My Future Present

Words.

One of the disciplines that had been told me by a writing professor back in the day of collegiate craziness was to just begin by writing a page a day.  The content of it wasn’t important per se, but the style of writing was and the way in which words formed on paper needed to make sense to the common mind.  Cryptic words and useless phrases with enigmatic meanings were simple and easily done, but forming a cohesive thought, regardless of the thought itself, was important.  Or, very simply, I could have just made it up and assumed that somewhere along the lines my own presuppositions and insecurities needed to have more of a solid foundation for that statement rather than my own bizarre thoughts so I pushed it upon higher learning as the source.  Either way, it still holds true to me and from as far back as I can remember, I have told others to do the same; write a page a day.  Write about your favorite hat, the smell of leaves after it rains, the way your dog itches itself; anything and everything.  If you can make it seem interesting to someone, then perhaps you have a gift in writing.

Nine times out of ten, however, the person who found my writing most inspirational and most normal was the blinded love of my mother who read my heart on paper rather than the words themselves.  I cannot fault her; she is my mother.  But how unbiased can my mother be when at one time in my life she took joy changing my poopie diapers?  Let’s be honest here.

And now I’m faced with a dilemma.  I am no longer a pastor at Rolling Hills Covenant Church.  All I have left from that blessing of a profession is a bunch of relationships where I was their pastor, a few friends, and a host of memories made out of words.  Were you to ask me, I couldn’t write a page a day about my experiences there; I could write hundreds a day.  But again, let’s be honest.  Who really wants to read those words; who will think them important or inspirational?  Sure, there might be a handful who would continue to read, but the reality is, they are the people who loved me despite my weaknesses and transparency; they heard me preach and attempt shenanigans that made them laugh and cry.

So I moved my office to my garage.  I have set up a nook of a reality that is entirely and utterly new to me.  I sit on my desk chair that once had a home at RHCC, now on a cheap piece of carpet on my cold cement floor smelling a bit like old car oil.  My plethora of books all boxed up with a handful displayed on my desk for easy reference.  Two lamps light the inside of this dusky home, illuminating something, giving off a sense of homeliness, yet only discoloring the coldness of old useless junk.  What am I doing?

I am not preparing any sermons right now; I don’t have any planned that I will be giving and this is extremely bizarre for me as I’ve been doing weekly sermons, with an occasional break due to my third transplant, for almost twelve years now.  I have four children, one in heaven, and I am extremely blessed because of this but I have no known future besides pouring into these precious souls.  And this I will do gladly.  But I have been so entirely used to pouring myself out into hundreds of lives, that a part of me is taken aback by the stark reality that this is not my role right now.  It will be again, but it is not right now.  Now, I am to write with words.

My audience is a God who has not only changed my poopie diapers, but has cleansed the darkness of my heart.  My audience is not a bunch of college students or an adult ministry at Life on the Hill, those whom have heard me and have laughed and cried, but to a God whose heart breaks for me with compassion and goodness.  And so Father I will write for the sake of interacting with You, with Your Word, and with Your truth that You show me.  I have no idea what is in store, but I pray I will be faithful in writing.  You must be with me in this coldness that is the new office to me, and You must, I beg You, speak to me and validate me as only You can.  I am a bit at a loss right now, for I have no idea what writing will do; but I trust you.

You are my Moby Dick, and though I do not seek to kill you, I am obsessed with You.  You are my black knight, my champion king who returns.  You are my Ivanhoe, wounded, yet victorious for me.  You are my audience, and with these words that will be from my heart, I pray You use them for Your glory.

Carrying Around Death in Me

This past weekend we traveled down to San Diego for a day and spent time not only reflecting on how much we loved each other, but also reflected on all the Lord has done in our lives.  Mia and Noah joined us as we went ice-skating on the beach at the Del in Coronado and walked to dinner and breakfast amidst the crisp cool air that is the beach-front.  It was a wonderful time as Kelly and I watched our two precious children play and frolic in the sand and surf.  In the back drop of my mind however, stood a pillar of anxiousness that has always been a goliath to me; the precariousness of my health.  In faith, I do not done the armor of Saul, but I seek refuge in the Lord.  I am no David or Moses in faith, but my heart is such that I seek to hide myself in the cleft of the rock, hoping and praying the Lord would pass by me and continue to sustain me.

