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.

Sometimes, a Co-signer Isn’t Enough

Those of you who know me very well know that I spent 13 years working in the automobile business. I sold cars for nearly ten of those years and spent the remaining time as a finance and insurance specialist and a sales manager. I tell you this, not to invoke your sympathy (although I deserve it for this tour of duty), but to explain my credentials for making the following statement: I need more than a co-signer.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the ins and outs of finance, a co-signer is a person with good credit who signs alongside a person who doesn’t have enough credit history to qualify for a loan of the size requested. Often, the co-signer is a parent or older sibling who has a proven track record of repaying loans responsibly. The co-signer, in effect, guarantees the loan by saying he will repay it if the primary borrower doesn’t handle his or her business. If the primary buyer does a good job of repaying this note, however, he will almost certainly qualify for future loans in his name, alone. Here is the issue, though: as many bankers reminded me over the years as I tried to get loan approvals for customers, a co-signer doesn’t help bad credit… just insufficient credit. In other words, if someone was just starting out, the bank would take a chance on them – providing someone would guarantee the note. However, if someone had borrowed money in the past and had either defaulted on the loan or been seriously delinquent a number of times, a bank would not approve them – co-signer or not.

Let’s put this in a spiritual perspective, shall we? Let’s say a person was trying to qualify for heaven… and let’s say that person was me. Now, if I had just had an insufficient amount of credit (read: righteousness), I could have probably gotten by with Jesus just guaranteeing the note. The thing is… I was rotten. I didn’t just have insufficient righteousness, I had dirty laundry strewn from Chattanooga to El Paso (that’s what one banker used to tell me when he declined a deal… El Pass-O). Lest you think this story is all about me, let’s talk about your credit. You see, Romans 3:23 says, “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Now, you may be thinking “yeah, I’ve slipped up a few times, but I’ve done a lot of good things, so my overall credit score has to be pretty good, right?” Well, actually, the good stuff you’re counting on doesn’t really weigh out all that well on God’s scale of holiness. Isaiah says it this way in chapter 64, “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags.” In other words, what we think is good credit stinks, too.

The story even gets worse. You see, our families have a history of bad credit. Our father, Adam, was given the deed to this great garden home. All he had to do was handle his business well and we would have all grown up in Eden. Alas, he didn’t. Next thing you know, our beautiful garden goes into foreclosure (I think that is a pretty mild word for having an angel with a flaming sword placed at the door to keep us out!). Ever since that day, we have been trying to qualify to buy the family home back; but not only is our credit bad, we have been blamed for Adam’s failure. In Romans 5:12, Paul writes, “… sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” Yikes! I’ve got enough problems of my own without Adam handing his issues down to me.

Now back to the car business for a minute. There was one other alternative for someone with bad credit: it was called a straw-purchase. In a straw-purchase, someone came into the dealership and bought a car for someone else. In other words, the person who would actually be driving (and, hopefully paying for) the car was not involved in securing the loan at all. The deal was totally based on the credit-worthiness of the person who was making the purchase. The problem is, banks won’t allow that. It is absolutely, positively, strrrrrictly prohibited (and illegal). You can see the bank’s point of view, right? The actual driver of the car has already proven that he or she would not repay a loan in a satisfactory manner, and now he will have even less motivation to make the payments since his name is nowhere on the deal. This leaves the straw-purchaser in line to have to pay for a car they don’t drive and don’t want. How motivated to pay do you think this person will be?

There is good news, though: God allows straw-purchases. In fact, He loves them. You may be asking, “what’s with all this talk about credit? What does that have to do with eternal life?” Well actually… everything. Look at Romans 4:3-5, What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.” Just a few verses later, Paul explains further, “The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” In other words, it is all about credit.

There is this amazing exchange that happens when we put our faith in Christ. Two thousand years ago, a man named Jesus lived a perfect life, then was “credited” with all of the sins that you and I (and Adam) have committed and ever will commit. 2 Corinthians 5:21 elaborates by saying, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  Being held guilty for Adam’s sin seems a bit unfair until we understand that through God’s startling act of grace, we can be credited with the absolute perfection of Jesus. One last passage from Romans 5:18, “just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.  For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”

One final thought: stop living like you have a co-signer. Many of us accept God’s free gift of grace and justification, but then live like we are responsible for staying qualified to keep our salvation. While gratitude should cause us to want to “handle our business” responsibly, shame and condemnation over every stumble is not supposed to be part of our lives. Just like with a straw-purchase, the transaction is based solely on Jesus’ credit… and it is perfect.

