Thursday, October 27, 2016

Pick up your mat

Completely paralyzed. That was the man's predicament. He was so immobilized that he required carriers to move him from place to place, not that he got around much. The man was born in an age that knew nothing of motorized wheelchairs or miraculous surgeries to restore his leg function. For most of his life, this man was resigned to a life without the privilege and blessing of self-propelled movement. He had accepted his fate as a handicapped, disabled, paralytic.
But then a healer came to town and His name was Jesus. The crippled man's friends came to believe that their immobilized peer might walk again if he could meet the miraculous Healer who was the subject of remarkable stories of physical restoration. Since their friend could not get to the Healer on his own, the friends decided to carry him there. So determined were the friends that they refused to be stymied by the crowds. When the throngs of people blocked their way to Jesus, they maneuvered themselves and their paralyzed friend up to the roof where they were able to finagle him in. 
The efforts of the paralytic's faithful friends were not in vain. Once front and center of the crowd Jesus paused and turned His attentions directly to the man on the mat before Him. The first words out of Jesus' mouth extended forgiveness to the crippled man, an act met with scorn by bystanders. They didn't think a man should be extending God's forgiveness. What right did this Jesus have to do such a thing? And furthermore, why would Jesus worry about this man's forgiveness when the man so obviously had a desperate, physical need?
But Jesus wasn't done. He had a point to make. Any man could utter the words "your sins are forgiven" but only one could actually forgive them. Only one perfect, spotless Savior could heal the spirit of the crippled man. To show His power of restoration and bless the man's belief, Jesus went a step further. "Pick up your mat and go home."
In response to Jesus' command, the once immobile man did just that. He picked up his mat and walked right out of the house, in full view of the entire crowd. In one split second the whole identity of the paralytic was transformed. He was made new. His body was taken from disabled to able.
The restored paralytic could have questioned Jesus. It would have been natural for him to have inquired about how this healing was possible. For a man who had never walked before, he might have wondered what to do next with his life and newfound physical freedom. But he didn't ask a single question. He simply obeyed. He simply picked up his mat and walked.
When God comes with healing, both spiritual and physical, he issues the same command today as he did to the paralytic in Capernaum. Pick up your mat and walk. Go forth in the way of righteousness. Live in the fullness of your restoration. Don't worry yourself with concerns or hesitations. Don't question your new identity. Simply pick up that old mat of yours - the one you won't be needing any longer - and walk out in the strength of God's redemption and healing power. 
When Jesus comes with restoration and healing He lifts the burden of both physical and spiritual paralysis. He gives the healed reason to pick up the mat they once relied on. With His words of authority and love He commands the restored to walk out of the house with joy and thanksgiving. Because Jesus is busy making you and I new, pick up your mat and walk.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Speak now

"Speak now or forever hold your peace." Or is it "piece?" From the wedding guest seated on a hard wooden church pew the words come out the same. The officiant never stops and spells out his terminology. For the listeners the moment flies by in what is, hopefully, an uneventful standard procedure of the ceremony. The service will continue on without a hitch so long as no one raises their hand in objection.
In grammatical reality, speaking your piece and holding your peace are two different actions although they convey the same message and lead to the same ultimate end result. To "speak your piece" is to give voice to your opinion and beliefs. In other words, say what is on your mind now because this is your one final opportunity for anyone to hear it. To "hold your peace" is to keep your inner feelings close to the chest and silence your internal thoughts. In other words, have no internal peace to keep the external peace. During a wedding ceremony this is what the bride hopes her soon-to-be, can't-let-go-of-her-son, mother-in-law will do when the moment of potential disharmony arrives. The bride holds her breath in hopes that the woman in the front row with a pained look on her face will continue to reluctantly hold her peace and let the ceremony move onto the "I do's" without a hitch. For the mother in the front row skeptical of the union about to be sealed with a kiss holding her peace means not speaking her piece and ultimately having no internal peace.
Speaking one's piece and holding one's peace extend beyond marriage ceremonies. Speaking piece and holding peace are an integral part of believing truth and standing firmly in the infallible Word of God. When faced with falsehoods and Biblical compromises the truth-teller can't sit by and say nothing. They have to speak their piece, the piece of God's truth that is in jeopardy of being compromised. To hold peace in their heart, the Word of God that sheds light in darkness must be proclaimed. Distortions must be made right. Lies must be exposed. For peace to settle in the soul, spread through families and surround a city the counterfeit theology of man's wisdom must be overcome by the perfection of God's Holy Word.
It takes courage to speak one's piece in a room full of silent bystanders who are holding their tongues but the reward for such audacity is great. For those who will speak Biblical pieces of truth that are under the threat of being trampled and forgotten, God indwells with internal peace. When Christ-followers hold fast to the Word of God and stand firmly in the strictness of its statutes the reward is an internal quiet that surpasses understanding.
All around us the truth of God is under siege. From the pulpit to the front page of newspapers, the infallible wisdom of God is being compromised and abandoned for the foolishness of man. Leaders have forgotten who is King. Commentators and their opinions are given more air time than the light and life of Jesus Christ. As Christians we cannot sit by and hold our piece. Those of us who number our steps according to God's Word must stand up for the peace He brings. When you and I speak out for the Bible and refuse to be silenced the opposition will come from all sides. Even our friends seated next to us in the pew may try to hush our battle cry for the Lord but we must not stay silent. We must not sit back and hold our tongues. A say-nothing approach will ultimately bring no peace or serenity to the soul or to the body. Truth cannot reign unless truth is exposed. For God to be magnified and His peace to rule, you and I, His hands and feet on the front lines, must be willing to stand tall, act boldly and speak His piece.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Glorious water