It would seem that Samuel and the thought of last year’s events would ring loudest in my ears, yet having had three transplants during this season, I can’t help but be brought back to the pressing reality of unhealthiness.  The truth is, a few days before our trip to San Diego, I was told my liver wasn’t pristine anymore; the latest rounds of blood tests showed a slight elevation in my blood levels.  This is not necessarily cause for alarm, but with my two children in sight, as well as my pregnant wife, I can’t help but go to places in my flesh that I have no right or business to go to.

My body at times feels like a body of death; a sarcophagus slowly closing in around me.  I do not say this to be dramatic.  This is very real to me as each time I get blood drawn is an opportunity to hear once again, as I have heard so many times before, that I could be dying.  I am not dying right now.  I do not want to raise alarm to anyone.  And yet, I am dying; I cannot be naïve to this.  All of us are. 

2 Corinthians 4.7-12, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.  For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.  So death is at work in us, but life in you.”

My body is a jar of clay.  Oh to think anything other than this reality is such a naïve place to be!  And yet, as I walk, as I minster, as I live for the glory of my wonderful God, I know too that I carry around with me this strange reality.  I am dying, and in my life I carry around with me the reality of Jesus Christ’s death.  It is more than enough to me, to know the surpassing greatness of the act of my Jesus for me; to come and justify me to the Father.  Yes, we go through pain and trials and persecution, but we do it not focused on ourselves, but the glory of Christ’s death AND resurrection, so that in our faith in Jesus, His life and His glory may be made manifest as we show the world through this faith that is a gift, that He alone is enough to still be praised.

I do not live and breath and move for myself; I do not live as a victim of causality nor circumstances.  I am not some meaningless heap going through life merely trying to get by or be as happy as I can.  I am a son of the Most High God, redeemed for eternity, blessed beyond anything.  Yes I am.  I am not defined by my disease or liver struggles, any more than I am defined as a father who has lost a child.  I am not a victim of God’s sovereignty; I am a servant of the King.  I carry around with me the most precious promise of eternal life.

Did you know that?  Did you know that you carry around with you, as you face trials and pain, the promise of eternal life to those who would see the faithfulness born in you towards an awesome and almighty God?  Romans 8.18, “For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”  There is death in this life, but there is life in death.  We cannot be consumed, and I need to hear this just as much as the next person, with the trials we are facing.  They will come; they have been promised to us.  We are indeed struck down at times.  We are confused and perplexed; these are natural and right emotions.  But the conclusions of this world, that of destruction and despair, and not in the vocabulary of the believer of Jesus Christ.

No, we are more than conquerors.  We are not victims; we are messengers in our pain of the very promise of eternity.  “So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4.16-18).

Really, in all sincerity, praise God for these trials and this body of death.  For in it, we get to proclaim the promise of eternal life.  We get to honor the King.

 

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A Faithful God in December

Last year my son died.  It’s impossible to forget; in fact I don’t even want to.  Today, he would have been alive for ten days last year; knee deep in surgeries with a host of prayer warriors across the world petitioning for a little giant who captivated us.  Today, I am in my office with only memories of that cataclysmic time.  Each day that passes I don’t exactly dwell on him, but I would be lying if I said I don’t at least stop and remember the smells and sights of the ECMO machine, the CDH issues, and the neo natal intensive care unit.  I look at my wife often throughout the day and I see her carrying our next child, due late February or early March, noticing too the toll life has thrown at us.  This time of the year brings back so much.

Each liver transplant I have had, all three, were in the throws of December.  One transplant was done on the 23rd of December, another on the 28th, and still one more in January over the course of ten years.  The one in January, however, was probably the most difficult as Kelly was pregnant with my first son, Noah, while her husband was in a walking coma for much of December and January.  And last year, my son died on December 24th.  From one perspective, December has not been kind.

