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September 12th

This picture is permenantly burned in my memories from 10 years ago.  I am not sure if the flag was raised on 9/12 or not, but this is the image I think about when I think about the day after the 11th.  I believe this is even more powerful to me now than it was then.  There is just something about the flag being raised over the wreckage by some of the men who were there when the buildings fell.  This was a message.  It said to those who planned the attacks, “We are still here.”

After NB went to bed last night, my wife and I watched a special about 9/11 on CBS.  It was called, 9/11 Ten Years Later.  It was amazing.  It really was.  It was pieced together from the footage from two brothers who were filming a documentary about a rookie firefighter along with the interviews in the time since.  It was almost unbelievable that there just happened to be these two guys filiming these guys at the very moment the first plane crashed…and they were only a couple of blocks away from the World Trade Center!

The firefighters were some of the first to the scene, and their chief was the first chief there and he allowed the filming brother with him to come into the building.  It was surreal to see this footage from inside Building One.  You are walked through the events from the perspective of the crew from this one firehouse.  Everything was filmed.  You feel like you are there when the buildings fell, because the camera was rolling.

It was a little hard to relive everything from that day, but I am so glad we watched until the end.  What stood out most to me was what happened following the buildings collapsing.

The firemen from the house were separated in the confusion running from Building One and it coming down.  The brother that was not at the WTC was at the firehouse.  He filmed everyone as they came back.  One by one they all returned, even the rookie who did not get back for six hours.  Everyone got back.  They were happy, but they took it hard as well.  They were one of the only firehouses that did not lose one person.  In a lot of ways, they felt guilty.  They were still here, while so many of their brother firefighters were not.

I was not ready for what came next.

After going home for a few hours, all of them came back to ground zero.  They felt like it was their duty to go and start digging and looking for people in the rubble.  They were still here, and they owed it to those who weren’t to go look for them.  Hundreds of firefighters, and others, came and dug.  They were on 24 hour shifts.  The first shift ended and they only found one person alive, but they came back again to look for more.

There was more to the show, but this is where I want to rest.  How beautiful is that thought in the middle of the tragedy.  They were still here, and they owed it to those that were not to risk their own lives to go looking.  In a lot of ways, the firefighters in the documentary should have died.  Most of them literally made it out of the building only minutes and seconds before it fell.  They survived though the odds said they shouldn’t have.  Instead of resting in that, though, they put themselves back into danger to look for others who were dying.

Isn’t this the story of how life should be?  Isn’t this how Christians should view life?

We were dying in our sins.  We were helpless from saving ourselves.  The world was crashing around us and we should have been caught up in the debris, but we weren’t.  Someone took our place.  Someone died in our place.  Jesus died the death we destined for.  The building fell on him, not us.  We were saved.  We are still here.  We are still here.

What is our response?  Do we rest in the fact that we are alive?  Or do we put this new life on the line to go search the wreckage of the world?  Do we risk our safety to dig and offer life to those who are helpless, just as we were?  Are we even trying?  Or are we taking our life for granted?  We are still here…but what are we doing about it?

I don’t know.  This really spoke to me.  I have lived most of my Christian life taking my “survival” for granted.  That is changing.  I am starting to see we need to leverage what we have for others.  To help them see that they can be saved from the wreckage.  To offer life.  It does not mean just sharing the gospel when the situation comes up, but it means loving other people.  It means serving other people.  It means giving up comfort and safety to try to make a difference in other people’s lives.  I am still here.  I want to spend my life making sure other people have the chance to say the same thing.

What about you?  What do you think?  Are you still here?  What are you doing about the others who aren’t?

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September 10th

Over the last week, there have been a lot of retrospectives on the ten years since 9/11.  I know for all of us, that date has forever changed.  It is now synonymous with the tragedy that happened.  Even ten years later, it is hard for me to think about what happened.  I watched a video timeline this morning, and I couldn’t help but cry at the end.  All of those people who died.  Their families.  The sadness.  The grief.  It is all still so real to me.  For me, though, 9/11 is not the only anniversary that I think about this time of year.

