Together Again for the First Time

Screen shot from iPad Marvel Comics app

Back in the early 1990’s, Marvel did something interesting. In The Uncanny X-Men issue 268 (I forget the year) Marvel teamed up Captain America, Black Widow, and (my favorite mutant) Wolverine. It takes place in two different time period–World War II and the (then) present day. In the World War II story arc, Wolverine teams up with Captain America in the fictional city of Madripoor to save a little child. In the (then) present day story arc, Wolverine and Black Widow team up to fight bad guys that we learn are connected to the World War II story arc. (Sorry, but no spoilers here, you have to find the issue and read it to find out the rest)

Back in high school (yes, I’m getting older now) when I first read this issue, I was enamored with the art work, the story telling, and of course how awesome Wolverine is in any time period. The story, though, stuck with me. So much so that decades later when I was constantly buying comics off the Marvel app, I did a deep search for this specific issue and reread it. It still resonated with me. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s the connections we make over the years that are important. Maybe it’s that one action in the past creates positive consequences and benefits in the future and present day. I asked my 7th grade daughter, who also loves comics, to read it and give me her insights on it. Her reaction: “The art was really good and different from the newer comics.” Her reaction wasn’t the same as mine. that bugged me.

I started thinking about this and came to a realization about myself and what it meant for God’s Kingdom. (Yes, I’m going there)

The World War II story arc is about saving a child. The (then) present day story arc was about how that child benefited from being saved. Through Captain America and Wolverine’s actions during World War II they brought hope and healing to someone. And in the (then) present day story arc, Wolverine was able to do so again.

This got me to thinking: What we do today in the name of Christ can have a huge ripple effect across the world. When I was a Sophomore in high school in big trouble, someone came and presented the Gospel message to me in such a way that made me turn my life around and start following Christ. Over the decades now I have done all I can t o faithfully serve Christ and help others as I had been helped. Looking back, I don’t always see the ripple I left but I have been told by others that I have made a difference in their life.

Reflecting on this particular issue of X-Men, I started thinking about God’s kingdom and what things might look like on the other side of glory.

To be honest, none of us knows what a kind word here, a loving deed there, a shoulder of grace to lean on at one time can do for someone and change their lives. These small actions can mean so much to someone that we might never know.

It makes me wonder what heaven might truly look like and who might be there.

Thinking about the other side of glory, I begin to wonder who might be there. Who might I be together with again for the first time there. What small action of mine for God’s Kingdom might influence someone else to the point where they too are part of God’s Kingdom and I, I never knew the part I played in it all.

In Matthew 25, Jesus tells the parable of the sheep and the goats. At the end time, God will separate people like sheeps from goats (don’t ask me how but we’ll look at the why shortly). The sheep on the right and the gots on the left. It might seem trivial as to why people are separated but then the King says that he was in need and was helped by those who were like sheep, placed on the right, they did so in the name of Christ. The king says to them;

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the lest of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40

Dude! The little things we do in the name of Christ add up and become ginormous.

Think about how we treat others in the name of Christ. Is it beneficial? Is it a blessing to them? Is it helping them grow? Is it giving to them a small but basic need to survive? All these things add up when we live out our lives for Christ in the small things that we do.

Reflecting on this, I really wonder who I’ll see on the other side of glory when Christ comes in His fullness and glory. I wonder how my actions in the name of Christ led to people coming to know Him more. I wonder what a kind word or action done in Christ’s name might led to later in someone else’s life. Who will I see? I don’t know. But I do know that we’ll be together again for the first time.

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The Kingdom of Heaven is Like a Magikarp

Back in 2016 something happened. Pokemon Go happened. It popped up on the scene and became a huge hit. People were walking around outside and talking with people and fighting made up creatures in gyms across the nation, across them world even. These creatures start out small and then you use candies to evolve them into bigger, stronger Pokemon. It was a huge hit for adults and children alike. And then it faded, as all fads seem to do, and was in the background for a number of years. And yet recently Pokemon Go celebrated its 5 year anniversary.

I will admit that I was one of the ones who fell for the fad. My first Pokemon I caught was a bulbasaur. 14 points. I still have it after all these years. But there’s one Pokemon that is very much a metaphor for me recently–Magikarp.

