Staged

The Merriam-Webster definition of the word TRANSITION is: passage from one state, stage, subject, or place to another: change. Transition is an important part of life and can be both exciting and scary simultaneously. If we are fortunate enough to live for any length of time, we will go through many “transitions” through our lifetime; from childhood to adulthood, from student to teacher, and if we are truly blessed, from child to parent to grandparent. As for my wife and me, we are soon transitioning into the grandparent mode.

What makes this transition even more “fun” is the fact we decided to make a physical move to another state which involves my finding other employment. Since we both have felt a great sense of urgency for some time to make this move, the Saturday after Christmas was a complete tear down, inside and out, of anything that screamed Christmas and/or wasn’t necessary to keep around for the “staging” of the house to prepare it for market. The word stage seems so innocent but packs a punch as anything that makes a house a home disappears as every room is “staged” to highlight the positive attributes and accentuate the room size as well as to minimize any negative or problem areas. What was once our safe refuge, our haven of rest has quickly become a sterile model home.

At the same time, my resume has been updated and polished so as to gain the “WOW” factor. I guess you could say I’ve also been “staged” as I look for employment.

We all try to stage ourselves from time to time, to mask the “real” us from the prying eyes of the public or the hearts of those we love, or even God. Just ask how someone is doing and you’ll probably have a four letter “F” word flung at you so quick, you’d think a fast ball was thrown at your head. “FINE!” they would say while deep inside, they were far from it; for inside their hearts the rooms weren’t swept, the beds weren’t made and there was half eaten pizza tossed on the counter top. It is so easy for clutter to accumulate in the recesses of our soul; but instead of dirty floors it may be resentment, and instead of unmade beds it could be betrayal, and instead of that stone cold stiff piece of pizza it might just be unbridled anger eating away at the peace you so desperately need.

But fortunately for us, Jesus is in the renovation business and he loves fixer uppers. Jesus doesn’t want us to wait until we are perfect (which we’ll never be in this world) to come to Him, He wants us just as we are; a broken down shack full of cracked walls, leaky pipes, uneven floors and drafty windows. God wants to make our hearts His home but we have to give Him the permit to do a remodel on us. And don’t think this will be a painless process; there will definitely be some pain involved as our “stuff” is thrown in the trash bin and walls are blown out to make room for perhaps more love and compassion.

While we allow God to change our hearts and minds, He knows we are a work in progress and it takes time. Only God knows how much change we can actually take at one time but one thing is certain. God isn’t “staging” us to impress anyone else. He IS changing us into what we were meant to be in the first place…an object of His affection.

Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ    Philippians 1:6 (NKJV)

Flamingos in the Midst—And Other Christmas Surprises

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Christmas has always been a time of surprises and thus was the case at our house one Christmas season.

One morning we awoke to find a fuchsia flock of three dozen plastic flamingos meandering around on our front lawn.  My wife has always prided herself in presenting tasteful decorations both inside and out so the sight of a potential Griswald Christmas palace sent her into a state of shock.

You see our church youth group had developed a pretty successful scheme to raise money during the holiday season.  The idea was to “flock” a family with the colorful trailer trash version of the more popular tropical birds and hold that family captive until a “ransom” of a predetermined amount was paid to the youth group.  Once the ransom was paid, the embarrassed family could then designate the next “lucky” household to be flocked.  A full two weeks after the stationary stilt legged wonders appeared, they disappeared just as mysteriously.  Our daughter sheepishly admitted to honoring us with their presence; fortunately, my wife has a great memory and we have all the time in the world for the eventual “turnabout is fair play”…

But God has always been in the surprise business, even before the first Christmas was celebrated.  For example, when the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was “chosen” and was going to have a child even though she was still a virgin.  Talk about a scripted dialogue as she announced to Joseph what was about to come to pass.  And of course Joseph got all bent out of shape and thought of divorcing her before “SURPRISE!”, an angel came to him in a dream and basically told him to put his big boy pants on; this was of God…straighten up and do the right thing!  And then there were the shepherds, just minding their own business as well as their sheep when “SURPRISE!”, an angel came to announce the Christ child’s birth…along with a multitude of heavenly hosts.  Talk about a “Depends” moment!