It was a hot, sunny summer afternoon, the kind of day perfect for two rambunctious schnoodle pups to run free and scamper through the wooded fields of Brown's Farm, their favorite local park. As is there want to do, the dogs ran up and down hills, jumped through tall grasses and explored trails leading into the woods. They ventured deep into the forest, all the way to the creek. By the time we had made it to the edge of the pleasant waters the dogs were panting, exhausted from their romp in the great outdoors.
The creek babbling before us was pristine and beautiful. The water flowed gently and the depth was so shallow we all could easily wade at the edge. I dipped my hands into the crystal clear blue below and scooped up some of its refreshing water. With my ankles submerged beneath the water's surface and my hands damp I felt cooler and more comfortable. Nature's provision brought me relief from the heat.
From behind me I could still hear the panting of Pippy and Molly. They had yet to experience the cool oasis at the water's edge so I called them closer. In a gentle, prodding voice I urged them to come and explore at the creek bed. But they wouldn't budge. From a few feet away they paced back and forth, looking at the water while keeping a safe distance.
When my two silly dogs wouldn't come near the water, I lapped some up in my hands and attempted to take it to them. But, of course, the droplets slid through my fingers before I could make it back to the dogs. Not that they would have partaken of my offerings even if I could have kept the water resting in my palms. They wanted nothing to do with the liquid relief I had to offer. For some strange, inexplicable reason, they preferred panting.
After a few minutes and multiple failed attempts to convince the dogs that the inviting water was good and enriching, I gave up, conceding to the fate that my thirsty dogs would be panting until we made it back home to a proper dog bowl. So we turned around and headed back out up the trail and out of the park.
Once home the dogs rushed to the front door. I opened it and the two went bolting in, straight to the kitchen where a porcelain dog bowl full of water was consumed in a flurry of slips and slurps. I'd never seen the two drink with such enthusiasm and vigor. They drank until the bowl was dry, then both collapsed on the floor from exhaustion and, what I can only guess, was dehydration.
In short order the dogs recovered. The effects of an hour of activity without water didn't cause them to expire but it did cause me to consider an important truth: you can offer a dog water, but you can't make a dog drink.
And so it goes with people.
Despite the dehydration and parched lips of a dried up spiritual life, no one can be forced to drink the nourishing water Christ offers. To you and I who see and gladly partake of the flowing, refreshing springs of His Holy Spirit we wonder why the thirsty stand by panting. The water is accessible and inviting so why needlessly suffer a dry mouth and a parched heart? Christ has prepared and made ready the perfect life-giving, soul-reviving refreshment fresh from His eternal spring and all anyone has to do is choose to drink it in.
The thirsty are spiritually panting like a couple of exhausted schnoodle dogs, in need of reviving, yet you and I can't make them drink of Christ's redemption. We can't bring another person's lost soul to salvation. We can only bring them to the creek and show them the flowing waters. God is the only one who can compel their hearts to drink and be satisfied. Only Christ can convince the thirsty that the water He has is good and worth kneeling down to receive at the foot of the cross with outstretched hands and a surrendered heart.
Like my thirsty dogs, many expiring hearts will stand away from the refreshing waters of Christ's redemption, looking on without ever lapping up the goodness of His eternal grace. They will choose to pant and sweat in exhaustion rather than get low and submit in humility.
But like my silly schnoodles, dehydrated souls are not hopeless. Like Pippy and Molly went running through home's front door and to their familiar and trusted bowl of refreshing water, there is hope that the spiritually thirsty will one day come running to the foot of the Cross where the refreshing springs of God's forgiveness and restoration are poured out. As long as their is still panting in their lungs God's work in their hearts isn't finished yet. You and I can hold onto the hope that our beloved one's with lost, thirsty souls just haven't run through the door quite yet to partake of the glorious water that will give them eternal, never ending life.
So let us never stop praying for our thirsty friends. May we never give up on the dehydrated and dry hearted. Because there is a door that leads them home and right to the life-giving water flowing from the spring of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


