• Serendipity




    1. the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way: “a fortunate stroke of serendipity” ·

    Have you experienced serendipity lately? If you have to think about it, the answer is probably no. It’s not something you go looking for; it sneaks up on you and catches you when you least expect it. When it happens, it changes your whole day, week, or whatever time period you choose. It throws you slightly out of kilter, in a good way.

    The picture above is a good example. It was taken several years ago at a car show in our town. It was the last afternoon of the show, and the weather decided to stop cooperating and started a light drizzle. The background for the picture couldn’t have been more perfect. Serendipity-things we love, like this beautiful old Model A Ford with the matching trailer. Serendipity is what makes for spectacular photography as well as joyful moments in life.

    Serendipity can involve anything, from getting ‘stuff’ you wanted but never expected, to finding ‘the one’ who brings you joy for the rest of your life, to even having a narrow escape from calamitous circumstances. It could be having the money to pay the bills show up at just the right time. It can be something as simple as waking up early to a beautiful sunrise. Serendipity can disguise itself in hundreds of ways, but it always results in joy.

    I firmly believe God likes serendipity, only in His case it’s by design and believers usually call it Providence, miracles, or something similar. Nonbelievers consider it luck, chance, or coincidence. Because of our limited vision and understanding the events seem random and just happen to work out the way we desired. We can’t see the design behind it, so we’d rather pass it off to impersonal forces that happened to line up right.

    The most important times of serendipity in my life I consider anything but “chance” or “coincidence”. The odds of an impersonal universe arranging all the variables it took for me to find and marry my wife are so astronomical as to make the lottery look like a “lock”. Two people, from two completely different cultures and families (and yes, Northern and Southern cultures are very different cultures), meeting at a college in a state where one of them had never been, on the very first weekend the Northerner set foot on campus. In fact, the Northern kid hadn’t even planned to attend college there, but circumstances lined up to convince him that’s where he needed to be. I’m not a gambler so I don’t know how to lay odds (I was never very good at statistics, either), but I’d be willing to say they’re in the neighborhood of about a gazillion to one. Way too high for chance or luck to adequately explain it.

    God loves to give good gifts to His children, sometimes even when they don’t seem to be gifts at all. He wants us to enjoy His creation, because it has His image stamped all over it. This world, the universe, even us, are all designed to point us back to Him. And the moments of serendipity are designed to remind us that He is still with us, and He loves and cares for us.

  • Waiting on God Under Fire

    I haven’t written anything here in over a month, because I felt as though I’ve had nothing of worth to say. The past few weeks have been a time of emotional and spiritual wound healing, dealing with the reality of who I have been, and a process of purification and refining which is ongoing. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s when God is working on you, the best response is to sit still and be quiet.

    If you earnestly seek to belong to Christ, there will come a time when you must come face to face with the reality of who you are and what you have been. It may not happen for years, but it will happen. Sometimes it is even uglier than you could have imagined. You will be sorely tempted to give up hope of ever being acceptable to God. It is Satan’s lie, and he will press in hard on you with it. You may start to wonder why God is letting this happen to you.

    What you must know is this: It is absolutely necessary to let this process finish. All of the pain, guilt, and shame has to be fully felt, because until we do, we will never begin to appreciate the depth, height, and width of God’s grace. Unless we recognize our wretched condition, we cannot properly respond to what Jesus Christ has done through His death and resurrection. We can’t experience God’s healing.

    In the seventh chapter of Luke, the author tells of a Pharisee named Simon who invites Jesus to dinner. During the meal, a woman who is identified as a “sinner” comes up behind Jesus with an alabaster jar of perfume (it’s important to understand that meals were taken in the reclining position with the feet positioned behind the diner). She breaks open the jar and pours it over Jesus’ feet while at the same time washing his feet with her tears and wiping them with her hair. Simon’s response was, sadly, maybe not too different from our own: “If Jesus really was who He said He was, He’d know this woman was a sinner.”

