It Wasn’t Supposed to Be Me

It’s 1976.  I’m competing in the Jr. High School District Track Meet at Northwest High school in Indianapolis.  The event is the 660 yard dash, my strength.  I’m crossing the finish line in First place as second place is just coming off the last turn.  It’s just what I did.

It’s now 1977 and I’m on the Varsity Track and Field team, as a Freshman, setting school records for Freshman in both running events and field events.  The distance I was throwing the discus that year would have won the City Championship, had my coach not lost my entry.  I went on to get the first of several Varsity Letters as just a Freshman.  It’s just what I did.

I have always been the Athletic one, the healthy one.  I never smoked cigarettes, I never drank alcohol until well into my adult years, I ate right and with sons in athletics, always had an excuse to get out on the basketball court and remain active and fit.  I was going to live to be 100!  When I found out I had inherited kidney disease and would require a transplant, I accepted the changes I would need to make and the drug therapy required for the balance of my life, a temporary set back, no biggie, just inconvenient.

Then came last Friday, one week ago today.  I knew as I grew older, my prostate was enlarged-normal for men in their 50s. When the physical exam revealed hardness and the subsequent PSA test came back twice acceptable levels, requiring a biopsy, I suspected that may be a biggie.  Still I prayed that everything would come back negative and that I would go on with my healthy life-It’s just what I did.   That was not to be the case.

I’ve spent the week processing the fact that I have cancer, words that don’t sound right in my mouth, words I never ever expected to hear or own-it wasn’t supposed to happen to me. Suddenly I have a keen awareness of the horror of those who have battled this disease, some victoriously on earth and others victorious through death and promotion.  It’s a reality that few desire, one that even fewer anticipate.  I think even as a believer in Christ, a person of faith, these are words that simply knock you off your game until such time as you can regain your balance and head straight into the battle.  As I left the Urologist’s office last Friday, still somewhat in shock, I could almost hear God’s voice asking me, “Okay Son, let’s see if you have learned anything in your 50 plus years of following me”. As I sat in the parking lot, contemplating my next moves, there seemed to be a slight calming assurance as I uttered the words, “Okay God, we got this”.

I’ve been a blogger now for several years with hundreds of blogs being read in dozens of countries, and the theme for most of them, so many that my first book is a compilation of them, is that life knocks us down, sometimes knocking the wind out of us, but that in the end, God always rescues us just in time.  It’s a lesson David knew well as he penned many of the Psalms.  David was honest in venting his frustrations and doubts to God.  As you read through them you will hear him asking, “where are you God” or “why have you abandoned me” or “why don’t you answer when I call or rescue me from my enemies”.  I believe David was like many of us today, having full knowledge and confidence in God’s ability to do the impossible, but not seeing it happen in his darkest hours.  Even our Savior experienced this as he hung on the cross but could not sense the presence of his own Father, who could not be with him as he carried so much sin in his sacrifice.  For many, it seems like God is the farthest from us when we need him the most and cry out the loudest.  But I have heard it said and found it to be true, that the teacher is always silent during a test.

What I love and have tried to learn from David is that in his honest expressions to God, he always came back to what he knew to be true, even if he didn’t feel them or see the evidence right away.  Life’s toughest challenges often result in a disconnect between our heart or emotions, and our mind or intellect.  When we don’t see something or feel something, we tend to believe it no longer exists. We pray urgently for answers but “feel” God has abandoned us.  Since we feel some sort of way, we completely disregard every promise recorded in scripture for our benefit, because our emotions pervert the reality of the truth.  It’s a normal human response.  Consider the Apostles who did life with Jesus, who sat under intimate instruction from the Master, who witnessed miracle after miracle and were even sent out with His authority to perpetrate miracles in His name, and even witnessed just a few days before, the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  But when life got difficult and they watched Jesus die, they all hid in sorrow and fear, forgetting what they knew,  because they couldn’t get past what they saw.  We are much the same.

God graciously and generously equips us with all we need to fight these battles.  Sometimes it’s just a word from a good friend, some sign or scriptural passage, the right song at the right time.  For me, He provided an amazing and beautiful angel, who feels somehow I rescued her when all along she was sent to rescue me.  God sees the road we don’t, knows our weaknesses and compensates ahead of time if we only trust him.  As I endure these life altering challenges, I’m reminded of the passage from 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, which reads:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in ALL our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God”.

I often gest that when things come my way, that it’s just more blogging material. But the truth is that experiencing and surviving the pain of disasters like fire or the hopelessness of unemployment or the ruin of financial security or the sting of divorce, and now the horror of cancer, gives me a very empathetic view of others who have or will suffer the same.  It’s is through a David-like transparency that I write about these things, partially as it’s therapeutic. but more so because I want to offer others hope, to help them refocus on the truth, to repair the disconnect between what they may be feeling at the time and what they still know to be true, that God loves us, that he’s on our side, not against us, that he has our back  in times of distress and that he sees what we don’t, so that we are left with nothing but total trust and reliance on him to face the storms.  I hope to give out comfort as I receive it so that in all things Christ receives glory and we receive life in abundance.  No, I don’t want to be the one chosen as the poster child for survival, but if that’s the plan, let me do it well!

