Spirit-Streams

Streams of thought and reflections about life;
from God's heart to mine; from my heart to yours.

Responding to Blasphemy 

I recently logged onto one of my favorite guitar forums, which is sponsored by one of my favorite guitar manufacturers. My freshly brewed mug of hazelnut coffee was close at hand, and I sank back into my recliner to enjoy some goofy, opinionated guitar banter. That’s right, I’m not the only one obsessed with such trivial first-world topics. One seemingly harmless thread was about how well their newly released amplifier was received at a national music convention. In fact, it had won best of show. But somewhere along the line, the thread had derailed into a running joke about the name of the Lord Jesus. Not by the manufacturer, but by followers of the thread. Since this is the name by which I’ve been saved, the name that I love, which is above every name, and which is holy, I was more than a bit dismayed. 

                As I considered my options, I knew I could not simply let it go unchallenged. If folks chose to blaspheme the name of God in private conversation, that was between them and God. But if it’s done in an on-line forum, a public place where thousands of other readers interact with the conversation, then it needed to be answered. I was frankly surprised that no one else had done so. But how should I respond? 

                If I “called them out”, if I drew my qwerty sword and hacked viciously at them for their audacity in profaning that holy name, I could have come away with some pats on the back by my peers. “Yeah, we showed them! They’ll think twice before they ever do that again!” would be our self-congratulatory affirmation. But I doubt it would have produced any change of heart. It would more likely provoke flaming responses, which would escalate into such a fever that a moderator would step in and delete all our comments. After all, this was a P.R. tool for the company, and nasty exchanges do not produce good rapport. I could have invoked the law and reported their jokes as inappropriate. That would have some degree of benefit, with no repercussions. But again, it might not produce any change of heart. After all, if their heart had ever encountered the power of that precious name, they would never be able to defame it so casually. 

                And because of that, I decided to respond with a testimony, of just how powerful, how beautiful, how vital that name has been to me, particularly when I could never deserve what that name has brought me. That way, I was not elevating myself above them, but humbly sharing the beauty of the name, so that perhaps they could encounter Him too. So, with faith and a prayer, or three or four, here was my very brief response: 

                “Well, as long as this thread has already become about the name of Jesus, let share my thoughts. I'm so grateful that His name has made all the difference in life for me. Had it not been for the grace He gave to this chronically depressed, self-centered train wreck, my life and the lives of my family would have taken dramatically different turns. I can't imagine the destruction He has saved me from, when I had already left such a mess of it in my wake. So, no I don't believe there is a middle initial. Only a string of titles; friend, savior, hero, redeemer, and one day to be revealed as the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. Thankful He has allowed me to serve Him with these quality musical instruments.” 

                No stones thrown. None returned. Doing my best to follow in the steps of the one “who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return”. And best of all, no delete of my testimony by a scrambling moderator. Did it have any impact? Well, I may never know. But rather than a flame war, the response on the post that followed was simply “Oh, look at the time...gotta roast in the oven and need to skee-daddle...”.

What if Sixteen Met Sixty? 

What if sixteen-year-old you met sixty-year-old you? What might be their reaction? The question arose as I pondered my 60th birthday coming up in two months. After the initial shock of being blasted into the future, 16-year-old John (I’ll call him Johnny), might have some surprises. 

                First, he may not even recognize me. Hey, I sometimes don’t recognize myself! I’ll see some old guy in the mirror of a retail store, and suddenly realize it’s me! Johnny might be shocked that I ditched the long rockstar hair and 70’s sideburns for a short silvery cut with a goatee. 70’s singer David Crosby was certainly staggered at the thought that he “almost cut his hair”, before he came to his senses and let his “freak flag fly”. Sorry Johnny, I now prefer it short. Johnny might also be horrified at my gut. I used to think my 32-inch waist was fat. Oh, to have THAT back! But at least I have a better upper body and cardio than Johnny, as I finally made it to the gym in my fifty’s. (It's never too late!)

                I think Johnny might like my guitar collection, though he’d have no clue how to play them. He was strictly a drummer back then, with big dreams of future stardom. When I tell him I’ve worked in the insurance industry my whole life, and never toured the arena circuit, he’d probably be crushed. But I’d show him on my computer that I have recorded albums, both with bands and solo, without even a recording studio. 

                At that point, Johnny would be astounded at my technology. Heck, our 40-meg computer from decades ago would have blown him away. The fact that I can play videos, scroll through photo albums, and play my entire record collection (records – ha-ha!) on my cell phone would put his jaw straight to the floor. And oh yeah, cell phones? No cord? He couldn’t even imagine reading these words on a screen like you’re reading them now. No paper? 

