Band of Brothers

bob

Random guitar riffs, bass runs, and drum licks echo throughout the large room in a cacophony of band noise. Occasionally John will kick off a pattern on the drums, Luke will pick it up on his bass, and they’ll run with it for a few bars, but for the most part it’s all random bits left-over from everyone’s former band days, none of it in the same key or rhythm. (Since I’m the odd man out as far as having no former band days, I’ll occasionally throw a little Beethoven piano sonata into the mix, just to add to the joyful noise.)

Six of us—Kenny, Kurtis, Mark, Luke, John (all we need is a Matthew) and I, the “Band of Brothers”—rehearse every Tuesday night in the same room where we’ll be leading in worship the following night for the Wingman men’s Bible study. Once sound levels are finally set and everyone settles down to practice, we do the most important thing we can do to ensure a good rehearsal…

“Let’s pray it up.”

And now for the rest of the story…

Holy guacamole, Batman!

From “The Lizard Lounge” Series on I Am the Clay

avocado

It’s been a rainy summer here at the “Lizard Lounge.” (If you’re new to “I Am the Clay,” take a second and follow that link to find out where that name came from. You can also click here for the whole series.) That’s good, though, as all that free stuff means I don’t have to pay the city for it. While I didn’t plant vegetables this year, I did explore fruit-i-culture; more specifically, the Persea americana, commonly known as the avocado. In the process, I learned a lot about fruit bearing, both botanical and spiritual.

Who knew my earthly home could teach me so much about the journey toward my heavenly one…?

• • •

Avocado: you either love it or you loathe it. While there’s typically very little in-betweenism when it comes to one’s relationship with avocado, I definitely fall into that camp. To me, it doesn’t have much taste at all, kind of like eating mushy thick green air. However, I eat it all the time.

All. The. Time.

‘Cause it’s embarrassingly nutritious.

If Jesus had passed out slices of avocado along with the loaves and fishes, those five thousand people He fed would have also gotten:

  • a boost to their immune system
  • a drop in their high blood pressure
  • a little extra help fighting off 1st century cancer. (And possibly more, since Jesus would have been the one slicing it up.)

The fat it contains—and it does contain a fair amount—is monounsaturated fat, the good kind. (Never thought I would use “fat” and “good” in the same sentence.) Your cholesterol levels will thank you.

And now for the rest of the story…

The Web

The Web

Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith… 1 Peter 5:8

As spider webs go, it was spectacular – elegant in its construction and beautiful in its symmetry. The silk formed a perfect, dizzyingly tight spiral radiating out from the center, each concentric circle intersecting the spun spokes anchoring the impressive construction to the exterior frame of the rather large window. It was truly a marvel of engineering.

The weaver, herself a marvel, was nowhere in sight, tucked away in the shadow at the corner of the window frame, waiting patiently for just the right vibration on a gossamer strand of the lethal lattice.

Interestingly – and key to its deceptively benign function – the web all but disappeared in the afternoon sunlight, leaving nothing but the reflection behind it of the trees and shrubs surrounding the house in the window glass. If one were not paying attention, one could easily dive headlong into the viscid clutches of the fine-spun thread…

The dragonfly darted through the trees, performing aerial maneuvers sure to shame the most accomplished pilot, as much a virtuoso of flight as the weaver was at creating a web. It lit, seemingly weightless, on the tip of a tussock grass plume, lacey wings spread wide, its prismatic body shimmering against the bluish-green stalk. After a moment’s rest, it took flight again, continuing its tour of the yard.

It eventually veered in the direction of the house, straight toward the window, stopping a few inches from the glass. It hovered there for a few seconds, its beating wings a blur as it hung in mid-air. Maybe it saw the alluring reflection of, as yet, more unexplored trees; maybe it saw a reflection of itself and decided to investigate the intruder. Whatever the reason, it suddenly awakened from its suspended reverie, made an imperceptible adjustment to the bearing of its wings, and dove toward the window.

