Friday, January 27, 2012


“In the presence of Jehovah, God almighty, Prince of Peace.” I long for those all too rare, all too fleeting moments when I am genuinely in the Presence of the King. I hunger for those times of abandonment when only He and I reside together in time and space. I search for glimpses of His face and strain for whispers of His voice. And they come but so infrequently, so faintly, that often they wisp by before they are recognized.

Is that the fault of God? Does He tease me with offers of Himself? Tantalize me with hints that He might drop by only to disappoint me like a prankster who rings the doorbell and runs away? I think not. No, the issue of absence lies not in the heart of God but in me, my heart, my head, my hands.

Three words jump out at me. Three simple, deeply profound words, haunt me in their inability to be reached; presence, abandonment, and rest.

Paul says “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” Maybe that is more than a spiritual, death and life kind of thing. Maybe there is a way of forgetting, if only for a little while, where I am and what I am worried about, and letting my mind be fixed on Him. The problem of presence for me is not so much a problem of where I am looking but where I being distracted. I come to Him in prayer seeking only Him, and when I find Him I immediately slip into my asking mode. Bless the boys, help my business, fix the car, take care of Aunt Sallie’s influenza, and oh, by the way,  could you give the Buckeyes a running game this year? I struggle to be fully present with Him because I am by nature fully present with me, fixated on my own wants and wishes. I am trying to learn to slip away from “planet Earth” for a few minutes each day and just be present with Him.

And that takes abandonment. When I loose myself, forget who I “think” I am, and who might be watching, I am far more capable of being present with Him. Even when I pray alone in my secret place I form my words carefully so that He and I will both be impressed. When I write this now, I write more for some unimagined audience than as a confession of my own heart. This morning I prayed that I might be completely lost in Him and then whispered to myself, “so that others might admire me.”

True presence required total abandonment. David was abandoned when He danced naked before the Lord. Saul was abandoned when he laid blind on the road to Damascus. Peter was abandoned when watched the sheet come down from heaven. They were lost of themselves and their surroundings, unaware of anything except the eyes of God.

Now, I’m not talking about some out of body experience or metaphysical trance, though I wouldn’t rule it out. I simply believe that when the more I seek Him the less I seek me. A friend of mine last week told me about a chapel service at a Christian school where she teaches. During the music, one tiny little, pre-kindergarten boy, standing by his teacher at the front of the auditorium became so caught up in the rhythm and the beat that he began to spontaneously gyrate. He danced. Not some nice, clean, sophisticated dance, but a wild, herky-jerky, full of joy kind of dance. She said every eye in the room was on this little boy and he had no clue. He was abandoned to the moment.

Oh, God, teach me to dance like that, in total oblivion to myself and those around me. Caught up in the moment. Lost in Your presence. Aware of only You.

And when I do, there is rest, amazing, refreshing, rehabilitating, Sabbath rest. It means that I have to take the time. It means that I have to be willing to put other things on hold. It means that I set aside a place and a purpose. But it means rest. An hour everyday, a day every week, a weekend every quarter, I don’t know exactly what that looks like but I do know that to be lost in His presence I need to be intentional about my times of rest in Him. The activities of the day, the business of the calendar, the incessant pulse of life is not an excuse for my failure to come away with Him on a regular basis. “Lord, teach me to rest in You. Help me to stop today and find myself lost in your presence.”

I am leaving this morning with my friend Robert and a bunch of other men to an annual event called the Georgia Men’s Advance (because we don’t retreat.) It is a weekend of flagrant abandonment, Sabbath rest, and the opportunity to be fully present with God and the things of God. I have packed by little bag, a pair of jeans and a couple of shirts; prepared by “sleeping in a room full of men” kit, Kindle with reading light, giant bag of M&M’s, and ear plugs. But beyond that I am trying to empty myself, to leave everything else behind. My only goal is to find myself in the Presence of Jehovah. Not a bad ambition I think. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Life Happens

