To Quote Todd Rundgren: “Hello, It’s Me”

Hello Lord,

It’s me, again. I talked to you earlier today. You may remember… I said some pretty profound sounding stuff, if I do say so, myself. Well see, the thing is: I just had a shouting match with a steak knife. Well, to be fair, I was the only one shouting, the knife never raised its voice. Sad to say, but it behaved more like an adult than I did. What started it was that I cut my finger. Now, to be honest, it wasn’t a very big cut; it just set me off. The cut wasn’t really the thing, at all; it simply threw gasoline on the coals that were smoldering just below the surface – the coals of frustration. Frustration with where I am in life; with the feeling that I should be doing more… that there must be more to life. This innate sense that there is something within me that wants to get out – that NEEDS to be realized.

I have this vague notion of what could be… of what should be! Yet, it simmers, just out of reach. Sometimes, my frustration boils over onto those around me, causing me to direct my feelings toward them. That happened yesterday, actually.

I am not the only one who feels this. Right now, it is 4:44 AM and pitch dark outside; and the lady next door just came out on her porch to smoke a cigarette. She feels it, too, I think. I don’t know her well enough to say that, I just know the signs – and she is exhibiting them.

So, I wonder… did You ever have days like this while You were on earth? Days where something just set You off? I wonder if the day You grabbed a whip and ran everyone out of the temple was one of those days. Maybe not. I tend to think that all of Your actions were well thought out, not reactionary or arbitrary. But You had to feel it sometimes, right? Like the time You healed the man with the withered hand, and all that the religious people could talk about was how You shouldn’t have done it on the Sabbath; or the time You raised up the crippled guy who was lowered down through the roof; and instead of celebrating, the Pharisees criticized You for the way You did it. Or… how about the time that bunch of hypocrites dragged that immoral woman out to You and wanted You to condemn her to death and to congratulate them for their great piety. Your words fairly dripped with disdain when You called them hypocrites and a brood of vipers. Wow! You even called them sons of hell and white-washed tombs!

The religious leaders must not have been the only ones who drove You nuts. How about the time that You were in the upper room about to share the last supper with Your disciples, and You had to break up an argument among them about which one of them was the greatest… woah! And then, there was the time that they had already seen You feed thousands of people from one little boy’s lunch, but they were worried that they might starve to death before they could cross the lake on a boat. I have to be honest; I’m glad You didn’t leave those days out of the Bible. I am really glad to know that, at the very least, You understand this feeling; because at times, I wonder how in the world You could think it was a good idea to ask me to become a pastor.  I’m also glad You gave us a good picture of the people that were around You (warts and all). Even though there are moments that I wonder why the people I try to lead don’t “get it;” when I look at the folks You dealt with, I have to say that, on balance, my partners on this journey are pretty great!

So, where does that leave us? What did You do in those times? It looks like You phoned home. You got away from everyone else and got centered on Your mission, and Your Father, again. Maybe that is good advice for me. You promised that You wouldn’t break a bruised reed or snuff out a smoldering wick. I appreciate those promises, right now, because that is kind of how I feel… bruised and smoldering. From those words, I also gather that I am not the first (or last) person that deals with the smoldering wick of frustration. In fact, it seems like You may have designed us this way. Ecclesiastes 3 says that You have placed eternity in the human heart. So, there it lives, this brilliant bird struggling to be set free. Restrained by time, restrained by human limitations, restrained by fear; yet, while its presence in our hearts leads to frustration at what should be; its brightness lights the way to what could be. Otherwise, we would be satisfied with what is, and never reach what can be… what must be.  In my message yesterday (or was it the day before), I asked our church if they were satisfied, and if not, were they dissatisfied enough to do something about it. Maybe now I am.

It’s dark again, next door. My neighbor’s cigarette is finished; and so is this rant… for now. Stay close, though. I may need to talk again, soon.

Love,

Danny

You Can’t Spell Message Without a Mess

“Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you…”

You can almost hear the pride and defiance in Peter’s voice. In Matthew 26, Jesus had said that all of the disciples would bail out on him, but Peter knew he would never do that. So, how was it that just a few hours later, he found himself in this mess? Three times… three times he had just denied ever knowing Jesus. Peter seemed to have a thing about three times – so do I. When we are kids, we all become masters at the art of knowing how many times our parents tell us something before words change to action on their part. For my mom, it was three times. The first time, she would affectionately call me Dan; the second time, my name was changed to Danny; by the third time, the tone was menacing and the name was Daniel! I never found out what the fourth time would have been like, but I grew up under the impression that (much like the Hydrogen bomb) it might have knocked the earth off of its axis and sent us spinning wildly into space.

