What exactly is Goofy? I am not talking about the adjective that I use to describe the behavior of my children. I am talking about Mickey Mouse’s friend. What exactly is he? I know it says a lot about why this blog is called Deep Thoughts from a Shallow Mind that I would wonder about such things, but nonetheless… I have had many people tell me that he is supposed to be a dog, but that really doesn’t make sense to me. If Goofy were a dog, then Pluto really got the short end of the stick. Don’t misunderstand me, Pluto has a pretty good life. But how much would it stink to be a dog with a good dog’s life only to look over and see another dog with a house, a car, and the ability to talk?! No, I am convinced that Goofy must be something other than a dog.
In case you are wondering why I think that you care about my obsession with cartoons, there really is a point to this. This past Saturday, I had the privilege of leading the halftime devotions during Upward Basketball at one of our partner churches. As I prayed through what God would have me say, God continually led me back to simplicity. So I kept it simple. I simply shared with them that God loves each and every one of us and that He has an amazing plan for each of our lives. Yet, God’s love is not like the lip-service that many of us have experienced. Instead, God loved us so much that He demonstrated His love by sending His Son Jesus to die in our place. I wish that I had the ability to read minds. You see, many of the people that hung out and talked with me during the second half of the games or after the game was over somehow looked different after hearing that God loves them then they did before. Some of the people who talked with me are Christ-followers that had simply gotten distracted by the insanity of modern life and the reminder of God’s love brought a peace and perspective back even if only for a few moments. Others who spoke to me are not believers; they had heard a lot about church but as much about God’s relentless love for them.
There are people all around you this week who desperately need to hear that God loves them. They know about all the junk in their lives. They know that they are far from perfect. They don’t need you to point out all their flaws. What they need to know is that God’s love for them is so great that “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” They need to know that God’s love is so great that He loves them in spite of their sin. They live their entire life wondering who they are, why they are here, and if there is any purpose in the life they are living. They need us to help them encounter Jesus so that they can experience the incredible love that God has for them. Then, after they have experienced God’s love, they need us to do whatever it takes to help make God’s amazing plan for their lives become a reality in their lives. Take a moment and love the people God has placed around you by taking the time to remind them that God loves them. Keep it simple and keep it real. You don’t have to be creative. You simply have to be genuine.
Without question my favorite musical artist is Rich Mullins. It seems impossible to believe that he has been gone for over 12 years now. I discovered his music not long after I committed my life to Jesus. There was a girl I had a crush on who loved Rich Mullins, and… Well, she and I never became more than friends, but through her friendship I fell in love with the music of Rich Mullins. I confess that I cannot always agree with him in everything theological, but I have never encountered anyone who could express the depth of feeling in music as he did. This past week my wife was kind enough to find my Rich Mullins cd’s. I have ripped them into iTunes and they have been playing almost constantly since then. As I was listening to a demo track from what turned out to be Mullins’ last recording session on a glorified tape recorder in an obscure church, I found myself completely in tears. The song is titled, “Hard To Get.” If you want the real impact of this song, listen to Rich sing it on that rough recording and not the performed track. The song is about someone who is struggling to see God’s hand. This person sees all these things going on and cry out to God believing that He is entirely capable of meeting all his needs but not understanding why He does not see to do so. The last few lines of the song are the ones that always bring me to tears. “I can’t see how your leading me, unless you’ve led me here. To where I’m lost enough to let myself be led. And so you’ve been here all along I guess. It’s just your ways and you are just plain hard to get.”
