Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas in Romans 8

(This finishes a one year journey for me in Romans 8. Thanks for walking it with me. To look back check out

Here’s a Christmas verse you don’t hear everyday. “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait with eager anticipation for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:23) It doesn’t just jump out at you…Christmas! Hark the Herald! Joy to the World! But take my word for it, it is a Christmas verse.

For one thing it is right there in a conversation about the pangs of childbirth and groaning and certainly brings to mind the young Mary with sweat on her brow and nervous Joseph holding her hand too hard, not sure what to do. That part of the verse always paints a picture for me of blood on the straw and a crying newborn shivering in the cool early morning air of Bethlehem. I can easily see in the candlelight of my imagination the animals watching with some distress as their feed box is commandeered by this unseemly little family, this baby in a manger.

But the Romans passage doesn’t call me to Christmas because of the new birth reference nearly as much as it does with it words of anticipation, eagerness, hope, waiting. The next verse says, “In this hope we were saved.” What hope? The hope that the meaning of this new birth is far deeper, far more profound than meets the eye.

Right now Doris and I are eagerly waiting in our home for Jon-Mical and Jakson to come over on this Christmas morning. (Sorry, Josh, Jennifer, and Jacob…we are waiting for you too.) The presents are wrapped under the tree. The Christmas brunch is in the oven. The battery is charged on the camera and we are ready for their coming. And we wait with eager anticipation, not just because we will be the coolest grandparents in the world when they see their gifts, (Well, okay, that’s part of it.) but because the coming of these children means something deeper.

Our grandkids walk through the door and it means there is hope. We have a chance to love them and influence them and speak into another generation. Someday Jon-Mical will be waiting for his grandson to come over, long after I am gone, and hopefully he will be trying to teach some of the same things that he learned from his PoppyC, and from his dad. That God is good. That the only life worth living is one dedicated to the Creator and all of His creation. That no matter the economical or ecological situation, we know that all things work together for good. That the Baby in the Manger is the King on the Throne and He is large and in charge. That this is not all there is and even these feeble, fragile bodies of ours will be redeemed one day because of the coming of the Messiah.

Well that is a Christmas message with punch. Do they get all of that when they unwrap a Hot Wheels and a laughing Elmo? I doubt it. But there is a spark of that. There is the beginning of understanding about waiting, and eagerness, and hope. There is the message that hope (in PoppyC or in the King of Kings) does not disappoint us.

Now here’s the deal. Paul says that “we who have the firstfruits of the Spirit”have also this hope. God has planted deep down inside us somewhere, when we first started singing Away In A Manger or Silent Night, the growing anticipation of something bigger and better that a Nativity Scene once a year and a few carols for three Sundays in December. Even Jon-Mical and Jakson have, I believe, a God given sense that this thing is bigger than what they see. It is at least about love and joy and family. And that will grow to, well, to Peace On Earth and Good Will To Men. They are beginning to understand what I am beginning to understand, what all of creation is groaning for, the fulfillment of that hope that was born on that Christmas morning. My prayer for you and for us is that this Christmas season and in fact, this entire New Year, we will know the power of being the adopted sons and daughters of God and the joy of our redemption. We have that hope and that beats Hot Wheels any day.

(I was in the middle of writing this when I was called to the ER because Josh cut his hands putting together a toy for Jon-Mical. It's a little disjointed but I didn't want to wait until next Christmas to finish it. Merry Christmas and keep waiting for the redemption that is ours.)

Sunday, December 4, 2011


Let me give you some dates. September 19, 1964, November 11, 1965, July 3, 1976, August 16, 1977, May 15, 1978, October 29, 1984, May 18, 2007. Can you tell me the significance of all of those dates? Thad could. One of the most remarkable things about him was his ability to remember and catalog hundreds of dates. We became used to asking him when certain things happened and never questioning his response. When did Papa die? What year did we move to Sumter? What’s Moody’s birthday? What day did Danny Leviner graduate from high school? (Did Danny Leviner graduate from high school?) When were Jerry and Ann in Germany? How long has it been since Bobby Richardson played for the Yankees?
 Thad was obviously challenged intellectually as most kids are not. But he knew stuff. He just knew stuff. Like how many movies Elvis made, how to make a gourmet meal out of tomato soup and hot dogs, which Speer family album “The King Is Coming” was on, and every birthday and anniversary of pretty much everyone we had ever known.

 He knew other stuff too that was not so specific. He knew how to tell the truth about the most obvious things in a way that just made sense. When my parents lived in Georgetown, SC Aunt Ruth took him to visit a school there for children that were mentally handicapped. He came home and we asked him how he liked it and he said fine. But when we asked him if he wanted to go back he said, “Well, no, everyone of those kids are just like me.”

 He knew how to turn a hair brush into a microphone and do the Elvis shimmy in front of 10,000 imaginary, adoring fans without even a blush. (video)

 He knew how to be discrete when talking about people from the past where the conversation might be painful. Instead of saying their name he would spell it, TYE.

 He knew how to work the crowd like a pro. At Aunt Ruth’s funeral we were in this very sanctuary. Thad was sitting right down front here between Mary Ruth and Jerry. Mary Ruth told me that at one point in the funeral she and Jerry both looked at Thad at the same time. He saw them looking and he put his face in his hands and his shoulders shook with apparent sobbing. Then he peeked back at both of them and grinned real big, before burying his face in his hands again.

 Thad had an unbelievable sense of humor and he knew how to have a good time, even when it backfired on him.   When Aunt Ruth lived in Smyrna Mary Ruth came to visit one time. They all went to a Dairy Queen and as they were walking out Thad decided to sneak around the corner and scare Mary “Roof.” What he didn’t know is that Mary Ruth held the door open for a lady behind her that had her hands filled with two milk shakes. The lady turned the corner and Thad jumped out and yelled at her. The lady screamed, Thad screamed, the milk shakes went up in the air. Randy said the woman’s husband was sitting in the car watching all of this unfold and he was doubled up in the front seat laughing. Thad kept saying, “I am so sorry. I am so sorry.”

 For all of his challenges Thad knew a lot of stuff and we loved him for it. But what I really want to remember today are the things he did not know. For example, he did not know how to be unforgiving or hold a grudge. In that short frame God apparently saw fit to place a massive heart. Thad expected the best from everyone and he usually got it. He saw people not as we did but as God did, always seeing the good, overlooking the not so good, and when he was hurt, being willing to forgive.

Like any family we have had out share of black sheep, ex’s, and outlaws. There were those that had wounded us in ways real or imagined. But Thad never gave up on them. He would always ask about them, pray for them, and not let us stay down on them. Maybe that was in part because of his own willingness to ask forgiveness. Oh, Thad could get upset with you. I can’t tell you how many times when we were little I heard him yelling at Kimmy, the mean little kid that lived down the sand street in Sumter. He’d come in and tell me to go down and beat Kimmy up which I would dutifully do. (Mainly because Kimmy was smaller than me and I could.) But it wouldn’t be long before Thad was heading out to say “I’m sorry Kimmy,” to forgive him, and go back to playing. We heard 100’s of times “sorry Sis, sorry Mom, sorry Almeda.” Thad did not know how to keep anger in, to stay bitter, to be unforgiving. He was blessed with the innocence of a child and what a blessing that was. Jesus said in Matthew 18:3 “Except you become like a little child you won’t enter heaven.” I think probably this is what that means as much as anything else, you just can’t hold on to stuff. You have to be able to let it go. Thad taught us that. He did not know how to be unforgiving.

 Another thing he didn’t know, he did not know how to doubt. Faith was not a problem for Thad. He lived with an absolute confidence in the things of God without the slightest hint of disbelief. For all the sorrow that Thad endured, physical shortcomings and pain, the death of two fathers and a mother, the loss of friends and heroes, I just don’t think Thad had the ability in him to doubt God. He was so sure that the promises of God were true that, well, it made me envious. He was sure about other things too. That bread was nasty. That every pretty girl loved him. And that sometimes you needed to take matters you’re your own hands.

