Time to Detox

“That put sweat on the top of my head!”

That is a quote from my father following a delicious, but very mild, chili made by my sister. I couldn’t believe it, but yet I could. My father grew up with a very bland and consistent diet, one that almost always included potatoes. So you can imagine how my father handled it the first time he tasted the chili that I make, cooked with whole jalapenos in it. He told me that he liked it while he wiped away his tears.

It is amazing how much we can adjust our baselines. We learn how to tolerate more and increase our thresholds. This is the principle that you employ when you exercise. This is also the principle you employ when you backslide down that slippery slope of sin.

RELATIVELY SPEAKING

I recently finished reading Craig Groeschel’s book, Soul Detox. It is a great mirror to hold up to various areas of your life where you have made some subtle, or not-so-subtle, changes in your life. He used an example of watching the Ultimate Fighting Championships to illustrate how we can increase our tolerance for certain things in our lives. I related to that illustration. I remember watching some of the first pay-per-view matches, when it was still an “underground” sport. It made me a little queasy to see the violence, but I watched. And now I am almost always found watching them with friends while I munch away on some ultimate nachos.

That can happen in other areas of our life as well, which was precisely Groeschel’s point. If we don’t take inventory, we could easily become people that others don’t recognize. “The way of the guilty is devious, but the conduct of the innocent is upright.” Proverbs 21:8 Proverbs offers us line after line of “either-or” reflections, almost always centered around the daily choices that we make. We allow ourselves many “gray areas,” while the Bible does not. Author Shane Claiborne would call this “highlighting verses,” giving importance to the areas we want to follow. Where I work we call them “thinking errors,” ways that we find to convince ourselves (and no one else) that what we are doing okay.

Lord willing (even if you are not willing) you will be around some family members this week. It may be the case that you haven’t seen some of them in a while, and you will take notice of the changes. But I would like you to take a different seat at the table: look at the changes YOU have made.

EVEN SOMETHING GOOD

Just over a week ago I had one of the best meals that I have had in a long time. The kids at work loved it, and they told me that I HAD to have some. One kid even said, “No offense to (another staff who cooks very, very well), but this is GOOD!” They were right. Mashed potatoes, barbecue chicken with a little Cajun zip, and fresh, warm rolls. It was a delight.

Why? Well, for one, my meal didn’t come out of a bag. Two, it was carefully prepared. And third, it was just that much better than my typical meal. I had allowed something “less than” to become my norm. Food, by itself a good thing, can be our slow ruin. If I were to consume fast food, as I did yesterday, I would slowly slip into a pattern I don’t like: food out of a bag, poorly prepared, and less than my typical meal.

But don’t we do that? Don’t we settle for less than? And, before you know it, you have established a new norm. Fast food doesn’t bother me the same way it has at times, and it’s not because the “secret recipe” has changed. My baseline for “good” has changed. If I could have a daily meal like the one I had last week, I would go hungry before I bought fast food.

What is it for you? Where have you allowed yourself to change your definition of good? If you look at yourself at the table, what has changed? Do you drink more? Have your movie and tv habits changed? What about the music you choose? Driving habits? Work ethic? Choice of language? Choice of friends? Family interactions? Money habits? Internet time? What has changed?

FIND A MIRROR, BUT DON’T BUY A NEW ONE

“If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” Genesis 4:7

Those were the Lord’s words to Cain when Cain was found to be angry. By the end of verse 8, Cain has killed his brother Abel and become an example for us to always remember. When a mirror is held up to us, we can either work to improve what we see or allow ourselves to deteriorate (hint: even if you choose to do “nothing,” you will deteriorate. I counted correctly – there are two options). Be accepted or be mastered.

I don’t know what it is for you, but I urge you to take a good, long look in the mirror, identify a struggle, and actively work to correct it. If you were told that an active, growing disease was in your body, would you do nothing? There is no cure for cancer, yet people actively and aggressively attack it. There is no cure for your sinful nature this side of heaven, but don’t you think you should attack it?

For me of late, I have wrestled with materialism. I need look no farther than Scripture to find a mirror. Even today I read verses such as “her poor will I satisfy with food” (Psalm 132:15b) and “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.” (Proverbs 21:13) And just a few verses after that I read a verse that made me stop: “A wise man attacks the city of the mighty and pulls down the stronghold in which they trust.” Proverbs 21:22

It stopped me because I thought about the stronghold of our world, of our nation, of my home, of my life. Saturday night I stood still for 15 minutes. I would guess that it had been five months since I did that. It was the quiet, reflective time given to the campers at Timberwolf Lake to wrestle with the message of the cross. For me, it was a time to shut up and listen. I heard this: “You work so hard to protect the things of value; how hard do you work to protect the things that are priceless?”

Ever been punched in the gut on a cold, Saturday night next to a completely peaceful lake? I have. It brings tears to your eyes. I do work hard to protect and provide. And get more. But what about the irreplaceables? After I asked God, “What do you mean?” he brought to mind the time I have with my children. The things I should tell them, show them, do for them. My oldest son asked me if they celebrate “Black Friday” in Boston. Wait…what? Celebrate?! Oof. Houston, we have a problem. And there’s my mirror. Now I need a plan of attack, and to check my strongholds.

What are the strongholds in your life? Where have you put your trust? If I told you that there will one day be a consuming fire, would you still choose the house made out of plastic? “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’” Hebrews 12:28-29 The last part of the verse comes as a quote from Deuteronomy 4: “do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the Lord has forbidden. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” (verses 23b, 24).

I believe that the passage in Hebrews also points back to the story of Cain and Abel: “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” God desires our best. You can either give it, or He can take it. He desires your best as a father or mother wants the best for their child – because they know what the child is capable of achieving. God knows your best – He designed you! Look in the mirror. Look in the mirror of the Word. Change your baseline for good. Detox if necessary so that you can be filled again with God’s homemade Living Bread.

Lord, we fall woefully short. Our ways have not been your ways. Forgive us, Lord. Show us, Lord. Guide us, Lord. Help us, Lord. Amen.

