, standing for the wrong things. Be a person of conviction. Be consistent. Let there never be a question of who you are, what others mean to you, what is important to you, and where you stand in life.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A Broken Man's Hallelujah

I have always loved the story of Peter. Not only was Peter one of the disciples, but he was the one we can all identify with at times. A moment of glory was followed by an epic failure, his life a kamikaze mission of faith and failure. Pinnacle to valley, he seemed to descend as quickly as he ascended, always doing so with others watching.

Tonight, we were watching a movie (Paul Blart: Mall Cop) and in the midst of the movie, I looked at my wife and said, "You know, I am the Paul Blart of pastors. I always mean well, but always seem to fall flat on my face." Blart constantly failed, but he just kept going. She laughed. I mean, she really laughed! We were in a discussion about certain things and the overwhelming nature of life right now. I chuckled, explained myself a little better, then focused on the next round of work to be accomplished.

My mind kept rolling through the happenings of seventeen years of ministry. Then, I thought about Peter. He was such a soul in his own right. For instance, Peter was the only one of the twelve to answer Jesus' call to get out of the boat and walk on the water. For a few steps, he gave the appearance of super-disciple, having a faith the other eleven could only dream of having. Then, he took his eyes off of Jesus and began to sink.

Another instance was seen in the Upper Room. He swore his allegiance to Jesus, proclaiming that he would die for Christ before he would deny. Peter went even further by drawing his sword to fight off those who had come to arrest Jesus. Not long after, he denied knowing Jesus and then, the rooster broke the panic of his mind in concealing his identity, revealing his reality that Jesus was right.

A cross held the One he had failed. Three nails affixed his failures, his shortcomings, his brokenness to a perfect Lamb, slain for the sins of the world. The One on the cross cried out, gave up His Spirit, and the wrath of God enshrouded the world in darkness. His death was a result of the choices of Peter, the rest of the world, you and I. The centurion at the foot of the cross, witnessing all the events as they unfolded proclaimed that the One they had executed was indeed the Son of God. But no one needed to convince Peter...he already knew. He had just given in to fear along the way.

After Resurrection morning, the encounter Peter had with Jesus was anything but convenient or comfortable. Jesus, the One he had denied, stood before the broken disciple and began a line of questioning. "Do you love me?" The pain of such a question cannot be trivialized. That hurt. That stung. Peter had dropped everything prior to follow, then failed, and then had to answer a question that he deserved to be asked, but had no desire to be confronted with. With the question, standing face to face with the One he had denied knowing, his brokenness could not be hidden. "'Yes, Lord,' he said to Him, 'You know that I love You" (John 21:15 HCSB). Jesus responded, "Feed My lambs". Again the question came as to whether or not he loved Jesus. Peter replied again, assuring the resurrected Lord of his love for Him. Then, the third question came. His exasperation, his weary and troubled soul, and his heavily burdened heart, weighed down from the past, came out as he responded, "Lord, You know everything! You know that I love you" (John 21:17 HCSB).

At that, Jesus told Peter to feed His sheep, restoring Peter and redirecting a life that had fallen off its course a short time prior. Can you imagine the broken hallelujah that was uttered by his soul? He had blown it, but Jesus had forgiven him and restored him. He had denied. Jesus had welcomed him back. Scripture says that all have sinned, that all have fallen short of the glory of God. That sin separates us from God, but when we are restored to the Lord, we softly whisper a broken hallelujah as our souls enjoy the warmth of the presence of our Creator, the assurances of our Savior, and the One who is our hope and our redemption. "Hallelujah...hallelujah."

Sunday, June 25, 2017

To this earth, He came

Today is June the 25th. Six months stand between where we are and the actual date of Christmas. However, tonight, in my office, someone from our church had placed two Christmas CD's on my desk. Surely, they know me and they know my adoration for Christmas. What causes me to listen to Christmas music when the temperatures are reaching the mid-nineties? The fact that He came. The fact that heaven met earth in Bethlehem, that light pierced the darkness and that light could never be extinguished.

I have often struggled with self-worth issues and loneliness. I am a bit awkward and admit that much of my life, I have felt like an inconvenience to others. I try to do everything myself and do all that I can to help others and stay out of the way. It is Christmas that reminds me that, though I struggle to see myself in any positive way, the Lord thought enough of me to come. That He would willingly give up heaven to walk amongst this earth for me and for all those in need of Savior is mind-blowing. He chose to come, embracing the will of the Father, beginning the trek to the cross.

In every religion of the world, man tries to work their way to their god. For Christians, God came to us, His Son wrapped in cloth and placed in a manger. He came for the rich and the poor, the accepted and the outcast, the man and the woman. He came for the Gentile and the Jew, the young and the old, the hopeful and the hopeless. He came for those who were sick, those possessed, the lonely, the lame. He came for every race.

Christmas reminds me of the Christ who needed not to come in a majestic entrance, but in a humble arrival in a manner no one would have expected. A manger in Bethlehem served as the welcome for the King of kings, the Lord of lords. Christmas reminds me that to this earth, He came. And He came for me. That gives me value, a worth not found in the eyes of the world, but a lasting value in the eyes of the Creator, my God. He wanted to be with me. He longs to be with you as well. As the Christmas hymn beckons us, "O Come, let us adore Him." He certainly proved his adoration for us by coming to the world to die for you and me.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

A Message

This morning, I received a message from someone I have never met. Today's plan had already been established, a part of a weekly routine that I often times should break from, but the message began to change the course of the day. This person had read something that I had written for a magazine and had taken the time to seek me out and sent this message. She has never met me, but she impacted the course of my day, and for that I will always be thankful.

We are creatures of habit. Our weekly schedules are often near replicas of a week prior, our focus set on the same things from days before. All the while, life is passing by us and opportunities are being wasted. I had intended to do those things that "needed" to be done. In truth, most of what was planned was fairly unnecessary, but I deem some things are part of the job and carry on with it as if it had to be done. Then, a message came, and that message reminded me of Scripture.

In 1st Chronicles, chapter 4, there is a list of names, a continuation of the roll call from previous chapters and a prelude to more names being listed thereafter. In verses 9 and 10 of chapter 4, there is a pause from the roll call and these two verses say, "Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother named him Jabez and said, 'I gave birth to him in pain.' Jabez called out to the God of Israel: 'If only You would bless me, extend my border, let Your hand be with me, and keep me from harm, so that I will not cause any pain.' And God granted his request." (1 Chronicles 4:9-10 HCSB)

In the middle of the list of descendants and generations, a prayer is contained, spoken by a man who sought more in his life. God wanted such a prayer to be read by others, such a prayer a reminder that God hears and God answers us. Jabez was more than a name because he called out to God and God answered him. Notice what Jabez asked for. He asked that his borders be extended. Each day, we can reach beyond what we know and who we know to reach out to a greater/wider audience, praying that the Lord will use us in ways we never imagined.

Today, we all had a plan, but so does the Lord. We can focus on what we think "needs" to be done or we can ask Him to show us what He wants us to do and watch as He expands the borders of our lives. A message from someone I did not know came to me today. God used that message to remind me to focus beyond what I see, beyond what I know, and let Him work through me to reach more people. I had reached that lady with something I wrote. God used her to reach me to trade in my plan for this day and ask what His plan for my day contains.