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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Peace in the midst of a storm

In his last meeting with his guys, Jesus said some memorable things.

They were confused, fearful and upset (Peter had already denied Jesus - Judas had left to betray him).

Then Jesus says, "I'm leaving".

"Okay, Jesus, - where are you going?"

"I can't take you with me, but I will be back."

"Okay," and I can just see the look of dismay, concern and anxiety on the faces of the disciples.

Jesus, realizing this, says in John 14:27, "Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give you.  I don't give as the world gives.  Do not let your heart be troubled, and don't be afraid."

Easy for you to say, Jesus!

But it is a different kind of peace. 

The peace of the world is at best escapism:  a vacation.  An evening out.  A lack of noise.  Quiet.

But for Jesus, His peace comes from the Holy Spirit living in us. 

I realize once again, this day, August 30th, that I can't do it on my own.

I can't live in peace on my own.  I need the Holy Spirit.

Kyle Idleman, in his book, "Not a fan" writes:

"When I started a new church in Los Angeles County, California, I found that I was overwhelmed with pressure and stress.  I was working more than 70 hours a week.

My wife would ask me to take a day off, and I would say, "I can't."

I wasn't sleeping at night, and I started to take sleeping pills.  When the church was about a year old, I woke up in the night, and I had this strange sense that God was laughing at me.  As I lay in bed, I wondered, Why is God laughing at me?"

It would take five years before I finally got an answer to that question.  Here's how it happened:  when we moved into our current house, I saved the heaviest piece of furniture for last - the desk form my office.  As I was pushing and pulling the desk with all my might, my four-year-old son came over and asked if he could help.  So together we started sliding it across the floor. 

He was pushing and grunting as we inched our way along.  After a few minutes, my son stopped pushing, looked up at me, and said, "Dad, you're in my way."

And then he tried to push the desk by himself.  Of course it didn't budge.  Then I realized that he thought he was actually doing all the work, instead of me.  I couldn't help but laugh.

The moment I started laughing at my son's comment, I recalled that middle of the night incident and I realized why God was laughing at me.  I thought I was pushing the desk.  I know that is ridiculous, but instead of recognizing God's power and strength, I started to think it all depended on me."

Good stuff.

Maybe it is time we all resigned as "manager of the universe."

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

free will and Taser guns

One of the biggest reasons for evil in the world is that God has given us a free will.

We are free to choose to do good and we are free to choose to do bad.

It is our choice.

Let's ask ourselves this question (from the book by J.P. Moreland, "The God Conversation"):

What if God took the radical step of setting a deadline for ridding the world of all evil?

What if God, this coming Sunday at midnight, stepped in and stopped all suffering caused by evil people doing evil things by using a TASER gun to stop the people doing wrong?

I read today that a Taser gun shoots a person with a temporary high-voltage current of electricity.  The makers of Taser guns claim that a shock lasting half a second will cause intense pain and muscle contraction.

Two or three seconds will cause a person to become dazed and drop to the ground.  Anything longer than three seconds will drop an attacker for up to 15 minutes.

The makers of Taser guns boast of a 95 percent compliance rate.  In other words, hit a person with enough electricity and you can get him to do (or stop doing) anything.

What if every time you and I choose to do wrong - God tasered us?

You start to tell a lie - and bam - you are hit with a half second zap.

You try to gossip - and bam - electrical volts shoot threw your body.

And the "worse" your sin, the stronger the voltage.

You rob someone - two seconds of shock.

You murder someone - you become incapacitated.

But what if evil thoughts caused us to be zapped?

And let's take this even further, what if God zapped us, not for sins of commission, but for the sins of omission as well?

What if God zapped us for failing to show mercy, kindness and justice.  What if God zapped us for failing to do right?

I believe that what we would have is a world full of twitchy people, longing for a day without a Taser.

Just a thought for a Wednesday.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

what money can't buy

In his book, "What Money Can't buy," Michael J. Sandel writes, "There are some things money can't buy - but these days, not much."