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One Car Length

I am a city driver. If you don’t know what a city driver is, it might be because you are one. This message is for you. Or, maybe you are like my mother, and you use your turn signal to turn into your own driveway on a country road that won’t see another car for an hour. This message is for you also.

I grew up in the country, which was great for learning to drive. The road I just mentioned will see as many cars today as I will see when I look down my block. Learning to drive in the country gave me a lot of room to make mistakes. It wasn’t too long before I took my skills, got too comfortable, and ended up in a ditch upside-down.

Now I am a city driver. I was reminded of this on Sunday. When we returned from camp, we found ourselves in the middle of stop-and-go traffic pulling up to a stoplight. “Whoa,” one of the boys in the van said, “aren’t we supposed to be a car length away?”

THANKS

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” Hebrews 12:28

The other day I saw a quote on facebook: “What if you woke up this morning with only the things you had thanked God for yesterday?” That was a *gulp* moment. Why do we have such difficulty giving thanks? Maybe it’s because, like my country-now-turned-city-driving, we know it in our heads but fail to put it into practice. Or we have convinced ourself that we know what we are doing, so giving thanks really isn’t necessary. That might leave you upside-down in a ditch before too long.

When the boy brought up the distance at which to follow the car, I commented, “Oh yeah, follow one car length behind for every 10 miles per hour!” He responded, “How come you guys learn this stuff in driver’s training but then don’t do it?” I responded, “Maybe we’re like the man who looks in the mirror and forgets what we look like.”

We know to give thanks. We even set up a day to remind us that we should. And we say things like, “We should be more thankful.” Yes, we should. Have you ever met someone who seems so much more thankful and grateful than we are, even though they seem to have less than you? Don’t they make you wonder about how they became that way? Well, maybe it’s time for YOU to be that person.

GIVE

I told the boy that I would “try out” the recommended distance while driving, and I did. It wasn’t the first time I used self-imposed driving restrictions. Seven and a half years ago, I received a speeding ticket. The first time that I was pulled over and I was given a ticket. (What about the warning?) Within that same month, I was pulled over a second time. And given my second ticket. Both times were in a work vehicle. Both times I was headed back for the day. And when my supervisor found out about the “both times…”

“If you have another ticket, you will have too many points and we cannot insure you for work.” Translation: since you need an agency vehicle for work, you will lose your job. So when I say that I have had self-imposed driving restrictions, that is what I mean. For three years, I was a GREAT driver. I had to be. I drove the speed limit, used my turn signals, and stopped at stop signs (as opposed to rolling through). When I drove on 131, I always felt like Moses parting the Red Sea as cars whipped around me on both sides. (Talk about being a good driver – I was driving 55 on both sides of the S curve like it was posted. It’s been changed to 70 now, hallelujah!)

What I found out was that I received more than two tickets “falling off” my insurance; I found peace. Sure, the speed limit felt awkward at first. (“Oh, so THIS is what 30 mph feels like!” Confession, I couldn’t get down to 25…that’s too much.) But, with time, I enjoyed it. Rushing somewhere was not an option. Road rage was not an option – I would never catch them. All I could do was drive like I was supposed to drive. I was content.

On Sunday, I “tried out” the car length assignment while I drove home. It felt familiar, like the time I HAD to be good. I did a visual check as I drove: “30 mph…so I need about 3 cars…” I could get used to this. Then came my challenge. I was in a lane that was merging beyond the stoplight. When the light turned green, the truck behind me sped up, pulled to the left of me AND pulled back in front of me! That did not make me happy. I started to do what I have done before – drive so that our bumpers nearly kissed. (THAT, my friends, is a “city driver.”) Then I had this thought, “No, Doug, that’s not the proper distance.” So I allowed him to pull away…and felt content.

ING

Giving thanks is like that. You know to do it. You practice every year, or maybe even every meal. But when you keep doing it, you find that gratitude starts to build within you. You may hear these verses sometime this week:

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:16, 17

It’s possible that you have heard those verses so often that the words have lost meaning for you. So let me point something out : it is IN God and FOR God that you can give thanks. The first part reminds us to have “the word of Christ” in us as we give thanks. And the last part reminds us to give thanks TO God. Rooted and reaching.

If you’re still taking credit for the blessings in your life, it will be hard to be thankful. And if you are giving thanks without having the word of Christ in you, your list will run out by halftime of the Lions’ game (using the word “game” loosely).

Remember when I asked you about meeting someone who seems more grateful with less? For me, that was my youngest son. Last year his teacher had read the book, One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp. She then challenged her students to create their own list, with a goal of 300 by the end of the year. When we had the last conference of the school year, my son reported his total and he had blown past the goal by hundreds. I nearly cried as I thought about how grateful my son had learned to be while my list might not run past my own fingers (health, family, friends, job, ummmm…)

A colleague gave me that same book to read on Monday, and I look forward to digging in.. I expect to find something like what I found when I made myself drive by the rules. I expect contentment. Becoming more grateful is not an overnight experience. And it shouldn’t require the threat of losing something, as with my job, to start being thankful. Start your own list, and dare yourself not to duplicate. It will feel strange and forced at first, but you will feel like Moses before too long. For a good Thanksgiving passage, chew on Exodus 15:1-18. It will take as long to read it as it will take for the Lions to fall behind, and only one of those options is worth hearing about.

Remind yourself that it is “Thanksgiving” and not “Thanks Given” Day. The “ing” points to a continual action, and not something to check off your annual list. Make it part of who you are and what you do. After I passed my first car distance test, I was given another one. I had a green light, and the car in front of me turned right. I slowed, and saw that a car waiting at the intersection made a right turn – right in front of me! The nerve! My mother would NEVER do that! I began to accelerate and heard that same, “No, Doug..” and I slowed down, and found my peace again.

Try three “thanksgivings” a day. That was the bar set for my nine-year old, and he ended up with nearly 1000. I think he will be a great “country driver.”

Stop Drawing. Be Drawn.

I approach the blank page of each new day ready to make my mark. I have a goal in mind, or a list of things to accomplish, and I play connect-the-dots all day long. Last Friday, however, I could barely pick up the pen.

