Thursday, March 21, 2013

Crunch Time

My daughter's birthday is exactly 1 month away which means..."Crunch Time" has begun!

What’s “Crunch Time” you ask? Well, it’s only the 4 most important series of days in my whole calendar year. Days that come back to back to back each and every year for me. Days that are so important that if I miss them, I’m doomed for the next 12 months for sure.

Days that should be easy for me to face with expressions of love and joy, but I must admit every year I struggle with meeting these days with the right motive. A motive of thought filled unconditional love for the 3 most important women in my life.

Here are the days…April 21st, April 23rd, Mother's Day, and May 21st.

What is so important about these days, and probably an equally important question “who are these three women in my life?” Well, they are my wife’s birthday, my mom’s birthday, my daughter’s birthday and the Grandmother of them all – MOTHER’S DAY.

Now you’re probably thinking “come on man you’re just exaggerating, what’s the big deal?” Well, for you it may be no big deal, because you probably just ooze with ideas, creativity, romanticism and spontaneity…Good for you!

Me on the other hand, I’m telling you its hard work! I’m the guy who waits until the last minute, goes to Wal-Mart cruises into the greeting card section, looks for the appropriate crunch time occasion and grabs the first card he sees. Then darts over to the flower section, candy section and or pink aisle in the toy department, depending on which important woman I’m shopping for that day, not to mention depending on how creative I feel that day, and heads for the 2 items or less sign and checks out. In and out in less than 5 minutes that’s my goal.

Every year I go through the same things and every year I feel terrible because in essence what I’m doing is just throwing together something that may have cost me very little in terms of thought, planning, creativity and especially money.

Now I’ve never been to therapy or anything, so I wonder if the reason I struggle is because of the way that the four “girlfriends” I’ve had in my lifetime all ended it with me…Yeah you heard me right, I had four girlfriends (before I met the love of my life) and all four of them dumped me., and for different reasons to…Check this out.

#1 – Dumped me because I was too young (she was 17  I was 16 – come on!)
#2 – Dumped me because I was too tall (she was 4 foot 11 I was 6 foot 4)
#3 – Dumped me because I was too nice – What???
#4 – Dumped me because I wasn’t cool enough – I’m sorry but me and my penny loafers, parachute pants and Flock of Seagulls haircut begged to differ.

Maybe that’s why I have such a hard time getting ready for crunch time because I’ve faced rejection in my life…or maybe it’s just because I’m cheap!

Whatever the reason is, I wish it came easy for me to express my love and genuine affection, appreciation, thankfulness and utter joy for the 3 most important women in my life, but again…it’s hard.

The one time I almost got it right with my wife (before we were married) was on our 1 year anniversary of dating. I couldn’t believe it, God had sent the perfect girl my way, and she was every thing I had been praying for. She was a solid believer, she put God first in every area of her life, she was sweet, funny, smart (in fact I actually prayed that God would send me a library girl…and once I actually found the library and went in…boom there she was!) and to top it all off she was Beautiful!

So, we started dating and sure enough the big one rolled around. The 1 Year Anniversary, the one where you need to step your game up big time. For this one only one kind of flower and only one kind of amount will do. You know what I’m saying, its a dozen red roses with baby’s breath, vase & heart felt card or it’s over!

Here’s how it went down. I got in my ’86 Charger and drove down  into the village to visit the florist. I explained my situation, and how it was crunch time and all, and asked for a dozen roses, a vase, baby’s breath & the best card they had. Did I mention I was a junior in college at this point?

Anyway the florist said to come back in about an hour and he’d have it all together for me to pick up. I had some time to kill so, of course I went the arcade and played some Space Invaders and came back an hour later.

When I walked in and saw what the florist had put together, I was amazed! It was the most beautifully arranged dozen of roses I had ever seen. I mean the vase was sparkling, the roses were gleaming, the baby’s breath was…breathing…get the picture?

Every thing was looking great until I said “so what are the damages?”

He gave me the price and wouldn’t you know it, I didn’t have enough money. I was short, I mean I emptied my wallet, my pockets, my secret stash in my Charger, even the quarters in my penny loafers, still not enough.

