Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Means......

In spite of the acrimony and lies of our ruling class, in spite of the meanness and depravity of the media, in spite of the disparity between the haves and have nots, today is still and calm. The air is solemn. There is a reverent quietness running through all creation. The glory of God's gift penetrates the heart of  all things and reign's majestically, independent of the world's ability to receive or recognize it. Love has come to free the lost, the disenchanted, the disenfranchised. Jesus saw the broken condition of mankind and willingly became the atonement, the sacrifice, the lamb, the gift. We have been liberated from our sin, from our selfishness, from our desperate hearts. Today is the celebration of the victory over evil. The merciful heart of God inserted love into the battle that raged between what remained of His goodness in us and the cancerous decay of men without hope, purpose, faith. Christmas is the joy of compassionate intervention. Christmas is help for the helpless. Christmas is giving to those who cannot give in return. Christmas means measuring ourselves with a different scale, seeing ourselves in a different light. Christmas means the time of striving,  of suffering, of sadness, is finite. There is Joy for the world because the Lord is come and the earth has received its King! Christmas means living abundantly in the expectation that hope can replace despair, that sadness can give way to laughter, that love can rule our lives. My prayer is that in the stillness of this day, you would consider what it means to be free from sin and death; that your heart would be broken over your sinfulness and simultaneously overjoyed that our God saw fit to call us back to Him with the miracle of His Son coming as a child, that you would vow that this knowledge will color your living from this day forward. Selah!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Happiness and Joy

Happy and You Know It

If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands (clap clap)
If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands (clap clap)

If you're happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it

If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands. (clap clap)

If you're happy and you know it, stomp your feet (stomp stomp)

If you're happy and you know it, stomp your feet (stomp stomp)

If you're happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it

If you're happy and you know it, stomp your feet. (stomp stomp)

If you're happy and you know it, shout "Hurray!" (hoo-ray!)

If you're happy and you know it, shout "Hurray!" (hoo-ray!)

If you're happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it

If you're happy and you know it, shout "Hurray!" (hoo-ray!)

If you're happy and you know it, do all three (clap-clap, stomp-stomp, hoo-ray!)

If you're happy and you know it, do all three (clap-clap, stomp-stomp, hoo-ray!)

If you're happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it

If you're happy and you know it, do all three. (clap-clap, stomp-stomp, hoo-ray!)

I am grateful to God and a dear friend of mine for showing me something fundamental and absolute about the difference that exists between happiness and joy. These words are often used interchangeably and we assume that they are essentially synonyms. I want to explain why that is not true. I am proposing that happiness is an emotion that is dependent upon circumstance or incidental happenings while joy is more or less an element of our world view or our perception of our place in the kingdom of God. I know that is conflicting and seemingly contradictory but bear with me and I will try and resolve the confusion.

Having the blessing of existing in a western culture in the 21st century,
we are far removed from the hardship and struggle that marked life for most of the generations that preceded us. We enjoy an existence that would be unimaginable for anyone except royalty; we are relatively free from want, hunger, disease, war. We eat when we are hungry, we sleep when we are tired, we work 5 days a week, we vacation annually. We have doctors if we are sick, we have clean clothes and houses that are dry and safe. Our lives are very comfortable and filled with convenience and distraction. We have standards of living that would put us in the the top .05% of people who have ever walked the planet. That should be something worthy of happiness. A life worthy of joy.

We don't need to look very hard to realize how fleeting happiness can be.
Children give evidence to this in their reactions to events all the time. If they cannot have the candy, toy, etc. now, they are not happy and that fact is communicated instantly and with conviction. Because their frame of reference is narrow and necessarily self centered, they react to not being happy with howls and tears. Sadly, we often see adults who have the same reaction to circumstances that leave them less than happy. If we are fortunate enough to have had loving parents and good teachers, we realized through our formative years that it isn't always our day, we don't always win, sometimes life is not fair. We are incredibly fortunate if we have reached adulthood with a world view that acknowledges our tremendous blessing and favor with God in that we live where, when and how we do!

