Restored

RestoredQuite a few years ago, I found myself peering through the office window of a close friend’s shop and I spied a forlorn 1955 Pontiac Chieftain parked in his back lot.

“Whose car is that?” I asked without giving any detail as to which one of the thirty cars in the lot I referred.

“Don’t know, it was abandoned, we towed it in a few days ago,” he replied without looking up from his desk. “No title on record.”

“Can I buy it?”

“Do you want it?”

1950′s pasty baby blue mostly rust-free exterior, completely rotted out interior upholstery, several pieces of body chrome haphazardly strewn in the back where a massive bench seat once rested, it was a nearly 17 foot long, 1,500 lb., um, project.

$150 for the tow and I was the proud owner of my own piece of Detroit.

My wife, to her credit, did not express out loud any objection. She did ask what I was going to do with it, but only nodded attentively and politely as I gave her my vision of what the car would look like after our son, Ryan, and I were finished ripping the poor vehicle completely apart and putting it back together again. A few pictures of what other industrious, and far more talented, fellows had done to their ’55 Chieftains and excitement was actually beginning to build at our home.

It was an insane notion. What possibly could be wrong with an otherwise fairly reasonable human being to deliberately desire to restore a massive piece of junk some one else literally threw away?

Good question.

I believe the whole urge to restore is actually one of the myriad of “thumbprints” God puts on us, marking us as His creation. Restoring the abused, broken, obsolete, forgotten, abandoned, unsightly, and rejected is just the sort of work God does moment by moment.

Jesus exulted in it. He said crazy things like,

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18, ESV)

And,

But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you… (Luke 14:13–14, ESV)

And,

…the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up and the poor have the good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.

And…

So much more. God’s work is not satisfied until all that can be restored is restored, even re-created. This message is one followers of Jesus are commanded to proclaim, “There is forgiveness of sin for those who repent in Jesus’ name!” and “The Son of Man [Jesus] has come to seek and save that which was lost.”

This is the focus of our preparation for celebrating Resurrection Day (Easter) this year at Main Street. Week by week we will gather and learn more about what it means to restore and be restored.

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Week 1 of the 7, The Mutiny Project

7_wide_tThis week my friends and I entered into a “Mutiny Project” together. We decided to take up Jen Hatmaker’s challenge to look at seven key areas of our lives and see if we relate to those areas from a more Biblical, Jesus-centered perspective.

This week’s project considered how we connect to food. I proposed that we all look at food through the lens of how our consumption impacts other people. For too long, Christians have treated our diet (meaning what we eat and drink) as a personal and individual practice which does not impact others. This cannot be further from truthful living. God made us to function in community, and even the choice of what, where, how much and when to eat impacts a sphere of relationships far beyond our own bodies.

In this past week’s message I used my own struggle against hypoglycemia as an example. When I allow my blood sugar to get too low because of what I eat, I am grumpy, suffer headaches, am prone to depression. All these things impact others in my life. There is no way my choice to eat sugar remains a purely personal thing. Most of us do not have something that is so easily identifiable as impacting others, but if we think about it just a little bit, we will soon find our food choices introduce consequences far beyond the limits of our own stomachs. I suggested three of many areas to contemplate.

  1. How does my consumption of food impact my overall health? How is my health impacting those in my life?
  2. How does my consumption of food impact my ability to give to others? Is the place where I eat and type of food I eat limiting my ability to be generous with those in my life?
  3. How am I connected to how food is produced? Is there some way I can reconnect to food production that may be used to make friends or bless others?

The specific project challenge we are taking up this week is to limit consumption of food to seven items or to eliminate seven things from this week’s diet which we would normally and regularly consume. The purpose of this kind of “fast” is to get us to think about what we eat and to listen for the prompting of the Holy Spirit. I have been privy to responses from both the “subtract from” and the “limit to” camps and the project so far seems to be opening doors for the Holy Spirit’s work.

For my part in the project, I chose rice, farina (malt o’ meal), greens, banana, apple, orange and nuts as my seven foods for this week. Here is what I have learned so far:

