Sunday, November 30, 2014

I Had a Dream...Grace I can understand

This dream is as powerful as to me as Martin Luther King, Jr,'s was to him. It changes things. For me, in my spirit, heart, and head. Some things are just so hard for us to understand...and sometimes, God makes them so clear.

So I dream that I have a meeting with Ed, who I only know thru a mutual friend. He's not a client, but has asked me to do a valuation on his real estate business. I begin to explain the work involved, and it's clear that he is expecting me to do it for free. Again, I explain why I just can't do it for free, and he drops the financial statements down on the desk, and goes to take a call from someone. I look at the statement and see that his profit last year was $617,000! That's a lot!! I've only had a handful of clients who ever earned that kind of money in a year.

When Ed returned, I told him there was a problem: that either he had that much profit and therefore enough resources to pay for a proper valuation, or if he didn't have that much profit, he had an even bigger problem with bad books and needed even more help. He looked away and said, "I didn't really want to tell you the reason I wanted you to review this. The laws have changed, and I need to update my beneficiary information." And then a bombshell: "I want you to take this over."

And I said, "Whoa. Hold on. Don't you have a wife or kids?" And he said, "No, no one. I want you to have it." And I said, "But you barely know me..." And suddenly I was reeling. Why would this man give me his business? A super successful business? He really didn't know me. And I was shaking, and weeping...uncontrollably, at the generosity of this. It made no sense. He had the wrong guy.

And immediately something else hit me: THIS is GRACE!! Oh, my. Why have I not seen it? How did I miss that it's just like this? God (who, truly, I barely knew!) stopped by my table, and said, "You're mine. Son. Rescued. Hope given. New ending to your story." Out of nowhere. And why? Because He wanted to.

As I thought about it later, I thought, "Well, this would be something like some stranger driving by in a red Porsche, stopping in my driveway, leaving it with the keys and title, and walking away.

And yet, this is so much better. And I've grown so used to it. Maybe even feeling at times like I deserve it. It just becomes so common. Like someone who wakes up looking at that scene above everyday, having their coffee out there and going, "Ho hum. Another crappy day of work ahead..." and so wrapped up in their life that they can no longer see the very things in front of them. Now. Here.

May God give me eyes to see it, a heart to receive it. It really is amazing.

Monday, September 8, 2014

A Story Too Good Not to Tell...about Prayer and Boats and God

We'd been set for a final trip out to the Annapolis area where our daughter is stationed in the Navy. She was scheduled to start training in Pensacola, so we needed to grab our granddog for adoption into our own home. The week before the trip, there was a change of plans, orders changed, so we were scrambling. very kindly refunded us the non-cancellable booking for the week! It was the 3rd anniversary of our son, Ben's leaving Earth for Heaven too early, so we wanted to be 'away' as if we're every really away from that.

We found a Groupon for Lake Lawn Lodge for three of the nights, and we do love that place in the summer. They have the best pool around here, overlooking Lake Delavan, and a summer afternoon there is just splendidly beautiful and relaxing. So I searched for other options for a couple more nights, and kept coming up with nothing. Finally, I figured we might as well see if Lake Lawn would give us a couple more nights at the Groupon rate, and they did! So we were booked for most of the week. And then we wondering, "Well, other than eating at our favorite restaurants, what are we going to do all week?"

So I thought: Boat. We're on Lake Delavan, and Lake Geneva is next door. We need a boat.

There were a couple problems, though. My sailboat was still Up Nort, an hour from Green Bay (Go Pack Go!) since it had just been a crazy busy Spring and Summer, so I'd not had time to get it or sail it. And, we don't own another boat. So I searched out rentals to see if that were feasible. Not. Unless you think $400 for a half day is ok. I don't.

