Untangled

My parents bought me a game called Ready, Set, Spaghetti (by Milton Bradley) when I was a kid. The game concept was simple—winning was another story.

Each player had a long piece of yarn “spaghetti” attached to the board. At the end of the yarn was a plastic fork. The goal was to wind up all your yarn first.

On the board were pegs that had “pizza topping” stickers on them, like mushroom and meatball and green pepper. At the beginning of the game, we wrapped up the other players’ yarn around as many pegs as possible.

When you rolled the die, it told you which kind of peg you could pull out (mushroom, meatball, green pepper, etc.). You could uproot one of that kind of peg to help free your spaghetti string.

Each time your string got a little more free, you’d wind it up on your fork. The goal was to have no more pegs standing in the way of your string, so you could roll it all the way up.

In Scripture it says,

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV)

Like the string in the game is caught on obstacles that block it from going anywhere, our minds are tangled on thoughts that prevent us from worshiping God the way He deserves. We’re not free to serve Him as we could be, because we’re caught on ways and habits of thinking that impede our full devotion to Him.

In the game I had as a child, the pegs released the string from its confinement. In our minds, God’s promises release our thoughts from their traps.

We find God’s promises throughout His entire Word.  Every time we hold onto a promise, we let go of a destructive thought that holds us back from worshiping Him.

In Ready, Set, Spaghetti, you couldn’t put in new pegs during the game to block players. But in our lives, Satan is constantly sticking more false ideas and hazy confusions in our mind to prevent us from experiencing the love of God. That’s why it’s so important that we cling to His Word.

We can trust who He says He is and who He says we are in Him—even when we have doubts and uncertainties that try to hold us back.

One day, all the pegs will be swept out of the board. We’ll be totally free, and our minds will be delighted beyond imagination as we experience Him without our usual hold-ups. Even now, we can get ready for that day by uprooting—patiently, faithfully, and one-by-one—every idea in our head that prevents us from the full worship—and breathtaking delight—of our awesome God.

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No more walkie talkies

walkie talkies

Long ago, before there were cell phones 🙂 . . there were walkie talkies.  Since this story is from my childhood, there will be walkie talkies in the story . . and not cell phones.

I was about eight or nine when my mom gave me the choice for I guess my birthday, between a new cartoon VHS (which also dates me) or a pair of walkie talkie.  It was a tough decision but, in the end, I chose the walkie talkies.

And not just any walkie talkies.

I got Fisher Price walkie talkies.

They were rectangles and as heavy as early 90’s gadgets were.  They were a cool red with blue antenna and yellow “talk” buttons.  Best of all, they had a sticker of the morse code alphabet and a special little button that beeped in morsecodical.

All of my friends wanted to get on the walkie talkies.  The most fun part was to walk as far away as you could without losing range and whispering.  It didn’t matter what was said over the walkie talkies, as long as it was top secret and classified.  We all took turns as secret agents, bubbling over with nonsense confidentiality as we tested the walkie talkies to see how far away we could be.

There’s an inner human longing to be let in on a secret, and to tell one.  We all want to be part of something intimate, something just for us.  I think that’s a big pull for gossip, even though gossip destroys relationships rather than bonding them.  We want to be a part of something close, something special.

Where did this longing for close communication come from?

From our longing to talk with God.

We deeply crave the closeness with God that Adam had.  When he walked in the Garden with God, he could talk to him about anything he wanted.  Oh, how we long to talk to God about what’s on our hearts!  We long to hear from Him, audibly, the way Adam did.  We long to know what He thinks of us and, for those who follow Christ, we long to tell Him how much we love Him and see His reaction.

Right now, we don’t have that walk with God.  Even Christians who have the closest fellowship with God would tell you of their longing to share more of God’s secrets.  We are in a world right now with a chasm of sin separating us from God.  This chasm is like a no-zone of communication.  No talk, either direction, gets through.

But Christ is the bridge for our chasm.  And when we give our lives to Him, we are on the bridge crossing the chasm, and we begin our communication with God.

While we’re on that bridge, in a certain way, our relationship with God is like talking on a walkie-talkie.  Sometimes, our sin puts us so out of range that we can’t hear Him.  Sometimes, the distractions we allow into our lives create so much static that we drown out His voice.  And sometimes, we have moments where we deeply experience the secret love of God in our hearts.

For the Christ-follower, our final step on the bridge toward God is death.

From that point on, there’s no more need for walkie talkies.  We’ll be in the Presence of God Himself, and He can whisper His secrets to us all day long–forever.

My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “LORD, I am coming.” (Psalm 27:8, NLT)

The Gift

In my last few years of being young enough for VBS (Vacation Bible School), I got to go to a simply incredible program offered by one of our local churches.  The church transformed a large empty lot into “Jerusalem”.  The lot was dotted with tents and stations and costumed actors.

