Guilty.

My wife and I hadn’t spent the past 5 anniversaries together.  But this past June 24th, we had the wonderful privilege of not just having dinner together, but also an overnight stay at a swanky hotel.  Excited?  You bet I was!  And that might explain how while driving on our way to dinner I didn’t exactly notice the speed limit signs.  It wasn’t an area I drive in very regularly and I thought I was just going with traffic.

(Cue the flashing blue and red lights behind me.)

So, I pull over while making the year’s biggest understatement: “I think I’m being pulled over.”  Officer ImageWhatshisname asks for my license and registration and the whole schpeel.  You know the drill.

After receiving my ticket, we head on our way to dinner, none the worse for wear.  Let me say that I think getting a speeding ticket on the way to your anniversary dinner may have sparked a bit of tension between another couple perhaps. But I married up.  WAY up.  And she was as relaxed and carefree as could be. No disapproving sighs. No awkward silence. No arms crossed, seething in frustration. Just love. Man, I love this woman.

I decided that I wasn’t going to just send a check for the ticket and be done with it, but rather I’d actually go to court. And when my day of reckoning came, the experience of that day reminded me of a wonderfully freeing truth.  (You knew it would.)

I found my assigned courtroom and shuffled in with all my fellow common criminals.  We sat down in what reminded me of the long wooden pews of my childhood church. One by one, the judge called each individual on that day’s docket and they approached the bench to converse about their particular offense.

Then the time came.

“Jeremy Varner”.  My name echoed off the chamber walls.  I approached the judge’s bench and looked up into the face of the black-robed man who held my life in his hands (or at least my license).  “Mr. Varner, are you guilty or not guilty of speeding?”

“Guilty, Your Honor.”Image

“Mr. Varner, I see you have a clean driving record. Would you like to take a driving school course and have your ticket dismissed?”  I’m pretty sure I responded, “That would be great!”  The judge continued “Step to your left and the bailiff will explain the details, and you’ll be free to go.”

Admission of guilt leads us to freedom.  That confession was not a sign of weakness anymore than breaking a bone and going to the hospital to have it repaired is a sign of weakness, or any more than having a busted pipe in your home and calling a plumber is a sign of weakness.  Admission of guilt is essentially a cry of “I’m stuck and helpless.”  But with God, our admission of guilt triggers the administering of His grace.  Don’t confess your guilt and He won’t convey His grace.  That doesn’t mean He’s cut you off from forgiveness; it just means you’re not taking what’s being freely offered because of your stubborn pride.

The best part of that day in court for me quite honestly was my admission of guilt.  I had no problem pleading guilty because I knew that it was true.  I didn’t argue it, I didn’t blame the officer’s equipment, I didn’t make excuses.  I just said, “I’m guilty.”

Our church choir loves to sing a particular song and while I don’t know the actual title, I do know a poignant, repeated line in the chorus: “Jesus dropped the charges.”  It’s a foot-stomping tune that revs the crowd up every time they sing it.  But if I could, I would tweak the lyrics just a bit from “Jesus dropped the charges” to “Jesus PAID the charges!”  When I admit my guilt, Jesus applies His blood.  When I openly confess I’m at fault, Jesus openly declares my freedom.

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After the Lovin’…

I’ve been a Christian and in full time ministry long enough to have become fascinated by a particular Imagephenomenon I see in the lives of so many Christians and congregations.  If you’ve been around us Christians, you’ve seen it too.  Its the reality that for some strange reason, the older we get, the less passionate we seem to be about our love relationship with Jesus.  Its as if unabashed hilarity is relegated only to the very young of age or very young of faith.  If you’re older in your faith or just plain older, well then…simmer down.

I see Christians who have been walking with the Lord for a while glance knowingly at each other when they encounter a brand new, fired up, can’t stop smiling, toe-tapping, evangelizing, fresh-outta-the-box recipient of God’s grace.  Its a glance that says, “They’ll learn. They’ll grow out of it. Let’s just love them through this giddy schoolgirl phase.”  And all as if we should be wanting that zeal to die down so that those new babes in Christ don’t cause a scene and get all “crazy”.  Or worse yet: make us look like we don’t really love Jesus enough.

And I’m not even just talking about one particular age group.  I’ve seen teenagers in one context go absolutely nuts in a worship service; screaming, dancing, clapping, jumping, shouting, crying.  And then when in another context those same teens are barely a notch above comatose, apparently without any fervor at all.

