The Easiest – And Hardest Song to Sing

THERE’S a song we sometimes sing that has a powerful chorus line –

That’s why we praise Him, that’s why we sing
That’s why we offer Him our everything
That’s why we bow down and worship this King
Because He gave His everything
Because He gave His everything…

That’s an easy song to sing.  At least it is at first…

He gave His everything?”   That is documented and verified twelve thousand times over.   Leaving the idyllic ecstasies of heaven to be birthed in a slobbery animal feeding trough.   Spending 33 years in this cesspool of corruption and malevolence, taking the absolute worst and ugliest it had to offer.   Living in a perilous culture of religious vampires hellbent on trapping Him, incriminating Him, demonizing Him and assassinating Him from the minute He was born.   Providing us the example of how to resist any temptation that comes our way.   Showing us how to honor the will of the Father in any and every circumstance, even when those circumstances called for washing the grimy feet of a bunch of guys who were about to betray Him, abandon Him and swear having never known Him; being dragged into illegal courtrooms, having a crown of thorns condescendingly gouged into His skull, being stretched out for Roman flogging posts and being brutally executed on a bastard criminal’s cross as an innocent man as His most vicious enemies jeered Him from down below.   Love and forgiveness overflowing from that heart, so beautiful and sacred and pure, until it beat no more.   Living and laboring at this very moment in time with every fiber of His power to intercede for us and fiercely silencing the accusations Satan hisses against us day and night.

He did it all to set us free from our sins, from our past, from the Accuser, from hell.   From ourselves…

Think about being one of those condemned deplorables just about to walk The Green Mile to the electric chair – and in steps the Man joyously strapping Himself in and riding the lightning so you won’t have to.

It’s the easiest song on earth to sing.   That’s why we praise Him.  That’s why we sing.   Yes!  He hastened to our rescue, giving literally every last drop of His blood, sweat and tears for us (see Hebrews 5:7).

Because He gave His everything
Because He gave His everything…

But it’s also a difficult song to sing.

If you’re on Sunday morning autopilot, if you’re thinking about Cowboys-Packers or concentrating on hitting all the right notes, there’s nothing to it at all.   But when the weight of those words is grasped and realization sets in that you’re using them to instruct others, that’s a whole other story.

That’s why we offer Him our everything?”   On what planet is this taking place?

We won’t even bow down and worship this King.   That requires too much reverence and humility and discomfort from us.   We’ll worship standing tall and proud because that’s convenient and we look good doing it.   But forget about bowing our knee before His throne.   That’s what Catholics do at mass.  That’s what the Muslims do when they pray to Allah.   We can’t look anything like them…

Oh, God forgive us.   We don’t know what we’re doing.   Sometimes we don’t even know what we’re singing

That’s why we offer Him our everything
That’s why we bow down and worship this King
Because He gave His everything

Whenever I hear those words, I hang my head and begin to weep.   Because He gives His absolute maximum for me while so many times, I have given Him the bare minimum.

That’s a hard song to sing for a culture that thinks worship is a weekly, monthly or in many cases, an annual thing you have to put on expensive clothes to do.   That acts like God lives in the cathedral they get all dolled up for, thinking that to leave the cathedral is to leave the presence of God for the remainder of the week.

That’s a painful concept to stomach for a culture that designates Sunday and Sunday alone as “The Lord’s Day” and anoints the sanctuary as “The Lord’s House;” more than implying that all the others are “My Day,” once our hour-long vacation from self-indulgence hurriedly reaches its eager end at the closing prayer.

Troy Niedfelt writes, “An hour on Sunday morning, an hour on Sunday night and an hour on Wednesday and we say, ‘I’ve done my duty and now I’m free to go until next Sunday.’  168 hours in a week and we so often say ‘Here are 3, gracious God that I will devote to You,’ and the remaining 165 we gluttonously devour for ourselves.”

We’re a culture that use phrases like “You can’t swear in church, you can’t do that in church;” more than implying that once we step out of those doors, we’re free to conduct ourselves in any manner we wish, entirely unaware that the cathedral we occupy is no more sacred than the men’s room at Texaco and that everything we say and do happens at church, in the Holy of Holies of the temple of the Living God.

