Vanishing Act

"Hey, we're gonna go through water!"

I was eight years old and it was my turn to ride shotgun

on our family's annual trip to Alaska.

I pointed at the shimmering pool of water straight ahead.

My dad chuckled. "Nah, that's just a mirage."

I frowned at him. "It's right there, Daddy! Can't you see? How'd water get on the road when it's so hot?"

He took his eyes off the road long enough to grin at me. "Okay. You'll see. When we get there, there won't be anything but dry pavement. It only looks like water."

Eight-year-old sophistication glared back at him. Was he teasing me? Anybody could see there was a huge pool of water just ahead. Maybe he shouldn't be driving a car if he couldn't even see it. Grownups!

I folded my arms in disgust and stared straight ahead, anticipating his shocked apology when our car splashed through the---

Wait a minute! I clamored onto my knees, hands on the dashboard, to gape at the dry pavement where the water had been. We were past it now. No splashing. No drops on the windshield. Dad kept his eyes on the road, a little grin tugging at the corners of his mouth.

Stunned, I looked from him back to the pavement where another pool of water beckoned a few yards away. Surely this time...

I sat out the next few moments in bewilderment until our car whizzed past my "pool" of water on dry land.

Only then did he turn to me and explain about mirages.

Only then was I humbled and ready to learn.

How many mirages have you chased in your lifetime?

That "sure thing." That golden promise just out of reach. That thrill, excitement, or lifestyle you are certain will satisfy. Only to find when you get there it vanishes like a mirage.

You were so sure. It couldn't be sin when anybody could see how delicious it would be. It couldn't be harmful, couldn't be empty, vain, or worthless when you could see with your own eyes how happy and fulfilled others were who pursued it.

So God lets you chase your empty dreams until you are humbled and ready to learn. Only then can we understand that not all we see is real. Not all we think we understand is accurate. As long as we are sure of ourselves and our abilities to meet our own needs, we are unteachable.
Nothing humbles us like splashing through a dry mirage we'd bet our lives was real.

Have you gotten there yet? If you're feeling bewildered, stunned that life didn't offer what you thought it did, then you're in a good place. You're teachable.
Forget the mirage and go to the Truth. Start building your life and dreams on the One who won't vanish when you need him. Learn God's ways, God's thoughts, and God's perspective on life and purpose to fashion yours as closely to His as you can.
Learn your lesson from that last mirage you thought you were gonna splash through. You don't know everything. In fact, you don't have enough information to direct your own life. Trust the one who understands mirages. Take His word for it--they will vanish when you get there but He won't.


Are You in the Black?

I accidentally overpaid my A.T.&T. bill. Don't ask me how. So this month, the nice company sent me a bill with a credit and instructions: Do Not Pay!
Not only did I owe them nothing, but they owed me!
Nothing makes your day like learning you have a credit to your account. You're paid up into the future. You can breathe a little easier, even forget about it for a while. You're "in the black."
Imagine knowing your life balance was "in the black." All your failures, your mistakes, your outright rebellion, all those debits had been balanced by the staggering figure on the credit side. You are paid up into the future.

Genesis 15:6 tells us that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. The power of this sentence lies in that little word "credited." In Hebrew, the word is chashab. In the Greek it is logizomia. Sometimes translated "reckoned" or "imputed," it is an accounting term implying that a balance is "in the black."

Think about that a minute.

It says nothing about the good works Abraham did, the money he donated, or the nation he started. It also does not mention the lies he told, the adultery he participated in, or the zillions of little sins he committed all his life just because he was human. He was considered righteous by God because he believed.
Our lives are like an accounting ledger. The debits go on down the page, line after red line. Debt after debt, cost after cost, our deeds pile up. The good works we manage every now and then don't seem to make a dent on the black side. We become painfully aware that nothing we can do will even it up. We just seem to make things worse.
God is painfully aware of our ledger sheet as well. And he agrees with us. There is nothing we can do to even things up.

So he started giving extra credit.

Jesus said, "Whoever believes in Me will have eternal life."(John 3:15)

"I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness. (John 12:46)

The mistake many people make is in thinking that this is easy credit. Our government is learning the hard way that there is no such thing as "easy credit." It may seem easy to obtain, but someone has to pay.
The kind of "believing" Abraham did is an action word. Abraham did not just nod in agreement with God's idea, he packed up and moved.