Up until this failure, Peter was cocky, so sure of himself – so full of himself. He made bold statements and grand predictions. Some were on the money (“you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God) and met with Jesus’ approval, others were out of line and followed by Jesus calling him Satan. However, the cockiness kept coming. Wow, he must have been annoying to be around! Wow, I must have been (still can be), too… However, Jesus needed someone to which to entrust His newborn church once He left the earth. He didn’t need a perfect leader, who wouldn’t accept anything less than perfection from those around him. Jesus needed a broken leader; one who would accept the shortcomings of others, one who would welcome and promote a major screw-up named Paul (all he had done was try to get as many Christians as he could arrested or killed), a leader who had experienced failure in such a profound way that it crushed the arrogance out of him the way an olive is crushed to produce its oil. This was the kind of leader God would trust to deliver the powerful message on Pentecost Sunday, in which 3000 people would accept Christ. This was the guy who would again deliver a message just a few days later that would see 5000 men, plus women and children come to a saving faith. So, just a few days after Peter’s epic failure, and in Peter’s native language of three, Jesus restores Peter three times, and commissions him to “feed my sheep,” three times on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (John 21).

Just a few months later, Peter is on a housetop in Joppa and receives a vision from the Lord (Acts 10). In the vision, God shows Peter all kinds of different animals and tells Peter to “get up, kill and eat.” The old Peter rears his head at this point and begins to tell God that he has never eaten anything unclean (translation: I am perfect, you must be thinking of someone else). God says, “oh yeah, you’re the guy I have to tell everything three times;” so three times God shows Peter this vision and answers his objections by saying, “what God has made clean, you must not call unclean (translation: “shut up and go tell the gentiles about My love”). So, take heart if you’ve made a mess of things in your life, you are over halfway to spelling the message God has given you. Your failures – your struggles will form the platform on which to build your ministry. Remember the saying kids like to throw around, “it takes one to know one?” Well, it’s true. You can’t spell message without a mess… even if you have to be told three times.

This World Needs a Few More Birdbrains

A mother bird has built a nest in the flower box on our back deck… right in the middle of the new flowers my wife, Debbie recently planted – making it impossible to water said plants. I would find this wildly funny were it not for one ominous fact: these flowers will die from the hot and dry weather we are currently having (still funny to me at this point), the eggs will hatch, the mother bird will move on – abandoning the nest (chuckle, chuckle); and Debbie will BUY MORE! (gulp)

This morning I was getting ready to mow my back yard when I heard quite a lot of squawking and chirping. I looked at the back patio and saw two or three mockingbirds positioned on the guttering above and branches around, making all of the ruckus. The mystery was solved when I cranked the mower up and startled an unseen black cat which had been crouching behind the grill, dreaming of a bird-egg omelet. Just yesterday we had noticed a broken egg on the ground beneath the nest and I assume this might have been the cat burglar that was responsible.

After I finished mowing, I sat down on the patio to enjoy a little reading in the sun. The noise assault soon began on me. You see, mother bird (not to be confused with a mother board) and I have an uneasy truce worked out: as long as I don’t make eye contact or move very fast, she tolerates me. However, the mockingbird hitmen did not get the email and were quite threatening in their tone toward me.

I was sitting there reading from the book of Acts, thinking about the early church’s practice of breaking bread from house to house, taking care of widows, selling their goods to meet the needs of others, and “having all things in common.” As I pondered what this might look like in the twenty-first century, I realized that these birds were doing what we should do as church members. The mother had suffered a loss yesterday and her friends were there with her. Not only were they trying to protect her and her remaining egg, I also noticed that each of these noisy birds had a dead bug in its beak to bring to mom so she didn’t have to leave her nest to eat. I’m not suggesting that we bring dead bugs to all of our pals at church (might be cool, though), but what if we were there to support those who had suffered loss, protected those who were vulnerable, and provided for those who couldn’t provide for themselves? Just food for thought (oh, yes I did)… Think I’ll go tweet about it.

Being EPIC!

