Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Waiting for the Moment

As a part-time circulation assistant at the Culpeper County Library, I run into people from all walks of life. I often deal with people who have overdue fines on books (I too was one of them until I got this gig and thereafter received diplomatic immunity). Some people come up to the desk with remorse in their eyes, apologizing for the fines they just KNOW they have. I simply respond “I’ll be the judge of that,” then I check their account. Sometimes they owe nothing, and I smile and tell them that their account is clean.

One gentleman whom I see fairly regularly is a local judge.

The SAME judge whom I wrote about in my blog on February 4, 2009 (Here Come Da Judge).

Ever since I realized who he was, I have waited for him to come to my station at the circulation desk and ask the fateful question, “I think I owe some late fees.”

I waited and waited.

Monday, March 29th, 2010, he walked into the library, strode up to the desk, and informed me that he believed he owed something on books he just returned.

My insides bubbled.

I opened my mouth to talk, and I heard myself speaking. Like I was outside myself. It was surreal.

I told the judge “I’ll be the judge of that,” with a straight face.

He cocked his head to the side as if he didn’t understand.


I smiled and replied, “I said, I’ll be the judge of that.”

He chuckled in response.

I hope I don’t face him behind his desk anytime soon.

I know what he’d say.

(BTW, he didn’t have any late fees)

Waiting. We endure it so often. We wait for spring to arrive with expectation. We wait for medical diagnoses with dread. We wait (hopefully we wait!) at red lights. We wait for the sun to rise after a sleepless night.

We wait.

We wait because we have hope.

When I was in college, I took a music appreciation class. The professor introduced many of us to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. Like 99.9% of westerners, I was familiar with its beginning notes (G, G, G, EEEEEEE), but never had heard the entire piece. The professor shared that he once knew a student who hated classical music and wanted nothing to do with it. The professor told him to listen to Beethoven’s 5th (all forty plus minutes of it) in a dark room four times.

It cured the student of his hate for classical music.

Beethoven’s 5th is indeed an amazing piece. A music critic of Beethoven’s era, E.T.A. Hoffman, wrote the following:

“Radiant beams shoot through the deep night of this region, and we become aware of gigantic shadows which, rocking back and forth, close in on us and destroy all within us except the pain of endless longing—a longing in which every pleasure that rose up amid jubilant tones sinks and succumbs. Only through this pain, which, while consuming but not destroying love, hope, and joy, tries to burst our breasts with a full-voiced general cry from all the passions, do we live on and are captivated beholders of the spirits.”

Those are the same emotions I feel when listening to this piece!

Between the third and fourth movement there is a deep sense of anticipation. The third movement is very dreary. You slowly sink into a languid state where all hope seems to have been lost. But there’s a tiny flicker of light that suddenly explodes into glorious flames as soon as the fourth begins. A dizzying ride ensues to lofty heights.

Listen to it! The wait is worth it!

Easter is a glorious time for all who follow Christ because HE IS RISEN!

The gloom and despair of sin and death have lost their grip. We don’t have to be bound anymore by them. We can live in freedom and scale new heights never before dreamed of.

Because He lives, we as well can truly live.

Luke 24:1-10
But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes.

The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.”

Then they remembered that he had said this. So they rushed back from the tomb to tell his eleven disciples—and everyone else—what had happened. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women who told the apostles what had happened.

1 Corinthians 15:12-26
But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless.

And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins.

In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.

But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.

So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life.

But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back. After that the end will come, when he will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power.
For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet. And the last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Triumphant Entry

When I was in college, I would spend Thursday evenings with my friends at the Baptist Student Union on the University of Miami campus. After the meeting, some of us would wend our way to the dorms upstairs and play games on the state-of-the-art Pentium computer (This was before Pentium II days and beyond). Sometimes we would play x-wing vs. tie fighter and sometimes we would play Daggerfall, but a game we truly relished was one involving taking command of Napoleon Bonaparte’s army and waging battles. You could direct the infantry, the cavalry and the artillery in an attempt to outwit and outfight the enemy and so win the day. The thrill of triumph always seemed to lessen the agony of past defeats and whetted our appetites for more campaigns.

The Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France was designed to celebrate the real Napoleon’s victories. It is 160 feet high, 148 feet wide, and seventy-two feet deep. It’s so massive, that at the close of the First World War, a pilot named Charles Godefroy was able to fly a biplane through the arch. It is a stirring symbol of victory and pride for the French.

