Wednesday, April 20, 2011


At any moment I was going to be walking behind my small automobile, pushing it into the nearest gas station. There was no problem with the carburetor valve or hyper-compression chamber. All of the pistons were hitting the right manifold plates just like they were supposed to be. My car was running just fine except for one problem – my gas tank was empty.

I coasted off of the exit ramp and into the nearest gas station on fumes and prayer. I made it! I fought the gas tank and I won. Books would be written about how no man ever dared to stand up against his gas tank like the great Jay Sanders. And then I noticed yet another problem – my wallet was empty.

Hold off on the book deal. How do I get out of a situation like this? My options, as I saw them, were few.

1. Check out the give a penny, take a penny tray over at the counter and focus more on the taking of pennies.

2. Walk up to the stranger over on pump 3 and ask if I could borrow some gas, or some money, or his car.

3. Look under my seats for loose change.

I went with the third option. I found less than a dollar in spare change. Thankfully, this was back in the day when gas hovered around a dollar a gallon so I was able to get enough to make it home. On a side note, nothing is better for one’s humility than putting gas in your car and going to pay for it with two dimes, a nickel and 13 pennies one of which had some gnarly combination of gum and hair wrapped all over it.

As frightening as this was for me, there is a much more horrific emptiness than gas tanks and wallets. Some struggle with the loneliness of an empty home and others the heartache of an empty baby room. Emptiness means pain.

This pain is the result of an even more horrific emptiness that traces back to man’s rebellion against God in the garden. Adam and Eve’s sin meant their expulsion from the one place where they enjoyed perfect communion with God and one another. Because of sin, man was rightfully kicked out of the garden (Genesis 3:24) and now every human being has carried that emptiness (Psalm 51:5; Romans 3:23). Emptiness means pain.

Throughout the rest of the Old Testament we see man trying to fill his emptiness with anything other than his Creator God. Aaron and the rest of Israel thought that a golden calf would make a good replacement (Exodus 32). The nation of Israel demanded a king so that they could be like the other nations (1 Samuel 8:1-9). Surely that would fill the emptiness. What’s the worst that could happen (1 Samuel 8:19-22)? David relied on a deadly combination of lust and power to remedy his emptiness (2 Samuel 11) and the story goes on and on and on. Emptiness means pain.

Which brings us to the cross where we are forced to grapple, not only with the effects of our emptiness but the cause as well. The dark sky, the agonizing words from the mouth of Christ, the trembling earth and the lifeless body all take us back to the empty garden and the part each of us played in it. Emptiness means pain.

For as long as I’ve known my grandfather, he’s been a worker. He’s one of those that probably would have died 15 years earlier if he ever slowed down. One of his hobbies was going to the local cemetery and cleaning up around the family plot and usually around neighboring plots as well.

One of the things that always stuck out to me was the grave marker for my grandfather – you know the one that was doing all of the weed eating. I always thought that it must be strange to take care of your own gravesite but for probably 25 years, that’s what he did – took care of his own empty grave.

If I go back to that gravesite today, I don’t have the same kind of happiness I did when I went with my grandfather. Now his grave isn’t empty anymore. Now, my mother is buried out there right next to my brother who died right after he was born. Instead of going to cut down weeds and place flowers on empty graves, I go to mourn over ones that are full.

That’s what Mary Magdalene and her friends were going to do in Mark 16, if they could only figure out a way to get around the big rock that sealed off the tomb where Jesus was buried. As they looked up and saw that the tomb was open they walked in and saw an angel with the greatest news of emptiness the world has ever known – “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here.” The tomb that once held the lifeless and battered body of Jesus couldn’t hold it for very long. It was empty.

I don’t have all the answers about how much we’ll know family and friends in heaven and what our relationships with them will be like. I do know that Christ is there and not in his tomb and being with him will be more than enough. I also know that one day, because of Jesus’ victory over the grave, the grave of Leman Sanders and every other person who came to Christ in repentance and faith will finally be empty again.

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.

(1 Thessalonians 4:14 ESV)

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Greener Grass Conspiracy

I’m not very good at being content. Here’s an actual example from my life.

High School Senior Jay: “I can’t wait to get out of this place and get to college.”