He lists the following examples:

The right to jump to the head of the line at Universal Studios:  $149.00.  Vacationers at Universal Studios can buy a special "front of the line" pass that allows them to cut to the front on all rides, shows, and attractions.

A prison-cell upgrade:  $90.00 a night.  In some cities nonviolent offenders can pay for a clean, quiet jail cell, without any non-paying prisoners to disturb them.

Your doctor's cellphone number:  $15,00.00 and up per year.  A growing number of "concierge" doctors offer cellphone access and same-day appointments for patients willing to pay annual fees ranging from $1500 to $25,000.

The list goes on and on.

The Beatles used to sing a tune entitled, "Can't buy me love."

They would bellow out, "Cause I don't care too much for money, for money can't buy me love."

Money can't buy you love, but what I leave you with today is that money can't buy you happiness, either.

Tony Scott, film director and producer of such hits as "Top Gun" and "Unstoppable", jumped off the Vincent Thomas Bridge in Los Angeles last week - leaving behind a suicide note that gave no reason for his death.

The list goes on and on of people of "means" who aren't happy.

Ask yourself this question today:  Am I happy?  Am I content? 

Happiness, I would suggest, doesn't come from net worth, but from finding my self worth in Jesus Christ.

Why not try Jesus?

Just a thought for a Tuesday.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Thoughts from the weekend; and personal versus private worship

Thoughts from the weekend (and personal versus private worship):

Helped moved my daughter, Becky, into an apartment in Wicker Park, Illinois.

Wicker Park - great neighborhood.  Full of life and vitality.

I am happy for her.

Excellent, and I mean an excellent life group leader's meeting/retreat this past Friday evening and Saturday morning.

Some thoughts from Heather Zemple (our speaker and the discipleship pastor at National Community Church in Washington D.C.):

Two pathways of discipleship:  I can be a travel agent or a tour guide.

The basic difference between the two is that a tour guide goes on the journey with someone - the person that they are mentoring.

Discipleship includes:  Valuing people.  Looking at people not only as they are but as they can be.  Mentoring people to the third and fourth generation.  Reproducing the character, ways and mission of Jesus in those around us expecting them to multiply the same within others. Includes "being" with the person being discipled, even more than "teaching" them the ways of God.

Now then, some thoughts that I didn't get to from my sermon on worship yesterday.

There is a huge difference between a personal relationship with God and a private relationship with God.

My connection with God must be personal, but it can't be private.

We can't be "secret service Christians," where we sneak into church, sit down (in back), be quiet, grab a little of the service and sneak out.

We can receive Christ anywhere.  Even in a small room.  We just can't keep Him there.  We've got to share.

I have a personal relationship with God, but that personal relationship with God is always expressed in community. 

In other words, I need times of corporate worship.  I need to relate to others in the body of Christ.  I need the body of Christ and the body of Christ needs me.

"Well, George, my relationship with God is very, very private."  No, it can be personal, but it must not be private.  We must tell others about Christ.  We must worship with others in praising Christ.  We must live in community (sometimes messy) while relating to one another in Christ.  We must serve together in Christ.

In short, my relationship with God is not a "me" thing, but a "we thing."

Thanks to David Dewes, Rick Malander and Debbie Smith for facilitating our life group retreat!  Great job!

Also, thanks to our ministry leaders for the ministry tables in the foyer the past few Sundays.  They looked great!

Let's all continue to pray about the fall - it's going to be fun!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Wizard of Oz and Worship

Jesus said that we are to love the Lord our God with our minds.  That command is repeated four times in the New Testament.

