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“Sweet Lou”

2 Corinthians 12:9 – “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

This past weekend, I saw this verse in action.

Lou StrongAlong with my good friend, Jonas Endreson, we visited our dear college buddy, “Sweet” Lou Caruso.

Like Paul, who wrote the passage above, Lou also has a “thorn”. He is battling brain cancer.

Since late last year, so many have been praying, pleading with the LORD, “to take” this thorn away. That has yet to happen, and the disease continues its slow march.

At the same time, GOD’s grace is overflowing.  It always does.

Though Lou is losing sight in one eye, his trademark smile still fills the room.

His short term memory is becoming more consistent, but his laughter is ever-present.

GOD’s “power…made perfect in weakness”.

Lou’s wife, Kim, lovingly “stands in the gap”, meeting this daily battle with dogged determination, and relentless praise for what the LORD has done and is doing.

Watching his father struggle, Lou’s son displays a patience and understanding far beyond his mid-teen years.

The Caruso’s are surrounded by an abundance of love and support. Their neighbors have helped supply meals for months. Friends drive hours to visit. Family members began a #LouStrong t-shirt campaign supported by many.

GOD’s “grace is sufficient.”

Currently, it is evident Lou cannot rely on his own power. Those human abilities have been diminished and continue to be attacked daily. The sting of the “thorn” is felt. It inhibit’s and slows the pace of life down. It makes the doable, difficult.

Yet, it hasn’t stopped Lou or his family!  It hasn’t crushed their spirit or resolve. It hasn’t destroyed their hope.  It hasn’t halted life.

GOD’s “grace” and “power” is sharper than any thorn. It allows us to “soar on wings like eagles”. It helps us to “run and not grow weary”. It makes us “walk and not faint.”

Make no mistake about it, at his weakest point, “Sweet” Lou is very “strong”.

Please keep my good friend in your prayers.

 

 

 

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Strength

In less than 48 hours, Jesus will kneel in the Garden of Gethsemane. “Overwhelmed with sorrow” and the knowledge of what is to come, He will make a plea to heaven.

“‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done’ An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.” (Luke 22:42-43)

I’ve always focused on verse 42. Jesus shows his humanity. Just like us, He would rather not endure the forthcoming pain. There must be a better means to the end. Still, He was committed to His Father’s will being “done.”

In “anguish”, with “sweat…like drops of blood falling to the ground (Luke 22:44), God heard Jesus’s prayer, but He didn’t take the “cup”. Instead, He filled it with exactly what was needed at that moment…strength.

Just like us, Jesus was in the valley (though we can’t fathom the depth of His), and God prepared Him for the brutal journey to come. He is the Alpha and the Omega; the beginning and the end. He has already been where He is leading us.

As He did with Jesus, God will always provide us with the strength to complete His plan.

Refuge – Anywhere

Psalm 23 is the famous passage where GOD leads us beside “quiet” or “still” waters. It’s the type of refuge we all desire.

The soothing sounds of a brook as it meanders over rocks and between crevasses. Maybe it’s the ocean breeze that makes the palm trees sing their coastal tune or the stillness of a mountain range. In any case, our response renders a deep sigh, smile or the fleeting “feeling” of total relaxation. In our finite eyes, and minds, the desired refuge is another place. Another time.

As stated in verse 2, GOD “makes me lie down in green pastures.” It doesn’t say our refuge will be found in greener pastures. That’s what we often think, though. My situation will be better if, if, if … I can get over there. Why? Because “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” That’s where calm resides and the new beginning begins. If I can just get there, it will be…

But the “Great I AM”, HE is a different cat and even tells us such in Isaiah 55:8 (NLT) – “For MY thoughts are nothing like your thoughts. And MY ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.”

Who in their right mind would ever consider the cruel cross as a place to take refuge? As GOD’s love knows no bounds, neither do the places HE offers refuge. HE makes right out of wrong, good out of bad and beauty out of ashes.

Ask the thief that hung on the cross beside JESUS. On that day, he found “goodness and love” (v. 6), “right paths” (v. 5), and “comfort” (v. 4). He found…refuge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Refuge

Refuge. We all need it. That place to go in times of, as Webster’s dictionary puts it, “danger or distress.” It’s where we refuel, recharge, and reexamine what is happening in our world.  The results and answers sought after are often only as good as the chosen refuge.

