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Monday, March 21, 2011

A WARM BREAD PILLOW


Ashamed of his monstrous form, the beast concealed himself inside his castle, with a magic mirror as his only window to the outside world. The rose she had offered was truly an enchanted rose, which would bloom until his 21st year. If he could learn to love another, and earn her love in return by the time the last petal fell, then the spell would be broken. If not, he would be doomed to remain a beast for all time. As the years passed, he fell into despair and lost all hope. For who could ever learn to love a beast?”
                          ….from the movie Beauty and the Beast

BREAD AND CAKE
I am the bread of life.  Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died.  But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”  ….Jesus

I
 had a wonderful Grandmother named Flossie who simply lived her life in pink-  pink housecoats, pink slippers, pink pants, pink blouses, etc.  She loved pink, and she was a bread maker.   Flossie had this incredible recipe for hand made yeast bread that was a million years old and must have had Moses’ stamp of approval. When she came to visit I remember her telling me, “Now Timmy don’t poke the dough it has to rise!  Of course you know I really wanted to poke the dough after she said that. Half the fun of a balloon is popping it.  Ok, all the fun of a balloon is popping it.  So what possessed me not to poke that dough is beyond me.  Maybe if I knew I could eventually eat a balloon I wouldn’t pop it either? Anyway, after letting it rise I also recall how she always pinched off a piece to seed the next batch of dough with the active yeast.  And the smell, well let’s just say I wanted to sleep on a warm bread pillow.   

    So the first time I heard Jesus say he was bread I imagined him as a warm, soft, pink, kind of guy that smelled really good.   And even the part about eating his flesh sounded good to me.  As a kid, I really wanted to take a bite out of Jesus.  Even my earliest memories of communion reinforced the idea that Jesus tasted good.   I had no idea just how good he really tasted.

     King David said, “Taste the Lord and see that He is good!”  My pet peeve is people who say they don’t like a particular food but have never even tried it.  Another pet peeve is people who believe everything that is healthy must taste bad just like a lot of people believe that God may be a good thing but his instructions are nasty.  We treat God like medicine.  One of the greatest challenges set before the church today is to deliver the correct, authentic, recipe of God.  The true, living God, is quite frankly irresistible and extremely satisfying.  There is a dangerous recipe of world mixed with religion being presented as God today, and when this generic religion is ingested it will literally make you spiritually sick.  A lot of people are disgusted with their faith, or even God, because their recipe is missing key ingredients.  We leave out things we determine are not critical, or too difficult to obtain, and then we expect it to still work.  We forsake discipline, accountability, tithing, service, etc. because we believe these are minor ingredients.  Leave the egg out of the cake and watch what happens. Although grace is instant, spiritual maturity is a process that comes from submitting our lives to the Word of God.  There are no short cuts.  The Word of God reveals the true character of God, his authentic values, and overwhelming attractive personality and this is why every Christian should first and foremost be a student of God’s Word.  The Word of God reveals that God is good and loving.  Jesus himself was adamant about setting the record straight about who his Father was.  The character of God has been under attack ever since the Garden.   Most people don’t love God because they are confused about who He is.  And the only way to know God is to first accept His true and living bread from Heaven, his one and only begotten Son who expresses his true, good, and loving heart for his children.

     Manna was special bread the Israelites were familiar with because it temporarily saved their ancestor’s lives during their trek out of Egypt.  The distance was 211 miles.  It took them 40 years, or they averaged 25 yards per day.  If you ever thought your progress in Christian maturity was slow, remember the Israelites.  They had been in a foreign land for years and you can take the Israelite out of the foreign land, but it takes years to take the foreign land out of the Israelites.  During these years of refinement God reestablished himself as Provider by supplying them with daily bread to keep them physically alive.  This special bread fell like dew on the ground every morning for them to gather and eat later in the day. Think about this: bread that saves our life, and keeps us nourished until we reach the Promised Land.  Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.”

     The last day of their enslavement before Pharaoh released them from captivity, an event called the Passover took place.   During this event the Israelites were instructed by God to mark their doorpost with the blood of a lamb as a proclamation of their faith in God’s deliverance.  In return their family was spared the death angel taking their firstborn son.  The instructions also included that they would eat the meat of the lamb during the night.   Think about this:  blood that is shed for sparing our lives as we partake of the flesh of what is saving us.   Jesus was the precious Lamb of God.

