Misunderstood?

hold-biblePeople will not always understand the decisions you have to make, and you won’t always have time to explain them.

That’s ok. They’re not the One you answer to…

HEAVEN’S ATTIC – Reimagining Heaven

heaven(Part Two of Five)

Fair warning: heaven is not the boring place you’ve heard about. There are no naked baby angels and harps like we’ve heard (I know, you’re disappointed).

I got my mind blown when I attempted to read the book HEAVEN by Randy Alcorn. I say “attempted” because it was about the length of your average Harry Potter book – looooooooonnnnnnng! I was researching a sermon on heaven and thought I’d knock it out in a week, but that never happened. What I did read was amazing, and completely shifted every expectation I had for the place.

Suffice it to say, the eternal home we will enjoy bears little to no resemblance of a TBN television set. It will not live down to the low expectations of your average Southern Gospel ballad about “them pearly gates ’n street of gold”. Yeah, those are in the Bible, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The Bible talks about the heavenly throne of God coming down to a renewed, glorified earth, creating something altogether new. The best way I know to describe what that will be like is it will be earth like we know it now…only on steroids and in ultra high-definition. There will be mountains, streams, trees and oceans, but in a greatly heightened sense. And we will roam it for an eternity, sent on never ending adventures by our loving, creative God.

This “heaven” will be more palatable for the science fiction geek who loves Tolkien than the Gospel quartet singer with the bad toupee. So any imaginings of a sleepy Sunday afternoon picnic filled with harp playing and naked baby angels should be discarded quickly. Not to sound too much like your last teen camp motivational speaker, but the real heaven is truly gonna rock!

Come to think of it, if I had a chance to talk to Mr. Lennon about his song, I don’t think I’d scold him for it. I’d simply say, “John, that place you were describing where all the people get along so beautifully…that in fact is “heaven”. Of course you want to live in a place like that, but we’ll never see it on this earth. Mankind will have to go through an amazing transformation before we will ever be that kind, that loving, that selfless to each other.

That transformation is exactly what the Bible talks about when we go to meet Jesus. The Apostle John gives us a sneak preview of coming attractions in this mysterious and amazing passage…

<p style=”text-align:center;”><em><strong>“Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” – 1 John 3:2</strong></em></p>

So when we die, those of us who are God’s children in relationship with Him will meet Jesus. And when we see Him, just being near Him in His full radiance and glory will change us radically. We will become the full, unlimited version of ourselves we were always meant to be, with all the sin and imperfection melted away. Just as the earth’s impurities are purged, so ours will be as well. When He is finished, we will be perfect, transformed beings…just like Him.

(To be continued…)

HEAVEN’S ATTIC – Imagine

Photo credit: Cucumber Love

Photo credit: Cucumber Love

(Part One of Five)

I love the artistry of John Lennon’s music, but I’m afraid he wrote one of the dumbest lines in musical history. In the first line of one of the greatest songs of the 20th century, Lennon writes, “Imagine there’s no heaven…”. He then says, “Imagine all the people living for today”. I get it. Being the eternal optimist, he thinks people’s problem is they’re so focused on “pie in the sky by and by”, they’re missing the importance of living for today.

Sorry, but I think he got that one completely wrong.  It is only heaven that makes any sense of this life.

True, “living in the moment” may help us prioritize what’s important in life and not waist time on things that don’t matter. I wish I had a lot of my kid’s childhood years back, so I could focus more on them and less on my job. I wish I could remember all the cute things they said to me, how they looked on their 3rd birthday, and all those crazy homemade birthday and Father’s Day cards they made me.

However, if there were no heaven, this life would truly be is a cruel thing. Good people often suffer, while bad people have a discouraging way of getting away with things, or even getting ahead of the good folks. Injustice stands unanswered, wrongs never righted. Because of this reality, many people look at this messed up world and say, “There’s no way a good god could ever exist in this place”.

