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Long Engagements: Longings

Have you ever felt like you swallowed your heart and now it sits in your stomach waiting for it to be regurgitated back to its rightful place? You’re left unsure whether it’s your stomach or your heart or mind that’s unsettled. Sometimes this feeling comes when I long for something; more often it comes when I long for something I’ve lost. Losing someone you love to a break-up or death or distance is what I imagine causes this feeling. For two dozen families in Connecticut as well as a family here in PA whose 16-year old son was hit by a train on his way to school, this holiday season they will be dealing with an extreme unsettling.

For the next few days, even weeks, months and hopefully not years, they will be holding their heads in their hands shedding tears and asking why. There will be denial and acceptance and feeling alone, like something is missing and even moments of hope that it all isn’t real. Their and our greatest hope in mourning loss is that there is comfort in Christ that His presence is closer than we know and that He is the only one that can always guarantee to be there. To me it’s the only hope that satisfies my longing.

The common question associated with all longing is, “How long?” Wherever there is desire, wherever there is creation groaning you will find someone along with nature itself crying out “How long?” Whether it is longing for freedom or for grief to end or for a lover or for the beloved we find this question stirred in someone’s heart or rather mind or rather stomach. What makes longing even more curious is separating its end from its beginning.

Scripture reminds me of this in 1 Peter 1. The whole chapter is amazing and talks about living in light of a heavenly inheritance but in verse 13 as if Peter is confused about his anatomy says, “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober and rest your hope fully on the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ not conforming yourselves to your former lusts as in your ignorance.” His only practical solution when we are sick with longing and grieving in light of various trials is to get up, get ready, try to think clearly and relax. Just don’t return to what your former sinful pleasures were for comfort. Eventually your heart will be get back to its rightful place, which is where? …Not in your chest but in His hands.

Long Engagements: Long Wait

I heard a sermon once about Jesus at the wedding Cana. It wasn’t as much about him turning water into wine as much as it was about 2 other things. 1) Jesus’ first miracle had social implications. The miracle placed the wedded couple in a glorious light by allowing the best wine to be brought out last. The bridegroom is praised for saving the best for last, though he did nothing at all. That in itself is amazing that Jesus cares about our reputation.

The second thing was a possible insight into the perspective of Jesus who at that time was a 30 year old single man at a wedding. He probably attended lots of weddings, his parables encouraged people attend them. As far as we know Jesus never married, but we do know He has been long engaged to His promised bride (the Church). The pastor suggested that Jesus may have yearned for his bride at this feast. In all ways he was tempted and can relate to us, how much more in his desire for a spotless bride. After all this whole thing concludes or rather all begins with a wedding. Yet He waits. And He has waited longer than any of us, yet none of this makes waiting any easier for me or for most people who are eager to marry.

This year more than any, I have known more people who have gotten engaged, married and are waiting to marry. All of them bearing the promise of commitment held fast by desire and love. Some lived together, some are still in college, some live alone, some willingly had long engagements, some short, and then there are those with hope deferred whether currently engaged or not. Rather than going into why, the pain, and the shaping that happens in the process today (I’ll save that for tomorrow), I need to remind myself and maybe even others of something. God makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him and He doesn’t want us left feeling ashamed. He wants to preserve our character before those that are closest to us.

Lastly, a few words about waiting for a long time: Nobody fully understands why we wait for something no one else desires. I don’t wait in lines on Black Friday because there is nothing I want enough to make me stay up late and wait in line, however I will and did wait in queue on Ticketmaster.com for an hour at work to buy tickets to Wrestlemania. The reason people wait for Jesus, or to marry, or to be in relationship with someone they really care about, or for a video game is due to the fact that it is something they treasure regardless of who else treasures it. I try not to question why people endure through suffering and wait long for someone they love. It’s hard for those of us to give a “satisfactory” answer. If we dared ask Jesus why, He would likely say because He is patient. Maybe you and I can be patient for things too. Yes?

Long Engagements: Long Distance

Romans 5:8-11 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us… And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

In just a few days now Jeff will marry Brandy. As he anticipates his wedding day and the joy that comes with it, he will travel a lot along the way. Between his flight to Michigan and back to PA today and then his 2-day drive from PA to Louisiana, he will have a lot of time to himself, thinking, imagining and awaiting. I imagine it no more difficult than the engagement period where much of his time he spent away from his fiancé. Working in North Dakota and New Jersey and now PA, much of his relationship developed over the phone. Several trips to Louisiana including his most recent trips for marriage counseling have provided time to form their relationship and also develop his character. And now, He and Brandy get to share in a desire of each other’s heart. Congratulations to them both!

