Stuck in the Mud

The first time I jumped on my shiny, yellow steed, I promptly popped one of the back tires. You’d think there should be some sort of “new lawnmower” aura that makes the rubber slash proof. But I can assure you that as soon as you pry apart the crate from your Cub Cadet wonder, the wheels are very much mortal. One hidden piece of chainlink fencing is all it takes.

And, really, that was just the beginning.

I drove a nail through the front tire, cracked the other back tire, got a piece of metal cable wrapped around the blade, hit a branch that popped open the engine compartment, and knocked loose the belt that drives the blades. All that happened in less than a month. Then, despite all my previous misadventures, I thought I could beat an ominous looking cloudburst and whip through the grass with all that horsepower.

Funny how mud has other ideas. As soon as I rounded the turn at the corner of our property, I knew I’d made a mistake. The scraggly patch of grass that looked so solid as it whizzed toward me actually covered a soupy mess. Bloop. Down I went.

By that point, I’d already had my share of lawnmower wrestling matches. So, I hopped off, grabbed the back, and heaved.

Nothing.

So, I heaved and pulled backward.

Nothing. Not even an inch.

Furious rocking, tire spinning, wood prying, wife helping, lever twisting—nothing made the yellow beast move an inch. And by this point, rain exploded from the clouds and made the mess even worse.

Laughing and praying and feeling defeated. All that tumbled together in a soggy mess as I trudged back to the house. As I did, I remembered that saying people like to throw around: “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”

Bologna.

Sometimes He has to. Driving us into the mud, putting our backs against the wall, pushing us to the limits—those are the only things that get our attention. We keep moving ahead, keep looking the wrong way, keep ignoring His whispers. Only when we’re driven deep into a muddy mess do we stop to cry out… and listen.

The weight is unbearable because it’s a weight we weren’t meant to carry. The worry overwhelms us because we forget to put those worries on Him. The sorrow breaks us because we forget that our hope is in Him.

He won’t allow us to be tempted beyond our limits, but He will lovingly allow us to take on more than our aching arms can carry, more than our tired backs can hold. We think we can do it; we think we can get by on our own.

But we weren’t meant to. We were meant to be dependent.

As for me, my Cub Cadet stayed overnight in the mire right there for everyone to see—a yellow eyesore and reminder of my folly. After work that day, a neighbor I’d never met before drove his Gator down our country road, tied on a rope, and pulled the yellow steed free. I needed outside help.

We all do.

Christ did what we couldn’t do. His sacrifice was more than we could ever hope to give. His death worth more than anything we had to offer. It crushed Him, sucked the life from His body. He died with all the weight of the world on Him.

But He could handle it. And He can handle your mud-stuck problems, too.

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Let’s Redefine Marriage… the Right Way

In America, we come at marriage the wrong way. We assume that marriage legitimacy depends upon a sheet of paper. This sheet of paper, which often gets tucked away in a drawer, serves as proof that we have, in fact, said some vows.

But at the first wedding, there was no paper. There was God, a man, and a woman. No one signed a sheet of paper, got a notary stamp, or surrendered money to a clerk. And when Isaac married Rebekah, there was also no solemn, sealed piece of parchment necessary. (There wasn’t even a cake.)

You see, the biblical view of marriage dispenses with paper altogether. And that’s not because it’s somehow lesser than government-sanctioned unions. In fact, this lack of paper means that God intended more.

A marriage the Bible way is about covenant, a promise that only ends when hearts stop beating. Paper marriages can get tossed out by the same legal machinations that set them up. Covenants are serious. So serious that God gets involved.

We too often get this backward. When we think of marriage, we think ceremony and paper and tax benefits. But God’s intention for marriage is a three-fold cord—with a man and a woman joined together in Christ.

When we say that the government is destroying the sanctity of marriage, this isn’t completely accurate. Civil marriages are not God-marriages. They’re legally recognized unions. An “evolving view” of civil marriage simply means the government is altering what it does and does not accept for tax purposes. They’re changing forms and paper.

But no government can change what God made. A true covenant marriage has nothing to do with taxes, and everything to do with God revealing Christ through us, through the joining of the husband and wife. Covenant marriage points to Jesus like this: husband + wife = Christ + Church. It’s a big deal.