I want to suggest that happiness or being happy is a choice that we make in light of our circumstances; a decision that we must make continuously as we go through the day. Choosing to be happy is part of an outlook on life that takes responsibility for your reaction to events, disappointments, encounters.
If your world view is objective and you recognize how overflowing your abundance is, you can see the minor infringements, delays, hassles for what they are. Inconvenience does not warrant a tantrum, swearing, pounding on the counter or steering wheel. You will survive the moment and it need not color the rest of your day and every subsequent event that you encounter.
Perspective, experience, and maturity separate an adult happiness from a toddler happiness; we grow into a realization that there is rain, accidents, hurt, meanness in life. We can't control those things but we can manage our response and reception of them in our lives.

You may be thinking, "I know people who are always happy and they don't have a faith in God!” which brings us to the distinction or differentiation
between happiness and joy. The characteristic of joyousness or being filled with joy is distinct from happiness by its depth and source. This is where I will struggle to define the distinction that is so obvious yet defies explanation. In the same way that a happy adult is different from a happy 3 year old, a person that has joy is different from someone who is merely happy. Where 'happiness' is circumstantial, joy is 'constitutional'. Joy is a foundational element of a person who has been delivered from sin and death.
If you have a saving faith that God is who He says and that His Word is true,
you have a flame of hope in your core that is joy. You know that the 'happiness' of this world is only a rusty, dented hint of the 'joy' that exists in the presence of God. So while it is true that there are people who do not know God who are happy, only those who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ possess the joy that is indicative of salvation.

      For those who have joy, the burden remains; the knowledge that far too many around us are lost, seeking happiness in the moment, pursuing the
silver and gold that will melt in the end of this life. Sadly, there seems to be a window for us to learn the truth about happiness, joy, abundant living. Outside of that period, the willingness of our hearts to embrace truth diminishes, we become stiff and hard to accepting new life, new truth.
IF you know someone who needs joy, pray that our merciful God in His infinite love will heal their heart; that your Joy may serve as a light, that He will get glory because you were burdened for their salvation. Make sure that everyday you are happy about the right things, that the source of your joy is at the center of all you think, say, and do. Put away the things of childhood and embrace the joy that exists to be given away.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Matter of Degrees

     Imagine that you are standing at the center of a clock and you are facing the twelve. You are facing that direction because beyond the twelve, beyond the edge of the clock is truth. Beyond the horizon is the source of goodness, love and holiness. God is beyond your sight calling you. Behind you, at six o'clock is the darkness. The evil one whispers from the void. Insistent. Incessant. His lies and deception continuously directed at your weakness. His subtlety and craft derailing your attempts to live intentionally for God.
     The call he issues is not blatant. He doesn't attempt to spin you around from the twelve to the six. He knows  that would be too much. His strategy is to move our eyes from God only slightly, say to 11:58 or maybe 12:01.
If he can achieve that, a slight distraction from having our focus singularly on God, then he can move us incrementally to say 9:00  or 3:00 o'clock. Then you are facing neither the light or the darkness. You are looking at the gray area; the in between, where the lines are fuzzy and distorted. Where choices and decisions are difficult  because the consequences may not be clear.The reason he doesn't need to move you 180 degrees is because he only needs  to move you 1 degree. When we take our eyes off God, when we are not living intentionally focused on Him, we have compromised with evil and a single degree is the same as 15 or 45 or 90 degrees. To not be God focused is to be focused on the other, the world, ourselves, the darkness.
     The deception of Eve in Genesis illustrates for us the subtlety and slight of hand that makes satan such a dangerous adversary. In asking "Did God really say?", he plants doubt in Eve's mind about her understanding of God's words. He suggests that she has misunderstood the intent of God's instruction. That degree of doubt, that compromise of the truth equals death. When we trust ourselves to navigate in the gray areas, when we decide things without the moral compass that is God's love, we have moved a degree and we are choosing sin. Only a focused pursuit of God, seeking His truth, allowing it to live in our hearts and control our minds can deliver us from the enemy. A degree of doubt and we are vulnerable. A small compromise and we are susceptible to destruction and ruin.
     Because he is relentless, we must never stop seeking God's truth and our redemption through His Word.
The deceitful nature of our hearts requires that we be continually washing them with the truth. If we are not cleansing ourselves and remembering God's truths into our minds, we have no defense for the whisper that slithers from the darkness; that incessant hiss of falseness that calls to our pride, our vanity, our self esteem.
When we are satisfied with our goodness, when we are self-sufficient, when we take God for granted because we are not focused on Him, we have have moved a degree, and we die.
     The deceiver is tireless in his pursuit of those who cling to the promise of the light. Those who pursue God and His kingdom are subject to the his full attention and are assaulted with doubt, fear, insecurity and angst. He sows discontent and disruption to distract the faithful from delivering what God has ordained for them to achieve. We have heard it argued that satan knows the end he faces and that he attempts to strip away as many believers as he can in a last gasp attempt to defy God. I am increasingly convinced that the opposite is true; the insistent ferocity, the determined energy of his activities are indicative of an individual
 who believes he can win. His efforts are those of someone who is confident of success. He craves the worship that rightfully belongs to the one true God, but he will settle for the vague affirmation that he gets from the lost, who knowingly or not are separated from God. Because he is the father of lies, he believes his own lies. He believes that the anguish and agony of the lost is equivalent to the adoration and awe of the saved; his pride and vanity convince him that an individual's rejection of God's love is an endorsement of his
evil, lies and deceit.
     The root of satan's fall is selfishness and pride. His self-delusion is that somehow he is more worthy of glory and honor than his creator, the maker and author of all things. He believes that his value and his worth is somehow his doing and not an imparted or reflected good that comes from God. When we choose ourselves over God, we align ourselves with satan. Rebellion, choosing ourselves or our own course rather than submitting to God's, is sin. We deceive ourselves when we believe that we are self-sufficient, self-empowered, or self-contained. We were created to reflect God's glory; in and of ourselves we have nothing that is commendable or worthy of recognition. We are reflective of His goodness and if we believe that we are good, we have swallowed the lie of satan.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

