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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

HE LOVES ME, HE LOVES ME NOT, YES, HE LOVES ME


 “When I was a kid, my father had this dog that started to get all weak and sickly. He takes it to the vet, he examines it and says a maggot must have laid eggs in the dog's butt. The baby maggots have crawled up, now they've started to grow, and eventually they're gonna eat the dog alive from the inside. He says it should be put to sleep, because it's an old dog anyway. But father won't do it. He takes the dog home, he puts it on the bed, he reaches up into the dog, picking out the maggots with his finger, one by one. It takes him all night, but he gets every last one. That dog outlived my father. That's love, Sam.
                                          from the movie   Addicted To Love
         
He Loves Me,
He Loves Me Not,
Yes, He Loves Me

O
ur definition of love is often shaped by where our heart has been.   Much like how when I eat at El-Patio I smell like Mexican Food or when I’ve been to Java Cafe I smell like coffee, our heart is embedded with the aroma of our past.  Our heart is both a memorial and a current affair, an assembly of prejudices and inclinations based upon both truth and lies.  Like a wounded animal that will bite the hand that feeds it; the wounded heart cannot always be trusted by its owner.   If we seek true affirmation it must come from the outside, it must come from God.
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    While growing up I liked fishing, I had an affair with candy, but I loved my dog.   Charlie was an adorable mutt that looked like a worn-out black and white bathroom rug.  He liked peanut-butter sandwiches and day old scraps but wouldn’t pass up the chance to feast on road kill if it was warm.  Charlie and I shared a common enemy: the school bus.   The yellow monster interrupted my summer vacations and tried to make a rug out of Charlie twice.   He did what I wanted to do: chased, barked, and tried to bite the tires.

     We were on a family camping trip at Loretta Lynn’s when I got the news that my father had shot and killed Charlie, something about worms.  It was a difficult night of crying in my sleeping bag wondering how my loving father could have shot my best friend.  He was the only animal I have ever felt like I loved.  He was the only animal whose loss made me cry.  And very early in life I associated love with loss and tears.

    Because we simply couldn’t afford the vet, I now understand my father actually acted in a very loving way by ending Charlie’s pain but back then I doubted his judgment.   I didn’t necessarily believe eating too many cookies would stunt my growth or sitting too close to the television would give me cancer either.  My parents who said they loved me just seemed to be taking the fun and friends out of life.  The dual role of loving and protecting is confusing to a child, especially a child looking for affirmation.  When I try to understand the dilemma of loving and protecting someone I think about a friend of mine who was recently on a foreign mission trip to the Dominican Republic. 
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     While enjoying his last day on the beach with schoolmates, a few of his friends waded out from the beach into very large waves and, unknowingly, a very dangerous rip-tide current. The next few minutes unraveled into a fight for their lives while they frantically swam for shore.  One of his friends was unable to break free from the rip tide and was dragged out to sea.  For the next three hours his friends and nearby boaters tried to reach him but the large waves kept pushing them back.  His friend’s body has never been recovered.

      In many ways parents must feel how my friend and those boaters felt while they painfully watch the person they love fight for their lives.   They want to help but sometimes there is nothing they can do.  There is indeed a terrible ocean of circumstances that make the task of parenting difficult.  While some parents have the benefit of having been raised by strong “swimmers,” others simply reflect the weaknesses of their own up- bringing.   Some are able to overcome their inadequate childhood and establish new patterns of affirmation and love in their own families, while for others the wounds received in their childhood reemerge in painful waves that negatively impact their own children.   I personally feel like my parents overcame their personal childhood challenges but I realize for many it simply feels as if their parents never attempted to save them, and for some even still, that their parents held them under water. While parents may be limited in their ability, we must also remember they are trying their best to balance guidance with affection and sometimes this is a difficult task.   As a matter of fact, often the pressure to raise a productive child is so overwhelming the parents often forget the power of affection and affirmation and instead focus on discipline and training, or even worse, they do nothing.  Missing the critical affirmation and affection of a parent, the child walks into other relationships in life crippled, drudging along with low self esteem, or often with pain masked either in anger or self pity.

        In these critical years of childhood we are also beginning to define love.  What does it mean to love somebody?  What does love feel like?  What does love look like?  And we get some pretty bad answers. For the girl whose father whispers “I love you,” as he molests her, love is a painful surrender of control. For the boy whose parents gave him everything but time, love is cheap substitution of expensive things.  For the kids whose parents appeared to set on the sideline when pornography ripped a hole in their heart, when alcohol attacked them like a cancer, or when they painfully exhausted themselves chasing popularity, love is passive.     And we incorrectly superimpose our poor definition of love and less than perfect experience of our earthly parents onto God our heavenly Father.  Corrupting the character of God with the infusion of our poor earthly experiences is a huge, but common, mistake.
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     Rose and I were hanging out at Java Cafe when I started thinking through what love was and how to love when I remembered something I learned from the Chicken Whisperer:  you’ve gotta feel loved before your ready to love someone else.
    