It wasn’t just the end of a busy and stressful week, it was the end of a busy stretch. I had mentally pushed through a busy summer as a case manager and chaplain with this idea in mind: you can rest when school starts. That was three months ago and, instead of resting, I started a new job AT a school – a new school – AND continued as a chaplain. (Insert questions about sanity here.)

With a week off from school looming ahead, I staggered toward the finish line. But I wasn’t there yet. I had committed to Fall Weekend for Young Life. (Repeat questions of sanity here.)

DOT-TO-DOT

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.” Psalm 130:5

I love reading the psalms. Not only are they filled with beautiful poetic language, but they are full of honesty. There are times when I need to be more honest with the Lord. Last Friday was one of those times. There was one student who I had asked to go to Young Life camp, and he did not show up to school on Thursday. Another student, who was planning to go, felt sick at the end of the day on Thursday. “Maybe no one will go…then I can rest…but if you want me to go, Lord, I’ll go.” In my dot-to-dot picture, I was essentially saying, “I can’t find #88, but you get the idea.”

I was fine with an incomplete picture. God doesn’t make incomplete pictures. And He reminded me of that at 8:45am on Friday when the student came to school with his mother, confirming that he was ready to go to camp that evening. Young Life camp has always been a tremendously positive experience for me, so my hesitancy had nothing to do with that. I just felt that I had nothing left to give, and I had been feeling relatively ineffective of late. My dot-to-dot pictures looked like nothing that I recognized.

Well, we made it up to camp with about a dozen guys in our group, and we found out that our Club meeting (lively singing, games, and message) would start…repeat “start”… at 10:30pm. (Really, God? You are hilarious.) I didn’t even get to sleep on the ride because my fellow leader wanted to get to know me better and, when I asked about his story, he shared how he and his wife sold their possessions and moved to Michigan in faith.

Moved to Michigan..in faith. (Inserting MY question of HIS sanity here. And here.)

Let me set this up again. I’m exhausted. Club starts at 10:30. Followed by a glo-stick scavenger hunt and dance party. And then we would have “cabin time,” the time where we would talk as a group about the message. That would start around 12:30. AM. Also known as “Saturday.” And did I mention these were teenagers? Boys? Who go to a strict discipline academy because they have been expelled or have court involvement? God, I think your dot-to-dot is broken.

WHO IS DRAWING?

Cabin time begins, and one of the leaders asks me to guide it. Here is a description of God’s three options as leaders at that time: 1) “Rookie” – the Young Life vet who moved in faith, but did not know any of the kids yet, 2) “Weary and Inadequate” – that’s me, 3) “I’m Counting to 10” – another Young Life vet, operating on one hour of sleep and being stretched to the limit by two students who came up for reasons besides camp.

Here is a description of some of our campers:

1) A young man who uses substances and gang affiliations to escape the pain he feels over losing two close family members.

2) A young man who was beaten within inches of his life by his father, and later put his father in the hospital by his actions.

3) A young man who was nearly sent home from camp before and stated he is an alcoholic.

4) A young man who states that he is too arrogant to believe that there can be a God who knows so much more than he does.

5) A young man who was expelled two years ago for bringing a gun to school.

6) A young man who has no close family and no strong connection to God.

7) A young man who was “angry for a week” when his mother did not visit him in Detention, and he recalls that he stopped breathing, saw darkness and snarling faces.

8) A young man who is an atheist and one of the reasons we have a leader counting to 10

9) A young man who never had a father figure and is now a father himself, and he notes that it was “not an accident.”

This should go well, right? Right!

No, seriously, you would be right. It was incredible. I was blown away and kept conferring with the other leaders just to confirm – something amazing was going on. We had three cabin times: one after the introduction to Jesus, one after the message on sin, and one after the message about the cross and how we can be saved. Every cabin time was incredible, and a clear reminder that I had nothing to do with that.

You know how you feel a certain obligation when someone designates you as a leader? You study. You plan. You adjust. You read books. You even attend a summit about leadership! And still, you’ve got nothing.

TRUTH IN LOVE

“But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.” Psalm 13:5 If you could say that verse at the beginning of the day, and leave the period in its proper place, you would see amazing things happen. Sometimes it might take, as it did for me, for you to be too tired before you stop drawing on God’s picture. Let me tell you, when I have the energy, I can draw up some pretty good blueprints for someone’s life. Scary, isn’t it? I am no architect, especially when it comes to someone else’s life.

If you know me at all, you know that I couldn’t just sit back and enjoy the weekend as it was. I wanted to find out why it was going that way. I came to this conclusion: our students were simply responding to the truth, or more appropriately, the Truth. Here is your homework: if your Bible has a concordance, look up the word “truth.” (You could do this assignment online too.) It is absolutely amazing how many times Jesus starts with, “I tell you the truth..”

Why should we do anything differently? In the helping profession, I have been trained to look for the “why” part of the behavior. I was prone to that anyway; I have always analyzed. But why? Do you recall any passages where Jesus, finding someone broken, said, “Why are you doing that?” If you find one, let me know. Our lives are not questions of why; they are responses to truth. All weekend long, the same young men I described above heard the truth. And they had to respond.

TRUTH AND LOVE

As I watched each incredible cabin time unfold, I noticed another element. Yes, they were responding to truth. But I was determined to find a role for me, for us, as a leader.

Found it.

Love.

Again, if that could be my verb for every day, period properly placed, I would see amazing things. But there are days I put “love” in the middle of other verbs, or at the end, or not at all. Go back to your concordance and look up “love.” You will find that the word came out of Jesus’ mouth (at least as is recorded) less than the word “truth.” Why? I suggest that it was already evident by his actions. He had to tell people when he spoke of truth because so much of their world was a lie. False prophets, false salvation plans. But he lived his love.