We were divided into small groups, and we each had a teacher who brought us into a huge assembly in the morning.  There, we would sing songs and see actors perform Biblical events.  Those same actors would walk around outside in “Jerusalem” throughout the day, adding a masterful realism.  I was in awe.  I am ever so grateful for the work this church placed into presenting the Word of God to children.

The most profound moment for me, however, was something of extraordinary simplicity.  It is to this day a radical shaping of how I have come to understand salvation.  And I can say that even about twenty years later, I still haven’t delved the depths nor mined all the jewels from what I was taught that day.

Our teacher had tiny presents, each lovingly wrapped.  She had us gathered on a quiet side of the camp, and she said something like this,

“Jesus gives us salvation as a free gift.  There’s nothing you can do to earn it.  It’s a present.  He wants to give this gift to everyone.  There is only one thing you have to do to receive His gift.  You have to take it.”

She showed us her basket of little presents.

“I have a present for each of you,” she said.  “I’m going to ask you if you want to receive it.  If you do, it is your gift to have.”

I remember that she came to each of us, intentionally.

“T.J., would you like this gift?” she asked me.

“Yes,” I said.

She gave me the little present.

I was almost trembling.  I had been afraid of myself, afraid I would say no.  I opened the present with nervous fingers.  I was absolutely delighted–and a little surprised–to receive the gift.

I think back on that time, and I realize how close I have stayed to needing that message my whole life.

For most of my life, I have gone through long stages of feeling inadequate to receive salvation.  I have struggled for months and years at a time with wondering if I have ever been saved, or have lost my salvation.  I’ve wondered if God would really give me any gift at all, much less the most priceless gift in all the world.  I’ve wondered if God would really give me His Son.

Are you like me?

Do you doubt that God could ever love you?  That He really meant you in John 3:16?  That He really wants to just give you something without prerequisites, conditions, and qualifiers?  Do you struggle with wondering if you’ve done enough since you were saved to somehow earn “keeping” your salvation?

So do I.

And yet . . the clues are already in place to lead me to a different conclusion than endless self-inspection and despair.

After all, God gave me an undeserved gift when He sent me to that VBS.  He gave me another undeserved gift when He sent me to my teacher, who would make the Good News so clear that day.  And He gave me another undeserved gift when He had my teacher prepare that object lesson for us.

I already have proof in my life that God gives undeserved gifts.  So do you.  If you want to know what God is like, read Jesus’ description (and Jesus would know, since He is God) in Matthew 5:43-45.

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.” (NLT)

I spend much of my life wondering whether God would give me His gracious gift of salvation.  But I haven’t been thinking about how many gracious gifts God has given me already that show His willingness to love me and offer me mercy!  These gifts reveal God’s nature to me and give me confidence that He would really give me the most awesome gift of His Son.

 . . And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins. (Romans 5:16, NLT).

Salvation is really a free gift.  We don’t earn salvation.  We can’t “keep” salvation by doing good things.  We can simply receive salvation from Jesus.

All the complications and constructs of trying to somehow be worthy are demo’d by these two words: free gift.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23, NLT)

 

 

 

 

Published in: on June 7, 2014 at 4:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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10 Songs for When You Are Really Depressed

  1. Christ Is Risen, Matt Maher
  2. Cornerstone, Aaron Shust
  3. El Shaddai, Michael Card
  4. Empty Me, Chris Sligh
  5. He Is, Mark Schultz
  6. I Surrender to You, Jeremy Camp
  7. Oceans, Hillsong
  8. Sound of Your Voice, Third Day
  9. Speak Life, TobyMac
  10. Worn, Tenth Avenue North

. . be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. (Ephesians 5:18b-19)

Dive in

Leaping into candy gumballs.

My escape in the ball pit as a child.

Completely covered by a popcorn rainbow.

Hidden inside light-as-a-feather rocks.

Tunneling through scoops of bouncy ice cream.

There was something breathtakingly captivating about being totally tucked inside a hill, totally hidden from view, and yet able to breath and squirm and even see.

The ball pit . . marvelous.

Two summers ago, I got to see the very same effect again through the eyes of a child.  I got to meet Helen, a girl I sponsor in Guatemala at a celebration center that had all sorts of children’s play equipment.  Helen came from a rural village and may have never seen a ball pit.  But she dove in like a pro.  She hid way under the pile of colorful balls and then popped out.

Ever since the Garden, there has been something delightful about hiding in goodness.  Adam and Eve tried to hide among the foliage so that God wouldn’t see their sin.  We try to hide in our achievements, entertainment, status, job, and other distractions to keep ourselves away from God, too.

