Archive for the ‘Devotional Thoughts’ Category

“Clogged…”

Posted: June 6, 2011 in Devotional Thoughts

No one ever told me not to pour grease down the kitchen sink. Well, truthfully, I specifically remember the email campus housing sent regarding the proper disposal of grease. I simply did not listen, and our mistakes have a way of catching up with us…

As I poured the grease down the sink, I had a sinking (pun intended) feeling that it would come back to haunt me. That sense increased as the running water began to rise from the drain. I frantically checked for a blockage, but found nothing; the problem was in the pipes. My roommate and I began bailing out the water with a mopping bucket like we were in a sinking lifeboat! However, even after pouring Draino down the hole, the clog remained. Our only remaining option was to call campus maintenance. But then I would need to come clean about ignoring the Grease Rule…

Although I argued we could live without our kitchen sink, my roommate called maintenance the next day and then left me alone to confess. As the man tried to figure out the problem, I managed to dodge most of his probing questions. But once he opened the pipes, all my excuses came flooding out in the form of grease-mixed-with-Draino flavored water. Not only did the water strip the color from our splattered clothes (which prompted Maintenance Man to run screaming to my bathroom sink), but it revealed the source of the clog; It looked as though an entire bucket of Crisco had been shoved down the pipe.

“How many times did you pour grease down this sink?” Asked the drenched and fuming man sitting on my kitchen floor.

“Well,” I shamefully replied, “Perhaps more than once or twice…”

When something is wrong internally, it does not take long before the problem rises to the surface. If there is anger, bitterness, jealousy, or any other destructive vices in my heart, they will eventually come out of hiding. I may conceal thoughts and feelings from others within the inner chambers of my heart, yet my actions will reveal what lies beneath the surface. Many times when I feel distant from God it is because I have been resisting His work in my life. I have allowed sin to block all entrances to my heart, and the stagnant water on the surface is the evidence. I can lie to everyone else, but God sees behind the scenes. What I need is for Him to come and fix the problem. But will I let him? Just as I realized that my lack of plumbing skills left me in need of rescuing, so have I realized I cannot fix the inner problems of my soul. Will I make that call, or am I content to live with a life full of dirty water?

“‘Come let us discuss this,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are as red as crimson, they will be like wool.’” Isaiah 1:18

When I was asked to join the youth on their annual Snowball Conference over New Years, I eagerly accepted. It would be great to invest in the younger generation, take in some solid teaching, and–I’ll be honest–show those kids that the College Pastor can bust a mean “Sprinkler” on the dance floor!

The only problem was that my friend Dave was passing through town and needed to crash at my place on New Year’s Eve. So we hatched a plan. I would leave an extra key above the door so he could let himself in when he got there. Simple, right? Wrong!

Dave arrived at my apartment around 4:00 AM. He found my key and tried it in the door. When it didn’t work on the first attempt, he assumed he had the wrong door. Turning around, he saw steps leading up to another door, and figured he would test that one. The key worked! The only problem was—it was the wrong house!

I live in a small apartment attached to a larger house. Although they are physically joined, they are completely separate living spaces. My aunt and uncle live in the other house. Why my key worked in their lock is a mystery, but Dave had just entered someone else’s home…and he had no idea.

Quickly glancing around, he saw a small staircase. Tired, and ready for bed, he scurried up the stairs and flipped the light on. That’s when he noticed the couple staring at him from the king-sized bed!

Awakened by the intruder, my blurry-eyed and confused uncle demanded that Dave identify himself. Poor Dave wasn’t aware that my trigger-happy uncle is from Texas, where they shoot first and ask questions later. Fortunately, however, he was able to blurt out my name before my uncle had found his gun! It was a night none of them will ever forget!

In life we often have the attitude, “If the door opens, go through it.” Christians talk all the time about God “opening doors” as they seek to follow His will. But what if God never actually opened that door in the first place? What if we were simply too impatient to wait for the first door, and so we left in search of another? Sadly, walking through the wrong door can often have serious consequences.