                While those changes might rock his brain, the next few revelations would certainly rock his heart. I would take him to meet my wonderful wife Missy. I would be sure to tell him that the intimate, satisfying relationship Missy and I have enjoyed for 41 years has been everything I hoped for and more. That there really are women who will not break your heart, who will love you unconditionally, who will make your victories more satisfying, and your losses more bearable. That she has walked with me faithfully through good times and bad, just like she vowed. And he would look at me in awe and say “What? Wait a minute! That cute girl who smiles at me across the room in business math class? I marry her?” And I would grin and say “Yup! You meet her when you audition for her brother’s band!” 

               I think he would shed a few tears when I take him to meet our daughters and grandchildren. He would be humbled by the gracious love and sweet spirit that overflows them. He might wonder how such incredible people came from such a messed up, depressed, basket-case like himself. And he would freak out that his future kiddies are now over twice his age. (Sorry girls! But still beautiful!) He would probably think that his sons-in-law are great father-figures. And I would have to share with him that Mom and Dad, and Sylvia too, all passed away over the last two years. 

And this would lead me to the most critical part of our time together. I would share with him that the reason I’m at such peace today is that I encountered Jesus Christ in August of 1980, and that I’ve walked with Him ever since. I would explain that Christ died on the cross to pay the price for my sins, (and Johnny’s coincidentally), so that if I had faith in Him, I'd be reconciled to God. His blood has taken away my curse. His resurrection has given me new life. His promises have assured me that when I slip through that final door, I will be in Paradise; with Mom, with Dad, and with Sylvia. Most importantly with Jesus. 

Ecclesiastes 7:8 says “Better is the end of a thing, than its beginning.” In other words, it’s better to start out in a bad place and end up in a good one, than the other way around. What are your thoughts? To my middle-aged peers, what would your 16-year-old self, think about your current day self? And to my younger friends and family, based on the direction of your life, what would your older you, say to the current you, if they could meet with you right now? What if . . . sixteen met sixty?

It's Monday. He's Still Risen . 

(To believers in Jesus Christ...)

It’s Monday. He’s still risen.
The tomb is still empty. The seal is still broken.

It’s Monday. He’s still risen.
Our sins are still paid for. Our punishment, still complete. We’re still reconciled to God.

It’s Monday. He’s still risen.
Death and Hell are still defeated. The devil is still dethroned. Demons are still beneath Jesus’s feet. 

It’s Monday. He’s still risen.
He still has all authority in heaven and on earth, and His name is still above every name that is named. 

It’s Monday. He’s still risen.
There’s still an inheritance laid up for you in heaven, incorruptible, undefiled, and which does not fade away. 

It’s Monday. He’s still risen.
Every weapon formed against you, still will not prosper. 

It’s Monday. He’s still risen.
His Kingdom is still your portion. He still makes all things work together for your good, and for His glory. 

It’s Monday. He’s still risen.
His Spirit is still alive within you, working powerfully in you to will and to do His good pleasure. 

It’s Monday. He’s still risen.
He still longs to demonstrate His goodness in you, and through you, to the people you will meet today. 

It’s Monday. He’s still risen.
And despite all you face, He still calls you to rest in the victory that is yours in Christ. 

It’s Monday. He’s still risen.
And He still invites you to walk with Him, worship Him, love Him, thank Him, and trust Him. 

It’s Monday. The weekend is over. A new week’s begun. But lift up your voice and greatly rejoice,
Because it’s Monday, beloved, and He is still risen!

"Do not be afraid. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore." Rev.1:17,18

Today 

Today they hid. Today they shunned the crowds that had once followed them, swarmed them, thanked them. Today no one wanted them but their enemies. Today the voice that had stirred their hearts and calmed their fears was silent. The hope of ages that had walked beside them, ate with them, laughed with them, and comforted them, was absent. Worse. He was dead. Slain. He was betrayed and defamed. Mocked and ridiculed, then tortured and murdered in cold blood for all to see. Yesterday was brutal. Yesterday was intense. Today was numb. Cold and silent. Today was empty. 

They did not grasp that the sin which fouled their performance, that held them guilty before the bar of God, that sentenced their soul to eternal death for rebellion against the Almighty, had been expunged. Washed away. Stricken from the record. They did not know that they had been bought with a price, ransomed from the grave, purchased out of slavery. They could not conceive that the very event that was crushing their heart into oblivion was the most unspeakably beautiful act of love ever carried out. That with this one stroke, God had dealt their enemy a fatal blow, never to recover. Tomorrow would declare it. Tomorrow would extol it. Tomorrow would be the point upon which history would forever turn. Today the ruptured seed was hidden, and the sprout still pushed unseen beneath the ground. But oh, tomorrow when it would break!

