Grace. Revisited.

This past week my wife, Amanda, and I were on vacation.  It was a whirlwind tour that took us through Ohio for a wedding, a couple days with our parents in rural North Carolina, and then two stops in costal towns along the North Carolina coast.  It was romantic, refreshing, and restful.  

Vacations always provide an opportunity for me to grow, personally.  Whether it is marital conflict or dealing with financial problems or distance management of a ministry … vacations have always seemed to have provided a significant amount of conflict, both relationally and internally. 

I suppose this year wouldn’t be vacation without such tension.

Our first official day of vacation, Monday, brought a call from my doctor in response to blood work from a physical I had the week before.  The tests showed that something wasn’t right inside of me, something very serious.  There was no diagnosis or even a hint of diagnosis in the phone call.  There was no doctor with a chart and a prescription.  There was just the lingering knowledge that something inside my body wasn’t right.

For the first time in my life, I had to process through a scenario where my body could be failing me.  I thought about death and dying, about how I had mistreated myself through eating too much and not working out like I should, and about how irreplaceable health is.  

I wanted to relax.  I wanted to vacation.  I got that gift instead.

I also started reading a new book over vacation.  It’s not a quick read by any means, which normally means its something that I’ll love.  I love when people make things complicated.  I love reading books that split hairs and draw conclusions.  However, this book isn’t one of this books.

This book is about grace.

I forget about grace a lot.  I forget how expensive it was.  It was so expensive it cost God his only Son, Jesus.  I forget how expensive it was and try to pay for it a lot.  I try to be good enough.  I try to work hard an earn the favor.  

I try.  But I fail.  

I fail.

Grace is simply getting something you did not earn and you do not deserve.  Life through Jesus is something I do not deserve.  It is certainly something I cannot earn.

This week was a week of grace.  Throughout the week I began to hear the voice of the Savior earnestly reminding me that it is His worth and work that makes me right.  That I am eternally bound to him as Redeemer.  

Throughout the week it felt as though the knots of selfishness, pride, and fear were loosened inside my head as I began to re-experience His grace. 

This grace really is amazing.

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A medical explanation of my report:

There are two enzymes that naturally occur in your blood from your liver.  They are called ALT and AST.  When these levels are increased it means that there has been damage to your liver.  The normal levels for these enzymes are between 10-60; mine were around 180, more than double the normal amounts.

There are several things that could cause this: gaining weight and having fat deposits in your lives, the onset of Hepatitis A or B, medications can do this as a side effect, or it could be cancer.

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An update on my medical condition:

On Monday I had an ultra-sound of my internal organs.  They were looking for everything from abnormalities to tumors, to enlargements in my lymphatic system.  It was very stressful.

On Wednesday morning I received a call from the Doctor.  Everything is clear, and my insides looked completely normal.  This is a huge answer to prayer.

I will go in a couple of weeks and have my blood checked again.  In the meantime I am recommitting myself to my health and thanking Jesus for the opportunity to do so.

Independence.

On July 4th 1776, a group of leaders joined together to authorize the publication of a declaration sent to the King of England.  These leaders joined together to stand against the reign of King and a political system that epitomized tyranny and exploitation.  

They banded together around ideas that had been born years earlier.  Ideas that would revolutionize our world.  Ideas that would change the way governments were ran and how the average person in our world experienced life.  

While these ideas originated in the Enlightenment with men like John Locke years before, they came to a head in this document with words like: “We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

This document would declare the thirteen American colonies independent of England and free from the rule of this tyrant king.

Signing this declaration would most certainly warrant a death sentence from the King and his regime.  This group of leaders banded together and joined in with their signatures to begin this revolutionary move of independence.  

The leader of the group is credited with the first signature to be applied to the completed document.  His name is John Hancock, and if you ever get to look at photo of the Declaration of Independence (or the real document itself), you will immediately notice that his signature is five times larger than the others.  It was a bold statement of commitment, total commitment, to a cause much larger than himself.

I thought about this moment this past weekend.  And I thought about our church.  I thought about the leaders that Jesus has given me the privilege to work with and how we are all engaged in a similar fight for independence.  I thought about how bold they are in their commitment to this move of independence, and how much many of them have given to advance it.  I wanted to take a moment and publicly thank them for that:

Bob Morgan.  Bob has given up so much in life to do what he does in ministry.  He freely gives of his time, above and beyond what’s expected, his energy, and his passion.  Bob has walked through some difficult places personally, and he always finds a way to try to make you smile, no matter what he’s going through.  He’s courageous and dedicated.  I thank Jesus for Bob’s commitment and courage.