The Magikarp is one of the smallest and most useless Pokemon out there. It’s points are low. All it does is flop on the ground. It doesn’t even fight. But here’s the thing, it takes a lot of Magikapr candy for it to evolve. Like a lot. 400 candies to be exact. Each Magikarp gives you 3 candies per catch. If you need 400 candles to evolve it, divide 3 by 400 and that’s…well, a lot of Magikarp (I was an English major for a reason).

The Magikarp, though puny and worthless, evolves into a Gyrados, a very powerful Pokemon. It’s worth the 400 Magikarp candies to evolve it. But it takes time. It takes patience, it takes skill, and it takes the willingness to play Pokemon Go.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to that of a mustard seed. I grew up in Southern California and live in west Michigan. I’ve never seen as mustard seed or a mustard plant. But according to what Jesus says, the mustard seed is the smallest of the seeds which are planted but grows to become so huge that the birds of the air come and rest on it (Matthew 13:31-32). So if the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, what does that mean?

Just like the Magikarp, there’s lot going on here. First and foremost, the seed needs to be planted, just like the Magikarp needs to be caught. It takes time for the plant to grow. It takes time for something so small to become something so huge.

The Kingdom of God is here and now. It was ushered in when Jesus died upon the cross and rose again on the third day. The Kingdom of God is not something out there in the future that will only last 1,000 years. It is here and now breaking in to our world. It started out small. Just 11 people huddled in a closed room, 50 days after Jesus rose again. The Holy Spirit came like fire and gave the Kingdom of God to His people. From this 11, the Kingdom grew. And it is to be seen in the church today.

In Pokemon Go you have gyms. In these gyms you sometimes have raids. And this is where it gets interesting. In Pokemon Go, you get to have a group of friends whom you can trade Pokemon with and battle in raids with. You create your own little Pokemon community. But you can also defend these gyms when there aren’t raids. You place them in a gym and declare your team’s color in the gym. Others come along from your team and can give food to your Pokemon to make them stronger in battle.

The church is a Kingdom community. It represents the Kingdom of God here on earth. In the church, you have the breaking of the Kingdom of God in powerful ways. In the church, there is supposed to be no male or female, slave or free, Greek or Jew, or anything else that divides us (Galatians 3:26-28). We are to be one and whole as the Body of Christ, showing the love and compassion of Christ to the world around us and breaking into the world as the Kingdom.

But it starts small and takes time. It takes a lot of time. It’s taken almost 2,000 years and we’re still trying to be the Kingdom of God in these small Kingdom communities. We are to help the needy, serve the marginalized, break through barriers, and create a space where we are all one in Christ.

Now the mustard seed is just a seed just like the Magikarp is just an imaginary creature on an app on my phone. But the Kingdom of God is real and is here now. We as the church need to break into the world and be Kingdom communities, being Christ into this world until Jesus comes back in His fullness and glory and majesty making all nations and languages one who worship Him. Until then, we live small and dream big, living with the Kingdom here and now.

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COVID and Habakkuk 3

To be honest, I didn’t think it’d happen to me. I wore a mask. I practiced social distancing. I washed my hands. I used Purell. I did all things correctly like the CDC said I was supposed to. And then I started feeling tired. I started feeling achy. At first I thought it was because I was over 40 and this was just getting older. I thought it was because of the chair I usually sit in for my desk. But I went and got tested anyway. And the test came back positive for COVID. The news hit me in the gut and came out as a “Why?”

From BioWorld

“Why did I get it?”

“Why didn’t the other people at the grocery store who weren’t wearing masks get it?”

“Why did I test positive when I’ve done all things correctly?”

“Why?”

And then it hit hard. 

My body ached. My head hurt. I slept for two days. And then it got worse. I became out of breath. My breathing was labored. My heart pounded in fear. What was going on? My wife rushed me to the ER. It was unbelievable. Every precaution was made. It was if I was the sole bearer of this disease. People wearing body suits came in to check on me, take my vitals, ask me questions. My brain fogged up. I was confused. I didn’t get it. I couldn’t focus. Question after question was asked. And each time the nurse or doctor of PA left, they had to sanitize. It was down right bizarre. 

I spent a couple of days in the hospital. IV hooked up to my arm, dripping anti-virals. Constantly being poked and prodded. Heart monitor hooked up to me. Anti-blood clot meds injected into me. Good people. Caring people. But having to sanitize each time. I became a fall risk do to my labored breathing and lack of coordination. I had to press the call button just for help to pee. It felt dehumanizing and embarrassing at the same time. I know they cared. They did their best, but they had to protect themselves as well. 

