Wednesday, July 1, 2020

A Letter to COVID by David Hummell

This amazing post comes to us from David Hummell (David attends one of the many CH Bible studies that meets throughout Jacksonville).  

                                                                                                                                                Pentecost 2020
Dear COVID-19,
Man, you are a son-of-a-gun.  I mean it.  You swept into our world and wrought global havoc like we’ve never seen.  Death tolls in the hundreds of thousands, financial crisis, unemployment projections matching that of the Great Depression, governmental partisan finger-pointing at an all-time high, international blame-gaming, divisive conspiracy theories; and a slew of other side-affects like ramped levels of quarantine anxiety, emotional depression, an exponential rise in new addictions, horrific do-it-yourself haircuts, some of the worst facial hair decisions ever made; and there are even the new phenomena of “mask shaming.”  “Mask shaming.”  That’s where we are.  
COVID-19, you are truly the worst!  But even so, I want to THANK YOU!
Thank you for ferociously exposing the fragility and frailty of our human spirit, of my human spirit, and thank you for forcing us into our homes and giving us something we always ask for...TIME.  Time to reevaluate our purpose, our priorities, and our commitment to what we are put on this planet to do…expand the Kingdom of God.  
You COVID-19 were like an alarming abnormal lump that forces one to seek an expert opinion, diagnosis, and treatment; or a low tire pressure warning light that forces one to pull to the side of the road or into the nearest mechanic shop for further inspection and repair. But in this case, you were the warning light for my soul, salvation, and fulfillment of my purpose here on Earth.   
Thank you, COVID-19! 
 “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20)
Very early on in this crisis, during this precious pause, the Lord put on my heart the phrase, “Don’t MISS IT, Don’t MISS OUT.”  While it admittedly took me a couple days to decipher what this meant (my immediate thought was DON’T MISS OUT on the stock market fire sale…I’m such an earthling), it then hit me like a lightning bolt.  God did not want me, nor others to miss out on this amazing opportunity before us, the opportunity while called home in quarantine to spend with our loving and faithful heavenly Father, speaking with Him, learning about Him, in His word, in silent meditation and prayer like never before.  What a wonderful, unexpected, and precious gift amid this horrific pandemic, and thankfully, I have and continue to take full advantage of it!  
As I dove headfirst into God’s word like never before, I stumbled across the lesser-known Old Testament two-chapter (perfect for you light readers) book of Haggai, a minor prophet who delivered his prophecies over only a four-month time period.  Although the second shortest book in the Bible, it packed a powerful prophetic punch that not only resonated with the broken people of Israel but resonated deeply with my broken self as well.  It tells of the people of Israel being released from Babylonian and Persian captivity around 539 BC, allowed to return home to Jerusalem, directed by King Cyrus to rebuild God’s Temple, His earthly dwelling with us.  Unfortunately, that group lost focus of the task at hand as priorities waivered, their purpose was forgotten, and perspective blurred; until God spoke through the prophet Haggai to challenge and encourage His people to complete this spiritual and physical undertaking resulting in a “house that will be greater than the glory of the former house.” (Haggai 2:9) 
5Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 6You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill.  You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it”.    
7This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. 8Go up into the mountains and bring down lumber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored, “says the Lord.   (Life Application Study Bible, Haggai 1:5-8)
Much as the people of Israel were released from Egyptian slavery, I was released from captivity of death and sin, set free through the blood of Jesus.  But still, at times, I wander in the wilderness, much like the people of Israel due to my occasional lacking of faith, trust, and proper perspective.  
And again, much as the people of Israel were released from Babylon, I was also recently released from captivity.  But my release was from the captivity of every-day, Bible-dabbling, occasionally praying, happy-go-lucky, normal, successful by earthly standards, 9:00-5:00 working, running in all directions, hectic life; and called home into quarantine.  I realize this sounds contradictory, being released from captivity into quarantine?  Yes!  Remember the call on my heart to Don’t MISS IT, Don’t MISS OUT.  I saw this as a release from captivity of “normal” life to spend time with our faithful, loving, heavenly Father, in His word, getting to know Him better, and reminded fervently of the ultimate task of expanding the Kingdom of God here on earth.  I had an unprecedented opportunity amid your horrific crisis to pause, reflect, and like the people of Israel released from Babylon, was challenged to give careful thought to my ways; re-evaluate my priorities, purpose, perspective, and patience. 
As a result of all this, I have reached a previously unfound level of ease in releasing total control to my trustworthy and faithful heavenly Father, finding peace and fulfillment that I have never experienced before.  Not too shabby for my first global pandemic.  No more wandering!!
Thank you, COVID-19.  
Disclaimer:  Don’t get me wrong, I still have SEVERAL AREAS OF OPPORTUNITY (just ask my wife and kids) that are still major works in progress (being more “present,” having more “patience,” using less “foul language,” bad dietary habits, etc., etc., etc.), but one day at a time.  
Now, please understand COVID-19 that I don’t write you this letter to encourage you.  You are still the worst!   I write this letter for me, to keep close and reflect on in days, weeks, and months to come and once you, and all of the chaos you brought with you has been eradicated from this planet; so that I don’t ever go back.  Certainly not back to the captivity of “normal” as there was NO FUTURE in “normal.”  
Today I pray for the courage, obedience, discipline, and wisdom to avoid ever returning to the captivity of “normal.”  There was NO FUTURE in it, at least not the future that God intended for me.   
You really are the worst COVID-19, but again, I thank you!  
Forever grateful for your horrendousness,
David Hummell, Treasured child of God 