And if we want to accept God's offer to credit our account by simply believing, we too must pack up and move. We move from our position of self-reliance, self-admiration, and self-seeking and follow God's plan for our lives.

And that's it.

The long list of red entries is suddenly balanced by a thick black entry on the Credit side. We are paid up into the future.

When we show up with checkbook in hand, God will say, "You can't possibly pay this, but your debt is canceled. I've already credited your account."

When we mention our long list of red entries, He simply rips them up and points to the lone entry on the credit side: You believed in Me.

Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? It had to be. We would never have made it on our own.

So what items still glare at you from your life's balance sheet? Do they seem overwhelming? No way to pay them off?

Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. God is waiting to do the same thing for you.

Don't believe me? Just ask Him.

Are You a Pepper, Too?

Remember this old Dr Pepper jingle with the young man racing through the city, leaping off buildings and singing:
"I'm a Pepper, he's a Pepper, she's a Pepper, we're a Pepper, wouldn't you like to be a Pepper, too?"

The result was that people swarmed to follow him, all drinking their Dr Peppers and joining the dance.
It was a very effective commercial and ran for years. It was happy, enthusiastic, and gave the impression that everyone was a part of this wonderful Dr Pepper craze. You could be too, if you'd only drink Dr. Pepper.
Consequently, Dr Pepper sales soared and have kept that soft drink at a top slot for the last 3 decades.
Unfortunately, many Christians employ this same marketing approach when they present the Gospel. If it works for soft drinks, why not try it as an evangelism tool? Ignoring the deep teaching of Christ, they reduce His message to a jingle:

"I'm a Christian, he's a Christian, she's a Christian, we're all Christians,
wouldn't you like to be a Christian, too?"
They glibly peddle their favorite buzzwords: "abundant life," "victory in Christ," "Heaven," "God is your helper." All of those are true, but just as the Dr Pepper ads failed to mention obesity, tooth decay, and expense in their peppy ads, the the Christianized jingles often mask the real message of Jesus:

"If any man would come after me,
let him take up his cross and follow me."

A cross? Ugh. Not very peppy. Mention of a cross would never make the cut for a 30-second commercial. A cross signifies death and we're all about life.

Happy life.
Peppy life.
Contrary to our popular promotion of Christianity-lite, Jesus didn't come to make us better people. To improve our selfish lives, make us rich, or separate B.C .from A.D. He didn't leave Heaven, walk about in sandals, and face eventual murder so that we could all like ourselves more.

The message Jesus brought was one of death. A cross symbolizes death and when he told us to take up our crosses, he was not referring to His cross. He's already carried that. It's OUR cross he means.
To call ourselves disciples of Christ and to lay claim to all those happy buzzwords we have to die. When we come to him we must be willing to exchange our old sinful nature for His perfect one. Just as he died physically on the cross, we have to be willing to die to our infatuation with ourselves. Our way. Our opinions. Our right to control our lives. We have to be willing to lose our self-life and take on His Spirit-life.

And unlike the Dr Pepper ad, this exchange is not always a skipping and dancing event. Jesus' obedience led him down a road lined with mockers who couldn't wait to see him crucified. But he went willingly because he was more interested in God's plan than his own. Rather than the dancing man on TV, the image of Jesus staggering under the weight of the cross is our model of what it takes to be a Christian.
That's the Bible's image. Unfortunately, we don't hear that preached much anymore, and it's a travesty. Millions are being led down a pansy-lined path to destruction, singing their catchy jingles and believing themselves smugly ensconced on their heavenly journeys. Their lives are spent on themselves and their own pursuits, chasing worldly gods just as hard as those who carry no such false religiosity. They trust that God is satisfactorily impressed with their efforts to "live a good life" and believe that is all that is required.

