Monday, December 5, 2016

Everything That Kills Me Makes Me Feel Alive

One Republic's song, "counting stars,"contains this clever and poignant lyric: "everything that kills me makes me feel alive." Their video of the song has been viewed more than  1.5 billion (yes billion) times on Youtube, meaning that it has resonated with a large swath of humanity. The lyrics are slightly cryptic and open to a thousand interpretations which many have put forth. Here is my spin on one part of that song.

First as a pastor and communicator I am fascinated and my interest is piqued by what it could be in this song that has connected with so many people. As a song it lends it self to inviting the listener to sing along, catchy, and enjoyable. Yet, I think it is the lyrics that have pushed it over the top. My observation is that the song  addresses several common things many young people relate to. Detesting the need for and pursuit of money/things. Living outside of societies square box, and then what for me is the most interesting line of the song: "Everything that kills me, makes me feel alive".

In my late teens I had gotten heavily involved in drug use, I really enjoyed the way drugs made me feel. But, I slowly began to realize there was a bill to pay for all that "fun," and my life began to go steadily downhill. I was stealing to be able to buy drugs, I had gotten arrested, and I came to understand that I had a love/hate relationship with drugs. The fun came at an ever increasing cost, with an ever decreasing enjoyment. I struggled with suicide, hated myself, and battled depression. (At 18 I had very few life skills to deal with depression, it was a very dark time in my life.)

One night on LSD I tried to jump from the 6th floor of the apartment building I was living in. Friends stopped me, I was too high to understand what I was doing. They made me go to drug counseling, I went once, hated it. I was smart enough to realize that I needed more than words to change me. A short time later getting high on the roof of the same building, I looked to heaven and said to God, "I need some power to come inside me and help me." Desperate for change, I managed to join the US Navy, and was transferred to Japan. I soon realized that even though I changed locations, and my life situations, I still took, "me," with me. I continued taking drugs, and even got busted for that while in the service. I attempted suicide a few more times, and fell into greater depression because not only was I a failure, but I was a failure at committing suicide. (For which I an now very grateful to God about!)

Then on September 3rd, 1974 I had a dramatic encounter with the living God, and felt Him and His power come inside me. In the book of Revelation it says, "I stand at the door and knock, if anyone opens the door I will come in to him." My rooftop prayer was answered, I was radically changed, and the power of drugs over me was broken. I have since realized that everything that God calls sin, there is bill of suffering that comes along with those who dabble therein. One Republic, far from a Christian band, had enough life insight to say, "Everything that KILLS me, makes me feel alive." The bible puts it this way, "the wages of sin is death." Whether or not you believe in God, that fact remains. Whether or not you believe what the bible calls sin, is sin, that fact remains. Though you may party and laugh on the outside, on the inside the bill for sin will always cost you more than the pleasure sin brings you.

Perhaps, like One Republic, you recognize that everything that makes you feel alive, KILLS you. Perhaps you should consider answering that knock on the door of your heart. Jesus has the power to change you from the inside out. Personally I really enjoy scifi movies, and like many am a fan to the Star Wars series. In one of the first movies a whole planet (Alderann) is destroyed by something called the "Death Star," a Jedi Knight by the name of Obi Wan Kenobi, speaking of that event says: "I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened." In my heart, I have that kind of a sense for people who are overdosing, and those caught in all kinds of lifestyles that are killing them. Drugs, pornography, gambling, alternate sexual identities, they all come with a big price tag. God heard that cry before the world began and He sent His son Jesus to do something about it. Sin will always send you a bill, and then send the worst collection agents there are after you. Look up, reach up, and call out to God, He has the power to overcome the forces of the Empire.

Monday, September 19, 2016

666 A Novel Approach


Revelation 13:18 This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666.

This one cryptic verse of scripture has been the basis for more wild theories than almost any other sentence ever written. Some say its a bar code, others give letters a numeric value and find a way to add up almost anyone's name to 666. For some it's Monster energy drink, for others it is the pope, or the imam mahdi, or the president, or Prince Charles yada yada yada, you get the idea.