     Two of prettiest girls I know are Blackberry and Rose.  I’ve known them both for almost ten years and I’ve watched them ripen on the vine, having grown up into wonderful maturing Christian women.  They both in some way struggled with missing the voice of affirmation from their earthly father and the wound was deep causing them a large amount of pain.  While some of the pain was the simple feeling that their father never brought himself to bear, they admit much of the pain came from the collateral damage of moving from guy to guy looking for the missing piece.  Their fragile hearts were broken many times leaving them struggling with deepening feelings of insecurities.  

     Rose, is probably my favorite female in the world.  I call her Rose because she migrates toward “Titanic” challenges.   She dug down deep a couple years ago and figured out she could run a marathon and survive without eating meat.  Her body is a well-oiled machine and her hair reminds me of a shampoo commercial.  Her heart is soft like cotton but she can be amusingly stubborn like plastic wrap on cds sometimes.  She jumps on board insurmountable challenges like biking 100 miles as if it was a simple matter of will power and then tries to recruit me for these voyages of death.  When I bring up the facts that we struggled to make a few laps around downtown Dyersburg and that my cushion was sore for three days, she simply reminds me of that fact that Lance Armstrong is proof of the possibility while totally ignoring the obvious icebergs in our path, icebergs like Timmy has no cushion on his tushion.

       Although she is beautiful, she hasn’t always felt beautiful and even went as far as struggling with an eating disorder which might be a product of that missing affirmation from her father, or the absence of feeling truly loved at times.  It is so strange to watch a beautiful woman like Rose struggle with her body image but in the story of the ugly duckling we are reminded how missing a critical piece of information about ourselves leads to the irony of the majestic swan believing they are a misfit among mallards.
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     All our lives we are either trying to get love or give love.  Our definition of love, especially in childhood, is either slowly formed, or distorted, primarily by our interactions with relatives.   Depending on how close these relationships reflect the true and pure love of God they can either equip us or cripple us.  In the absence of affirmation the question of “what’s wrong with me” lingers.  This question must be answered, or the crippled heart will inappropriately, under the disguise of interest, try to earn approval.  Thus the relationship constantly teeters on maintaining a certain level of approval.  Whereas a God affirmed person simply loves for the joy of loving, the doubting heart’s enjoyment of love is shifted to anticipation of how well the other person responds.  This is tragic.  A myriad of circumstances can limit or even completely eliminate any response.  And more often than not these circumstances are not even related to the doubting heart’s efforts.  If my business if failing, I will not be enthusiastic about a great dinner.  If my stomach is hurting, I will not be enthusiastic about a great dinner.  If I do not like asparagus, I will not be enthusiastic about asparagus casserole.  None of these are negatives related to the person preparing the meal but can be received in such matter because a certain level of approval is absent. The success of the relationship almost depends on the world being perfect.   With affirmation the heart is set free to love within a world that it less than perfect.  The discovery of true love is life changing enabling a once doubting heart to become a spring of living water.

     The Chicken Whisperer not only understood love, he defined love.  The Chicken Whisperer had a great father.   And the outside affirmation that came from his father enabled him to do something amazing:  it allowed him to affirm you and me, all of God’s other children, it allowed him to love us completely and deeply, it allowed to him to free us from doubt and enter into the joy for which we were created.   Jesus is the Chicken Whisperer.

Monday, January 24, 2011

GIVE ME TEN MINUTES AND I'LL GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT


“We got the lab reports back this morning. I’m sorry Bob, they don’t look very good.  There’s been no reduction in tumor size or density, and based on your response to the interleukin therapy, I can’t recommend further treatment.  We’re losing ground Bob.  The tumor is growing.  And I think you have to face things as they are.  Of course we’ll continue to monitor everything.  You could still have three or four months, I think you should aim for that.  Four months? You have a spring to look forward to.   They symptoms won’t be too bad.  We have drugs to manage the pain.  What if I want to do the treatment again?   What if I elect to do it, are you going to stop me?  Are you going to get a court order to stop me?  I can’t believe you are asking this!  The interleukin nearly killed you!  It was touch and go for six hours.  And it didn’t work.  Come on.  I’m still in the game here man, you know.  Come on. One more.  There has to be a lot of other therapies, a lot of other treatments, right?  Bob don’t make it any more painful than it has to be.  You don’t have a lot of time left. Don’t waste it in futile searches.”     from the movie My Life

END OF THE SNIPE HUNT

M
y early experience with love, or what I thought was love, made me doubt happily ever after.  It made me wonder if something was wrong with me, or, if something was wrong with God.  I didn’t know what love was, so trying to find it was like going snipe hunting.