A few days later, I kept thinking, we really need a boat. And I thought, I have friends who have boats who won't be using them, surely someone would let me borrow one. But how do you call and ask, "Would you loan me your boat for the week?" It's just not like borrowing a lawn mower, you know? And I thought about all the people I know and stories I'd heard where they need something, pray for it, and Bang, there it is. Right. We usually just go buy what we need instead, right? But buying a boat for a week (though it did occur to me that I could return it....) wasn't in the cards.

And then, I felt something in my spirit that said, "Why don't you ask God for a boat?" And I'm like, right. Really. But for one brief moment in time, I actually believed I could, and so I did, and for one more brief moment in time, I actually believed that God would come through. I know. Crazy. (But He's crazy, too!)

Two hours later, I get home, see my neighbor a couple doors up pulling weeds around his mailbox, and stop the truck to chat. I told him we weren't headed to Annapolis after all, but to Lake Lawn. He'd first introduced us to the place a few years back when they got a Groupon. So he asked if we got a Groupon, and I told him no, and then the story of how we booked it for the same price anyway. And then he said, "Are you taking a boat?" And I about fell out of my truck. First, he knows I don't have a power boat. And he knows my sailboat is still Up Nort. And I said, "No, but I need a boat." And he said, I kid you not: "I can get you a boat..."

And so the next day, we went and got the boat from a friend of his.

So many, why the boat? Boats don't matter much in the grand scheme of things. Why don't I pray like that for more important things? Well, I do...but do I just say words, or do I believe? And even when I do believe, God often says, "No. Not now," anyway. But for whatever His reasons, this time, He said, "Oh, I've got to do this and blow him away!" And He did. It was crazy, loony, fun, and silly...and just like our God. He reminded me in THIS, that He's hearing all the prayers, knows our hearts, has NOT abandoned us even when we think so, tells me not to believe the enemy's lies, and to never give up. Never. And He reminds me that He really does love surprises, and to delight His beloved.

I just wanted you to know this story. God is good. He proved it with a boat, and drove it deep into my heart at full throttle.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Rescuing Each Others' Hearts

We were privileged to have another! vacation in Maryland visiting our daughter, who's in the Navy. This time, we decided to take a couple days and go out to the shore—Ocean City, MD. What a beautiful place. Definitely one of my favorite beach areas. We got in late on Friday night since she had to work that day, and then spent the whole day Saturday on the beach. In the waves, sitting in the sand, reading books, watching people, just soaking it in. It has been a long time since we'd been able to enjoy such a time as this.

We'd planned to spend Sunday morning there as well, but things just were conspiring against us to keep that from happening...and I was really trying to be ok with it, and just enjoy what we'd had on Saturday. But the truth wouldn't leave me alone. My heart was hurt, in a way that I can't even express though I know how to string words together! I kept waking up early that morning wondering, "Why does disappointment always have to win?" "Why can't the Saturday joy overcome the Sunday disappointment?" And there were no answers, but it was much deeper than about the beach. It was about our lives. It was about our short memories. As Rick Warren said recently, "Why can't I forget the things I don't want to remember, but always remember the things I want to forget?" And that's the story of our lives, it seems. We yearn for just more. There really is never enough. Of anything good.

And I just laid there, sad in my soul, not even crying out to God, just crying out inside...."Why does disappointment win?" Finally, I figured I'd get up and go take a walk on the beach alone, at least, and feel sorry for myself by not inviting anyone else to the party. I'd barely gotten dressed when my wife asked me, "Where are you going?" And I told her to take a walk on the beach. She said, "But I thought we were going to the beach?" I guess I hadn't explained to her that it just wasn't in the cards, we had to check out at an odd time, had a 2-3 hour drive back, and our daughter had a work day on I just tried to explain all that quickly, and she could tell that I was really hurt. (I really love my beach!) She said, and I thank God for this: "Well, why can't you and I just go for an hour, and our daughter can get ready and pack up while we're gone, and then we can come back and pack up and clean up?" And I thought, "Huh, that might work..." It was really too good to believe. I had been transported from the depths of despair to the heights of joy and possibility in a moment. She rescued my heart.