That’s the whole point. “This place” was never meant to be the final answer. This present realm was only the starter kit, the testing ground. It is as if you started a great story, introduced the protagonist, presented the great dilemma he must triumph over…and then he dies. The end. What kind of lousy story would that be?

This world sets up the story, the great eternal struggle we all participate in. It’s never the easy story we hope it will be. There is always disappointment, even tragedy. Heroes die, dragons are left to roam the countryside wreaking havoc, fair maidens become old maids. Without heaven, it’s a story without a purpose, missing any satisfying denouement whatsoever.

Imagine there’s no heaven? Not on your life!

(To be continued…)

Coffee Cup Communion

StarbucksI like hanging out at the downtown Starbucks so much, I refer to it as my “International Ministries Outreach Office”. I’m pastor of a young church, and we haven’t been able to afford real office space so far. So I get some good work done here on my sermons, between checking my Facebook status too often and hearing random Billie Holiday cuts on the house speakers.

Our Starbucks really is quite international. Tourists swarm the 5th Avenue area like a Biblical plague of locusts, leaving a path of muffin crumbs in their wake. I don’t speak European, so much of what I hear doesn’t make much sense to me.  I’m used to functioning in the midst of confusion though. I have teenagers.

Every now and then I sift through this Tower of Babel and discover a Brit who speaks American well enough. A guaranteed discussion-starter is talking about the heat. That’s where I usually throw in my favorite theological joke about “the real problem with hell not being the heat…it’s the humidity that gets ya!” (BADA BING!) They laugh uncomfortably, slowly move away, and thus ends my very own Downton Abbey moment.

Another thing I’ll do is post here on my blog when I’ll be at Starbucks, and invite people to come and talk about God. Except for that, I don’t set the agenda – we talk about whatever they want. What I do enjoy is how God surprises me with an encounter I hadn’t expected. That happened one day about a year and a half ago.

I was having a conversation on a January morning with a stranger at one of the little outside tables. I watched for about 15 minutes as he glared downward at the table, cutting an occasional angry glance at my with the mental impact of an uppercut, and speaking in sporadic jump-starts.

“Do you know how THEY’VE LIED TO US? THOSE *&#$^%=€ jerks from the (insert random religious group)?’”

He paused and glared at me for dramatic effect.  I looked back sheepishly, wearing my best “I’m repressing the urge to say how crazy you sound” expression.

“No, I don’t really know what you mean.  To what are you referring?”, I asked plainly.

“Do you expect me to believe you don’t see how they are COMPLETELY CONTROLLED BY THE ILLUMINATI???”

Pregnant pause. Deep breath. Soldiering on. Final attempt (after several) to redirect the conversation…

“Sir, I’d be happy to talk with you about Jesus. However, I am unfortunately unaware of the details regarding this vast conspiracy taking place around us, which to your credit you have described quite vividly…” As I inhale at the close of that sentence, the man throws up his arms and stomps off, mumbling to himself.

So much for cordial dialogue and building bridges.

“He didn’t look very happy”, said a voice over to my left. I looked over and their was a well-dressed man smiling and standing about 5 feet away. I wasn’t sure how much of the conversation he’d heard, but I assumed from my friend’s volume level, quite a bit.

“No, I’m afraid he wasn’t. But he wasn’t a close friend – most of my friends are a little happier…”  I glanced over and chuckled nervously.

The gentleman eventually sat down, and we talked for a while. He was not a Christian, but Jewish by birth. I expressed my love for the Jewish faith and culture, and the conversation continued. Business cards were exchanged cordially, but I figured the morning had been a gigantic “face palm” as far as building friendships. But God had different plans.

It so happens we began a conversation that morning which has lasted to this day. “Jeff” (not his real name) is now a faithful member of my congregation. He rarely misses a service, only absent when sick or out of town. I had the pleasure of baptizing him in the ocean within 6 months of our first encounter. He met a beautiful lady, fell in love, and I had the thrill of marrying them a few months ago.  Funny how God brings something terrific out of a chaotic encounter.