After a few days home, I’m still in isolation. I’m tucked away in a small room that I once called my study. Sleeping on an old uncomfortable couch. 

I decided to try to be normal and go back to doing my devotions with coffee in the morning. I had a hard time focusing. I had a hard time thinking clearly. I tried to journal but it was hard to be coherent in my own mind let alone let it come out my hand onto pen and paper. I’d been reading through the Minor Prophets before I got sick and thought it best to keep on reading through them. 

And that’s where I came to Habakkuk 3. 

I’ve preached on Habakkuk a couple of times. I’ve walked through it and looked at it closely. Habakkuk is a tough book. It’s a prophecy about the Babylonians coming in to Judah and taking people away. Habakkuk comes to God and complains that things are bad—there’s injustice, the poor are being trampled, the rich are getting richer off the poor and marginalized, everything stinks. God’s response is that He is sending the Babylonians to punish those who’ve done wrong. And it will be tough and scary.

The thing is, is that Habakkuk ends in a prayer/song. He says that he will wait upon the Lord even though the news is tough. And then he says this:

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

Just before this statement, Habakkuk says that he will wait patiently on the Lord (v16) and right after this statement he says:

The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of the deer, he enables me to tread on the heights” (v19). 

There’s so much going on here. 

I posted on Facebook earlier this week that COVID sucks eggs. My dad, very Reformed in his theology (love ya dad), pointed out that all things come from God’s providential hand. Yes, that is true. But Habakkuk 3 shows that we can still say things suck and wait on the Lord. He then in turn pointed out that the word “wait” isn’t passive but active. 

And so, as things stink right now, as I struggle with brain fog, as I struggle to concentrate (it took a lot to write this post), I think about how I will rejoice in the Lord and actively wait upon Him. I’m not sur what that looks like right now. I’m not sure how I can do it right now. I just know it is part of what I am to do in serving God and rejoicing in Him. Though there are issues at hand, I know that God is good. I know that I will rejoice on day with Him. I’m not close to death in the least bit. I’m recovering slowly (isolation and quarantine is hard on an extrovert like myself). But I will do it. And I will find ways top rejoice in God my Father as I do. 

I think Paul says it best in Philippians 4: 

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”(Philippians 4:4)

I could go on about not being anxious and the like but I think what Paul says here is good. The Lord is near. He is near to me now. And He will come again one day. Until then, even in suffering and illness I wait upon the Lord and rejoice in His holy name. 

Prayers for all those going through COVID. It does suck but there’s hope. 

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A Gospel to Tell

An old English prof of mine challenged me recently to write something of at least 80 words using only words that derive from Old English Anlgo-Saxon. In other words, no words that come from French or Latin or German, only those that were around between the 5th-11th century AD in the English language. She jokingly said the I probably couldn’t wrote anything theological. So I did. I wrote about the atonement–in free verse poetry no less.

From Wikipedia

Enjoy:

My sin makes his blood rain

The gospel of His body tells

Of His going to His death

But the gift of heaven

Is a gift of light for you

Out of darkness

You are called

What you do 

What you understand

The water cleanses you

The water of His blood

How many your sins

How many they are

Go see and hold

Mark them down

The number of sins 

Is no more

Your life 

His death

You are cleansed of guilt

No sorrow for soul

In life and death

For down to hell He did go

For to heaven you may fly

Not in part but whole

For He bought you in His death

To have life ever more

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Freddie Mercury and Common Grace

Last Friday morning, my kids were getting ready for school and my daughter pensively stopped and looked at me and said “Dad, did you know that the guy who sang ‘Under Pressure’ and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was a refugee?” I stopped for a moment and realized she had been looking at my collection of vinyl records at the time. 

“You mean Freddie Mercury?” I asked.

She nodded. 

From Britanica.com

“Yeah, he was. He’s of Indian-Persian descent and there was a war where he lived when he was a teenager and his family went to England. Not just that, but he was an amazing musician with a great vocal range in singing. He also did a lot to raise awareness for AIDS in the 80’s. He actually died of complications due to AIDS in the early 90’s.”

Pause.

My daughter thought for a moment. “You mean he did a lot to help people who were sick and dying?”

I nodded.

“Was he a Christian?” she asked. 

I shook my head. “He was involved with Zoroastrianism. It’s one of the oldest monotheistic religions in the world.”

“I wish he was a Christian,” she said sadly. “He did so much and helped people.”

