Fired by love's urgent longings, I am his rocketman.
Who Is Helping Whom?

Who Is Helping Whom?

If you abide in me and I abide in you, you will bear much fruit for apart from me, you can do nothing.  John 15:5

On the way home from work Friday night, I stopped for a man struggling with his suitcase and the other things he was carrying.  I noticed him out of the corner of my eye as I was driving along talking on my cell phone.  I asked him if he could use a ride and he said, “Yes”.  He put his bag and other stuff in the back seat and sat down in the passenger seat next to me.  He hand me directions to the hotel he was looking for as I finished my telephone conversation.

I introduced myself and he began to explain that he had spent all day trying to get admitted to the VA Hospital into a six month in house alcohol treatment program.  Apparently the VA was unable to admit him on Friday, but will admit him on Monday.  IN the meantime, someone at the VA made arrangements for him to stay in a half way house on Saturday and Sunday night;  his sister arranged a hotel room for Friday night.

At the time I picked him up his was trying to make his way to the bus stop to catch a ride to the hotel.  His sister made a reservation for him at the Econo Lodge.  There happens to be an Econo Lodge right across the street from the hospital; that’s where his sister told him he had a reservation.  But, when he went to check in, the desk clerk told him that he did not have a reservation at that location. She directed him to another Econo Lodge across town.  When I encountered him, that was his destination.

As we drove along, I asked him why he decided to seek the alcohol treatment.  He told me that his mother is 88 and, although she is doing fine for now, he doesn’t want to show up at her funeral drunk.  He explained that this is his last stop.  It is time for him to do something about his problem.  He was very forthright about and seemed committed to changing his life.

When we arrived at the other Econo Lodge, I waited outside to make sure he was able to check in.  He soon came back out to tell me that this hotel didn’t have a record of his reservation either.  I gave him my cell phone to call his sister.   She told him that his reservation was at the hotel across the street from the hospital.  So we turned around and headed back in the direction we had just come from.

On the way back, he explained how he caught a bus that morning from his home town so he could enter the alcohol program only to find out when hetrees sunrise b&w finalprntadj got here that the person responsible for admitting people to the program didn’t work on Fridays.  He  spent a very frustrating day at the hospital but would have to wait around till Monday to start the program.  Now he was having trouble finding the right hotel.  I could tell that he was a little discouraged.  He was trying to get his life straightened out but was having difficulty getting started.

Back at the original hotel, I parked the car and went inside with him.  As soon as we got inside, the clerk apologized,  explaining that his reservation was there all along, but that it had been misfiled.  She was very kind to him and clearly felt  bad that she had put him through all that trouble.

Once he was checked in, he followed me back out to the car to get his stuff.  I asked him if I could pray for him.  He gratefully accepted my prayers.  Afterward he thanked me for having the courage to stop for him and for going out of my way to help him.  I could tell he was really encouraged and, as I was leaving, he said, “I really believe God had you there for me”.

danville statues ky finalI believe that too.  I drive that same route home day after day and I have never stopped for anyone else.  In fact, I don’t think I have ever seen anyone there who I thought needed help.  If I hadn’t come along, he would have used his bus pass to get to the other hotel, only to find out that he was in the wrong place.  I am not sure what he would have done then.  I suppose he had enough money to catch a bus back to the original hotel, but I’m not sure how he would have contacted his sister without a phone.   I guess he could have borrowed someone’s phone.  Most likely, he would have ended up in the right place though I think he would have arrived there much later and in a much different mood.

For my part, I am grateful for the opportunity to be an encouragement to him.  It cost me almost nothing, a little bit of gas and a little bit of time.  But I received much more.  For those few minutes when I was helping him, I felt like I was doing exactly what the Father had arranged for me to do.  I was doing his perfect will.  Even though I pray daily to do his will, I don’t often have experiences when I am absolutely certain that I am doing exactly what he wants me to do at the exact moment he is asking me to do it.  And the best part is, I can’t take any credit for it.  He arranged the whole thing.

Photos compliments of Jim Begley

Brook by the Wayside

Brook by the Wayside

You sit at the right hand of the Father and he is making your enemies your footstool.  He sends forth your mighty scepter from Zion and you rule in the midst of your foes.  While pursuing your enemies, you drink from the brook by the wayside and lift up your head.  ( See Psalm 110:1,6)
I asked Jesus to come into my heart when I was a senior in high school, mid 1974.  Since then, I have followed him through the ups and downs of life; prayer has been a significant part of the journey.
For many years, prayer, like my life, had high points and low points.  I went through seasons of what I considered “good” prayer, when it was easy to be faithful and I felt like I was growing spiritually.  Those times were quickly followed by periods of “poor” prayer or no prayer at all. Then one day, about eight years ago, everything changed. Like the father in the story of the prodigal son, He came running after me and nothing has been the same since.

I was having my prayer time early one morning following my usual routine which consisted of  singing to the Lord, reciting psalms out loud, intercessory prayer and a brief time of quiet — just sitting in his presence.