So now all kinds of thoughts are running through my mind, I won’t go into all of them, but suffice it to say I finally asked the question that seemed the most obvious to me at the time. I asked “how many roses can I get for the amount of money I have?” I assumed that in order to be a 1 year anniversary worthy ensemble you had to have babies breath, a vase & a card those were non negotiable. The number of roses however, may give me the wiggle room I need, I mean after all 10 or 11 roses mixed in with all the other goodies looks an awful lot like 12…She won’t actually count them any way…will she?

The florist said you have enough to buy 11 roses and all the other trimmings…I thought for a second and said, Deal wrap them up!

Now I must be honest, I had every intention of passing that “dozen” off as the real deal until I got about a half mile from the school, and realized…what if she actually counts them, what if she asks me if I knew there were only 11…what will I say? Then it hit me, I pulled my charger into a church parking lot down the road from my college and grabbed the card that was buried in the “dozen” and wrote these words…

“Bonnie, these last 12 months with you have been amazing! I am so thankful to God for sending you my way. This bunch of roses is just a small symbol of my love for you. Each one represents 1 month that we’ve been together. You’ll notice though (if you happen to count) that there are only 11…that’s because YOU ARE THE 12th!

Bingo! Call me a genius, this was even before Jerry McGuire and the whole “You complete me” rabble. She loved it, and after 21 years of marriage I still feel that way about my wife.

The only problem is, my motives were terrible in that whole thing. I’m just fortunate to have a wife who loves me unconditionally…hmmm, kind of like how God loves us huh?

I learned a lot about myself and my motives that day, so much that when March-May rolls around each year, I start obsessing about Crunch Time, so I’ll look good in the eyes of my ladies. Truth be told though, they’ll love me either way because it’s not about what I bring; it’s about how I bring it.

God is that way as well, He wants us to bring Him our heart felt devotion, worship, praise and commitment because we want to, not because we have to…The difference between religion and relationship by the way.

So as I face Crunch Time this year I’m going to try to put more thought into WHY than WHAT…We’ll see what happens.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Message

1 Corinthians 15:1-28 (MSG)

1-2 Friends, let me go over the Message with you one final time— this Message that I proclaimed and that you made your own; this Message on which you took your stand and by which your life has been saved. (I’m assuming, now, that your belief was the real thing and not a passing fancy, that you’re in this for good and holding fast.)

3-9 The first thing I did was place before you what was placed so emphatically before me: that the Messiah died for our sins, exactly as Scripture tells it; that he was buried; that he was raised from death on the third day, again exactly as Scripture says; that he presented himself alive to Peter, then to his closest followers, and later to more than five hundred of his followers all at the same time, most of them still around (although a few have since died); that he then spent time with James and the rest of those he commissioned to represent him; and that he finally presented himself alive to me. It was fitting that I bring up the rear. I don’t deserve to be included in that inner circle, as you well know, having spent all those early years trying my best to stamp God’s church right out of existence.

10-11 But because God was so gracious, so very generous, here I am. And I’m not about to let his grace go to waste. Haven’t I worked hard trying to do more than any of the others? Even then, my work didn’t amount to all that much. It was God giving me the work to do, God giving me the energy to do it. So whether you heard it from me or from those others, it’s all the same: We spoke God’s truth and you entrusted your lives.

12-15 Now, let me ask you something profound yet troubling. If you became believers because you trusted the proclamation that Christ is alive, risen from the dead, how can you let people say that there is no such thing as a resurrection? If there’s no resurrection, there’s no living Christ. And face it—if there’s no resurrection for Christ, everything we’ve told you is smoke and mirrors, and everything you’ve staked your life on is smoke and mirrors. Not only that, but we would be guilty of telling a string of barefaced lies about God, all these affidavits we passed on to you verifying that God raised up Christ—sheer fabrications, if there’s no resurrection.

16-20 If corpses can’t be raised, then Christ wasn’t, because he was indeed dead. And if Christ weren’t raised, then all you’re doing is wandering about in the dark, as lost as ever. It’s even worse for those who died hoping in Christ and resurrection, because they’re already in their graves.

If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we’re a pretty sorry lot. But the truth is that Christ has been raised up, the first in a long legacy of those who are going to leave the cemeteries.

