Friday, May 1, 2015

Lost; but not All is Lost

I love the outdoors, especially the forest. There is something invigorating about being in nature and experiencing the freeness of fresh air and denseness of the wood. I have many fond memories of time spent with my family camping and exploring the great unknown of what adventures may lie in wait. For the most part I have a fairly good sense of direction. Over the years of time spent in the woods I have only been lost once.

It was a little over three years ago and Deb and I had slipped away for a three-day weekend in the mountains of West Virginia. On our last day, the day before Easter, I had decided that morning to go on a quick bike ride. I was on the bottom floor of the cabin and I shouted up to Deb that I was going for a quick ride and would be back in an hour. Since it was going to be just a short ride, I had on a t-shirt and running pants. Important items that I did not take consisted of water, my cell phone, warm clothes, a flashlight or specific directions of where I was going to go.  It was about 10 minutes into my ride when I noticed a trail off the road. I headed down the bike trail and came to an open field that had a great knoll, which overlooked the forest. A perfect spot to sit and reflect over the next day’s sermon and spend some time with God. As I sat and listened to Gods creation I heard the sound of a stream below. I still had some time, so I jumped on my bike and headed down to the stream. To this point I had not experienced much of a thrill on my bike. I noticed a trail that was fairly steep up the other side; therefore, I decided to venture to the top of the trail so that I could ride to the bottom, however, when I got to the top there was another trail that looked a little more adventurous. I choose to take it back to the bottom. After I arrived at the bottom, to the same creek, or so I thought, I headed up the stream to get back on my original trail. At one point I had to leave the stream to climb up over some boulders.  Unbeknownst to me the stream split. After a short period of time wandering through the woods, carrying my bike, I came to a large open field. It was then that I realized I was lost, but not all was lost. On the top of one mountain I could see the ski lift to the trail “Salamander”. I knew if I kept my eyes on the lift and walked straight to it I would eventually get back to the cabin. My one-hour excursion had now turned into 4 hours. After having to cross a chest high river and climbing some fairly rugged terrain, I found myself deeper into the woods and trying to decide how I was going to put down for the night. I discovered a small spring to drink water. I made another choice to walk for a half hour more. If I did not find a way out, I was going to start preparing for a night in the woods. My concerns were the dropping temps and my lack of clothing. After a short time longer I found and old logging road. I was able to ride my bike on it until I saw a small farm. This lead to a paved road and eventually a store that let me call Deb and tell her that I was ok and how to get to me. In the end I had wondered off my path by about 15 miles.

Occasionally, I will reflect upon my mishap voyage and the lessons learned. One of my favorite Psalms in the Bible is Psalm 63. Many times it has been my hearts cry to “behold His power and glory” within troubling or difficult times of this journey of life; however, I would hope that I would have the same request of my God when the path of my existence was not engulfed in adversity.

This morning during our family devotion, after breakfast, we looked at Psalm 63 and discussed the situation that David was experiencing when he penned these Holy words. It was his present surroundings that caused him to reflect on his spiritual health. Even though calamity was all about him, his spiritual man was good. He was in a place where he was “hungering and thirsting” after his God. Should this not be our hearts cry each day? After reading the Psalm I posed the question to my family, “If you had to write a psalm to God today, what would your physical and spiritual surroundings look like?” The first thought that came to my mind was the forest and the time that I was lost.

First of all, I was in the place that I wanted to be. I find complete satisfaction in being where I am. It is a place of joy, as well, a place that I am learning to be comfortable. Each visit to our communities and time spent building relationships is exactly where I want to be. It is within this time of ministry that God speaks through His people. Many times I have thought, is this really what I get to do the rest of my life? I have wondered if I will wake up from the dream. I genuinely want to be doing what I am doing.

In the second part of my psalm, I would cry out to God that I am completely lost. Even though I know I am supposed to be where I am, I am utterly in a state of dependence of God. My daily list may consist of twenty objectives; however, when I lay my head down at night it would be a good day if I made it the second one on the list. Most times in the midst of the first item, I end up on a detour to number twenty-one or twenty-two on my list of twenty. I am by far no master of anything that I do. I believe the key to being adrift is seeking God each step of the way and trying not to be distracted by paths that look appealing, but are not the intended paths of God.  It is the enchanting and charming pathways in life that lead us so far from the desires of God.  When we should be crying out, “God help”, we are more like the three-year old that says, “I want to do this on my own”. There is great merit in the second response, but also dismay, failure and disappointment wait when we believe we can do it without God. In a sermon about Psalm 63 Charles Spurgeon said,  “We too may expect to be cast into rough places ere we go hence. In such seasons, may the Eternal Comforter abide with us, and cause us to bless the Lord as all times, making even the solitary place to become a temple for Jehovah” Being lost is not always a bad thing in our lives. It is when we feel found that sometimes we drift from the necessity of God in our lives.

