Saturday, September 13, 2014

Lord, Help My Unbelief

Fear. Anxiety. Doubt. Disbelief. Not exactly favorable characteristics of a follower of Christ now are they? But the reality is, these are realistic familiarities for all of us as human beings, even as regenerated ones attempting to operate according to the mind of Christ. I had never known the disparity of deep-seeded fear and anxiety that I know now before I became a parent just over three years ago. Of course I had issues before but they were generally confined to myself, generally controllable on most levels. But now? Now I have a son. A beautiful, wonderful and incredibly precious son. The reality for him, today, is that he’s somewhat fragile, physically. He has extremely easily triggered bronchial flare-ups, anaphalactic food allergies as well as a newly-discovered allergic response to insect stings. Frantic administering of breathing treatments are far more common than I’d ever say I can properly handle. Sneezing and wheezing at even a touch from someone who came into recent contact with dairy products. The latest being a reaction out of nowhere after he ate a few bites of a “safe” granola bar and was possibly bit/stung by something outside. It can come at any time and we must be prepared for when it does.

I’ll never forget the morning he and I made pancakes and I ignorantly used a buttermilk mix. He ate the batter… he ate the pancakes that we made… he eventually turned blue as he struggled to breathe as we sped off to the ER. Even a hint of the memory brings tears to my eyes. “How in the world do we handle this?”, I often ask. To be embarrassingly transparent, there are times when his reactions are at their worst that I literally want to leave and simply let my wife handle it. It’s just too much. I freeze. Sometimes I even feel nauseous.  I feel incapable of doing anything. Sometimes I get angry, as a follower of Christ, as one that relies upon faith and expectation for healing. My inner most places believe my Father holds my son capably in His hands but what my natural eyes see often seem to overrule and cloud my thinking, in the moment.

Yes, I know there are children living with terminal illnesses. Yes, I know that there are children with handicaps and mental illness. But this is my son. This is our life. I’m absolutely thankful that for the majority of the time our son is healthy and whole. I am grateful and I want to be clear that I’m not overlooking that fact.

So, yes, I am one of little faith. That is the ugly truth. I waiver, I fear. I wrestle between my natural thinking and the mind of Christ that I’ve been given. I’m flawed. I’m in desperate need of strength that I, in myself simply do not possess. So, where do I turn but to the Lord Who tells me that in my weakness He is made strong? As my wife and I always arrive at the same conclusion, what else is there for us to do but embrace this reality, pray and eagerly wait in expectation of a healing. Whether we see a change or not is the challenging thought. Will I waiver if my son spends the rest of his days with these physical challenges? If at the age of twelve, we’ve not seen changes, do I forsake my faith and abandon my expectations? Of course I cannot. As a follower of Christ, my response will not be limited to what my eyes cannot yet see. As the man in the Gospels told Jesus in regards to his son, “I believe… help my unbelief”. I do believe, I really do. But I’m also often riddled with unbelief.

So we forge ahead into the unknown future. Every experience with my son's health gives me yet another opportunity to stand spiritually strong in the moment, relying upon the strength of my Saviour. He alone can enable us to properly respond in our thinking and rightly assess our views upon whatever unfolds in these fragile lives that we’ve been given. Time and time again I’ve tasted and seen His miraculous healing, in me and in others. I rejoice that one day, we’ll all be freed from this fallen state. No longer will we be confined to bodies of corrupted flesh, freed to be healthy, whole and raised to new life eternal. Until then, I choose to instance-by-instance lay down my fears, my shortcomings, my unbelief. Lord you know my heart, help me. Help us all. We’re in desperate need of You.            

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Embrace The Suffering: 1 Peter 4:1 & 2

1 Peter 4:1&2

"Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,  so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God."


"Therefore, since Christ has suffered (pascho: to be vexed, to feel and have a sensible experience, to sadly be in a bad plight, sick) in the flesh (sarx: body, flesh and bone), arm (hoplizo: furnish with arms, to furnish one's self with a thing) yourselves also with the same purpose (ennoia: mind, intent, consideration, meditation, conception and thinking), because he who has suffered in the flesh (sarx: body, flesh and bone) has ceased (pauo: leave, refrain, no longer stirred by incitements and seductions) from sin,  so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh (sarx: body, flesh and bone) no longer for the lusts (epithumia: desires and cravings for what is forbidden) of men, but for the will (thelema: desire, pleasure and purposes) of God." 


Therefore, since Christ has suffered in sadness and plight, experientially in His body, arm yourselves also with the same mind and intent, because he who has suffered in his body has refrained from being enticed by the seductions of sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the body no longer for the forbidden desires and cravings of men, but for the pleasure and purposes of God.


I remember as a child being reared within the organized Baptist church, sin was always openly discussed. It was always made clear that my sin made me vile and despised by God and so therefore I must “make a decision” and somehow cease from sinning. Of course little beyond the hollow “try harder”, “be better” and “go to church more” approaches were every taught so off I went into my life, ignorant, na├»ve and entirely ill-equipped for spiritual success. Alongside these teachings it was insinuated that if you were uncomfortable, unhappy or experiencing anything deemed as “bad”, you surely did something wrong to encounter such suffering and likely “backslid” in order to encounter such calamity.  

Fast forward. Here I sit this morning within mere weeks of 41 years of age being added to my vapor of a life. I’d like to think that I’ve learned a lot over the years, post-rebellion. Not in an arrogant way, but just a satisfaction that I’ve chosen to embark down the path of studying and embracing the realities of this mysterious Christ-life. I don’t run from the difficult things that make me confront my comforts or misconceptions about true Christianity any more. In fact, the more I read, the more I contemplate the vast depths of the Scriptures, the more I see how vital the challenges and sufferings are for spiritual growth.

So you want to stop sinning do you? Me too! But, incrementally, we must embrace the suffering in our flesh, arming ourselves with the purpose of Christ. It is not a simple matter of the will, it will take decision-by-decision action. Action that is rooted and established in complete surrender to the mind and will of Christ Who indwells the Believer. Our purpose, our intent and goal must be joined with that of Christ. Then and only then can we live out our post-regeneration lives for the desire, pleasures and purposes of our Father.

Hebrews tells us that “Jesus learned obedience by the things which He suffered”. What a beautiful thing it is I’ve found: to embrace this life I now live in the flesh, and the sufferings that come, trusting that it is giving me the opportunity to learn obedience as Jesus did. He fully knows that our absolute only hope is found in Him and He has left us in this physical body post-salvation for a reason! May we embrace the sufferings of this flesh and then be empowered to cease from sin.    

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.