 Mary Ruth said I could tell this. Thad started to really get serious about losing weight a couple of years before Aunt Ruth died. She and he would go to the YMCA in Dickson and Thad would walk. He really cut back on what he was eating. And he lost a remarkable amount of weight. One time he was visiting Mary Ruth and she said, “Thad I am so proud of you for losing weight.  I have tried and tried. Would you pray with me that I would be able to do what you have done?” And Thad pointed his short finger at her and said, “Mary Roof, you need to leave God out of this and get yourself on a diet.”  

            That was one of the few times Thad left God out of it. He was so sure of the ever present working of God in everything. He would talk of Uncle Harry and Pop being in heaven together with such clarity and confidence that you knew doubt was not possible for him. He was so positive my sisters were singing together in a heavenly choir that I could picture it myself. And one I struggled with a little, I confess, Thad saw Elvis walking with Jesus on streets of gold, no doubt about it.

            I was thinking how in the Beatitudes Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.” Maybe that’s not some future promise. Maybe that means that when your heart is pure enough, like Thad’s you really do see God, at work, in the present, here and now. And when you do there is no place for doubt. Thad certainly did not know how to not believe.

 And that leads me to the last thing I want to remember, he did not know what it was like to not be loved. The amazing capacity of Thad was not his ability to love others, though that is mind boggling. The amazing capacity of Thad was his ability to bring love out of others, especially for him.  Listen I will freely admit this now, every date I had on the SC campground was because I was Thad’s cousin. The pretty girls just swarmed all over him. And me and Johnny Webb and Johnny Wallace would just hang around for the leftovers. He had such an undeniable “lovingness” about him that I just don’t think he ever imagined not being loved. He was the poster child of Sumter First Church. He was the Teen of the Year on the SC district. He was the King of the Campus at Trevecca Nazarene College. He was the Pastor’s Assistant at this church. It is just nearly unfathomable how Thad was loved by everyone, everywhere he went. District superintendents, college presidents, missionaries, seminary professors, and general superintendents all counted Thad as their genuine friend. Churches, youth groups, whole towns, recognized and loved Thad. Isn’t that incredible?

But I tell you where that was most evident, in the love and care that his family gave him. I had the joy of growing up with Thad. He was in and out of my life for almost 58 years. But he was not always there. Aunt Ruth cared for Thad 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, everyday of his life until she passed away. I preached a message about her one time. The text was “whatever you have done for the least of these,” and I said I believe for all she accomplished, song evangelist, pastor’s wife, district missionary president, the most significant thing she ever did in God’s eyes was taking care of Thad everyday. And when you live with that kind of care, how could you possibly know the feeling of not being loved?

And it continued. After Aunt Ruth died Jerry and Ann, and Mary Ruth and Randy have been absolutely incredible in taking care of Thad. Doris and I would come out and visit and watch as Jerry cut up his food for him, lifted him up to take him to the bathroom, and tucked him in bed at night. Not every once in awhile but everyday, night after night. Jerry and Ann, Mary Ruth and Randy, you are my heroes. Because of you Thad did not know what it was like to not be loved. Thank you.

John wrote in I John 1:3, “Behold what manner of love the Father has for us that He allows us to be called His little children.” Thad knew that, without question he knew that and he did not know how to know otherwise.

 There is so much we can learn from remembering all the things that Thad knew but on this day I am pretty sure that his greatest gifts to us were the things he did not know. God, help me to not know like that.

 And oh, by the way, those dates were the dates that people Thad loved went to be with Jesus. Uncle Harry, Gene Kennington, Charlotta, Elvis, Cheralyn, Pop, and Aunt Ruth.

 And let me give you one more date, December 2, 2011. On that day Thad and Elvis sang “You Ain’t Nothing But A Hound Dog” in front of Jesus and all those people I just listed. And I believe on that day Thad knew what it was like to get a standing ovation.


 (For those of you who do not know, Thad was my cousin. Born with Down’s Syndrome and not expected to live past 20, Thad passed away on Friday, nearly 58 years old. He was absolutely adored by thousands of people across the country. This is the message I gave at his funeral today.)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Why Can't We Just Get Along?

(This is the presentation I made today for the Mental Health Association of Middle Tennessee.)


 My grandson is almost 4. His name is Jon-Mical. He lives next door to his best friend Cameron who is 5. They play together all the time. They ride bikes in the driveway, toss the ball in the backyard, and sneak out off to the park next door to their house. They get along great, except when they don’t. The other day Jon-Mical came in and said, “Cameron is stupid. I am never playing with him again.” His mom and dad would have no part of that. They marched him over to Cameron’s house and sat down until they patched things up. His parents sought reconciliation for Jon-Mical because it is good, it is right and they believe it is healthy. 

 Most of us are old enough to remember the Rodney King incident and the Los Angeles police in March of l991.  The videotaped beating of Rodney King by three policemen because an overnight world must-see.   The subsequent trial and acquittal of those policemen sparked a maelstrom of demonstrations and riots that divided not only LA but the nation.  Whatever side of that debate you were on, most of us resonated with Rodney King’s plaintive call in an interview that followed his arrest.  “Why can’t we all just get along?”  He pleaded.

 With the unbelievable effect on our world of the internet and instant access to almost every event on the planet, we are clearly in the most polarized and divided global culture that has ever existed.  We have always had differences but the accelerated awareness of those differences has driven us to an emotional frenzy as a society that is unprecedented.  The more we learn from psychological endeavors and neuro-science, the more we understand that we as human beings are emotional not rational beings. 

 The problems of most of modern history we have tried to resolve with rational thinking.  Descarte, the rationalist philosopher who opened the door to the Enlightenment period, led us to believe in the power of the rational, thinking mind. I think, therefore I am.

From his philosophy came the weight that we now give to Empiricism and scientific study.  This has deeply influenced English and American law, foreign policy, and economic theory.  Our whole approach to life is based on the assumption that we are rational people dealing with issues in a rational way.  To be irrational is to be something less than human.

 The truth is that we are coming to understand we are about 98% emotional and 2% rational.  When I sit in my office with a husband and wife deeply divided I always want to say “Now let’s just think this through.  What would be the rational thing to do right now?”  I never say it because I have learned both clients would punch me in the nose.

My guess is that all of us in this room understand that the preponderance of feelings and emotions in almost every situation demands that we work to resolution from an emotional perspective rather than a rational one. If that is true on a micro scale in our offices, I believe it is true on a macro level in our society.  And I believe it places even more onus on the mental health professionals to be agents of reconciliation in a divided society.

 Reconciliation is an admittedly Judeo-Christian term; Latin, meaning literally “to bring together again.”   In my mind it describes a state of willingness to co-exist and remain engaged in conversation with those that appear to be diametrically opposed to what I think, believe, or feel.  Reconciliation is just sitting at the table with the hope that some point of agreement will present itself.  It is not unity. It is not compromise. It is not even cooperation.  Reconciliation in the context of this discussion would be Islamic leaders and Christian leaders saying, “Our survival dictates that we engage one another as a means of emotional healing.”

 From this perspective, I suggest four objectives for the divided community.

1.       An assessment of value.

Douglas Noll is a peacemaker and mediator for the University of Oregon.  He writes this:

To understand how our brain deals with conflict, consider a simple emotional model. In this model, conflict starts with some problem. The problem is serious enough to cause anxiety, reflected in a feeling of insecurity. When anxiety or insecurity is first experienced, we have a choice between reactivity and reflection. If we do not make a choice, our default mode is to be reactive.

By being reactive, we might reject the problem, give up, or feel inadequate to deal with the problem. If the problem is persistent, we might struggle or exit. As the conflict develops, we perceive it as a threat, and we may blame, attack or withdraw. These behaviors constitute our fear reaction system. I like to call it our self-protective system. The brain systems associated with fear reaction are very, very old, dating back to the earliest vertebrae animals. Although highly adaptive in the uncertain and dangerous environment of 20,000 years ago, the system is largely maladaptive in our modern, complex culture.

