Tuesday, March 30, 2010

But God

You were...but God...

Therefore, remember...

You were...but now in Christ...
(Paul, in Ephesians 2; the quotes below in response to my questions are all from Ephesians 2))

Taught this in Sunday School a few months back. INCREDIBLE set of verses! Who knew that Paul knew me so well back in the day? *smile*

So what was I?

"dead in the tresspasses & sins in which we (I) once walked, following the course of this world, following the...spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience, among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

How did all of that change?

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us (me), even when we were (I was) dead in our trespasses"

What did He do?

"made us (me) alive together with Christ—by grace you (I) have been saved—and raised us (me) up with him and seated us (me) with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus..."

Why in the round world would He do that for such a worm as I??

"so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us (me) in Christ Jesus. "

Well, so what should I do?

"Therefore remember...that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world."

Well, yeah...I definitely remember...and?

"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father..."

OK...so what??

"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit."

And there, ladies & gents, is my story & my song.

"I was...but God...so that...therefore, I need to remember that I was...but now in Christ...so then..."

My question for you: which side of "But God...but now in Christ" are you on? Are living in "you were" or in "so then"? The answer is infinitely more important than any other question you'll ever answer.

So very thankful for "But God" & "But now in Christ Jesus"! Which is precisely what Easter is about.

Friday, March 26, 2010

When God Ran

(written last week; final edit this morning fyi)

I call it M.A.D.H.D. I've enjoyed it for most of my life. M.A.D.H.D. means "musical attention deficit hyperactivity deficit" by the way. What it means is, I really enjoy a WIDE variety of musical grooves and groups and styles.

Which is why I really love (a) my ipod, and (b) the shuffle feature on it that randomly selects songs to play from my music list. Just this morning on the treadmill, the shuffle feature treated me to some screaming heavy metal, followed by Merle Haggard, Rodney Crowell, and then Phillips, Craig & Dean.

Some PCD songs came up that grabbed my heart. (and my tear ducts too, it seems...*blushes*) Seems I needed reminding of God's grace. Oh, sure, we believers talk about grace often. But I fear that sometimes we talk of it so much that we don't really stop and ponder it. In total amazement and awe. That's what these songs did for me this morning. It's rather easy to talk about God's grace in the corporate, academic, definitional sense. (and it's VERY important to do so, by the way!)

But that's not what I'm speaking of here. I'm talking about the CRITICAL need for all of us to ponder God's grace toward us individually. Doing so removes our egos from consideration, and shuts our prideful tongues up totally except for prayers of amazement and thanksgiving. "Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner" as the guy prayed in Jesus' story.

Anyway, to me these songs get toward what I'm talking about. As I say, they grabbed my soul this morning. And my tear ducts. (What, now? That's allergies...allergies, I tell ya...*blushes again*) Read and enjoy...and receive and revel in God's grace!

When God Ran
Almighty God, the great I am
Immovable rock, omnipotent, powerful, awesome Lord
Victorious warrior, commanding King of Kings
Mighty conqueror
and the only time; the only time I ever saw Him run

Was when He ran to me, He took me in His arms
Held my head to His chest, said “My son’s come home again”
Lifted my face, wiped the tears from my eyes
With forgiveness in His voice He said,
“Son do you know I still love you?”
He caught me by surprise when God ran

The day I left home I knew I’d broken His heart
And I wondered then if things could ever be the same
Then one night I remembered His love for me
And down that dusty road ahead I could see
It was the only time – it was the only time I ever saw Him run

And then He ran to me, He took me in His arms
Held my head to His chest, said “My son’s come home again”
Lifted my face, wiped the tears from my eyes
With forgiveness in His voice He said,
“Son do you know I still love you?”
He caught me by surprise as He brought me to my knees
When God ran – I saw Him run to me

I was so ashamed, all alone and so far away
But now I know He’s been waiting for this day

I saw Him run to me, He took me in His arms
Held my head to His chest, said “My son’s come home again”
Lifted my face, wiped the tears from my eyes
With forgiveness in His voice I felt His love for me again

He ran to me, He took me in His arms
Held my head to His chest, said “My son’s come home again”
Lifted my face, wiped the tears from my eyes
With forgiveness in His voice He said, “Son”, He called me Son
He said, “Son do you know I still love you?”
He ran to me and then I ran to Him
When God ran
(click here to see a video of Phillips, Craig, & Dean singing "When God Ran"; 6:24 in length)

A Place Called Grace
So many years I heard it told
The story of compassion
A prodigal son who left the fold
And found no satisfaction

On my knees, Lord, I cried out to you,
"I'm so alone
But if there's room in Your house for one more,
I'm ready to come back home"