  • I learned that I actually forgot a lesson I gleaned from an extended fast last year, much to my chagrin. Somewhere along my path I neglected to remain grateful for the ease with which I get food. Most the rest of the world labors just to get their “seven.” I just go to my kitchen and abundance reigns. This is not an appeal to guilt, rather it is an opportunity to be deeply thankful to God for my place in this world. I am going to work diligently to submit to God’s changing my mindset permanently in this area.
  • I can eat and still be hungry. I have children in Uganda, with whom I have a good relationship. They have often described being hungry in a way I could not comprehend, in spite of my best attempts. I think I now have a sliver of understanding of what it is like to have food available, but still feel like it is not enough. The limit to seven gave me a kind of empathy even a total fast from food has not brought me in the past.
  • My food choices do indeed impact others. My wife, Michelle, wasn’t able to help plan for my seven challenge due to being really sick last week. Since we are the only two at home at present, my choice of seven foods wasn’t exactly the choices she would have made. It has been awkward at moments trying to figure out what we are going to eat. She is a good sport about it, but it is a practical reminder that I am in community, even if it is just with my spouse.
  • I like variety. While I normally choose to eat from a near meat-less diet, I do like the ability to throw different vegetables (other than greens) and even the occasional animal protein. I really miss the ability to do so this week. Access to the spectrum of spices I take for granted seems much more important to me than it did last week.
  • I am still addicted to sweets. The first three days of this fast found me thinking regularly (craving ravenously really) about sweet things I could find at home (and eat, of course) but that were not in my “seven.” I have since found a deeper appreciation for the sweet taste of my apple, banana, and orange. If I had covered over these naturally sweetened foods with sugary foods I could eat instead, I would not be as sensitive to the joys of what God put in food from creation.
  • Lastly, I have learned from others who are sharing their “seven” experience with me. Our culture lost our collective ability to see food both as personal sustenance and opportunity for connection between each other. In listening to people’s extraordinarily varied responses to the project, one theme remains consistent: we are all ruled by our appetite in one way or another and pay little attention to the consequences unless there is some encouragement from the outside provided.

It is my prayer that as this week comes to a close, the larger community connected to those in the project will see in us a movement of the Holy Spirit in our relationship to food. May it be that we are more thoughtful about what we eat and with whom, reflecting whenever possible that is a good thing to share our Lord’s Table.

Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you [all]? God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy and you [all together] are that temple. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, NLT

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Psalm 119 story…chapter 11

Your eternal word, O LORD stands firm in heaven. Psalm 119.89, NLT

I had the privilege of playing high school tackle football for just one year. footballThe coaches liked my speed and lower body strength so middle linebacker was the assignment for me. I’ll never forget playing against the David Douglas Scots. Their left tackle was, by far, the biggest man in our conference.  He stood probably 6′ 7″ and weighed no less than 260 lbs.  During warm ups before the game that one massive young man dominated the fearful thoughts of our entire defensive line. One of our team’s sets had the middle linebacker line up against the left tackle. The coach’s call for that set came to me from the sideline and I can remember thinking to myself, “This is going to really, really, really, really, hurt…me.”

The snap count drug on, intensifying my dread, until finally the football moved and I sprung across the scrimmage line with all the power I could muster against a foe I was now fully convinced would soon stand over my limp carcass, pound his massive chest and triumphantly belch out the poet’s barbaric yelp.

That didn’t happen.

I immediately found myself enveloped in a gargantuan mush of humanity. Underneath all the intimidating football wear was nothing but fluff. I drove hard into the man. His body gave way so easily I thought I would momentarily feel his spinal cord on my face mask; that moment never came. That play ended with the Scots losing ground. Back in the defensive huddle one of my teammates asked if I was hurt after facing the giant. I replied, “No problem, he’s a marshmallow man!”

Many could tell their own story of fearing something that only turned out to be an apparition, a figment of an over-active imagination. Unfortunately, this self-assurance is often misapplied when awe is appropriate. The establishment of God’s Word is one such misapplication.

God’s word is eternal. Its burden is the breath of the eternal One who speaks it. What can we say, write, or think, that will stretch beyond the lifespan of this planet? Nothing. Everything God says bears such weight. Out of the eternal came the statement, “Let there be light!” and time began marking the events which culminated in our intersection with the eternal Word.

God’s word stands firm. There is no marshmallow man hiding his softness. We see standing firm the monument of perfected speech, magnificent in its completeness and absent of even the shadow of weakness.

God’s word stands in heaven. Humans throughout history drag the gods into our own ditches so we can consume them with our petty temporalities.  What glory it is that far away from the grubby hands created for a lessor but significant splendor, God’s word remains unassailable and unchanging.

To remove such words from their rightful place and insert them into the writhing, ever-changing filthy vapors we exhale is far too much to comprehend. Yet that is just what Creator Redeemer God did, and does. By virtue of the words handed down generation to generation and by virtue of the Spirit who still speaks into us, the eternally firm word in heaven becomes His faithfulness poured into earthen vessels.

What can a clay pot do but tremble with joy for the treasure contained within?

If your instructions hadn’t sustained me with joy, I would have died in my misery. 119.92

Even perfection has its limits, but your commands have no limit. 119.96

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Psalm 119 story…chapter 10

501 bluesI am worn out waiting for your rescue, but I have put my hope in your word. Psalm 119.81

I have a favorite pair of jeans. Levi’s button fly 501 blues. They are quite old, worn out, yet I can’t bring myself to part with them. My new pair isn’t as comfortable as of yet and I don’t believe them to be as well made. I keep telling myself I will patch the holes up in my favorite pair and just keep them a bit longer, but I don’t patch. I do find occasions where wearing the “old familiars” will be appropriate. Those opportunities diminish with each wearing and normally involve me staying at home.

What happens when we as people get “worn out”? Is is possible for our hems to become frayed and holes to appear in the otherwise intact fabric of our lives? Does it ever happen that our pockets become distributors rather than containers and that the buttons and rivets restraining seams from coming undone fail to keep us together?