And now for the rest of the story…

Walking on Bare Concrete

From “The Lizard Lounge” Series on Clay

Summer is back with a vengeance — so is the need to recover from the lazy non-summer months (which in Florida, are few) and tackle long-procrastinated-on home improvement projects here at the “Lizard Lounge.” (If you’re new to “Clay,” take a second and follow that link to find out where that name came from. You can also click here for the whole series.) And whether I’m having a DIY moment inside or outside, I have a lot of time to talk to or (even better) listen to the Lord. Invariably, by the time I put down the shovel, the paint brush, or the watering hose, I have an idea for a blog post.

Below is the first one for this season. Who knew my earthly home could teach me so much about the journey toward my heavenly one…?

• • •

Time has a way of getting away from me. (Hold that thought for a moment…more to come…)

The past few weeks I’ve been making final preparations for the book I’m writing. To date, I’ve made umpteen editing passes through my manuscript. I’ve also allowed 3 times that many days to go by without writing something new for Clay. (I’m not sure what 3 x umpteen equals. A scad? An oodle? A triscuit?)

Those famous, fortunate, and affluent authors who can hand a raw book manuscript over to a publishing company and then head to the beach while waiting for a formatted proof copy to come back ready for corrections and final approval don’t know what they’re missing. Or maybe they do; maybe that’s the reason they’re at the beach: they’re celebrating all that free time under their beach umbrella, waiting for their next cold beverage to arrive. The self-publishing rest of us are forced to do our own formatting and spell-checking and reading and re-reading and re-re-reading of our fledgling books while chained to a computer wishing we’d had the foresight to buy stock in Microsoft Word back when it was affordable.

In the end, though, it’s been worth every keystroke, as I’m happy with the progress on my book manuscript. I do feel bad that I put all blog activity on hold, though. My poor Facebook followers were subjected to republished versions of former posts while waiting for something new to come out. As I hadn’t sent out one of my “A new article on Clay” emails in a “triscuit,” one of my subscribers asked me if I had dropped him from the distribution list. Another friended me on Facebook just to make sure I was still alive.

Like I said, time has a way of getting away from me.

And now for the rest of the story…

*squish*

From “The Lizard Lounge” Series on Clay

Below is the next installment in “The Lizard Lounge Series on Clay,” a wet-n-wild little piece about disasters—house AND spiritual varieties. Here is a link to the whole series, if you’re just tuning in. (And here’s a link that explains the whole “Lizard Lounge” bit.)

Who knew my earthly home could teach me so much about the journey toward my heavenly one…?

• • •

Stepping into my dark kitchen one evening after work I heard a sound I wasn’t expecting…

*squish*

*squish*? I thought. Tennis shoes on tile don’t usually make that sound. *squeak* maybe or *kerplop*—but *squish*?

I made my way across the room to flip on the light switch.

*squish*squish*squish*

That can’t be good

And it wasn’t. With the light on I could see that the kitchen was standing in water. While barely a half-inch deep (so far), standing water of any depth in one’s home is not a good situation. Not a problem on tile floors, but…

…wood floors. Please no, I prayed silently as I set out on a tour of the rest of the house.

And now for the rest of the story…

Once More, With Peeling

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

I’m having a horticultural “best of times/worst of times” moment in reference to an event unfolding in my hindmost landscaping bed (i.e. that patch of dirt out behind the carport). I’m watching one of my banana plants actually sprout bananas – one of the coolest and rarest things ever (at least in my particular plant hardiness zone). Out of the blue recently, a large, deep-red banana heart appeared at the top of my tallest plant. As each layer of the banana heart peels back like a petal, it reveals tier upon tier of tiny, finger-sized bananas.

Once the final petal has opened and the baby bananas have had time to ripen, I’ll have my own little bunch of Chiquitas. And they’re sweet – much more so than their store-bought banana brethren and sistren.

Makes me feel kind of like a parent (of really tall, green, and quiet children – who sprout bananas).

That’s the good news. The bad news is that a banana plant only has one bunch of bananas in it; after that, it dies. So no sooner are the tiny potassium- and vitamin C-laced babies ready to adorn a bowl of corn flakes than the plant I’ve fed and watered and nurtured from a pup suddenly takes an unceremonious, leaning-tower-of-Pisa-like nose-dive into the mulch.

