That Old Familiar…

img_2318

*image credit: K Schwahn

God has a very different way of getting one’s attention.  Most people call out a name, a nickname even, or something that will gain their attention.  This past Sunday, I didn’t preach.  I couldn’t go more than a few words without coughing and hacking.  So, instead, one of our deacons stepped in and preached in my place.  I was able to listen that morning, and it was in that moment that God began a new journey within my heart.  During that time Sunday morning, I heard an old, almost haunting call.  Not too far removed from hearing and old song from years gone by, and immediately you are taken back to that time, to a specific memory, smell, sound etc.  It was the call of a friend, and not just any friend, that Friend.

In John 21, Jesus has been crucified, dead, buried, and now risen again. He’s appeared a couple times to His disciples already, but now is standing on the shoreline, where He gave Peter (formerly known as Simon), James, and John, the fork in the road that would forever change their lives.  They were in a boat, had been fishing all night, and had nothing to show for it.  (Almost identical to the story in Luke 5).  But this time when He calls out to them, He calls them “Friends!”  Now what happens next could only be understood by these three.  For what is mirrored in Luke 5, certainly blew their minds.  What happens now, could only be done by the One who was there before.  Jesus asks if they caught anything, they say no.  He tells them to cast it on the right side.  They do.  The net begins to writhe and wiggle in their hands.  The strain is too great for just one man to hold.  And in that moment it clicks.  John smells the old, familiar smell of a few years ago, when this same thing happens.  Dots are connected, the figure on the beach, waving; the great number of fish; and the impossibility of it all taking place…again.  John exclaims to Peter, “It is the Lord!”

In this moment, Jesus meets His friends in exactly where He knew they would be.  But in my opinion, I don’t think it was simply because He “knows all,” but in a more personal way, because He knew His friends, and knew that’s where they’d be.

It was as if Jesus quietly whispered to me, “I know you, friend.”  The temptation and struggle with being a Christian, and being a pastor, is that it can become quite professional, and less and less personal.  And in this moment, Jesus called from the shoreline, waving, beckoning me to join Him at His campfire, with breakfast already on, and most likely the percolator perking.  Not in a formal, professional manner, but simply as a friend.

Advertisements

Wilderness

image

“During the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” Luke 3:2

Just one verse, that has huge implications within.  A couple things to point out:

1. The John mentioned here is the locust dipped in honey, camel skin wearing Baptizer, John the Baptist.  Considered by many in his day, an outsider.  A “wild man.”  Today, he would be termed a “hipster of the logging sort” (that is until they heard him speak and would realize it’s not a ruse…he’s the real thing, a true man).

2. And we have the High Priests: those guys who were the cream of the crop of the religious elite.  They were the go-to guys when your go-to guy didn’t have the answer.  They generally were found in the Temple, perusing the local attendees, giving advice, passing on “wisdom,” etc.

3. The simple fact of the word of God coming down to earth.  God spoke.  To man.  Heaven meets earth.  Sparks fly.

4. But notice when God spoke, to whom He spoke, and where that individual was.  God spoke, not to the high priests, but to John.  And it wasn’t in the Temple courts, but out in the wilderness, where John called home.

Read the verse again.  And dwell on it with recognition of these 4 facts.  God spoke.  To a man considered an “outsider,” in the middle of the wilderness.

Let it sink in.  Mull it over.  Where have you heard God speak?  Have you even heard from Him at all?  Start listening, whether it’s in the car, in a ban, or just out walking somewhere.  He’s speaking, we’ve got to listen.

