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April Fools Day

I was thinking this morning, (April Fools’ Day) how wonderful this day would be if Donald Trump held a press conference and said two words: “April Fools’!”

Wow, Donald. You really got us. You got us good! We actually thought you were going to desire and win the office of President. You so funny.

But alas the day has passed and I guess he’s really serious.

I was also hoping that those fearful, angry evangelicals would also join the chorus and say, “April Fools’!”

But they didn’t either. This is really happening. The emperor has no clothes. Fear and anger have replaced love and mercy. We are divided and we will get what we are asking for: lots of countries mad at us, no character, angry shaming, name calling, bad interpretations of the Bible, sucker-punches, twitter wars, and childish rants that promote torture, revenge, pride, and excess. (All that stuff Jesus warned the church against.)

So onward we go.

(This would be a great time to pray for our country and the Church.)

He was 5′ 135″

My grandfather was 5 feet & 135 inches tall. Actually he was well under 6 feet but he was a giant, legendary figure. I grew up during my preschool days in Los Angeles. As a knee-high kid, my brother and I would fly for a number of weeks to live in Dry Prong Louisiana. Dry Prong is near Tioga. Don’t know Tioga? Let’s just say that Dry Prong built the boondocks located in Tioga. Dry Prong couldn’t afford boondocks. Talk about culture shock! We loved our time out in the sticks learning about possums, grasshoppers, cow pies, mosquito nets, feather beds and fireflies.

We learned a new dialect. Far was pronounced fur. Cool Whip™ was “Cool Werp.” And “tar” could mean anything from, “I’ve got a flat tar” to “Doesn’t our town have a great looking water tar?”

We called my grandfather Goodbuddy. He had an 8th grade education and a small farm in the sticks of rural central Louisiana. I still have old reel-to-reel recordings he would mail to Mom and Dad during our longer visits. I love hearing him say my name on those tapes. “Matthew’s a good little boy. Got him trained to the outside and the hose.” Interpretation: He taught me that I didn’t need to come inside to use the bathroom or get a drink.

He was introverted but he had plenty of stories. Funny ones. Most involved the usual suspects: his oil field bunkhouse mates, my dad, my grandmother and the 10 or so dogs that he programed to hate raccoons with the fire of a thousand suns.

He was country but he hated country music or as he called it– “Honky-tonkin” music. He said it like he was cussing. In fact, I was around thirteen before that I realized you could say “honky-tonk” in public.

He wasn’t the best at formal, public prayer but he did pray. There are more than a few stories of him laying face-down in the middle of his pasture praying before the dawn. This made him taller than most.

He taught me how to eat sardines with saltine crackers, how and when to spit, how to shake a hand firmly, how to make a lady feel important, and how to keep my mouth shut when I didn’t know what I was talking about. And to have the temperament of a pit bull when it came to defending children.

He was the kind of man that loved everybody but grandkids were in a class by themselves. I don’t have grandkids. I’m praying I’ll get to have some in the future. I will be an awesome grandfather. I was trained by the best.

I Am in a Hurry

I have more days behind me than I do in front of me so I am in a hurry.
I can’t afford to be cynical, satisfied or slow.
I don’t want to do anything halfway for You.

I don’t want to be pulled away by self interest, pride, or opposition.
I don’t have the time to live on the treadmills of accomplishment and notoriety  while the world around me starves from lack of grace, drifting away from the mystery of the Divine.

Commandeer my life for Your glory.

Open my hands, sharpen my focus and steady my aim.
Make short work of the claptrap meanderings of my own voice. I am weary of it.

I say, “Away with the litter of self-serving endeavors that I valued and held close to my heart.”
I am not satisfied with teaspoon-sized, halfhearted, unbroken, lifeless worship.
I will not sing anything that I am not willing to live.
I refuse to accept meaningless prayers for temporal things in my conversations with You.
I refuse to look at others and judge what they are doing or how I am doing.
I refuse to hold back anything from You no matter what the cost is.
There’s no way to do anything but love with even the slightest and most fleeting glimpse of the cross.
So, I want to run as fast as I can, pray with the constancy of angels and love everyone I encounter, even if it means pain. And I will make the most of this day in all of its paradoxical, mysterious glory.

There’s just not enough time to do anything else.

 

 

~

It’s Sunday!

It’s Sunday.

