Monday, June 30, 2014

"Residence" Now Available Online

A short story that I wrote several years ago is now available for free as an ebook. Spread the word.


Monday, June 02, 2014

Embrace The Eternal


Life was simple and easy once. Not too long ago really. I worked 25 hours or so a week (maybe 30 now and then). Kristin, my wife, made good money working 40 hours a week. We did what we wanted when we wanted to do it. Life was good.  Life was easy. We’d go out to plenty of fun dinners and take weekend getaways to the mountains. We’d watch movies with the home theatre system rumbling our walls as we shared a bowl of popcorn on the couch. We’d stay up late and sleep in on Saturdays… as late as humanly possible. That is, unless I had a sunrise trout fishing trip planned, of course.

Perhaps I should stop reminiscing right here. This month, three years ago, Kristin was seven months pregnant with a surprising promise who we named Noah Daniel. After his arrival, simple and easy took an immediate exit right out the door. And our world of safety and comfort went right with them. Since that day, almost three years ago, we’ve been to ER’s as our little son turned blue from not breathing to being swollen and bright red from allergic reactions to foods. We’ve had sleepless nights instead of nights out on the town.  We’ve gone without romantic dinners in quiet little Italian restaurants because now our gazing into one another’s eyes would be to the sounds of “No. I don’t want to eat.” We’ve exchanged movies and surround sound for quiet evenings hoping not to wake our son because he was sick all day and needs to rest. We’ve traded sleeping in on weekends to being awoken, sometimes at 6am (or before) to the sound of “Daaaaaaaaaaddy.”

Of course, I could go on and on but please allow me to drive straight to my point. Simple. Safe. Comfortable. Easy. Our lives for many married years. As recently as last night, as Kristin and I stayed awake virtually all night long tending to our sick little one, I was reminded not of what we’re missing but rather what we’ve gained. It's not about fleeting moments (sleepless nights with a sick toddler), it's about a much bigger picture- rearing him to be one captivated with Jesus. You see, my Father has me on an incredible uprooting adventure that all started in that hospital maternity wing. Some of my comforts are dying a slow and painful death and some, it seems, were seemingly ripped right from my chest.

I can say that at this stage I hope to be more willing to lay them down at the feet of my Father in surrender. This season we’re now in as a family is a call to leave the comforts and safeties of our life behind. You see, we’re being called to move from easy unto eternal. It’s surely not a painless endeavor. In fact, many times it seems to scare me to no end. That’s because it’s all out of my control – and that’s exactly where it needs to stay. If I can control it, it will always be limited to my abilities and strengths as well as remain at comfortable levels that I can manage easily. But it seems that God will have none of that these days. His call is clear – “Leave the safe. Leave the comfortable. Leave the controllable, calculated world that you’ve created.”

As I was wrapping up a 5-hour detail job today, someone walked by and commented on how awful the vehicle was when I started and how long it was taking me to do the paint restoration process. It was in dreadful shape, yes.  But what came out of my mouth in response stuck with me the rest of the day. “You’re right.  The challenging jobs are a lot of hard work but they sure are a whole lot more rewarding,” I said. Our life in Christ must be like this. We must be willing to embrace the trials, pains and discomfort of dying to our ironclad wills. It will not be pleasurable in our flesh but it will absolutely be so worth the effort when all is said and done. It will take the remainder of our days as we grapple with the processes of letting go of our comforts and cravings in order to perfect us. The end result, the reward of it all, is to please our Father.


So, we venture out. Sometimes with arms raised and a roar from our mouths as we run across the fields of life and, at other times, with fingers digging into the ground as all that we’ve known as “normal” is moving away from us. Either way, the call goes forth. “Come and die. Lose your life for My sake and you will find it.” It makes no sense to almost everyone that I meet, and often even to me. But we keep our gaze on Christ and lay aside all things that keep us from being more and more conformed into His beautiful image. Anyone can do easy. May we be a people who embrace the eternal.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Consuming Fire/Rolling Deep


You know those “Fire Danger Level” signs that you see at forestry service headquarters? Well, if you live in a large metro area chances are you may not. But where I currently reside (where there is surely no metro area) I drive by one often. They have an interchangeable sign that can say the level is “high”, “low” or “extremely high”. There are likely many variables that they use to choose which status to put up for each particular day. High or low humidity, wind speeds, recent rainfall totals, etcetera. Similarly, there are warning levels at beaches that can define tide activity. Anyone who’s ever visited the beach knows about the flags that are present to tell beachgoers how likely it is that they’ll be swept out to sea. Knowing tidal conditions are important for the protection of those who want to safely venture out into the immense ocean.
OK, please keep these two things in mind, the fire and the water, as we move ahead. As Christians we sing songs about “the fire of God” all the time (or at least I presume we still do as much as we did back when I attended services every week). “Lord, bring Your fire!” we say. There’s “consuming fire”, “fire fall down”, “refine me like fire”, “burn me with Your presence” - you get the idea. And what about the water? I remember songs stating “take us ‘deeper’ Lord into Your oceans”, “waves crashing over us” and “God, flood over us”. All insinuating that we’re crying out to be swept out in the vast ocean that is God and His plans to consume us to the core.

