“I’m Not Afraid. No, I’m A Believer”

“I just don’t understand why it has to be this way.” Those were the most honest words my dad ever uttered to me with regards to the cancer that was, at the time, just a few short months away from finally robbing him of his life. My dad was a product of his generation: a man who worked hard and didn’t talk about his feelings. It was an extremely difficult pill for him to swallow. He had an amazing track record of getting the short end of the stick. He wouldn’t have been a good poster child for the notion that people get what they deserve. It was a horrible way for his life to end and anyone who reads this blog or who knows me at all, knows that the seventeen month journey that I endured, from the moment my dad was diagnosed with brain cancer until the midnight moment when he passed away as I sat with him in his bed, was a terribly dark, trying, and painful journey for me, too. It was like watching a fatal car crash happen in slow motion over the course of over a year’s time. As his main caretaker, I was there at every turn carrying a progressively heavier load as his condition worsened to the point where he couldn’t talk or do anything for himself. The description of those months as the darkest period in my life is, to say the least, an understatement.

As dark as it was, though, the backdrop of shadows revealed a thread that was just beginning to strengthen and glimmer intermittently, reflecting a faint, still, small hope that peace would be found, at some point, further down the road. It wasn’t, however, a hope that relieved my pain or a miracle that washed all of my stress and fear away. Nor was it a time machine that could beam me to some future point and time in my life when I would be stronger. It was, simply, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” (Hebrews 11:1). I can’t remember exactly how or when, in the midst of that journey, I came across Psalms 18:16-19, but, when I did, it was immediately relevant and became the main security handle that I have held onto tightly ever since:

“He reached down from on high and took hold of me;he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.”

The identity and timing of “a spacious place,” however, remained a mystery to me until the naming of Kevin Max as the new lead singer of rock outfit Audio Adrenaline.  Heartfelt encouragement from Kevin to consider “the least of these” set off a series of events, one of which was an introduction to the work of The Hands and Feet Project. As described in a prior post titled, “How To Live Life,” I was inspired to step out in faith and commit to donating profit from the sale of my Dad’s house to The Hands and Feet Project. After making the donation and relaying my Dad’s story and an explanation of how the donation came about, Hands and Feet Project director Mark Stuart extended a generous gesture by asking if they could name the kitchen in a new building that is currently under construction in honor of my dad.

Without going into too much detail, the redeeming and burden-lightening effect that his gesture had on my family and I with regards to the memory of my dad, a guy who always worked hard and looked out for others, but, seldom received his due, was nothing short of monumentally life-changing. Almost instantly, the weight of several months of my life characterized by mourning and wondering how to navigate life without the man who was the best man in my wedding, my best friend, my Dad, started to lift and a new and inspired life swelling with purpose and hope began to emerge. With one kind gesture, my Dad’s legacy would be  shifted from one of loss and emptiness to one of eternal hope in a vocational school kitchen from which teenage Haitian orphans would be receiving their daily meals as they developed skills to become productive Haitian citizens.

I know that Audio Adrenaline’s (the band that started The Hands And Feet Project in 2006) new song “Believer” is being explained by the band as the story of blind surfer Derek Rabelo, but, it wasn’t long after the album’s release that I found my own story told in the lyrics of the song. From an adult life characterized at first by complacency, and then by utter darkness, to a life of purpose and meaning, learning how to step into places where Jesus wants those who are His to go,  mine has changed significantly. Now it is I who am finally “giving up, letting go of control,” not only as I make preparations for a January 2014 short term mission trip with The Hands and Feet Project to Haiti, but, also, in my daily life. I’m learning that my personal comfort and convenience are not a priority, but, that loving others as myself, and in doing so, honoring God above all, are the priorities that matter. In fact, I’m learning, now, about what living life more abundantly really feels like. Each moment spent in my classroom teaching fifth graders is more passionately invested. Each hug and kiss from my wife and kids is more distinctly savored.

Like Derek Rubelo, I can’t necessarily see the waves of life coming, but, learning to feel my way through, with faith,  “I can walk on the water with You, Lord.”