So through much personal prayer, the prayers of countless others around the country and the love and support of my family and a just-in-time heaven-sent angel whose love is more precious than a writer can describe, I have resolved to make cancer my biatch in a very public way so others can go on this journey with me and rejoice with me when I kick its ass!  It may not be contextually accurate, but I really can do all things through Christ, just watch me!  I’m already amending my life’s resume to add “cancer survivor” to it and to pay forward the comfort I receive in the process.  He’s a good, good Father!

And a very Happy and blessed Mother’s Day to all moms.  What priceless gems you are!

 

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An Interview With Christ-The Passion

Forgive me Lord if I seem nervous. I don’t even know for sure how to address you sir.

Relax child, it’s ok. I have over 200 names, including some you’ve never heard. Lord will be just fine.

Ok Lord, thank you. I’m not sure where to begin. I really want to know about that week leading up to your death, what we refer to as your Passion. I have so many questions. When you rode into Jerusalem that last week you had to know what was going to happen to you because as God, you know all things. What was going through your mind? How could you so willingly enter the city where you knew you were going to die?

It was a dark moment for sure, having the knowledge that these same people who were hailing me as a king, shouting “Hosanna” would soon turn on me and be crying “Crucify him”, calling for my death. Being fully man I felt the tinge of betrayal-it stung. And yet it was for these very people that I needed to complete my mission. These were the sick ones, and the only way they could be healed spiritually was through my sacrifice. There was no other option from the beginning. While they were advocating for my death, I was loving them. I loved them too much to turn back.

So Lord, you must have known that when you called Judas to follow you, he too would turn on you. And yet your word says he was sent out as one of the twelve to heal the sick, raise the dead and cast out demons along with the other eleven. How could he operate with that authority if he wasn’t really one of yours and would eventually hand you over to be put to death?

Child, this is where many people confuse sovereign knowledge with predestiny. Just because I knew what Judas would eventually do and how his actions would play into prophecy concerning those last days does not mean he never had control over his thoughts or actions. Judas was sent out with the twelve because there was work to be done in spreading the good news. As an appointee of my spirit he indeed could perform the necessary miracles as my agent. Even today many good things happen in my name through servants whose hearts and ways are not pure. Those who are truly seeking truth should not be deprived just because the messenger is untrue. This was the case with Judas. He alone allowed Satan to enter into his heart, and cause him to turn on me. There are many in your world even now who are guilty of no less. It’s just that when Judas betrayed me it had a history changing impact. Knowing those who will accept and follow me and those who will reject my message does not mean they were unfairly selected against their will. All men have the option of receiving me. Judas eventually opted not to.

Here’s something that confuses me; we read that at times you were fully God, in that you could suddenly slip through a crowd unseen, walk on water, raise the dead, but at other times, like when you were tempted in the wilderness or when you were in the garden praying, you showed you were human and fearful of what was to come. How could you be both? In Gesthemane you prayed for your very life and was tormented to the point of sweating blood droplets. I don’t get it.

I never stopped being the Son of God, and yet the only way my sacrifice could be acceptable for its purpose, was for me to be fully human. I had to become a human high priest so I could enter into the Holy of Holies and offer one final sacrifice, for humans, as a human. I can see how this is confusing to you. If I were to truly be able to relate to my creation, it was necessary that I experience all the emotions associated with mankind. I needed to feel fear, I needed to face mortality, I needed to know the abandonment and the silence of a Father. It is only because I allowed myself to feel these human emotions that I am fully aware and equipped to provide the strength and comfort needed for my children when they face their own doubts and fears. So yes, I never left behind my Godship, and in fact I used it to give me the strength needed to fully experience your “humanship”.

Lord, if it were only necessary that you shed blood and experience death in order to complete your plan, why did you choose to endure such tremendous and tortuous pain instead of a quick easy death? The Romans nearly killed you when they flogged you before you ever got to the cross. I’ve read about how gruesome a punishment this was, and the damage done to the flesh, the muscles and nerves. Why Was this necessary?

The simple answer to that can be found in my book of Isaiah, where it reads that I was to be wounded and bruised for the transgressions or sins of all people before my time on earth and after. I bore the punishment for every lie, every theft, every murder, every heinous act committed by anybody in history. That’s quite a lot of iniquity, I must say. I took those lashes for every Jew killed in Germany, every Christian martyred in history, every child put to death before being born, every lie spoken under oath, every lynching, every act of hatred, every thought of malice, every single act that goes against the holy life I request. When you take on the sins of the whole world for all history, the punishment must fit the crime. With each lash, I forgave, with each drop of blood, I cleansed sin, with each open wound, I provided healing, even to those holding the whips. I received lashes so all could be healed from diseases like cancer, so deaf could hear and so blind could see. I understand that this may be beyond your ability to comprehend, which is all right-you simply need to accept it. It is only through bloodshed that sacrifices are received. I gave mankind every last drop I had once and for all-it was never intended to be an easy process.

Lord you tell us that we should be willing to take up our own crosses and follow you. I read somewhere that the cross beam weighed between 80-100 lbs. and that you were expected to carry it over 600 yards uphill while it tore into your open wounds with each step. The pain must have been unbearable! Why would you want us to do the same thing? Do you really expect us to suffer in the same way and to the extent you did?

