The View From The Valley

Today I read the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in the eleventh chapter of the gospel of John and gained a greater appreciation for the manner in which our schedule (as human beings with limited perspective) often fails to line up with God’s. Concerned and worried, Mary and Martha, friends of Jesus, sent word that their brother Lazarus was sick. But, when Jesus received the message, He responded in a manner that gave no sense of alarm or panic. Instead, He seemed to have a sense of peace with the situation, despite the fact that Lazarus and his sisters were close friends of his, saying instead, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it. (John 11:4). As verses five and six state, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when He heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.”
So, not only was He not alarmed or panicking, but, he didn’t even leave for Bethany until two days after he heard that Lazarus was sick. Having heard that He was finally coming, Martha went and met Jesus, who was still on his way, and declared, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But, upon arriving in Bethany, Jesus, sure as He was in what was yet to happen, was emotionally shaken by the mourning and grief evident in the friends and family of Lazarus. As John states in verse thirty-three, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled,” and it was then that Jesus asked them to take him to where Lazarus was buried and proceeded to raise him back to life.
I was struck by two main points while reading this passage this morning. First, we have a lot to gain if we can learn to trust God’s plan and His timing. We may not understand it all. It might make no sense. The dying loved one we’re praying for may not heal. The big job promotion we’re hoping for may not happen quick, or at all. But, sometimes it takes time for the growth that God knows we need to go through to happen.
But, I also learned that, while it is true that trusting Him during challenging times is, most certainly, critical, He is not unmoved by the trials that we face and the pain that we sometimes must endure in the midst of those trials. He is with us, more than ever, in the darkest moments. Whether we feel His presence or not, He knows that it is our choice to trust that He is there and that it is that choice we make, in faith, that provides the fertile soil out of which even stronger faith and the purest, eternal joy can be born, “for God’s glory.”

How To Thank Him

One of the reasons that the focus of the Hands & Feet Project is so important to me has to do with just how clear and concise the bible is about the need for Christians to care for orphans. Some of you may know that, by the time my senior year of high school came around, I had decided that I would attend a Seventh-Day Adventist college and major in theology in order to become a pastor. Well, adolescent indiscretions carved out a different path for me instead. At least partly as a result of this change of course, my college years, in retrospect, can be characterized mainly by how dark and aimless they were. Like many, though, the birth of my first child, Julia, brought the need for more direction in my life back to the surface.

As somebody who was raised Catholic until the age of nine and converted to Adventism soon after, I had already started out with some identity issues in terms of who I was and what I believed. By the age of 27, when Julia was born and after years of arguing against the notion of God in favor of bad habits from my college years, finding something I could believe to hold onto in, in terms of faith, was critical.

Finally, I came (or perhaps was guided to) the conclusion that, if I focused on Jesus, instead of theological/denominational/peripheral details and distractions, I could move forward. So, I started focusing on the following question to form the foundation of what would be my reformed faith: What are each of the gospels in agreement on with regards to what Jesus did, what he said, and how he treated people?

Once I did this, it was easy to see that the life of Jesus was characterized by breaking form from the religious politics of the day and seeking out those who were most in need of help. He intentionally helped and expressed compassion for those who were at their own breaking points and realized that they deserved nothing. He served the hopeless.

I realized then that Jesus was about to become personal to me. My life was a laundry list of bad decisions and hurt that has levied a vast amount of collateral damage in my wake. Despite the blessings that I’ve been given and despite the fact that I was adopted by two great parents away from my biological mother who couldn’t care for me, my life, up to that point, had been characterized by one word: selfishness. I had earned nothing in my life except a great deal of personal and emotional debt to those around me and spiritual debt to Christ.

With the birth of Julia, the love of my wife, and with the assistance of a book written by Brennan Manning called THE RAGAMUFFIN GOSPEL, though, I learned about grace and, in time, I was able to accept it.

I realize now, just how much I have to be thankful for and just how blessed I am. But, how can I thank Jesus, the God who gave it all to me with unmerited favor?

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

James 1:27

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? ’The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

Matthew 25:37-40

It is completely possible that there is no God and that I am just a naive fool with the wool pulled over my eyes, but, even if that were true, the joy and the peace that I have, due to my faith, is worth far more and does far less damage to those around me than did the life that I led when my back was turned on the God who gave me all that I have.