I want to live this live unsafe, unsure, but not afraidWhat I want is to give all I got somehow, giving up letting go of control right now‘Cause I’m already out here, blind but I can see, I see the way You’re movingGod how I believe that I can push back the mountains, can stand on the wavesI can see through the darkness, I’ll hold up the flameTake me to the ocean, I want to go deeper, I’m not afraid no, I’m a believerAnd so I lose this life to find my way and come aliveThey can try to deny what’s inside of me, but there is more, can’t ignore all the things unseenOh I believe I can walk on water with You, LordWhen I walk through the valley of the shadows, when I’m trapped in the middle of the battle, I will trust in You‘Cause trouble comes, but you never let it take me, I hold fast ‘cause I know that You will save meI will trust in You, I will trust in YouOh here I stand all alone waiting on you, Lord, waiting on You

Learn more about The Hands & Feet Project at http://www.handsandfeetproject.org/

Defined

The question

Cliché and worn

Like an out-of-style

What Would Jesus Do? bracelet

Dropped like a hat

Casually

In this equally-worn

Small southern town

Are you saved?

Yeah.

I got saved on…

The date so easily recalled

Like the day you earned

Your drivers license

Because

Like other rites of passage

That is what you do

When you grow up

Down here

Unlike what is brought by

The fire and brimstone

Ultimatum as written

On the inside cover of

A pocket-size Gideons’ Bible

Handed to you

On the way to recess

By suited men

Just beyond

Your public school door

I breath peace

Born by hope

A notion that

Like a loving parent

His grace is infinite

Even with the pain that I’ve caused

Lying out in full view

Before Him

He holds me close

Whispering good news

That these tears

Are not cried in vain

Reverse Catch-22

I think that, too often, intellectual, theological, and scientific debate regarding the existence of God and the role of religion, as it is perceived in our culture, misses the point. When one lines up the different cultures, religions, and denominations of the world, what sticks out as a real indicator of truth and goodness? Is there some characteristic that might indicate a god, religion, or culture that really is good, in the truest sense of the word? That characteristic that we can look for, I believe, is compassion.

The woman who sacrifices her lunch hour to deliver a warm meal to an elderly shut-in without telling anyone else. The person who routinely devotes his personal time to visiting residents of a nursing home. The married couple that adopts a Down syndrome child knowing of the extra challenges that lie ahead of them. Please note that none of these examples seem to be examples of religious life. There is no mention here of giving money to the preacher on television, attending confession, or teaching a Sunday scchool class, but, instead, examples of sacrifice and the simple practice of putting somebody else’s needs before one’s own.

Today’s American culture is rightfully cynical when it comes to how they view Christianity. The evidence is hard to ignore. Televangelists who spend more time begging for donations than they do sharing the good news, wealth and prosperity preachers, and sexually-abusive priests. It is this crooked reputation that has developed as a result of imperfect people and it has effectively drowned out the core message that the Christ of Christianity stated was most important: loving and serving others in a selfless manner and with a humble demeanor.

What could indicate more sincere goodness than somebody serving the needs of somebody else knowing that they will not recieve compensation and doing so discreetly? I know that, too often, when I do something for somebody else that there is a part of me that wants to slide the fact into conversation with others so that might get a pat on the back. But, I contend that the truest mark of goodness is the person who gives and does so quietly.  Someone who is compassionate, not in the sense of political campaign compassionate conservatism, but in the sense of humble, selfless sacrifice for the needs of others leaves no doubt that their act of kindness was pure and true.

Mark 12:28-31
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him “of all the commandments, which is the most important?“ The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this; ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.

James 1:27
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.

Matthew 6:1-4
Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them…So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men…But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.

John 15:13
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

Matthew 25:34-40
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and
you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “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, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

This is the true mark of God and it exists to this day despite the fact that so many of us don’t recognize it. If more of us did, then more of us would want it and take the steps necessary to have it. Then, more faithless would see it and become faithful. The cynics would lay down their weapons and more of the world’s needy would have enough.

Jesus gave us this key to full life, but, too many of us are wasting our time focusing on self-centered, fruitless ventures. Some of us fill our lonely moments just trying to rationalize our decisions not to follow Him saying that we’re already good and honest and fair. But do we selflessly serve the needs of others without putting our own needs and desires first?

The gap between the ideal put forth by Jesus Christ and the reality of our daily lives is wide. It may even feel, to some of us, like its too wide to even consider lifting a finger to change. But, Jesus has given us the key to that problem, too: His grace. His unmerited favor. It is a gift and requires nothing on our part but the realization that we are less than we should be and that we possess an emptiness that, on our own, we cannot fill. Once we understand our place, in the light of His grace, we find that our desire to sacrifice more for the sake of others increases in direct proportion to our own increasing humility.

