Poetry: The Thorn in My Side


The Thorn in My Side

 

A gentle prick in my holy veneer

Piercing where no eye can see

Ignoring the pain with a candy smile

The thorn in my side is me

 

Pain and grief and shame pour in

Self-mutilation with the sharp point of sin

Sinful desires rise once again

Leading to places I’ve already been

 

The thorn in my side is me

I’m missing the point, but it won’t miss me

The thorn in my side is me

I should get paid, but I’m doing the Devil’s work for free

 

God is patient, God is kind

Hoping He can change my double mind

Take this thorn and set me free

‘Cause the thorn in my side is me

 

Can’t blame mom, can’t blame dad

Don’t see anyone holding a gun to my head

Who can save me from this body of sin?

The son of God, raised from the dead

 

The thorn in my side is me

I’m getting the point, I’m beginning to see

The thorn in my side is me

Christ paid the price for one such as me

 

God is gracious, God forgives

In Him alone salvation lives

Take this thorn and set me free

‘Cause the thorn in my side is me

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Acting Out Our Faith: Lead With Forgiveness


While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. – Acts 7:59-60 (NIV)

I don’t know about you, but forgiveness is not always the first thing on my mind when someone is hurting me. There are a number of other reactions I can think of and none of them are what you would call “saintly.”  Anger, indignation, revenge – they all come rising to the surface in a moment of confrontation.  So what would I do if my neighbors were trying to kill me for telling them the truth?  How would I react to hatred and violence from those I was trying to help?

Stephen leads with forgiveness.  He doesn’t have time to process and work toward forgiveness – his life is ebbing away with each painful throw.  He could have lashed out in anger or prayed to God to smite down his enemies, but he chose love, grace and mercy.  At some point Stephen made the choice that if Christ could forgive, so should he.  He had probably heard the story of Christ’s words from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” and took them to heart.

Too often I have to find forgiveness when I have been wronged, but Stephen, following in the footsteps of Christ, doesn’t need to find it.  Stephen is forgiving.  It comes forth from him like cool water from a fresh spring.  That is acting out your faith.

Lord, help me to be forgiving.  Teach me how to lead with forgiveness.  Fill my heart with love, grace and mercy so that they overflow to others.  Amen.

We Are Not Made For Holes In The Ground


We are not made for holes in the ground

Not destined for earthen beds

We are not made to rest in the clay

Not numbered with the dead

 

We are made to live

We are made to last

We are made to praise

Forever and ever

 

We are not made for corruption

Not made to fade away

We are not marked for destruction

To languish in the grave

 

We are made to thrive

We are made to shine

We are made to sing

Forever and ever

 

We are made for glory above

To live among the saints

We are made to sing and dance

Before our God and Father

 

We are made for Him

We are made for love

We are made for joy

Forever and ever.

 

by Chris Yeager

Giving Thanks: Our Unchanging God


Since I will be on vacation for the next two weekends, I am reposting for this week and next week.  This week is a repost from November of 2010.  While some of the language is specific to that year, the thoughts behind it are still true.  I hope that this is a timely encouragement during the season of thanksgiving.

I remember my affliction and my wandering,

the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.” – Lamentations 3:19-24

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

I’m not sure about you, but 2010 has been a rough year.  Not as rough for my family as some others I know, but it ranks up there as a lean year in many respects.  The surprise for me is that I have never been as thankful as I have been this year.  Not a stick-your-head-in-the-sand thankful; that is just avoiding reality with empty platitudes and heartless prayers.  Not dutiful gratitude born out of blind obedience to some Christian ethic that says, “There is always something to be thankful for in what you are going through.”  That just keeps our eyes off the true focus of our thanksgiving.

The reason I am more thankful this year is a deepening understanding of three words: God never changes.  If this doesn’t make sense, think about what has brought you the most comfort in difficult times.  I would lay odds that most would say family and friends; those we love anchor us and heal us and hold us when we are going through grief, pain and difficulty.  Many of us would also say that sometimes those we love have let us down when we needed them most.  This is where God’s unchanging character can step into our lives and fill the gaps to overflowing.

We live in a broken world where tragedy and trial come without warning or consideration.  We are broken people with limitations, weaknesses and flaws that severely hamper our ability to truly satisfy the needs of others.  Only one can give what is needed for each wound.  Only one meets the needs of Jeremiah when he laments, “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.”  The God who never changes.  When everything else is falling apart, including ourselves, God remains merciful, kind, compassionate, faithful and loving.  He is our hope and comfort.  This is at the heart of living in an attitude of thanksgiving.

This isn’t a roadmap to living life without pain and suffering.  It is the compass that allows us to keep moving in the right direction in spite of our circumstances, both good and bad.  When Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to “give thanks IN all circumstances” (emphasis mine), he means “in” not “for.”  God is not thankful for hurt or pain or tragedy and I don’t believe He would require his children to either.  Paul is reminding the Thessalonians, and us, that no matter what happens in this broken world, to broken people, God still loves and cares for us, still calls us onward to peace and joy, still holds us in his strong hands.