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

He is NOT like us

Jesus never does anything by chance. He never haphazardly wanders around looking for something to do. He never moves without a purpose or a plan. Every action, every word of our Lord, is intentional. This type of living with a purpose is foreign to me. I am sure that, in a way, it is unfamiliar to you as well. We spend most of our days hoping to have no plan. We long for the days of vacations and not having a schedule to keep or a place to be. We devote our time and energy to trying to get to the point when everything is done, and we can unplug and get lost in a movie, show, video game, or focus on "me." Words spew out of our mouths with no intent and no concern about their impact. Jesus is not like you and me, and that is a really good thing. 
If you remember, in John 3:22, we are told that after the Passover and the conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus and the disciples head out to the Judean countryside to do a little baptizing. As the crowds around Jesus being to swell, the disciples of John the Baptist are more than a little concerned. Baptizing is kind of John's thing. It is what he/they are known for, and now Jesus is here stealing the thunder and the crowds. However, the sudden momentum swing is not troubling to Johnny B. When pressed, he openly admits that this is the plan… Jesus must increase, and he must decrease (John 3:30).
As the 4th chapter of John begins, it becomes clear John's disciples are not the only ones that are witnessing the explosion of the popularity of Jesus. The murmuring started to exit the lips of the Pharisees. The Pharisees that were not happy with John (John 1:19-28, Luke 3:7) are looking to turn their attention and distaste to Jesus.  Jesus, knowing all things, including the thoughts and intentions of men, knows what will happen if He stays. The decision is made that He must leave Judea and return to Galilee. His leaving was intentional, and His route was with purpose. 
When Jews would travel between Galilee and Jerusalem, they might make it a point not to take the most direct route that would take them through Samaria. (The historian Josephus notes that a Jew traveling through Samaria was not uncommon, but it did come with some risks of escalating the tension between the groups.) The traveler would often opt for a longer route that would take them across the Jordan River and then following the Jordanian Highway to Galilee that would have little risk of social tension. John suggests that it was part of God's plan that Jesus took this route (John 4:4). This makes the meeting that will happen between Jesus and the woman at the well not only significant but intentional. Jesus was so intent on getting to Samaria and being at that well by noon that He stressed and exhausted His body to do so. 
Jesus' actions in the first six verses of John 4 are unusual, but we should not be surprised. This is the way that Jesus always acts. His works are intentional, and as we will see, so are His words. In just a few short chapters, Jesus will be doing this all over again. He will be again pouring out His sweat, but this time it will be mixed with His blood. He will be speaking the purposeful words, not to a single sinful woman at a well but to every sin-filled man, woman, and child. This is His purpose! This is not just a good thing, but this is the GOOD NEWS!

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Forgiving Peter: John 21 Part #2

I am beginning to see that the road back to normal is not going to be smooth.  There are going to be bumps that are unexpected and test the shocks.  As we begin to "open" states back for business, it is becoming clear that this process is going to take a while.  Despite my desire to have life return to what it was before all this happened, the world is different, people are different, and I am different.  

In the second half of the last chapter of John's Gospel, we oddly find Peter in somewhat the same place.  Peter cannot merely go back to the way things were; too much has happened.  There cannot be a simple, "I'm sorry, and I promise that will never happen again."  There cannot be a "we're good, right?" fist bump.     Instead, at this moment, Jesus is going to venture into the deep dark places of shame and failure in Peter’s heart and begin a little Gospel surgery.

Breakfast is over, and as the disciples are washing the dishes and enjoying a full belly.  When they think that they couldn't eat anymore, Jesus serves dessert.  This dessert is not for the stomach but the heart.  In a moment of great compassion, Jesus turns to Peter and asks him a question.  It is not the question that Peter wants to hear.  It is not the question that we want Jesus to ask.  We would instead Jesus ask, "do you promise not to fail me again?"  We prefer Jesus to say, “well, you messed up, how about not letting that happen again.”  And it would be a dream if He said, “Hey Pete, no worries, forget about it.” 

The main reason that we want Jesus to say those things and ask us a different question is because it is more comfortable.   Author Henri Nouwen says it well when he wrote, "We like easy victories; growth without crisis, healing without pains, the resurrection without the cross."   Those kinds of statements keep Jesus out or our heart and at arms-length.  They give us something to do, a goal to achieve.  However, Jesus is not after our obedience but our hearts!

