Ashes Tell The Story–Wednesday’s Wondering 26 February 2020

(picture from pghcitypaper.com

Today can be just another day in your life or. . . it can become the beginning of a journey into an adventure. This adventure is not for the weak or faint of heart. And it’s certainly not for those who choose the predictability of their current misery over the adventure that is anything but predictable. I’m speaking now to those who are willing to admit that the life they have been living is boring, painful and certainly unfulfilling.

Ash Wednesday is God’s invitation to leave behind everything in order to be filled with His Life. Jesus left behind everything in Heaven so that we could be set free. And face it, all of us are in some type of prison. An addiction. Fear. Anger. Disappointment. Despair. Frustrations. These are just a few of the names of our jailers. The Ashes of Ash Wednesday holds the key to be released from our jail cells.

For the last several days I have been praying the Scriptures and one verse has captivated my attention. Isaiah 61:3 says–“To all who mourn in Israel, He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.” Do you know what ashes are? One definition of ashes is “the remains of something destroyed”. We can never have the life God intends for us until the old life–those old ways–are completely destroyed in us.

We cannot have a crown of beauty, a joyous blessing, and festive praise until the things that imprison us are turned into ashes. This process of turning our old life into ashes can be painful–but it’s not all that complicated either. Do what Paul did when he turn away from his old life and began his adventure with Jesus: “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8 NLT)

I want to challenge you today to reflect on two things: 1. Are the things I’m holding on really creating beauty, blessing and praise? 2. Have I given up everything, considered it garbage, so that I might have Jesus as my Lord and Savior? Learn the lesson from the ashes of Ash Wednesday. Then go and receive the sign of those ashes–at a church service, or with a friend, or if you’re alone, do it to yourself. You don’t need a seminary degree to impose the sign of The Ashes. Just a willingness to give up that old life in order to begin the journey into an adventure.

Keeping Cadence–Saturday Stories 8 February 2020

This Saturday’s story goes back to 1996. I remember it because of 2 unforgettable things happened. For the first time in his 18 years of life, my son said, “Daddy you were right.” I had been trying to help him understand you could work hard or you could work smart. I was right; he said it and even if he doesn’t remember that moment, I always will. The other thing that happened that led to that utterance of Matthew was when he graduated Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Here’s the story.

KEEPING WITH THE CADENCE

When my son Matthew graduated from the Army’s Basic Training, I made the trip to Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri to see his great accomplishment.  One of the many images that was engraved on my mind was the way they walked as a unit.  Each member, each soldier was in step with the other.  Their lines were sharp and crisp because only ONE was calling the cadence.  Their Drill Sergeant was the only voice heard.  Their ears were in tune with only their Drill Sergeant. 

I don’t remember the exact cadences they used. I remember some of them were…well it was 1996 before political correctness was fully operational…some couldn’t be repeated. But I do remember part of one of those cadences. It was something like this: “My buddy’s in a foxhole, a bullet in his head. The medic says he is wounded, but I know that he is dead.”

Then their Drill Sargent would start a new cadence call; and they never missed a step. And not far away you could hear other Drill Sergeants calling cadence, but their platoon did not heed the other voices, only the voice of one kept their focus and attention.  They were not distracted by any other voices. It was impressive, to say the least. Many cadences, many voices–but he and his platoon were in tune to only one voice. And they moved as if they were one person.

MORAL OF THE STORY

We need someone to call cadence for us. But not just anyone–The ONE who is been given that responsibility–for us as individuals and us collectively as the Body of Christ. That’s Jesus. And He does give us the cadence call through the Holy Spirit. It’s like Paul wrote in Galatians 5:26–

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.

In real life, there are a lot of things that demand our attention:  family, jobs, appointments, and activities.  It is easy to find ourselves frustrated or disappointed at the end of the day because of the busyness with which we are seemingly perpetually engaged in.  And this is where the stress comes in and often overwhelms us. 

I’m glad Jesus taught us to pray saying “Our Father” rather than “Our Drill Sergeant.”  So, if you find yourself out of step and full of stress, remember my lesson.  Let God lead the parade called life.  Listen to His voice as He calls out the cadence.  Life flows much better when we cooperate with God, much like that platoon that followed only one Drill Sergeant’s cadence.

Lips And Hearts–Wednesday’s Wonderings 15 January 2020

Wednesday is the day I’ve chosen to wonder about. . .well about life and God. And today I’m adding another point to wonder about–people. Oh, yeah, I know I’ve wondered about people before, but usually in the context of my gifts of sarcasm and snarkiness. But this morning I’m setting aside those gifts. . .because my heart is breaking for a group of people.

My heart always breaks for the least, the last and the lost–people hurting, struggling, and doubting that there’s enough grace with God for them. The group my heart breaks for this morning is. . .well, look at how God describes them:

Most preachers, myself including myself, quote this passage with the sense that God is angry. That God is criticizing these people of lips without hearts. Even Jesus quoted this passage and we envision Jesus full of anger and foaming at the mouth. So we point out with criticism and anger these people who’s lips say one thing about God, but there hearts are far from God. Could it be, that when God said that to Isaiah, and when Jesus quoted this passage that there was sadness in His heart? Could He have been crying for them?