If the choice for reflection is made, we have learned to reflect, relate, and relax. The insecurity arising from a conflict situation is recognized as pointing to a pathway of growth towards greater peace and self-realization. We are led by our curiosity to discover something new, find what is lost, or complete unfinished business. Success leads us to wholeness, authenticity, power and wisdom.

In other words, part of what we offer as Mental Health professionals is the idea that there is value in engaging and we as people will benefit more from coming together than pulling apart.  

2.      The second objective is establishing hope.

 Because we are emotional and not rational, we respond to the anxiety and insecurity that Noll cited, particularly on a global scale, by retreating into overwhelm.  We lose hope.  Our dreams of a civil society, a utopian society have died and we say with Peggy Lee “Is that All There Is?” A revolutionary Punjabi poet, Avtar Singh Sandhu wrote.

“Being robbed of our wages is not the most dangerous.
Being beaten by police is not the most dangerous.
The most dangerous is to have our dreams die.”  

I often tell my clients, “I will hold the hope for you.”  As a society, perhaps in the counseling profession, we do just that.

 3. The third objective is to provide coping skills. 

 While it is true that we are emotional creatures, we do have within us as individuals, and as a society the ability to make choices.  One blogger wrote:

Training, habituation and commitment are an important part of our makeup. How did so many very ordinary black people during the 1950-60s Civil Rights movement in the South manage to practice nonviolence? All were threatened, some were beaten, some killed. No doubt they were mortally afraid--and sometimes very angry. But they practiced nonviolence--together. Genetically we're social beings and we draw strength from healthy relationships--for thousands of years these were the foundation of human survival. We CAN choose--and in our era choosing behavior that keeps us emotionally and physically alive together is a crucial element of our future. 

To use a football analogy, I see myself as an offensive coordinator standing on the sideline calling out plays.  Those whom I influence have the responsibility to access strengths, read defenses, judge their own fatigue and make the appropriate audible.  But I still want to supply a list of possible plays that I believe can work. 

4.      Finally, we recognize worth.

 The emotion of the battle, the passion of the cause, the fire of the fight too often produces myopia in us so that through a dark tunnel I only see worth in one point of view.   As counselors, spiritual leaders, mentors, and clinicians our role is to recognize the worth in all human beings and diverse societal perspectives.  Without that, we are reduced to stomping on an opposing player’s head or burning down a mosque.  My objective, as a reconciliator, is to say there is some measure of intrinsic worth in every person that I come in contact with.  Understanding that, I have no choice but to engage.

We face complicated, convoluted, critical issues in our villages and in our universe.  Far better minds than mine have come to an empass time and again when seeking resolution.

I do not begin to imagine that I have the answers in me.  In addition, the issues are burning with the bonfires of emotion, anger, fear, insecurity, and hurt.   Frankly, I don’t know what to do.  But I do believe that to do nothing is not an option, that I have a moral responsibility as a healer and a human to continue to work for reconciliation and engagement. 

I know that this little ditty is far too simplistic on a geo-political level.  But, it just seems to ring true for us today.  It just feels right.
Most of what I really need to know about how to live, and what to do, and how to be, I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand box at nursery school.
These are the things I learned. Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you are sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are food for you. Live a balanced life. Learn some and think some and draw some and paint and sing and dance and play and work everyday.
Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out in the world, watch for traffic, hold hands, and stick together. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the plastic cup? The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why. We are like that.
And then remember that book about Dick and Jane and the first word you learned, the biggest word of all: LOOK! Everything you need to know is there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation, ecology, and politics and the sane living.
Think of what a better world it would be if we all, the whole world, had cookies and milk about 3 o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankets for a nap. Or we had a basic policy in our nation and other nations to always put thing back where we found them and clean up our own messes. And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out in the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together. 
Dr. Mike Courtney


Douglas Noll

“Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?”

Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy

Gerald Corey

Brooks/Cole Publishing

“All I Ever Really Needed To Know I Learned In Kindergarten”

Robert Fulghum

Friday, September 23, 2011

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Fridays @ 8: Shhhhh!

I am not a man of peace. I can get frantic with the best of them. Too much to do. Not enough going right. Details to oversee and outcomes to control. Life is about crisis management and I am an A-1 crisis kind of guy. (Most of the crises I manage are of my own creation.)

Sometimes, in all too rare moments of supernatural intervention, the Holy Spirit slips in and whispers “Peace.” What a breath! What a transformational fragrance! How quietly  and gently amazing that the God of the universe stands up to the edge of heaven, puts His cosmic finger to His omnipotent lips and says, “Shhhhh! Peace.”

I remember the blind man on the edge of Jericho trying to shout down the crowd as Jesus was passing through. “Jesus, Son of David. Have mercy on me. Jesus, son of David, HAVE MERCY ON ME.” The gospel writer says the crowd told him to be quiet. “Jesus is busy. A lot of people need help. This really isn’t a good time.” But old blind Bartemaeus keeps yelling. “Hey Jesus, What about me?”

Now, it isn’t the best time. There’s a crowd. Jesus is actually on His way to Jerusalem and the cross. He has a lot on His mind and His own crisis to manage but the Bible says, “Jesus stood still.” Do you get that? The One who flung the stars into space and said to the waves, “You can go this far,” the Jesus that John said was the Word that God used to say, “Let there be…and there was,” that Jesus stops, gets still, raises His hand and like a scene from the Matrix, the noise ceases, the crowd freezes, the angels halt all activity, and He turns His face to Bart and asks, “What can I do for you?”

Today is the countdown to Simply Free. We have planned for a year, prayed for four. We have had meetings, formed committees, made assignments, sent out emails, and still we feel the pressure piling up. Stuff remains to do. Last minute decisions. Details to work out. One of the speakers is sick. The Sheriff needs to check out the facility (a number of ladies are allowed to come from the prison), the sound guy has never meet the video person….stuff.

And if that isn’t the half of it. There are the spiritual attacks. One of the video testimonies is so powerful and on the way home from filming she had a wreck. The airline reservations of one of the breakout leaders just got fouled up. My daughter-in-law is sick, my lawnmower won’t start, the family needs prayer….more and more stuff. All of this seems designed to make me hit the frantic button, pick up the pace, turn on more activity, take charge, get in control, move. If I remember I am shouting over the crowd, “Jesus, have mercy on me.”

You know what? He listens. He stops and listens. This morning in my quiet time the Holy Spirit said, “Shhhhh. Be still. I’m going to take care of everything.” Romans 8:27 says, “He who searches the heart knows what the mind of the Spirit is. And He makes intercession for us according to the purposes of God.” In other word, the Spirit Himself will reconcile my frantic activity with the very purposes of God. He will line me up with what God is trying to do and let peace happen. And then, when that happens, Paul says, “And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called to do His will.” (Romans 8:28)

I don’t know what Simply Free is supposed to be exactly, but God does. I am not sure of who is supposed to be there and what is supposed to happen to them, but God does. I don’t know how it is going to turn out (or should turn out) but God does. No amount of hustle and bustle or hurried activity is going to make God’s plan come to pass that come to pass. But He will. I am very sure right now that the God of the universe has stopped, quieted all of heaven, and said, “Let’s take charge of this thing.”

You know what that does for me? It brings me peace. It helps me to let go, to slow down, to get quiet, and to hear Him say, “Peace.” When I understand that He is listening to me then I can quit yelling so loud. I can stop running so fast. I can look at myself in the mirror and say, “Shhhhhh. Peace.” Man does that feel good!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Romans 8:26 and Simply Free

I have been sick for a week. Not the call in the family and get your affairs in order kind of sick but certainly get a shot in the rear, crawl in bed, and feel like I have to get better to do the first part kind of sick. The doctor said it was strep. All I know is that from Tuesday afternoon until Sunday I did not leave the bedroom and barely left the bed. (I’ll spare you the gory details.)