After subduing Europe and crowning himself Emperor, Napoleon was eventually defeated on the battlefield and sent into guarded exile. The following passage is attributed to him during his last years on the rock of St. Helena.

“ There, the conqueror of civilized Europe had time to reflect on the measure of his accomplishments. He called Count Montholon to his side and asked him, "Can you tell me who Jesus Christ was?" The count declined to respond. Napoleon countered: Well then, I will tell you. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I myself have founded great empires; but upon what did these creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded His empire upon love, and to this very day millions will die for Him. . . .

I think I understand something of human nature; and I tell you, all these were men, and I am a man; none else is like Him: Jesus Christ was more than a man. . . . I have inspired multitudes with such an enthusiastic devotion that they would have died for me . . . but to do this it was necessary that I should be visibly present with the electric influence of my looks, my words, of my voice. When I saw men and spoke to them, I lightened up the flame of self-devotion in their hearts. . . .

Christ alone has succeeded in so raising the mind of man toward the unseen, that it becomes insensible to the barriers of time and space. Across a chasm of eighteen hundred years, Jesus Christ makes a demand which is beyond all others difficult to satisfy; He asks for that which a philosopher may often seek in vain at the hands of his friends, or a father of his children, or a bride of her spouse, or a man of his brother. He asks for the human heart; He will have it entirely to Himself. He demands it unconditionally; and forthwith His demand is granted.

Wonderful! In defiance of time and space, the soul of man, with all its powers and faculties, becomes an annexation to the empire of Christ. All who sincerely believe in Him, experience that remarkable, supernatural love toward Him. This phenomenon is unaccountable; it is altogether beyond the scope of man's creative powers. Time, the great destroyer, is powerless to extinguish this sacred flame; time can neither exhaust its strength nor put a limit to its range. This is it, which strikes me most; I have often thought of it. This it is which proves to me quite convincingly the Divinity of Jesus Christ.”

Jesus experienced His own march of triumph. It is a moment that has been re-created on film and on stages countless times. Jesus entering Jerusalem, riding a donkey and knowing full well what awaited Him.

Knowing the joyous crowds would soon turn against Him.

Knowing His faithful disciples would desert Him.

Knowing the suffering that those whom He loved and who loved Him would go through.

Knowing the painful death He would endure.

All knowing, all seeing, and yet He rode on; riding in the shadow of the cross. He rode on not as a Conqueror basking in glories past, but as a Savior focused on the outcome of His obedience to the Father.

Our salvation.

He rode in triumph.

It has been stated that it wasn’t the nails that held Jesus to the cross. It was His love for us. Love: the strongest of all forces.

• What areas in your life have you experienced defeat and disappointment?
• How does knowing that Jesus triumphantly rode toward the cross address the pain and disillusionment in your life?

John 12:12-36 (and Isaiah 25:8)
Jesus’ Triumphant Entry

The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted,
“Praise God! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the LORD! Hail to the King of Israel!”
Jesus found a young donkey and rode on it, fulfilling the prophecy that said:
“Don’t be afraid, people of Jerusalem. Look, your King is coming, riding on a donkey’s colt.”
His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into his glory, they remembered what had happened and realized that these things had been written about him.
Many in the crowd had seen Jesus call Lazarus from the tomb, raising him from the dead, and they were telling others about it. That was the reason so many went out to meet him—because they had heard about this miraculous sign. Then the Pharisees said to each other, “There’s nothing we can do. Look, everyone has gone after him!”
Jesus Predicts His Death
Some Greeks who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration paid a visit to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee. They said, “Sir, we want to meet Jesus.” Philip told Andrew about it, and they went together to ask Jesus.
Jesus replied, “Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me.
“Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But this is the very reason I came! Father, bring glory to your name.”
Then a voice spoke from heaven, saying, “I have already brought glory to my name, and I will do so again.” When the crowd heard the voice, some thought it was thunder, while others declared an angel had spoken to him.
Then Jesus told them, “The voice was for your benefit, not mine. The time for judging this world has come, when Satan, the ruler of this world, will be cast out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” He said this to indicate how he was going to die.
The crowd responded, “We understood from Scripture that the Messiah would live forever. How can you say the Son of Man will die? Just who is this Son of Man, anyway?”
Jesus replied, “My light will shine for you just a little longer. Walk in the light while you can, so the darkness will not overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness cannot see where they are going. Put your trust in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light.”
After saying these things, Jesus went away and was hidden from them.