In my final part of my psalm I would reflect upon the importance of the beacon in my life, aka Salamander ski lift. I knew that as long as my eyes were focused in the right direction I would always have the assurance of knowing I was headed the right way. The interesting part is that even though my eyes were where they should be, it did not free me of the turmoil’s of the journey. I still had thirst, rivers to cross, nightfall, and other adversities, but my determination was based off of my destination, not my circumstance. My bike was my cross that I had to pick up and carry throughout the journey. It is vital to remember that our journey in life is not always smooth and tranquillo, but one of the greatest promises in the bible is that God will never leave us nor forsake us.  Being faced with adversity is not the absence of God, but merely proof of our complete dependence of Him.

So, our challenge today, as we left the breakfast table, was to think of our Psalm. When is a time that we could compare our physical surroundings to our spiritual being?  Deb spoke about the idea of rain and how refreshing it was as we enter into rainy season in Mexico. She also expressed how heart rejoiced in the anticipation of the cleansing that the rain brings. Baillie said her life was a reflection of the drizzle of rain this morning. She found that it brought her energy at the same time it was gloomy (it was her oxymoron), but she knew that it was not gong to last; eventually the sun was going to shine. Boyden regressed to his visit a couple of months ago to climbing up the side of cliff and then jumping off of a 30-foot waterfall. Even though he had done it ten or fifteen times it always required the same leap of faith to jump. We all have a psalm to write. The beauty of it is that we are writing it each day. Take time to reflect on life and where you are and where you are going.  God is not far. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

"Where are You?"

Where are you? If I wanted, I could go to my Google Maps app on my IPad and it would tell me that I am currently located at 18 Sur 2109 Bella Visat, Puebla, Mexico. If I wanted to be more specific I could say that I am sitting at the table in my bedroom. This seems like such an easy question to answer, but I have begun to look a little deeper into the question. This past week I came across this story:

     In 1798, the Chassidic leader, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, was imprisoned for spreading religious faith (and thus subversion) amongst the Jewish population. While he sat in prison awaiting trial, his warden, conscious of being in the presence of a holy man, asked him a question that had long been troubling him. He said: "We read in the book of Genesis that when Adam and Eve sinned, they hid themselves among the trees of the Garden of Eden, and God called out, 'Where are you?' What I want to know is this. If God knows and sees everything, surely He knew where they were. Why did He need to ask, 'Where are you?'"
     The Rabbi replied: The words of the Bible were not meant for their time alone but for all time. So it is with the question God asked Adam and Eve. It was not addressed to them alone but to each of us in every generation. We squander our days and nights on artificial, temporary objectives; we become consumed with self-preservation and gratification, and we believe that we can hide from the consequences. But always, after we have lost our course, we hear the voice of God in our heart asking: Where are you? What have you done with your life? I have given you a certain amount of years; how are you using them?

     Now when I ask myself the question, it takes on a whole different connotation. I am challenged to first ask, where am I with God? I shudder when I think of the first night that Adam and Eve were outside of the Garden. The noises of the land that once were so familiar and friendly, were now foreign and terrifying. Everything that they had become acquainted with was now hauntingly bleak and in dismay. Never again could they have their communal sanctuary with the Creator. I am sure that night they asked each other a different type of question, "Where is He?"

     Our assurance of knowing whom we are in God is a lot more sure than where we are with God. You can know who you are in God because of His unwavering promises. It does not depend on anything that you do. It is not possible to change who you are to God. The ball is in your court to know where you are with God. This is our journey and challenge that we face each and every day of our lives, but it is a vital question to ask ourselves if we want to have a relationship with God.

     We need not ask the question, "Where is He?" The promise that we have is that when we call upon the name of Jesus, we are saved; however, this promise is about salvation, not whether or not God knows where we are. He is beside those who have accepted his son and is relentlessly perusing those whom are far away or deny His existence. He is near to and at work in the hearts of all mankind. The ultimate affirmation creation can have is that He knows where we are. In return, we are left with the larger question, "Where am I?"   

