“THX THO’ Update

It seems to me that Steve Johnson has a little more going on spiritually than many first thought when it appeared that he was blaming God for the passes he dropped this past Sunday.  Eric Marrapodi does a good job getting the rest of the story out in this recent post.  I find it interesting that Kurt Warner took the time to reach out and encourage Johnson.

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“THX THO”

I was the only kid in school with a Buffalo Bills Jacket.  Santa Claus had brought it to me for Christmas.  Living in East Tennessee long before the Oilers moved to Nashville, Atlanta was the closest NFL team.  I decided at some point to be a Bills fan because of O.J. Simpson.  Yes, that O.J. Simpson.  I was young and so was he, but I loved to watch him run the ball.  I could have chosen the Dolphins, the Steelers or even the Cowboys. Those teams were all winning games and championships when I was a young; but I chose the Bills.

This past Sunday, the Bills lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, in part because Steve Johnson dropped a pass that would have been a touchdown.  He actually dropped five passes during the course of the game, but the one that hurt Steve Johnson the most is the one that would have given the Bills the victory.  After the game, he tweeted this, “I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!! AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO…”  This was a lament if there ever was one.  It was written in all capital letters.  That means he was “SHOUTING” in the world of text/chat/twitter communications.  Literally, he was crying out to God, God who he praises 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Steve Johnson is not just a Buffalo Bill, but also a believer.

His next phrase, “AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!!,” is the one that have led many observers of professional football to conclude that Johnson blamed God for the dropped ball that would have won the game.  Maybe that is what he did, but there is blame, and then there is blame.  I could imagine how expressing frustration, or disappointment, or even heartache could sound like blame.  To be certain, Johnson’s heart was aching as he left the postgame interview with tears in his eyes, walking out into a blustery Buffalo day, dressed in gym shorts and a sleeveless shirt. God gets blamed for a lot of things that God should not be blamed for; but God is big enough to handle one of God’s own expressing hurt and anguish.  In fact, if all of God’s creation cried out in lament, God could handle it.  No, God does not care about the outcome of the game, but God does care about the people who play the game.  Regardless of how they are playing or how they are feeling, God cares.  Whether players are praising, blaming or crying out in frustration, God cares.  Just like God cares when those of us who are not professional football players praise, blame, or cry out in frustration.

God always desires, more than anything else, to be in an intimate love relationship with each and every person that God has created.  Being in that sort of relationship with God, or striving to be in that sort of relationship with God, does not shield us from disappointment, from failure, or from dropped balls.  We can be smack in the middle of the best relationship with God that we could possibly have and still experience difficult challenges and heartbreaking defeats.  That may be one of the lessons Steve Johnson learned from his game against the Steelers.  At least, I hope that it is.

The last thing that Johnson said in his Tweeter post, “THX THO,” which is short for “thanks though,” makes me think that he may have already learned that lesson.  That Johnson, on what well might have been the most disappointing day of his professional life, could find it within himself to thank God anyway, speaks volumes about his understanding of God and life.  In it, I hear echoes of I Thessalonians 5:16-18 “Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  To Steve Johnson, best wishes and good luck for the rest of this season, as well as future ones; and thanks for reminding us to give thanks even on the hard days.

Well Hidden

The Psalmist says, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (119:11 TNIV)  In recent days, I have found much comfort in words of scripture that have come to mind.  Bible verses memorized long ago, as well as ones recently brought to my attention by friends, have strengthened and encouraged me as I live through some challenging days. Those words have kept me connected to God, mindful of God’s presence, and aware of God’s promise to always be with me.

How do words get hidden in the heart?  The most apparent answer is that they are memorized.  A verse written on an index card, continually read and reread, will eventually plant itself in the mind. Repeating the verse from memory enough times will secure it there.

Yet, the heart language of the Psalmist seems to indicate something more than mental activity. The words are not hidden in the mind, but in the heart. The heart, in the Psalmist’s anatomy of prayer, is located deeper in the interior of a person. Hidden words capable of keeping a person connected to God, and not separated from God, find their place by something more than speaking and repeating, writing and rewriting.

To sin against God is to be separated from God —  out of fellowship with God. The word that finally brings us into fellowship with God, and removes our separation from God, is the Word made flesh. It is not so much the word we hide in our hearts, but the Word we hide ourselves in, that connects us to God and keeps us connected to God.

