Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Still time to sign up...

As many of you know, I started this blog to share about my first trip to Africa four years ago. Well, we're going back again this summer, and we would love for you to join us. Check out this video from Visiting Orphans:

If you are interested, join VO for an informational call Friday…here are the details:

GO.BE.LOVE Lunchtime Call Series

Or just go straight the website and register:

Visiting Orphans - Manis Team 2014

Do this. Or do something else for orphans and widows (James 1:27). But please…do something.

Monday, April 28, 2014

"I Write the Songs"

Last week I was out walking my dog, and I was looking for some music to listen to while I walked. I scrolled through my iPhone menu and settled on something I had not listened to in a long time.

Don't judge me….okay, you can - I judge myself.

It was Barry Manilow. A greatest hits album.

Yeah, I know.

As I walked, and as I listened, I realized these songs did not appeal to me like they used to. Not because my musical taste has changed. (Although it has.) Not because I now realize just how cheesy his music is. (Although I do.) No, it was something more. Something that was a window into my soul.

Unlike when I have listened to this music before, I did not identify with the lyrics. At all. Music isn't just a collection of notes and chords. It is a powerful way to pour your heart out. And these songs….nothing. I felt nothing.

And as I walked, I thought…why not?

As I thought about it, this is what I came up with. In the 45 years or so since 5th grade, I have spent somewhere around 35-40 of those carrying a torch for some girl. Sometimes a girl that I was actually dating; more often, it was a crush that was never returned.

Rebecca. Amy. DeeDee. Jody. Betsy. Lori. Angie. Frances. Jaime. Linda. Stephanie. Cathy. Beth. Donna. Beth (yes, another one).

One after another, there was stream of young ladies that would cause the lyrics of these cheesy songs to tug at my heart. All wonderful girls (or women, depending on my stage of life). All worthy of having a guy pining for them.

But as I listened the other night, the songs went flat. Why? Because I am at a place in my life where that kind of pining away is just not happening. And that's a good thing.

Paul, speaking of material goods, said in Philippians 4:11, "I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances."

Me too. While I firmly believe that romantic love is a wonderful part of God's plan for the earth (and thus we are all here), and while it could be his plan for me one day, it can easily become an idol. That is probably the very definition of "pining." I love being at a place in my life where I am content. If God brings a woman into my life - wonderful! But right now he wants me to pour my life into family, friends, and those he shows me who need his love.

Contentment. Whether it's money, love, comfort, or work, that is God's will for me. I pray that whenever I'm tempted to get restless in any of these areas, he will remind me of how Barry Manilow's music went flat for me on a night in April.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

That's Not Why I'm Here

Just a few years ago, it would not have played well on American television.

FX is well into the second season of its drama The Americans. This series, starring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, is set in the early 80s during the tension of the Cold War. Russell and Rhys star as a couple who are Russian spies in Washington, DC. Their marriage was arranged as a cover for their espionage, but over the years they have had children and it's obvious they have actually grown to love each other. This causes a major complication in their prime objective: to bring down the United States from the inside.

The reason it would not have played a few years ago is that the drama builds sympathy for these characters. The fact that it's successful is a testament to how short the collective memory of a society is.

Nevertheless, it is a fascinating premise.

The most fascinating part of it is the way the lead characters interact with this culture - one they are sworn to bring down, but one that they have become used to in their 15 or so years living here. After all, they have made friends, settled in a very nice suburban house, have comfortable cover jobs, and are raising their kids in American society. How in the world can they not waver and think, "This might be better than our country"?

That tension is probably why I watch. It, well, reminds me of something. (More on that shortly.)

So in that context, check out this clip from last week's episode.  Phillip Jennings (Rhys) has just bought a new Z28 sports car, and he is really enjoying it. He clearly is more tempted by our American comforts than his wife Elizabeth (Russell), and sometimes she challenges him on that. Where is his loyalty? This is one of those scenes:

Powerful scene. Doesn't she like the luxuries? How can she not? Phillip says it just makes her human if she does. And you know, I'm sure she does. But she responds by reminding her husband of her focus. She may enjoy this country, but that's not why she's here.

To me, this is a vivid picture of my mission as a citizen of the kingdom of God. That is where my loyalty lies, not in this world system. Like Elizabeth and Phillip, I am living my life in a society that does not have my loyalty. Do I enjoy my job...good food…indoor plumbing…Apple products…TV…movies…football? Sure.