God is pleased when our worship is thoughtful.  Accurate according to the word of God.  Worship is not to be based upon what my idea of God is – but upon what this Word’s idea of God is.
True worshippers must worship God in spirit and in truth.
Yet some fall into the extreme of only focusing in on cognitive correctness.  They recite great creeds, distribute reams of exegetical information and craft careful prayers ahead of time. 
They worship like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz.  He cries out, “If I only have a heart.”  Worship is to be with our minds, but it is to be with our hearts and well.  We are to be constantly filled with the wonder and passion that characterizes those in Scriptures who fall on their faces when they encounter the living God.
God is pleased when our worship is authentic.  We are to worship him from our hearts.
Worship is my spirit responding to God’s spirit.
Jesus said that we are to love God with all of our heart and soul.
That means that our worship must be genuine and heartfelt.  It is not just a matter of saying the right words; we must mean what we say.  Heartless praise is not praise at all.  It is worthless, an insult to God!
However, here again is an extreme.  Some people worship God like the Scarecrow.  “It would be better if I only had a brain.”
We must avoid emotional worship just for the sake of emotion.  We must step back from massaging worship to bring people to a point of emotion in their natural emotions.   If we do, than what people fall into the trap of is to desire deeper emotional experience, more intense emotional times with God – rather than seeking God himself.
Worship can end up in this case, as shallow, artificial and rarely reflective. 
A.W. Tozer once wrote:
“Worship must be by the Holy Spirit and truth.  We cannot worship in the spirit alone, for the spirit without truth is helpless.  We cannot worship in truth alone, for that would be theology without fire.  It must be the truth of God and the Spirit of God.  When a person, yielding to God and believing the truth of God, is filled with the Spirit of God, even his faintest whisper will be worship.”
And yet, further still some worship God like the lion in the Wizard of Oz.  “If I only have courage” they say.  They are afraid of worshipping God for fear of what other people might think of them.
There is almost a foolishness involved in the process of worship.
One of the words for worship in Hebrew is hallal.  It means “clamorously foolish.”  I like that.  In other words, if you aren’t willing to look foolish you can’t worship!
On a human level, worship is foolish isn’t it?  Singing to someone you can’t see?  Raising your hands to someone you can’t touch?
There is always a risk involved in worship.
Can I tell you something?  There is a difference between having a personal relationship with God and a private relationship with God.
Our worship must be personal, but it cannot be continually private.
We can love God and serve God and know God personally but we can’t keep it private.  That’s what corporate worship is:  We gather together to worship God personally, but risking ourselves corporately in worship to God.
May God give us all a brain, a heart, and courage as we worship the creator of the universe.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Being welcomed by God

One of the greatest fears we have is not being welcomed.

From the moment we are born, we experience the anxiety and fear of not being liked, of not being welcomed in any and all situations.

Some say, "I don't care what people think of me."  "I don't care what people say about me."

Overall, that might even be true, but we all, from time to time, pause and ponder of what people think of us.

There are those who go so far as to fear death, not because of a lack of life in the present but because they fear not being welcomed in the life after this.

And they fear it would have been better if they hadn't even lived.

Here's the deal:  a lot of times we feel unwelcome - not by what someone said or did to us - but by what they didn't do.

Not being invited to a party.

Not being spoken to in the hallways of the church.

Not being asked to be included at a table at a church function - while others only sit with those in "their group".

I look at this taking place in church life and it reminds me of high school:  the "cool" kids, and the "not cool kids."

Christians can be mean.

At its core it is a spiritual battle. 

Let me tell you why.

While Christians can walk in the flesh and sin against you with the sins of omission, the enemy (Satan and his demons) will pound you with thoughts that you are not welcome in this life, nor can you trust the guarantee of the Holy Spirit that God will never love you any more or any less than he does right now. 

That is a lie of the "lowest" order.

God's love and acceptance are unconditional.

One of the aspects of the character of Jesus (I am learning as we go through the book of John) is that Jesus was always welcoming - especially to those who weren't welcomed.

Sinners.  Adulterers.  Prostitutes.  The Riff Raff of society.

Everything Jesus said and did ultimately pointed to the fact that you are welcome.

Come one.  Come all.

You wouldn't have seen Jesus "only" sit with those whom he has known for years - Jesus would look for the one or two people who are standing in the corner and say, "Come over here!  Sit with us!  You are welcome here!"

Jesus offers you today a connection with his connection with the Father.  A close connection.

He wants you to be and feel invited and welcomed in his home.  He wants his home to be yours. 

So, today, when you feel unwelcomed, keep reminding yourself that those feelings do not come from God.