Maybe we too quickly walk away from unopened doors. Perhaps we are in the right place after all and the issue is timing. But if you’re anything like me, you hate waiting! It must have been very tempting for David when he faced a golden opportunity to kill Saul in that cave (1 Samuel 24). David was the rightful king, after all! But he didn’t do it.

Don’t assume God’s will is always the most readily available opportunity. Or that an obstacle means you are not where you should be. Be patient, prayerful, and wise, and God will lead you through the right doors.

“I waited patiently for the Lord, and He turned to me and heard my cry for help.” -David (Psalm 40:1)

I hate bugs. Always have, always will. In fact, if you have eight legs or wear your skeleton on the outside, chances are I will whack you with a shoe (or at least find someone braver than I to do it for me).

So you can imagine my horror the other day when I finished having a shower and pulled back the curtain to reveal a giant bug sitting on the floor just outside my shower. I may or may not have shrieked like a 5-year-old girl.

Flinging myself into the air, I managed to leap to my bedroom without touching the bathroom floor and frantically begin scanning my room in search of a weapon to dispose of the hideous intruder. Seizing my oldest and least-likely-to-ever-be-worn-again shoe, I crept back into the bathroom and proceeded to beat the bug approximately 418 times.

But then I had a new problem. How would I dispose of the body? I certainly did not want to get too close, even if it was now little more than a flattened carcass! So I plugged in my vacuum cleaner and sucked the little guy in to join the other unfortunates to have attempted to become my roommate (my vacuum cleaner is a veritable bug graveyard, and the thought of opening it up to empty the contents sends shivers down my spine!).

This emotionally scarring encounter put me in mind of Leviticus 11:41 “All the creatures that swarm on the earth are detestable…” I am just glad I don’t believe in reincarnation, because the thought of possibly coming back as a bug and living among them just might keep me from getting any sleep tonight!

It’s funny how we can get consumed by such small things. In my attempt to smite my 6-legged enemy, I was running around my apartment “sans towel.” Had someone walked past my window, I would have lost my dignity (and my job!)! But when we put our focus on something, our eyes become fixed and we are often oblivious to everything else.

The writer of Hebrews wrote, “Therefore, since we also have such a large crowd of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us, and run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith…” It is easy to be sidetracked by the little things in life. Perhaps someone makes a hurtful comment to you, and you allow it to steal your joy; or the music/message at church wasn’t to your liking, so you skip the next Sunday; or you get upset because you feel ignored in your group of friends, but you don’t even notice the quiet guy who feels the same way.

What are the little distractions in your life? Don’t let them pull your eyes away from Jesus because, in the end, the little things really are just that: little things. Set your eyes on what really matters.

Go for a walk…

Posted: December 4, 2010 in Devotional Thoughts

I just got back from walking my dog Chevy. I don’t get to do it very often, for two reasons: 1) I don’t live with my parents (and he does) and 2) I don’t have the patience. He can be very frustrating! Chevy is getting up there in age now (10 years old), and is not quite the dog he used to be. He is missing an eye (long story) which makes his depth perception wacky, he has a slight limp in his back leg, and he pants a little harder now going up those hills. But one thing certainly hasn’t changed: His curiosity.

Not content to simply go for a leisurely stroll, Chevy insists on sniffing every bush, “marking” every leaf, and growling at every living organism. The only thing he seems to not want to do is walk! As we came around that last corner today (both of us breathing pretty hard) I thought of something. You know what the most beneficial part of that walk was for Chevy? It wasn’t the barking (although he enjoyed that), it wasn’t the peeing (although he seemed to enjoy that too), and it wasn’t the sniffing; It was the walking. The exercise will help him more than all the other “side benefits” combined! Isn’t it funny how the one thing that was best for him was the activity he cared the least about?

I think it is often similar for me as I walk through life. I am a task-driven person who sets my sights on one thing and lets that consume my thoughts. I move from one activity to another, barely wrapping up the last before I begin the next. My brother Dan one time, after watching me destroy a hamburger in 3 bites and 2.48 seconds, blurted, “Mike…enjoy the journey!”

