Monthly Archives: April 2012

assembly instructions

Start Here

A couple of Decembers ago, Kristi and I thought we came across the perfect Christmas gift for our little Rylie.

She really enjoys helping Mama in the kitchen so when we found a little play kitchen at the store we immediately decided to pick it up.  It was the right size for her 4-year-old stature and the right price for our budget.

The box said, “Some Assembly Required.”

I’m a veteran Santa’s helper.  I was not intimidated.

I’ve done some impressive things to create a certain mystique on Christmas morning for our kids.  Just ask Hayden about the full sized basketball goal that was found in the living room one Christmas.  It was WAY too big to fit through the door.

There was another time that I erected an outdoor play set inside the house (and then AGAIN outside the house).

Thankfully this kitchen was not gigantic.  I planned on snapping it together well in advance of the big day and hiding it from curious eyes until the Red Intruder made his existence known in the Burden house.

I allotted a generous amount of time for the construction of this tiny kitchen.  I couldn’t see how it could take more than 30 from beginning to end.  That is until I actually opened the box.

I don’t know how they do it.  As I was removing the pieces from the box I was reminded of a circus act I’ve seen before.  You know the one.  It’s where a little car drives into the ring and 400 clowns get out of a vehicle the size of a Yugo.  When I was done emptying the box’s contents, I had parts scattered all over the house.

The last thing that came out of the box was the instructions.  It was a SINGLE page.  One Page, One Thousand Parts!

To complicate matters, the instruction page was printed in some form of new-age hieroglyphics.  As I looked out over the array of nuts, bolts, pieces of wood, and odds-and-ends, I couldn’t make heads from tails.  I didn’t know where to BEGIN!

What was supposed to take a mere 30 minutes ate up over three hours.

NOTE TO SELF: “Some Assembly Required” means “Do Not Buy This, At Any Price!”

It’s interesting to look back on that day.  My little project for Rylie did not BEGIN with bolting a board to a knob or a handle to a door.  It BEGAN with LOVE.

It was LOVE that made the purchase.

It was LOVE that set aside the time for construction.

It was LOVE that was looking forward to a big smile and an even bigger hug from Daddy’s favorite 4 year old.

I’ve talked with many people over the years who wanted to know what to do to BEGIN the Christian life.  They were looking for a system to follow, a program to keep, a regiment to maintain.

Those have their place, but they are not the start of the Christian existence any more than Rylie’s kitchen started by attaching Board #135 to Handle #229.  The Christian life BEGINS with LOVE, God’s LOVE.

God’s LOVE is so much greater than we can possibly imagine.

It was His LOVE that sent His Son.

It was His LOVE that paid the price for our salvation.

It is His LOVE that has prepared us a home in eternity with Him.

It is His wonderful LOVE that we acknowledge and, in the best way we can, reciprocate.

It is when we realize God’s arms are wide open to us in a real and personal way that the Christian life BEGINS.

Our life with God BEGINS, proceeds, and culminates in LOVE.

I hope you are looking forward to celebrating the rich, deep and undeniable LOVE God has for you as we gather for worship this weekend.  My prayer is that He will inspire us through our singing, praying and preaching to LOVE Him with all of our heart, and with all of our soul, and with all of our strength, and with all of our mind.

tangled Extension cord

Fruitful Frustrations in the Backyard

I was overly ambitions a few weeks ago when I was out doing my obligatory yard work.  I had cut the grass with the gasoline powered, black exhaust fuming, lawn mower.  I trimmed up some of the hard-to-get-at places with the gasoline powered, 1 million RPM, cut-your-toes-off if you’re not careful, weed-eater.  All that was left was to edge around the sidewalks.

Before I go any further, I reluctantly admit that there is a problem with my edger.  The edger’s problem is the operator.  He is cheap.  Instead of getting the manly, gasoline powered, turbo charged, dual carburetor, macho edger, I bought the electric model.  I also bought an extension cord; 100 feet of it to be exact.

100 feet of extension cord is more cord than I need.  It is also enough cord to create knots so intricate only graduates of MIT can unravel them.  I always roll my cords up nice and neat before putting them in my garage for storage, but something happens between the time I put them up and when I get them back out.  I suspect evil elves, though I’ve seen some insects here in South East Texas that are large enough to use my cords for building nest.  Perhaps there is a natural law of cord tangling that takes over in my absence.  I’m thinking about installing cameras to help with my investigation.