     Snipe hunting is a joke played on the inexperienced camper.  The rookie camper is told there are birds roosting on the ground in the field at night that can be easily caught with a paper sack.  When others are asked what the birds look like the answer is always, “You’ll know one when you see one.”   The rookies are then handed a paper sack and allowed to waste an hour or so running meaningless around the field in the dark because, of course, the birds don’t exist.  A lot of us are snipe hunting in life, searching for something that we have no idea what it looks like or even if it really exists.  But the snipe hunt has ended with the Chicken Whisperer.

       Somewhere within our heart, buried deep beneath the deception, is a repressed eternal instinct inclined to the voice of our real Father.  We have suffered the horrible injury of sin and now have spiritual amnesia.  We are walking around dazed, confused, trying to remember who we are and where we came from.  We have heard of a great fellowship that existed in ancient days, of a love that was deep, pure, and beautiful and at times we have allowed our heart to dream, but all we have ever found is fool’s gold… until we stumble upon the treasure of the Cross and discover the impossible: we are not an ugly duckling after all, we are the children of God, and not only does our Father still loves us but He has been planning for our return.

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”    Ephesians 2:4-9

     And there at the Cross the Spirit of God restores our identity and offers the very things we have been searching for in the sub consciousness of our heart.  The ring is placed on our finger, a feast is prepared, and fellowship is restored as we are given true purpose for our lives, as we learn that we have been saved for a divine purpose, for work that is sacred.  Empowered by the love of the Father, we are equipped for the divine task set before us and ironically it is this task that will fully transform our hearts, that will teach us how to love.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  1 John 4:7-10

      If God is love then I would say it impossible to love someone without God.  This would imply there are several imitation versions of love out there, meaning that a lot of what we have called love, or thought of as love, was probably not really love at all.  We have taken the name of the Lord in vain and we have taken the name of love in vain as well.  How can we love if we are not connected to God who is love?   If we are going to love, we need God. And this is why: God’s love, when fully received through faith in Christ, quenches our thirst for affirmation and converts the once needy heart into a giving heart.  A giving heart is necessary for real love.  And again, the sacred work of loving others transforms us back into the image of our Father.

“…but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”…John 4:14

      He “whispered” these words to a woman who was thirsty, a woman whose heart had been wounded by five different husbands, a woman who still believed her thirst would be quenched by a man, and lucky for her she finally met the man she was looking for: Jesus.  And although we do not have a full record of what He told her, we know this: He quenched her thirst and she indeed became a spring of water welling up to eternal life.  The needy heart became a giving heart.   Within just a few hours she brought several more people to Jesus who also put their faith in him.  She became a spring of living water.  She went from looking for love to giving love…and she was fulfilled.

     In our own search to quench the passions of our heart, we too climb in bed with some very strange characters.  I personally have climbed in bed with material possessions, money, pornography, job status, popularity, etc.   We have all had several husbands.  And we have all walked away empty.  We have all walked away thirsty.   And honestly at times I’m not even sure if I really knew what I was looking for in those things.  I just knew I was thirsty.   And why, after those things almost killed me, did I continue to go back?  Why did I “waste my time with repeated futile searches“ when I knew they didn’t work the first time?  Following the world’s formula for thirst quenching is like drinking salt water: it will kill you.  But luckily for me I also ran into Jesus, and over the years I have been learning more and more about how to drink exclusively from this well of the Father.   And through the experience of fellowship with God in ministry I am learning what love is.

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

        Love is humble.  Love is gentle.  Love is hopeful.  Love extends grace.  Love overlooks faults.  Love moves first. Love persists with kindness.  Love endures with hope. Love waits with patience. Love seeks. Love forgives.  Love befriends.  Love saves.  Love redeems.  Love “whispers.”

     And much like a child who follows his father around wants to imitate his father, I have learned that my heart longs not only to be loved but to love others.   And because God is love, what better way to learn how to love than to experience God?  And it is this new purpose in my life that delivers me from the futility of chasing snipe and fool’s gold creating fellowship with God.  If I want to learn how to play basketball, I hang out with Lebron James.  If I want to learn how to act, I hang out with Tom Hanks.  If I want to learn how to love I hang out with God.  And even my ability to be trained by God’s love, my ability to be transformed in my thinking and values, began with the act of God loving me in Jesus on the cross.  This act of love is the foundation of my trust in God, the root of my affection for my Father.  “We love Him because He first loved us.” The cross is not a fifteen minute story stuck in the Bible.  The cross is the story.  All the other stories in the bible lead to Calvary, they lead to God loving us in Jesus.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

     I like the way God asks us to love but shows us how to do it first.  And he shows us in a very marvelous way: through the Cross.  And you may ask, “Why does God not pay for our sin himself, why does he not sacrifice himself instead of his own Son?”  Because He loves his Son more than himself.  Jesus was the greatest sacrifice God could make and therefore the greatest demonstration of His love.   The Cross is the only true way to be loved or to love someone else.  If you love someone you will bring them to the Cross.  Someone loved me and brought me to the Cross, and it saved my life.  (crying).

