Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Passion Week Thoughts (Quite General)...

There’s no doubt that the cross is the centerpiece of God’s glory. Because of the crucifixion, sin can’t condemn us! Romans 8:1 confirms that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 5:2 shouts, “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”And Galatians 6:14 exclaims, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

And the empty tomb? Simply put, it is the culmination of God’s power! Because of the resurrection, sin can’t control us. Romans 6:9-12 boldly asserts, “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.”

Now think about Heaven’s throne. It’s the climax of God’s plan where one day we will gather and witness endless worship of the Lamb by every nation, tribe, and tongue to the glory of God the Father. There, sin won’t even contaminate us. As Revelation 22:3 proclaims, No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.” John describes this scene even more vividly in Revelation 5:11-14 when he writes, “Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’ And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’ And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ and the elders fell down and worshiped.”

Ah, the cross, the tomb, and the throne! How amazing that the glory of his suffering and the glory of his victory will bring us to the glory of the worship of his name (Phil 2:5-11)!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Not Fishing -- Trashing!

One of my favorite verses is one written by Peter, and in it he exhorts us to continually be “casting all our anxieties upon him, for he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). What an encouragement in all times, but especially in seasons of stress and trial.


However, sometimes we unintentionally read the word “cast” like a fisherman, when we should read it like a garbage man. In other words, we want to tie a knot on the end of our anxieties and “cast” them out with our proverbial rod and reel, knowing that if we need to we can wind them back in again. And while none of us would ever admit to wanting – or demanding – them back, often our insecurities and fears spiritually bribe us to either hold on to or retrieve these things, thinking we can manage them better than our heavenly Father, God.


Here’s a better understanding of the text: throw them away for good! Where? To God! He is fully able to handle all our worries, and we have no need of them. Instead of approaching God with pole and lure in hand, bring him your big, green rolling trash cart. Tip it over and leave it all with him, no strings attached, for He is the Master recycler and restorer.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Do I Have To?

I got a most intriguing question from a friend the other day: “Do you think I have to go to church?”


Several things weren’t included, so I was left answering a very general, “no way out” kind of question (which was his goal I think). Did he mean 1) the church building, 2) the actual service, or 3) the 2nd grade class? Furthermore, my answer depended on the intent of his question, which he never voiced. What was he really wondering – does he have to go to church to be saved? To be spiritual? To have a good reputation? To win the lottery?  To feel connected to and encouraged by others in the body?


But, to keep the conversation going and make things interesting, I just simply answered “No.” And “Yes.” He smirked and rolled his eyes.


We continued talking, especially about the many “have to’s” he was glad weren’t really “have to’s.” Like attending church. Or giving financially to those in need. Or helping in the toddler room. Or even the Jr. High room. And boy was he glad! I eventually asked him my own “no way out” question: Why do you want to find a way to get by spiritually? “It seems your desire to squeak by says way more about what’s really in your heart than any kind of external record or badge of buttons may say about your image,” I commented, quite sure he might not want to continue the conversation.


He did.


An experience I had with my dad helped me as the discussion continued. Ironically, there was a day I asked my dad that very same question. If I remember correctly,  had just turned 16, maybe 17, and, from my vantage point, had a good grasp on life (can you spell p-r-i-d-e?) So when I asked him my “have to” question, he answered with a surprisingly simple, “No.” He never even blinked. Wow, that was easy I thought. But then he finished his answer: “You don’t have to do anything; but you do have to accept the consequences of your decision.”


That drastically changed my next question, which I never actually asked. Why? I already knew the answer. And that answer – the one I instinctly knew – amazingly changed my “have to’s” to “want to’s.”


As my friend and I kept talking, I shared this experience with him. Though he was more amused at my dad’s parenting prowess, I still think he got the point. And that’s when I pulled out my iron-sharpening tool  and responded more truthfully to his initial question. “Yes, I believe you should go to church. But not because you have to. Instead, because you need to, and, consequently, want to. When you sense it is about a ‘have to,’ there are usually deeper, personal things you need to wrestle with. Namely, your wandering heart.”


“I have to go,” he said.


“Have to?” I asked, chuckling.


We both grinned and said our goodbye’s for that day.


But even as I left I thought about how the “have to” mentality creeps into too many areas of my own thinking.


Like when it comes to giving. When I think in “have to” terms, I usually think of how little I can give and still “get by.” I wonder when I can stop instead of where else can I give. Sacrificial giving knows no such thinking. It is rooted in a “want to” mentality and enjoys being lavish, not selfish.


Or serving. When I’m in a “have to” mindset I count hours and track slots. I look for applause and credit. But that’s not how Jesus served. And that’s not the way a “want to” server goes about his duties. “Want to-ers” are content with opportunities and open doors, no matter what lay on the other side.


And there’s more than those two areas. But the Holy Spirit had already arrested my attention. Frankly, I was no different in many respects. So as much as my friend may have benefitted from our conversation, I profited more. And not because I had to. I got to!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Looking Back

A thoughtful look backward can lead to a fruitful look forward. That’s exactly what happened Tuesday as our family visited the origins of the Stiles family – Blue Ridge, GA. We visited homesteads and cemeteries, looked at pictures and tombstones, and heard stories and memories that sounded like legends and tales. What a great day!

