Huts of Refuge

In Nantucket, Massachusetts there’s a museum devoted to a volunteer organization, formed centuries ago called the Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum. Back then Nantucket was the center of the whaling industry and in those days travel by sea was extremely dangerous. Given that storms in the Atlantic quickly come and go, and given the treacherous coastline of Massachusetts, where many lives would be lost within a mile of the shore, a group of volunteers decided to go into the lifesaving business. It wasn’t their job — they had other jobs – but, as volunteers, they banded together to create The Massachusetts Humane Society. They built these little huts along the shoreline and they called them Huts Of Refuge. In fact, there are still a few of these huts in existence today.

These volunteers watched the seas, watched the water; all the time looking for people in distress, looking for ships to go down. Looking for somebody; anybody that needed to be rescued. Whenever a ship went down, word went out. Signal flares were lit, and everyone would do everything that they could to save the ship, and those aboard. They didn’t do it for money, they didn’t do it for recognition.  They did it because they realized that there is something precious and valuable about life, about human life. To remind them what was at stake, they adopted a motto: “You have to go out, but you don’t have to come in.” Now that’s a recruiting slogan, right? Now, that would not motivate me, yet that was the Humane Society’s motto!

However, over time something interesting began to happen. The US Coast Guard began to take over the task of lifesaving. For a period the US Coast Guard and the Lifesaving Society would work side by side. But, eventually the volunteers began to think “well they’re the professionals, let them do it,” so they kind of gave up the lifesaving business. And, over time volunteers stopped manning their little huts; they stopped searching the coastline for sinking ships; they stopped sending teams to rescue drowning people.

But it is interesting. They couldn’t bring themselves to disband, so the Lifesaving Society still exists today. They meet every once in a while in Boston, and have dinners and sometimes hand out awards for those that did community service. They enjoy each other’s company, and have great fellowship together. They just are not in the lifesaving business anymore. They meet, they sponsor programs, they get together, but they don’t have the thrill of risking their lives to save some else.

It happens all the time, it doesn’t happen in a day, or a month, or a year – but over time a church forgets that it’s in the life saving business. And it usually doesn’t disband, at least not right away. People still meet, they still enjoy each others company, they have good fellowship, they enjoy dinners together, they have services and programs. They may even be involved in some community activities together. But, they don’t send out people as teams anymore for going out and saving lives. Nobody’s watching. Nobody’s out scouring the neighborhoods. They forget that Jesus put his efforts into rescuing or lifesaving. They have buildings, budgets, staffs and meetings. They are just not in the lifesaving business anymore.  It can happen to a church, it can happen to a small group, it can happen to a person. Whether or not we stay in the lifesaving business depends upon us. It depends upon the church of Jesus Christ!

Jesus was in the lifesaving business. He desired to not only build a community, but to reach a community. He shared this desire very clearly in the Upper Room discourse, when he said, “by this all men will know you are my disciples by the love you have for one another, so that the world may know Him who sent me” (John 17:23). The church is in the lifesaving business. We are a hut of refuge, and the goal of the church is to have little huts small groups all over their communities. Huts of people who do life together, who share what they have in common – by serving one another, by speaking truth to one another, by comforting one another, by encouraging one another, by praying for one another – so that the world might believe. God designed us for community. He called us to community, and he has  commissioned us to reach a community.

Remind Who I Am

Back in 2007, I happened upon a new release from an artist named Jason Gray. I was looking for some fresh music, as well as for something that could inspire me as I wrote out my God story. The title for Jason’s debut release, All the Lovely Losers, had appeal to me as I considered my journey and experience with God’s grace, as did the other song titles on the album. So I took a chance on a $15 disc, and purchased it without even listening to the demo or previewing a song on iTunes.

That night, I was blown away by the depth, authenticity and musicality of the songs on the CD! As I write, I can’t even begin to describe how I connected with these songs, but they in turn gave me courage to write my story of brokenness and prepare to share it with others. Later, as I got to know Jason’s story, I invited him to come and share his story at an outreach event back at Lakeside Church in January 2008. It was a terrific evening and through that encounter, I was able to meet this incredible singer/songwriter whose music continues to reach to the depths of my soul and help connect me with my Savior in fresh and powerful ways.

Four years later, Jason is finally getting the recognition he deserves, and his recent release Remind Me Who I Am from the album, A Way to See in the Dark, has been consistently in the Top 10 of the iTunes and CCM charts these last several weeks. Since I have been posting on the theme of our identity in Christ this week, I wanted to share with you this powerful song that reminds us all of where our worth truly rests. I am thrilled for Jason and hope you will take a listen to his music as well as enjoy it as much as I do.

Best Commercial of Super Bowl XLVI

Super Bowl commercials are almost as much of a tradition as the game itself. Given the $3.5 million price tag for a 30-second spot, companies put a lot of creative energy into these commercials to make their ad buy count. Some inspire, some entertain, some flop and leave us wondering why?