Caller one reported a man slumped over his steering wheel in the Auto Zone parking lot. Call two was made from a grocery store bathroom where a concerned patron described a distressed, inconsolable woman collapsed on the floor of the second stall. The third call came from a frantic house keeper reporting the finding of a lifeless body discovered alone on his hotel room.
After each caller made their report the operator asked questions, took down names and alerted authorities. "The paramedics are on their way. Stay on the line with me until they arrive." What little comfort the distant voice could offer to the worried caller and even less to the fragile lives of the suffering and deceased lying helplessly on the ground.
When paramedics arrived the verdict was the same for each case. Overdose. The man in the parking lot, the woman in the bathroom and the body in the hotel room had all consumed a dangerous and deadly substance. Each had filled their body with a material so harmful their precious organs stopped functioning. The man in the parking lot and the woman in the bathroom survived but just barely. The man in the hotel room was pronounced dead at the scene. His last moments were spent alone, gasping for air has his lungs fought for air and his body slipped into a state of unconsciousness.
The next morning the newspaper told a sad story that reflects the state of a city in an addiction crisis. Every one of the overdose tragedies had happened nearly simultaneously, all within minutes of each other. The three individuals had no relation to one another. They had never met one another and didn't obtain their drugs from the same dealer. But they all had something devastating in common. Each one lived completely dependent and utterly addicted to illegal drugs.
If only I could write that the story of these three was a tale of fiction or a fluke so out of the ordinary that a movie is in the works to recount the tale. But the tragedy of it is this story is all real and it is frequently repeated in my hometown and nearly every city across America. The drug epidemic is ripping lives apart and killing thousands upon thousands every year.
Drug addiction starts so innocently, or so the drug user believes. Just a hit here or there. They rationalize their use as "social." They call it minimal and claim they could choose to stop in an instant - if they wanted to. But they don't want to because, despite the negative effects and well-known dangers, they are addicted. They enjoy the high and the way it makes them feel. They like being numbed. They become dependent on the escape from reality and the stresses of daily life. Some claim it helps them to sleep, eat or come up with creative ideas. They say it makes them funnier, calmer or more cheerful.
But to the man on the hotel floor, it made him dead.
Addiction is dangerous. The addicted rarely, if ever, know they have a problem. They don't see it. The smoke from their blunt clouds their vision. The haze from their pills fogs up their reality. They can't see the threat they face every time they ingest their drug of choice. Every hit is harming them but they are utterly blind to the truth. They don't see the problem and some never will. Some will go to their grave with the problem. Others will end up face down in a steering wheel with droll pouring down their shirt and convulsions pulsating through their hands. A few will escape the death grip of the drugs, others will return to their dealer only to find themselves, once again, sobbing on someone's bathroom floor.
If only we could make them see that their addiction is killing them slowly, painfully and tragically. If only we could open their eyes to the life they are smoking away and the future they are destroying with every swallow of their precious pills. But we can't make them see. We can't open the eyes of the blind.
Only God can do that.
As a city, as a nation, as people who love the lost and care for the hurting, we can only pray for the chains of their addiction to be broken and the sight that sees truth to be restored and redeemed. As long as they still have a pulse, they have hope. As long as they can cry on the bathroom floor, they have a future. If there is still a flicker in their heart beat and a breath in their lungs, God is not finished yet.
By the power and grace of God the eyes of the addicted can be opened. The truth and depth of their destructive problem can be revealed by the enlightening and life-giving grace of God. Through God's redeeming touch He can show them how far they have strayed from reality. He can bring them to their knees before His throne and turn their hearts away from the false god of substance abuse and drug addiction. Then God can sanctify their souls and replace in them a hunger and thirst for His righteousness. God can turn the drug addicted into the Christ-addicted, lighting them on fire with a passion for redemption and salvation.
Friends, you and I can't change the lost, the drug addicted and broken. We can only point them to Jesus and share the truth that the only way to live free of the addictions of this world is by the power of God. Man can only live free of the chains of this world's deadly drugs when his heart is so captivated by the hand of God that he is utterly, totally and wholly addicted to the perfect Savior and Lord.

