Thursday, December 27, 2007

Darkness Is My Only Companion

At first, I was puzzled as to why this might be on the the "required reading" list for my upcoming theology course at DTS. However, having completed the book, I must admit that although the theological insights were meaningful, the practical application of a Christian's response to mental illness was most enlightening.
Unfortunately (I presume), many Christian leaders will not give this book the attention it deserves. However, let me encourage you to put aside your gender and/or religious bias and listen to what the author has to say. Reserve judgment until you have read the material. I personally believe you will be glad you did.
The book, written by Kathryn Greene-McCreight, is a first person account of the author's own struggle with mental illness. Her story is honest and the questions posed during her struggle are ones we most certainly all ask (whether we have mental illness or not), but rarely admit to them as she has in her book. I appreciate her balanced perspective as she shares her own story, discusses the theological implications to her questions and offers advice in how best to care for and comfort those going through mental illness. I benefited from all 3 sections of the book.
If I were to suggest that we all deal with some level of physical illness in our lifetime, no one would disagree. We have all had our share of colds, flu, infections and the like. Some more serious than others, some more frequent than others, but we are all afflicted by the corruption of a sin cursed world this side of heaven. But what if I suggested (and I do) that we all suffer from some form of mental illness as well. Perhaps it as simple as an issue of self-esteem or loneliness, maybe depression or anxiety - some more serious than others, some more frequent than others, but to some degree we are all afflicted by the corruption of a sin cursed world this side of heaven. I for one will be the first to admit that I could relate to much of the author's discussion of her bipolar disorder. Evidence of this personal struggle for me can be seen in previous posts (http://cepica.blogspot.com/2007/01/beautiful-letdown.html, http://cepica.blogspot.com/2007/05/how-low-can-you-go.html). Don't misunderstand me...I am not self-diagnosing myself or minimizing the true struggle of the author of this very good book. I am only suggesting we all have something to learn from her insight and should therefore take up and read.
This book helped me understand what I do to help others that is not all that helpful. You know how uncomfortable it is when someone is struggling with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts. What do you say? Or perhaps the better question is, "What do you not say?" I found this book to give very thoughtful insight for those who have a sincere desire to help others through their dark night of the soul.
Yet, since I have my own dark nights as well, I found the counsel of the author very helpful as she asks and answers the questions we all face. Her writing style allowed me to process her questions, my questions, along with her and find similar conclusions. This particular conclusion regarding the spiritual condition of a person struggling with mental illness was particularly helpful:
The soul is not the seat of sickness in the mentally ill; it is the brain, its synapses and receptors and so on, that renders the mind broken. The soul, as the self in relation to God, continues healthy in anyone as long as that person is in Christ, relating to and witnessing to God.

Throughout the book, the author maintains this high view of God and His sovereignty over His creation. It was helpful to look beyond the emotion and stigma of mental illness to witness the loving hand of God protecting the soul of the believer in Jesus Christ, even when the believer did not trust his or her own "feelings" of God's presence.
Ultimately this is a book of hope as the author leads us to the conclusion that God is even now in the process of making all things new. A time when we will all be made right. A time when the mental and physical consequences of living in a sin cursed world will all pass away. Until then, God gives hope to the weary and strength to the weak. I am thankful for having read this book to be reminded of this truth.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Measuring our Motvation (Part 2)

Tested by the Pharisees, Embraced by the children, and now...

The next account in Mathew's gospel describes a curious encounter with Jesus. Not unlike the disciples who stiff arm the children, I think we often discount this next individual with equal disdain. But should we?

He is the Rich Young Ruler and by piecing all the gospel accounts together, we learn 5 important characteristics about this person.


  • First, and most obvious, he is wealthy. So much so that both the author and the people seem to know this about him.

  • But he is also young. Probably not more than 40 years old. So the wealth he has accumulated seems to have been acquired by some level of expertise and early success over a relatively short period of time.

  • And his early success has brought prominence. He was a man of high reputation, some suggesting he likely served as a religious leader since they most certainly held the balance of power and wealth in this culture.

  • Yet despite his success, he was still virtuous. His response to Jesus's inquiry indicates he was diligent to keep the letter of the law.

  • And he was humble as reflected in his reverent posture before Jesus when he runs to kneel at the feet of a great teacher.

So before we relegate the young man as decadent fool, unworthy to approach our Savior, let us appreciate his posture. For, despite his wealth, he still had the good sense to know that there was more. His search for the assurance of eternal life could not be found in his wallet. He was aware of his spiritual poverty, he was seeking truth and he rightly assumed Jesus would have the answer. He was eager to learn from the master even at the expense of his high reputation, kneeling in humility before a man who, by the world's standard, was not fit to tie his sandal.


And also notice he wasn't looking for a list of things to do. He asked for "one thing". His life was complicated enough and he seemed to understand that the answer he was looking for was quite simple. Perhaps he learned this from being open and attentive to the message that Jesus had been sharing with the people. Maybe he heard Jesus tell the disciples that the kingdom of heaven belongs to children. Maybe he was listening so intently that he understood the answer given by Jesus better than the disciples themselves. "If children can enter the kingdom of heaven, then what must I do to receive this same assurance?" With childlike eagerness he runs to kneel at the feet of Jesus.

Jesus responds with gentle tenderness. He leads the man to a predetermined destination intended to reveal his true motivation. A motivation likely imperceptible by the man himself and so Jesus gives him a list to examine - a mirror to self examine the heart. He instructs the man to keep the commandments to which the young man replies, "Which ones?" Jesus then lists commandments 5-9 and then adds a verse from Leviticus 19:18 as a summary.

The commands Jesus reveals all refer to our obligation to one another. They represent the horizontal relationships with other people. It seems that what Jesus is telling the man is echoes by John when he writes, "If we say we love God yet hate a brother or sister, we are liars. For if we do not love a fellow believer, whom we have seen, we cannot love God, whom we have not seen." (1Jn 4:20)

At first glance, it appears as if Jesus is giving a prescription for entrance into the kingdom. A list of things to do in order to gain God's favor. But closer examination reveals a principle, not a prescription. He is leading this man to place of introspection where the motivation of his heart will be revealed. And to his credit, the young man is following. Jesus knew this individual and he even knew how he would respond to the question. In fact, I believe he wanted him to look at the list and check each one off and yet still be confronted with his dissatisfaction. Notice the other part of his response to Jesus, "All these I have kept...what do I still lack?"

It's as if he is telling Jesus, "I have done everything I am supposed to do. I have followed the commandments diligently. My life must be pleasing to God...but I am still empty. What am I missing?"

Jesus has brought the man to a place of true confession. He is seeking truth and Truth is staring him in the face. He has sought the "one good thing" and Jesus desires for him to embrace the only One who is good. The man is looking for a practice and Jesus is introducing him to a person. His practice has left him empty, but Jesus can make him full. Here is the offer:

"Sell all you have, give it to the poor and come, follow me."

The moment of truth. The man now sees himself as he has never known before. Jesus has led him to a place of introspection where he can truly see what is required. In his mind, he must have realized, "It's not about the list is it? ... That is why I am still empty. ... I must abandon all I have and trust Jesus alone...................I cannot."

On one hand, we must respect the honest response of the man. On the other, we must weep for his hardened heart. The Savior has offered Himself...the man has turned to go his own way.

The man wanted his treasure and the kingdom too. He was unwilling to relinquish his control and trust in the unseen provision promised by Jesus. That is the difference between him and the children. His security was in his hands. As for the children, their security was in His hands.

Where do we find out peace and security. At least the young man was honest...are you?


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Measuring our Motvation (Part 1)


Jesus Blesses Little Children
Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” After laying His hands on them, He departed from there.
Mt 19:13.

