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Archive for the ‘Word Pictures’ Category

A Wake Up Call

I got this word about twelve years ago, which is before my wife started this blog for me. Like so many other things I wrote in that time, it was destined to live in my notebook, except that my beloved made it her mission to share my writings. Apparently, she posted it on Facebook, as it just popped up in Memories. Good thing she did, because I couldn’t find another copy of it anywhere. As I re-read it, I remember how vividly I received it. I believe it resonates just as strongly today.
*
I awoke to the voice of the Lord saying, “Son, wake up; I’ve got some people for you to see.” I arose quickly and dressed. Skipping my morning routine, I made my way downstairs to the lobby of my apartment building and out onto the sidewalk. The sun seemed to be very bright and as I looked across the street to the park, I heard the Lord say, “Over there.”
*
The park was surprisingly busy for early on a Saturday morning and I walked slowly, as I anticipated further direction from the Lord. Just ahead I saw a girl or maybe she was a woman. She had one of those faces that could belong to someone in their late teens or in their early forties; though I would have guessed that she was in her twenties. She had kind of a “goth” look to her; jet black hair, lots of mascara, multiple piercings on her ears, nose & lip… She was barefoot, with gray sweatpants, a black tank top and she appeared to be doing some sort of yoga or meditation. As I started to pass the bench she was on, the Lord said, “Ask her” and somehow I understood that He meant for me to ask her what she was doing. Though I was uncomfortable about approaching her, I sat down and struck up a conversation. She said that she was “centering” herself, which she explained was her way of coming to a place of inner peace. She was surprisingly open about the fact that she’d had a late night of debauchery and that this was her way of spiritual cleansing. Even more surprising than her candor, was the fact that she did seem genuinely peaceful. She went on to explain that she was a recovering drug addict and that her “spirit guides” had taken her to past lives to show her that she was a strong person and that she didn’t need to be at the mercy of this addiction anymore. She proudly told me that she’d been drug free for the last eight months and that she was hoping to enroll in college classes in the fall. As the conversation began to wane, I guessed that the Lord must be opening a door for me and so I asked her if she knew anything about Jesus. She laughed and rolled her eyes, telling me that she’d been raised in church and that she’d even been a leader in her church youth group. I was stunned and without thinking I asked her what had happened; to which she looked me in the eye and knowingly said, “Absolutely nothing!” At that moment I realized that our conversation was over. As I walked on, I wondered if there was something that I was supposed to have told that girl, but something inside of me knew that the Lord had been speaking to me through her.
*
After a few more minutes of wandering, I saw a man that used to go to my church and again I felt the Lord’s prompting to go speak to him. As we spoke I found out that he’d just finished an eighteen month tour of duty in Iraq, where he’d been working alongside and training members of the Iraqi army. As I commented on how difficult it must have been to be an American living amongst the Iraqi people and even more so, a Christian living amongst Muslims, his expression grew troubled. He said, “You’d think so wouldn’t you; but honestly I felt more acceptance and brotherhood amongst those people than I ever have with the people that I’ve called brother and sister here.” He went on to tell me that his experience in Iraq has made it difficult for him to attend church since returning, because those relationships seem so phony and superficial. I tried to say some wise sounding words to encourage him to stay in church, but they sounded hollow and empty to my own ears; and undoubtedly meant nothing to him. As we parted ways, I once again had the uneasy sense that this conversation had been more for my benefit than for his; and I began to pray that the Lord would help me to understand what He was trying to show me.
*
Feeling suddenly tired, I decided to sit down on a bench for awhile; and after a few minutes my attention was drawn to a group of women who were gathered at a nearby picnic table. Not wanting to stare, I could only see them out of the corner of my eye, but they seemed to be having a great time together, as they talked and laughed loudly. After stealing glances for a few minutes I began to sense that there was something unusual about the way they interacted with each other. As they gathered their things and began to walk toward me, I was able to get a better look and from their appearance and body language I guessed that they were probably a group of lesbians. As they got closer, I recognized that one of the women was my cousin Peggy, who I hadn’t seen in a few years. She had become somewhat of an outcast in the family since deciding to live the homosexual lifestyle, though she and I had always gotten along well as kids. I was genuinely happy to see her, but I was also apprehensive about approaching her amongst this group of women. Within my moment of hesitation, she recognized me and immediately shouted out my name. She broke away from her group, moving quickly to me and throwing her arms around me. She spent the next several minutes catching me up on the events of the last few years and introducing me to her friends. I was struck by how genuinely happy she seemed and at the wonderful closeness she seemed to share with her companions. The few times I’d seen her as an adult (mostly at family gatherings), she’d seemed miserable and depressed; and when I mentioned how well she seemed to be doing, she replied, “I’ve finally found a place where it’s alright to be who I am.” Somehow those words were piercing to me, though I managed to suppress that emotion while we exchanged cell phone numbers and a warm farewell. But as this boisterous group walked away, an overwhelming sense of grief washed over me. I searched for what it was about our family that had failed to make Peggy feel loved and accepted; and wondered at how she’d so easily found that in the streets.
*
As I began to head back to my apartment, I felt queasy at the understanding that God had somehow orchestrated these three encounters. What was He trying to tell me through the lives of these people; all of whom had heard about Him and yet were finding their peace, hope, fellowship, love and community somewhere else? My eyes were fixed on the sidewalk and my mind was wrestling to understand, when I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. When I stopped to get a closer look, it appeared to be a twenty dollar bill and instinctively I looked around to see if there was any obvious owner. Since there wasn’t, I stepped over to the curb and eagerly picked it up. Even before I got a chance to unfold the bill to look at it, I could tell that it didn’t feel right in my hand and as I held it up, I could see that it was one of those gospel tracts disguised as money in the hopes of tricking people into picking it up. My queasiness began to rise into nausea, as I heard the Lord say,
*
“Unless my people begin to deal in the currency of heaven, the things they do in My Name will only make the counterfeit seem more real.”