It’s true that carrying your own cross is a tough assignment, but some have misconstrued what I am asking. In Roman times, when I was sentenced to death, the cross was always seen and understood to be their symbol of death. When I suggest you take up your cross, I am not asking you to bear the weight of suffering as I did, but rather to be willing to die to yourself so that you may become alive to me. Remember my words, “whoever wants to save their life must lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it”. In every way my followers must be willing to die to themselves, and in many cases, die a physical death, but the eternal rewards are priceless compared to the temporary joys of living to themselves. Following me means putting to death all ways and desires that go against my teachings. It is only when you die to yourselves that you can live through me.

Can I ask about the cross? We have all seen images or paintings of you hanging on the cross. Sometimes you are made to look very peaceful as if you weren’t feeling anything or were in some type of altered state, while others and even movies show you were in great torment and agony. What was it really like? Could we aver fully understand what you were going through?

Child, there was nothing peaceful about my death on the cross. It was the most gruesome form of capital punishment known and perfected by Romans for ultimate suffering and cruelty. I knew how horrific it was going to be when I am quoted in the Psalms, “I am poured out like water and my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax within me and has melted away. My strength is dried up and gone and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs surround me, evil men circle me; they pierced my hands and feet. I can see and count all my bones. People stare and mock me. They gamble for my garments”. And in Isaiah it is said that I am so severely tortured I no longer resemble a human form. There is nothing peaceful or divine in the way I suffered on the cross for you. I could not breathe due to the way I was suspended by the nails with all my weight hanging there, and when I tried to push myself up using my feet, just so I could catch a breath, the pain and pressure on the numerous nerves in my feet that were destroyed by the nails was excruciating. And yet even with all the pain that was almost rendering me unconscious, the most painful part were the hours that my Father and I were separated because of the filth of the sin I bore-I had never been abandoned by Him before that and it tore at my heart to not feel His love and companionship. I truly experienced Hell during those hours of our separation. It hurt me and caused a much deeper pain than the wounds from my flogging and nails mercilessly driven into my hands and feet.

My Lord, you’re right, I can’t begin to imagine what that was like for you. I’m so sorry. My heart breaks even now, but I still have questions, if it’s ok. Your last words on the cross were “it is accomplished”. What did you mean? What did your torture and death accomplish?

You may want to sit down for this one-it will take some explaining. Of all the verses I left for you, those three words changed everything forever. When I said “It is accomplished”, it carried much weight and meant so much in both Earthly and Heavenly realms. First, it sealed and completed the perfect plan, the will of my Father set from the beginning of time. He sent me for one purpose only, to suffer and be crucified, the perfect sacrificial lamb for the remission of all sin. I accomplished my Father’s will. Secondly, the word used for this was often used in those days to indicate a debt had been satisfied or paid in full. If the wages of sin are indeed death, someone had to die to pay the punishment or penalty for those sins. With my death, I paid the full price for the rest of history so that all peoples could accept the gift of forgiveness and eternal life without themselves having to die to pay that price. I accomplished and paid that debt. Third, that same word is sometimes used to indicate the end of a period and the beginning of another one. My death and sacrifice ended the age once and for all when blood sacrifices were required to atone for sins, and it began the age when my grace which I purchased for you with my own sacrificial blood would now be the only way and only requirement to be restored to my Father. I and I alone fulfilled and completed the Old covenant so that the New covenant of my blood would once and for all time cover your sins. I accomplished the will of my Father, I accomplished paying the debt in full for sin and I accomplished fulfilling the law and instituting grace. So you see child, when I cried out “it is accomplished” I changed the world forever!

I see now what you mean. Those were indeed three very weighted words. And after you said them, all kinds of strange events occurred. The one I wonder about is the dead people already in their tombs coming back to life and walking the earth. Why did that happen?

I guess in my own way I wanted to remind them just who I was and what I was capable of. You see, many of those who had shouted for my death were present when I raised my good friend Lazarus from the dead. How quickly you people forget things even when you see them with your own eyes. I knew that I would conquer death and come back to life in three days so that many would see and believe, but I wanted to display to them first, that they did not take away my life as they suspected and celebrated, but that in fact I willingly laid it down for them knowing I could take it back up at any time. But I also wanted them to know that I alone had the power over death and resurrection so I showed them this by bringing back those who were known to be dead, some buried and entombed by the very people watching me die on the cross. Only after I breathed my last breath did many of those present understand who I truly was. The dead lived again, the decayed were restored. This is the best meaning of your Easter-new life found only through me.

Lord, there is a lot of confusion on where you went when you were in the tomb. Some say you went to hell to stole away the keys of death from Satan and some say you went elsewhere. Where were you while your body was in the tomb?

I left several clues and indications for you in my words. To the repentant thief who died with me that day, I said he would be with me in Paradise, not hell. Paradise in my Word means Heaven. And when I died you recorded my words, “Father, into your hands do I commit my spirit”. Do you suppose my Father was in hell? Of course not. At that moment I and my Father were once again united. My Father can not dwell in the presence of sin. So Heaven is implied here as well. And my servant Paul also recorded the words that to be absent in the body, for believers, is to be present with the Lord. You will find no passage in my Word that indicates my enemy was ever given the keys of death. I alone posses those. And ministering to those fallen angels and those who were dead as in the times of Noah, I see that you are puzzled by this. It is only confusing to you in that you have placed a very short time on this passage and have neglected that I was alive in the days of Noah and was preaching to them through him. I have always preached to the dead in the spiritual eternal realm of existence. It is not limited to a three day period of being in the tomb. I was spared from decay. I did not descend into hell as punishment. I did not wrestle away something I already possessed and displayed when the dead came back to life when I died on the cross. I hope this clears it up a bit for you.