Not a happy sight. But that’s the way God made bananas – bear fruit and then exit, stage left.

With just a cursory read of the Bible, you’ll discover that “bearing fruit” is also the perfect analogy for being a productive Christian. Many of the Biblical writers have a lot to say about bearing fruit, as did Jesus. (Of course, He’s generally not talking about bananas – at least I don’t think so. I can’t imagine one of the apostles slipping on a banana peel. That would give a whole new meaning to the phrase “the fall of man.”)

Paul had some pretty insightful things to say about bearing fruit, as well. In chapter 5 of his letter to the church at Galatia (in what today would be Turkey), he found himself in the unpleasant position of having to give the Galatians an “F” in “conduct” on their spiritual report card. He didn’t pull any punches when contrasting their fruits of the “flesh” – referring to their proclivity to sin – to fruits of the “spirit.”

Although Paul reminds the Galatians that they were called to be free, he warns them to not let that freedom take then down the wrong side street.

He writes:

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21, NIV

That’s an embarrassingly l-o-o-o-ng list of possible sinful pursuits. He pretty much takes those Galatians to the woodshed – if you’re going to act like this, he says, you can jolly well kiss any chance of eternity with God in heaven “αντίο”.

But the God of all creation (including bananas) is also the God of new creations. In verses 22 and 23, Paul goes on to offer an encouraging “but” to those who belong to Christ Jesus.

“But,” he says…

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

How d’you like them bananas? (or, you know, the fruit of your choice) Now that’s a list I can get into.

Sadly, though, it’s kind of hard to find many of the fruits on that list percolating through the world today. Just think about your latest drive home from work – did you see any joy or kindness or self-control out on the interstate? Me neither.

Earlier in his letter to the Galatians, Paul says:

The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:14, NIV

In other words, don’t tailgate or speed up just to cut your neighbor off and keep him from merging into your lane.

Love him…

  • Love that left-lane hogging driver with his turn signal on for the last 20 miles riding his brake and flicking cigarette ashes out the window while texting.
  • Love that person in front of you at the grocery checkout who waits until the cashier has rung up all her groceries and given her the total before she starts hunting for her credit card which is somewhere in her wallet which is somewhere in her voluminous purse – while texting.
  • Love that know-it-all in your meeting who, because he or she can’t get enough of hearing him- or herself talk, forces a follow-up meeting to be scheduled, since they ate up so much time nattering on (while texting). And if there’s two of them competing for air time? Ay-yi-yi… Pray for peace. And strength. And grace. And a stomach bug the day of that follow-up meeting…

So just like “fruits of the flesh” vs. “fruits of the spirit,” this whole “fruits of the banana” vs. “fruits of the Christian” essay is an exercise in contrasts. My banana plant only gets one shot at it. Once it’s borne its fruit, that’s it – it passes on, it’s no more, it ceases to be, it’s a stiff, bereft of life, an ex-banana.

For the Christian though, Jesus used a beautiful fruit-bearing analogy when He said:

“I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.” John 15:5, NIV

Not once, like my soon-to-be-finished banana, but over and over – as long as we continue to share His Gospel. In fact, if the fruit we bear leads others to a saving knowledge of God’s grace and results in eternal life for someone else, we can conceivably “bear fruit” forever.

I find that very a-peeling…

At a Loss

I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Philippians 3:8 (NIV)

I remember standing on Main Street, U.S.A. in Magic Kingdom Park at the Walt Disney World Resort one night when I was about 15 years old. I had spent the day watching life-like robotic parrots and pirates sing, taken a simulated rocket trip to Mars, watched talented singer/dancers put on a spectacular show in front of the iconic Cinderella Castle singing every Disney song ever written, and watched Abraham Lincoln stand up and deliver a stirring speech. It was an unforgettable day.