1 Corinthians 15:51-58
But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.
Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? ”
For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.
So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Just Pizza

“Sorry, it’s just pizza tonight,” I apologized to a guest at the Cold Weather Shelter a few days ago.

“No. It’s not just pizza,” he replied.

He and his family had spent the previous night with us (including two trips to the ER because their youngest toddler had a high fever) and had just joined us for dinner. He told me they almost didn’t come to the shelter because of very bad experiences with other shelters in the past. He shared how the shelter Culpeper runs actually treated them like people instead of inmates.

Funny how a small act of kindness may seem insignificant to us, but may be a tremendous blessing to someone else.

An acquaintance of mine told me this week that he’d love to go and help people, but he had no resources.

“What are you talking about?” I replied. “You can walk. You can talk. You’ve got a heart. Just ask God to show you what to do and then go do it.”

There are plenty of people who don’t have all his resources, and still God uses them in amazing ways. For example, Joni Eareckson Tada is a paraplegic who hosts a radio show. She also paints and has written over 35 books about Christianity and disabilities. THIRTY-FIVE books! She continues to be a light in darkness for those who lack the mobility that so many of us take for granted.

The Cold Weather Shelter in Culpeper was born out of a plea from a local pastor who stunned a monthly gathering of Evangelical pastors by sharing Jesus’ narrative of the Final Judgment where souls will be divided like a shepherd separates sheep and goats.

Matthew 25:31-46
“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

“Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’

“And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’

“And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

The pastor then looked around the room and simply stated. “We’re going to start a homeless shelter for the winter, if you’re not a part of it YOU’RE SINNING.”

He then sat down.

Since then, all sorts of people have been blessed through this shared ministry. People have had dignity restored to them. Friendships have begun. People have gotten the help they needed to get off the streets and into their own housing. Those that were hungry have been fed. The naked have been clothed. And yet, I believe it is the churches who have gotten the better end of the deal. We not only have gotten to serve “the least of these” in our community, we have gotten to know the people we often just drive by.

Ask God what He wants you to do and He will answer. It may not be immediate (for those of us who constantly check our email, it might be frustrating to wait on His timing) but you will receive an answer.

As you wait, keep your eyes open for opportunities to love others.

Matthew 5:43-48
“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.

God's children sooner or later come to the realization that it’s not “just pizza.”


Thursday, March 11, 2010


I ran into Mario in front of an area business on Tuesday as I was out on one of my coffee rounds. We struck up a conversation about the coming of spring and I asked where a lot of his friends were. The crowds of day laborers have been getting thinner and thinner the past few months and I figured with the rough economy, many have gone to other cities.

He shrugged his shoulders and said one word.


He shared that immigration enforcement has caught up with many of them and that they would be returned to their home country. He shared that his own immigration hearing is going to be held in June; a judge will determine his fate.

At this point, he tugged at his dusty jeans and revealed a large, black rubber coated radio collar strapped to his ankle. The authorities are keeping tabs on whether or not he’s where he needs to be.

After I left, I couldn’t get the image of the ugly monitor out of my head. Mario is a face I see every week; come June, he’ll most likely be gone for good.

Seeing that ankle collar made me stop and think about my own life.

What keeps me shackled? What prevents me from living out the life that God created me to pursue, to experience, to enjoy?

So many of us live life shackled. Your chains might be worry. They might be doubts or regrets. Maybe always seeking peoples’ approval (mine own chains) or maybe an addiction. Anger and unforgiveness are heavy chains as well.

Inertia is a chain for many. Living life without inspiration. Without hope. Without expectations.


You were created to live in the freedom that Jesus makes available for us. This week, when you feel your shackles tightening around you, choking the life out of you, ask God for help.

God alone holds the keys to our chains.

And He wants to set us free.

John 8:31-36
Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

“But we are descendants of Abraham,” they said. “We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?”

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.

Acts 16:16-34
One day as we were going down to the place of prayer, we met a demon-possessed slave girl. She was a fortune-teller who earned a lot of money for her masters. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, and they have come to tell you how to be saved.”

This went on day after day until Paul got so exasperated that he turned and said to the demon within her, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And instantly it left her.