Novels and Hurricanes 

Imagine the building you currently occupy being flattened to a height that barely reaches your knees. The attic or story above you is now beneath you. Instead of walls two feet away, you see the remains of the gas station across the street. Even worse, imagine being buried beneath the rubble of what used to be your building. Now imagine that for 50 miles around you, nearly every other building is in that same condition, and thousands of your friends, neighbors, and family are dealing with the same devastation, if they are still alive. Trees that would not even budge from the impact of a speeding dump truck are now uprooted, snapped in half, by the brutal pounding of the wind. Welcome to a Category Five hurricane. 

Through the course of the latest cyclones to pummel our country, I’ve read speculations about what kind of message God must be sending to America, with polarized accusations about whom in America the Judge of all men is addressing. Some have said it is God’s warning to conservatives, others paint it as a wake-up call to liberals. I was staunchly on one side of that fence until the writer in me sat down to coffee with the theologian in me, and shared some of his insights about novels. 

In a novel, the destructive assault of a hurricane, or villain, or other crisis, is often not the story per se. It is simply the setting for the story. The real story begins when we see how the hero responds to the crisis. It progresses as we see how the hero is changed by the crisis. And it ends with a message about what a true hero does or learns to do in such a crisis. The message, however subtle, speaks to how we perceive the crisis, and how we respond or should respond armed with that perception. 

With that in mind, perhaps the hurricanes themselves are not the message from God. Perhaps they are only the setting. The real message is about how God’s people respond to the storm, armed with a faith that sees beyond the chaos, into the heart of their Heavenly Father. And the story is the acts of sacrifice, and love, and faith which God’s people demonstrate, even as they also are growing through the tumult. The story is the experience of fervent, answered prayer, and faith working through love. 

Ephesians 3:10-11 explains that “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” In other words, the church is displaying to the heavenly company of angels, demons, and saints, what God’s wisdom looks like when it is walked out by His people. And not only to them, but to the people of this world, who can see our good works shining, and thereby glorify our Father in heaven. (Matt. 5:16) 

As believers in Christ, indwelt by His Spirit, we are a part of the greatest love story ever told. It is not a story set in the tame, conjured world of a hack fiction writer. But it is the epic masterpiece of the Author of Life, set in the breath-taking, heart stopping, page turning reality of this present age. And Christ, through us and in us, is His message.

Reflections on 9-11 

Sixteen years ago today, our world was forever changed by an attack from the air that stole the lives of thousands of Americans. They had done nothing to provoke or deserve such a vicious assault. With few exceptions, they were not even armed. Those who did carry weapons only did so for local security. They were clerks, technicians, and managers; salesmen and accountants; computer techs and janitors. And yes, they were firefighters and police, who had rushed into a crumbling inferno for the desperate chance of saving what innocent lives they could. 

As I read the variety of tributes, tender and profound, that were posted to social media today, I found myself strangely untouched, uncomfortably too comfortable, if I may ashamedly admit that. My mind was aware of the gravity of the day. My sense of value appreciated the depth of both beauty and evil that was put on display as we watched the events of that cataclysmic September in 2001. Yet my heart felt a disconnect, a distancing from the emotions that are normally present when I reflect on this time. To some degree I felt perplexed. Yet to a deeper degree I felt guilty, even embarrassed about my shallow response. This was a historic moment of exceeding proportions, but my tepid state was barely a blip on my emotional radar. 

My humble confession is, instead, that I found my eyes filling up over the death on September 3rd of some guy named Walter Becker, one of the founding members of the band Steely Dan, whose music I used to bask in, soak in, drink in, as a youth many decades ago. It’s not that I knew Mr. Becker, or that I even knew much about him. It wasn’t that his death was in any way extraordinary, or unique, or even had an impact on my own state of affairs. My daily routine would not be affected in any manner by his passing. 

But it was the fact that some of my closest friends, who used to share that music with me, who used to dream future dreams, and hope distant hopes under the serenade of those tunes had also passed away, far too early, and far too many years ago. It was a reminder that in spite of all that we thought we would enjoy together, life for them had ended long before it should. And as I wept over Walter, I wept in truth over Wilton, and Jay, and Sylvia, and too many other friends or family who never got to see 40, or 50, or 60 years of age. 