How about you? As you examine your own relationship with God, how much Dr Pepper theology have you bought into? Have you considered your relationship with Jesus more like a get-out-of-Hell-free card? Have you approached salvation as a way to get God on YOUR team rather than the other way around?
How far we've come from that lonely road to Calvary and how distorted the meaning. In our attempts to make the message more attractive, we've stolen the truth and life right out of it. How many are being led astray by the peppy, commercial-worthy version of Christianity?
I pray you are neither a promoter nor a victim of the Dr Pepper Jesus. You won't find Him anywhere in Scripture or anywhere in Heaven.

The Monster

He was back.

In the darkness, I heard his breathing: raspy, grating, demanding.

He hovered over me, outlined against the window, his bulk blocking the light. In his shadow, the room was so much darker. Everything was darker.

My heart sank. No...oh, no. Why? Why was he back? I'd thought...

Of all the monsters that lurked in my past, he was the worst. The others had been vanquished with time, education, understanding. But this one...

All it took was a suggestion and he came out of hiding, ready to inflict pain. Ready to demonstrate to me his power, his superiority, his persistence. Ready to prove once more that I was helpless in his grip and would always be so.

"No. Leave me alone. I will not listen." My voice was barely above a whisper--hardly the voice of a conqueror. I pulled the pillow over my face and hoped I would suffocate.

"Yes you will listen. You always do. You should, because I'm right. I can defeat you anytime I choose. You have nothing with which to fight me off."

Behind the blackness of my closed lids I tried to remember why he was wrong. He was wrong, wasn't he? Had I learned anything at all or was he right? Would he always win?

" will not win. Not this time." Had my lips uttered those words or was it wishful thinking? My heart pounded against my ribcage, threatening to desert me, too.

I lifted the pillow and cleared my throat. "You will not win because greater is he that is in me than...than you."

I licked dry lips and this time my voice echoed in the dark room. "It is written, The Lord has not given me the spirit of fear." I swallowed and chanced a peek from beneath lowered lids. He was still there.

"If God is for me, who can be against me? Huh? The Lord is my light and salvation. Whom shall I fear?" My heart thudded in my ears, but my voice gained strength. "Jesus said not to worry. My Father knows my needs and He will provide."

The bulk moved and a thin trail of light trickled through the window over his shoulder. "So you say. But what about...what if..."

"No. I will not listen. I stand on the Word of God and if my Father says not to fear, then I will not fear. So beat it."

The black shape seemed to shrink, but the voice was still clear. "Don't you need to plan ahead? You're only being smart to think ahead. What about tomorrow and the day after that and the day after--"

"No. Jesus said not to worry about tomorrow. Your name is Fear and I resist you. I will continue to resist you until you leave. You will not win this time. You've stolen too much of me in the past. You will not have any more of me. I agree with Job when he said, 'Though he slay me, still will I trust him.' So you see? There's nothing you can do to scare me anymore. I want only God's will for my life and you have no power over that."

The shape withered, like a slug under an avalanche of salt. Moonlight filled the room.

My breathing returned to normal and I stared up at the shadows on the ceiling. Had I won this time? What made the difference?

I thought of the thousands of times he had assaulted me and won, striking blow after vicious blow until I was defeated. Useless. I had tried to fight back before, hadn't I? What was different this time?

My words echoed inside my head. "I only want God's will...God's will... You have no power over that."

The other times he had defeated me because he threatened My will. He had all the power over that and he knew it. I had fought with him out of desperation to stay in control of my life, protect my plans, my territory, my goals. I was terrified he would rip them from my hands.

But now they were no longer in my hands. I was not responsible for the outcome of my life as long as I stayed surrendered to Christ. With my will engulfed in God's, there was nothing to lose. Nothing could touch me that did not come straight from my loving Father's hand--for my good.

I closed my eyes and the darkness was no longer the enemy. Fear was gone for now, but he would try again. And again. His tactics never changed, but mine had. I would never again allow him to grow big enough to block all light from my room.

Maybe he had learned something tonight. Maybe I had too.


He's Comin' For Ya

We left our son at the church once.

He was five years old.
He's now fourteen, but he has never forgotten it. Or forgiven us!

We drove all the way to the restaurant, thinking he was with our friends. But when they showed up--no little boy!

We immediately went into panicked-parent mode, dashed out of the restaurant, and broke speed limits getting back to the building which we were certain was now filled with pedophiles, monsters, and kidnappers. (That's what panicked-parent-mode does to otherwise reasonable people.)

