Mourning, Anger and Compression Socks

 

This has been a weird week, both personally and nationally.

All of the killings that have happened in our nation are numbing and tragic. Regardless of my political leanings, or thoughts on the 2nd Amendment or attitudes on activism; American families are in mourning and in need of my prayers. This is part of how I love my neighbors (Matthew 22:37-40). Our nation is in need of my prayers. God help us!

 

The Anger Part

SocksI was on my bike ride yesterday when I was pondering all the mourning. As I entered onto a very busy street with a debris-strewn bike path, some dude swerved into the bike lane so his buddy could stick his upper body out of the window to scream at me. It of course startled me, and thankfully they didn’t hit or grab me, but as they sped away, I started fuming. I even yelled at them, and no, I didn’t say “thank you!” I am glad I kept both hands on the handlebars so I didn’t flail around any hand gestures that could’ve caused me even more trouble.

But as their car faded from view and I started climbing one of West Salem’s many hills, I marveled how quickly I went from mourning to anger. Yes, what those people did to me was dangerous and stupid, but I allowed them to disturb my soul. Then I started realizing how I allow a lot of other things to disturb my soul as well.

Sure, most of what is in the news is bad, but typically, we only see what the news wants us to see. We actually have to work to see the positives in life. But even amongst all the sadness and tragedy, there is still beauty. Just look around and marvel at the joy that surrounds us. Even as we pray for more of God’s presence and peace in our own souls and throughout our nation, we can at the same time be thankful for our families, flowers, birds, bikes, and so on.

 

Now the Socks

I was reminded of a simple example of joy when I started speeding down the hill just described, my feet were more comfortable in my new compression socks! Silly, I know, but also simple and joyful. The socks help message the calves, wick sweat away better and just add more overall comfort. And they were on sale to boot!

Like I said, it’s been a weird week, and I didn’t mention my CT scan (but that’s another story).

Tissues of Praise?

Tissue_Box

I feel crummy. No, not crumby like I’m shoving fistfuls of saltines in my mouth. Crummy as in miserable, as in puny, as in…sick. Yep, sick. I can’t tell if it’s a summer cold or monster allergies or a combo platter of both. What I do know is I’ve gone through boxes of tissues. And when I ran out, I used paper towels (which I highly DON’T recommend!).

 

Missed Meetings and Canceled Dinners

I’ve missed two days of work containing six different meetings. I’ve missed two important and exciting church meetings (yes, I do find them exciting—weird, I know). I missed my oldest son’s band’s Friday night concert. We canceled a small dinner party for tonight and I have to reschedule an invite to the shooting range. And I’ll probably miss church.

I know…waaaahhhh! Still, I’m frustrated. I carefully planned my schedule, color-coded my appointments on my Franklin Planner and set alarms on my cell phone. But all for naught. I fear people are disappointed in me or think I’m wuss. I eat tons of raw fruits and veggies, exercise, get moderate rest; I live a healthy lifestyle. What’s going on?

 

Who Really Holds Tomorrow?

Part of what’s going on is realizing that healthy living is not to become a prideful badge of honor. I’m still in a broken body in a broken world and am susceptible to whatever crud is going around. When I don’t get the crud, I ought not to be praising myself for my healthy living, but instead praising God for sparing me from the crud. When I get the crud, as I have now, I need to praise God that He allows me to draw breath at all—especially since much of my past hasn’t been filled in glorifying Him. Mercy and praise should be my thoughts even as I again empty my schnoz into yet another tissue that frays on my whiskers.

Moreover, God doesn’t promise me tomorrow—He promises me an eternal destiny forevermore with Him. My tomorrow could be in Heaven. Or it could be another day of sniffles and fraying tissues. Or healing.

And in spite of all my planning, color-coding and alarm-setting; God is the one holding tomorrow:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”

–James 4:13-15

Plan On…But Pray First

So James does not discourage planning, but he does remind us to remain mindful that God is ultimately in control of all things and does indeed hold our lives in His hands. Planning is good; prayerful planning is even better. Humility then, may be the catalyst for authentic prayerful planning.