Isn’t that true for all of us? Micah 6:8 says, “He has told men what is good and what it is the Lord requires of you: Only to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Walk. Not run ahead, not stray off the path, not lag behind, but simply to walk. Let us not get so distracted by our curiosity of everything around us that we forget it is the actual walking with God that will do us the most benefit. Sometimes getting there is just as important as the final destination.

The cost of cool…

Posted: November 8, 2010 in Devotional Thoughts

It is amazing how things change. I remember the days when I used to be a big loser (you may be asking, “Hey, I thought this story was about change?”). I was shy and awkward, and usually on the outside looking in. But over time, things started to transform…

I really discovered music when I was 14 after I traded in the clarinet for the drums. I caught the bug and music became a major part of my identity. I also updated my image (thanks to the wonder of Hawaiian shirts and hair gel!) and began to make more friends, soon blossoming into somewhat of a socialite. Gone were the days of humiliation! Or were they?

My wake up call came while I was spending the day with my buddy Travis. We cruised around town, and everywhere we went people seemed to know us! As we were about to pull out of a parking lot, I noticed a pretty girl looking my way. “This day just keeps getting better!” I thought. She waved at me, flashing a big smile and I smoothly smiled back and waved back. Her smile grew and, to my glory, she started walking towards the car.

“Travis, check this out” I smirked excitedly. I rolled down the window and stuck my head out to greet her when I noticed something: Her eyes were not on me. She proceeded to walk right up to my window…and into the embrace of her boyfriend. Yes, the boyfriend who had been just out of my sightline the entire time. With burning embarrassment I urged Travis to drive away as I tried to avoid eye contact with the reunited couple inches from my window, but he was too busy laughing to drive anywhere.

It became pretty obvious to me that day the futility of popularity. I realized I really wasn’t as big a deal as I thought. At what cost had I achieved my new status? What was it worth in the end? I am reminded of a man in the Bible who did not fit in with the crowd. In fact, there were none like him on the entire earth! Most people think of Noah and the Ark he built, but I connect Noah with something else: He knew God and God knew him. The world had become so wicked that God could find no reason to keep humanity alive…except Noah. Genesis 6:8-9 says, “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord…Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God.” Wow, Noah had his priorities straight. If given the choice between fitting in with the crowd or walking with God, I know the wiser choice. However, 99% of the time I seek approval of others in my life rather than God. In the end, what is more important? I have come to realize there is one relationship that is worth far more than any other, but tragically, it is the one most neglected.

The Problem of Evil/Pain is one of the hardest issues a Christian (or anyone) must deal with. The question of “Why do bad things happen to good people?” has haunted just about every person on this planet. Of course, Romans 3:23 tells us there is no such thing as a “good person,” a point which is left out of the conversation many times. Perhaps because it is not very comforting to tell someone who is hurting, “Well, actually, you kind of deserve this.” Wow, sensitivity training may be in your immediate future with that kind of an answer! Or a night on the couch. So how do we approach, what C.S. Lewis called, “The Problem of Pain?” Well there are many angles and it has been written extensively on. However, I came across a small verse in the book of Genesis that encouraged me, and I want to share that with you.

Let me introduce you to Jacob (no, not the werewolf). Jacob was a trickster. Actually, he fooled both his father and his brother into giving him a birthright and the blessing reserved for the oldest child (the equivalent perhaps of your younger brother conning you into giving him your portion of your father’s will…not cool). But Jacob was not the only one out there with a deceptive nature. In fact, when he met a woman named Rachel, he fell turban-over-heels for her! In those days, it was only by the consent of the girl’s father that a man could marry her, so Jacob ends up paying a steep price–seven years of hard labor. How many people today love their significant other enough to work seven years for her? Now you see just how googly-eyed Jacob was!

On the last day of those seven years, Jacob punched out his time clock and came to Rachel’s father to receive his wife. However, he is given her sister Leah (not the princess) instead! Something in the fine print about “The oldest daughter can’t be married before the younger one.” What now? Work another seven years to marry Rachel. Fourteen years…you don’t find that on The Bachelor! However, you probably would see what happens after.