    God doesn’t hate sin just because we aren’t doing what He told us to do.  He hates sin because it harms his children.  Sin is contrary to the heart of the One who creates because it destroys what is created.  And the reason sin has such dreadful consequences is to protect us from being deceived about it’s ability to destroy.  Think about how pain is a good thing.  The pain in your hand let’s you know it is on the stove.  The pain in your eye let’s you know it has a bug in it scratching your retina.  Pain tells us to move our hand and remove the bug.  The consequences of sin create an awareness of our Fallen state.  So through the curse God creates an environment that is conducive to us becoming aware of the reality of our lostness and sickness.  The only thing worse than being lost and sick, is being both but not being aware of either.  We need help, and this is why we have a Savior.  This is why the Bread of Life and Lamb of God came.

      And the Bread of Life says there will be dessert in heaven, or we are not only rescued but we are celebrated in the Kingdom of God.  There are many mentions of a feast being prepared when a child repents and is found in Christ accepting the forgiveness of God that comes through the sacrifice of His Lamb.  The best story is the parable spoken by Jesus about the prodigal son whose misunderstanding of his Father’s heart has led him to believe he will be lucky to feed the pigs when he returns home and repents.  Instead He finds his father waiting, with open arms, and as he begins to beg for a job his father interrupts with celebration and welcomes him home by placing a robe on his back and a ring on his finger…and he calls him son.   God’s greatest mission is the redemption of his children, and his greatest joy is when they return.

    In 1981 Jaycee Dugard was kidnapped from her front lawn at the age of eleven.  Her stepfather witnessed the abduction and actually tried to chase the kidnappers on a bicycle.  For the next 18 years, Jaycee’s parents searched for their missing daughter, until 1999 when she was found alive being held captive by her kidnappers.   She had been sexually and mentally abused for eighteen years.  She had two children of her own fathered by her kidnapper.  How do you think Jaycee’s parents felt about her dramatic return?  How do you think God feels when his children who have been abducted and abused by the Enemy return safely home?  No wonder He celebrates.

        Birthday’s were a pretty big event when I was growing up.  We had a $15 budget.  I usually asked for a plastic tackle box and a Zebco 33.  I also got to choose a flavor for a cake.  I always asked for lemon with lemon frosting.  It was a simple pan-cake with about a quarter inch of smooth, creamy, delicious frosting.  In a way I like to think Heaven smelled like lemons the day I turned toward my Father.  It was my discovery of the fact that God could love the Beast because He saw the Beauty that led me to repentance. When I repented and returned to my Father a great celebration broke out with rejoicing in the Kingdom.  I remember falling on my knees and begging God to forgive me, praying that I might someone just squeeze through the door of Heaven and feed the pigs but I underestimated my Father’s heart.   That day, Heaven filled with the smell of lemon cake and my name was engraved on a gold Zebco 33.  And while He prepared a room for me with a warm bread pillow, the other Saints joined my beloved pink Flossie in cheering me on toward completing this great, sacred race now set before me.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.  And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?  If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.  Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!  Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.  No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. “…the book of Hebrews

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A SUFFERING GOD (Warning: graphic examples)


  AN EXCERPT FROM TIMM'S NEW BOOK, THE CHICKEN WHISPERER- ON SALE IN MAY 2011

I have spent twenty years in personal, relational ministry with only seven of these as a paid staff person.   The other thirteen years I worked a normal job and committed my free time to the pursuit of young people in the name of Christ.  I can tell you this: ministry is breathtaking but heartbreaking.  During these years of incredible friendships and discipleship, I have also grieved greatly over the suffering of my friends.  I have become familiar with the pain of rejection and the almost unbearable burden of loving someone who self-destructs.  Although my heart has been hurt and my faith has been challenged, I have also had my mind renewed and my hope emboldened.  There were people I love, and still love, who choose not to follow Jesus, and there are many still who wrestle with accepting him as both Savior and Lord.  Part of their struggle could be connected to my poor leadership but I also know we both struggle because we share a common Enemy.  I have had a front row seat to the consequences of rampant sexual misconduct, the scars and wounds of physical abuse, the damage and destruction of drugs, and even the sting of death by suicide.  I have watched my friends suffer.  I have watched them bleed.  I have watched them cry.  I have tried, honestly I have tried, to love these people the best I know how and yet the suffering seems endless.  And yet it is in this painful process of loving others I have come to know the heart of my Father.   I know his heart is broken.  I know why his Son wept and I know why his Son had to die… because when you love someone your greatest concern is their suffering and your greatest act of kindness is to become personally acquainted with their suffering to enable your heart for their care and rescue.

     Almost everyone has heard the expression, “walk a mile in my shoes.” It means that to understand people it would be helpful to live as they live, experience life on their terms.  To truly love someone you need to know their story, you need to become familiar with all that has happened to them, you need to know all the pieces of the puzzle to get the big picture.  And it is fascinating that God looked down on man and decided to do exactly this, to enter into the human experience.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.”