    Think about the scene; stop and really consider what was happening. An alabaster jar of perfume in Bible times was not inexpensive. It would likely cost a year’s wages or more and was not generally something ordinary people would have around except at great cost. Then think about washing someone’s dirty, smelly feet with your tears and wiping them with your hair. Washing feet was a job assigned to the lowliest servants in the house; it was a really nasty job. And yet here was a woman who knew what she was, and who Jesus was, and she was willing to do the nasty job and do it extravagantly. Simon hadn’t even had the courtesy to offer a servant to do it.

    Jesus then tells a parable about two debtors, one who owed over five hundred denarii and one who owed fifty (a denarii was the equivalent to a day’s wages). The moneylender to whom both debts were owed forgave them both. Then came the question: “So which of them will love him more?” Simon can only mumble, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” Right answer, but the wrong attitude. The result was a rebuke to Simon and forgiveness to the woman.

    Our love for God is determined by the weight of our knowledge of how much He has forgiven us. If we deceive ourselves into thinking our debt of sin is small (and make no mistake, sin is a “debt” which requires a payment), our love for God and Christ will be small as well. But if our heart is honest and we admit our debt is huge and can never be paid without Christ’s sacrifice and God’s forgiveness, our love will be extravagant, just like this woman’s.

    Don’t be afraid to let God show you the full measure of who and what you are. He wants your extravagant love which can’t be given unless you recognize how sinful and lost you are, and you allow God to apply His healing. If your desire is to love God and serve Him with all your being, you begin to understand that sometimes asking for forgiveness isn’t enough to relieve the shame and guilt. Sin is a wound that festers and stinks, and until you allow God to dig deeply into that wound and clean it out, it will never heal. Wound healing is often painful but has to be done properly and completely. The end result is much better than living with a nasty, stinky wound that will eventually cause your (eternal) death. We can take courage in knowing God’s intent is to make you healthy, whole, and HIS. And we have a Savior who understands all about wounds and has promised to be with us while we undergo the procedure.

  • Listening to the Right Voices

    Image by Rebel Thieves

    It’s been years since I had anything that remotely resembles what’s called a “normal night’s sleep”, that being eight continuous hours. I spent many years in nursing working every conceivable type of shift, and my circadian rhythm is permanently broken. It was during one such episode last night that I came across the above image while perusing my Facebook newsfeed. It resonates with me for a number of reasons.

    Aside from being locked into a “segmented sleep” pattern (you sleep a few hours, are wide awake for a few more, and maybe get back to sleep as the sun is coming up; if not, you nap), I also deal with cancer that I’m told is not curable (I’ve touched on that before) and the treatments to try to slow its growth. The combination of all these factors is a life that cannot operate on so-called conventional thinking or timetables. I am not alone in this, as I have friends and acquaintances who deal with this every day as well.

    I am a rebel at heart; I never have marched to the world’s tune very well. And being retired allows me the luxury of being able to have control over my time and resources. In figuring out how to deal with the disease and still have a life, I came to a realization, and a decision. When I was awake and more energetic, I would do something productive, no matter the time of day or night. When I was tired, I would rest/sleep, no matter the time of day or night.

    What I understand is my body rhythms don’t match anyone else’s, and they certainly don’t come anywhere close to the mold that the world demands we all fit to be considered “successful” (or even “normal”). I’m not normal and have no desire to be. I had to decide the cancer wouldn’t define my life, and then determine how I was going to make the ongoing treatment work within trying to live my life every day. I find things work much better when I pay attention to what my body is trying to say to me. I can be more productive and accomplish the things I want and need to do when I work within my own limitations.

    The same principle works in the area of our spiritual life as well. If you’re trying to be a follower of Jesus Christ, you will constantly be bombarded with voices trying to tell you what you should do, both within the body of believers and the outside world. All are attempting to fit you into a mold of their own design. As important as it is to find the truth in what passes in the world’s view as “wisdom” (as opposed to propaganda or agenda-based opinion), it’s even more so when it comes to spiritual truths, which carry eternal consequences.