God's Holiness continued

      We have covered the fact that people who lived in cultures before technology and the worship of distraction, had a very different perspective on God and the consequences of not respecting His holiness.
Men feared encounters with God because to actually look upon Him would result in death; His purity and goodness are that strong. God instructed men he interacted with to turn away from him, to hide in clefts in the rocks, to remove their shoes because they were encountering His holiness in a proximity that was dangerous if not fatal. When God spoke to the people from Mt Sinai, His thunderous voice terrified them and they asked Moses to let God speak through him because they could not endure the voice of God and feared they would die. The Hebrew people revered God's name so much that they would eliminate the vowels in pronouncing it as an acknowledgement of their being unworthy to pronounce His name. How far removed we have become as we hear His name defiled in cursing, His relevance denied with ignorance and indifference, His Son rejected as an impostor or 'just another prophet". Disrespecting God's holiness is a grave offense and we must continually be on guard to insure that we have a humble and consistent appreciation for the holiness of our God and what befalls us when we are careless.
     What are the dangers of living without a proper appreciation of the holiness of God? The most damaging
thing we do when we debase God's holiness is we negate the magnitude of Christ's sacrifice. If God is not
"separate or apart from" us, if we could have relationship without the law being fulfilled, without atonement;
then God is not who He claims to be and His word is not true. When we view God as a grandfather who loves us regardless of our behavior, shrugs off disobedience, tolerates willful sin, we have compromised His holiness and insulted His true character and nature. When we think of God as just a really complete version of man, we insult Him. We have misinterpreted His word and we are deceived because we are clearly told that God is holy and we should be holy. We are to separate ourselves from the world and its depravity, not lower God so He more resembles us. Compromise is a slippery slope that we are ill-equipped to navigate.
When we compromise God's word , His character, and our relationship to Him ,we are back to religion, searching for God on our terms. When we impugn God's holiness, out of ignorance or disobedience, we diminish the magnitude of His love, power, and majesty. His Word tells us that a reverent fear (respect) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. We should always endeavor to remember the source of that fear among His chosen people; His Holiness.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