Chaos and Self Control

It was either last night or this morning. I was in a somewhat hibernate-ish state (still groggy) when it hit me. God brought to mind a very familiar passage, a familiar story, but this time with a perspective that was new to me. Something I had never thought of before. In John’s account of Jesus’ clearing of the Temple, he describes a specific point in the event:
“In the Temple courts He found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So He made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves He said, ‘Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” (John 2:14-16)
Did you notice it? To many, this is a very familiar passage. But read it again. This time through the scope of self-control. Do you see it? In the midst of all this chaos, Jesus is still composed. He’s still got His head on straight, His emotions, attitude, reaction, is all in check. Over all the noise (and believe me, there would have been noise), He turns to the dove owners, and tells them to get them out. This is what God brought to mind in my semi-comatose state: Even in the midst of absolute chaos (whether intended or not), we are to exhibit self-control. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used the excuse, “Well, I just lost myself in the moment.” Bogus. As a follower of Jesus, in light of I John 2:6, that excuse has no bearing on my life whatsoever. So I leave you with that thought: When chaos hits, how do you react?

Trust

Trusting someone or something is a very difficult and easy thing to do all at the same time.  When you get into your vehicle, you put the key in, turn it, and it starts.  There’s an amount of trust that goes into that action.  You trust the idea that when I do this, this should happen.  But there’s also times when trusting is very hard to do.  Take for example this morning:  as I sat here in my office, out of nowhere I heard a cry.  Not sure of what it is, I opened my window and stuck my head out.  It was then that I saw the source of the noise.  A black and white cat.  Now if anyone has been around me for a short time, they know I am NO cat person.  But the way this one looked, was shivering from the cold, I couldn’t help but try and coax him in.  At least to get warm, then stick him back outside. But, no matter how much I tried, no regards to the warmth that was inside the building, the cat wouldn’t follow.  And as I thought to myself, “Alright, have it your way cat.”  It was almost as if God spoke in that moment of thought, “How many times are you that cat, and I am calling to you.   But no matter how hard I try, no matter that I have exactly what you need, do you refuse to come?”   Talk about humbling.  But the question remains: do I, do you, trust God enough to lead you?  To take care of your needs?  The needs of your family?  Do you trust Him to watch over your kids?  Loved ones?

Something easy to say but extremely hard to live out in action is this idea that God knows our best interest, exactly what we need, when we need it.  All we have to do is trust and follow.

So, as Aladdin says to Jasmine, God is saying to us (perhaps standing in a magic carpet); “Do you trust Me?”

Snow Day

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” -Matthew 7:11
Finally, a snow day for the kids!  This past Monday, albeit that it is April, was a snow day for our kids.  And right after breakfast, you better believe they were outside building, plowing, throwing, and anything else they could think of doing in the snow.  As a parent, you find joy in watching your kids enjoy the art of playing.  I call it an art because it’s always something being developed, that takes time, imagination, creativity and a wild abandon to truly get all out of it that you can.  As my wife and I watched, and then I went outside to join them, Matthew 7:11 came to mind.  My wife and I love to dole out gifts, whether material things, or specifically carved out family time, on our kids.  To see the enjoyment and sheer happiness that comes from these moments.  This morning was one of those times.  We built a lean to shelter together.  Just a tarp over a tipped over target stand, it became a lean to in the middle of Jeremiah Johnson’s wilderness.  As I walked back inside, I could hear them coming up with stories and adventures that they would find themselves in the middle of.  It was as if God the Father spoke in that moment, saying “This is just a glimpse of the joy I get in building and creating adventures for you.”  Sometimes it’s easy to de-personify God.  Yes, He’s something wholly other than what we are as human beings, but He’s still a person.  He has a personality, character, emotions, feelings, etc.  He takes joy in watching His children enjoy His creation.  Smiling at the wild abandon of His kids at the falling snow.  Their imaginations filling up with all kinds of ideas, creations, and adventures.  Which brings to mind a question, when’s the last time you just simply enjoyed the falling snow?
As the snow flies, and as you read this.  Ask yourself this question, allow time for it to sink in to heart level, “Do I view God as a person?  Or something else?