And Jesus is with us!
His obituary is in the paper and, for goodness sakes alive, He is sitting at our breakfast table!
He is supposed to be behind a stone, flanked by Rome’s finest. Dead, dead, dead…
But instead He’s hungry and wants fish this morning!
And where has he been since the crack of dawn?
Did He go looking for better followers?
Did He go looking for a new set of men who would actually stick around in tough times?
No.
He went back to that ragtag bunch of deniers, doubters and deserters.
Think about that! The King of kings and Lord of lords is chasing after an unfaithful, deeply flawed family.
Jesus is with them. And He’s with us too.
I don’t know about tomorrow but I do know He’ll be there.
Today, He made short work of the whole “death is the end” theory.
The sting is gone.
Wonder is forever upon us.
May we live with an eye toward that wonder.
May we refuse to be cynical about life or people.
Instead, today, may we experience the newness of everything as if it were our first day.
From today forward may we walk, sing, eat, work, play and write as if it were our first chance to get to do any of them.
And may we do everything with deep gratitude, expectation and dumbfounded surprise.
Today we get to begin again… because Jesus is with us.

It’s Thursday

It’s Thursday evening. Darkness falls on a Middle Eastern city and a group of men gather around a table. Some men want answers, others want power, others conceal their furtive motives and plans, and still others resign to die.

Tonight is different. In the past, their times of feasting were filled with so much laughter and celebration that some had accused them of irreverence and drunkenness.

But not tonight.

The brutal events and encounters of a tumultuous week birthed weary hearts and uncertain minds. Even now the weight of man’s rebellion settles on the back of the Son. He broke the bread, poured the wine and washed the feet of these first believers. How were they to know the import of this table? How could these twelve conceive that they would be the first to partake of this new and strangely anomalous feast?

This is my body…

This is my blood…

Remember this moment.

One will betray me.

And in so many ways we all have.

The perimeter of conspiracy around these men grows smaller.

The unseen war of angels and demons is thick, visceral and taut.

This night and the day to come will amass the climax of redemption.

The fate of generations, hence and to come, hangs on every move.

As the meal ends, the disciples sing.

The last supper, the last song…

The labor of grace begins.

It’s Thursday evening.

I am a miser of my memories of you
And will not spend them.
~Witter Bynner

* * *

I remember You, Lord Jesus Christ Son of God.  I remember your constant longing for me to see You for who You really are. I remember the times when I had absolutely no one and You remained. You remained despite all the shameful wanderings that I created in the barrenness of my finite mind.

You remained, even though I failed to rise above the waves of discontent that made a restful place in my heart.

You remained, and the memories of every disappointing failure now are crushed under the weight of Your relentless love.

“Many of our psychological and emotional problems have to do with a lack of remembering the Lord’s death.”

Derrick Prince

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

Fresh ideas energize a church. I’m no church historian but somewhere along the line someone said:

“Hey! Why don’t we meet on Wednesday night?”

“For what?”

“To kind of give ourselves a midweek shot in the arm.”

“We could pray for the sick, discuss church business and have youth worship with fog machines in the gym”

(Actually I don’t think the idea included youth worship and fog machines.)

But the Wednesday idea started and spread like wildfire or a nasty cold, depending on your experience with Wednesday night activities. In fact many church historians contend that they can date the beginning of the midweek prayer service to the pre-green bean casserole era.

Someone in a church meeting said, “How could we get people to bring their friends to the revival services?”

“Let’s have a contest. Assign everybody a pew and the person that gets the most people in their pew gets a Thompson’s Chain Reference Bible.”

“Wow! Great concept! And surely their were some people whom were coerced, manipulated and begged into coming to revivals and got saved! All for the love of that new Bible smell.”

And, lo, there were other good ideas. Ideas like bussing people to the Billy Graham Crusade, raising money for missions at Christmas, getting together to visit unchurched. explaining salvation using cubes, cloths, tracts (some even rolled into the truck stop restroom toilet rolls) easy-to-remember acronyms, drama, puppets, and card tricks. Some hokey, some ingenious, and many of them successful began as somebody’s Spirit-filled brain bomb that blew our minds. Some may call it foolishness but not the people who got the message and were saved.

I remember a men’s Bible study fellowship meeting that began with an awesome beans,cabbage, and Mexican cornbread supper followed immediately by a 90 minute Bible Study. It was a delicious meal on a very small budget for around fifty men but the digestive systems in the room weren’t accounted for and all we could say was, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

A few years back I was involved in a youth rally where we wanted to do something creative with he invitation. I asked the host church to give each student a rock when they came in for the worship service. I wanted to do creative invitation that I had seen at another event. I’d invite the students to let the rock they had represent something in their life that has weighed them down or caused them pain. I challenged them to place the rock at the front of the stage which was a high school gym stage. We had a tremendous crowd and the students were very responsive. OK. A little too responsive. the aisles were so filled with students that most of them couldn’t reach the stage to place the rock we gave them on the stage. After a few moments we heard the first of many whizzes as students who couldn’t get to the front started hurling the rocks onto the stage. As a large than average rock streaked by my ear, I remembered thinking, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

The encouraging thing about ministry and bad ideas is that we all have had our moments of discouragement and setbacks.