But from another perspective, one in which I see but do not see, one in which is given through the eyes of faith in Jesus Christ, proves to show me that our God is faithful.  I have only to look at Abraham, through the writings of Paul, in Romans 4, to see that my God has been faithful to His children throughout the ages.  Romans 4.16, 19-21 “That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent to the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all…He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.  No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”

Faith is a divine gift from our Divine Father.  Abraham was given faith, and the faith that he was given was counted to him as righteousness through Jesus Christ alone as he looked forward to the promised Seed.  He believed for Christ’s righteousness and rightness, and this I do as well.  It is the reality of the gospel, the quintessential manifestation of the faithfulness of God displayed through love.  But what strikes me to the heart right now is the statement in verses 20-21, “no distrust made him waiver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”

It is no secret that a host of us have been through difficult and trying times.  But as we see with eyes of faith and experience the goodness of God despite the sin in our lives, are we too fully convinced that God will do what He has promised?  And do we even know what that great promise is?  It is nothing short of full redemption from the struggles of our lives, full reconciliation to the Father through Jesus Christ, and an eternity of fullness in perfection for the rest of our existence.

This is the goodness of the Christmas season that we must continue to look upon.  Jesus Christ, in the flesh, fulfilling all righteousness where we have failed.  Despite the difficulties in our lives, despite the horrible trials of December that it has brought to many of us, we must see not the trials, but the faithfulness of December.  The perfect life, the sacrificial death, the glorious resurrection of Christ, and the gift of faith given to us by the Father elicits in our lives a righteousness not our own.  Romans 4.24-25, “It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”

Our God is faithful, even when we are not.  Regardless, we can rest assured in the work of Christ, and proclaim from the rooftops even when tragedy strikes, that our God is faithful, even in December.

Love or Self-Love During Christmas?

Americans, and much of the world right now, has sneezed.  Out came Christmas in many forms.  From decorations, to trees in homes, lights on the outside of our houses like little beacons in the darkness, and blown up Santa Clauses riding on top of things ranging from mobile homes to motorcycles; all with moving parts.  Oh the comedy of it all.  Am I immune to this?  No.  I have a tree, I have stockings over the mantle, I have lights on the outside of the house that I put up with the fear of death.  Oh the comedy that, having gone through three liver transplants, I would cheat death on a shaky ladder by myself to hang colored lights on my roof.

I have spent more money on my wife, more money on my children, and more time thinking about these gifts than I should have.  I admit this.  But as I sit back and reflect on it all, I am convicted.  I see a reality around me that I must speak on.

God has ordered things when He created creation in such a beautiful and tangible way.  It’s not the things themselves that are evidently beautiful, but the order in which He has placed them that makes it all flow wonderfully; similar to a beautiful canvas.  By the law of creation too, there is no less order and unity among men and women; for we are the highest and cheifest manifestation of His works.  As God has molded the rest of the world into a beautiful frame by the first stamp of His finger and the first powerful Word from His mouth, so did He too engrave upon the hearts of men something that has indeed tied us together as well.  It is a perpetual bond that unites the sons and daughters of men together.

This is the law of love.  We love God, founded upon the essential dependence on and subordination of God as supremely good, and our love to each other, grounded upon our communion with each other and interest in each other as the image of God.  Christ gives us the perfect succinct version of this in Matthew 22.37-39, “And he said to them, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And the second is like it:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The love we have for God is displayed also in our love for one another.  Romans 13.10, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”  Or again, just a few verses before, Romans 13.8, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”  But sin has cut to pieces the divine love that knit us originally together, not only with each other, but with the Lord.  Only Christ has enabled us to love freely and rightly now, as we take on His righteousness, and this is done only in faith.

Hugh Binning writes, “If the love of God and of one another had kept the throne, there had been a co-ordination and co-working of all men in their actions, for God’s glory and the common good of man.  But now, self-love having enthroned itself, every man is for himself, and strives by all means, to make a concurrence of all things to his own interest and designs.”

Our unity in love is dissolved because of sin.  Christmas is reminding me of this.  We have so much self-love in what we do.  We have turned all the realities of love back onto ourselves; we have become the center of our worship.