God has used His word recently to cause me to evaluate my motivation in following Him. I would like to share what I trust His Spirit is teaching me in recent weeks as I continue to pray that it will penetrate deeply into my heart - the source of my motivation.
In Matthew chapter 19, there are two powerful verses which describe a seemingly simple scene. These verses are ones we are all familiar with since they often conjure up feelings of warmth and tenderness as Jesus welcomes the little children who are brought to Him on this day. Just the simple fact that families are entrusting their children to a perfect stranger should tell us something about the developments of Jesus's ministry at this time. In fact, it seems that His popularity has reached a fever pitch and crowds are gathering from all the surrounding cities in response the the rumors that He is passing through. Even His disciples are energized as they are active in ministry, seeing miracles and wonders by the man who has called them by name. I suspect they even have a sense of pride in their own growing popularity as they walk in close association with the "miracle man".
Yet along with the excited popularity, we also see the heated opposition. Perhaps the only thing surpassing the love and adoration of the people is the hatred of the Pharisees. There has got to be something about this man they can nail down to discredit His unprecedented influence among the people. They seethe with the desire to ridicule the new rabbi.
I suppose Jesus could feel the anger of the opposition just as much as he could the warmth of adoration. For we know He has now begun to set His face toward Jerusalem and He knew well the suffering that was before Him. This had to touch Him deeply in His human heart. And yet, the deepest pain would not be felt in the cut of the thorns or the rake of the whip. Instead, it was the wound of betrayal that would penetrate deepest. For many, if not most, of those who now stood before him in excited praise would soon stand tall, with mouths on fire, demanding His crucifixion.
That is...except for the children. Their hearts would not know enough to understand the choice of betrayal. They would see only the gentle touch of the one who embraced them and maybe this is why Jesus welcomes them into his arms. They brought Him comfort in the wake of what is to come. An innocent embrace and sincere adoration. It must have been a warm and refreshing blanket of love to our Savior.
Yet the disciples had duty and destiny before them. The children, although cute and cuddly, were inhibiting progress toward the goal. Miracles are worth waiting for - they bring popularity and awe. Children, although sweet, do not draw crowds and impress people. They were better things to be done, namely, the move to Jerusalem where Jesus, the Messiah, will finally assume His rightful reign. With such growing popularity, they would soon take Jerusalem by storm and like David, they will dance into the new city of hope as peace and freedom will be established across the land. If only they had eyes to see.

Two verse - Three groups - Three perspectives. Where do you see yourself?
  • Are we like the Pharisees? "How could this be?" you might ask. "I certainly don't stand in angry opposition!" But perhaps it is more subtle. Do we stand aloof? Just far enough away from Jesus to study, the examine, to test. But rarely close enough to embrace Him in adoration. Has he become a subject to be studied more than a person to be known. If so, perhaps we share more in common than we would like to admit.
  • What about the disciples? Are we more interested in being known as a follower of Jesus or is it more important for us to be known by Jesus himself? Be honest. Are you motivated by reputation or relationship?
  • Maybe it is the children. Do we need to cultivate this simple trust, this child-like faith, this humble belief in Jesus. Not a theological treatise, a convincing apologetic or a persuasive sermon. A person! A person with whom we are completely satisfied when we crawl into His lap and simply rest in His presence. A Savior with whom we are more inclined to sit His feet than we are to the busyness of His service.

Two verses - powerful message. Thank you Jesus!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Don't Miss the Moment

I have been reminded lately about the importance of slowing down enough so as not to miss the moments that God has prepared for us. Ken Gire, in his book The Reflective Life, shared one such seemingly insignificant moment when his daughter shared through tears the despair she felt at school because she saw herself as the outcast. Unloved and unwanted. Ken and his wife walked through this with their sweet daughter. They helped her understand that she, of all people could learn things about Christ that she could never learn as the most popular kid in school. For He too was rejected by His friends-even His own family. He too was well acquainted with sorrow. They helped their daughter understand that what she was going through would help her know Christ more, appreciate Him more, and love Him more.

Admittedly, I read this and thought, "I don't know that I would have taken the opportunity to share such profound spiritual wisdom with my son as they did with their daughter." But what they did next, I was more apt to follow. They asked if she would like to take a day off from school and this offer, of course, was accepted. She then asked her dad, "What are you doing tomorrow?"

For a moment, he thought about the deadlines he had to meet, the projects he was behind on and all the very legitimate reasons why he truly did not have the time to take an unplanned day off. But, he knew he should, so he did. What followed was nothing spectacular. No deep conversation or revealing truths. Just a few errands, a trip to the mall and a movie. Yet, at the end of it all, his daughter says this: "You know, Dad, this is one of those memories I'll treasure for the rest of my life."

I, not unlike the author, stopped to reflect on all the similar opportunities I have missed in the past. The call of deadlines and projects to complete spoke louder than the simple voice of a gentle request. It makes me sad to consider the loss of similar moments I could have shared with those I love but missed in the hurried pace of life.

So, I am reminded today slow down and look for the moment. Simple moments like the smile to the flight attendant as I boarded the plane and I asked, "How are you today?" Or the moment to ask my friend from work how his family is doing or the call to my brother to say, "Hey, when you go hunting just let me know because I would like to hang out with you when you do. I'm not a deer hunter but I would sure love to be your spotter and just spend the day with you."

Maybe it was the extra time I take to play "Little Man" with my youngest and hear his out loud laugh that still rings in my ears. Or the extra time to stop my morning ritual to tell my oldest good morning, give him a hug and tell him how much I love him as the first thing he hears to begin his day.

Who know what these moments will turn in to and which ones God will predetermine to have life changing significance. Like the simple prayer for a co-worker while in the hospital, who later shared his hopeless life, who then found hope through trust and faith in Jesus Christ. A simple moment with eternal significance.

We are all surrounded by moments like this. Divine encounters God has placed in our life according to His love and mercy. Do we see them? Better question: Do we slow down and expect them enough to recognize them when they occur. Oh, they are there...every day. May we have a heart that is inclined to see where God is at work and the courage and humble gratitude to join Him in these moments. This is my prayer today.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

My Thanksgiving List

It may seem odd, but as I considered my devotional from yesterday, I realized that we often overlook this area when we consider all the things we are “thankful” for during this time of year. Sure, we consider all the blessings of God such as friends and family but how many of us put trials on the list? Not me! Yet we are reminded by James that we should rejoice in trials because they are often the means by which God can do his greatest work in our lives. I then read a devotional from another source this morning with the same point. Well…maybe God is trying to tell me something. Perhaps I am to be reminded that we should not judge God’s blessing by our personal definition of what is good or makes my life easier or better. In fact, the things that I would naturally leave off the list (such as trials) may, in fact, be God’s greatest gift in my life. By these I am transformed by the renewing of my mind. By these I recognize my dependence on Him. By these my selfishness is broken so that it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. Consider these things during this week of Thanksgiving.


NOVEMBER 19

According to James 1:2–4, 12, there are two reasons why Christians should rejoice when they face trials of various kinds. Other reasons are articulated elsewhere, but these two are remarkably comprehensive.
First, we should rejoice because we know that when our faith is tested, the result is perseverance (1:2–3). As an athlete endures in order to build up endurance, so a Christian perseveres under trial in order to build up perseverance. Perseverance contributes something important to our character. It “must finish its work so that [we] may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (1:4). The alternative is a personality that may love the Lord when things are going well, a character that is bold and happy on bright days in the Spring, but knows little of steadfastness under duress, of contentment when physical comforts are withdrawn, of quiet confidence in the living God when faced with persecution, of stability in the midst of a frenetic pace or a massive disappointment. In other words, in a fallen world perseverance contributes maturity and stability to our character—and trials build perseverance. So James is very bold: we should, he says, “consider it pure joy” whenever we face trials of various kinds. This is not a perverse form of Christian masochism, but an entirely appropriate response if we remember the Christian’s goals. If our highest goals are creature comforts, this passage is incomprehensible; if our highest goals include growth in Christian character, James’s evaluation makes eminent sense.
Second, the Christian who perseveres under trial is blessed “because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (1:12). In other words, perseverance is a necessary ingredient to genuine Christianity. A real Christian, on the long haul, sticks: he or she perseveres. There may be ups and downs, there may be special victories or temporary defeats, but precisely because the One who has begun a good work in us completes it (Phil. 1:6), real Christians stick (cf. Heb. 3:14). They continue to be “those who love him.” Thus Christians facing a trial must perceive not only the threat or the unpleasantness or the disappointment, but also the challenge for which God’s grace equips us: to press on—always to press on—knowing full well that the ultimate reward, meted out by grace, is “the crown of life”—the crown that is life, life in its consummated splendor, the life of the new heaven and the new earth, the heritage of all Christians. Thus, once again James is entirely realistic to perceive that the person who perseveres under trial is “blessed.” It is an easy calculation, provided we remember the Christian’s goals.
[1]

NOVEMBER 20

In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world
John 16:33

Tribulation is God’s threshing—not to destroy us, but to get what is good, heavenly, and spiritual in us separated from what is wrong, earthly, and fleshly. Nothing less than blows of pain will do this. The evil clings so to the good, the golden wheat of goodness in us is so wrapped up in the strong chaff of the old life that only the heavy flail of suffering can produce the separation.
J. R. Miller
[2]

