The Three Crosses

Nearly every day I drive by three enormous crosses beside Interstate 75. As I pass by, I am reminded of the message that each of the three crosses speaks to me.

I am thankful for the middle cross for a thousand different reasons: it reminds me of a Father’s relentless love which refused to accept separation from His children. It speaks of the high price that was paid by my Older Brother to redeem me – of the unthinkable pain and humiliation that He not only faced, but embraced as the means of purchasing my freedom. It also causes me to rejoice in the fact that it wasn’t the final destination of my Savior; that the grave was opened, death defeated, and eternal life provided by the horrific torture of that cross. It reminds me that there is no obstacle I will ever face that can’t be defeated; no pain I will ever feel that Jesus won’t understand; and no length to which He won’t go to rescue me… again and again.

I am also thankful for the second cross, for it tells the story of repentance and forgiveness. It tells me that no sinner’s past is too bad, and that no lack of good deeds on anyone’s resume will exclude him from being forgiven. It shouts the message that as long as there is one breath left in your body, one beat left in your heart… even if the very last thought you ever hold in your mind is a prayer of repentance, Jesus will hear it and honor it. The second cross declares that it is never too late!

Finally, I am strangely appreciative of the third cross, as well. While it tells a story of bad choices and a hard heart, it reminds me that God gives us the freedom to choose… even to choose to fail. God knows that compulsory love isn’t love, at all, and forced obedience is actually slavery. One can only truly love if he is given the option of not loving; and our obedience is a gift we can give to our Savior only because we can choose not to give it. So, while I wish that everyone would make the choice of the repentant thief, it is the right to choose that makes our worship pleasing to the Lord and our obedience a way to express our gratitude.

“looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:2)

Maybe Today

Maybe today, I will do something great

Maybe today, I will write something that changes the way someone thinks… and lives

Maybe on this day, I will speak an encouraging word that lifts the spirits of someone who is carrying the weight of the world

Maybe, before I sleep tonight, I will invent something that makes life easier for those all around me, or create a melody that energizes a generation

Perhaps today, I will identify an opportunity I have been missing or give away something someone has been needing

Maybe today, I will start a habit that redefines who I am, or what I believe

Maybe today will see the answer to the prayer I’ve been praying, release from the burden I’ve been carrying, or a solution to the problem I’ve been facing.

Maybe today, I will find it in my heart to finally forgive… and forget

Maybe this will be the day I meet a person with whom I can share my heart, hopes, and fears

Maybe today, I will find the courage to take that big leap… or the next small, systematic step

Today, the door to opportunity may swing wide open, or the door to failure and heartache might close… and lock!

Maybe today, I will recognize God’s still, small whisper in the noisy traffic of life

Maybe the clouds will clear, the fog will lift, the silence will break…

Maybe today will be the day that changes everything!

…His mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness! (Lam. 3:22b,23 HCSB)

I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:13)

A Pain in the Neck

Ever wonder what part of the body you are? In 1 Corinthians 12:27, Paul tells us that, “all of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.” So, which part are you? I have often wondered that; however, just a few days ago, I arrived at my answer. In fact, it just might be your answer, too. If you are a pastor, as I am, you are the neck. Let me explain. The neck has two main functions: to lift and support the head, and to connect the head to the body. Colossians 1:18 clearly tells us Who is the Head. Paul writes, “Christ is also the Head of the church, which is His body…” Not only does Paul tell us that Jesus is the Head, he also tells us that the church is His body. It is the role of the neck to connect the two – body and Head. The first thing the neck must do is to hold the head upright, in its proper position above the body. Paul goes on in that same verse to say that, “He [Christ] is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So He is first in everything. It is vitally important that pastors elevate and exalt the Head at all times and in all their actions.

The other critical role of the neck is connecting the Head to the body. If there is one lesson to be learned from Henry the Eighth and his wives, it is that a headless body does not function particularly well (Sleepy Hollow, notwithstanding). The neck passes information back and forth from the head to the body and vice versa. It sends information from nerve endings throughout the body up to the brain. It passes along every ache, pain, and need of the body, so that the brain can act upon it. If the body is hungry, thirsty, in pain, or exhilarated, the neck carries that information to the brain so that it can decide on the proper course of action. It also passes information from the Head to all the extremities of the body so that it operates at full capacity and each part will be cared for, allowing the entire body to function uniformly.

There are two mistakes that we necks should try to avoid. First, we should never try to become the Head. It is our role to keep the Head raised in His position of preeminence over the body. Whenever we try to become the Head, or don’t keep the Head in His rightful place, problems ensue. You might be thinking, “Well, I would never try to take the place of Jesus as Head of the church.” Perhaps… but there are other, more subtle ways that we may make this mistake. We can allow ourselves to begin to take on responsibilities that aren’t ours – to take responsibility for building His church, funding His church, or trying to fill it. Jesus told His church’s first pastor, Peter, “Upon this rock, I will build My church.” It isn’t only pride that will drive us to try to take on the position of the Head; it is also incorrect theology and a misguided sense of responsibility. In the human body, the neck isn’t responsible for life’s decisions. It is simply a conduit between the decision-maker and the body. So should it be for the pastor.