Many times I have questioned…scratch that…criticized Churchians, Tenured Pew Sitters and Progressives for their attitudes and ways of thinking. But this morning…my wondering has my heart breaking for them. I’m grieving because they are missing so much of who God is and what God wants to do in their day to day life.

Lips say one thing but the heart says something different. It’s not just the aforementioned Churchians, Tenured Pew Sitters and Progressives who are herein described. I’ve seen Conservative and Orthodox folks who fit the bill of what God is saying through Isaiah. And even yours truly has been guilty of this. Seeing and believing only what we want to see and believe, and then say it’s God.

Why have we limited God? It’s easy to say, “Well, it’s the Devil! That’s what he does!” No doubt, that IS his job. But right now I’m remembering a sign on President Harry Truman’s desk:

WE have a choice; sadly many of us have chosen poorly. So today, I choose to accept responsibility for my lips; and My Heart! I choose to wonder about the Wonder Of God! I choose to remove the fences and walls that keeps me knowing ABOUT God to KNOWING GOD! I set aside whatever I’ve thought about God. I set aside everything others have said about God. And I open MY heart to allow the Holy Spirit to reveal the mysteries of God. I long for this, and so I choose to start with a clean sheet of paper and let God write what I need so that His Image becomes more clearer and brighter in me.

And thus I wonder: “How could I even think that MY understanding of God (which is spoken by my lips) is the ultimate expression of God?” Yes, we need to fight Satan in this world. But before we go to battle, let’s make sure that we honor God With Our Hearts. And the best way to do this is to quit pretending we’re the experts and surrender our heart to the wonders of God. Only as we give up our concepts can the heart be cleansed–and be drawn closer to God.

Going Out Of Business

Have we “sold out” to an earthly purpose for living in order to embrace a Divine Purpose for life?

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He left there and returned to his hometown. His disciples came along. On the Sabbath, he gave a lecture in the meeting place. He made a real hit, impressing everyone. “We had no idea he was this good!” they said. “How did he get so wise all of a sudden, get such ability?” But in the next breath they were cutting him down: “He’s just a carpenter—Mary’s boy. We’ve known him since he was a kid. We know his brothers, James, Justus, Jude, and Simon, and his sisters. Who does he think he is?” They tripped over what little they knew about him and fell, sprawling. And they never got any further. (Mark 6:1-3, The Message)

Going Out Of Business Sale!  We see such signs so often that we don’t pay much attention to them (until it says “75-90% Off!”).  But in an obscure dot on the map town like Nazareth, it was probably very noticeable.  There on the corner of Jezreel Street and Cedars of Lebanon Lane was the Carpenter Shop.  They always thought it would be there.  His father ran it before him, as did his father. All assumed he would eventually get married (if Mary was any kind of a mother, he would) and his son would continue the family business.  Need a new platter for Passover this year?  Go to the Carpenter’s Shop.  Chair broken because Uncle Jethro has a tendency to eat way too much charoset?  Go to the Carpenter’s Shop.  Need a new dining room suite?  Well, you get the idea.

But then there is that sign:  Going Out Of Business Sale!  They wonder what could be more important than being a carpenter?  But He knows!  He knows his purpose is not to make oxen yokes, but to show humanity that His yoke is easy and his burden light.  He knows his purpose is not to repair plow handles, but to show the world you don’t need to look back, but look forward to be a part of God’s Kingdom.  He knew His purpose wasn’t to make dining room tables, but to build a table where all kinds of people are made to feel welcome, especially broken people; it is broken people who need the broken bread. 

His purpose was not to make another platter for the roasted lamb at Passover, but to become the Passover Lamb and in one single act for all time and eternity to pay the penalty for our sin and folly.  His purpose wasn’t found in the wood pile at the Carpenter’s Shop in Nazareth, but on two rough beams of wood on a hillside outside Jerusalem!  He knew His purpose!  And when he went to His home synagogue and those with whom He had lived with for nearly 30 years rejected His “new” vocation, He refused to give up.            

And what about us?  Have we “sold out” to an earthly purpose for living in order to embrace a Divine Purpose for life?  Any vocation becomes a holy vocation when we do it with only one objective in mind:  To make the love of Jesus known!  Whether we are a cashier or construction worker, sales associate or security guard, a C.E.O. or a PTA Mom—each of us has the wonderful opportunity to make our vocations holy.  It happens when we live our ordinary daily lives with the sense that God is with us and that He wants to use our ordinary life to express His love and grace in extraordinary ways.  Go about your Monday (and Tuesday and Wednesday and…) not with a sense of dread (Oh Lord, it’s Monday) but with the sense of power that comes from purpose. 

Now go and love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!