Happy New Year

Ever known a REAL Uncle Rico? That former high school football star who still thinks it's 1982? All he can talk about are the great plays he maneuvered, the wins he accomplished, the hero-status he basked in. Those were his glory days and he's never moved past them.

Even sadder are the ones who can't stand to look at the past because of the shame. Is this you? That one mistake, that series of bad choices, that hated person from years ago that you see in the mirror no matter how hard you try to run?

The past. Too often it refuses to stay there. It either inflates an ego that no longer deserves the boost, or it continues to stab an identity that needs redefining. Neither is a healthy option.

As with most issues, God has something to say about the past. The Apostle Paul writes,

"forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 3:13-14)

No matter what your past holds, whether pride or pain, it is the past. Let it go. It no longer counts. Give it to Jesus and move on. Last year's failings are forgotten at the foot of the cross. Yesterday's triumphs no longer matter. It is today you are responsible for.

Let Philippians 3 be your New Year's Resolution, and press on toward the prize.

Happy New Year!


Quite Puzzling

I love jigsaw puzzles.

My mom loved them and taught me to love them. I find them relaxing. Usually in the winter or in hot summer months, I have one going all the time.

Every now and then, as I rummage through the box of pieces, I find a piece that doesn't seem to fit. A splash of color I can find nowhere in the picture on the box. An odd shape or size unlike the rest of the pieces. It keeps popping up as I continue my search through the box and becomes almost like an uninvited guest.

I even start to imagine it doesn't belong to my puzzle. Maybe there was an earthquake at the puzzle factory and this piece hopped over into my box from the adjacent assembly line. Maybe somebody threw this piece in here from another puzzle. I'm almost tempted to throw it out, convinced it doesn't belong.

But sure enough, at some point--sometimes right at the end---that piece fits perfectly and without it, the puzzle would be incomplete.

Often we are faced with life events that don't seem to fit the picture. A child dies. A marriage collapses. The unthinkable diagnosis is spoken aloud and you recoil. No. It doesn't fit.

We want to throw it away, convinced it will mar the perfect picture our life was supposed to become. And we can, if we choose to. We can retreat into denial, grow angry at God, or react in self-harming ways.

We can choose to reject that piece that doesn't fit with our interpretation of the photo on the box. But when we do, we risk marring the picture that the Creator had in mind. Our lives continue with a hole that was never meant to be there, incomplete somehow, and we don't understand why.

Do you have one of those odd-shaped pieces floating around in your box? Does it irritate you every time you unearth it? Are you convinced that it doesn't belong in your puzzle?

Before you decide to throw it away, reconsider the picture on the box. Could it be there is a spot just perfect for it? Could it be that the One who promised to work everything for the good knows what He is doing?

We can choose to work the puzzle the way we think it's supposed to go, or we can trust the One who put the pieces in the box. We haven't seen the finished picture yet, so it's too soon to throw anything away.

There was no earthquake in Heaven when the Designer created your puzzle. All the pieces fit. You'll be glad you kept it when you finally see the finished picture.

Another Chance

If anyone had ever felt like a failure it was Pete.

His grandiose words of a few days ago echoed in his ears like cruel taunts: "
I'll even die for you!" he had proclaimed with enough bravado to sink a boat.

Now the memory sank his heart. He'd been so sure this time. So certain that this was his life's calling. The Teacher from Nazareth had swept him away, convinced him that he was destined for greatness. He'd never been a part of anything so grand. Him. Pete! A nobody who smelled like dead fish. And the Teacher, the exalted Rabbi had chosen him as a companion. It had taken him months just to get the reality through his head.

There had been a time when he believed he would die for this cause. For this Man.

Then he'd had the chance.

Shame washed over him as he scrubbed his fishing nets a little harder. Fishing. He'd thought he was finished with fishing. These last three years had changed him, but apparently not enough. What a jerk! What a loser! Just when he'd had the chance to prove his braggadocios words, he'd tucked tail and run. What a coward.

He was almost glad the Teacher was dead. That last look of compassion was enough to finish Pete off. The Teacher had known about Pete's failure. He'd heard!

And that look...
It was bad enough that Pete would have to face himself in the mirror every day. At least he wouldn't have to gaze into the disappointed eyes of the friend he'd betrayed.

A shout, and then John was running down the bank toward him, leaving dust clouds in his wake. He groaned and scrubbed harder. Not John again. The faithful one. The one who'd actually stuck it out. Stood there and watched the whole violent mess. Just hearing his voice brought it all back with a sickening rush to the stomach.

John couldn't catch his breath. "...to-to tell us...and you.."

Pete rose stiffly and wiped his sweating face with the back of a hairy arm. "Slow down. What?"

John shuddered to a stop before him, gasping. "An angel! Really! A real one! He said...said, 'Go tell the disciples... and Peter...that he is risen! He rose, Pete! Just like he said he would!"

