Hard Bleachers and a Great God

I had a flashback last night.

Sitting in the Walker Middle School gymnasium for my son’s band concert took me back many years. It was more than the locker room smell. It was more than the hard plastic bleachers. It was more than the cackling girls and “trying to be macho” boys running around.

It had to do with the Band Teacher. I couldn’t stop watching him – animated and engaged. He loves the music. He loves teaching the music and hearing the music being played by young people. I could see the twinkle in his eyes from the angle of my bleacher seat.

I’ve seen that twinkle before…

It was in the eyes of Mr. Dwight Kinne.

He was my band and choir teacher (not to mention my parents band and choir teacher as well). He was my mentor and one of the most admired men in my life. He is now with the Lord but I think about him often and wonder if I am making that kind of impact upon those I come into contact with.

As I sat in that sparsely-filled gym, I was deeply moved. I leaned over to Denise and told her that I was getting “kinda emotional” (that’s guy talk) because I couldn’t stop thinking about Mr. Kinne. Every morning of my junior year I had a Music Appreciation course with him. I was the only student. When I walked into the band room he, without fail, would say: “How are you John?” Most often I would respond with a “Fine” or a “Good.” He would classically look me straight in the eyes and yell: “Fine…good…that’s it? How ‘bout GREAT?!?” A teenage smile would form on my face and I would sheepishly reply: “Yah, I’m GREAT!”

He would put his arm around me, we’d walk into his office and we’d talk about life and music while listening to big band records. Now I’m “kinda emotional” again as I write this.

Dear loved ones: I wish I could put an arm around each one of you right now. I wish each of us could sit and talk about life, work, family and God. I’m certain some of you would say you’re “fine” or “good”. Others would say life has been hard and relationships are painful. Some have experienced the hardship of a lost jobs or salary reduction. Still others might be struggling deeply through despair and frustration. You may not be feeling “GREAT,” but will you hear me when I say: Our God IS great. He is powerful and alive. He is working on your behalf and ministering to his loved ones (that’s you) whether you know it or not.

There in that sweaty gym, on those hard bleachers, I gave thanks again to my GREAT God. By the way, HE has a twinkle in HIS eyes as well…it is a burning, passionate love for us, his children.

What God Uses To Grow Us

I sat down a couple days ago and mused on some of the key things that really cause us to grow in the Lord. There are obvious aspects such as our time in the Word, corporate worship, prayer, etc. Those ought to be givens. Right?  But then there are the “other things”. The tough things. The stuff that we’d all like to avoid, but let’s admit it…in hindsight…we’ve grown as a result of having those experiences. Here are six of them that I came up with for my own life (and I think is representative of so many others):

1.  Pain
C.S. Lewis says, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

2.  People
Dr. Kent M. Keith says, “People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.  People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway. Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.”

3. Finances
Billy Graham says, “Next to the Bible, the second most theological document is our checkbook.”

4.  Failure
John Maxwell says something to the effect, “If you fall down, while you’re there, pick something up.”

5.  Crisis

Someone once said, “People are like tea bags. If you want to know what’s inside them, just drop them into hot water!”

6.  Change

I love what Eleanor Roosevelt said, “People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built.”

What are some other things that God uses to grow YOU?

Confess with Your T-Shirt

The shirt was bright red with big, unmistakable lettering across the entire front. When I wore it I looked like a human stop sign.

It was the 80’s and in the church circles I ran in it at that time, it was very common for Christians to live by the motto: “What you believe in your heart, you’ll confess with your t-shirt!” Ask my wife, I have a thing for t-shirts. Someday I’ll show you my collection. They are all archived and boxed up for future generation to discover…and…well…marvel.

There is one classic t-shirt that I can’t seem to find though. It was either misplaced, worn out, tossed out or given away. I’d love to get my hands on it again – not to wear it, of course. Frankly, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t fit, ‘cause I’m no longer a 140 pound skinny teenager (here’s to wishing though)!

The reason I want to find it is because of the truth it presented. The message on this fire-engine red shirt was undeniable – both to myself and to those that would see it on my frame. The white lettering spelled out what I know to be true, but can often loose sight of quickly. The shirt simply said:

Jesus is
Coming Back
Very Soon!