Linda Roberts.  Linda is remarkably invested in our church.  There is nothing that she does not care about in church and nothing that she thinks we cannot do.  She’s one of the few leaders that whenever she’s approached with a new idea for ministry, her mind starts turning on how to make it happen.  She is remarkably capable and dedicated, never looking at something as above or below her.  I’m thankful to Jesus for Linda’s investment in our ministry, because she constantly lives out Jesus through her dedication.

Josh Walters.  Josh was a friend of mind before I came to our church.  He is one of the most genuine and loving guys I’ve ever met.  He is also a remarkable minister.  He has a gift for contextualizing Jesus into a relationship or a moment or a talk or a service.  He has a passion for his Savior, for his students, and for his Family.  He always tries.  He is also one of the most giving men I’ve ever met: he’s helped me move, helped me build a fence, let me borrow his stuff, etc.  I’ve told Josh repeated that he makes me better, not just at doing what I do but being who I am.  I’m really thankful to Jesus for Josh, his friendship and who he is as a man.

Kathy Tetreault.   Kathy is one of our worship leaders.  She is gifted beyond belief.  She can literally hear a song and determine the key and chord progression simply by ear.  She’s passionate about music and passionate about serving Jesus.  Kathy has chosen to stick it out during times when there was a lot of change around her.  She is constantly willing to form new friendships and help teach those around her.  She is remarkably faithful and helpful to me, personally, with our worship program.  I am thankful to Jesus for Kathy’s dedication and service.

Greg Dowey.  Our Senior Pastor is one of the most passionate men I’ve ever worked around.  He is passionate about Jesus, because he constantly returns to Jesus’ words to affirm both our practice as a church and our vision.  He is passionate about the bible; he always uses the bible as a standard for our beliefs, our practice, and our vision.  He is passionate about prayer; he gets to work early every morning and prays long before the rest of us show up.  He is passionate about giving; you could never know all the ways that our pastor gives to our church and to others … I’ve seen portions and am amazed.  Our pastor is passionate about grace; he is always faithful to view a difficult moment through the lens of the cross.  I love that he quietly teaches us how to love our families and how to laugh.   I love that he never takes himself too seriously.  I thank Jesus for our Pastor’s passion and ask that Jesus would share a little bit of that passion with the rest of us.  I also thank Jesus for who our pastor is as a person.

Be reminded: our community needs independence from tyrants, the tyrants of sin and self, and we are joined boldly together to spread to them the message of freedom that Jesus has offered us through his cross.

Please join with me in praying for these men and women as they lead the way.   Often leading is full of difficulty and danger.  However, I know them and they’re not backing down.  So, also pray that God advances His message of freedom in our community as we boldly declare it.

Grace. [period]

Below is the best short film I’ve ever seen.  I encourage you to watch it … all fifteen minutes of it.

It’s a true account out of one of my hometowns, Summerville, SC, that contains all the elements to make it remarkably meaningful to me: story, adversity, a sports team doing something that’s never been done, and commitment to a vision that was bigger than anything they’d ever believed on their own.





When I watch this film I’m reminded of what brings about the life of Jesus inside of us.  It’s not our worth, because we have all fallen hopelessly short of the best Jesus wants for us.  It’s not our efforts for good, because even when our efforts seem to be at the best we most often become infected with a pride about how right we’ve become. 

It’s obviously not something I’ve done.  It’s what Jesus did, the most simplistically complicated truth in all of human existence: that a Savior gave himself over to a cross to bear the weight of all the sin of mankind and that, somehow, that work alone is what makes me good.

When Jesus looks at me, much like the fallen coach Mulkey who constantly believed the impossible and improbable, he sees the best when I can sometimes only see my worst.  I look at myself and call me “sinner”.  Jesus looks at me and calls me “clean”.  

That is grace. [period] 

Itchy [part 3]

My face is itchy.

I haven’t shaved in a week, and I have significant amounts of stubble on the surface of my face.  The stubble is uncomfortable and rather vindictive.  I find often that it tries to tangle itself in zippers and Velcro to which I come in contact with.  All of this is surprising to me, as I am in an unplanned, unanticipated process of growing a beard.  


Giving birth to something is painful and costly.  

The beard is costing me itchiness and discomfort.  It is constantly costing me focus as it offers me a bit of distraction.  It is costing me something, but hopefully the cost will give birth to something.

In the same way, there is a cost associated with following Jesus.  Its difficult and trying, however, there is reward as our following Him does produce real and authentic life.

So if you’re itching … just know it might mean you’re growing and changing (or you might just need some lotion).

confessions [round 1]

1.  i made and ate four fried bologna sandwiches for lunch.