Suddenly, I was aware that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were present.  Nothing flashy happened; I didn’t hear any voices; I didn’t have any visions.  But some how I knew they were there.  It felt as if I were in one room and they were in the room right next to me; and I had this desire to be closer to them, not outside, but in the same room with them.  I felt a gentle prayer rise from inside of me:  “Lord, draw me in to where you are.”

And then it was over, just as quickly as it started.  I could hardly tell anything had happened at all.  Yet I knew something was different; like I was more alive and all of my senses were working just a little bit better than they were before?

The next morning, the very same thing happened in exactly the same way.  Once I again I prayed:  “Lord, I want to be close to you.  Draw me in to where you are.”  It was all very gentle, almost imperceptible; but, my life hasn’t been the same since.

From those moments, my prayer changed completely.  My usual routine involved singing songs to the Lord, reciting vocal prayers, reading the psalms out loud, with some praise and worship and a few challenging minutes of sitting quietly trying to listen to the Lord thrown in at the end;  after the two “encounters” described above, my prayer  became much deeper and quieter; I found myself sitting for an hour or two just adoring the Lord in my heart.  Surprisingly, this has become normal for me.

I went from active prayer, where I was doing all the work and getting what seemed like very little benefit, to passive prayer, with the Holy Spirit pouring grace, love and divine life into my heart, making me better and better, from the inside out, with seemingly little effort on my part.

I know it sounds too good to be true or, maybe, that I am exaggerating; but I am not, and it is true.  The best part is what has happened to me since.

Almost immediately, I began to experience deeper conversion.  I noticed there were areas in my life that had been resistant to change; yet, all of the sudden,  they began to improve.  One problem in particular, despite significant effort and perseverance, refused to go away.  As a result, I had given up hope that it would ever change.  Not long after experiencing this deeper prayer, the problem disappeared altogether without me thinking about it or trying to make it go away.

Soon I began to experience a deep peace, much deeper than I had ever experienced it before.  Previously, I enjoyed brief periods of passing peace, but this was different.  The peace I experience now abides; it may go away momentarily, but it always returns.  This inner peace is so powerful, that it brings calm to the outward circumstances of my life.

Another benefit of this deeper prayer, is what I describe as an awareness, almost a certain knowledge, that Jesus dwells inside of me.  Before I knew this truth abstractly and by faith, but I have come to know it through prayer in a substantial and tangible way.  I have a growing understanding that I carry “the presence” within me everywhere I go.

Additionally, I have become a better person than I used to be because of this prayer.  It is impossible to spend time face to face with Jesus and not become better.  Undoubtably, I should be better than I am, but I am becoming better than I ever deserved to be.  It’s all because of what he does in me when I spend time with him.

Not all prayer is the same and my time with him is different everyday.  I have had a few encounters that have touched me profoundly.  However, most of the time, I just keep him company.  Some days I am aware of his presence and, on other days, he lets me feel his absence. But whether I feel his presence or not, I am always hungry for more of him.

Before my experience of deeper prayer, I found it very challenging to be faithful to my prayer time.  Prayer was something that I knew I needed to do; it was a duty that I felt obligated to fulfill.  I wanted to be faithful, and at times I was, but more often than not, it was hit or miss.

However, since the Lord has taken me deeper in prayer, it is now something that I want to do.  I wouldn’t miss it for anything.  I pray everyday, some times for long periods of time and at different times throughout the day.  For several years now, there has been no more sense of obligation or duty, only a desire to be where he is.

Now I pray almost like I breathe, no thought or effort is required.  Prayer has become my food and my drink.  I don’t eat and drink because I have to — no one forces me to take nourishment for my body.  I eat and drink because I want to — I can’t help but do it.  The same has become true for prayer.

Brook photoPeople have told me that what I am experiencing will not last.  I listen, but I don’t believe it.  They are right, of course, about the feelings; feelings come and go.  But the prayer I am describing, doesn’t have anything to do with feelings.  Rather, the life of Christ, has taken root in me and it has a life all its own.
I suppose you can read this and become discouraged if what I am describing hasn’t yet happened to you.  You may think there is something special about me.  If so, you would be wrong.  Honestly, the Father came running to me; I was not running to him.  I know, as well as I know anything, if this can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.  So please be encouraged.  Ask, knock, seek and you will not be disappointed.

In closing, I long to pray.  I hunger and thirst for more of him.  I open my mouth and he feeds me with the finest wheat and honey from the rock.  (Psalm 81:16)  I drink from the river of his delights. (Psalm 36:8)  He quenches my thirst from the brook by the wayside. (See Psalm 110:6)

7 Quick Takes (5/24/13)

7 Quick Takes (5/24/13)

Welcome to my new readers! I’ve just launched this redesigned blog on WordPress and decided to join up with Jennifer Fulwiler’s 7 Quick Takes as a way to get to know other bloggers. I’m looking forward to sharing more with you about my family and the unique community in which we live.
One

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Times Square

When the kids were little, things were a lot simpler.  For one thing, at bed time, they were all present and accounted for under one roof.  Tonight, Shea will fall asleep in New York city, not too far from Times Square.  Shea has been enjoying all the sights and sounds of the  big Apple with her good friend, Casey.  Life is good when you are a sophomore in College.