I stopped for a second and realized this was becoming a teaching moment. 

“Oh, honey,” I said as both my kids sat on the couch realizing this was about to become a mini-lecture from Dad. “There are a lot of people out there who aren’t Christians but do good. Who do better than most Christians do.” 

“Like a baseball player I read about who is helping the homeless but he’s not a Christian. Sometimes people who do better than Christians put Christians to shame.” My son chimed in. 

“Yes, that can be true at times. There are people out there who are better at being Christians than Christians are. There’s a theological term for this. Its common grace.”

Freddie Mercury was an amazing musician. I think Queen is one of the best rock groups out there over the decades. His vocal range was outstanding. And in the 1980’s he did do amazing philanthropist work for AIDS research. And because of common grace we can appreciate what he did. We cans see the beauty in his music and talent. But common grace is more than just that. 

Common grace is where God allows for people who aren’t saved by his special grace to still do things that are God honoring and beautiful and wonderful. Common grace allows for art, music, literature, creation care, taking care of your fellow human, and the like to be done by those who aren’t Christians. And I think my son is right when he said that some of the things people do put Christians to shame. Some people are better at being Christians than Christians are at being Christ followers. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m still a staunch Reformed theological thinker. Common grace isn’t the same as saving grace (special grace). But common grace is important. In fact, Reformed theologian Louis Berkhof (I call him Uncle Louis [Lou-ee] when I’m by myself) says that common grace makes ordinary life possible and gives out the gifts to the world in science, art, and even showers “untold blessings” on people (Louis Berkhof Systematic Theology, pg. 434 [see what I did there, I got all scholarly on ya]). 

Now God’s special grace is for all those who call on the name of Jesus Christ to be saved, who believe in their hearts and confess with their mouths that Jesus is Lord. God’s special grace is a saving grace. It’s important to distinguish between the two. With God’s special grace, we as Christians are called to go forth and do God’s holy work in this world, Christ’s work, kingdom work, of restoration and redemption. We as Christians are called to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. You see, common grace doesn’t save. It doesn’t purify us of sin by the blood of Christ (Uncle Louis again pg. 434) but God’s special grace does. 

As Christians we can enjoy and observe and be part of common grace. We can enjoy the works of the likes of Freddy Mercury, or your choice of art of music or what not. We can be active in works of justice and loving our neighbor. And those who aren’t Christian can love their neighbor too. It doesn’t save them, Jesus does. But as Christians we can learn from those who do it better than we can. We can learn about helping others out, doing creation care, living justly and loving mercy from those who aren’t Christian. In fact, like I said earlier, sometimes non-Christians are better at being Christians than we are. 

So, my kiddos received a long theological lecture before heading off to school on Friday morning. They were still on time though. And we all learned something. My kids can bring up good questions which makes me think of life itself. 

When you can, enjoy some good music, enjoy some good art, act justly, love mercy, and do what you can to walk humbly with God through Christ. Enjoy common grace and live out your special grace for those who believe. Learn from those who don’t. And proclaim the name of Jesus in all you do and say. 

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Prayer and a Beaten Up Camaro

Sometime about a week or so ago I was doing some Christmas shopping for my kids. My 15 year-old son loves cars and especially Hot Wheels and so I thought I’d get him some (don’t worry, he doesn’t read my blog and so he won’t know). As I was looking through the different cars, I came across a 1969 Camaro. It was green. It was a convertible. It was beautiful. I too love cars. I’m a big muscle car fan. But this particular car brought back so many memories, I had to get it. In fact, I bought it and brought it to my home office and opened it up immediately. Not to play with it per se but to look at it. The detail. The lines of the car. Made in Malaysia. The car is on my desk right now as I write this. Why is it so important to me? Well, it reminds me how God answers prayer. 

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This tale goes way back when. 

It was in the early 1990’s. My parents had split up and my mom, brother, sister, and I moved down from Northern California to Southern California. A lot of heart ache. A lot of pain. A lot of not knowing. I was in 7th grade and hurting. So was my sister and my brother. So was my mom. My mom was doing her best to work and provide. We had this old 1984 Toyota Tercel hatchback that we had brought down with us. One day on the California freeway, the oil light came on, my mom brought it in and was told it was fine. Shortly thereafter a hole was burned into the engine and the little car that could died. So did our means of income. My mom couldn’t get to her job.

We needed something. 

Anything. 