The Prince of Darkness wants you to believe that you are less than you are in Christ.  Don't believe it!

It will knock you off the road to freedom!

Listen to me - God's loves you - and God likes you - and so do I.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

ministry though pain and hurt

It is often the case that our greatest effectiveness in ministry takes place during times of personal pain and woundedness.

However, that is always the result of a choice. 

A choice as to whether you and I are going to let God speak through us (during times of hurt) or whether or not we are going to let our wounded self cry out.

It is a choice that will come to us time and again, many times it will come repeatedly during the activities of any given day.

There is a time and a place to give attention to your hurts (and that time and place must happen).

That's why I continually encourage people to "window out" a time each day where they allow that hurt and that grief to pour out - to pour out from their inner spirit - and to reveal those feelings to God.

Otherwise, your emotions and feelings will bottle up and eventually explode at a moment that almost always ends up being damaging.

The positive result of this is that I avoid letting my hurt leak out into the daily interactions that I have in the form of apologies, arguments, or complaints (after all, hurting people hurt people).

As we hurt, we can hurt others, and that is the highest form of relational destruction there is.

The "high road" is to claim the God in you, and let God speak words of forgiveness, healing and reconciliation.  That kind of relational flow can only come through the Holy Spirit.

Even as Christians, or maybe I should say especially as Christians we can have a tendency to (as some have said crassly) "when a person is down, keep them down."

It is one of the highest forms of ungodly perversion there is.  Especially when it happens to someone we don't like or care for.

When you are hurting, some around you will point out your character defects, your limitations and sins. 

Don't believe them!  You are a child of God!  God loves you! 

Let the Holy Spirit help you distinguish between your wounded self and God's voice.

And remember: when hurt comes, you are being prepared for greater things.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:

I can't control everything (anything) in life.  But I am thankful that God is in control.

Every once in a while, we need to stand back, take a deep breath, and get an overall, godly perspective of the events and situations in our lives.

We can't dismiss the pain that others are walking through, until we have "walked a mile in their shoes."

Sometimes all we can do is to hang on to Isaiah 50:7, "Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced.  Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame."

Great having Becky home with us in Chicago.

God works all things together for good!

With so many of our church family still on vacation, it was nice to "meet and greet" several visitors.

Great job by all of our ministry leaders and workers in setting up their tables for our ministry fair!

Well done!

Many, many thanks to those who came on Saturday do help out with our "work day".  A lot was accomplished - the church campus grounds look great!

Thanks for taking time out of your Saturday to come and help.

TOGETHER, we can make a difference in our community.

I encourage everyone to prayerfully sign up for a ministry in the foyer!

We need you!

Life groups are rebooting for the fall.  Meeting in homes is biblical, strengthening and fun!

Life groups are life changing!

Love you all......

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Bondages and drawbridges

Here's what I know:

I must not let other people's bondages become my bondages.

So true.

Many times, people walk in and out of our lives, leaving behind their trail of self-destruction and turmoil - we pick that up - and input it into our own lives.

While we are responsible "to" people, we are not responsible "for" people.

Each person is responsible for their own choices, decision and pathways they take in life.

So, whether or not I allow someone to influence me with the negativity (or positivity) of their decisions is my choice.

I choose, I decide for  myself to whom and when I give access to my "soul" life (soul meaning my thoughts and emotions).

Many of you for years have allowed others to walk in and out of your life according to their needs and desires.

While it is true that we are to reach out to others in their time of need, and it is true that we are to be ready "in season" and "out of season" to to give a word of encouragement, if I allow others to dictate how I feel about myself or how I feel about life in general by assimilating their choices into my life - I find myself throwing myself off the road to freedom.

You can become tired, irritated, angry and resentful.

God's desire for you is that you live a healthy life:  spiritually and emotionally.

I like the illustration of a medieval castle surrounded by a moat. 

Henri Nouwen writes:  "The drawbridge is the only access to the interior of the castle.  The lord of the castle must have the power to decide when to draw the bridge and when to let it down.  Without such power, he can become the victim of enemies, strangers, and wanderers.  He will never feel at peace in his own castle."