I can think back to countless times in my life when I could not understand what was going on. Everything in my world seemed to be falling apart, and God seemed to be conspicuously quiet and aloof. I knew that He had not forsaken me. I knew that my situation did not take Him by surprise. I knew that He allowed it to happen to bring Him glory for some reason. But I could not understand it at the time. I needed to hear His voice. I needed to know that He was near me and that it was going to be OK. I felt like I was on an out of control rollercoaster just waiting to go off the tracks. Perhaps you are in that situation now. Perhaps your world is upside down and you wonder how in the world God can still be in control in the midst of your situation. Rest assured there is great wisdom in the lyrics above. Every time in my life I have gone through those quiet nights when it seems that God is a million miles away, every time it seems as though I am bumping about in the dark because I can no longer feel Him leading me, every time He has been leading me to a point at which I am willing to surrender to Him and let myself be led by Him. I must confess that I still don’t always understand what God was doing in me and through me during those times. His ways are higher than our ways, and we will never be able to truly understand them completely. But no matter what you are going through right now, you can know with certainty that if you have a relationship with Jesus, He is right there with you in the midst of whatever you are experiencing – even when it doesn’t seem like it.
As I was watching the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Winter Olympics on Friday night, I felt incredibly inspired. That is until the very end. As you probably know, there were some mechanical failures during the lighting of the indoor version of the Olympic caldron. There were supposed to be four “pillars” leaning toward the main caldron. These four “pillars” were to be lit simultaneously and the flame would then race toward the top and together light the main caldron. The plan was incredibly symbolic and beautiful. The execution…well not quite so much. You see, while the four torchbearers stood looking at one another, a mechanical failure prevented one of the “pillars” from rising. It was an unfortunate end to an incredible and moving ceremony. As I was watching the improvised lighting of the caldron, I could not help but feel horrible for the person who was left standing there with nothing to light. This individual was chosen for all the right reasons. She had done all the right things. She just happened to be the one standing there with nothing to do while the whole world looked on. To say the least, I would imagine that she felt a bit unnecessary. It certainly would be understandable to feel a bit embarrassed and even upset.
Perhaps you have had experienced times of feeling unnecessary and unimportant. I know that I have experienced those times. In fact, I still do at times. The thing that helps me through those times is to remember that my opinion and the opinion of those around me really doesn’t matter all that much. While there are times that I may feel worthless and unnecessary, the Bible teaches me that I am of incalculable value. It teaches me that I am created for a relationship with God. It also teaches me that God loved and valued me enough to send Jesus Christ to die in my place so that I might be forgiven for my sin. The Bible teaches me that each of those statements is true of you as well. Wherever you are at today and whatever you encounter, always remember that God loves you and that simple reality means that you are absolutely necessary and incredibly important to Him.
I know that it may come as a bit of a surprise to some of you, but I can be an extremely competitive person. Fortunately, over the years God has mellowed me. Yet, this past Saturday morning I felt the beast rise again. My oldest daughter, Micaela, is in kindergarten and is playing her first year of Upward Basketball. Now for you to really grasp the gravity of this situation you must know that I am an incredible basketball fanatic. I can even watch those crazy European leagues with the trapezoid shaped lanes. So here I am watching my daughter experience her first tastes of pseudo-competitive basketball, and I discover my blood pressure rising. Understand I am not mad or frustrated with her, but I want to go out and show her how things should be done, where she should be, what she should be doing, etc. While my mind is running on the question of how can I teach her to become better, the minds of the kids (my daughter included) is simply on having fun. Mentally, I was coaching up a team. The reality was that I should have been laughing my head off since all the kids were running around like a herd of squirrels in a nut farm.
John Piper writes in his classic book, Desiring God, that our purpose is to enjoy God forever. The older I get the more I am convinced that Piper may not be far off. You see, I believe that we all do much the same thing as I was trying to do with my daughter. She was simply enjoying the fun of being able to run around and chase a ball with friends. She had not desire to understand the finer points of the game. She had no desire to be best basketball player in the gym. She simply wanted to have fun. I wonder how our lives might be different if we lived our lives with the simple focus of enjoying our relationship with Jesus instead of focusing on all the fine points of theology, all the lists of what we should and shouldn’t be doing, and all the things we think others expect of us. To be sure, we need to know theology. We need to live out our faith. But what would happen if we did so not out of a fear of what others might think but simply because we were enjoying our relationship with Jesus. What if we spent time in prayer, not because we know we should, but because we simply enjoy being in God’s presence. What if we told others about Jesus, not because the pastor told us to, but because we simply cannot help but talk about the One who loves us so much. What if we do what we do out of a love for Jesus rather than out of obligation. How would our lives change? How would our churches change? How would our worship change? Imagine that, a simple purpose to enjoy God forever. Sounds a lot better than any substitute. Sounds a lot like what we will do in heaven for all eternity. Sounds a lot like what we should be about.