But like the Jennings, I am here for a different purpose. This world system is passing away, and since Jesus came and announced the kingdom of God, his followers have been called to a higher allegiance. We are citizens of heaven, working to bring about justice, mercy, healing, and love in a broken world.

I must never forget that.

So yes, I learn something from watching these fictional Russian spies. I learn what it's like to live in a society that is opposed to what I believe in. Can I enjoy my life? Of course. but I must always remember…

That's not why I'm here.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The resurrection and the life

Friday afternoon I went to see a movie. The movie Heaven is for Real was timed by Hollywood to open the week of Easter, no doubt to attract a large Christian audience. After all, we are the ones who talk about life after death…and heaven. What better way to draw us to the cinema than to have a Hollywood-produced movie about heaven with real high profile actors like Greg Kinnear?

I was disappointed. Not in Hollywood, of course (promoting truth is not what they're there for), but in the way in which this movie has been embraced. The message of the movie - which was obviously aimed to appeal to Christians - fell soooooooooooo far short of the good news of Easter morning. I don't know exactly what the little boy portrayed in the movie saw, or how it happened. But I do know that it was not the gospel of eternal life that our King Jesus brings us. Every person in Scripture who got a glimpse of heaven was overwhelmed with the glorious presence of God. Isaiah. Ezekiel. Paul. John. They all were so captivated by the glory of the Lord that they fell on their faces, unworthy. None took a casual stroll through heaven, sitting on Jesus' lap and visiting with loved ones. When you come into the presence of the Almighty, he will have your full attention.

This morning we celebrate the Resurrection. Jesus defeated sin and death on the cross, and then his victory was sealed when he rose from the dead on the third day. Today is a day to have a party…so I'm going to! Worship at sunrise and later in the morning, lunch with family, and then a huge celebration with family and friends. Jesus has defeated death, and so our destiny is not some vague hope in a heaven that people with near-death experiences may or may not have seen. He is, as he said, the resurrection and the life. No, the Messiah will descend from heaven, do away with all the corruption of the present world, unite heaven and earth, and we will rise to be with him forever. He rose, the firstborn from the dead (Colossians 1:18), so that we can follow him in resurrection.

That's something to celebrate!

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Wonderful Cross

As we spend the day contemplating the ultimate sacrifice of the Messiah Jesus on our behalf, and the amazing depths of his love...

Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Google vs. Death

I got a text from a friend today. Seems he saw the magazine to the left in the stack of the waiting room where he was…well…waiting. It's from last September but it grabbed his attention. And especially this week - Holy Week - it grabs mine as well.

I tried to find the article online but without a subscription I could only see the first couple of paragraphs. I need to find it and read the whole thing, because it is definitely an intriguing premise. Basically, Google is founding a subsidiary (known as Calico) focusing on health and aging, with the goal of significantly extending the human lifespan.

And so the cover asks the question, Can Google solve death?

It's a question that strikes at the heart of our greatest fears. If there is something, or someone, out there that can "solve death" it would change everything.

And that is why the good news of Jesus is so…good. For the entirety of human history, we have been slaves to death. It is the greatest enemy. It snatches away those we love, and one day it will get us too. It is so insidious that facing it moved Jesus himself to anger and tears (John 11:33-35). It is something we hate, and we have good reason.

But death's days are numbered. The King of the universe entered his creation, spent his life announcing  the kingdom of God in both word and deed, and then did the most amazing thing ever. Even though he was God, he subjected himself to death, and by the very act of that submission, defeated it. That victory was confirmed by God on the third day when he rose from the dead, never to die again.

Because of this singular act (and the death and resurrection are a singular act - one without the other would have been meaningless), we know that he is the King. His resurrection power is available to us daily, and he is the first of many to rise bodily. The message of Easter is that through the death and resurrection earth has been claimed by heaven. When he returns, we who follow him will rise again and reign with him forever. Wow!

So, go ahead Google. Fight death, find ways to extend life. That would be cool. But ultimately, no - Google will not solve death.

But that's okay. Because Jesus has.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

We can live here for the rest of our lives…

As episode 4.10 ("Inmates") of The Walking Dead opens, we see two of our favorite characters   - Beth and Daryl - desperately making their way through the woods, having to fight and run from zombies for their lives. Overlaying these intense scenes is a narration from Beth's diary, where she wrote about how they had finally found a place she felt safe. You see, in this world after a zombie apocalypse, the few people left are always on the run, always trying to find a way to survive the danger and death that constantly surrounds them. But not too long ago, Beth's group had found a prison where they could settle down, grow crops, and begin to feel safe.