We were kinda religious, kinda trusting in God, kinda not sure. I know I struggled with the whole thing. But we decided to pray anyway. And prayed we did. We prayed for a car. I didn’t know all the ins and outs of prayer. I just knew we needed a car for my mom. 

My uncle found an old beaten up sky blue 1970 Camaro for $100. The thing was a mess. But it ran. It didn’t run well but it ran. If you hit over 60 it’d start to shake. We called it the milkshake machine. But I’ll never forget the license plate number: 777 NOC. I’m not superstitious. I’m not into numerology. My uncle pointed out to me that as far as he knew, 777 stood for heaven. And the NOC—knocking on heaven’s door. 

Prayer.

It may not have seemed like much at the time, but this was an answer to our prayers. That milkshake machine, the beaten up Camaro got us from Point A to Point B faithfully. It shook, but it was ours. It shook, but it worked. It was what we needed when we needed it.

Fast forward years later with theological training, reading the Bible, and studying on prayer. The milkshake machine Camaro still stays in my mind of God’s provision.

In what is called The Lord’s Prayer, we pray “give us today our daily bread.” When I think of that one line, I think of the Camaro. I think of God’s provision when things were tough. I think of His provision now in my life. Each day I am to rely on Him. Each day I am to trust in Him. Being into Reformed theology, my mind goes to the Heidelberg Catechism, something written centuries ago but speaks about that Camaro. 

The Catechism is set up with questions and answers. And separated by different Sundays to be taught. Lord’s Day (Sunday) 50 asks: “What does the fourth request mean?” What does it mean when we pray “Give us today our daily bread”?

The answer?

Give us today our daily bread means, do take care of all our physical needs so that we come to know that you are the only source of everything good, and that neither our work and worry nor your gifts can do us any good without your blessing.”

So what does that mean? And what does it have to do with a beaten up Camaro?

It’s daily provision. 

God isn’t some ethereal thing out there. He is real. He acts. He moves. He provides. He also blesses. He blesses us even if our theology and understanding aren’t perfect. Back then I didn’t understand prayer. I didn’t understand God. I didn’t understand how things worked. I just thought I’d give prayer a chance. And God acted and gave us what we needed for the time we needed it. Each day I don’t think we knew if that Camaro would start or not. Each day we didn’t know if it would shake to pieces or not on the freeway. But it worked. It was what we needed. God provided. God blessed us. 

Prayer is a weird thing. There’s no such thing as unanswered prayer. God answers prayer with yes, not, and wait. This time it was a yes. I’ve seen in my life there have been many “no’s” and a lot of “wait’s.” But God answers. He is sure to provide what we need when we need it and He blesses it. 

This Christmas season is a weird one with COVID. Heck, this whole year of 2020 has been weird because of COVID. And God still answers prayers. God still acts. And I have seen God provide this year. This Christmas season trust in God. Trust in His goodness. Trust in His care. And trust in Him daily for what you need when you need it. Even if it is a beaten up Camaro. 

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Eight Years

I’ve been thinking much about family these last few weeks. Maybe it’s because Christmas is coming. Maybe it’s because I miss them as I’m living in Michigan and they are all spread out in California. No matter what the reason, I’ve been thinking about them. Memories are weird things. They hit you at the wrong time and come out my eyes like liquid dreams. It could be a phrase, a song, a word. And then the memory hits and I begin to travel back in time to that moment, that reality, that world in which I was in way back when. It takes a tug of the heart to pull me back to the present, but the memory is still there, still present, still alive. And in the liquid dreams I cry. 

There are times when my mind travels back to the busines my grandparents owned while I was in middle school and high school and into college. It was a for-profit thrift store. We lovingly called it: The Store. They didn’t really make money off of it but it was there place. It was our place. It was my haven from the world. 

It was a hot and sweaty summer where we began working at the store. My brother, sister, and I working tirelessly to scrape and shovel out old tile. It was once a butcher shop and the tile on the floor had to go. My grandfather watched us and was glad to point out what we missed and how to put my back into it. Soon carpet was laid down over the concrete floor now tileless. Racks were put up, shelves were put in place, and my grandfather and I built a wall between where the store front would be and the back work area might exist. It was in the back area where my grandmother would sit working on items, smoking her cigarettes and drinking her weak coffee. 