Oh, God forgive us…

God forgive me of giving Him the bare minimum – when before the world was created, He chose a dead dog like me to set it ablaze with the brilliance of His luminosity; designing me in my mother’s womb, desiring that I would come to love Him and to know Him with all of my heart, with all of my soul, with all of my mind and with all of my strength.

In the meantime, I rejoice in His patience as I mature with all the rest.  That’s what makes the song all the more endearing.

If we are to love our fellow man enough to go the second mile for them, then how much more are we to love the Man who walked the second, the third, the fourth and the fifth mile down The Green Mile for us?

Because He gave His everything
Now, let us together give our everything

Shalom.

Stuttering Is An Interesting Thing

WAS having lunch with Dan Mann today, my predecessor at Belleview Church, and we were laughing about the waitress writing “Sign Language” on my receipt after mistaking me for a deaf person when I went mute in the busy line and motioned for a pen to write the order down, as happens to me all the time.

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We talked about how cool it is when I come back to these places a week or two later when I’m not as nervous perhaps and they hear my voice or I hand them a CD of a message I preached or I give them my card that says, “David Creek, The Stammering Prophet, Preaching Minister, Belleview Church of Christ.”

They’re absolutely astounded at that discovery.   They can’t believe it!   And God is praised.

We were talking about the areas where I experience perfect fluency – singing of course, as most stutterers enjoy, speaking with a drastically different accent (though people object to it), speaking in unison with others and speaking while a certain type of music is playing.

It gave me the idea to shoot a video doing one of the hardest and most dreaded things for most stutterers to do – introducing myself.

Meeting someone.  Noticing there’s no one around who can introduce you to them.  Knowing you’re going to have to say your name.  Anticipating the awkwardness, the stammering, the twitching, the way they’ll gawk at you when you just stand there with your mouth wide open but no words coming out.  Knowing that if you hit a speech block, it’s going to look like you don’t know your own name and that you’ll appear like an imbecile.  Feeling rushed.  Excruciating flashbacks flooding your mind.  Remembering the laughter, the pointing, the staring.  The words jamming in your mind and refusing to come out…

And then, it happens.

Well, that does happen.   But there are fascinating tricks and techniques that I am experimenting with that are helping slowly but surely to where even my most dreaded thing to say effortlessly comes out.

Stuttering is an interesting thing.

 

Winning

WAS just running through tomorrow’s message and penciling in last minute ideas when the most enormous happiness I’ve ever felt began welling up inside.

I mean, I’ve been happy before.  I heard that final dismissal bell ring on the last day of more than a dozen school years.  I nearly peed my pants in pure unadulterated glee when my grades were up to par and my dad said he was taking me to see Ghostbusters II.

There was ethereal elation when I was baptized and when I married Amanda.  But then in between, life happens and it happens for every one of us.  We experience it in all the various ways we do.  We tap dance on the foggy mountain top and then we find ourselves flat on our back in the mud ten thousand feet below, unable to move a bone in our body, wondering if we’ll even make it halfway there again.

I’ve known superhuman happiness before.  But the joy that’s raging in me – that’s been raging in me, is a deeper, more refined joy than I’ve ever known, a fire that seems to refuse to go out.

I’m winning.

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It didn’t happen instantly.  It’s been an excruciating and overwhelming pathway.  But tonight, I am winning.

As formidable as they are, anxiety and depression are losing and I am winning.  It’s been nearly a year since my last panic attack.  I can’t even remember when my last episode was.  The techniques I’ve learned have shut down multiple attacks and episodes within seconds when they tried so hard to begin.  The night terrors that used to torment me and wake me up screaming have been a thing of the past.  Situations and things said that would have destroyed me as recently as a year ago now bounce right off and I walk away smiling, not even fazed.  I’m even starting to be assertive and vocal in ways I haven’t been in years.

I’m winning and it feels so good.  After being handcuffed and straitjacketed by this for so long, I’m finally getting to experience how good it really feels to exist day after day.