Lord when you did come back to life and appear to people, some, even your own disciples, refused to believe even though they could see you. Why did even your own followers not believe you would rise again from the grave?

Yes this troubled me greatly. I once rebuked them for not believing I would rise again. Man tends to have short memories. They had just witnessed my ability to restore life after death and decay, but they didn’t remember. Some of them thought that as the Messiah I would be a mighty conquering type of a Jewish King who would deliver them, but after they witnessed how I endured such severe punishment and torture with no defense, I believe they simply lost their faith in me, as if my power and authority had somehow been removed, rendering me helpless. They never understood that I allowed every bit of it to happen. I even reminded them one last time in the garden when the Jewish leaders and their guard came to arrest me. At my words, they all fell backwards. I gave them many hints and special insight as my followers that I was the Son of God, but when tragedy struck, they were overcome by fear. Fear sometimes leads to doubt and memory loss. I did exactly what I had told them I would do, but they did not remember my words when faced with their own fear and mortality. Even my enemies who put me to death remembered I had declared I would rise again after three days, and they requested my tomb be guarded.  The enemy knows my words even when my followers sometimes forget. My servant Thomas is sometimes called the Doubter, but the truth is at first they all doubted. It was only after they could see me and touch me that their faith returned. I blessed them for it, but suggested that those who would follow me later even though they would never physically see me, would be even more blessed than they. To their credit, when their faith was restored, with my help they changed the world.

My Lord, thank you for all you did for us. We will never be able to measure the depth of love you must have for us to endure things that we can’t even imagine. I never want your Passion to become just a story to me. I still want to know so much more, but I’d like to give you the final words for this interview. Please feel free to share your heart for us as we enter into our Easter reflections.

Bless you child. You pretty much already have all my heart recorded in my Word. Remember, I am the author. You are right when you say you will never understand the immeasurable love I have for you. Much has changed since my sacrifice, but much remains the same. There are still many today who profess to be my followers but have cold hearts. You could never know they were my disciples by their actions or their words. I warned people that at some point men would become lovers of themselves and their own words, and that they would lead many others away from the truth with false misrepresentations of my words and character. I still weep over cities when I see the evil that takes place on their streets. I still feel the tinge of betrayal when one of my own sheep leaves the pen and refuses to return. I am saddened when I hear one brother cut down another over insignificant differences or ideas. And I am angered when my people pervert my words to make them into a more non-offensive version that looks nothing like my original intent and meaning. And yet my arms remain open to receive all who admit their need of me. It is my desire that all people would come to the reality of my truth, my sacrifice, the high price paid for their redemption and the eternal joy and reward of following me and living a full and abundant life according to my ways. I would that everyone who remembers me when you recall my sacrifice would be in awe of who I am and who they have now become through my blood, my death and my resurrection. You are in a world full of darkness. It is important now more than ever before that each of you be a light in your dark corners so that I may be glorified through your lives and that they may be drawn to me through my spirit alive in you. Don’t quickly forget my words as you live out your faith. Your fruit will bear witness to my love and reality. As it is written, I loved the world so much that I gave my own life so that anyone who believes in me can be saved and restored to an everlasting life with me in my Father’s house. Don’t lose heart, I really am coming back for those who are mine. I love you with a never-ending infinite love. I have since the beginning of time.

Why Wasn’t the Queen of Soul Healed?

This morning the world awoke to news that Aretha Franklin, The Diva, The Queen of Soul had succumbed to her illness with her family at her side. This is in spite of the numerous prayer vigils and intercessions on her behalf for a miraculous healing by leaders many would consider righteous.  The resulting question common when a loved one dies from any illness is this-why didn’t God heal them, or more specifically, why does God heal some in ways that leave doctors scratching their heads but allows others to pass into an eternal life removed from our presence?

As I research this common question my stomach turns at the answers given by some who claim expertise in this area.  They tout numerous reasons, all having to do with the person who is sick or those praying on their behalf.  Those reasons would be a lack of faith, some unconfessed sin in their life, not getting along with their spouse and therefore unqualified, and on and on.  However, there is only one answer to this age old question, and it’s not a popular one-WE SIMPLY DON’T KNOW!

It seems like a grand copout to assert this thing called Sovereignty when trying in vain to explain how or why God chooses to respond to certain prayerful petitions and not others.  It’s difficult to tell a parent that God is in control when their child is slowly fading away from cancer, or to tell a grieving widow that her husband isn’t suffering anymore because he died prematurely.  But the truth, as hard as it is to accept, is that God has a plan, a purpose and a number of days for each life, and that while he may not dictate every illness, everything is ultimately under his custody and control, and at his will.

The Apostle Paul is an often cited example of God’s sovereignty.  He was miraculously healed of a poisonous snake bite that should have claimed his life in one chapter, but denied healing from a vision condition, or a thorn in his flesh in another chapter.  God’s answer was simply that his grace was sufficient for Paul to endure without healing. In another event Paul’s closest helper Timothy was afflicted with a stomach issue.  Paul didn’t lay hands on him to heal him but instead recommended some wine to ease the symptoms.  Paul was a man of faith who didn’t always heal and wasn’t always healed!