I was in eighth grade when the store finally opened. My grandfather and I in an old beaten up sky blue Ford pickup years past the scrap heap would go to the Goodwill and buy stuff to be sold at The Store. Clothing packed in barrels that smelled oddly like garlic. Today even the hint of garlic brings me back to those Saturday mornings, waiting for the Good Will to open up so that we could pounce on what might be sold later. I had a paper route then as well. We lived with my grandparents at the time. I would get up early in the morning, my grandmother, an early riser, would be waiting for me with a cup of coffee filled with cream and sugar, or cream and sugar with a bit of coffee. She would smoke her cigarette and do the cross word puzzle as I drank my caffeine and headed out to do my paper route, rain or not. I’d return and she would still be doing her puzzle, smoking, and have another mug of cream and sugar and coffee waiting for me. It was expected that I be at The Store after school to help out. 

It was at The Store where family would meet. If I came in the front door and heard classic rock playing softly in the back, I knew my uncle was watching The Store that day. Later after high school, sometimes I’d hear a squeal of joy and know that my sister had brought my niece for a visit, she was so small then. Sometimes my mom would come to just say hello. We would gather there, talk, eat Mexican food from the store around the corner or Chinese food from Chester’s a few doors down. Family was there. The Store brought us together. 

Other times I would come through the back door, parking my bike along the side entry way. There’d be an old couch they couldn’t sell or a desk too big. My grandfather had a hammer waiting for me to destroy it and put it in the dumpster. I’d work out my anger and angst on those things, feeling better once I was done. Other times they would put my back to work, helping pick up unwanted things from garage sales or stacking new inventory on the back shelves. My grandmother, tired of me taking her cigarettes all the time, began paying me instead of cash under the table but with cartons of cigarettes. I didn’t tell my mom until my grandmother’s funeral in 2012. 

The Store lasted for eight years. Years I would never want to lose. Years that were important to me. The Store taught me about life, about helping people in need. I think my grandmother gave away more than she sold. It was at the store where I learned compassion for people. It was at The Store where I learned the value of hard work. It was at The Store where I learned the importance of family. And it was at The Store where I learned about grief. 

I had been in community college, working other jobs in retail and enjoying time with friends. I didn’t know the state that The Store was in. It wasn’t good. It was a nice April day, the clouds were just right, the sun was singing, and my mom told me the news, The Store was closing. Or in fact, I learned as I rode there as fast as I could, The Store had closed. When I arrived, my grandmother was sitting in her usual spot, no coffee, no cigarettes. Just her and my grandfather, the store was a shell of what it was. The shelves we had put up that one summer eight years ago were empty, their contents long gone. The counter where the register was, missing. The Store was a shell, empty, lonely. I cried. It was gone. 

Memories. They come and they go. My grandmother went into the gates of glory back in 2012. My grandfather and uncle both passed back in 2018. All I have now are my memories. All I have of The Store now is but glimpses of the past and what I learned over those eight years. I am glad for those eight years. They taught me so much. I lived so much. And in that time, I grew. Those memories are mine and no one can take them away. As are the liquid dreams that come down in tears from my eyes when I remember both the good times and bad that we lived in with The Store. 

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The Companion of Wisdom and What I’m Learning

Art by Josh Benton

For the last month or so I’ve been slowly reading through the Book of Proverbs. My goal is to seek God’s wisdom. With all the chaos going on right now in our world today, I really feel the need for God’s wisdom. The need for wisdom to make good decisions. The need for wisdom to guide me through the chaos. As I seek God’s wisdom, I’ve noticed something interesting. Righteousness comes along side of wisdom. 

Now this is interesting to me. Why? If you seek wisdom are you also seeking righteousness? If you are righteous are you also wise? Or are they complimentary to one another, each helping the other out. That is, if you are wise, you seek to be righteous and if you are righteous you seek to be wise. 

As I pondered this, something struck me from Proverbs

The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern” Proverbs 29:7

And right before that:

When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice” Proverbs 29:2

And around all this, the author of Proverbs speaks about being wise in so many different ways. The wisdom of the king, the wisdom of a son, the wisdom of one who goes to court. Wisdom and righteousness somehow go together. As I have been reading through Proverbs, I’ve noticed this over and over again. Wisdom and righteousness go together. They walk together as one desires wisdom one desires to be righteous. But what does that mean?

In his book, All the Places to Go, John Ortberg talks about how wisdom is making good decisions while surrounding oneself with wise counsel—people who can speak into your life. An old professor of mine from seminary said that wisdom was age plus experience. But I’ve never thought of wisdom and righteousness coming together. 

