Saturday, September 29, 2012

Reflections on my 24th home

Counting it up in my head, I have moved 23 times (tomorrow will be number 24), in 9 different states during the course of my 38 years of life.  That averages to roughly one move every 1.65 years, a new state every 4.22 years.  No, I am not a military brat either (although my dad was in the Navy, however, he got out before my first move). 

You would think that leaving things behind gets easier.  In a way it does and in a way it doesn't.  It never feels good to leave the familiar.  Things are always left behind and memories flood through your mind of times you have had in places you have lived. 

But in the same way, the exact same byproducts are a gift. 

Leaving the familiar prepares you to arrive at the new and breathtakingly fascinating.  The things that are left behind no longer entangle you (Hebrews 12:1).  Leaving furniture on the side of the road or watching your possessions carted away for nothing relieves me of the burden of constantly carrying extra weight around.  This can be a reminder that the sin that once pervaded every facet of my being is gone too!  The chains of sin have fallen off of me because Jesus Christ put them on Himself to pay for my transgressions.  And like Christian in John Bunyan's Pilgrims Progress, when the burden comes off of my back, I find true freedom and joy. 

And with each new place I've lived has come a certain excitement to explore my new surroundings for treasures I have never seen.  Oh, but there IS a pearl of great price (Mt 13:46) I would sell everything to be near.  Psalm 27:4 says, "One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple."  His beauty will fulfill me for an eternity! 

C.S. Lewis once said, "If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."  All of my desires in this world are fleeting and ultimately unsatisfying.  But to be with Jesus, dwelling in His house, will keep me enthralled for an eternity.  There will be no such word as "wander", for there is nothing more satisfying to wander to. 

And the memories that flood through your mind, as beautiful as they may be, are but a shadow of the everlasting joy that awaits us.  As I get older, my memories fade and I don't remember the details as I desire to relive wonderful times in my mind.  But those fleeting moments of happiness in life point to a time when true joy will never cease.  I will not long for a better time, past or future.  Every moment with Jesus in heaven IS a better time!  1 Cor 2:9, "But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”.

Moving only reinforces God's Word that says this is not my home.  Philippians 3:20 says, "But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ". 

So tomorrow as we again stick our lives in a truck and drive to another box to park at, I will rejoice that my temporary dwelling points me to my eternal home with my Savior. 

Now stop reading this and help me grab that couch, will ya?!!!!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Quick thought on anonymous gifts

There is a special beauty of an anonymous gift that the giver(s) themselves are probably unaware of, and it is this.....

The receiver of the gift has no choice but to praise God alone for the gift!!!!

Thank you to my anonymous friend for pointing me to the Solas. 

Soli Deo Gloria

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Captain Neat-O Man must die!!!!

Captain Neat-O Man will never die!!! 

You wouldn't know it to look at the distinguished gentleman I am now, but a little over a decade ago, on a beautiful fall night, you could have wandered into the Trahern building at Austin Peay State University and found me dressed up as a superhero, tights and all (think Jack Black in Nacho Libre), as I acted in a one-act play called Captain Neat-O man.  I'll never live it down. 

While I was quite the thespian in college, also acting in Our Town and Noises Off, this was my starring role.  These were one-act plays written by budding playwrights at the university who needed actors to make the pages come to life.  And I was ready to pour my heart into that beautiful spotlight as it shined all over me.  [Side note to future thespians (especially the broke college ones)....When appearing in a high-energy, slapstick type of play, it is best not to sell your plasma shortly before the production.  I NEED your plasma!!!]

Well, despite my somewhat spasmodic and slightly wobbly performance, the play went off fine.  The only problem was there was less of an audience for it than my other plays.  And while I starred in Captain Neat-O Man, I enjoyed being in Our Town and Noises Off much more.  Turns out the spotlight wasn't as fulfilling as I thought it would be. 

Oftentimes, you may hear the phrase "there are no small parts, only small actors".  I found this to be very true.  It is the story that people come to see at the theatre (that's THEEEEE ATE ER to my southern friends), not actors.  People want to be momentarily detached from their own lives and swallowed up by the action on the stage.  And the actor's job is to help make the play an inviting place for an audience member's heart and mind to vacation for a couple of hours. 

For this to happen effectively, the story must be bigger than the actors.  And for that to happen, the actor's ego must die.  (Imagine a play where everyone who has a part tries to make theirs the biggest scene-stealer.  It would be a disaster!!!  You know, like every episode of Hee Haw EVER!!!) 

The death of the actor's ego is the life of the story.

In much the same way, I am watching God do this in my real, non-tights wearing, life.  But in this case, it is not so much the story that deserves the spotlight, as the Storyteller. 

This is the truth I'm seeing unfold right before my eyes.  This is the money phrase that echoes in my heart.......Moving down in the world helps me to worship God who raises me up in Christ.