He goes on to write:  "It is important for you to control you own drawbridge.  There must be times when you keep your bridge drawn and have the opportunity to be alone or only with those to whom you feel close.  Never allow yourself to become public property, where anyone can walk in and out at will.  You might think that you are being generous in giving access to anyone who wants to enter or leave, but you will soon find yourself losing your soul."

Finally he states:  "When you claim for yourself the power over your drawbridge, you will discover new joy and peace in your heart and find yourself able to share that joy and peace with others."

In other words:  Don't let other people's bondages become your bondages.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Loving God for God's sake

Whenever you experience loss, it is important to avoid denying the pain or running from it.

Neurosis is simply the avoidance of pain.

We run from our pain, so we experience a heighten sense of worry, anxiety and fear - and throw ourselves off the road to freedom and release.

With loss, comes inner pain.

One of the by products of avoiding that inner pain is that you lose the ability (and the opportunity) to become aware of your own inner self.

You begin to realize that when a situation, a job, a person, your health, is taken away from you - you begin to realize what really is the foundation of your life.

Here is the sequence:

You are emotionally dependant upon a person or a situation.

You receive your self-worth from them.

When that person or situation is gone, you sink into depression because of his or hers (or the situation) absence.

It feels as if they (it) has taken away something  that you can't live without.

If you will let it, however, that pain of absence can reveal a certain lack of trust in God's love (as Nouwen writes).

But (and I am hesitant to write this because is sounds so cliche) God is enough.

The pain that you feel today can prompt you, propel you, into a deeper walk with God, a deeper knowledge of Him, a deeper relationship with Him.

It calls you and I to take a new step into the mystery of God's inexhaustible love. 

However, please know that this process is painful, very, very painful.

But here's what I am learning.  The more I am stripped of my reliance upon other people or situations for my well-being, the more I can love God for God's sake.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Recovering from pain

It is difficult to recover from hurt, pain and loss.

Here's what I know:  it is a process.

Time does not heal all wounds, but we do need time to process our pain in a positive and healing way.

It is a process.

Henri Nouwen writes that our "healing is not a straight line."

I agree.

Many times our hurt and pain is so deep that it is almost impossible to connect the dots to complete healing.

Setbacks and regressions are part of the healing process.

My word of encouragement to you today? 

When you experience a set back in the healing process, don't say to yourself, "All is lost.  I have to start all over again."

That is not true.  What you have gained, you have gained.

What are the factors that gain cause us to "take a step backwards"?

Fatigue.  A hurtful remark.  A cold shoulder.  A forgetfulness of your pain (howbeit innocent).

When all of that comes together, you can feel like you are right back to where you started.

I would suggest that when you feel like you have been pulled (or forced) off of the road (to freedom), return to the place where you left, not where you started.

Nouwen writes, "try to return home, to the solid place within you, immediately."

And in everything, keep trusting that God is with you, that God is your companion on the journey.

And...keep returning to the road to freedom.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:

We are all extremely excited about the fall!

God is doing some great things!

Our "pay it forward campaign."  (September 1-30).

Going "door to door" on September 17th.

Robert Madu speaking to the youth group and our church on September 29, 30).

Church picnic - September 2nd.

I love the fall in church life!

Still welcoming people back from vacation.

The church needs all of us - and we need the church.

I am thankful for a great worship team!

God is able!

Great is the faithfulness of the Lord.  Morning by morning new mercies we see.  All we have needed, God's hand has given to us.  Great is his faithfulness!

I appreciated the presence of the Holy Spirit in both the first and second service.

I encourage you to invite someone to come to one of our church services!

Don't be afraid!  Don't be intimidated!  People around us are searching for something.

We have the answer - Jesus Christ.

Attended a wedding reception - Saturday morning.  Congrats to Bethany and Mike Spencer (Bethany is the daughter of John and Karen Hayes).  Good food.

Attended a 90th birthday party for Ruth Sennesse.  Great lady.  Wonderful time of seeing photos of Ruth throughout her life and singing the old hymns of the church.  Good food (are you sensing a theme here?)