I’m starting to get wisdom…well, not get it but understand what it is. It’s more than Yoda talking to Luke (geeky reference) but it’s also the same thing. Wisdom has to be untangled and thought through. The Book of Proverbs speaks volumes about wisdom. And it speaks about how to gain wisdom. It even goes so far as saying spend all your money obtaining wisdom (Proverbs 4:7). But it doesn’t say how wisdom and righteousness come together. 

As I’ve been pondering and reflecting on this, I wondered what Paul would say. He wrote most of the New Testament. He was a Pharisee turned Jesus-Follower. He knew his scripture in and out. Doing a quick word search on one of my apps, I came across a slew of references to God’s righteousness found in Romans alone. 

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is give through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” Romans 3:21-22

Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourself to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.” Romans 6:13

Then I read 1 Corinthians

It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us the wisdom from God—that is our righteousness, holiness, and redemption.” 1 Corinthians 1:30

Dude! Wow! The righteousness of Christ is linked to the wisdom of God. 

Through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are made righteous. Jesus is the embodiment of God’s wisdom. The beginning of John’s Gospel says this in fact (John 1:1-5).

So if God’s wisdom is connected to Christ’s righteousness, my quest for God’s wisdom in my life in the midst of this COVID chaos is to seek Christ as well. 

Mind.

Blown.

So my quest for wisdom continues. But now I know that in seeking out God’s wisdom, I need to seek out Christ’s righteousness. They are complimentary to one another. They work together because they are part of the same person. They are both part of Christ. And through Christ I can have both. Through Christ I can live both righteousness and wisdom. 

Now here’s the kicker for me I think: Both are available right away. Both can be obtained right away. But it takes time to grow into it. It’s complex, I know but it’s important to realize it. Christ is here now by the power of the Holy Spirit. And by the power of the Holy Spirit living in me by the power of Christ, I’m able to have both wisdom and righteousness. 

Now I just have to figure out how to live it out. 

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The Patient Warrior

victorious warrior

Art by Josh Benton

Lately I’ve been doing my devotions through the Book of Proverbs. My goal is to seek God’s wisdom in things going on in life. My goal is to be a man of God who can live out God’s wisdom. It seems that wisdom and righteousness go hand in hand. When one seeks out God’s wisdom, one seeks out to live a righteous life. In fact, in order to live out wisdom, one lives out righteousness.

Better a little with righteousness than much grain with injustice.” Proverbs 16:8

The LORD detests the way of the wicked but he loves those who pursue righteousness.” Proverbs 15:9

Wisdom itself is life giving. It is more precious than any treasure one can think of.

How much better to get wisdom than gold, to get insight rather than silver.” Proverbs 16:16

Wisdom’s instruction is to fear the LORD, and humility comes before honor.” Proverbs 15:33

As I’ve been studying the Book of Proverbs, one proverb stood out to me. It’s one I’ve read many times before but for some reason, it made me think of what it means to be a man of God and seek wisdom at the same time.

Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city.” Proverbs 16:32

For some reason, my brain mushed the proverb together and came out with being a patient warrior. In the past, I’ve compared being a man of God to being a warrior. A warrior for God is one who is willing to fight the good fight. A warrior for God can be wounded. A warrior can be taught and discipled. But there’s more to this than just mushing together being patient verses being a warrior.

In meditating on this proverb, I looked at other translations. Something caught my eye in the English Standard Version

Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” Proverbs 16:32 ESV

To be slow to anger. What does that mean? I dove deeper into it. The words translated “slow to anger” or “patient” literally is “long in the nose.” It’s a Hebrew colloquialism of saying longsuffering or slow in being angry. I just like that though “long in the nose.” And then there’s self-control. It literally is “rules his spirit.” Combining “self-control” and ruling one’s spirit makes me think of the Fruit of the Spirit.

Paul writes in Galatians

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23

As I reflect on this, I realize that living out wisdom itself means being a follower of Christ and letting the Holy Spirit reside within you. When you let Christ lead, you allow the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, to reside in you and produce fruit, produce evidence that you belong to Christ.

