I have lived in the South all my life, but when I landed in South Georgia about 7 years ago, I was in for a culture shock. You cannot truly grasp what a redneck is until you have lived in South Georgia. They proudly wave their Confederate flags, showing their true ignorance as to why we even had a Civil War in the first place. I happened upon a parade a few months back in the town where I lived, where people were dressed in the attire of the Civil War time period, with lots of trucks, and confederate flags. I had to laugh and say “Only in South Georgia”. Don’t get me wrong, I am proud to be from the South, but come on, not everyone from the South has to be a redneck! Another thing, not all Southerners are ignorant, the way Hollywood portrays them. It cracks me up every time someone tries to imitate an Southern accent. Either you have it or you don’t and if you don’t, then don’t try to imitate it! I have to admit that my accent has gotten much more southern since being down here, much to my dismay. According to my friends, anybody that is from north of Atlanta is not a southerner.
Another thing that cracked me up when I moved down here was the drive thru liquor stores. I mean seriously, do you go up and order a six pack like you would a Big Mac? Could we please make it any easier for drunk people to be on the road!
Last night I was at a friends house and I opened her freezer to put something in it, and looking me right square in the eye was a duck….a real, once upon a time alive ,mallard duck, and it was wrapped in panty hose. Her fiance had it in there because he plans to have it mounted. You never know what you are going to find in someone’s freezer or refrigerator in South Georgia.
I have been painfully reminded recently that life is short. Whether it is losing someone we love in a tragic car accident or watching a person deteriorate to the point that you no longer recognizing them. Both are just as tragic and heart wrenching. As I was driving to church yesterday a song came on my Ipod that reminded me where our hope is as Christians. It is in God that our hope is and that is where our hope must remain as Christians if we are to face the difficult times in our lives. Whether it is death, sickness, troubled relationships, rebellious children, or financial difficulties, we have to believe the promise that God made to his people Israel during one of their darkest moments in history. They were in captivity to the Babylonians and God told Jeremiah “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” Whether we can see it at the time or not, our circumstances at that moment do not have to define the rest of our lives. We have to hold to the promise and the hope of a future that is good. That does not mean that everything is always going to go the way that we want it too, but that God is taking the darkest moments of our lives and will use them for our good and His glory.
The song is entitled “Our Hope Endures” by Natalie Grant
But our Hope endures the worst of conditions
It’s more than our optimism
Let the earth quake
Our Hope is unchanged
Emmanuel, God is with us
El Shaddai, all sufficient
We never walk alone
And this is our hope
I have noticed over the past little while that certain words find their way into many of the songs that we sing. The first word that that caught my attention was the word Amazed. One of our favorite songs in choir right now is simply titled “Amazed” by Lincoln Brewster. The chorus goes “Lord I’m amazed by You and how You love me.” How many of our songs have the word amazing in it. How about “I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene.” “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound.” “Amazing Love how can it be that You my King should die for me”.We sing these songs Sunday after Sunday but do we really grasp the concept of being amazed. To be amazed means to be filled with wonder. Are we really filled with wonder about how He loves us, or the grace that He showed to us? Are we filled with wonder when we enter the presence of God? There may be moments in our lives that we truly do, but I think we have let so many other things pull at our hearts, that we truly forget to be amazed. I am not even sure we can grasp this with our human mind. Does amazing really describe God’s grace or how he loves us? Probably not, but it is the only word that man has been able to come up to describe it. If we were truly amazed, then it would transform our churches, our lives, our relationships, etc. As I looked at our congregation this morning while the choir sang “Amazing Love”, what I saw was not amazement but boredom. I believe that even as Christians we have become so complacent, not only are we not amazed, we are not even stirred. How is it that we can talk about the grace and the love of God that was so supremely displayed in Christ’s death on the cross and not even shed a tear? Is it because for most of us, we have grown up in church and heard it all our lives so that it becomes ordinary? I pray that the grace and love of God never becomes ordinary in my life. I pray that I am moved and amazed by His grace and not take for granted. I pray that the cross and the work that was done on the cross will never cease to move my heart. And when I sing”Lord I’m amazed by You”, it is an amazement that is life changing.