Israel Houghton has a song and album titled, “Love God, Love People.” Those four words summarize all of God’s commandments. One verb, two receiving objects. That’s a short dot-to-dot, but effective. The students who responded throughout the weekend responded in truth, but they had also been shown love. Some of them had known us for months. Some were brand-new to us, and some had received love for a year or more. In fact, one of the highlights of the weekend was hearing a young man tell others to not give the leaders a hard time so that HE could enjoy camp. He knew what he was talking about. He was almost sent home this summer, but he held it together so that he could stay. He was one that made me argue with God – God won.

Here’s what I saw take place in less than 48 hours when our students were given truth and love:

1) A young man who uses substances and gang affiliations to escape the pain he feels over losing two close family members BUT had his first “man-to-man” talk with God after the cross talk.

2) A young man who was beaten within inches of his life by his father, and later put his father in the hospital by his actions BUT let go of his anger and forgave his father while sitting by the fireplace with his friends.

3) A young man who was nearly sent home from camp before and stated he is an alcoholic BUT realized that he needs to apply the same consistency to his life problems as he has been applying to his grades.

4) A young man who states that he is too arrogant to believe that there can be a God who knows so much more than he does BUT was asking about the book I was reading (“Soul Detox”)

5) A young man who was expelled two years ago for bringing a gun to school BUT now challenges other students with the question, “What do you want out of life?” and challenged them to be “unforgettable.”

6) A young man who has no close family and no strong connection to God BUT wants to change people’s perspective by his perspective (through photography).

7) A young man who was “angry for a week” when his mother did not visit him in Detention, and he recalls that he stopped breathing, saw darkness and snarling faces BUT he also saw a light and heard God call him back, and now he desires to spend his life working in disaster relief.

8) A young man who is an atheist and one of the reasons we have a leader counting to 10 BUT wants people to love each other and for there to be peace in the world. (Winner of God’s Irony Award).

9) A young man who never had a father figure and is now a father himself, and he notes that it was “not an accident” BUT sees his fatherhood as a chance to grow in maturity and leave old things behind.

Do you see it? God draws. We are simply called to be an instrument. What do you do when you draw? You pull (or “draw”) an instrument across a canvas to make a new image. Too often…sorry, TOO often, I have attempted to play the role of artist. I am an instrument, which works best as a willing vessel in the hands of a Master Artist who sees a much bigger picture than I do.

Two dots. People. God.

One verb. Love. Be the instrument that helps to connect dot 1 to dot 2.

POSTSCRIPT

Last night I received a very frustrating phone call. A young lady (same one that I referenced in “Rest in Your Struggle”) had had a terrible court hearing, and the apparent injustice and hopelessness of the situation angered me. A friend of mine sent me this text: “Accept what God allows” (very similar to my other friend’s “Shut up and listen”). I argued – with myself. I sent her this response: “I accept..and trust. I’m just wrestling with the apparent injustice and my complete inability to act. So..maybe I don’t accept..”

Having enough sense to not argue with an irrational person, she let me sit in my silence for the night. I did the equivalent of saying “Fine, God..you do it” (even though I did come up with a poorly-constructed plan I could try).

This morning, while writing this, I received this text from the young lady’s cousin: “Good Morning Doug…the letter worked and (she) will be home today for Thanksgiving! Thank you Jesus!”

Shut up and listen. Accept what God allows. Love God. Love people. Be a willing instrument. Stop drawing. Be drawn.

Relentless Pursuit

Some of you may not realize it, but last Friday was a very important day. No, I am not speaking about the famous Second Day of Rifle Season. I am referring to Casual Friday. Normally this is not a big deal, but this week was different – I knew what I was going to wear. The week before I had been given a new Manasseh Project t-shirt, and I had Friday’s outfit in mind for five days. For someone who normally makes clothing decisions at 6am on the same day, this was a big deal. Only one problem – I could not find my jeans.

There are only so many places they could have been, but the jeans were nowhere to be found. And, you guessed it, there was less than 30 minutes before I had to leave. One solution to my problem would have been to keep up with my laundry. Everything was clean, but there was a NeedsToBeFolded mountain upstairs. I searched through it to no avail. Another solution would be to wear something else. But for five days I had envisioned that outfit (not constantly, it’s not that serious) and I wanted to see it happen. So I kept searching.

RELENTLESS

The evening before I had heard my dear friend speak about another pursuit. She spoke about the woman with the issue of blood. Her pursuit was much more serious than mine. She needed healing. Spending all that she had, she had given everything she had in search of restoration.

There’s something in your life that needs restoration also. You have searched. You have prayed. You have waited. And you must continue your pursuit. In a week of messages about rest, you may wonder why I would tell you to pursue. Why would I tell you to chase? “But Doug, you just said last week to find rest in your struggle, so why are you telling me to keep going?” As Pastor Sam would say, “I’m glad you asked.”

I did tell you to find rest IN your struggle, but I did not tell you to stop struggling. To stop pursuing. To stop seeking restoration. You must press on. What would the story of the woman with the issue of blood be if she had stopped? Who would know of her suffering, or her perseverance? Not you. If the woman had quit when her money ran out, the only thing others would know of her is her suffering. Instead, because of her pursuit, she heard Jesus tell her, “Go in peace.” (Luke 8:48) Wouldn’t you like to hear those same words?

PURSUIT

There is a story like that in your life. There is something that has afflicted you. And, like the woman in Luke 8, you have searched for solutions. In another recording of the story, Mark 5:26 tells us, “she had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.”

Maybe you can relate to that. When your suffering started, you tried to fix it. When that didn’t work, you explored some other solutions that people suggested. When that didn’t work, you tried going to other people. Maybe you expected others to make you feel better but, when you had time to yourself, you still felt the pain.

There was another person in pursuit in that story. A synagogue ruler, Jairus, had come in search of Jesus. His daughter was dying – Luke 8 tells us that it was his only daughter – and his only option left was Jesus. I find both Jairus and the woman to be fascinating people. Their pursuit is admirable. Their faith is amazing. And their aim was the same – restoration.