    For the Christian, there can be only one standard against which all other spiritual doctrine must be compared, and that is the Bible. Your greatest defense against being overwhelmed by the din and noise of our current world is spending time frequently reading the Bible and in prayer and meditation. It is in the time of quietness that God speaks to us, if we are willing to listen for His voice. We can validate the message by comparing it to scripture; God will never tell us something that contradicts His word. The goal is to grow into a close relationship with God and to humbly surrender to His guidance. But it won’t happen if we’re listening to the wrong voices.

    There doesn’t have to be a conflict between THE DISEASE and needing to rest. If you can learn to listen to your body and work with it, the disease doesn’t need to ruin your life; it simply becomes one more aspect you need to factor into the rest of your daily life. It helps tremendously to have your spiritual life in good order as well. If you will come to the One who says, “Follow Me”, He will carry the burden and give you the strength you need. With Jesus, your life becomes ‘abundant’ despite the world trying to tell you otherwise. Listen to the right voices.

  • Sneaking Up on God

    I love reading the Bible, and especially the Gospels. My favorite people as recorded by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are the ones who barely get noticed, who are never identified by name, and who only merit a couple of verses. I believe they best represent the ones Jesus said He came to seek and save. I came across one of them in my daily reading lately.

    Her story is what is sometimes called a parenthetical one, as in having parentheses placed around it because it shows up in the middle of another story. The other story is that of Jairus, an official of the local synagogue. He comes to Jesus, begging that He come to Jairus’ house and heal his young daughter. Jesus, his disciples, and a large crowd head off to the house.

    Somewhere in the middle of the crowd is a woman. We are told she had a bleeding disorder she had been suffering from for twelve years. She’d spent all of her money on doctors, but her condition only worsened. She had heard about Jesus and decided He could be her answer. She thought to herself, “If only I touch the hem of His garment I can be made well.” Well, she did, and she was.

    I don’t know why she chose the approach she did, and the Bible gives no clues. It’s possible to speculate about what prompted her to approach Jesus by stealth. If her problem was menstrual bleeding that wouldn’t stop, she would have been considered unclean, which would have prevented her from approaching anyone, much less the Son of God. Regardless, her problem could have been embarrassing. Or perhaps it was because Jesus was busy dealing with an important person in the community, and she felt her problem didn’t warrant interrupting the proceedings. Maybe she didn’t want to risk the wrath of the crowd (‘who does she think SHE is?’). Or, more likely, the hem of His garment was all she could reach because of the crowd. But she knew it would be enough.

    Whatever her motivation, Jesus refuses to leave it there. He stops the crowd and asks, “Who touched me?” The disciples’ response is one of bewilderment. “Lord, are you kidding? Look at this crowd! And you’re asking who touched you”? But Jesus had a deeper understanding and purpose. The woman, knowing she was caught, fearfully comes forward and confesses what happened. She’s afraid she’s about to be scolded, chastised, or worse, the miracle will be rescinded. But then comes the beautiful part of the story. Rather than condemn her, Jesus honors her for her faith, affirms her healing and salvation, and tells her, “Go in peace.”

    I love this story and this woman, because she is so much us. How many times do we have a problem, a need, but we hesitate to take it to the One who can fix the problem and meet the need. We have a dozen excuses. “I’m not worthy/good enough/don’t have enough faith for God to love me.” “God is too busy with others to care about me.” “I shouldn’t waste His time with little problems.” But we know in our heart that if we could just have a little of God’s time and power that everything would be fine. So we think we have to ‘sneak up on God’, asking for one small favor as though it were the worst imposition in the world.

    Jesus’ message to the woman is the same He gives to us. If you have enough faith in Him to think He can heal you, then you have enough faith. And while He will deal with the problem that troubles you, He wants to give you so much more. Jesus wants to fix your heart, fix your soul, and give you peace. He wants you as one of His own because then you can know real joy, real contentment, and real peace. You can experience what Jesus called “abundant life”, life that is lived with Jesus walking by your side. That’s true healing.