God's Holiness

     We have all had the experience of learning of some horrific violence against children or equally helpless adults and hearing or even uttering ourselves "Is nothing sacred?" We live in a time when depravity and senseless violence so dominate the news that it is no stretch to believe that there is an element of the world's population for whom quite literally, 'nothing is sacred'. They have no fear of  answering for their actions, be it to man or to God and it is an indication of the extent of their 'lostness' or separation from God and everything that is pure, good, right, and holy. We can and should pray for the lost and we should be broken over their separation. I want to set that aside for now though and consider the implications when believers are soft or unclear in their reverence for God's holiness. What does it mean to serve a Holy God whose name is sacred,
whose essence is truth, whose core is righteousness? What can we do to insure that our perception and respect for God's holiness is as he intends?
     While most of us have little problem acknowledging our sinfulness and the struggle to be 'good ',
we really are unequipped to comprehend or process the holiness of God. The primary meaning of holy is separate or apart from. Being the source of light, truth, purity and love, God is outside of our ability to comprehend or perceive. We know that He is good and we are not but that is not really an adequate understanding of what it means that our God is a holy God. If we search the Old Testament we can find abundant evidence that indicates that respecting God's Holiness is crucially important to our understanding of
who God is and what He desires from us. Individuals, cities, and entire cultures were extinguished by God as justice for their refusal to acknowledge right living or 'righteousness', for being unaware of the consequences of their living in defiance of God's Holiness. The book of Jonah is an exemplary account of a people who knew that they were living 'out of bounds' relative to God's standards and showed contrition and repentence
when the prophet appears and declares the coming judgement.
      As believers, we are challenged daily to keep perspective and focus on our response to the call our God has placed upon our hearts. One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to misunderstand or in some way diminish or subjugate God's holiness and the crucial role it plays in the makeup of His character. The
Lutheran theologian Dieterich Bonhoeffer sounded the alarm on this hazard in the term "cheap grace";
we cheapen 'grace' when we take sin lightly, when we give ourselves a pass on obedience, when we pretend
The Word is not saying what it says. Our enemy works tirelessly to convince us we are 'good', we are acceptable, we have arrived, when in reality nothing could be further from God's truth. If we are honest we acknowledge everyday our unworthiness before God without the atonement for our wretchedness that was purchased through the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot approach God in His holiness without being shielded with the intercession that His Son died for; His truth, His justice, His righteousness would
incinerate us. We must continually remind ourselves that God is separate and apart from us. He loves us and He died for us, but His holiness cannot tolerate us until we have been clensed and sanctified by His Son.
As part of the creation, we are broken and defiled and waiting for restoration. As we attempt to grasp the fullness of God's love and surrender to His redemptive healing, we must remain diligent in defending His holilness: from a culture that declares Him to be irrelevant and from our own hearts which are deceptive, weak, and willing to compromise with sin without considering the consequences. It is no small task and we are charged with being faithful and obedient in revering and upholding it, to each other and to the world as well.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Spring Brings

    Gnarled massive trees with hints of leaves are swaying in a gusting west wind.  A lone bird sings an endless song. Together the wind and bird remind me of God and I am overcome with the awareness of His presence.
Like the wind, God cannot be seen, but His power to move things is undeniable. A faint breeze or a roaring gale are both God speaking in His creation, moving climates, shifting moisture, changing seasons. If you have lost something to the wind and chased it, you have danced with God as he playfully pulls it from your grasp each time you are upon it; so it is with putting your finger on just exactly who God is. As soon as we are assurred in our understanding, we realize we have no real grasp of who or what God is.
     The wind carries things miles from their homes. I love fall days when blustery waves shake loose leaves from trees, tossing and tumbling them in swirling ballets. Leaves on the ground are swept aloft for a second chance at gliding back to rest. God often plucks up people from the safety of their 'trees' and sends them on tumultous flights before they are grounded again. In the same way that leaves are carried wildly on the wind, we are carried along by the breathe of God, unseen yet powerful, a faint breeze that belies the potential gale.

A Winter Prayer


Thank You for your mercy and grace, for your majesty and glory. Your faithfulness sustains me through the challenges surrounding me. How would I breathe without the knowledge of your love and the promise of life found in your Word. When I am weary of all that breaks man's heart, your heavens soothe my soul and give peace. I see evil and know You have conquered it: I see injustice and know its reign has an end. Give me courage to declare Your victory, to sing your praise, to share the promise of Your son. Forgive me for reducing the cross to cheap grace; for reducing purity and holiness to elements of faith that are negotiable.
Make my heart submissive; surrendered , humbled - hungry for purity....holiness.....righteousness.