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I am like a child lost at the mall

Though my eyes can be drawn to the bright and shiny things

And my nostrils filled with the smells of sticky treats

And my ears tickled with the festive sounds

My heart yearns to find my Father

And to abide in the warmth of His presence

 

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I heard a couple of sermons on Sunday, one of which spoke of “The King”, and the other that addressed holiness. They put me in mind of something I wrote many years ago.  I guess I never published it, because I had to dig it out of an old notebook.

 

Church Government

 

I saw a picture in my mind of the British Parliament, and I sensed the question, “Is England a Monarchy or a Democracy?”  Now this seemed to be a fairly unspiritual question, but I began to ponder my answer.  My immediate impulse was to say it was a monarchy, but the picture of the parliament reminded me that it was in fact a democracy.   While England does have a “Royal Family”, they actually have no real function within the day-to-day running of the country.  While some might claim that they still have a “monarchy”, it is not their way of government.

 

As I continued to meditate in this vein another question came; “Why are the people of England willing to pay the expense of this royal family, when they serve no real purpose in the governing of their country?”  I sensed that the answer lies in the people’s desire to be associated with the monarchy. That all of the pomp and trappings of royalty make the people feel royal about themselves, as though this distinguishes them from other countries.  It occurred to me that if the people of England really believed in the concept of a monarchy (i.e. that the royal family was God ordained and bred for leadership) that there wouldn’t be anyone else they would want to run their country; but instead they have chosen democracy as their form of government.

 

Certainly as an American I can appreciate democracy, because as a citizen I want my beliefs and desires to be reflected in the leadership of my community, my state and this nation.  There is nothing wrong with the British choosing democracy over a monarchy, but their desire to maintain the trappings of royalty creates an interesting illusion; it helps them to view themselves as one thing when they’re really something else.

 

As I continued to pray, I sensed the Lord say that this is a picture of His church.  He said that though we claim Him as “King”, He is rarely allowed to be involved in the decision making process, or the day to day affairs of the church; that decisions are primarily made by the people and for the people; that though we desire to be associated with His majesty, we do not necessarily desire to submit to His authority, and that though His name appears on the letterhead, the words of the message do not necessarily come from Him.

 

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul warned of the body becoming disconnected from the Head; he said, “see to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ”.  It seems that much of popular Christian culture has based itself on “the basic principles of this world”, and that in attempt to become relevant to the world, we’ve conformed ourselves to what we think will be found appealing in the marketplace.  Much of the “Christian” guidance (i.e. books, tapes, seminars…) on subjects like marriage, child rearing, inner healing… are more rooted in psychology than in God’s word, and we’ve even begun to study the corporate world for marketing strategies to be deployed within the church.  Based on these strategies, which put “what the people want” at the forefront, we are now seeing new interpretations (read; not necessarily translations) of scripture, which subtly distort anything which might offend someone who has adapted to the current cultural view.