There is a whole story that goes with this famed red shirt and someday I’ll tell you more about it.

But for now will you let those words sink in. Go ahead and read them again. Jesus is…coming back…very soon. I wore that shirt with conviction in the 80’s. The disciples around the time of the 1st Century (after the ascension) were also convinced Jesus was coming back soon. Between then and now a lot of time has transpired. Do we still believe Jesus is coming back? Soon? Or has this fundamental truth gotten lost in the move? Have we gotten so busy that we’ve forgotten to keep watch for his return? Maybe for you today, it’s a matter of life and death. Perhaps you have not given your full life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and you’re not certain of your eternal destination. Or maybe you’ve got apathetic and wandered in your faith. Don’t leave your relationship with the Lord to chance.

Jesus is coming back. He is our Soon-Coming King!

Curiously Strong

altoidsI’m kind of a Altoids freak. You know: The Original Celebrated Curiously Strong Mints.

Since 1780 these little white explosions of freshness have been doing a good work on behalf of all humanity. Perhaps they have saved marriages from pesky morning breath. Undoubtedly conversations have been redeemed from chronic oral malodor. Certainly many a social train-wreck has been averted just with the proper application of these tiny “habitual halitosis helpers”.

My appreciation for Altoids (frankly, all manner of breath mints) began while pastoring my first youth group in California. Each week one of my youth leaders would come up to me after I preached an impassioned message and she would hand me a couple mints or a stick of gum. At first I didn’t think much of it. I would say, “Thanks,” then pop it in my mouth and go about with my interactions with young people. Then a started to pick up a pattern. It was happening every week. Finally I asked the question: “Hey, do I really need this?” Her response was clear and concise: “Yes, John…you do.” It wasn’t so much the wording but rather the corresponding look in her eyes that alerted me to the gravity of the situation.

I was 20 years old and I quickly became very, very active in this silent war. Sadly, I wish I would have enlisted for battle years earlier: in my early teen years. Without question, it would have greatly improved my dating potential!! Now I know why I pretty much leaned against the wall during my entire Homecoming Dance!

Over the years I’ve found that my relationship with Jesus can sometimes get stale and a bit lifeless. It looses some of its minty freshness, per se. Now, first off let me say: this is normal. Every Christian goes through highs and lows. Like in marriage, our relationship with Jesus will sometimes experience morning breath. This is part of growing closer to the Lord. If we think that Christianity is all “a bed of roses” and that we’ll never have problems or struggles then our biblical understanding is incomplete.

But when our relationship with Jesus becomes less than fresh are there some things we can do? Yes, there are. I’ve discovered a few principles that have helped “freshen up” my Christian life. These ideas are small but curiously strong.

Look for the Evidence of God…
Take a quick look around you. God is at work everywhere. Romans 1:20 tells us that, “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen.” Don’t miss the evidence of God. He is not dead. He is alive and well and doing amazing things all over the world (and in your neighborhood!). If you’re finding yourself becoming less than fresh in your Christianity, then commit yourself for the next 10 days to actively look for the handiwork of God. It’ll be like a Binaca Blast to your soul.

Pray in the Fullness of the Spirit…
Years ago I asked a mentor and friend to tell me what he does to keep his relationship with Jesus vibrant. He didn’t hesitate: “I pray in the Spirit for an hour a day.” Wow. Now, don’t get tripped up on the whole “hour thing,” but rather be captured by the potential of the kind of freshness you can experience as you suppress the flesh and feed the spirit. One of the great resources available as a byproduct of the Spirit-filled life is spiritual language (tongues). I am grateful for this gift. When I’m feeling stale in my relationship with Jesus I have the Spirit-infused blessing of praying in my spiritual language. I encourage you to seek the giver of the Spirit (Jesus) and for the next 10 days to spend a few moments praying in the fullness of the Spirit.

Observe the Uniqueness of People…
Something that really charges me up is to simply sit and watch people. Watch how they interact. See how they respond to situations. Make notes about their mannerisms and demeanors. When I spend a few moments each day just observing people it does something refreshing to my relationship with Jesus. I think this is why we are to be in community and why we are not to forsake the gathering of the church. God knows that we need one another and he knows the ill effect it has on our spiritual growth when we separate ourselves from people. So for the next 10 days make a conscience effort to lift your gaze and see the uniqueness of those around you.