We left a our friends and our other children while we went after that little one who had gotten away. When your child needs you, you drop everything to go to his aid.

Mark 5 gives us a touching example of Jesus doing the same thing. Crowds pressed around him everywhere he went. He healed them, preached to them, loved them, but sometimes enough is enough, even for Jesus. So one afternoon, he got in a boat and headed across the lake.

I always assumed he was just getting away for a bit, but a closer reading reveals his purpose. He did everything with a purpose and this time, his sights were set on one of his children who needed him.

The moment his boat touched shore, a demon-possessed man raced from among the tombs where he lived and began screeching hysterically. I can imagine the disciples leaping back into the boat, wondering why Jesus had picked that particular spot to dock. Jesus' reason came vaulting naked over tombstones and stopped short when he saw the Master.
Everyone knew about this crazy man and gave him a wide berth. Sane people had given up on him and left him alone with his nightmare. He wasn't worth the trouble. Yet, Jesus had come all the way across the lake during a fierce storm for this one man.

He knew the problem and what it would take to bring this child home. He cast the demons out and in doing so, earned another lifelong follower.

Then he got back into the boat. Mission accomplished. His whole purpose for that little afternoon sail was to rescue a man everyone else had given up on. He left the thousands in order to go to the one who couldn't come to him.

Do you ever feel like you're the one everyone has given up on? You're the crazy one, the hopeless addict, the perpetual failure. Even the ones closest to you are shrugging their shoulders and shaking their heads. You know what they're thinking. You've begun to think it yourself: I'm no good. There's no hope for me. Life works for other people, but not me.

It's not true. Everyone has not given up. Jesus knows right where you are and what the problem is. He's coming for you.

The Bible says that after Jesus cast the demons out, the man was in his "right mind." Jesus is the only one who can restore us to our "right minds." Addictions, the world's value system, idolatry, lusts: all of those twist our minds until we can't think straight and we make choices that seem crazy. It takes the touch of the Master's hand to restore us to our right minds.
The man threw himself at Jesus' feet and asked for help. He had no pride, no self-righteousness, no sense of self at all. He was desperate--right where we have to be before Jesus can heal us.
But here's a question: The man had been crazed with demons for quite some time, so why hadn't Jesus crossed that lake before?

I believe that before this time, he wasn't ready. Maybe you're not ready either. You've still got a flicker of pride going, a stubborn belief that you can "lick this thing on your own." So Jesus waits while you self-destruct--until you exhaust your own strength and you're ready to do it His way.

When the night is dark and every voice echoes that you are forgotten, remember the crazy man. Jesus knew where he was and what he needed and he left the clamoring crowds just for one crazy guy that nobody else believed in.

So when you're ready to let go of your own weak efforts to better yourself, when you finally give up your opinions, your attitudes, and every excuse you've hidden behind--throw yourself on his mercy. When you do, you'll see: He's been coming for you all along.


Whoa...Too Extreme!

Okay. Zero degrees. Now that's just ridiculous!

Eight degrees below zero. How can you be below zero? Isn't zero the bottom?

Can you tell I'm growing weary of winter?

Six months from now, here in good ol' temperate Oklahoma, it could be over 100 for several days in a row.

But spring is beautiful here...all four days of it!

It's been said that Oklahoma gets the weather the other states don't want and if you've lived here for very long, you are likely to agree. For a place with no mountains and no oceans, Indian Territory does seem to attract weather extremes.

We humans don't usually enjoy extremes in anything. We claim to like watching other people play "extreme sports" and do "extreme home makeovers," but when it comes to our own lives, we like living in the middle. Even politically, we don't like being classified as extreme either way. It seems so...well, intolerant. And exacting. And what if we're not right? Don't we want to leave a little wiggle room?

Despite what we'd like to think, God is really into extremes.

In fact, he can't stand the middle. In the Old Testament, Joshua drew that line in the sand when he said, "Choose this day whom you will serve; if other gods, then go after them. But if it be God, serve him with all your might."

In the New Testament, Jesus continues that theme when he tells his followers, "You cannot serve two masters. You will love one and hate the other. You cannot serve both God and money."