I am inspired by two stories of uncanny faith and endurance in the midst of terminal illnesses.  The first is that of Tommy Paino III, a third generation pastor from a family in the Midwest many regard as evangelistic royalty.  Tommy was diagnosed with ALS not long into his Sr. Pastor status of a church in Indiana.  This Pentecostal-influenced family believed and practice healing and witnessed many miracles in their ministry.  But all prayers for Tommy’s healing went unanswered, as we define earthly healing.  Tommy continued to minister even after he was confined to a wheel chair.  He wanted his congregation to see that healed or not, God’s grace allowed him to function, but not before he wrestled with his own questions, anxiety, anger, fear and even faith.  When he could no longer speak his wife kept a journal on his behalf.  You can read his story in a book entitled Welcome Home Tommy by Marilyn Ryerson.  Tommy went on to be with the Lord in 1999 without receiving his earthly healing but many lives were changed as a result of them seeing what God’s grace looks like in the darkest of times.

There is another story a little closer to home.  Stephanie was the daughter and granddaughter of dear friends of mine. She had recently married, was an elementary school teacher and was excited at the prospect of her new life when the news came that no one ever wants to hear.  Cancer.  It was at first limited to her ovaries but over time it seemed elusive and would eventually ravage most of her young body, spreading to her brain and eventually her stomach .  We prayed, we fasted, we interceded on her behalf, anointed her, confessed deliverance, all the faith things we are taught to do at such a time, but those prayers went unanswered.  Like Tommy Paino, Steph kept a journal of her ordeal as well, and it was every bit as inspiring. The following is one of her last journal entries:

“Good morning! First I’d like to thank God for giving me this opportunity to share the

beautiful love story he is writing through my life. Words can not express my complete

wonder of the unconditional love he has for me.”

That doesn’t sound like someone facing the reality of her own pending mortality.  This sounds like Paul or Peter, full of boldness and grace, fighting the fight of faith against the worst of odds. But wait, there’s more.  She sent the following text to some ladies in her church, again displaying unimaginable grace considering her circumstances:

“Hi ladies! Believe it or not my life is coming to an end. Could be end of this

week, next, who knows, Ry knows more. I’m in i.c.u. and was unable to get

the tube yesterday because my abdomen is full of cancer. We are calling

home hospice in. I have a will and power of attorney. I’ve decided to not do

the Palm thing, but be cremated and do a celebration of life at Hope and

then spread my ashes near the Hotel Del in San Diego. Can only have family

at i.c.u., but will see you when I get home. God has a plan, and it’s a good

plan! I love you!”

She went on to her reward about a week later.  She never received her healing even though thousands were interceding on her behalf.  Could God have healed her-of course, with God all things are possible.  Did he? No. Why? We simply don’t know, but we do know lives were changed as they witnessed her fearless and triumphant entry into eternity.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect to this challenging question is the evidence you witness personally.  We had an extended family member who was given the devastating news that she didn’t have long due to a terminal illness.  I did what we are instructed to do, that is lay hands on her and pray for her healing.  Miraculously one week later she attended my birthday party and went on to live a couple more years.  When you experience God’s healing power first-hand and then see other times when that power is withheld for reasons only known to God, it does cause you to question aspects of faith.  We can quote every healing scripture recorded and still not witness earthly miracles.  It can be crippling if you choose to engage in the mental torment for any extended period of time. But, God’s grace is truly sufficient.  Tommy and Stephanie would both say the same if they could.

One thing we do know for sure; in Heaven there will be no pain, no tears, no heartache, no sickness, no cancer no ALS, no premature death!  We will be ultimately and eternally healed from all earthly afflictions.  It is our eternal hope and the reason we press forward when nothing else makes sense.  I am facing my own physical challenge and the future for me is anything but certain. But God…  Rest in the knowledge of His unlimited grace and mercy-rejoice in the hope of eternal reunions, continue to believe in a God of miracles but don’t lose heart when those miracles aren’t clear to us in this life.

 

 

Asking God Questions Doesn’t Make You Weak

My last blog dealt with the hard truth about God’s occasional silence and apparent disengagement in some of the darkest times of life.  While many replied with their appreciation for letting them know they were not alone in their frustration in some vain attempt to discern the mysterious ways in which God operates, some voiced concerns that I had lost my religion or was turning from the faith.  This is one of the problems I have with the modern evangelical approach, the raised-brow responses because some don’t walk around humming Oceans all day long.

If you are a serious student of the Bible, digging deeper than just jotting down notes from the weekend sermon, you should be able to name a few men we consider Biblical heroes who, at some time in their journey, questioned God.  For those who get their religion from television, let me name them for you.  You will see that when I ask God questions to which I know I will not receive answers, I am in good company.

We all know about Job, described as the most holy man on earth in his time.  Job never neglected God and offered sacrifices for his family so that God would favor and forgive them.  And yet God allowed every one of his children to perish as a test of faith.  Job had questions in the midst of his trials.  His ultimate response to God, “It would have been better if I had not been born“.  I don’t hear him singing Good Good Father in that moment.