I’m doing what I love to do more than anything else.  It’s actually happening.  I get to study and teach God’s Word and witness broken people like me discover victory in Christ every single day.  There’s a church on this planet that actually wants me to be their preacher, that actually believes in what God can do through me, that’s actually is crazy enough to give me half a chance.  That loves us, that values us.  That actually allows us to be, well…us.

Life is just as difficult as it ever was.  The daily cross of discipleship is just as heavy and splintery as it’s always been.  But there is a joy within me that hasn’t been there in so long and it keeps intensifying.

As I’m learning by the day, that’s what happens when you finally dare to cast all of your anxiety on Him and let Him transform your mind.  Though growth and recovery is a perpetual journey, there is already evidence that I have a new mind.

Life ain’t easy.  Nor will it ever be painless.

But the joy and fearlessness of God in you is the fuel that keeps the Christian machine running.

Will this present happiness wane?  Of course it will.  Most fires are snuffed out sooner or later.  Are new overwhelming difficulties and tragedies on their way?  Inescapably so.

That’s what I love about joy.  Happiness goes away.  But joy in the power of Christ is there regardless.  That is what I will cling to.

Man, it feels good to learn and to grow and to soar again when your wings were broken for so long.

O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law, but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – Paul

 

Two Tragedies, Two Beautiful Examples

CAME home to some awful news Saturday night.   Just as I processed what was happening and my heart began aching at the thought of it, the sound of my wife’s tears could be heard from the other room.

In the exact moment, we were both learning of deaths involving beloved friends of ours.   One had succumbed to cancer down the street from us.   From far away in Kentucky, the other was losing a spouse and the father of their very young children in a tragic accident.   Both are young families, friends our age, just now entering the prime of life, who now find themselves entering widowhood.

*

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Amanda loved Teresa.  Her heart was sensitive to those suffering and in need.  She lived to put smiles on their faces and nice things in their hands that they couldn’t afford.  36 years old.  A health coach.  Never smoked a day in her life.

Lung cancer.

*

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I love Christa.   Has a smile that lights up the room.  She saw a sad and lonely boy, so terrified of his own shadow, and she helped to make him feel special and valuable and beautiful.   She stepped into his loneliness and his scared little outcast world and helped him discover his voice and helped him find the courage to show the world who he was.

That boy was me, fifteen years ago.  Everywhere I’ve been and everything I’ve done since would have likely never happened without people like her coming into my life at that age.  She went off to college and played softball.  Later coached it and became a mentor.  A man walked into her life who soon would become her husband, one who cherished her and treated her like a Queen.   And then along came two precious children.

Power line accident.   Just days after celebrating Christmas and New Year’s.

*

Ever since Saturday night, the feeling of sadness for them has pierced my heart deeper and deeper.   I can’t get them out of my mind.   I tried to write something funny for a friend today to get my mind away from it.   But the tears returned.   And the jokes fell flat.  I stared at the ceiling at 2 o’clock, 3 o’clock, 4 o’clock in the morning, sobbing in the dark, sobbing for their children and for my friend.   And in a moment of complete selfishness, once it registered that these are people our age, I thought about my own mortality and how quickly life as we know it can change – and how sudden and thudding a finality death is.

I never hugged my wife harder than I did Saturday night.   Life is precious.   Life is sacred.   It is to be savored, not to squandered going through the motions.   How can I live as sweetly and as beautifully as I wish I could, without getting sucked into the raging vortex of work and bills and debt and drama and sorrow and pain?

I finally learned how to this weekend – by becoming less like myself and more like Christa.   And more like Teresa and her family.

She just wished me a happy birthday.  Even in her final few days, while she lied vanquished on her deathbed, she cared for me.

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We just saw her.   We stood before them with a dozen others, singing Christmas carols late into the night with candles in our hands.   Teresa was sitting there with her husband and daughter at her side.   And the entire time, their faces were radiant.   She didn’t look like someone whose life was being extinguished.  They looked like they were at Disney World.  Like it was the happiest day of their lives.   It so poignant and powerful a lesson, I couldn’t even sing – my eyes were stinging the entire time.   We smiled into each others faces.  We embraced, we said good night.  She limped back into her house holding on to her husbands hand and the empty chair was left behind on the porch as light dissolved into the darkness of the night.

