An Ancient Lady, A Megachurch Man, A Skateboarding Folk Singer, and Getting What I Deserve

Over the last couple of days I’ve been reading the book of Ruth from the Old Testament during breakfast. I’ve also been reading The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson when I’ve had a moment here and there over the past week. In addition, I had a good talk with one of the pastors at a church that we’re in the process of settling into about faith and figuring out what God has in store for us. It is the convergence of these three influences that has me blogging this morning.

I’ve found myself inspired, at times, by points that Batterson makes regarding faith, prayer, and God’s vision for his followers. From what I’ve read so far, the theme of The Circle Maker has been the important role that faith and prayer play in growing our ability to reach out to others. Many of the examples the author gives are focused on the way that his church, National Community Church in Washington D.C., has been able to grow from a small group of tens to a mega church with multiple satellite sites around the D.C. metropolitan area. The most compelling aspect of this book for me, so far, is the idea of how important it is to not underestimate God and that tasks He’s called us to. Batterson makes the point that God doesn’t necessarily call the qualified, but, instead, He qualifies the called. I’ve seen God work so far beyond my means already on multiple occasions over the past few years of my life and I certainly want to be available to do whatever He calls me to do. What will that be? I’m still trying to figure that out. But, without doubt, Batterson believes that the act of prayer and our willingness to pray persistently with passion has been critical to his church’s growth. Admittedly, I’m only about halfway through the book and I look forward to having a clearer understanding of the book’s overall message once I’ve finished.

Josh Harmony

The book of Ruth, from my perspective, addresses a similar theme in that it tells the story of Naomi and Ruth and the difficulties that Naomi had to endure en route to a gracious miracle that she and Ruth experienced in the latter stage of Naomi’s life through Ruth. It was a song called “Mara Naomi” by pro skateboarder and musician Josh Harmony that I first heard the story of Ruth and Naomi from. But, the good book verified Harmony’s account. It was the selfless faith of Ruth through years of difficulty that they both endured after Naomi lost both of her sons (one of them being Ruth’s husband) that proved to be so critical in extending the bloodline that would soon give birth to King David and, eventually, Jesus. But, the fact that so many generations preceded Ruth and Naomi and that many more would have yet to come and pass before the birth of Jesus, struck me. These two individuals struggled and endured in faith throughout their lifetimes, but, because they did, forged a critical link in a long chain of events and lifetimes through which God would, eventually, release those who believe from the chains of destruction that selfishness (also known as sin) has and will continue to confine so many with.

So, seemingly anyway, there is something to be said for persisting and following God beyond what we can see with our own vision. But, earlier this week I was talking to one of the pastors of the church that we’re now attending about good books to read when I mentioned The Circle Maker. After noting that he wasn’t familiar with the book, he explained the conclusion that he recently came to after finishing a book study on another well-regarded book by a Christian author with a few other church members. I can’t remember what the book was that he said they were studying, but, he made a point that, after I thought about it, seems to be true: a lot of the best-selling Christian authors write books that contain some kind of formula or multistep process intended to help the reader move closer to God or achieve greater success as a Christian. The problem here is that, while such steps may be productive, it tends to bolster the idea that we, as people, can do something that will earn more love from God. We can ascend the ranks of Christianity if we just follow certain steps.

I’m not a theologian, but, I know enough about the life I’ve lived and the beauty of the gospel to tell you, confidently, that it has been by no means of my own that I have survived this long, that I have so many blessings (e.g., family, friends, career, purpose, etc.), or that I’ve been able to witness the miracles that I have. In my wildest dreams I could never have predicted the joy that I have in my life now as a consequence of God’s good grace – His unmerited, unearned favor and love. It is out of gratitude and thankfulness that I live and breath. Should you see me stumble or screw up in some way shape or form, know that it is because of my own weakness, but, that it is by His grace that I can have peace and get back up and keep walking where He wants me to go. I’ll be the first to admit, that I don’t often know quite where He’s taking me, but, I trust Him and I’m having the ride of my life.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

-Ephesians 2:1-10

So, I’m not sure if the key to life is simply persisting as I walk forward through life or seeking earnestly with blood, sweat, and prayers, but, if you have some perspective on the topic, I’m all ears. In the meantime, I’m just going to do my best to heed the words of Micah 6:8:

8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Morning Prayer

Abba
I belong to You
As I empty my
Shaking hands
Let all of the chips
Fall where they may
For amongst the dust
That once stirred
Settles
Blessings unseen
Will be found around
Though I know not
Their shape or form
I rest assured in
The knowledge that
You know
What I do not
Abba
I belong to You
Amen

The Beards, Hands & Feet Project: What Is It?