I think Starbucks is the perfect place for a pastor’s office, because Christianity was meant for the real world. Faith doesn’t get stretched much within the sanitary confines of stained glass, and stretching our faith is the only way to make it grow. But faith absolutely thrives in the petri dish of an infected culture. That’s because that faith is the perfect antidote for our fallen world. As Jesus said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

I like talking to sinners here, because I can relate – I am one.

Maybe you’ll stop in on me one day at my downtown “office”. Love to talk with you for a while. Who knows? Maybe even if we don’t completely agree, we’ll be able to find some common ground…or common “grounds”, you might say ;0) That reminds me of a joke: “A pastor walks into a coffee bar…”

Sorry, I’ll try to stop now with the puns. Maybe it’s just the coffee talking. With all the time I’m spending in Starbucks, I’ll need my very own 12 step program to kick this coffee habit!

unSubscribe

unsubscribe I rarely “unfriend” anyone on Facebook, no matter how wacky they are. When part of your job description is to be kind, it’s pretty hard to sever ties so dramatically (though I’ve occasionally had to do it).

Similarly, I will accept a friend request from everyone just short of Charles Manson. The only ones I deny are those young, single girls from foreign countries who contact middle-aged men like me “just to be friends”. No dice. But for everyone else, it’s “all swim” in the Facebook pool.

I do admit to unfollowing quite a few people though. To “unfollow” means I will no longer be subjected to their goofy posts on my news feed, but they can still see my goofy posts. This way I don’t hurt their feelings, but am spared wondering what planet they’re from every time they write something.

Some I unfollowed because they constantly post angry, condescending political views. Unfortunately, there are some Christian friends I’ve banished to the limbo of Unfollow Land. Rarely offensive, their posts were just too trite. Give too many easy answers about life’s hard questions, and now I’m embarrassed I’m in the same religion with you. And post about how “I’ll get my breakthrough today, if I just copy and paste this on my page”, and I’m crank-calling Mormon’s to come visit you tomorrow morning.

I did make a major “un” decision today, at least in the context of my personal life. I unsubscribed from an email – strangely, one I never subscribed to in the first place.

The email was the weekly update from a former job, one where my tenure had been particularly stressful. When I noticed them coming, my first impulse was to send them a snarky message asking why they thought I cared about anything to do with them.

Problem was, I did care.

I’d watch them each week to see how they were surviving without me. Funny how I wanted to think I was indispensable to a place I’m so glad to have left. I’d snicker when I saw them doing something I’d suggested, though the idea hadn’t been good enough when I brought it up.

I’d troll their Facebook page for hints of how much less productive they were since I left. Occasionally, I’d find proof of deterioration, and that made me feel good about myself…which in turn made me feel very, very bad about myself.

Today I was walking into a building that houses a new ministry I’m involved with – one I could have never done at my former job. So when their weekly update popped on my iPhone, and I gingerly hit “reply” and typed, “Unsubscribe” in the subject line. Send. That was it. No commentary. No speech and no ill will.

It just didn’t matter any more.

I guess that’s how you know you’ve been healed – when the things that remind you of past pain now leave you nonplussed. For me, it was like a scab had finally fallen off on its own.

Or perhaps like the Apostle Paul, it was scales falling from my eyes after a traumatic revelation finally became clear. That revelation is I realized they can’t hurt me anymore. I see that God has blessed and affirmed me in spite of any weapon meant to harm me.

My new life is filled with purpose unlike anything I’d known before. God is using me to draw brand new people to the Cross, and I am having a blast! And as long as I’m obedient, I’m indestructible.

I used to go to work feeling beaten when I walked in the door. I thought my best years were behind me. Now I know I’ll be done when He says I’m done, not a day sooner. Until that day, He’ll continue to work through me as He desires. The approval of others is not discouraged, it’s simply not essential.