The events of 9/11 have given my heart a timeline that affects me now.  This year, God is starting to teach me through it.  There are three dates: 9/10, 9/11, and 9/12.  Each one has specific feelings for me.  And today being 9/10, I would like to reflect briefly on that day.

Looking back, 9/10 now represents innocence to me.  My life changed so much on the day after the 10th, there is now a “simpler time” nostagia about it.  I don’t remember the 10th.  I don’t know what that day was like.  However, in my mind, it looks a lot like the sunny morning of the 11th that we see when we see footage right before the first plane crash.

On 9/10, I was not as paranoid.  I was a little paranoid because that is my personality, but it was not a global paranoia.  I wasn’t worried about how our government handled security.  I was not apprehensive about people and other countries’ thoughts about America.  I was not waiting for the next “shoe to drop.”  It is a sunny day in my mind, with no clouds in sight.

I was not as willing to give up some of my freedom for security.  I was more trusting.  I was less into watching the news.  I feel like I think older generations are when they talk about the “good old days.”  The world just didn’t seem as grim.  The weight of the world is more on my shoulders now because I have an ingrained worry about what could happen.

I don’t know how to explain it better.  9/10 is just a time of deep reflection for me.  I felt safe that day.  Safe because I felt like our country was invincible.  Bad things happened elsewhere.  Not here.  Not in America.

This year, God is making me think about him in this time of reflection.  Where is my security?  What do I trust in?  What do I hope in?

I am not going to get into the whole why-would-God-let-this-happen thing.   But, God is in control.  No matter what happens, God is who we can trust in.  Bad things will happen.  Big things (like 9/11) or small things (losing my keys).  The key is, where is my hope and trust when these things happen?

The weight of the world is not ours to carry.  It isn’t.  God is the sustainer of the world.  My hope is only in Jesus.  Jesus died for my sins to make me right with God.  The proof is in the resurrection.  Jesus coming back from the dead is what tells me that his sacrafice was accepted and complete (see Action Hero Jesus).  I am right with God, no matter what happens.  This is what frees me up to not bear the weight of planet Earth.  What does this mean?  It means I am free to love.  I am free to serve others.  I am free to let go of my daily schedule to connect with others.  I am free to be Jesus’ hands and feet in the world, especialy during a time of tragedy.

Though I might not be secure in this world, I am secure in the next.  I can rest in that.  I can have a 9/10 spiritual life.  And this 9/10 relationship to God allows me to love people through tragedies that happen every day in a 9/11 world.

I don’t know if this made sense or not.  Just trying to articulate how I have been feeling this week, especially today.  What do you think?  How do you feel when you think about 9/10?  Do you have a sense of spiritual security that lets you love and serve other people without the weight of the world on your shoulders?

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The Leaves That Left

Yesterday’s post was a bit heavy (and I know, a bit long).  I decided I probably ought to follow it up with some good news…in the form of a shorter post.  Luckily, God gave me a cool little epiphany moment on the way to church on Sunday.  Let me let you in on it.  Before you read this, if you haven’t read yesterday’s post go there first and read it then come back.

Welcome back!

Now, it all starts with the “Big Red Truck.”

I put quotations around that because that is the truck’s name in our house.  NB loves that truck.  He would ride in it anywhere and everywhere if he could.  When ever we go somewhere he always stands by the steps to our upper driveway and says, “Drive Big Red Tuck?”  He is always a bit disappointed when the answer is no.

This Sunday, I had to go to church early to help out with the children’s program.  When I told NB at breakfast that I was going in the Big Red Truck but he had to stay with Mommy and Nana (LA’s mom), his face fell.  I reassured him that we would take a ride in it soon, and he cheered up.

So, I get in the truck for a 15ish minute drive to church.  I have been home with NB most of the summer (I am a teacher with summers off), and so alone time driving is not something I have experienced in a while.  It is amazing how easy it is to hear him speak when you are alone in quiet (the radio doesn’t work) and how he can use the smallest thing to trigger a huge lesson.

