Old systems….systems to come

When we live by the system that is going instead of by the system that is coming, we take a risk.

This system, the system of man that we live in now is passing away. For the believer this is something that we give credence to, acknowledge, but, I fear, think very little about. There are rules in the current system and we know them. Don’t tug on Superman’s cape. Don’t spit in the wind. Don’t pull the mask off the ole Lone Ranger to quote a song. Don’t eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge or you die. We can follow, and do follow the known rules. Just when we think we have it figured out. We’re playing it safe. Turns out, we’re taking an awful risk after all.

What risk? Where are we missing it?

I believe I am missing the mark in two ways. First, overtly by playing the odds of sin. We all have our “pet” sins. The besetting sin. The one we can’t seem to muster the energy, the concern, the resolve to walk past. It may be a small thing. When I say a small thing, I mean by comparison to other sins, or other people’s sins, or what society is currently looking on with disdain or tolerance. I tell myself the lie. This is nothing major. It comes and goes. I can stop. Have stopped for a time. Sure I returned to it but I can stop again….for a time. We play the odds of God’s Grace and Forgiveness and bet we’ll be accepted and not rejected. Loved but not punished. Forgiven but not held accountable for our, in truth, bold defiance. I have children of my own. Would I allow that to happen with them? I am keenly aware that I am not God. His ways are not my ways and his thoughts are not my thoughts but that is not a disqualification for this line of thinking. Look at it from this point of view. If I did parent my own children in this manner; what type of product is most likely to be the outcome? A petulant, selfish, narcissistic, brat of a child. Sadly, sounds familiar. Sounds like me in relationship at times with my heavenly Father.

Secondly, is not remembering, with every breath I take, that there is another system that is coming. I will live in this system until I die. At least 50 years and the odds say up to 80 or maybe more. I will live in the system to come, for eternity. I need to be thinking like the new system, talking like the new system, loving like the new system, walking as though I am already in the new system. I’m not as good at that as I want to be. Not as good as I hope to be.

I see people, some very recently, that have no knowledge of the system to come. They speak like others are less because of their sex, their race, their societal strata or economic level. They don’t know any better. I do. I’m struggling  to live in this system and walk in the system to come. I don’t fear much. I do fear the risk I continue to take playing the odds of sin and forgetting that there is another system that I need to be practicing for.

Lord, by Your grace alone I have not crashed. I have never lived by the rules of this world, but I often play the probabilities. Show me where I have been testing You so that I may abandon it. Reveal to me what I am doing that is permissible but not beneficial. Amen.

Wedded Bliss…Yep!

TWENTY-ONE years! Amazing.  As someone would surely say, That is a long time to be married to the wrong man.  You hear a lot of marriage jokes: “We’ve been married 15 years and it’s been the best 5 years of my life.” OR “We’ve been married 5 years and it’s been the best 20 years of my life.”

Jokes are jokes but this twenty-one years has never been a joke. A ton of laughter, but no joke.

My wife, my bride, my honey bunny, my sugar booger is truly one of the greatest blessings of my life. I hate to say it but I don’t deserve a wife that loves me and puts up with my silliness as much as she does.

Who knew some twenty plus years ago that it would be this fine? I had high hopes.  I meet her at church. She is so very fond of telling the story on me that I ignored her for a time. Truth was I thought she was older than me. I had dated, very briefly, a girl who was a number of years older than me, and, in a word, it was weird. I knew real clear, I didn’t want to walk down that road again. We went to a singles retreat and during the ice breaker I had the epiphany that she was younger and it was on like a chicken bone from there. I had to do a lot of fast talking and clearing up my mess and even had to divert another fella onto another prospective girly girl to make sure he wasn’t gonna beat my time.

I still remember our first date. We were going to go to lunch and then the Planetarium but soon realized the Planetarium was closed. It was my birthday, right before the 4th of July and so there ya go. We ate at Keifer’s (still love that place) and decided to see a movie. Sleepless in Seattle. Major chick flick but it got me down the road for a second date and we were good from there.  I knew she was the one inside of about three dates. She came to one of my softball games once. The guys were razzing me for bringing a date to the game. I told them, “Guys, this is a down chick.  Watch this. Hey baby, call the hogs.” to which she promptly stood up and gave a loud Suuuuuewheee Razorbacks cheer.  The guys stood there gobsmacked and I beamed because I had the cool girlfriend.

We peeked around the edges of the engagement talk for all of 6 months when I proposed to her. I had just gotten a huge promotion but was about to leave town for the next couple months only being home for a weekend about every two weeks during that span. I knew I couldn’t leave without asking her to marry me. I didn’t know the day I was going to ask her that she was having dental surgery and was half looped out on pain killers when I got to her apartment. Some would say that was all part of the master plan. I say, you take your gifts as you get them. As inauspicious a start as that was, that was no omen of the times to come.  I spent the first year worried she would leave me just because it didn’t measure up to her expectations, but we married and have had one heck of an adventure through those twenty-one years.

Seven years of fun and travel and enjoying each other. The birth of the boy, who still brings great joy, frustration and entertainment on a daily basis. Then the girl, who also brings more than her share of drama, intrigue and stellar facial expressions to the mix. Two of the finest and greatest joys in our daily lives. We would be lost without them, although getting lost for a bit is always welcome on the journey.