David, described as a man after God’s own heart, was forced to flee for his life and live in desert caves.  He had been told he was the anointed one to succeed Saul, but wondered if he would live long enough to see it come to pass.  His response, “Why have you abandoned me?  Why have you hidden your face from me?”  Of course God was with him, but David didn’t sense it-he could only respond to the reality of the eminent danger he was facing at the moment.  No Relentless Love playing in the background of this scene.

Jonah ran from God because he didn’t want to be the prophet to tell Nineveh they were going to die for their wicked ways.  After coming to his senses and being regurgitated onto a beach along with the entire stomach contents he had lived in for three days, he obeyed and prophesied to Nineveh, only to see God have compassion and change his mind.  Jonah felt he had been tricked and used and that his credibility as a prophet was now tarnished.  His response, “I’m so angry I wish I were dead“.

Elijah was chased into the desert by Jezebel who wanted him dead.  Elijah, who would live to see God do amazing things through him ended up in the desert under a tree, wondering why he was being so severely tested after he had been nothing but obedient.  His response, “I’ve had enough-I give up God, just take my life.”  I don’t think he was sensing the double portion in the desert.

Joseph, my namesake, was sold into slavery by his own brothers.  He ended up a servant in Potiphar’s estate.  When Potiphar’s adulterous wife threw herself at Joseph and begged him to give it to her good, Joseph literally fled the devil and ran from temptation only to be falsely accused of rape and ended up in prison.  A prisoner for 13 years when he had done nothing wrong.  I’m sure Chain Breaker was not the first song on his lips.

And then there is Jesus, God’s only Son, perfect and blameless, sent to fulfill a mission no one else would ever be qualified to fulfill.  And yet, He sweat drops of blood in Gethsemane asking God to relieve him from his duties.  His ultimate response, hanging from the cross, our Lord and Savior, our eternal hope, our namesake, asked his Father, “Where are you?  Why have you forgotten about me and left me alone?” 

Like I stated, I am in good company!

While it’s true that believers should be role models for faithful living, the life of living from mountaintop to mountaintop that is portrayed by several leaders, with anything less being a sign of something in our spiritual lives that has gone awry, is quite simply a mischaracterization and gross misinterpretation of the Christian life.  In many ways being and remaining Christian is a much tougher road than that of a nonbeliever. We are promised that if we want God’s best, we will have troubles, we will be sorely tested and challenged, we will be refined by fire itself and some will have their lives turned upside down.  Who in their sanity would ever truly welcome that kind of a life?  The beloved 23rd Psalm states that we will walk through, not over and not around, the valley of shadows and death.  It also makes no mention of how many times we will find ourselves there or how long we will be forced to journey through it each time.  If someone in their raw transparency asks the tough questions of God when they are in their own valley, they should not be looked down upon as being weak-they should not have people sending them the latest videos of salvation sermons du jour or be added to the local prayer chains over their backslidden status.

God designed us all as free moral agents so that we would choose to love and worship him.  That comes with the compulsion to ask God questions we want answered, even knowing we may never ever see the purpose or the good that results from being allowed to face difficult life-changing situations.  Sometimes when we look back we can connect the dots, sometimes their is no clear connection or pattern and we just have to carry on.  That doesn’t make us bad or weak or even ineffective-it makes us wholly real!  I have already resigned myself to the fact that I won’t know the answers to my questions until the day comes when the answers will no longer be important.  Until then, I hope to let people know it’s okay to have serious questions.  And yes, lest someone beat me to it, all the examples of men I cited above eventually came to their spiritual senses and were restored, but not before their words and doubts were recorded for us.  Now if they were all such bold men, why do you think the scribes of the Bible were inspired to include their times of questioning?  Something to ponder.

When God Simply Doesn’t Answer…

It’s 2:00 AM any day of the week.  I should be strolling the streets of Dreamsville like most normal people, but I am wide awake.  Sleep eludes me once again like the betrayal of a good friend, leaving me with nothing but night haunts-questions with no answers, situations with no solutions.  I should be accustomed to it by now-it’s been going on so long, but each night brings new frustrations of its own as the only peace to be found is within sleep that won’t come.

I have always attempted to write from a transparent perspective, the emotions and feelings still raw from the latest battle.  But with each post I strive to leave the reader with hope, with words of empowerment and encouragement so they can use my experiences as added weapons against the forces that seek to destroy or at least cripple the believer.  My writings aren’t flowery clichés suitable for inspirational greeting cards.  They are honest, because regardless of the façade we put on for the world to see, God knows the heart and sees the fears and doubt.  I want my readers to know it’s natural and okay to have questions in the midst of fierce battles.  Anyone who would question our faith when we are being sorely tested, is not being honest and true to the process and workings that are allowed for our growth.  But that said, there are those times, those long dry seasons which seem like an eternity, when our prayers go unanswered, our cries fall silent and our petitions are denied.  Every Christian has or will go through these agonizing seasons-mine is going into its fifth year.