The beard is, in fact, fully funded through the 4/27 Half Marathon, but, the needs of orphans in Haiti and others in need around this world are not.

Please prayerfully consider donating to the Hands & Feet Project or any other organization that you see serving and loving those in need in your neighborhood or around the world. Then, please, go visit your older relatives and neighbors who are alone. There is nothing more valuable that we can do with our time and resources than to share with those in need.

http://www.handsandfeetproject.org/The Official Hands & Feet Project

https://www.facebook.com/BeardsHandsAndFeetProjectThe Beards Hands & Feet Project Facebook Page

Life Lost And Found: Connecting My Past With The Hands And Feet Project

Anyone who knows me personally knows that the last couple of years, and the last 12 months in particular, have been a rough time for me. My Dad’s 16 month decline and ultimate passing due to a stage four glioblastoma brain tumor shook my life to the core. My wife, my kids, and I all had our happy, normal lives thrown into a hurricane spin that, nine months after he passed away, we are still in the middle of trying settle back down into some sort of rhythm.

Coming to grips with the idea that all of the conversations my dad and I have had throughout my life are now in the past is a rough, ongoing process. I always had a lot of questions for him and he always listened and did his best to answer. While the questions continue the lack of a response is painful each and every time my mind turns back to him. The only thing I can do now is to think back to what was important to him, what he loved, what he wanted for me, for my family, for his grandchildren, and honor him in that way.

He had a heart for those in need. I know that he, along with my mom (divorced as soon as I finished high school) both took a step

My dad (1940-2012) preparing breakfast for guests at the local homeless shelter

forward in faith with a willingness to adopt me when I was about a month old from a mother who I never met, but, from the accounts of those who knew her, simply wasn’t capable of keeping me. Throughout my life I watched him visit and help neighbors, elderly and otherwise, whether by making repairs, taking garbage to the dump, building something, or just visiting. Even in the last five years of his life, after moving south from New York to be with us and provide daycare for his new grandson, he continued to be a helper and a friend to his new neighbors and, on many Saturday mornings, he would pick me up around 3 o’clock in the morning so that we could go to Wal-Mart to buy and prepare food to serve to the entire population of the local homeless shelter.

He was the constant model of Jesus, to me, yet he never attended church. Fortunately, in his final months and days, he accepted Christ. It was because of this acceptance that, I believe, he finally let go of the brain tumor-induced agitation that fell like a dark and ominous blanket of pain onto his home in the final couple of weeks.

His mind and his ability to cope with the stress of the position he was in started slipping just before the tumor robbed him of his ability to form words. His thoughts and his needs were trapped in his head and, for me as his primary caregiver (as well as his brother who was also there for the final two weeks), it became frustratingly difficult to understand what he wanted, needed, and was going through, just as his needs for comfort and understanding surely hit their most critical peak.

The result was a lot of guesswork regarding what to do in various situations, consulting with doctors and hospice nurses, and, surely, a number of mistakes in how I handled things. There were times, I’m ashamed to admit, when I didn’t want him to know that I was in the room because I knew that I couldn’t help him and I didn’t know how to handle it. In fact, over the past few weeks there were distinctive moments when it seemed like my presence there was irritating him. My memory of those final days and moments continues to be heavy burden that I am struggling learn how to carry. Though, I know, I am making progress, it is slow and I have a long way to go.

What I can find comfort in is the way he responded, on the final afternoon that he was with us, after being particularly agitated and uncomfortable, when I said something to the effect of (not sure that I can remember the exact words), “Uncle John and I are doing everything we can to make you comfortable Dad. It’s up to Jesus now and he’s going to take care of you.”

It was the last thing that I said to him while he was awake. Fairly immediately, he calmed down and, before long, fell asleep. He slept for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening until, just after midnight, with my arms around him and my head on his chest, I listened to his heartbeat slow to a stop.

He had given his life for my benefit from the moment I was adopted until brain cancer robbed him of the happy life that he was enjoying as a Grandpa (my kids were undisputed joy of his life), living a mere ten minutes from our house in North Carolina so that we could spend time with him almost daily. He lived a simple life. He was selfless and he was happy. Until brain cancer ripped it all away.