  • Pain and the Process of Healing

    As a retired nurse I understand a little about the process of wound healing. Sometimes the pain of a wound is matched or exceeded by the pain of cleaning and repairing, and even healing. The body’s process of healing a wound can be very uncomfortable for a while, but in the end the pain goes away, and you are left with a scar to remind you of the wound. If you’ve had the wound for a long time, the relief is almost overwhelming.

    A Christian who is seeking to grow in their relationship with God will eventually reach a place where God will touch an old wound with the intention of healing it. We may initially resist because of the pain it causes us, through the memories of how we received the wound, shame and embarrassment about having the wound at all, or even fear of allowing God to touch it in order to heal it. It’s a necessary process because we can never be made whole without the healing, and God can’t proceed to transform us until we allow Him to deal with our wound.

    We are created to be the image and likeness of God. Men and women each reflect a different characteristic of the nature of God, they are complementary to each other, both are necessary, and together they present a more complete (but not comprehensive) picture of who God is. However, we are all under the curse of sin and because of it we have become a poor imitation of what we were intended to be. By surrendering ourselves to Christ and becoming his disciples we not only seek to be in an intimate relationship with God but also to be that for which we are created.

    Because we are under sin, each of us carries a wound. How the wound was inflicted is different for each of us, but as long as the wound is there we can never enjoy the relationship with God we seek. We may live for years with the wound, and may in fact learn to ignore or suppress the pain. But as we allow God to form us back into His image, there will come a time when He will require us to enter back into the wound and meet Him there. Only then can the healing process begin.

    The healing process will require something from us. Recognition of the consequences of our being wounded, and how we may have in turn wounded someone else. It may require asking for and granting forgiveness, which is almost a given. It may involve helping those we’ve wounded with beginning their own process of healing. If we allow Him, God will show us what must be done. It’s important to remember that the wound won’t heal until it is cleaned out first, and that’s our part of the process.

    When God brings you to this place, it can be shocking and very uncomfortable. Having recently experienced this, I can tell you it will rock you back on your heels. You may have never considered the things in your life of which you are ashamed or embarrassed as being the result of being wounded; you may have just blamed yourself for not being able to overcome them or “be better”. You may not have even been aware of the wound in the first place. You may have worked hard to bury it deep and forget about it. Whatever the case, when you think you’re doing pretty well, and God is at work on you, having this brought to your attention can be difficult, but it can also be liberating. For the first time in your life, you finally understand that it wasn’t just you. Your wound was given to you by people who were just as wounded, because that’s what we do. We can’t give strength and affirmation where we don’t have any ourselves.

    If this is where you find yourself, I pray you’ll surrender it to God and let Him give you the healing you need. The process will be uncomfortable, even painful, but the wholeness and health you’ll gain will be more than worth it. It’s all a part of the process of letting God return us to what He intended us to be in the beginning. Our scars remind us of the scars borne by the One who died to reconcile us and open the way back to God.

  • Struggling and Being Made New

    Lately I find myself a bit overwhelmed by a myriad of thoughts God has placed on my heart and mind about several different things. Most confusing are the ones which revisit places and situations that bring back shame and pain, and which I thought had been healed some time ago. I know I repented of them, and God has forgiven them. So why are they coming to the surface again? It forces me to ask God what He’s trying to show me by recalling those old situations, addictions, and sins.

    If and when you decide to completely surrender yourself to God’s will and control, life will become uncomfortable. Especially when you think something in your life has been conquered and resolved, only to have it surface again when you’re least expecting it. You can find yourself thinking, “God, didn’t I already surrender that, and You forgave it? Why bring it up again”? You begin to wonder if you can ever finally be rid of that stronghold, that addiction, that sin?

    Sometimes it’s like a rotten tooth (I know a few things about those). The dentist must remove all the dead and decayed parts of the tooth before it can be repaired. It may require a root canal, a crown, or it may simply need to be extracted. Sometimes even though it may be repaired it becomes decayed again and needs to be addressed once more. Repeat dentistry is no fun, but necessary to preserve your teeth.