There is a second mistake we can make, which is just as damaging and probably more common. While the neck should never try to function as the Head, it should also never attempt to function as the other parts of the body. 1 Corinthians 12:18, 19 says, “Our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Imagine how inefficient your body would be (not to mention ridiculous looking) if you tried to walk on your neck. Yet, isn’t that what many of us try to do? We take on all sorts of tasks which were never part of our assignments. Do you want to know what our assignments are? In Ephesians 4:11, 12, Paul tells us, now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do His work and build up the church, the body of Christ. Just a couple of verses later, Paul tells us what the results will be of us fulfilling our responsibilities to equip the other body parts: “…we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the Head of His body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”

When our body isn’t functioning correctly, or when the head is out of position, our necks will show the effects. It seems that all of the tension in our lives collects in our neck, doesn’t it? We get knots in the muscles in our necks and sometimes (when our head is out of position for too long) we even get cricks in our necks. As a good masseuse will tell you, work the kinks out of the neck and the entire body will relax. So, here’s to the necks! How about working out a few kinks? It certainly sheds a new light on the phrase, “pain in the neck,” doesn’t it?

What If All Those Fairy-tales are True?

We all heard them as kids,

and then we grew up and paid handsomely for the chance to take our kids to the animated versions: Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Rip Van Winkle, Jack and the Beanstalk. Story after story, they have filled the imaginations of children for years. Then we got a little older and were told that life is no fairy-tale. In fact, we were told, fairy-tales don’t come true; so (fill in your own line here) keep your nose clean, keep your head down, and work hard.

Just about every fairy-tale follows a similar script: a beautiful prince or princess is placed under a curse by an evil being (witch, usually) and is enslaved by this curse. The king, whose daughter or son is the one enslaved, sends people to try and free her, all of whom fail, as the enemy is too clever. Finally one charming prince comes, whose love is true, and breaks the curse. At its heart, every fairy tale is a story of redemption. Whether it is a princess kissing a frog to release a prince from a curse or a prince kissing Snow White to break the spell, the moral of the story is always the same: pure love overcomes any evil. Why do you suppose our hearts are so drawn to creating and reading these kinds of stories? Because that’s our story.

The Bible is a complicated book to understand, but the entire narrative hangs from two dramatic peaks. After God has created His beautiful prince and princess, the first peak occurs in the Garden of Eden. The evil being tricks the princess into eating a forbidden piece of fruit (echoes of Snow White, anyone?). This places our star-crossed girl under a curse.

The King sends a brave man named Abraham to rescue them. Abraham takes a few hundred years to develop a great army named Israel, whose mission will be to defeat the enemy and release the princess from the curse. Alas, this army is crushingly defeated by the evil being (we’ll call him satan), with many killed and most of the others enslaved.

However, a small rag-tag group escapes and stumbles home to lick their wounds. One of this remnant bears a Son, whose heart is pure and whose strength is magnificent. This Son is also completely devoted to the princess who is enslaved. After some time passes, the Son goes back to confront the evil being and to win back His princess. He tricks the enemy into committing the one act that will reverse the curse, which is to kill the Son. This is the second dramatic peak on which the story hangs. Just when things seem utterly hopeless, the Son returns from the dead, having robbed the evil one of all of his power and authority. The Son then breaks the curse that enslaves His princess, allowing her to live again! Of course a wedding will follow shortly thereafter.

Deep inside of each of us, these stories resonate; because (as King Solomon put it) God has placed eternity in our hearts. We know that we were the one under the curse and could only be set free by a hero driven by pure love. We also dare to dream that we could be the one who goes on the next mission to free another prince or princess who is still under the spell of death. Our story, in its simplest form is about a King, a curse, and a cross… redemption! So, don’t be too quick to tell your kids that fairy-tales don’t come true. Yours did!

Going Under the Hood

I’m not talking about the hood of a car. If you know me at all, you know the last thing I should do is to try to repair a car… or even open a hood. No, I’m talking about going under the replay hood. In the NFL, when a call on the field is questionable, they review the play via instant replay. The process goes something like this: the referee announces that the call on the field has been questioned and then he walks to the sideline and “goes under the hood.” He puts on a special headset, which gives him an open line of communication with the press box, which is situated far above the action on the field. Then he ducks his head underneath a cover (the hood) to look at a special video screen.

First of all, the hood shuts out the other noise and distractions, allowing him to focus. Second, underneath the hood, he has access to the view of every camera in the stadium, giving him entirely different perspectives from the one he had on the field. On the field, he can only see from one angle, and he is very close to the action… meaning there may be elements involved which are hidden from his view.

Another aspect which makes the official’s job difficult is the speed of the play. World class athletes are competing and colliding at nearly inhuman rates of speed. This means that he only has a split second to make a determination about what he thinks he saw. Underneath the hood, the referee also has the luxury of slow-motion, and now with HD video, he can even use what is known as “super slo-mo” or he can completely stop the action on a single frame of video (to see if a player’s foot is in bounds or on the line, for example). To the TV viewer, it can seem like these replays last forever… almost like the official doesn’t want to come out from under the hood. Can you blame him? In the middle of an afternoon of violent collisions; thousands of screaming fans… some of which are for one team, others are for the opposite team – so you can’t please both of them; and immense pressure to make the right decisions the referee gets to spend a moment with only one voice in his ear and he gets to slow everything down for just a second and get a different, crystal-clear perspective on things.

I had an “under the hood” moment, today. We keep our house somewhere between brisk and “I can’t feel my fingers and toes” at night, so when I first got up for my prayer time, I wrapped myself in a quilt. As I sat talking to God about the violent collisions, the screaming voices, and the pressure in my daily life, I pulled the quilt up over my head and said: “God, just give me a glimpse of Your perspective.” For just a few minutes everything slowed down. The outside noise seemed to stop, and I only heard one voice in my ear… a voice that came from far above the action. My perspective changed. Suddenly I could see a bigger picture and all the different angles and factors involved. . It reminded me of the way Jewish people use their tallits, or prayer shawls… often covering their heads when they pray.

To be honest, I didn’t really want to come out from under the hood, either. How about you? Could you use a little time “under the hood,” today?