There seems to be an unending string of Biblical promises that encourage us to boldly approach God with our needs-“ask and it shall be give, seek and you will find“, or “ask anything in my name and it will be done“, or ” seek first God’s kingdom and all these things will also be added“, or “if you have faith even as small as a mustard seed, you can command mountains to be moved into seas“, and on and on.  As believers, we are compelled to accept God’s words as Gospel, sealed promises available to all who ask, and for the most part we do believe.  What other recourse would we have accept to believe.  And yet all too often, we seek God in desperate situations and plead for his involvement only to be met with the silence of the universe.  It’s not as if we are only petitioning God for material things like more income, bigger homes, favorable investment returns.  No, many of us seek God for much more important and often intangible answers.  We ask that he help save a failing business and the jobs of our employees but receive no response and watch the business be ripped from our grasp.  We beg God in earnest to help heal broken marriages and prevent families from being torn apart, only to end up in family court filing for a divorce we didn’t want because God seemed deaf to our cries.  We plead and fast in hopes that he will come to the rescue of seriously sick family members, knowing from stories left for us in scripture of his miraculous power to heal, only to say our earthly goodbyes to departed loved ones who left us seemingly prematurely.  We agonize over the eternal salvation of family members who never attend church services with us because they just can’t believe.  And many of us travel this life alone, scarred from the wounds of past relationships, but willing to expose ourselves to the vulnerability required to love again, but finding it to be as elusive as the sleep we chase.  Sometimes, God simply doesn’t answer us.

How I wish I could tell people how to navigate these dark roads of life in a way that gives more confidence, but I don’t have those neatly packed 3 step solutions.  Oh, many others will tell us exactly what we are doing wrong.  We don’t have “enough” faith.  Or we aren’t using the right combination of religious words or phrasing to get God’s attention.  Or, we must have some secret sin hidden in our life that makes our prayers ineffective-didn’t sow some financial seed offering to assure our blessings like the days of old before Martin Luther, or, we didn’t use the exact phrase “In Jesus name”.  As silly as these suggestions may appear on the surface, we can’t help but search for some validity in them as we compare our life situations to those in our circle who breeze through life on a spiritual high seemingly untouched by the challenges that are our closest friends.  Surely, we are doing something wrong, aren’t we?

The danger of human intellectual honesty is that it opens the door that leads from the room of doubt into the halls of unbelief, the opening our enemy is waiting for.  Maybe God doesn’t really love us all the same and wouldn’t leave the ninety-nine just to save the one. Maybe we don’t deserve the promises recorded in scripture because God knows all the sins of our past better than anyone.  Or worse, maybe none of it is real.  Just typing those words causes my heart to skip a beat.  God forgive me.  As difficult and trying as life’s trials and as discouraging to feel our cries fall short of his ears, the one thing worse is the thought that there is no God, no Son, no Spirit and that it’s a two-thousand year old hoax.  As Paul wrote, if there is no real eternity or hope, what a miserable existence we have.  We can’t allow the validity of the Gospel to be hijacked by the unreliability of our feelings and skewed perspectives when we are in storms that never end and which limit our spiritual vision to earthly and human limitations.  We are not the first to question God’s silence when we need him the most-David felt it-Joseph went through it, we all know Job’s story, even Jesus experienced God’s deafening silence.  It doesn’t make me feel better about these past few years-if anything, knowing and believing in God’s sovereignty only adds to the frustration during his non-responsive seasons.  But our only hope is in him and the persuasion of his spirit to prod us forward and guide us when we can’t see the road ahead.  If and when we give up that hope, we give validity to the questions and doubts, something that is simply not an option.

I hope you understand that you have much company in these seasons. This may not have been a post that leaves you feeling fuzzy and cozy, but it’s our feelings and our attention to them that gets us to these low points.  It’s our knowledge of God and his ways that will ultimately pull us through.  Let it be so, and soon.

Saturation-The Myth of Chasing God

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Lately I’ve been on somewhat of a campaign against some questionable teaching and doctrine.  There are catch phrases and clichés we use in the religious vernacular without giving it much thought-I’m guilty too.  One of those is the concept of the believer chasing after God, as if they have somehow drifted away.  Is it really possible for an engaged believer to move away from God?

It doesn’t matter how long you have walked in the faith-there will be times when you doubt God’s presence, when you sense abandonment and are tricked into believing God has left you on your own.  Trust me when I say I know how easy it is to feel this way when everything you thought was solid suddenly crumbles under your feet and you are left wondering what the hell just happened.  Many are the times that God’s silence in the middle of severe testing is misinterpreted as God’s departure, and that is not sound Biblical teaching.  We are compelled to accept our feelings and emotions as reality and the only departure is that of our way of thinking in light of God’s Word.

First, believer and follower or not, God is omnipresent.  He is everywhere, all the time and at the same time, like the oxygen in our atmosphere.  He saturates everything.  This implies that He is also in us, through us and around us always.  I used in my title the word saturation. It is the perfect term relative to God’s existence in and around His children.  Saturation literally means to be in a state or process when no more of something can be absorbed, combined with or in any other way added to!  What a great concept of God! If I were to use the sponge as an illustration, it would go like this.  I can take a dry sponge and drop it into a sea of water.  It will float on the surface for a time until it slowly begins to absorb water.  The dry sponge would be the one seeking God but not yet committed.  As the seeker begins to accept His grace and reality he slowly absorbs the truth and the saturating essence of God until at the point of total acceptance, he is fully saturated and sinks to the depths of God’s goodness.  He is full of water.  He can come under attack by any one of the sea’s natural predators and believe he is no longer wet or that God has left him but his perception doesn’t change the reality-he is saturated by a God who doesn’t leave or separate from us when we are feeling otherwise.