[1]D. A. Carson, For the Love of God : A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God's Word. Volume 1 (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1998), November 19.
[2]Samuel G. Hardman and Dwight Lyman Moody, Thoughts for the Quiet Hour, Originally Published: Chicago: Revell, c1990. (Willow Grove, PA: Woodlawn Electronic Publishing, 1998, c1997, c1994, c1990), November 20.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Pleasant Surprise


It was a book required for my most recent class and one I had not heard of before. It was written by Tony Evans, and here again, I had not read anything from this author prior to this class. I must admit that I was skeptical at best. However, I must say that this book has turned out to be one of the best books I have ever read. No kidding!
Tony Evans is the pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Church in Dallas, Tx. He is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and a very respected man among his peers. His style of writing is what I would describe as conversational. Having never met him, I can only assume that he writes like he talks. He uses several well placed stories and illustrations to make his point and he was very easy to read and follow. A topic such as the Holy Spirit is often "untouchable" but Dr. Evans has made my personal understanding of this amazing gift to believers more real and life changing than anything I have ever read on the subject.
This author makes a point early in His book that I found most enlightening. He says, "The Holy Spirit is a Person we can know and relate to, not just a force or power to be used." It was this early point in his book where he caught my attention and I knew I was in store for something significant. My instincts did not disappoint as Dr. Evans following a consistent biblical study of the Holy Spirit that was most impacting in my life.
I won't spoil the book so take my word for it. Go buy this book and enjoy the read. You won't regret it! In future posts I am sure to refer to the ways I was impacted by Dr. Evans' insight.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Weird for Jesus

"I cared for you in the wilderness,
in the dry desert where no water was.
When they were fed, they became satisfied;
when they were satisfied, they became proud;
as a result, they forgot me!
"
Hosea 13:5-6

This past weekend was the Missions Conference for our church. A reunion of sorts when families, sent out from our church, return from the field to share what God is doing and and through their lives. We were able to have extended time with one of these families who serve in Mexico City. They have 4 kids ranging from 8 to 16. Out time with them was both rich and penetrating.

In particular, Teri and I were struck by 2 things. First, it was obvious that their kids were minimally effected by materialism. Having been to their home in the ghettos of Mexico, I can see how the influence of prosperity is simply not experienced by this family. Since they are not surrounded by materialism, as we are in the US, their lives seem to be mostly void of this trapping. It is hard to yearn for something you don't perceive that you need. Contrast that with the mantra of the American culture where "you deserve it", "you can have it", "it is your right" and "it just makes life easier". As a result, we become so focused on what we think we need that we are rarely content with what we have.

The second thing we noticed was how natural the kids helped out. It was just what they did. They helped with the meal, cleaned up and served one another in a most natural way. My 3 yo son immediately fell in love with the 16 yo visitor and he took him in as if he were his own brother. Teri and I had no worries about our kids because they were well cared for by the friends in our house. Although we had not seen them in years, they were immediately a part of our family in every way. It seems that this is another reflection of how they live life. They are foreigners in their land. They need each other and depend on each other. They extend friendship to those they meet as a natural part of their ministry and this has become a part of who they are.

After the weekend, we walked away a little stunned. We were reminded how easy it is to be satisfied. And in our satisfaction to become proud. And in our pride to forget how much we depend on God for all life and godliness. We really do have enough in our culture to convince us this is not true. There really is enough mind numbing amenities to lead us away from a simple life, with a simple faith and a profound devotion. The time with our friends reveled this reality in our lives.

Our prayer has since been that we would be intentional with our kids. That we would be purposeful in living a God-centered life. That we would protect our kids from the deception of all the satisfying pleasures of our world that can convince them (and us) that we don't need God. We have talked about how we must consistently introduce our kids to Christ and his affection, care and call to obedience.

Basically, Teri and I have decided we want to be "weird for Jesus". We want to live life so focused on God and His work in our life that we live to fulfill His purpose for our life in a most natural and committed way. In order for this to happen, I am convinced that we must live deliberately against the grain of our society. We must lead our family with passion - in a path that does not follow the path of this world. We must work diligently to swim against the current of our society or we will be just another "Christian family" that looks no different than every other family in and of the world.

Lord, hear our prayer.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Prophet or Leader

Goodness it has been a long time since I last sat down to blog. I can think of one thing in particular that seems to have made this more difficult than normal...school! What I expected to be a slow 2 hour semester class has turned out to be as time intensive (if not more) than anything I have done thus far. After further review of the syllabus, it appears as if the class has just as much required as any normal seminary class, however, this particular class will end about 3 weeks earlier.
All that being said, the semester has been good. It has moved rather quickly considering the fact that since my last entry, I have preached twice, the Red Sox came from a 3-1 deficit to make it to the World Series and the unlikely Rockies made quick work of the D-Backs to make it to the big dance for the first time in their history. Time flys during the Baseball playoffs!
One of the challenges of this semester in school has been that of multitasking. Not necessarily a gift of mine or any of the male gender as best as I can tell. However, I have had to learn to read 3 books at a time for class and be able to shift gears between each topic in order to grasp the unique intent of each individual author. Not easy for me to say the least!
One of the books I read was entitled, Spiritual Leadership, by Oswald Sanders. This is a classic Christian book and one that I really did enjoy reading.
One particular chapter near the end of the book made an interesting point specific to pastors. It was a timely comment in light of my recent sermon prep and transition toward full time ministry. The author suggests that those who preach will inevitably face the decision of being a popular leader or an unpopular prophet. There will come a point in time, the author suggests, when the pastor must choose to either be a prophet of God or a leader of men.
I struggled with this because I see the 2 so often overlap. I have always strived to be a good leader both in ministry as well as in the home and the workplace. Yet, I understand the point that there are times when the two are diametrically opposed to one another. To communicate something that would simply please men will inevitably compromise the truth of God's word. Oswald makes this point: "If a man decides to be a prophet only insofar as he can do without losing his leadership, he becomes a diplomat and ceases to be a prophet at all. If he decides to maintain leadership at all costs, he may easily fall to the level of a politician who pulls the wires in order to gain or hold a position."
I pray today that as God continues to lead, may my heart be so steadfast upon pleasing Him more than pleasing man that I would not compromise when asked to be a leader of men at the expense of being a prophet of God. I am finding that this is often a lonely road, but I pray that I will choose not to stray from the path God has asked me to walk.

PS Its good to be back on the blog again. I hope to return again soon.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

A Search for Significance

I have been told that the first half of our life is often focused on the goal of trying to be successful. The second half we often shift our focus in an effort to become significant. Today I turn 40 and technically begin the second half. I am on top of the hill, so they say, about to make my way over the hill. And to be honest...I'm excited.

However, I understand all too well this idea of wanting to be significant. I considered this thought just this morning. It doesn't seem to me that the desire to be significant is bad desire in and of itself. The key seems to be in whose eyes you desire to be significant.

All too often, I find myself desiring to be significant in the eyes of others - to impress people, to be respected, to prove that I am somebody important. And not just anybody. I want to be somebody important in the eyes of my boys, somebody to be respected in the eyes of my wife, somebody cherished in the eyes of my friends. That doesn't seem all that bad does it?

It does if my life becomes a stage upon which I perform to gain satisfaction from the acceptance of those in the audience. If I am looking for the applause of significance from family and friends, I am destined to be disappointed...so will they.

However, if my significance is found in Christ alone. If I am willing to become lesser, so that He might be greater. Now I have something that promises to fulfill both myself and those whom I love most. When I find my significance in Christ, my audience of One, my love for others will be mutually satisfying because it will be an outflow of the love of Christ. That is a well that will not run dry and a spring of eternally refreshing water.

I came across a prayer this week that I desire to make the prayer this "second half" of my life. A prayer of significance found only in my surrender to God. I have changed a few words to make it my own. Lord, hear my prayer:

"Lord, I give myself to You, whatever it may mean. Take every aspect of my life and use me for Your kingdom to glorify Your name. I'm not here on earth to do my own thing, to seek my own fulfillment, or my own glory. I'm not here to indulge my flesh, to increase my possessions, to impress people, to be popular, to prove I'm somebody important, or to promote myself. I'm not here even to be relevant or successful by human standards. I'm here to please You, to fulfill Your plans, to serve Your church.