As I stood there that night watching the glittering Main Street Electrical Parade and listening to its catchy musical soundtrack, I was struck with the realization that I had experienced something that day I couldn’t articulate at the time, something exemplified by the parade I was watching and listening to. While the bouncy and repetitive main melody played nonstop throughout the half-hour parade, never ending and never missing a beat, I noticed that, as every themed parade float wheeled into earshot, it overlaid its own unique tune, totally in sync with that main soundtrack, matching its rhythm precisely, beat-for-beat. As one float moved on another would turn the corner, broadcasting “Whistle While You Work” from the Seven Dwarfs float or “When You Wish Upon a Star” from the Pinocchio float. Float after float and tune after tune came and went, always in perfect synchronization with the main soundtrack.

It was one of those defining moments. After all, the Magic Kingdom wasn’t the rinky-dink county fair back home with its rickety Ferris wheel and merry-go-round; and the Main Street Electrical Parade wasn’t the tacky little homespun Christmas parade – this was something in a class by itself, a level of excellence and technology I had only imagined existed. I had never experienced anything quite like that in my 1970s small-town existence.

I left the park trying to get my arms around what I had seen and heard that day. I didn’t believe in actual magic, but if it existed, this was where it lived. Every time I set foot in the Magic Kingdom or see that parade, I’m transported back to that first visit 40+ years ago.

I thought nothing else could ever be that amazing.

Later, when I was in college, I spent a couple of years writing, arranging, orchestrating, and choreographing some major pieces of choral music for my college show choir, the best in the Southeast – some of that music inspired by what I had seen at Disney. (I loved those years in college. I came into my own during that time and discovered musical and writing abilities I never knew I had. I also discovered I could dance, which was really astonishing for a Southern Baptist boy. I didn’t want to leave after I graduated. They had to take away my key to the music building and usher me off campus…just kidding.)

While a senior and then a graduate student there, I created four 15-20 minute musical extravaganzas, two with original theme songs I had written. My senior year we toured the Northeast, including a couple of nights in New York City. I’ll never forget performing one of those pieces, a quasi-patriotic medley about America, in Rockefeller Center Plaza. As we sang about “tall buildings that touch the sky” I glanced upward, surrounded by (at the time) the tallest buildings in the world, buildings that illustrated beautifully the song I had written.

Although I couldn’t say exactly why, I cried a little bit.

Again, I thought nothing else could ever be that amazing.

Several years later, I played Benjamin Franklin in a production of the musical, “1776.” The play was about the writing and signing of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress, and portrayed such famous founding fathers as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and of course, Dr. Franklin.

I know that sounds yawn-inducing, but the members of the Continental Congress, as I said in my role as Benjamin Franklin, were “not demigods” as we often think of them today; they were just guys – and most of the time, rowdy guys who just liked to drink rum and fight. This lent itself to a rollicking and often hysterical reenactment of a pivotal moment in our country’s history. (Of course, it transcended all that testosterone and was elevated to the sublime when, one-by-one, they all signed the Declaration document during the final scene as the music swelled and the sound of the liberty bell rang out through the theatre. Gives me chills thinking about it.)

I had the best part in the show. (Don’t tell the guys who played Adams and Jefferson I said that.) As Ben Franklin, I had the whole bald head and fringe of hair (two hours in makeup) and limped about the stage with a walking stick as though I had gout. (Something the real Franklin suffered from.) I perfected the (temporary) loss of my rural southern accent and spoke in what I imagined was an 18th century manner. I also had all the funny lines and sang about making the turkey our national bird and danced with Thomas Jefferson’s wife in a hoop skirt. (She was wearing the hoop skirt, not me.) I became Benjamin Franklin for the run of the show and had a grand time doing it.

I’ve done a lot of theatrical productions, but that was by far my favorite. It was like I was made for that part. I could have been one of those people like Carol Channing, who spent the rest of her life starring in productions of “Hello, Dolly!”, a role she made famous. Give me a walking stick, a bald wig, and an orchestra in the pit and I could be playing Franklin to this day. I hated to see it end.

I definitely thought nothing else could ever be that amazing.