I started this blog on New Year’s Eve. I had high hopes and great expectations of a new, fresh start. I would write a little every day, read through the Bible in a year (3 chapters a day and 5 on Sunday), cut my calorie intake to a reasonable amount, and not yell at the TV during football games. I even bought a new devotional book for Doris and I to do together. (The pages are falling out of Jesus Calling.)
Then life happened. Mom was put in the hospital, had emergency surgery, intensive care, and just yesterday admitted to a rehab center. My brother-in-law was also admitted to the hospital, underwent a battery of tests, and only last Monday released. On top of that there have been clients to see, year-end reports to begin, budget meetings to attend, and emails to answer. I have been sleeping in hospital chairs, updating FaceBook, previewing nursing homes, and wolfing down Big Macs from behind the steering wheel. I am 31 chapters behind on my Bible reading. The devotional book has not been opened (though we have gone back to Jesus Calling about every day), and I am just now picking up this blog again.

Stuff doesn’t always fall into place the way we anticipated it would. Schedules fall through, budgets get out of whack, goals get set aside, and we get lost in the morass of the mundane. We are swallowed up by life and it’s only January 12. Not only does that happen for the New Year but it happens for the new you. We decide to be different. Stop an old habit. Start a new one. Change a relationship or change ourselves in a relationship. The intentions are good but BAM, life smacks us in the face and before we know it we are right back to business as usual and living under the weight of regret. Sound familiar? It sure does for me. In fact, the older I get the more it seems that life is winning.

Two things come to my mind this morning, first Jesus is not surprised by that. He anticipated it. Remember the conversation with Peter on the seashore after an early morning fish fry.  I love Peter. He is the king of big plans and good intentions. “I’ll follow you anywhere Lord.” “Give me a sword, they won’t get by me.” “I’ll never deny you Jesus.” Even on this morning he is declaring, “Lord, after all this, I’m your guy. I love you. I’ll take care of your business for you.” And Jesus says,” Peter, when you were young you went where you wanted to go but the older you get, the more life dictates the direction of things for you.” (The gospel according to me.) He says. “You will reach a point where others will pick out the clothes you will wear and even make you go places you do not want to go.” (John 21) Things are only going to get more and more out of your control, He says. And brother, He was right.

My calendar seems to fill itself up. My schedule for the day begins screaming at me the night before and my To Do list shakes me awake at 3AM and says, “You’ve got no chance of getting this stuff finished.” I pile on top of that a healthy (actually unhealthy) dose of should haves, and oughts, and I am pretty much sunk before the boat ever leaves the dock. Frustrating to me maybe but not surprising to Jesus.
Which leads me to the second thing, also from Him, He has a plan for all of that. In Matthew 6 He is wrapping up the Sermon from the Mountain. It has been a good talk about blessings and staying focused on the right things. I am sure a lot of people are standing there saying, “Hey, I’m going to do this stuff. A whole new way of living for me. I’m putting a plan in place and this time next year you aren’t even going to recognize me. I’ll be a lean, mean Jesus machine.” Jesus gets that from them and He says this, “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” (Matt. 6:34 MSG) Pretty good advice, huh?
Listen, plans, and dreams, and goals, and even New Year’s Resolutions, aren’t bad. They help us focus. They challenge us. They can be agents for change. But be prepared. Life is going to happen. It may come at you in ways you never expected. It may be doing that now. You only have one job. Look for what Jesus is doing around you and in you right this minute and plug into that. Tomorrow we’ll figure out the next thing to do but for today, just me and Jesus. The 12 Step crowd says “Living one day at a time. Accepting life on life’s terms.” I can do that. I’ll try to catch up on my Bible reading. I’ll get some of my running in, and Doris and I will get to the devotional book later. But for now, take a deep breath and see God at work. And revel in that….while you’re at it, have a BigMac.          Mike

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Jesus and Josey Wales

Josey Wales, the Clint Eastwood outlaw from the movie by the same name, turns to his motley little band of renegades. They are getting ready to go to war against overwhelming odds. There is a widow and her daughter, an old Indian man and his girlfriend, and a couple of saloon drop outs, and Josey. It has been a bad time for them. They have lost a lot of battles lately and buried some friends along the way. Josey has tried to teach them to shoot, positioned them at windows in the one room hut they are defending, and spit tobacco on their shoes. (You have to see the movie.) Then he turns to them and in that unmistakable Clint Eastwood kind of whisper says, “When things look bad and it looks like your not gonna make it then you gotta get mean. I mean plumb mad dog mean. Cause if you lose your head and you give up then you neither win nor live. That’s just the way it is.” How’s that for a New Year’s message?