Together the words of God that we hide in our hearts, and the Word of God in which we hide ourselves, move us beyond talking to God and thinking about God, to being with God.  The heart does not think about the function it performs. It does what it does without thinking. Breathing is not a decision we make; we just do it. Neither does the heart decide to pump blood through our bodies; it just does it.

I wonder if the Psalmist had such a thought in mind when he designated the heart as the hiding place for God’s word.  Was he thinking of situations and circumstances that would be so taxing that the mind would be too stressed to provide comfort, consolation and strength?   The mind gets busy at times like that, searching for solutions, solving problems, and mapping out alternatives. Trying to figure out why something happened can at times be such a frustratingly large question that the mind has little energy for anything more. Yet, the heart continues to beat, bringing oxygen and supplying blood; so words hidden there do not depend on our ability to recall them. They come to us like our next breath, and they sustain us without our even being aware of the life they give to us.

In those moments, we are freed from the illusion that we are in control of our lives, and that our connection with God is the result of our mental effort, intellectual activity, or even thoughtful reflection. Rather, we find ourselves sustained by a merciful God, and there we truly find rest.

Waiting to Cry

“These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:14-17)

These words were written to a struggling group of people. They were a small group relatively speaking.  Their size does not diminish their faith. Neither does it gain them any standing with their neighbors. They are different from everyone else. They are not like the Jews. Rome has learned to deal with the Jews. These Christians are different. They are pushed to the fringes of society and deprive at times of making a living. They are like persons of Hispanic descent living in Arizona. But rather than producing a document to show they are legal residents, they are invited to worship the emperor Domitian. When they refuse –their lives are in peril.

John writes to them to not provide an escape, but to give them hope. John writing from exile on the isle of Patmos understands as well as anyone that following Christ does provide for way around the harsh, brutal hatred unleashed by the powerful on those who are different from them.  John writes to give courage and encouragement to Christians who are living through a time of great tribulation.

No more hunger and no more thirst are words of amazing comfort to a group of people who have been enduring a place in society where their capacity to provide for themselves and their families is limited by those had the power to gainfully employee them. What do you do to provide food, clothing, and shelter? You get a job. You earn your keep. What if no one will give you a job because you are a follower of Christ?  You go hungry. You watch your family go hungry. It is a terrible kind of suffering.

John says, they will hunger no more, and thirst no more.

You can be certain that if there is work, it is the work that no one else is willing to do. It is the work done in the worse conditions. Under blazing Sun and Scorching heat. But if that is the only work that you can get, you take it gladly.

John says, the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat

In the midst of such living—stress, strain, fear, worry—doubts and uncertainty must have arisen from time to time. The tension between keeping the faith and surviving may at times have become unbearable. What to do? Would not life be easier if we just looked, acted, spoke, worshipped like everyone else? What to do?

John says the Lamb at the center of the throne will be the shepherd. The lamb of God who died for you, will be your Shepherd. In your uncertainty, let the lamb be your shepherd. In your doubt, let he lamb be your shepherd. He is the one that will show you the way through this time of tribulation. He is the one who will show you the way to God.  He will guide you to the water of life. Water is life. Then and now, we cannot live without.

John’s vision touches his readers in places where they have very real hurts and constant anxieties. He creates an image for them of a time where there is no more hunger, no more thirst, no more scorching sun. He writes of a shepherd who was a lamb who will lead them to the water of life.

And then he adds and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. What must that look to a people in the middle of live a trying life? To people with so many reason to shed tears? To a mother struggling to care for her children? To a father seeking to provide for and protect his family? To men, women, boys, girls, families seeking to faithful to what they know of God while they suffer intense persecution?

What does it look like to you? The idea of the God who took on flesh, dwelt among us and died for us reaching down to wipe away your tears, what does that look like to you? What tears would God be wiping away? How did they get there?

Perhaps more than any other aspect of this scene, this notion of tears being wiped away grabs us. Because we have tears, we cry, we weep. Maybe not today, maybe not right now but we have done so and we will again.  John knows that about the people that he is writing to just as we know it about each other. We do not escape from our trials or our tribulations. For that, John gives us an image of our tears being wiped away by God.

No more tears. In a world that so often has so many reasons to cry, to sob, to weep, how outlandish is it to speak of time when God will wipe those tears away once and for all. In a world crowded with people just waiting to cry is possible that there will come a time when no more tears will be shed?

I am leaning on the fence next to the track waiting for my son’s event.  I am not alone, other spectators are behind me in the stands, some have found a place along the fence, others are moving from one place to another. There is much activity and excitement. The day is absolutely gorgeous.