 

In the book of Revelation there are messages to seven churches, which seem to be representative of the end time churches.  Within those the Lord points out some positive things, but He also gives stern warnings about the things He has against them.  He warns about forsaking our first love (i.e. allowing something other than Christ to be at the forefront of the church); that we must being willing to endure hardship and suffering (i.e. be willing to forsake our comfort); against adhering to false doctrines, which allow us to indulge our flesh and still believe that we are righteous before a Holy God; against tolerating sexual immorality within the church; against falling asleep, and not fulfilling His role for the church and against being lukewarm in our relationship with Him.  It is hard to deny that all of these things are prominently featured within modern Christianity.

 

At the end of each message there is a promise, but those promises are reserved for those who overcome these things.  Despite warnings throughout the New Testament, the Western church seems to be falling into many of these deadly patterns.  Our only hope is to re-connect to the Head, to tune our ears to His Holy Spirit; to renew our relationship with our “First Love”, to seek the Lord while He may be found, and to be like Jesus (e.g. to only do what we see the Father doing first).

 

Within this portion of Revelation, the one group the Lord doesn’t seem to have an issue with is the church of Philadelphia, which He says kept His word and did not deny His name.  This seems to be such a basic principle and yet this is the only church of which He could say this.  If we would choose to be that church, the promises of God are waiting for us there.  “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.  He, who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

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It’s not a bowl’s destiny to remain clean and stored in the cupboard. It was made to be a vessel, poured out for the nourishment of others. Washing it simply prepares it to serve it’s purpose.

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Trying to convince someone of something they refuse to believe is akin to throwing rocks at a closed door.  All it does is damage the doorway.

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There was once a generous father, who yearned to create a wonderful life for his son.  So when the boy came of age, the father gave him a beautiful house to live in, which sat on many acres of prime land.  He told his son that he could live there all the days of his life and that the only cost would be that of caring for the place.  Though the son was excited, he reminded his father that he knew nothing of caring for land, or a house, or even for himself.  His father let him know that he could call on him at any time, and that he would always make himself available.  But he also assured the son that he would not intrude on his new life, and that he would only come when he was invited.  To help him, he gave his son a large book that contained guidance on many of the questions that he anticipated he might have.  The son was greatly encouraged by these things and was quick to embrace his new life.

 

In those first days, the son called on his father frequently, sometimes on multiple occasions within the same day.  But as time passed the increment between those calls grew longer.  Soon after moving into the house, the son took a wife, and they started a family.  But within a short time weeds began sprouting in the fields, and the house began to fall into disrepair.  Whenever the son called, his father would come quickly; but the younger man’s wife was not comfortable having her father-in-law around.  Though he’d never said anything disparaging, she felt sure that he was judging her and them.  She shared this suspicion with her husband, and he soon felt the same.  On occasion the son would refer to the book his father had left for him, and though it was sometimes helpful, he soon decided that it was too big and cumbersome to deal with.

 

As more time passed, the land was overrun with brush, and there was no lush grass for the animals to eat.  Parts of the once beautiful house were collapsing and no longer inhabitable.  The children were sick from the unsanitary conditions, and his wife complained bitterly about the low quality of their lives.  Most days, the man sat idly on the porch, wondering how things had turned out this way.

 

One day, a traveler came down the road and approached the son.  He said that he’d heard a grand tale about a generous father, who had bestowed a great and extravagant gift upon his son.  He said that he wanted to see these things for himself.  But the son said, that he didn’t know such a man, and that all his father had given him was this rundown shack, which sits on this unfruitful soil.  When the traveler suggested that at least his father had given him something of an inheritance, the son harshly replied that if his father was indeed the kind and generous man that he sought, he would have never allowed his son’s life to deteriorate to this point.  At that, the traveler bid the son good day and moved on.