Sunday, January 2, 2011

Essence versus Appearance

     The first car I bought was the "Oldo Nova". It was not an attractive muscle car with perfect paint, sleek rake and shiny Cragar mag wheels. This Nova was not a fixer upper or a project car; it was a beater, a wreck, a refugee from the crusher. It was a "fishing car", a euphemism for a car that has so little value it doesn't really matter if it makes it back from the trip. A four door white bomb whose interior was incredibly more abused than the exterior decay could ever hint at. I loved that car. It wasn't my first car and it wasn't my first love. My father had given me his 1967 VW Bug and we rebuilt it together. I learned a lot. The car that I first fell for was a 1969 Buick GS, aquamarine with a white top and the chrome side molding that carved a line from the headlights to the rear tires.Immaculate, polished, perfect. Elusive. I had the Nova. a beater if there ever was one.
     The radio was gone,  the floorboards were rusted out, the seats were ripped and the gas gauge permanently read empty. The windshield wipers were anemic, the exhaust came into the interior if you idled.
It had a crooked sideways list from a bad shock or coil spring. It was a an incredible tribute to Detroit's ability to engineer a 'soul' into a car. It always started and if it didn't, you knew it would soon. It was solid in the places that mattered: strong frame, bulletproof transmission, a straight six motor that soldiered on. I didn't know it at the time but the Oldo Nova was as much a teacher as it was transportation.
     The Nova was the "essence" of solid, well built, sound. It functioned as it was designed and engineered to, in the era before microchips, sensors, and on-board diagnostics. If it wouldn't start, the solution was in one of two systems; electrical or fuel. You could narrow down the issue and be on your way....simple process of spark, electrical. Got battery and fire......fuel system, carburetor. 10 hard years had taken a toll on the Nova's looks but its essence was undiminished. Dependable, predictable and tank like, it went where I asked it and always got me back. I am convinced that if you divided the cars sticker price by its weight it was one of the best values of any domestic made product Americans could ever buy, just an opinion mind you.
      Thirty odd years and multiple cars later, I realize that I may have been privileged to own an uncommonly well made Chevrolet Nova that came off the line in 1970. It should not have been as resilient and reliable as it was because of  the neglect and lack of basic maintenance it had been subjected to. It survived some incredibly ill-advised excursions that I shake my head in wonder at today; hauling an apartment load of furniture from the sand hills of North Carolina through the mountains back to Kentucky. It towed a motor less 54 Bel Air to Madison County from Woodford County with a rickety bumper hitch that literally came off with the Bel Air as I attempted to back it into its new home. It made countless late night runs in which we had no idea how much gas was in the tank yet never ran out of gas. The odds are so astronomically against that when  you consider that putting in 5 dollars worth was extravagant and rare in those lean college years.
     A backward glance at the quality of that old car maybe a nostalgic and somewhat selective memory but I believe it represented an object lesson for me in discounting appearance as the sole measure of value or worth; not an easy lesson for young people in our culture of abundance and excess. I'm not naive enough to believe that the Nova cured me of that shallow "looks are everything" attitude that is endemic of college age boys, it did not. What it did do was help me have a more balanced approach to considering the value of reliability, dependability,  and consistency, in making decisions; whether about things or about people. It helped me realize that the best friends or things aren't always shiny and new. It showed me that sometimes reliable and substantial come in beat up boxes and ragged appearance, that good friends are always a call away regardless of the deluge or distance. It helped me make choices about the man I would become, the type of character I would take on as I became a husband and a father. I like to think that my work ethic was in some part forged in the lessons I learned from that car; persistence and perseverance will overcome, determination and integrity will endure.
     I will never forget the mysterious vanishing transmission fluid and how the Nova would defiantly continue to go when the dipstick showed nothing. It would shudder and lurch and I knew it needed 2 or 3 quarts of transmission fluid and it would be good  for another 500 miles. I couldn't find the leak. It would leave small drops on occasion but nothing indicating the amount of fluid I was going through. Finally, I got underneath and traced the line that ran from the transmission to the radiator and was still baffled until I noticed the aluminum line crossing the frame and a solitary red drop poised to fall. The line had rubbed the frame and worn a hole; it sealed when the car was off but opened enough to leak with the vibration of driving. I remember how good it felt to have solved the mystery and also impressed that the transmission was so resilient.  My detective work had taken months.

Hopefully we have learned that the latest and greatest is not always the most desirable, that tried and true will be a reliable and dependable choice for the short and the long term. We have a tremendous heritage as a country with innumerable heroes who have shown us character, steadfastness, heroism and consistency. We are a brand that denotes quality and integrity and we owe it to our previous generations to show our children's children what American made looks like. Be the model you'd love to own.