Two

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Uncle Micah and Emmett

Micah and Sean just completed a trek by car from Augusta to Phoenix in a day and a half.  They drove Lucia’s car so the she now has use of it while she’s living in Tempe.  Even though they drove for 32 hours, Micah and Sean couldn’t resist a side trip to Toombstone before reaching their final destination.

 

Three

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Emmett

This is Emmett.  He is now enjoying the company of his Uncle Sean and Uncle Micah.  He was a little timid around them when they first arrived, but he is warming quickly.  What a lucky boy to have such good uncles.

Four

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Shea and Sea

 

Speaking of Sean, he brought me a jalapeño hamburger from the Village Deli the night before he and Micah left for Arizona.  The hamburger was delicious, but I couldn’t eat it all.  Sean ate half of it.  When he bit into the burger, he winced in pain.  I thought he might have a toothache.  When I asked him about it, he said it wasn’t his tooth, but his jaw that was hurting.  He didn’t know what caused it to hurt but told me it had been hurting all day long.  I put my hand on his jaw and prayed for Jesus to heal it.  As I was praying, the pain in his jaw went completely away.  He said, “Thanks Dad”.

Five

We are launching our new blog site this weekend.  It has a brand new look and we added some new features.  I am very excited  about a new section that we have added about the Alleluia Community.  The Alleluia Community is a Christian community with members from 11 different denominations who are doing their best to follow Jesus and to love each other along the way.  The Community is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.  Every month or so, I will invite someone to share a post about life in the Alleluia Community.

Six

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RyGuy

Talk about a busy weekend.  Ryan finished his last day of the 10th grade today.   Sarah is busy making approximately 350 cupcakes (give or take depending on whether I can sneak one or two away) for a wedding on Saturday.  Tomorrow night is the wake service  and Saturday morning is the funeral for a very good brother in the Lord, Barry Forde.  We are going to miss Barry.  On Sunday, we have two very special nieces graduating from High School.  Thank God for a long weekend.

Seven

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Resting at the end of the journey

God is good.  Across the table, sitting on the window sill is Sarah’s chalkboard.  She has written the following on it:  “Today I am thankful for Micah and Sean’s safe travel, Ryan’s last day of school and cupcakes.”  It is good to be thankful and we have so much to be thankful for!  The end of school, the beginning of summer, graduations, weddings, the celebration of life, the burial of a good man, things past and things to look forward to.

 

Awake O Sleeper

Awake O Sleeper

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  (John 1:1)  And the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us … (John 1:14)

Imagine, Jesus, the Son, the Word, with the Father, volunteering to become like you and me; choosing to leave heaven and come to earth.  Think about it.

Jesus, though in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped (and held onto), but [he] emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.  (Philippians 2:6-8)

The God-Man, the new Adam, first born of the new race, became just like us in every way except sin.
He left heaven, came to earth, in human form, to show us the Father, to offer his life as a sacrifice for us. to exchange his life for our lives.

Jesus was wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. (Isaiah 53)  He was whipped, beaten, marred, stripped naked, publicly humiliated and crucified for our salvation.  This God-Man, laid down his life for ours, with legions of angels waiting in the wings, ready for his command.

What wondrous love is this, oh my soul?

And what about the Father?  I too often overlook what it must have been like for him.

The Son is the radiance of the Father’s glory and the exact representation of His being.  (Hebrews 1:3)
We regularly reflect on Jesus’ agony in the garden, scourging and tortious death.  What about the Father?

What would it be like for you to give up your son or daughter, to allow him or her, to be abused and tortured while you watched close by, knowing all the time that you could stop it.  Your son or daughter, in exchange for the life of your enemies.  This stretches our minds beyond capacity.

We think, well, God is God, and he didn’t feel it like we would feel it.  Didn’t He?  What kind of Father would he be?

A better father than me.

Have you ever tried to imagine what Jesus thought about as he anticipated his own death?
We think that because he was God, he knew what would happen.  We conveniently forget that he lived and died as the God-Man.  He emptied himself of his divinity; he suffered and died willing bound with our limitations.

Jesus knew and declared that he is the resurrection and the life.  Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.  He raised others from the dead as well.  Nevertheless, he laid down his torn body, resting in peace and the hope of the resurrection.

And so my heart rejoices, my soul is glad; even my body shall rest in safety.  For you will not leave my soul among the dead, nor let your beloved know decay.  You will show me the path of life, the fullness of joy in your presence, at your right hand happiness forever.  (Psalm 16:9-11)

Of course the Word, knew the prophetic word.  He knew this passage applied to his life, death and resurrection,  But he walked through it, step by step by step, empty of his divinity, in the form of a slave, in the likeness of men; and as a man, he lay down in hope.