Thinking back though, it should not have been a surprise to anyone since Christ’s birth was prophesied in Isaiah about seven hundred years before the event.  John 3:16-17 NKJV says,16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.  What an ultimate gift, humans!! And yet, we go through our lives many times as if nothing had ever happened over two thousand years ago or that in our oh so near future a bigger event WILL take place.  James 5:7-9 NIV states, 7 Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. 8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. 9 Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! This doesn’t mean we need to cower down in a corner somewhere, afraid to live out the life that God has mapped out for us.  It just means, like making all the preparations for Christmas Day that we make preparations for Christ’s second and final arrival.

Are you ready? December 25th comes around once every year and still folks scramble about as if it is a grand surprise on their calendar.  And while we keep an extra gift card tucked away just in case we have an unexpected guest, a $25.00 Big Lots gift card just isn’t going to cut it when it comes to Jesus’ triumphant return.  Just sayin…So as you gather this Christmas with your own “flock” of family and friends, just remember that it is better to be surprised by the ugly sweater from aunt Betty than to be unprepared for eternity.

Trapped in an Antique Mall

My wife and I periodically enjoy strolling through an antique mall or antiquities shop. Neither of us are necessarily antique collectors but we enjoy the memories that come flooding back at us as we slowly walk down the aisles, admiring the collision of decades as if the memory makers were all thrown into an enormous bowl, vigorously stirred and tossed back on their shelves.
If history had an aroma, it would probably consist of the odorous mix of old wood, varnish, lacquer, fabric, mildew, and perhaps more than a little dust thrown in to create a musty grandma smell which excitedly greets you and embraces your olfactory system as you walk through the doors to the past.
Once inside, any little bauble or ancient treasure can transport you back in time. A fragile bell-shaped glass Christmas ornament with hand painted stripes pulled me back to when I was a child, anticipating the arrival of Santa and the special gifts he would leave. Sometimes before Christmas, I would lay on my back and scoot on top of the glitter laden cotton batting tree skirt, under the decorated tree, being ever mindful of the hot colored bulbs strung overhead and the pine needles that would dig into my skin and brush across my face if I was not careful. Once in place I would look up, totally fascinated at my own personal holiday paradise. The brightly colored lights played off the garland, ornaments and icicles that hung from the evergreen and the pungent smell of pine intensified the total intoxication of the moment. Today, the sight of a young, small lifeless body under the decorated conifer would provoke panic and probably induce a passing thought of child endangerment but at the time only brought about a total sense of awe and wonderment.
On another shelf, my wife spies an Elf on the Shelf, his mischievous face frozen in time, his once bright red, felt body now dark pink and showing its’ age. Nevertheless, Jenny is reduced to a child, her copper-haired ringlets bouncing about as she remembers searching high and low for the inanimate imp. Her freckled face lights up and her chestnut eyes grow wide as the ornery elf is discovered on the shelf above the pale blue scratchy sofa. The little six year old wonders if the elf saw her teasing her younger brothers and worse yet, whether the plastic dwarf had reported her misdeeds to Santa. A sense of guilt and dread filled her tiny body as she remembers confessing under her breathe and promising to be good.
These vignettes are just a small sampling of the memories that flood our minds as we wander about the musty aisles. We are grateful for the visual reminders or “triggers” that transport us to a particular place and time. However, as we walk out of the antique mall, we are once again made aware of the present with all its future memories to create and opportunities to explore.
However, for some, the cold reality of their lives have left them emotionally paralyzed, their eyes glazed over in grief, fear, pain or anger. The feeling of hopelessness heightens their sense of helplessness as they meander through their days. Often times, their only escape from their present misery is to look back, to reminisce of better times, to linger on “the good ole days”…unaware of their present despair, they willingly lose their grasp with reality; embracing instead the jealous mistress of their distorted past. They are essentially trapped in an antique mall.
Still others pitch their tent and camp out in the cemetery of self-pity. They slowly pass by each head stone and read the epitaphs as if they are long lost friends lying in state. However, each tombstone represents their own regrets…”I blamed my parents for all my mistakes”, “I should have treated my kids better but I chose the bottle over my family”, “I cheated my company out of thousands”, “I didn’t mean to hurt my wife; I need help!”. Wearing their black cloak of pride draped across their shoulders, they pass each grave of regret, pause and ponder, bending down only to lay their wreath of bitterness and shame, gradually moving on to the next.
So what makes the difference in humanity where one person is basking in the warmth of a treasured memory but in contrast, another is shivering in the presence of the man in the mirror? Forgiveness. Hope. And the first yields the latter. True forgiveness to God first. 1 John 1:8-10 NKJV says–8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. We’re not perfect, we make mistakes…and we sin. That doesn’t need to be the end of the story. We need to confess our wrong doings and maintain a healthy relationship with the only One who really knows us…God. But sometimes it is even harder to forgive ourselves than to seek God’s forgiveness. It’s at those times we must remind ourselves that there is no sin so great it cannot be pardoned through grace.
And let us not forget we must forgive others for their transgressions, regardless of whether they are real or imagined. Colossians 3:13 reads–Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Forgiveness begins the complete healing process: spiritually, emotionally, and at times, physically.
And once we have a spiritually healthy heart, we once again have the room to hope. Jeremiah 29:11 NIV states, For, I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Hope AND a future! How awesome is that! And even though we don’t know what the future will bring, it is our responsibility to make sure we are making the right decisions today to ensure a future full of hope and great memories for a lifetime.
So the next time you decide to browse through the local antique mall, ask yourself this question, “am I in here to visit for a while and enjoy some healthy memories or am I tempted to make it an extended stay”? I HOPE you will choose wisely and live life to the full!

