Open Bar At The Wedding

Jesus Turns Water Into Wine ClipartI’ve started a new devotional book and it is taking me through the book of John over a 40 day period.  I loved that when I hit that first couple of lessons I was met with the instruction to put the book away if I was going to use it to simply go through the motions.  The author was very clear that his words were not important.  What he wanted to see is for the reader to FOCUS on the daily scripture passages and really let God’s Word sink in.

Today the passage I read was John 2:1-12.  Here we get the story of Jesus’ first and probably most controversial (at least among some of the “Old Guard” Baptists I know and love) miracles – the turning of water into wine. (Yes, I believe it was wine and not grape juice. Sorry if I have let anyone down.. Nah.  Never mind.  It’s good!)  I read the passage this morning and kinda let it run around in my head the rest of the day. (There was nothing in there to really keep it from enjoying the space!)

By the time I sat down to go through the devotional reading I had kinda cut my focus to a couple of things.  First, Mary had some pull.  She tells Jesus there is no wine left at the wedding.  Jesus tells her His time has not yet come, and she just turns to the servants:

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” – John 2:5

I don’t know exactly why Jesus changed His mind after His response to Mary, but I wonder if it might have been related to her words immediately after His apparent refusal to help.  His time had not come, but she turned and said to the help that He was in control and something was about to happen.  Whether she intended for Him to go and get some wine at the local 7-11 or what, I am not at liberty to say.  She just took a step of faith and asked some others to do the same.

Right after that, Jesus puts these guys to work:

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. – John 2:7,8

Who were these guys?  Did they know anything of Jesus?  Were they there at His Baptism?  Had they heard Him teach?  What did they know about Him that made them just step into immediate obedience like that?  I wish I had an answer. Put yourself in their position.  There is no wine, this woman tells you to do what this guy says, He tells you to go and fill some pots with water and then take some of the water to the guy in charge so he can taste it.

And. They. Did. It.  Think about that.  They did it.  They just did it! and Voila! Wine!

We read that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains.  Well, I see here that the obedience of a waiter/bartender can result in taking tap water and turning it into a fine Chardonnay.  If they had not done as they were told, do you think this story would have gone the same way?  I think not.

Here is the neat thing about obedience to Christ.  When you step out and do something that Jesus tells you to do, you have positioned yourself to be in the perfect position to see Christ do something amazing!  Sometimes the crazier the act of obedience, the bigger the “payoff”.  These guys jumped to action when asked and they were soon partaking in the finest wine ever to be served.  What do you think that did in their lives?  Do you wonder of they followed Jesus after that?  I do.

The devotional asked me a question I am going to ask you.  I came up with an answer, and I challenge you to do the same.

“What do you believe God has been asking you to do that you have been sidestepping?”

Ouch.  That was a big step on the toes.  I know I have something that I have been making excuses over for a while now.  I keep looking for that perfect excuse, and I have been pretty good at coming up with one every time I feel that little “push” the Holy Spirit gives me.  That needs to stop.

If I am going to live a Relentless Life for Christ, I need to go ahead and do what He asks me to do.  He knows best, and He will pour into me and then unlock whatever He put inside me that is necessary to accomplish the task.  If it is His plan and goal, it will get done, and I will be blessed to be involved!

I have some work to do, and I’m not sure how it is going to shake out and look like at the end of it all, but I believe it is time to get myself out of God’s way and just do what He asks.  I don’t think it is going to result in an open bar or anything, but all that matters is that God’s best is poured freely into those around me!

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I Had a Gibbs Slap From God Today

dFKwd9WI love watching NCIS.  Jethro Gibbs is just about the coolest guy to ever be on television, and one of the coolest things he does?  The Gibbs Slap.  I know.  You could watch it all day long.

If you are one of the few people who have not watched NCIS, let me fill you in.  Gibbs is a no-nonsense kind of guy that doesn’t put up with childish, self-serving, foolish behavior.  Often he will settle it with a look, but sometimes, he chooses to apply a little more force to it and give a little whack on the back of the head to wake a person up to their foolishness.

God did that to me today.

A few days ago I decided to start reading in the book of Galatians for my devotions.  I had never studied it specifically on my own before, so I thought it would be a good choice.  I did it for a couple of days, but after my quiet time last night I decided that I might need to look for another book.