God is speaking - are we listening?

Go White Sox!

Saw the movie, "The Bourne Legacy."

Great action flick.  Sometimes you just need to see a good car (motorcycle) chase.

Love you all.....

Thursday, August 09, 2012


Sometimes I worry that I worry too much.

I go through seasons in my life where I am anxious and uptight.

Especially when a crisis comes along.

We all worry about something.

Why?  Because worry is essentially a contort issue.

Worry is trying to control the uncontrollable.

We can't control our health - so we worry about our health.

We can't control our jobs, so we worry about our jobs.

We can't control our economy, so we worry about the economy.

We can't control our children, so we worry about our children.

We can't control the future, so we worry about the future.

The root English word for "worry" literally  means "to choke or strangle."  That's what happens when we worry.

We choke off the life of God in our lives.  We become emotionally bound.

We strangle the joy out of our lives.

The Greek word in the Bible for worry literally means, "a divided mind."

It is this tug of war going on in your mind.

Here's what I know:  Peace is not an absence of problems.  It is the presence of a thankful, grateful heart that can see beyond the problem.

It is the testimony of a man about to die of cancer in 3 months who writes his Thanksgiving letter to his friends with these words:  "I am thankful not for what I have, but who has me."

That is somebody who understands peace.

William Booth, was the founder (with his wife, Catherine) of the Salvation Army.

One of his biographers tells of the day when the General was in his eighties.  He was ill and had been to see a doctor.  It was left to his son, Bramwell, to tell him that he would soon be blind.

"You mean that I am going blind?"

"Well, General, I fear that we must contemplate that," said Bramwell, who along wit the family had always addressed their father by that affectionate name.

There was a pause while Booth thought over what he had been told.

And then the father asked the son, "I shall never see your face again?"

"No, probably not in this world" was the son's reply.

The biographer writes, "During the next few moments the veteran's hand crept along the counterpane to take hold of his son's, and holding it, he said very calmly, "God must know best."

And after another pause, "Bramwell, I have done what I could for God and for the people with my eyes.  Now I shall do what I can for God and for the people without my eyes."

Life can throw all of us some very, very hurtful things.

Sometimes all we can do is to trust in God, know that He is in control, and "set our face like flint" as it says in Isaiah.  (Isaiah 50:7)

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Unconditional love and patience

We talk a lot about unconditional love as Christians.

Unconditional love.

A love that says, "no matter what you do", I will continue to love you.

"No matter what you say," that will never change my love for you.

That can be hard - especially with those closest to us - for it is only those closest to us who can hurt us the most.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:4, "Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trust, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails."

Here is what I know:  Unconditional love does not mean I will agree with everything someone does or says.

Josh McDowell writes:

Tolerance says, "You must approve of what I do."  Love responds, "I must do something harder:  I will love you, even when  your behavior offends me."

Tolerance says, "You must agree with me."  Love responds, "I must do something harder:  I will tell you the truth, because I am convinced the "truth will set me free."

Tolerance says, "You must allow me to have my way."  Love responds, "I must do something harder:  I will plead with you to follow the right way, because I believe you are worth the risk."

Tolerance seeks to be inoffensive; love takes risks.  Tolerance glorifies division; love seeks unity.  Tolerance costs nothing; love cost everything.

Rick Warren writes:

"Our culture has accepted two huge lies.  The first is that if you disagree with someones lifestyle, you must fear or hate them.  The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do.  Both are nonsense.  You don't have to compromise convictions to be compassionate."

Here is what I also know:  Unconditional love waits.  It is patient.

Sometimes as Paul writes, all that unconditional love can do in the midst of disagreement is wait - and pray. 

Philip Yancey writes in his book, "What's So Amazing About Grace," that there was a young girl who grew up on a cherry orchard just above Traverse City, Michigan.

Her parents, a bit old-fashioned, tend to overreact to her nose ring, the music she listens to, and the length of her skirts.  They ground her a view times, and she seethes inside.

"I hate you!" she screams at her father when he knocks on the door of her room after an argument, and that night she acts on a plan she has mentally rehearsed scores of times.  She runs away.