 

I would like to suggest that this is a metaphor for the Creator, and His creation.  He created the earth, and gave it to mankind to do with it as they pleased.  He made a covenant with them, and promised that He would make Himself available to anyone who called.  He even authored a book to help us.  But as time has passed, this beautiful gift has deteriorated significantly and for the most part we stubbornly refuse to call on Him.  Within the story, the wife represents the earthly things which hold our affection, and the children symbolize the natural outcome of those affinities.  While we can generally accept the notion of a God who will provide for us, we struggle to receive One who might also judge us.  As a result, we’ve tossed out His book, or at least stuck it on a shelf, and we blame Him for the poor condition of our world.  We say things like, “If He’s really such a loving God, why is there so much evil, and sickness, and death in the world?”  I would suggest that it is simply the result of reaping what we as the human race have sown.  Like the son in the story, we have not because we ask not.  In the book of Proverbs it says that there is a way that seems right to a man, but that it ultimately leads to death.

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Our culture has an endless fascination with the rich and famous, which becomes especially acute when an iconic star passes away (e.g. Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston…).  Last week’s untimely death of pop music star, “Prince” is a case in point.  For days, or sometimes weeks, the media is saturated with images of the star, clips of weeping fans, tributes from other celebrities, intrigue about the facts surrounding their death, a sudden burst of interest in their catalog from decades ago, often times revisionist retrospectives of their body of work, a slow parade of alleged insiders who claim to have some new tidbit of information, and sometimes even a star-studded funeral to send them off.  We tend to view their life through the lens of their glorious accomplishments and their vast renown; but I would suggest that more often than not they pass from this life broken and alone.  The myth of fame and fortune is stripped bare by death.  I doubt seriously that anyone has ever asked that their gold records, or Grammy award, or Oscar, or Olympic Medal be brought to their bedside as they face their final minutes.  Ultimately, the quality of a life isn’t defined by its shiniest moments, but by those day to day instances when no one is looking.  In the end, it will be about who we have loved, and who has loved us.  The piece that follows is something I wrote years ago to portray the emptiness of such an existence.  For me, fame and fortune is like this hollow mansion.

*

Hollow Mansion

*

My eyes flick open to the dim light of the pre-dawn morning

and my head throbs with the dull ache of the night before

There is a beautiful woman lying beside me

but I find myself straining to remember her name

When she wakes, I’ll have to pretend that last night meant something to me

but for now, I couldn’t be more alone

*

As I stare at the ornate ceiling of this massive room

I can see all the cracks along its edges

They not only speak of the sandy soil on which this estate was built

they testify to the weak foundation of this new life that I have established

While everyone else’s eyes are naturally drawn to the beautiful gold trim

all I can see is the fractured façade

While they all seem to notice the extravagant furnishings in each room

I find myself focusing on the vast empty space created by every high ceiling

*

These thoughts take me back to the water stained ceiling of my childhood bedroom

and I find myself wondering whatever became of that little boy

I also remember lying awake in a little trailer, many years ago

wondering how I was going to support my young bride & our new baby

Back then, paying the bills was my greatest struggle

but now that those debts are more than covered, I’m struggling with the price that was paid

*

I’d trade everything I’ve gained to erase the hurt and confusion in my children’s faces

as I pulled our family apart on the way to making my own dreams come true

I’d give it all back for the woman who loved me

when I had nothing to offer other than a desire to share her life

I’d gladly forfeit the drafty halls of this hollow mansion

for the warmth of the place that I used to call home

I’ve finally figured out that it’s better to have one person who loves you for who you really are

than to have ten thousand who love the person they imagine you to be

*

Unfortunately, by the time I came to understand this, it was too late

As the raging waters of my desire had already swept away any moorings for a bridge back

So as the first rays of the sun begin to creep across the windows

I swallow a couple of painkillers to prepare for the day that lies ahead

And as the beautiful stranger lying next to me stirs from her sleep

I push my face into a smile and utter, “Good morning darling”

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With our two youngest (Andrew and Bekah) playing for their respective high school basketball teams, we spend a lot of time courtside.  As a matter of fact, we’re in the midst of a five day stretch where either the boy’s team, or the girl’s team, has a night-time away game.  And when you frequently hang around such venues it’s not uncommon to encounter people who think that “basketball is life”.  But from where I sit, it is life that is a lot like basketball.