You see, I've got a LOT of ego to kill.  I've got a lot of craving for the spotlight.  I love to hear the applause.  I love to soak in the adulation.  Tell me how good I am and I will listen to you for hours, baby!!!

Me, me, me, me.  But enough about me, what do YOU think of ME?  Whoooo Boy, I can listen to me all day long. 

It feeds old Jay and gives him strength.  But new creation, raised with Christ Jay is part of a different plot line than old Jay.  Old Jay lived to jump around in spandex and hear 200 people in the audience clap for him.  New Jay lives just for One (1 Cor 10:31).  In fact, from Him and through Him and to Him is new Jay's story line.  New Jay is consumed by the story that the Storyteller is telling about the most beautiful thing a person can even fathom, God Himself.

And new Jay wants everyone else to see the beauty of God.  But it's hard to focus one spotlight on 2 things.  Either it points at me or it points at Jesus.  And when it points at Jesus, I find myself STILL wanting to jump in it and get some praise for myself. 

So knowing this about me, God has shown me the rightness and goodness of moving down in the world.

This week, we are moving out of our $1000/month rental house on the river to a $575/month overgrown refrigerator of a mobile home in a trailer park out in the middle of nowhere.  To accomplish the task of squeezing 7 humans in a space the size of a couple of parking spots, we have been forced to sell much of our belongings.  Hearts have been broken as precious theology books, "Lost" DVD's, beloved microwave stands, and Elvis dolls have slipped through our fingers for the same amount of money as one would spend on a date at Taco Bell.  (And that's not to mention the near escape of a cherished scooter friend of a 5 year old girl as big sister stepped in at the last minute to stop grandma from exiling the Barbie scooter to the lands of the north.)

OK, why did I write the previous paragraph?  To evoke sympathy?  To receive compliments for my descriptive phraseology?  To get someone to buy me a house?  The answer is.....maybe!  See?  That's how easy it is to try to put the spotlight back on yourself.  Every moment is a battle to make less of me and more of God. 

But I digress, the point is that the Lord is graciously showing us the pull of the created on our hearts rather than the role of the created to point to the Creator. 

Romans 1:25 says, "they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!" 

You ever hear the old story of how African tribesmen catch monkeys?  Supposedly, they hollow out one end of a coconut ,just big enough for a monkey's hand to squeeze through, tie it to a string and put some peanuts inside of it.  When the monkey sticks its hand in, it grabs the peanuts but cannot pull its hand back out because it is now in the shape of a fist and is too big to slide back through the opening.  The natives then pull the monkey towards them and whacks it on the head for some nice Indiana Jones style Monkey Brain soup. 

But the ironic part of the story is that all the monkey has to do is let the peanuts go to escape.  It is too greedy and selfish to let go and dies in its pursuit of the peanuts. 

(Obvious Sermon Illustration Alert!!!)  This is the pull that created things have on us.  They become an end in themselves.  You see, I hurt when I have to move down in size and quality of my housing.  I hurt when things I previously treasured are picked away by the circling Garage Sale Buzzards.  I hurt when I go from being a distinguished preacher who is constantly in the limelight, to a nobody telemarketer who gets cussed out every third call. 

But my question is.....Is this pain wrong?  Maybe not. 

Not that stuff, or good jobs, or nice housing is wrong in and of itself.  But when it becomes pursued, pampered, and idolized (AHHHHHH, you thought I was going old school Southern Baptist preacher, 3-point alliteration on you, didn't you?  Admit it!!), it is used to serve you instead of letting it serve or cause praise to come to the One who gave it to you.

And maybe letting go of it (even with my claw marks on it as I fought to keep it) is God's way of reorienting me to His story.  Maybe he's taking me back to the times when I acted in plays where the beauty of the story, like Our Town, was more important than the fleeting applause for playing an idiot superhero who lived with his mom. 

So as I signed the contract to rent our overgrown sideways refrigerator, I felt something unexpected.  And upon talking to Michelle, she felt the same thing.  Relief! 

Relief from the burden of keeping up with a high rent when I don't make a lot of money. 
Relief from even the attempt to keep up with the Jones' (no offense Kayla).  Because we couldn't even if we tried.
Relief from the amount of stuff which we have constantly dragged with us from house to house. 

But most importantly, relief from placing ourselves in the spotlight. 

It gets hot under those lights you know.  And it greatly impairs your vision.  You can't see anything or anyone else in the crowd.  It's all about you and you know it.  And no one can live under the spotlight for too long without missing a line, tripping over a prop, or sweating profusely as people watch your every move. 

We weren't created to withstand this constant spotlight.  We mess up.  We fail.  We sin. 

