While listening to a podcast by Ravi Zacharius in which he depicts the conversion experience of General Manuel Noriega while in prison for his crimes, the question came to me, “Why do prisoners seem to accept Christ more readily than those not in prison?”
Fundamentally, I think this is explained by the inability of those who have been prosecuted, convicted, and incarcerated for crimes to escape the reality of their sin. At that point they are unable to marginalize their behavior by saying, “It’s not that bad.” They can no longer hide their wicked hearts in the dark. The reality of their sin has been revealed to anyone who dared to look.
In a place like prison, when all your exploits have already been made public, you finally get to acknowledge that all your sin has a price. According to scripture, the price for sin is death, and death is the only sure thing we have in this life.
But do they only accept Christ to get out of prison?
The conversion of the prisoner is not any more an escape of the ramifications of their sin than is the conversion of the unimprisonned. Simply stated, those on the outside just have a lot easier time hiding their sin. However, sin is no less present in the lives of those who have not been incarcerated.
It seams like many people try to hold up a shield to cover the wickedness in their lives, and it seams like that shield grows smaller and smaller the more their lives are revealed to the general public. The less we can cover our own sin, the more naturally we gravitate to the one who can wipe our sin away. Those who are in prison seem to feel a freedom from the weight of hiding which allows them to engage the Holy Spirit in a far more honest way.
How many times have you seen a criminal captured only to hear them say something to the effect of, “I’m just glad its all over.”
Where can this attitude come from other than the fact that we all hope to be found out for what we’ve been doing in secret. Not to be brazened criminals, but to be able to repent. There is a freedom in being caught. Lies, deceit, and hiding are some of the more exhausting activities on earth.
The best part is, when we are finally revealed to be the wicked, deplorable creatures that we are, we can also confront the salvation that is offered through Jesus.
Until we acknowledge sin, we cannot see the savior.
Last year I had one resolution. I resolved that I would read through the Bible in 2014 without trying to apply it to a lesson for my students. I wanted to invest myself as a believer into the scriptures. I wanted to make scripture a larger part of my life without trying to make it apply to a lesson for work.
I failed to accomplish it.
I think my failure came as a result of the fact that I set a large goal, without setting smaller goals to help me get there. Also, I tried to make a spiritual act worldly. Every time I would sit down to read, I found myself thinking about how to get more pages read, rather than investing myself into the words that could give me life.
I made the process of reading the Bible a task on top of another task. Several times I would read and think about how to apply it to my students and would feel as though the time and the pages didn’t count. I know it sounds stupid now, but over the past year, I have struggled to accept that when I read the Bible, I naturally apply what I read to my students, my family, and my future.
Why was I resisting a spiritual gift, for the sake of reading more pages?
I think the answer is that the spiritual battles that go on every day are not limited to sinful acts. It is important to note that the life we live in Christ is not devoid of struggle, and that struggle between the flesh and the spirit is one of life and death. The dead has been put off for the life that is given by the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. However, it is imperative that we know that it is only in Glory that we will be rid of the fight against sin, and the fight to grow the Kingdom.
I longed for the life that was offered through the pages of the Bible, but was being held down by the death that clung to my desire to limit the impact of those pages. I wanted to know what it said for me, not for anyone else. Such a misguided and selfish desire was never my intent when I made the resolution, but when I reflect on that decision, I can see how the flesh warred against my spirit.
I pursued the scripture for selfish gain.
So my resolution for 2015 is different. I am resolving to accomplish 3 things this year:
1. I resolve to read the Bible to my family.
The purpose of this activity is to encourage my wife in her spiritual gifting, invigorate her passion for the Lord and for his church, and to begin to surround my son’s heart with the truth of the Gospel.
2. I resolve to pray for my family aloud.
My wife and my son should know that I am willing to go to spiritual battle for them regularly, if not daily, for their growth and maturity. I must help my wife know that I am willing to engage in the most important activity of spiritual battle for her protection and provision. I must teach my son that men pray. Men pray aloud. Men do spiritual battle for those they love most. Men are not ashamed to set a spiritual climate in their home.