With everyone seeming to preview their commercials prior to the Super Bowl, I have to admit this years selection of commercials were a little anti-climatic and I missed some of the fun that comes with seeing them for the first time during the big game. But it was fun to interact with friends and family on Twitter and Facebook about who we thought deserved the crown for best commercial of the game.

While I didn’t select it as my overall favorite, I was thrilled to see Sling Baby win as part of the Doritos’ Crash the Super Bowl Contest, since my buddy Bob helped edit that piece. In my book, Sling Baby ran a close second, and definitely had the IT factor on a much smaller budget. However, with the 70 or commercials that ran during Super Bowl XLVI, the Volkswagen commercial was my overall favorite! What was yours?

Just Think

Back in the late nineties, I worked as a traveling account executive for DaySpring Cards, a Hallmark company. It was a great company to work for and I loved our mission of helping others share their heart and God’s love.

Over the years DaySpring co-founder Roy Lessin, has penned some of my most favorite sayings, and being that yesterday’s post was on the topic of living out our identity in Christ, I thought I would share this gem, which happens to be one of my favorites.

Just think,
you’re here not by chance,
but by God’s choosing.
His hand formed you
and made you the person you are.
He compares you to no one else.
You are one of a kind.
You lack nothing
that His grace can’t give you.
He has allowed you to be here
at this time in history
to fulfill His special purpose
for this generation.

– Roy Lessin, Co-Founder, DaySpring Cards

What God Says To Us

Back in seminary, one of my professors, David Eckman, shared a powerful illustration of God’s love with us. Over the years, I have referred to that illustration in messages, as well as rehearsed it in my own mind, as I have sought to communicate and better understand God’s love for his creation.

In the illustration, God enters onto the scene of our most shameful and embarrassing sin to tell us just how much we mean to him. In that moment, of our greatest guilt and shame, God lovingly points to the cross to demonstrate just how much we are worth to him. It’s a reminder to me, that when we were at our worst, God loved us the most.

It still boggles my mind to stop and think of the reality of the cross. To think that God was free to place the cross anywhere in time, since its benefits would be applied everywhere in time. The cross wasn’t placed in the Garden of Eden before the onset of our sin, nor in the future Kingdom when our sin would be obliterated, but in the middle of our sin, when we had the least to offer.

It is this understanding of who we are in Christ that also gives us the proper ammunition to handle the problem of sin within. You see, as I come to understand my identification with Christ, I don’t have to live in fear of God or hide from his presence, because I am fully known and fully loved. In identifying myself with the Son, I can rest in the forgiveness made possible at the cross, and come to God with full assurance knowing that I am no longer a slave to the moods and desires that hold me in bondage because of what God says is true of me.

I recently saw this video clip from the movie Blood Diamond and it served to remind me of this powerful illustration and the reality of God’s great love for us and our identity in him. As you watch, think of a similar conversation God might want to have with you.

My Son is a Tween!

According to a tween is a child between the ages of 9 and 12. When you think about it, tweens are no longer children, but they’re not quite teenagers. They’re not yet in the midst of adolescence, but approaching puberty, with increasing responsibilities and exposure to peer pressure and the like! And the thing is, I have one, and it scares me! Especially as I watch my little boy make dramatic changes in his lifestyle and conversations!

Perhaps it caught me off guard, because I don’t think I’m ready to have “the talk” with my little boy, who’s not quite so little anymore. I already miss the boy, who once woke up with the sunrise, and who now needs to be motivated to get up and get going in the morning. Yet the real hit came the other night, when Zach told us that he didn’t want his “beautiful music” played as he falls asleep anymore. What!?! Was the long-standing musical serenade of Twila Paris’ Bedtime Prayers & Lullabies really coming to an end after 10 years of peaceful worship? This couldn’t be! How could it be? Where did the last 10 years go?

Yep, the reality is, I have a tween! And like it or not, I need to face it! Deal with it! Get over it! And prepare for this new season of parenting! So I guess I better catch up on some reading and figure this one out. Amazon gift cards and prayers are appreciated!

Insights from Job

This year I’ve decided to make it my ambition to read through the Bible, following the Chronological Bible reading plan and I spent much of this month reading through the books of Genesis and Job as part of the plan. The book of Job has always been one of those books in the Bible that has stumped me, as I have sought to make sense of its purpose in the scheme of the other Old Testament literature. So instead of just read it, I decided to do a little more study and here’s my take.

In setting the scene for the book, it is clear that that Job was truly blessed by God, and this in turn becomes the reason for Satan’s interest in testing Job, because he thought that Job’s obedience to God was only in direct proportion to his blessings from God. While Satan is allowed to test Job, I find comfort in the fact that Satan’s actions are limited by God’s sovereign control. Evidence of this is seen each time Satan approaches God to test Job, and in both cases God clearly limits the extent of Satan’s tests, mentioning that Satan could not put forth his hand on Job, nor take his life. Thus God’s sovereignty becomes one of the major themes of the book.