So while I’m bummed my schedule has been so severely impacted and I’m equally as bummed to be feeling crummy, I am grateful for the reminder that no matter what my plans or my healthful lifestyle are, God is the One that is central to my life and being. Keeping this in view will allow me to live more freely in the Lord and, frankly, have more grace to others when they can’t show up to meetings or have to cancel dinner plans.

Next week I’ll return to themes more theological, but for now—I’m out; gotta go blow my nose!

The Gift of Marcus

The news came pouring through the phone early that Christmas Eve morning. In sobbing bursts Diana cried the news to Janey, “Marcus was killed last night in a car wreck!”

“What!?” said Janey incredulously. “How could this be?”

But it was true. Our dear friends in Omaha lost their 20-year-old son in a one car accident. Authorities said he died at impact so there was no pain; he was here then he was gone. Gone! As a father it’s mind-numbing news. Thankfully, Marcus was a young man solid in his Christian faith; and while we know that Marcus is experiencing inexpressible joy, we still sorrow—and we remember.

I have great memories of them as our neighbors. How the boys, Marcus, their oldest son, and Ben, my oldest son, would play baseball in the cul-de-sac. They’d see who could hit the ball all the way to the main street or make the coolest sliding-from-the-knees-catches in our front yards. I remember all those Little League games—the winning, the losing—and the fun! I remember those darkening spring evenings cheering the boys on. I remember the sleep-overs, the bickering, and the laughing. Oh those were good times!

The last time I saw Marcus was when he came from Omaha to visit us in Keizer. Marcus, Ben and I drove up to Seattle to see a couple of Mariners games. Chris, Marcus’ dad, scored great tickets right behind the Oakland A’s dugout. It was so cool, we could hear some of the players’ conversations and I got to sit and listen to Ben and Marcus debate various strategies. We even saw one of those rare triple-plays!

Now Marcus is gone and I cry out to God, “now what?” Well, here’s my sense of God’s answer to my cry. Marcus was a life lived well. He left with no emotional wreckage in his wake. He left with family and friends knowing he loved them. He left with a good plan for his future. He left already having led several young people to life in Christ. And he’s left us with a great legacy because of a life lived well.

Legacy Left

Yes, his life was brief. And even as our souls are saturated in sorrow now, our tears will dry and we will carry on with our lives. Even so, we can still rejoice in the fact that he is with Jesus forevermore! We can celebrate the life he lived among us. We can cherish the memories he leaves. And we can be inspired by his legacy, may our lives become lives lived as well as his.

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of Marcus; yes, we sorrow now, but in time his memory will live on via a living legacy of a life lived well, of a life lived for Jesus Christ; and we know that one day, we will see Marcus again!

Uncomfortable Words and Prayer

Peace

Contemplative, centering and meditation. What do you think when you read these words? Many western Christians bristle at these words. They conjure up images of bald Tibetans in orange and red robes or multi-armed Hindu gods. And yet Scripture is full of admonitions to meditate. Often the admonitions occur with the word “wait” or “still” as well as many uses of the word “meditate.” In Psalms, meditate and meditation (a derivative of meditate) simply mean to muse, or contemplate or pray. It is also interesting to note that “the fact remains that every human brain, from early childhood on, contemplates the possibility that spiritual realms exist”[1].

Our Brains and God

God built our brains to seek after him, but somehow many of us, myself included, have lost our way in how to do this. For instance, I have task lists and check marks for how I “do” faith. My devotion time is something I squeeze in between getting out of bed in the morning and showering. But am I really seeking God or going through a motion to look spiritual? It isn’t so much the timeframe of this practice as much as it the authenticity of it. Reading Scripture and prayer are good things, but where is my head, and especially my heart, when I do them? Is my prayer a laundry list for God, a list of tasks and expectations that resemble my Franklin Planner? Or am I really desiring to commune with the God of the universe?

The Dessert Fathers from so many centuries ago knew better. “Meditation for them consisted in making the words of the Bible their own by memorizing them and repeating them, with deep and simple concentration, ‘from the heart.’ Therefore the ‘heart’ comes to play a central role in this primitive form of monastic prayer”[2]. But things have changed. Foster notes that “usually people will tolerate a brief dabbling in the ‘inward journey,’ but then it is time to get on with the real business in the real world. We need courage to move beyond the prejudice of our age and affirm with our best scientists that more than the material world exists” (emphasis in the original)[3].