Personally, my first choices would be working out, watching sports, or a few days at the beach. None of those are bad, but they only serve as a temporary band aid to lingering issues. The refuge that offers truth and peace comes from JESUS and HIS Word.

James 1:22-25 states:

“Don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.”

Going to the refuge, that is GOD, is the only way to experience the peace HE offers from the craziness of this life.  I must be more consistent in not just knowing it’s there, but taking root in that place.

HE DIED IN MY ARMS

HE died in my arms.  I felt HIS last breath; I heard HIS final, pleading cry.  When HE trembled from the pain coursing through every cell of HIS being, I also felt it.

It shook me to my foundation – every sudden jerk, each wrenching twist and turn from a body HE could no longer control.  And I could not put my arms around HIS bloodied frame and stop the hurt.  I could not help lift HIM up so a precious portion of oxygen could enter HIS failing and collapsing lungs.  HE tried so hard, several times to do so, but as the day wore on, HIS torn, beaten and ripped carcass of a body wore out.

How I wish I could have wiped the blood from HIS brow and stopped its downward stream into HIS blurred eyes.  Eyes with an eternal perspective.  Eyes which daily saw the prize HE always wants you to see.  Eyes that look into the sinful hearts of man and can still find some good.  Eyes filled with an unworldly gleam, a heavenly light.

This was replaced with pain, sorrow and bewilderment.  Eyes which asked the question “why?”, and knew the answer to that question.  But one thing remained.  As HE strained to raise HIS head, HE scanned across those who gathered, those who put HIM there – some mocking, some crying, others stone faced – the forgiveness was still there.

How I longed to bandage HIS back, which had been stripped of flesh, of form, and laid open to the elements.  HE could not even lean backwards upon me to gain a second of relief from the agony.

HIS back was a sea of blood – one massive wound torn and sheared from one side to the other.  Everyone who witnessed or those who have heard of this brutal event wince and cringe at the thought of the nails driven through HIS hands and feet.  But do not forget HIS back.  Unlike HE does each day for you, there was no one to watch HIS back because they had all turned theirs on HIM.

GoodFriday-Cross

Every time HE moved, pushed HIS body upwards for air or grazed against me, the pain was excruciating as exposed nerves were met with splinters of wood, which lodged themselves and moved deeper into the rawness bringing unbearable pain with the slightest breath.

There was no rest, not one moment of relaxation or comfort for HIM.

I would have done anything to pull the nails from HIS ravaged feet and hands.  Instead they were pinned to a board like the fur of an animal hung above a mantel.  A conquering prize of HIS enemies, hung in the open for all to see and admire.  The prey – hunted, cornered and finally caught.

Feet, which had traveled so many miles, so the hands could perform miracle upon miracle were no longer of use.  Feet that people had knelt to kiss and hands they longed to grasp instead were covered in crimson red of HIS precious blood.

Now, their only movement was of strain and clutching to a life, which was slowly fading toward eternity with HIS father.

I understand for I was with HIM every slow, exhausting, torturous step of the way.  Through the mockery, the insults, the slander and spitting of the crowds, HE carried me all the way to Calvary.  And at the same time, HE was also carrying you.  Beaten, whipped, bloodied and stumbling, the “Rock of Ages” would not crack under my weight and your sins.

Even as the filthy sins of this world invaded HIS Holy and perfect body, HE found and gave you victory in death – the final act of service from the ONE who came to serve.

Today, you are washed clean, as white as snow from the blood of the Father’s Son.  You continue, though, to scar yourself with sin, after sin, after sin and JESUS remains to wash you clean.  Still, you do not seem to fully understand what HE went through for you!

But I do.  All I have to do is look either way, up or down and I see the stains of HIS blood – stains that will forever remain as a reminder to those who have accepted HIM or who are seeking HIM.  I am soaked in the blood of the ONE who came to give you life!  Are you?  I heard HIS moaning.  I felt HIS quivering body.  I understand.  HE died in my arms.

