Spent

Like canvas stretched tightly over the frame
Imposing upon each gessoed fiber strain

Constitution’s vulnerabilities
Raked and now exposed for the world to seize

Endless hours spent chasing carrot tails
While stuttering words and accruing fails

Squandering away these precious few hours
Tasked to preserve the substance of flowers

Regardless the cost for vain veneers paid
I find my own dignity worn and splayed

With all cupboards bare
The absence clear shows
I have nothing more
To give from behind doors that only close

Breakfast Is Served!

I’m reflecting this morning on the end of the gospel of John and a few key points seem particularly relevant to me today:

1-Jesus met the disciples where they were and in their then-present circumstances (he knew where to find them and what they’d be doing: out to sea fishing);
2-Jesus provided for them (a catch of fish too large to haul back into the boat);
3-Jesus prepared for and served them (cooked a meal of fish and bread and gave it to them).

Then, after doing so, He said, “Follow me.” The bible seems to indicate that He was just speaking to Peter, but, John got up and followed Him, too. Martin Luther, in his commentary, indicates that there are two lessons to learn here. First, even Peter, one of the greatest apostles, immediately after having been engaged in conversation with and called by Jesus, lost his focus. He took his eyes off Jesus and became concerned with what those around him were doing. Second, Jesus may have different plans for each one of us. In essence, Jesus responded to Peter’s question by letting him know that it was none of his business what His plans were for John.

So, what do I get out of this? First, I was reminded that Jesus loves me personally, where I am, right now. He knows what I’m dealing with on a daily basis. He knows what is swirling around in my head from one moment to the next. Second, He is more than capable of providing for my needs in my present circumstances. Third, what He has in mind for me is far greater than anything I can come up with on my own. I’ve never had fish for breakfast, but, if prepared and served by Jesus Himself, it would be far better than anything that I could pull out of the pantry or refrigerator to make for myself in the morning. Finally, we are not all called to live out the same story or to serve in the same mission or ministry in our lives. We shouldn’t model ourselves after other people that we think are good. We should model ourselves after Jesus. This is His story and He knows where we fit into it.

Have a great day!

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33

In Our Lives: The Glorious Unfolding

“…From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Luke 12:48

My cup is absolutely spilling over. I’m sitting here on a Friday morning on my couch drinking a special select blend of Starbucks coffee that a good friend sent me (Thanks Shirley!) that I ground up just two days ago and brewed in a French press this morning. Fortunately, it isn’t my coffee that’s spilling over. No, all of that is being enjoyed the way it should be. What IS spilling over is my recognition of all of the good that is happening in my life that I have to be thankful for.

I’ve witnessed God’s plan, devised long before I drew my first breath, unfolding in a wonderful way over the past two years. In the words of Steven Curtis Chapman, it has been a very “glorious unfolding.” Yes, for those familiar with my story, it has had A LOT to do with The Hands & Feet Project (you can read more about that here), but, I’ve noticed other ways that His plan has been spilling out before me, too.

God has been doing amazing things with my family. We’ve been settling into a new church over the past year and seeing the positive effect that this new environment and community has had on my wife and kids has been nothing short of a privilege to witness. Without knowing my wife and kids, you wouldn’t have any point of reference to notice the dramatic change that I’ve seen in them, but, trust me when I say that my faith in the notion that God knows what He’s doing, and that He will do amazing things if we just get ourselves out of the way and let Him work, has been affirmed and emboldened many times over in the past two years.

So, what now? Now, I will continue to seek His purpose for my family and I. A friend recently introduced me to the word sovereign. It is a word that I may have heard before, but, had no idea what it meant and I had certainly not ever used it. Just in case you, the reader, don’t know what it means, I’ll give you an in-my-own-words definition of sovereign: God is good and everything He does, as a result, is also good whether we understand it or not.

I recognize at this point in my life that there is nothing in my house, my garage, my shed, or my bank account that can offer me any security. Sure, I could work my tail off to fill each of those with things that I think will make me feel more secure, but, the fact is, there is nothing that I can do to protect myself or better myself as a person.

There will always be external circumstances that can compromise, if not completely destroy, what I think I have. So, instead of building up my stores, focusing on the substance of life is my goal. In Randy Alcorn‘s book, THE TREASURE PRINCIPAL, he emphasizes the biblical principle that whatever possessions we gather here on earth are subject to forces and circumstances beyond our control:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.”