Let’s be blunt here. The governments of this world have long condoned marriages that had nothing to do with covenant, nothing to do with what God meant. When two unbelievers marry, for example, they’re not revealing the mystery of Christ and His Church. The supposed “redefining” of marriage isn’t new; it’s old. Since Noah’s day, according to Jesus.

Things called marriage have existed for thousands of years. But not all things called marriage are true covenants with God involved.

We need to put this in the right perspective. Covenant marriages have nothing to do with a government. The justification is higher—way higher. Governments like to get involved so that they can gather the profits and regulate such unions, but they can’t change what God intended.

So, no matter what presidents (or even priests) say marriage must be, they’re only commenting on civil, temporary, and earthly matters. They’re changing what can be allowed on a piece of paper. Paper that may one day be shredded or burned or stuck in a birdcage.

But God’s definition for the covenant of marriage never stops being the same. It’s continued through floods and towers and rising-to-fall empires. It’ll stand through “tolerance and equality” just the same. We’d do well to remember that.

Marriage doesn’t start with paper. True covenant marriage starts with God.

Fill ‘er Up

“Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints.” Colossians 1:24-26

Right after I got married, I gave up computer software updates and PC troubleshooting for something a bit more… down to earth, you could say. I needed work in my new hometown, and since employers weren’t tracking me down and forcing jobs on me, I gravitated toward the only available option: construction. With a booming housing market at the time, finding enough to do wasn’t a problem.

But finding motivation was a problem. Going from a specialized, higher paying job in computers, where I mostly sat at my desk all day, to cleaning up cinder blocks, wrestling with insulation, and scrubbing windows—that was quite the humbling thing. Honestly, I’d never had to do any real manual labor in my life before that. (Yes, I was coddled.) The heat and pain and bloodied hands were all new to me.

The first few weeks, after a particularly arduous day of gophering around the jobsites, I’d come home and crash on the living room floor. My muscles weren’t used to the beating they took, and they made sure I knew about it.

Slowly, however, with all the wood slinging and nail pounding and putty slapping, things changed. The nights of carpet collapses became less frequent, and my hands didn’t split open nearly as often (unless you count the numerous times I stabbed myself with a chisel). In fact, I came to enjoy the process of seeing something come together, seeing a house take shape.

My spiritual growth has come in a similar fashion—just without the splinters. At first, the failures dragged me down and beat me up. The rejections when I tried to share my newfound faith stung. The transformation cut deep. But as I grew and as God worked in me, something changed. The pain still stings and the transformation still cuts (that never stops), yet I began to see the pain as an important part of the overall process. Christ is building something in me—and in His Church.

As humans, we all suffer. But as Christians, we fill up on suffering. Sounds bad, but the point is that instead of us letting the suffering go to waste, God uses it for the good of other believers (and our own). He takes the pain and makes it passion, passion that spills out as love for our brothers and sisters.

We each serve as a breathing example of the gospel played out in real life. Our pain and restoration make us a family like nothing else can.

Why Paul Wasn’t a Zombie

“We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” Colossians 1:28-29

Worn out. Exhausted. Please oh please oh please be Friday. Those words probably describe many of our weeks—often by Monday afternoon. The surge of the weekday tide sucks us under and spins us around and strips away our energy by making us swim to the surface over and over again. Gasp. Bills. Gasp. Long meeting. Gasp. Kids biting each other.

What more can we give than that? What else can God expect from us than just trying to keep from drowning in the mess of life?

Paul says everything and more. Yep, you read that right. We’re supposed to slap down every last ounce of ourselves to the cause of Christ. We’re supposed to surrender every modicum of ourselves to the purpose of “proclaiming Him” with our joy-filled words and our peace-in-the-midst-of-this-hurricane-called-life actions.

Everything. Every single bit. For Him.

Feeling tired yet? I hope you don’t. You see, there’s something in here that we too often overlook. It does take energy—loads of it—to live a life of surrender. We wouldn’t expect anything less from being a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). That means using all that we are to make all that He is known to all. But even with all those alls, you won’t be using up your energy.