3. I resolve to go to bed tired.
I want to wake before my family does, lay the groundwork for my own spiritual growth, and serve my family before they can even greet the day. I want to end my day in the same way. I want to pursue my son’s heart and engage him in spiritual conversations. (I know that he’s only 1YO but this isn’t really a one-year kind of resolution) I want to pursue my wife’s heart and encourage her to grow in her gifting. I want to end the day knowing that I have done all I can possibly do to fight against the evil of the world by fighting for my family.
I will fail.
I will at times be overcome with selfishness.
I will not be able to repress the siren song of sin completely.
So what must I do when I fail? What must I do when my own selfishness rises up and soils my efforts to pursue my wife or son?
I must confess my sins to my wife and son, in the presence of a merciful God, repent from my actions, and continue to walk in the grace provided by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I saw a question posted on Facebook yesterday morning that asked this question, “What is the #1 problem facing teens today, and how do we fix it?”
This is a great question and it will have many different answers depending on the problems facing the teens in the area in which you live, but it deserves a great deal of conversation. I answered the question in the following way, and am interested in what you guys have to say about it. Feel free to comment here or in my inbox if you prefer to converse that way.
I believe the #1 problem facing youth today is the hollow claims that many parents have made as to the value of their child. Over the past 20+ years, society (in at least one demographic) has begun to tell children that they are the most valuable pieces of existence. They have been told that they are more valuable than their parents, more valuable than their peers, and more valuable as an individual than society as a whole. This may have it’s roots in Psychological Determinism as parents have attempted to, “Make em be doctors and lawyers and such….” but what finally occurred is far more detrimental. We have taught our children that they are gods. They have no equal on earth, and every want they might have should be met regardless of the cost.
The stark reality hits when society fails to maintain this deification once a child reaches their late teens or early twenties. As evidenced by short tenures at school, jobs, and even first marriages, a failure by teachers, professors, co-workers, bosses, and spouses to maintain the undue worship that had been experienced during childhood and adolescence is often too much to endure. Passively aggressive boys and girls in their early twenties are forced to wander through life unable to find direction.
What can be done?
We can stop lying to children about being the center of the universe. We can stop telling children that they failed a class because the teacher is mean. We can stop giving children everything they want, just because they want it. We can stop holding their hand every time they face some adversity.
We can start demanding that children be responsible for their own actions. If you make a grade in a class, it’s because you earned it. If you make money and can spend it on things you want, it’s because that’s how the world works. We can start displaying our own failures for students. We can be honest about how life will actually be. We can be open to being asked real questions and giving real answers.
Adam and Eve wanted to be like God, King Saul wanted to be prophet priest and king, Alexander the Great wanted the whole world to bow to him, and John D Rockefeller died wanting “one more dollar.” We have merely gathered these sins together and fed them to our children one spoon-full at a time.
When my son was a little younger than he is today, we would play a game in which I would hid an object behind a sheet and he would believe, even if for the briefest of moments, that the object had ceased to exist. We were able to play this game because he had not entered in to the stage of brain development necessary to understand object permanence.
Adults understand object permanence because when they want to leave the house and they can’t find their keys, they have no problem destroying their house to find them (or at least that’s how it works in my house). Adults know that they keys exist, they simply cannot see them yet.
Additionally, I have never been to India, but I have no problem believing that it exists. I have heard many people discuss it as though it exists, and can believe that all the evidence supports it. But this doesn’t stop us from struggling with the idea of heaven, hell, and a life beyond death.
Humans struggle with the afterlife for one reason; the afterlife REALLY matters. My keys matter to me, and India matters exponentially more than my keys, but I don’t struggle to believe that either exists even though I can’t see them. Eternity matters infinitely more because it will either be spent with our Lord Jesus, or without him. The enemy will not bother to try to deceive me about India, although I believe he has moved keys around my house while I looked for them, but the truth of eternity is of far greater significance. Even those whose place in heaven is secure are being tempted to believe otherwise because the manner in which we live will help to determine the eternity of those around us.
Yesterday, I was able to celebrate the life of a wonderful woman of God who went home to be with the Lord. Ann Schwarts lived a life that was fully committed to the idea that Jesus was the Way the Truth and the Life and that she would come to the Father through Him. She knew that Heaven was real even though she had not seen it. She knew that she would see her beloved husband again, even though he was being left here on earth a little while longer. She knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she would be taken up with the rest of the saints when she took her final breath.