We’ve seen the death of both our father’s and the continued aging of both our mothers. We’ve been fat and lean, both physically and financially. We have cried our hearts out a time or two. I’ve made her head spin around in anger like a scene from The Exorcist only three times in those 21 years. Two of those prior to the engagement and wedding and one inside the first year. I’m nothing if not a quick study. More than anything we have laughed. We laugh, really laugh, every day. Mostly at the kids or the dog or just the ridiculousness of this fallen world in general. And from time to time at each other, but the laughter has been there always. Like a steady current in the river. As sure as the sun rises and sets.

She is my very best friend. If given the opportunity, she is the first and highest on my list of people I want to hang out with. Preferably sans children. She gets me better than anyone I know. She loves me just a little less than Jesus and that’s the best second fiddle I can play. She is gracious, funny, beautiful, hopeful, supportive and amazingly talented. Do I really have to mention the cakes?

I don’t get everything right in my life, but by the grace of God, I aced it on this one thing. Glory to God for it. I ain’t that good but He is.

Happy Anniversary baby.  Straight up, I love you with my whole heart.

 

An excellent mimic….

Being born and raise, or reared as some may say, in the south, I certainly have my share of a southern drawl. It runs the gamut from mild to syrupy. Depending on the language being used, the person I’m speaking to or the circumstances I’m in, my accent or drawl will fall somewhere along the spectrum.

As a senior underwriter for a national insurance company, I would travel to many parts of our united states and would often find myself in the same situation. For a time I was privileged to visit the great state of Minnesota for many months. There I would train agents and support staff alike on new programming and processes they would use in their offices in a large classroom with some 15 or so computer terminals.  I would direct them on the process of using the programming and what the individual changes from previous systems were and how this affected their process flow, etc. All of these units would work off of one server so screen changes would be slow and not simultaneous for each desk top so one must fill in the time to keep peoples attention. I suppose I should note this was in the mid 1990s and technology was not then what it is now…..duh.

The same general conversation would always be had.  “Where were you born in Minnesota or did you live somewhere else in the north?”, they would ask. “I was born in Mississippi and have lived there all my life. Why would you ask?”, would be the reply. “You don’t sound like you’re from the south.”

I have, I guess I would classify it as, a bad habit. I naturally pick up the accent of whomever I am around. Predominantly, without even knowing that I’m doing it. So in Minnesota it was a lot of Oh ya, you betcha and so forth. In Nevada, I actually pronounced Nevada the way a person from Nevada would pronounce it. Didn’t know there was a difference? Well, trust me, they would let you know all about it if you said it incorrectly. Whether in California, Florida, Minnesota, Nevada, Illinois, or any of the nine European countries I traveled in while a junior in college, the result was the same and ultimately I would have to correct someone. Many times they would not believe me. Not until I got on the phone to speak to someone in my offices in Mississippi and all the honeys, sugars, darlins came flowing out would they finally believe I was telling the truth. I’d also tell them, with a level of sadness in my voice that the company had made me start wearing shoes about a year earlier and that I had just broken it off with my sister a few weeks prior so that accounted for much of the loss of long vowels and loose dialect. Most laughed.

So why is this even remotely important? Well I find that I’m not just a gifted mimic for languages and accents but for life. I’ve been guilty of being a mimic of Christ. But, that’s a good thing right? To act like Christ acted? To devote yourself to a set of values that Christ portrayed? Surely you’re not saying that is a bad thing, right?

Yes, yes I am. Here is the issue. In truth, I’m called to be devoted to a person. The person of Jesus Christ. Not a set of values.

What difference does it make whether I’m devoted to values or to a Person? It’s not the way of Christ that leads to everlasting life; it’s the Person of Christ. It’s trusting Him to produce the spiritual life in us, not trusting in ourselves to produce the spiritual life by our own effort.

I could not understand this difference at first. The distinction seemed inconsequential. Yet as I learned more and more, the difference began to come into focus. It’s a huge distinction. For those who want to know God, it’s the dividing line. Do you know it?

Jesus says simply, “‘Follow me.’” When we are weary and burdened Jesus gives us rest—not our values. He says, “‘Follow me,’” He does not say “Follow my principles.” It’s His life that connects us to God, not emulating His “goodness.” If we imitate His life but don’t know Him personally, we will become exhausted. We can see that which is good, right, and pure, but we do not have the power to live up to it. Only Christ in us can live up to it.

Today church pews are filled with well-meaning people—people who sincerely want to be Christian. But they are confused. They believe (and their church often confirms) that the Christian life is a commitment to a set of values. Who would question such a noble thought? Jesus would. He said, “‘I am the way. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6). Not through values.

It’s not imitation that leads to everlasting life; it’s surrender. It’s not guessing what Christ would do and imitating Him; it’s acknowledging we cannot imitate Him at all. It’s accepting that His blood was spilled on the cross because we cannot imitate Him. It’s to surrender our will, heart, mind, soul, and strength to the Person who died for us.

It’s not what we follow, but who we follow; not a set of values but a Person. It’s not “the life I live in the body, I live by these values.” It’s “the life I live in the body, I live by faith.” Faith is confidence in the Person of Christ and the atoning work He did through the shedding of His blood for our sins, not in the merit of living up to a set of values.

Well-meaning people often begin their pilgrimage committed to His Person, but later place their faith in what they do for Him (the seen) instead of what He has done for them (the unseen). But, “We live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). If you live by sight, you will lose the joy of your salvation.

Are you committed to a set of Christian values, or are you committed to a Person for your salvation? If you began your pilgrimage by receiving Christ, are you still living by faith, or has your confidence returned to a set of values?