Look again at what Paul says here: “To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” He doesn’t say, “I did it all myself until I burned out and crashed into the dirt and hated my life and decided it was just too hard to do anything and wanted to move to Alaska forever and hide in a cave.” Instead, he tells us that the source of his oomph is Christ.

Christ didn’t save us so that we could barely keep going, dragging our way like zombies down the road of life. Instead, we’re operating with power—His. He jump-started our lives with a spirit of power (2 Timothy 1:7), cranking up the juice through the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). After all, like Paul, we’re wrestling with the tasks God’s called us to do. We aren’t supposed to do this by tapping into our own reserves. God takes these fragile clay pots that we are and supplies His power so that He gets the glory (2 Corinthians 4:7). He adds the zing, and His zing is potent.

When you try to make it all work on your own guts and grit, you’ll eventually drain down and sputter out. Instead, take Him up on His “by my Spirit” (Zechariah 4:6) thing—that is, not your own strength. That doesn’t mean you’ll never get tired or weary. You will. But you can be sure that He specializes in renewing the worn out and exhausted (Isaiah 40:30-31).

There’s a Title for That

Sometimes, we just need to be reminded of who Jesus is:

  • The Word: He pitched His tent with us and put flesh on God’s promises (John 1)
  • Son of God: He’s got the whole world in His hands (Matthew 16:16)
  • Son of Man: He knows our sorrows up close and personal (Matthew 17:12)
  • Son of David: He loved His people, even if they didn’t recognize Him (Matthew 1:1; John 1)
  • Teacher: He tells us exactly what we need, even if it’s not what we want to hear (John 3:2)
  • Prophet: He told us what would and will happen (Deuteronomy 18:15; Matthew 13:57)
  • Provider: He can make a little go a long way (Mark 6:30-44)
  • Mediator: He’s right in the middle of our struggles and pleading our case (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 9:15)
  • Suffering Servant: He got busted up for us (Isaiah 53)
  • Lamb of God: He put sin in a full-nelson and made death cry uncle (John 1:29)
  • Lion of Judah: He can take care of His enemies with just His roar (Revelation 5:5, 19:21)
  • Counselor: He’s the cure for our addictions and struggles (Isaiah 9:6)
  • Prince of Peace: He signed—in blood—the peace treaty between God and us (Isaiah 9:6)
  • Immanuel: He never gets tired of being with us (Isaiah 7:14)
  • King of Kings: He’s got the power (Revelation 17:14)
  • The Way: He ain’t got no time for wishy-washy “all roads” arguments; He’s it (John 14:6)
  • The Truth: He puts the lie in our “true for you” follies (John 14:6)
  • The Life: He resuscitates hearts that were hardened by sin (John 14:6, 20:31)
  • Good Shepherd: He patiently and lovingly tracks down His runaways (Luke 15:4; John 10:11)
  • True Vine: He nurtures us to fruitfulness (John 15:4-5; Romans 7:4)
  • Friend of Sinners: He offers grace to those stumbling around in darkness (Matthew 11:9)
  • Balm of Gilead: He binds up our wounds by the scars on His back (Jeremiah 8:22; Isaiah 53:5; 1 Peter 2:24)
  • Giver of the Spirit: He sent the One who makes the journey alongside us and leads us into truth (John 14)
  • Light of the World: He sends photons to those who’ve been blinded by the god of this age (Luke 2:32; Acts 13:47; 2 Corinthians 4:4)
  • Intercessor: He never stops praying for us (Isaiah 53:12; John 17)
  • Great High Priest: He took care of all the Temple work (Hebrews 7)
  • The Bread/Water of Life: He’s our daily nutritional requirement for a spiritually balanced life (John 6; Revelation 21:6)
  • Alpha and Omega: He gets the first and last word… always (Revelation 22:13)
  • Lord of Glory: He makes angels belt out never-ending praises (Psalm 24, 103:20; James 2:1)
  • Firstborn among the Dead: He paved the path that leads to His place (Colossians 1:18)

Jesus has so many titles because He fulfills all our needs. Wherever you are in life, whatever you need, He’s got it covered. As my father-in-law sometimes says, “Jesus picked up His cross and said, ‘Hang on to Me. We’re going through.’”