What we need to know is that those places in our hearts of the greatest same and failure do NOT scare Jesus away.  This is the reason why Jesus asks Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?"  not just once but three times.  Jesus is walking Peter back to the three denials, the charcoal fire, and the rooster crowing.  Jesus is leading Peter back to his moment of greatest shame and failure.  It is here where Peter and we remember the story from the Gospel of Luke (Luke 7:36-50).  Remember the one about the diner party, the sinful woman and the alabaster flask of oil?  In that story, Jesus taught that "to whom little is forgiven, loves little (Luke 7:47).  The opposite is also true: he who is forgiven much loves much.  The "rock" that Jesus is going to build His church on is going to be forgiveness and Love.

Peter, you, and I need to know that as we are called to "follow me," no matter the cost, no matter the circumstance.  We are called to follow not because we are good little boys and girls but because we are sheep.  We are sheep being led by the Shepherd.  We are sheep being led by Love Himself. 

Monday, May 4, 2020

Breakfast with Jesus: John 21 Part #1

We do not get many stories about Jesus after He rose from the dead.  In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it is as if Jesus emerges from the tomb, has a few brief conversations, commissions the disciples, and then ascends into heaven. (Luke does write that Jesus hung out and taught for 40 days after He rose, but we have no record of those conversations.)  John’s Gospel is different.  From his prologue to the amount of time he spends writing about the passion week, John gives us something different in his Gospel.  The same is true for the post-resurrection appearances.  He writes of four different times of Jesus' appearing after Easter morning.  These stories are whimsical.  They are full of conversations and details.   John was the last Gospel story to be written, with most scholars dating the writing of John somewhere between 68-90 AD.  John, most likely, was able to read the other three Gospels before writing his story.  This might give us a little insight to reason his account of Jesus.  Maybe being late to the party does have its advantages.

Turning our attention to the 21st chapter of John’s Gospel, we find that the story moved 60 miles north to the region of Galilee.  Why this move north?  Were the disciples tired of the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem?  Were the disciples sick of the traffic?   
When we remember that the area of Galilee was the home to more than one disciple is not that odd move as most of the disciples were from that area.  The other clue is that when we cross-reference the Gospels. We see that in Matthew, the Angels at the empty tomb tell the Marys to tell Peter and the boys that Jesus will meet see them in Galilee (Matt 28:5-7).  

Although there is a promise to see Jesus in Galilee, John’s Gospel gives the impression that maybe Peter forgot.  Once Peter gets home, he makes the statement that he is going fishing.  This might not seem that weird.  Peter was a fisherman, and fishermen like to fish.  Peter had just gone through the most stressful and confusing weeks ever, and maybe a little fishing would put things in perspective. Perhaps Peter had a craving for a little Israeli sushi and decided that fresh is best.  But this fishing venture was not just a quick trip to the old stomping grounds, John writes, that Peter and the fellas fished hard all night and caught nothing.  (it would seem that Peter was the worst fisherman…ever.  Every time we read about him fishing he never has any fish.) 

We might think that after everything that Peter saw in not only the last week but the previous three years of his life, we could argue that fishing would be the last thing to do.  However, this is not unlike us.  We regularly run back to what is comfortable.  We return to things, places, and even people not because they are uplifting but because they are comfortable.  We might have a reoccurring dream or fantasy just because it feels good.  Some of us even live life trapped in the past because it is safe.  We stay where we feel safe, and we do what is most comfortable.  The life of the past or imagination is not for us as God's children. Nor is this the life for Peter in our passage.

The Apostle Paul tells us that when we are called to be God's children, we are made into a new creation (1Cor. 5:17).  The old is gone, and the new is here, even if we do not know/see it.  When we forget this truth, do you know what happens?  When we act like Peter, and we forget, Jesus comes and meets us right where we are!  This is what Jesus does in the 21st chapter of John.  Jesus appears on the shore and asks if they have caught any fish (John 21:5).  

This moment catches the disciples off guard.  They did not know it was Jesus.  Maybe it was the fog of the early morning light, but they did not expect to see and hear from the Lord at this moment.  (The same is true for us.  In our lives, Jesus shows up often in places where we least expect it.)  Jesus then tells them to drop the nets on the right side of the boat.  The advice is not just successful; it is abundant!  The net fill full of fish, and this triggered a memory in John to make him realize that the only One that could have done something like this.  The only One that could give advice and fill the nets to capacity…is Jesus.  There is a massive truth here for us to notice.  No matter how proficient we are, no matter how hard we try, no matter how much effort we put into something, if God is not a part of it, we will never be successful!

While this is good stuff, this is not where we are going to land the plane.  There is something better awaiting us on the shore.

Arriving at the shore with the disciples, we find that Jesus already has breakfast on the grill.  Our Lord then tells Peter to go a get some of the fish that they just caught.  Why would Jesus need more fish?  What is He trying to show us?  Maybe in this little moment, Jesus is inviting Peter to bring the gifts that he was given to be a part of the meal. Perhaps this is a little reminder that Jesus provides all things but still wants us to be a part of His mission.  Maybe.  But what happens next is absolutely amazing.  Look at verse 12.  Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast."  Did you catch that?  The risen Lord, the One that could demand the worship of the disciples, the One that suffered, died and rose, the One that just blessed the unsuccessful fishermen with more fish than they could have dreamed asks them to come and eat breakfast.  Not only does He ask them to come and eat, but then in verse 13, we read that Jesus served them breakfast!  Only Jesus! 