There have been other times like that…

  • Singing the moving and emotional Verdi Requiem with a massive choir and symphony orchestra.
  • Standing above the clouds at 10,000 feet at sunrise and looking down into the alien landscape of the Haleakala volcano crater on the Hawaiian island of Maui.
  • Attending a lavish banquet for recipients of the highest honor awarded by my company and listening to guest speakers like the legendary Julie Andrews and Sidney Poitier.

…and each time I felt as though I had reached some sort of pinnacle moment; each time I just wanted to revel in that moment, to sear it onto my brain so I would never forget it; each time, I thought nothing else could ever be that amazing.

And each time…

…I was wrong.

When Philippians 3:8 rose to the top of my memory verse stack recently and I began studying it – even after reading it many times before – the Lord suddenly put Paul’s words into perspective for me. Paul said:

I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

Before his encounter with Jesus, Paul considered himself to be the quintessential Jew – a “Hebrew of Hebrews” from one of the best tribes of Israel, faultless in his observance of Jewish law. But once Jesus took control of his life, all that changed; none of those things held the same importance anymore. After his conversion, he realized that, compared to knowing Jesus, all the things he had prized – his “blue-blood” Jewish pedigree, his obedience to the law, his reputation among the Jewish elite – were, in his estimation, no better than human waste.

Not that there is anything wrong with cherished memories and moments that shape who we are; after all, God is the author of every moment. But for me, singing and making jazz hands don’t compare with knowing Jesus. Having a leading role in a play? That either. (Even a really cool play where you get to wear a Ben Franklin wig and scold John Adams.) Of course, Disney is really awesome, but – again, no comparison. Compared to knowing Jesus, nothing else is even in the same universe – not even writing about Him in a blog.

Although Paul is not saying I have to give up the highlights of my life to know Jesus, writing this has made me wonder – could I? Is He that important to me? Would I give it all up – memories, music, family, friends, comfort – if that’s what it took to know Jesus fully and completely?

While I’ve never felt His plan was to leave me destitute, He wants me to be willing to give Him all that I have, to prize Him above everything else – and not just my spare time or whatever I have leftover in my checking account or just an hour or two in church each Sunday. He’s worthy of every part of me – even my life – and expects me to understand that. He expects all of His followers to understand that.

Though it’s not likely any of us will ever be required to physically die as a follower of Jesus, we should be willing to symbolically die to our own wants and needs, to give up our homes, our families and friends, our pleasurable pastimes, or our bank accounts, if that’s what it takes to know Him fully and love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

So back to my question: Would I be willing to give it all up to experience the “surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord”?

Based on my experience these past five years with being His follower, plus the relationship God has nurtured and developed with me, and the always-present Holy Spirit with His divine council and comfort, how could I answer any way but, “Yes – take it all. You’re all I want.”

Because when I surrendered my life to Him and finally knew Him – really knew Him – I thought nothing else could ever be that amazing.

And for the first time ever… I was right.

Jesús en mi corazón

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. 1 John 3:16

It was a warm, but not uncomfortable, day in the tiny village of El Rodeo, Guatemala. Actually, El Rodeo is less a village and more a scattered collection of shops, churches, and dwellings, some rather makeshift, nestled in the shadow of the volcano Fuego, which means “fire.” That fact, added to the ever-present, smoky aroma of tortillas cooking on the griddle and the occasional staccato clucking of an errant chicken punctuating the still air, definitely gave it an “I’m not from around here” feel – at least to my city-boy sensibilities.

I was part of a team that had just finished dedicating the small but sturdy home we had built for Iola and her family a few days earlier as part of a mission trip. Just like most of the people we encountered while we were there, Iola was small with dark eyes and jet-black hair, with a lovely burnished-brown complexion. While I felt like King Kong when I entered the 12’ x 12’ wood and corrugated tin house, her entire family of five practically rattled around inside it, making it look cavernous and roomy.

I had hardly noticed her during the two days we were there to build. While her husband, Edgar, pitched in to help hammer nails to attach the tin siding, she stood at a distance, curiously watching our progress. Occasionally she would come retrieve an escaped toddler, giving us a much-appreciated break to pass out candy and coo at the baby.