She has visited Detroit only once before, on a bus trip with her church youth group to watch the Tigers play.  Because newspapers in Traverse City report in lurid details the gangs, the drugs, and the violence in downtown Detroit, she concludes that is probably the last place her parents will look for her. 

California, maybe, or Florida, but not Detroit.

Her second day there she meets a man who drives the biggest car she's ever seen.  He offers her a ride, buys her lunch, arranges a place for her to stay.  He gives her some pills that make her feel better than she's ever felt before.  She was right all along, she decides:  her parents were keeping her from all the fun.

The good life continues for a month, two months, a year.  The man with the big car - she calls him "Boss" - teaches her a few things that men like.  Since she's underage, men pay a premium for her.

She lives in a penthouse, and orders room service whenever she wants.

Occasionally, she thinks about the folks back home, but their lives now seem so boring and provincial that she can hardly believe she grew up there.

She has a brief scare when she sees her picture printed on the back of a milk carton with the headline, "have you seen this child?"  But by now she has blond hair, and with all the makeup and body-piercing jewelry she wears, nobody would mistake her for a child.  Besides, most of her friends are runaways, and nobody squeals in Detroit.

After a year the first sallow signs of illness appear, and it mazes her how fast the boss turns means.

"These days, we can't mess around," he growls, and before she knows it she's out on the street without a penny to her name.  She still turns a couple of tricks a night, but they don't pay much, and all the money goes to support her habit.  When winter blows in she finds herself sleeping on metal grates outside the big department stores.

"Sleeping" is the wrong word - a teenage girl at night in downtown Detroit can never relax her guard.  Dark bands circle her eyes.  Her cough worsens.

One night as she lies awake listening for footsteps, all of a sudden everything about her life looks different.  She no longer feels like a woman of the world.

She feels like a little girl, lost in a cold and frightening city.  She begins to whimper.  Her pockets are empty and she's hungry.  She needs a fix.

She pulls her legs tight underneath her and shivers under the newspapers she's piled atop her coat.  Something jolts a synapse of memory and a single image fills her mind:  of May in Traverse City, when a million cherry trees bloom at once, with her golden retriever dashing through the rows and rows of blossomy trees in chase of a tennis ball.

"God, why did I leave," she says to herself, and pain stabs at her heart.  "My dog back home eats better than I do now."

She's sobbing and she knows in a flash that more than anything else in the world she wants to go home.

Three straight phone calls, three straight connections with the answering machine.  She hangs up without leaving a message the first two times, but the third times she says, "Dad, Mom, it's me.  I was wondering about maybe coming home.  I'm catching a bus up your way, and it will get there about midnight tomorrow.  If you're not there, well, I guess I'll just stay on the bus until it hits Canada."

It takes about seven hours for  bus to make all the stops between Detroit and Traverse City, and during that time she realizes the flaws in her plan.  What if her parents are out of town and miss the message?  Shouldn't she have waited another day or so until she could talk to them?

And even if they are home, they probably wrote her off as dead long ago.

She should have given them some times to overcome the shock.

Her thoughts bounce back and froth between those worries and the speech she is preparing for her father.  "Dad, I'm sorry.  I know I was wrong.  It's not your fault; it's all mine.  Dad, can you forgive me?"

She says the words over and over, her throat tightening even as she rehearses them.  She hasn't apologized to anyone in years.

The bus has been driving with light on since Bay City.  Tiny snowflakes hit the pavement rubbed worn by thousands of tires, and the asphalt steams.

She has forgotten how dark it gets at night out here.  A deer darts across the road and bus swerves.  Every so often, a billboard.  A sign posting the mileage to Traverse City.  "Oh God."

When the bus finally rolls into the station, its air brakes hissing in protest, the driver announces in a crackly voice over the microphone, "Fifteen minutes, folks.  That's all we have here."

Fifteen minutes to decide her life.  She checks herself in a compact mirror, smooths her hair, and licks the lipstick off her teeth.  She looks at the tobacco stains on her fingertips, and wonders if her parents will notice.  If they're there.

