Saturday, November 30, 2013

Ugly Christmas Boxes

Once a year I go into our garage, push past several boxes of stuff, kick up the dust and dirt that has accumulated over the last year, brush away a few dead bugs, and finally reach my goal—more boxes.

There is an incredible difference between the ugly boxes I move out of the way and the ugly boxes I pull out and it is not just the word ‘Christmas’ written on the outside with black Sharpie, it’s what’s inside of them that makes them different. In fact, these boxes are more worn, tattered, and stained from the years spent in the garage than most of the other boxes. Year after year, they’ve been moved, pushed, and crushed into tight spaces to make room for other stuff.

I tug and pull them out of their resting place, pile them up, and carry them to the living room. They are ugly. They are frayed. Various types of tape hold them together. But unlike the others, these hold promise because of the true meaning behind that one word: Christmas.

It’s been eleven months since we packed them away and who put what where, is a mystery. My family gathers around the stack, and one by one, we open the boxes as nostalgia fills our hearts by what’s inside. Piece by piece, the old ‘works of art’ are pulled out and unwrapped from their protective Wal-Mart bags or the occasional ‘special’ item has paper, bubble wrap, and then the Wal-Mart bag.

The funny thing is… From the most beautiful piece to the downright scary hand-painted Santa, none of the pieces are particularly stirring on their own. It is only when we begin to put them on the tree that a different picture emerges. Then, when we step back, turn on the tree lights, and stand there quietly for a moment and gaze, it is at that moment that we are reminded of the uniqueness of Christmas and the ugly boxes that held this beauty gives way to something better.

Christmas, despite the ardent attempts of humanists, will always be about one thing: the birth of a Savior. He offers life to anyone who will accept His gift (John 11:25). Like the boxes and the items inside, we are all battered, broken, and held together by various types of ‘tape’. With Jesus, it’s not our decrepit body and not the beautiful or ugly moments that make or break us. It’s what we allow Him to do with those laughs—those tears—and those scars that matter. He alone opens the shell you live in, pulls out the good, the bad, and the ugly, puts it on the Tree of Life, and creates a perfect picture of beauty.

Christmas is more than symbolism; it is truth, reality, and it is life. Jesus doesn’t focus on the appearance of your box, the contents on the inside, or the stains from years of a difficult life, nor should you. Focus, instead, on the life Jesus brought to earth on the first Christmas morning and allow Him to lovingly use all of you to glorify Him and give you peace.

“I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem” Luke 2:10-11

Friday, October 11, 2013

Letter to a Friend

(Pic I took on top of Cold Mountain, NC last week)

We all need reminded of God’s truth over the lies of the world and self-deception. I wrote this letter to a friend this morning and thought it may serve to encourage others.

When I chose to become a Christian, one of the toughest aspects, in the beginning anyway, when I stepped out from the crowd, was the immediate recoil from my "friends". It stunned me and I was not anticipating that strike. It took me a long time to move from that initial pain as they were who I hung out with and so I believed they liked me for who I was. The truth is I simply made them comfortable, as someone they looked up to because I lived on the edge of craziness, with their sin. When I stopped committing those 'easy' outward sins, they became convicted. I said nothing, but we don't need to sometimes. Those who know us well, know what, or better said, Who, is changing us and they do not like Him (...and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved." Mth. 10:22).

For some weird reason we tend to think we will be different than the millions who have gone before us and will be able to handle both types of lives in such a 'cool' way that the enemies of God will accept us...not so. "For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ." Gal. 1:10. We WILL be hated, ostracized, maligned, ridiculed, and led to the slaughter by those who we once held close.

Why? Here are two, no three reasons:

1. "God's light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants." John 3:19-21.

2. "But people who aren't spiritual can't receive these truths from God's Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can't understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means." 1Cor. 2:14.

3. "For you will be expelled from the synagogues, and the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing a holy service for God." John 16:2. 

BUT: "But now, O Jacob, listen to the LORD who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, "Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine." Is. 43:1

AND "Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing." James 1:2-4

Glory to God our Hightower. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Stumble Much?

I remember watching my sons learn how to walk. Any parent can recall those exciting moments when their child’s wobbly legs and oversized head make what seems impossible possible. And now your exercise begins. They no longer stay where you put them and they systematically alter the decorations of your home until you only have things above three feet. 