I thought maybe I would use that time to write. Or maybe this would be a good week to catch up on bookkeeping. I even thought once or twice about cleaning out my closet or organizing my sock drawer. But every time I would raise my head from the pillow the room would spin, I’d break out in a sweat, and go back to sleep for another few hours. All I could do for the week was wait and rest and wait some more. I took my prescription, drank my
electrolytes, and ate my soup. Beyond that the healing was really out of my
hands. Wait.

This weekend is Simply Free. We have been planning and praying for this weekend for nearly a year. We have talked to speakers, lined up music, arranged breakout sessions, and ordered snacks. Now there is nothing to do but wait and rest and wait some more. In fact, that’s really what the weekend is about, just waiting on God to heal that sick place within us that we have been working on for so long.

And I’m not talking about you. I mean me. My prayer for me is that once the first song is sung and the first prayer is prayed that I will be able to quit trying and start waiting and resting and trusting. That’s not easy for me. Right now I’m worried that not enough people will come, that the program will be too long, that the speakers will be disappointed. Right now I am fretting about the videos and concerned about transportation and figuring out the cost. I might as well be arranging my sock drawer.

In Romans 8:26, Paul says that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us.” That sounds a lot like waiting and resting and waiting some more to me. And it sounds like Simply Free. No high, profound messages. No slick and polished performances. Simply ordinary people telling their stories of being set free. And me and you, not even knowing what we need but just eager to get well.

We are all a little sick. Maybe not the call in the family kind of sick but just not where we really want to be with God. This weekend I invite you to come and wait and rest and wait some more. And let God do whatever it is He chooses to do to heal us in His way and in His time. If you come, maybe I’ll share some soup with you.

(If you'd like to know more about Simply Free go to )

Friday, August 12, 2011

Fridays @ 8 Romans 8:25

This is from a guy in our Tuesday morning group that is just coming alive in Christ. It is a blast to watch. He's out of town this week so he wrote this response. I love the simple direct wisdom:

In the prior passage Paul reminds us that we are waiting for something we are not able to see or touch, but as I said

last week, whatever it is, it is good. So we need to wait. But we have an added blessing, because we can wait in hope! Remember when as little children, we waited for Christmas morning? We waited "in hope" of a wonderful

Christmas, with love and family, and gifts. But we waited for something very special. Now think of a child who has no Christmas. They wait for the 25th day of December far differently. Not with the anticipation of the Christian

child. In the same way, we have a blessing in the hope that Christ will come and our groaning will be over. That is, I think, what Paul is trying to say here. We have a leg up on others, and something to share with all our brothers, those Christian and those not.

My bible says we are to wait with "endurance" another says "patience." I like Patience far better. There is a feeling of

contentment in the hope we have that allows me (us?) to feel the confidence in our belief that others do not have. I know a non-believer who shakes his head mornings as I am reading the bible. I wonder why. I may never

know, but it is one of two things. Either he thinks I am wasting my time, with simple foolishness, or he has a bit of envy that I have something he does not. I hope it is the latter, since it will be easier to get him over the hump, if it is. Either way, I believe I have a good deal more to look forward to than does he. Although he has a very nice home and a very nice life, he does not have the opportunity to wait in hope, that I have.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Fridays @ 8: Free to Be Me

I meet with a group of men on Thursday morning. They are good guys, every one of them. Varied backgrounds, ages, and places in their Christ journey. They speak to me every week, teach me things, challenge me to do better, be better. They have become brothers. Some days we wax eloquent with deep, theological discussions. Other times we spend a lot of time talking about the Boston Red Sox and the difference in real hardwood floors and laminate. One thing is consistent though, I never go away from that group feeling judged or condemned or less than. Sometimes I am confronted. Sometimes some error in my thinking (or doing) comes to light. But it is without guilt or shame or blame. See some stuff. Point it out. Leave it in God’s hands and go on.

We all need a group like that. Don’t we? Aren’t we all a little hungry for a place where we have nothing to prove and nothing to hide? I think there is buried down in the DNA of all of us this little (or not so little) voice that is screaming out the truth about us.” I’m scared. I have doubts. I don’t get this right very often. I hate myself sometimes. I hate God sometimes. I just want to be accepted.” Have you ever heard those things? Maybe coming from inside of you? And our little voice screams them out, desperately wanting to be heard but scared to death that somebody might listen.

The fear of that becomes a shell, a mask that we hide behind. We bump into each other in the hallways, “How ya’ doin?” “Fine, Fine. I’m just fine.” We stop by the water cooler, “Everything okay in your life?” “Oh, yeah. Good. Good. It’s all good.” The muffled little voice behind our mask says, “No its not. It hurts in here.” And we clamp our hand over our inside mouth and smile, “Have a good one.” I have come to say, maybe too much, that the deep need of the human creature is to know and be known. Yet I also believe that the darkest fear of the human creature is the fear of knowing and being known. What if they really knew I struggle with this? What if they could see that I’m not what they think?

We’ll, I don’t know. What? You were expecting some profound wisdom? I don’t know what would happen if we really knew you. We might not like you. We might turn away in disgust, or gasp in disappointment. We might reject you completely and make you feel like the miserable failure you already are. Or…

Or, we might find the courage in your transparency to drop our own masks. We might say, “I am so grateful that you said that. I struggle with the very same thing.” We might throw our arms around you and say, “Welcome home. I have been there too and I thought I would never get out.” Who knows what would happen if we started telling the truth. We might connect on some level that only God has imagined for us. We might become a community of vulnerability, an open, safe, honest place where anyone could speak the truth, be real, stand naked (it’s a metaphor) before God and a group of people that love you and say, “This is who I really am and I am so glad to be able to say it.”

In Romans 8:19-21 (remember Fridays @ 8. You thought I forgot didn’t you? Oh, quit judging.) In Romans 8:19-21 Paul says that in some sense the whole world is hungry to see us do that. Now I know he is speaking eschatologically (impressed?) on some level but he is also addressing the here and now. Verse 19, “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons (and daughters) of God to be revealed.” In verse 22 he talks about the hope that “all of creation will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” The whole earth groans and waits for you and me to finally start being, well, you and me. Not some pious, preacher voice, always have the answers, and a scripture verse for every occasion ambassador for the Happy Place. No, what they want, what we want, are people who are free, who walk in the full, abundant, joyful life that Christ gives us but in a genuine, real, honest to goodness way. True Christ followers who can say, “I don’t know about the future (and that is scary) but I know who holds the future in His hands. (and that is GOOD!)

I waiver between to faces neither one of them really me. The one mask, on my good days, is smiling from ear to ear and every time you pull my string says, “Well praise God, Thank-the-llujah. Everything is hunky dory.” The other face is frozen into a frown of despair. I wring my hands. I fret and fume and hopelessly cry, “What are we going to do?” (Ever seen me there?) Neither one of those is the real me. Paul says I am free. Jesus says I have abundant life. My running shirt says I may be slow but I’m ahead…. Oh, wrong shirt. My running shirt says I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. Now that is freedom.

So, here’s the deal. What about deciding to be real? What about taking off the mask and living life in the glorious freedom of the children of God, sometimes confident, sometimes afraid, sometimes on top of the world, sometimes lower than a snakes belly, but ALWAYS sure that He loves you, that He is really good, and that He is large and in charge. Woohoo! I can be free in that. I don’t have to fake it till I make it. I don’t have to toe the line, or suck it up, or put my best foot forward. But I do have the unbelievable joy of knowing that ‘my redeemer lives,” that He “loves me with an everlasting love.” And that I am His child, saved by grace, full of hope, and able to be far more than I ever dreamed possible because “Christ in me is the hope of glory.”

Sound good? It takes practice. It might be frightening at first but you’ll get the hang of it. Take a deep breath pull off your mask and say “Hi, my name’s Mike…” I suggest starting with a group of guys on Thursday morning….you’ll fit right in.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Foundation

I have always dreamed of a little cabin in the woods. My friend Robert says, "Mike, you are so optimistic. You are the only person I know who calls a storage shed a cabin." Nevertheless, I managed to get a little building and put it on a small piece of land we have in the woods in middle Tennessee. For about a year it has been sitting in a field, waiting to be moved to the right spot and put on a good foundation. So last week Doris and I took a week off and went and stayed in my sister's nearby, nice cabin (do I sound bitter?) with the goal of building the foundation and getting the cabin moved.