From Devotions For Ragamuffins, by Brennan Manning, Pp.15
The measure of our compassion for others lies in proportion to our capacity for self-acceptance and self-affirmation. When the compassion of Christ is interiorized and appropriated to self, the breakthrough into being for others occurs. In the reverse of a catch-22 situation, the way of compassionate caring for others brings healing to ourselves, and compassionate caring for ourselves brings healing to others. Solidarity with human suffering frees the one who receives and liberates the one who gives through the conscious awareness “I am the other.”

If There Is A God

God doesn’t exist. How could a righteous God exist with all of the war, sickness, death, oppression, and poverty that exists in the world? The truth is that life is meaningless. It is senseless without any substantial rhyme or reason. No purpose.

But, wait! If this is the case, where did I get my sense of what is righteous and just in relation to what is crooked and unfair? If life was really meaningless and senseless, we shouldn’t notice because, without meaning and sense, how would we have any idea of meaning and sense is?

This brings me back to a point that I’ve made several times before. If there really isn’t a God, then why do we have atheists? If I am an atheist, why am I taking an intentionally defensive stance against something that isn’t really there to defend against?

Why do people do good things for others, but, then refuse payment for their good deeds? You may say that they did it to make themselves feel good. But, if that is so, why does it make them feel good?

The fact that we are bothered by injustice indicates that justice exists. A standard exists by which we compare what is right and what is not.

What is left, then, is to come to grips with the existence of injustice. I don’t have a magic bullet answer, but, at the same time, in my own experience I have found greater peace and meaning in my life by experiencing difficulties.

God is love and His nature is revealed in James 1:27 where the bible says, “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.” It is likely that the pain so evident in the world now is consequentially related, through a spider web of chain reactions, to humanistic tendencies manifested in the earliest history of man on earth.

We don’t have all of the answers right now, but, He does. He is the source of the justice that flickers like a moral pilot light in us and He will prevail. 1 Corinthians 13:12 says, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

“If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know that it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.”
-C.S. Lewis

Confidence In Life

It was just prior to the time that Jesus became alive again that he suffered the most physical abuse and torture. Such suffering came after several years of living on meager means and being confronted by criticism and resistance at every turn. All of this, together with the best days that Jesus experienced as a human, must have made him shiver in cold comparison to the divine existence that he gave up in order to be able to make this sacrifice.

Yet, he persisted in the hope of his vindication and in the interest of all of us who can’t help, but, to fail in our quest toward righteous life. He knew the stakes involved and he knew then, as he does now, what the end will look like for human civilization as we know it.

Our trust in Him and our hope in His promise of what is yet to come is what we have to sustain us. It is our hope for something that we do not yet have, but, that we look for. It is the house in which my soul finds rest and it is a home that was built by infinite and divine, all-knowing love. It is love that I can’t comprehend or exhibit.

Regardless of the distractions that compete in the quest to turn my head away from the goal and hope that is before me, as long as my hand remains firmly in His as I walk, I can have confidence in life.

Life Beyond Tinseltown

When things are going well we become overconfident. We become enamored with what we perceive as being good before us while simultaneously ignoring what is dying or dead beyond. Humility is found when the glimmer of tinsel is overcome by the weight of reality. That is when we realize how broken we really are and, perhaps for the first time, we are able to breath.

“To be alive is to be broken; to be broken is to stand in need of grace.” -Brennan Manning

God and Science, Theoretically Speaking

Science IS built on observations. However, the syntheses of observations that scientists use to frame the explanations of data gathered from observations (e.g., evolution) are theories. Theories are unproven ideas. Because they are unproven and often unable to be observed, one must choose to have faith (complete trust or confidence in someone or something) in them. The big bang is not able to be observed. Therefore, it is a theory. Creation is not able to be observed. Therefore, it is a theory. It simply comes down to a matter of what direction one chooses to direct their faith in. Atheistic scientists have chosen a direction that I have chosen to reject. I chose to reject it because it provides no peace or directive for me to live my life, love, and raise a family. Why, honestly, would anyone choose a perspective on life that only offers a dead end with no prospect of meaning?

That being said, I think there is plenty of room for science within the context of God. There are multiple perspectives on the biblical account of Creation, but, simply put, if God explained everything about creation in the bible, it would require volumes. The point is that God is responsible. That is the theory that I choose to place my faith in.