You see, my study Bible gives a theme for each book of the Bible, and for Galatians it said that it was about being a Christian in the workplace.  Well, that’s not bad, but I have a rule that I have been bending a bit lately.  I try not to blog here about work, and often I blog about things I am learning about my life through my quiet times.  Soooo, the potential existed for me to be blogging a lot about work if I kept this up.

The main reason I don’t like to blog about work is that I am concerned that I might say something that could have a detrimental effect on my job/employment.  NOT a good thing.  Also, I don’t want to say anything that puts my employer in a bad light.  So, when I take those rules of mine and put them up against a potential course of study that will put me on a collision course with those rules, I did the only sensible thing.  I backed out.  Decided I would look to another book.  The whole Bible is good, so I can’t go wrong with another book.

So, I picked another one and went to bed intending to start on it today.  Didn’t sleep very well last night.  Kept thinking about the Bible study thing.  Got up this morning and went to work still thinking about it.  No sense of ease in my mind.  I was not sure where I should read, but I was pretty sure I was not going to be in Galatians or the other book I chose last night.

I sat down at work this morning and prayed that God would show me where He wanted me to read and study.  After all, I wanted to be I His will and do what He wanted me to do.  As I pulled out my Bible App to check and see what the verse of the day was, I even said to God that I hoped the verse of the day would help me decide where He wanted me to go.  Well, it was almost like that moment when Tony has no idea that Gibbs is behind him as he says something stupid and then,  WHACK!

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

–  Galatians 1:10

“Sorry Boss!”

My thoughts this morning were that I wanted to be doing what God wanted me to do, but my thoughts last night were that I didn’t want to do anything that would upset someone else.  I never gave any thought to the fact that God could be at work in what I write and could make sure that I didn’t do anything that would hurt my career or keep me from doing something stupid.  I only thought about what would be the easiest thing for me to do.  Even though I tell my kids that the easy thing is usually the worst thing you could do in a given situation.

So, I will be continuing in Galatians.  I will be counting on God to keep both of my brain cells working in a rhythm that will be a help and a blessing as I write about what I have learned, and that He will make me a better employee as a result of this study.

Relentless Growth sometimes needs a slap to the head, and I am thankful for a heavenly Father that loves me enough to do it.  That little slap this morning will remind me of His direction in my life, and His love for me as I grow.  Just like Tony knows that Gibbs doesn’t slap those he doesn’t care about.

Relentless Growth -> Grow Deep -> Grow Strong

Digging In The Past – Part 1

image“Be careful digging in the past. You’ll find yourself face to face with things that will force you to make a choice. You will either have to cover it up again or deal with what you find.”

I would like to say that the quote above was from some wise, well-known, smart guy who has been afforded the respect of many who heed his words and wait expectantly for his next nugget of wisdom to help them guide their lives. Alas, the words are my own, and they are not said with the encouragement that they should being to my life, but as a warning to myself that the past is a place where it is not always sunny. As the old saying goes, “Here, there be monsters.”

This post is going to be the first of a couple that will take us on a journey through my spiritual journey from a small, country church to where I find myself today. I am not sure how detailed it will get as I have some boundaries in writing it that will put some constraints on what I share. The goal is to speak truth in love by sharing a journey. It is not about slinging mud.

Let me start by saying that one of the fundamental issues I will be discussing in this series of posts is the topic of spiritual abuse. I had never heard of the concept until a couple of years ago, and it really made me think about years gone by, and I had to deal with some stuff that it brought up. Spiritual abuse is basically defined as using religion to force people to do things by pouring out guilt and shame and creating a performance-based value of a person through the twisting of Scripture to meet the desires of the abuser.

Many people would call that a cult, and they would be right. The problem is that in many churches it is something that happens behind the scenes every day. It is covered up with words that are good and necessary in the life of a believer, but the meanings have been twisted subtly. It might not be a big deal if you look at the little individual differences, but it can be like radiation poisoning. It builds up in the body until you finally get sick. Once you get sick, it is hard to get better. Very hard.

So, here we go. My testimony. A testimony is just my story. Warts and all. This is not about other people, but about where I was and where I am now. If I offend someone, I apologize in advance, but please know that I am not trying to hurt, just hoping that in telling my story someone else might be able to helped or encouraged to know they were not alone.