She passed away just three weeks later.

It happens so fast…

Just half an hour ago, I sat at my desk weeping for Christa and her children.   I felt nauseous, imagining how inconsolable I would have been in that circumstance; wishing it was all some strange nightmare that really didn’t happen that she can awake from and get back to the life she awoke to on New Year’s Day.

Then I go to Christa’s timeline.   And although heartbroken, her mindset is not mine.   At all.  Her mindset is, “This hurts.  But this isn’t the end.  This is the greatest pain I will ever know.  But it is not hopeless!   He’s no longer here.  But he’s in Paradise now!   He’s going home.   And one day, very soon, we are joining him.”

I’ve traveled all over the world as a minister of the Word.  Every single week, I stand in a pulpit and preach my heart out and I don’t have the amount of faith that Christa has that is carrying her through this nightmare.   I don’t have the unquenchable joy that radiated within Teresa until her final breath.

But I’ve seen the examples right before my eyes.

Some day, I hope to have the faith of Christa Franklin and the joy of Teresa Bissett.  And when I do, I will carry it until my final breath.

Please assist these wonderful families in their needs.

Teresa’s family can be assisted here:

https://www.youcaring.com/teresa-bissett-392785

Christa’s can be assisted here:
https://www.gofundme.com/injured-lineman-josh-franklin

Please join the masses and lift them up in your prayers tonight, tomorrow and in however many days ahead God affords us.

And more than anything, hug your spouse, hug your children, your parents, your siblings; your friends and your enemies and your dog like there is no tomorrow.

Perhaps for them and perhaps for us, there is no tomorrow.

Extravagant Gifts

(The story was once told by a friend of mine.   I’ll impart it here as well as I know how).

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ON a chilly December night, a man nestles with his wife in front of a fire.   Once the monotonous chatter of every day life has been exhausted, a refreshing silence falls upon the room.

Staring together into the crackling flames, he speaks once more, asking her if there’s anything she would like to receive for Christmas.

Indeed, there is something she has been desiring, and for the longest time.   She wants it so bad, she replies with the breathless jubilation of a child.   By the radiant smile illuminating her face and the excitement sounding in her voice, she makes it abundantly known that if she were to receive this as a gift on Christmas morning, she would treasure it for the rest of her life.

It’s something very specific, something very precious to her.   It’s very expensive, though something that can be found in any store on earth; in a multiplicity of sizes, textures and colors.

The following morning, he goes shopping in search for the gift, whereupon he sees it prominently showcased from a snowy store window.   With a great joy, he jangles the bells bursting the shop door open and hastens to get a closer look.   This is exactly what she wants – and he knows it!   He can’t wait to buy it and have it gift wrapped and experience the joy of his wife as she opens it on Christmas.

It is then, just as he goes to lift it from the shelf, that something else catches his eye.

It’s far more extravagant and exquisite than that of what she pleaded for.   As soon as he sees it, he is blown away by its display.   He’s so impressed by it, he can no longer even bring himself to look at the other.   There is no doubt in his mind that if she were to receive it, she would love it even more than what she had asked for.   For, what fun is there in receiving a gift when you know exactly what it will be?   Why even place it underneath the tree?   Why even bother in wrapping it?   Why not surprise her with something that’s even better than she ever could have imagined and utterly astound her with happiness?   Besides, you can always go back and get the other for her birthday in eight month’s time.

It’s settled.   He leaves the former sitting on the shelf in front of the picture window and purchases the latter.

* * *

It’s Christmas Day.

The impeccably wrapped box with festive paper and lipstick colored bows has graced the bottom of the tree for over two weeks now.   The wife’s anticipation has increased by the day.   She is now delirious in her elation, feeling as if she is a ten year old girl on Christmas again.   She can’t wait to tear into it and finally clutch the treasure she had waited so long for.