It is an effort to grow and to progress on three levels:

Physically, I want to break down physical boundaries for myself. I want to continue losing weight in order to be as healthy as possible and, in doing so, be around for as long as possible to be the best dad and husband I can to my wife and kids. As a diabetic and a pineal gland brain tumor and skin cancer survivor, and after losing my Dad this past February to brain cancer, I know that time is precious. If I can increase the likelihood of living a full, healthy life and, in doing so, influence my loved ones to do the same, why wouldn’t I do it? I ran my first 5K as an adult at just under 240 pounds in March 2011 to support brain tumor research at Duke University Hospital’s Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center where my dad was a patient. I’ve run five 5K’s since then and continued losing weight while maintaining a somewhat steady running habit. The goal is to complete the 2013 Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville. As an adult I’ve never run over six miles, so, this will be a challenge. But, I’m almost done with the first third of my training plan and I’m progressing as planned. The idea was prompted by The Hands & Feet Project’s Las Vegas Marathon initiative in December 2012 and my desire to take part in a similar effort in 2013 in Nashville to benefit the work they do for orphans in Haiti.

Spiritually, I want to break down the limitations that I’ve placed on myself over the course of my lifetime with regard to what I’m willing to do to help those in need and how much of a priority their needs are in my life. I want to step forward in faith, clinging to what I know, but,  trusting God, knowing that only He knows what lies ahead. For all of the politicizing and inter-denominational squabbling over scriptural interpretation, there is one thing that all believers should be doing that the bible is very clear about in particular:

Isaiah 1:16-17 – “Wash yourselves clean! I hate your filthy deeds. Stop doing wrong and learn to live right. See that justice is done. Defend widows and orphans and help the oppressed.”

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.”

Seizing opportunities to make donations, raise money for and, eventually, go on a short-term mission trip to visit and serve at The Hands & Feet Project orphanages in Haiti will certainly take my family and I out of the comfort zone we’ve lived in. But, I believe that, if that is what God has planned for us and the opportunity is there, the dividends that it will pay out to others will far exceed whatever it might cost us in terms of time, money, or energy.

Personally, I want to work through the grief that I continue to experience (as anyone who loses a loved one would) in a proactive way that honors my Dad and what he would want. Faith played a huge role in affording us the opportunity to make a donation to The Hands & Feet Project. Hands & Feet Project director Mark Stuart then turned around and asked for our permission to honor my Dad’s memory by naming the kitchen of the new orphanage they’re building at Ikondo in Haiti after him. So, “Grandpa Rockwell’s Kitchen” will be providing for the nutritional needs of orphans in Haiti once construction is completed in a few months. I know that Dad would be significantly moved by The Hands & Feet Project’s generous gesture which, in a big way, has helped to paint a silver lining around the dark clouds of grief that have been camped out over my head for the past couple of years since his decline began in October 2010. For further explanation about the connection between my Dad and The Hands & Feet Project, please read my prior posts on the topic: “How To Live Life” and “News Too Good To Keep Under Wraps: Light At The End.”

So, what does this have to do with beards?

The beard is a calling card to raise money for the work of The Hands & Feet Project. I started clean-shaven on November 1, 2011 for “No Shave November” and was inspired to start asking for donations of $5 per day, starting with December 1st, in order to keep it from being trimmed or shaved. Now, I don’t have one of those naturally lush, full, manly beards that comes in nice and even. No. Instead, I have this wiry, sparse, patchy whisker pattern that comes in pretty thick on my neck and mustache, but, that is bare in other spots like my cheeks, for example. Add to the weird whisker pattern the fact that, at three full months without a trim, I’m looking a bit scraggly, and you’ve got a pretty significant eyesore for anyone who has to spend time around me. So far, as of February 3rd, the beard has raised over $600 for orphans in Haiti. Hopefully, it will continue to grow more and more ridiculous looking so that, when people comment about it, I can explain why it is the way it is and, hopefully, inspire them to give a few more bucks to the cause.IMG_2516

Please prayerfully consider donating to the Hands & Feet Project either directly to them online or by sending contributions my way for me to pass on to them. If you do donate online, please let me know how many days to knock off the sponsorship countdown toward the goal of having the beard fully funded at a rate of $5/day through Saturday, April 27th’s Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville. Thank you!

Join The Beards, Hands & Feet Project by ‘Like’ing the Facebook Page!

Turning Point

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.”

John 20:19-20

It struck me, while reading these verses this morning, that these two verses encapsulate a complete turning point for the disciples. It has to be the darkest time in their lives. Jesus, who they were so devoted to, had just been crucified and they were now milling about in a dark room behind closed and locked doors, for fear of persecution, trying to figure out how to stomach the situation they suddenly found themselves in. The focus of their life had been cut off. Their meaning and purpose of life had taken a dreadful blow and they were, seemingly, left with nothing.

The reality, of course, is that Jesus knew precisely where they were and what their state of mind was. He knew exactly where to find them and closed, locked doors were no barrier to Him. He came to them and the first thing he said was “Peace Be With You!” In fact, this part must have been important because, later on, verse 21 indicates that he repeated these same words. He knew what waves of torment were running through their minds and he wanted them to be at peace because, even though they didn’t understand what was unfolding, He did. He wanted them to trust Him.