Have you ever wondered what it was like for Jesus at the precise moment of the resurrection.  Can you
imagine what it he must have felt?  The stone is rolled away, light streams in, life pours in, and in an instant he is awake.  Can you envision the smile on his face, the gladness in every pore of his body, as he whispers to his Father, “it really works”!

Meanwhile today is Holy Saturday.  The day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  One of my favorite days of the year.

Have you ever considered what may have happened the day before the resurrection?  Maybe it went like this:

Something strange is happening — there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness.  The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep.  The earth trembles and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began.  God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone in search for our first parents, as for lost sheep.  Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve … He took [Adam] by the hand and raised him up, saying:  “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son.  Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise.  I order you, O sleeper, to awake.  I did not create you to be held prisoner in hell.  Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.  Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image.  Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you and we cannot be separated.

For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth.  For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead.  For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed … in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you.  See the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image.  On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back.  See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side.  My side has healed the pain in yours.  My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell.  The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place.  The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise.  I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven … [t]he throne formed by the cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager.  The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open.  The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.  (From ancient homily on Holy Saturday)

What a mighty God we serve!  What a great Father we have.  Nothing is left out; nothing is overlooked. Everything is prepared for us.

Those of you who have followed my my blog, know that I am fond of the name “Rocketman”, and you know why it means so much to me.  But you should understand, if you don’t already, Jesus is the pre-eminent “Rocketman”.  He is our first born brother. He is the first to rise from the dead into the resurrection; he is first to lift off from the earth.  He is the first to ascend to the right hand of the Father.  He is first in every way.

Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

Love Is Stronger Than Death

Love Is Stronger Than Death

Last week, my wife, Sarah and my daughter Shea and I were in Tempe, Arizona visiting Anna Kate (oldest daughter), her husband Ray, our one and only grandson, Emmett and Lucia (our middle daughter who is temporarily helping out with childcare).  We were there for just under a week and had a great time together.

As the hour for leaving approached, in usual fashion, I began to partially unravel inside.  It started with a few tears, privately at first, and then for the whole world to see.  No matter what I try, I cannot seem to help myself.  I am a grown man, yet I cry like a baby whenever it comes time to say goodbye.

I began this practice of falling apart early in adulthood, each time I would visit and leave my now deceased Dad, who lived in Washington State.  I tried to prepare for leaving and gave myself pep talks to avoid the tears; however, that rarely produced the results I desired.  I should have known then what it would be like to leave my own children and, now, grandchild.

People tell me it’s a gift.  I think I have a general idea of what they mean.  I am not always able to say exactly what I want to say to the people I love, but when I am weeping like a child, saying good bye, there is no misunderstanding what I feel inside.  But my manhood is completely and thoroughly undone in the process — poor, poor, pitiful me.

I know, of course, that those I am leaving are well provided for, well taken care of and in a good, safe place.  And that helps, but I still come apart at the seams.  Just the idea of separation, of being away, even for a little while, is enough to make the waters flow.  I suppose at those moments, I realize how deeply connected I am to the people I love, and I think they know it too.

Nick Goodwin

Today, some very good people, Vince and Cindy, along with their two sons, Danny and Joey, and their extended families, said good bye to their youngest son and brother, Nick.  Nick passed away as a result of an accident that occurred last weekend.

Nick was only 15 years old.  From all accounts he was the son everyone would love to have,  He was handsome, funny, fun loving, mischievous, athletic, a good friend to his friends, a good brother to his brothers and a wonderful son to his Mom and Dad.  Nick loved to finish first; he loved riding his dirt bike; he was fond of the color lime green.  He enjoyed hanging with his youth group and playing soccer.  Nick is well loved, well liked and will be well missed.

I cannot imagine the tearing, ripping and undoing that occurs when a parent says good bye to his or her beautiful, young son or daughter for the last time.  I cannot fathom the breadth, length, height and depth   of anguish, sadness, emptiness and pain generated from that separation and loss.  I don’t know how I could possibly endure it; how anyone can endure it?

Certainly, we believe in the love of God, the resurrection from the dead and eternal life; we hope to be united again forever, clothed in immortality, with every tear wiped away, with gladness in our hearts; but in that moment of surrender to death, there is only darkness, which seems to permeate every inch of our bodies.

Only the Good Shepherd can restore our souls, but not yet, not now, maybe some day …

When we lose someone very close to us, it shakes us to the core of our beings.  We tremble knowing how fragile life is and how easily things could have turned out differently.  We cannot help but cry out why?  Why did it have to happen?  Why didn’t you protect him?  Why didn’t you do something, anything?  At some level, everything we believe and cling to is violently assaulted by the unexpected death of someone we love.

My daughter, Anna Kate sent me this text after hearing about Nick, pleading:

Why do things like this happen?  How are we supposed to understand this?  How am I supposed to go about life and let Emmett out of my sight?  I don’t understand!