Do you know that this same offer of “come and eat breakfast” is something that we still hear today?  Every morning as we wake up, Jesus still offers us the chance to come and eat with Him.   So, who are you having breakfast with today?  Facebook?  Instagram?  Twitter?  Alexa?  Jesus?  

Come and start your day eating from and with the Bread of Life.  If you cannot make it in the morning, don't worry it is served all day long.  It is ready, and He is waiting.    

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Another Wink by Bob Cherry

I read this today and thought that it would be a great thing to drop off here.  It is just a little poem from Paul Tripp...  Read and enjoy.

It swept us up,
in its path.
Confused and separated,
we try to analyze
what we don’t understand,
try to conquer
what is bigger than us.
Fear sets in,
denial offers temporary
numbers rumble upward,
hope weakens.
Then we remember,
this isn’t the
this isn’t the
this isn’t the most
There is another disease,
most don’t see it,
most deny it,
no human can defeat it,
everyone is infected with it.
There would be no cure
if not for the Savior,
willing to come,
face the ultimate plague,
die alone,
so that there would be a
ours for the taking,
no money needed,
no line to stand in,
bring only one thing,
a heart ready to
Receive your healing,
rise, live again.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Doubt with Thomas

Did you know that after Jesus rose from the grave, He appeared twice to the disciples in the upper room?  The two events happened a week apart.  If you pay attention and cross-reference the Gospels, you might notice that there are a few similarities.  There are also a few glaring differences.  One of the most significant differences between the first upper room meeting and the second was that not every disciple was present.  Two were missing from that first meeting… We know that Judas wasn't there because he was hanging out in the trees, but there was another.  Reading from John 20:24-29, we discovered the one missing.  

His name is Thomas.  His friends know him as the “twin.”  However, we know him Doubting Thomas.  Two things always bother me about Thomas.  One thing that bothers me about Thomas is that we can assume that he is a twin, but we know nothing about his other half.  The other part that troubles me about Thomas is his nickname.  Why he of all of the apostles got one, I will never know.  Others could have gotten a nickname for a slip-up.  Peter, for example, denied Jesus three times, and we do not call him “Petey Three-Times" or "Sinking Peter.”  Even Judas escapes life and history without being shackled with the burden of being known as “Betraying Judas.”    

Thomas was not present in the upper room when Jesus first appeared (see Luke 24:36-42 or John 20:19-23). Where was Tom?  Maybe he was getting some beer and pizza, or perhaps he was stuck in traffic or helping his kids with a last-minute science project.  We cannot say for sure, and Scripture gives us no hints, but we do see that there is no condemnation for his absence.  No one scolds him for not being there that night.  So, it is safe to assume that this was an excused absence.  

When Tom comes back around, the others let him know what he has missed.   They tell him that they have seen the Risen Jesus.  Upon hearing this news, seeing the excitement in their eyes, Tom does NOT believe.   He snubs the testimony of Peter, James, and  John.  In fact, he refuses to believe.  What is his hang-up?  Why can he not just believe?  It might be that Tom is resentful and experiencing a giant-sized serving of FOMO regret.  It might be that Tom is a full-on skeptic and will not trust anyone's opinion about anything.   Yet, Tom tells us what he needs is evidence.   Thomas is just like us and wants proof or cold hard facts.  He wants to see with his own eyes and touch with his own hands.  Tom, just like us, wants to see the scientific, double-blind, peer-reviewed, published papers.  He wants not only to see the proof; he needs to put his fingers in the holes on Jesus' hands and put his hand into the wound on Jesus' side.  It is not just some little doubt, but Thomas emphatically states that without proof, he will never believe (John 20:25).  This is where I feel that we may have gotten his nickname wrong.  Thomas didn't just doubt; he refused to believe.  

For eight long days, Thomas was forced to listen to the stories of the others seeing Jesus.  The passing time did nothing to grow faith in Thomas.  The Gospel of John then tells us that after these 8 days pass, the disciples are back in the upper room, and the door is again locked.  (It seems that the passing of time did nothing to grow the faith in the others either.)  In this doubt-filled room, Jesus suddenly appears.  He does not show up and slap Thomas for not believing.  Our Lord does not look and wave a disappointed finger at Peter for again locking the door.  He does not hang His head in frustration.  Instead, Jesus announces, "Peace be with you!"   Then in the most amazing, gentle act of compassion, Jesus holds out His nailed scarred hands.  Looking directly into the doubt-filled eyes of Thomas, He speaks,  "Take your finger and put it here, Thomas.  Look, and see my wounds.  Take your hand and put it into my side.  Stop unbelieving...and believe."  Thomas' eyes are finally open, and he proclaims…"My Lord and my God!!"

In our current time, there is so much frustration that for some, the doubt is beginning to boil.   This reveals the harsh reality that we are more like Thomas than we want to admit.  We are doubters and all we have to do is look at the media to prove it.  We question everything and wonder if we are being told the truth or listening to fake news.  Many people desperately need cold hard facts, scientific evidence, and proof.  We protest that we have the right to know the truth and long answers and when the answers do not come, our doubts slowly begin to turn into skepticism and unbelief. 