GOD Bless you this Good Friday,

Robbie Burns

“…at a distance…”

With Good Friday less than 24 hours away, I started reading the 26th chapter of Matthew and its account of that fateful day.  In verse 58, three words hit me square between the eyes – “…at a distance…” 

As athletes, being “…at a distance…” whether mentally, physically or a combination of both will keep us from being sold out and fully engaged “in the game.”  Not only does it have an affect on our play, but on those around us.

The same is true in our walk with Christ.

The first part of verse 58 states, But Peter followed him at a distance…”  How often do we do the same? Christ has called us to “…take up our cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24).  Now we can follow him “..at a distance…” but to truly follow, we must make the choice to be beside Him.

That cross isn’t going to carry itself. It cannot be carried from “a distance.” A batter cannot step into the batter’s box and expect to hit when the bat is still in the dugout.

Just as Jesus carried his cross upon his brutally beaten body, we (and I am speaking to me before anyone else) have to go pick up the cross first.  It cannot be done from a distance.

The second part of the verse said that Peter (it’s tough to be used as an example like this for thousands of years, but he made a great comeback!) “sat down with the guards to see the outcome.”

We are just like Peter…sitting down with the “world” to watch “the outcome.” We are believers but won’t proclaim it. We choose not to serve. We will not take the battle to the enemy in diligent prayer, in our own “War Room.”

We stay on the sidelines.

Thankfully, Jesus chose to meet the cross like two prize fighters do – nose to nose. He did not stay in his corner. He walked to the middle of the ring and courageously confronted the opponent – and won.

We can experience that too, but not “…at a distance.”

Does God care who wins or loses?

Last week, my daughter’s 6-7th grade basketball team from Tattnall Square Academy won its local C-team basketball championship in exciting fashion against long-time rival, Stratford Academy.

The atmosphere was electric! Cheering from both stands gave it the sound and feel of a Friday night varsity game. If you had walked in off the street, you wouldn’t have known the difference.

Both teams represented their schools to the highest standard and each player left their sweat, effort and hearts on the court…as it should be.

When the final horn sounded, Tattnall’s student-body, middle and high schoolers alike, stormed the court surrounding our girls. The celebration continued into the locker room and beyond; a memory always to be treasured.

Afterward, a thought I’ve had many times before returned:  Does God really give a hoot who wins these games?

I know I do.

Every time my daughter and her teammates play, I’m pulling for them just as hard as the parents from the opposing side are pulling for their kids.  If the goal isn’t to win, then why practice?  Why put in all the hard work and long hours?

Philippians 4:13, the famous verse that is directly linked to athletics and has been written on eye-black, shoes, and taped up wrists for decades, states:  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

This Sunday, Super Bowl 50 will pit the Denver Broncos against the Carolina Panthers. Each team’s sole objective is to win.  But, one team is going to lose.

So, is Philippians 4:13 just meant for the winning team?  Because, I promise you, someone from the winning team will thank God for the victory. There’s nothing wrong with that but what’s the Christian on the losing team saying? “God, you let us down?” “Why did you favor the them and not us?”

The Apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 9:24: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.”

Paul is doubling-down. Not only can you “do all things through Christ” but one of those goals should be “to get the prize.”  It is clearly encouraged.

Still, that begs my question, which cheering section will the Lord be in on Super Sunday (or any game that is played)?

Neither.

Just as He wasn’t rooting for Tattnall over Stratford, He won’t be dabbing for Cam Newton or yelling “Omaha” in unison with Peyton Manning.

The Lord desires something more important than top billing on the scoreboard or a trophy that will ultimately gather dust.

 “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men..” Colossians 3:23

First, God wants our hearts! Then He wants us to use the talents He blessed us with to the utmost. He wants us to be grateful of those gifts, giving Him thanks and glorifying His name through our effort.

In the end, God has only one team that He roots for and encourages everyday. Those are His kids, the ones that have chosen His Son, Jesus Christ, as their personal Lord and Savior.

Maybe one of our seventh-graders said it best when she ended her prayer each time by saying – “whether we win or lose, may we do it all for the glory of You.”

Role Players: Jeremiah Castille and “The Fumble”

In 1986, the Denver Broncos crushed the Super Bowl dreams of the Cleveland Browns with “The Drive.”