Her husband is filled with nearly as much excitement as she, as he is sure she will love the gift and be so overwhelmed by his thoughtfulness that she will be moved to tears.

With a gorgeous, beaming smile, she takes a deep breath and unwraps her gift.   Paper and ribbons fly all over the room, from the front of her to the back of her.   The smile widens on her blushing face as she cuts the tape.   She collects one final deep breath before opening the box to reveal what’s awaiting her inside.

Clumsily fumbling for his phone, he begins recording a video to capture her ecstatic response.

The top of the package flies over her head and she catches her first glimpse at it.   He zooms in closer, his smirk augmenting along with his accelerating heartbeat, knowing this was the moment she would surely shout with delight and then hang her head and weep in happiness.

To his bewilderment, his wife has fallen completely silent.

Her glowing smile, just an instant ago, so infantile and vivid, has contorted into an expression of utter disappointment and sorrow.   She sits before it frozen, noticing it is not at all what she had hoped for or had wanted.

After a painful moment of silence that seemed far longer than it was, he finally hears her voice.

………Oh…………” she mutters.

She’s so saddened, she can’t even pretend to like it.   She just looks at it, until she can no more, peering misty-eyed into the distance at the window sill.

He stops the video recording on his phone and immediately deletes it, searching for the words to say.

“You are a good wife!” he manages at last, hoping to lift her spirits.   “I found what you had asked for.   …But there was something that was…fancier.  And I wanted you to have something even better!   …Because you deserve the absolute best.”

At a loss for words, she stares once more at the gift with a blank expression on her face.

* * *

The fact is, it wasn’t more.  It was less.

Far less.

Suppose we asked God, “What gift may we bring You?”

Indeed, there are gifts He seeks.  He desires them so much, He is beaming – “I desire something very specific, something very precious to Me.   It’s very expensive, but the price has long ago been paid.   It can be found in every city of every nation on earth; in a multiplicity of sizes, textures and colors.”

He desires an eternal nearness with the humanity He created.   He desires relationship rather than religiosity, servitude and not selfishness; disciples and not numbers on an attendance chart; mercy and not sacrifice.

He longs to see us baptized into His death and clothed in Christ through His resurrection; our hearts clothed with the character of His Spirit – not clothed like lawyers and bureaucrats.

He longs for heavenly treasures to line His home to a teeming state, more and more as the day draws near.   He yearns to witness His children feeding the starving, clothing the impoverished, visiting the incarcerated, loving the unlovable’s and forgiving the unforgivable’s.

We know exactly what He wants!  It’s exciting and stirring to see.  They are everywhere whenever we open our eyes.

Far too often than not, however, as we bring our gifts to His altar, it is something else that has captured our eye that we lay at His feet.   Why, it is even greater than what He wished for.   It’s extravagant!   It’s exquisite!   He is surely to be overwhelmed and impressed at our thoughtfulness!

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And it is then, when we bring Him things He never asked for.   Glittering gewgaws that He doesn’t even want.

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Elaborate Taj-Mahal cathedrals.   Luxurious chairs and padded pews.   Expensive carpet to be cleaned twice a week.   Repaved parking lots.   Meticulous landscaping.   Towering steeples.   Elegant lobbies.   State of the art video screens.   Lavish artwork adorning the walls of our religious palaces.   A modish Broadway-caliber stage.  Fancy suits and chic dresses.

Paper and ribbons fly all over the room, from the front of Him to the back.   We just can’t wait to see how pleased He will be by what we’ve given Him.

He just looks at it.   And the vocabulary of even God Almighty has been reduced to a single word.

“……….Oh………….”

A huge building is nice and can be used wisely.  The new and improved parking lot looks great and is marvelous on our tires.   The 3-piece suit and the fancy dress look like a million dollars when we stare at ourselves in the bathroom mirror.   The 15-piece orchestra and the microphones and the smoke machines and the Dolby Digital sound system is a Thanksgiving feast to our senses.