     The cross is what connects us to the Father and cures our tendency to go on futile searches.  What happened through Jesus and the Cross is so important and so critical to renewing our hearts that we cannot get to the Father unless we go through Jesus. The more connected to Christ and the Cross we become, the more our hearts are transformed by this act of love.   The only way to God the Father is through Christ the Son.

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. “  … Jesus

      Jesus was saying unless we understand God’s love displayed through the Cross, we will never be reformed and learn to trust the Father.  There is a lie making progress even inside of mainstream Christian circles that says there are many paths to God but the truth is there can only be many paths to Christ and the cross.   The only thing that can reconcile us to God is the blood of Jesus.  The only thing that can save us from our futile searches is the reality of the Cross.

      Looking back at my own life I see a pattern of ebb and flow in my relationship with God and not surprisingly in my deep, meaningful relationships with people.  I see a pattern of foolishly sipping from the wrong cup.  I have had a habit of broken fellowship for too long.  It makes no sense to cook a meal you are not going to eat just like it makes no sense to do Christian things but not follow Jesus completely.  So many things in life that require a lot of effort offer no real satisfaction until they are complete, but once they are complete they even redefine the effort as components of something valuable.  Left unfinished the components are wasted pieces of our time but completed the components are the means to a majestic ending.

      So will we be changed by the Cross?  Will we continue to live the lie or live the truth?  Will we finally surrender to God’s will for our life or a dangerous mix of our will and a sprinkle of religion?  One is a recipe for disaster and the other is a recipe for fulfillment. 

     In the original story of the Ugly Duckling written in 1844 a duckling endures tremendous taunting and torture because of it’s odd appearance.  The duckling, in search of acceptance, travels to many places looking for safety and love to only suffer rejection and more torture.  Eventually, with his spirit crushed, he makes a crucial decision to approach the most majestic birds of all because he believes dying at there hand would be better than the alternative of anything else.  But to his surprise, it is here he is freed from his suffering.  And so it is for us at the Cross.  We are not crushed.  We are embraced.  And in our ear the words “You are mine” are whispered and the healing begins.

 From the Ugly Duckling
By: Hans Christian Andersen

“I will fly to those royal birds,” he exclaimed, “and they will kill me, because I am so ugly, and dare to approach them; but it does not matter: better be killed by them than pecked by the ducks, beaten by the hens, pushed about by the maiden who feeds the poultry, or starved with hunger in the winter.”

Then he flew to the water, and swam towards the beautiful swans. The moment they espied the stranger, they rushed to meet him with outstretched wings.

“Kill me,” said the poor bird; and he bent his head down to the surface of the water, and awaited death.

But what did he see in the clear stream below? His own image; no longer a dark, gray bird, ugly and disagreeable to look at, but a graceful and beautiful swan.

To be born in a duck's nest, in a farmyard, is of no consequence to a bird, if it is hatched from a swan's egg. He now felt glad at having suffered sorrow and trouble, because it enabled him to enjoy so much better all the pleasure and happiness around him; for the great swans swam round the new-comer, and stroked his neck with their beaks, as a welcome.

Into the garden presently came some little children, and threw bread and cake into the water.

“See,” cried the youngest, “there is a new one;” and the rest were delighted, and ran to their father and mother, dancing and clapping their hands, and shouting joyously, “There is another swan come; a new one has arrived.”

Then they threw more bread and cake into the water, and said, “The new one is the most beautiful of all; he is so young and pretty.” And the old swans bowed their heads before him.

Then he felt quite ashamed, and hid his head under his wing; for he did not know what to do, he was so happy, and yet not at all proud. He had been persecuted and despised for his ugliness, and now he heard them say he was the most beautiful of all the birds. Even the elder-tree bent down its bows into the water before him, and the sun shone warm and bright. Then he rustled his feathers, curved his slender neck, and cried joyfully, from the depths of his heart, “I never dreamed of such happiness as this, while I was an ugly duckling.”