2.  i haven’t mowed my yard in two weeks. (my wife said “its been longer than that”)

3.  i enjoy beverages too much.

4.  i still haven’t found what i’m looking for.

5.  i miss my friend josh baldwin.  he’s been recording a cd for the past few months.

6.  i use those moist wipes to clean my butt when i go number two.

7.  i still think bathroom humor is funny.  i got in trouble for that when i taught middle school.

8.  i am now thirty years old.  statistically, life is almost half over.

9.  i hate grammar and all its conventions, and i hate people who correct peoples grammar in casual conversation.

10.  i miss coaching football.

11.  i love playing video games.  tonight it was bowling on the wii sports.

12.  i got so sunburned at the beach a week ago that i literally peeled all the skin under my shirt.  that was itchy and gross all at the same time.

13.  i want to look like mike barrett when I grow up.

14.  there are only two television shows i’m fond of: house & the office.

15.  my dad is still one of my heros.  i painted a wall and framed pictures of my heros to hang on it in my office at work, but it’s incomplete without pictures of me and my dad.

16.  sometimes i’m amazed at how far i’ve come.  most of the time i’m frustrated by how far i still need to go.

17.  i think my wife is absolutely beautiful and i really want to be the best husband i can be for her.

18.  john piper wrote that every moment is an opportunity to look backwards at your past with thanks and forward at the future with faith … i think i look backwards with regret and forward with worry way too much.

19.  our cat scoots her butt on the ca
rpet after she goes number two.

20.  i’m thankful that i met jesus, that he’s leading me, and that he’s kept me.

Agree to Disagree.

I have been meeting together with a few friends of mine for the past few months and processing together what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  We have all studied and prayed and fought through the resistance.  We have all wanted to stop and quit, but most of us have persevered.  In the end, we’re better for it.

Last night in our time together one of my very thoughtful friends asked about submission, a very central Christian discipline.  She asked about the difference between submission and obedience, which I think is such a central question to me, personally.

As followers, we are called to be submissive ultimately to Jesus.  Life on the elevator is all about following Jesus and not me.  Submission is the central recognition of that truth and practically works out through me following Jesus in every area of life.

But there is a difference between obedience and submission.  The difference is agreement.  I obey when I agree that the request is good.  I submit when I follow even though I don’t agree.  

I’ll let you in on a little secret about me: I follow really well.  I really don’t struggle with obedience; when I agree … it’s easy.  However, when I don’t agree with Jesus, there’s something broken within me that fights against following.

I love the TV show “The Office” that stars Steve Carell as Michael Scott.  Michael is an overbearing, arrogant, insensitive, and socially-awkward manager of a regional office products sales force.  In one very hilarious show, Michael is confronted about his often over the top jokes and how offensive they are in an office environment.  He debates back and forth with his manager and a lawyer and finally concludes “Agree to disagree.” He walks away unfazed and continues in his tasteless behavior.

So many times I find myself in a debate with Jesus.  I know my inclination and know his mandate.  I know that as Lord, I am supposed to give the authority to run my life over to Jesus.  I know this in my head, but something fights against that.  All too often my behavior declares: “Agree to disagree”, as I move on to do my own thing.

Submission is for moments when we normally would “agreed to disagree”.

As followers of Jesus we are called into places where we will not agree with Jesus, where our experience and our inclination will lead us distinctly away from the path He holds for our lives.  

It is in those places where we are called to submit our wills, our hearts, and our lives to a Savior whose work liberates us from not just sin and death, but all too often, ourselves and our way.

anxious.

I normally like to start these with a cool story.  When I do it makes me feel better about what I’m saying and it helps me remember something that happened to me in a new light.  I normally like to do that.  Not tonight.

So let me start this one in a very conservative, bible-teacher, kind of churchy way; let me begin this conversation with a scripture:

Philippians 4:4-9  “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”

You see, my friends, today I feel anxious.  For some seasons in life my mind does a bad job managing stress.  This is one of those seasons.  Every little thing is a new reason to worry.  My email wont work … worry.  I can’t get ahold of this company … worry.  I get fearful that all those crappy thoughts and fears in my head will be exposed … worry.

My dad used to worry a lot about me.  I can’t blame him.  I got hurt every five minutes.  If I was running in the street and he yelled out “Don’t run in the street … you might …” I had already fallen.  But his worry was pervasive.  It really encompassed everything about me.  I know it was because he loved me, but it was often overbearing and controlling.  Again any father who saw their child suffer the way my father saw me deserves the right to be overbearing, but overbearing it was none-the-less.  