Matthew 6:19

Alcorn makes the point that while the material things that we collect and gather over the course of our lifetime are finite, treasure that we build up in heaven by living out God’s will in our daily lives, is eternal. Whatever we think is good here is temporary and fleeting in comparison to God’s infinite purpose.

Yet, this is not a matter of working hard to serve others here so that I can benefit down the road. No, from my perspective, there is great satisfaction that can come from serving others here and now and, hopefully, giving them a chance to see the hope that lives in me. It is out of gratitude for the blessings and purpose that God has given me that I seek to help and serve where I am called to do so.

If I were $10,000 in debt and you handed me a check for $20,000 to cover that amount and give my bank account a little breathing room to boot, I would, without a doubt, feel compelled to, at the very least, shake your hand and say thank you! But, I am even more compelled to let His will work in me and to serve in the manner that He has called me, since He has taken my life, void of vision and deeply in debt to all of these things in the world that I thought were worth my time and, instead, has filled my days with a real and tangible purpose and awareness that He can do things with and through me that will have far-reaching positive consequences for his kingdom beyond what I can possibly comprehend!

I truly believe that it is our responsibility as believers to look for where the need is greatest and, then, to look for ways that we can address that need. That is precisely what Christ did and what I will continue to do going forward. His grace has and will continue to be sufficient in my life and I will gladly move forward, one step at a time, without as big of a concern for a final destination, but, instead, with every breath, a prayer of thanks and a request for guidance to know where to land each new footfall on the path that He has prepared for me.

Anchored In The Deep

Over the past few months I’ve been wearing holes in the soles of my figurative shoes from the endless pacing that my mind has been engaged in trying to figure out best how to interpret, understand, and responsibly handle the circumstances that my dad has found himself in after being diagnosed with two different kinds of cancer (one being a stage four malignant brain tumor) within the course a month or so. As I’ve told my dad and others numerous times, I cannot imagine somebody having worse luck (cancer being just the latest in a slew of frustrating and undeserved challenges he’s faced) and I can’t fathom any reason that he would deserve to have to deal with such issues. I just don’t understand, as well-meaning people tell me, how my dad’s suffering can benefit anyone in God’s grand scheme, least of all, himself. Then there are other people who see my dad’s circumstances as an opportunity to discredit the notion of a loving God to the point of comparing him to a mother who shakes her child awake in the middle of the night just so that she can show her love to her child by soothing him back to sleep. Well, get ready, because, here’s my big comeback…

Ok. I really don’t have one. From a logical human perspective, his argument is just as plausible as anything else I’ve got. But, then again, why should I try to place my own limitations (or his) on God? As a parent, I recognize that my kids don’t always understand why I don’t let them get away with certain things and they certainly let me know about it when they’re not happy with my decision. I also have to admit that I can be a real sucker for the crocodile tears that both of my kids are capable of producing in an instant. But, the fact is that if I don’t act as a responsible parent by helping them to make good decisions, sometimes allowing them to experience the negative consequences that come as a result of bad decisions, and, also, helping them to understand and deal with the fact that life isn’t always fair, I’m setting them up for failure in their own lives. Simply put, there are things that they simply can’t understand at the ages of three and seven that my wife and I do understand. Our judgments overrule theirs whether they like it or not and it is for their good whether they understand that or whether they don’t.

I just finished reading the Old Testament book of Job through for the first time in my life. I read parts of it as a teenager as part of a bible study and knew the general gist of it, but, this seemed like a good time to take it in as an adult and, in a nutshell, here’s what happened: Job was a tremendously wealthy guy with a prosperous family. Based on the precept of some kind of cosmic discussion between Satan and God (not sure how literal the book is) Job ends up being tested with the tragic loss of his family, his wealth, and the onset of health issues that make him absolutely miserable. Over the course of the forty-two chapters he questions God, complains about the notion that he doesn’t deserve all of the trouble he’s experiencing and he receives at first friendly support and then not-so-friendly advice from three other men who basically suggest that: 1-He does deserve it. 2-He has no right to question God. In the end, though, God responded and dismissed Job’s acquaintances’ advice as near-sighted and inaccurate. As for Job, God never really answered His questions, but, He did make one thing clear to Job and his acquaintances: men are not capable of knowing or understanding the purposes of God. Job rightly concluded, “…surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know,” (Job 42:3). God went on to bless the rest of Job’s life far greater than it had been prior to losing so much to begin with. Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