So here's the scene:
I so thoroughly enjoyed that hour we had...I told her she'd rescued my heart and she didn't even understand, really. We walked the beach, had some laughs with the lifeguards coming on duty, sat and read and I played in the waves. It was awesome.
And I began to realize how many times we have an opportunity to rescue someone's heart, and miss it. We don't know their despair, their loneliness, their hopelessness, or that disappointment is winning. Again. We don't know how much a hug, and encouraging word, a meal and some laughter can truly bring light into the darkness. That's grace. Something good that comes from 'out there' that's beyond us, beyond our control. We need to bring grace to others.
This time I saw it, I felt it. God brought grace to me, and used my wife to do it. It was powerful.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

God in a Lizard?

I took a trip to Florida to visit with my mom, who turns 80 this year. (No, I've no idea how she got so old!) I love the area she's in, full of palm trees, boats, water, rum, and lizards. The little lizards are everywhere and so much fun to watch.

My first morning there, I took a walk out under a long bridge across the IntraCoastal, fascinated by a sandcrab, jellyfish, and a crow that was unafraid. I was waiting a long time for a boat to come under the bridge and as I began to turn away to head back, I heard a splash behind me and saw a dolphin swimming past me. I grabbed a quick video and was just struck at how God had just met me, reassuring me that He was there, and He knew where I was. Odd the thoughts that come to us sometimes. But I just knew.

On my way back to my room, I wandered around an old marina that had closed down, and as I came around one of the abandoned buildings, a rather large and colorful lizard popped out in front of me. He was about a foot long and orange, yellow and black, but I couldn't grab a picture since he wouldn't hold still long enough and he finally escaped into some brush. As I described him later to my mom, sister, and her husband, no one knew what it was, and they seemed perplexed by it. They didn't exactly call me a liar, but I could tell they barely believed me!

I spent the next three days searching for him! Alas, he was nowhere to be found. I saw more jellyfish, but no more dolphins, even the crow was gone. I was determined that he'd be back and I'd find him. I got up early to match the time I first saw him, even retraced my steps to see if he'd pop out like before. On the final morning, I realized it wasn't going to happen. I went back and packed up my room, and was backing out of the parking lot, when all of a sudden, There He Is! He popped up onto a curb and just sat there, as if to say "I'm Here".  Long enough for me to take pictures. And I thought, wow, isn't that funny. Here, I've been looking all this time, and just when I give up, He pops out. He finds me. And isn't that the story of God?

After sending my sister the picture, she immediately sent back a link and said, "Oh, that's the African Rainbow Lizard." And I wondered, "So why didn't anyone believe that I'd seen it?" And I thought, well, that IS the story of God, isn't it? We who do know Him and have 'seen' him aren't usually believed by those inclined to disbelief.

I learned that this lizard isn't native to Florida...but he's here now. Kind of like God. He's not from Earth, but He's here now. And lest you think I'm a bit whacked to think that He came to me in a lizard, the Bible records Him in a bush, as a donkey, in a cloud, and in a whisper. And you know the oddest thing He's come in? Me. Colossians 1:27 from The Message: "The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you...". Amazing. Even moreso than He can come in a dolphin or a lizard, He appears in me.

And I'm left to wonder: just how hard do I search for Him? I frankly don't search for Him as hard as I searched for that lizard. And here's the gospel: even when I quit searching, He never stops searching for me. And He lets me 'find Him'. God is so weird, thankfully! And He's colorful!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Above the Clouds

Above the Clouds

Above the clouds
You rule, you reign.
The sun shines bright
The air is clear
Waters run cold and pure
Birds flitter with joy
Above the clouds.

Oh how I yearn
For this fresh air
Blowing thru my soul
Where you rule and reign
Where I am strong
And enemies flee
Above the clouds.