Again, though, because of His awareness of exactly what they were thinking and feeling, He showed them the wounds in His hands and in His side from the crucifixion and, “The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.”

The sixteen month journey that led from the initial diagnosis of my Dad’s stage four glioblastoma brain tumor in October 2010 to his passing on February 20 of this year continues to be the lens through which I view the life that I have left now that he is gone. Some days are better than others, but, the loss of the best man in my wedding, my life-long best friend, is one that continues to impact me on a daily, perhaps hourly, basis.

There are nights when I lie down in bed and, as the noise of the day recedes, my mind drifts back to my Dad and the difficulty of the last two weeks, in particular, of our time time together when he, his brother, and I were staying together under one roof around the clock. The interactions that I had with him at that time along with so many other details and distinct moments in those final days when he couldn’t articulate recognizable words anymore (except for “goddammit!”) and my uncle and I found ourselves all too often at a loss, have left deep impressions on me as a person that I’m struggling, each day, to figure out how to deal with.

Like the disciples who were hiding and milling about in a darkened room behind closed doors, my heart and my soul far short of joyful and they have borne blisters that cause the whole of me to bristle at the seemingly random intervals that memories of Dad and how it all went down surface . I fall apart for a moment before I get myself back together in order to move on and, as Dad would say when he was still able to, “keep putting one foot in front of the other.”

But, I am aware enough to realize that what it is that allows me to move forward at all is the grace of God and the notion that He knows, like He did with the disciples, exactly where I am mentally, spiritually, and physically, and that he has a bigger plan that, while I don’t necessarily understand every step, will end up being well worth the journey.

It is the peace that He, first and foremost, gave to the disciples, that He has also given to me. While the pain and the moments of darkness are, indeed, very real, it is the peace that I have through faith in Jesus that has carried me away from every each and every low point, onward and upward. It is this peace that will continue to carry me to the point when I, too, will see the scars in His hands and the wound in His side, and be “overjoyed” as the disciples were once they knew that it was Him and that He had come back for them.

“…I know you enough to know to trust you with what I don’t…Lord please help me to be patient with what is unseen…”

-Josh Harmony

Prayers Of A Fool… (via the beautiful due)

This post hit me square and moved me surely. Many of my friends and family know that my dad is currently battling stage four brain cancer and that the name of our fundraising team (Angels Among Us 5K to raise funds for research at the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University) is: TEAM JIM – “…one foot in front of the other…” The quote is philosophy on this journey. It has translated into my own growing love of running as I better my health and strengthen my determination for the sake of him, my wife, and my kids. But, after reading this post, I shall pray that all my runs and my work be dedicated to others. I found this blog through the blog author’s association with my favorite author Brennan Manning and I will certainly be continuing to follow its new posts.

prayers of a fool... Eric Liddell said ‘when I run I feel His pleasure.’ I’m no Liddell, in that I’m not fast, swift. But I can run far. And when I do, I feel His pleasure. Two or three times a week I head out on the lunch hour and run far. Sure, the sun’s directly overhead and lately its been 90+ degrees at noon, but I’m aware that not everyone gets to run in the shadow of Pikes Peak, so I ‘suck it up, buttercup.’ Here’s the deal. For me, running is praying. No, I’m … Read More

via the beautiful due

Enough

If I sit down quietly
Then slide to my knees
Palms facing each other
Raised up before my face
Will a thirty-second recitation
Of your name in time
With each exhaled breath
Be enough to burn
The root of the kudzu vine
To free my laden soul to be
At ease — my head resting
On your lap and drifting
Will a night of rest
With you be enough
To navigate tomorrow’s
Hazy glare and hairpin turns
Or will I end up again
Sitting down quietly before
Sliding to my knees
Raising prayerful hands
Recognizing the beginning
And the end

Tactile Faith

The scripture passage that has intrigued me the most lately is John’s account of Jesus resurrecting Lazarus in the eleventh chapter of his gospel. Instead of asking His Father to revive Lazarus, Jesus thanked God for having already done so.

This detail struck a chord with me because of the manner in which I know that I pray most often. During a typical prayer, I will ask God to help this, protect that, forgive me, bless her, etc. But, how often have I actually thanked God in advance, in faith, as if my prayer had already been answered?

One of the few circumstances in which I have definitely felt the assurance of sincere faith involves the prayer that my family and I pray together when we are preparing to depart on a long road trip. During such times I, most often, will pray for God’s protection to keep the driver awake, alert, and the family safe as we travel. Then, I follow up with the sincere statement that we trust in his protection.

At the moment that my proclamation of our trust exits my mouth, I feel, with all sincerity, that we will be protected.

Now, I need to kneel and sincerely seek his guidance and direction in the same manner and trust that he will provide what I need to live for him in all circumstances.

“So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” – John 11:41-42