You can’t drive much higher than 45 mph on most of the roads to church.  As I was riding down the road, I saw something out of the corner in of my eye through the rear view mirror.  When I went to get a closer look, it was gone.

A minute or so later, there it was again.  And once more, when I looked it was gone.

It happened once more, movement in the bed of the truck.  This time I looked up quick enough.  Leaves were moving all around the bed of the truck.  I was driving just fast enough to cause a cyclone of air back there.  Leaves from when we hauled some plants were caught in the cyclone.  What had caught my eye was not the spinning leaves, though.  I was seeing the leaves that got away.

Please allow me to drop some science on you for a second…I am a science teacher, that is my job.  What was happening in the back of the truck was the space between the cab and the gate caused air to get trapped.  The trapped air moves in a circle (cylcone…I like that word better).  This is by design.  The air cyclone moves slower than the air moving over the truck as it travels.  The faster air glances off of slower air, and this increases the aerodynamics (and the gas mileage) of the truck.

So anyway, I was watching the leaves as they spun (still watching the road, too) and more leaves escape.  As I was looking at this, God spoke to my heart, “That is you.”

“How?” I sliently thought.

Over the next couple of minutes, God showed me some of the sin cycles that I get caught up in.  The things that I am constantly fighting against.  The “snakes” that I so desperately need to clear out of my life (laziness and pride being cheif among these right now).  Then he reminded me that I am powerless to do this on my own.  I can’t win.  I am stuck.  On my own I will always be trapped, moving slowly in the cyclone of self…God’s fast moving love and grace just glances off and moves on.  I have to stop trying to stop the cycle on my own.  I have to let his kindness and love in.

When I do.  When I invite God into my struggles, through confession, I allow him to enter in.  The Spirit moves into my cyclone and  this allows me to break free.  Only through the power of the Spirit.  Only when I invite his grace in.  Only when I am honest before him.  This humbles me, breaks up the cycle, and this allows me to fly away.

Check out Romans 8:1-12.  I am just going to quote part of it, but read the rest on your own.

But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.)   And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life[d] because you have been made right with God.   The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.”  Romans 8:9-11.

You can be free.  You can break the cycle.  Yes, we HAVE to work on getting rid of the “snakes” in our lives, but we also HAVE to know that we don’t have to do this alone.  We can’t.  Jesus died and was raised again.  That same power that raised him from the dead will break the chains that trap us in the sin cycle.  Please call out to him!  Please turn to God with whatever has you trapped.  Trust him.  He will help you break free.

A side note, tonight I was driving in the Big Red Truck tonight and going to church for a meeting.  On the way there and back, I kept seeing less and less leaves as more and more broke loose and got away.  There is hope!  God can break our sin cycles and free us from them one by one!

Did this speak to you?  Have you found freedom from sin cyclones by inviting God into your stuggle?  Tell me about it  You don’t have to get details…just talk about your freedom!

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Debt-Limits, Deficits, and the Paul Plan

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Before you skip this blog because you think it is going to be about politics, please consider reading.  Politics is not the point.  God gave me a pretty cool spiritual insight based on all of the debate going on in our government.  Please read on to the end…there is a point!

For those of you who may live under a rock, let me rehash the current dilemma in the Ole USA.  The government is currently running at a sizable deficit (fancy talk for more money being spent than is being brought in).  Though, most families in our country are living in a deficit, spending slightly more than we are making (i.e. credit card and loan payments being a reality), our country is spending a lot more than it is making.  Which brings us to the predicament that is eating up most of the “news hour” on any given station.

With a lot more money going out than coming in, just as I mentioned is the case for most American families, Uncle Sam (the US Government) has run up a large debt (in the sum of trillions of dollars) through borrowing money (like the aforementioned loans most families have to pay on).  The only problem is that our loan payments are compounding the “money going out” issue.  Roughly 40 cents of every dollar that goes to our government is sent back out as interest on the loans it has taken out, and that doesn’t count any money to pay off the debt or payments to other government programs and obligations.  To be able to pay all we need to pay, the government has to take out more loans and run up a bigger debt (which, yes you guessed it causes bigger payments to be paid and more interest owed).