But how many impoverished people all over the earth could have eaten and drank and bathed and slept with a roof over their heads with all that money.   All the people spanning the planet whose virgin ears could have heard the gospel of Christ for the very first time.   How many heralds that could have been sent.   How many homes that could have been built.

Imagine the unbridled, celestial joy that has been extinguished, because Jesus’ bride was really buying extravagant, exquisite gifts for themselves.

With His name on it.

* * *

It’s the dirty widow in tattered clothes dropping two mites into the treasury that caught His eye – not the one’s halfheartedly offering up enormous sums of money and rubies.

When Jesus was born, He was given costly gifts – gold, frankincense, myrrh…

It was a beautiful outpouring.   But it is the spiritual gifts that neither moth nor rust can destroy and that thieves cannot break in and steal that He desires – “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…”

We know how to give good gifts to our children.   We most certainly know how to give even greater gifts to ourselves.

How am I when it is God who I am shopping for, though?  Not always so selflessly, I am ashamed to say.

Are we bringing Him those gifts that illuminate His face with radiant smiles?  The ones we know that He will treasure forever?

Or are we bringing Him gift after gift for ourselves, with His name on them?

2007 Time Warp

JUST got back in from our anniversary cruise.   After nearly a week on a boat, I’ve felt the house swaying back and forth all night long, even though we’re very much on land.

The past week has been such a blur, I still don’t know if it’s Monday or Tuesday or Friday.   It all began when I had the honor of officiating a wedding on the Gulf of Mexico in the St. Petersburg area.   It was especially meaningful because it was the very shore where Amanda and I were married nine years ago, almost to the day.   It was strange being there again at a wedding.   It doesn’t feel like nine years has passed, let alone nine months.   It was as if the wedding I was at was my own and I was living it again.

During the reception, I walked over to where our reception was held that day.   I went through all the pictures on my phone that were taken there and smiled the biggest and the realest of smiles.   I stared at each picture, savoring all that was going on within them.   Second only to my baptism, it was the greatest, most perfect day of my life.

In one of them, I noticed my grandfather (in the upper left hand of the picture below), who we lost nearly a year ago, and my heart instantly sank, my eyes clenching shut as tears plummeted down my face as if Amanda had just come into the room crying with the phone in her hands to tell me the news.

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Studying the picture, I counted the number of hand rails on the steps and stood exactly where he was as we drove off as husband and wife.   He looked so happy.   I clasped the rail in the very spot where his hand once was and somehow, it brought happiness to my heart knowing that he was there.

From there, we drove from the Gulf to the Atlantic for our cruise.

Months ago, Amanda found the greatest deal on a Bahamas cruise so we jumped on it.   It was the first time we had been on one since our wedding, which made it feel all the more like a 2007 time warp.

It was so good getting away from laptops and smart phones and Ipods and Ipads and social media and television, as well as the world as we know it.   I’m noticing life is so much fuller and simpler whenever I get away from them.

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There’s just something about looking out and seeing nothing but water and sky that I love so much.   I would wake in the middle of the night thinking we were at home or in a hotel somewhere only to open one eye and see the hazy black sea.   It looked so ghostly through the misty window; almost as if I was dreaming.

Our days were spent exploring the Bahamian culture and soaking in the sunshine with a frozen drink and a towel on my back.   Our nights were spent eating romantic dinners and taking in either the entertainment aboard the boat or a quiet evening in our stateroom.   She looked so beautiful in the dresses she wore.   And when I came to get her at the spa after her haircut, I fell for her all over again when I saw her smile.

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The ocean at night kept calling to me.

Late last night, I spent an hour in the Jacuzzi on the roof of the boat, staring out into the darkened ocean while it gently swayed.   I remembered the breathing exercises my anxiety therapist taught me and did them as the breeze of the sea caressed my face.

I was so high up, when I stood, I felt clouds pass through me.  Literally!  Clouds were going through me.

…Or maybe it was more that the clouds were lower than the deck was high.   I don’t know?

Anyway.

I could have stared out into the ocean till the sun rose.   I was enthralled by it but also felt sad.