Our doubts are not just confined to what is going on in the media.  We doubt our faith, the future, and even God Himself.  We ask questions like "If God is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving… Why are there people getting sick?  Why won’t this pandemic go away?”  Our doubt originates from the poisonous question the snake asked in the garden.  And despite years of teaching, Bible Studies, and Scripture reading, this same question lingers in our hearts. “Does God really love me?” “Can He really forgive me for that?” and “Is God really who He says He is in the Bible?”  "Can I trust Him?"

In this little story, we see Jesus step into all of the doubt, disbelief, worry, and confusion in Thomas' life.  Jesus does not allow Thomas to drown in an ocean of uncertainty, nor does He leave Thomas to wallow in his own doubt.  Jesus comes and meets Thomas, who had not only locked the door to the upper room, but also his heart. He holds out His nail-scarred hands and takes hold of Thomas's burden of doubt.  This is something that Jesus still does.  Jesus walks into our locked quarantine "upper rooms" and the "closed doors" of our hearts and reminds us that He is who He said He is.  Jesus holds out those same nail-scarred hands and takes all of our fears, doubts, concerns, shortcomings, and sins.  And then He blesses us with all of His faith, peace, joy, hope, and glory!  Whenever this happens, our hearts cry out with Thomas, "My Lord and my God!"  

It is nothing short of amazing!!  So, agonize about your doubts if you want.  Lock your doors, and social distance, it will not keep Jesus from coming.  And when He does. there will be no condemnation.  There will be no finger-wagging, no disappointed sigh.   His words will be "Peace be with you!"  Look at His hands, take your fingers, and put them in the holes and BELIEVE that HE IS GOD!!

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Top 200 Christian Blogs

We are not really sure how it happened but this little adventure of the CH Blog was recognized as one of the top 200 Christian Blogs!!!  If you don't believe me head over Top 200 Christian Blog and start scrolling... and keep scrolling and scrolling, you will eventually find us sitting at #219!!

Thank you to all of you that read... we will keep them coming!

Friday, April 17, 2020

Doing Well? by Reina Cherry

I have been socially distancing for over a month. That’s not the norm for me.
I did not go to the grocery store for over 2 weeks. That’s not the norm for me.
I went 4 weeks without a hug from my 18-month-old grandson, Finn. That’s definitely not the norm for me. (This has been the absolute worst part of social distancing. On Easter, while playing with the little guy in the front yard…he came running after me with his hands in the air, speaking in his own language, "please ReRE PICK ME UP!"….OH! The joy to get a 48-second hug from Finn. It was the best Easter gift his mom and dad could have given me!)

Often people kindly inquire, "How are you and Wink doing?"  The inference is, "After being married 40 years, are you OK, spending ALL your time with each other?” It’s a very legit set of questions and being asked with genuine care. I’m happy to report that Wink and I are doing well. (Please read to the end to make sure you get the word “well” better defined.)

Stay with me….because I'm going to take an off-ramp and land in the story of Noah…(which we are studying in some of our CH women's Bible studies…another shameless plug to all women reading…please come & join us for our ZOOM weekly meetings. you can find out more at CH Women Bible Studies… Tim Keller quotes regarding Noah, "God not only saved Noah from the waters but more so by the waters.” This awakened my heart to the reality that  God is not only currently saving me from the pandemic but more so saving me by the pandemic….

Let me better explain by recapping 2 conversations that I’ve had over the past week…

One was with a young dad of 2 small kids where both mom and dad have super busy schedules. His words were, "Before the pandemic; basically, we were passing the kids off at dinner time when she got home from work; I would then go to work."   He described that tragically their family was much more connected to the church than to each other's hearts. The day we talked, he had fresh tears form in his eyes while describing the new depth of love/connection he now feels with his son and daughter, and as he spoke of the renewed love and ties with his wife's heart as well. He said, "No, doubt, we have been given a RE-START from God, and Reina, I am just so thankful!”

Another conversation was with a 40-year-old mom with 3 older kids. She stated almost verbatim: “I think this is how we are supposed to be living our lives.” She described how they are not spending so much time and energy dispersing kids to the myriad of after school activities, all the while missing each other's hearts. Instead, they now get to enjoy time around the dinner table with great conversations. Her husband is working from home and having to take a pay-cut, but it’s so worth it to all of them. They are welcoming this slower pace and all the new opportunities being given to do life together as a family.

Back to Wink and me. A few weeks ago, one of our son's shared with us this episode of the VERITAS FORUM…

It's the best thing Wink, and I have watched regarding this present world crisis. We are truly being invited to live life at a slower pace, perhaps better stated, a human pace.  A panelist, Andy Crouch, encouraged us to embrace the re-offering of the family dinner hour by asking each other some simple questions:

1. What are you afraid of today?
2. What are you thankful for today?
3. What are you hopeful about today? (Wink’s and my addition.)