I agree with Merton and Foster.

Jesus and Being Self-Aware

It is so easy to lose the peace in my soul and to allow the “joy of my salvation” to be stolen away.  Why?

Partially because I grew up in a home that breathed in anxiety and breathed out worry. We could all be starters for any team in the in the NWL (National Worry League). I don’t know if those of us from Northern European descent are more predisposed to worry or not, but it seems so genetically ingrained that it is nearly impossible to overcome. Yet Jesus still says that with God nothing is impossible; He goes on to say that He gives us peace, not worldly peace, but the peace that passes understanding (cf. Lk. 18:27, Jo. 14:27 & Phil. 4:6-7).

I want this peace; frankly, I need this peace. How can I be a light in the world when I’m dark inside? How can I expect the world to be a more peaceful place when I can’t even be a more peaceful person? This isn’t being self-absorbed, it’s being self-aware. I want to draw people to Jesus, but all I do is repel them if they look at me see a tightly wound up ball of tension that is irritable and angry. I pray, Jesus, take this away! In fact, the centering prayer phrase I’m now using at this point in my life is, “Peace in Jesus; peace in me.”

So again I embark on a discipline of incorporating more centering prayer in my life. Usually such attempts last a few days and then the busyness and tiredness of life bleed this away from me. So far, my latest attempt has lasted a week; and I love it. I still pray for people and for God’s touch in their lives. But now I’m also intentionally allowing the Holy Spirit to flow more freely in my soul. Through this I am receiving fleeting tastes of that peace I have so desperately longed for.

Over time, I will let you know how this is going.

[1] How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Neuroscientist. Andrew Newberg, MD & Mark Robert Waldman, New York: Ballantine Books, 2009. Kindle location 108.

[2] Contemplative Prayer. Thomas Merton, New York: Image Books, 1969, p. xxix.

[3] Celebration of Discipline. Richard J. Foster, New York: Harper Collins, 1978, Kindle location 277.

God at 1,000 Feet

God at 1000'

Not even half a mile away from our new home and I’m already climbing a gigantic hill. It goes from 249 feet to 1,000 feet in less than five miles; five very slow miles I might add. Because of other chores that were a higher priority I’m starting my ride in mid-afternoon where the temperature has topped 85 degrees and is expected to reach close to 100.

What am I thinking? I’m thinking about celebrating life, feeling the strain of muscle against pedal, sweat trickling down my neck and back, and catching vistas of vineyards and lavender fields. My lungs ache, my heart pounds, and my legs protest, but my spirit is running free from the shackles of stress, chores and long to-do lists.

Cresting the hill I stop to drink in the view of the lush Willamette Valley: green and brown pastures, towering evergreens and sprawling deciduous trees, manicured orchards, vineyards, and purple patches of lavender wafting a calming fragrance through the breeze. The river winds in long, silver meanders with hawks and a few eagles soaring on thermals high above my head. I take just a minute of pause to snap a picture and thank God that I even get such an experience; yes, world, I am alive and glad for it!

I often recall the short conversation I had with my surgeon on Saturday, January 7, 2012 where she said, just barely 24 hours after operating on my spine for a second time that I may not do the things I used to do. While that statement is true in some respects, especially in running, chronic pain and other things, I still get to ride my bike up big hills that reveal the splendor of a creative and loving God.

So before I begin the terrifying descent I whisper (basically gasp) “thank You, Jesus!” Then I turn my attention to the looming downhill portion of the big climb. I’m not used to such big climbs, which, of course means I’m not used to bombing down such big hills—this brings a totally different type of prayer (but that’s another blog)!  For the moment, though, I celebrate life and praise the God that gave it to me.

Pentecost Today

Living_Waters

Today is Pentecost, a commemoration of one of the most monumental events to hit planet earth; it is the day God poured out His Holy Spirit upon the depraved, broken and lost mass of humanity. From that point forward, through faith in Jesus Christ, we—humanity—became a new creation and the temple of the living God! The mission of Jesus Christ came to full effulgence by way of the now ever-present ministry of the Holy Spirit.