Consider these irrevocable promises recorded for our encouragement for those times when we question God’s presence;

Psalm 139:7-12 Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea…

Jeremiah 23:23-24 “Am I a God who is near,” declares the LORD, “And not a God far off? “Can a man hide himself in hiding places So I do not see him?” declares the LORD “Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” declares the LORD.

Isaiah 43:2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you

Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

Matthew 28:20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

1 Corinthians 3:16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

1 John 3:24 The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.

Popular recording artists The Newsboys recorded a song entitled Wherever We Go, and talks about God always going with them.  I like the line, “Wherever we go, that’s where the party’s at”.  When it comes to our way of thinking about the impossibility of escaping or running out of God’s presence, it is much more sound doctrine than you could ever imagine!

 

 

 

My Fig Leaves

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Now that I have your attention…in publishing my blog my objective has always been to be transparent in confessing personal faults, failures, challenges, etc. so that maybe one or two readers might be spared the pain of learning lessons others have already benefited from. Some weeks are more difficult to post than others depending on the subject matter or the freshness of the wounds or hurt.  This may be one of those weeks.

We all have heard the story countless times.  God tells Adam to stay away from just one tree but instead he yields to a tempting Eve and disobeys a directive meant for his benefit.  Genesis 3 reads that Adam and Eve became aware of their nakedness and sewed together fig leaves to cover their exposure.  But then something deeper happens that we often overlook.  When God is calling Adam out of the garden Adam’s reply is that they were afraid and hid so that God would not see that they were naked.  However, Adam and Eve had already created and were in fact wearing their fig garments when they heard God’s voice.  So we must ask if Adam was afraid of exposing his genitalia or was he hiding something much deeper?

The fig leaf has always been used figuratively as symbolic of covering something up that may be distasteful or embarrassing. In more recent times the fig leaf is used metaphorically as an attempt to cover up something that is only a token gesture as the object being covered is still obvious and for the most part exposed. Fig leaves can be as long as ten inches and as wide as six inches.  However when they are cut from the tree they exude a sticky gel like substance that can be quite uncomfortable when coming in direct contact with skin.  To go to the lengths of covering up one’s “nakedness” with something so uncomfortable must somehow relay the desperation of attempting to hide something really ugly or shameful.

I am a shirt guy.  I buy shirts like women buy shoes. I have easily 200 shirts in various closets.  I’m a shirt whore. But I also have some fig leaves that I wear in certain situations so that my faults and failures are not overly exposed.  Allow me to explain. The mother of my sons and I divorced in 1996.  Say what you may about the reasons that led up to that painful decision, the divorce for me represented a failure-something I lost control of and did not cultivate enough to save.  It was perhaps my first fig leaf.

I have been blessed with three young men as sons who are unique and individual whom I love dearly.  But I was not a great father. I worked too much, I was absent for certain events, I didn’t spend nearly enough quality time with them, and I could go on.

Three fig leaves.

I was blessed with an opportunity to own my own business but in less than two years was forced to give it back to the creditors because of fierce industry competition and mismanagement on my part.  I am still paying the price for that failure and increasing my fig leaf wardrobe. Through obstacles and life challenges I have not handled well I have developed or rather allowed to surface a deep resentment, a sometimes bitter attitude, an unexplainable anger and deep feelings of frustration and doubt even when trying to rely on my faith in God’s grace and strength as my only recourse. Yet another fig leaf.  I could relay many similar stories of past mistakes, miscues and missteps that have added to my hidden fig leaf closet. I have much to hide, much that I fear admitting to the world and much I am ashamed of for fear of being exposed. My loins, my legs and most of my torso are covered in unseen fig leaves.

When God called out to Adam He knew exactly where he was hiding and why.  And as Adam had tasted of the tree of he Knowledge of Good and Evil, he most likely knew God was on to him.  Any attempt to cover his nakedness before God was futile.  It was just a token gesture of modesty before a God who sees everything beneath.

Jeremiah 23:24; “Can a man hide himself in hiding places so I don’t see him?  Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?”

Hebrews 4:13: “There is no creature hidden from His sight but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.”

God knows us inside and out, our fears, our lusts, our hurts, our doubts-nothing remains hidden from Him.  Any attempt to cover ourselves is futile.  But perhaps what is more significant is the thought process or reasoning behind our fear of being exposed to Him. Through the sacrifice of His Son and the dispensation of unending grace through our belief in the same we are set free from the chains of guilt and shame of our shortcomings.  While our approach should be one of humble reverence and confession, our lifestyle should not resemble sackcloth and ashes, or sticky fig leaves.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God”…Romans 5:1

“My grace is sufficient for you and my power made perfect in your weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly (and not hide behind fig leaves) about my weakness so that Christ’s power may rest on me”. 2 Corinthians 12:9.

Some of us may be in a season where we are not only covered in fig leaves but are hiding in the belly of a dark cave.  We may be facing questions with no answers, situations with no solutions and a future where we can’t see any ray of light because of present darkness. The tears may be uncontrollable, or you may have few left. The intangible faith in an unseen God may be a real struggle for some, but the hope and the promises of a loving and merciful God can not be withheld from us even when we hide.  Clothing  trends may come and go but fig leaves have never been fashionable.  Be clothed instead in grace and mercy, an ensemble that all believers share and is never out of style.