The dictionary defines the word epic as: Surpassing the usual or ordinary, particularly in scope or size; Heroic and impressive in quality. The life of Jesus is certainly a heroic tale, isn’t it? A kingdom sends one man to invade an entire planet. He doesn’t show up in a futuristic vehicle, such as a space ship, with weapons blazing; on the contrary, he comes in with the utmost stealth… as a baby. He first infiltrates the world, then begins to influence the world before He ultimately changes the world. His weapon of choice: mercy. He meets hate with love; opposes violence with peace; counters criticism and judgment with tolerance and grace. He even offers forgiveness when none is requested. Napoleon Bonaparte famously said: “Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and myself founded empires; but upon what foundation did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded an empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him.” It is little wonder, then, that the early church of which we read in the book of Acts is such an unstoppable force. These men and women were merely reflecting the epic character of their leader. Shouldn’t we?

True Life Church is a community of believers who aren’t satisfied with the mundane tales that most of our Christian lives have told. We use the letters in epic as an acronym for equipped, passionate, inspired, and creative. We believe these qualities are the building blocks of a heroic faith. Our belief is that by becoming better equipped, more passionate in our commitment, divinely inspired, and releasing the creative gifts that lie dormant in many of us, we, too can author epic tales for the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. You are invited to come be a part… the adventure begins now!

 

The Five Beeps (No, that isn’t a Motown Group)

Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep… 

No, it’s not the dialogue from the latest episode of The Osbournes, it is the sound my coffee maker makes when the coffee is ready. This morning, like many mornings, I anxiously await the sound that signifies that the sweet nectar of life is perfectly prepared and ready to drink. Wouldn’t it be nice if our ideas had that little beeper to let us know when the timing is just right for acting on them? While it is true that timing is important and right ideas at the wrong times are not much better than wrong ideas, I find that far more people make the opposite mistake: sitting and waiting on the perfect time, the perfect scenario, or the flawless idea – as if that little beeper hasn’t gone off yet. There are some times that God wants us to be still and wait, but I suspect it is much less often than we think. In fact, I believe God has quite a sense of urgency.

Listen to 2 Peter 3:9, 9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.  In other words, God isn’t willing for anyone to be lost, yet approximately 150,000 people die each day, that’s about 100 people every minute. While statistics vary, only around 10-20 percent of these people claim to be Christians. Now, God’s plan for reaching those that don’t know Him is… us. That leads me to some uncomfortable math: during each minute that I sit idle, about 80 people die without knowing God – an outcome that the Bible says God doesn’t want; and each day that I wait for His “perfect will” for my life, about 125,000 people enter the afterlife without hope. This has forced me to reevaluate how I do some things. At times, I have tenaciously clung to inactivity, waiting on God to speak clearly. While that may work for some people, I have found a different method to be more effective for me. I have a friend who describes it this way: “do the next right thing that is in front of you.”

I will give you an example that just happened at our church. We have a gentleman who attends there who runs a ministry to feed and clothe people in our community. This ministry is called Christ Chapel, and sits right in downtown Ringgold, GA. The first week of April, we dedicated a Sunday to outreach, and the members brought in bags and bags of clothing and food for Christ Chapel. I wish I could tell you that I had a strong leading from the Lord to do this at that particular time, but that wasn’t the case. In fact, it just seemed like the right thing to do; and while there were no beeps from Heaven signifying it was the perfect time, we just did it. Just three weeks later, a tornado ravaged the city of Ringgold, leveling much of the town and shutting off power throughout the region. FEMA closed down Ringgold for several days while search and rescue operations took place, so no one could get in to bring aid to those who were without clothes, food, or power. Right in the middle of the devastated town stood Christ Chapel. While they had no power, the building still stood and functioned throughout those difficult days, giving out resources, which included our donations, to those that were in need.

In his terrific book, “Sun, Stand Still,”  Steven Furtick relates the story of Joshua’s unprecedented prayer that darkness wouldn’t fall for an entire extra day so that Israel could finish winning a battle. Joshua 10:13 says, “The sun stayed in the middle of the sky, and it did not set as on a normal day. 14 There has never been a day like this one before or since, when the Lord answered such a prayer.” What the author points out, though, is verse 9, which says, ”Joshua traveled all night from Gilgal and took the Amorite armies by surprise.” In other words, Joshua’s audacious prayer and God’s amazing answer all occurred while Israel was in motion, having already marched all night. Most often, I find that God brings resources, as well as any needed redirection to people who are already in motion. God has a sense of urgency; shouldn’t we? Look around you and see what needs to be done – the next right thing – and just start doing it. The beep, beep, beep, beep, beep will come.