Bucket on a tree

Sounds.  They’re all around us.  Most of which we don’t pay attention to.  But here in the northeast, there’s one sound in particular, around this time of the year, that will stop those who know it, dead in their tracks.  Pling.  Pling.  Why else would someone run to a seemingly random metal bucket hanging about three and a half feet up a tree?  Unless they know the sound.  The sound of maple sap dripping into the sap bucket.  I grew up in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, and never experienced the joys of sapping season until moving here.  It’s an incredible process, one that can’t be hurried, and one that is a timeless art.  Growing up where I did, we used Aunt Jemima, Mrs. Buttersworth, etc for syrup.  It wasn’t until I met my wife and her family that I tasted for the first time, liquid gold.  The purity, simpleness of true maple syrup is something that can’t be faked.  There is absolutely nothing like it.  Those of you who grew up on the stuff, then went elsewhere, tried something different, know exactly what I’m talking about.  There’s no messing with pure maple syrup.
But this idea goes much farther, much deeper than we realize.  The process of life itself has a lot in common with the process of making syrup.  There’s the beginnings, sap right out of the tree.  Then the gathering, and on to the sap house.  During all these steps there’s filtering going on.  A weeding out of all the impurities that would ruin the syrup if left in.  Then comes the fire.  The boiling of the water out of the sap, and what is left is syrup.  Our lives are full of triumph and tragedy, good times and bad, and everything in between.  All these experiences are like filters, continually weeding out the impurities if we are paying attention.  Then comes the fire.  The Bible talks about the refining fire, a time of great testing, of trials, that continue this process of bringing us closer to who we were created to be.  While we enjoy the good times, it’s through the rough and tumble times that our character is developed.  The core of who we are is strained again and again, producing a purer product.  But just like sap in a bucket, it takes someone to come and gather it in.  And that someone is Jesus Christ.  He came, lived, died, and rose again so that we could have a choice.  A choice at living the life we have been created for, designed for, or continue on living a life that we have cobbed together, trying to make it work apart from God.  Unfortunately, just as impurities left in the sap will ruin the syrup, so does things in our lives that keep us from Him.  So the next time you drive by and see some buckets hanging from trees, think about your own life.  Are you truly satisfied with where you are?  Or is there a nagging feeling in the back of your mind, a deep burning in your heart that says there’s more.

Pursuit of Greatness

What is the difference between perceived greatness and true greatness?  On the surface they can appear very similar, if not leaning more towards “perceived” rather than true.  Perceived greatness takes on a persona, the entire story, context, situation revolves around that person.  And who’s the main person behind spreading their “greatness,” none other than themselves.  It’s flashy, showy, full of pizzazz (can’t believe I just used that word).  It’s like fireworks, full of bang and flash, but no substance.  There’s nothing behind the words.  They may look the part, talk the part, and even come off the part, but when the chips fall (and they will), they are revealed for who they really are.

On the other hand, those persons of true greatness don’t pursue greatness at all.  They simply do what’s right.  Not always in their eyes, but answering to a higher standard.  They realize they are just part of something that is much bigger than themselves.  They don’t consider themselves heroes, persons of great stature, and even shy away from talking about it.  They simply do, and their actions do the talking.

Something to think about during the day.  Am I pursuing perceived greatness (great in my own regards) or true greatness (simply concerned with doing the right thing, no matter the cost)?

“It is in the most uncertain of times that we become the most certain of men.” -Kevin Weatherby

Misunderstanding

We’ve all had them, misunderstandings.  Where one person is communicating one thing, and the other person gets something totally different.  It happens in all realms of life, and one in particular that isn’t always the most comfortable to acknowledge.  This morning, as I had a misunderstanding with my alarm (most every morning), and was going about my routine, it hit me.  Or rather the Holy Spirit did.  Here’s what He brought: “The goal isn’t to give them your best, because you are supposed to be giving them My best.”