While Doris enjoyed a good book, I went down the hill every day to our little spot and worked on the piers upon which my dream cabin would sit. I dug out the holes for the footers, smoothed the ground with sand and pebbles, and laid the blocks carefully to make sure they were straight and level. Eight piers, four in the middle and one on each corner, stood strong and solid waiting for the cabin. I had contracted with a wrecker company in town to move the building though I was a little nervous about the size of the cabin in comparison to the size of the truck. I took them pictures, gave them measurements, kept quizzing them, “Are you sure you can do this?” Every time the confident response was, “Of course we can. We do it all the time.”

The afternoon of the move was exciting. Doris drove down the hill to watch. I had the foundation ready. A young guy (not the confident man I had been talking to) drove up in the wrecker truck with his girlfriend beside him. He got out of the truck, spit on the dirt road, and said “Man, we’ve never done anything like this before.” Not what I wanted to hear. He hooked the cabin to a cable, tilted back the bed, and to my amazement, hauled the whole thing right up onto the back of the truck without a hitch. This is gonna’ be great. Then he started moving. With every little dip in the rough ground the heavy cabin would shift a little and the not as heavy truck would lift up, wheels almost leaving the ground. He hadn’t gone ten feet when his girlfriend came boiling out of the truck like hornets out of a nest yelling, “I’m not riding in there.” She and Doris went over to the van and smoked a cigarette and prayed. (I mean she smoked a cigarette and Doris prayed.)

Young Guy carefully backed across the rough field, somehow lifted the cabin out over the piers, and sat the thing right down on the foundation perfectly. I was dancing. He was dancing. Doris and Cigarette Girl were dancing. What a day! Then he tried to pull the truck out from under the cabin but the support brace in the back had dug into the dirt. Truck won’t move. Cabin won’t budge. Dancing is not so good. In order to get the truck loose he had to pick up the cabin again, twist it a little bit, and…when he did, down came the piers, down went the cabin, and down sank my heart. Dream cabin in the woods was sitting at about a 45 degree angle with concrete blocks all around it and a hole in the floor where the toilet once had been.

The boys and I, and several other friends, have been reading Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life for the last few weeks. It’s a good book, easy to read, about getting back to the basics of our Christian walk. You might say it is about having a solid foundation. I find that in the helter-skelter, hustle and bustle of life I often get away from the things that keep me straight and level and solid. Things like a deep, intentional prayer life, a consistent time ruminating on the Word of God, seeking His face in gentle acts of service to my family, my friends, and to people I don’t know, and, focused accountability with a few guys that keep me honest and know when I am not being transparent. Those things are not spectacular. They don’t have much pizazz or sizzle. They are just the solid piers upon which any life of faith must sit. I forget that. Well, to be honest, sometimes I don’t forget. I just don’t want to do it.

Usually when that happens I begin to tilt, get a little off center. I may look okay at first glance but if you look carefully you’ll see that I am out of balance and there are a few glaring holes on the inside. I’m short with the people I love. I am impatient about the path God has me on. I get worried and fearful about my circumstances. And I lose track of the purpose He has set before me. I’m a mess. But getting back to the basics, doing the elementary things, has a way of righting me, hauling me back up onto a more firm foundation. Jesus may have had my little cabin in mind when He said, “I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and put them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid his foundation on the rock.” (Luke 6:47-48) There are all kinds of neat, special things I want to do for Christ. But the bottom line is the bottom line. What really matters is getting, and keeping my life on the rock.

The next day my friend Robert came out. He brought a little hydraulic jack. We started at one corner and jacked up the cabin and slipped one block under it. Then we went to the next corner and did the same thing. Then the next. Over and over again, one block at a time we lifted the little cabin and rebuilt a solid, firm foundation. It took a while but at the end of the day we had Mr. Tumbles (that’s what Robert named the cabin for obvious reasons) back on level footing and looking good. That’s what we have to do almost continually. One block at a time, one step at a time, discipline after discipline, we build and maintain the foundation of our lives, maintaining our houses on The Rock. And, I have come to believe, when we do that our ability to be used by Him and live for Him is, well, it’s a dream come true. I don’t know where you are in your faith journey today but if you are not solid like you want to be I suggest you look at the foundation. Get that right and the rest will take care of itself. And if you need a big wrecker truck, I’ve got a number for you.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Fridays @ 8: Cicadas and Courage

It is that creepy time of the year, or should I say of the 14th year. Every 14 years or so a swarm of cicadas crawl out of their burrows and up onto trees, lamp posts, porch swings and slow moving children. They deposit their empty shells and emerge as red eyed, big headed, weed eater sounding winged creatures. Imagine horseflies on steroids. And for about 3 weeks they take over middle Tennessee. They are not that bad singly but they come in droves, hundreds on one trees, thousands in a yard, millions in the area. Literally so many that by the end of the season the gutters along the edge of the streets look like black snow has fallen because of the piled cicada carcasses.

Now I’m a manly man. I’m not afraid of bugs and snakes and crawly things. I don’t bat at eye at a bumble bee dive bombing me or a lizard tickling my toes. But there is just something about the sheer volume of the cicadas that get to you after a while. And by volume I don’t mean number. I mean noise, sound, constant humming, volume. They mass in the trees after they are fully hatched and begin calling. This incessant droning like a million tiny Suzuki motorcycles running all at once. It is a continual background noise even inside the house but outside it is so loud you can hardly carry on a conversation. This morning Jon-Mical and I went to the park and caught cicadas and threw them in the creek. He threw in the dead ones and I threw in live ones. It gave me some twisted satisfaction.

For me, the cicadas are a nuisance. For some people, (I won’t mention names but her initials are Doris Courtney,) it is 3 weeks of terror. She looks furtively out the window before she makes a dash across the driveway to the car. She jumps and jolts every time a leave blows inside the house. And she gets in bed at night and dreams that they have learned to turn the door knob in in the kitchen. She is a slave to her fear of cicadas.

Maybe you are not a slave to cicadas but for most of us there is some deep anxiety that keeps us from living free. Financial worries, health concerns, obsessing over our children, insecurity about our spiritual condition, these things can paralyze us or at the very least distract us from the joyful journey that God has placed before us. Fear is an awful thing. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Paul says in Romans 8:15 “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship (and daughtership.)” Knowing for sure that I am a child of God is the perfect antidote for fear. Remember when we were little kids and we would taunt, “My dad can beat up your dad.” There was some kind of confidence in believing that our daddies could whip the world. When I really embrace my sonship with my Abba Father I am set free from being afraid.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still human. The cicadas are still buzzing. I still sweat over the checkbook and worry about my kids. But I know, deep down inside, I know that my Daddy can beat up the cicadas. He created them for Pete’s sake. (I’m not sure why.) He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He has healing in His hands and protection in His arms. He “loves me with an everlasting love” and His “perfect love casts out fear.” That is enough to deliver me from the spirit of fear. Bring on the bugs!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Fridays @ 8: Remember To Live

I have discovered one of the great benefits of getting old. I can hide my own Easter eggs. Jon-Mical and I were hiding plastic eggs in the house on Thursday, eighteen of them. By the time we finished hiding them I’d forgotten where most of them were. It was a real ego booster to hear a 3 year old say, “Poppy C, remember to look under the pillow on the couch.” He would lead me around to find the last half dozen or so. Then we’d do it all over again. (Or at least I think we did.)

Forgetfulness is not limited to the aging. All of us from time to time forget to return a phone call, forget to do our homework, forget where we put our car keys. We are human. We forget. Sometimes we forget on a spiritual plane as well. We forget to acknowledge the grace of God in our lives. We forget that we are redeemed and forgiven, free from condemnation. And we forget the price of all of that.