College Jay: “I can’t wait to get out of this place and into a better school.”

Not Accepted Into “Better School” Jay: “I can’t wait to graduate from here so I can get a job.”

College Graduate and Unemployed Jay: “Is there anyway I can go back to college?”

There’s a line from an Avett Brothers song that says, “The more I have the more I think: I’m almost where I need to be if only I could get a little more.”

Sadly, that pretty much sums up far too big of a chunk of my life. If you can relate, there’s help in Stephen Altrogge’s new book The Greener Grass Conspiracy.

I hardly knew anything about Altrogge before reading this book and I feared the worst. “Excellent, a published pastor who probably has 45,367 people in his church and a movie deal in the works telling me to get over myself. Just what I need.” Nothing could be farther from the truth.

The thing I like best about The Greener Grass Conspiracy is the honesty and transparency of Altrogge. This isn’t some guru who’s got it all together talking down to the rest of us who still haven’t figured out how to quit sinning. Altrogge shares with great openness about his own struggles with contentment as he tries to navigate his family into buying their first home and surviving on what little bit of money is left over at the end of each month.

But this just isn’t a book where a guy shares his struggles so you can relate to him and find a little bit of company in your misery. Instead Altrogge offers several practical steps springing from theological truths seemingly tailor made for guys like me who struggle with contentment.

Altrogge defines contentment as “a disposition of the heart that freely and joyfully submits to God’s will, whatever that will may be.” He goes on to explain how a lack of contentment is essentially the fruit of a heart that views God as a negligent parent who wants nothing but our worst. It is idolatry in its ugliest form. But the answer is not to sell all my stuff, get rid of my ambition and desires and move to a commune. Instead, the discontented heart finds relief in pondering the majesty and blessings of God. Our contentment issues are not a result of not getting what we want but a result of misplaced wonder and worship.

If a publishing company called me today asking if they could send me a big bag of money to turn my last sermon series into a book but my heart isn’t centered on Christ and his gospel, I wont be any happier than I am now. If I give everything away and somehow figure out how to rid myself of all ambition and desire, satisfaction will not follow. True satisfaction can only be found in knowing and treasuring Christ (Matthew 5:6). This was the secret to Paul’s contentment (Philippians 4:10-13) and it can be for us as well.

I’ve been blessed to read a lot of really good books this year but I cannot think of another book that has been more directly beneficial to me than Stephen Altrogge’s The Greener Grass Conspiracy.

If you have a hard time finding contentment, read this very short and very powerful book. If you’ve got the contentment thing taken care of, write your own book because the Church needs more like this one.

"Greener Grass Conspiracy" Trailer - Stephen Altrogge from Crossway on Vimeo.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Shift Resistors and You

If you’re like me you often find yourself wondering what to do with the extra line cranks you have after flushing out your shift resistor. For many, the scenario is a very familiar one. You spend all weekend trying to get your shift resistor back in prime condition. You know there’s no need to buy a new one because just a little elbow grease and a lot of persistence can save you quite a bit of money. But at the end of the day you’re left with twice as many line cranks as you started out with and an overheated barrel jolt.

Well, it looks like the folks at Chassis Imports have been in the same situation and they’re here to help. Their new product is called the Slate Cleaner and it retails for $49.99 but the payoff is priceless. The painstaking task of using a filament brush and solder gun may finally be obsolete. In a development that seems too good and too simple to be true, the Slate Cleaner does all of the cleaning and turbinizing that once took two tools and an entire weekend.

Some may ask, “Okay, but how am I supposed to cross my valve planks while the shift resistor is cleaning and turbinizing at the same time?” Believe me, I asked that same question before I got my own hands on the Slate Cleaner. The answer lies in the second feature of this great new piece of equipment and it’s as simple as a ½ inch slit at the bottom of each side of your pipe fitter. Who knew that just a little cut could make such a big difference?

The folks at Chassis Imports have outdone themselves yet again. This could be the biggest development the industry has seen since the development of the Electric Ball-Bearing Motor. After a weekend of working with the Slate Cleaner from Chassis Imports you’ll agree with me that the Slate Cleaner will leave you working with a clean slate the next time you try to flush out a shift resistor.