You come for me
In the rippling stream
On wings of cool breeze
In the buzzing of the hummers
You bring my heart to life
You speak to me
Above the clouds.

You remind me of my name
Of who I am
You whisper your love for me
When I can scarcely believe
Yet I so desperately want to.
You give me of what I yearn for
Above the clouds.

Above the clouds
There is clarity
Where I can see forever
Where the sun can warm my heart
Where you alone can fill my lungs
You're the One who restores hope
Above the clouds.
©2014 Jeff Roberts from 9200' Colorado

Monday, May 5, 2014

Walking Broken

There was a life
Joyful, Happy, Unafraid
Hand in hand

Until that day
When the road turned
Into the Dark
Into Fear.

We never saw it coming
No time to prepare
No map
No light
No hope
We were just There.

Fear arose
Joy fled
Tears came
Step by step
Day by day
Death in us.

Others walked
Heads down
Faces wet
Hope gone

We cried out to You
Help us
Fix this
Don't leave us
Where are You?

Then we felt Your hand
Heard You whisper
Follow Me
Do You know the way
Of course You know the way
The road of sorrows.

We cannot see
You are our Hope
This trail of brokenness
It is our story
It's all our stories
Living Broken.
©2014 Jeff Roberts

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Meeting Our Heroes

Meeting our heroes is always a dicey proposition. I've read and heard many stories of those who met theirs, and walked away very disapointed. "He or she was my hero? Really?" Most of them do not live up to anything resembling hero status. From a distance they can look pretty good, but when we meet them we are usually sorely disappointed.

I met my spiritual hero Saturday. John Lynch, who has given the greatest message ever given (search him on YouTube and it'll pop up as the mis-titled Two Roads. It should be called The Room of Grace). Here:

It gives language and hope to a lot of things going on in our hearts and spirits. It even seems way too good to be true, this Original Good News John calls it, True Grace, the True Gospel. And other than Steve Brown of Key Life Ministries, I'd never heard anyone else speak it as John does. So a part of me wonders, IS this too good to be true? Is this just tickling my ears with what I want to hear? And then God leads me to Galatians 3 where I'm told that it's the same faith that keeps saving me that initially saved me. And Romans 4 where the faith of Abraham is held up as our model! He hadn't done anything but believe and was declared forevermore righteous by God. No one else gets to speak a word about that! And Luke 15 where Jesus shows us the heart of a Father whose son rebels and burns up his inheritance...even while Dad knew what the outcome would be. And when he returns home, there's a party instead of a beating. I want a God like that, who loves me no matter what, who is willing to rescue me from the deepest darkness.

John lives up to it, the hero status. Others are now giving voice to the Grace Message, Tullian is perhaps leading a New Reformation, the one that says, it's done, you can rest, you have nothing to bring anyway! His genuinness and transparency and vulnerabilty and invitation to enter in are so un-doing. If Jesus is any less, I'll be sorely disappointed. And I know that John will be equally humiliated and proud of such commentary! For he knows his lack, his inability to live up to such lofty ideals, and at the same time, knows that his butterfly wings are spread wide as he sails in the open sky for Jesus. The real Jesus. The One who loves us, no matter what, and draws us into Him because of that. This is what happens when God restores our Original Glory (2 Cor. 3:18 for the curious). I want to fly like that.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Grace. And Murder.

This is one of the most sickening times I've experienced. I guess that when you minister to felons, ex-felons, and the ones that haven't been caught should expect something bad to happen. For 25 years of that, though, nothing has. I've seen God's grace change men and women in amazing ways, freeing them from their pasts, their shame, their addictions, and into healing and freedom and wholeness. It's rarely an easy process, and more often than not there are troubles and setbacks and failures still...but over time, when God moves in, He wins! Thankfully!