Anyway, I was in the yard, struggling with this knot, feeling down because I wasn’t using a more masculine edger, and trying to maintain my religion in spite of the frustrations.  The knot was so bad that I could not find the end of the cord that plugged into the outlet!  It had to be in there somewhere.  It was there the last time I used the cord.  It had hidden itself within a mass of cord material, but was reluctant to come out no matter what I tried.  All of this made me hunger more and more for a gas-powered edger.

Before I gave up completely, a thought hit me: Those gasoline powered tools, even though they carry all of the fuel necessary to run their motors, are powerless when they run out of gas.  They have the appearance of being self-sufficient for a time, but are always just mere minutes from being useless.  The little electric edger, though it is not self-sufficient, can run for hours and hours on the power borrowed from another source.

When we try to go it on our own, especially in this Christian existence, we run out of steam, or gas, pretty quickly.  We roar and rumble for a moment, only to sputter to a stop.  Any progress that is made only comes in fits and is quickly erased by passing of time.

It’s when we plug ourselves into a greater source that we find true satisfaction in this life and progress made toward the life we were purposed for.  It’s when we become dependent upon another, upon God, that we find the better way to live in this world.  There in my backyard I experienced a spiritual moment.  The cord that channels the power for my edger took on a whole new meaning for me.  I no longer see it as an unmanly limitation attached to my edger, but a lifeline giving unlimited supply to the one tool that provides clear parameters to my yard’s existence.

Like that edger, you and I have an extension cord that gets into knots from time to time.  We call our cord faith.  Sometimes when we put it down and turn our backs, it gets knotted up.  It requires our careful attention to keep it plugged into the source of both power and blessing.   The task of our religion is to provide our faith structure.  When we gather together to sing our songs, say our prayers, and worship our Lord, what we are really doing is unraveling the knots of our faith and maintaining the life giving connection we have with God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Our personal devotion is equally as important.  Daily we read, daily we pray, daily we seek our Savior’s face in the seclusion of our prayer closets.  In doing so, we keep our cord of faith straight and true and plugged into the fountain of eternal life.

Bring your knotted cords to the Lord this Sunday. Watch him work his miracles among us as we give up our self-sufficiency and learn how to live God-Dependent lives.

Hand of Christ 1

What are the Marks of Christ?

NIV  John 20:25 “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

 

He bears the marks of Suffering

He bears the marks of Love

He bears the marks of Forgiven Sin

He bears the marks of Hope

He bears the marks of Executed Judgment

He bears the marks of Liberty

He bears the marks of Life

He bears the marks of Mercy

He bears the marks of Divine Justice

He bears the marks of Realized Purpose

He bears the marks of Mans’ Infirmities

He bears the marks of Poverty

He bears the marks of a King

He bears the marks of a Servant

He bears the marks of a Martyr

He bears the marks of a Priest

He bears the marks of a Prophet

He bears the marks Intended for Me

Lord, help see His marks in me

20131020-081509.jpg

Some Barriers are Made to be Broken

We see it a lot in the movies.  They do it all of the time on cop shows.  I’ve thought about it a time or two (just for the fun of it rather than having a real reason).  I’m talking about busting down doors.

In the movies they make it look easy.  Some big guy hits the door or kicks it with his size 14 boot, and the door flies off its splintered hinges.  On the cop reality shows, well, it just looks more real.  There is usually a man with a big heavy battering ram, hammering, and hammering, and hammering on the door while his buddies wait with guns ready.  For me, well, I just figure I would break something, beside the door if I even tried.  So I’ll stick to the imagination of Hollywood or the antics of the TV show Cops to get my door busting kicks.

A door is a good example of a barrier that is made to be breached.  The Bible gives us a couple of scenes where Jesus entered a room full of his disciples by breaching a locked door.  There are two occurrences in John 20, read about it.  I want to focus on the second occurrence since there are multiple barriers there that Jesus breaks through.

I do not want to pass over the significance of the locked door in these stories. This could be no counterfeit Jesus who makes his appearance among his disciples.  This is the Risen Lord!  He comes to them unbounded by physical limitations.  If the grave could not hold him, what is a locked door going to do to stop him?  God is not limited or constrained.  He comes to us, regardless of where we are.  Sometimes we think we are excluded from God, that we are cut off from his graces, but nothing could be further from the truth.  We find him standing among us, mysteriously, though the doors are locked, the windows are closed, and our faith fails to see the ever-present reality of the risen Savior in our lives.