This new world of the pandemic is giving us all multiple opportunities to better dwell with each other.
We are being given enough time to admit this new pace is hard. Our modern world of isolation produces loneliness. Yet it also allows plenty of moments filled with gratitude and hope simply because of to Whom we belong.  By going slower, we also have more brain/heart space to show up with each other in the present: good, bad, and/or ugly. So, here’s the real invite for all of us.  Jesus really loved (loves) hanging out with the bad and the ugly…We get to come to Him as we really are not as we should be.  Here is where God’s mercy and grace are experienced freshly.

Back to Wink and me doing "WELL." The answer most often is given, "We are being HELD."   Meaning, we are being granted plenty of time to see our own brokenness/messiness. These are also the very places we get to know God’s fresh rescue. And thus, they become the source of which kindness might actually spill out of us.

Oh! The sweetness to go slow enough to “Taste and See that the Lord is Good.”  Perhaps God is saving and transforming me (and you) by this pandemic.  

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The Coyote & Carona

Growing up, I loved the Roadrunner and Coyote cartoons.  You remember these.  The "beep, beep!" the constant failure of the coyote, the endless supply of ACME gadgets, the long fall off the cliff and the puff of dust.  [I have heard there was one episode where the coyote caught the roadrunner (this might be an urban legend), but I have never seen it.]Recently, my kids have found the new Roadrunner and Coyote cartoons on Boomerang.  Of course, I had no idea there were new ones but as we sat and giggled over the hi-jinx I started thinking.

This quarantine has me feel sorry for Wile E. Coyote.  Sympathetically, I get what he is going through, COVID-19, social distancing, masks, and curves have me feeling as if I have been hit by a train.   And as I have been reading from the Gospel of Matthew these past few days, something else struck me – 

I am the Coyote. 
I am the coyote.  Every day I wake up and try to capture my own salvation.  I try and fail.  I order things from ACME (or Amazon) and try again only to fail.  I fail to be a good friend, father, and husband.  It seems, the harder that I work, the more I fail.  There are sins that I cannot outrun.  There are struggles that I cannot overcome.  But none of my failings ever stops me from trying.  

Matthew 5:17-48 are part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  In these verses, Jesus offers us the authoritative interpretation of the Law of God.  In these short verses, Jesus takes the law and makes it more personal and more intense.  

I used to read this part of the sermon as something that I needed to be like, as something that I needed to do.  I used to read it as the old Adam.  Wait, you don't know who this old Adam (or Eve is)?  Never heard that term before?  Allow me to expand.  The old Adam is that deep dark part that lives in all of us.  He is supposed to be dead having drowned in our baptism, however, he is a good swimmer.  The old Adam is the one that still thinks that he can do it if he tries hard enough.  He is the doubter, the one who believes that a few fig leaves will hide his sin from the Eternal and All-Powerful God.  The old Adam is the one that tries with all his might to keep God's judgment at arm's length.  He is the one that believes he has it all figured out and with just the right amount of luck and stuff from ACME everything will be good.  The old Adam is precisely like the coyote; he doesn't quit.  He is forever scheming.  He is always making orders and plans.   But no matter how hard he works (how many hands he cuts off, eyes that get plucked out or roadrunners get caught) … there is nothing that the old Adam can do because sin does not reside in our eyes or hands but is embedded in our hearts!

Verse 48 from Matthew should murder the old Adam as he stands.  It should be the nail in his coffin… "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."  But the old Adam reads this verse as a call to action.  He says, "I must try harder. I must be perfect."

We need to read Scripture (or better yet hear it) as dead men.  We must hear the words as the coyote at the bottom of the pit.  These words are only understood by the one who cries out, "where does my help come from?" (Psalm 121:1) or "Oh, what a wretched man I am…Who will deliver me from this body of death" (Romans 7:24)?

 It is the dead who notice that the words of Matthew 5:17 are in RED LETTERS!!  “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” 

The I in this verse is Jesus!! The law is not mine or yours to fulfill.  The Law exists to reveal our desperate need for a Savior!  It is the dead that knows there is only One who is perfect like the heavenly Father is perfect!  The dead know that they are helpless and need not only their ransom to be paid but also to be rescued!!  It is the dead that need Jesus!  

This is where the Gospel of Matt dropped the lifeblood of the Gospel into my heart.  No, Jesus did not come to abolish Scripture; he came to fulfill it, that is, obey it (v. 17).  If we were to read/believe all of Matthew’s Gospel, we would already know this truth!  Just take a look, it is all over in the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth.  There we hear five times that Jesus is to “fulfill” this or that Scripture.  Later at his baptism, Jesus urged John to proceed “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). Then again at the start of His public ministry in Galilee fulfilled prophecy (Matt. 4:14).  We could go on but you get the point.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells our weary hearts that He has indeed come to fulfill the Law and not just messianic prophecies.  He is the promise that is mentioned in the garden (Genesis 3:13).  The culmination of that promise is the Cross.  It is there and only there that the coyote, the old Adam, and even I can stop trying because it is all FINISHED!