“Getting High and Loving It”

Have you ever mentioned something in passing without even thinking about it? Maybe it was a long time desire to do something new or perhaps you verbalized a “bucket list” entry to someone. That was my case a couple years ago. But I’ll begin with a true confession…

I’m afraid of heights…there, I said it…I own it. I can even admit that I get more than a little panicked on a step stool. I know my family gets quite the enjoyment from this little “quirk” when vacationing. We will arrive at a spectacular panoramic view and the rest of the folks will go running up to the railing, admiring the views and here I am stuck in place. Acrophobia takes over, my legs lock up, and my arms shoot out as I take small, zombie-like steps toward the safety of whatever barrier is between me and the “death drop”. After FINALLY catching up to the rest of the group, I wrap all ten digits in a death grip around the railing and declare, “yep, what a nice view!” before reversing the process and moon walking back to safety.

It is with this memorable backdrop in mind that I present the next precious moment. It is Christmas at our house and like all households, great expectations abound as we carefully unwrapped hidden treasures. It was my turn, so I picked up a package to reveal my surprise. And so it was…a gift certificate for a Hot Air Balloon ride! I remained speechless, unable to respond in part, because I could not breathe. Panic and the possibility of incontinence came in waves as all I could utter was “thanks, honey”…My sweet wife evidently noticed my unsettled response and replied, “well, you have mentioned more than once in the past of how cool it would be to go up in a hot air balloon, of what a sense of freedom that would be. Don’t you remember?” At that moment, I couldn’t really remember who I was, let alone what I mistakenly uttered in my foolish past…

Fast forward ten months. My “free ride to the heavens” was still sitting on my chest of drawers, just as dormant as my desire to schedule the “great adventure”. Driven on by the guilt of not using the gift, the looming expiration date, or perhaps the fact I couldn’t find anyone willing to buy this “once in a lifetime” opportunity, I picked up the phone and made a date with destiny.

The day quickly arrived when it was time to take the plunge (poor wording) and we arrived at the airport a couple of hours before dusk and found the other you’ve-got-to-be-out-of-your-mind adventurers. We were divided into groups and soon were herded toward our “baskets of bliss” where we took part in assembling the basket to the balloon and making other preparations for our departure. I was an obedient soldier; following orders as requested, only as a result of a cerebral mix of pride, stubbornness, fear and a healthy dose of both adrenaline and stupidity. After our ride was flight ready, as luck would have it, the wind started to kick up. Sensing the possibility of being dragged down the air field, the pilot ordered the three saucer-eyed passengers into the basket.

The first two, a husband and wife team, climbed aboard and were immediately tossed toward the propane tanks as the wind caught the balloon and rocked the basket south. Once it was in an upright position again, it was my turn. I placed one foot in the foothold and swung my other leg over the edge of the basket as if mounting a frisky steed. Unfortunately as soon as my body was in the basket, the wind rocked the balloon in the opposite direction and I immediately became intimate with the other three basket cases; strangers no more…

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There was no time to think or react as the pilot announced it was now or never and released the tether from the anchor pin. What happened next was nothing short of miraculous. We were suddenly free, floating upward as the earth below us fell away. I saw my wife as she was waving to me, smiling broadly and probably thinking of my life insurance policy as she grew smaller and smaller.