In the case of Jesus appearing to Thomas, there was also the barrier of doubt.  The doubt Thomas bore in his heart had eight days to ferment, and grow and solidify.  Doubt can become a seal over our heart like a stone covering the entrance of a tomb.  It can only be removed by a strong man, a God sized man.  That’s how the stone was removed on Easter Sunday and that’s how doubt was defeated in Thomas.  When Thomas saw the miraculous manifestation of Jesus, with the marks in his hands and the wound in his side, he cried out, “My Lord and My God!”

Our Lord has a way of splintering those barriers we put between him and our hearts.  He lives to be the Lord of our lives and he will not be hindered by the doors we lock or the doubt we harbor.  In his grace and in his power he has the ability to demolish all obstacles that prevent us from saying with Thomas, “My Lord and My God!”

Christ is present with you today.  He will be present with us in worship on Sunday.  He is powerful to save. I trust you will join us, Sunday by Sunday, as we allow our doubts to be baked away in the furnace of his amazing Grace and Love.

Whose Rules Rule?

Many years ago I was playing checkers with one of our youth.  I had always thought that checkers was one of those games, like Go-Fish, where the rules were universally known and generally agreed upon.  We began our game of checkers in the customary manner. I placed my blacks on one side of the board and she her reds on the other.  We both proceeded with caution, not wanting to lose any of our checkers early on.  Then it happened.  I found a weakness in her strategy to exploit.  I positioned one of my checkers in such a way that would, by the rules, force her to jump it, thus leaving me with a highly advantageous counter attack.  She balked.  She pondered. She mused for an awkward amount of time.  Then she moved.  Not the piece that she was supposed to, but a piece from the other side of the board where there was no option of jumping.

“Wait a minute,” I said. “You were supposed to take my piece and I was going to obliterate your entire front line in a single move!”

She wasn’t persuaded.

“Grandma doesn’t play checkers that way,” was her response.

Grandma?  I wasn’t concerned with what Grandma had to say.  I showed her the rules.  She was unmoved.  In all of her 12 years she had never played checkers by those rules and neither had Grandma.

I gave in.  I agreed to play the rest of the game according to Grandma’s rules.  And I began to play well, until I cornered her king in a sticky situation.  Inwardly I was preparing to gloat.  I was going over my victory dance in my head, but in my head it had to stay.

“I don’t feel like I should have to move there,” she whined.

What?  FEEL?  I had already, though unwillingly, submitted to playing checkers according to how ‘Grandma Says.’  Now I had to base my play on the emotions and feelings of a pre-teen!  You can just picture how the game went from there.  We ended up playing something, but it was a far cry from being checkers.

There are a lot of different authorities people listen to when it comes to the way they live.  As Christians, the Bible is our authority for all of our beliefs and practices.  But how many times do we hear people, even in the church, refer to the way Grandma or Grandpa did things, rather than the way Jesus did?  And how many times have we done what felt right, only to end up in hot water?

When we truly want to live right, we look to God, and judge our ways by His standards.  I’ve found that life plays out a lot better as we play by His rules.

*Rule # 9

If a player is able to make a capture, there is no option — the jump must be made. If more than one capture is available, the player is free to choose whichever he or she prefers.

http://boardgames.about.com/cs/checkersdraughts/ht/play_checkers.htm

The Twin that Doubted, but then Believed

According to a 2010 Rasmussen poll, 78 percent of Americans believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  I think that’s great news.  The tough news is that almost one in four people in our country are either unconvinced or decidedly against the idea that Jesus’ rose again.  This leads me to believe that a significant portion of people reading this article may have doubts, or reservations, as to the validity of the resurrection story.

What happens when we are unconvinced?  What room is there in the church for those with hesitations about such a weighty doctrine?  Well, according to John’s Gospel, there is a big spot reserved for those with inquiring minds.

This Sunday we are going to look at the story of Thomas, one of Jesus’ disciples.  In his day he was called Thomas the Twin.  In our day we have come to know him as Doubting Thomas.  God had an answer for his doubts, and I believe God makes himself available to us, revealing himself to us, in the midst of our doubts as well.  This Sunday we are going to see how Thomas the Twin was transformed from Doubting Thomas into Thomas the Believer.  I think you may recognize something of your own story as we dig into the story of Thomas.  I think you will be impressed that God is still in the business of dissolving doubt and building faith.