As we drove home down the winding, mountain road, God opened our hearts once again to a couple of verses that have meant much to our family at various intersections: “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches” (Proverbs 22:1) and “A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one's birth” (Ecc. 7:1). Weird as it may sound, the day of the death of the people we remembered Tuesday– all the Stiles of the past – was better than the day of their birth. Why? Because of how they lived their life! They left us the legacy of a “good name,” and we left motivated to carry it forward.

This is the home where it all started! Over 100 years old, Rufus Theodore Stiles moved here in the early 1900's and occupied this residence with his wife, Za, and their 13 chidlren. My grandfather, George (whom we affectionately knew as "Pop"), was born and raised here. This house sat on top of a hill that overlooked Blue Ridge (see pic below), and it was from here that "Ruf" (pronounced like "roof" -- that's what Za called him) served as Mayor, Clerk of Court, and a Geogia State Legislator.

This is a picture in tribute to RT Stiles (the man I am "initialed" after) during his time as Clerk of Court in Blue Ridge. This picure sits in the lobby of the current Fannin County Courthouse. I am pictured here with RT's grandson (my dad) and his great, great grandson (my son).

This old pot, housed in the shed out back, was used to boil the water needed for washing, also done in the shed. And this arrangment was actually an upgrade from having to do the laundry outside; they now had some shelter! Makes you grateful for indoor laundry with modern appliances, eh?

This is the very second-floor window that my dad, pictured here, fell out of when he was two. (You can see why it was easy for a toddler to fall out of it; look how low the bottom is!) He landed right next to a 2-foot metal stake that was used as a ground for the home's electricity. Though not pictured, the stake is still there, too. Obviously, my dad chuckles now, but I don't think his parents did then. Oh, the providence of our sovereign God!

This tree in the backyard has been the #1 playhouse for many generations of children since one of the Stiles boys, Fred, planted it in the early 50's. It was my kids' turn for a day!

This is the homestead of the Lindseys and of my grandmother (whom we knew as Mammaw), just about 12 miles away from Blue Ridge in Morganton, GA. Family legend says that George ("Pop") would walk the 12 miles across the river each Friday so he could see his girlfriend Irene ("Mammaw") as soon as possible on the weekend. No more info about the rest of the weekends has ever survived. :)

Two other cool stories about this house:
1. They eventually got married in this house (downstairs), and were one of two events on this day in this home. The other one? Just upstairs in the room to the left Mammaw's brother's wife, Louise, was giving birth to their first son (Joe, Jr).
2. My dad was born in this house in the room just to the left of the front door in 1937. However, no wedding followed hs birth.

Our third child, Breanna Lindsey Stiles kneels next to the Lindsey headstone, the family name which we used for her middle name.

Dad and I kneel behind the grave of Rufus and Za, my dad's grandfather and the patriarch of the Stiles family.

Here we're all gathered around the main Stiles headstone in the Blue Ridge cemetery.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

She Loves Me Because...

I’m not the easiest guy to love. In fact, most of the time I’m probably rather difficult to love. And though Julie would probably not admit that (okay, she might at times!), it is nonetheless true. She knows all my faults, idiosyncrasies, shortcomings, failures, and pet peeves. More realistically, she knows all the weak spots where, even in the middle of being sanctified by the Spirit, I show my human nature and sin.

Yet, she loves me anyway. Daily. Hourly. Unconditionally. Totally. Radically. Unreservedly. Loyally. What’s so amazing is that she actually likes to love me (the vast majority of the time), even though I’m not easy to love. Julie is the top-shelf model of obedience to the call of Jesus when he inspired Paul to write on at least two occasions, “Love your husband.” She does that perfectly.

It is becoming more and more apparent to me as we tie our knot deeper and longer that Julie loves me, not because of my worthiness, but because of God’s “Wordiness.” In other words, she doesn’t love me because I deserve it; she loves me because God commands it. Granted – I don’t think she looks at it like this or dichotomizes her feelings in this way. But a “below the water line” look testifies to God’s love in her life as a fundamental motivation for everything she does. And the benefit? I see her love in my life.
Why do I mention this? Well, first, because I’m grateful. I am deeply thankful for my wife. She is the epitome of Titus 2 and Proverbs 31, living out her God-given responsibility to create a God-centered home for our family.

But also because I’m hopeful. I have watched Julie’s love for me grow proportionately to her willingness to obey Christ uncompromisingly, and I'm convinced there is a direct relation between her ability to love me and her commitment to obey her Savior. That gives me hope in the face of things that Jesus calls me to do that are sometimes tough. Hard. Difficult. Practically and biblically, obedience in spite of my feelings will open the door to obedience that accompanies my feelings.
Essentially, it’s “Jesus-first” to Julie. He is more important than her hobbies or her husband. More important than her feelings or her family. More important than her likes and dislikes, opinions, preferences, and personal tastes. And because he is more important, what he says is most important. So when he says, “Love your husband,” she’s in! Thank you, Jesus, and thank you, Julie!