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While I don’t live with many regrets, I have always felt this heavy sadness at the end of most days, no matter how much I put into it.   No one but Jesus seized a moment fully.   No matter what happens, I always feel sad of what I could have done or what could have been said or what could have happened that I hardly remember what actually did happen.

I love that it’s a step closer to heaven and at the same time, I hate it when days and trips and events and seasons come to an end.

Workshops.   Getaways.   Vacations.   Seminary.   Weddings.   Sermons.   Jobs.   Youth.  Gatherings…they all come to an end.   Friendships and relationships are made along the way and some of them last and some of them die fiery deaths.  Seasons come and seasons go just as quickly as they came.

All of this swept over me as I stared out into the sea late at night.   Just as I did 9 years ago on my Honeymoon – my future felt as vast as the ocean.   But, like the dark, I couldn’t see it.   I knew very little of the dangers that lurked beneath the surface.   I looked out that night all those years ago and thought about all the uncertainties of what marriage would be like.   Where we would go.   What we would do.   What would happen…

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I finally decided to return to the room for the night.   I walked down the hallway through a black tie affair with nothing on but my beach shorts and sandals and everyone acted as if it was completely normal.

From there, I heard music coming from one of the rooms and saw someone singing Ordinary People so marvelously, I forgot that it was karaoke.   He wasn’t merely singing the song, he was feeling every single word – the only way songs should be sung.   He was so enraptured in the melody and in the words, he didn’t even care when he occasionally went off key.   He was too busy smiling and losing himself in the euphoria of the art.  Another takeaway for me.

From there, a salsa band was playing in the darkened clubroom next to it to no one but themselves.   They too performed beautifully. So beautifully it made me wonder why no one was in there.   I sat down and listened for a couple of minutes.  They played as passionately as if there were ten thousand people listening.   Yet another takeaway.

I awoke early this morning and couldn’t go back to sleep.

Longing for one last glimpse of the ocean at night, I wandered the empty halls at three o’clock in the morning.   The giant dining room that looked like a Hollywood ballroom scene…the cafeterias…the hallways that were teeming with people and loudly ringing with the sound of gladness and life all week long had now fallen silent and desolate.   It felt like a ghost ship that I was the lone passenger upon.

After nearly half an hour of looking out into the dark and feeling the chilly breeze as I prayed, I looked for a pianist playing moody chords in some empty tavern.  But there was none.

As I reached our floor, I noticed a couple of room service trays laying on the ground and thought I’d give the staff a hand and took them to where they needed to go until one of them, with a baffled smile, told me I had better cut that out and go back to enjoying my vacation.   What little bit of it that was left at least.

I could have spent a month on the boat…probably much longer than that.   It’s sad to let go of everything we experienced day after day this week.  But you know you’re blessed when you go back to do what you love to do, and we can both say that.  Few things are greater than that.

And yes, we had to leave the boat, the top deck Jacuzzi, the frozen drinks and the ocean breezes.

But I got to keep the girl.

All is good in the world.

Why I’m Thankful for Poverty

Just how rich are we Americans?

We’re so rich, our dogs have their own supermarkets.  We’re so rich, our storage garages are larger than the shanties most of the worlds population call home.

And that’s just where we hoard the stuff that couldn’t be crammed in our other garage or thrown in the junk room that’s so overcrowded, an avalanche would occur the second the door is opened.

We’re so rich we have 97 different kinds of Cheerios and 64 variations of Oreos to choose from.   We’re so rich, we don’t have to exert all our energy drawing a days supply of water from a well four miles away.   We don’t even drink the tap water that runs day and night into our palace – that’s just what we use to wash our rear ends in the shower.

And if our air conditioning goes out for an hour or we have to wait six minutes in a supermarket line, we whip out the five hundred dollar computers in our pockets and complain about our gross misfortune to all the world.

We’re so rich, we aren’t even rich.   We’re filthy stinking rich.

The Hebrews dreamed all their lives of a land flowing with milk and honey.   But our land of milk and honey makes their land of milk and honey look like a third world country.   This country I’ve lived so flippantly in, like it was nothing.