To live like this, I surrender myself to You, to know You, to love You, to honor You, to obey You, and to grow in our holy relationship made possible by Your greatest sacrifice. I desire to become a person who lives and grows in reverent awe of You.

I'll do anything that you want me to do because I know you will lead me; go anywhere you want me to go since I know you will go with me; and say anything you want me to say because I know you will fill me. My trust is in no one else but You alone.

Father, if you want to use me in a way that I'm not used to, I yield myself to that. Today I affirm my love for you Jesus, and I choose to live and minister under Your control and in Your way. I trust that You will not do for me what I must do, but You will also not let me do what only You can do. Holy Spirit teach me, guide me, empower me for Your good and for Your glory. Amen"

Monday, August 27, 2007

Religious Terrorist

I heard this phrase for the first time this weekend during Sunday school. It was a term used to describe the religious zealots who too easily inflict devastating harm in the name of "holiness". I’m not talking about the kind of zealots who strap bombs to their chest and walk into a crowded mall. No - those are obvious villains whose crimes are undeniable. The ones I am talking about are a more subtle form of terrorism which is socially acceptable within most Christian circles.

They are killers of freedom and grace, crushing their victims under the weight of legalistic convictions. They hurl stones of condemnation when their philosophy of faith is not adopted. They walk proudly as those who should be commended for their courageous stand for truth. Self proclaimed "Defenders of the Faith" - or so they think.

The term came during a prayer request as a member of the class described a situation where a family had been hurt by the church on more than one occasion and there was concern that the children would grow up bitter towards God and His church. We all prayed for the unfortunate situation in hopes that the children would be able to rise out of the ashes of suffering and disappointment to trust in a God they have only vaguely witnessed in the Christian community.

I found it interesting that the passage of scripture we studied that particular morning was 1 Corinthians 5. This section of Paul’s letter describes a situation of immorality in the Corinthian church and the question from the teacher was, “Why is it important to address situations like these in the church?”

Without hesitation, the class responded with appropriate answers of protection for the church and the importance of an undefiled Christian witness. The discussion stimulated more questions about what should receive church discipline and if there was a “list” of sins worthy of such vigilant confrontation. A commentary on the text suggests that “public sin must be publicly judged and condemned”.

Although I would not deny the thought presented in this Sunday discussion, I would also suggest it is only half right. And to gravitate to only one side of this equation is to stir the rumblings of a terrorist camp.

We are to love God with all our heart soul and mind but also to love our neighbor as ourselves. Let’s protect the church but let’s also be a refuge to its people. The problem of the Corinthian church was more of a problem with the church itself than it was the issue of immorality. Immorality existed because the church was unwillingly to purposefully engage in a life of transparency and devotion among its members.

How can any of us remain pure and holy before God if we are not purposefully engaged in eachother’s lives for Christ’s sake? Perhaps the reason the man in question had slid down the slippery slope of lust was because no one was willing to extend the hand of brotherly love and accountability along the way. If this is the case, the church should bear the weight of the blame.

“He should be ashamed”, we might say. No, I suggest we are the ones who should be ashamed.

So go love on someone! Find a person who is broken and bruised. The most difficult part won’t be finding them. The difficult part will be mustering the courage and willingness to do something about it.

May we seek to be a church that holds the balance of Jesus’ instruction. We should have a holy zeal to love God with all our heart. But this love should motivate us to love His people with the same devotion He demonstrated in His humble sacrifice on the cross.

Today, choose to put down your stone of condemnation and find someone who needs the open hand of grace and love. Be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God." (James 1:19-20)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Cotton Pickin' Weeds

It has been a few weeks now, but the memory still fresh. The family was off for one of the rare extended weekend trips to the lake. We had been looking forward to this trip for a while as we would be joined by Kerry (one of my tri brothers in the picture) and his family. Our plan was to leave on Thursday early afternoon to get to the lake house in order to set things up for our friends who would be traveling in later that night. I was pulling the boat with my truck and we were loaded down with all the essentials of a fun trip to the lake.

As we passed through one of the first small towns, the two lane road was down to one due to construction. I began to hear an unusual noise. Thump-thump-thump-thump. It sounded like my tire had an object stuck in it. They were new tires so I assumed a rock had wedged inside the tread. I pulled over to investigate and everything looked good.

We got back on the road and the noise seemed to dissipate. Yet, after traveling another 30 miles into the middle of nowhere, the noise resumed and this time it grew louder and louder. Not only that, the truck began to vibrate and shake. Knowing something was definitely wrong, I put my foot on the brake to pull over. However, my anti-lock brakes had kicked in and I had minimal braking power. We eased over to a stop and the smell of smoke filled the cabin of the truck.

I get out to investigate to find my right front tire at about a 45 degree angle. I thought to myself, "That's not normal!". I reached down to remove the hubcap only to be singed by the extreme heat that had turned my wheel into a hot iron skillet. Trying to figure out what might be the problem, I considered the brake job I recently had done or the tires I had rotated just a few days prior. In a panic, I call my mechanic friend and fellow elder who drove 40 miles to give us a hand.

When he arrived, his assessment was quick and clear..."You're not going anywhere. I'll call a tow truck."

It's the middle of the afternoon in the middle of nowhere, my truck is filled with luggage, food and toys for the weekend and we are not going anywhere. This can't be true!

It is true. So we unhook the boat, unload everything (and I do mean everything) out of my truck and onto the side of the road. We looked like a gypsy family who had struck it rich!

Not wanting to give up on our rare weekend away, we called my brother who agreed to let us come back into town and get his suburban. We couldn't leave everything unattended, so Teri went back with my friend to pick up a suburban and I stayed with our stuff at the side of the road along with our 2 boys (2 and 7).

What transpired was a 3 hour delay, on a July West Texas afternoon, in the middle of a cotton field.

"Are you sad?", my sensitive oldest son would ask. "Maybe a little." I would respond. "But we have so much to be thankful for too. After all, it's not raining (I had a flashback to the Young Frankenstein movie at this point just waiting for a cloud to burst open in a downpour)."

What would follow was nice time of reflection with my sons about all that we were thankful for despite the fact that we were waiting for help in the middle of a cotton field. Yet, as thankful as we were, we still had 2 more hours to kill. So we played hide and seek in the cotton field. We threw dirt clods in the cotton field. And best of all, we pulled weeds in the cotton field.

My oldest was the one who discovered it. After pulling his first weed, he exclaimed, "Dad, try pulling a weed. It really does make you feel better!" So weed after weed, we made our way through the cotton field seeing who was strong enough to pull the biggest weed. Even my 2 year old got into the game and did quite well.

A few weeds, a few games of hide and seek, a few rock hunts and 3 hours had passed. The suburban pulled up and we were off to what would be a great weekend with friends.

Almost $1000.00 later, my truck was repaired as good as new. My family was safe and we had great memories with our friends.

How easy it was for me to be lost in the discouragement of the mess we were in. Ah, the gift of children! Those who remind us that pulling weeds actually makes you feel better. The reminder that as bad as the circumstance might be, we can usually make a long list of what we should be thankful for amidst the difficulties in which we find ourselves. And in the end, you can still pack up your stuff and move on down the road to better times.

One of the many lessons learned from my children.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

True Confession

What follows is a position paper I wrote while preparing for a recent sermon. The conclusions represent the conclusions of the elders of MPC on this subject. I continue to learn and be amazed at God's grace and love toward us. This topic is just one in a long list of examples.

Church tradition has addressed the application of confession in the life of a believer in a variety of ways. Some suggest it has no application for the believer because of the complete forgiveness found through faith in Jesus Christ. Others suggest just the opposite and go as far as to say that God has granted church leaders with ability to remit sins and confession should therefore be a consistent practice within the church in order to maintain a righteous standing before God. With such extremes in opinion, it is important to understand what scripture has to say about this topic.

Perhaps the most common text used in the discussion of this topic is 1 John 1:9. It is in this letter than John writes to 2nd and 3rd generation Christians within the context of growing false teaching in order that they may be encouraged in the promise of God and the hope of their salvation (1 John 5:13). However, the corruption of the Gospel message has created confusion and so John begins his letter with the express desire to bring clarity for those who have trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior.

To do so, John draws on the use of symbolic language to make his point clear. In this letter, he contrasts truth and lie by using the symbols of light and darkness. This usage is common for John and can be found throughout his writings (John 1:5, John 3:19, John 8:12, John 12:35, John 12:46, 1 John 1:5, 1 John 1:6, 1 John 2:8, 1 John 2:9, 1 John 2:11). In each case, John uses the term darkness to describe the realm of Satan and his mission of deceit among mankind. Light, on the other hand, represents the holiness and purity of God. Jesus himself used this same language when he said, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life” (John. 8:12).