Honestly, I know more people who currently reside in Heaven than have ever even been to India.
Death is simply the door to forever. The sooner we get that, the more seriously we will be able to take the days we have left here on earth.
It is often said that when a person is being deceived, they are being, “Kept in the dark.”
It is also said that when people are experiencing trouble in this world, they are, “Going through a dark time.”
These two statements are extremely accurate, especially for the believer. With Christ’s blood, and with the truth and illumination that only he can bring to our lives, we have no experience in this life that should force us to doubt. That may seem like an unsupportable statement at first, but the truth of the scripture can help to open our eyes to God’s tender mercy.
We are never in the dark.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105
When we recognize that God’s word is what illuminates our way each day, it should be impossible to walk in darkness for very long. As believers it is imperative that we understand how valuable daily study of the Bible is for the protection of our walk.
Unbelievers are veiled by the deceiver and cannot truly know the freedom that is allowed by a relationship with Jesus.
In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 2 Corinthians 4:4
However such a condition is not applicable for the follower of Jesus due to the fact that Jesus has set us free.
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32
Living in the freedom that has been provided for us as children of God is exactly what allowed Dannie and Jordan to continue to walk forward as they suffered such intense pain at the loss of their son. Making others aware of the truth of Jesus has also allowed this family to continue to share the Gospel to others who struggle, so that they will no longer walk in darkness, but will know the freedom of the Truth of Jesus.
Loss and gain seem to be fairly concrete ideas in today’s culture, but in fact are far from that. They have a vagueness that is rivaled by few other concepts in American society. Fundamentally, the ideas of loss and gain seem simple enough, but when the finder and the looser take account of their subsequent position, they may realize that their roles have actually been reversed.
When someone loses weight, they don’t feel cheated, they feel empowered.
When someone finds an unpaid bill they thought was already taken care of, they certainly don’t feel free, they feel trapped.
Finding and losing are shades of gray that must be interpreted over time. One must allow the passing of each moment be another point of reference for perspective.
Christianity, for some, is seen as the conscious release of all fun and happiness. It is often viewed as nothing more than a bottomless pit into which believers cast their hopes dreams and treasures, never to be seen again. Followers of Christ are often depicted as heavy-laden slaves whose lives have been wrecked by the weight of religion.
But the reality is that Jesus took our pain, he took our struggle, and he took our broken dreams in order to replace them with joy, victory, and eternity.
Death in the life of the believer is not the end; it is merely a momentary separation from those we love. When a believer enters into eternity, their passing acts as a beacon to those here on earth to share the good news of Jesus Christ so that none might be lost.
When the veil of sin is pulled back, what we see in death and life, and loss and gain is that we have only seen in part, but that we will, some day, see perfectly.
Boldness about the truth of Jesus Christ is what should set Christians apart. However, far too often what sets us apart are opinions on fairly insignificant things. Then, when tragedy strikes, we struggle to gain a footing, and we struggle even harder gaining a voice in an otherwise chaotic scene.
The truth of Jesus Christ makes clear how we can respond to tragedy. His presence makes clear the otherwise unknowable peace that believers have. Jesus is the reason we can distinguish hope on the horizon regardless of the trials that are presently surrounding us.
Dannie and Jordan Greg made that fact very clear to me as we worked to tell their story in Breaking Through the Clouds. Jesus was the only thing that they could see in the darkness of losing their son Cotton, but He was also the only refuge to which they could run.
I had never imagined such pain. I had never thought my heart could feel this way. It felt like my heart was being stabbed over and over and left to bleed. I thought, “My baby boy is really gone.”
I prayed the only thing that came to my lips: “Oh, God, be with me, I need you. Give me the strength to go through this. Hold my Cotton tight. I’m holding You to Your word that I will see him again.”
Dannie’s immediate response to learning that the doctors could not save her little boy was to run to the arms of Jesus.
What is it about this Jesus that leads me to believe that there is actually hope in the midst of tragedy?
The answer comes from the words of Jesus himself. As recorded by the writer of the gospel of John, Jesus responds to the death of a close friend of his. Jesus was being confronted for the fact that he had not arrived in time to save Lazarus, and therefore had failed his friend. But knowing what he would eventually do on the cross, Jesus took the opportunity to display that he was not only the healer of the sick, he was the giver of life. Jesus proved that he was able to do what no other in existence could do. He was about to break the bonds of death, and give life to those who believe.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die…” John 11:25-26a
Dannie and Jordan could look to Jesus, because they were assured of his eternal nature. They found hope in his answer because he had proven that he was not shackled by death.