Some people get better at walking than others. I have watched some guys at the gym stand on a medicine ball and do squats. You can see the continual fight not to fall and sometimes gravity wins.

My point is, learning how to walk is really learning how not to fall. It is not that all of the sudden the forces of gravity alter for that child and they begin to walk. No, they have simply learned how to constantly compensate for those forces. In a real sense, we are always falling; we simply adjust our weight with strengthened muscles and learned balance. Our state of standing does not come natural. If you don’t believe me, wait until you lie down tonight on your bed. I don’t know about you, but I usually let out a long sigh of relief and an occasional moan as my “anti-falling” muscles get a break.

Life is a daily walk. We usually do okay, but there are moments, days, and sometimes weeks where we don’t do so well. Life has a way of causing us to stumble and sometimes fall. If you can’t relate, you are so young that someone is reading this to you or you need to come back from your over-medicated state of delusion. The great theologian Rocky Balboa said it best, “Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place, and I don't care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life.” In other words, the trials and tribulations of this life will wear you down until we end up in our natural state—face down.

The Bible doesn’t tell us any different. The book of John tells us, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.” (John 16:33) If that were all he said, it would be a sad day. But this tough sentence is sandwiched between two all-powerful statements of Jesus, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me…But take heart, because I have overcome the world." Our only source of strength, peace, and ability to stand again is found in the presence of Jesus Christ in our life. Regardless if you stubbed your proverbial toe and are skipping on one foot or shattered your femur and all you can do is lie there and cry out in agony, take hold of the One who earned victory for you, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

Some of us simply need to adjust our stride, some need to learn how to walk again, and some have never taken their first step in eternal life. “Jesus told him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.’” (John 14:6).

Jesus makes the impossible possible. You can stand, walk, and run again even after divorce, addiction, depression, and a death. Jesus is the way the truth and the life. 

“Let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them sing joyful praises forever. Spread your protection over them, that all who love your name may be filled with joy. For you bless the godly, O Lord; you surround them with your shield of love.”
Psalm 5:11-12

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Live to Ride, Ride to Live

My friend, Jason, and I were recently on a two-day motorbike ride in Florida. When we woke up on beautiful Cedar Key, we decided to get an early start before the storms had a chance to build. As we left the comforts of the island behind us and rode over the bridge, it became obvious we were in for a wet, and at times, scary ride. I grabbed my phone and took this picture as I crossed the bayou. As you can see, we were heading straight into the dark and ominous veil of storm clouds ahead of us.

It wasn’t until I uploaded the picture that I saw the reflection in the mirror of the bright blue skies behind me. The image captures a cool moment of contrast where we are leaving the comfort and safety of a clear day to enter the dangerous wet roads ahead in order to reach our destination.

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:33

I think many of us live looking longingly in the mirror of life. That is, life does not stop or slow down. We desire to go back to the “good ole days” when things were “simpler”. Some people reading this have storms in the mirror and only see darker super storms in their future.
Before the ride

Regardless of what’s in our mirror, we cannot be glued to what’s being reflected because that is only a memory while the reality of actual clouds, hard times, good times, and unknown twists and turns are rapidly coming at us. Glancing at the mirror is normal and healthy; staring at it will inevitably cause us to crash.

Our future is coming, we can’t stop it, but we can and should live in the knowledge that what is in the mirror is there to stay and how we respond to the coming moments is what determines what’s in our mirror tomorrow.

We had to punch through the dangerous rain to get home. What will you do with today? Will you continue to long for the images of your past? Will you continue to lament about the destructive storms in your mirror? Or will you choose to believe in the words of Christ and live knowing He has overcome the worries of today and will lead you through the storms of tomorrow?

“They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22

God assured us that life would be difficult. He asks us to remain focused through the complexities knowing that we must travel this road to get to the One we love.

This life will take us down; its meandering whiplash turns are daunting, demoralizing, and deadly. In the end, it is our foundation and focus that either gets us through or pulverizes our will to drive into the foreboding unknown. For Jason and me on that ride, it turns out, we barely got wet. The storms broke up before we got there and all we got was some sprinkles. I wonder what hurricanes, tornadoes, and super cells God will diminish, remove, or carry you through.

“We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.” 2 Cor. 4:9

What the clouds turned out to be

Get on your bike, glance at what’s behind you, and ride into the wind knowing no matter how bleak it looks, God never abandons you if you have put your faith in the blood of Jesus Christ.