    God’s process can be like that. You may have surrendered that particular area of your life to Him and asked Him to heal you. He does just that; it may take time, and sometimes He does it in stages because we haven’t completely surrendered it (even though we might think we did). I think it might have been C.S Lewis who used the illustration of an ever-brighter light being shined on us. In the beginning we ask God to clean us up, and everything looks nice and clean. But then He turns the light a little brighter, and we see there are still many places that are stained. So once again we ask Him to clean us up, and once again we appear to be white and clean. The process continues throughout our lives, because only when we leave this life and enter His presence will we finally be completely, perfectly clean.

    There are at least two things I think we need to remember when you find yourself having to revisit old pain and shame. First of all, it may not be God at all bringing those back around. We have an ancient and powerful enemy, Satan, who will use those old hurts to try and convince us we haven’t been forgiven, we haven’t been healed, and we don’t deserve God’s love, much less His forgiveness and healing. Satan loves to pick at old scars, try to open old wounds, and eat away at our hope and peace, because if he can insert himself between us and God, he wins. You don’t have to let him win. Remember that God has forgiven AND forgotten those past sins, and so can you. You don’t live there any more.

    But sometimes God will bring things to our remembrance in order to show us something we need to know. Perhaps that old issue might not be as “dead” and buried as we think. Maybe there’s something you’re facing now that by remembering where you were and where God has brought you will help you overcome it as well. Or possibly there’s someone who faces the same struggle and challenge that you have overcome, and you can help them to overcome their struggle as well.

    The best approach when you face old demons and are confused as to why is to spend time in prayer and quiet meditation with God. Be still and listen to what He’s trying to tell you (He doesn’t always choose to speak out loud). Ask, “is this from You, or is it from somewhere or someone else”? God is faithful in revealing His plans and purposes at work in us, if we are only patient enough to wait on His timing. If you find yourself under attack, remember God’s Spirit is always with those who are His. And if nothing else, know that growth can only come through struggle. Muscles only grow from resistance. It’s helpful to have God’s word at your recall when troubles arise. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose”. (Romans 8:28) “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more”. (Jeremiah 31:34)

    We can rest in the peace of the knowledge that God will not allow us to be overtaken by those things with which we struggle. If we humble ourselves, trust in Him, and keep ourselves submitted to His will, even our struggles will result in blessings to us. Rejoice that God has counted you worthy of the struggle because He is working to grow and perfect you.

  • One Flesh

    Rita and I will celebrate our 46th anniversary in about a week and a half. It means we have been married almost all of our adult life. I can’t even begin to conceive what being single was, or would be, like. When I tell people how long we’ve been married they respond as though it is something akin to miraculous. It is a rare thing these days, but the sad part is that it shouldn’t be. It was once considered the norm, especially among those who consider themselves Christians. What changed?

    We have watched with heartache (and even anger at what Satan is doing) as divorce has ravaged our families, our society, and worst of all, our Christian friends. When did we stop believing marriage was a life-long covenant and start treating it as a casual social arrangement to be dissolved once we tire of it, or when it becomes inconvenient? Our ‘brave new world’ would have you believe traditional marriage and family are no longer necessary, that we should be free to choose whatever arrangement we wish and call it marriage and family. We have jettisoned traditional marriage to our peril as a society.

    From this point onward, I am speaking primarily to Christians, those who are a part of the body of Christ. Anyone else is welcome to read along but understand what I will say doesn’t work without first having a firm commitment to Christ as Lord and Savior. It can’t without that structure in place; we don’t have it within ourselves to live up to this standard. If you haven’t made that commitment, I urge you to please think long and hard about doing so.

    We enter into marriage with many different ideas about it. Most commonly it’s something along the lines of, “We love each other, we love God, and we’ll be happy together for the rest of our lives”. As anyone who has been married for any length of time, or who have experienced divorce, will tell you, things don’t work that way. Our view of marriage, even a Christian one, is far too shallow and limited. As a result, our expectations of each other are distorted by our own selfish desires, our needs, and our brokenness. Our failure to understand all of this has a great potential to sabotage and destroy our marriage.