The darkness of that night was interrupted by the eternal light emanating from the person of Jesus Christ, across time and across space. Jesus’ light pierced the darkness of pain and doubt, cutting through a situation that seemed to be an epic loss, but that was revealed to be a brief separation.
For the promise we have in Jesus is that we, like little Cotton, will never die!
Some could receive such a question as antagonistic, but there is a real opportunity woven into it. Such a bold question demands a bold response. Bold enough to look past tragedy and see hope. Bold enough to look past loss and find gain. Bold enough to peer through the vale of deception and encounter truth. Even bold enough to see past the temporary notion of death, and realize the reality of eternal life.
I would like to answer that question over the next few posts. Why should a person read Breaking Through the Clouds? In short, because Jesus wins!
But first, I think it’s best that you get to know a little bit about the people behind the story.
Jordan and Dannie are members of our church, and in the summer of 2013 they lost their youngest son in a drowning accident at their home. This couple had not known the Lord long at the time, but was so filled by the Holy Spirit that they were able to walk through such unimaginable heartbreak. Simply taking another step after experiencing calamity like this is all but impossible for some. As Jordan and Dannie tried to put one foot in front of the other, it became apparent to them the Lord was abiding in those moments, just as he had promised.
Startled by how close the Holy Spirit was in those days, Dannie began to try to put into words the feeling of loss, and the assurance that God had not abandoned them. Such a task is difficult in the best of circumstances, but is an almost impossible endeavor after losing a child. Dannie put words to paper. First on the internet as she told people how she and her family were coping with their loss, but then began to tell the story. Connecting the dots of a tragedy can be an effective way to cope with loss, and Dannie was trying to get to the next dot.
In the fall of 2013, I was teaching Dannie to play the piano. It was something she had always wanted to do, and it helped her to focus her mind for a few minutes each day on something that didn’t remind her of her son. I had recently published a book about spiritual growth, and tried to supply wisdom from my own publishing mistakes and successes whenever Dannie asked.
I read the first draft of her story and made some suggestions, but Dannie continued to ask for more help, and more involvement from me. After several conversations, and after praying for several weeks, I agreed to invest myself in the book as a co-author.
We started from the beginning creating back-story, and filling in the blanks left by the previous drafts. Our primary goal was to show how Jesus was enough for any circumstance. Time and time again, Jesus was catapulted into a place of honor, simply by the way he supplied himself to Jordan and Dannie in their deepest need. It was an amazing process of writing, but what was more amazing was the fact that the Lord was so evident throughout the story that we could not help but worship him.
What more amazing testimony could there be of a person’s life, than for every scene to direct the reader’s attention to Jesus?
Jesus is the star of the story. He is the focus of the book. Jesus was enough in the beginning, and he is enough today. The realization of all of this compels me to worship him. Even now as I reflect on the process of writing Breaking Through the Clouds, I am entreated to worship again.
How lovely it is to be able to worship such a beautiful savior!
Preparing for new things is hard. I have always enjoyed planning for stuff, but have rarely looked at my planning in the light of spirituality. I like planning vacations, road trips, lessons, and even trips to the grocery store. My planning is rarely perfectly accurate, but I guess in the back of my mind, I think that if I plan my day, my efforts will be less wasted.
Fewer strokes of the brush, a better portrait makes.
But today I am confronted by a question that has previously escaped me, “What is my goal for every day?”
I suppose my goal in the past has been to be efficient, or effective, or utilitarian for those who I engage. I plan, and I work in order to do a good job. I have always wanted my work to be of sufficient quality that my church, my family, and my friends feel that they I am a benefit to them.
Deep down I guess I was thinking that if I make myself useful to other people, they would be less likely to discard me for a newer model.
Interestingly enough, this kind of philosophy has not really proven itself. Instead, the contrary is true. I have been let go by employers, and have been rejected by friends and other acquaintances. My desire to be indispensible is not predominantly effective, but the minority reports that suggest that people appreciate what I do have, in the past, afforded me the opportunity to wave periodical success in the face of predominant fact.