This Thanksgiving, hold this truth close to your heart and let it guide you to a gratitude that transforms and heals.  Ask God to reveal His heart for you in the midst of your circumstances.  Let God use you to be His compassion and mercy to those experiencing pain and suffering.  Be grateful not for what you have, but for who you belong to, because God never changes.

Gardening Tips: No Need for Seed


Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.  Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.  As it is written:

“He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”

Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.  You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. – 2 Corinthians 9:6-11 (NIV)

Unlike those who depend on the harvest for their livelihood, we get to give ours away.  We don’t depend on storehouses where moth and rust destroy, but the storehouses of heaven.  But it is too easy in our self-centered society, to keep things for ourselves.  There has recently been much discontent among some in the United States about the inequity wealth.  They feel that somehow they have been cheated or robbed, but at the core, they believe they should have what someone else has; they are greedy.  They fall in the same trespass they judge others for and are oblivious to the irony.

This world would be a better place if we spent less time getting for ourselves and more time giving of ourselves.  Our neighborhoods and families would be all the more blessed for our willingness to give to the needs of others.  But the keys are laid out clearly in the passage above: it is a personal choice, done with confidence and without outside coercion.  Giving should be a reaction to God’s goodness to us and our giving will increase with our understanding of His goodness.

Giving, generosity, charity – they are certainly attributes of the followers of Christ, but it isn’t just what we do, but why we do it and how we do it.  We need to be motivated by the right reasons to do the righteous things.  There needs to be purpose and will behind our giving; first God’s and then ours coming in line to partner in generosity to those in need.  Too much is given to fulfill a sense of duty.  Too much is done to meet perceived obligations.  Too much is dedicated to avoiding guilt trips from those in authority.  As followers of Christ we are beholden to no one but God for what we give, but that is a far more demanding position to be in.

So if we put our giving in the hands of God, where does our confidence lie?  It lies in the promise that His storehouses never run out; that He will always provide all we need to do all He wants for everyone He loves.  The real truth is that the seeds were never ours to keep.  When we become selfish with the blessings God provides, we are thieves and robbers, stealing the blessings from others.  Let us give because we have nothing to lose.  Let us do for others because everything has already been accomplished for us through Christ.  Let us be used by God to disperse His blessings.

Lord, help me to live a generous life in light of Your gracious blessings.  May I be used by You to bless others.  Give me eyes to see where it is You would have me give and keep me rooted in Your will.  Amen.

 

The Shepherd and the Sheep: Restore My Soul


Wild Garlic in Bloom

My family and I will be at Family Camp this weekend, so I am reposting for this week.  Next week, I will be posting  something I wrote for 9/11 last year.  Please have a safe and sober Labor Day weekend.

Oh Lord you call my name

Like a shepherd in a field.

You use your rod and staff

When my spirit needs to yield

But my ears are deaf with busy noise

And your prodding is ignored

So I wander far from your sweet voice

And my soul is not restored.

Give me ears to hear

Give me eyes to see

I want to be obedient

But I am struck with fear.

I need courage to walk,

I need patience to stay

Restore my soul with living streams

Oh God please draw me near.

Restore my soul,

Restore my soul,

Good shepherd come and lead me home

Restore my soul

Gardening Tips: Tilling The Soil


Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. – Matthew 13:5-6

There is not much that I have eaten in this world the matches a tomato fresh from the vine.  Rich, sweet and tangy, tomatoes have a unique and satisfying flavor.  They are a reward for the hard work.  Growing tomatoes has a different flavor – tough, sour and dirty.  One of the difficulties we have faced growing tomatoes in our neck of the woods is the heat.  This has been a mild summer for us with only a few days reaching over 100 degrees, but it is normal for us to go a week or two of triple digits.  This is not good on tomatoes.

In the parable, the seeds are on rocky soil, but the real issue is that they can’t sink their roots deep enough to get to the water.  There are a lot of variations that can put a tomato plant at risk, but one of the most important is the moisture level in the soil.  No moisture = scorched and shriveled plants.  I wonder if the parable of the seeds is about the importance of discipleship.  I know that raising tomatoes takes a lot of intentional, purposeful and consistent work.  You can’t just drop some seeds on the ground and check in a few weeks later.

Evangelism is a beginning, but is certainly not the end.  In growing tomatoes, as much work goes into preparing the soil as tending the plant once it has sprouted.  The soil has to be the right mix, with nutrients, density and absorbency all coming into play.  If you aren’t going to prep the soil, you can’t expect the right results.  Maybe we need to spend more time preparing the soil than just scattering seed.  Maybe we need to invest intentionally, purposefully and consistently in the lives of those around us who need the Word of God.  Maybe love and grace will change their hearts from jagged rocks to fertile ground.

Lord, help me to be a tiller of soil in the hearts of those you bring my way.  Give me the words to
speak into their lives that will prepare their hearts for Your Word.  May I have a passion for evangelism and a will toward discipleship.  Amen.