The objectionable object lessons,
the stubborn mule and wardrobe malfunction in Easter pageants.
The telling statement from the five year old kid during the Children’s Sermons.
The mispronunciations and the failed worship experiments.
The interpretive movement worship segments that we delegated to the youth which became a break dance.
The attendance challenges that you made without thinking about how you’d look with a shaved head.

They remind us that no one can be right all of the time. (In fact while I’ve been writing this short confessional, Hall of Fame bound Brett Farve has thrown three interceptions! Sometimes I think in those awkward moments that God was winking at me and saying “You are My beloved child but you are still human.”

He revels is our creativity. He loves it where the shingels come off the roof to lower a lame man. He is moved when a sinner uses her hair and tears to annoit his feet. He gets the glory when we hand Him a Happy Meal to feed five thousand. And I truly believe he smiles when a believer says, “I have an idea!”

Let’s keep our divine perspective.

Our mission if we choose to accept it: Join God in the magnificent task of changing the world for eternity. Bigger than Congress, the U.N., Microsoft, and Mighty Mouse- we have the grandest, greatest and most exciting, eternal message ever to find it’s way into the ears of humans. No King is Greater. No Task is larger. No victory more secure.

Let’s remember to color outside the lines.

In days of frustration we’ve got to remember that all growth involves risk. If we fail to attempt new ideas we fail ourselves, we fail our friends and we fail God. This supernatural kindredship and adventure called the church is in many ways a grand and mysteries experimental adventure. We can celebrate that God is not marking every failure with divine and permanent demerits. He is the loving Abba Father who cheers us on and gives us strength to take what we have and feed the masses of this spiritually malnorished generation.

Some Candidates Remind Me of Church Members

This has been a difficult political season for America to say the least. Campaign presentations are louder, angrier and crazier than this country has ever experienced. However, I hear a faint whisper in my head that says “I’ve seen these people before.”

Most pastors have.

Who would these candidates resemble if they joined the church?

Donald would be that new believer who has taken over the men’s group that meets in the church parlor on Tuesday night. He is so new to the faith that he has not found his personal filter. He’s cusses while sharing his testimony (which is somewhat endearing but often embarrassing.) People respect him because he just tells it like it is. But DO NOT CROSS HIM. He still has the ability to get hot under the collar about things he doesn’t understand about the church. He’ll rally the deacons to build a building whether you need it or not and before you know it you’ve got a church architecture consultant in your office.

Hillary has the personality of a rogue Women’s Ministry leader. She has lots of leverage in the church and she’s not afraid to go toe-to-toe with you at budget time. She is a stoic serious leader that is married to the life-of-the-party guy who you’ve been trying to disciple for years. He loves Jesus but subscribes to Showtime.

Bernie owns the church thermostat key and keeps a copy of the bi-laws in his back pocket. He is still upset that business meetings are held quarterly and would like to meet with you every day to discuss parking solutions. You love the guy, but you spend more time with him than anyone else.

Mitt is a member with an MDiv who earlier was vying to be the pastor of the church and critiques your leadership aptitude at church fellowships.

Ted is the charismatic staff member that seems to really punch up the numbers on events he organizes. Some of his numbers rival the numbers at Promise Keeper stadium rallies in the early 90’s. His spiritual gift is hyperbole and when you get in a conversation with him you always feel out-spiritualized.

Marco is the upward basketball coach that is on the property and grounds committee, the budget committee, the personnel committee and the committee on committees but he never attends the meetings. Still, he is AWESOME. He creates energy and has lots of cool axioms but he repeats them too often.

John is the quiet man who has amazing ideas for the church but because he is soft spoken, he never gets heard because, face it, Marco, Donald, and Ted are just so dominant in the Long Range Planning meeting. You are kind of afraid he’ll move his letter to Calvary because of all the chatter at your church.

Ben is an amazing guy that you truly love in your church. Kind, gentle, humble. But most of the verses he has memorized are from the Book of Revelations. But who in their right mind could not love Ben?