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Not All Demons are UgLy

     One early morning this past week, I lay in bed with my head tucked under the covers.  Keeping the covers snug over my head gives me a sense of security. On the other hand, Deb, my wife,never likes to keep her head under the covers, because she feels trapped. This particular morning I was resting comfortably beneath the sheets and comforter, when I felt a presence on the other side.  I lifted the covers back without fear and there she stood; a tall gangly figure with a pale white face, black lifeless eyes, dark black greasy strangely hair and in an instant she pounced on me.  I immediately pushed her off and with a great gasp… I awoke hurling my covers into the air.  Praise God, it was only a dream, or was it? With my heart still racing and every hair on my body at attention, I immediately cried out to my Savior. After I caught my breath, I felt compelled to walk throughout our house and pray over each room. Afterwards, my final prayer, as I lay back to rest was, “My God, give me the courage to rest behind the cross this night.”

     Two nights later, I was in a restaurant. I went to the counter to order our drinks. As I was waiting on the waitress, a young pretty girl with long blonde hair stood beside me and began to carry on a conversation with me. I was enjoying our time together. At one point she put her arm around me and said she liked talking with me. I must admit, I was flattered, but I told her that I was married. To be honest, part of me wanted her to leave her arm around me, but the other part was saying to walk away. I looked over my shoulder and in the corner booth was my wife. In the midst of trying to make this decision, I woke up.  I truly believe this was another spiritual attack.

     Not all demons are ugly. My experience earlier in the week is typically what folks think of when they think of evil; that it is ugly and recognizable. However, not all evil has a hideous appearance. If it was all foul, most people would never be enticed to dabble. We are told in the last days that many will be led astray, even those that once believed.  Temptations are temptations because they are desirable to our flesh. The inducement of following evil occurs in some of the most nonchalant manners. It can occur with looking just a little too long at an attractive woman, listening to music that is provocative or degrades the value of women, reading books that promote sexual fantasy, or indifference to poverty and social injustice.  Whatever it may be, it doesn't always have to appear dreadful.

     The greatest deception will be the entrance of the anti-christ. He will be someone that we want to listen to and his words and his appearance will be pleasing to the ears and eyes. Each thing that he says will seem to make sense. The moral decline of our society today is an indication that the arrival of the anti-christ will be soon.  Our loudest cry to God should be “Defend our hearts from deception.” 

     Knowing the truth carries the utmost protection from being deceived.  Our greatest defense is immersing ourselves into the truth on a daily bases.  It comes from an everyday walk with a risen Savior. When we have enough of the truth we will recognize the fallacies among us. Additionally, we will have the ability to discern the presence of evil, no matter if it appears gruesome or beautiful. 

     This night, I will lay to rest (with the covers over my head) knowing that I am protected by the blood of Calvary and that no weapon formed against me shall prosper.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

There is No Plan B: Head First Into Jude

     This week I dove into the letter of Jude. It seems like such a simple letter. It is the second to last letter in the Bible. Only one chapter and what seems like a simple read. On Monday morning with my coffee in hand, I quickly read through the 25 verses; almost in one breath. I started to close my Bible and proceed through my day; however, I felt a nudge to start again and then it hit me how much substance is just in the first verse. “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James. To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ.” Almost an hour later and two cups of coffee, I found myself still intrigued with this verse.
     I wrote down some of my thoughts; for what they’re worth.  First of all, how humble Jude starts his letter. I found myself saying, “Jude you were not only the brother of James, but Jesus was your brother, wouldn’t you want people to know that?” I am fairly confident that if Jesus was my brother, I would want other people to know this tidbit. The thought crossed my mind, if he had Facebook, wouldn’t he list Jesus as his brother? Post pics? Status updates like, “The party really got going when Jesus turned the water into wine.”  To Jude, it was more important that people knew he was a servant of Jesus than his half-brother.  Even as a brother, he had invested himself completely into following Jesus.  Here was a man that devoted his being completely into following and serving Jesus. This is an amazing testament to the validity of Jesus being who he said he was, because Jude would have known Jesus on more subjective bases than others; being they were brothers.