I was born into a Christian family and from the start I was in church. Most of my earliest memories of church are of doing a task or saying some words and then I would get a treat. I liked treats, and was smart enough to realize that the more good things I did and said, the more treats I got. I liked it! I heard a lot of Bible stories and since I like stories I thought church was great.

When I was four years old I got a burn on my arm. It wasn’t anything significant, but I remember that it hurt a lot. (I was four!) That following Sunday our lesson was about Hell. As the teacher talked about eternal fire and suffering, you can bet she had my attention! By the end of the class when she asked if anyone wanted Jesus to come into their hearts to save them from an eternal fire, I jumped at the opportunity. I remember a lot of people being very happy for me, but not much else.

Over the next five years I grew up in church and attended a church school. We were there every time the doors were open, and I continued to learn a lot about the Bible – especially the parts that focused on obedience. We had a pastor at that time that I remember very fondly for his smile, his love of laughter and fun, and for his booming voice when he sang or preached. I was very sad when he moved on to a new church.

Up to this time in my life I do not believe that I had experienced any real spiritual abuse. My obedience to God was stressed heavily in church and school, but I have no memories of guilt, shame, or manipulation coming from my church, school, or spiritual leaders in my life. I have a lot of respect for the people that had been at work in my life up to that point, and I appreciate the groundwork they did of putting a healthy even if a little heavy focus on obedience to God while still telling me about the love that God has for us. That would soon change.

I have been praying about it, and I have decided not to go into a lot of detail regarding the next 7 years. There are stories that are not mine to tell.
Over the next seven years church and school changed for me and a lot of other people too. I am not going to say that it was no fun at all, but it became intense, and by the end of that time, the times of fun were fewer and farther apart.
Here are a few things that I remember:

1. The law was still alive and well. – While I was a Christian and secure in my Salvation, there was an unhealthy focus on works. I heard so often how my best was worthless in God’s eyes. I heard that in order to please God I had to always do what was right,and that every time something went wrong in my life it was because God was punishing me for a sin that I had not confessed.

2. Grace was a gift given at salvation. – God’s grace was a wonderful gift, and it allowed us to have eternal life.

3. The pastor’s words were equal to Scripture. – you were never allowed to question what he said, even for clarification. There were times I asked questions about how he had presented things from a passage of Scripture, and I was told that I should just trust him. After all, he was the pastor. Obedience to him was the same as obedience to God.

4. I was as good as what they could see. – This was what led to some serious struggles in my personal character. It created a culture of deception in the youth in our church and school. We knew we could never be as good as we were told we needed to be, so we gave up trying! Instead a second life was born. A chameleon ability was brought out that allowed me to fit in with who I needed to fit in with when it was needed. If they liked what they saw then I was not given my portion of shame.

By the time I was 16 I still knew I was a Christian, but I didn’t know why anymore. I knew what I believed, and I didn’t get involved with any of the “really bad stuff”, but I was not living the way God wanted me to, nor was I sure that it would do any good anyway. I said I knew Him, but we were pretty much strangers to each other.

(To be continued…)
In HIS Grip,
Tom

I Can See Clearly Now…

1519726_10202968744210619_1815288395_oI have had the opportunity to spend the last two days at home.  It’s not that I have taken a vacation or planned some great restful sabbatical. On the contrary, I have been home with an eye condition.  Three nights ago I took my contacts out a little early because my left eye was hurting.  As the evening went on the pain got more intense. By the time I went to bed it was quite painful, and I thought I had scratched it badly without realizing it.  I wear hard lenses, and it has happened before.

That night, sleep pretty much eluded me.  I tossed and turned for most of the night because of the pain in my eye.  When I got up to get ready for work, the pain was so intense that I could barely open either eye.  I decided that when I got to work I would go down and get checked out in the urgent care. (I foolishly drove myself to work while squinting through one eye.)  They were not able to find out what was wrong, but the swelling in my eye was a real cause for concern, so I made an appointment with our local eye doctor.

The diagnosis was a central corneal ulcer with bacterial infiltration.  That is eye doctor talk for a hole in my eye with a nasty little infection.  This type of infection left untreated will result in a minimum of a loss of vision and the possible loss of the eye itself.  I was not having a good day.  The doc gave me some drops for my eye and set up several follow-up appointments along with a stern warning not to take this lightly.