Good questions.  Anna Kate is asking the questions that are on all of our minds:  does the Father really love us?  does he really protect us from harm?  can we count on him to guard the lives of those we love?  is his right hand strong enough to hold us?

I replied to Anna Kate’s text with the following:

With courage, not dread of the foe, with fear of God and continual prayer, with love poured out and none held back, with faith and hope, expressed in thanksgiving for everything.

In times of darkness, when our faith is tested, we need to cling to the Lord in prayer.  He gives us so much when we go to him, especially when our hearts are laid bare and cut open by the circumstances of life.

We need to nourish our faith on the Word of God and remind ourselves of who he is and who we are in him.

We need to remember that he formed our inward parts, put us together in our mothers’ wombs and that he numbered our days.  He doesn’t make mistakes; he doesn’t fall asleep on the job and he never says whoops.

That “[p]recious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.  (Psalm 116:15)

Love really is stronger than death. (Song of Songs 8:6)

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:35-39)

Our hearts are too small.  Love expands them.  We need love, so much more love.  Love poured in and love poured out.

“For love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  (1 Corinthians 13:7)

Sometimes, living is very hard.  Secret things do belong to the Lord and there are so many things we do not and cannot understand.  (See Deuteronomy 29:29)

For now we see as in a mirror dimly, but one day we will see him face to face.  Now we know in part, but one day we will understand fully. (See 1 Corinthians 13:12)

Until then, I pray for Nick’s family, and for each of us, that

he may grant [us] to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in [our] hearts through faith; that [we], being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to understand with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that [we] may be filled with the fulness of God.  (Ephesians 3:16-19)

Our home is in heaven, and from heaven we are waiting for our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself.  (Philippians 3:20-21)

Nevertheless, in the meantime, we reign in this life through Christ (Romans 5:17); though like him we rule in the midst of our enemies.  (Psalm 110:2)  But it will not always be so.  Some day we will reign with him in heaven and we will rejoice with him as our heads are lifted up in songs of victory over all of our enemies.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death.  (1 Corinthians 15:26)

 

Fruit

Fruit

I have been thinking about the life we are offered in Christ.  The scriptures are full of the promises of God which invite us to live an exalted and abundant life in him.  In particular, I have been meditating on the passage from the Gospel of John, where Jesus refers to himself as the vine and us as the branches.

Abide in me, and I in you … He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing … If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you … As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.  These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.  (John 15:

If I dwell in him, He will dwell in me.  If I live in him, He will live in me.  If I rest in Him, He will rest in me.  If His words dwell in me, if His words live in me, if His words rest in me, I will ask whatever I will and it will be done for me?

Jesus loves me just the same as the Father has loved Him.  He tells me to dwell in his love, to live in his love, to rest in his love.

If I do what he asks me to, I will dwell in His love, live in his love and rest in his love.  This is exactly what Jesus did and this is what He expects me do.  He believes I can.

Just like the woman caught in adultery, Jesus said to her, “go and sin no more”, believing that she would do exactly what he told her to do.

I see what he wants for me, joy, complete, full over-flowing joy!

This is the high life in Christ.  Life empowered by the Holy Spirit, lived in faith, inspired by hope, and pursued in love.  As companions for the journey, He gives me peace to rule in my heart and the promise of complete joy.

It seems so simple that even children can understand it — as they often do.  It sounds to good to be true, but its not.  In fact, I wonder if me miss the very thing we are looking for because of its simplicity.  I suppose we are naturally suspicious of anything that appears to be both simple and to good to be true.
Ahhh, we are well trained.

Of course, there is a price to be paid, but it’s not what we think.  We simply have to keep his commandments, that is, to do whatever he tells us to do.  His commandments are not burdensome because they lead us into the very thing made for and desire above everything else:  life in Him.

Paul tells us what we need to do:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  And over all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.  And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

If I dwell in Christ, if I live in Him, if I rest in Him, I can do all of these things, because He will do them in me.  If I do these things, then I will dwell in Christ, I will live in Him and I will rest in Him.
If I do these things, I will dwell in love, live in love and rest in love.

If I do these things, I will keep his commandments.  If I do these things, I will bear fruit.  If I do these things,  I will ask whatever I will and He will do it for me.  If I do these things, peace will rule in my heart and my joy will be complete.

I have tried this before.  In fact, I am continually working at this.  It’s a journey, but it’s one worth taking.  I am called to be just like Jesus “because as he is in the world so are we”.  Of course, I have not yet obtained this nor am I perfect.