 It may not be scripture but it feels like pretty good advice for right now. 2011 has been a rough year for many of us. We have faced economical challenges, political upheaval, social decay, and spiritual attacks like never before. We have seen people that we love pass away. We have fought back the fear of medical reports. We have watched relationships become fractured and disconnected. And we have endured broken hearts. The devil gets too much credit most of the time but it does seem he has had a heyday in 2011. But enough is enough.

 In the words of that great prophet Josey Wales, “We gotta get mean, plumb mad dog mean.” And that’s what I intend to do as we enter 2012. Listen, we are not sissys. We are not mealy mouth victims who have no recourse but to whine, complain, and take whatever the devil dishes out. WE ARE SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF THE KING. I am ready to get mad at the devil and all his minions and start taking back everything he has taken from us this year. Mean might not be the best word but it kind of gets the point across. As far as sin, sickness, and the devil is concerned this year I am determined to fight back, stand tall, and stay strong in the Name of Jesus.

My friend Robert is teaching me the power of doing what we do in the Name of Jesus. He claims parking places in the Name of Jesus. He gets new clients in the Name of Jesus. He casts out demons and he prays for healing in the Name of Jesus. I believe it is time for us to live in the Name of Jesus. Not just some good luck charm or motivational mantra. But really living in all of the confidence and authority of the Name of Jesus. The kind of confidence that says, “Our God is able to do exceeding, abundantly more than we can ask or imagine.” Or, “Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.”

 I’ve been thinking of some ways to live mean this year. Here are a few:

  1. First, I am going to claim what is rightfully mine as a son of God. And I am going to do it out loud. You know I am not a “charismatic” person. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Seinfeld) But I am ready to start speaking out the power and the promises of God. Listen, if God spoke the universe into existence surely He is interested in what comes out of my mouth. I am determined to speak out the truth, to talk the talk of faith, to use my words to express my trust in Him.
  2. That leads me to the second thing, I am going to begin believing the Word of God. Oh, I have always believed the Bible, kind of, but now it is time to really live that out.  We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” 2 Cor. 4:8 Hey, that is true and I am going to start living that way. WE WIN. This year I am going to get mean about living like a winner. I am going to believe the Word of God. (And to believe it I have to read it.)
  3. Finally, I am going to get mean about recognizing and affirming the blessings of God. 10 years ago when Doris was in her darkest place (because of me) she began praying ever day, “God, Show me one thing today to let me know that you are at work in my life.” And then when He did (and He always does) she would testify to it. Out loud. We have been doing this for 10 years now and God never fails. Sometimes big things, a check in the mail just when we need it. Sometimes small things, a song plays on the radio with the perfect message for us. Big or small we say it out loud, tell others about it, and thank Him. And you know what? The more we thank Him the more we see His blessings.
Well, that stuff may not seem mean to Clint Eastwood but it does to me. And it will to the enemy of our souls. We are children of the King. We are warriors. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph. 6:12) And we are on the victorious side. So, let’s load the guns. Let’s take our places. Let’s get ready for battle. And let’s get mean. “If we lose our heads we neither win nor live. That’s the way it is.” 2012 is going to be your best year. God is going to come through for you. I MEAN it. Take the devil by the horns and throw him out of your life. Square your shoulders, put on the whole armor of God. Spit tobacco juice on somebody’s shoes (Ok, I got carried away) and live this year in the Name of Jesus. You can do it. We all can. And we will.

 Here’s a prayer I wrote and am praying today all day for my family and for yours. Pray it today over your family. And get mean when you do.

 In the Name of Jesus we claim this year the year of jubilee. We take back from the enemy all he has stolen from us. We breakdown walls and enter strongholds to say “Our God reigns. The Lord is with us and greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.” We will overcome all that is against us. We will be a family and a people of victory. We will take our place as the sons and daughters of the King. Today is the end of our persecution and the beginning of our breakthrough.

January 1, 2012