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Friday, December 12, 2008

Broken and Beautiful


As I stepped into the coffee shop, the sound I heard was as loud as it was distinct. It was someone crying. As I looked around at the patrons, most were simply ignoring the din, occasionally stealing a glance toward the source of the pitiful crying. On closer observation, I noticed a young woman leaning over a chair, gently seeking to bring comfort to the one who was so distraught for some unknown reason. The one being comforted was unable to form the words to communicate his displeasure at life so the pitiful wailing continued.

I enjoy watching people. When I go to a restaurant, coffee shop or some other public place I try to position myself in a place that gives me the best opportunity to observe the people who come and go. I enjoy people-watching because we are all so fascinating! I often smile at people’s uniqueness and idiosyncrasies because it makes me happy to remember that each person I see is created in the image of God and – like the snowflakes we will see in the coming months – each one is unique, created like no other.

But at times I become saddened as I watch the people around me. Back to the coffee shop… I settled myself at a table to read and soon two young men and a young woman in their 20’s came in. The tall man wore his white, oversized ball cap low on his head such that it covered his ears and shaded his eyes. The other man was animated and jumpy, like his tall friend. They all looked a little strung out. Their conversation was laced with the occasional swear word with no sense there was anything wrong with loudly using the colorful language in a public arena. The young woman had her hair pulled back in a ponytail, more introverted and quiet than her companions. The three got their drinks and then went and sat on the curb at the base of the bell tower, drank their coffee and rolled their own cigarettes, sharing their papers and tobacco pouch. As I sat watching them through the window, the young woman in particular caught my imagination. I began to wonder what her dreams of life were as a ten year old little girl and if they included where she now appeared to be in life? I had to believe they did not.

What I have noticed in watching people is some of us reveal our lostness and our chains more clearly than others. As I sit and watch others, I can only imagine the blindness and prisons people are experiencing. But God does not have to guess. He is painfully aware. The Bible reminds us… “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

It is Christmas again. This year, because of the struggling economy, it has been harder to hide the brokenness of our world behind the decorations and pretty paper surrounding gifts. But it is ultimately the brokenness we try to hide that is the reason behind this season. As God looked at our hearts he saw the great need for a savior. So, as he often does, he moved in surprising and unexpected ways to provide the greatest gift. God gave a hint of this surprising gift through his prophet Isaiah. It was the prophet’s words Jesus used to let the world know he was the fulfillment of the promise made long before.
"“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”" (Luke 4:18-19, ESV)
The one crying so loudly that I saw when I entered the coffee shop eventually was calmed by the gentle words and touches of the young woman caring for him. She wiped the drool hanging from his lips with the ready towel hanging on the front of his shirt. She then wheeled the wheel chair the twenty-something young man was strapped into out of the coffee shop, followed by his friend – a forty-something man with Down’s Syndrome.

The vision of Cold Springs Community Church is “Growing transformed lives through experiencing the love, truth, presence and people of Jesus.” We carry that vision out by sharing the gift of Jesus with anyone willing to receive him. We still believe he sets people free from captivity, heals blindness, frees the oppressed. We still believe there is good news for each and every person created in God’s image, whether their brokenness is visible or not.

We make a difference in a world desperately in need of Good News. This Christmas I challenge you to see the beauty and brokenness of those around you and, because we are both broken and beautiful, be bold in sharing the Good News that Jesus still sets people free. There’s nothing that can make a Christmas more merry than that!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

M&M's


I like chocolate. A lot. But I’m not the only one. After a recent trip I had one of those dump-truck size bags of M&M’s from Costco left over so I poured them all in a bowl that sat on the coffee table in my office. They’re gone now. But soon I will hear about it because I have staff meetings in that office – and people eat M&M’s. I have Leadership Board meetings in there – and Dan Blair REALLY eats M&M’s. The Sunday morning prayer groups meet in there – and it is never too early in the morning to eat chocolate, I’ve discovered. And I’m in that office. And I eat M&M’s (but not as much as Dan).