I have no daughters of my own, but several years of working with girls has given me several that I claim. And I would like to believe that I would do the same as Jairus. Unfortunately, I believe that I am similar to Jairus in another way. It’s not recorded, but I wonder what Jairus thought when Jesus stopped and healed HIS “daughter.” If it had been me, I imagine that my thoughts would have been something like this: “Why are we stopping? Did you forget about my daughter? She’s dying!” And then, to top things off, Jairus was told by someone that his daughter had died. What do you do when you see someone else restored? Do you rejoice with them? Or do you say, “When is it my turn?”

THE LAST PLACE YOU LOOK

When I was looking for my jeans, I was reminded of something my childhood pastor once said, “Of course it’s in the last place you look! Once you find what you’re looking for, why would you keep looking?”  Our search always has a goal. For me, it was a search for jeans. For the woman, it was healing, restoration, and peace. For Jairus, it was to avoid heartbreak – he could not lose his only daughter!

As i looked, I stopped searching long enough to think about where it could be. Then I looked by the couch cover still crumpled in a heap, (if you saw the picture for “Joshua’s Return”, the jeans that I wanted were right next to me then), and I found them! I stopped looking, but I received more than I expected – I received this message.

You could be in a couple of different places with your struggle. Maybe, like Jairus, you are seeing others receive healing while your circumstance worsens. If that’s you, then you need to hear the words of Jesus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe and she will be healed” Luke 8:50b. Jairus could have quit, I suppose. Why bother? His daughter was dead. And maybe someone told you that your struggle has no life left – it’s dead. But Jesus cares about your restoration. So don’t be afraid; just believe and walk with Jesus. He is still right beside you, just like he was before, and your time will come.

Maybe you have reached the point that you have given everything you had. You trusted people who should have helped you, and you only got worse. You feel and look like a mess – this is not what you envisioned. Stop and think – where could it be? The woman in this story had nothing left, but she had heard of Jesus. She had heard about what he had done. If you don’t think that Jesus cares about your healing, you should read the book of Luke. Jesus heals! So if you haven’t already found him like Jairus did, chase him.

I remember one line from my public profession of faith: “I want to relentlessly pursue the One who relentlessly pursued me.” There are times that I do that well, and times when I need to be encouraged. So let me encourage you today: God pursues His children. Remember what Jesus said to the woman once she reached out to him? “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” He didn’t call her “the woman with the issue of blood.” She was called a daughter. If she had not pressed on and pressed in, she would not have heard that. Jairus had also reached the point where no one else could help him or his daughter. And what did Jesus say to Jairus’ daughter, his lifeless daughter? “My child, get up!” Luke 8:54b

Jesus doesn’t just observe your problems, doesn’t just heal without connecting. No, he enters in in a way that is personal for him. When the woman received her healing by touching him, Jesus stopped to see her. You know he looked in her eyes when he spoke. Press in to hear the same. And when it looks like you have every reason to quit, press on. Just because you saw someone else receive their healing is no reason to be discouraged. It is a reason to be ENcouraged! Your time is coming!

Jairus’ daughter and Jesus’ daughter received healing, but Jesus gave them even more – faith. Can you imagine how they both faced future struggles knowing what Jesus had already done? The reason we press on for restoration is to receive what Jesus desires to give, AND to strengthen our faith.  Those victoties become testimonies of faith.

The reason you can find contentment in your struggle is because you can walk with the One who pursued you. And if he is walking in the direction of your restoration, press on and press in. He will give you rest, speak peace into your life, look into your eyes, strengthen your faith, and remind you that you – YOU – are HIS child.

 

 

Rest in Your Struggle

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Philippians 4:11

Scholars agree that Paul wrote the book of Philippians while in prison. It was not the dungeon imprisonment he endured when he wrote 2 Timothy, but likely an in-house imprisonment. He experienced confinement, but also a freedom, for it seems that he could share the gospel with those who came to visit.

How are you doing with your confinement, your struggle? Do you experience the freedom to still honor God within your circumstance? I, for one, struggle with that. For all of the outward patience that you may observe in me, I am internally restless. I (think that I) would like things to happen quickly. But I’m learning to change my pace.

TRASH BAGS

One of the daily needs at the school where I work is to replace the trash bags in the large cans in the cafeteria. I rip at least one daily. i often question the engineering design for those bags. Why can’t they be made with elastic bands? But I do know, in my heart of hearts, that the problem is not the bag. The problem is my pacing. When I move too fast – rip. If I move to slow, the bag keeps losing the grip on the rim. But if I do it right, it works.

We would love to speed up the pace of our difficult moments. Or even slow down the process if we could. But our struggles do not operate on our time. The timing belongs to God. Paul is the same person who gives us the lesson about a “thorn in the flesh.” There are many thoughts on what the phrase refers to, but we do know this: Paul had to learn to live with it.

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.” 2 Corinthians 12:8

But what?

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” 2 Corinthians 12:9a

Paul recognized that there was a purpose to his struggle. It didn’t change his struggle; it changed his focus. I have used the analogy before of our circumstances being like waves – this is the point where you learn to look to Jesus and not the waves.

AS IT SHOULD BE

In November of last year I took a young lady, who was on my caseload, to her court hearing. It was a difficult hearing for a few reasons: her former adoptive parents, whose rights had been terminated, came to the court building due to a clerical error, and the young lady was not allowed to move into a less-restrictive environment in spite of her success. She was hurt.

For months I entered the struggle with her, challenging her to find success. But she failed often. Conflicts with others. Substance abuse. And a desire to run away, which she did on more than one occasion. She would call, and return, and keep trying. Although not officially on my caseload at the time, I felt compelled to attend her hearing in June. She stretched it to the limit by returning from her truancy just minutes before we would need to leave for the hearing.

The actual court hearing felt like a sucker punch to us both because she was ordered to be removed from the program. Strong-willed as she is, she did not go easily. She walked and ran through unfamiliar streets for 90 minutes while her therapist and I went with her to keep her safe. Eventually she was detained, and the therapist and I had three hours to drive back and process the events.

I felt sick to my stomach. How could this be? I had invested so much. She had shared her struggles, and I had been able to share encouragement and truth with her. And it’s all gone just like that? Thankfully I have good friends and good colleagues to hear my struggles, because I needed that outlet. One friend and colleague needed to record a mock therapy session for her class. Fortunately for her, I needed therapy.