One Crazy Bird

Just a few days ago I marked the one year anniversary of the passing of one of my best friends, Ken. Now when I say “one of my best friends,” understand what I mean: there are friends with which you share work spaces, classes, neighborhoods, or interests; and then there are friends that share in getting in trouble. You know the ones I’m talking about: the ones who sit in the principal’s office with you trading sheepish looks… or in our case, sit in the general manager or owner’s office cutting our eyes over at each other, wondering what we would do on our “next” job. Ken was one of those friends. You see, we had started working in the automobile business on the same day and had worked together the greater part of the thirteen years I spent in that noble profession. On the outside, we couldn’t have looked much more different. Ken was a tremendous athlete who had been an All-American running back in college; my athletic prowess had been measured by wins and losses on the outdoor basketball court at the East Ridge Town Hall. Ken was insanely strong, often stopping off at the train station on the way to work to lift box cars and locomotive engines; I was also insanely strong… often stopping off at the breakfast bar at Shoney’s or the drive-thru at Bojangles to lift plates of food that were piled inhumanly high; yet while we differed in many ways, even down to our ethnicities, the same heart beat within both of us – the heart of a rebel. Whether collectively or separately, we both generally ran afoul of every authority figure we encountered. It wasn’t that we were bad guys; we just followed the teachings of that role model, John Cougar Mellencamp, who said, “I fought the law and the law won.” This was the type of friendship I lost that day: one that was hardened in the kilns of adversity and resistance to authority, and one in which we had both proven we would stand by the other, come what may. I guess we were truly “birds of a feather” (which leads me to my point… there is a point here – really).

I was given the great honor of delivering the eulogy at Ken’s funeral, so, on the morning of his funeral I was sitting in my home office trying to process my own emotions and wondering how I could possibly do justice to one of the most respected and deserving men I had ever known. As I typed out a few thoughts, I kept hearing some sort of knocking sound out in the hallway. When I finally couldn’t take any more, I walked out into the hallway to bludgeon whatever was making that infernal racket. At the end of the hall are two glass doors which open onto the world’s smallest deck, which is on the second floor of our house. There, a bird pecked at the window. As I watched, he (or she – not really an expert on bird gender) would peck a few times at the glass and then would back up and fly full speed into it. The fearless fowl would then shake his head to clear the birdies singing in it (really?) and start to peck at the glass again. This had gone on for at least an hour at this point, and seemed destined to continue until bird or glass surrendered. My first thought was: this crazy bird doesn’t understand glass at all. He can tell that there is something beyond this window, but he isn’t sure exactly what it is and can’t seem to get to it to find out.

Then a verse Paul wrote came to my mind: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) I realized that I was just like that wacky bird. While I walk around in a world I can see, deep inside of me there exists the awareness that there is more; an inherent sense that life doesn’t end at the moment of death, it merely transitions. Solomon, possibly the wisest man who ever lived, felt this same conundrum. In Ecclesiastes 3, he wrote, “He (God) has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” There are some days that I peck at that “dark glass” that Paul mentions which separates me from what is beyond, and there are other days that I slam head-long into that window… like the day I lost my dear friend. Those are the days that I just keep knocking on it, attacking it, looking for any way to get beyond that barrier.

Thankfully, God doesn’t leave us totally in the dark on the subject. First Corinthians 15 sheds a great amount of light. In fact, verse 42 tells us, That’s how it will be when our bodies are raised to life. These bodies will die, but the bodies that are raised will live forever. These ugly and weak bodies will become beautiful and strong. As surely as there are physical bodies, there are spiritual bodies. And our physical bodies will be changed into spiritual bodies.” The day of Ken’s funeral, I was on the other side of the window from the bird and knew what lay beyond the glass. I could understand what my feathered friend couldn’t; I had… perspective. One day we will pass beyond the barrier and have a correct perspective on the questions that confound us right now: infant mortality, HIV epidemics among innocents, wars and genocide, and yes… why the good seem to sometimes die young. In fact, from the eternal side of the window, we may very well see passing on as the greatest gift a loving God could give us. We may see that earthly healing just prolonged our exposure to sadness, sickness, and stress… three big S-words that don’t live on the other side of the glass. In the meantime, though, our perspective here could use a bit of adjusting. In verse 19 of that same chapter in Corinthians, Paul writes, If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” What he is saying, in bird vernacular, is: begin to live for what lies beyond the glass. It’ll save a lot of headaches.

 

Dedicated to my dear friend and brother, Ken Adair (7/26/57 – 4/8/10) 

The Wonderful World of the Wiener Dog, Pt. 5

This is the fifth post in a series about life through the eyes of a Wiener-dog owner

Who Me? Trust? 