Take out the substantive issues and important battles our nation faces and these Americans might just remind you of someone you know too! You might even find yourself in one of these profiles. (There are some Marcoisms in my Modus Operandi.)  Remember that God uses the most unlikely candidates in your church to do supernatural things, I only pray that your church, filled with colorful, dynamic personalities will never have the kinds of debates we’ve seen in this election cycle, especially if the topic is carpet color or auditorium temperatures.

 

photo credit: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

Jehu: A Character Study

Jehu storms his way through 2 Kings 9 and 10 with fury and reckless abandon. He stands in history as one who did God’s will but with dangerous and ungodly means. The story illustrates God’s disdain of evil and idol worship when it ravages God’s people. In verse 20 we see that Jehu had a reputation of being a fast and furious driver.  In our day, he’d be in the tricked-out sports car flooring the gas and refusing to signal his lane changes. His story lands him the reputation of a sports hero who paid fines which were almost half his salary. Although he fought valiantly for God, you kind of get the feeling as you read the story that Jehu wanted the story to be more about Jehu.  It’s no wonder why Elisha gave his prophet apprentice the instructions for anointing Jehu to anoint him, tell him that he’s king and then run for dear life. This was one bad prince!

Choose a Side

Read 2 Kings 9:16-22

 

Joram, one of the sons of Jezebel found himself in a difficult position. The rebellion and witchcraft of his mother Jezebel caused him to be the focus of target practice. He enjoyed the life of power and passion in the company of demons, perhaps never considering that there would be a price to pay for his world view. No wonder he asked fearfully, “Do you come in peace?”  He probably already knew that he was a dead man.  This was, remember, Jehu. The fast and furious driver for God. God’s question to us at the end of our lives won’t be “were you passionate?”  People are passionate for lots of things from football to funnel cake. Just because you live passionately doesn’t mean you have a free pass. Hitler was passionate. Charles Manson was passionate. Joseph Stalin was passionate. Kurt Cobain was passionate. The real question is- what is the source and purpose of your passion?  As I think about this issue, I can’t help thinking of James Ray, the self-help spiritualist who motivated people to enter the sweat lodge in Arizona where three people died last year. He’s a passionate leader but a leader with no source of real godly guidance and is now paying the price for his pied piper philosophy. Our passion must be funneled into the right direction. And just so you know, there’s only one right direction.

 

A Friend in the Desert
Read 2 Kings 10:15-17

 

Jehu encountered Jehonadab whom was a leader of a nomad tribe, living in the desert and keeping the Hebrew traditions of his ancestors. Jehu recognized his faith and asked “Are you with me?”  Jehonadab said yes and they joined forced. Jehu invited him to see His zeal for the Lord. Jehonadab is an archetype for accountability.  When we are in a spiritual battle, we should never go it alone.  We need people around us to evaluate our actions and to partner with us. Solomon recognized this when he said in Ecclesiastes that two are better than one. There is no room for spiritual loners.

  • What person are you accountable to as you fight the good fight?
  • Are you connecting authentically with someone?

If you aren’t, you’re missing the real excitement of life. God meant life to be a shared experience, especially when there is a battle to be fought.

 

Situational Ethics
Read 2 Kings 10:18-19

It’s the story of how Jehu punked the idol worshipers. Jehu gathered all the usual suspects of idol worship and led them to believe that he, too, was a Baal worshiper. He called them all to a worship celebration of Baal, and took on the disguise of a true Baal believer. Then at the opening chorus of the first act of worship he called on his army to mow them all down.  This is what some professors would call situational ethics- the ends justifying the means.  Is it OK to lie or deceive if it accomplishes a purpose? Is it OK to sleep with someone you love but aren’t married to? Is it OK to have an abortion if it will save your reputation? These efforts to grey the lines or to fudge the story always come back to bite you. (Ouch!) Christian character is telling the story straight and doing the right thing, even if it causes pain.  How can God get the glory when we have a strong sense of ethics?

 

The Results of Strong Passion and Weak Character
Read 2 Kings 10:30-32

Verse 31 of this chapter tells the sad end to this incredible anti-hero. The bad boy Jehu who put the pedal to the metal, destroyed the Baal worshipers, and did away with old wicked Jezebel ended up not being true to the God that anointed him as ruler. How utterly common this is! Success often makes fools of believers. We are so easily tempted to believe that we can have a divided heart and still be a success as a believer.  What can you do today to prevent such heartbreaks in the future?

 

Think about this

  • In what areas of your life do you need to slow down?
  • Are you listening closely to God’s instructions?
  • Are you ready to confront the culture with the truth?
  • What will your legacy be as a Christ follower?

 

40 Things to Pray when Your child is Heading Back to School

Father God, would you….