That was a couple of days ago by the time you read this.  As I write, I am sitting in a darkened room typing on a laptop with the screen brightness turned down so I am able to see what I am doing.  The pain is gone now, but there is still some swelling and redness in my eye that I am dealing with.  It would be nice to be able to open the blinds and enjoy the sunshine, but I can’t handle that just yet.  Tomorrow I will go to work wearing sunglasses…

My prayer is that when I go in to see the doctor tomorrow I will hear that the meds are working, and that by taking the time to let things rest, I will see some more healing.  If things aren’t where the doctor wants them to be, I maybe going in to see a specialist.  I won’t know yet when this is posted, so I guess if you want to know how things turn out then you can ask in the comments below!

This hole in my eye probably did not happen all in a day.  I have had a little bit of discomfort over the last week, but I just told myself that it was nothing more than being tired and a lot of wind and dry weather that was the cause of it.  It was not until the pain became too hard to ignore did I realize there was a bigger problem.   I was not able to see the problem because I was not open to the idea that a problem could exist.  Only when the pain hit did I stop to evaluate things.

Sitting at home has given me a little free time, and I wish I could say that I have done a lot with it, but when you need your eyes to do things and you don’t have them then you are a little limited!  So, I have been thinking about things.  Thinking is a new pursuit of mine, and while I do not engage in it as often as I should, I am finding that it has its benefits!  I really should make it a larger part of my decision making process…

I want to share what I have learned as a result of this down time. I don’t know if it will help anyone else out there, but I want to share it anyway.  If for no other reason, I want to write it down because it makes it more real for me.

Sometimes, if you really want to see something clearly, you have to face the things that you are blind to.

I could have ignored the problem with my eye.  After all, it has hurt before and it always got better.  It wouldn’t have fixed the problem though.  It would have led to a larger problem that would take more drastic measures to correct.

The Christian life needs to be looked at the same way.  We have the big things in the Christian life that we think about, and we feel like if we take care of those then the rest of life will fall into place.  For many years I thought that going to church was one of those things.  As long as I am there and listening, I will grow in Christ.  In reality, if that is the extent of my Christian walk, then I am just waiting for the spiritual equivalent of an eye ulcer!

I need to be attentive to my spiritual health just like I should have been more attentive to my vision!  There are always early indicators that there could be a problem.  In the case of my eye it was irritation, but in my spiritual walk it could be allowing people to annoy me or having a bad attitude or selfish thoughts.  They might be little things that I can dismiss as nothing, but they could also be indicating that there is a wound in a relationship or a deficiency in my time with God that needs to be addressed before things get worse.

David wrote several Psalms where he asked God to search his heart for the evil that may be lurking in it.  I know that there is evil in my heart, and I too ask God to point it out to me, and He does.  The problem is that I am sometimes guilty of turning a blind eye to it.  I need to be willing to look at what He shows me and not dismiss it.

He shows me where there the problems are through things like strained relationships, frustration, anger, envy and more.  He is always faithful to do that.  His desire is not to bring me shame, but to show me my need for Him to make the wrongs right again, and to grow as a result.  I need to be acutely aware of those indicators to live a spiritually healthy life.

I’m not going to catch every spiritual symptom early.  Some of them are going to grow until they bring me pain, and while I understand and accept that, I am determined to limit those times as much as possible.  I want a life of relentless growth, and that means that I can’t just throw in the towel.  I have to take ownership of my spiritual health.

My eye feels much better now than it did.  Rest, medicine, and a lot of prayers from friends and family have facilitated that healing from God.  I’ve learned a few things as a result of this infection that are going to change the way that I take care of my eyes.  It will require a little more time, and a little more discipline, but those actions could prevent this from happening again.

The same thing happens in my walk with God.  If I acknowledge and learn from my experiences, and discipline myself going forward, I will be much more aware when I see those dangerous spiritual symptoms on the rise and can act before an infection can take hold.

How about you?  Struggling with anger or irritation?  Envious of another person?  Struggling with a selfish or a judgmental attitude?  You might have something going on in your heart that requires a visit with the Great Physician.  He’s ready to see you now.  Don’t wait.  Time might not be on your side…

In His Grip,

Tom