But there is One who is made for the spotlight.  Jesus Christ, the Godman, lived a perfect, sinless life so that as we repent of our sins and place our absolute trust in Him, we can rest from the glare that was never intended for us.  My favorite verse says it best.  2 Cor 5:21, "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." 

In Him is better than in the spotlight any day of the week.  I am safer there.  I am covered there.  I am strengthened there.  I am saved there. 

In me without Him, my path will only lead to ruin.  Oh, but in Him there is peace with God.  And that is the story He wants me to tell. 

So he moves me down.  And as He does, He lifts my eyes up to the all satisfying crucified and resurrected Savior.  My Hero, My God, My King. 

As He lowers me and empties me of my pride, He raises me and fills me with His Spirit.  Instead of the disgusting muck of sin inside, I find pristine holiness and constant comfort from the Holy Spirit, my guarantee of a future inheritance which will dwarf my collection of Lost DVD's, Elvis dolls, and even theology books. 

He moves me down in house to raise me up in mansions.
He moves me down in pride to fill me up with awe.
He moves me down in resources to capture my attention as He alone provides my manna. 

Moving down is not bad, friends.  In fact, it is the way up.

You die to raise up.  Unless Jesus returns before your death, you will slowly recede back to the dust as your once strong and upright body becomes more and more crooked until it lays on its death bed.  Every day you get closer to the ground.  But those in Christ see it as getting closer to Him. 

John 12:24 says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."

Dying to yourself is necessary to become born again.

Even the posture of prayer is a beautiful example of moving down and away from the spotlight so that God alone shines. 

Just think of going to a play and the spotlight guy puts his beam on the janitor in the corner while the play is going on.  You would be outraged!  Why?  Because you would be missing the story while you watch Bubba scraping gum off the floor.   

God is so good that He won't let me miss His story.  He won't let me focus on the janitor.  And for that, I praise Him!!!! 

God's play about Himself is real.  And it, too will detach you from your troubles.  But it will last far longer than a couple of hours.  It will enthrall you for an eternity.

Our family's hymn this month is the more satisfying story.  If you fully grasp what it means, it will leave you breathless.

"And can it be, that I should gain, an interest in the Savior's blood.  Died He for me, who caused His pain, for me, who Him to death pursued?  Amazing love!  How can it be, that Thou, my God shouldst die for me?"

Let that be what this post leaves ringing in your ears!  Whatever it takes to see Him and know Him is worth it!!!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I love my wife!!!

It is always good to pause to reflect on good things in your life.  So today I will remember the best thing (outside of my relationship with Jesus).  Today is my wife's birthday. 

As I have been married to my prize for 15 years now, I can honestly say that what I see in her is what 15 year old Jay couldn't even dream up in his best dreams as he sat in math class wondering what kind of woman he would end up with. 

Young Jay would probably have focused solely on beauty.  What I have is the beauty that calms when chaos surrounds, the beauty that shines when gloomy days overwhelm, and the beauty that radiates the love of Jesus Christ on everyone around her.  Deep and everlasting beauty, inside her soul and outside as she is clothed in righteousness. 

Young Jay would have wanted a trophy wife.  What I have is a trophy, but not for others to admire.  This trophy is for me to admire how good of a God must have given it to me.

Young Jay would have wanted a girl to rescue.  What I have is a woman who rescues me from myself on a daily basis.  Her strength, calm, and confidence in her God spills over onto me every day of my life. 

Young Jay would have wanted a girl to have fun with.  What I have is a woman who knows how to have fun, but who is even better at having joy. 

Young Jay would have wanted to never settle down.  What I have is a settling of my spirit bestowed on me through the means of a godly wife. 

Anxiousness has given way to peace. 
Vanity has given way to depth.
Selfishness has given way to sacrifice.
And I have given my heart to the Lord who has trusted it with my treasure box named Michelle. 

I love you, Michelle.  Happy birthday, My Chelle.  Your life has blessed, is blessing, and will continue to bless the Lord and those He blesses with your presence. 

God is perfect!

Yours forever,

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Christian Books for sale

To raise money to help us move, I am going to be selling a LOT of my books.  Almost all of them are in near perfect shape (I don't like to write in my books). 

Check out my shelfari above this post.  Each of these books is for sale.

If you see a book you would like, make me a fair offer ASAP (via email at richfam2u(at)gmail(dot)com).  Again, this is so that we can raise enough money to put down for a deposit on an apartment.

There will probably be more titles added later. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Countdown to Who Knows What?????

Well, the hits just keep on coming! 

I have lived under SO much stress lately that my right eyelid literally has constantly been twitching for a couple of weeks now.  Also, my left eyelid just started to twitch too.  My shoulders are like steel, hardened by tension and stress.  I am physically feeling the burdens on me moment by moment. 