    When we read the New Testament account of the life of Jesus a few things become very apparent.  One, as much as He missed his Father,  Jesus appeared to fully enjoy his experience with man in spite of the fact his visit was heartbreaking. You follow Him through the gospels and you find a Savior whose heart is aware of the crisis of his creation, a Savior who engages the marginalized people of society, a Savior who is actively loving, helping, and serving broken mankind.  He is not untouched.  He has children on his lap, women clinging to his leg, and men leaning on his shoulder.  For four thousand years he has endured the separation  of his children created by  sin and now among us again He embraces the moment.  With us He speaks the mysteries of God and talks about how man must be born again. With us He eats and drinks and talks about never thirsting or hungering again.   With us He leads us to repentance referring to us as lost sheep and precious coins.  With us He defends us and loves us by not defending himself as He is hung on a cross.  And when it comes time to say good-bye, Our Savior once again reaches out to touch us but this time He washes our feet.  (crying)  The Creator washed the creation’s feet.

    Two, He intentionally limited his power to familiarize himself with our human sufferings.   He did this to prepare himself to become not only a sacrifice for our sin but also the perfect high priest, our advocate before God. This is the equivalent of me playing Frisbee golf left-handed with my friends.  I am very good at throwing a Frisbee but I restrain my power to level the playing field, to make our fellowship more interesting and prevent resentment toward my ability, and, to demonstrate my heart toward them.  More than demonstrating his power, Jesus was intent on demonstrating his love. By practicing restraint He developed an intimate rapport with the disciples.  I once heard that the fullness of God is a beautiful equally fearful thing to behold.  The disguise of his humanness allowed him to slowly reveal himself at a rate that his followers could receive it.  Also by subjecting himself to our trials and tribulations, he acquired a unique perspective of our suffering and we acquired a unique perspective of how He responds to it.  Jesus has a unique connection to mankind because he endured the fallen human experience and He has a unique connection to God because he is His only Son.  Who then is better to reconcile us to God within the act of the Cross?   As He slowly revealed the heart of God over the course of his life He was preparing our hearts for the unimaginable and unfathomable beauty and horror of Calvary were no man can stand and every knee shall bow as we look at the full glory of Love.

     During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”

     Jesus entered into our suffering to reveal God’s love toward us and He also came to show us how powerful the relationship can be when we love God back.  And if we are to love God wouldn’t it be helpful to walk a mile in His shoes like He did in ours.  Through ministry we enter the heart of God.  Let’s take a moment and imagine we have a son, and it is Christmas.  We have been busy all morning preparing a huge meal and putting special gifts under the tree.  We cannot wait for him to come visit.  It has been many years.  We miss him dearly.  We love him and think about him all the time.  Instead he has chosen not to come home.  Rather than returning to our outstretched arms he has chosen to rape, torture, and kill a young boy and then dismember the body. Our son is Jeffery Dahmer.  Jeffery Dahmer tortured, raped, and dismembered seventeen male victims during his lifetime.  His victim’s bodies, and body parts, were found hidden in barrels, freezers, shallow graves, and closets.  I seriously doubt when his parents held their infant son in their arms they ever imagined the horror that he would grow up to be a serial killer.  Nor can I imagine the pain of discovering the details of how their son had thrown his life away and the horrific pain he had created for so many families in the process.  Jeffery’s father actually reached out to him after he was incarcerated for his crimes and mailed him literature about the Gospel, signifying his broken heart and hope for his son.   Neither his mother or father ever recanted their love for their son, a son the world hated. He was bludgeoned to death after a few years in prison by inmates with broomsticks.  Several families of his victims made it publicly known that they approved of his murder.    Imagine how it would feel to watch a son you love become something that is so evil that people rejoice at news of his death.  God knows how Jeffery’s parents felt.  He watches his children throw their lives away every day.  And these are children He loves deeply.  He watches them cheat each other, envy their neighbors, kill each other, prostitute their young, rape their women, spit on their Redeemer, rip the flesh off the back of their Savior, and mock their King.  He comes to us in our prison of sin and we reach through the bars and we choke Him. (crying)   Now you know how God feels.  God’s heart is broken. 

     When we devote ourselves to the fellowship of ministry we get acquainted with the grief and suffering of God.  As we stand in the gap with our patient, powerful Father and experience the sweat and blood of actively participating in the redemption of his creation we cannot help but love Him even more.  I have a deep respect for God and I must tell you, I cannot imagine how much I myself have made God suffer.   I am prone to wander.  I am a rebellious Son.   Grace, grace, amazing grace.  I must commit to true repentance that I might bring my Father joy in the midst of this unbearable sea of sin and sadness. 

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