But it all was shattered in an instant, and now they were on the run again. So the show simultaneously shows how their fragile state of security is gone (visually) while reminding us of the illusion with the audio voiceover. Powerful. And as Beth and Daryl collapse in exhaustion and look up at vultures circling overhead, we hear the final words of her diary entry:
We can live here…we can live here for the rest of our lives.
But they couldn't. And neither can we.

I look at my life and I see how easy it is for us to convince ourselves of the same lie Beth believed...
  • When I was a child, I had a routine of playing with my friends, coming home to dinner with family, going to bed and start it over again the next day. It was never going to end. And then I grew up and everything changed.
  • In high school, I had a group of friends and we were almost inseparable. What great times we had. And then, we graduated. I seldom see any of them anymore.
  • As a young adult, I was blessed to be close to my family as we all stayed in our hometown.  I bought a house next door to my sister and her family, and it seemed like I would grow old hanging out with them. And then a tragic accident claimed her life. Nothing would ever be the same.
On and on I could go, and so could you. Jobs are lost. Friends move away. Kids grow up and leave home. Loved ones die. People disappoint us. Whenever we get to thinking like Beth that we can live like this forever, we can be sure that we are wrong.

Life is good. I like the way things are. But I'd better not be putting my security in the way things are, because it won't last forever. I need something bigger. Something that will.

Later in that same episode, a different group of characters from the prison is on the run like Beth and Darryl. Carol and Tyrese encounter a man who is dying from a zombie attack, and he tells them to follow the railroad tracks. Carol thinks it's safer to travel in the cover of the woods. But the man's last words to them are this:
No, you don't understand. There's a place…up the tracks…it's safe. You can take the children there.Trust me…please. Follow the tracks.
 As we begin Holy Week, the death and resurrection of Jesus tells us that there is a place of safely. There is something that we can put our trust in that won't change, that won't fail us. If our hope is in the comfort of our surroundings - in our present circumstances - we will be disappointed. But if we look, so to speak, down the tracks, we can see a place of safety. The Messiah came and was proclaimed KIng, and he will come back again, bringing the world we long for every time we are rocked by life circumstances.

No, we can't live here for the rest of our lives. We have got to keep moving, keep living, keep fighting. But one day there will be such a place.

Trust me, please. Follow the tracks.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

One Shining Moment

The 2014 NCAA basketball champions…the Connecticut Huskies. If you read my blog post Saturday, you know I'm not exactly thrilled about how little the regular season means in determining a basketball champion. But they played lights out for six games and were the better team last night, so it is well deserved. Congrats to them!

If you followed it at all, you know that the key to their win was the awesome play of Shabazz Napier. Not surprisingly, he was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. 

Shabazz was the star of the tournament, and as a result he was the center of the sports universe for a few minutes last night. He was onstage, receiving the championship trophy along with his teammates, and of course the trophy for his individual honor.

CBS has a tradition for closing their coverage of this tournament. For 28 years now, they have ended their telecast with a montage of highlights set to the music of David Barrett's song, One Shining Moment.

It's appropriate, because for these young men, and for Napier in particular, it was a moment to remember. One where the world focused on them, giving them accolades for their very significant accomplishment.

As the TV screen's glow was fading last night, I picked up my Kindle to read for a few minutes before going to bed. I was astounded to come across a passage in the book I was reading that referred to the concept of the one shining moment. To me, that was no coincidence, but something that God had for me to learn that very night.

Here is the passage from RC Sproul's Everyone's a Theologian:
God's incommunicable attributes point to the way in which God is different from us and the way in which He transcends us. (They) reveal why we owe Him glory, honor, and praise. We stand up and give accolades to people who excel for a moment and then are heard no more, and yet the One who has the very power of being in and of Himself eternally, upon which every one of us is absolutely dependent and to whom we owe our everlasting gratitude for every breath of air that we take, does not receive the honor and glory from His creatures that He so richly deserves.
No, that was no coincidence. I was highly impressed with the Huskies and with Napier last night. They played some awesome basketball. And I should be; Sproul is not saying that we should minimize the accomplishments of men and women.

Not at all. But what he is saying is that God is so magnificent, so awesome, that he deserves every last drop of applause, praise, honor, and glory that we can give him. And then some. Far from minimizing what I saw on TV last night, it actually makes it more special.