Friday, April 10, 2020

He Understands by Lindsey Weyer

On Good Friday, Jesus's family, friends, and followers must have been not only devastated but also confused. Their leader, their friend, and their Savior had seemingly abandoned them. I cannot imagine Mary, Jesus's mother watching him struggle beneath the weight of the cross without tears flooding my eyes. It is hard enough to see my children in temporary pain that has an easy fix but to witness this would be unbearable. Really thinking about Jesus hanging on the cross in my place, facing death, so that I can be freed from the fear of it undoes me. Reading the story of the crucifixion of Jesus from the Jesus Story Book Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones, out loud to our boys, makes me cry every time. She writes about how people mocked him, saying that he could save himself, climb down off of the cross. Of course, they were actually right, he could have. It was not the nails that held him there, but love held him there, love for me and you. When Jesus cried out, "Father, father, why have you forsaken me?" We can be reminded that because Jesus was forsaken on that cross, we will never have to be forsaken, ever. Tears rolled down the face of the One who would wipe away every tear.

Then the waiting and not knowing on Saturday would have been crushing. I'm sure it seemed endless and disorienting. Still, Sunday, oh glorious Sunday, to hear that not only was there more to the story but that the ending surpassed every hope imaginable! To understand that their Savior was no longer in the grave, that death could not hold Him, had to make their hearts explode with such incredible, mind-blowing joy! This is why when I think about Easter, I think about how it is both devastatingly sad and unexpectedly crazy, amazingly happy. The journey from the cross to the grave, and then to rise again, a journey that the prophets of the Old Testament alluded to was unbelievable until it actually became a reality.
At the COACHES HONOR, women's retreat Sharon Hersh shared about each of our stories matter.   They are part of a much bigger story, the biggest story of all time. This is a story of rescue that God has been unfolding since the beginning of time, a story of drawing His people back to Himself. There is great joy in this story as well as great sorrow. This week, with Easter approaching, much uncertainty in our world, and life looks different than it has ever looked before, I have been viewing things differently. As I have been looking at what is going on, this extended time of no hanging out with people, but a lot of family time at home, the sweet gift of time slowing down juxtaposed against the devastation people are experiencing all over the world, I have felt both an effervescent joy and deep, heavy sadness. I’m so thankful that I am invited to bring these emotions, all of them, to God, to lay them at his feet. Psalm 33:13, 15 says that the Lord looks down from heaven. He sees every person… He made their hearts. He understands everything they do. In all actuality, He knows my heart and my emotions better than I do. This is the heart of the matter. 

Our hearts are amazing because, as Louie Giglio writes in a children’s devotional called Indescribable, “The One who hung the stars is the same One who shaped and formed your heart…. The incredible fact is that the God who's big enough to know all the secrets of the universe also loves us so much that He knows all the emotions of our hearts and exactly when we feel them.” This means we are never alone in what we feel. He sees, and he draws near. Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” No matter what I am facing, he has a plan, not just to help, but to rescue and comfort. He promises in Isaiah 41:13 that He is the Lord our God.  He is holding our right hand, and he says we do not have to be afraid. He will always help us.

Right now, there is much waiting and much uncertainty in the world, but we can trust that there is hope in the waiting. Our friends dropped off a note on our front porch with a painted rock depicting the cross and the grave. The note stated John 11:25-26, "You don't have to wait for the end. I am right now, resurrection and life. The One who believes in me even though he or she dies will LIVE. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all. Do you believe this?” I’m so thankful for the Holy Spirit that awakens my heart to this truth, that we get to live believing this. 

My prayer this Easter is that we would be reminded that we are invited to bring all of our hearts to Jesus.   We are invited to bring our real genuine emotions to Him, lay them at His feet, knowing that He cares more than we can even begin to understand.  Also, I am praying that as we celebrate Jesus’s resurrected life, we can remember that He bore our pain, our sin, our hurt, and our death on the cross. He knows; He understands.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Why is it Still Raining?

“I love a rainy night.  I love to hear the thunder and watch the lighting as it lights up the sky."  Eddie Rabbitt's classic hit aside, I do love a good storm.  There is something relaxing about being hunkered down as the wind and rain rage outside.  Being stuck outside in a storm with no shelter or protection is entirely different.

Storms are a way to speak metaphorically about life. Times of financial troubles, stressful situations, hard times, plagues, wars, and global pandemics can all be described as a storm.  Storms are a part of life.

Over the last few weeks, it feels as if the world is in the middle of a massive storm, and we are caught with only our rolls of toilet paper for protection.  Hurricane COVID-19 has ripped through households, communities, and countries and continues to wreak havoc, a global storm of apocalyptic proportions has left us all cowering in fear.  When will we go back to school and work?  When will the rain stop?  When will it all end? 

Storms are all over the Bible.  From the very first few chapters of the Old Testament and Noah, storms take part in the story of the Bible.   Storms in Scripture show up in different ways.  Storms are sometimes the way that God communicates.  The Psalmists write about storms.  The Prophets talk about storms (some even call them down), and Jesus sleeps through them.  Yet, no matter how storms are used in Scripture, they always bring a lesson.   