These are just three of many potential ways to freshen up your spiritual life. Are there other ways that you’ve discovered?

Spirit Formation

I wish I could show each of you the journals, napkins, and scraps of paper. Everything was memorialized in Mead notebooks and gathered in Peechee folders (you’d have to be born before 1985 to know what those are!). What was captured in print became a testimony to the grace of God and the power of the Spirit in my young life.

What I’m referring to are a pile of songs and poems written down during my teenage years in Wisconsin. Dozens and dozens of lyrics, rhymes and scripture to song – many of which will never see the light of day but sure were key to my spiritual formation.

I wasn’t trying to be the next Poe, Thoreau or even Bono. I was just responding to what was wildly stirring in my heart shortly after
having an amazing encounter with the Holy Spirit at summer camp.

And oddly, I didn’t connect the two experiences together until years later when I compared the date of when I was baptized with the Holy
Spirit to the date of the first song I wrote. They were in the same month and year. Something unlocked in me in the summer of 1983. Something radically shifted. Something supernatural unfolded and it affected everything! Not only did I begin to write songs and poetry but I was worshiping more passionately (less embarrassed), sinning
less (just a tad!), loving my parents and brother better (you can ask them), serving more aggressively and telling others about Jesus with
more intention.

Now let’s be clear: I was a Christian. Loving God and growing. Going to heaven without a question. But…what happened on that August evening was a distinct moment subsequent to salvation. I was baptized with the Holy Spirit according to promise of Jesus as described in the pages of the Bible. I couldn’t explain it fully but I knew I was different: empowered and passionate.

The dusty, wide-rule notebooks don’t lie. They may be stained with ink, sweat and…time, but they are still breathing with life and vitality, joy and love, questions and answers. The Spirit breathed into those pages and He continues to breathe into us today. Let’s open our hearts together (like blank journal pages) and see what the Spirit freshly imprints upon us. I believe it will mark us…form us…change us…forever.


Pea Soup?

No, actually it was thicker than that. It was more than campfire chili. The kind of chili that has everything, including the kitchen sink, jammed into it. You know the kind: thick and dense.

That was the kind of fog I drove through a few days ago. After picking up my son from middle school youth group, we began the trek up Eola Drive to our rented home. There came a point in which the world closed in around our minivan. It was tangible and it was freaky. A heavy layer of fog descended and boxed us in – you could almost cut it with a knife. Now, I’ve driven through fog before. It’s tough and you really have to pay attention, but this was different. It was so thick that I literally could not see but a few feet ahead of my vehicle. I tried the high-beams, the low-beams and the no-beams. Nothing worked. I crawled my way home under a canopy of confusion.

Sometimes life feels a bit like this. You and I can often struggle through things without a lot of clarity. Other times our emotions become clouded with sin and dysfunction. Slowly (and somewhat undiscernably) a fog can settle over our souls.

Isaiah 9:2 speaks of a “people walking in darkness…those living in the land of the shadow of death.” This is a kind of spiritual fog in which we can’t seem to find our own way. We are lost and confused and we need the help of a Savior to lead us through to safety.

The FOG can be representative of three huge areas in our lives: unforgiveness, selfishness and ingratitude. I believe we need to cut through that FOG…here are some ways how…

1. Forgiveness.
Maybe some of your relationships have been foggy with unforgiveness. Have you let things go on and on without addressing anger and bitterness? Do you have people in your life that you may need to extend forgiveness? The Bible challenges us: “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” I think the most effective way to cut through the fog in our relationships is to be quick to forgive. Is that something you may need to do today?

2. Others-ness.
I know this isn’t a real word, but it sure captures the essence of how we can cut through the fog of selfishness. Philippians 2:3 says to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others betters than yourselves.” When we give priority to the needs of others, then we are aggressively cutting through the fog of our own selfishness.

3. Gratefulness.
When is the last time you cut through the fog of ingratitude with a simple word of thanks to the Lord? Thank Him for your life, family, job, church and friends. We have so much to be thankful for, don’t we? When we express thanks to the Lord it has a way of cutting through the fog of our lives. We are able to see things clearer – our perspective changes for the better.

What other areas of fog do you deal with?