And I weep with you beneath the Cross my friend.  But not for long, because bread and cake await, bread and cake await.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

IT WAS TIME TO BE HONEST AND GET REAL: ANOTHER CHAPTER


Dear Edward,
I've gone back and forth the last few days trying to decide whether or not I should even write this. In the end, I realized I would regret it if I didn't, so here it goes. I know the last time we saw each other, we weren't exactly hitting the sweetest notes-certainly wasn't the way I wanted the trip to end. I suppose I'm responsible and for that, I'm sorry. But in all honestly, if I had the chance, I'd do it again. Virginia said I left a stranger and came back a husband; I owe that to you. There's no way I can repay you for all you've done for me, so rather than try, I'm just going to ask you to do something else for me-find the joy in your life. You once said you're not everyone. Well, that's true-you're certainly not everyone, but everyone is everyone. My pastor always says our lives are streams flowing into the same river towards whatever heaven lies in the mist beyond the falls. Find the joy in your life, Edward. My dear friend, close your eyes and let the waters take you home.     ….from the movie The Bucket List

COMPLETED JOY
W
hat I am about to tell you changed my life.  It happened to me in the midst of writing this book. It was so profound that I literally had a hard time talking about it without crying for weeks.  Even now I am tearing up thinking about how it happened.

     When I got into the coffee shop business I just knew I had found a gold mine.   I started with absolutely no money and with a little help from family opened three stores in six months.  I had a great name: Green Frog Coffee Co. I had a great plan: sophisticated but southern.  I even had great employees. What I didn’t have was a great clue about how expensive it was to start a business.  When the finances didn’t exactly pile up I ignored critical cash flow problems and kept one rural location open simply because it was aesthetically pleasing, which is like buying a Ferrari that doesn’t run. On the outside it looked like I had successfully opened three profitable coffee shops in just a few months and was on the fast track to be to Starbucks what Netflicks was to Blockbuster, but I was more like a VHS tape in a BluRay market.  In as little as eighteen months, during the Great Recession, I went from $25,000 of structured debt with one store to $350,000 with three stores.  I was loosing $10,000/month and having a difficult time adjusting things to become profitable.  I loved sitting in my Ferrari pretending it could run.

     The financial pressure had a huge impact on my personality.  I was still connecting with people and still attempting to minister by leading small groups but ultimately I was adrift spiritually.   My time with God was sporadic, my prayers were as rare as rainbows, and I was lonely.   A few people reached out to me but like an idiot I choose to walk the gauntlet alone, and I paid the price.  It wasn’t pretty.  I became a “clanging symbol.” My love suffered.

     At first I cloaked my pain and problems and did really well pretending all was well but then in a span of about six weeks I did a bunch of stupid stuff.   While grilling on a camping trip I acted like a spoiled reality star on a rant when a wasp stung my ear and made it swell up like a fat pancake.  Then a few days later I went on a crazy tare with a vendor about some paper cups as if we were talking about organs that need to be air-lifted to my mother.  And then finally, while cooking-out at my house, I smashed a ceramic plate with some metal tongs when someone made a comment about my gift not being up to snuff.  I embarrassed myself and it was a relationship repellent.  I was killing what I needed: community.  Stress will reduce you to who you really are.

      Church was hit and miss but this one particular Sunday I stumbled in because I was feeling ashamed about my attendance.  I sat in the back.  I went because I wanted to show some gratitude because my loan to straighten out my finances had finally gone through and the company was finally turning a profit.  I remember singing but more than anything I was thinking, thinking about my life, thinking about how I just felt like I was failing in not only my relationship with God but in every relationship I had.  And that is when everything changed.
       
      We take communion every week at my church.  Communion is a sacrament of the church that recognizes the death of Jesus Christ and the shedding of his blood for the forgiveness of sins (aka-a demonstration of God’s love for the sinner).  Typically some type of bread represents his body and some type of juice or wine represents his blood.  By eating and drinking these sacraments a person remembers their need for Christ and the depths of the Father’s love for them.  At our church we get this tiny thimble of juice and an oyster cracker (I know it is ghetto).  Usually I hold one in each hand, side by side, and while reflecting on God’s love, I pray, “God teach me to love others like you love others.”  I remember it like it was ten seconds ago when my heart started racing and out of nowhere, as I stared at the sacraments of God’s love for me, I said, “God teach me to love you, like you love me.”  And then tears came.  And they have never really stopped.   For the first time in my life, I believe I understood what God wanted: fellowship.   God wants my friendship.  He wants me to love Him.

Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments.”     Matthew 22: 37-40

     Even in the Garden Satan was trying to convince us that God had an ulterior motive for creating us other than fellowship, that God was on a power trip when the truth was as plain as the fruit in front of our face:  if God wanted control, would He have given us a choice?  He doesn’t want to control, He wants to lead, lead in a relationship with love.  He wants fellowship.  In the very first part of our story we find our powerful Father bringing his incredible animal creations to us as gifts of love and it gives Him great joy to allow us to name these gifts:  giraffe, elephant, ostrich, gorilla, deer, eagle, etc.  Can you image Adam’s excitement?  Can you imagine God’s joy?   But there is one more gift, a gift born out of God’s observation of mankind who he loves, a gift so beautiful it trumps every other creation: the gift of woman.  The joy is so great it is followed by resting!   Our God who had all knowledge, all power, who encompassed all of time breathes life into dirt and begins a very intimate interaction with the life He Creates.  Obviously God wanted a relationship because he continued to invest in the relationship, even after the story takes a terrible turn.  It is here it became evident that He loves us deeply because rather than starting over, He sets about redeeming what is lost, what is loved.  And even this act of redemption creates fellowship and joy for the Father.: “For God so loved  the world that he sent his only Son..”

     Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Now remain in my love.  If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

     His desire it that we will have joy in our life.  God wants you to have joy. (pause) He said that he came that we might “have life and have it to the full.”   God wants your joy to be complete. (pause)  And Christ makes this possible.  Christ wanted us to experience the same connection to God that he had, the same fellowship, because He knew it is our most critical need.  The very thing we were created to do was to connect to the Father.  He then said this connection is facilitated through our obedience to God’s Word.  The commandments that we often view as restrictive fences actually provide a path to fellowship with God and even other people.  The commandments enable us to abide in the affirmation of God’s love. they create an environment conducive to experiencing God.  Like the Golden Rule of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, they are the secret to successful relationships.  They increase our ability to love, thus leading us to complete and full joy.

     Yet we must make peace with God in our hearts.  We must trust the heart of the Father so we can become automatically obedient to Him and know his love like sheep following a shepherd they trust.  “My sheep now my voice, and they obey me.” God’s seeks obedience from his children not so he can simply celebrate our surrender to his power, but rather so he can celebrate our safety.  A radical thought to set a new perception of God in motion in your heart is …God is humble.  Love does not boast.  The God of the universe, the God of all power, the God of all knowledge, chooses to live in humility, and this is so attractive to me.  This one thought exponentially increased my love for God.

   Our obedience, our joy, depends on trusting the heart of God and Christ came to reveal the heart of the Father.  Jesus was the “visible expression of the invisible God.”  And what He reveals is as breath-taking as it is comforting.  He says our Father’s heart is like a woman who looses a coin, lights a lamp, and sweeps the whole house to find it, and when she does she rejoices.  He says our Father’s heart is like a shepherd who upon finding a lost sheep, joyfully puts it on his shoulders and carries it home (I am crying), there is no kicking the sheep, no hitting it with a stick, no cursing, or dragging it by its neck.  And He says our Father’s heart is like a father who had a prodigal son who abandoned him, wasted his fortune, and then came crawling home hungry and desperate, but the father has been waiting for his son, and runs to him, embraces him, and kisses him (I am crying very hard), his arms are not folded, there is no scolding, there is no beating, there is no punishment, there is…there is a celebration…in all three stories there is joy.  God’s joy, and ironically our joy, is complete when we repent, when we are found, when we return to our loving Father, who not only did not spare his Son, but continues to lovingly and patiently search for those who are still lost.   What would happen if we loved God like He loves us?  We wouldn’t be disappointed.  It would complete us, just like it completed Jesus.

        So we must decide now that we have the information we need: are we an ugly duck or are we an elegant swan?  The answer will be determined by the voice we listen to.  Do we continue to listen to the father of lies and doubt our worth, rejecting the precious gift of God, living a life embellished in sin and destructive relationships, a life devoid of joy?  Or do we listen to the voice of our real Father, the Father who loves us, who says we belong in a Kingdom, and who has sent the Prince to rescue us, restore us, and redeem us.    A few things we know for certain: our Father is waiting, His arms are open, He will kiss us…and there will be joy-for both of us! 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A FATHER'S LOVE- A CHAPTER FROM SOON TO BE RELEASED "THE CHICKEN WHISPERER"


Jean Valjean: When you're better, I'll find work for you.
Fantine: But you don't understand, I'm a whore... and Cosette has no father.
Jean Valjean: She has the Lord. He is her father. And you're his creation. In his eyes, you have never been anything but an innocent and beautiful woman.
                                                           …from the movie Les Miserables

A FATHER’S LOVE
I
 heard a story once that talked about man who had several wild birds he cared for and fed daily.  A particularly hard winter made it difficult for the birds to find the food he would leave for them.  They would fly to the man’s back door looking for the food he had scattered on the ground but the falling snow would have covered it up.  The man noticed this and grabbed more food to give to them as they arrived but when he opened the door to scatter the bread they were frightened and flew off.  The man would quickly go back inside and the birds would slowly return but by then the food was again covered by the snow.   Sadly, the man looked out of the window at the hungry birds who he loved deeply.  And then he said to himself, “If only I could become a bird to bring them food then they wouldn’t fear me and they would live.”
    