My Alien Brain

“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” Colossians 1:21-22

The first migraine hit me in middle school. While wrapping up some pre-algebra problems, a fuzzy, white spot kept covering up the numbers. I’d blink and rub my eyes and try to work around it, but the spot hovered there for most of the class. Being the well-reasoned adolescent that I was, I naturally assumed what seemed logical: I was about to die of a massive stroke.

I obviously didn’t die. But when the spot finally did go away, I wished it had stayed.

Stomach-curling, fist-clenching, world-bending pain plopped down into my cranium and threw some sort of headache party. After an hour or so, I couldn’t take it anymore. I told the skeptical school nurse that I thought I had a “migration headache,” which didn’t ease her skepticism. Still, she let me go home.

Just to complete the headache humiliation, I got sick right outside the school (so that all the classes on that side of the building could watch), fell asleep as soon as I got home, and woke up with a throbbing head. Migraines don’t like to go without a fight. They kick and scream into that good night.

My own head revolted against me for several years after that. If I didn’t get enough sleep or got hit with too much stress, the spot would make a comeback. I did learn to lessen the pain sometimes by closing my eyes as soon as the fuzz sprang into view, but that didn’t always work.

Truthfully, the migraines were the least of my problems. My un-reconciled brain, the one that had no understanding of Christ, had revolted from God. Instead of fuzzy spots as warning signs, there were evil deeds, as Paul calls them. I played on others’ emotions to get my way, used girlfriends as my personal trophy case, spent hours and hours on the kinds of websites that wouldn’t make it through a work Internet filter, and generally wasted my gifts. The pain that resulted from those “spots” wasn’t just inwardly focused—it left quite the burning trail in its wake.

My alien brain knew nothing else then. It wanted nothing better. It was pretty much dead.

That’s exactly the reason Christ’s reconciling, restoring death still astounds me. This gray matter, so unresponsive to anything spiritual, came to life with God’s preceding grace. He kept hitting me and kept hitting me until I finally gave up, followed His Son, and stopped being an alien.

What You Should Do

And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. (Colossians 1:10-12)

Hundreds of times I’ve found myself bemoaning some predicament or difficult decision. Often, I’m on the floor and staring up at the ceiling. Although the words may vary somewhat, they all pretty much amount to this:

“God, can’t you just tell me what to do?”

I’m a planner. So, what I really mean is this: “If You could just spell out every step for the next few months—or years—that’d be great. Maybe a detailed list?”

What I keep forgetting is that God already did that. He even put it all in a list for me in Colossians. Sure, it isn’t exactly a step-by-step guide, but close enough. His planner for our daily life goes like this:

Bearing fruit in every good work: Since He’s prepared good works for us to do (Ephesians 2:10), that makes this one even more straightforward. But how can we identify these? By…

Growing in the knowledge of God: He’s the one who prepared these good works. So, He’s the one we should cozy up to and learn from through His Word and consistent communication. And when we do, we get some boom to go with it…

Being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might: God is radioactive. As we walk in those good works by getting to know Him, His power rubs off. True, we don’t get the X-Men glowing face like Moses, but we can still put on quite the light show (Matthew 5:16). You get that power…

So that you may have great endurance and patience: When good works flow from our knowledge of God and His strength, we suddenly care a lot less about those worries that used to drag us down. We can endure because God’s Kingdom is present in our life right now (Matthew 6:33). With such a focus, that means we should be…

Joyfully giving thanks to the Father: Rolling in those pre-prepared good works with God-strength and God-focus makes us want to do the God-is-good electric slide (your results and dance moves may vary). We just can’t keep our mouths shut because He…

Has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light: In fact, that’s the biggest, boldest thing on our God-given to-do list. We do the good works He’s planned with His strength and our eyes on Him, all because He qualified us.

So many times I want God to spell things out for me each step of the way. And sometimes He does. But most often, He points me—gently or not so gently—back to Colossians. I’ve been given instructions for the day-to-day race that will one day end with Him. Faith means leaving the details in His hands.