As part of the dedication service, we hung a hand-crafted cross inside the new home and presented her and her family with some food, clothing, and a Spanish-language Bible. Afterward, our interpreter, Lisa, shared a brief Gospel message, reading from the book of San Juan (St. John). As with all of our new homeowners, Lisa asked if they knew, or would like to know, Jesus as their Savior. Neither Iola nor her husband responded in the affirmative.

As our team concluded the service and gathered our backpacks in preparation to continue on to the next house, I silently prayed that somehow we had at least planted a seed that day and that someone in the family would one day know the amazing gift of God’s grace.

Little did I know…

We formed a sort of receiving line on our way out, each hugging Iola and her family in turn on the porch of their new home. Everyone had hugged and gone on to the truck except for me and my two dear brothers in Christ: David, our team leader, and Johnny, an evangelist and head of the ministry organization that sponsored the trip. When it came my turn to hug Iola and say adios, she hugged me back – tightly. Hers was no mere cordial hug, though; she clung to me, breathlessly murmuring a stream of Spanish punctuated by her tears.

My Spanish is practically non-existent – greetings, pleasantries, counting to ten, “Please stand clear of the door” (something I learned from riding the monorail at Disney World), a few mission-trip phrases like “God bless you” and “Jesus loves you” – so I had no idea what she was telling me. I assumed she was just tearfully thanking me for what we had done for her family, for my kindness to her children, for showing her husband respect.

But I soon discovered that wasn’t what she was telling me at all. What she was telling me and what I didn’t know at the time due to my limited Spanish, was that she wasn’t a Christian – and that she really wanted to be.

Obviously I can’t speak with any certainty, but remembering the almost frantic tone in her voice, this is what I now imagine she was telling me:

“Please don’t go yet. I heard the lady who read from the Bible say that I could have Jesus in my heart. I want that, what you have – what you all have. But I don’t know how to get it. Will you help me? Can you help me get Jesus in my heart? Please don’t leave without helping me find Jesus.”

Sadly, in that moment I didn’t comprehend any of that. However, when I finally broke away and moved to go, clueless to her pleas for help, she didn’t give up. I know that feeling well, having felt that same sense of urgency prior to my own salvation experience a little over four years ago. When the Holy Spirit truly gets a toe-hold in your heart as he had Iola’s – and mine – there’s nothing to do but keep your hands and arms inside the vehicle, secure all loose items, and hang on.

Since David was next in line for a hug, she repeated her cry for help – and this time, the Holy Spirit (who is obviously fluent in Spanish, more than just “Please stand clear of the door”) broke through the language barrier.

When I heard David calling for Johnny, the evangelist, I knew I didn’t want to miss what was about to happen. I did an about face, ducking under the clothes she had hung out to dry, and hurried back to the receiving line, determined to be a witness to the new creation about to be reborn on that front porch.

You see, that’s why I went to Guatemala, why I begged friends and family to help me financially, why I worked in the hot sun in the morning and in the rain and ankle-deep mud in the afternoon. I didn’t go to build houses, although that’s what I did most of the week. For me, building a house for someone was just a way of getting a foot in the door (so to speak), an opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus, an entrée into the lives of people who don’t know the full measure of the sacrifice Jesus made for them. I went to Guatemala to testify to the widespread power of God’s amazing grace, given freely to anyone who asks for it – including Iola – even if those she’s asking barely know how to count to ten in her language.

Thankfully, though, having taken groups on mission trips to Spanish-speaking countries for decades, Johnny spoke enough Spanish to communicate with Iola, although that whole scene brought to mind what Paul said in Romans 8:26:

The Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

Johnny and Iola prayed with words that the other didn’t understand. But the God of all creation, the good and gracious God who is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,” the God who sent His only Son to die in our place – He understood. And in Iola’s confession of faith, we understood two Spanish words: Christo (Christ) and corazón (heart). Iola finally had Jesus in her heart.

John, the apostle Jesus loved, wrote:

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. (1 John 3:16)

Jesus laid His life down for Iola and for me and for you. His life wasn’t taken from Him. Not in one single moment leading up to His death on the cross was he helpless to prevent what was being done to Him; at no time was He an unwitting victim. He gave His life freely and willingly. That’s what love is. That’s the power of the cross.