Beginning in verse 5 of his letter, John describes the attributes of the light (1 John 1:5, 7, 9; 2:1-2) which he then contrasts with the darkness (1 John 1:6, 8, 10). This pattern continues through the end of this chapter as John seeks to clarify truth amidst the lies being proclaimed by the false teachers. Understanding this pattern of comparison and contrast is important in the accurate interpretation of 1 John 1:9.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

The term confess literally means “to agree”. Thus, in the context of this verse, it means to agree with God regarding the existence of sin exposed by the light. Additionally, the grammar of the word “confess” indicates a continuous action. Therefore, it is not one single act of confession, but a habit or lifestyle of confession for the person who walks in the light.

For this reason, 1 John 1:9 is not a cause-effect statement suggesting only “if” we confess our sin will we then receive forgiveness for of sin. Instead, it is a comparison and contrast between those who walk in the light and those who walk in the darkness.

John says, if you walk in darkness, you will ignore the reality of sin in your life and you will have nothing to confess. Yet, if you walk in the light, you will recognize the sin revealed by the light because of the fellowship you have with your Savior and as a result, you will confess.

Confession is a defining characteristic for a person of faith. If you trust in Jesus alone as Savior, your life will be characterized by the presence of confession. In contrast, the person who walks in darkness, the one who does not admit to sin – He will not live a life of confession.

Forgiveness, as John instructs us, is not based on the act of confession. It exists because, and only because, of the faithfulness and righteousness of God. Because GOD is faithful and just, the saint who sins is forgiven and cleansed of all unrighteousness!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Faith the Size of a Mustard Seed

A few short weeks ago, my workplace experienced the tragedy of a 29 year old wife and mom who died suddenly and unexpectedly. In fact, she and her family had returned from a softball game and ice cream, the kids were tucked in bed and her husband was off to shower. When he returned, she lie on the floor and she would not recover from the apparent heart attack related the the birth of her second child just 2 weeks prior.

Yesterday, I went to visit a friend who is in his mid 40s. His wife in her late 30s. They, like my wife and I, had great difficulty in being able to have children. In fact, like us, they were told it was not possible. That all changed a little over 5 months ago when they were overwhelmed with joy because of the surprising news that the impossible had become reality. They were pregnant. I remember seeing my friend in the cafeteria at work and just praising God for their miracle. I was so happy for my friend and his wife.

Last week, however, overwhelming joy turned to overwhelming grief. The child they had carried for over 5 months would not make it through the premature birth alive. They held their beautiful, yet lifeless child - examined his features and dreamed of what life would have been like had he lived. I was deeply grieved for my friend and his wife. They lost a child they never had a chance to know.

Why in the world do things like this happen? These are tragedies beyond explanation. No answer seems satisfying. Sure, we live in a sin cursed world and these tragedies simply reflect and give a penetrating example of the power and corruption of the enemy. Life in God's perfect garden and the life we have hope for in heaven does not include such tragedies. There will be no sickness and death. They only exist in this world and they only exist because of the curse of sin on God's perfect creation.

As true as that may be, it does not satisfy the grieving heart of those who experience the tragedy. How do they carry on? The burden of grief is so heavy it feels like it is more than you can possibly bear. It will be a miracle if they survive!

As I left my friends house, I thought of the verse where Jesus described the amazing things we could do if we only had the faith of a mustard seed. Today, however, I understood this verse in a different light.

Perhaps the greatest miracle during such terrible tragedies is the fact that people do persevere. Somehow, with time, they survive. They will never be the same after having lost a spouse or a child, but God does find a way to restore their soul. Considering the gravity of the loss...that is a miracle that makes moving mountains a cheap parlor trick.

And the miracle occurs because of a faith so small it is almost imperceptable. Beneath the questions of "Why God?", "How could you let this happen?", "How will I raise children on my own?"' "This is not how it is supposed to be?".

Beneath all these gut wrenching questions is a faith...a hope, that lingers. That part of us that says, "I have no where else to turn. If I can't have faith and hope in you Lord Jesus, I have nothing at all. This is all I have to give."

It is a mustard seed faith and it is all it takes. From there, God can gently, in grace and mercy, mend the broken heart. Slowly, over time, He restores the grieving soul.

All He needs is faith the size of a mustard seed, and He will move mountains - He will do the impossible in our lives.

Praise God for His indescribable gifts of mercy, love and grace.

Monday, June 25, 2007

It's Hard to Believe!


It's hard to believe that 3 years ago, I walked over with my friend Andy to watch the Buffalo Springs Lake Triathlon. I remember being amazed at the electricity of the event, the mass of people, the hundreds of bikes stacked up in the transition area, the sea of swimmers in the water, the music - the whole thing was something to behold.


At that time, doing a triathlon was not even a thought in my mind. In fact, I remember telling my friend Andy, "I am amazed that these athletes can do this. I can't imagine ever doing anything like this."



Well, who knew that only 2 years later, I would be experiencing the electricity of the event, stacking my bike in the transition area, finding myself in the sea of swimmers and actually competing in the event. It's even hard for me to believe.



The highlight of my day came when my friend Andy, who I started doing triathlons with 2 years ago, showed up at the event. He was not able to participate and had planned to be out of town. To my surprise, as I was getting my transition area set up, he walks up and wishes me luck. Needless to say, I was very nervous at the time, but the unexpected visit of a good friend put a smile on my face that was there most of the day (only to disappear at points to be described later).



I really owe a lot to my friend Kerry who convinced me just one week before the race that I need to do it. I had decided that I would wait another year because the previous 3 weeks of training were not as I had hoped. I had the flu, followed by time in Dallas where I spent most every day in the library, and then there was nothing I could do the week before. But Kerry reminded me that I had come too far not to finish and that with all the training over the previous 10 months, the last 3 weeks would not make a big difference. I followed his advice and I am glad I did. It's hard to believe that I would have missed the opportunity.



Well, let me give you the race summary. The 1.2 mile swim was the best part of the day. The water was cool and for some reason I had a good line the whole way. There were the normal points along the way when somebody would bump or knock you, but most of the way this was not the case. I did the swim in 38 minutes which is hard to believe considering 2 years ago, I couldn't swim more than one length of the pool.



I came out of the water feeling fresh and my friend Andy was there to give me words of encouragement. Well, sort of. He tells me that I had great swim but Kerry still beat me. It didn't matter to me, I had a smile on my face and was enjoying the event.



The transition area was crowded and I took my time. Kerry and I set out on the bike at the same time and all was well. I had a very clear plan of staying hydrated and this was a key for my day. We got to the first hill and my legs felt good. It was a good steady climb and it turned out to be the place I would make the most ground all day. The climbs have always been a strength for me and I passed a lot of bikers on the hill. I did notice that when there was a long straight away, it was the time trial Tri-bikes that had the advantage. It all evens out in the end.



The bike course is challenging and includes 8 challenging climbs. They are short but steep. I remember climbing "Horseshoe" in my second chain ring but running out of gears. I was a bit surprised when I went to find another gear in the second ring and it wasn't there. I stayed where I was and finished 6 and 7. But I was so thankful as I looked toward the final climb to have the third ring. I needed it!



The bike course was smooth and steady but the last 6 miles seemed uncharacteristically long and difficult. I knew the run was coming and needed some fuel in my tank after 56 miles on the bike. I finished steady and ready for the run.



As is normally the case, your legs feel like concrete after transitioning from the bike to the run. This usually dissipates after the first couple of miles but at mile 3 I was wondering if my legs would ever return. I would check my heart rate and it was good but my legs had lost their strength. It was everything I could do to put one leg in front of the other. I prayed, I sang, I did everything I could to take my mind off of the fact that I had never ran 13 miles in my life and today would be the first...maybe.



One of the experiences that would motivate me was when I encountered a hand cyclist. These were athletes (and I do mean athlete in every sense of the word) who were typically paraplegic. They swam 1.2 miles pulling the dead weight of their legs, they biked 56 miles using their arms to pedal a hand cycle and now they did 13.1 miles pushing the wheels of their chair up the same hills I was doing good to walk up. It was inspiring to say the least. As I admired these athletes, my legs (which I was fortunate to be able to walk on) didn't hurt quite as bad.