On a Sunday morning several months ago, one of our seniors in high school was helping to lead worship singing during one of our student services.  As we sang a song that previously evoked a “conga line” while we were away on a mission trip earlier that month, she decided that she was going to start dancing laps around the room, in hopes that others would join in the celebration of the God we were singing to and about.

They didn’t.  No one joined her.  They all simply stared at her, giggled and glanced at each other as she circled the crowd several times before the end of the song.

But here’s the thing: to most students in the room it seemed awkward and embarassing to do something so undignified (even while singing David Crowder’s song “Undignified”!).  But to her, it was an opportunity to express her passion for Christ and to invite others to do the same.  The fact that no one did that morning had no bearing on her whatsoever.  In fact, at the end of the song she took a moment and gave an impromptu explanation of King David’s attitude and how while people thought he should behave in a way a bit more fitting for a king, the king just wanted to dance and his feet would not be still.

So, why is it that when we are first introduced to Jesus and are ushered into the family of God there is elation, but the longer we stay in the family of God, there is deflation?  Why are the most energized followers of Christ almost always the ones who just met Him and who know the least about Him?  Why is it that our unashamed abandon gives way to unambitious apathy?

I believe there are lots of possible explanations (none of them really valid), but I’d like to throw one out there and call it our fascination with sophistication.  Wherever we go, we like to look like we’ve got it together.  And breaking free of decorum in any context is just…well…uncivilized.  What would people think of us if while singing the words “When the world has seen the light, they will dance with joy like we’re dancing now…” and we actually DANCED?  But there it is.  There’s the problem.  We’re wrapped up in our own view, and in others’ view of us and we’re dismissive of God’s view, God’s desire, God’s worthiness, God’s presence, God’s invitation, and God’s freedom.

We’re fickle followers.  Our follow-through in following Him is often hinged on our mood.  Its often an egocentric roller coaster built of the flimsiness of our current circumstance rather than on the fact that right now while you’re reading this, angels and creatures surround the throne of God and cry out to one another and to Him, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty!  He was, He is, and He is to come!”Image

We’re pridefully forgetful. We walk further and further from the cross as we live our daily lives and consequently forget what happened there, what it means to humanity, and how it supposed to be changing us day by day.

But this isn’t about dancing, or shouting, or causing a scene.  Its about Jesus.  Everything is.  God’s Word tells us that it is from Him all things have come and it is to Him all things will return. (Romans 11:36) Jesus Christ is the final word and will have the final say to this thing we call time and space.  Deny it, scoff it, ignore it, dismiss it, or believe it. And if we believe it, then for cryin’ out loud let’s not just smile at the zealous, the newborn in Christ, the passionate, undignified followers of Jesus.  Let’s return to that place.  Let’s grow our love and surrender to Jesus Christ into a stupid, scene-causing, let-er-rip, dancefest of joy over our redemption and our Redeemer!

I’m stopping here, but let me leave you with what I think is a near-perfect marriage of yesterday’s hymnal theology and today’s outright silliness that ensues when we stop caring about what other humans think of how we love Jesus….Ladies and Gents, I give you “I Saw The Light!”

How 3 Drunks Helped Me and Can Help You Too.

It’s been over 2 months since I’ve written last.  During that time I’ve been on 4 pretty substantial journeys; one with our student leadership team, one with 115 others on our middle school mission trip, one with an amazing group of high schoolers, and one on vacation with my favorite 5 people on earth…in that order.

There simply is no way to capture and convey the incredible things that I experienced during these past 2 months.  They’ve been filled with the pleasure of watching God do above and way beyond my expectations.  Its hard to believe–even now–that those 4 trips (especially the first 3) are behind me.  That’s because for the past year or more these 4 experiences have been like islands on the distant horizon.  And now they’re all behind me.

I’ve thought thoughts, I’ve had conversations, I’ve witnessed unforgettable things. And I’ve blogged about none of it.  Despite my best intentions, I’ve not even been able to stop and record any of it for you, my readers. I would apologize, but I tend to over-apologize for not writing and for better or worse, not being able to write has just been my reality this summer.  As they say: “It is what it is.”

But I do want to share a recent experience with you.  It was actually the MOST recent memorable thing I experienced while on vacation.

It was our final night on the road and we had stopped in Goldsboro, NC to visit my parents. My mom had just had knee replacement surgery (pray for her recovery, if you would) and I wanted to stop in if even for a brief visit.  We booked a room at a hotel in town that will remain nameless, but it starts with an H and ends with an Ampton Inn.  We had gotten settled in for the evening and it was a few minutes before 10 p.m. when all 6 of us were drifting off to sleep.  It didn’t take long at all before we were all in Lah-lah Land, worn out from our drive that started that morning in central Florida.