I will not claim that I understand what is going on with regards to the trouble that my dad is experiencing and why he has to experience it (though I can say, with conviction, that watching him go through this and not being able to change it is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to experience).  Additionally, I know that my arguments for trusting God may not always win out in a logical debate (perhaps there are arguments that could be used to win in such a debate, but, the person debating would have to be someone much more intellectually qualified than myself like, say, C.S. Lewis, for example). But, I do know that my dad is suffering and I don’t know why this has happened to him. But, God sees and knows everything and my faith in Him is the only hope that I’ve got. If He’s allowed it to happen, it will serve the ultimate purpose of good as God is love (2 John 4:8). He will win over sin (also known as selfishness) and the damage that sin has caused over the course of human history. As for my dad and I, I will continue to pray for him daily. I will pray for his soul. I will pray for his peace of mind. And I will pray for his health, because, though his circumstances may seem intimidating to us, they are are not intimidating to God and He can use them in whatever way he sees as being necessary. Until then, I will do everything I can to stand by my dad and support him and I will maintain my faith in my Father in heaven, my Abba.

…being confident in this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1:6

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.

1 Corinthians 13:12

Momentous Life

*This entry was originally posted 1/19/08. My great Aunt Norma, whose advice was featured in this entry, passed away this morning at the age of 97.

I was in the middle of my first year of teaching fourth grade at a rural North Carolina school when I had my first “wintry mix” driving experience. I grew up and learned to drive in upstate New York and didn’t think it would be much of a challenge to navigate through the milder winter weather of a state six-hundred miles south. It didn’t take long for me to realize that it was a different game altogether in North Carolina. In NY snow plows, salt, and cinder trucks were just part of the scenery during the winter time. In North Carolina they are rare, to say the least. Because the roads are not pretreated and then maintained steadily throughout a winter storm in North Carolina, they, like their northern counterparts, can be pretty slick, too. Nothing too terrible happened, really, but, it sent a chill through my bones when, while driving relatively slow, I attempted a right turn only to find that, because of the slick road conditions, my car was in no mood to actually make the turn and it just continued straight past. It wasn’t until several yards after the place that I was supposed to turn, that my car’s momentum finally slowed enough for me to change course. Too much momentum in the wrong direction can lead to a loss of control.
So, I guess the question is, am I headed in the right direction and, if not, what direction should I be headed in?

I’ve been maintaining contact with my ninety-something year old great-aunt* for several years now by writing letters. She’s a wonderful, retired teacher who is sharp as a tack and full of wit. In one recent letter to her, I asked her for some words of wisdom or advice. My thought was that somebody of her age and experience might just have a good idea of what works in life. In her response she reminded me that I had asked for advice and told me, “You will find it in the bible.” She then listed the following verses:

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

Proverbs 3:5, 6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 16:3
Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.

Because, as a Christian, I believe that the bible is the Word of God, knowledge and understanding can be found in it. I should place my full focus and trust in the knowledge and understanding that I find in scripture and I should live my life for Him. Only then will I be able to life a successful life. Will my success be indicated by a loaded bank account? Probably not, but, because it will be built on the wisdom and understanding of He that is the original source of wisdom and understanding, it will last forever and never fail me.

I’m not talking about the supposed wisdom that comes from a wealth and prosperity preacher on television or that of a auto mechanic, an underpaid fifth grade teacher, or a personal trainer at the gym. I’m talking about the wisdom that comes from the infinite, omniscient source of all wisdom who came down to suffer in the bowels of human existence, being born in a barn and laid in a cow troth and crucified on cross beams with nails piercing his limbs. I’m talking about the source of patient, unconditional love who extends His grace and hope to all who are willing to accept it.

As I grow older I am also growing in my ability to recognize, in the rear-view mirror, where I’ve made my biggest mistakes in life and what led to them. It is through this reflection that I’ve found that the only way to slow the momentum that carried me in the wrong direction is to let Jesus reorient my path and direct my future walk. Once I realized that I am loved by Him, my Abba, like the love between daddy and son, I began to experience a new level of peace and understanding. But, its continuance, the momentum necessary to maintain this perspective, is found only in remembering daily where I’ve been and where I need to focus from moment to moment: on His plan for my life. Through daily reading of scripture and prayer in which I ask Him to help me reflect his character, instead of my own, to those around me, I grow in His direction and in peace of mind. It is a realization that, even though I stumble on a daily basis, there is also grace, forgiveness, and renewal on a daily basis that maintains my momentum in the right direction.