At some point in US history (I am not sure when), Congress decided to put a “cap” on how much debt our country can have.  It takes an act of Congress to raise this “cap”.  This is the “debt limit” you keep hearing about.  The current debate is whether or not to raise this limit, how to increase revenues (money coming in), and how to cut spending (and everything that comes along with this).  The republicans want to increase the limit by the smallest possible increment, not raise any taxes, and drastically cut spending.  The democrats want to increase the limit as much as possible, raise taxes for revenues, and only cut spending on what can be done without affecting many people who rely on government programs.  I am not going to chime in on my thoughts on this, this is not my reason for writing today.

God used this whole government issue, along with something from the Bible, to speak to me in a pretty profound way this morning.  Okay, get your Bibles ready: Romans 3:9-19 and Romans 6 (yes, the whole chapter).

Here is the thing.  We are all up to our eyeballs in debt to God.  Sin (falling short of who God is and what he expects…or as Watchman Nee said it is the act of leaving God’s path) puts us at odds with God.  Sin makes us have to pay a price to be made right with him…the price to pay is our “debt”.  Every sin deepens the hole we have to dig out of.  Every time we “fall short” of who God is, we are even more indebted to him.

A lot of people think, “Alright, then I will just live right and do the right things from now on.”  This is a GREAT endevour…but it does nothing to make any of our “debt payments” to God.  Not sinning will only keep us from getting deeper into debt.  Even if you could spend the rest of your life as godly as God expects, you still have a price to pay.  The first half of Romans 6:23 says that, “The wage of sin is death.”  We owe God death.  You can’t pay for that by not sinning anymore.  You can’t.  And, unfortunately, the bad news is that even death does nothing to make us “right with God.”  It only pays our sin debt.

We can try to stop sinning, go to church, give all of our money to the poor, go to another country and tell others about Jesus, or anything else you can think of to try to balance your debt, but it won’t work.  The payment is still due and you aren’t impressing God.  The only way for the debt to be paid AND allow us to be right with God is for someone who doesn’t have to pay the debt for themselves to pay it for you.  To die for you.

Tadaa!  That is why Jesus, God’s son (fully God and fully man), had to come, live, and die for you.  He did not sin.  He did not have pay with death for his own sin, so his death can be a payment for your account.  And even better news, HE WAS SEPARATED FROM GOD FOR YOU.  Not only did he pay the debt, he took the “interest payment”.  His sacrafice allows you to be made right with God.

“Mr. OneCupof Joe Guy, how do you know this makes us right with God and ends our separation?”  I know because the tomb Jesus was laid in was empty a few days later.  Jesus was raised from the dead!!  This means the price was paid, punishment was carried out, and Jesus left the debtors prison with the keys in his hand!  All you have to do is put your faith in the fact that this is true!  Read the book of Romans and see for yourself!

Okay now back to the debt debate and to bring this all home and tie this one up.  This is where Romans 6 comes in as a whole.  Once we have put our faith in our debt being “balanced”, does that mean we can go on sinning and living like we did?  No, of course not (to quote Paul)!    We can’t keep running up the debt!  If we do, it was never balanced for us in the first place!  If we are truly free from our debt of sin (and the power it had over us), we will be changed.  We will live and “do the right things” because our hearts (and the Spirit now living there) will drive us to.  Our actions will be from internal motivation of acceptance by God and not the external motivation of trying to pay off our debt to him!

As for our country, who knows what is going to happen (well, God does), but I don’t think it is for me to obsess about.  I think I need to focus on the debt debate in my heart and life…and thank you, Jesus, it is not a long debate!  Hallelujah, what a Savior!

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Posted by on July 27, 2011 in Gospel and Faith

 

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The Great Coffee Famine of 2011

About two and a half weeks ago I was challenged to do something.  My chiropractor has been talking to me for years about drinking coffee.  He knows that I have been drinking way too much (several cups a day), and he pushed me once more to give it up.  We talked about addictions and the health effects of coffee drinking.  It is a diuretic, and without coffee I barely drink enough water every day already (putting aside the recent news that the minimum amount of water that have come up in the last couple of weeks).  Long story short, he convinced me that coffee has been putting me in a water deficit.  On somewhat of a whim that day, I decided to stop drinking it cold turkey (mmmmm…cold turkey).