Has enough time passed that you realized those who tried to hurt you the most now matter the least? Sure, they attacked you with all they had, but have you noticed how puny their weapons appear now? So this is what you’ve been fighting against so desperately all this time?

What part of you is still waiting to be healed? Do you wonder if it will ever happen? I can tell you it will. You won’t see it coming. One day you will see those who wounded you, but it won’t hurt because you’ve already unsubscribe from the pain. The wound will fall off like a scab, or scales. Or, more appropriately, like chains.

Today, I noticed that my wounds are gone, and my chains have all fallen off. I didn’t see it happen, but none the less, here I am – healed and free.

Let God do His work, and one day you’ll be surprised like I was today. Suddenly, with no fanfare, you’ll realize you too are ready to unsubscribe.

Broken Jesus

Broken Jesus I got an award once that I was so very proud of, at a big ceremony in Beverly Hills, of all places. Really nice glass statuette, and lots of famous or near-famous people in the room got them too. My wife was so proud of me, and finally I had something to prove my worth as a human being – a hunk of glass with my name on it! What more proof could you want?

Problem was I had to get it back home with me. It was so precious to me, I was unwilling to check it in the luggage. So I decided the smart option was to keep it with me under my seat on the plane.

Big mistake.

I’m really surprised they let me bring it on there, since it probably could have been a deadly weapon of some sort. But I made it on, and then proceeded to shove it under my seat. It wasn’t fitting well, but I had to make it work at this point. So I shoved harder.

When I removed it at the end of the trip, I found to my horror it was damaged. It had rammed into the seat mechanism during the bumpy flight. Though I still cherish it to this day, it’s just not the same since it’s been chipped. I tried turning it sideways on the shelf, but that just looks like the cat bumped it. The pride I’d have in pointing to it now is somewhat dimmed by it’s damaged appearance.

Even my wife, who was so proud of me winning the award, has slowly exiled it over the years. It started out displayed in the living room (with the damaged side artfully turned away from view). Then it was on top of the piano. Now it’s on my bedside table. So much for my “glory days”.

Same problem with trying to shove Jesus into one small little corner of our lives. He simply won’t fit – He is too big and grand and glorious for just a dusty spot on the mantle of your life.

I’ve noticed lots of people display their “Jesus” just like a trophy. They put Him on display when it’s Sunday, or when the pastor stops by. But they’re sure to hide Him away somewhere when His presence might throw a wet blanket on the party.

You have to be careful displaying your “Mini-Jesus”, though. Some people are impressed by a little “Jesus” in your life, but others are offended by even the slightest glimpse of Him anywhere in view. So you’d better be careful and place Him somewhere not too conspicuous …behind that potted plant, for instance.

Might better just put him by the bedside table. Religion is a “personal thing”, right? Like a rash, I suppose…

I find it ironic we could ever deal so cavalierly with someOne so worthy of everything we are. He is truly the “Pearl of a Great Price” whom the merchant sold everything he had in order to possess. So how comical when we take that same Jesus and stuff Him in a bedroom drawer of our lives, next to that one glove without a mate and the old broken watch.

Are we becoming the very “swine” we were warned not to cast our pearls toward?

As arrogant as it may sound, if you truly knew this God who’s gracious enough to call a scoundrel like me His friend…if you had any concept of His beauty and worthiness, you’d be willing to give up everything.

I’m talking “holding nothing back, sell the farm, Katie bar the door, both barrels, full steam ahead, going out of business sale, everything must go”.

If you really know Him, you’d do anything, give up anything just to spend a moment in His presence.

So whatever you do, please don’t try to fit Him into your life. If you do, you’ll inevitably destroy a beauty so transforming, it will recreate you into a completely new kind of person. Instead, you end up with a damaged, distorted image of the real Jesus. A freak show version of something truly brilliant.

Please don’t try to fit Him in your life. That “trophy” is a damaged atrocity best left hidden behind closed doors and bedroom drawers.