We’re so filthy stinking rich, if the impoverished from other countries were to step into our homes or ride in our cars, they would look at us the way we look at Warren Buffet and Bill Gates.

It’s not wealth.   It’s super abundance.   It’s lavish splendor.   It’s gluttony.

Like most everyone else today, yes, I’m thankful to be filthy stinking rich.   But that is not what I’m most grateful for.

I’m grateful first and foremost for poverty.

For the destitute woman dropping her two mites into the temple treasury.   For children from the poorest school in Marion County giving more in a food drive than all the schools in the region a year ago (2 ½ tons).

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For the homeless guy pushing a shopping cart barefoot in the street.

I want to hug that guy for ten minutes straight.   I want to love that guy.  Because when I look into his eyes, I see the face of Jesus.

“‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

Jesus was filthy stinking rich.

But when He came down to our mud and muck, He became poor for us.

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He had the ability to choose how He would come here and in what manner He would live.

He could have emptied heaven of all of its angels with trumpets regally blaring as He arrived as the Conquering King on the throne.   His life upon the earth could have been a papacy tour on crystal meth.   Riding in royal chariots.   Living as an imperial Prince.   Dining on the most exotic of foods.   Dressing in the finest of clothing.  Living in the most luxurious of palaces.

Nope.

He chose the polar opposite. He chose abject poverty.   A poor family.   A trough of animal snot and slobber as His big entrance.   One tunic in His wardrobe.   The foxes and birds had better sleeping arrangements than Him.

As creator, He chose His appearance.   He could have made Himself the tallest, darkest, most impossibly handsome man whose ever lived.  Instead, He made Himself the most breath-takingly-grotesque-butt-ugliest person anyone had ever seen.   The kind of face that people “hid their faces from.”

He’s the King of Kings but He got down on His knees and washed the blackened feet of His subjects.   He chose absolute humiliation and disgrace as His fame.   Spat upon.  Battered  in a purple robe as soldiers contemptuously bowed to Him.   The only crown He ever wore was of thorns that was conferred to Him by being gouged into His skull.

He lived in absolute poverty.   And He died in absolute poverty – the death of a criminal, the most hellishly nightmarish death conceivable – morbidly showcased for all to see as a bludgeoned carcass on a cross between two thieves.

Why did He choose abject, rock-bottom poverty?

“That through His poverty, we might become rich.”

This sounds like nonsense to us.

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We aren’t rich.   We’re living paycheck to paycheck.   We have a mountain of debt and overdue payments.   No, Bill Gates is rich.   We are poor.

No, we aren’t rich.   We’re filthy stinking rich.

We’re so filthy stinking rich, we woke up this morning in a warm bed.   In our own room.   In our own home.   With a roof over our head.   With warm water for a shower.  With our own cars sitting in the driveway.

We’ve opened our eyes to a day that billions of people never lived to see in a country where billions of people spent their lives dreaming of, but never getting to see.   We went into our own kitchen and had food to eat this morning.   We went into our room and had an entire closet of clothes to choose from.

We’re breathing.   Our hearts are beating.

But as great as that is, that’s not the kind of riches Jesus became poor to give us.   That’s just the cherry on the top of the sundae.

He died so that spiritually, we could be Bill Gates, when before, we were the barefoot homeless dude arguing with himself in the streets.

In Him, we hit the spiritual jackpot – made alive in Him.   Seated with Him in the heavenly places.   Our every sin forgiven.  Beneficiaries of His kindness and mercy.   Getting to suffer with Him.   Citizens of heaven.   Our names written in heaven.   An inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.   Everlasting life in the presence of all of His glory…

The rich young ruler was monetarily rich.   But he walked away from Jesus impoverished.

Zaccheus was physically rich.   But when Jesus came under his roof, the rich man became rich.  Or as we can say, Jesus was filthy stinking rich and became dirt poor so we could go from dirt poor to filthy stinking rich.

That’s what I’m most grateful for today, tomorrow and every day.   For the gift of poverty.  Because that poverty paved the way to my spiritual prosperity.

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