So did ­­­Iola see that love in us as we worked on her new home (itself a special kind of fellowship)? Did God use that act of service to her family to show what happens when Jesus becomes Lord of someone’s life? Did that love somehow shine through us, eventually washing over Iola by way of the Holy Spirit to the point that she was not going to let those enormous gringos go without helping her to know that love as well?

Two words: Christo corazón.

Iola has a new home built by hands who traveled a great distance to share Jesus with her; but as David said later, “We witnessed the gift of a temporal home lead to the free gift of an eternal home.”

Beautifully said, my brother…

So I’m boning up on my Spanish so that when I see Iola in heaven, I can say a lot more than “Please stand clear of the door.” I want to be able to tell her what her salvation experience meant to me; how it tied the most beautiful bow on the gift that so many friends and family members gave me by making it possible for me to travel to Guatemala and meet her.

Most of all, though, I want to tell her that seeing her receive Christo in her corazón was worth the miles and the fund raising and the hours of labor that week. I didn’t have to understand her words – the language of grace is universal.

Until then, Iola, just know that Jesús te ama – Jesus loves you: He proved it long ago…

Cracked

Cracked

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. 1 Corinthians 15:10a

Recently, I listened to an interesting lecture on the nature of art and creativity. Toward the end of the presentation, the speaker showed a hundred-year-old, charcoal gray-glazed Japanese tea bowl that had been broken and repaired. Instead of trying to hide the cracks, however, the individual repairing it had emphasized them by highlighting them with gold lacquer.

The effect was striking. The gold-embellished crack stood out in stark contrast to the dark gray piece of pottery. The lecturer said:

“This bowl is more beautiful now, having been broken, than it was when it was first made.”

I was struck by how that illustration applied so perfectly to my own salvation and my experience since. When He made me a new creation, God didn’t try to hide the cracks of my previous life:

  • Cracks that represented empty experiences gained due to my persistence in living a rebellious and sinful life.
  • Cracks that were the result of desperately searching for significance and meaning through insignificant and meaningless pursuits.
  • Cracks that were the result of being just as broken as that Japanese tea bowl.

He could have absolutely repaired those cracks so that there was no evidence of their ever being there. Instead:

  • He used the experiences they represented to give me a voice that, hopefully, speaks to the possibilities available to others who may be mired in the same sort of rebellious and sinful life I was.
  • He used them as an exercise in contrasts: insignificance and meaninglessness without Jesus vs. a purpose-filled life due to the victory that is mine through life in Jesus.
  • He used them to bring honor and glory to Himself by demonstrating His amazing power to utterly and totally transform a broken life.

Grace

The apostle Paul had a few cracks of his own. In the same chapter from where the verse at the top comes, Paul told the Corinthians that he didn’t even deserve to be called an apostle, since he had been a ring leader in rounding up Christians and tossing them into prison. But God had other plans for Paul, plans made possible by a gift of unfathomable value: His gift of grace.

“Grace” was one of those oft-used Christian words I struggled to fully understand prior to my salvation. Grace is typically defined as God giving us forgiveness that we don’t deserve. Anyone would agree that Paul didn’t deserve to be forgiven for the pain and suffering he inflicted on the first Christians. Still, Jesus personally appeared to him one day and set him to work spreading His Gospel, cracks and all. A transformation of that magnitude could only be accomplished through God’s intervention and through His grace that Paul constantly wrote about.

But what about me? I definitely wasn’t perfect in my pre-salvation days—far from it—but I’ve never been involved in dragging Christians off to jail or any other crimes of that magnitude, either.

Nevertheless, I am no more deserving of God’s freely-offered pardon through the sacrifice of Jesus than Paul was. However, thanks to the nature of God and His grace, I am no less deserving, either. That gift is offered freely to all. In Paul’s letter to the Romans (10:13) he says that:

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Everyone means everyone: Paul, me, you, the worst terrorist—everyone. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done or haven’t done, how good or not so good we think we are, or what caused the cracks in our lives. We’re all born with a sin nature that dooms us from the outset. But for the grace of God covering the price of that nature with the perfect, pure, and precious blood of Jesus, we would be separated from God for all eternity, starting the minute we come into this world.