Let’s not lose the spiritual fervor that we experienced this past Sunday.  The resurrection holds power for our lives every week of the year, not just the week of Easter.  I look forward to seeing you Sunday by Sunday as we explore the accounts of Christ’s appearances among his followers after the resurrection.

“Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

John 20:29

Reaching Out, Without Going Out

It’s time to think like a missionary.  We don’t have to travel to Zimbabwe to be a missionary.  We can practice missions right where we live.  Let me show you 6 things that you can do this Sunday that will provide blessings and encouragement to those who will be visiting our church.

1.   …and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Act 1:8  (…or at least the far parking lot.)

Imagine what an impression it will make on our visitors if there are plenty of parking spots close to the building.  We can help make sure our visitors have plenty of close parking spots by getting here early enough to take those spots are the far end of the parking lot.

2.   “…go and recline in the lowest place.” Luke 14:10

I know how coveted those pews along the back are.  I can feel your appreciation for those seats along the aisle.  We all have our familiar spots that we have made our pew-home for years.  But when it comes to having a houseful of visitors, we would be good hosts and hostesses if we gave up the good seats to make sure our guest were well blessed.  I think it would be a valiant missionary gesture to offer our visitors the choice seats instead of making them crawl to the middle of the pew or suffer sitting on the front row.

3.   ‘I will forget my complaint, I will change my expression, and smile.’ Job 9:27

We’ve all known Christians who seems to be in a perpetual bad mood.  Don’t be one this Sunday.  A smile conveys warmth and a welcoming spirit.  There’s so much to be happy about on Easter Sunday.  The music will be uplifting, the crowd will be enthusiastic, we get to celebrate baptisms with those who have come to the Lord, and we get to vividly remember how great our salvation is.  Share the joy in your heart through the smile on your face.

4.   “A friend loves at all times.” Proverbs 17:17

The people who will be coming to worship this Sunday are looking for many things.  One thing we all look for and need is community.  We need friends to travel down this road we call salvation.  We are not going to heaven alone; we are going with other pilgrims who have claimed Christ as savior.  Be eager to reach out to someone new this weekend.  It may be that God puts someone right beside you who needs the encouragement that only you can give.

5.   Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up.  Ephesians 4:29

There are going to be people in church this Sunday who do not know their way around the building.  Take the initiative and ask if they need anything.  Some of the more common things people may need help with are: where the bathrooms are, where the nursery is, how to become more involved the church activities.  Visitors may not feel comfortable asking about these things so go ahead, break the ice, let them know you are glad they are here and offer to assist them while they are here.

6.   Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Matthew 5:16

In this electronic age, we can make an impression on more people, in more places than ever before, without leaving our building.  When you check-in on Facebook before worship, you are letting people around the world know that you are part of a community that has something to celebrate.  Social sites, like Facebook and Twitter, are part of a new mission field that was not present a decade ago.  If Facebook were a nation, it would be the third most populated in the world, with its 800,000,000 subscribers.  Let’s take the time to let the world know what we are doing this Easter Sunday as we gather to worship our resurrected savior.

I’m praying for you as you prepare to lead your classes and your students to a greater understanding of God’s love for them.  Feel free to pass this on to others.

 

Prayer Overcomes Smelly Feet

I’ve got a problem that rears its ugly head every now and then.  My feet STINK.  I’ve cleared rooms with them as I’ve taken off my shoes.  I think the Department of Defense should do test on my feet to develop a more effective non-lethal deterrent for uprisings among smell sensitive insurgents.  I’ve leaned to keep my bromidrosis (really stinky feet) to a minimum but sometimes it surprises me.  I was sitting at my desk one Monday, mulling over some weighty theological perspectives, taking notes and musing on the Apocalypse of John when I caught a malodorous whiff.  I began to think, “Did I put on clean socks today?  Did I scrub my feet well?  Did I step in something?”  The only answer I had for these was “No.”  The smell would not go away.  I tried putting my feet way up underneath my desk.  I tried leaning forward and putting my feet behind me.  Nothing was working to abate the odor.  I became self-conscious.  I thought about running home to change shoes but I had too much to do.  I thought about lighting a candle but “Fresh Mango” doesn’t really mix well with “Onions-Swimming-In-Dead-Fish-Sauce.”  I was at a loss.  Nothing I did made things any better for me.