Easter is a time of remembering. Once a year we remind ourselves of the passion and suffering of Christ, not because we are some masochistic religion that likes to dwell on pain and agony but because we need to remember. This peace and forgiveness that we enjoy did not come without cost. The promise of life, abundant life, while free to me was incredibly expensive to the Jesus who pleaded in the Garden, “Father, if there is any other way, let this cup pass from me.” When we sit together at a Seder Meal on Thursday, weep in the bleakness of a Good Friday service, it is to remember the ultimate sacrifice that was given so that we might live. On Easter Sunday we celebrate the Risen Lord to remember that He overcame sin, death, and the grave for each one of us. Since I am so forgetful I need to be reminded often. He paid a debt He did not owe so that I might have a life I did not deserve. Now that is some worth remembering.

In some ways, Romans 8 is all about that. From the very first verse Paul repeats over and over again. Old way…death, new way…life. Natural path…death, Spirit path…life. Life in the flesh…death, life in the Spirit…joy and peace. Come on. How many times do you have to tell me? Do you think I would forget something like that? Well, apparently so. Here in verse 13 he says it again, “If you live according to the sinful nature, you will die.” Got it. Wrote it on my hand. Tattooed it on my forehead. I won’t forget that one. Live the old sin way and I will die. Thanks for the reminder.

Then Paul gives us the second half of the equation, “But if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” Do you notice a slight turn here? “Put to death the misdeeds of the body.” In the verse before we almost overlooked the phrase, “We have an obligation.” For twelve verses and fifteen weeks we have been talking about grace, freedom from performance, not having to “do something” to earn the love of God, and every bit of that is true.

But now Paul introduces the idea that there is some kind of responsibility on my part, that I do act a certain way and follow some code of behavior. We have an “obligation.” We put to death the “misdeeds,” those things we have been doing wrong. After all of these reminders that His grace is free and we don’t live by the law, this verse and the one before seem to hint at a moral and ethical commitment to a different kind of lifestyle. As one who lives life in the Spirit, not in the flesh, I am called to live differently. Does that go against the “freedom from the law” thing? Not at all.

I believe that God calls me to live a holy and Godly life. Hebrews 12:14 says, “Follow peace with all men and holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.” Ephesians 4:1 says, “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” And later in Romans Paul will say, “Present yourselves as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable before God.” Over and over again in Scripture we are confronted with the call to living and acting in a different way because we are Christ followers. But here’s the key, not in order to earn our way into His good graces but as a response to and a reminder of the Spirit life that He has so freely given us.

When I clean up my vocabulary, get rid of some nasty habits, spend time helping the poor and underserved in my world, when I change the way I live, it is not a return to the law. It is a reminder that Christ died for me willingly, saved me freely, and dwells in me gracefully so the least I can do is try to live for Him completely. I remember that every “good and perfect gift” in my life comes from Him and I live accordingly, out of gratitude, not duty.

Paul says, “But if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will have life.” And you will also remember. It’s like living Easter every day, being continually engaged in remembering that His death changed the way we live forever. Too often we get caught between two extremes. On the one side is a legalistic, performance based faith that makes lists of rules, and checks them twice to see if we’ve been naughty or nice, (those are the words from a great old hymn of the church.) The other side is a reaction to that that says we are under no obligation (there’s that word again) and any suggestion of moral responsibility is a return to the “old ways,” life under the law.

Not true says Paul. We are free from the law because of Christ. We live by the Spirit, not by the law. But, as a result of that we make every effort to live pure, holy, Godly lives. It is our loving response to Easter and it helps us remember. Remember what you ask? I’m so glad you did. Next week…we are sons (and daughters) of God.

Until then, have a blessed Easter. And don’t forget where you hid those eggs.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Chaos, Fridays, and Being Out Of Control

Chaos, Fridays, and Being Out Of Control

It doesn’t seem like that hard a task. Write a short devotional thought about 1 verse in Romans 8 each week and post it on Friday morning. Writing comes pretty easily to me. Romans is certainly full of great material. And now I have both Jon-Mical and Jakson to tell stories about. Surely I can do this little thing. We are 15 Fridays into the year. I have posted 11 “Fridays @ 8” and half of them have been late.

Part of that is because of my perfectionistic tendencies when it comes to telling a story. I don’t get hung up on telling the story perfectly but I do want to tell the right story to convey the message of the gospel. Do you know how hard it is to get a 3 year old to do just the right thing each week to illustrate the deep theological truth of St. Paul’s most profound letter? Another thing may be that my MENtoring group on Thursday gets bogged down in the details of God working in their lives and fails to come through with some amazing insight each week to flesh out the devotional.

The primary reason that I have a hard time getting this done however, (okay, the only reason), is a lack of discipline on my part and my ability to let life get out of control. I have such great intentions on Monday but by the end of the week I am behind on paperwork, there are phone calls to make, and I am 10 miles overdue on my running schedule. Life just gets out of control, not occasionally but on a weekly (make that daily) basis.

We live in an unbelievably fast paced, information society. With texting, emails, and Facebook I am in constant contact with almost everybody. Some of that is good but it also means that there is very little down time. We are expected (either actually or an internal pressure we put on ourselves) to be always available and immediate in our response to others. It also means that when we get behind, we get behind fast. Those emails pile up relentlessly in my mailbox, the digital reports cram into my Outlook To Do file, and the cell phone voicemails line up on my Inbox like impatient voters at the polling booth. I can never catch up. I am always under the gun. And chaos seems to be the new normal. I’m not complaining. I’m describing your life too.

So how do we stay on top of the crowded confusion of our computer noise life? How do I make sense of the chaos and focus on the things that really matter? Romans 8:12 says, “Therefore brothers (and sisters), we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it.” In The Message it says, “So don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent.” Another way of saying it is “we are in this world but not of it,” a rough translation of John 17:16. Maybe chaos is the new normal. Maybe full speed ahead is the only gear our world has. But that does not mean that in me, deep in me where it really matters, I cannot be a person of peace, living in the quiet focus of His presence.

Tax forms are going to pile up, the laundry basket is going to overflow, the phone will never stop ringing, and deadlines are going to keep coming at us, but that is not the world that we are obligated to. Oh, we live in it, we have to deal with it, but we don’t owe it anything. Our true allegiance is to the One who stepped into our hectic world from a place before time and said, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your heart be troubled. Do not be afraid.”

I am trying to learn to live life that is focused on the Father, centered in the Son, and scheduled by the Spirit rather that giving in to the pounding pulse of a never-be-satisfied world. I still have to pay bills, go to appointments, schedule meetings, and mow the grass but my sense of who I am is not dictated by my ability to multi-task. It comes from knowing that I am His and He holds me in the palm of His great big, steady, quiet hand.

Maybe it would be helpful to hear a few things I am trying to put in place to accomplish this. First, I am trying to remember to begin and end well. I have very little control over the middle of the day stuff. Life just happens and the only thing I can be absolutely sure of is that I will be interrupted with the unexpected. But before I leave the house in the morning and before I go to bed at night I am still in charge (well, as much as Doris lets me be). I am learning how crucial it is that I quiet my heart, hear Him in His Word, and allow the Spirit to set the agenda for the day.

Secondly, I am learning to escape often from the clamor and the chaos to that secret space that only He knows about and refocus my attention on what matters. It takes just a second or two, literally. A whispered prayer, a breathed praise, a single word of centering. “Help me Lord.” “Father, this is yours.” “Jesus, come.” In an instant I am back on track, remembering who’s I am and what I am really obligated to. The more I do that the better I get at it.

Finally, I am trying to learn to surround myself with serenity by passing it on to those around me. Taking the time to smile at the Starbucks girls. Turning my face and really listening to the incessant chatter of my grandson. Asking the guy in the cubicle beside me how he is and really paying attention to his response. These things all build a presence of peace in my world. They not only slow me down but they create an atmosphere of His joy in which I can reside for a moment.