 

  1. Strengthen my kids’ resolve to follow You.
  2. Protect them from worldviews that will challenge their faith.
  3. Allow my children to be influenced by godly men and women within our school.
  4. Protect my student from bullies and others that would shame and destroy self-confidence and joy.
  5. Make my child bold and brave when it comes to expressing their faith.
  6.  Give teachers a deep, mysterious understanding of how to best teach my son or daughter.
  7.  Help me to know when to step in and when to leave room for You to work.
  8. Remind me of the power of prayer everyday and also remind me that I need to pray EVERY DAY for my child.
  9.  During times they are being transported before, during and after school please protect them.

10. Bring revival in the high school campuses in our city.

11. Reaffirm your promises to me as I do my best to influence the children in my home and their friends.

12. Help me to recall scriptures to share with my kids before they ever leave the house.

13. Give wisdom to my children about how many activities they will commit to doing.

14. Supply financially for the needs of the poor in our midst and allow me to be a source of that financial provision.

15. Disallow our government to restrict our rights to share our Christian faith within the schools and in our community.

16. Help us as we make decisions about food during school. We are so often careless with our food and our kids pick up on that!

17. Add steps to my child’s day and help him to travel with good companions and have a direct influence on students who are off the path.

18. Give my pastor the right words to say on Sunday which will ultimately prepare our kids for Monday.

19. Help us never forget to be thankful for all we have from buildings to pencils and then also to pray and find ways to help those who do not have.

20. Astound my child through science about your marvelous creation.

21. When my child is bored in math, bring to his mind the scripture reference numbers that we’ve been memorizing.

22. When conflict happens, give us wisdom and love enough to settle and bring reconciliation.

23. Remind us of our great need for racial reconciliation and help us be reconcilers.

24. Protect our children from disease and illness that often happens when kids gather on a daily basis.

25. Settle us down when we are testy and irritable during the year.

26. Use athletics to build character and humility.

27. Help us to celebrate the little victories.

28. Create relationships that are saturated in grace.

29. Show us how to really listen to each other, not only with our ears but also our hearts.

30. Help us make the most of every opportunity to encourage those who struggle.

31. Give us a spirit of empathy and understanding when things get messy and emotional.

32. Shield our children from sexual predators as well as any person who would chose to say or do anything that would sexualize our kids.

33.  Prepare our kids for their future marriages.  It seems weird to pray this, but even years before they meet, they will both need your care today.

34. Help my children to get rid of all mockery and sarcasm. And help me to not model this either.

35. Fill in the gaps of my kids’ faith through the influence of other Christian leaders.

36. Remind me to stop and take the opportunity to pray with my kids every day and not just at the dinner table.

37. Make my faith so vibrant that my kids know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I believe You are real!

38. As parents keep our heads on a swivel when it comes to being sensitive and alert to the needs of kids in our church.

39. Keep us aware of the spiritual warfare that goes on in schools all over the world. Make me vigilant to keep up my guard and be on the offense for the sake of love.

40. Help us to trust you throughout the year, because as hard as it is to believe, You love them even more than we do!

The Belly of the Beast

Everybody ends up
in the belly of the beast.
There are few exceptions
from the greatest to the least.
You stumble into quicksand.
You’re weary of the world.
Lies wreck your reputation.
Insults, viciously, are hurled.
Addiction lies in dormancy
then rears it’s ugly head.
Depression sinks in slowly,
Like the whispers of the dead.
A chronic, stubborn stronghold
infiltrates your weakened mind
Confidants betray you.
Sometimes, friends are hard to find.
Childless in your 40’s.
“Will I ever be a mother?”
Inside an unfamiliar place
Near no sister or no brother.
You’re in the doctor’s office
And hear devastating news.
You lose your hair to chemo.
Indeed, no one gets to choose.
Your marriage ends abruptly.
He left you with no choice.
And for others, it’s the silence.
Separated from His Voice.
Adversity just happens
and no one gets a pass.
But this- your devastation,
is God’s Holy Master Class
Yes, this strong Professor
is bolder than the rest,
His challenges are brutal
and He’s silent in the test.
He’s far above all reason
––mysterious is He.
His text book is His Word.
His school–– adversity.
But in each fearful crisis,
we’re cradled by the light
There’s joy within the suffering,
There’s peace amidst the fight
Within our devastation
––the bleak, forbidding war
God shakes us in our deadness,
with His fearsome roar
What we assumed would end us,
And our melancholy tales
speaks only of His grandeur,
His timing never fails.
And in our silent terror,
He’s not worried in the least
Despite how darkness lingers
in the belly of the beast.