Collision course

Let’s imagine that we have an air cannon that is able to shoot projectiles at each other, like the t-shirt cannons seen at sporting events. What do you think would happen if two of these air cannons were aimed exactly at one another and launched two billiard balls at the same time? If they were actually perfectly aligned, I’d expect the two hard spheres to bounce off one another and head right back toward their respective launch points.

What if, instead of billiard balls, we launched two spheres of Play-Doh? In this case, I’d expect them to stick together. No rebounding!

These two cases approximately represent elastic (billiard balls) and inelastic (Play-Doh) collisions in physics. In an elastic collision, there is no net loss in kinetic energy due to the collision. In an inelastic collision, on the other hand, kinetic energy is lost when it is transferred to heat, sound, or deformation during the impact.

When you were born, you were launched on a collision course with God. The problem is that sin misaligned your air cannon. Sin points us in the wrong direction and we miss God’s loving embrace. The good news is that God provided a solution in the God-man of Jesus. Here’s how Paul describes it in his letter to the church in Rome (Message translation).

But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ. (Romans 3:23 MSG)

So where does this leave us as we hurtle through life? Are we a misaligned billiard ball heading off into darkness or a soon-to-be-hugged-and-never-let-go Play-Doh sphere? Ultimately, the choice is ours. We either admit our sin and choose Jesus, or we choose ourselves, our own desires, sin.

May I encourage you? Your circumstances do not define you. I don’t care who you’ve been or what you’ve done. You are loved and accepted. Humble yourself, collide with God through the one and only Jesus-path. You will stick and your life will never again be the same!

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Load sixteen tons and what do you get?

I grew up in Kansas in the 1970s so country music is part of my heritage. Although it’s not my preferred genre today, I have favorites from my youth. One of those is “Sixteen Tons”. It was written by Merle Travis about coal mining in Kentucky and first released in 1947. The version I remember, though, was recorded by Tennessee Ernie Ford in 1955. I listened to it on the radio (KFDI out of Wichita). I’ve included the first verse and chorus here.

Some people say a man is made outta mud
A poor man’s made outta muscle and blood
Muscle and blood and skin and bones
A mind that’s weak and a back that’s strong

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter, don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store

The chorus reminds me of a passage from the book of Romans in the Bible. Paul was writing to the young church in Rome with fledgling Christians who were struggling with letting go of sin in the same way that we (okay, at least me) do today.

But now that you’ve found you don’t have to listen to sin tell you what to do, and have discovered the delight of listening to God telling you, what a surprise! A whole, healed, put-together life right now, with more and more of life on the way! Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master. (Romans 6:23 MSG)

The implications are dire. If you “load sin” all day, your payment is death, or separation from God for all eternity. To “load Jesus”, though, gives eternal life in close personal relationship with the creator of the universe. I choose life! I hope you do, too.

Peace and blessings, miners!

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My purge

The word “purge” always captures my attention. It is an action word. It suggests suddenness, almost violently. A purge is an event; it is noticed and has significant ramifications.

In government, political leaders will purge their party, and sometimes entire country, of dissidents. Examples include Mao Zedong and China’s Cultural Revolution, Stalin’s USSR, the North Korean Kim leaders, and Fidel Castro in Cuba.

Although I have not watched the Purge movies or television series, the images of uncontrolled crime and violence during a 12-hour period one day each year are disturbing.

Given these negative connotations, you might be surprised to learn that I desire my own purge. Here’s the context from 1 John 1.

6-7 If we claim that we experience a shared life with him and continue to stumble around in the dark, we’re obviously lying through our teeth—we’re not living what we claim. But if we walk in the light, God himself being the light, we also experience a shared life with one another, as the sacrificed blood of Jesus, God’s Son, purges all our sin.

8-10 If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. If we claim that we’ve never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God—make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God. (1 John 1:6-10 MSG)

I know Jesus died to pay the penalty for my sins. I know that he rose again to offer me salvation. I accept, gratefully! I now seek this purge, this total-house-cleaning of all the nonsense I’ve collected over the years. The replacement furniture is worship, obedience, and love. I hope you’ll join me in this new life! Peace!

 

 

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My two drugs

In 2010, the well-known philosopher Ke$ha told us:

Because your love, your love, your love is my drug
Your love, your love, your love
I said your love, your love, your love is my drug
Your love, your love, your love

I sing this refrain as well. I sing it to Father, Son, Spirit… Creator, Savior, Guide. My entire life, birth to today, is a testament to God’s grace, mercy, and blessings. I begin each good day with gratitude and submission to my God. My bad days are focused on me and my own selfish desires. Here’s what John teaches us.

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18)

Peter has a similar love message.

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (1 Peter 3:8-9)

As I am filled with this God-love-drug, it spills over into love for you. I hope that you choose the same, that you choose life, Jesus-life.

The title mentions my two drugs. The other is coffee. Obviously. Peace!

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Boy interrupted

If you’ve studied the book of Job from the Bible, you might have been left with more questions than answers. If you haven’t read Job, here’s the CliffsNotes version.

  • Job has a comfortable life.
  • The devil requests to intervene and God gives permission.
  • Terrible things happen to Job. He loses his comfortable life.
  • Job’s friends question his circumstances.
  • Job questions his circumstances.
  • God responds.
  • Job is restored, many times over.

When I read the Bible, I try to find me in the story. In this case, I see 1988 and a small town Kansas boy about to begin a journey he could not have imagined. The road he intended to travel was interrupted. It wasn’t a detour; it was a completely new route to unknown lands.