In the midst of all that activity, I notice that someone is standing beside me. He speaks, “I am not supposed to be here.” “No?” “I am not supposed to be within three hundred yards of this place.”   I want to say “Hey, sorry man, but I am off the clock.” “I am not here working, I am here watching.” I don’t say that. I don’t say that because there is something in his voice when he speaks. He is not just speaking, he is exhaling words. He is speaking because he cannot keep from speaking. He is hurting. I can tell by the sound of his voice. He is about to cry.

So, I listen. They are separated. His wife made allegations. There is a restraining order. She could not make it to the track meet. His daughter called him and asked him to come. That is why he is here, even though he is not supposed to be here, not supposed to be within three hundred yards of her.  He does not cry out loud, but I can see the tears in eyes.

That is the world in which we live. There are all kinds of people out there just waiting to cry. So when John talks about God wiping away our tears we perk up. We know tears. We know the pain, the hurt, the disappointment from which they spring.  A time and place when God will wipe them away once and for all no more tears seems rather delightful, rather joyous. A time and a place that we would like to get to. The resurrection makes such a time and such place a real hope.

Hate Converted

In reading the ninth chapter of the book of Acts, I am struck by the words in verse one that describe Saul’s (soon to be, but not yet Paul) demeanor.  He is “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.  Before his encounter with Christ, he is a man driven by his hatred of what he perceives as a threat to himself and his heritage.  Those who are following the way of Christ are deviating from accepted ways of knowing and relating to God.  Saul is consumed with eradicating this blasphemous deviation.  Coercion, persecution, even murder, he is ready and willing to do whatever it takes to force his vision of life, God, and acceptable human interaction on those who sense that God is doing a new thing in Jesus Christ.

Saul is “still” making threats of violence and harm.  The way he feels at the beginning of the ninth chapter of the book of Acts is not new.  He has been feeling this way for some time. Watching Stephen be stoned to death for his faith in Christ, Saul was feeling this way.  Going from house to house to imprison those who believed, Saul was feeling this way.  He feels this way still, “breathing threats and murder,” as the story of his conversion begins.

Breathing is what keeps us alive.  If we are not breathing, we are not living.  We are dead.  Saul is breathing murderous threats.  Living on hatred, his breathing is obsessed with doing away with those who are following the way of Christ by any means necessary. The diabolical air of hatred keeps him alive.  He is no longer living to experience the joy and peace of God in his life, but he is living against the life-giving encounter with God that those whom he persecutes have experienced.  They breathe hope, joy, and love, but hatred is his oxygen.

Saul’s threats are anything but idle.  He is actively engaging in the task of ridding the world of followers of the way of Christ.  Before he leaves for Damascus, he secures letters of introduction so that the leaders there will know that his activities are endorsed by higher authorities.  He is meticulous as well as hateful.

Then he is confronted by Christ.  Saul’s world, his life, even the air he breathes is changed forever.  He is converted.  He becomes a missionary, a planter of churches, and a teacher of the way of Jesus.  He becomes exactly what he formerly hated with such passion, obsession and energy.

All that Paul had done out of hatred did not keep conversion from happening in his life. All the good that Paul did was possible because of his conversion.   To realize the power of conversion is startling.  Can a life really be changed that dramatically, that completely?  The testimony of the life of Paul is that the answer is yes.  There is comfort in knowing that a life that once breathed hatred is capable of inhaling grace and exhaling hope.

The mistake that we as followers of Christ sometimes make when we read this dramatic conversion story is that we think that conversion is an event that is confined to a particular place in time.  Saul was converted on the road to Damascus.  Where were you converted?  While it is true that conversion has a beginning point, conversion is not merely an encounter in a particular place and time.  It is a state of being.  Each day is a new day for us to inhale the love and grace of Jesus, and to be converted even more to ways of Christ.

Pat, don’t blame the Devil.

Often times, when something bad happens, God gets blamed for it. When something really bad happens, the devil gets blamed. The earthquake in Haiti has been attributed to a curse that resulted from a pact that the people of Haiti made with the Devil in their effort to gain their independence from France. While their is no evidence that such a pact was ever made, the history of Haiti is certainly one marked by tragedy and turmoil.  The devil though is undoubtedly given too much credit in the matter.

The devil was not responsible for the nearly complete annihilation of the islands original inhabitants one hundred years or so after Christopher Columbus first landed their in 1492.