Thankfully Tuesday was a new day.  I put on a fresh pair of shoes (the others I condemned as irredeemable and threw away), extra-clean socks, and left the house with full confidence that the foot odor problem was solved.  Guess what: I sat down at my desk and was immediately afflicted by that pungent emanation.  I wanted to cry!  I went through the same routine as I had the day before and with no greater success than I previously met.  I was getting desperate.  My mind began to whirl.  In it’s whirling it came across a bit of neglected information that would ultimately prove significant.  Underneath my desk I kept a pair of old, semi-dress, extra-comfy, it’s-going-to-be-a-long-day kind of shoes that had not been worn in a while.  I stopped wearing them because they tended to make my feet stink.  What a Revelation!  Perhaps these were the culprits to my noxious dilemma.  I got down on my knees and pulled them out from underneath the dark recess beneath my desk.  They were dusty from neglect but still in good shape.  The ultimate test was about to be applied to them.  I needed to take a good sniff to see if these were in fact the malefactors.  As I stuck my nose into the opening of the first shoe and began my inquisitive inhalation, I saw it: A DEAD MOUSE.  I was disgusted and relieved all at the same time.  Disgusted that I had thrown away the wrong pair of shoes; Relieved that my feet were not as offensive as I first thought.

Sometimes when we are trying with all of our might to get things on the right track our efforts seem to be in vain.  Our struggling only seems to make matters worse, our trying gets us in a deeper hole and our best thinking only makes us more frustrated.  There comes a time when you have to just STOP.  The dead mouse taught me a great lesson; when you get tired of doing things your way, get on your knees.  It’s when we come to the end of ourselves and seek the Lord that we find the real answers.  It’s when our personal strivings cease that we go back to our relationship with Him, and in that relationship we find peace in our lives.

I’m convinced that God has much for us to do, but without focusing on the love relationship that He desires with us, our doing is in vain.  If you are struggling in what God would have you do, stop what you are doing.  Focus on your relationship with Christ.

Your Ability to Bear Spiritual Fruit is Directly Related to the Strength and Vitality of Your Relationship to Christ.

We’ll get into this more on Sunday.  I hope you can join us.

Good Preparation

Up until about this time last year, I had been in school for almost 30 years now.  As a career student, I think it is my duty to write a book titled How To Go To School.  I think I’ve reached the point in my student life that I can effectively cover everything.  In fact, I have so much information that my How To Go To School book may contain as many volumes as an encyclopedia set.  For the benefit of my students I am going to include an expansive section about taking tests. As a preview for my book, let me give you my proven* strategies for test-day readiness.

#1.  When you are faced with a test you are ill prepared for, employ Bad Handwriting.  My thought has been, “The teacher will clearly see that I am destined to be a Doctor so he/she will forgive me the fact that my words are indecipherable and assume that there is meaningful knowledge behind my chicken-scratch handwriting.”  To be honest, this never worked to my satisfaction, nor to anyone else’s satisfaction.

#2.  When taking a True/False or fill-in-the-blank test that removes the advantages of the technique above, resort to Random Guessing.  On a True/False test, for example, you have a 50% chance of getting the answer correct.  When you do not know the material you are taking a test over, Random Guessing can raise your score from a 0 (the score you get when you do not put an answer at all) to a low F.

#3.  This third technique can be employed for all test formats.  I call it Divine Intervention.  The premise of this strategy is to beg a higher power to abrogate the natural laws that have been put in place since the creation of the world in order to get a better grade on an exam than you actually deserve.  It has been my experience that God does not reward this kind of presumption, but this doesn’t stop people from asking.

#4.  This next technique has always pulled through for me in a pinch.  I call it Lowering Expectations.  This is a great stress reliever as well.  If we are shooting for something a little less than mediocre, we can usually hit it every time.  I coined a phrase in college that goes perfectly along with this strategy: “I can fail this test without studying for it.”

#5.  I have found that this last strategy to be the most rewarding when the desire to do well is firmly present.  For lack of better words we’ll call it Preparation.  Because of the time, dedication and sacrifice involved, I recommend it only to those students who want to succeed in their academic careers.  I have never walked away from a test regretting an abundance of Preparation.

I have come to appreciate the impact disciplined Preparation can have on all areas of a person’s life.  This coming Sunday we are going to look at the kind of Preparation we ought to put into the Spiritual aspect of our lives.  God has something great in mind for each on of us.  Let’s not let the opportunities we have to be faithful to Him pass us by because of lack of Preparation.

I look forward to seeing you Sunday.

 

* Proven does not mean successful.  In this context, proven means it was actually tried.