For some reason while driving the other day I thought about that number, and I thought about the only verse in the bible that is a 6:66 - John's gospel chapter 6, verse 66. I pondered and wondered if the two could be related, probably not, but then again...

John 6:66 From that [time] many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.

John 6:66 is a verse that talks about people turning their back on God. So my thought very simply is this - the antichrist will be a fallen Christian leader, perhaps a very famous one.

I was recently in Ireland, and one evening my family and I had dinner at a restaurant in Dublin, where you not only get food, you get entertained with a couple of hours of Irish history and folk tales. One historical insight shared that evening has stuck with me. Many years ago most of the Irish lived in mud homes, and Ireland, as you may know, is famous for the amount of rainfall it gets. It is that rain that causes the grass to be so lush, splashing the landscape with beautiful shades of green. The problem with mud homes and rain, is water. Water could wash your home away, but as long as you kept a fire going on the inside, it would keep the rain from destroying your home. It would keep the rain from washing away your walls.

Historically walls keep enemies out. Biblically one of the ways of looking at walls is to understand them as standards, the code by which you live. A line in your heart and mind, that you will not cross. Behavior that you will not walk in. The rain of this world is always trying to wash your standards away, it is always trying to eat at your walls. The solution is the one found in Ireland keep the fire burning and your walls will stay true. Christians who lose the fire of passion and love for God invariable also let their standards slip. Keep the fire burning, and your standards won't slip, if you don't the wind and rain will knock your house down. Perhaps that is what will happen to the man whose number is 666.

Keep your fire burning.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Troublemaker


We live in a day and an age where the church is being shouted into silence. To express a view that runs contrary to where our culture is, is to open yourself up to ostracism, castigation, and verbal and legal assault. Make no mistake about it, this is not the land of free speech. Expressing a Christian viewpoint will bring out societies killer bees, and they do have a very sharp sting in their tail!
Because of that many have adopted a keep quiet approach. I am not saying that is without merit, I tend to think in terms of, choose your battles wisely. Will speaking up improve the situation, or only exacerbate it? Questions we should ask ourselves before we open our mouths. Yet, what we have to say is of extreme importance. In the picture at the top of this post, Nathan the prophet is confronting David about his sinning with Bathsheba. We see the prophets bony finger pointing at him and down through the corridors of time we here those penetrating words, "behold, thou art the man!" David had heard a story from the prophet about a rich guy who had stolen a lamb from a poor guy, and as king he was incensed and ready to issue judgment. That is when the prophet revealed to him the story was about David himself, who had stolen the wife and life of an honest and good man. 

With that rebuke, David found his way back home to God. I don't think God wants us to point our bony finger in the face of everyone we think is living wrong, and yet there are those to whom we will be sinning if we don't help them turn their ship around. Consider what Ezekiel the prophet was told by God:


Ezekiel 3:17 "Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman to the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from My mouth, warn them from Me.
Ezekiel 3:18 "When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die’; and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.
Ezekiel 3:19 "Yet if you have warned the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered yourself.

I think the danger of this age is twofold, getting all up in someone's business when it is not the right time in their life to effect change. The other is being so afraid of the culture that we become scared into silence. May God give us wisdom! Of the two dangers I think the latter is the one the church is most succumbing to. For that reason I leave you with the words of Jeremiah the prophet:

Jeremiah 20:8 Every time I open my mouth I’m shouting, "Murder!" or "Rape!" And all I get for my GOD-warnings are insults and contempt.
Jeremiah 20:9 But if I say, "Forget it! No more GOD-Messages from me!" The words are fire in my belly, a burning in my bones. I’m worn out trying to hold it in. I can’t do it any longer! (MSG)

 And always remember, keep your fire burning!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Tokens of Where You have been

The other day my wife and I walked into and through a short section of woods on the edge of our yard. We have about 100 feet of yard and then a short 20 foot section of woods. We were there looking at some new construction that is taking place on the property behind ours. As we did so we were reluctantly facing the reality that we will soon have new neighbors 150 feet or so behind our house. Thankfully there is, as I said, a small section of woods between our yard and the property being developed. It only took us a few seconds to pass through those woods, we looked around on the construction site for a few moments and then returned to our home.