The thing about distance though, is that love need not lessen or grow cold though it may. It’s said, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” It seems more true to say, that: “only in devotion to the absent one does the heart grow fonder.” Since God’s devotion to us is never in question, it leaves me asking, will I allow my devotion to Him allow my heart to be tenderized enough to be constantly fond of Him?

Much of my relationship with God feels like a long distance phone call. Some days I hear him clearly over the line and I say my yes and amen. Other days I get bad reception in the Endless Mountains of PA. For a while there it felt like I was going to be lost and lonely for an endless amount of time here. It sometimes still feels like my part in this betrothal to Jesus is me waiting powerless for him to come to marry his Bride (the Church). Worse yet sometimes I doubt He will or wants to. But then I’m reminded of that verse and the prodigal son story. When I feel a long way off, or when the chasm of heaven coming to earth still seems too great, or when I feel a great distance away from those I love or those I thought I loved, I remember Jesus’ simple invitations, to follow him, repent (return to him), draw near to Him. He promises to run to me, draw near to me, and grace me with His presence. Then love doesn’t seem so far away. In fact, sometimes it feels like it’s actually inside me.

-Jimmy

Stay tuned for the next Long Engagements Post: Long Wait.

Standing Down

The deadline is fast approaching, you’re behind schedule and the pressure is so high you can almost hear the tea-pot whistling  tempers are flaring and nobody can seem to do anything right. This is when true colors are shown. Some people have the cool head thing down pat but if you’re like me it’s not something that comes natural.

1 Peter 5:6 says “Likewise you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Cloth yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

When I was younger I had zero concept of this due to the fact that there wasn’t a single piece of information on the planet I didn’t know.

As I get older it’s tough to hold back because instead of thinking I know everything, I actually do know a couple of things and my natural inclination is to let you know how much I know and how much of it you wish you knew. Neither of these things are good and definitely don’t lead to anywhere other than the unemployment line (or doghouse).

When I first got saved I pretty much figured you could scratch the earth off of my list blessings (Matt 5:5) but as my reconstruction continues I’m learning that what Jesus actually did was bring everything into reach. Peter tells us to cloth ourselves meaning this isn’t going to be natural, it will take effort. Just like Adam had to snatch that fig leaf we need to put on our humility pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else. Is it hard yeah, but it gets easier when you continue in the verse and realize that the creator of the universe is the one who opposes you (The great I AM, sword in his mouth, white horse covered in blood ring a bell?).

That’s not what it’s really about though, it’s about grace. I don’t know about you guys but if the grace that Peter is talking about here is the same grace that pulled me out of the rubble I called my life and got the Jeff project kicked off then I’m all for it.

First Tip

This week I left a tip for the first time ever. It caught me a little off guard even though I was somewhat anxious to do it. A couple of things surprised me though after I left it. The first thing that surprised me was that it was not enough. The second thing that surprised me was how little I knew about giving tips. Perhaps instead of the excitement of my first one I should have thought more soberly about what I was giving.

Thankfully the operator at Polarisproject.org was more helpful than unappreciative. I called about a “tip” because of a rumor I had heard about potential human trafficking in northern PA. In actuality I was calling to report a little information I received about massage parlors giving more than massages. It made me angry enough to do something, but what struck me afterward is that it didn’t seem I had enough. I realized during the follow-up questions that I had little to no helpful information to solve the problem. All I really had was a problem, not even my own problem per say but someone else’s.

As a result they gave me a case number and said to call back when I received more info. It hurt my pride. It made me feel powerless in some ways that the information I had wasn’t enough, but in some ways I have hope because God knows what’s going on. Perhaps He spared me a little.  What made me sadder is how if human trafficking is taking place or even if these massage parlors are “just” selling sex “willingly,” I thought about the parents of those working at these parlors. No father would ever want their daughter doing sexual favors for a little bit of money off some exit on an interstate.

It led me to think of the even scarier thought that the parents of these women, like me don’t know the full extent of what is going on in their children’s lives, or worse they don’t care. That’s the sad truth, some parents don’t care. Thank God that He does. In the same vain, no parent wants to hear that their son or daughter is paying for sex either. Both victim and perpetrator are in the same boat. They seek something that they don’t have and as a result one exploits and the other lays down defeated. Both likely have ignorant or powerless parents.

Where’s the good news? Our Father is not powerless and He’s never been powerless. He was powerful enough to express the fullness of His wrath upon His own Son and see to it that Jesus rose from the dead in power and glory. That power and glory He pours out through His Spirit upon His church to do something about injustice. So the good news is He knows and He wants to share with us His tips about just what to do about it.