I know there is a place
Where arms of compassion welcome me home
Sweet mercy falls like rain
I know there's a place called grace

So many days I've trusted grace
Yet I have to wonder
How many times my human strength
Has kept me from surrender

The more I learn just to lean on the cross
The more I see
When I fall, I will fall to the place
Where mercy reaches me...reaches me

I know there is a place
Where arms of compassion welcome me home
Sweet mercy falls like rain
I know there's a place called grace

If it seems that my courage is strong
There's just one reason
He's my rock when my faith is all gone
He holds me in His arms
Gives me strength to carry on

I know there is a place
Where arms of compassion welcome me home
Sweet mercy falls like rain
I know there's a place
I know there's a place called grace

(Click here for a video montage done to "A Place Called Grace"; couldn't find a vid of PCD singing this one live in concertwhich would be my preference; 5:21 in length)

Table of Grace
Hear the good news, you've been invited
No matter what others may say,
Your darkest sins will be forgiven
You will always have a place.

At the table of grace the cup's never empty.
The plate's always full and it's never too late.
To come and be filled with love never ending
You're always welcome at the table of grace.

So come weak, and heavy hearted
Don't try to hide your earthly scars.
In His eyes, we all are equal
Don't be afraid, come as you are.

At the table of grace the cup's never empty.
The plate's always full, and it's never too late.
To come and be filled with love never ending
You're always welcome at the table of grace.

So let the first become the last
Let the poor put kings to shame.
Their willing hearts will be their treasure
By the power of Jesus' name!

At the table of grace the cup's never empty
The plate's always full, and it's never too late!
To come and be filled with love never ending
You're always welcome at the table of grace
At the table of grace the cup's never empty.

The plate's always full, and it's never too late
To come and be filled with love never ending:
You're always welcome at the table.
Everyone's welcome at the table of grace.

(back to bb) And there, ladies & gents, is how Easter applies to us in this day & time. Join me in celebrating the grace of a holy, righteous, awesome God who chooses to love & connect with hammerheads like us--like me--won't you?
Continually amazed by His grace,

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Pecan Picker-Upper...

It was just a routine stroll with Lisa through the garden section at Lowe's. Plants, fertilizers, pots, flowers, ant killers,...

And then there it was. And there I went. To a wonderful place I haven't visited in a long, long time...

I don't know what its official name is. I know what it's used for though. I actually haven't laid eyes on one in decades. It's used to pick up pecans. And thus, the instant trip to that wonderful place...But it's not just the place.

It was a neat place located on West Brunson Ave. in Enterprise, AL down in Coffee County in Southeast Alabama. The peanut capitol of the world; a small town with a monument to a pest--the boll weevil--rt in the middle of town. (A weevil infestation wiped out the cotton crop, at which point the locals planted peanuts which led to prosperity of a sort; hence the monument to a pest...) But again, it's not just the place. It's about who lived there, and made it a wonderful place filled with marvelous memories for me.

His name was John William Benton. A noble name, which is fitting for one of the more noble men to walk this earth. But that's not how I knew him. To me and my cousins, he was Papa.

Papa was a tall man who seemed like a giant to us, his grandkids. And yet, despite intimidating size, he was incredibly gentle.

He moved slowly and deliberately. He was a wise man; the kind of wisdom born not so much in education, but out of innate God-given clues and experience. He was a man of few words, though they were profound.

He loved his wife and his children (one son, followed by four daughters). His beloved Martha taught junior high history. His five children all attended Papa's beloved University of Alabama. (One grandson did too...*smile*) Papa treasured them so very much. When the youngest of the four girls got married, Papa's love showed up in the sweetest way...you know the part where the minister says "who gives this woman to be married"? Well, on this day in the early 1960s, the minister asked...and got no answer. He asked again...and got no answer, until Martha, John's wife finally spoke up and said "her father & I do"...and thus began my Aunt & Uncle's wedding ceremony. I *LOVE* this sweet part of family lore!

But as much as Papa loved his son and daughters...he also dearly loved us grandkids. Before the first of us was born, Papa had a dream. In this dream, he saw himself playing with five grandsons. It was a very vivid dream to him. I was the fourth of those boys...and the next two were also grandsons. There's a great picture somewhere of Papa with us first five, all wearing matching cowboy outfits he had purchased for us.

Somehow, it still matters greatly to me that I was dreamed about and greatly treasured by my Papa before I was even born. And it also matters greatly to me that he treasured me...us...once we arrived on the scene.

I remember when we would drive up to visit that great place in Enterprise, Papa would come out & greet Mom, Dad, Jim and me. And then, sometimes before we went inside, Papa, Jim & I would walk around the corner to Goodson's store to buy a bag of peanuts. (I still *dearly* love a bag of peanuts from a country store...parched or boiled, either is fine, but none of this spicy nonsense. They didn't serve that at Goodson's, and they didn't need it!)