Nevertheless, “… I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own … forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 3:12-14)

So I will press on; I will persevere remembering that “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me” and “[f]or this I toil, striving with all energy which he mightily inspires within me.”  (Col 1:29)

“He who calls [us] is faithful, and he will do it.”  (1 Thessalonians 5:24)

 

Happy Birthday Grandpa

Happy Birthday Grandpa

       Today is Grandpa’s birthday.  He is 76 years old according to the way we keep track of time.  But Grandpa no longer cares about time the way we do.  He is now with Christ.
He folded his tent for the last time on April 20, just under a year ago.  He is now clothed in Christ; he traded his lowly body for one more suitable to heaven.
I am not yet ready for heaven, but every once in a while, I catch a glimpse, my heart leaps in my chest and I want to fly away.  Oh! if we only knew, earth couldn’t hold us; we would bound like children, high on joy, to be with Jesus, and the best Daddy ever.
At Dennis’ passing I wrote a little bit about what he meant to me and others.  It’s been almost a year since his passing and I wonder how we have managed with out him.  Certainly, we knew him in different ways and his physical absence has left its mark in ways that are very personal to each of us.
I will share some of my thoughts about my father-in-law as we are all thinking about him a little bit more today.  You have your own stories and memories to pass along.  Please share a remembrance or two with the rest of us in the comment section below.
       Grandpa was a true north star.  He seemed to be always pointed in the right direction.  Whenever, my compass was off the mark, just a brief in encounter with him would bring the needle back to where it needed to be. I think he managed to do that for lots of people.
Dennis with Sarah and Meg
Grandpa, as noted by his good friend  Ed, was a man’s man, a man of true grit.  He really was a tough hombre, never brash, rarely in your face, but if you had a piece of ground or a foxhole to defend, you wanted him beside you.
Grandpa, also had enduring strength — he was built to last — to finish the race.  Many have the knack for starting things and he was certainly good at that too;  but, he was outstanding as a finisher.  He was physically strong, even into old age.  And he was made of true temper steel on the inside.
Micah
       Grandpa was, well, a grandpa.  He loved his grandchildren, especially, his favorite grandchild, Micah.  (Micah had advantages because he shared a birthday with Grandpa.  Happy Birthday Micah!)  Even though he loved Micah first among all the male grandchildren, he had more than enough love for all his grandchildren.  None of them lacked for love from their Grandpa.
Grandpa was like the small bush referred to in the gospel that became a large tree.  We all grew under his enormous shadow.  To one degree or another, each of our lives were nurtured and fed within the great canopy of his life.
I remember with great affection when I met Dennis as a young man, and the way he would joyfully sing to Lord, with his own personal, infectious “Alleluia”.  I never grew tired of hearing him do that.  I feel sure when I see him next, before the great throne of the Lamb, I will hear it again, yes I will hear it again.
Hide and Seek

Hide and Seek

I woke up very early this morning — that happens to me from time to time; more and more I find myself awake when other people are asleep.  So I got out of bed, made some coffee, let the dogs out, started a fire, fed the dogs and then settled in for a winter morning spot of prayer.  As I was going through my routine pre-prayer chores, I found myself anticipating my time with Him, even more than usual.

I know why.  I knew I had ample time — there would be no need to rush — no sense of hurry.  I would be able to linger in his unseen presence.  That’s especially why I like to pray on Saturdays and Sundays.  The feeling that I won’t have to break it off too soon, somehow makes it better.  Even if my prayer isn’t particularly good, still it’s nice to have the extra time and the heightened expectation that maybe, just maybe, something special might happen.

Perhaps you know what I am describing.  I have tasted the goodness of the Lord and I want more, always more.  Like Edmund, in Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, once you have had a bite of the Turkish delight, you always come back for more.  Rarely do I find it, but knowing that I might, well that’s enough for me.

I’ve noticed something else about my morning time with Him.  I like it best when I come completely empty — when I have nothing on my mind, nothing I am looking for, nothing I need, nothing I want, but Him, just to be with Him.

And on those occasions, when inspired by grace, I come with nothing but myself, He meets me in exactly the same way.  He comes with nothing but Himself.  Of course, there’s more to Him than me, which explains why I come.

I would like to say we meet “hombre a Hombre,” but that’s not possible.   After all, we can only meet man to God-Man, or man-becoming god through divine participation to fully God-fully Man; well, none of that really matters anyway, except for you theologians out there.  (By the way, if there are any theologians reading this post, please leave a comment.)

The only thing that matters is the encounter, which, whether I am aware of it or not, always leaves me changed for good, real long, forever lasting good.

Lately, I have been praying intensely for the Holy Spirit to open my eyes, to give me a spirit of wisdom and revelation, because I want to know, not superficially but deeply, the hope to which I have been called, my glorious inheritance in Him and the immeasurable greatness of his power at work in me. (Eph 1:17-19)

Also, I vehemently desire to be strengthened with might in my inner man, so He will dwell in my heart through faith, that being rooted and grounded in love, I might have the power to understand the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, so that I might be filled with all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:16-19)

I agree that’s a lot to ask and a great deal to hope for; but He tells me that’s what I need and that’s what I should want, so I keep asking.

I confess, I am tired of words, but not the Word; like John of the Cross, I want to see this Man-God.  I want Him to come Himself.  Please Lord,  don’t send me anymore messengers.  I want you to come!