The run was as much mental as it was physical for me. Sure, my legs did not feel like they could go the distance but it didn't help when my mind would frequently give its opinion on the matter as well. It was truly hard for me to believe that I would be able to finish, but I kept praying (not just for myself by the way), singing and putting one foot in front of the other.



Just when I thought it couldn't get any more difficult than the first 3 miles of the half marathon, I hit the last 3 miles. Oh my goodness!



It didn't help when more and more people stopped to walk and oh how I wanted to do the same. I was thankful for every watering station because I could walk, take a drink, douse myself with cold water and run to the next station. When I ran out of stations, that meant all I had left was the finish line.



Having never done a race of this distance, I had hoped to finish somewhere between 6 and 7 hours. I hit 6 hours with just 1 mile to go and it was the longest mile of my life. I had done well to race within myself but now I was at the end of myself. I did everything I could to make it. And when I heard the cheer of the crowds, I saw my family and my friend Andy cheering me on, I had a spark of energy. My son Graham ran out to meet me and crossed the finish line by my side. It's hard to believe, but I did it. 70.3 miles! I finished the Half Ironman!



So here is the major lesson I have learned from my experience. The statement is true - IT IS HARD TO BELIEVE. Whether in the Ironman race or the race of life, there are times when circumstances make a convincing argument with your mind that you can't make it. They try to convince you that what you thought was true is actually a lie. Things like I experienced when I thought that I would not be able to physically put one foot in front of the other or that my muscles would cramp up into a ball. Or maybe, more significantly, in the face of a spiritual trial, those same voices try to tell you that your faith is not strong enough, that God is distant and He will not come through. Very simply, in these moments, IT IS HARD TO BELIEVE. But believe we must! We have a great crowd of witnesses cheering us on to the finish line. We see others, those with a much more difficult journey than us, giving all they have. It should inspire us to press on. We should find strength in prayer, in worship and in the things that take our minds away from the circumstances and onto the One who has the strength to carry us through. This was the most important lesson I hope to live as a result of this race:



IT'S HARD TO BELIEVE BUT BELIEVE WE MUST!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Learning to be Content

In Phil. 4:11, Paul says he has "learned to be content in whatever circumstances". This is a truth of scripture that I am still trying to learn. And since it keeps coming up, I assume God intends for me to grow in this area as well.
Whether it is getting the flu the day before vacation, getting an email from my seminary professor indicating that I did not receive notice of a schedule change which moved my class up a week, surprising issues at work (like the ones that could have been prevented had you known about them in the beginning but the first time you find out is when the bottom falls out and your on vacation...sort of), surprises in ministry (like problems in marriages that were hidden until it reached a point where the hearts of both the husband and wife had grown hard). And the list goes on...
They happen most every day and so many times I never see them coming. It reminds of my days playing baseball when I would stand at home plate looking for the fast ball and out of nowhere comes the curve. I never saw it coming. Completely fooled and looking silly.
Maybe part of the answer to these challenges in life is to look for the curve (I never learned to do that in baseball by the way). Expect the unexpected.
This seems to be what God is teaching me lately. I need to be flexible enough to adjust to life's unexpected turns while having faith and trust that God will lead me through whatever circumstance I may encounter.
This is different than my normal course where my tendency is to panic, look to myself to press through the difficulty and ask God to bless MY efforts to turn things around. The inevitable result is failure or exhaustion or disappointment (or all the above).
So God, I come to you with a desire to rest in you, a desire to submit to you, a desire to follow you. May your grace teach me to grow in this area of trust, may your love compel me to walk faithfully, may the fellowship of your Spirit teach me to adjust to life's turns.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Run YOUR Race











I did an Olympic Distance Triathlon this weekend. It was my longest distance thus far (1500 meter swim, 40K Bike and 10K Run). I predict that it will become my favorite distance. I now set my sights on the Half Ironman (or the 70.3 as it is called based on the total distance of the event in miles!). Admittedly, I have much work to do between now and June 24th. I reserve the right to pull out if I am not adequately prepared. Only time will tell.

However, I did learn a valuable lesson in this past race that I believe will help me in the Half Ironman or maybe even life in general. The lesson was about consistent focus.
What I have learned in my brief history with triathlons thus far is that no athlete finishes first in all three events. You may see strong swimmers who are not as good on the bike or run. Or maybe strong runners who are not good in the swim. But to date, I have not seen anyone win all 3 legs of the triathlon.
Therefore, I have learned that the key to doing well in a triathlon is consistency. I call this "running your own race". In fact, I have a little mantra that I repeat to stay focused during race when I start to become distracted. I simply tell myself, "I race no one. I run my own race."
You see, the tendency in any part of the race is to race to catch the person in front of you. The problem is, when you do so, you are no longer running your race…you are running their race! I have learned to know when I am at my best pace and then stick to it. On occasion I may catch the person in front of me. Other times, someone catches me. But one thing I know for sure: When I run my race, where I know my best pace and I keep it consistently, the result is always satisfying.

Hebrews 12:1-3 says, " Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."

In this verse I see a similar lesson as to what I learned this past week. The key to running with endurance, according to the writer of Hebrews, is fixing our eyes on Jesus. It is a matter of consistent focus. In fact, he goes on to say that Jesus is our example, who, although he had many distractions, did not lose sight of His purpose and plan set before Him. He "ran His race" so to speak. Not wavering based on what others were doing around Him but intently focused on what His Father had set before Him.
I desire to live the same. To run through life with endurance. Not pulling over to park or choosing to sit and say, "I'm not running anymore." Unfortunately we see it all throughout Christiandom. Men and women who give up and choose apathy over endurance.
Therefore, I must lay aside the "extra weight" of the sin that so easily entangles me. I must fix my eyes on Jesus. I must run my race at my best pace by following the path that my Heavenly Father has set before me, fixing my eyes on Him and depending on His power to strengthen me. I pray this would be so for all those who choose to be devoted followers of Jesus.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Finish the Race with Endurance





























Runner’s World (8/91), told the story of Beth Anne DeCiantis’s attempt to qualify for the 1992 Olympic Trials marathon. A female runner must complete the 27-mile, 385-yard race in less than two hours, forty-five minutes to compete at the Olympic Trials.
Beth started strong but began having trouble around mile 23. She reached the final straightaway at 243, with just two minutes left to qualify. Two hundred yards from the finish, she stumbled and fell. Dazed, she stayed down for twenty seconds. The crowd was ticking—2:44, less than a minute to go.
Beth Anne staggered to her feet and began walking. Five yards short of the finish, with ten seconds to go, she fell again. She began to crawl, the crowd cheering her on, and crossed the finish line on her hands and knees. Her time? Two hours, 44 minutes, 57 seconds.
Hebrews 12:1 reminds us to run our race with perseverance and never give up.

Well, my finish at the Ransom Canyon Triathlon was not near this dramatic. Thank goodness! It was actaully fun for several reasons. First, I had convinced several people from my workplace to do their first triathlon this year. At several points along the way, I thought they might give up. However, they finished and had a great time. They are ready for another one!

This year was also fun becuase for the first time, I actaully enjoyed the swim. I'm still not very fast in the swim (although I did improve my time by almost 3 minutes!) but as long as I don't have a panic attack and see my life flash before my eyes...its a good day!

Perhaps the best thing this year is that when the race was done, I didn't have a migraine! What a blessing this was. I actually had my best time despite windier conditions than years past and I crossed the finish line with some gas in my tank.

Bottom line...it was a great race.

The only thing missing was my friend Andy. He had a business trip and could not participate this year. It was not the same without him. Afterall, he was the reason I started doing these events to begin with. However, after having crossed the finish line, his wife handed me her phone and I was able to give him the details. I look forward to next year when I can do it in person!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

How Low Can You Go?

Have you ever had a time in you life where disappointment seemed to be waiting for you around every corner? You feel ineffective at work. You seem to fade into the background at church. You sense your weakness as a spouse and your shallowness as a parent. A big red neon sign seems to hang over your head flashing “FAILURE”. Or so it seems…

It’s as if someone pulled the release valve when you weren’t looking and all of a sudden, the pressures of the world seem to push all the air out of your spiritual and emotional balloon. Limp and ashamed you feel lost in a cloud of insignificance. Your self-esteem looks like the bullet riddled street sign found along a lonely country road.

“God must be trying to get your attention”, some might suggest.

“Fine”, you respond. “But I really wish He would get on with it.”

Ever been there? I have. More often than I would like to admit.