In trying to be a man of God, I need to be “long in the nose.” It’s not about taking a city. To take a city is to wage war. I’m not here to wage war. I’m here to be a follower of Christ. As a patient warrior, I am to exhibit that which shows I belong to Christ. And, hopefully, wisdom comes with it. To be honest, I struggle with this. I am not “long in the nose” to say the least. I snap at my kids. I get impatient when driving down the freeway and that person is going 5 miles below the speed limit and there’s a semi on my right and I can’t pass. I get frustrated when things don’t go the way I want them to. I struggle with this. Yet I need to be “long in the nose” in my life. There’s more to life than just this. I need to see the bigger picture.

And so, as I struggle to be a patient warrior, a patient man of God who is “long in the nose” I try hard to follow Him. I deeply desire His wisdom. That’s why I’m reading the Book of Proverbs right now. His wisdom is there. There is so much wisdom wrapped up in this one book that I can barely take it in. Yet I also know that as a follower of Christ, I need to allow the Holy Spirit to work within me to show the evidence that I belong to Christ. And in doing so, I can be that patient warrior.

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A Space for Grace at Pizza Ranch

Mission-920x590The other day I had some daddy/daughter time with my now 12 year-old daughter. She asked to go to Pizza Ranch since we hadn’t been there in some time. With all this COVID stuff going on, it’s been hard to just relax and spend time with family. I think she needed some daddy/daughter time anyway and I couldn’t say no to Pizza Ranch and their buffet (it’s contactless now with COVID).

This Pizza Ranch is nice just a few minutes from our place and filled with the usual Pizza Ranch decorations–cowboy stuff that is. It has cowboy boots on the wall, a lasso, some other cowboy trinkets here and there. It’s a bit overboard but nice. It reminded me of the days I pastored out in South Dakota and we went as a family to the Pizza Ranch out in Platte. We got our plates and were served by staff (its contactless buffet remember?) and my daughter and I sat down and just talked. It was fun watching her eat her cheese pizza and breadsticks, dipping her buttermilk biscuit into her chocolate pudding, and singing along to the songs on the speakers overhead.

“Daddy,” my daughter took a look around and leaned forward to ask me an important question. “Is Pizza Ranch a Christian restaurant?”

“Yup,” I answered slowly between bites of my bronco pizza (all meat). “They even have a vision statement saying they are.”

My daughter then had asked me to look it up. I quickly pulled up my Wikipedia app and read her the history of Pizza Ranch and their vision statement: “To glorify God by positively impacting the world.”

My daughter’s eyes lit up in between bites of her breadsticks.

We talked a bit more, and then my ears couldn’t help drifting towards the table close to us (because of COVID they had only every other table opened up). There was a family of five finishing up, enjoying their ice cream, cactus bread, and dessert pizzas. What caught my attention was the words asked by the youngest child of the family:

“Mom, how many times were you in jail?” they asked their mother.

I could tell in her response that she didn’t like the question. She mumbled and the child asked again. The mother didn’t chastise the child but she seemed embarrassed. “Dad’s been to prison too, hasn’t he?” the child asked again. The mother now more embarrassed. She said some things I couldn’t make out. I shouldn’t have been eavesdropping anyway. The mother mumbled some other things and then announced it was time to go even though the children hadn’t finished their ice cream. She seemed to have had enough.

My mind’s been going back to that scene now a number of times since it happened. Speaking up wasn’t the thing for me to do. It wasn’t my place. But still, there should be room, a space, for grace.

Grace is a funny thing. It’s giving special leniency to people when we don’t deserve it ourselves. The child had an honest question. I don’t know the history behind it, but the present situation was that the child just wanted to know. They were curious. They were interested in their mother. They wanted to know their mother. Grace for the child at that time was needed not chastisement. Grace for the mother was needed, not embarrassment.

If the vision of Pizza Ranch was to glorify God by positively impacting the world around it, neither were positively impacted. Now, I’m not saying this was Pizza Ranch’s job to swoop in and tell the family that it was okay to have that conversation. No need to be embarrassed. It was an innocent question. No need to be afraid, there was no judgment coming from me. I wanted to say something, to do something, to give her room and hospitality and let her know she was in a safe place to have that question asked of her. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I didn’t know how to.

In the arena of the world that we live in right now, we really need spaces for grace, spaces for that extra leniency and mercy and compassion that certain someone might just need. In this time of COVID right now, we need to offer that grace and love and positively impact others letting them know they too are safe and okay. It’s a struggle right now. I don’t know if this is the “new normal” or not. But I do know that I need to live out the grace of God, the grace of Jesus Christ in what I do and say and how I offer room for others to experience this grace.

What are ways in which you might be able to offer a space for grace for those around you?

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