I cannot ensure my own value.
I cannot determine my own steps.
I cannot maintain my own universe.
Listening to a sermon this morning by Matt Chandler, I heard him make a statement that, for the purposes of his sermon was a passing comment, but in the context of my own journey with the Lord, was transformative.
My success or failure in regards to life on earth has absolutely nothing to do with my perceived value to the people around me. My reward for serving Jesus is that I get more of Jesus.
If my success is rewarded by a deeper relationship with my wife, then she has become my god, and such idolatry will not be tolerated.
If a larger salary at my job rewards my success, then the job has become my god, and such idolatry will not be tolerated.
If my success is rewarded by an increased dependence on me by any person in my life, then that person has become my god and I have become theirs, and such idolatry will not be tolerated.
Making plans for the future are good, and planning to do a good job is great, but if I pursue the pleasure of man, I will be consistently unsatisfied by my toil.
I need Jesus. Nothing less.
It’s raining today, and though that may not be that big of a deal to some people, it is a huge deal to me. I grew up in a place where it doesn’t rain much, and when it did rain, it was a big deal. But more than the fact that our economy relied heavily on rain to support the cotton and cattle industry, rain became a welcomed sight in my heart and mind because it offered a unique opportunity.
You see, my father has been a cotton farmer for as long as I have been alive, and that is an egregiously difficult occupation to be in when your ability to produce a crop is dependent on a factor, over which, you have no control. For the Dry-Land (non-irrigated) cotton farmer, work is only half the battle. Land is prepared, rows are built, chemicals are dispersed, seed is planted, and prayers are raised…
Work can be done, but unless it rains, there is no crop. Seeds will lie dormant for months in the soil waiting on God to determine their fate, and with it, the fate of the farmer and his family. But when it rains, work begins to pay off. Plans begin to come together. Stress is reduced for the moment, and farmers take a long-overdue break.
I can remember my dad coming home from the field at the last possible second before the deluge hit. He prolonged his work as long has he could so that when he finally came home, he could sit back and know that he had done all that could be done to prepare for God’s blessing. I remember him coming in the front door to our house, taking his shoes off and walking straight to his recliner. He most often sat, closed his eyes, laid his head back and took a few moments to himself. His usually stern eyes would soften a bit, and he would even laugh. My dad would transform in those brief moments as his worries and stress melted away with every drop of rain.
Seeing this happen began a stirring in my heart that disabled my ADHD brain from focusing on anything but the fact that my dad was home. I never prayed as hard as I did then. I prayed that the rain would never stop. I prayed that my dad could stay this happy, and this refreshed forever…
I wish today that I had told him that. I wish that I could have articulated how valuable it was to have him home, but to be honest, I don’t think I understood it then. I didn’t understand at that time why it meant so much to see my dad home, and to see him happy, but now that I am older, I realize how hard he worked. I see how much he did to provide for my mom, my brothers, and me. I shake his hand today and I feel the years of toil those hands have endured, and am reminded of the fact that I am the beneficiary of that work. Callused hands, scars, and swollen knuckles all backed by a surprisingly strong grip remind me of decades spent subduing Adam’s curse.
Remarks about the scars or the near constant pain of his body are shrugged away for more pleasant conversation. Overlooked because of the fact that his eyes were nearly always fixed on his work. Not the work of raising cotton, but the desire he had to raise sons. Seasons spent investing, hoping, and praying that God would see fit to pour Himself into our lives. Hard work in the field always comingled with scriptural references about wisdom, determination, and honor.
But I have no field.
How will I teach my son those same lessons? How will I raise my son to fear the Lord, to work hard, and to be respectful to all people? How will I instill the same work ethic, love for the church, and passion for the scripture that my dad taught us?
I hope it starts with rainy days. Days where I can take hold of my son and share joy, laughter, and love; days that contrast work with rest. Days that make rest matter because they are viewed with the backdrop of hard work.
Sometimes when I get home from work, my son is waiting on me, and even though he is only a year old, he is overjoyed when I walk through our front door. I hope I remember to take time to be home when I can, to invest in him, and to raise a son who honors me by honoring the Father.
I hope that when my son is my age, he will look back and be reminded that when dark clouds rolled in and rain came, that daddy was close by.