Now Jacob has two wives and of course they are just fine with that and everyone loves each other equally and fairly and they do double dates to Olive Garden and Jacob sits in between them. Yeah, right! Jacob has loved Rachel from the beginning, not Leah. So there begins a sort of competition between the two women to see who can bear more sons for Jacob (in those days, a woman’s value was seen largely in birthing and mothering the next generation. Different culture than ours, but you can see where the troubles would come in!). When the tally became Leah: 4 Rachel: 0, things got a little awkward. Rachel begs Jacob, “Give me sons or I will die!” God listens, and Rachel finally has a son named Joseph (and his future multi-colored dream coat).

Is Rachel happy? Maybe, for a time. But Leah by then had given birth to 6 children, compared to Rachel’s 1, and the joy soon wears off. Then Rachel lifts up a fateful prayer. “May the Lord add another son to me.” God does…and it kills her.

Genesis 35:16-20 recounts the tragic end to Rachel’s life. While they are traveling, she indeed gets what she asked for and gives birth to another son. But the labor is difficult, and she dies in childbirth. Not, however, before naming her son. Here is a powerful verse: “With her last breath–for she was dying–she named him Ben-Oni, but his father called him Benjamin.” (Gen 35:18) What is so significant about this? Ben-Oni means “Son of my Affliction.” Rachel was not satisfied, right up until the end. God was not enough for her. Jacob was not enough for her. Joseph was not enough for her. The tragic irony is that she pleads with Jacob “Give me sons or I will die!”, but it is the granting of that request that kills her. Even on her deathbed, she is focused on her affliction rather than the fact God answered her prayer. Not only that, but she is priviledged to be one of the Matriarchs for the 12 Tribes of Israel, from which Jesus Christ Himself would eventually come. Of course, she couldn’t see all of this in the future, yet she prayed to a God who did. How heartbreaking is it to focus on your pain and by so-doing completely miss the greater picture?

Jacob, on the other hand, puts his trust in God. Although the pain he was feeling must have been almost unbearable (losing the wife you loved enough to work 14 years for), he changes his new son’s name to Benjamin which means “Son of my Right Hand.” It is a name of honor, which both recognizes the blessing of a child and remembers the sacrifice of the mother. In the midst of his most painful circumstances, Jacob did not lose sight of the bigger picture. God had bigger plans than what Jacob could see, which would lead to the salvation of the world through Jesus. Jacob didn’t understand it all, but he had faith.

Are you hurting? Are you experiencing the trials of life? I know it’s hard to look anywhere but directly into the center of your pain, but there is hope beyond that. God is a God who can bring peace even through the loss of a deeply loved wife. What are you struggling with? Don’t lose sight of God and His goodness by dwelling on your immediate circumstances. Circumstances change, but God never does. Tomorrow may be a brighter day, but don’t let the darkness steal today from you. God loves you, even when it doesn’t seem like life reflects that. It may only be later when we can look back and realize He suffered with us, and carried us through the other side.

I can’t play real golf, but I’m pretty good at the kid’s version. I remember a mini golf course I went to with my family while on vacation. It was amazing! There were castles and pirate ships and windmills. It was like bringing my fantasy world to life (except the windmills)! By the time we got to the last hole the sun had set, shifting our surroundings into an ominous atmosphere.

The final hole consisted of a long stretch of turf leading up to a giant statue that looked like an ancient Mayan god. It consisted of a huge stone head, brooding down at any foolish mortal who might dare to shoot their ball down the turf into a small hole at the base. My family stepped up one at a time, each losing their ball to the cavernous gutter that surrounded the hole.

Then, it was my turn.

I figured you usually get a prize if you make the final shot (Rabbit Trail: The prize is always a pass for a free round of golf. “Hey kids, I know we’re only in Orlando for 3 days, but tomorrow we have to come back here so little Billy can cash in on his free game.” Yeah, right.). I looked around to see if anyone could see me, then I picked up my ball and ran down the turf.