Now let me take a step away from you to get at a safe distance and say this: You’re a liar. And you know what? So am I. Sunday after Sunday, day after day as we spin “worship” cd’s in our cars, we who claim to “surrender all” to Jesus, sing songs that we just simply do not mean. Or even if we think we do, the moment God, in His awesomeness, hears our words and brings exactly what we’re asking for (even if in our ignorance), we run away from the challenges and trials that can produce this purging and purifying!  We encounter even a hint of adversity and label it the devil and then beg God to remove it from our lives. Oh how silly we Christians are! But what if we can study the Scriptures and see what the disciples endured? What if we can study the historical books of old that tell us of early-century Believers who were outcast and slandered for their faith? What of the martyrs who have gone before us who underwent trials and persecutions that refined them like fire?

It has been ingrained in our soft, sissified Christian-American minds set on carnality and temporal pleasures to avoid purging and suffering at all costs. We’re content to stay bored, comfortable and unchallenged because we’re entirely unwilling to endure the process of the transformation and abolition of our will. Let me be blunt as I say this in the mirror as much as I say this to you: You will never be conformed to the image of Christ Jesus while sitting idly and comfortably within the confines of the patterns of this world. Never, ever. There absolutely must be an ongoing submission to the Lord to surrender our comforts and acceptance of what is “normal” in this temporal world. We must seek after what will produce eternal results. We must lift our eyes up as the Scriptures often instruct us.  

So, let us return to my statements about fire and water. Fire. Fire in the natural is a chemical reaction that consumes whatever it can infiltrate. It primarily results in light, heat and energy. Fire needs certain conditions to be present in order for it to even start and then flourish. Obviously, and most importantly, there must be something there to burn, to be consumed. Likewise, in the spiritual, we must welcome the fire… and remain in it upon its arrival. Peter exhorted us saying, In this [God’s great mercy] you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials,  so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ

As of late, it seems that I’ve been bombarded on every side with the awful reality of how often I choose an environment that caters to my comfort and earthly pleasures. I’ve been asking myself over and over and over again the following questions: “What is there in my life that I’m absolutely relying wholly upon God for?” “What environment am I placing myself in where this purifying fire can continuously burn away more and more of my ties to the patterns of this world?” “How much of the activities of my daily life can I effortlessly accomplish by my own strengths?”

I pose the same questions to you to arrive at your own answers. The ugly fact is, I generally control the environment and keep all at a desirable/comfortable level – often entirely unchallenged and “safe”. Just as with the natural fire, the spiritual fire environment demands different responses/actions that produce different outcomes/results. In short, what are you intentionally seeking out in your life that will make you uncomfortable and purge you of your impurities? What are you bringing to the altar of sacrifice that can be consumed until it no longer remains? Until recently, what I brought was easy to let go of and easy to live without. No longer. No longer.

And what of this water? What of the wading out into the deep? Let us imagine that you’re walking along a beautiful beach at sunset. You leave the soothing feel of the wet sand between your toes and inch in waist high as the current begins to slowly move you about. You sway, you get tossed back a bit when a wave crashes in front of you and rolls around you, engulfing you entirely. You continue out further, inch by inch. You look back and see the red flag warning blowing in the wind and you know the current is fierce out there into the dark deep. You feel the first real senses of the power of the water as it now rises up to your chest. The vast ocean that goes for as far as your eyesight will allow you to see now lifts your feet off of the sea floor just an inch and carries you a few feet and then gently sets you down. You stand still, swaying in its power, awaiting another swell to come and move you. Here and now your decision is made. Do you wade out into the vast unknown and be carried away by the waves and awesome power of the sea or do you retreat and return to the comforts and safety of the beach? The beach is so comfortable, soothing and secure.

Right here in this place is where I stand today my friends. The Lord has shown me that I’ve been a beach chair-sitter for far too long. He’s calling me out into the deep. He is there. I don’t have the strength, abilities or know-how to do a thing out there in the unfathomable depths of this dying to my will and comforts. The psalmist told us of his experience as He said to the Lord, All Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me” as he declared his only hope in God in his despair and tribulations.