As I considered this repeating episode in my life, I began to consider what it means to be disappointed. Webster says that disappointment is quite simply: the failure to meet expectations.

OK, fine. But whose expectations? If I seem to be plagued by disappointment, whose expectations am I not meeting? What is the standard I am being judged by?

I know there are times I look to others to determine this standard. I presuppose that my wife would like for me to perform in a certain way in order to demonstrate that I am worthy of her respect and admiration. I assume my sons have a predetermined ideal of the dad they would be proud of and I must strive to match that profile. At work I must be a leader worth following. A person with uncompromising vision and endless ideas for ever increasing levels of success. As an elder, of all people, I need to have the answers. After all, I spend endless hours in Bible study resulting in a flawless theological framework and a firm grip on all things Biblical.

Or perhaps they are my own expectations. Goals I set or objectives I strive to meet. But are they really? What am I using as the acceptable standard for comparison? All too often the expectations I have for myself are determined by the expectations I perceive from others. They are not my own after all. They are an unachievable, always changing, impossibility. The inevitable result…disappointment around every corner.

Yet the Bible repeatedly demonstrates what God does with those of us who struggle with their own inadequacy. Consider for example Elijah, “a man of like passions as we are,” who ran from his enemy Jezebel. Yet when he admitted his fears, God listened and used him powerfully. I think of Jonah, with whom God used dramatic circumstances to gain his attention. In His grace, God still used a bitter, reluctant man to save an entire nation. I think of Paul’s self-seeking contemporaries mentioned in Philippians 1. They were preaching the gospel out of unworthy motives, and were causing Paul distress, yet he acknowledged they were being used by God to spread the Good News.

Even Charles Haddon Spurgeon, one of the greatest preachers in recent history knew well the limitations of his own self. Based on his enormous reputation and accomplishments, many people assume Spurgeon must have experienced great peace, contentment, and prosperity. After all, his dedication to God and the power with which God anointed his life and ministry were obvious. Surely his was a life of satisfaction and fulfillment.

The facts, however, are vastly different. Spurgeon carried a heavy burden throughout his years of ministry. Wrote Richard Day, one of his biographers, “There was one aspect of Spurgeon’s life, glossed over by most of his biographers, that we must now view with utter frankness: he was frequently in the grip of terrific depression.” Further, he was often ill, spending weeks at a time in bed, so many that he told the leaders of his church they ought to replace him. (They wisely chose not to.)[1]

Spurgeon, like the rest of us, was a man of many weaknesses. He had his doubts, his anxieties, his struggles with emotion. He wrestled mightily with the tension between being holy and being human. Yet the God he served is one who seems to specialize in making tremendous use of flawed instruments. I sometimes think, in fact, that God chooses to make the greatest use of those people with the greatest flaws.

In that I take comfort! I remember the Lord’s words to Paul when he says, “My power is made perfect in weakness,”(2 Cor. 12:9) to which Paul responded, as we should, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.… For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Except for Jesus Christ, God has always used flawed instruments. Always. It is a gift of grace I thankfully accept.

[1]Jay Kesler, vol. 13, Being Holy, Being Human : Dealing With the Expectations of Ministry, The Leadership library (Carol Stream, Ill.; Waco, Tex.: CTI; Word Books, 1988), 179.

Friday, April 20, 2007

No One Dies Alone

Our hospital has a wonderful program called No One Dies Alone (NODA). This program was developed because of the many patients who are in our hospital and are critically ill. Often times, their life on earth is nearing an end but they do not have friends or family to be with them during their final hours. The NODA program is designed to give all people the dignity of a peaceful passing by ensuring that a compassionate companion is with them at all times so that no one dies alone.

Today was my first vigil. I arrived in a room where an elderly gentleman lay peacefully in his bed. ( I cannot share his name because of HIPAA so I will simply call him Mr. Glen) Soft music was playing and the compassionate companion who preceded me greeted me and gave me instruction as I would now spend the next hour with this elderly gentleman. I signed in and did the cursory paperwork and then sat next to the bed of my new friend. I introduced myself and let him know that I would right here beside him. I placed my hand on his shoulder to give him comfort in knowing that I was there.

His blood pressure was very low and his breathing was not labored but included long pauses between breathes. His skin was thin and his eyes closed. He was not responsive but I didn't assume that he couldn't hear me as I talked. In fact, I hoped he could.

I wondered what his story was. At 79 years old, what had life taught him? Was he married? Did he have children? If so, why was he alone? These were questions that I would not be able to answer, but it didn't matter, because for some reason God had intended for the two of us to be together for the next few moments.

I spoke gently to my new friend. In the last hours of his life, I felt compelled to tell him about God's wonderful love for him. I thought if anyone, at any hour, needs peace in their soul, only the love of God would truly satisfy. So I shared with Mr. Glen how much we all need that love. And Jesus came to make that possible. If we trust Him and His sacrifice on the cross, we have a peace with God for all eternity. That is the love God wanted him to know.

His breathing increased just slightly. That was the only response I could see.

I didn't know where Mr. Glen was in his faith or if he had faith at all, but I tried to comfort him by reminding him that his trust in Jesus was all that he needed to have the peace and comfort he desired.

His breathing slowed and there was silence as the music continued to play in the background. I wondered how, or even why, he was still alive. What was the motivation of this elderly man to continue to take in breaths of life. So I spoke softly once again.

"Mr. Glen, you can rest in the arms of Jesus. Trust him and he will give you peace. Don't be afraid. You can let go and rest in Him when you are ready. He has something wonderful prepared just for you."

We sat silently for just a few minutes more. His breathing was slow and then silent. As I sat next to the bedside with my hand on his shoulder and a prayer in my heart, Mr. Glen breathed his last. I have to believe he decided to let go and trust in God's wonderful love. Perhaps he knows better than I the peace that passes all understanding.

Thank you Jesus.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Religion in Healthcare

I attended a very informative session today at work where a panel representing various religions gave their representative perspectives on issues related to illness, suffering and death. Interestingly, the topic could not be discussed without giving some perspective of “the after life” and how one achieves the “eternal state”. Here are some highlights from each presentation. Everything written represents quotations from each speaker.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (i.e. Mormon) Jim Johnson, Hospital VP
Mormans believe we all begin as spirit children of God. We come to earth as a necessary part of God’s plan for our “eternal progression”. We are “absolutely Christian”. We believe Jesus is the son of God whose sacrifice gives the ability for this eternal progression. In the end, we will be judged according to our works in this life by the perfect judge, Jesus Christ.
We consider the age of accountability to be 8 years old. Therefore, if a child dies before this time, they are saved by the sacrifice of Jesus. After, the age of 8, they become accountable for their decisions and willingness to obey God. Family relationships are very important in our faith…even eternal.
Death is simply a return to the original spirit state before we received our mortal bodies where we will be judged by or obedience while on earth.

Catholic, Father Malcom Neyland (Hospital Chaplain)
Catholics believe you have always existed. Even from eternity past, when God thought of you, your soul existed. At the moment of conception, the soul is united with the body.
The sacraments of the church were instituted by Christ to procure the grace we need to follow Him. Baptism covers a person up to the “age of reason” after which time another sacrament, confirmation, is practiced to demonstrate one’s personal decision of faith. The other sacraments follow to maintain this good standing. According to tradition, Catholics believe that when baptism is not possible, children are saved by the faith of their parents.
Illness and suffering are both redemptive and salvific.
The first Pope was Peter and the lineage continues from him. There were only 5 infallible statements made by any Pope. Everything else is fallible. These statement were confirmation of scripture such as Jesus was God/man and the existence of the Trinity.

Judaism, Dr. Anne Epstein (Internal Medicine Physician)
The world is broken but it is not up to God alone to restore the world. Jews cooperate with God to repair the world. It is our duty to eliminate evil and suffering. Illness and suffering are evils of nature but not caused by God.
In Judaism, there is no doctrine that people are born into sin. People are born good. In fact, most people are mostly good. Therefore, the soul is not in constant jeopardy in need of redemption. “C” is a passing grade and most people make it into the afterlife just fine. The after life is unclear so those within Judaism focus on this life here and now and not what is to come.
When death occurs, there is no embalming. The body is placed in a wood casket allowing it to return to its natural state of dust.