Now, let me in on how big of a deal this is for me.  I love coffee.  I don’t just drink it because I like the caffine boost, which I do…decaffinated coffee is pointless to me.  I actually love the experience of drinking coffee.  Smelling it.  Breathing it in.  Tasting it.  It doesn’t matter how hot the temperature is outside, a cup of steaming hot coffee gets my day off right.

More than this, I love coffee enough to be very picky about my coffee.  It must be black (nothing in it), and it must be GOOD coffee.  I am what some may call a “coffee snob.”  I don’t like it from resturants, for the most part, and I usually feel like I have to make it myself to have a good cup.  I will go out of my way to buy great coffee beans, and I even have a coffee pot that will grind the beans for me.  I can smell the delicious aroma of great coffee in my mind as I write this.

I obviously have a passion for coffee.  The problem was, and I agree with this, my passion was a borderline addiction.  The other side of my love of coffee is the amount I would drink.  I am pretty sure my average was hovering between four to six cups on a normal day, and possibly a lot more on some days, especially during the school year.  This was not a healthy relationship with my beloved drink, to say the least.

It was hard, but I committed to stopping.  On Facebook I gave updates on the progress every other day for the first week or so.  My body took awhile to adjust, but it did.  I stopped thinking about it.  I stopped wanting it all the time.  I was even able to make a pot for my parents when they visited without being overly tempted to drink some.

I made it from one trip to the chiropractor to the next, about two and a half weeks.  I was very proud of myself, but something occured to me.

I had a sudden realization, I gave up coffee but somewhere inside of me I was always thinking about it…even if that thinking was only thinking about how well I was doing in not drinking it.  This seemed odd to me, so I started to think about my motivation for not drinking coffee.  As I did this, all I could come up with is that I drank too much and it kept me from drinking enough water.  This did not balance out with my obvious love of coffee…something God created and is okay, in moderation.

A story about Peter in the book of Acts came to mind when he was challenged by God, in Acts 10.   Summary of the story: Peter was praying, a sheet came down from heaven covered in animals, a voice said “Kill and eat”, Peter said, “I have never eaten anything unclean”, the voice said “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”  The story goes on to talk about how God opened the Gospel to the Gentiles and did so through Peter (and Paul).

I know it is a bit of a stretch, but it showed me something in my approach to coffee.  It was focus.  There was no real, hardfast reason for me to give up coffee outside of the vague idea of too much coffee and not enough water.  It made me think about coffee all of the time, even more so than I was thinking about it too much.  Coffee is not a sin.  It is not something to battle over my flesh with.  I was fighting it in my own strength, and in doing so it almost made it want it more than I did before.

Here comes the big lesson.  Sin.  When I focus on fighting my sin on my own, in my own strength, I fail most often.  I focus on the Law.  The Law that makes me guilty before God.  My reasoning is that I need to follow the Law and because sin puts me in a “deficit” before God.  That is the WHY I am battling my flesh.  This makes me focus on it even more, and more likely to fail.

I need to realize I do not have to fight against sin.  I am dead to sin.  I am dead to the Law.  The Law was fulfilled through Jesus Christ.  I do not have to battle my flesh to be made right with God.  Jesus “balanced” my “deficit” with God.  I battle with my flesh, not because I HAVE to, but because I now can, sin no longer has a hold on me.  I can discipline myself now because I am free to and because I am given power to do so by the Holy Spirit, who raised Jesus from the dead and who gives me the strength I do not have.

Coming back to coffee, I have decided to have one cup a day.  No more.  Less is okay.  I will drink extra water on the days I drink coffee.  It is no longer a struggle.  I can have the taste I love, but it now longer has the hold on me it had.  I am not focused on it because I now have a balance.  Mmmmm…coffee.

This, by the way, is the inspiration for the name of my blog: One Cup of Joe.

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Posted by on July 26, 2011 in Sin

 

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