I believe it not only possible, but promised. This section of the Psalm proclaims it. Followers of God should expect to have times, perhaps even extended times, where life’s circumstances simply wear them out. So where is the “hope” in that?

Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16.33) The confession of the psalmist is echoed back by the Savior, our hope comes by a God who is actively involved in loving us all the way to the fullness of His presence. If God’s love is finite, or if His one and only son, Jesus’ power over sin and death is incomplete, then hope is a wicked trick to allay troubled minds.  But if God’s word is true and He is indeed actively working out the redemption of those who love Him, then what hope we possess!

So I can be worn out. Maybe even so worn out that I am no longer suitable for public display. There is no shame in that, only the assurance that I need to get the needle and thread, some patch of the Word, and get to stitching.

Rescue will come.

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Psalm 119 story…chapter 9

May all who fear you find in me a cause for joy, for I have put my hope in your word. (Psalm 119.74, NLT)stairs (2)

My middle child always was our source for adventure. Curious, willful, intelligent and physically strong, she kept Michelle and I running until we watched her cross the line into adulthood. When she was a toddler, we lived in an “Old Portland” home. Built in the early 1920′s, the house had several extraordinary architectural features that distinguished it from other buildings of the same age. One of my daughter’s favorites was the crazy steep stairs to the second floor bedrooms.

Quite often I would get home from work and rather running to greet me, she would squeal, “Daddy’s home…come catch me!” Up four or five steps she would climb and hold out her arms waiting for me to take up my required spot. When I reached somewhere near where I would need to be to catch her, into the air she would launch. There was more than once when I was just in time. She never seemed to worry; she would loudly laugh as she flew from her perch. After the catch came, “Again!” and back up the stairs she would go until my arms were too tired to play anymore and I called for a break.

Even back then when I was in my twenties, I understood that God was introducing me to a deep spiritual truth as I stood catching my daughter over and over. She knew she should not jump off those stairs without someone to catch her. However, the fear of the eight foot height from which she jumped found its perspective when she believed she could not fall to the floor. She loved to “show off” to guests when they came. Even the squeamish mothers who gave Michelle that, “Are you really going to let him catch her?” look, couldn’t keep themselves from sharing in my little jumper’s abandoned delight.

Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” (Luke 18.17, NASB) So does this mean I need to climb up the steep stairs in my life hold out my arms, call out to my Daddy, and jump? Does this mean I have to trust the truth passed from generation to generation to be the arms connected to the Father who is always there to catch? Does this mean that those who watch me celebrate abandoned delight can at least vicariously join in the fun? I think that is exactly what this means.

Some may say the whole idea is silliness: the privilege of maturity cures us from all such nonsense. After all, how many of us have “leaped” somewhere along the way only to hit the ground and be injured?

Those who read this psalm quickly discover that the writer is quite familiar with life’s troubles and yet proclaims those who “place hope” in God’s word live in such a way as to be a wellspring of joy for others.

What a magnificent calling! One I aspire to fulfill, even though it means I have to be a kid again and unreservedly put hope again where it belonged all along.

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Psalm 119 story…chapter 8

Your instructions are more valuable to me than millions in gold and silver. Psalm 119.72, NLT

Lately I feel like the petroleum industry survives on my contribution alone. Last night I stood (AGAIN) at the gas pump, filling up (AGAIN) and I noticed a handwritten sign covering each of the station’s credit card readers. It stated in faded marker-print,

PowerballKentucky Powerball is now at $341 million. Play today!

I had not thought about the lottery in a long while. I have never played before. However, standing there watching the “cheap” $3.33/gallon fuel become quickly “expensive,” I let my mind wander. What would I do with $341 million? Since I employ a hyperactive imagination, I had no troubles with the mental gymnastics required to determine how to dispense of the entire amount. For the record, I would be one of those who patiently wait. I would want all $341 million, not the just ” quick cash” payout.

Though tempted, I did not “play” yesterday. I went inside the convenience store and paid just for the fuel, got back in my car and started the drive to the next required “fill-up.” I am amazed at myself as I grappled with how alluring the prospect of receiving a lot of money at one time is to me. I am old enough and experienced enough to know that even such a hearty sum as $341 million is only a temporary resource. I am absolutely convinced I could make it disappear without too much effort. What kind of wealth is that?

Yet, I already possess a treasure. This treasure bears the unique distinction of having been burned, banned, buried, persecuted, scoffed at and completely ignored. Any other treasure would have long ago suffered a complete meltdown into oblivion, just like so many other treasures humans have declared of worth over the millennia. This treasure has not tarnished, it bears no chips or cracks, it remains powerful enough to change entire cultures and to even impart value into the seemingly valueless life.

The question I should have asked myself while standing at the gas station watching my wealth disappear gallon by gallon is, “What should I do with the instructions God so richly blessed me, since I will never be able to ‘spend’ them all?”

This is the question I am asking myself today and that I pray I am asking myself tomorrow.  How about you?

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