The devil did not import and enslave Africans to provide the labor for the islands coffee and sugar plantations

When Haiti won independence from France in 1804, the Devil did not cause the United States to wait until 1862 to recognize Haiti as an independent and sovereign nation. The idea of nation born of a revolution led entirely by African slaves was too much for a still slave-owning America too acknowledge much less figure out how to relate to diplomatically.  President Thomas Jefferson argued that it was best to “confine the plague to the island.”

The devil did not demand that the new nation of Haiti make reparations to the tune of 150 million gold francs (roughly 21.7 billion in today’s dollars) this insuring that Haiti would always be a debtor nation.

The list of events and actions that have impacted Haiti’s history not perpetrated by the devil could go on and on.  Centuries of exploitation and oppression from other nations and from brutal dictators has caused Haiti to appear to be cursed.  The spiritual principle that seems to be tragically at work in the nation of Haiti is that of sowing and reaping.  From the first European to the last dictator, the seeds of justice and mercy have found few places to take root in Haiti. Yet, exploitation, corruption and cruelty have sprouted like so many weeds in a wet, hot summer after wet, hot summer.

Today the people of Haiti need blessing not cursing. They need blessing not just for the enduring and surviving of this latest tragedy, they need blessing for the tragedies of centuries that have left them worn, weary and appearing cursed.  May God’s grace and mercy be may evident to them by both the deeds and the words of those who profess to know God.

You’ve Got the Time

CAUTION!  There is a spiritual adventure ahead.  Please proceed with care and caution, keeping your tray tables in their locked, upright position.  Stow all carry on items underneath your seat or in the overhead compartment.  Fasten all seatbelts until the captain turns off the “fasten seat belt” sign.

Well, not really.  I mean, we are not really going anywhere.  However, that does not mean that there is no adventure in our future, spiritually speaking, of course.  Think for just a minute about the sounds that you hear each day.  From the alarm clock in the morning, to the gentle hum of the furnace as you go to sleep at night.  There are a multitude of sounds that we hear each day.  Many of those sounds we hear almost without even realizing that we have heard them.  We hear all kinds of things.  Sometimes we hear something or someone because we decided that we wanted to hear it, like a song on the radio or a television show.  At other times, the sounds we hear are random and depend not on our choosing as much as where we are and what we are doing.

Here is the starting point for the spiritual adventure:  What if we decided to take control of what we hear for 28 minutes a day?  What if we choose to listen to something that would draw us deeper into our relationship with God?  What if we choose to intentionally listen for a word from God for 28 minutes a day over the course of 40 days?  What if. . .

I remember once when I was a boy playing at my Aunt Virginia and Uncle Howard’s house. (Parents you may not want your young children to continue reading at this point.) In my cousin’s bedroom in the basement, I found a piece of wire about four or five inches long.  Bending the wire in half so that the two exposed ends were about a half of an inch apart, I wondered what would happen if I stuck those two exposed ends into the electrical outlet, when my cousin entered the room and asked me what I was doing.  I told him, “Nothing.”

He saw the wire and the outlet.  “Were you going to put that in there?”

“No,” I said.

“Yes, you were.  Don’t do that. You could get hurt,” he told me in that way that only older cousins, who are not really that old, can.   So I still do not know what would have happened if I had stuck that piece of wire into that outlet; but I do know that someone has made a bunch of money selling little plastic inserts that are supposed to keep kids like me from sticking stuff in electrical outlets.

What if it were possible for you to plug something into your day that strengthened your connection to God?  There is so much in our lives that keeps us from making a good daily connection with God.  Our schedules and our responsibilities seem to take up most of our time. What would happen if you listened to the New Testament for 28 minutes a day for 40 days?  What would happen to our church if we each made the commitment to listen to the New Testament for 28 minutes a day for 40 days?

I do not know what would happen, but I would love to find out. That is why we are going to give you an audio copy of the New Testament.   January 17, we will give each family an audio copy of the New Testament in MP3 format.  You can then listen to the scriptures in whatever way is most convenient for you.  MP3 discs can be played on computers with a CD/DVD drive, home DVD players, portable MP3 players and MP3 compatible CD players.  If you are not sure what it will take for you to listen to the disc that we will give you, ask anyone 18 or younger and they will be able to explain it much better than I can.  We will also give each family with grade-school children an audio children’s version of the Bible so that our young ones can join us on this spiritual adventure.

The Bible says that “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17) What if we each took 28 minutes a day to listen to God’s word?  I hope you will begin now to get ready to join together with brothers and sisters in Christ at Ball Camp Baptist Church as we take the time to listen with our hearts and our minds to God’s word spoken into our lives.