And God finishes his written word to us by reminding us in the book of Revelation that he wants us to be either hot or cold. If we are lukewarm, he warns us that he will "spew us out of his mouth." (Rev. 2)

In 2011 English jargon, that means "If you claim to be My child, then follow Me with all your might. Otherwise, you make Me want to vomit."

God could never be characterized as being a "moderate."

So have you made your choice? Kindof?

Don't make the mistake of thinking you are impressing God with wishy-washy, half-hearted gestures in His direction. That approach was invented by Satan himself to keep you from knowing God. Satan would love you to buy into the idea that you are so open-minded and loving that you can "see all sides." That you are "well-rounded" rather than being sold out body, mind, and spirit for the God you claim to serve.

That's just too...too...well, isn't that overdoing the religious thing? We don't want to be thought of as zealots or anything...

God is not open-minded and he doesn't consider that a virtue. He points to the two options and says, "Pick one."

I don't like extreme weather, extreme fads, or extreme anything. But my life's goal is to be considered extreme from God's standpoint. All the way. One hundred percent committed to Him and His calling on my life. I may miss the mark more often than I'd like, but when I stand before God one day, I want Him to call me an extremist.

Are You Filthy Rich?

They were rich! Just look at it!

Trunks came out of cellars and attics, each filled to overflowing with crisp bills. Money! Beautiful money! The paper that separated the have's from the have-not's, the comfortable from the shivering, and the secure from the beggars. How smart they were to have stored it for such a day as this!

There was only one problem.

The government that had issued all this beautiful mammon no longer existed. Currency is only as good as the power who issues it and despite appearances, the losers of the Civil War were dirt poor. Their trunks full of Confederate bills may as well have contained newspapers. Bills that could have bought a mansion a few months ago was now used as toilet paper.
Do you have an attic full of worthless currency?
Maybe you've spent your life--or a major portion of it--chasing that dream.

Make my million. Be a self-made man. Never live in want again. Give my kids everything I never had.
Or maybe it was never an obsession, just a focus. Go to work, pay the bills, charge more bills, go back to work. Gotta have that new iPad. Kids begging for an Xbox and that new Dodge Charger is sweet...


Or maybe it's not money you crave. Maybe it's admiration. Fame. Power. Self-importance. And you've found a way to get it. It's addicting, isn't it? The more you get, the more you want.

Christians are not immune to such a focus. We live in the same world the atheists inhabit; we just don't have to play by the same rules. We have a God who reminds us that it is pointless to stuff our attics with Confederate bills.

Jesus' warning in Revelation 3 to the church at Laodicea is famous. If you've been in church for any length of time, you've doubtless heard a sermon on the Laodiceans and their failings, as well as the famous line: "I wish you were either hot or cold, but since you are only lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth!
So what's wrong with being lukewarm? Isn't that better than cold? Isn't a passing nod toward Heaven better than an outright rejection?


Jesus doesn't think so.


As the famous saying goes: "The opposite of love is not hate. It is indifference."

Atheism is totally in the dark. Agnosticism is still wondering. But lukewarm indifference has seen the light, tasted the glory, felt the warmth of embrace-- and has chosen a counterfeit over a relationship with the living God. No wonder God hates it.

The warning in Revelation mirrors the first Commandment: You shall have no other gods before me.

God doesn't share his glory or attention. If you're not all for Him, you are against Him. Period.

Instead of crossing the insipid Laodiceans off his list, He gives them another chance to repent. He instructs them to dump their boxes of Confederate bills and invest in treasure backed by an infallible kingdom. One by one, we stand before His inscrutable eye as he inspects our treasure. In his mercy, he wants none of us to be found empty-handed.

If you find yourself living in Laodicea, it's not too late. You're not bankrupt until that final trumpet sounds. But time is short. If you've wasted much of it stuffing worthless paper into sacks and hiding them, maybe it's time to have a big bonfire.

Jesus promises that if you open the door, He will come in and help you get rid of the stuff that doesn't matter. He'll show you how to replace it with solid gold.


Why Did Jesus Pray?

What in the world did He pray about?

Ever wonder that?

