Monday, August 25, 2014

Before and After

I see it everywhere these days.

The destroyed, run down, home...renovated into an epic space.

The tubby overweight guy with the handles of love...transformed into the ripped guy with abs you can grate cheese off of.

The supermodel that isn't as super as she looks until the photoshopping is finished.

Before. and After.

This past Sunday I taught on the before and after that Jesus pulls off in his people throughout history.

We looked specifically at a guy who went from making Christians suffer to living a life of suffering for Christ. His name was Saul...but then it changed to Paul. He went from killing Christians to giving people the saving message of Christ. From trying to shutdown the movement of the Church to being the primary catalyst to expanding the movement of the Church.

Pretty drastic transformation happened to this guy on the Damascus Road.

I've seen some places of pretty drastic transformation in me too.

I was a self-indulgent approval junkie, who found the only approval that would ever really matter.

I was a calloused, stony and dead heart. Then God found a way to make a dead heart beat again.

I could go on and on of the places that God has come into my life and blown up like dynamite.

But something very interesting happened during the church service.

I invited everyone to fill out a card that had on one side a before...painting the picture of where they had been or where they were currently. Then on the other side, they wrote their after...perhaps where God had shown up or where they desperately needed God to show up.

Out of 70 or so cards, maybe 8 or 10 of them had pretty hard "befores" and then did not have an after. The after side was completely blank.

While I knew this meant that people either didn't understand the instruction or, more likely, they weren't sure what God could or would do in their situation.

That may sound sad or stuck or heartbreaking as you read and think about it.

But I see hope.

As I read and prayed through the before and afters I couldn't help but lean with desperate anticipation into what God could do in some folks' lives.

It's not just about the big moment in 1994.

He's the Before and After God now.

Here. In the midst of the mess. Not just on the other side of the mess.

I've been stuck for a few months with what I can best describe as a thick cloud over me. It's hard to escape. When it seems that the clouds are breaking and light is breaking through, all of a sudden, the heavens seemingly shut up again and the weightiness of the cloud returns.

I don't have a before and after story to tell on this one.

I'm still in the before. I know there is redemption and beauty and hope on the other side, but I can''t quite strain my neck enough to glimpse much of it. This place of sadness and indifference and joylessness is a tough and foreign place for me.

But what the blank "afters" on the cards reminded me is of one astronomically important word.


The after hasn't been written. YET.

The story hasn't been redeemed. YET.

The despair hasn't alleviated. YET.

God is not done YET. The best is YET to come.

It's the story of hope friends.

And trust me. The author hasn't finished writing that story.

Hold on to yet.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Where O Death is Your Sting?

It's a powerful line from Paul's writings in the New Testament:

Where O death is your victory?
Where O death is your sting?
--1 Corinthians 15:55

It's this taunt-like banter that Paul delivers to the enemy of life. I've heard pastors preach epic, swag-tastic messages with this passage.

I've sang songs that powerfully claim and proclaim this verse.

It's at the heart of the message of the Gospel. My God has conquered the grave! Resurrection!

But lately I've thought on this verse and my answer?

Right here.

Right here in our midst is death's victory.

Iraqi minority groups being targeted and enduring horrific things.

Robin Williams, caught in the sorrow and cloudiness of depression and a tragic medical diagnosis.

And any number of other instances.

Where is death's victory? Where is it's sting?

Right here.

My cousin getting hit and killed in an accident in broad daylight as a 20 year old with his entire life ahead of him.

My dad's heart stopping right in front of me while I did CPR.

My mom's stroke and passing by herself in her home.

My daughter given 5 days to live and on a continual journey of fighting for her life for 3 years.

Where's the sting?

Right here, Paul. Right here.

Now I don't just believe the cross and resurrection, I'm banking on it with my entire life. My hope remains unwavering in a God who makes dead hearts beat again. He's proven Himself faithful and good and strong too many times to doubt or desert or deny.

But I can't muster the strength and courage to taunt death's impotence right now.

The void is here. The families that will never be the same. The sadness and depression that won't shake away. The sorrow.

Paul wasn't an idiot. He knew that death still had very tangible effects to those it touched.

But he knew the thing that stole death's destructive power.

That resurrection means the worst thing is never the last thing.

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.

And suddenly the pain dulls. And yet it doesn't.

Quickly the sting subsides. And yet it doesn't.

There's this immense tension.

Death wins the battle. Life wins the war.

Death suffocates. Life makes us catch our breath.

Death steals...destroys...breaks.

Life returns...redeems...restores.

We're caught up in this story of immense heartache and audacious hope.

And I want you who feel the sting of death. Who feel the fear. Who battle the addiction. Who feel death's victory in your soul. Who have a perpetual cloud over you that steals your soul. Who are anxious. Who are sorrowful. Who are defeated. Who are sad. Who are broken and out of control. Who are hanging on by a thread.

Hope. Wins.

And the God who took our sins upon Himself? Where is he when the sting is real and death's victory is obvious?

Hear his still small voice:

I'm right here too.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Time for Prayer

Asking for prayer this week:

Monday: Shaina and I are officially 11 years into our marriage! We are good for each other. Her light-heartedness diffuses my default to seriousness all the time. My steadiness to help us stay grounded in times of hardship. Pray for us to continue becoming one. Pray for encouragement to our hearts. Pray for continued resolve to engage and pursue each other. We are spending the day at Cedar Point for our anniversary. (Pray for good weather too!)

Tuesday: Pray for C3. Our next round of C3 Basic starts on Tuesday. A new wave of folks trying to figure out if C3 is the community they should invest their lives in. For some, it is the right fit and they need to be obedient. For some others, C3 may not be the right fit. Pray that the Holy Spirit would make it abundantly clear.

Wednesday: Pray for me. Depression is like a cloud. It just seems to hang over good days and make them ok. The primary thing the cloud steals is my joy. Pray that the joy of my salvation would return. Pray the cloud would depart and I could enter more fully into the Lord in this season.

Thursday: We are having a neighborhood cookout where about 45 houses on our street have been invited to hang out and bring bookbags for the C3 backpack drive. Pray for God to orchestrate in ways that only He can and pray that we would learn how to be good neighbors.

Friday: Pray for Iraq. Pray for Christians to be steadfast in holding to Christ. Pray for the people of ISIS to have dramatic encounters with the love of Christ. Pray for love and peace and forgiveness and reconciliation to bring a country at war together as one people.

Saturday: Pray for Chaia. Her calcium is up a bit. Her pressure on her eyes is still up a bit. There is still plenty of challenges with her, but she is an absolute delight. Potty training week one is under our belt! Pray for complete healing. Pray for the pseudotumor in her head to go completely away.

Thanks for the prayers. Encouragement is oxygen to the soul and your prayers are helping me breathe!