A year ago I watched such a transformation in a man who I grew close to. He'd come to Wayside broken and empty, had blown up his marriage and family of two young girls, his wife had restraining orders against him...but God moved. In hope against hope, this man's heart changed, his whole demeanor changed, and as crazy as it sounds, his ex-wife actually contacted him! They visited, dated a bit again, and then, unbelievably, were remarried!! It was an awesome thing to see. I was there. There was weeping and shouts of joy and hugs, at all that God had done. We believed again, ourselves, that God could indeed do most anything!

And then a few weeks later, he ran off, using drugs again. His church embraced him and walked thru it with him, his wife received him back again. And then he was gone again. She loved him, but didn't love him high. So she went back downstate where she was from, trying to put the past behind her. My heart broke for her. She'd set aside all her fears and wounds and received him back, and I imagine her family told her she was nuts. I admired her courage and her heart.

The last time I saw him was right after he'd come back to Wayside for a few days before he left again. He was determined to go find her. He said he'd walk if he had to, didn't matter, he wanted her back. I warned him against it. I knew that he'd pushed her past her limits this time. He would not listen. His mind was made up. And I knew that it was not a good idea. I'd sent her a text somewhere along the way to warn her or just share my sorrow with her at how things turned out.

And I never heard from either again.

Until two weeks ago, I got word that wrecked me. He murdered her last summer.

.......*there are no words for this*........

Sickened, sad, broken, wretched, angry, anything on the dark side of the paper I was feeling. I was crushed is perhaps the best word. Crushed. I'm still crushed. I looked up the news story, hoping against hope that it wasn't true, but there it all was. She's dead. Their young daughters orphaned, likely taken in by her family who thought she was nuts and who likely hate him with every passion in them, of course.

And he's locked away forever. He confessed, there is no defense, of course. And he should be locked away forever. But he's still my brother. God still loves him. Even though I'm not quite sure of my love for him. And then God showed my something totally unexpected.

God feels the same way about my sin as I do about my brother's. God is crushed, and sick to His stomache (if He has one) and disbelieving, and sad, and angry. You see, I get so used to my sin. I can rationalize it. I can compare it. And I can live with it. It's no big deal. And God vomits. It's hard for us to ever imagine what our sin looks like to God. Now, I know, at least in part. For this thing my friend did is so wretched, so disgusting, so crushing, my own spirit is a mess even as I write this. And that's how God feels. Wow. It makes me confess and repent immediately.

And here's the most amazing (and challenging) thing. Even as God weeps over my sin, He loves me. He extends grace to me, covers me in His righteousness, forgives me, and embraces me. How does He do that after what I've done? And how can I do that to my brother. The murderer. After what he's done? I have to remember that we are no longer defined by our failure or our sins, but by the One Who Loves Us. Amazing Grace. Truly. I pray that I can extend it as God does.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

$100 Million

So imagine you get THE call! "Sorry to inform you that your great uncle-in-law, Harry, died, and has left you $100 million." (And you immediately wonder what's to be sorry about since you never knew about Harry anyway!) $100 Million. US, American, dollars (before tax). Wow. The mind reels doesn't it? What will you do with all that money? What can you do? And here's the thing: whatever you choose to do, Harry isn't asking for it back!

You can blow it in Vegas, which might take two weekends. You could build a garage and fill it with Jay Leno's cars. You could just drive to the airport and pick the next plane, first class, thanks, and never come back. Even charter your own jet. Or heck, just buy one! You could buy a villa on the sea, or maybe a half dozen of them. You could pay off your student loans and still have a little left over. You could invest and never care about the market ups and downs. You could buy a sports team.

You could build a hospital, fund a new charity, feed Sierra Leone, run for President, throw $100 bills all over downtown at those with bongos and "Help" signs trying to get by. You could sponsor 1000 kids through Compassion International. You could rebuild New Orleans. You could pay off Illinois' state debt. You could repave the roads in Chicago after this winter.