Here’s what I’ve learned. God’s plans are greater; He is so much bigger than my limited perspective.

As a 17 year old senior at Oxford high school, I had simple goals. I wanted to play college football. I wanted to marry a pretty girl and be a dad. I imagined living in a rural setting, maybe a bit of land to hunt and fish, a decent job.

The story begins… I attended a tiny high school (120 students, total, grades 9-12). No colleges recruited my school. All I knew of college football was what I watched on television. No one from the Big 8 (I’m old, look it up) came calling. God intervenes. A community college coach who had been recruiting in Wichita stopped in Oxford simply because he drove through on his way home. I had never heard of community college football.

In August of 1988 I found myself in camp with 150 other players competing for spots on a 45-man roster. Look right, look left, two out of three of you will be gone in two weeks. I prayed “God, please let them see me. I’ll do the rest and accept the outcome.”

I made the roster. Miraculously, I was the starting free safety (defensive back). I played two seasons. God intervenes. Again, against all odds, I was signed by Temple University. Again, I was a two year starter.

I wasn’t at Temple just to play football, though. God put me there to study mechanical engineering and meet my wife. She was a pretty girl, but she was so much more. She challenged me. She was smart and strong-willed and stubborn. Against all odds, she chose me.

After graduation, I was uncertain about what to do next. I had achieved all my life goals, at 23. Now what? I imagined that I would craft the simple life I had imagined as a senior in high school.

I tried. And was denied at every turn. It felt like failure (I was fired from my first engineering job), but God was directing me in his relentless patient way.

God’s path led to Gainesville, FL and graduate school. I was to be a university professor and it scared me witless. At the point that I completed my PhD, I was so fearful that I developed Grave’s disease. It’s an autoimmune disorder that causes hyperthyroidism and, quite frankly, had me convinced I was dying. Christine was pregnant with our son. I lost 50 pounds in six months (over the same time frame that she gained about the same amount – oh the irony). My hair was falling out. I had sleep apnea. My heart raced, all the time. Five years later I drank the radioactive iodine and started Synthroid. Problem solved.

Turn after turn. Closed door to open door, God has faithfully provided for me. He’s given me more than I could have imagined and rescued me when I’ve fallen. And, oh man, I’ve had some spectacular, garage-sale-everything-must-go falls. God remained. He healed. He loved. He is faithful.

May I encourage you? Perhaps your path has not followed the route you mapped. Maybe you can’t see over the next hill from your position in the valley. Have you crested a hill and fear the next stage? Did you blow it? Have you suffered loss due to your own silly mistakes?

I don’t care what circumstance you are facing. Good or bad. I know this for certain. God has a plan. He loves you. He will never leave you. God’s interruptions are good. God is good. Forward!

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Nope

Let me offer you a snapshot of me and my wife, Christine, interacting in a common situation. I’m driving; she’s in the passenger seat.

We’re on Providence Road in South Charlotte. We are crossing a busy overpass with entrances onto I-485. The left two lanes continue straight, while a third lane on the right is turn-only and takes you directly onto I-485. The left two lanes are congested (where I want to be) and the right is free (where I don’t want to be). I have my left hand on top of the steering wheel, my right hand on the gear shift, and nearly imperceptibly rotate my left hand to the right. Without otherwise reacting or turning her head, my wife simply says, “Nope.”

I laughed out loud because she knows me. She knew, in advance, that I would try to get in the wrong lane.  Years of experience have provided us with (nearly) unspoken communication and a deep understanding of one another. My wife (metaphorically) keeps me out of the lane in which I should not be driving.

Marriage is complicated, though. There are days past when a comment on my driving may not have gotten laughter… I remain an imperfect husband, but I’m getting better with age!

Did you know that the Bible offers a roadmap for marriage? There are many relevant passages, but check out this popular quote from Paul in his letter to the church in Ephesus (modern day Turkey).

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:22-27)

Here’s how I see this scripture unfolding in my life with Christine. I get to preach Jesus to her when I love and cherish her, when I hold her in high regard and consider her before myself. Christine gets to preach Jesus back when she honors me by letting me lead, by joining my mission as an equal partner (i.e., in her sub-mission).

I’m so grateful for the occasional “nope”. It keeps me headed in the right direction!

 

 

 

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A year’s wage

Let’s look through a window in time to view an unusual scene. It happened nearly 2000 years ago in Bethany, which is east of Jerusalem in Israel.

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. (John 12:1-3)

This was a significant investment for Mary and her family. That amount of perfume was worth a year’s wage.

Wow.

When I study a passage like this, I try to insert myself in the scene. Mary worshipped Jesus by offering an item of incredible value. She placed it, quite literally, at (and on) his feet. So, how should I worship Jesus? What should I offer? At this time in my life, I’m focused on: 1) my lovely wife and college-aged children; and 2) my career and graduate students. If these are things I value, how do I honor Jesus with them? That’s an important discussion between me and my savior.

How about you? What is your nard?

Let’s consider the end of this scene. Mary has annointed Jesus’ feet and, in an act of complete humility, wiped his feet with her hair. Clearly Jesus’ feet are now infused with the wonderful fragrance. Listen. Don’t miss this: so is Mary’s hair.

That’s how worship works. When we submit to and praise our creator and savior, we leave with more than we brought. Every time. We are also covered with the fragrance of our worship. Love you, friend. Peace to you this week!

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