    In Ephesians 5, the apostle Paul lays the groundwork for how marriage is designed to work. Before we get to that, it’s necessary to first understand some important concepts. In the account of creation in Genesis 1, it speaks of God speaking most of creation into existence. But when He comes to the last step, He says, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” God took a very personal, hands on approach when creating man and woman. Regarding the woman, it says, “But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.” God then took one of his ribs and created Eve. She was also made in the image and likeness of God, and out of one flesh came two, who were then joined by marriage back into one flesh (Genesis 2:24).

    Two important things to consider and understand here. First, we each carry the image of God within us, but men and women are imbued with different aspects of that likeness. Men are the image of God’s strength, not just represented by physical strength but the strength which helps us to be protectors and providers. Women, on the other hand, reflect God’s beauty and graciousness, his desire to be sought and pursued. Because of the curse of sin, we struggle with living up to that image and need affirmation of our worth and value. Men need someone to believe in them, believe and affirm they are strong and capable. Women need to know they are beautiful and desirable. Each is specifically designed to meet the other’s needs by the giving of the ‘gift’ contained within their characteristic of God’s image to the other.

    The other important thing we need to do is examine the word “helper” (or in some translations, “helpmeet”). In the Hebrew the term is ezer kenegdo (let me say here that I know almost nothing about Hebrew or Greek and must depend on others to provide the meanings). The term is most commonly used when speaking of God as helper, life giver, or warrior. Apparently, it is a very difficult term to translate. For our purposes, the important thing to understand is that woman is not just a “helper”, some sort of secondary assistant, but is an equal to the man in ability and support, if not in authority and physical strength. They literally have each other’s backs in that they were designed (we were designed) to work together as one unit, complementary to each other in every way. It was the perfect design, until Satan and sin entered the garden and divided them by appealing to their prides and egos. When we become convinced we can be God rather than a glorious reflection of His image. “I” becomes more important than “we”. Instead of being a reflection of God’s design, marriage becomes something to make us happy and satisfy our own desires, and when it no longer does that it is simply thrown away and we move on to something, or someone, else.

    In the New Testament, marriage is shown to symbolize an even deeper, more important relationship. Coming back to Paul and Ephesians 5, he explains this “mystery” and shows how we are to relate to each other properly as husband and wife. The passage reads as follows:

    “[S]ubmitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

    Ephesians 5:21-33

    If you get nothing else from this discussion, Christian husbands and wives, you need to get this: Your marriage is a portrait of Christ’s relationship to His church, that we present before the world. You who are the living, breathing image of God now represent something even bigger. It is part and parcel of our gospel message to a lost and dark world. That’s why Paul takes great pains to explain how each part of it should look and work.

    Something else crucial to understand. I would strongly suggest the way we choose to relate and respond to our spouse is a direct reflection on how we see our relationship with Christ himself. I can’t emphasize that strongly enough. Wives, if you don’t respect your husband and show a willingness to submit to the authority placed upon him by God himself, that’s how you choose to relate to Christ, and you need to repent. Husbands, if you fail to love your wife sacrificially in the way Christ demonstrated His love for the church (remember, He was willing to die for her benefit), then you need to repent. She is not your possession, she is not your maid or nanny, she is your equal, your ezer kenegdo. If you treat her as anything other than this you are throwing away the most important gift, the most important resource, the most important ally that God provides for you. She is not inferior to you because you are given authority over her (actually, you should be terrified at the responsibility that’s been laid on you and the horrible consequences for failing to carry it out).

    Actually, this passage should never be read without starting at verse 21. We are to be in submission to each other. It is only when we park our ego, or rather surrender it to Christ, that we can begin to relate to each other properly. The word humility comes up frequently throughout the New Testament, not only in this context but in referring to the church as a whole. Love can only be given properly when we consider others and their needs as more important than us and ours. Again, it reflects our relation to Christ. If our will is surrendered to Him, we will also be able to unselfishly consider the needs of those we love and serve.