On the way home from work today I was listening to my Ipod and a song I know I have listened to a hundred times came on but this particular time the bridge of the song caught my attention. The words were”It’s You we engage, its You we embrace when out hearts sing.” What really caught my attention was the phrase”Its You we engage.” What does it mean to engage with God? When you are engaged in a conversation with someone, you are totally there. It is not just you having a conversation with someone who may be in the same room but barely hear a word you say. How difficult is it to engage someone in conversation who is focused on a sporting event, movie, teltevision program, etc. It is impossible. I think that is how alot of Christians are with God. We may be in the same room with Him, but do we really engage? Are we distracted by the world and the things that are going on around us? If we are totally honest, we rarely engage with God. Even when we pray, most of may be having a conversation with God, but are we really engaged? Worship is a way to engage with God. I think there are so many misconceptions about what worship really is. Worship is not a style, it is a lifestyle. Worship is not about the the music we sing or the prayers that are prayed or even the sermon that is preached. Worship is engaging God and seeking His presence. Worship is not limited to a church. Worship should happen everyday in our homes, our jobs, our schools etc. When we engage God on a daily basis then it becomes easier to find the heart of God and to know the will of God even in simple things that we so often take for granted. Worship is about giving God glory not because of the things that he has done for us but simply just for who He is. The second part that struck me was that we engage with God, we do it with our hearts. Proverbs 4:23 says” Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” This is very important because there are so many things that are pressing for our hearts and our affections. Jesus said, where your treasures are, there will you heart be also.” Treasures may not necessarily be material possessions. They are anything that takes our hearts away from God. Just like the military has Rules of Engagement, God has Rules of Engagement also. In order to come to God we must have a clean heart. This doesn’t mean that we are sinless, it means that when we sin, we go before God and ask forgiveness. We can not engage God if we have sin in our lives. Our motives must be sincere to engage with God. Many people today use God like a genie in a bottle. They rub the bottle when they want God to do something for them, or get them out of this mess, or fix some problem. God is not our genie in a bottle. We must also have an obedient heart. God blesses those who walk in obedience. We cannot live like we want too and then when we get in a jam want God to get us out of. trouble. It doesn’t work that way. As my pastor says, “Blessings come with Obedience”. I am in the process of reading a book Waking the Dead by John Eldridge. It is a great book about the glory of a heart fully alive. A definite must read. The song was “When Our Hearts Sing” by Rush of Fools. Check it out on ITunes.
I wrote this blog awhile back on MySpace and thought I would share it here. Everyday I see the ravaging effects that sin has on people, many of them innocent victims of this sin. It is hard with my human mind to grasp why God allows these things to happen…especially to children. All I know is that His ways are not our ways and I have to trust His promise that He is working all things out for the good.
I came across some poetry that I had written about 8 years ago when I first started working with kids that had emotional and behavioral disorders. The stories that I heard from these kids only began to uncover the tip of the iceburg. Over the past 8 years, I have seen the devestating effects that physical, emotional, and sexual abuse have had on children. My heart breaks for what these kids have been through. On the flip side of this I have seen what care, concern, and love can do to heal a child. I am honored to be apart of that process.
I titled my poem “Is There a God?” I have been asked why I use that line. I believe that our concept of God is shaped by our experiences, especially those that we had as children. For those of us who grew up in fairly functional homes, the concept of God as our father, mother, sister, brother, friend, etc is not a difficult concept for us to grasp. But what about the child that was sexually abused by a father, mother, sister, brother, friend, etc.? They can not even begin to grasp this concept. That is why I think it is important to break down the walls of pain and hurt before a person who has suffered these things can even begin to have a healthy relationship with God. Once you deal, with these things, then God can come in and heal the wounds completely. Maybe my theology is a little off. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that God is the answer for all our problems and that He can instantanously heal someone of years of hurt, abuse, bitterness, etc. For most people though, this journey takes years and is a difficult process. There never is a full healing until this person enters into a personal relationship with God.
“Is There a God?”
They sit all alone and cry bitter tears
No one to hear all their pain and their fears;
And they wonder to themselves, if there really is a God,
Then where is He at when life gets too hard?
They’re not afraid of dying but afraid to live life,
And to be all alone when the day turns to night.
Is there anybody out there that they can call a friend,
Someone to stand by them forever to the end?
Is there anybody out there who even understands,
Someone to lend them a strong helping hand?
But they sit in their silence afraid to take a chance,
To risk their broken hearts to another circumstance.
And so they sit all alone, lost in despair
Not seeing the hand reaching out to care.
And they wonder to themselves, if there really is a God
Then where is He at when life gets too hard?
Dear, dear Corinthians, I can’t tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life. We didn’t fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way. I’m speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively!
This passage of Scripture comes from 2 Corinthians 6:11-13 of the Message Bible. I like this particular translation because it tells us live openly and expansively or in other words, wide open. Our youth pastor shared this verse with us a few weeks ago and it has stuck with me. What does it really mean to live life wide open?
I guess you can say that I have been wide open since the day I was born! (My mother will probably tell you before I was born!) That hasn’t always been a good thing. It has gotten me in quite a bit of trouble through the years. Yeah, I was the kid that when everybody else stopped talking because the teacher had walked in the room kept right on talking and guess who got in trouble. When I played sports growing up, I was wide open. One year, I put a big hole in the knee of my brand new uniform sliding into 2nd base and more than likely I didn’t even need to slide but it looked so much better to slide than it did to just run. I used to get teased that they didn’t need to sweep the gym floor after my basketball games because I had already done it for them! I guess though that as time went on and life became more complicated I became less wide open. We get boxed in by our failures, problems, insecurities, and loads of other stuff that God never intended us to get boxed in by. I created the small feeling that I felt. We have all felt insignificant at times, but I think those times are when we are focused on ourselves and not on God. I believe that if we could truly grasp the power of God that is at work in our lives, then we would not want to be boxed in, but live a life that is wide open for God. How many of us truly worship God wide open? If I have to be honest, most of the time I am trying harder to maintain what I think is my dignity than I am about worshiping God wide open.
I am tired of living a Christian life that is boxed in. I want to live and worship God wide open! After all, what better example of living life wide open do we have than Jesus Christ Himself. When He died on the cross, His arms were wide open, accepting all of us into His Kingdom forever.