Context: Listening to a great dialogue on the Becoming Good Soil podcast with Morgan Snyder (highly recommend it) and he was in a discussion about life as a man, in any walk of life, that is trying to make life work apart from God (Wild at Heart calls it the fig leaf).   They were at a point speaking of giving our family priority over ministry, career, hobby etc.  I thought for a moment about it, I agreed with what they were saying but then thought, “Well how do I give my best to both areas?”  And that’s when it came, this idea that as disciples of Jesus, being connected to Him (John 15), paired with Ezekiel 36:25-27, we are no longer living our lives by our ways, therefore we can’t give people our best because we no longer have a “best.”  We can only give away what we have now, and that is Christ.

 

Blew. Me. Away.  And that was before the first cup of coffee.  Can’t wait to see where this goes next…

Brotherhood.

26 2 copter

This month marks one year since joining the Windham Hose Company #1.  And it’s been quite the ride.  From wee hour calls, to operating a truck and radio for the first time (and failing at both haha).  There’s been a lot of good times, not only for me, but for my family as well.  One thing that I heard spoken of quickly and consistently, was the brotherhood between firemen.  I had heard this in the military as well, but it never sunk in (probably due to constant training).  So my idea of what was being mentioned wasn’t what I’ve experienced at all.  It’s something greater, deeper.  I was able to attend a fallen firefighter’s funeral a couple months ago and was absolutely blown away by what I saw.  Equipment, rigs, firemen, were everywhere you looked.  They were all there for one purpose, to pay respect for a fallen comrade, a fallen brother.  Nowhere else have I experienced something quite like this.  Even in our own fire department, this brotherhood is present.  There’s a passage in the Bible that speaks to the environment and culture of the church, but it also describes what I’ve experienced since being a firefighter.  In I Corinthians 12, Paul writes this of the culture of the church:
“…so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” (NASB).
My family and I have experienced this within our church family, and it’s also something we have experienced as a part of the Windham Hose Co.  We recently celebrated the birth of our youngest son, Cade, and right there with us was our church family and our Hose Co. family.  When one of us has been going through a hard time, the care and concern spreads through us all.  It’s simply amazing to be a part of something like this.  We all have our quirks, and buttons we don’t like pushed (yet we all push anyways), but it’s the definition of brotherhood.  We may fight and squabble here and there about little things, but when it comes down to it, we stand tall, shoulder to shoulder, moving forward as one.  How is this accomplished?  Because we are all there for one purpose, one reason, that is far bigger than each of us…and it’s the same as the church.  When we make it all about us, or one of us, nothing will ever get done.  But when we look past ourselves, at the true purpose of why we are here, it brings us all together, all as one.  
 
There’s a reason it’s called the brotherhood.  We are family.

All in His timing

If you’ve been around church for any amount of time, a phrase you’ll hear is one like this: “It’s all in His timing.”  What the heck does that mean?  I know I’ve often wondered that, especially in the midst of a situation or circumstances that don’t make any sense whatsoever.  But thankfully it’s not for us to fully understand His timing, but to be willing to walk where He says, when He says.  Isaiah 55:8-9 says this:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways

 and my thoughts than your thoughts. 

His ways are not our ways, and His timing isn’t our timing.  Let me give an example:  My wife has been pregnant for the past 8.75 months, and her due date is fast approaching (January 20).  My in-laws have planned to come in town to give us a hand a week earlier.  But, this past Tuesday morning, Cade Jaxn (pronounced Jackson) was born.  All in His timing.  The amazing thing is when it all took place.  My parents and brother were in town the weekend before, and left Sunday afternoon.  I left early Monday morning to go to a funeral honoring a fallen firefighter (more on that next week), and was gone all day, without the chance of being able to get back quickly if something were to take place.  If the baby had come the previous weekend, it would have been chaos.  If he came during the day monday, I would have missed it.  But he came early Tuesday morning.  It was all orchestrated in such a way that it ended up being an incredible experience.  The more i think about it, the more minute the details that stand out.  From family being available to stay with the other kids, to having friends come in and share in the experience, making it all the more special.  Try as we may, we can’t come close to planning and executing events like He does.
Or create something as amazing as a little child.
IMG_0745