 

Like basketball, life requires preparation.  You may get by for a while on natural ability, but at some point you have to invest yourself in it, if you hope to have sustained success.  Just like traversing the length of the floor, and getting to the rim, there will always be situations, scenarios, and obstacles, that stand in your way.  It requires patience, perseverance, and some amount of skill, to negotiate those hurdles.  It is only on rare occasions that you find yourself completely on the other side of these things, with a clear path to the goal.  When those openings come, you must be ready; because such windows of opportunity close quickly.  There are times when you need to press, and other times when you need to let the game come to you.  Sometimes you can simply cover a zone, but other times demand one-on-one attention.  Discerning those times is a significant key to victory.  Likewise, you will find that there are often fouls in life that never get called, times when your teammates won’t pass the ball, and moments when you inexplicably dribble the ball off your own foot, or shoot it over the backboard.  How you handle these moments of disappointment, frustration, and failure, will drastically impact your potential for future achievement.  Finally, there is the noise that surrounds the game.  The instructions of a coach, the cheers and jeers of the crowd, the call of a ref, the encouragement or chastening of a teammate, the trash talk of an opponent, and the little voice inside your head that responds to all of them.  Knowing which voices to listen to, and which ones to tune out, is a crucial skill that every player needs to develop.

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We live in an interesting era, where most people don’t struggle with the idea of a spiritual realm, or even the existence of spirits; but where many (including a significant number of professing “Christians”) struggle to accept the notion of a literal devil, or the existence of hell.  For the first 30+ years of my life I was essentially blind and numb to spiritual things, but all of that changed when I had a very real encounter with the Holy Spirit of God.  That singular moment changed the trajectory of my life by making God real to me in a way that He hadn’t been before; but it also opened my eyes to the invisible realm, which includes demons, and demonic activity.  I’ve had curious people ask me about such things, and I like to use the “Lion King” as an example of how it works.

 

Simba represents each of us, while Mufasa represents all three persons of God.  He is Simba’s father, who gives his life to save him, and whose spirit guides him.  His rules were meant to protect his children, but Simba chooses to go his own way.  Scar represents the enemy of our souls, whose real intention is to steal, kill, and destroy.  In the presence of the genuine King, Scar is powerless, but after Mufasa’s death, his accusations drive Simba from his father’s kingdom (the Pride Lands), and cause him to forfeit his rights as an heir to the throne.  Just as Satan has demons to do his work, Scar has his pack of Hyenas to do his bidding. 

 

As long as Simba was willing to live the “hakuna matata” (no worries in Swahili) lifestyle with Timon and Pumbaa, he posed little threat to Scar, and was largely left alone.  Of course, he had to live in a very demeaning way for a lion; eating bugs and the like; but his friends made it bearable.  That was until Nala shows up, and reminds him of where he came from, and that his family is suffering at the hands (or paws) of Scar and his sidekicks.  But even though Simba wants to help, the voice of the accuser again causes him to doubt himself.  Though Rafiki plays the role of a prophet, it is eventually the voice of his father that is able to remind Simba of who he is, and of what his destiny was meant to be.  With the word of his father burning within his heart, Scar becomes powerless to stop Simba from taking his rightful place as the heir to the throne.

 

Like Simba, we have all gone on own way, and the accuser of the brethren has a lot to say about it.  If we believe in what he is saying, we will forfeit our rightful place in our Father’s kingdom.  If we choose to take the “hakuna matata” approach to the problem, we will live well beneath the level we were created for, and never find our way back to our homeland.  We all desperately need to have the same revelation that Simba had, which is that we are loved, forgiven, meant to dwell in our Father’s kingdom, and created to be an heir to His throne.  Our identities need to become rooted in that revelation, and it needs to propel us into the battle against the illegitimate authority of our enemy.  The scripture tells us that our battle is not against flesh and blood, “but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph. 6:12)”.  If we are really worried about the direction our country is headed, I would suggest that this is the battle we need to be engaging in.

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Most people are familiar with the “Serenity Prayer”, which goes something like, “Lord give me the strength to change the things I can change; the patience to live with the things I cannot; and the wisdom to know the difference between the two.”  And while this is not directly from the scripture, I have found it to be a very worthwhile approach.  Years ago, when I was wrestling with something that I could not change, the Lord said, “You’re trying to ride a bull.”  And while I certainly felt beat up by my circumstance, I wasn’t really sure exactly what He meant.  After some time of meditation, the Lord added, “I never created a bull to be ridden; a man came up with that idea.”  That image has remained vivid for me ever since.  Now, when I try to wrap my arms (and emotions, and energy…) around something that is not mine to control, I see myself on that bull, and I try to quickly let go.

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