    Church, Christian brothers and sisters who are husbands and wives, the time for ‘playing at church’ is over. The hour is late, and we are at war with an enemy who is out to destroy us. We need to be deadly serious about this. If we choose or settle to be anything less than what we are meant to be we will not survive. We are the embodiment of Christ on earth, and if it’s not too much of a hyperbole, humanity’s only hope of knowing God and Christ and avoiding an eternity in hell and torment. We need to consider carefully who and what we are called to be and devote ourselves with prayers for strength and wisdom to becoming just that. It will be worth it.

  • More Questions than Answers

    I’ll need to keep this one short. In a little while, I will be taking my wife back to see her oncology nurse practitioner for a biopsy of a suspicious area related to her endometrial cancer surgery of a year and a half ago. The practitioner found it last week during a routine checkup. God willing, it will turn out to be nothing. But what if it doesn’t?

    Both my wife and I have cancer. In my case, it’s never been completely eradicated, nor will it ever be. I’m under treatment to slow its growth but it hasn’t proven all that effective so far. My wife underwent surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy a year ago, and she doesn’t wish to repeat it again. For the time being we are both doing well enough. But what happens if her biopsy comes back as something other than negative for cancer? What happens if at my next appointment the doctor decides my treatment is no longer effective?

    We’ve discussed what we will do in a “worst case scenario”, but not in great detail, because we are both dedicated to allowing God to work His designs in our lives. The outcome really isn’t that important because we understand we are victors regardless. Ultimately, we get to go home as friends to spend eternity in worship to God. But until that time we wish to glorify and honor Him before this world. Our desire is to make the most of our time here, no matter how much that might be.

    God sometimes chooses to leave us with more questions than answers. It’s how He teaches us faith and trust, but our impatience makes us frustrated and angry because we interpret it as His not answering us at all. Until we learn to trust without reservation or condition, we are tempted to think of God as indifferent to our suffering and pain. When we finally are able to trust without reservation is when we finally receive his promised peace and contentment.

    When God chooses to answer our questions about our cancers, we can finally proceed with our proposed plans. Until then, we wait and learn to be patient. The answers will be provided.

  • Prince of Peace, Control My Will

    Come now, you who say, “Today of tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”

    James 4:13-15

    This hymn came to me while I was awake in the early morning hours the other day. It suddenly showed up to interrupt a line of thought that shouldn’t have been there. It was obviously God-sent because it was exactly the message I needed to hear. The words are as follows:

    1. Prince of peace, control my will,
      Bid the struggling heart be still;
      Bid my fears and doubtings cease,
      Hush my spirit into peace.
    2. Thou hast bought me with Thy blood,
      Opened wide the gate to God;
      Peace I ask—but peace must be,
      Lord, in being one with Thee.
    3. May Thy will, not mine, be done,
      May Thy will and mine be one;
      Chase these doubtings from my heart,
      Now Thy perfect peace impart.
    4. Savior, at Thy feet I fall,
      Thou my life, my God, my all!
      Let Thy happy servant be
      One forevermore with Thee!

    You must understand wintertime in northern Michigan is no joke. It seems to last forever. Most of us love it in November and December, because we know two of our favorite holidays are on the way, plus it tends to be very beautiful with the snow covering everything. By January the thrill is beginning to wear a little thin. Unfortunately, it goes on for at least three more months after that. It’s common for people who live in northern climes to suffer what’s known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, caused by a significant lack of sunshine and vitamin D. It makes you want to crawl into a cave and hibernate until warm weather finally arrives. This year has been an especially LONG winter, with us trapped in the house for the most part. Being back on my prostate cancer medications just makes the experience more miserable. It’s been Seasonal Affective Disorder, literally on steroids.

    I took my wife Monday to Traverse City in snow, rain, and slop to see her oncology nurse practitioner. To the question of why her weight had increased since the last visit, my wife recited the list of what living through late winter does to a person: you’re stuck in the house with nothing to do, which makes you want to eat all the time, and eventually causes you to be a little depressed. After offering an antidepressant and checking for suicidal tendencies, the practitioner gave her prescription: have your husband take you somewhere warm for a week or two sometime during the winter.