Now having said all of that, my life is still out of control. I am still way behind on my writing and here it is Friday again. But you know what? That’s okay. Because while I live in this activity I am not obligated to it. My life is in the Spirit. If you’ll excuse me, I think I’m just going to sit here a minute….peace.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Fridays @ 8: Jacob Doesn't Live Here

Jacob doesn’t live here anymore. Today is his birthday and he turns 25. He is as fine a young man as I know. He has an incredible heart for God, a deep compassion for people (especially the hurting), and a fire for life. He knows and loves music and is giving himself to that passion. And he is bright, a profound thinker. But he doesn’t live in our house anymore.

Although he moved out 3 or 4 years ago I have to keep reminding myself of that. Partly because the walls still echo with his laughter, in quiet moments I can still hear him working out a chord progression on the piano or refining a bass lick in his bedroom, and partly because his junk is still all over the place. His bedroom (we still call it his bedroom) is piled high with extra guitars, Ohio State ski parkas, barely used college textbooks, and unopened offers for new credit cards. One side of the garage is dedicated to his baseball card collection, several dusty amps, and a chopped Harley Davidson that he only lets me drive in the neighborhood.

He doesn’t live here but we are a repository for the memorabilia of his past life and he frequents us often. He has an uncanny ability to drop by when his mother is just taking supper from the stove or a pie from the oven. Apparently he can hear our washing machine across town because he never fails to pop in and ask if he can throw a few things in since we are washing anyway. And he somehow can detect that short window of opportunity between when I put a prized take home box from my favorite restaurant in the fridge and when I get home at the end of a long day to finish off that morsel I have been thinking about all afternoon. (Do you know the pain of settling in front of the TV and opening an EMPTY styrofoam container?) He doesn’t live here but his past, the fun, the funny, the painful and purposeful, all of that is still here and he moves in and out of it, though less and less.

In Romans 8 verse 10 Paul says, “But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.” If Christ is in you…your body is dead. Really? Shouldn’t it say unless Christ is in you your body is dead? Or before Christ is in you your body is dead? I mean what about resurrection, and life eternal, and “he who believes will never die?” What about all of the good stuff He promises? Peace. Never thirst again. Love. And don’t forget the all important, “blessings from heaven, good measure, pressed down, overflowing.” When Christ is in me shouldn’t I be driving a Cadillac, never have an ache or pain, make all A’s on my report card, and have my house stay supernaturally dust free?

But Paul says, “If Christ is in you your body IS dead.” No maybes or ifs. Just, your body IS dead. What is that all about? My body is not dead. I’m very sure of that because my aching knees speak to me every morning, and my waistline is growing like crazy. My body might be getting old but it’s not dead.

It seems to me, like Jacob and our house, this body of mine is not where I live anymore. Oh, my junk is scattered all over. The fingerprints of my past, both good and bad, smudge every window and every wall. Most of my possessions are connected to this earthly body somehow and I move in and out of it quite a bit. But I don’t live here anymore. This body, in fact this whole material space and place that we call life is just a temporary passing through spot. I have to drop in to check the mail, adjust the thermostat, and weed the flower bed. I still have to pay bills, take care of the office, and DVR American Idol. But this is not my house.

The song writer said, “This world is not my home. I just a passin’ through. The Lord’s prepared a place somewhere beyond the blue.” When Christ lives in me, as I grow more familiar with His voice and His movement in me, I become more and more aware that all of the things that used to seem so important are dead to me now. Not in a morbid, melancholy, macabre way. I still enjoy the maintenance and the memory of this world. In fact, I am probably enjoying it now more than ever. But my focus, my heart, my very life is somewhere else. Does that make sense?

Jacob brings so much joy to us all of the time. He is full of stories about work, dreams concerning Michaela, and rantings and ravings about things that no one can fix. He has a place here, in some ways a responsibility to his mother and me. But he is building a life, his real life, somewhere else apart from this house. And as bad as I hate to admit it, the older he gets the more real that life becomes for him and the less important this one is.

In the same way, since Christ is in me I am busy living a righteous life there with Him and less concerned with the mundane stuff of this body. That Spirit life becomes more real every day. Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I get all worked up about this temporary place. How am I going to make the car payment? When will that neighbor get his trash can out of my driveway? What am I going to do about that balding spot on the back of my head? (Okay, that one IS important.) But when I really stop and think about it I remember that Christ is in me and that other body is dead.

The life that is alive, the Spirit life, it is so much better than that old body life I used to live. Paul describes it this way in Galatians 5, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control.” Sounds like a pretty good life to me. So I am still connected to the body and all that it is connected to, gravity, aging, rainy weather, worry, but that is not where I live. I live in the Spirit world and it is full of hope and possibility with no restraints or constraints. I live in Christ and He lives in me and there “I bear fruit.” (John 15) I keep my face fixed on Him and the life that He has for me and everything else, even Jacob eating my leftovers is just incidental. And the amazing thing is that Christ then gives life back to this old, dead body of mine. (But that verse 11.)

Well, life is good. I hang around in this body of mine but I live, really live, in the Spirit of Christ that makes all things blessed. And on top of all that, I have Jacob who drops in every now and then to remind me that I am not as smart as I think I am but I did begat one pretty terrific son. You know what, he’s right.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sexual Nuclear Fallout

At a quarter to 6:00 on March 11, 2011 an earthquake occurred in the pacific ocean, 45 miles from the Oshika peninsula in northern Japan. The earthquake reported 9.0 on the rector scale and sent shock waves that were felt as far away as the Pacific Coast of North America.

The Tohoku Earthquake triggered a 30 foot full tsunami wave that within minutes barreled into the northeastern coast of Japan. Cities like Ishinomaki, Miyagi and Onagawa were literally swept from the face of the earth.
The latest count in confirmed deaths is more than 11,000 and nearly 18,000 people are still unaccounted for.

The earthquake and tsunami did severe damage to several nuclear reactors including the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. Explosions occurred, electrical power that ran crucial cooling pumps was knocked out. And within days a nuclear meltdown started to occur.

We have lived through some life changing events, Sept. 11, 2001, the economic crash of 2008. But it remains to be seen if this cataclysmic event will change our world in a way that not one of us can predict or anticipate.

I submit to you that this kind of sweeping 3-fold, iconic transformation is not without precedent. You, in many ways are living in the radiation aftermath of another unprecedented societal earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown.

In the late 1940’s a wave of soldiers returned home to America from WWII. They found wives that had of necessity left the comforts of home to enter the work force and did not want to return. Those repatriated husbands and emancipated wives began to have babies in record numbers. Baby boomers they were called and I am one of them, the largest single generation in the history of the world. Twenty years later, that wave of baby-boomers began to place their stamp of influence on the culture of America. They were put off by the work ethic of their depression era parents. They were moved to liberation by the same radical thinking that produced the civil rights movement and women’s lib. And they were delivered from the fear of unwanted pregnancy by the newly approved birth control pill.

Some time in the 1960’s an earthquake hit the world that we call “the sexual revolution”. The hippies of history that are almost a caricature today really did introduce free love, sex without consequences, and a morality of self-gratification. By 1962, 1.2 million women were using the pill. The number of young people that were having sex outside of marriage had skyrocketed and the epicenter of the Great Society (as Lyndon Johnson called it) became a conglomerate of social acceptance and sexual promiscuity - - the earth quake.

Not long after the sexual earth quake of the 60’s came the tsunami of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s; an openly sexual culture that not only condoned but propagated sexuality as separate from marriage or religious mores. Beginning as a gentle swell the tsunami ballooned through TV, advertising, and print media to literally overwhelm our culture and our world with images and expressions of sex and sexual connectedness. At the height of that wave was a confluence of pornographic material and the easy access of the internet.

This porn tsunami continues to drown our world in a morass of sexual debris. Today it looks something like this:
- In the US, we spend $3,075 dollars every second on pornographic material
- There is a porn video produced every 39 minutes in the U.S.
- World-wide $98 billion dollars in revenue is earned by the porn industry per year. (More than MLB, MBA, and NFL combined).
- In the US, more people view porn each evening than ABC, CBS and NBC combined.
- There are 4.2 million pornographic websites (12% of the internet).
- Last week 53% of American men viewed at least one pornographic website and 94 million women (that is a 17% increase since 2007).
- Last year Hollywood released about 200 first-run movies. In 2008, the US produced 13,588 pornographic films.