Having that bowl of M&M’s sitting there makes it awfully easy to just “reach out and touch one.” And, like the popular potato chip commercial of days gone by, “you can’t just eat one.” The maker of M&M’s knows this. They like that it is true.

The good news for me is at least on a monthly basis I can find an article on the internet or in the newspaper that links a health benefit to eating chocolate. I know, I know – they are mostly talking about dark chocolate but if the dark is good, cousin “Milk” has got to be good, too. Right? Right!? That is the good news.

The bad news is that spinning dial on that flat contraption made of metal and springs in my bathroom, commonly referred to as a scale. The bad news literally outweighs the good news.

I’ve been spending some reading time in the book of Proverbs in the Bible lately. I try to go back there pretty regularly, especially the first nine chapters. Those nine chapters set the stage for the next 22 chapters of one-liners that can become so memorable. A few days ago I was reading chapters four and five and my mind keeps going back to the words found there.
"Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil." (Proverbs 4:25-27, NIV)
It’s the fundamental rule of riding a motorcycle that the writer speaks of here. The rule is this: “You go where you look.

You don’t want to hit that dead skunk in the middle of your lane? Don’t stare at it. You want to make the sharp turn even though you feel like you are going too fast? Look through the turn to where you want to be – not where you don’t want to be. Many, many, many novice (and not so novice) motorcycle riders have neglected this rule to their own peril and detriment.

The words that follow in chapter five are a father’s instruction to his son on how to stay morally and sexually pure and they are a repeat of “You go where you look.” He is telling his son not to go near the house of the woman who will seek to entice him into ruin.
"Keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your best strength to others and your years to one who is cruel," (Proverbs 5:8-9, NIV)
Now the really cool thing about this is that this wise father doesn’t just stop at telling his son to stay away, he gives his son the right thing to look at because “You go where you look.” What is a young guy to look toward? His wife.
"Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well."
"Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love." (Proverbs 5:15,18-19, ESV)
There it is – the biblical command to be intoxicated…with love! The NASB version of the Bible says to be “exhilarated,” the NIV version translates it as “captivated.” It is wise to look at what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. (see Philippians 4:8) Not only is it wise, it is intoxicating and exhilarating.

Here is the good news. For every thing that threatens to capture your exhilaration and lead you down paths of destruction, God has created something that is even better, that is even more exhilarating and satisfying. Your job? Ask God to reveal it and then start looking at it. It is where you will go. Allow yourself to be captivated by what could be when you embrace God’s best.

I’m not done eating chocolate – remember, it has proven health benefits. I’m just going to eat the right chocolate – in the right amounts.

Oh, and all you guys and gals who meet in my office – BYOC. The dump truck is empty (thanks Dan) and will stay that way!
"He who is steadfast in righteousness will attain to life, And he who pursues evil will bring about his own death." (Proverbs 11:19, NASB95)

Monday, December 1, 2008

"Disobedient"


I had an interesting (and brief) conversation Sunday morning between church services with someone. He approached me and asked this question (my paraphrase): "What would you call someone who has accepted Jesus in his life, prays, reads his bible, is a good person but doesn't have anything to do with the church?"

Without hesitation, I said "Disobedient."

The church gets a bad wrap - especially lately. But you know what? It wasn't our idea, it was God's idea. Throughout history the church has taken many different forms but without exception its form has looked like a local group of gathered people who believe in Jesus Christ that share God's Word, engage in community, share the ordinances (communion and baptism), pray, worship and serve others. (Acts 2:42ff is a descriptive example of the early church.) The local church is THE strategy God chose in this time to advance his Kingdom on the earth. Hugely flawed, prone to adopting fads, led by broken, messed up people scarred by sin - yet described as the bride of Christ. God's idea.

What do you think? Was my answer off base? Can you live an obedient Christian life apart from being connected to a church?