Now Jesus Christ, the Lord, has redeemed lost man and repaired these ruins that make up our castles, particularly restoring the fundamental law of creation and love; He alone unites us to God and to one another.  He is truly our peace and has removed the seeds of discord between God and man and between man and man.  This is the wonderful reality of 1 John 4.7-12, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.  In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might liver through him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”

This is the very substance of the gospel.  We love because we have been loved.  Jesus Christ, particularly during this time of remembrance of His birth, and focusing on the true Gospel of His work, should move us to stop loving ourselves and focus on loving others.

Instead of loving others during this time, are we simply loving ourselves more deeply?  What could be a viable test of this?  Is the amount of money we are spending on others?  Does that signify a self-love or a love for others?  If we give without any hope of return, perhaps to those without the ability to give, then I would argue yes, we are beginning to get it.  But test your bank accounts and see where you are spending your money this holiday season.  I say this not to condemn, but as a lovely challenge to fix our eyes on the glory of Christ, and love as He loved us.

The Weeds of Sovereignty

“He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.  So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also.  And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field?  How then does it have weeds?”  He said to them, “An enemy has done this.”  So the servants said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?”  But he said, “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.  Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into the barn.” (Matthew 13.24-30)

I believe the parable of the weeds expresses the sovereignty of God in a profound way.  Christ explains the parable to us in verses 37-39,  “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.  The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom.  The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil.  The harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels…”

We can note several things about the reality of God’s Kingdom here.  First, the good seeds were good from the beginning; though some of them had not ripened or ripened at the same time as others, nonetheless, the good Sower had chosen the seeds himself and placed them specifically for the bearing of good fruit.  This much is clear.  We can note from this too the opposite is true; the bad seeds were not originally good and became bad, nor did they even have a chance of becoming good; they were inherently bad.

We can also see the field itself, considered to be the world, was in the realm of the good Sower’s care; it was his field.  I think that is crucial to understanding this parable.  The world is under the compassionate care of our wonderful Creator; there is no scope or situation beyond the great Caretaker.  This is inherent in our understanding of God as our Father and we, the good seeds, as the children of this amazing God.

But the greatest encouragement that I find from this, as well as the thing that should illicit a holy fear within us, is the reality of the seeds.  Whether good or bad, the seeds themselves could not make a choice as to what category they found themselves in.  It is not up to the seeds of the field on whether they are weeds or wheat that bears good fruit; it is according to the will, plan and providence of the Sower.

This is such a clear indication of the sovereignty of God in all aspects of salvation.  Those whom are good, will continue being good until the end.  Those who are bad, though sometimes confusing to the workers in the field, will turn out to show the truth of their lives in the end.  It also shows me the reality of the enemy of our souls trying to work and ruin the work of God in our lives.  Yet, and yet!  Oh if we could just understand this truth.  There is not fruit from the enemy; there is no victory!  The good seeds are good seeds; there is no changing in them.  Though the bad seeds come and choke up and surround the good seeds with their weeds, nonetheless, we see that ultimately and finally the work of the enemy is all for naught.

I am so incredibly encouraged by this parable.  My security rests in the good Sower, the Son of Man, who loves me and places me in His field from the very beginning.  I can look at my life, and I can see some bad things within it. I can even notice around me all of these horrible situations that seem to drag me down, causing me to fear and lose hope.  Yet the everlasting God has planned from the very beginning that I am a good seed; I know this from the profession of faith within me and my desire to honor the King and have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  I know this because I have placed the trust of my life, the salvation of it, upon the shoulders of Christ and not upon my own works.  I throw myself on this reality; it is the only thing that remedies.

So take heart.  This is a proclamation from the rooftops of our hearts into the streets of our lives; we are in the loving care and hands of our intimate Lord through Jesus Christ.  We are in the world, but we are not of it; we have been sown, according to the sovereignty, providence, will and plan of the Father as good seeds.  There’s nothing that can now separate us from the love of God.  Nothing.  God will see us through to the end, as the Spirit insures this.  Our strength in life is that God has chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world that we would bear fruit; fruit that lasts.