If you have not been keeping up with the weather in Oklahoma, it has been cold, icy, snowy, and generally yucky. Don’t misunderstand me. I love winter. I am a “well insulated” individual so the cold weather is great for me. Winter also means basketball – my absolute favorite sport. This winter also means the Winter Olympics. That being said, know that I am hoping tomorrow that crazy ground hog in Pennsylvania reveals that winter is about over. We have seen more winter weather in Oklahoma this season than I can ever remember while I was growing up here. I am sure that we had storms like this while I lived here, but maybe I repressed those memories. Anyhow, during this insane season I have made an important discovery – ice melt. Yes, I know that it has been around for years but I have never really had a reason to use it before now. I had used salt, fertilizer, and even kitty litter to make walkways less slick in ice. Until this year, I had never encountered the power of ice melt. I am a relatively intelligent person (stop laughing) and I have no idea exactly how this stuff works. I don’t know the chemical equation. I don’t know why it works, but what I do know is that when I spread this stuff on the sheets of ice surrounding the church it immediately begins to melt the ice upon which it falls.
I was thinking yesterday about how life would be different if we spread ice melt the way we spread the gospel. Hang with me here. What if city road crews refused to spread ice melt on our streets until they understood how the ice melt was formed and until they understood the details of the chemical reaction that occurred when the ice melt came into contact with the ice? What if we discouraged everyday people like you and me from using ice melt until they had been through a class to teach them how to use it properly? What if we lived if fear of using ice melt because after all some people do like ice? What if we lived in a society in which the use of ice melt was socially taboo unless of course you were a trained professional ice melt spreader? What if we refused to spread ice melt simply because we believed that the ice would eventually melt over time?
The reality is that these questions are all ludicrous. My two year old son can spread ice melt. None of us really care about the details about how it works, we simply know that if you have ice and want to get rid of it that these little pellets will help it melt faster. Yet, despite the ludicrous nature of these questions, we treat the gospel in much the same way as these questions treat ice melt. We refuse to share the gospel with our co-workers because we are afraid that they will ask questions for which we will not have answers. We refuse to share the gospel with our children because, after all, that is what we pay our church staff to do. We refuse to share the gospel with our neighbors because we believe that somehow our incredibly godly personal life will miraculously draw them to Jesus without our ever having to say a word. But I wonder, what would happen if we spread the gospel with the same abandon that we spread ice melt? What would happen if we were just as convinced about the gospel’s ability to change lives as we are about the ability of ice melt to melt ice? What if we truly believed that the gospel can draw people to faith in Jesus Christ? What if you truly believed that God could do it through you? Would it change your actions? Would it change your heart? You see, if you are a Christ-follower then God has placed inside of you the testimony about how you began your relationship with Him and story about what He is doing in your life now. That very testimony is what the world is dying to hear. That very testimony will melt a hard, cold heart faster than any ice melt will melt ice. That is the reason that God has placed you where you are. The question is, will you spread your story or hide it away in a closet?