I also recall Papa strolling around the yard while we grandkids had a blast picking up pecans with the pecan picker-uppers. We thought we were having a blast...I now think we didn't have NEAR as much fun doing that as he did watching us.

Papa loved listening to a Bama football game on the radio, although like at least one of his grandsons, he got VERY emotionally involved in the game's outcome. So much so that his Doctor ordered him to stop listening to games on the radio because it was bad for his heart. He would take a long, leisurely walk around the neighborhood and through the woods behind the house on Saturday afternoons to avoid the temptation to tune in.

Papa's great heart gave out in the late winter of 1965 when I was only in first grade. I am quite confident that he is now part of the great throng in glory worshipping the Lord that Papa loved, and enjoying the company of many of his family and friends and other saints.

I know I miss him, as do my cousins, some of whom have even fewer memories of our beloved Papa than even I do. And as do his four surviving children, the four girls, each one of whom were the apple of his eye.

I'm so very thankful for these memories that were sparked by a tool in the gardening section at Lowe's. And for a memory lane worth strolling down now & then. And for a rich family heritage well worth celebrating...

Perhaps one day some grown-up little boy(s) yet unborn will have such fond memories of me, their Papa...


Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Brief Exercise in Perspective

Part A:

1. Name the five wealthiest people in the world.

2. Name the last five Heisman trophy winners.

3. Name the last five winners of the Miss America pageant.

4. Name ten people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer Prize.

5. Name the last half dozen Academy Award winners for best actor and actress.

6. Name the last decade's worth of World Series winners.

Part B:

1. List a few teachers who aided your journey through school.

2. Name three friends who have helped you through a difficult time.

3. Name five people who have taught you something worthwhile.

4. Think of a few people who have made you feel appreciated and special!

5. Think of five people you enjoy spending time with.

6. Name someone who has served you selflessly.

(exercise ends)

Friday, March 05, 2010

2 Who Matter

One was a young, hip guy that we younger, less-hip guys wanted to be. He was smooth...calm...never too agitated...and cooler yet, he played the guitar & sang all of the cool worship/rock songs of the day. Larry Norman's still-awesome apocalyptic "I Wish We'd All Been Ready" and the like. He taught us youth Bible Study in various formats, including Sunday School and whatever we called our Wednesday night times. He made Christianity seem like fun. (What a concept, huh?)

The other was my parents' age, and yet he was the guy I wanted...want...to grow up to be. Dashingly handsome...muscular...hard-working...successful in his business. A man's man, in the best sense of that phrase. He taught jr. high Sunday School. He was the first Bible teacher I had who spoke of the reality of sin and of his own redemption from its penalty and from its power. I still remember how real he was as he spoke of his own past life (B.C.), and how he did so without glorifying himself or his past shortcomings. "Fellas, let me tell you something...people will tell you that sin's ugly & repulsive. That's a lie! Sin is fun while you're doing it; it's after, when you think on what you've done & how wrong it is that it becomes repulsive." Still remember that honesty. He, too, seemed to genuinely enjoy his faith, but also he made us feel like we were HUGELY important to him.

In fact, years after I passed through his orbit, I made an appt. w/ him to have breakfast. As I told him how very much he meant/means to me, this big, strong, manly, big game hunting, hard-working type broke down & cried right there in the restaurant. He said two things that will ever haunt me: first, he thanked me for making a point of telling him how his life mattered. That cut me to the quick, and made me resolve to tell folks who matter to me that, well, they matter to me! Do you encourage the encouragers in your life? Don't take for granted that they know; I sat & watched a man sob in gratitude as he was told--apparently for one of the few times--that his life mattered to another. Second, he cried again, and I can still hear the agony in his voice: "There are so many that I missed..."

That, my friends, is the heart of a minister. Oh, the guy I'm describing never was on staff at a church. He was in real estate development, mostly. But he had the heart of a minister. First, passionately seeking to impact the lives of others, whether they ever thanked him or not, and second, mourning over those he perceives that he missed ministering to...

Oh Lord, would you raise up more...many more...like Andy & Jim, these two who had such an impact on me? An impact that continues to this day, and whose impact was frankly slow to take root in my life.

And Lord, would you, in your marvelous, matchless grace, use me to impact others for you? Would you cause others to bless & magnify You & Your name because of what you do through me?

My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them...For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Lord God. And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord God.”
Ezek 34 (various verses)

Sometimes, this prophecy is fulfilled via ordinary people. Andy & Jim are two that the Lord used to search me out & gather me in, and to plant seeds that would later take root. And I will always be grateful...