So I ask, seek and knock.  But, interestingly, the more I pursue Him, the more He hides.  And when He hides, He disappears.  It’s not that I can’t find Him, He’s no where to be found.  “I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not; I called but he gave no answer”  (Song of Songs 3:1)

In His absence, I know my life is hidden with Him, but my experience tells me it’s just hidden.
I know I belong to Him, but mostly I feel like I am longing to belong.

Often when I am with Him in His presence/absence, I am permitted to feel completely alone.  Nevertheless, I have learned that something happens deep inside of me when it’s just Him and me, whether I am aware of His presence or not.  I am drawn to worship, adore and love.  I am compelled to worship, adore and love.

I wonder, do I adore Him because I need to know and worship something greater than myself?  Or is it because there is something in me that desperately longs to be greater than I am, and I understand  this will only happen in Him?

Still he hides.  Not that he is playing games with me, though it definitely feels that way.  He knows something I don’t.

I think I know who He is and I seek what I know; but He understands I will never find Him where I am looking, so he remains hidden.  In hiding, He helps me to come to know myself, and from there, I can begin to look for Him in new places, and to seek Him as He is, instead of who I want Him to be.  (I am sure it’s all very clear to you now.)

Therefore, I continue hard after this ever vanishing Man-God; the chase is on!  I’m like a dog following his master’s scent.  But I draw no comfort from knowing that some hounds’ noses are better than others. Because this hunt is not about the hounds; it’s about the prey and, this prey, planned, organized and executed this quest.

Still I follow enthusiastically, as if He were giving me clues along the way, lighting up my soul with encouragement; when, in fact, the trail is indistinguishable from the forrest, and He is nowhere in sight.

It doesn’t matter to me; I have grown accustomed to the field of play.  My face is set.  And so I pursue with determination and, a robust and vigorous hope, that I will find the treasure I seek.  You see, I am fired by love’s urgent longings …

Sacrifice of Joy

“For you shall go out with joy and be led forth in peace.  The mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing before you.  The trees of the fields will clap their hands as you go out in joy”  (Isaiah 55:12)

I have been singing this verse over and over again to myself during the last week as I have been thinking about the word “sacrifice” and why it’s good to give the Lord our joy.

I believe the Father takes delight in us when we offer Him our joy, just like any daddy would.  It makes Him happy even though He is already full of happiness.

And it’s good for us.  Taking joy in everything and giving our joy to God, especially in difficulty, makes our hearts purer.  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  (Matthew 5:8)  If I am going to see God, I need a pure heart.

Rush Hour

Rush Hour

Last week I had business in Atlanta and Chattanooga.  I had a meeting in the morning, in north Atlanta, with a witness, to prepare for an upcoming trial.  Afterward, I had a meeting with another witness in Chattanooga.  Late in the day, I returned to Atlanta to track down a third witness.

When I got back to the north side of Atlanta, I called the remaining witness to see if I could come by his house to meet with him.  As it turns out, it was not possible for me to meet with him in person, but I spoke with him by phone for about forty-five minutes.

Meanwhile, my daughter Shea, was en route from Columbus to Augusta.  When I finished interviewing the third witness, I called Shea to see how far along she was on her trip home.  Providentially Shea, who was approaching Atlanta from the south, was about the same distance away as I was from the north.

So I suggested that we meet at a restaurant on the east side of Atlanta.  Both of us had to pass through late afternoon, early evening rush hour traffic.  Even though we came from different directions, along with hundreds of thousands of other drivers, we arrived at the same place within a minute of each other.

I was impressed.  Was it a coincidence?  Chance?  Luck of the draw?  Maybe, but that’s not how it felt to me.

Shea and I enjoyed a bowl of soup together and then got into our respective cars for the two hour plus trip home.  It was a difficult drive.  It rained cats and dogs on us the whole way  — pouring rain and water all over the highway.  We drove slower than the speed limit just to make sure we didn’t hydroplane off of the freeway.  (Way to slow for Shea, I’m sure)

Shea is a good driver, but she has been driving for less than a year.  I was very concerned about her even following me home.  If she had been making the trip completely on her own, I would have been even more concerned because of the dangerous driving conditions.

When we arrived safely home, I found myself spontaneously thanking the Father for arranging everything for our good — in this case for Shea and me.  Maybe nothing would have happened if we had made our own way back separate from each other.  Perhaps, I kept Shea safe; maybe she kept me safe.  But I do know I was grateful because the Father arranged all those circumstances just for me — from one daddy to another.

I realize of course that there are skeptics out there who have plenty of natural explanations for Shea and I arriving essentially at the same time through rush hour traffic coming from entirely different directions.  I don’t have to look far for that kind of skepticism — because its always close by — inside of me and all around me.  But I resist the temptation to believe it.  Rather, I choose to believe in love.