    My wife has been talking about wanting to go someplace warmer for the past several months, but on a more permanent basis. Feeling the way I do, I was ready to consider the possibility. However, we both remain under conviction that God brought us here for a purpose, one we still don’t completely understand but are sure is still in effect. After we got home from the doctor’s office we continued to discuss the possibility of moving south at a future time. This was running through my mind as I lie awake at four o’clock in the morning. My mind was running scenarios and considering possibilities, and even building a defense for why it was a good idea. Then I started remembering the words to this hymn. I realized Satan was trying to drive a wedge between me and my promise to God to follow His way instead of my own, and I prayed God would prevent that from happening.

    There’s nothing particularly wrong with setting goals and making plans for the future. But as I’ve learned the hard way over the years, doing so without considering God’s plans does not lead to peace and contentment. It may not even lead to long-term success; in fact, it may be doomed to fail from the start, because it was most likely built on discontentment with your present situation spawned by your own selfish desires. If Satan can once entice you into discontentment, he can lead you most anywhere. You have the choice to follow through on your plans, but if you began with discontentment there’s a good chance that you’ll eventually become discontented with your “perfect” plan if it doesn’t work out exactly as you’d imagined.

    The problem with our daydreaming about wanting to return to the south wasn’t necessarily that it was wrong. There may come a time when it becomes evident that’s what we need to do, with God’s blessing and sanction. What made it wrong were two things. We were thinking only about ourselves and what WE wanted. And we were thinking about it because we were discontented with our present situation instead of focusing on the multitude of blessings we enjoy here every day, and God’s purposes for us here and now. We were on the verge of making the same mistake as Adam and Eve; we wanted to control the narrative.

    If we say we want to be in a right relationship with God and be like Jesus, we must constantly remember what He calls us to be and to do. We are to walk in Jesus’ footsteps-follow Him. In every action, in every decision, in every thought we are to do exactly as He would do. It has to be more than the rather trite “What Would Jesus Do?” level of thinking and acting. It has to be Christ acting and speaking through us, not just us trying to imitate the actions of someone we don’t really know. If you read the account in the Gospels of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, you’ll see Him praying, “Father, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done.” Jesus had the choice as Son of Man to refuse the Cross. But He had surrendered His will to God and His purposes, and He humbly accepted that God’s will is to be obeyed first and foremost.

    This hymn powerfully summarizes that struggle. When we first come to Christ, and unless we are fully committed to surrendering our will to Him, we continue to struggle with discontentment, with wanting our own way, and with the anxiety and fear that accompanies the struggle. By remembering the price that was paid for our reconciliation we may pray for peace and contentment in our lives, but we need to remember it can only be received by our will and desires being perfectly and aligned with those of Christ. The way we achieve that is by surrendering our will to His; “May Your will, not mine, be done.” Our sinful, imperfect desires must be given up in favor of the perfect will of God.

    When we are completely surrendered to Jesus, when our only desire is to serve and worship Him, our greatest pleasure will be in being perfectly attuned with His designs and purposes. We become images of God’s glory, reflections of Jesus Christ. And in whatever plans and goals we may make, we can rest in the contentment that God’s blessing is upon them because He has guided us in making them. Only in allowing God to work in us can we experience true peace.

  • What I Believe: Begin with the Basics

    I wrote this several years ago in a now inactive blog. But my thoughts on it haven’t changed. I offer it here for your consideration.

    Ranting Against the Status Quo

    As a father and grandfather, I am intrigued as I watch my children and grandchildren grow. However, I am troubled by certain things I see in them, particularly in matters of faith and belief. Granted, my kids have grown up in an era of situational morality, multiculturalism, political correctness and “tolerance” for all viewpoints except the one that holds there are absolute standards against which all human behavior is to be judged. My fear is my children have absorbed so much of this cultural mindset that they have lost their way. But my concern is also for my neighbors, the citizens of this nation and indeed, those who are searching for light in a world of darkness.

    As the patriarch of my clan (it’s true: as the eldest male in my immediate family, I can legitimately make that claim), I still hold a certain amount of responsibility for the spiritual…

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