No more priests, no more Holy of Holies, and no more middle of wall of division separated us from God; Jesus had demolished all of these, thereby paving a new pathway of faith in Him, sealed by way of the indwelling Holy Spirit in our souls. Easter, that is, the resurrection of Jesus, was a pivotal hinge, changing the course of this world, but it was not the final act of God in His cosmic plan for humanity’s redemption; and neither was the Ascension. While these events can truly stand on their own miraculous merits, God wasn’t finished, there was one more hinge pin left in God’s redemption of mankind, sending the Holy Spirit into the very heart of humanity, so that now all those calling upon the name of Jesus Christ would be forever sealed as sons and daughters of the living God!

This is the essence of being saved, believing on the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ to then receive the free gift of salvation via the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We are forever snatched out of the gates of hell and the clutches of Satan for an eternal destiny with Jesus forever more, amen!

Let’s hear it for Pentecost and for the living waters of God in our souls through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Scripture references: Acts 2:1-4, 2 Corinthians 5:17-19, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Romans 10:9-10, Ephesians 2:14 and 1:13, Roman 5:15-18, Matthew 16:18, and John 4:13-14.

Integrity and Proverbs 10

Integrity

Proverbs 10:9 states that “He who walks with integrity walks securely, but he who perverts his ways will become known.” Integrity is defined as “completeness, innocence, uprightness”[1]. I highly value being a man of integrity and strive to maintain it as best I can. Over time, however, I have made mistakes and my integrity has taken a bit of hit; especially if I have said or done something stupid while trying to represent Christ! But part of understanding integrity is recognizing when you’ve tarnished your own; you learn what not to do again or how to do or say things differently in the future. I also highly respect other men of integrity, they are a great example to me and a great help for me in making big decisions.

A key value of integrity contained in the proverb is we can walk securely; as we live a life with integrity, we know that we have nothing to hide and that we keep our word. Others begin to trust us so we need to value the trust they have in us and not compromise it through foolish actions or words.

Keys to Integrity

Keys to understanding, building and maintaining integrity include continually opening our lives up to Holy Spirit examination. Through this we need to do our best to hear and obey when He, the Holy Spirit, reveals weaknesses or barriers inhibiting a freer flowing of Him in our lives (cf. Ps. 139:23-24). Another key is spending time in God’s Word; the more Scripture we know the more equipped we are to live a life marked by integrity, especially as we study the life of Jesus. Hanging around those with high integrity is also a good idea, we can learn a lot through how they live their lives, especially when they are in difficult circumstances. This leads us to add two more aspects to integrity: humility and obedience.

Lacking integrity reveals a person that is two-faced and unstable (cf. Ja. 1:7). This person cannot be trusted with the things of men or of God. Such a person also lacks the humility to recognize their error, which can open them up to very serious calamities. This causes us to ponder if the lack of integrity means a strong presence of pride.  We will explore this possibility in a later post on Proverbs devotionals.

Practical Steps

Now more than ever integrity is eroding in our culture at rapid rates. Politician don’t mean what they say, entertainment is becoming more and more dehumanizing and sexualized, and the individual is quickly replacing the sense of community. One way to help stem the tide of such erosion is becoming a person of integrity: say what we mean, keep our promises, help others when we have opportunity, and lean more deeply into the things of God.

[1] Strong’s Concordance, pp. 136 & 555.

To Mary…

Mary_Brown

We miss you, Mary Brown. I can’t add anything beyond all the honest and heart-felt comments shared at today’s memorial service in her honor. However, I am looking forward to when I come home to Heaven; I fully expect to see Mary standing there, hands on her hips (you know what I mean), with her head cocked to one side and that wry smile, “Well, it’s about time!”

That’s what she always said as Caleb and I showed up late to the Food Bank every month—she always had that posture and she always said that phrase; oh, how I miss that phrase!

Mary’s life inspires me to live to a higher level of service (and joy) while I still have breath.

Here’s to Mary!

 

Christmas Lessons and ‘Frankenflu’

tissues

Christmas is over and the family is suffering from a raging cold or flu thing—or a combo of both (I call it ‘coldenflu’, could also be ‘Frankenflu’). It is very hard to be cheery, to entertain and to be thankful when you have a fever, body aches, fog-brain and spontaneously explode in sudden bursts of coughing and sneezing. Eew!