We went through the events of that day, and I did my best to not “crack” since it wasn’t real therapy (yes it was, and it was free!) My friend had just completed a mindfulness training, and she told me, “One thing that you can do is remind yourself that everything is as it should be.” No way. That’s not right, is it? Clearly all of the hurt, brokenness, and mess are not how it should be. But as she explained and the thought soaked in, I understood a little more.

No, this mess is not the intent of God’s Creation – it was not in the blueprint. But there was ink spilled all over that blueprint, and God continues to draw. To believe that something should be different, as I did, is to assume that God is making mistakes. I was pretty close to making that accusation in that situation. I had prayed, been obedient, trusting…and it still didn’t turn out how I wanted. How..I…wanted. Hmm. Who would know best? A case manager or a Creator?

SUNRISES

This morning when I brought my sons to school I saw a beautiful sunrise taking shape. I even texted a friend so she could see it. Then, as I pulled on to the highway to go to work, I found three lanes of slow traffic. Much more so than normal. The thought came to me, “The beauty that I enjoy is also slowing me down.” My first response was to feel impeded. Someone or something was in my way. Don’t they know where I have to go?

How often do we do that with our struggles? We see them only as roadblocks, and not as a path to something beautiful. We believe that our agenda and our way are best. But God can use our struggle to show us something even better. In fact, by slowing down, I could see the gorgeous sunrise reflected in a building behind me. Without the pace that I could not control, I would have missed that.

The Son is in front of you, too. Brilliant and beautiful. And if you slow down, you’ll see the Son behind you as well, changing your image and reflecting your future glory. But the pace is not yours. God is in the process of restoration, and we are not the pacesetters in that journey. Finding rest in your struggle is all about your line of vision. If you only see the roadblock, you’ll miss the beauty that’s ahead.

Today I reminded myself that my pain is only preparation. It readies me for what is to come. My next thought was, “I can’t wait to reach the next stage; everything will feel easy.” My immediate next thought was, “Oh, God is probably preparing me for another challenge.” That’s how God works. Restoration brings strength. Paul’s words and sense of contentment came because of his struggles. He had strength that he otherwise would not have had. Why? Because he was obedient in the process. Had he not endured what he did, we would not have read his “secret of being content” (Philippians 4:12)

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13

You don’t have to know the purpose for your struggle, nor how long it will last. You only have to know who stands behind you, beside you, and in front of you. That is enough. Will you, like Paul find some freedom within your confinement? Will you honor God and find contentment?

Lord, we love you, and we desire contentment. Not contentment that comes because of our circumstances, but contentment that comes in spite of them. Be the lifter of our head, so that we can fix our eyes upon you. Amen.

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Joshua’s Return

My small village is all I’ve known. I feel blessed to be a part of such a place. The people are kind, the festivals bring me joy, and the view is amazing. Perched high on a mountain, I love that I can wake up every morning and see a sunrise that few people get to see. I’ve never really ventured far, but I’ve never really had to. Many in my village are farmers. Others hunt. Others know how to make beautiful clothes for me, and the stream that comes down the mountain brings cool, fresh water. I lack for nothing.

Today, out of curiosity, I decided to take a longer walk than normal. I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t see the need. I often go for walks, taking provisions with me and returning before sunset. But today I took a different course, and I love it. I saw a type of deer I’ve never seen. The flowers look bright and beautiful. I saw a lake, and found peace in watching the fish jump out of the water while the dragonflies dance near me.

As I stood up to leave for home, I stepped in water up to my ankles. Surprised, I looked around. The rock I was perched on was surrounded by water and I didn’t even notice. I splashed through the water for ten feet to reach dry ground. The water level must have come up. I turned around to walk home, and felt the water lap my feet again. Startled, I turned back around. The water WAS rising, and quickly. I tried again to set out, but I slipped. Now I’m soaked. I picked myself up to run, and a wave knocked me back down. I gulped water and felt fear for the first time in a long time. I half-walked and half-crawled to get my feet on dry ground. Then I ran. And ran. My peaceful day has turned upside-down.

On top of that, I ran to a place that looked unfamiliar. The shadows started to fall upon me in that valley, and I was genuinely afraid. The water rushed toward me and I made the only choice that I had left. Climb higher. Scrambling up a small foothill, I was able to pause..and rest. I could feel my heartbeat pounding and I took a deep breath. Unfortunately, my attempt to save myself left me worse off than before, for now the place where I was sitting was surrounded by water with no other land in sight.

I felt compelled to look for a way out of the situation, but how? The only familiar thing that I saw was my home village, which was miles away, even as the crow flies. The rising of the swirling waters was no place to jump in. That’s certain death, especially given the distance that I would have to swim. It’s not exactly peace that I feel, but at least I could catch my breath. I tried to think clearly, but there was nothing that I could do to escape my situation. So I sat, and sometimes stood, and often wept.

Nothing about my village prepared me for this. I always felt safe. I always felt loved. Now I could feel danger, and now I was alone. So alone. Not even the birds were flying overhead, and I could see why. Dark storm clouds were advancing as well, and the water kept rising. I had maybe six dry feet of land below me. My day, and my life, may be done. Things I once enjoyed will be no more. People I love will never be seen again. I sat on the ground, pulled up my knees, and dropped my head. Nothing else to say, I whispered, “Help me.”

The water brushed my feet and I assumed that this was the end. Something hard bumped into my shin, which made me look up for the first time in an hour. A canoe? With someone in it?! The man in the canoe looks familiar, but I don’t know why. “Come in,” he said. Still oblivious to my circumstances, I foolishly asked questions before I got in. “Who are you? Why are you here? What are you doing?”

The man smiled and calmly answered each question in turn: “Joshua. You asked for help. To save you.” I shook my head and stood up just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, or already dead. The stiffness in my legs convinced me that I was still alive, and I scrambled into the canoe. As I do, a wave pushed the canoe away and over the place where I was just sitting. I was facing death, and now I have life, courtesy of Joshua.