How so? I think it means that when I see someone have their one shining moment, I can make it be a reminder to praise the One who has one shining eternity. The moment seeing a football champion honored, a great musician on stage, a masterful piece of art, a poignant moment in a stage play or musical…all those can point to the one who created it all. This is how I can enjoy the things I enjoy on earth without worshipping the creation - by letting them point me to the Creator.

One shining moment indeed. Congratulations, Huskies. Congratulations, Shabazz Napier.

And glory to God.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Just say no

Here we sit, between the two games of the 2014 Final Four. And the one team that we know will play for the national championship is….

…The University of Connecticut.

Here is a team that finished third in their own conference, a team that was a 7-seed in their Regional bracket and was not even on the radar.

Three years ago, they won the national championship after finishing even lower in the conference - if I remember correctly, 7th!

Please, please, please, please, PLEASE…do not let anything like this happen in college football!

It's already scary how some are talking about the committee using resumes to select the participants. As I wrote in a previous blog post, that's like hiring an employee based on a resume comparison without even doing interviews.

But if they let too many teams in, ughhh. The basketball national champion is not necessarily one of the truly elite teams. Too often, it's the team that got hot at the end of the season. That's not what a champion should be. If UConn (or Kentucky) wins it all, it will be another year where the winner is not even close to the best team over the course of the season.

Football………JUST SAY NO!

Friday, April 4, 2014

We Believe

In a world stained by sin...

In a world marked by broken relationships…

In a world plagued by disease…

In a world haunted by death…

In a world where all these things are ever before us, there is one thing that gives us hope.

"Let the lost be found, let the dead be raised.
  In the here and now let love invade!'

We believe:

Wednesday, April 2, 2014



It can be the most dangerous word in the English language. With this one word, you can slam the door on relationships with a chilling finality.

Sometimes we say it out loud, with venom, and follow up on it. I have seen many relationships, both within families and among friends, that ended when one or both people decided that the hurt was too great to forgive. Some healed eventually, and some continue to this day.

More often, we say it to ourselves, for offenses both large and small:

Someone speaks to us unkindly...done!
Someone takes advantage of us financially...done!
Someone betrays our trust...done!
Someone hurts our feelings on Facebook…done!
Someone leaves us to do all the work...done!
Someone fails to call us back a few times...done!
Someone hurts someone we care about...done!
Someone embarrasses us in front of our boss...done!

You could probably add a hundred more without breaking a sweat. We are imperfect people and we hurt each other, and whether it's intentional often doesn't matter to us.

And whether we follow up on our internal outburst or not, we see the spirit of unforgiveness crouching at the door of our hearts every time we perceive that someone has wronged us. I know I do. least for a while.

We want to know how much we are supposed to endure. Peter came to Jesus and basically asked him, How many times do I have to forgive before I can say "done!"? (Matthew 18:21-23) And the answer Jesus gave was hard to swallow; our fragile egos crave a limit for having to endure pain.

When I think of all the times the word done has crossed my lips, I am overwhelmed with the love, mercy and forgiveness of God for me. No matter how many times I hurt him, he is waiting for me to return with open arms, extending infinite love. When you have some time, go read the book of Hosea in the Bible. In that book, the prophet Hosea's marriage is used an as illustration of God's unfailing love. God was heartbroken at how far his people had strayed from him, but the book ends with a declaration that he is always there, loving them and waiting for them to return to a rich relationship with him.

And then there is the ultimate statement by God that he is not done with me...

We take offense so easily. But even for the big ones, the ones where everyone can understand our bitterness, this strikes me: No matter how I have been mistreated, abused, ignored, or betrayed, God's Son endured that and worse on my behalf. He came from infinite glory to endure the shame of death, even death on a cross. And as he did it, he cried out for his Father to forgive the ones who were doing it. He never said, "Done!"

Oh, wait a minute...yes he did. Just before breathing his last breath, he cried out, "It is finished!" (John 19:30) Or, translated loosely, "Done!"

The ultimate sacrifice for my sin...done!
The dominion of darkness over this world...done!
The punishment that I deserve....done!
The power of death and the grave...done!

And because his grace and mercy are so limitless, he calls us to the same. Because the debt we have been forgiven is so massive, we must forgive the smaller debts that our friends, family, and yes, even enemies owe us.

Because he said, "Done!" to sin and death, I have the power to stop saying it to others. May it be so.