But we got lots of neat stuff, which means we need to weed out the neat stuff from last year. We had fun times with family and friends, though I hope they don’t come down with this. The food, I’m told anyway, was great (I couldn’t taste it). The weather, while not a winter wonderland, was decent; so much so, that I could not resist the urge to put on my new pair of Asics to go for a short but wheezy run (which may explain why my recovery was slowed).

Who’s Will?

But the main lesson to be learned through all of this may be from the Book of James where it says “you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that’” (4:15). We had everything planned out, even taking vacation at the same time; we were going to do fun family and church things then try to escape to Central Oregon for a few days. Instead, we barely slogged through the gatherings but come Christmas morning we were all feverish, hacking and coughing and worse. We are in no condition to travel far, except to the gym to sweat this out (I’m no longer contagious), and last night we all slept for 12 hours!

Perhaps the other glaring lesson, prominent by its absence, is the whole point of the season in the first place, celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior. The new iPod took hours to set up due to a myriad of incompatibilities with Windows 8, at some point I need to clear out old clothes so I can safely store the new ones, but I am enjoying my new headphones—finally good quality sound not attached to squishy ear buds that always fall out of my ears.

But where’s Jesus? 

I don’t think we forgot Him; instead, what I am figuring out is my adoration of Him is not dependent on my carefully thought-through plans, or my fool-proof meal prep, or even my desire to be away in the mountain air for bouts of contemplative prayer; my adoration is more deeply forged in trials that make adoration that much more difficult—sickness. Do I still adore Jesus in my fever and chills? Do I still adore Jesus when my body aches so much I can’t sleep? Or do I just adore Him when my plans work out according to my will?

Well, I do still adore Jesus, but I will admit that this Christmas has been one of the most challenging ones for adoring Him. Yes, I admit that I had bouts of less than stellar thinking and of blaming and of frustration. Yet I felt His patient presence even in my valleys. Today I’m not tip-top by any stretch, but I feel recovered enough to understand this is temporary; sort of like our existence on earth. So while this Christmas is not one I ever want to repeat, I am thankful that Jesus is still Lord, still Savior, and still loving me; even in my shakiness, wavering, and general unpleasantness.

Prayer Struggle

Romans 8_26

Lately I’ve been struggling with prayer. Oh, I can go through my lists of requests as well as the next person, but the struggle is the deeper prayer; the soaking in the Spirit prayer. Maybe it’s my age or the season of life I’m in; maybe it’s the listening part or all of the distractions. Maybe it’s something else entirely; even so, I find it both interesting and disturbing. It’s interesting because I haven’t been in such a struggle for a long time; disturbing because I haven’t been in such a struggle for a long time.

Struggle and Soil

Perhaps the struggle is part of God’s plan for me. Instead of fretting over the struggle I need to be okay with it and recognize it as a normal part of growing in my walk with Jesus. The struggle is where the refining of my faith occurs. Outward struggles are obvious opportunities for faith-building, but the interior struggles are invisible to the material world but are every bit as real, maybe even more so.

It is in the unseen where the Holy Spirit does his best work; that is, if the person in the midst of the struggle leans deeper into God rather than turning away. The struggle is where the soil of my soul is being tilled for the deeper things of God.

Painful Reveal and the Crucible

The struggle also reveals weak areas of my faith. Such as being too focused on today’s list of to-dos, or tomorrow’s dreams, or my worrying over the “what ifs” of life, “what ifs” that may never come to pass. It is revealing to me that my mind is not quiet, my soul is not settled and I am not waiting patiently.

The struggle then is honing the discipline of waiting; waiting on God to speak, or not to speak. The quiet is the crucible that is forging the fragile yet precious patience required to truly hear from God.

The struggle helps me better understand what Paul was talking about in Romans 8: “And even we Christians, although we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, also groan to be released from pain and suffering. We, too, wait anxiously for that day when God will give us our full rights as his children … And the Holy Spirit helps us in our distress. For we don’t even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words” (verses 23 and 26, New Living Translation).

So struggle goes on, but at least I know I’m not struggling alone.