A trembling began somewhere inside Pete's soul. It wasn't even the word "risen." Somehow he should have known about that, if he'd been paying more attention. It was the other word, that phrase that made hot tears spring to his eyes.

"Say...say it again." He swallowed hard. "This angel...who'd he say to tell?"

John grinned in that knowing way he had. John always seemed to catch on before anybody else. "Yeah, that's exactly what he said: 'Tell the disciples...and Peter.' He specifically mentioned you."

A wave of nausea washed over Peter and he sank back on his haunches. "He did. He said that?"

The disciples. And Peter.

He knew. He knew Peter no longer considered himself one of them. Was no longer worthy of the honor. Even in death, the Teacher was thinking about everyone else.

So that's what that last look had meant. It wasn't disappointment. It was forgiveness.

Peter inhaled sharply as he stood and threw the nets aside. "Okay then."

Hope rushed through his being like warm spring water. Like he'd taken a first breath after three days without oxygen.
He smiled through his crusty beard for the first time in days and clapped John hard on the shoulder.

"Okay then. Let's gather the other guys and go see this angel!"
(Mark 16:7)

Have you failed God? Your friends? Yourself?

That look God is giving you is not disappointment. It's forgiveness.
He's calling you by name.

He's the God of another chance.

Make a Wish

I wish I may, I wish I might...

I wish upon a star!

How we'd love to have a pocket genie who'd grant us three wishes. Or four. Or five...

Wishing is universal. Our hearts long for things, for events, for people that are beyond our reach. When we lack the power to make something happen, we wish anyway.

Have you ever felt guilty about wishing? As though unrequited longings were not spiritual? A sign of not trusting God?

This post should make you feel better.

I found an interesting phrase in Luke 12:49. Jesus is finishing a long teaching seminar and apparently out of the blue, he blurts, "I was sent here to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it was already kindled!"

Notice the words: How I wish.

Did you ever think about Jesus having unfulfilled wishes?

Did you ever picture a young Jesus lying in bed at night, gazing at the stars and wishing things could be different? Wishing he'd come in a different era when crucifixions were not in vogue. Wishing his disciples would get a clue. Wishing this trek on earth was over. Wishing people would pay attention.

We understand that God's will is not always accomplished in the rebellious hearts of men, but we picture His angst in a vague, spiritual sort of way. How could God really get all that emotional over it? After all, He's God.

Jesus puts a voice to it. His humanness wished hard, just like ours does. Maybe he closed his eyes and held his breath. Maybe he crossed his fingers. Maybe he wished upon a falling star. (If the wish didn't come true, did he make another star fall?)

For the first time in history, God was constrained by TIME. What Jesus wished for would eventually come to pass, but his human flesh felt the urgency, the ache that we feel when something we long for is still a long ways off.

What do you wish for?

It's okay. You're not disappointing God. He has wishes too. Go ahead and wish together.

Is There Room at the Top?

What a day!

Every Hebrew who could walk was out on the mountain, watching the impossible.

The only prophet of God's, who had slipped through the murderous fingers of Queen Jezebel, was calling for a showdown. Bring the popcorn. What a show!

The exalted prophets of Baal were gonna take on crazy ol' Elijah and they were always good for a show.

Which gods would win? Didn't really matter. Bets were going both ways. Let the best god win!

The Baal staff did not disappoint; dancing, shrieking, cutting themselves from morning till late afternoon. They used their best tricks, their most powerful incantations. Had to cover the kids' ears every now and then, but well worth charging admission.

Every eye in the crowd darted toward Elijah at some point.
Was he impressed? Was he ready to call it a day? Would he do something equally spectacular?

He slouched against a rock, cleaning his nails with a piece of straw. "Yell a little louder, guys!" he taunted. "Maybe ol' Baal is on vacation."

The crowd grew restless. After a few hours of this, the thrill wore off.
What was wrong? Why wasn't fire coming down to meet Elijah's challenge?

When the bloodied dance recital finally ended and Elijah took the stage, God dropped his H-bomb. Fire engulfed the sacrifice and fear engulfed the masses.

The story in I Kings 18 is familiar, but there is a little tidbit that often goes unnoticed.

In verse 21, Elijah asks the people: “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.”

Notice that he did NOT say that they had totally rejected the LORD God. They had merely added others alongside him. They were all for leaving a little altar to the God of Israel--right next to the temple of the Asherah and the high places of Baal.

And we do that every day.

We think that we can offer the LORD God a portion of our lives and he will be satisfied with that. The rest of life is ours to do with as we please. The other portions of ourselves we can devote to friends, hobbies, jobs, dreams and our pet vices. We fool ourselves into believing that God wants to be "a part of our lives." We even preach and teach it.