I must confess I have become a bit of a news junkie related to Haitian earthquake. Honestly, I am not into the giant telethon fundraisers. Don’t misunderstand, I am extremely supportive of what they are trying to accomplish. I just happen to believe that if you cannot become convinced or convicted to financially support the victims of this tragedy by seeing the faces and the destruction, then I might be tempted to wonder how convincing and convicting songs can be – even those from the likes of Bono and Springsteen. However, enough of that. One of the most amazing things that I have seen during this blanket of media coverage happened with the juxtaposition of two stories a few nights ago. The first story was one of a miracle – the discovery of a few survivors just recovered after 11 days of being trapped in the rubble. The second was the order by the Haitian government to cease all rescue and recovery efforts and to instead focus on the safety of those who have survived. Whether intentionally or not, the news director made an amazing statement by placing those two stories side by side. Please, hear my heart. I am not questioning the motives or decisions of the Haitian government. I am thousands of miles away and this tragedy is their life so I trust that their decision was not made haphazardly.
The real reason for this little rant is that I wonder if we do the same thing in churches. I wonder if we have called off the search for those outside our walls because we are not really convinced that there are still those who will respond positively to the message of the cross. I wonder if we have inadvertently encouraged those around us to be about the business of protecting those inside our walls rather than equipping them and releasing them to return to the streets to search out those who need to hear about Jesus. I wonder if we are making a judgment call about the state of the world around us without the authority to make such a call. To be sure, the Haitian government has the authority and the responsibility to determine how to utilize the resources at her disposal. As Christ-followers, we have no such authority. We have no authority to change the commands given to us by Christ. We have no authority to reorient our focus. We have no authority at all unless our focus is on fulfilling His mission through His means in His way. When Jesus was being criticized for spending too much time with sinners and tax collectors, He responded by informing everyone that His purpose was to seek and save that which was lost. I wonder if the world sees our actions as revealing that purpose. Or has our purpose become more akin to entertaining those who pay the bills? Please do not hear what I am not saying. You will struggle to find a stronger proponent of discipleship and Biblical teaching than me, but discipleship and Biblical teaching must have a purpose. If Jesus’ purpose was seeking and saving, and our actions are not revealing this purpose, then what has become of our focus? We cannot change the past, but we can refocus our tomorrow on the purpose of God. What’s your focus going to be?
As you certainly know, last week the island nation of Haiti was devastated by the strongest earthquake to hit that region in over two hundred years. This is the latest edition in the tragedy that is the recent history of the Haitian people. Haiti consistently ranks among the poorest nations in the world and is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere by a great margin. Only a few years ago the nation was ravanged by three powerful hurricanes. Just as the rebuilding from those hurricanes was nearing completion they experienced the devastation of this earthquake. Fortunately, this disaster has brought about some of the best in people as people from all spectrums and even opposing viewpoints have come together to reach out to a hurting people. Yet, at the same time this disaster has also brought out some of the worst in people as well-intentioned men and women have sought to explain this tragedy. For example, last week evangelical television personality Pat Robertson proclaimed the earthquake to be God’s judgment on Haiti for a pact they made with Satan some 200 years ago. The ripples from Robertson’s comments continue to flood throughout American culture. Before moving on, let’s set the record straight. The alleged pact with Satan is believed by most historians to be little more than a cultural myth or an “urban legend.” Perhaps the myth is true. Perhaps not. Regardless, anyone basing an opinion on the alleged pact is on shaky ground to begin with. Secondly, it is nothing short of arrogance to believe that any one of us has the ability to completely understand the ways of God. While I have the utmost respect for all that God has done through Pat Robertson’s ministry, in this instance, Robertson has taken a swan dive off the deep end of the pool without a life jacket.
I understand that any time a tragedy like this occurs we are absolutely determined to understand why it would happen. It is human nature to want to know why something happens. However, there are some things that we simply cannot fully wrap our minds around. God’s reasoning in allowing such a devastating tragedy is one of those things that we simply cannot understand. We all make mistakes, and we all reap the consequences of our mistakes. Some of those mistakes have consequences that span generations; others only last for a few moments. The simple reality is that for His own reasons, God allowed this incredible tragedy to occur. I don’t know why, and – respectfully – neither do you. We must simply trust that God knows what He is doing and that He will use even this devastating event to bring glory to Himself.