Matthew 25:37-40:

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

John 15:13

12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command.

James 1:27

 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world

Currently I’m in a stage of my life where I’ve never been more aware of the blessings that I have had and continue to have surrounding me on a daily basis. As somebody who was adopted into a life that prepared me to grow and develop, albeit with bumps, bruises, miscues, and detours along the way, into somebody that I know my Dad was proud of, I recognize wholeheartedly the difference that a helping hand can make.

After disbanding due to Mark Stuart’s vocal issues several years ago Christian band Audio Adrenaline has reformed, with the stellar voice of Kevin Max supplying lead vocals, with a new album and tour to come in support of expanding the orphanages that they originally established in Haiti to care for “the least of these” in 2004. In addition to the relaunch of the band, several members of Audio Adrenaline, along with others, are participating in a marathon in Las Vegas in December 2012 in order to raise funds.

When I first read about the marathon effort, as somebody who just started running in the last two years, I was intrigued. The prospect of supporting such a noble organization, that addresses the exact need the bible instructs Christians to address, by doing something that I’ve grown to love such as running really appealed to me. But, the timing, injury issues, and distance between North Carolina and Las Vegas ruled me out from participating. Since learning about the Las Vegas effort, though, I’ve learned that they are also planning a similar effort for the Country Music Marathon in Nashville in April 2013 which I am committed to taking part in.

It is because of the example set by my Dad to help others, in combination with my love of running (albeit, slowly), the biblical directive given to all Christians, and my admiration of the guiding principles of The Hands And Feet Project that I am making this commitment to participate.

If you would, please read about the Beards, Hands, & Feet Project that I am launching in an effort to raise at least $500 to fulfill the requirements of becoming a Hands And Feet Project team member in the 2013 Country Music Marathon in Nashville. Please at least read through it. Then, if you are inclined to contribute toward this effort, please do so!

The Beards, Hands, & Feet Project: Growing Whiskers In Order To Support Haitian Orphans

‘Like’ The Beards, Hands, & Feet Project Facebook Page

Check out the making of the video for the new Audio Adrenaline single “Kings & Queens” which provides a good deal of insight into the mission of The Hands & Feet Project

View the video for “Kings & Queens”

All That You Measure

The establishment

Whether organized religion

Pop culture

Mass media

Or government

Will never take

The narrow road

Found in humility

Through faith

A path traveled upon

Through bright heights

And shadowed valleys

But always paved with grace

And leading to a place

We’ve never been

Jesus said, “For judgement I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” -John 9:39

The Jesus Storybook Bible

My family and I continue to be impressed with The Jesus Storybook Bible (written by Sally Lloyd-Jones/illustrated by Jago) as we read a selection from it each evening before putting my daughter to bed. Recently I’ve even sent a couple copies to friends. Unlike what is the case with many Christian products, this bible contains a high quality of story-writing that is only matched by the quality of illustration on every page. Less generic than they are tastefully-whimsical and aesthetically appealing, Jago’s illustrations sync perfectly with the dynamic flow of the writing to communicate the dramatic and very relevant truth of God’s grace.

I posted a review of The Jesus Storybook Bible some time ago, but, recently I came across an interview with author Sally Lloyd-Jones that I thought was worth passing along. I encourage you, even if you don’t have kids (but, especially if you do!) to purchase a copy of this book. It has affected my wife and I significantly and my daughter loves it, too.

Wisdom in Proverbs

A few notable verses that I read while searching the Old Testament book of Proverbs for direction:

“For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” Provers 2:6

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; In all you ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.”
Proverbs 3:5-7

“My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.”
Proverbs 3:12

“My son, preserve sound judgement and discernment, do not let them out of your sight;”
Proverbs 3:21

“Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm.”
Proverbs 4:25, 26

“May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.”
Proverbs 5:18

“The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast. He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly.”
Proverbs 5:22, 23

“If you have been trapped by what you said, ensnared by the words of your mouth, then do this, my son, to free yourself; press your plea with your neighbor! Allow no sleep to your eyes, no slumber to your eyelids. Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, like a bird from the snare fo the fowler.”
Proverbs 6:2-5

“There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.”
Proverbs 6:16-19

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”
Proverbs 9:10