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I looked out and all around me as my fear vanished, replaced by pure adrenaline and excitement. This was a different world I was in and I loved it! The now gentle autumn breezes carried the balloon over the once familiar landscape as I gained my bearings and began my search for familiar landmarks. Overhead and in the distance were other balloons, launched moments before our own, no longer landlocked humans but instead, novice aeronauts.

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As I peered below, I could see treetops retreating behind us, revealing evidence of being embraced by cool October nights; exhibiting their festive fall colors that temporarily distracted the mind from the thoughts of cold winter months to come.

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A family was running around in their country farmyard, playing with their five herding dogs while enjoying the last remaining hour of daylight.

All of this overwhelmed the senses and diverted the reality that there were four human beings nestled in a small wicker basket, suspended only by nylon and hot air, and all sharing the same space with three propane tanks—just awesome!! Match anyone? But those facts seemed insignificant in comparison to the opportunity to see the magnificent landscape before us; the bigger picture.

We all, at times, need to be taken away from the ordinary to experience the extraordinary. We are so busy living our mundane lives, so content in leading a “heads down-worker bee” existence that we fail to see the big picture, what God truly has lined up for us, what our mission should be. There are times when we will be asked to step out in faith, into the unfamiliar for the sake of the greater good. How willing are you? What is holding you back from setting yourself (and all of your baggage) aside for the benefit of another? For only God sees the bigger picture; our task is just to trust and obey. Like the pilot of the hot air balloon, God knows what needs to be done, how to navigate a circumstance, and what to steer away from. All you have to do is sit back, listen, and act when called upon to do your part.

When the sun finally started to set, our mission transitioned from being spectators to participants, tasked with looking for high tension cables and possible landing locations, while spitting into the air to calculate wind direction. And even though we descended on to the hard earth of reality, safe and sound, we were still on a collective high, knowing we shared life changing moments that we would never have experienced if we had held back and remained in our sane, safe little world.

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Am I still acrophobic?…YES! Would I take part in another hot air balloon excursion some day? In a heartbeat! For I have savored the sweetness of the extraordinary and yearn for another taste.

“Dilated”

A few days ago, I made my annual pilgrimage to my optometrist for my eye exam.  And like any other visit to my eye doctor, I experienced the initial small talk, general health questions, and eventual invitation to “the chair”.  Once seated, I felt my anxiety rise as my chin was placed on the chin pad and the eye apparatus brought up to my face, squeezing my nose in the process.

Next came the dreaded “can you read the bottom line?” question.  “No problem”, I thought as I started down the line…”Hhhhh”, “Pppp”, “Sssss”, “Kkkkkkk”, and finally the last character.  “Uh, ‘c’…no, no, ‘e’…oh, man!….’o’?”  The response of “good” did nothing to soothe my perfectionist tendencies.  At last came the questions that just torments the indecisive…”is it better with 3 or 4?”, “better with 1 or 2?”, “is it clearer at 4…or 5?”

And, as if withholding the best for last, out came the eye drops that would just change my life for the next several hours—I was about to get dilated!  Sitting there in the chair, waiting for the magic to happen and dabbing the amber tears from my eyes, I was wondering just how I was going to work from home the remainder of the day.  After subjecting both eyes to immense, blazing, and irritating light, it was over; a little too anticlimactic.  But here came the “But wait, there’s more” moment when they offered me the Cataract 100 sunglasses; you know the kind.  They are the disposable sunglasses that instantly make people think you’re in need of a seeing-eye dog.  Since it was a cloudy day, I enthusiastically declined and chose to squint my way home.

Once back at my home workspace, the kitchen bar, I sat in front of the IBM T510 laptop and stared, trying to focus.  I could read e-mails and do my work but not without difficulties.  At one point and time, between the dilation and bifocals, my head was bobbing up and down with rhythmic precision and I must have appeared as if an Albatross was in a mating ritual.

Sometimes in life, we inadvertently have our spiritual eyes dilated due to unconfessed sin in our lives.  Our spiritual lives become out of focus and a great sensitivity to God’s light begins to occur.  And instead of enjoying that beautiful light through God’s word, music or other spiritually motivated sources, our sense of guilt and shame provokes a painful response, many times driving us on to seek shelter in the shadows of our own regrets.  It is at those times when we need to seek out God’s “Foster Grants” so to speak of grace and forgiveness.  For only when we seek sincere forgiveness to God, and at times ourselves and/or others, can our spiritual eyes once again be completely restored so we can see fully what God’s path is for us to follow.