Tsunami is a mild word for the sweeping destruction that has overtaken our society as a result of the earthquake of the sexual revolution.
But that is not what I want to talk about. I want to talk to you about living in the nuclear radioactive fall-out of the meltdown that has occurred.

First, there is a loss of intimacy. Genesis 2:24 says “For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife and they will become one flesh.” We are created for intimate relationships. God created male and female to be united sexually face to face, different from all other created beings. This one flesh intimacy is the design of God to bring completeness and wholeness to His most beloved creation.

Let’s talk about the brain. The limbic system or mammalian brain controls almost all bodily functions such as emotions, desires, drives and impulses. This includes falling in and out of love. When we experience sexual attraction the neurotransmitter dopamine fires up the brain and triggers feelings of pleasure, motivation, and reward. It neuro-chemically activates your reward circuitry, whether it’s sex, eating, taking risks, or drinking water. Dopamine is the craving or the “I’ve got to have it” neurotransmitter. The more dopamine you release and the more reward circuit is activated, the more reward you experience. It is called the cocaine of the brain. So whether it’s viewing pornography, or an intimate sexual relationship, the brain begins to crave the adrenal rush.

Three other things happen. There is a lower serotonin level. Serotonin is the flexibility chemical that enables me to change my mind, reconsider, back-up. So I become stuck or obsessed with this sexual thinking. Second, the pre-frontal cortex disengages. This is the judgment system or safety system of the brain so that my ability to make good choices is hampered. Finally, oxytocin is released in the brain. Oxytocin is the bonding chemical. One of the times when oxytocin is most present is during childbirth. At childbirth a mother’s oxytocin level is 500 times its normal level. So, it’s no wonder when that little baby is placed in the mother’s arms, she bonds immediately.

When these chemical interactions are repeatedly taking place without the subsequent object of affection upon which to attach they become watered down and weakened. The ability to connect is in danger and we loose our healthy facility for intimacy.

I saw a young father a few years ago. I’ll call him James. James was a good guy. He had a wife and a couple of kids. He was involved in his church. He also was a chronic, addicted pornography user. One day he just walked out on his family. He left his wife, left his kids, left his life. When I met with him he said, “I just don’t care anymore. I don’t feel like I have it in me to love any of them.” Repeated sexual connectedness to images on a computer screen took from him his ability to be intimate.

The second tragedy that comes as a result of this nuclear meltdown is a loss of identity. In Genesis 1:26 God says “Let us make man in our image. In the image of God He made them, male and female, created He them.”

Here I want to talk about the heart. Psychologists for sixty years have understood the importance and value of self-differentiation. I am born into a family and my identity, my personhood begins there. I have my father’s eyes. I talk like my mother. You and your brother act just alike. Athletically, intellectually, and socially, all my identity is given me by my family of origin.

At some point around 11 or 12 I begin to differentiate, to stand on my own and find my own identity. Then the characteristics of the other becomes, not my identity, but a reflection, an image. Like a mirror I reflect the other’s image in my own.
So God says, “Let us make man in our image”. We are not God but we reflect the image of God. It’s who we are.

Now, as we begin to connect sexually, we give a piece of ourselves, our identity to the other and we take their reflection into our own identity. I exchange a part of who I am with who my sexual partner is. We begin to reflect each other. Whether human sexual contact or pornography use, each time we connect we exchange some of our identity with the other. That’s why two old people who have been married for a long time begin to look alike or why a room full of addicts have a similar appearance.

The more I exchange myself with another, the more my own God-given image is diluted until I become a complex reflection of all the others but not of myself. I lose who I am.

I’ll call her Sally. She came to Branches about 3 years ago to seek spiritual guidance and to deal with depression. Over the next two years I met with her on a regular basis and began to understand the depth of her struggle. Sally had been viscously and repeatedly sexually abused from her earliest childhood until well into adulthood. After that her life was a series of dozens of sexual partners and encounters, sometimes several sex partners at once. As I began to hear her it became apparent that she had given away her identity. So much so that we discover at least 15 separate personalities living in her. We call that DID, or Dissociative Identity Disorder. And in fact the real true self, Sally, was dead. The primary presenting identity only spoke for her and assumed her place in society but announced finally that Sally was dead. I know this is an extreme illustration but it speaks to the loss of identity that we face as a result of surrendering to the radioactive fallout of our sexual culture.

Finally, there is a loss of influence. This has to do with the soul. I Cor. 6:19 says “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God?”
We are born, every one of us, with a spark of the Divine in us, the presence of God. When we invite Christ into our lives and become Christ followers, we receive not only forgiveness and His righteousness, we receive the full blown spirit of God living inside us. Galatians 2:20 says “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me.” The God of the universe, the Triune Godhead dwells fully in you.

In part He dwells in you for the sake of influence. We’re called to be world changers. We’re called and empowered to change the universe, maybe not the entire created universe, maybe not the 8 billion people on the planet, but the world in which we live, our part, our circle of influence. There are some people I believe that God has planned for you to reach and He dwells in you for that very purpose – influence.

Paul says that every time we give ourselves to this radioactive fallout of sexual permissiveness the God influence in us is diminished. I Cor. 6: 13-17 says “The body is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord and the Lord for the body. By His power God raised the Lord from the dead and He will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ Himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said ‘the two will become one flesh’. But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with Him in spirit.”

The great fear of the radioactive contagion in Japan is its potential to spread geographically and genealogically. Lettuce and milk from the Miyagi prefect around the Fukushima plant is showing up in other regions of Japan. Wind above the nuclear reactor is drifting toward North America. And the children and grandchildren yet to be born from those affects will potentially bear the deformities of this destructive force.

The loss of intimacy and identity is tragic and painful for you. If I could somehow keep you from that pain, I would. But a far greater tragedy is the loss of influence when you leave this campus, when you leave this room. There are friends and families that are desperate for the spirit of God in you and the loss of influence over them and over your children, and over your children’s children is unimaginable.

One more story, I’ll call him Mike. Actually his name is Mike. He is me. I was privileged to be the pastor of two great churches. I would preach every Sunday to hundreds of people and influence them, their families, and their communities for good and for God. I was in a place and a position to change a pretty big part of the world. But radioactive sickness got the best of me.

I succumbed to the sexual fallout from the earthquake of the 60’s and the tsunami of the next 3 decades. I gave into sexual sin and I lost my influence. Now don’t get me wrong, God has healed me. He has restored my family, my walk with Him, and in many ways, my purity. I am so grateful for Branches and am amazed at the number of lives that are changed daily by that ministry. But the influence I had as a pastor and preacher is gone. I will never occupy the pulpit in the same way. I lost that influence because of my moral failure.

I do not want you to lose your intimacy. I am warning you about the loss of identity. But the most devastating thing of all is to lose your ability to influence your kids, your friends, your family, the people you work with. Don’t you dare lose that. Don’t you put that at risk. My kids, my grandkids need you and your influence. Don’t you let them down.

The earthquake has come and gone and we are beginning to rebuild in its aftermath. The tsunami has passed. We have buried the dead and cleared away the debris. But the nuclear fallout is with us in every breath we take. We have got to be aware of it, stand against it, and overcome it. And you can do that. You must do that.

Here are 5 steps to help you:
1. Make a moral commitment now to sexual purity.
2. Decide right now your sexual boundaries.
3. Establish accountability partners to support your purity.
4. Ask for and accept God’s offer of secondary virginity.
5. Keep the faces of those you may influence ever before you.

Paul says, “We are new creatures in Christ Jesus. Old things are passed away. All things are made new.” I don’t know all there is to know about the tragedies and disasters in Japan. I do know that if history is a reference and if God gives us grace, the world will overcome these things and life will go on. The question will be whether or not we go on better or we revert to our old ways of living. In the same way, we can survive the sexual fallout in our world. We can be new creatures in Christ. The question for you is will you be better or simply live life like you always have. I encourage you to strive for better.