She walks into the terminal not knowing what to expect.  Not one of the thousand scenes that have played out in her mind prepare her for what she sees.

There, in the concrete-walls-and-plastic-chairs bus terminal in Traverse City, Michigan, stands a group of forty brothers and sisters and great-aunts and uncles and cousins and a grandmother and great-grandmother to boot.  They are all wearing goofy party hats and blowing noise-makers, and taped across the entire walls of the terminal is a computer-generated banner that reads "Welcome home!"

Out of the crowd of well-wishers breaks her dad.  She stares out through the tears quivering in her eyes like hot mercury and begins the memorized speech, "Dad, I'm sorry.  I know...."

He interrupts her.  "Hush, child.  We've got no time for that.  No time for apologies.  You'll be late for the party.  A banquet's waiting for you at home."

Sometimes, all you can do is wait.  And pray.  And hope.  And put your trust in God.  And keep on speaking the truth.

That's unconditional love.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Hearing God's voice

There are all kinds of voices in the world today.

Voices that can lead us to spiritual death - and voices that can lead us to spiritual life.

We need to be careful whom we listen to.

Proverbs 11:9 tells us, "The wisdom of the righteous can save you."

It doesn't say the wisdom of your best friends, your good ol' boy buddies or gals, because they are going to kiss up to you and just tell you what you want to hear.

They are not going to tell  you the truth.

But seek out the wisdom of the righteous - and ultimately God.

I must always safeguard my thoughts, conclusions and choices by testing them with God's Word.

And...I must also be ready to listen to His voice.

However, some things just aren't addressed in the Bible.  There are gray areas of life that are left to us to wrestle with and decide for ourselves.

That's why we must be sensitive to God's (our father) voice.

Jesus said in John 10:27, "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me."

We must listen to the voice of God.

It so true. 

Here's what I know:

The moment a child turns 2 or 3, they have this instinctive need to make a run for it and get free.

I don't know why, but you are with them, turn your head for a few seconds, and, BAM, they are out of sight.

Their big goal is to get away from you, so they run.  Then as soon as they accomplish this goal, they just get all frazzled because they don't know what they have done wrong.

The other day I took my granddaughter, Georgia (who is 3), for a walk (with Debbie). 

She would run on ahead on the sidewalk and get near the street and I would say, "Georgia, don't go out into the street" and she would just laugh and continue walking.

Finally, I had to say, "Georgia, don't run out into the street" (in a sterner tone of voice), and she stopped because she knew the tone of that voice.  She knew her grandpa's voice.


What that means is:  You are in danger.  This is your grandfather.  I love you, trust me."

And she stopped, because there is something about the voice of a father or a grandfather.

So the question becomes, "God is speaking - but are you listening?"

Listen for the Father's voice - and trust in Him.

Just a thought for a Tuesday.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:

Wonderful having Andrew, Christie, Georgia and Kinley with us over the weekend.

They are a true joy.

Great times?  Playing soccer with your three year old granddaughter.  Now those times are priceless.

Grand parenting is fun.

Attended a White Sox game last Friday evening.

It was "Elvis" night. 

I have never seen so many "Elvis" in one place in my entire life.

The Los Angels Angels manager ferociously argued a call with the umpires.

One "fan" stood of the left outfield wall fence and started taking his clothes off (I would assume he was inebriated).

Home Runs.

Adam Dunn running over the Angel's catcher at a play at the plate, but still called out.

Elvis Music.

Game winning home run by Alex Rios in the bottom of the 10th.

It was all there.

Great worship yesterday.  Wonderful times around the altar.

Many, many are gone on vacation.

I am thankful God never goes on vacation!

It has been a hot summer.

I don't mind the heat - it is the humidity I can't stand.

Congrats to Michael Phelps for 30 zillion gold medals in the Olympics.

Now that is an athlete!

Talked about our upcoming schedule here at the church (at staff meeting today).  I am so excited about it - I can hardly stand it!

Good things are coming in our church!

I can't wait for everyone to get back from vacation!

Love you all........