Read the Directions: Shake Well Before Using


Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. – Psalms 139:23-24 (NIV)

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. – James 1:2-4 (NRSV)

If you have ever used Italian dressing or tried to drink those canned protein shakes, you have probably read the words, “Shake well before using” or something similar.  These are important words.  Italian dressing is not appetizing if it isn’t blended well.  It either makes your salad over-seasoned or soggy with oil.  When we are directed to “Shake well,” we are preparing something to be fit for use.  It seems to me that the human heart and mind have the same directions included.

God needs to shake us well, to bring us through trial and tumult, so that we are prepared for the proper time and place.  When God shakes us up, things begin to blend together; our spiritual life is no longer separated out as something distinct from our life at work and with friends.  When God brings us through “trials of any kind” we have the opportunity to grow and build spiritual muscles that we would not otherwise be able to develop.

The difficulty for us is to be willing to stay in the trial.  Our fallen inclination when we face trials is to find a way out instead of a way through.  Phillips Brooks, the great 19th century preacher once said, “Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for power equal to your tasks.” In other words, we need to seek God’s help in facing our trials, in being shaken, so that we can make it through to the finish.

Jesus was clear that we would have trouble in this life; Paul consoled us that God would use everything that happened for the benefit of His children; James wants us to live in that reality; David helps us cry out to God to make us fit for the trials.  God allows us to be shaken by the trials of this life while also providing all we need to meet them with courage and hope.

Lord let me be shaken by You, in Your time for Your purpose. Help me to stay in the midst of the trial for as long as it takes to prepare me for Your work. Amen.

The Shepherd and the Sheep: Minding Our Manners


“As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?” – Ezekiel 34:17-19

Many of you may have heard the name Harold Camping of late, and the repeated predictions of the rapture.  You might have also taken note that the rapture did not occur this past weekend and will not occur on his newly predicted date.  Harold Camping fits squarely into the false prophet category; one that tramples the pasture and muddies the waters.  His hopscotch approach to interpreting scripture has damaged scores of believers, and brings ridicule from those who disdain Christianity.

It is easy to look at someone like this and blame him for the negativity that people we know have toward Christianity.   We may even find ourselves saying something like, “He’s the kind of guy that makes Christians look bad.”  The problem is that your non-Christian friends probably felt ambivalence toward Christianity before they had ever heard of Harold Camping.  The real problem is the sheep in the mirror.

I know that there have been plenty of times, through action or word, that I have trampled the pasture and muddied the waters.  My life did not reflect the shepherd or the life of the pasture He had provided.  I could blame Harold Camping for people not having a favorable view of Christianity, but I’m pretty sure I have done my fair share of making God’s pasture look less appealing.

Do I think that having a bad day in representing Christ is remotely comparable to false prophecy?  No.  But it never helps when we focus on our frustrations with the behavior of others.  God will take care of Mr. Camping, but my life in Christ is my responsibility.  Every day is an opportunity to live life in the pasture better than the day before.  Every day holds the promise of God’s mercy and grace for me to overcome the failures of yesterday.

Lord I pray that I would have eyes to watch my step, ears to hear you directing them and a will submitted to yours that I might walk them for your glory and honor.  Help me live a life in your pasture that draws others to your flock and doesn’t drive them away. Amen.

The Shepherd and the Sheep: David’s Reality Check


The LORD sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.

“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.” David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”

Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!”  – 2 Samuel 12:1-7a (NIV)

David was a shepherd at heart and it was the pasture that prepared him for the tasks God set before him later in life.  He learned to be brave as a shepherd protecting the flock from lions and thieves.  He learned to be watchful to spot strays and the aforementioned predators.  It is likely that the Psalmist developed his gift with song before an audience of sheep.  All of this did not stop David from behaving like the lion and the thief.

David had forgotten too much about caring for the flock and had become what he hated most.  Nathan’s story cut David to the heart quickly and effectively, taking him back to those long days and nights of vigilance and care for the sheep of his father.  I wonder if David thought back on his time guarding those simple animals with bitter tears and regret.  It was undoubtedly one of his lowest moments, but altogether necessary.

We all need a Nathan in our lives who can remind us who we are supposed to be when we are being something else.  God has called us to be sheep and shepherds – to be both led and followed.  David became so defined by his status and position that he forgot who he belonged to and followed his own passions.  He also forgot that he was a shepherd and should have been looking out for Bathsheba and Uriah.  We need to keep both roles in perspective as we move forward in life.

The Good Shepherd leads us with perfect love, so if we follow Him we will always be where He wants us to be and where we need to be.  If our eyes are on the needs of those God has put in our care to shepherd, we will be less defined by the things of this world and more defined by the things of God.  When we are fully trusting in the Good Shepherd to meet all of our needs, we can be used by Him to meet the needs of others.  This is the beauty and power of the flock.  It is the intersection of “take up your cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24) and “Take care of my sheep.” (Jn. 21:16)

Reality is not what we know; it is what we are discovering in our journey with God.  Every now and then we need a reality check like David.  We need to be reminded in a clear and honest way that we are forgetting our place as His sheep.  I pray that I will listen when the shepherd calls.  I pray that I will not begrudge the prods and pulls from His rod and staff.  I pray that I will be a better sheep and in doing so, become a better shepherd.  But thank God for His grace when I don’t.