Her masters’ hopes of wealth were now shattered, so they grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities at the marketplace. “The whole city is in an uproar because of these Jews!” they shouted to the city officials. “They are teaching customs that are illegal for us Romans to practice.”

A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods. They were severely beaten, and then they were thrown into prison. The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape. So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks.

Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. But Paul shouted to him, “Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!”

The jailer called for lights and ran to the dungeon and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.” And they shared the word of the Lord with him and with all who lived in his household. Even at that hour of the night, the jailer cared for them and washed their wounds. Then he and everyone in his household were immediately baptized. He brought them into his house and set a meal before them, and he and his entire household rejoiced because they all believed in God.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


The snows have turned into rain…another sign that spring is almost upon us. Another sign is that I have begun the daily ritual of balancing our climate control in the house.

A simple primer in heating and cooling is that cold air is denser and thus sinks while warm air is lighter and thus rises.

The first day I moved into Culpeper in late December of 2001 (or should I say “night”; my dad and I got here around 2am) I spent a sleepless night on the floor. Sleepless, because no matter how high I set the heater, I still was freezing on the floor. It was on this night that I saw the practical attributes of sleeping on a bed a few feet above the floor. You see, all the warm air in that apartment stayed in a layer about four feet above the ground.

Alas, had I been able to sleep on the counter, I would have gotten more rest (believe me, I tried…).

Fast forward several years.

Kathy and I have owned a three-story townhouse for several years. Down in the furnace room, there are levers to balance the climate control. During the summer, we set up the system to force as much cold air to the top floor of the house where it will gradually sink and cool down the rest of the house. During the winter, we force warm air through the first two floors and let the heat make its way up to the top floor.

The thermostat is on the second floor so it helps keep an even temperature throughout the house. Whatever we set the thermostat to, the first floor will be 2 degrees cooler and the top floor will be 2 degrees warmer.

It’s really simple.

Except when it’s fall or spring. It’s at these times that temperature can take mad swings resulting in a house that is too cold at some times and too hot at others. Hence the need for balancing the system on a daily basis.

One way to slow down the need to constantly balance the system is to preemptively lower the temperature several hours before bedtime so the warmed up house has a chance to cool down. This requires REMEMBERING to turn the heat down (and there are days that I can’t even remember how old I am).

So, a few months ago, I was at a garage sale and saw a really neat automatic control thermostat that had a back-lighted display for only $2.00. I took the box to the seller and asked what shape it was in. They not only assured me that it was almost new, but they cut the price in half.

I love bargains, so I bought it.

A few days ago, I ran across the box in my garage and decided with spring on its way, I better get it installed.

I opened the box and froze.

I opened the box and I realized that I DIDN’T open the box when I was at that fateful garage sale many months ago or since.

I opened the box and found a “new” dial type manual thermostat that you can get at Walmart for a few bucks. The type that is not programmable (and not even back-lit!).

I should have opened the box BEFORE I bought it.

Have you ever felt like that? You believe something or even act out on good faith that something is going to come through, and it doesn’t? If people or friends have never let you down, then you don’t know enough people. If your car has always run without a hiccup, give it a few more years and another 50,000 miles and get back to me. If you’ve never had your computer die on you, then you own a Mac. But even Macs aren’t perfect (ask anyone with an iPhone).

How do you define dependability? Where can you lay down your life in peace?


Daniel 3:13-18
Then Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage and ordered that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought before him. When they were brought in, Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you refuse to serve my gods or to worship the gold statue I have set up? I will give you one more chance to bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments. But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?”

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”

Habakkuk 2:18-20
“What good is an idol carved by man, or a cast image that deceives you? How foolish to trust in your own creation— a god that can’t even talk!

What sorrow awaits you who say to wooden idols, ‘Wake up and save us!’ To speechless stone images you say, ‘Rise up and teach us!’

Can an idol tell you what to do? They may be overlaid with gold and silver, but they are lifeless inside. But the LORD is in his holy Temple. Let all the earth be silent before him.”

Proverbs 3:1-10
My child, never forget the things I have taught you. Store my commands in your heart. If you do this, you will live many years, and your life will be satisfying.

Never let loyalty and kindness leave you! Tie them around your neck as a reminder. Write them deep within your heart. Then you will find favor with both God and people, and you will earn a good reputation.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.

Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the LORD and turn away from evil. Then you will have healing for your body and strength for your bones.

Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the best part of everything you produce. Then he will fill your barns with grain, and your vats will overflow with good wine.