And you know what? No one's taking the money back whichever way you choose. If you blow it, it's yours. If you give it away, it's yours. The money has been given to you and nothing will change that. Nothing. No matter how responsible or irresponsible you are, you open the account statements, and there it is, still.

Stop dreaming. Enough of that. Here's what is real: God's grace. What confuses us is that grace is too good to be true, like getting the call about your $100 Mil. So God chooses to love me, rescues me from hopelessness and despair, and in that moment decides I'm His. Forever? He's never going to change His mind and cast me away? No matter what? If I live like an idiot, He loves me. If I love Him back (or not), He loves me. If I slowly begin to let Him grow in me and become all that He desires, He loves me. He doesn't change His mind. His grace is mine.

And just like Uncle Harry's bank account, it's mine to do with as I please. What will I do with that grace? Will I abuse it and waste it? Will it have been given in vain? (2 Cor 6:1 Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. ESV) We can't lose it once we have it. But it can be wasted...and how sad that is. But most of us don't even know that we've received it anyway, or what it means.

This is the best way I can think of to explain our responsibilities in the light of God's grace. We cannot earn more grace! Nothing we do will add to it or diminish it. And that's where the messages we regularly hear confuse us. Sometimes what we hear is: "If you do this, God will bless you." "If you become a really devoted Christian and pray three times a day, read your Bible, and floss...then God will surely love you more and protect you and give you a happy life." That's what we hear. But that's not Biblical. God loves you in the same way that you love your kids. If your kids behave, you love them. If they misbehave, you're not happy, but you love them! If they get arrested, you love them. If they become movie stars, well, wait, that's arrested most of the time, isn't it? If they become doctors, you love them. Your love doesn't change based on how well they live. God's love doesn't change based on how well (or poorly) you live. Ever. Get over it.

But now, you have grace, acceptance, love that won't end, hope and a purpose. And to quote Braveheart: "What will you do with that Freedom?"

It's ours to choose. Let's not waste it.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Feeding the Birds—Galatians 3:11-14

My sister-in-law, Donna, taught me an important lesson a few years back while sitting on her deck at her Wisconsin summer home. She had so many birds coming in to feed! When I asked her about how she got so many, she summed it up, "You've got to feed 'em." I realized that I didn't feed mine very consistently or with much variety, and really didn't pay that much attention to them after I did feed them. After that summer with Donna, my bird world expanded! I put out different foods, started to pay close attention to what birds were coming, even kept a list. I was shocked to discover that by the end of that summer, I had nearly three dozen different varieties of birds coming. Just because I fed them.

I realized last night that people are like that around the gospel of grace. If we feed them, they will come—to the true gospel, the one that says that God did it all and is doing it all, and that you can rest in what He's done and is doing. He doesn't need your help to rescue you!

The "other gospel', which the Apostle Paul says is no gospel at all, since it is not good news, says that yes, God rescued you initially, but after that, it's up to you. You need to obey, rule yourself and beat your flesh into submission, learn to do what is good and learn how to not do what is wrong...and if you persist in this and don't grow weary, you'll be rescued. That makes me tired just to write it, much less try to live it like I used to. We either discover that we just can't do it and give up, or sadly discover that we can have some success at righteousness and begin to move away from God and just keep doing our own thing. Either way, we move away from God, to despair, or to self righteousness.

"For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin." (Romans 3:20, ESV) and "Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to us, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith." (Galatians 3:11-14, ESV)

What I realized is that sometimes I get too focused on what others are doing and wanting to fight over the birds and how to feed them. All I need to do is to put out the feed, the birds will come. Indeed, what I've discovered is that when you talk about the true gospel of grace, people flock to it. They want to know that they are no longer defined by their failures to perform, but by the One who performs for them. They want to know that their hearts that have become laden with all the to-do lists and have grown weary from 'never enough' and 'try harder' aren't the path to God at all.

They want to know and need to know that God has put the food out for them, and they only need to come and eat. That's the gospel.