The “Mistake by the Lake”, and its “Dawg Pound” fans, were silenced as Denver quarterback John Elway orchestrated a legendary 15 play, 98 yard drive in the game’s final five minutes. His touchdown pass to Mark Jackson

Denver Broncos Mark Jackson, 1987 AFC Championship

UNITED STATES – JANUARY 11: Football: AFC playoffs, Denver Broncos Mark Jackson (80) victorious after scoring game tying touchdown during game vs Cleveland Browns, Cleveland, OH 1/11/1987 (Photo by Tony Tomsic/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (SetNumber: X34239 TK2 R15 F15)

sent the game into overtime where the Broncos won on a Rich Karlis field goal.

One year later, the Browns attempted to produce their own “drive”. Trailing 38-31,with just over a minute left in regulation, Cleveland reached the Denver eight yard-line looking to tie the game.

Enter Jeremiah Castille.

In his fifth NFL season, the former Alabama Crimson Tide All-American, was in his first year with the Broncos. With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Castille started 45 of his first 60 NFL games from 1983-1986.

Though playing in 11 games during 1987, Castille did not start and was used as a backup cornerback, many times in special situations. Such was the case in the AFC title game.

On first and goal from Denver’s 8-yard line, Castille came into the game as the Bronco’s expected Cleveland to throw. Showing a three-wide formation, and Denver with an extra DB, Brown’s quarterback Bernie Kosar changed from a passing to a running play.

Castille took advantage of his opportunity.

Kosar handed-off to 215-pound Earnest Byner and the Columbus, Georgia native was barreling toward the end zone for an apparent score. Outweighed by 40 pounds, Castille came off his coverage duties and met Byner in the hole, stripping the ball loose and recovering “The Fumble” at the two-yard line.

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Watch the play and listen to the call from NBC’s Dick Enberg here.

Because he kept his focus and played his role, Castille helped Denver to a second consecutive Super Bowl and the little-known cornerback is now forever-known in Bronco history.

Nearly 30 years later, Castille’s current roles include teaching, coaching and leading his Christian-based Jeremiah Castille Foundation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Composure – A Sticky Situation

“Never let them see you sweat.”

In 1984, the Gillette Company launched this new ad slogan for its antiperspirant line, Dry Idea.  It became one of the most famous in advertising history running for over 12 years and being pitched by some of the biggest names of that era. (Former Denver Broncos head coach Dan Reeves – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_EUz0XQbz4)

Keeping our composure is, like most things, easier said than done.  Talking the talk is simple; walking the walk is a much different story.

See Simon Peter.

In John 13:37, he boldly tells Jesus – “I will lay down my life for you.” Five chapters later, when the heat was on, Peter did just as Jesus said. He denied his Savior three times. Not only did Peter deny Jesus, he vehemently denied Him. Peter broke when it was time to stand.

Lest we start feeling good about ourselves,  Peter, though he broke, was literally facing life or death among a mob mentality.

On the flip side, we daily encounter those harrowing times that test men’s souls like: Waiting in a drive through (with our without screaming children). Stuck in traffic. Getting lost (and feeling embarrassed about it). Not being able to find the car keys.

Proverbs 25:28 states: “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self control.” During Biblical times, if the walls of the city were breached, its inhabitants and everything in it were at extreme risk.

Isn’t the same true in our own lives?  Why should my 12-year old daughter be put at risk because my “walls” are “broken down” by a cell phone gone AWOL? (I just blamed it on the cell phone)  

My lack of composure breaches her protection. If she enters those turbulent teenage years handling situations similarly, I will not be able to pull a Pilate and wash my hands of it. The stains will remain.

Thus creating a sticky situation now and in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Embrace Your Role

Everyone has a role to play. At some time or another, all of us have balked or pushed back against the said role presented us. Thoughts and feelings run the gammut. It’s demeaning. There’s not enough limelight. Someone else is getting all the pub.

Humans. We are a prideful bunch and get our lip run out because it’s not about me.

Well, all of us little campers can roll that lip back up before it gets stepped on. Thanks to God’s Word, through The Apostle Paul’s writing in I Corinthians 12:12-31, He informs us:

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues[d]? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

Whatever role we are called to, let’s do it with excellence, to first honor Jesus, because it is an important piece of a much bigger picture.

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