So what environments are you placing yourself in daily that are capable of eradicating more and more of you and your earthly pleasures? Are they ones where you’re in absolute reliance upon the Lord and your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? What tasks are you putting your hands to that you could never accomplish in your own strength? Are you examining your life and asking Jesus to expose any patterns of this world that have infiltrated your home? And then when they’re illuminated by Him, will you be willing to cut them off at the root and continue to look for more to eradicate despite the pain and anguish that it will bring?
Friends, we must truly embrace the fire! We must intentionally create the environment for purging to take place - continually. It is not some cool catch-phrase that we should ever casually say without great thought and commitment. We must wade out into the deep of the Lord, surrendered to His chastening, instruction and direction, freed from the tethers of this world.

I’ve been listening to some new music lately and one of my favorite songs from this particular band states, “Come bring the fire, burn what isn’t You. Oh bring the flood, overwhelm us.” That’s it in its simplicity isn’t it? Our innermost beings desire must be to embark out into the awful unknown. How will Jesus ever show Himself strong until I situate myself in a place of weakness? How will He ever purify me unless I place myself in the fire? How will He carry me out to the unknown depths of all that He is unless I wade out and surrender myself to His waves? How will I ever know how to fully rely on Him to be my everything without surrendering everything I have to do so?

Jesus is not calling us to comfort, complacency and casual Christian living within the confines of the patterns of this world. He is calling us to entirely die to our wills - to venture out into the vast unknown with absolute reliance upon Him. Few will hear. Even fewer will then listen and go. I want to be one who is found faithful and obedient. I desire to establish an environment that cultivates the losing of my life for His sake, in order that I might find it. (Matthew 16:25) What about you? Let us go and die together, for His sake. Now is the time.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Holding Hands


I love being a daddy. Have I ever mentioned that? As unexpected and undesired as it was, the love that I have for my son literally pains me. At his little stage in life, there’s one thing that he does that so moves me. It’s nothing extravagant or some grand fruit of obedience. It’s a simple action really. When we’re walking and my son reaches up his little hand to hold mine, something in me is moved in my innermost being. So much is wrapped up in this little action. Without a word, he’s telling me he trusts me. He needs me. He’s reliant upon me to guide him. Perhaps we’re somewhere he’s never been before and he’s unsure where we’re going. Maybe there’s strangers around and he finds solace in my hand. Sometimes it may even be we are somewhere we’ve been before, but in this place he’s learned to stay close because it’s not a safe place.

I want to be like this. You see, I too am a son. Of course at forty years of age, I’m not referring to walking around a department store holding my natural father’s hand (that would be quite awkward, I would assume).  I long to be so reliant upon my Heavenly Father. Even after all of these years of knowing better, I’m still so often infantile in recognizing my need for Him. I'm still prone to run across the street, where I don’t belong and seemingly forget how I need the care and guidance of His hand.

I’ve been learning a lot more about this lately as my son becomes more and more independent, even at only two and a half.  I don’t want to be a stubborn son. I don’t want to fight the yoke that I’m now under that is so easy. Fears, anxieties, questions, distractions… the patterns of the old me will always fight to distract me from my Father. I’m well aware of that. I’m OK with it too for it’s all part of the journey. That being said, I just want to be a reliant son. Knowing how much joy it brings to my heart when Noah reaches his little hand up for mine - by his own choosing – drives me to want to do the same. I want to surrender my will and way and quietly reach up my hand for my Father’s guidance.


He knows I’m stubborn. He knows that I have to daily lay down my will. He knows my fears. I rejoice over the fact that He’s not just looking for me to perform, He sees my heart. It’s this place that I continue to willingly lay bare and confess my need. I don’t need to be the strong you know. He is my strength. He is my salvation. He is my everlasting Father. Today, I will raise my hand and whisper “Abba Father, I’m in need of you”. There’s no need to shout, He’s already beside me with His hand waiting for mine. What a treasure it is to be a son…. a son of the Most High God.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

The Mind Set On The Carnality Of The Flesh

Romans 8:6For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.”

STRONGS HEBREW/GREEK ORIGINS

For the mind (phronema: thoughts and purposes) set on the flesh (sarx: carnally minded, the body, sensuous nature of man) is death (thanatos: misery of the soul arising from sin; figuratively, a region enveloped in the darkness of ignorance and sin), but the mind set on the Spirit (pneuma: Holy Spirit, Spirit of God, Spirit of Jesus Christ) is life (zoe: vitality, fullness, active and vigorous devoted to God) and peace (eirene: rest, quietness, tranquility, tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ).”


SUMMARY

For the thoughts and purposes of man that are of the carnal, sensuous nature are misery and darkness, but the mind set on the Holy Spirit is a life of vitality and rest, assured of its salvation in Christ.

MEDITATION

Some people are fascinated with the goings on of the flesh. Indulgences and pleasures are front and center throughout every corner of the globe, perhaps none more tangible and present than here in the US. Many a Christian, with great pleasure I might add, will woefully point a finger at the carnality of the world. But what of us (those called according to Christ)? Are we, the Body of Christ not also riddled with a different set of carnal pleasures often disguised as religious exercise or super-spiritualness? It should be of no surprise that carnal gratification can be found wrapped in religious performance. Have we not learned from Jesus’ confrontations with the religious elite of His day?

