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Christian

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The journey with Christ, on day one, rises forward from the point where all other religions, philosophies, affections and pursuits aspire to attain at their final peak.

I was blown away by this idea while listening to a podcast this morning featuring Pastor Bobby Pruitt from Hill Country Bible Church Hutto.  The religions of the world provide men with a complicated map to Nirvana that only the most faithful and moral can even hope to attain, in some cases, even after many life times.  Philosophies fare even worst at their final destination as they rarely recognize God or the need for transcendence. All earthly affections struggle to achieve unity and unconditional, sacrificial love and none ever attains it. And all the ladders of success rising above the mountains like our own personal towers of Babel confound and haunt us with their beautiful view of all we can survey as far as our eyes can see – for we are left to wonder, “Is this all there is?”

None of these in their highest imagined zenith, much less the real ledge far below that might realistically be attained in the short morning walk that measures the brief life of a man, comes close to attaining what Christ brings to those who love him on day one of their life together.  And that is only the commencement – the beginning.  The Bible say Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.   It says the lamb was slain before the foundation of the earth and it says that only he will be able to open the scrolls that will complete history on this earth.  So all the starts begin after his provision for us and after his creation of us.  And all ends do not touch his.  All of mans effort to find perfection fall short – but Christ is not asking us to obtain this elusive and impossible perfection, he gives us his perfection by joining his life to our own – as a wedding gift.  We only have to say, I do.

Becoming Well Read – Update

Currently reading Middlemarch by George Eliot – but I’m on chapter nine of 86 so it will be awhile before I blog about this book.  In the meantime, I have completed, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni  and will blog about it this weekend.

Other exploration this weekend – I will be attending a workshop titled Listening – The 4th “R” – Uncovering the Forgotten Business Tool.  This is being conducted by Mike O’Krent who I’ve known with for some time and by Jacqueline Rixen.  I’m excited to be able to attend.

Mike O’Krent, founder of LifeStories Alive, LLC, makes personal history videos for families that value their heritage. Mike interviewed Holocaust survivors for Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. During that incredible experience, he learned valuable listening skills and discovered the importance of recording the life stories of our loved ones. http://www.lifestoriesalive.com/about.html

Jacqueline Rixen  is an Austin attorney who uses listening every day to help her clients accomplish their legal goals.  She has over 20 years experience as a lawyer and many more years as a listener. http://www.rixenlaw.com

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train2Living in Hutto, one can’t help but experience the joy of trains – to the point that joy ceases to be the experience.  Since the town is divided by railroad tracks, encountering trains is pretty much a daily occurrence.  The audio tracks, pun intended, play their rap every quarter hour for those who live close enough.  Paul Simon recorded a song with the refrain, “Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance. Everybody thinks it’s true”.  I’m not quite sure what he meant by everybody thinks it’s true but I can assure you that whatever he meant, it is not true that everybody loves the sound of a train, even in the distance.

It was this very thought that tunneled into my mind along with the train that accompanied it at about two this morning as I was having trouble sleeping.  We are fortunate to be far enough away as to not notice the sound most of the time but lying awake in the quiet sleeping house is not one of those times. 

train1I begin to think about what nuisance these trains were as the sound of the train invaded my consciousness. There is no station here in Hutto.  They are not delivering or picking up cargo or passengers.  There is no partnership with the city.  Trains push through town bringing traffic to a halt and interrupting life with noise, yet they give nothing to the town. If you know anything about the railroad, you will know that they have huge power to do whatever they want – they are not under city, county or state jurisdiction.   There are many crossing improvements that the railroad could make for this town of 20,000 that has the same number of crossings that it did when it only had 600.  While the tide of trains through town is regular and frequent, improvements are slow to roll into town if they come at all.

Then I got to thinking that people are like this in many ways.  Unless the people we encounter become passengers on our train, provide cargo we care about or are meeting us at one of our scheduled stops, we are usually just rolling through.  In our busyness, we are moving too fast to stop, we have our schedule to keep, and I’ll be gone 500 miles when the day is done.  I think we all understand this reality and we don’t think about it much.  