The Timing of Workers and the Timing of Friends

Generally when tragedy strikes, the timing for relief in the minds of those who are in need is immediate. That’s why we have fire extinguishers and life boats. But for catastrophes that devastate homes and the lives of thousands at once, immediate relief seems unattainable. Relief workers are trained or even birthed out of a need for response typically not from “I saw this coming”.

You may have seen some of this spring up quickly in your own heart or those close to you who are eager to help. Storms, attacks, wars take people by surprise. Some heed urgent warnings while others say, “it won’t be that bad”. In fact just prior to the most recent storm I recall reading numerous Facebook posts about how this storm was hyped up and would be smaller than it seemed. For many it was bigger than expected even in making preparations to brace it. So now after the storm its time to work and reconstruct. (Search reconstruct Jersey Shore)

But the lesson comes in timing, and timing in God’s eyes concerns itself is less about what happened when and rather what we did when He spoke. To give a few very quick biblical recaps, God told Noah to build an arc in preparation for a storm 120 years prior to and told him to get in the boat 7 days prior to destruction that leveled the earth. Jesus slept in a boat when a storm seemed like it was going to kill he and his disciples and as he was awakened from his nap he told the sea and wind to be calm. The Sons of Thunder James and John (Jesus’ disciples) wanted to call a storm of fire down from Heaven and are told it was never in the heart of God. The apostle Paul gets shipwrecked after a severe storm but prophesies that all will survive even though everything else would be destroyed.

With myself and my boss God spoke to us about how to weather a storm that wouldn’t affect us all that much. He’s from Louisiana a state that is still being reconstructed from Katrina 7 years ago.  In fact parts of the 9th ward are still crippled from what they once were. I’m only 3 hours away from my home New Jersey and hardly able to relate at all to loss of power, destroyed houses and coasts and lives especially since my week was an uninterrupted flurry of sending out materials. But four days prior God had been speaking to Jeff and I separately about a blog for  people living away from home working and the families without them. Tuesday morning we talked and the process of how we could help them was confirmed and set into motion. So the same day we bought a web domain called thereconstructed, without knowing what else was happening where I called home.

Then again what doesn’t He know and even more is there anything He doesn’t want to share with His friends?

Building from the Inside Out

You might be wondering what this is all about. Not necessarily this blog but life. Most of what you’ve seen has been the first layer. Our first impression of most everything is seeing it on the outside. When people plan a vacation, visit a job site, pick out a spouse or a best friend randomly from a crowd, their first impression or decision to go will most of the time be from what they’ve seen. Yet everything that we see first was first built/created from the inside. It started in the heart of man or the heart of God and then formed. The astonishing thing is only does the creator/Creator see things first from the inside out. No one else has that pleasure. Only the builder or those involved in a project can intimately know what went into the final product that the rest of the world sees on the outside.

The creator can than attempt to explain the process, but it can only be explained and not experienced. We don’t entirely know the joy God experienced in Creating people. A very loving parent understands a tiny bit. Similarly, I have no idea what went into creating the Grand Canyon, a 100 Grand, the Statue of Liberty, the Liberty Bell, the cow bell, or a McDonald’s hamburger but I can still enjoy them. I also don’t know that those who created such things enjoyed the process it took to create it, but let’s assume they did.

But what happens when rather than procreation we have to re-create or participate in recreation. Essentially all recreation is, is borrowing whether it be sport or exercise from someone else who first did something and had fun. Then we redo it at recess or home to get a similar or more sensational feeling. The process of recreation or reconstruction typically exists to do something better. For example in elementary school, we played soccer almost everyday in 4th grade. I played goalie and I got better. Why did we do it everyday? Because it remained fun, and we improved. A novel concept eh? Also logical. Similarly the idea in the heart of God is to make things new, Reconcile, Resurrect, Revive, Renew, all words you hear at Church more than anywhere else. Sorry if they are foreign. He is out to make me better after we chose to make ourselves worse. Thus, I must trust in my new birth and the reconstruction process that he has begun.

Why the process of Reconstruction rather than and instant miraculous changing of me into an angelic demigod? Because as I said only the creator/builder intimately knows its creation and similarly when I decided to agree with God’s reconstruction process I in turn get to intimately know the one who started this good work. That’s the good news for all of us. We start to find out what this was all about and we learn from the inside of His heart.

Psalm 127:1 Unless the LORD builds the house,  the builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city,  the guards stand watch in vain.
1 Corinthians 3:12-14 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward.