And that’s when it crystallized for me. That the lives lost on 9-11, quantified in statistics, honored and remembered on a broad, national platform, were and are grieved as individuals. Individuals with names, with dreams, with families. They were sons and daughters, husbands and wives, parents and grandparents, actively engaged in making a living by serving others with their time and their talents. And the people they use to dream with, and hope with, and plan with, never got to share those dreams, and hopes, and plans with them in the day they were finally fulfilled. At the table of celebration would be an empty chair. And their absence would be carried daily, the sound of their words hushed daily. The touch of their fingers, the glint of their eyes, and the joy of their laughter, missed daily. 

And that, I believe, is the deeper tragedy of the 9-11 attacks. That the lives lost on that fateful day were judged by a few to be mere collateral for political ends. That the breath-taking mystery which every life embodies is anything less than the priceless miracle God intended it to be. That a breathing, caring, human soul can be simply and selfishly dismissed to make a point. 

And now that my own soul has been properly shaken, and my perspective properly adjusted, my heartfelt prayer is that I will gain a greater awe of the handiwork of God that is the person standing in front of me, behind me, or beside me. May my words and actions reflect that true perspective, in honor of the God in whose image those lives were created.

Earth and Stars 

A friend of mine from work recently posted a quote on my wall in Facebook which said “Be humble for you are made of earth.  Be noble for you are made of stars. A Serbian Proverb” I was fascinated by that quote, and as I prayerfully considered my response, the Holy Spirit brought to mind a song by Joni Mitchell, (and made famous by CSNY) entitled Woodstock. 
The chorus of that song says:
“We are stardust,
We are golden,
We are billion year old carbon,
And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”
 
As we look back at that Garden in scripture, we’re told that God created man from the dust of the earth.  Now when you look at a planet in the sky, from our unaided perspective, it appears not as a planet, but as a star, reflecting the light of the sun. So maybe in that sense, we really are stardust.  But we’re also told something very fascinating in that same passage and that is that “God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.”  In other words, he obtained consciousness.  He became aware.  He could observe and think, and ponder and reflect.  He could experience joy and sorrow.  He could dream and hope. And he could love and hate.  As scientist Hugh Ross has noted, one of the most perplexing questions that science and philosophy wrestle with is, “Where did consciousness come from?”  And we’re told in the Bible that it comes from God, which may explain why we have such an insatiable yearning in our hearts, because we sense the voice of that divine spark calling us back to Him.
 
And this may also explain why that sense of rest and wholeness is so elusive, because after Adam rejected the counsel of God and sinned, he experienced the spiritual death of separation from the very One Who had given him life. And that is also why the most cataclysmic event in history, was when God Himself became man, and took on flesh and was born as Jesus of Nazareth.  He later suffered as a man, and died as a man, nailed to a cross, to pay the penalty for our sins, so that we could be reconciled to God.  So that we could literally “get back to the garden”!
 
Doesn’t that boggle your mind?  That the very God who created man; the uncreated eternal God, who breathed life into man and gave him a soul, should become one of His own creations?  And then allow Himself to be killed by His creation, so that He could give eternal life to all who would believe?
 
But it gets even better!  Three days after his death, Jesus rose from the dead.  And he arose in a glorified resurrection body that would never die again.  That body was so glorious, so radiant with the power and splendor of God that His face literally shone like the sun.  And for all who put their faith in Christ as Lord, Jesus puts that same glory into them, so that one day they too will be raised from the dead and shine with all the brilliance of heaven.
 
It’s one thing to be made of star dust, if dust is what you want.  But it’s another thing to shine like the stars as the children of God, who Himself is Light, (and in Him there is no darkness at all). 
 
As The Bible says about our future body:
And so it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being." The last Adam (Jesus*) became a life-giving spirit… The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven.  As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.” (1 Cor. 15:45,47-49)
 
So my friend, you are not an accident.  You are not a mistake. You are not a random event in an impersonal meaningless universe.  You were made for glory!  You were made with a destiny!  You were made to bear the image and likeness of God, and to shine with the glory of His love!  And that is what Jesus offers to those who live by faith in Him.
 
But what of those who refuse God’s loving offer?  What of those who are lost; who persist in their own self will; who embrace what is carnal, dark and selfish versus that which is pure and noble and good?  Are they stars as well? Yes, they are stars as well.  But sadly, scripture refers to them as “wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.” 

God loves even these.  He sent His son Jesus to die for them, that they also may be saved, for He desires all men to come to repentance and the knowledge of the truth. And He is only too happy to save them, if they will simply come to Him.  It’s what we all hunger for in the depths of our soul; to be reconciled with the one true Lover of our soul; to glorify Him and to enjoy Him forever.  No longer wandering stars, but stars who have found their place in the universe; who have laid hold of their destiny.

As the prophet Daniel has said:
And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”
 
We are “dust”.  And we are “stars”.  And through Christ we can finally find our way, back to the garden.

(*my insertion)