Perhaps this phenomenon is a necessity of life, which by nature has a point of origin and a point of destination and the rails in between cannot help but be travelled each and every day.  Occasionally we lament just like Steve Goodman did – “Half way home, we’ll be there by morning.… And all the towns and people seem to fade into a bad dream.…this train’s got the disappearing railroad blues”.  We come to these places in the night and wonder about the switches in the tracks we didn’t take, knowing we are half way home and watching the rail fade away seemingly faster with each hour heading down to the sea and the morning light.  Perhaps, we don’t think about it much because we just can’t bear it and we’re maybe a little scared of that final termination point. So we clear our minds and drop into the tunnel of sleep that emerges into bright daylight, the stoking up of engines, and a new day’s journey where the noise and heat of the rails overcome those quiet evening thoughts.

We certainly cannot be God and know each and every passenger, visit every town, haul all cargo. We must choose.  In some sense, we don’t even really do that.  We are more like passengers riding this rail for the first time knowing very little about where the rail will take us or what the odyssey will bring.  Yet most of us act as if we are in complete control and like we own the railroad. We’d be wise to talk to those who had gone before us and even more so to the conductor who is always singing his song for us again hoping we will refrain from our assumed control of his job and would instead enjoy the ride and the interactions that come to us.

Perhaps our difficulty stems from our preoccupation with trying to run the railroad of our life when we are really only passengers.  Jesus clearly had a purpose and was focused on it yet every interaction along the path was savored and given attention.  He said things like – I only do what my Father tells me to do. So, if he found that God had put him alone at a well with a Samaritan woman – he demonstrated God’s love to her. If the Pharisees setup a trap for him by exploiting an adulterous woman, he loved them both enough to rescue them from the error of their ways without condemning either of them for their treachery. If a Centurion’s daughter needed healing, he would heal her while encouraging this “heathen” that he was actually a man of faith and simultaneously helping the assumed faithful realize their need for His faith.

If anyone’s track of life was well predicted, it was our Lord’s.  There are over 300 prophecies concerning Jesus that he fulfilled.  He was clearly aware of these too for he told men such as John the Baptist to perform actions they thought unnecessary for Jesus – because “it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness”.  Jesus knew God’s vision for His life and was totally focused on it yet able to say in the same prayer both, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.”, and, “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.”  Purpose and people always went hand-in-hand with him.

Perhaps, if we will rest from “working on the railroad…all the live-long day”, we could realize that these interactions with other passengers is our primary work.  We aren’t meant to “work on the railroad…just to pass the time away.  We are passengers with a purpose on a specific track, on a specific run, on a specific train.  We can rest in our work when we let God do his, when we avoid lamenting about those tracks and trains we can’t ride and when we instead embrace in love those he has given us as we ride the rail of our life.  Jesus was known for the way his love impacted other people and the life he lost, trusting God to raise him up.  If we will be his disciples, we will have to give up our life to make time for Jesus to impact the lives of other people through us. Faith is trusting God that is we lose our life, he will resurrect us.  This is what it is to deny ourselves daily, pick up our cross and follow Jesus.

As I wrote this, the rumble and ruckus of another train builds as it comes from the distance soon to diminish in the dark of the night on the other side of our town.  The whistle blows to warn passengers it is crossing our path and for us, these are the only interactions.  But for those riding the train, I hope there is much more as the expedition continues. 

Lord, help me to rest in the joy of being a passenger on the train you have put me on.  Keep me from wasting too much time staring out the window into the darkness or the whizzing-by world of wishful thinking. Help me trust you who knows the tracks and the course and the power of the engines of my life – that you have all that worked out and I can add nothing to it.  Help me to enjoy the freedom you’ve given me in your rest in Jesus – to enjoy the companionship of the fellow passengers you’ve given me on this unique voyage of my life.  Help me bring you glory in the awesome work of my life, living in Christ and loving and encouraging those you’ve given to me.  Dear friends, get ready, there’s a train a coming, You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board. Don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord.

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“You believe at last!” Jesus answered. But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”   -John 16:31-33

I believe in the Lord – not just that he exist – but that he died bearing all the sins of the world past, present and future.  I believe that by believing that and asking his death to count for my sins and asking his resurrected life to become my own, that Jesus becomes the Lord and my very life rather than Satan or myself.  This is my faith.  This I believe.