So what can one person do? You’d be astounded… Watch Pastor Dave Gipson’s message on the power of each person to change the world, recorded live at Legacy Church Naples FL

No Thyself

Gnothi_seauton.jpgPeople will usually tell you all you need to know about them if you let them. Listen to them talk for a while, and you often understand them better than they do themselves.

That person at the office talking about how gossipy everyone is? He’s the biggest gossip of the group. That girl telling the pastor how much she loves God and people? She’s the most abrasive, selfish person he’s ever met.

So how do they miss seeing the person staring back at them in the mirror every morning?

I tried out for a play once. There was a lead male role that was the romantic interest for a younger woman. The part was big and had the best songs, so of course that’s the part a ham like me wanted. But when I tried out, I got a different part with no romance and a less interesting song.

At first I was a little confused, because I doubted anyone had done better than me. But what I was missing was what everyone else could see: the 50-something year old man, somewhat overweight, trying to play the romantic lead for a girl in her 20s.

Seriously, it’s not that I’ve ever thought of myself as “leading man material”. I wasn’t thinking about how ridiculous I’d look singing to that girl young enough to be my daughter, expecting the audience to think she was attracted to me. The director had actually done me an invaluable service – she had kept me from making a fool out of myself, and turning a musical drama into a musical comedy!

We’re not really certain which ancient Greek sage came up with the phrase “know thyself”, but it represents a level of insight few people attain. Knowing the true virtue of our character is something I’ve rarely witnessed. Most are able to rationalize and excuse any defect in their behavior. Even the worst serial killers seem to think they are pretty fun folks. I’m certain Hitler probably thought he was fun at parties, too.

There’s a funny little story in Judges 12. The people of Gideon had just defeated a group called the Ephraimites, but the defeated army was trying to sneak back across the Jordan into their homeland after the battle. So the Gideonites came up with a way to distinguish innocent travelers from the Ephraimites.

They had a word “shibboleth”, referring to the part of a plant containing grain. But Ephraimites had trouble pronouncing the “sh” sound, and mistakenly said it with just an “s”. So when people would approach and try to cross into Ephraim, the Gideonites would simply demand of them, “Say Shibboleth”. When they mispronounced it, they were exposed for who they really were. Their own words indicted them, without their knowledge.

I have a few friends whom I’ve given permission to tell me things about myself I don’t want to hear. They are people whom I believe have my best interest at heart and would never try to hurt me. Warning: not just anyone should be given that much freedom to speak into your life, but I have a few I trust.

Occasionally, they’ll ask careful questions about a perceived blind spot in my life or actions. I don’t always agree with their conclusions, but I need to hear them since they see me from a vantage point I miss. And sometimes they can see wrong motives I’ve chosen to conveniently ignore.

I hate it when that happens.

I do believe if you let Him, God will send people to tell you the truth about yourself. This will give you one of the greatest advantages possible, to know who you really are and not just who you wish you were. But you have to want to hear it and not just the whitewashed snow job most people serve up.

As for me, I’m glad I’ve learned my lesson and have now embraced who I really am. Got to go now – I’ve got another audition!

I’m trying out for America’s Next Top Model!

Love Moves the Target

moving-target
We all go into relationships with certain expectations. We want the perfection of Barbie and Ken. The only problem with them is…they aren’t real. In the very real world of love, they don’t exist.

It’s great to have goals and ideals, as long as we realize they are marks to reach for and not the only acceptable outcomes. While love doesn’t change our beliefs on what is right and true, love does realize flesh and blood are easily crushed when forced into the cast-iron molds of our expectations.

So when someone you love missed the mark you wanted them to hit, you get a crowbar and pry off the target you’d nailed high on the wall. With a sigh and a smile, you walk to where your love’s arrow hit and hang the target around the mark.

Always hope for the best in people, but allow them their frailty. Jesus did that for you, and loved you anyway.

When they miss the mark, and they will eventually miss it badly, never forget…true love moves the target.