In developing the themes of divine retribution and the sovereignty of God, four messengers of misfortune, come to Job and declare of the calamity that has arisen out of the unseen personal workings in the heavenlies. Upon hearing the news from the fourth messenger, Job is overcome with his grief and gets up, tears his robe, shaves his head and falls to the ground in worship of God.

The tension created by Job’s remarks in chapter 3 also contributes to the overall message of the book, and teaches that it is not necessarily wrong to for a person to be honest before the Lord and to ask the questions of why, as Job does repeatedly throughout the book. It is important to again point out, that none of these questions grow into accusations or cursing of God, and to remember that the point of Job’s questioning is his attempt to try and understand his experience in light of God’s sovereignty. Job nowhere states in this text that he will have nothing to do with God, but through his lament attempts to find God in this experience and therefore appeals to God again and again.

In grasping the meaning of Job, it is also obvious from the text that the author was intending to argue against the theology of divine retribution, which later becomes the thesis of Job’s three friends banter (4:7-1; 8:3,11-22; 11:13-20; 18:5-21). Throughout the book Job maintains his righteousness and steadfastness, and shows us that the person of faith will trust God through adversity or prosperity even when their world doesn’t make sense. In the end, Job passed the test and instead of cursing God, Job acknowledges God’s sovereignty and therefore destroys Satan’s suspicion that he only feared God because of God’s blessing.

The World Needs Leaders…

The World Needs Leaders…
who cannot be bought;
whose word is their promise;
who put character above wealth;
who possess opinions and a will;
who are larger than their vocations;
who do not hesitate to take chances;
who will not lose their individuality in a crowd;
who will be honest in small things as well as in great things;
who will make no compromise with wrong;
whose ambitions are not confined to their own selfish desires;
who will not say they do it “because everybody else does it”;
who are true to their friends through good report and evil report, in adversity as well as in prosperity;
who do not believe that shrewdness, cunning, and hardheadedness are the best qualities for winning success;
who are not ashamed or afraid to stand for the truth when it is unpopular;
who can say no with emphasis, although the rest of the world says yes.
Leading the Way, by Paul Borthwick

Lessons from a Homeless Man

Yesterday I officiated funeral services for a homeless man, who was murdered on Friday, December 30 in Yorba Linda. His daughter attends our church and serves as one of our small group leaders. The service was attended by about 50 or so family members and friends, as well as by several news reporters.

Dutch’s life was taken by a man who is now in custody and who has been charged in the stabbing deaths of four homeless men. While the family feels a sense of peace knowing that the streets are safer, they are still left trying to make sense of this senseless tragedy and trying to pick up the pieces as they grieve the loss of their loved one.

While no words can adequately comfort and answer the questions of why, I know many left yesterday’s service deeply touched with a sense of gratefulness for the lessons we learned from this wanderer. Here are a few of the things I shared, as well as few of lessons and reminders that I walked away with…

  1. Each of us are created in the image and likeness of God and we have infinite value and worth to our Creator. God loves us regardless of our race, social or economic status.
  2. Everyone one of us has a story and our lives have an impact on the lives of those around us.
  3. The homeless have a name and family members who love them and are likely praying for them. In this story, Dutch had three loving daughters and ten grandchildren who loved him dearly.
  4. Unconditional love truly breaks through the hardness of one’s heart. In this story, a daughter’s unconditional love and acceptance broke through a hard heart and opened new relational connections to the church, which may have never been.

While we live in a world of good and evil, we know from the Scriptures that evil doesn’t win the end! Yesterday, I saw the good that is in the world. And I left giving thanks to God, as I saw him beginning to make beautiful things out of the ashes.

People Grow Better in Grace

Peter clearly understood that people grow better in grace when he encouraged his readers to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). But what does grace mean, and how does the experience of grace foster transformation?

While righteousness has always been by faith, God operated under the system of the law, with the nation of Israel in the Old Testament. However, in the New Testament, God operates under a system of grace; because His wrath was satisfied in the death, burial and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. Paul, in writing to the Ephesians states, “for by grace you have been saved through faith; and it is not of yourselves, it is a gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9). Grace is literally defined as “unmerited favor.” And because of God’s grace, one can enjoy favor with God, not because of what they have done, but because of what God has done.

Unfortunately, it’s so easy in our world to think we need to do something to earn God’s favor. As though God’s grace was too good to be true. But since our acceptance before God is not based upon our performance, we can find true freedom in Him, and our life becomes a thank you to Him for what He has already done. This is the experience of grace that fosters transformation, because no longer do we feel this nagging sense of having to do anything to earn God’s favor, but instead we simply respond to Him because of what He has done for us.

Grace transforms because it leads us to relate to a loving God not out of a sense of obligation, but out of love. The law was never intended to bring righteousness, and we are foolish to think that we can ever add anything to Christ’s completed work on the cross. Guilt and shame only lead us away from God and into hiding. Grace leads us toward God and toward one-another. Therefore, may the church always be characterized by grace, because after all, people grow better in grace.

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