I suppose each of us have a little bit of Nicodemus (John 3) and a little bit of Mary Magdalene (John 8) in us.  Nicodemus came to Jesus in the night for fear of the Jews, and wanted to know how a man can re-enter the womb of his mother and be born again.  Mary Magdalene, on the other hand, thought by many to be the woman caught in adultery, was forgiven much and, therefore, loved much in return.

The Nicodemus in us is a little skeptical, he wants to make sure we don’t get duped or dupe ourselves.  Mary, on the other hand, follows love.  Most of us have tendencies in both directions — at times we have to work things out in our minds and at others we follow our hearts.

As an aside to all the skeptics out there — you know who you are.  There is room for skepticism, but it’s a small place.  I cannot think of a single time where Jesus praised someone for being skeptical.  But he did say:  “When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)  We seem to have an overabundance of skepticism, but faith appears to be in short supply.

By the way, you know you’re a skeptic if, right at this moment, you are constructing an argument against what you have just read.

Nevertheless, it’s good to use our minds; as it is to follow our hearts.  But I think in the faith life we have to be careful.  If we allow our minds to over influence our hearts, we may never achieve love’s goals.  Some knowledge, the really important kind of knowledge, only comes through the heart, not the mind.

Perhaps, this is why Paul tells us that our minds must be renewed, but our hearts must be enlightened so that we may know … (Romans 12:2 and Ephesians 1:18)

I know this can be a little complicated and I have over simplified the discussion, but I also know I do better when my heart takes the lead and my mind is second in command.  Because, I think (there you go … ) faith, hope and love grow in the heart and, then and only then, do they permeate the mind.

Enough of that, please consider this:

What if God really does exist?  What if he really rewards those who seek him? (Hebrews 11:6)

What if he really does work out everything for our good if we are called according to his plan? (Romans 8:28)

What if he loves each of us so much that he treats us as his friends and makes known to each of us what his plan is so that we can live according to his plan? (John 15:15)

What if mercy really does triumph over justice? (James 2:13)

What if love really wins?

What if he loves us bigger, better, more perfectly, with deeper affection, with our good always in mind, a thousand times wider, longer, deeper  and higher, than we love our own children, or whomever we happen to love most in our lives.

What if “our good” really is our good and is the very thing we would want for ourselves and those we love, if only we could see it from a perspective that allows us to see it?

What if it’s all true — every bit of it.  Everything we always hoped it would be and even more?  What if our “way out there”, wildest dreams about God’s love are really true.

What if he loves us with an unending love, a love that holds us and never lets go, a love that never takes its gaze away from us and always sees us as the apple of his eye?

Would we be thankful then?  For everything?  For every detail of our lives?

A young woman where I work has a note posted on her desk that reads:

What if you woke up today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?

What if … ?

 

Three Things To Do For Lent

Three Things To Do For Lent

JUMPING FOR JOY

Ahhh, Lent is finally here.  You know it’s my favorite time of the year, well not exactly.  I have already gone on record that Christmas is my favorite.  But, I suppose this year, I am looking forward to Lent, sort of.

Here are some thoughts I typically associate with Lent.

“Remember O man that you are dust and unto dust you shall return”  (See why it’s such an exciting time of he year!)

“Even now”, declares the Lord, “Return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” (Joel 2:12)

“Return … to the Lord your God … I will heal [your] waywardness and love [you] freely, for my anger has turned away from [you]”.  (Hosea 14:1,4)

Generally, I think most of us, in one form or another, think of Lent as a solemn time where we give up things for God.  We don’t always see the connection between our sacrifice and God’s happiness, but we have at least a vague sense that they go together.

So typically, every Lent as we approach Ash Wednesday, we ask one another, “what are you giving up for Lent?”

But not this year; nope not this year; this year, this man is going to do something radically different.

For 40 days and 40 nights I am going to offer to God three sacrifices:

A sacrifice of thanksgiving!

A sacrifice of praise! and

A sacrifice of joy!  

I mean it, this is what I am going to do and you can’t stop me.

Thanksgiving

“The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!”  (Psalm 50:23)

“In every circumstance give thanks; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”  (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Praise

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise — the fruit of lips that confess his name.”  (Hebrews 13: 14-16)

“The voice of joy, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride, the voice of them that shall say, Praise the Lord of hosts:  for the Lord is good; for his mercy lasts forever:  and of them that shall bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord … ”  (Jeremiah 33:10-12)

Joy

“And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me; therefore, I will offer sacrifices of joy in his tent; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord.”  (Psalm 27:6)

“This day is sacred to our Lord.  Do not be sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”  (Nehemiah 8:10)

“This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  (Psalm 118:24)

So when people ask me,”What are you giving up for Lent?”, I am going to tell them, “I have decided to  give up ingratitude, complaining, bitching, moaning, criticizing, fussing, slighting, pouting, self pity and just generally feeling bad about things.”

Hey, I know I am giving up a lot …

And I know this is radical stuff …

But, I would really like to try something new.