But hiding in God’s goodness–that’s an altogether different story.  Rather than the heavy-laden burden of distraction, hiding in God’s goodness is a light delight.  We can move about freely, totally hidden from our sin, our soul totally buried from Satan’s grasp.

Recommended resources: Dive by Steven Curtis Chapman and Hidden in Christ: Living as God’s Beloved by James Bryan Smith

My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge; My savior, You save me from violence. (2 Samuel 22:3, NASB)

Published in: on March 30, 2014 at 7:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Flying free

Yesterday, the first day of spring, I had an unusual conversation with a robin.

Close up of a Robin perched on a branch

I could tell right away this was no ordinary robin.

It’s extraordinary for a robin to stop and give you the time of day, much less have a conversation with you in the middle of the day.  A robin has to really be distracted to want to talk to you.  And she was.

She was in a tree, and that was ordinary.  She occasionally fluttered her wings during our talk (as if testing that they still worked) and that was ordinary.  She hopped about on the branch, as if itching to go somewhere, and that was ordinary.

But she had two tiny suitcases, crammed and overflowing, on either side of her.  And so I knew: This was no ordinary robin.

She was struggling with all her bags and not making a bit of progress, and I could tell she could use a friend.

“What is all this stuff?” I asked.

“I’m preparing for my first flight,” she tweeted, her wings twitching in agitation.  “Or I’m trying to.”

“Your . . first flight?”

“I’m not like the other birds,” she explained.  “I didn’t leave my nest when I was a kid.  No ma’am, I stayed right there.  I wanted to be ready.”  She bobbed her head at the nest just beside her.

“But now I’m ready,” she continued, panting as she tugged one of her suitcases closer.  “Ready . . to . . fly.”

“That’s a lot of stuff,” I commented.

“I need a lot of stuff,” she explained.  “Do you know what’s out there? . .”  She shuddered.  Then she pointed her beak to her suitcases.  “Do you know what all I need?”

“No. .”

“My parachute,” she said with a little exasperation.  “How can anyone fly without a parachute?  And my snacks.  Don’t want to faint of low blood sugar in the middle of flight.  And my winter downy jacket in case it gets too cold, and my suntan lotion in case I fly too close to the sun.

“My photographs of my mom and dad, brothers and sisters, and my great-great-great aunt.  The string my mom found in the parking lot last month and the straw my brother brought in from that old barn by caterpillar pond.  I’ve got to bring those with me.  Don’t want anyone stealing my valuables.  And . .” she wiggled her foot.

There was a string tied around her foot.  Now that I noticed it, I saw the other side was tied with a neat bow around her nest, too.

“Can’t leave my house behind,” she said confidently.  “I’ve almost finished the mortgage payments on this nest.”  She looked down reluctantly.  “Nobody better move on this lot while I’m gone.  Do you know what this kind of prime branch costs nowadays?”

“Uh . .”

“More than a sky full of worms, I’ll tell you that,” she said.  And then she added, “Maybe I shouldn’t go.”

I hesitated.

“But . . aren’t you supposed to fly free?” I asked meekly.  “Isn’t that what birds usually do?”

She looked indignant, and robins have a very serious indignant look.

“Do you mean to say,” she asked, “you want me to be unprepared?”

“Well . . no,” I said.  “But how is that parachute going to help you, anyway, if it’s packed in your suitcase?”

“What do you mean?” she asked.  “I’ll have it with me.  That’s all that matters.

“But you can’t put it on mid-air,” I said gently.

“Oh yes I can,” she said.  “Of course I can.  I can fly.”

“But then . . why do you need the . .”

“The problem is,” she continued, ignoring me, “God only gave me two wings.  I don’t know why.  I really need two hands and two wings.  I need to carry all my things.  God must be very mean.  How does He expect me to survive like this?”

“But–”

“. . I’ll just have to go back to my nest,” she said, edging back over the few inches she’d traveled.  “What a shame.  What a pity.  But it’s just not safe.  I’ll have to wait until next year.  Maybe then God will have given me hands so I can fly.  Or an airborne U-haul.  Now that would be helpful.”

“But–”

“–You’ll have to excuse me, but I need a nap after all this thought of travel,” she interrupted.  “Not to mention, these suitcases are heavy.  I think I pulled a feather.

“Now, if you see any worms, send them my way.  Oh, and those little packages of travel peanuts.

“If you see my insurance agent wandering around, would you bring her here?  I think she made a right after the oak instead of a left . . With as close as I got this year to travel, you had better believe I need more flight insurance.”  She shuddered.  “I probably shouldn’t have even gone out on a limb without it.

“Oh, and one more thing,” she said, blinking up at me, “could you help me download a weather app?”

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”(Jesus, quoted in Matthew 6:25-26, ESV)