But that’s not what I'd like to delve into today. I’d like to pose a question. What if this verse could encapsulate a two-fold message? The first being the obvious - in Christ, we’re to forsake the carnality of our flesh and pursue the things of the Spirit. Although this is, and forever will be, an ongoing task, it’s quite elementary. Secondly, and perhaps missed entirely, is what I’d like to pose as a possibility. I like to call it “failure fascination”. This second message is that a Believer in Christ can actually be captivated with the existence of their carnality. This person is always consumed with their shortcomings and sin. Please don‘t get me wrong, there obviously needs to be a constant awareness of our need to pursue holiness and spiritual maturity.

That being said, I don’t believe it’s spiritually healthy whatsoever to have a mind entirely set on my carnality and sin.

With the obvious instruction of this verse to be setting one’s mind on the Spirit, can that be done when one is always enamored with their personal failures and sin? I don’t think that it can. In an underlying sense of translation of this verse, I think that this too is a mind set on the things of the flesh (fixated on shortcomings and sin). As I’ve stated a lot over the last year or so, I’ve come to terms with the reality of my carnality. I’m OK with the fact that sin will be a certainty for me until the day that this body breathes its last breath. Now this in no way excuses me to sin or live a voluntary life of disobedience, excused away by this carnality. As Paul said, the fact that I have a proneness to sin and God’s forgiveness of it is absolutely not a license to excuse it. In fact, I still loathe my wretchedness apart from Christ. But…. but! In Him I’m being conformed more and more into His image. I no longer spend my days dwelling on my sin and offenses. Quite simply, I’ve embraced that they will always be a part of my physical state. It is a simple fact that my Heavenly Father is very well aware of.

So with this approach in action, I choose to set my mind on who I am in Christ. I meditate on who He is creating me to be, despite all of my disobedience and failures. I no longer walk in a lifestyle of willful sin. I just don’t. So I’ve moved out of that mindset to one of going to my Father in the midst of it all - my victories and my transgressions. Now I choose to delve deeper into cultivating my relationship with my Father, free from the distractions of my sin which will always be present.

God, in His superior design and handiwork, set in motion a plan before time that would leave me in my physical body post-salvation for a reason.  

God’s blueprint was obviously never to remove us from our natural state upon surrendering our life to the Son. With this in mind, I rejoice over my current condition as one given to me by God Himself. So do I, as Paul did, groan and long for my heavenly dwelling? You’d better believe it! There are days when I literally cry out longing to be free from this body of flesh so that so I can interact with my Father unencumbered by the limitations of this body. I hate the sin that entangles me! But there is a beauty within this journey. Without my sin and disobedience, I would never see the beauty that is the forgiveness and longsuffering of my Father. I would never see my need for the sacrificial gift of my Saviour Who laid down His life for me despite knowing I would fall even after surrendering my life to Him. It’s my brokenness as I keep my gaze set upon the things of the Spirit that leads me back to the place of absolution.

So my constant challenge is this - am I walking in a place where I’m captivated by and fixated on my carnality? Or am I free to be me, in Christ, as I go about my day to day activities? Is my mind consumed with walking according to the Spirit or am I riddled with a failure fascination?  

I just don’t desire to sit around and discuss how much of a mess I am anymore.

I’m not saying that there’s not a time to delve into one’s sin and divulge in conversation about it – in a group setting or in one’s own mind. But it should never be a constant theme that overshadows all other spiritual matters and crowds out our awe of the LORD. I want to talk about how awesome my LORD is. I want to meditate on His goodness and mercy. I want to be obsessed with Him to the point of absolute fascination. In His presence, all that opposes His plan for my spiritual growth into Christ-likeness goes. His light easily drives out my darkness so I have no fear that I might somehow miss “working out my salvation” as my passage from one age (natural) to another (spiritual) continues. As the light of Christ shines within the darkest crevices of my innermost being, I can choose to give Him access and address those places or I can remain in darkness. Of course the choice is mine and it will be ongoing until my new/eternal body is inhabited. But I long to walk in absolute freedom to be me - my Christ-identity! I’m a mess, I get that. Of this there’s absolutely no debate. But my Jesus is OK with that. He’s the washer of the feet of the betrayers. He’s the guest at the tables of sinners. He’s the lover of the diseased and afflicted. He pardons the murderers.  He alone is my hope and anticipation of being freed from this natural state. I rejoice over this journey. I’m in need of saving. I’m in need of redemption. I’m in need of lovingkindness and mercy – daily! Thank You LORD that You are all of these and more. Praise be to the only One entirely capable of accepting me just as I am.