“Yikes!” and “Whew!” both at the same time…

I am what I am

Without that gift of grace, I would still be spending my time and resources on purely selfish and self-serving pursuits and pleasures. But because of the grace of God, today I am:

  • A follower of  Jesus.
  • An adopted son of the Creator of the universe.
  • A student of the Bible.
  • One who prays without ceasing.
  • A member of a local church who gives his time and money as God directs.
  • A writer of a blog who shares his experience as a follower of Jesus.
  • Someone who, more than anything, wants a deeper, more intimate relationship with his Heavenly Father; someone who wants to serve Him without hesitation and love Him with all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Whether in spite of the cracks or because of the cracks or both, God was able to do way more than I could have ever dreamed (to paraphrase Ephesians 3:20).

But the best part? Although He’s not finished yet, He will be one day…

…He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6

On that day when I move from this life to the next, the cracks will be gone…

And his grace to me was not without effect. I Corinthians 10:15

…and, if I interpret God’s word correctly, they’ll also be forgotten…

…forever.

• • •

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Googling God

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 1 Corinthians 2:10b

I don’t know what I ever did without Google. You can keep your other search engines – I’m sure Bing and Yahoo! do a great job, but I am a Googling kind of guy.

I’m convinced there isn’t a single bit of information one can’t locate via Google – the lyrics to “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” recipes for red beans and rice, what day Christmas is on in 2018 (Tuesday, by the way), the proper use of i.e. vs. e.g. – that sort of thing.

However, I do think the term “search engine” is fast becoming a misnomer. Google actually stores up billions of webpages in advance. So when I go to Google to try and find some bit of information – the capital of Bora Bora, for example – before I even finish typing the first “Bora,” Google has already displayed a page full of links to pertinent information, including:

  • The “Bora Bora” article in Wikipedia
  • How to make reservations at the Four Seasons Bora Bora
  • Bora Bora tourism information from Tahiti Tourisme North America
  • A YouTube video called “52 Things to Do in Bora Bora.” (And don’t even get me started on YouTube. I learned how to repair my washing machine watching a YouTube video…)

So basically, Google isn’t so much searching for anything as it is just sharing information that’s already stored. Kind of reminds me of today’s verse from I Corinthians:

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.

In the sometimes mysterious and oft-discussed Holy Trinity – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – the Holy Spirit is an equal member; He has a unique function, but is no less God than the Father. As a result, unlike my search to find 52 things to do in Bora Bora, He doesn’t have to search to learn anything about the Father – He already knows. The next verse in I Corinthians confirms this:

…no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

So when He reveals God’s will to me, He’s just sharing information that’s already known.

When Paul used the word “search” in I Corinthians 2:10 he was using it to illustrate the intimate relationship between the Father and the Holy Spirit. Albert Barnes, the noted 19th century theologian who wrote extensively on the New Testament, put it rather nicely when he said:

It is not to be supposed that he [the Holy Spirit] searches, or inquires as men do who are ignorant; but that he has an intimate and profound knowledge, such as is usually the result of a close and accurate search.

Pretty insightful for someone who had never even heard of a computer, much less a search engine. (By the way, I found this information by, you know, Googling…)

Even though Google is my go-to site for all my searching needs, I’m not oblivious to the fact that search engine results have as much to do with commerce as they do with information. But in spite of “page ranking” and “indexing” and all those technical aspects that can easily be manipulated for a price, I can still rest assured that the information I’m getting back is just what I need, just when I need it – much like the information I get from the Holy Spirit. In fact, the verses just prior to the passage from I Corinthians (quoted above) tell me that:

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him – but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit.

Just what I need, just when I need it, with no manipulation whatsoever. Although there was a price that was paid for me to have access to that information, that price was paid 2000 years ago.

All I had to do was believe.