Joshua silently set a course and drives the canoe across the water. I had so many questions, but where to start? He gracefully answered each question, laughing often and smiling always. He speaks warmly about his father and how his father sent him to save me. “Your father saw me? Where was he? I didn’t see anyone.” Joshua replied, “He saw you and heard your cry for help.”

“What? My what?”

“Your cry for help.”

This launches a new set of questions, and again Joshua answered me clearly and lovingly. I had not even noticed how long we had been in the canoe and still in the middle of water. Joshua explained that his father has always known and loved me. And that his father loves my family. My family! Of course! Where are they? I frantically scanned the horizon to look for home. There it is! And their situation, although not as bad as mine, suddenly looked worse. The water had risen and was closing in on their home – my home. I began to ask Joshua about my family, “Can we…” when a large wave crashed over the canoe and plunged both of us under the water.

I felt something hit the top of my head and saw blood in the water above me. I struggled o find the surface, but the blow to my head and the struggles of the day had left me exhausted. A gasp caused me to gulp water, and I started to sink. My efforts to save myself only seemed to pull me farther down. After all of the events of the day, this must be it. I allowed myself to sink. A little deeper. A little deeper.

Suddenly I could feel myself pulled up from behind. Joshua’s strong arms grabbed a hold of me and pulled me up. But I had gone farther down than I realized. Joshua was wounded and struggling, and I had no strength to save myself or him. But it didn’t feel right allowing him to save me. I struggled to free yourself so I could sink. Joshua should be able to live. Maybe he and his father could help my family. Darkness began to consume me as I faded to black.

But what was that? I could feel a breath enter me and I could open my eyes. Joshua’s eyes were closed, and he was sinking. I felt lighter, and I was rising. The thought crossed my mind to save him, but he was sinking fast. Either I could claim my life or we both would lose it. With a sudden resolve, I forced my way to the surfaceand gulped the air.

What a bittersweet mix of emotions: the shadow of death passed over me and I could feel the exhilaration of life, but the one who came to save me is gone. And, even in that moment, I had to press on or find myself in the same place. The mountainside that holds my village was close, and I pressed fiercely to reach it. As I did, there was the realization that I felt strong again. Stronger, actually. My head didn’t throb in spite of the blow, and my arms and legs moved with new energy. I reached my destination and climbed to a ledge to catch my breath.

I looked back at what was once my favorite view. The view has such a new meaning now – it is now the site of my helplessness, my brush with death, and my rescue. A final scan of the rising water revealed something familiar almost directly below me.  I reached over the ledge to grab it, and I suddenly realized what it was – Joshua’s coat! Again, the bittersweet flood of emotions washed over me. I searched the pockets for some clue about who he was, and maybe how to find his father. If I can ever leave this mountain, I will have to find Joshua’s father. The only thing in the pockets is a letter – addressed to me!

“My father sent me to save you, no matter the cost. I put new life in you so that you can tell your village that I’m coming back for them. The water will keep rising and I will be their only way out. Tell them to meet me where the sun rises. Love, Joshua”

How to process this? How could he..did he know? Did he know he would die? And now he’s coming back? No…that’s impossible! But is it any more impossible than the events of the day? More impossible than the destructive flood, my helpless state, or the miraculous rescue? He said his father sent him and loves my family. He knew where to find me. So it is really impossible to believe that he will return?

That is the place I find myself now. Either I believe the words of the letter, or I don’t. If I don’t, I will take my chances along with the rest of the village, hoping that the waters won’t reach us. But if I do believe… then there’s no time!

My once-safe ledge isn’t. That last wave proved that. I have to go tell them! But I find that the village does not look the way I left it. There are a few who sit in their homes, perhaps unaware of the flood. Yet when I tell them, they assure me that they will be fine. They tell me that their grandparents saw a flood like this before, and that it is impossible for the village to be lost. I have no time to argue. Everyone must be told!

I find others who are packing up and headed down the other side. “Wait!” I shout. “What are you doing? Why are you going down that way?” They respond with smiles, “This looks amazing! We want to experience this!” I see that they have peeled off strips of bark which they must believe they can use as..surfboards? “Wait! No!” I scream and wave at them, but they wave and rush down to the water. I only wish they knew what I know – the power and attraction of the thrill they seek also has the power to take their life. I’m running short on time.

I find some who look nervous and lost. I don’t know what to do. No one has listened to me. With a deep sigh, I whisper, “Help me.” Suddenly I remember the letter. Of course! “Look! Look at this!” I run up to my dear friend and show her Joshua’s letter. “Who is Joshua? Where did this come from?” I explain the day and what we must do. Looking again at the letter, she nods and says, “We have to tell them. They must know!” Around and around we go, showing people of the village the letter from Joshua. And some people believe that he’s coming, but many do not.

I don’t know what else to do but to take this life that I’m given and give it all back while I can. And when I’ve done all I can, we will go and wait in expectancy, and we will watch the sunrise, waiting for Joshua’s return.

Who are you, or where are you, in this story? Are you still safely in the village? Are you in a helpless place by your own choices, or even by no fault of your own? Are you in need of rescue? Or, are you rescued?

We are all Adams and Eves, and we all face the time when night is our day. But will you see the sunrise? The point of the story is not an apocalyptic 2012 theme. It’s a “what are you doing with your time” story? The Hebrew name for Joshua, Yeshua, holds the same meaning as the name Jesus. And his Father does know you, and love you, and desires to save you. The sun (Son) does rise just as we have been promised. And Yeshua will return. So where will you be?

I’d like to encourage you to read this again. It will be like watching a movie a second time – now that you know the ending, the story can take on additional meaning as you apply it to your own life. If there is someone else who should read this, please share it.

*Final note: I had no particular picture for this story as it grew on me today. I shared none of it until I share it with you now. So take a look at the picture –  my oldest son’s handiwork while I rested after dinner. When I woke up, he asked, “Like my present for you, dad?” I couldn’t think of any picture that would be better. Gotta love God’s choreography.