And I know the cliches and platitudes that we offer to each other about laying our burdens at the feet of Christ, and they are definitely true.  And don't believe for a second that I haven't been.  When you live in a constant state of uncertainty, that is one thing a Christian definitely learns to do more of....pray. 

But I live here, right in the middle of it, like a tribesman in a tent surrounded by lions.  I might have confidence in my weapons, but you better believe my heart still races every second of the dark, cold night. 

And folks, my heart is racing today. 

A couple of days ago, I told Michelle that we needed to think about maybe adopting a more radical plan to get out of the mess we're in.  Basically, I suggested 2 options:
  1. For her and the kids to move in with her mom in Nashville for a couple of months while I continued to work my new job here so that I could save up enough money to rent a place.  You see, with a foreclosure on our records, we are almost certain to require first and last months rent, at least and it will take a while for me to earn that.
  2. To borrow her parents 5th wheel and try to find someone who will let us park on their land for a couple of months so we can save up some money to rent a place. 
The first option is bad because Michelle is pregnant and we will be away from each other almost all of the time.

The second option is bad because there are 6 of us and there are many details to attend to in a small amount of time (trying to sell off a bunch of stuff, storing the rest, getting a PO Box, etc). 

Now, onto today.  The owner of the house sent a representative by today telling us that he is planning on selling the house.  They even power washed it and were working on the yard and asked us to have it ready for a potential buyer to come and see it.  So now we definitely know that our time here is very short.  Something MUST open up. 

On my way to work today, my car died AGAIN!  It wouldn't start so I had to take our van to work.  This is the 3rd time in the past couple of months something has broken. 

We have a few hundred dollars to our name and the job I'm working at has only been part time this week during training.  It will be full time starting next week.  The first 2 weeks, I am getting paid $9/hr and then it goes up to $12/hr.  And that's all the income we have right now.  We might have some money from some past work show up but we are not holding our breath for it.  We own nothing of value to sell either. 

I am not sure we can even make it here anymore.  I am considering all of us moving in with my mother in law and crowding into her house.  But then I would lose the job I have and she lives about an hour away from Nashville (where most likely I would try to find work). 

If anyone in the world needs wisdom right now, it is me.  I absolutely have no idea what to do and the clock is now ticking. 

And let me say this.  This is NOT a plea for money.  I write to share my desperation for prayers on behalf of my family.  This will truly take a monsoon of grace.  But He is able.....He ALONE is able!!! 

If you have any advice, I would welcome it.  If you have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, I would welcome your prayers more. 

And if you don't have a relationship with Jesus Christ, I would love to share my riches in Him with you. 


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Job update

Just a quick update for everyone who has been praying for us. 

I interviewed with Rick Perry of the Dave Ramsey group this past Wednesday.  It was a great opportunity to discuss positions in the organization and to meet many kind and energetic people. 

However, (and I could be wrong about this), I did not get the sense that he believed that I was the best fit for the position. 

While driving the 3 hour drive back home, a wrestling match took place.  I talked (whined) to the Lord about another missed opportunity.  My wife comforted me over the phone with wise words reminding me of the sovereignty of God.  And all the previous nervous and negative energy seemed to drain out of me, just leaving me a shell of a person driving home. 

In numbness, I watched the dotted lines on the road fly by.  And I turned on some music on my Ipod to hear others sing of their great love for Jesus.  At first, I seemed to be a specatator to the worship of the unseen faces coming out of my radio, but then I found myself not just wanting to, but HAVING to participate. 

And over the course of those couple of hours, I discovered that the Lord emptied me for a make room for Him!  So much of my vision has been clouded by so little of a man that it felt nice to be swallowed up by His massive presence and His message of forgiveness and love.

I know that God loves me and is doing just the right thing at just the right time. 

And thinking about things, it just seems to me that He won't let me shake the idea of serving Him in Poland.  Preparing us by taking everything away.  Preparing us by walking us through the desert.  Preparing us by emptying us of ourselves.  Preparing us by not allowing us to succeed in our pursuit of ANYTHING else which would keep us away.  Preparing us by renewing our minds so that we will be able to know what His will is-His good, pleasing, and perfect will. 

Maybe so, maybe not.  I do not know.  But, for now, I limp away from my wrestling match with God trusting that He is bigger, stronger, and wiser than I am.  And He is good.  Want proof?  Read God's very own words in the book of John. 

And just so you know, God did provide me with a job raising funds for Firemen over the phone.  I started the day after my Dave Ramsey interview.  It is monotonous and dry and not my favorite thing in the world, but so was the daily manna the Israelites received from God.  So I will keep eating whatever manna He sends me trying to be grateful that He sends me anything in spite of my sins against Him. 

One day at a time.  One bite at a time.  Grateful for the crumbs which will one day be a feast!

The story is not over.