On the way back I felt something itchy on my right side. Reaching down I found a bur, and I meticulously removed it. Sometimes you have to pull them out piece by piece. Then I found another, and another, and then a group of five or six of them. My first thought was how the fact they attach themselves so easily to us led to the development of velcro. The burs have small hooks on the end of them that can attach to almost anything. The plants with burs use animals to transport their seed pods to new locations to spread the species. There are things in this world that are trying to attach themselves to you, and they are very good at what they do!

Now for the spiritual lesson, I was amazed how so little contact could leave such a large and almost unnoticed deposit on me. This can happen both positively and negatively. In a few moments walk I picked up burs, dirt on my shoes, pollen on my clothes, and God only knows what else. I have a man in my church who almost died from a mosquito bite, how long do you think that interaction took? We can have things attach themselves to us in the briefest of moments, that can have long lasting effects. You think you can watch hours of TV and not be influenced?

On a positive note, we can also have things attach themselves to us when we are in places that are healthy for our spirit. One of my all time favorite quotes is the following: "It is only by waiting before the throne of grace that we become endued with the Holy Fire. He who waits there long and believingly will imbibe that Fire and come forth from his communion with God bearing tokens of where he has been." It always reminds me to be wary of bad burs and to earnestly seek Godly tokens of where I have been. What has attached itself to you? Keep your fire burning!

Monday, September 28, 2015

A 911 Miracle and Lesson

In the photo above are Rick Del Rio and Jack Lagatella. The photo was taken on September 20th, 2001 just a few days after the disaster and a few blocks from Ground Zero. Rick Del Rio was the evangelical liaison to Mayor Rudy Guiliani in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist bombings in NYC. I had traveled with Jack, and another pastor friend, Randy Anson, with the hopes of connecting with family members, firemen, police and others who were struggling in the aftermath of that disaster. Ground Zero was in lock down, but because Jack had been acquainted with Rick Del Rio, and the credentials he had from the mayor, we were able to get to the site passing 7 military and police checkpoints. (I never thought in my life I would see military personnel with machine guns on the streets of NY).

After meeting Rick we were getting ready to go to Ground Zero, when we were stopped by a phone call from some other pastors who had come to the area and wanted to go there also. 

While waiting we were told the amazing story of one of the members of Rick's church. She had worked in the world trade center and was up for a promotion. She was the most senior, most qualified, and seemingly the person most likely to get that promotion. She was passed over for a man who was junior to her. As a black woman she got angry and felt color and gender played into the situation. She let God know that she wasn't happy about the situation. A few months later she was offered a better position with better pay than the one she originally had hoped to get. As a consequence of that promotion she was moved to a different location out of the World Trade Center. The man who got the job died in the WTC on 9/11. The lesson was simple, powerful, and poignant: the thing you may be complaining very loudly about, may be God's plan to save your life! That is why the bible says, "in everything give thanks." A lesson we need continual reminders of.

Also on that trip, my wife had arranged to get 100 copies of a CD entitled, "The Father's Love Letter." A compilation of scripture and music written as a love letter from God. (Link: http://www.fathersloveletter.com/) The author had donated them to us for distribution at Ground Zero. We spent the better part of the day at Washington Square passing them out, talking to people and praying for them. I met one man who eagerly accepted one with prayer, he told me his daughter was one of the people in Twin Towers who was among the missing, and he was praying that she would be recovered alive. I will never forget the sadness is his face and eyes, the sadness of a father looking for a missing child. I knew, that for him, there would be no rest until the matter was settled. In the same way, our heavenly Father, roams the streets, alleys, and highways of this world, looking for His missing sons and daughters. God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved.

So I heard of a miracle with a happy ending, and I was painfully reminded of the need to work while it is day for the night comes when no man can work. -Keep your fire burning.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Sad Farewell




Psalm 72:20 The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended.