  The radical idea of changing our nature or behavior to approach and influence a different species is called “whisperering” because of its gentle approach.  The idea of  “whisperering” an animal is to keep it calm and available for interactive training by making it feel safe through soft touch and gentle gestures.   Many animals have been successfully trained in just a few hours using this method as opposed to harsher more brutal methods.  Jesus was God’s way of whispering mankind.

     We are timid like wild horses.   Our spirits have been spooked and damaged by horrific events in our history.   Our hearts have become frail and broken from abuse and abandonment.  We now fear with a great sadness the day our great majestic Father returns.  We fear his disappointment.  We fear the absence of his love.  While we have heard He can save us, we doubt that He will want to.   We are starved for His affection, but believe it will be withheld.  Bu He comes, and He comes to us how only a loving Father could: as a Son.

    The holy night He comes the long silence is broken by the voice of an angel saying, “Do not fear, I bring you news of great joy to all people…” And then we find him, our Reedemer, weighing merely eight pounds, helpless, hungry, in our image, and into our arms comes a tiny child of promise, a child who will save us, a child who can whisper the intimate things of a loving Father to his lost children.

     Our fear of the Father is as misguided as our doubt of his sincere love for us was in the Garden, for He did not come to punish but to save.  He did not come to wage war but to bring peace.   He did not come in anger, He came in love. And in Him we are reacquainted with the heart of the Father we fear.   He does not raise his hand against us.  Instead He uses his gentle, powerful hands for healing the bleeding woman, restoring the blind man’s sight, and washing the feet of his disciples.  He does not speak harshly to us.  Instead His voice defends children, raises dead brothers, and prays for misguided soldiers.  Rather than ruling, our King humbles himself and touches the sick, befriends the sinner, and spares the prostitute.  He sits on no throne but rather upon a hill and grieves over the condition of his children.  Our Chicken Whisperer weeps, He feels, He loves, and He acts.  Before He does what He came to do He reveals a very important truth, “If you have seen me, you have seen my Father.”   And then on the cross, as the beloved only Son of God exchanges his life for ours, the heart of our Father can no longer be questioned:    He is merciful, He is faithful, He is for us.

     By openly showing him affection,  God empowered Jesus to walk in obedience through difficult circumstances and complete His plan of redemption for mankind which included becoming a man to serve as our representative; fulfilling the law by keeping every commandment as the perfect Lamb of God, and finally by dying as our substitution for the penalty of our sin.  Cherishing freedom as an attribute of genuine love, God allows man to choose, man chooses unwisely. God creates a plan to save man but not control man. God’s plan involves creating a powerful reminder that involves a penalty, and then God shocks the world by paying the penalty with the sacrifice of his own Son.  God the Father loves us through the Son.

      Although I personally felt quite loved as a child, I know there are sad cases of people who grow up in the absence of love and thus I began looking for a universal source of affirmation outside of loving parents or a loving childhood.   Jesus often talked about his Father, about how he loved his Father, and about how he knew his Father loved him.   While I  was very blessed with a hardworking father who sincerely had my best interest at heart, I know not everyone was as fortunate as me, and the idea of being affirmed by our heavenly Father is difficult to approach.   The need is to view God from the fresh perspective on his own actions, untainted by our prejudices and opinions based on both bad experiences and bad information.   The idea that God the Father loves us is equally old news as it is breaking news.  But who better to affirm us all than the one who truly knows us?  Who better to hear “I love you” from than the One who can love us most deeply?

     Feeling loved does a lot for me.  It makes me feel wanted, needed, liked, and enjoyed.  It makes me feel special, significant, valuable, and important.  It makes me feel safe, secure, protected, and partnered.   In the absence of feeling loved I would think most of us would feel unwanted, unliked, insignificant, unimportant, unsafe, insecure, and lonely… and I would think it would be very hard to love someone feeling like that.

      In the Wizard of Oz the great wizard said, “The heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.”   The Chicken Whisperer believed the meaning of life was to love  God and to love others, and it starts with understanding God’s love for us.  In reading his story it was obvious that by putting this into practice he literally enabled the people around him to love others, or by making them feel wanted, important, and secure, he freed them up to risk an investment in someone else.   I guess in a way, what we risk (rejection, sorrow, loss) diminishes in light in fact that we have this reservoir, or guarantee, that we are already loved.

      Jesus said he felt loved by his father his entire life and this incredible love allowed him to take incredible risk.   He knew that no matter what happened their relationship was enough in itself to compensate for any losses.   Yet he also knew that by imitating the love of his father, he simply couldn’t lose.  He believed in love because he was loved and he knew what love felt like. 

     When he willingly died on the cross he did it as much for the joy it gave his father to see him act in obedience as he did it for the joy that it would eventually bring to us.  His love for his father was the driving force in his life.  True love works like that: your joy is measured by the joy you give the other person.   So it also gave Jesus great joy to die for you.  And now the Father and Son’s joy must be made complete.
 