The Gospels record that when Jesus walked the earth, he slipped away often to pray--sometimes all night.

But wait a minute...

If he was God in the flesh, why did he need to pray? Didn't the Father already know what He was gonna say?
We are familiar with his final recorded prayer the night before his crucifixion, and the famous line: "Not my will, but thine be done." We view it as though that was the first and only time he prayed something like that.

But I don't think so.

Often the destruction to which our world is headed overwhelms me. The darkness that creeps steadily over the earth, the perversion, the evil, the foolishness of the human race makes everything seem so hopeless. I cry out, "Lord, take me out of this! I want out of here!"

Then Jesus reminds me that he knows exactly how I feel. Evil has been evil since that first bite of forbidden fruit. It's nothing new to Him. He's disgusted, but not shocked. He's seen it all before.

I can see Him headed into the wilderness to be alone with his Father where he most likely cries out the same thing. "Father, it's awful down here! They hate me, they hate You. The sin makes me sick to my stomach and no one wants the truth. Please, Father. Isn't there some other way? Please...can't you get me out of here?"
Yet even as he cried out his sorrow to God, he saw me praying the same thing 2000 years later. God showed him the echoes of that prayer in the hearts of the ones he'd come to redeem. Millions of echoes, down through time, following his lead.

After pouring out his heart to his Father, he would have ended it with: "Even so, Father. Not my will but yours be done. If that means staying here and seeing it through, then that's what I want too."
And on my knees, I can finish the same way. If Jesus was willing to submit to God's will rather than his own, I can too. If He wants me to stay a while longer and contribute to his Kingdom, then who am I to ask for something different?
Submitting ourselves to God's will can be the toughest challenge we ever face. Often it looks very different from what we would choose. We can't do it on our own, because everything within us wants to run, to change plans, to find an easier path. Jesus felt that, too. He placed himself in the strong arms of his Father when earth got to be too much.

And that choice sets the bar for the rest of us. We have the same source from which to draw strength. Jesus wanted us to know that.
And that's why he prayed.


Act of God?

Whew! A week without Internet, snowed in, going nuts!
This week is already going down in the history books as the Blizzard of 2011.
Outside my window, a record-breaking 20 inches of powdery white snow lays in uneven drifts. After a one-day hiatus, the snow is back, quickly filling in whatever progress the snowplows and shovels have made. My sweet little SUV is stuck in the driveway and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
I’ve been off-line since Monday—the result of 40-mile-per-hour winds hurling snow horizontally. Northeast Oklahoma has basically shut down for a few days, powers-that-be calling it a “disaster area.” That term seems a little overly enthusiastic for a snowstorm, when you compare it with, say, the Asian Tsunami or the World Trade Center. But to a motorist stranded for 12 hours on the freeway in the blinding snowstorm, I suppose the term “disaster” feels about right.

Isn’t it interesting that storms and hurricanes and tornadoes can unapologeticly be called “acts of God?” Why are we so eager to give him credit for the disasters, but not the panoramic sunsets? Never the majestic mountains or the pounding surf? Why isn’t the unbroken glide of an eagle called an act of God by the politically-correct-phrase police?

I think God tosses us these curves to keep us guessing. I imagine he gets a bit fed up with our constant excuses as to why we cannot “be still and know that He is God.” After all, it wasn’t a suggestion.

So, your schedule is too demanding to pray, is it Ms. Boss Woman?
Your engagements too pressing to seek Me while I may be found, huh Mr. Executive V.P.?
And Dr. Vital, you really believe you’re in control of your little world, don’t you?
You’re all so filled with your own importance, your plans stretch on into infinity and you think nothing can touch them.
We’ll see about that.”

So He brings everything to a screeching halt with one outstanding storm and all the technology, the conveniences, the human manpower in the world can do nothing but wait it out. Those ever-pressing schedules could wait after all. That technology didn’t do much good when the wind got to it. And we are reminded once again that we are only here because of His mercy.

As he reminded the mournful Job, “
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding...Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, Or have you seen the storehouses of the hail...?”

Maybe if we all learned to appreciate the acts of God taking place in miraculous abandon everywhere about us, He wouldn’t have to send so many unpleasant reminders.