     After I had processed that thought some, I moved onto a few others. I appreciate the way Jude addresses the recipients of the letter. He first says, “to those who have been called.”  What does it mean to be called? I want to be like Jude and completely vested into the call. During our family devotions this morning we talked a lot about our call and why we are followers of Jesus. I have heard it said that there is more historical proof that Jesus walked the Earth, than Alexander the Great. So there is no doubt that Jesus really walked the face of the earth, but was he who he claimed to be; the only Son of God.  By absolute faith I choose to say, yes. Either he was completely the Son of God, a blatant liar, or clinically insane. Since I choose to believe that Jesus is the only Son of God, then, I choose to believe his teachings and commands. In following Jesus all the pressure is off of me, because I can direct people to what Jesus said; not what I said. This allows me to be completely entrusted to Christianity. The problem is that my actions don’t always measure up to my call. Rather than sulk in my failures, I call upon the one who is able to rescue me in my weakness. It is not a license for sin; it is a reliance on His grace.

     After called, Jude refers to them as those loved by God the Father.  It is a great assurance to know that I have someone who loves me unconditionally with a perfect love. My life revolves around my family. I adore my wife. She is amazing in so many different ways. I could not be prouder of my kids and the young adults they are becoming. I pray daily for each of them and pour out everything I have into helping them be successful. The problem is that this is not a perfect love. I mess up. I say the wrong things, get angry unjustly, and the list goes on and on. The love that my Father has for me is a perfect love. There is never a time where he messes up or disciplines me for the wrong motive.  Even though there are situations that I don’t understand or can’t wrap my brain around. There is great comfort in the fact that I am perfectly loved by my Father in heaven.

     Lastly, Jude use the word “kept” by Jesus. I was now stuck on a single word. I couldn’t shake it for most of the day. It is such a reassurance to know that there is nothing that can take me from the hand of God. There is no place that I can wonder or mistake that I can make that will take me from my God. It was paid for on a cross at Calvary. In Romans chapter 8 we receive this incredible promise. Verse 38 says, “and I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from Gods love.” The list of things that can’t separate us from God’s love include things like death, life, angels, demons, fears for today, worries about tomorrow and even includes the powers of hell.  I am kept!
     It has been a two day study in the letter of Jude and I have made it one verse. I am excited to see what is to be revealed in the next 24 verses. I know that it does come with a warning to false leaders and teachers that can creep into the church and turn God’s grace and love into a “sloppy agape” type of grace and love. I am confident that his love is real, as well as, his discipline. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The ME i Am Is Not the Best For Them

This past week, during my devotions, I was reading the story in the Book of Acts about Simon the Sorcerer.  Simon was a man that dove head first into the deep end and gave his heart to the Lord. Once he surrendered his life, he immediately followed Philip everywhere being amazed by the signs and miracles that were happening where ever the disciples would travel. And then he was introduced to the giving of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands. All his life was about fooling people with sleight of hand and trickery, but here was the real deal and nothing that could be bought; even though he tried. Immediately, he was rebuked by Peter and told to repent and get his heart right with God. He was also told to deal with his bitterness and captivity to sin.

I am confident that God has never literally slapped me upside my head, but that morning, the word “bitterness” left a stinger penetrating my spiritual heart. Instantaneously, I erected a wall a defense and squawked in my spirit, “I am not bitter!” At that point God was mute and I was left to gnaw on the word bitterness all morning and most of the afternoon.  

This week has been Spiritual Emphasis Week at our language school.  Each day we have two sessions and the speaker has been talking about the importance of grace (Ironically, one of the greatest lessons that we have been trying to wrap our minds around as a family this year is the idea of “What is grace?”…this is another journal later). So, as the day progressed, the word “bitterness” would not digest. As a matter of fact, I was choking on it.

The afternoon session ended and I had some things to finish at the school; therefore, I was left to walk home by myself. I live about five blocks from the school.  As I wandered down the first block toward home, I quietly said to God, “Where is the bitterness and let’s cut it down.”  I received in my spirit, “This is nothing to be cut down, because you have done that before and it only continues to grow. Your BITTERNESS has roots entwined into the core of your heart”.  Uhhh, now what? What is that procedure like and is it going to hurt? The next block was a blur, but the following block a solution started to develop in my mind like Kodak Polaroid film. I first asked myself, “what am I carrying now and does my family deserve for me to bring it home to them?” The proceeding blocks, I began leaving my struggles along the street. It was occurring to me that this” real me” full of selfishness, conceitedness, pride, envy and other ugly stuff had no right to go home to my family. Unfortunately, they know that real me, but continue to love me and understand that I am a work in progress.  I began to confess all of my short comings and judgments. Within five blocks I had utterly empty myself, but who was going home to my family if it wasn’t me?  Here is the revelation: As each of these iniquities was pushed out, Jesus was filling up the emptiness.  This root of bitterness can only be uprooted and replaced by who Christ is.