I reached across the gutter and dropped my ball in the hole. Nothing happened. Maybe I just have to tell them on the way out and collect my prize? But how do I prove it? Disappointed, I turned and started to walk back. That’s when the ground began to tremble and the statue came to life! I heard a deep, rumbling voice boom from behind me. “Who disturbs my slumber?!” Help me mother.

I turned around and saw the eyes of the possessed statue glow red and watched steam start to rise from its gaping maw. Giving a frightened yelp, I started running for my life!  I was about half way back when the statue shot a stream of water from its mouth with the force of a fire hose! I fell to the ground, drenched, and crawled to safety, shivering and rocking in the fetal position.  Of course, my family (and every other golfer within 100 yards) was laughing hysterically! I had to ride back to the hotel soaking wet. I never did get my free game.

Like that deceptive stone face, people keep a whole lot hidden away.  Ask someone how they are doing and, more than likely, they will say “fine” even if their life is in shambles. Just like that statue, things may look great on the outside, but there is more brewing beneath the surface. We may only find out they are hurting once it all bursts forth!

Jesus had a way of seeing past the masks people wore. Whether it was Zacchaeus, the woman at the well,  or his own disciples, Jesus could always get past the defenses raised and reach their heart. Can God see deep into people’s lives? Does he know what we are struggling with? He does, and I believe he will guide us in our relationships with each other if we let Him. I don’t want to live life on a surface level, passing by people who may be teetering on the edge without any hope. It’s easy to live on the surface; it’s much harder to invest long term in someone’s life. Let’s ask God to help us look deeper and see people through the eyes of Jesus, because He will help us see people on a whole new level.

Come, see the man who told me everything I ever did! Could this be the Messiah?” -The Samaritan Woman (John 4:29)

P90X Exercise Log-Book

Day 1: “Exciting first day! Slept in my workout clothes and started the program early this morning. Tough stuff, but I think I will enjoy it! I can’t wait to have a sculpted body that will rival the statue of David! Look out ladies!”

Day 2: “Rough morning. My body hurts from yesterday’s workout, but felt better after stretching. Ended a few minutes early, but soon I will be able to finish the whole work out!”

Day 3: “Started a little later today, and finished a little earlier.  But it’s only the third day, so I will get better (I hope). My muscles are really hurting today from the last two workouts. I think Tony Horton wants to kill me, but I won’t give in!”

Day 4: “Skipped workout today. Will start back tomorrow.”

Day 15: “I hope God forgives me for what I called both my alarm clock and Tony Horton today. My mother would be so ashamed…”

Day 20: “Haven’t worked out in a while, it has become more sporadic. Had time today, but it was my only workout this week. I think I’m falling off the bandwagon!”

Day 37: “Traded all but two discs of P90X to my roommate for his ipod.”

Day 112: “Came across those two discs. Haven’t worked out in months! Convinced myself to try it, but only made it through the first 25 minutes. Perhaps I’ll get back into a routine? We’ll see what I feel like tomorrow…”

We are all creatures of habit. Even the way we dry ourselves off when we step out of the shower every morning is the same routine! But this habit-forming ability is both a blessing and a curse. It benefits us when we develop healthy habits of regular exercise, but hurts us when we become addicted to drugs, alcohol, or pornography.

What part do our patterned practices play in our spiritual life? Most people who have walked away from God never intended to do so. They simply slept-in one Sunday here, skipped their Bible reading there, and forgot to do any praying in between. Over time, these “sometimes” occurrences became habits. It is a scary thing when we wake up Sunday morning and our natural response is to stay in bed. At this point, we have developed a habit, and this habit has slowly led us away from God.

I must constantly be aware of the habits I am forming in my spiritual life. Why do I read my Bible every night, even when I am tired? Is it out of duty? Do I think I will be struck by lightning if I skip a day? No, it is because I desire to form a healthy habit of seeking God every day. Habits have a way of becoming a natural part of who we are when practiced long enough. We must live wisely, since our actions today will form our habits of tomorrow.

 

“If you continue in My word, you really are my disciples.” John 8:31