Church of Christ, Doug Hale (Vandelia Church of Christ)
The Church of Christ movement started 200 years ago as an effort to bring unity to all Christians in America. The system was flawed because the pattern to be restored was the that of the New Testament church and no one could agree on what the Bible had to say. As a result, what was originally intended to bring unity became divisive and narrow. Three groups have evolved from this original movement: (1) Disciples of Christ (2) Independent Christian Churches (3) Church of Christ. There is no central governing authority. Large variability of beliefs and a growing ecumenical view of all Christians.

Seventh Day Adventist, Mike Troxell (Community Minister)
Sin introduced by Adam and Eve and made redemption necessary. God took on humanity in Jesus and His death on the cross gave hope for this redemption. Salvation is by faith alone in this atoning sacrifice. At death, we sleep in the grave until the resurrection.
Adventists prefer a natural means of healthcare when possible and are generally vegetarian. They take stewardship of the earthly body very seriously. The see the body, mind and spiritual components of a person interrelated.

Jehovah’s Witness, Brian Waller (Community Representative)
Name of religion came from Isaiah 43:10. We are Christians. We believe Jesus died for the forgiveness of sins but Jesus and God are not the same. Genesis says let “us” create and Colossians says Jesus was the first born of all creation. We take these literally and view them as separate spiritual beings.
JW’s all spend on average 10-20 hours a month talking to their neighbors about their faith. Every city is divided into territories where this witnessing takes place. This is true for the 6 million followers across the world. Every JW in the hospital is visited every day in every hospital across the world. The same Bible study is done in every congregation on every Sunday across the world.
Most JWs do not look forward to a life in heaven. Earth will be restored to its original paradise and if we live well, we will be in God’s memory to live in His restored paradise.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

The Whole Gospel

Good thoughts from author Neil T. Anderson:

The gospel we most hear sounds like this: “Jesus is the Messiah who came to die for our sins, and if we will put our trust in Him, we will be forgiven of our sins, and when we die, we will go to heaven.” What is wrong with that?

At best it is only a third of the gospel; and it gives the impression that eternal life is something we get when we physically die! If you were going to save a dead man, what would you do? Give him life? If that is all you did, he would only die again. To save a dead person, you would have to do 2 things. First, you would have to cure the disease that caused him to die. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death…” (Rom 6:23). So Jesus went to the cross and died for our sins. Is that the whole gospel? Absolutely not! Thank God for Good Friday, but it was Christ’s resurrection that gave us life. We need to finish the previous verse: “…but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23b). Eternal life is not something we get when we die. In fact, if you don’t have eternal (spiritual) life before you physically die, you will have nothing but hell to look forward to. John says, “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son does not have life” (1 Jn. 5:12).

Sin has separated us from God, so we use the cross as a bridge diagram to present the gospel. But when we cross the bridge, are we the same person as we were before? We will likely perceive ourselves to be nothing more than forgiven sinners instead of redeemed saints if we leave the resurrection out of our gospel presentations. What Adam and Eve lost in the fall was life (i.e. spiritual life) and Jesus said, “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

Praise God for the resurrection!

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Royal Order of the Towel

When my brother was sick with cancer, he would tell me that his body would ache. I have been told by other cancer patients that the chemotherapy treatments often make you feel like you have the flu. Body aches and fatigue are the normal course for the day. That is why I would give my brother a massage when I could so that I might do at least one small thing to help him feel better.
It is for this very reason that I started giving foot massages at the Cancer Center where I work. I call it the "Royal Order of the Towel". And as most acts of service, it has done more for me than I believe it will ever do for those whom I serve. In addition, I hear so many stories and have the opportunity to share mine as well.
For example, I visited with a lady diagnosed with breast cancer almost 10 years ago. She has been in remission a few times but this time it has returned with a vengence. She now has cancer in the lung and liver and treatment has resumed. Her husband has been by her every step of the way. When we visited last, they were preparing for a trip Charleston, SC and were looking forward to the good food, good friends and beautiful scenery. If she didn't have an IV hooked up to the port in her chest, you wouldn't know this woman was sick. She had chosen to live life with little attention given to her disease.
I went from there to a lady who had lymphoma and her cancer was also in remission and had now returned. Unlike the first lady, she was alone. She tells me about her broken family. Her husband is plagued with addictions and her children share in his same malady. She has custody of her 13 year old grandson and by her won admission, "If it wasn't for him, I would lay down and die." She asked for more pain medication. I am sure she was hurting physically. But the emotional pain must have been what penetrated deepest in her soul. She just wanted relief.
I also visited with was a gentleman who had returned from Iraq within the past 6months. He went in for a routine check only to find that he had cancer. It was quite advanced and while we visited, he received apherisis to collect stem cells for his upcoming stem cell transplant. "Are you nervous or concerned about anything?", I asked.
"No. I am ready. I feel good. I am ready!"
"How long have you been diagnosed with cancer?", I asked.
"Oh, I don't use that word." he responded.
"I'm sorry. What word did I use?"
"That "C" word. I don't even know what that means. All I know is that I am sick and I am trying to get better."
"You are a real soldier", I said. "You keep fighting!"
So many stories I hear and most of the time I am able to share my story. A story of incredible faith from a brother who said with confidence, "I am going to be healed. I don't if it is on this side of heaven or the other side...but God has promised that I will be healed." It is Jay's testimony of faith that I share as I wash feet and rub lotion so that I might do at least one small thing to help people feel better. Yet, it is the message of hope that my brother lived that I want them to hear.
Some live to experience as much out of life as possible. Some live for others. Some simply fight. I hear the stories most every day.
Why do you live?
I'll be honest. I have asked myself that question lately. What wakes me up in the morning and gives me purpose for the day? Is it my family? Is it my job? Is it my hobbies? Is it the feeling of significance or accomplishment in any of these things? What is it?
Many days, as important as these things are, they are not enough to give me lasting joy or hope or fulfillment. I feel empty and incomplete...and I am.
You might expect that what would now follow is a penetrating lesson on what God has taught me. (For goodness sake, I will soon be a pastor. It's what pastor's do, right?)
Yet, as I write, I am still in the valley. I don't have that story...yet. But I will.
I look forward to writing that story when that day comes. Until then...I'll keep washing.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Dragonfly


The Dragonfly is known to have 3 life stages. First, Dragonfly eggs are deposited directly onto aquatic plants or dropped into the water. Dragonflies begin life as a nymph living underwater. This nymphal stage can last for as long as four years for some species. Many species overwinter as nymphs in ponds and marshes and emerge in the spring as adults. When the nymph is completely grown and ready to become a dragonfly it will crawl up the stem of a water plant and emerge out of the water. The nymph is now ready to change from an underwater insect into an aerial one! The adult dragonfly emerges from the skin of the nymph. After emerging from skin, the dragonfly body and wings grow rapidly as it pumps fluids into to them. From this point on, the Dragonfly will spend the rest of its life flying in the air.
I spent the afternoon with another chaplain at the hospital. I really appreciated the opportunity to once again observe how these men minister to people who find themselves in some of the most difficult and vulnerable circumstances. I continue to be impressed with how well they listen, how gentle they love and how meaningful their compassion is to all the people they visit.
On this particular day, we spent some time on the pediatric floor. The chaplain had a unique way that he comforted these young patients...origami. One of his favorites creations was the dragonfly and as he would construct this flying insect out of paper, he would educate the patient about the life cycle of a dragonfly and then tell this story:
One day, a water bug was swimming in the water with his friends when he noticed someone was missing. Yet, this was not the first time something like this had happened. Over time, many of the friends they had swam around the pond with suddenly disappeared.
"Where do you think they have gone?", one water bug asked.
"I don't know", came the reply.
"Then we must make a pact", said the first water bug. "If one of us ever finds out, we must come back and tell the others."
"Yes we must", they all agreed.
And then one day, one of the water bugs decided to crawl up a tall plant extending high above the water. And when he reached the top he realized something had changed. He had shed his water bug skin and beautiful wings had emerged. He began to fly high into the air and the feeling was wonderfully more than he had ever imagined...and then he remembered.
"I must go and tell my friends. Now I know and so must they."
Yet as he descended upon the water, he realized he could not go back. He would bounce off the top of the water. Now that he had wings, he could not descend beneath the surface. He watched his friends as flew in the air and realized, "They will join me soon enough. And they will be so glad when they do."
The chaplain would tell this story as he made the insect out of paper. If someone had lost a loved one, he would relate this story to heaven and the promise of God for those who trust Him. If a child was frightened, he would encourage them with the promise that things will get better. It was a wonderful tool that he would use to communicate a most important message in a most gentle way.
Another lesson learned from the chaplains.