Setting Out

There is a part of the project that is always the toughest for most of us. It’s usually not the rain and mud, the heat of the summer or the snow sitting on top of that cold steel. It’s packing up at the house, saying goodbye and heading out to the job. Leaving the comfort and love of our family and friends to a place that is cut throat, mean and only the strongest, hardest working guys survive (unless your somebody’s brother or uncle but just keep reading).

1 Peter tells us of a similar story as writes to Christians who are going into foreign sinful, pagan lands.  He first reminds us of the incredible Savior we have in Jesus the “living hope” and he is with us every step of the way.  Going it alone is never even an option; if you’re going he’s going. He then reminds us that we are born again, saved from the bondage of sin and don’t have to live like the rest of them, reckless and troubled. We are totally free!

And if that wasn’t enough he goes on to tell us all of the blessings we receive for just having to deal with all the nonsense. Every time we get passed up for a raise or have to deal with someone’s idiot brother in law God puts something away for us. And this inheritance isn’t a Christmas present that we just put in our tool bag and let get dusty or breaks after the first use. 1 Peter 1:4 “An inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading” Perfect. The inheritance we have will be unblemished like a 32’ Ford roadster that is the brightest red the world has never seen, never runs out of gas and you can drive it as fast as you want forever. All of the things that have been stripped from you by this world are in YOUR house in heaven. That’s good news because we are going to be stepped over, passed up and pushed back no matter what so I like knowing that I’m getting the last laugh!

-Jeff

After The Storm

Being from Louisiana I have experienced the destruction and loss created by hurricanes.  There is no arguing that these unforgiving storms show us how vulnerable and small we actually are. When you’re standing in your living room waist deep in brown water watching your pumpkins float down the hallway you figure out what powerless means.

Throughout history God has used these situations to bring unity and a dependence on Him to help his people make it through. I know when I first pleaded for the Lord to save me it wasn’t a joyful occasion; I hadn’t won the lottery or just received a great promotion in fact I was at the lowest point of my life. Everything that I had surrounded myself with meant nothing compared to the hurt and shame I was living in. Desperate broken and alone I asked Jesus for help and was changed forever.  I was as Paul spoke in Philippians 3:8 “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”

When you take on the task of rebuilding a flooded out home the first thing you do is tear out all of the rotten, damaged materials. Once you get down to the bare wood, or foundation then you can start the process of turning the structure back into a home. It’s not easy but always remember that even if you have absolutely nothing left and just by simply looking up to Jesus your holding your head up high!

Kingdoms Built with Weapons

I had this dream a few days ago, where I was walking alongside a king while balancing a dozen weapons like someone who takes coats from their guests draping them over their arm. As we walked through his kingdom there were bodies floating in his fountains and on the side of the path like road kill. It was a semi-invasion but no one wanted to harm the king. He feared me even though, I wasn’t looking to fight. As the king walked nervously, I lagged behind to pay attention to his daughter, the princess and put my free arm around her to give her a kiss. I wasn’t entirely sure whose side I was on but I did know I was more preoccupied with the princess than the king and his kingdom. Ha!

My Father knows me too well. From watching me play video games He knew I collected weapons from fallen warriors and then sold them to the town blacksmith, but He had me pinpointed on the issues of the heart too. I don’t particularly enjoy being responsible for the masses, and I am typically more interested in the pursuit of romance than serving an insecure and suspicious leader. I can also put romance before the King of all kings. It took a giant taunting David’s God and His people with the promise of receiving the king’s daughter to stand just tall enough to kill Goliath. Then he served the suspicious insane king for years, the same king who gave his promised daughter to another man who David eventually captured back. Yet David, unlike myself or most was able to honor the king every way imaginable even when King Saul sent out parties to kill him.

More astounding is how David uses his imagination. He thinks up an idea to build a house/temple for God and sets out to accomplish it. But in building the temple, God tells David essentially this, “I love your idea to build me a home even though I don’t need a house made by human hands but my house cannot be built by one who sheds blood.” In other words you can’t build with weapons. David was a fighter whereas his son Solomon was not. Solomon’s reign was characterized by years of peace and was permitted to build the temple that was created in the heart of his father.

I’ve wielded weapons specifically with my words and have tried to use God’s word, but when the motive was wrong it never built up, it tore down. People are accustomed to being torn down. Look at the tactics of our political campaigns. But that’s not how kingdoms are built nor are the built by being proeccupied. Honor and vision are the tools and plowshares that God uses in place of swords and axes. Those are the things I hope to have on my coat rack of an arm. On the other arm why not a beautiful bride too, He doesn’t seem to think its a bad idea.

-We’d love to hear about what you think builds a kingdom, Sorry this site is still in construction.