Friday, October 7, 2016

For Good

"You meant it for evil but God meant it for good." 

Those are words I have been repeating to myself with ever increasing sincerity and strength. In my mind I speak it to satan. In every corner of the world he is actively at work trying to undermine the peace, joy and spiritual prosperity of believers both young and old. He prides himself on breaking apart families, stealing children's futures and ravaging the hopes of believers. His weaponry includes lies, deceit and heartache. Sorrow is his specialty and destruction is his delight.
Over the years I've experienced the onslaught of satan's attacks. In the dark days of battle I've experienced satan make advances that fill me with regret. In my own heart I've allowed satan to infiltrate God's territory with sin. At my worst I invited in the enemy and let him claim victory - at least temporarily. I look back on my past and see that I once lived blinded by darkness. I stopped fighting against the attacks of the devil altogether and, instead, joined his forces. I took off the armor of God's truth and paraded about in the nakedness that I believed was freedom. Little did I know I was actually imprisoned, chained to a dead-end life and bleak future.
But what satan meant for evil - the chains he intended to shackle me - God meant for good.
It was those very chains, too heavy for me to carry while running free and full of joy, God used to pull me back to himself. When I couldn't move an inch further under the weight of slavery, God came with the Key to life and freed me from captivity.
Satan tricked me into believing that a life of sin would be fun and fulfilling. I could find love, freedom and endless good times if I alone could choose my steps and determine my future. So he waved in front of me every sin in the book. He draped them in bright colors and appealing designs but underneath they were all the same. Lies. Deceit. Corruption. Big, heavy, burdensome chains. He loaded them on, chuckling all the way because he knew the trap he was setting was ultimate my demise. Every sinful road I traveled down separated me from God and brought me closer to the evil destiny of the devil's design.
But what satan meant for my destruction, God meant for my restoration.
Along that sinful path the chains became too much for me to bear. Satan had loaded me up beyond my capacity to move forward. The road was too treacherous and the weight too much for me to take. I stumbled and fell. Where I landed was right at the foot of the cross, the place God intended to make me good - eternally and endlessly good.
At the foot of the cross satan's lies were exposed for the sadness, stress and brokenness they caused. The destructive plan set by the devil was exposed. The chains of sin that bound me were loosened and true freedom was found.
At the foot of the cross, down on my knees, I met Jesus. When I fell and couldn't travel away from his truth any longer I found myself face down in front of His forgiveness. His way was the only way up. Surrender to His authority and kingship was the only way out of the chains that were binding me in pain and destruction. Finally, I found what I had been looking for. I found the freedom I had foolishly believed I was choosing all along.

Satan thought he had me forever a fool but God proved to have me forever forgiven and free. Satan thought his chains would bind me to destruction. God knew the chains would lead me to the cross.
Today those same chains are binding countless wayward children of God. But, fear not believers because the story isn't over yet. What satan is meaning for ill, God can and will use for good.
The end of this story is already written and Christ wins. He breaks the chains that bind. He frees captives and releases slaves. He meets sinners on their knees when they can't take another step forward. He means all the hurt, pain, sin and shame for good. He means it for salvation when sinners stumble, fall and surrender at the foot of His forgiveness and grace.