Friday, January 14, 2011

CHICKS- ANOTHER CHAPTER FROM "THE CHICKEN WHISPERER"


 “Oh, life is like that. Sometimes, at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at it's zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters descend upon us.”
                                                                …from the movie A Christmas Story

CHICKS
M
y squirrel infested house also comes with five acres of grass, a kid’s dream, an adult’s nightmare.  When a kid has a big yard it is like having a Ferrari—all your friends think you’re cool. When an adult has a big yard (to mow) it’s like walking around Wal-Mart with your fly open—all your friends think you’re an idiot. 

     Growing up in the country, my yard not only had a lot of grass but also an interesting collection of wooden sheds and farm animals. It became the center of neighborhood child activity in spite of my mother’s insistence that we were killing her mutt grass (no distinct bloodline but considered precious) by walking on it.

     My yard had one problem:  The clover attracted bees.  Walking barefoot across my yard in the summer was like using a wasp nest for a teddy bear:  you were asking for it.  Luckily the bees were replaced at dusk with a sky of lightning bugs suspended above a carpet of frogs and crickets.  With flashes and chirping, came hours of safe barefoot running. But all good things must end.

     A wire one June night brought an abrupt end to our myth of safe nighttime running and introduced us to our immortality by sending Tate Lancaster to the emergency room minus one nipple.  I’ve always heard death gets you one piece at a time.

     We had a clothes’ line in my back yard my Dad had rigged so a circus elephant could walk across it.   He accomplished this by setting four poles in concrete and reinforcing them with a couple of taunt guide wires pulled as tight as banjo strings.  To make a long story short, I knew to duck but Tate tried to play a little music.  It took a nice big piece of skin off, including a teat.

     Later that night, chest wrapped in bandages, he came back looking for his shoe.  After a short search, we determined a dog must have taken it.   Two months later I found it.  It was on top of my house.   If we would have had it on video, we would all be rich, and Tate could have afforded plastic surgery.

     Chase anybody and you assume certain risk.  But unlike cartoons, the wounds are real.  Unlike cartoons, nobody laughs.   The world is full of wounded people.

    Some say pets are good therapy for wounded people.  I think anybody who has a pet, should be paid hourly by the government.   Because of my farm experience, I know that raising animals requires constant attention to detail: watering, feeding, cleaning etc.  Whereas most kids would love so many pets, I just saw animals as chores.  I preferred the chickens and the cows simply because they seemed to give me more bang for my buck- eggs and chicken tenders, milk and steak.  In spite of my tendency to eat chickens, they taught me a lot about compassion and heartbreak.

       I was excited when I got twenty-five chicks for a 4-H project because I needed the money from egg sales. I had heard if you fed chickens cornbread laced with hot sauce they would shoot a dozen eggs a day out of their butt.  At that rate of egg production I was thinking I could save enough money for a red Corvette before I turned sixteen.

      My hot rod project started with me keeping twenty-five of the furry little things warm in an incubator and feeding them everyday.   Only one would let me poke my finger through the screen and pet it.  All the others ran for their life because they could smell Kentucky Fried Chicken on my hands.

      My friendship with my lone chick grew quickly and I began to believe my calling in life might be to become a chicken whisperer.   For several days my yellow friend was in the exact same spot every afternoon waiting for an afternoon rub.  Eventually I started noticing it was the runt and barely growing at all.  Two days later I rubbed him a little harder and he fell to pieces- literally.  He was dry rotted.  The reason he was always standing still is because he was dead, impaled on a piece of wire.

     This chick became an omen for the next twenty years of my life:  I’d love something and watch it fall apart.   Me trying to figure out love on my own was like trying to train a chicken:  it didn’t work.

     It was sad that I fell in love with a dead chicken.  I think people love a lot of dead things.  We migrate toward the smaller challenge.  Love a car- simple, inanimate, temporary, unresponsive; or love a person- complicated, living, eternal, emotional.  We like the smaller challenge because it appears safe and is easy to get our hands on.  We assume certain risk when we love the living, but at least we’re not petting a dead chicken.

     So you can only imagine how excited I was when I found this book in my attic and remembered its author, the Chicken Whisperer, left a legacy of love and instructions on how to not only to avoid petting dead chickens but to how to keep them alive.  He understood the great challenge of loving people but at them same time giving them freedom to not respond.  His love was strong but tender, persevering but not forceful, and passionate  but unbelievably patient. His love was revolutionary and results are legendary.  The Chicken Whisperer believed love was worth the risks.  He never played it safe.  Some would say the way he lived got him killed.  I say the way he loved gave a lot of people a chance to live.

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