Yet, like my brothers, the disciples, how often do I leave Jesus alone and go back to my old home and old haunts. I paint pictures of Egypt and leave out what it lacks (see Sara Grove’s song).   “The time is coming and has come”, Jesus says-and so it goes with me.  I am scattered by these fears and pains and I run.  As Sara adds, it not about losing faith or trust – it just about being comfortable.  That old home is so known and comfortable even though it is meaningless and futile.  It can no longer fulfill me but it is so easy to escape to.

In 2000, I took a 10 day journey through the back country of Philmont Scout Reservation with my oldest son, Justin, and a group of Boy Scouts and adult leaders.  We had to carry everything we needed for the entire journey on our backs.  Our trek led us away from base camp to the furthest point away before bringing us back.  For us the furthest point away was climbing to the second highest mountain in Philmont, Mt. Philips, and staying the night.  The climb was well above the water line so we would have no access to water from the base camp the day we started until after the descent the next day.

As a result, we split gear from one of the adults, my friend, Gary, and he carried half his gear plus 5 gallons of water on his back.  It was a very difficult thing for him as he slowly paced up the mountain because he had had knee issues before.   He slowly kept going at an even pace even when the scouts would sprint faster ahead then rest from exhaustion.  It was like the tortoise and the hare all the way up. The air was so thin at the top of the mountain that you would wake up from sleep feeling as if you were suffocating.  It was a difficult part of our trek.

Gary and I found a great analogy to our half-hearted walk with Christ in that place. Being at the half way point, any accident we would have encountered – it would take just as long to press forward as to go back.  There was no escaping the difficulty of the journey.  Gary kept pressing on because there was no option.  But in our Christian adventure, we can walk in the spirit one minute, but when we feel overwhelmed by that, we can turn our minds and hearts from him the next and simply return to the comfort of the couch, the TV and the tangible.

We may leave Jesus alone, but he is not alone – his Father is with him.  We may feel we are alone and long for home, but we are not – our Father is with us.  We need to learn to weep in those moments as men longing for our real home as Rich Mullins shares in his wonderful song, If I Stand.   Sara gets to this idea too – “The place I had wasn’t perfect But I had found a way to live It wasn’t milk or honey But then neither is this”.  We think that part of our longing for comfort is the desire to get back to what we know – but when we examine it, we find “the places that used to fit me cannot hold the things I”ve learned” and that our real longing is to fully know him who we can only see dimly now. 

Recognizing that we are our weeping is a longing for our heavenly home is helpful.  It isn’t so much that we want those old, familiar death clothes, that we want to return.  It is that we long to see Him face-to-face.  Proverbs 13:12 clarifies this, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”  Don’t we really long for the tree of life?   Philippians 3:20 says, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ”.  Also, we are longing to be free from sin and this longing that pulls us back and on that day, our flesh and the world and God’s adversaries will no longer plague us.  It is helpful to identify our longing, not for the comfort of what was behind but for the glory that is before us so we can set our minds in that direction.  Phil 4:8 “But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.”  Galatians 5:5

Perhaps the most fascinating thing Jesus says to the disciples in this passage is, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.”  If we were telling our friends that they were going to abandon us in our time of need, it would be likely that they would feel shame, incredulousness, or maybe fear.  Our master has caught us in our selfishness and accused us of betrayal.  But Jesus tells them that he is sharing this with them that they may have peace.  He says that peace is in Him.  

When we get scared or overwhelmed and we look back to Egypt and to our comfortable living room couch and we scatter and leave Jesus alone, we may find a temporary comfort but we do not find what we are longing for.  And we also find, amidst our comfort-seeking distractions, a voice of guilt and accusation.   This voice that says, “See! That adventure toward Jesus is really not for you.  You were wise to save yourself from that discomfort.”   But the truth is we’ve buried our head in our comforts but that does not make our troubles go away.  Jesus told the disciples to remember that, “in me you may have peace”, and he then tells them, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world”.

We turn back to our comforts, we find that they do not fit us anymore and we find our adversaries ready to plague us.   Shortly, we find that we long for peace more than comfort and we race back into the arms of our Savior, the source of peace and life.  We are discovering our dependence on him.  We cannot make our world work or find what we need – but Jesus, and Jesus alone, has overcome the world.

In another place in the Gospel of John (6:67-69), many disciples of Jesus decide to leave him and Jesus asks the twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” and Peter answers him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

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