I regress to Simon. He was not only filled with bitterness, but was held captive to sin and in the end he repented and asked for prayer in his weakness. That afternoon, as I confessed my sins, the real me that I died to and the new me were in a battle. The unity of my family is on the line. This is a daily clash, but one that I pray I never grow weary of fighting because… the Me I am is not the best for them.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

“For though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again”

Deb and I were having a conversation the other night that went like this: I started by saying, “I need to start drinking more water.” Deb said, “Yea, me too.”  After a few minutes of thinking, I said, “I am going to start with two glasses in the morning, one mid-morning, two for lunch, one mid-afternoon, two with dinner and one before bed. That way I will have drunk nine glasses a day.” Deb replied, “I am just going to drink water. Did you really just plan that all out in your head? You think too much.” 
From the time I wake up until I go to bed, I am thinking; I just assumed that is what everybody else does. I am constantly planning and evaluating. I try to figure out better ways to do things. I assess conversations, I devise study plans for Spanish, I reflect on parenting and being a husband, I talk with God and the list goes on and on. This is my normal and it works for me. As I learned in a cross-cultural training class, “It’s not wrong; it’s just different.”  
There are times that I take a mental break. Over the past several years of working in jobs that are physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally draining; I have discovered that my best stress relieve is going to the gym and totally exhausting myself.  I realize that in this time I don’t think much about anything. Over the past five weeks, I have not been able to go to the gym, due to rehab on my shoulder; now what? To be honest, a little bit of a self-pity party for me.  But, I also remembered that this is a ploy of my enemy, satan.  I was reminded that the two places he attacks are the mind and the body. In the garden, he deceived Adam and Eve by deceiving their minds; however, if that strategy does not work, he will devour as a lion (attack the body). 
The past couple of months have felt like body blow after body blow. Previous to moving to Costa Rica, I had very little physical problems. In the past ten months of living here, I have had leg problems with my calf, shoulder physical therapy, a hurt knee and a sprained wrist. I know what people will say, “you turned 40. It’s your age.” I believe that that is a mind invention of the enemy.  My body is the temple of God. No wonder satan would want to attack it. This body is my house of praise. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?  For you have been bought with a price: therefore, glorify God in your body.) What about right hooks; Deb in the hospital with an unknown sickness?  How easily depression is able to creep into your soul. This question remains in my mind, “Where is your praise?” 
I have this constant nudge by the Holy Spirit to remember that it is PRAISE that defeats. No matter what the circumstance may be, I evaluate my physical, spiritual, and emotional state by my praise.  If I am low on praising God, I will be low on every other aspect of my life. It is praise that defeats the enemy. It is praise that brings focus. It is praise that drives love. It is praise that overcomes heartache. It is praise…it is praise.
A champion shows who he is by what he does when he's tested. When a person gets up and says 'I can still do it', he's a champion. –Evander Holyfield

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

"Chubby Bunny"

     We are four weeks deep into our final trimester of language school. Our hearts are preparing to say goodbye to close friends and dear teachers in just a few weeks. We are also ready to see many cherished friends and family in the States when we visit in December. And finally, our hearts are bursting at the seams to arrive in Mexico and begin our journey in ministry as a family.   
      As for right now, the idea of treading water comes to mind, but at least we are above the water. Each trimester has presented its own difficulties and successes. We can now do more than just ask “where is the bathroom?” in Spanish. The best analogy that I can think of is Chubby Bunny:

     Several years ago, as a youth, I was introduced to the game Chubby Bunny. In the game each person takes a marshmallow and puts it inside of their mouth. To be able to continue, the person must say, “Chubby Bunny”.  Each round requires you to put another marshmallow in your mouth. The first few rounds are fairly easy, but as the game progresses it gets harder and harder to say the words because your mouth becomes fuller and fuller. For the past nine months, this has been how it has felt to learn how to speak Spanish. There are other similarities to “Chubby Bunny” and language learning. Frist of all, you have to be willing to laugh at yourself. No matter how foolish it may feel to try and speak, it is important to try. Next, you have to accept that others are going to laugh at you. This is not meant to be rude or uncaring, in most cases, it is just funny. In addition, you should realize ahead of time that things might get a little messy. Finally, you have to encourage others. There are times when you just can’t take anymore and you spit out the marshmallows, but this is not the end. That time is when it is meant to encourage others to continue to try. All along in the back of your mind, you realize that it was so much fun, you are ready to do it again.

Blessed beyond the curse,