I was awakened by voices at 2:15 a.m.  They seemed to be coming from outside our second floor window. I got up, tiptoed to the window and peeked out to see 3 people sitting at a table next to the hotel pool.  Despite the fact that it was quite literally the middle of the night, these three were oblivious and their volume was anything but quiet.  Slightly in shock at the disregard to people like me who come to a hotel to  actually sleep, I slipped back into bed hoping they’d soon be on their way.

I gave them 15 minutes or so and then got up again.  Careful not to wake my family, I picked up my cell phone from the table, slipped into the bathroom, and called the hotel front desk.  I was greeted merrily by “Josh”.

“Uh, yeah. Hi Josh. I’m a guest at your hotel and I’m just calling to tell you that there are 3 people out by your pool who are talking very loudly, and they’re keeping me awake.”

Josh responded, “Yes sir, thank you for letting me know. I’ll take care of it immediately.”  *click*

Feeling pretty proud that I took care of business (or rather, asked Josh to), I started to get back in bed but before  my head touched the pillow, I thought,  “Oh wait, I wanna see the vigilante justice carried out!”  So I got up, hurried over to the window, and peered out waiting for Josh or someone large to give those hooligans the riot act for daring to bother the guests in room 218.

And I waited.  And waited.  And……nothing.  No Josh. No vigilantes. No bloodshed.  Nothing but a huge let-down.

Image

Ironically, I found these in my hotel bathroom the next morning.

As I stood there with what I’m sure was a wide-open mouth, I watched in shocked horror as the threesome not only didn’t quiet down and didn’t scram, but they then proceeded to push away from their beer bottle-riddled table, disrobe, and jump into the pool!  They quickly found a beach ball and began swatting it around to each other.  Have you ever heard a beach ball being slapped at 3 a.m.?!?  It’s obnoxious!

I simply couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  I mean this almost topped a previous hotel stay debacle from years ago; the one that will forever live in infamy as “The night we met the MMA industry”.

Defeated by three inebriated individuals, I got back in bed.  Have you ever planned a speech in your head? A speech you imagined giving to a certain someone whereby the longer you talked the smaller they became?  My “someone” was Josh and the three half-naked beach ballers and by the end of my imaginary speech, they were the size of fleas.  Have you ever daydreamed your vindicating speech and then went a step further and through the wonders of imagination shaped the entire guest care policy of an international hotel chain?  Nah, me neither.  But I did think of what this hotel’s mission statement might be, if they even had one, and how they had failed to live up to it as evidenced by me being awakened by the three long-necked losers outside my second floor window.  I was indignant.  Mortified.  Boiling over with….zzzzzzz. (I fell asleep mid-boil.)

In the morning, I woke up to my alarm and my first order of business was to check the window. Had it all been a dream? Had I not really changed the complexion of the guest care policy of an international hotel chain?  I looked down to that same poolside table and saw a lone, empty long-neck beer bottle.

On my way down to breakfast, I stopped by the only door that led out to the hotel pool.  Clearly stated on the wall next to the door I saw a sign that said in no uncertain terms:  “POOL HOURS: 10 A.M. TO 10 P.M.”  And despite my best squinting, I saw no fine print that said, “Unless you want to swim half-drunk at 3 a.m. In that case, go right ahead. Oh and by the way, there’s a beach ball out there too. Be sure to swat that around in your drunken stupor.”

Here’s a mission statement I’d like to suggest to the Goldsboro, NC Hampton Inn and really to any hotel that exists anywhere: “Our mission as a hotel is to provide and protect a pleasant and restful stay for all of our guests.”  If only that hotel had that as their mission, and if only they carried it out, I would have nothing to write about after staying the night there.

A sense of mission keeps us looking at what’s most important.  Because God knows there are tons of distractions in this life.  Some people mistake them for life and death issues, but they’re not. What is your mission? What is your purpose? What are you on this planet for? I’d dare you to unearth it, declare it, and live it.  It will not merely make the difference in YOUR life, but also that of your marriage, family, business, ministry, or organization.  Begin with “I exist to…”  You and I both know that its tempting to go shallow as we answer that, but we also know when we’re living shallow lives.  Deep down we know there’s more than what we’ve settled for.

So, as it turns out, if that hotel had stuck to their mission and their purpose for existing; if they had declared it and lived it I would not have anything to talk about.  But they didn’t and I hope we’ll use it as an opportunity to recenter ourselves on our mission.