You see when I read the scripture above I’m reminded why I am anxious.  Its a problem that permeates my life.  I’m not in control.  

You see the writer says “don’t be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”  That attitude represents distinct trust in Jesus.  It recognizes that we, no matter how hard we try, are not in control.

So tonight … I bow my head humbly to the Lord Jesus Christ and try to give these cares and worries over to him.  Tonight I can be thankful that I don’t have to worry about it, because Jesus does the work of redemption and these light and momentary afflictions are gaining a great harvest of righteousness for me.

This is a testimony of my brokenness, which, in turn, is a testimony of Jesus’ completeness. 

And tonight … I fix my thoughts on Jesus, who is noble, righteous, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.  

And tonight, I’m thankful that I get to go through this.  Life could be easy, but what would the sunshine mean without the rain.

Itchy Part II

Several blogs ago I posted the now infamous “itchy” blog, a short and sweet analysis of a common, pervasive situation we all face.  It was meant to set up this discourse.  So, please read on.

While the “itchy” blog was a bit gross and humorous (if only to a small segment of the population), the comments I’ve received personally in response to it go to prove my point: there are ugly things inside all of us that we don’t want to talk about or have known.

We all have itches.  Most of us choose to hide them.

Thoreau wrote once that “all men lead lives of quiet desperation” (Walden, 1854).    The paradox of community, commonality, and corruption is that most of us share the same burdens.  If we chose to walk through them together, then the burden would be lighter and the path to wholeness shorter.  Those who have went through AA or Celebrate Recovery can testify to this.  But for those who only bear their sufferings quietly in solitude, life can be relentless torture, filled with longing and desperation for wholeness and intimacy.

There is a book in the bible entitled Deuteronomy which was written to the whole of the nation of Israel with the sole purpose to remember their journey together under the direction of Moses.  It was about their common experiences: their rescues and their failures.  Somehow, in the commonality of the book, the community found wholeness and redemption.  The book ends by recording Israelites preparing to capture, together, what they failed to accomplish in the beginning of the story … the promise of God.

We all have itches.

If “scratching only makes it worse” (Josh Baldwin), then let us be reminded that the best remedy for our ugly sores is nothing more than exposure and light.  

We are reminded in the last book of the bible how we overcome: 
1.  Through the blood of the Lamb, the work of Jesus on the cross
2.  And through the word of our testimony (Rev. 12:11).  

We all have itches.  Don’t be ashamed of yours … it is your testimony.

Willie Nelson's Guitar

I openly admit that I love Willie Nelson.  He is iconic.  Although Willie’s life personally stands for sustained, open rebellion, his artistry is vast and significant.  His music is simple, typically a simple acoustic instrument: either a piano or an acoustic guitar, a few rhythm instruments (some drums and a bass), and a simple melody instrument (my favorite is the harmonica in Willie songs).


I particularly like watching Willie in concert.  Willie has this archaic stage presence.  He’s not quite as shaky as Ozzy, but he’s definitely become a little more frail through age.  Willie’s band is an unfortunate gig, since Willie is the main attraction.  He definitely steals the stage with his long hair and obnoxiously wide guitar straps.  Willie steals the stage with his guitar as well.

Willies guitar is iconic too.  Many of you know it when I mention it.  His guitar is gaped with holes from wear and tear over the years.  When Willie takes the stage, this guitar defines him a little more clearly, this guitar with worn holes and obvious defects.  It’s amazing that such a great musician, with vast resources (even though the IRS obviously took quite a bit of those resources) would choose to be defined with an item that has such wear.

The other day I looked down at my guitar to notice that it too, has started to show some of the wear that Willie’s guitar has.  I do not have holes in my guitar yet, but the years of use are definitely wearing on the guitar.  

Life does that to us, doesn’t it?  Over time, without notice or awareness, life just happens to us.  We look down one day, and we notice that which was new and pristine has tarnished and is now used.  

Sometimes the wear is because of abuse.  My guitar has nicks and damage from times when I’ve abused it.  Some of us have nicks and damage from abuse.  Some of the abuse has been what other’s have done to us, but if we’re honest, most of it came from what we choose, when we abused ourselves.

Sometimes wear is natural.  Some of the wear on my guitar, you can notice, is wear from use.  Life by it’s very nature requires energy and investment to proceed.  This investment will wear you down.  

Some times when we step back and we see ourselves as we truly are, we realize that we’re playing life with Willie’s guitar.  Some of us need rest, some need recovery.  All of us need Jesus; because he makes all things new. 

itches.

do you ever have itches that are annoying, persistent, moist in nature, perhaps located in unsightly, inconvenient places? …….. well, apparently i’m not the only one.

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