In the 4th chapter of Mark, there is a famous story about a storm.  Mark writes… 
37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” [1]

In the past, when I encountered this little story, I read it with a heart full of arrogance (and ignorance).  I used to think, why are those guys freaking out?  Don't they know and realize that Jesus is right there?  Don't they have any faith at all?  Why would they care if there were wind and waves?  Why would any of that stuff worry them?  If these guys had any faith at all, they would be singing like Gene Kelly.  If I were in that boat with Jesus, I would be sleeping right next to Him, chillaxing. 

Well, over these past few weeks, I see that story in a completely different way.

The COVID-19 pandemic revealed to my heart just how quickly I can be just like those disciples in the boat. When the storms come quickly, I begin to accuse Jesus of being careless, impotent, and aloof.  We shake our fists at the sky, crying out, "Don't you even care that I am perishing?  Don’t you care that there is a deadly disease coming this way? Don’t you care that my child is sick?  Don’t you care that my marriage is falling apart?  Don’t you care that I have no money to pay bills?  Don’t you care that people are scared?  Don't you care at all?"

I am amazed by how fast I can think that God does not really care about me.  I am shocked that I can forget just who He is.  I am astonished at just how fast I become overwhelmed by fear and show not one drop of faith.

In this story, Jesus wakes up and calms the storm!  The waves stop crashing, and the wind stops blowing.  However, Jesus does not finish his wave-whispering, rollover, and drift back to sleep.   He turns and questions His friends' lack of belief.  What Jesus knows is that there is a bigger danger than the wind or the waves.  It is the lack of belief in the hearts of the disciples.  The most terrifying storms are not found in nature, but rage in our very own hearts.  Here is the problem...we believe the lie.  We buy into the myth that started a long time ago in the garden.  We only hear the words that poured out of the serpent’s mouth, poisonous words that infect our hearts with the disease of fear and doubt… “Does God really love me?”

This is the question that the disciples were really asking in the middle of the storm, and it is the very same one that we have been asking.  “Do You really love us?”  This is the question we ask every day, pandemic or not.  We ask it.  And before we allow time for a response or hear an answer, we begin to try to save ourselves.  We run to idols to find what we think is comfort and life.  It doesn't matter if it is porn or food or exercise or a vaccine or the government… we are all looking for something to bring us life, to love us.  We carry on with the illusion that we are in control, that we can, if we try hard enough, avoid what we do not want to face inside of our hearts or even in the world around us.   Author Henri Nouwen wrote, “The only way through suffering is not to deny it, but to live fully in the midst of it.”  How do we live fully when everything is falling apart?  How do we respond in the middle of this mess?

We know in our hearts that Jesus loves us.  We know that He cares.  It is just that in the middle of all the wind and waves of life, we easily forget.  However, we must not forget in the darkness what we were taught in the light.  Jesus is in control.  Jesus knows just how flighty and fickle our faith is, and He acts even when we refuse to believe He can.  Sometimes, Jesus wakes and calms the storm.  Other times, God allows the wind to blow and the waves to crash.  But it does not matter if the storm rages on, or if it is calmed by a stern look.  Jesus is always saying, "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?  I am here with you in the middle of this chaos, doing my work, even if you think I am not."  The same words that Jesus uses to calm the wind and waves are the same that can calm the storm in our own hearts "Peace, Be Still...and know that I am God!!" Psalm 46:10

The vine clings to the oak during the fiercest of storms. Although the violence of nature may uproot the oak, twining tendrils still cling to it. If the vine is on the side of the tree opposite the wind, the great oak is its protection: if it is on the exposed side, the tempest only presses it closer to the trunk.
In some of the storms of life, God intervenes and shelters us, while in others, He allows us to be exposed, so that we will be pressed more closely to Him.                                                                               —B. M. Launderville

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mk 4:37–41.

Friday, April 3, 2020

A Little "Wink" by Bob Cherry

The learning curve of life in 2020 is steep.  Who could have thought that our beaches would close?  Gone is the distraction of sports (#cold-turkey).  We are living in a world where the demands of social distancing are developing into an emotional recession.  One particular message someone sent me needs to be shared with our CH family.  Enjoy/Embrace... 

“Corona is exposing us.
Exposing our weak sides.
Exposing our dark sides.
Exposing what normally lays far beneath the surface of our souls, hidden by the invisible masks we wear. 

Now exposed by the paper masks, we can't hide far enough behind.  Corona is exposing our addiction to comfort.
Our obsession with control.
Our compulsion to hoard. 
Our protection of self.

Corona is peeling back our layers.  Tearing down our walls.
Revealing our illusions.
Leveling our best-laid plans.

Corona is exposing the gods we worship: Our health
Our hurry
Our sense of security.
Our favorite lies
Our secret lusts
Our misplaced trust.

Corona is calling everything into question: What is the church without a building? What is my worth without an income? How do we plan without certainty?
How do we love despite risk?

Corona is exposing me.
My mindless numbing
My endless scrolling
My careless words
My fragile nerves.
We’ve all been exposed.
Our junk laid bare.
Our fears made known. 
The band-aid torn.
The masquerade done.

So what now? What’s left?
Clean hands
Clear eyes
Tender hearts.  What Corona reveals, God can heal.   Come, Lord Jesus.
Have mercy on us." 
- Sarah Bourns