21-28 There is a nice symmetry in this: Death initially came by a man, and resurrection from death came by a man. Everybody dies in Adam; everybody comes alive in Christ. But we have to wait our turn: Christ is first, then those with him at his Coming, the grand consummation when, after crushing the opposition, he hands over his kingdom to God the Father. He won’t let up until the last enemy is down—and the very last enemy is death! As the psalmist said, “He laid them low, one and all; he walked all over them.” When Scripture says that “he walked all over them,” it’s obvious that he couldn’t at the same time be walked on. When everything and everyone is finally under God’s rule, the Son will step down, taking his place with everyone else, showing that God’s rule is absolutely comprehensive—a perfect ending!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Center Stage and Behind the Scenes

I ran out of time on Sunday but I was going to share the following story of redemption to conclude the sermon on dealing with disaster from the life of Joseph.

We looked at some principles to apply when we face disastrous events in our lives, and find ourselves in the pit of despair just like Joseph found himself at the hands of his brothers.

I love the truths found in this illustration as no matter what happens to us in our lives, whether we're in the pit or the palace God is faithful and continues to have a plan and work it out in our lives. 

He's always at work on center-stage as well as behind the scenes...

“August 22, 1741, was a sweltering day in the city of London. An elderly stooped-shouldered man wandered through the streets. His nightly aimless wandering through the streets of the city had become a familiar ritual. 

His angry mind raced back to the memories of great adulation and then looked at a future of seemingly hopeless despair. For forty years the bachelor had written operatic music which was the rave of royalty in both England and the entire continent. Honors had fallen at his feet. 

He was in demand everywhere. Then things changed quickly and drastically. Fellow musicians became jealous and bitter. Members of the royal court reacted strongly to his abrasive manner. A rival gained great success, and envy began to grow. 

As though that were not enough, a cerebral hemorrhage paralyzed his right side. He could no longer write. Doctors gave little hope for recovery. 

The old composer traveled to France and began to soak in baths rumored to have miraculous powers. Doctors warned him about staying in the scalding water for such long periods of time but he ignored their advice. At one point, he stayed in for nine hours at a time. 

Gradually his weakened muscles began to receive new life. As his health improved, he once again began to write. Soon, to his amazement, his works were being received with rapturous applause. 

Honors again began to flow. Life seemed to be heading for the stars. But then he found himself in the pits once more. 

Queen Caroline, who had been his staunch supporter, died. England found itself on hard economic times. Wasting heat to warm a theater was viewed as ridiculous. His shows were canceled. And now he found himself wandering aimlessly through the streets once again.

Having wondered where in the world God was, he wandered back home. Opening his door, he found a wealthy gentleman waiting in his living room. The man was Charles Gibbon, who had startled England by rewriting Shakespeare. 

Gibbon explained that he had just finished writing a text for a musical that covered the entire Old and New Testament. He believed that the gifted musician was the man to set it to music.

He gave the manuscript to the composer and challenged him to write. As he walked out the door, Gibbon turned long enough to say, ‘The Lord gave me those words.’ 

The great maestro scoffed at the audacity of the young man. No one had ever challenged George Frederick Handel to write something he had not thought of first. Handel’s temper was violent and he was a dominating presence among his enemies. 

Why had Gibbon not brought an opera that was more the composer’s cup of tea?

Indifferently he began to read. Suddenly portions of the passage leaped from the page. His eyes fell on such words as ‘He was despised, rejected of men…he looked for someone to have pity on him, but there was no man; neither found he any to comfort him.’ 

His eyes raced ahead to ‘He trusted in God…God did not leave his soul in hell…He will give you rest.’ And finally the words stopped at ‘O know that my redeemer liveth…rejoice…hallelujah.’ 

He picked up his pen and began to write. Music seemed to flow through his mind as though it had been penned up for years. Putting music to the script, he finished the first part in seven days. The second section was completed in six days and two days were given to fine-tuning the instrumentation. 

Thus, at the age of fifty seven, Handel completed the Messiah in a mere twenty-four days. 

When the classical work was first performed in London, and the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ was reached, King George II stood because he was so moved. To this day people still rise to their feet as a sign of worship of God and admiration of this great work of art.

Handel, like Joseph, had to deal with the pits of life. But the strength to do so came from knowing the One who can overcome all of the pits. 

How about you? Do you know the God who is able to rescue you from the cisterns of life?

Do you see His hand even in the pit in which you may find yourself? Perhaps the pit is merely a brief stopping place on the road to greatness.

Just like Isaiah 43 reminds us, no matter what we go through God is faithful...Center-Stage and Behind the Scenes.