 

My dog, Boomer, likes coffee. Alright, I’ll admit that is pretty weird, but he drinks the last of my coffee every morning. This is relevant because I was sitting on our sofa this morning and Boomer was at my feet whining to come up in my lap (with legs less than 2 inches long, sofas must seem like the Rocky Mountains to him). At least I thought he wanted to come up in my lap. So, in expectation of his full attention and affection, I picked him up. After a quick cursory lick in the general direction of my chin, his true motive became clear. My coffee cup was the object of his desire. I was simply a means to an end, and that end was sticking his long pointed nose into my coffee cup and draining its remaining contents. Let’s withhold our criticism of him for a second, though. A verse in Isaiah 26 came to my mind: You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on youI thought about how often my approaching God, or spending time with Him, isn’t based on my desire to be with Him… it is about something in His hand that I want. Is it just me, or do your prayers often turn into “give me” and “bless me” sessions? I think there is a key in the above verse that I mentioned: trusting God and fixing our thoughts on Him will bring us peace – not just peace, but perfect peace.  Man, couldn’t we use some of that? Just a couple of other quick thoughts: first of all, trust means we don’t have to beg God for the things we need (or think we need). Look what Jesus said in Matthew 6:31,32:   “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’  These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.” We will never find peace in worrying about daily provision. Sometimes it is only one day’s provision, but it is enough for that day. In Exodus 16:4, God told Moses “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day.” The Israelites were like me… they grabbed lots of extra to make sure they had enough for a “rainy day.” Alas, it spoiled after one day. Trust is knowing that provision will be there again tomorrow. Lamentations 3:22,23 says, “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.” The other part of the perfect peace equation is keeping our thoughts fixed on Him. After telling us not to worry about our needs in Matthew 6, Jesus ended that thought with this phrase, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.” If anyone ever needed this message, it is me today. Peace is often a fleeting commodity in my life, choked out by the weeds of worry and need. How about you? Could you use a little more peace today? Try fixing your thought on God and His kingdom, and forget about that coffee cup in His hand.

The Wonderful World of the Wiener Dog, Pt. 4

This is the fourth post in a series about life through the eyes of a wiener-dog owner

Posted: February 24, 2011 in Inspirational
Tags: 

 Okay, contrary to any heretofore claims by yours truly, Boomer isn’t perfect. In fact, he has a serious problem (well, as serious as you can take a problem that involves a dog shaped like an empty toilet paper tube with legs). His problem is that he has a tendency to fixate. Now, when I say tendency, understand the understatement involved… sort of like saying San Antonio has a tendency to be humid. For instance, if you begin to play fetch with him, he totally fixates on that activity, to the exclusion of being conscious of anything else happening on the planet. When you are ready to stop, you can try to ignore him but he’ll come drop the toy on your foot and whine; next, you can place it on a counter top that he can’t reach. In answer to this, he will jump up over and over whining and barking at the counter. You may also attempt to hide it. This, too, avails little, as he will walk around the room whining and sniffing the air to ascertain where his toy has gone. No matter what other activity or treat I wish to give him at this point, he is totally fixated on the one thing. Sometimes, I just want him to sit with me and allow me to pet him and enjoy his company. Alas, he is totally in one-track mode. In fact, the only way to break this obsession is to hide the object in a different room until he forgets it. Luckily, while his body is long, his memory is short.

Here again, I see a picture of myself (and I suspect many of you, too). I have a tendency to obsess, don’t you? Whether it is a good thing or a bad one, the result is similar. Perhaps I may catch a glimpse of something God wants to do in my future and at that moment I become fixated on the dream of what is to come. I have seen this often in the lives of young men and women who are called to some area of ministry. Once they get a vision of where they are headed, they suddenly lose their willingness to stay in their place and remain faithful as they are learning the lessons that will serve them well in the future. We are also prone to begin to cherish the ministry more than the presence of God. Just like me, God may want to hold us and enjoy us for a while; and, just like Boomer, we can only think of chasing that rubber bone. Destiny can be a powerful obsession. So can religion. At one point, Jesus tells the Pharisees, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” (Matthew 23:23 – NKJV). In other words, He is saying, you get all the religious rituals and requirements right, but you miss the main point. In some respects it was the same thing He told Martha when she complained of all the work that needed to be done while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet. He said, “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41,42 – NIV)

Bad things can be equally powerful in their ability to consume us. Whether it is financial worries, health problems, family issues, or any number of other things, we can fixate on those things just as easily… with even more damaging consequences. Jesus chides His disciples throughout His time on earth to not worry, and He often questions where their faith has gone. I think I can easily slip into the trap of totally ignoring a loving, doting Heavenly Father’s presence as I focus all my attention on those unpaid bills or that unfavorable doctor’s report. Sometimes, it seems God is forced to do the same thing I have to do with Boomer – hide the object of my obsession until I forget about it. Unfortunately, my memory is much longer than Boomer’s, so this is not the best option for me. I do see it happen in our lives, though, as those dreams we have of a great destiny seem to vanish into mid-air. I think this was the test God was giving Abraham when He asked him to sacrifice Isaac. That was God’s promise of Abraham’s destiny of being a great nation. God’s question was, do you love me more than the promise I gave you? Abraham passed the test with flying colors. How about us?