     In my bible reading I came across this portion of scripture and a wave of nostalgia seemed to sweep over me. Life is full of hello's and goodbye's, today's blog is for those who may be stuck on a goodbye. Usually at the end of one year, news articles proliferate with pics and stories of the "stars," we lost in the previous year. We only know most of these people from afar, but some still pull very hard on our heart strings, such as the death/suicide of comedian Robin Williams. He was known the world over for his humor, but that only masked his private pain. We can all relate to that in one degree or another.
     David is one of my biblical heroes, and though I have never met him personally, reading this text evoked in me a profound sense of loss. His life has rippled across time, bringing encouragement, inspiration and joy to multiplied millions. (He being dead yet speaketh.) Yet like all of us will one day experience, there came a time that chapter of his journey ended. Solomon could have used a few more of his daddy's prayers, a few more meals together, a little more time huddling about the challenges facing the kingdom, but that was not to be. There came a day when Solomon had to walk on without his daddy.
     I am part Irish, and the Irish often use the song Danny Boy at funerals. (Though written by an Englishman) In part the lyrics are:

                          Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
                          From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
                         The summer's gone, and all the roses falling
                         It's you, it's you must go and I must bide.

                         But come ye back when summer's in the meadow
                         Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow
                         It's I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow
                        Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.

     Various interpretations have been given to the song, mine is simply that the lyrics connect with the deep sorrow we often feel associated with a sad farewell.  Solomon was not left comfortless, he had a lifetime of memories of an awesome dad. Yet better than that, he had a hope that farewell was not forever. The Apostle Paul wrote that believers don't mourn the same as those who have no hope. Our goodbyes are really just, "I'll see you in a little bit." All of us are progressing to our own event horizon, beyond which we can no longer interact with those here until they also cross over. Mourning is a part of life as we now no it, how grateful I am to hold on to a promise that says there will be a day when there will be no more tears, no more farewells, no more sad parting. Because of that truth you don't have to live in the tears of loss, but you can live in the hope of reunion.

     My daughter-in-law whose father is an accomplished photographer recently took a picture of my son walking on a stone pier. The picture which is below spoke to me of sorrow and peace (rough waters, calm waters) of loneliness and hope (walking alone, but walking to a joyful destination) and with her permission I have included it here and added some appropriate words. I pray that it will minister comfort to any and all who are living through loss, and waiting for reunion.




Wednesday, April 15, 2015

I wish you were cold - Rev. 3:15



     This is what Jesus said in part to the church of Laodicea in the 3rd chapter of the book of Revelation. He is not speaking of a physical temperature, but a spiritual one. On the surface it seems a little bizarre at first glance. Surely, the Lord wants us all to be spiritually hot, doesn't He? Yes, He does. But in the passage Jesus is identifying 3 groups of people, 1 hot, 1 cold, 1 lukewarm. It seems He prefers cold to lukewarm, which seems odd when you think about it. I mean, wouldn't a little warmth be better than cold?
     I want to give a  reason why I think Jesus prefers cold to lukewarm. If you think about it, a cold man/woman are more open and likely to change. Take for example the idea of navigating through life. Some people will not accept any kind of guidance, until they come to the place where they realize they really need help.
     We all joke about it, but it seems to be a somewhat universal truth that men won't listen to advice for directions until they realize they are really lost. As long as there is the possibility that he might be going in the right direction, he plows on. It is only when he comes to the realization that every move he makes, makes things worse that he reaches out for help. The prodigal son didn't think about going home till he hit rock bottom. Cold people are more than likely to ask for help.
     Lukewarm people think they are ok the way they are, so they go on their merry way and get to a place where God can no longer speak into their life because they think everything is all right. Lukewarm is the place of dulled conscience, of coasting, of one foot in the church and one foot in the world. God prefers someone spiritually cold with whom He has a possibility of bringing change, to those whom He cannot while they are deaf in their ease with living in/for the world.
     The lesson and warning is, its best to be spiritually on fire, but if you aren't God may send an arctic blast your way to get you to the place where change is possible.