NO Worries

(This is a six-fingers-pointing-back-at-me message. That’s with both hands..)

“The king replied to the astrologers, ‘This is what I have firmly decided: If you do not tell me what my dream was and interpret it, I will have you cut into pieces and your houses turned into piles of rubble.’” Daniel 2:5

Some days I feel about as effective as Nebuchadnezzar’s wise men in Daniel 2. Take today for example: I urged my middle son to wear a warmer coat than what he had chosen. I pointed out the current temperature, the forecast for today, and the two coats he could choose from. He explained his reasons (weak velcro on one, not technically “his” for the other) and declined. Just like when I used to use shampoo, I followed the formula (wash, rinse, repeat). Again he declined.

For those of you who have met my middle son, you know of his strong will. He channels it much better than when he was three (see “loss of hair” above), but he fits his name well. He is a Joshua. So, at 7:20am, I cut bait. I was not winning that battle. And that made me wonder how the rest of the day would go. If I could not convince my own child to dress warmly, what good would I be today?

THIS IS NEW

Just when you think you’ve seen it all – you haven’t. I imagine that Nebuchadnezzar’s wise men enjoyed their work. Hand-picked, well-trained, and consultants to a very powerful ruler. Sounds great! But then Mr. Nezzar (VeggieTales reference) throws out a new one: tell me my dream and what it means. Huh? You heard me..tell me my dream.

At that point, I’d quit. Look up the definition of “mad with power” and find Nebuchadnezzar. Unfortunately, he was serious. When the atrologers protested, they were accused of stalling and threatened with the words of verse 5 above. Obviously incapable of completing the king’s task, all the wise men were ordered to be executed. They were clearly replaceable.

My frame of reference for this would be to ask me to swim across the Atlantic Ocean. First of all, that’s never been done. Second of all, I cant swim. And letter C..you’re crazy. I realized earlier in this school year that I approach problems much like I do swimming, and I’m willing to guess that you do also. Based on your answer to the following question, I could tell you if you are a swimmer or not:

How do you handle conflict?

If you’re anon-swimmer like me, you probably look for quick resolution. If that does not seem to be happening, you start to internally panic, and you bail (or scream). You run back to shore. If you’re an adequate swimmer, it will depend on the situation. If it looks familiar, you’re okay. You will try it. But if it looks particularly difficult, you will only engage the problem for only so long. Strong swimmers approach conflict with confidence and will even try to help others. However, their overconfidence can sometimes be problematic. If you think this analogy is accurate, you would say I should learn to swim. I disagree. I need to learn how to walk.

ONE STEP AT A TIME

Daniel was an Old Testament version of Peter. His boldness is incredible, but it puts him in some precarious positions. After proving himself worthy, he had become one of the members of the king’s Cabinet, if you will. Maybe that helps you to gain perspective on this story. Imagine that the leading story tomorrow is that the President (political affiliation aside) had a bad dream. You wonder why that is a story until you read that he has demanded that his Cabinet members must tell him his dream. Not just the interpretation, mind you, but the dream AND the meaning. That seems strange, but it doesn’t alarm you until you hear that he has ordered the execution of every Cabinet member for failing to deliver. NOW we have issues.

Ok, so as the order goes out for execution, Daniel pipes up. He tells the messenger that he can do it. He can meet the king’s demands. He appears before Nebuchadnezzar and

“The king asked Daniel (also called Belteshazzar), ‘Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?’ Daniel replied, ‘No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come.’” Daniel 2:26-28a

Daniel saw what Peter saw: what’s impossible for me is possible for God. If you finish reading Daniel 2, you will read that this same Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate and honored God EVEN THOUGH Daniel had just declared the eventual destruction of that kingdom. That is what God can do. Peter didn’t step on to the water because of others doing it before. He did it because Jesus did, and Jesus said “Come.”

THERE IS A WAY

Imagine that you live in a city on top of a mountain. And one day you go out for a walk, only to see the valley fill with a great flood, leaving you only a few feet of ground to stand on (Venice, anyone?) and now you are miles away from home. As far as you can see, there is now water. You ‘re stuck. You can see home, but you cannot get there. Then you notice a man walking?, yes walking toward you. He says, ”Follow me, there’s a better place over there.” And he’s pointing to a place where you see only water. What do you do, wait for a boat? If there is someone who can stand OVER the circumstance that surrounds you, will you listen? More importantly, will you follow? You face impossible circumstances every day. And you are right to label them “impossible” if all you are going to do is stay on your rock and mope. But part of finding true rest is to remember your place. And that is one of follower. When Jesus sent out the 72, as told in Luke 10, he didn’t place the burden of EXPECTATION on them. He gave them a robe of OBEDIENCE to wear:

“He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” Luke 10:16

Maybe in your impossible situation, you blame yourself for going out for a walk. Or maybe you’re angry because you’re sure your loved ones can see you, and they don’t seem to be doing anything. Or maybe you sit there watching the fish, waiting for someone else to build a bridge. Guess what? None of that changes your scenery. Look up. Listen and follow.

In a small and simple way, Joshua’s coat was a good reminder for me. When we pulled up to school, he still had his thinner jacket on (I pick my battles) and he said, “I have a warmer coat in Caleb’s locker.” That’s my boy. He was telling me that there had already been something worked out that I could not see. All I did was move forward.

The same was true for the rest of my day. There were waves as I was walking, but God kept me. And then he sat me down at the dinner table for devotions. There a young man, who last week sat on the opposite end from me, came and sat by me and said, “I hope we have a LONG devotions!” After dinner, I took a boy to the gym to get his sweatshirt. I offered to take him because he was the one who did not join us for devotions. We really had not talked before, and his first words to me outside were, “Now when God said…” That’s God! If it were up to me, I would still be in a stand-off with an eleven year old about a winter coat. But I took a step off the rock (which wasn’t comfortable anyway) and God showed up.

Be like Daniel. And Peter. And my Joshua. Go even though you cant see. Go because you hear and you trust. And when someone asks, “Can you?” say “No, but God can.” And He will.