 

“The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” Matthew 6:22-23

“Illuminate Us O Lord”

Have you ever looked around during a worship service and wondered how these individuals from all walks of life, this imperfect sampling of humanity ended up in one place with one purpose, to worship our Creator? I don’t believe it is a random act or a coincidence that God puts us in the right place at the right time to fulfill His plan for a season. I believe God has His plans or “patterns” so to speak laid out in a plan of perfection only God can orchestrate. God then looks for those “willing vessels” to fit in like puzzle pieces to complement His master plan.

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I liken this to working with stained glass. You begin with a pattern that holds a special attraction or interest, something created for its’ deliberate and intended purpose; even if it’s only for pure pleasure. The pattern reflects a complete but monochromatic version of the completed piece.

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The next step is the selection of glass for the piece. Each of us is like the spectrum of glass available for use. We are all fashioned into our designated colors, textures, and yes, stress points based on our experiences, influences, emotions, and our willingness to be molded and shaped into God’s intended purpose. God wants to cut away the unnecessary and chip away the stubborn imperfections to transform us into exactly what we were intended; to be an object of His affection; a perfect fit!

And God knows where each of us are destined to “fit in”; to minister, to grow, to illuminate the love of Christ in us. It doesn’t matter whether we are a corner piece or center bevel; we are just as important in God’s eyes.

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The leadership of the church is the framework and joints, the zinc and lead of God’s special project to “hold” all of His precious pieces together in one place. The leadership ensures continuity and conformity; to encourage the body of Christ to fellowship, minister and to encourage one another; to keep us as one cohesive unit.
And finally, we have the solder that binds everything together; our love for God and His everlasting love for us. That is the beauty that illuminates through us like the sun shining through a stained glass masterpiece, overwhelming us with the brilliance of His perfection and inspiring us with the awesome knowledge that we are so much more as a collective ensemble than as individual shattered shards of broken humanity.

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But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light… 1 Peter 2:9  

“Feasting on the Unfamiliar”

Relationships are sometimes like peanut butter and tomato sandwiches. Sound crazy? Let me explain. Recently this wonderfully flavorful entree was presented to me quite unexpectedly. I LOVE tomatoes and have never really rejected the opportunity to devour peanut butter, but this combination was a little out of my league in becoming adventuresome. Having been placed in a position of possibly insulting the bearer of unique cuisine, I found I had no other choice but to try just a morsel. The first bite presented itself with a familiar sweet, smoothness of the peanut butter with the tanginess of the fresh, juicy, and very meaty tomato. Love at first taste!! Why didn’t I try this sooner? Probably because this just didn’t seem very familiar to me.

Sometimes we treat acquaintances and some relationships the same way. We always want to be around people that we are comfortable with and who make us feel good or important. In the process, we are cheating ourselves out of God ordained experiences that could possibly raise us to another level of wisdom and understanding.

We are often found in situations with people who are “different” than we are. Our natural tendency is to shy away from anything or anyone that doesn’t fit our definition of “normal”. “I’m talking about even other believers, some possibly in our own churches. Like the unfamiliar food item, our brain starts to categorize and match this new acquaintance with our mental preference lists or biases. Many times we reject others or find ourselves rejected due to some of the following reasons: She/He is too short/tall, fat/thin, good-looking/plain, white/black/red/yellow/etc., talks too much/little, is illiterate/educated, poor/wealthy, dirty/clean; the list goes on and on. It doesn’t take very long before our prejudice is justified and we leave that person standing, never realizing or caring that God may have used that moment for His glory and possibly may have used you to minister to another.

If Jesus had this same mind set, where would we be right now? The blind and crippled would have been passed by because of course they were damaged goods. Mary Magdalene would have also been rejected for being so vile and unclean. Even the twelve would have been over looked for being mere fishermen and tax collectors, except maybe Dr. Luke. Get the point?

We need to ask God for forgiveness for our ignorance, prejudice, and pride. And while we are on our faces, prostrate before Him, why don’t we ask Him for the strength to take risks in our relationships with others and to allow us to love others with His love not ours. For, we are all different and strange through our own eyes but we are all the same through His.

Now, are you ready to take a big bite out of humanities’ banquet table? You might be surprised how much you enjoy the variety of God’s human creations.

Taste and see that the Lord is good. Ps. 34:8

Observations on life and Spiritual Implications