The Israelites of Elijah's day would beg to differ. They had thought that too: "
As long as we acknowledge God, we can chase other things too. No sense totally ignoring our culture and the customs around us. He won't mind. "

He does mind.
  • Your showing up at church on Sunday does not impress him.
  • Your reluctant effort toward Bible reading and prayer is just another version of Baal's dance recital.
  • The eagerness with which you glance at your watch halfway through the sermon versus the eagerness with which you flip on the football game an hour later does not go unnoticed by God.
  • The delight of your heart cannot be masked. God knows when your delight is not Him.
Elijah's challenge still rings in the air:
Who is God in your life?

If Jehovah is God, then worship and serve him. Build your entire life around bringing him honor and glory. Dedicate everything you do to his purposes.

But if that turns you cold, then quit pretending. Go ahead, chase your personal dreams, make your excuses, keep playing the church game and pretending.

But don't be surprised when fire falls from heaven and consumes it all


Shiver Time

I'm always cold.

I shiver like a Chihuahua all winter.
Even in summertime, they keep the restaurants and stores at such low temperatures that I have to bring a sweater in July.

The room I use for counseling also has a rebellious heating system. It's either too hot or too cold, so I've learned to bring my little heater/fan. It stays in my car so it's available whenever I might need it. One flick blows out air; flick it the other way and it's a heater.

As you could probably guess, I'm also a sun-seeker. The minute spring warms the air, I'm outside soaking it up. Give me a book, a lawn chair, and 80 degrees and I'm good.

Maybe that's why Psalm 84:11 appeals to me so much. "The Lord God is a sun and shield...no good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly."

I love the idea of God warming me all the way through. As I lift my face to his brilliance, he he warms me from the inside out until I'm not shaking anymore. Just like my multi-purpose fan, he not only warms, but he protects me from too much heat.

He is so in-tune with my needs that he knows when the trials are too much. Like a good sun-block, he guards me from overheating. He's a shield against damage and harm.

Isn't it interesting that the Psalmist coupled those two ideas when he described God? He's both a sun and a shield.

Is your heart cold?

Is your life overheating?

Plug in to God. He knows exactly what temperature you need.


Which Crowd Are You In?

The polls are up. The polls are down.

The political candidate is everyone's darling until he isn't.

And it's anyone's guess when the winds will change.

The celebrity is the hottest thing going one day and the next, he can't get a movie part anywhere.

We each like to think of ourselves as beyond that kind of fickleness, but are we? Who are those people answering the polls? Maybe you are more gullible than you think.

Have you ever wondered which crowd you would have been in
the day Jesus was put on trial?

Before you take a side, be honest with yourself. Everyone from Oprah to the President likes to speak in respectful tones about the great prophet Jesus and how wise he was. What a good teacher, an excellent role model. It's hard to find anyone who will openly state they hate Jesus and everything he stood for.

Then who were those people crying out for his murder?

Were they kooks carted in from the asylum? Were they aliens from Mars?

Of course not. They were the same people who had waved palm branches a few days before. Now they waved sticks and swords. They hadn't heard about all that role model stuff. This guy said he was God and he had to be stopped.

The reality is that we see with 20/20 hindsight. We understand now how the story ended and we want to be sure we're on the right side. But what about then?

If you had walked those same dusty streets, heard his confusing sermons, puzzled over a parable or two, and then heard the leaders you respected calling the Nazarene a troublemaker, what would you have done? Those guys were smarter than you; they knew the Scriptures. If they said he was crazy, then would that be good enough for you?

There were four options that day.
The options haven't changed.

  • First, there were the ones who'd been whipped into a frenzy and were actively calling for his death. They were angry. Felt betrayed by the whole King of the Jews thing. He'd made fools of them and they'd gone along with it, but no more. No sir. They'd put things to rights and he'd never make claims like that again. No one was God unless they decided he was God. And God would do things their way. Whoever shouted the loudest had to be right.
  • Then there were the disinterested masses. Most people couldn't care less. Another criminal being crucified. Ho-hum, so what? Not worth missing the Jerusalem vs. Bethlehem stickball tournament. Maybe he was who he said he was. Maybe not. Couldn't work up a care either way. The free food was nice, but it was probably a trick. There will be another "Messiah" come along any day. Unless he was handing out freebies, they wouldn't bother.
  • The ones we shy away from identifying with are the disciples. When things got scary, they all fled. The very ones who had just finished an argument about who was the greatest in God's kingdom didn't wait around to see it come. Religion was fine when it was popular, but when everything turned upside down, they took off.
  • The last group is the one we all like to imagine we would have been a part of, but would we? The stragglers who followed the cross and the bloodied ex-hero up the hill were under no illusions. Their world had come crashing down. They'd put faith in this man and his claims. They still loved him, even if he turned out to be a nut. With every step, their dreams died a little more. There would be no turning this around. Maybe they'd misunderstood, but they loved him anyway. They would rather follow a bloody defeated Jesus than have no Jesus at all. However this turned out, they were there for him and wanted him to know it.

So put yourself in AD 33 . Slip on some sandals, a robe, and an attitude. Where would you have been?

Whichever crowd you would have been a part of then,
you are still a part of.

Your answer makes all the difference in the world: Which crowd are you in?