Hiding or Healing

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This morning, I was going through some notes and scraps of paper that had been stuffed in my bible. Most were notes from studies I had taken my men’s group through. One note however, was on a napkin (I kid you not, a napkin), scribbled as God had given me an idea for a message. This was from a few years back, when I was blessed to serve in the recovery ministry of Faith Promise Church in Knoxville, where I would periodically deliver the evening’s message.

The notes on the napkin contained the title of this blog post, followed by a few scripture references. I don’t know if that message will ever take full form, or be delivered, (that’s up to God) but I felt Him nudging me to share its premise here.

All of us have gone through painful experiences, whether that be loss of a loved one, financial or relational struggles, devastating illness, deep addictions or other poor life choices. The question is not whether we have or will encounter these valleys in our lives (we have…or we will). The question is what do we do with them when they come? We have two choices.

The first is to hide and frankly, this is our nature. It started with Adam and Eve attempting to hide from God in the garden (Genesis 3). That didn’t turn out well for them, or us. We see it again when Jonah attempts to hide from God by hopping a ship going in the opposite direction of where God told him to go (Jonah 1). He ended up in the digestive system of a large fish…not a good turn of events for Jonah!

Through the profit Isaiah, God gives us clear warning about hiding our plans and activities. I’d encourage you to read what He says about that here. The bottom line is, there’s never a good outcome when we hide our bad habits or hurts, thinking somehow that the darkness will cover them over. It never does. 1 Corinthians 4:5 says, “…He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts…”. This is not to punish us, or because God is a mean, stick wielding God. This is because He knows that our healing, and the healing of those we may have impacted, cannot begin until the issue is brought into the light. In fact, it is to save us from the punishment we inflict upon ourselves, by attempting to keep it in the dark.

So what about that second choice; the choice to bring our problem into the light. How do we know that’s the way to go? Just look at the bleeding woman from Luke 8:43-48. A woman with bleeding of this type, in that time and culture, would have been considered unclean. She certainly wouldn’t do anything to draw attention to her plight. Yet because of her faith and her desire to be healed. she stepped out boldly to encounter Jesus in a very personal way. Because of her willingness to bring her circumstance into the light, she received the healing she so desperately needed.

Or what about the ten men with leprosy (Luke 17:11-14) who called out to Jesus for healing. Lepers were kept separate from the rest of society, barred from any interaction with others. These men however, knew that Jesus brought the healing they needed and so they stepped out from the shadows and asked. That’s exactly what we need to do.

If you have a bible app that allows you to search key words, plug in the word darkness and see how many times it comes up, and how God talks about it…and keep in mind, it’s not just physical darkness He’s referring to. It’s the spiritual darkness that permeates our lives, when we refuse to seek the light…His light. To hide in the darkness is a ridiculous notion. Simply read Psalm 139:7-12 to see why.

But there is great news to be found; in the stories of the bleeding woman, the ten lepers and in Psalm 112:4 which tells us: “Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man”. Whatever you’re tempted to hide in the darkness, bring it into the light and allow God’s grace and goodness to do for you, what He’s done for so many others.

To my brothers and sisters who have shared with me, the healing you’ve realized through bringing your hurts into the light, thank you for your inspiration and example; you know who you are. You demonstrate to those around you, that the healing light shown to the bleeding woman and the ten lepers, is not simply a historical story of a God that used to be, but a tangible living reminder of a God that is.

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All Things Great & Small

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Now more than ever, we are living in a world and a culture that values the big, the glitzy, the grand, and the extravagant. Just watching the evening news we find that, not only is the overwhelming majority of the news bad news, but it’s also all about the enormity of the story.

Earthquakes have to be at least a 6.0 to garner any interest and if no one is injured, or if no buildings collapse, we really don’t pay much attention. Shootings where only one or two people are killed might make your local news, but will certainly be passed up by the national networks.

If a Hollywood star or music icon makes a statement, our culture rushes to listen, and share it as if it came from Solomon himself. But the grandfather who likely has experiences and wisdom that few others posses, is never heard…And why is that? Because the entertainer is grand and glitzy in our eyes. The grandfather?..not so much.

Those of us who consider ourselves Christ followers, run the same risk. We know well, and are drawn to the grand stories and characters of the Bible; and we should be. Noah building the arc, Moses parting the Red Sea, David slaying Goliath, Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. These are fantastic stories that encourage us in knowing that truly, all things are possible with God.

But what of Tychicus, without whom several of Paul’s letters would never have been delivered? Without the delivery of those letters, we have no way of knowing what the impact to the early struggling churches might have been, or whether we would even find them in our Bibles today!

And how can we forget Jonathan, son of King Saul, confidant and loyal Christian brother to David? Jonathan literally saved David’s life from his father Saul, and supported him through incredibly difficult circumstances. It is not an overstatement to say that we may never have had “King” David, had it not been for Jonathan.

In our present day, we marvel at missionaries who are instruments of salvation for entire remote villages, or raise up orphanages in impoverished communities…and marvel we should. We are captivated by preachers (communicators they’re now called) who bring God’s Word in bold and innovative ways, and I for one am so very thankful for them. If these pastors really want to leave a mark, they’ll need to be published, and be on the speaking circuit at major Christian conferences. Only then, will they be looked to, followed on Twitter and quoted by the larger Christian community.

But what of the “missionary” right here in our own backyard that is ministering at a coffee shop to a brother or sister that is hurting and broken. No book deal, no entire community being brought to salvation…just changing one life at a time for Jesus.

What of the pastor shepherding the 50 person country, or inner city church? No speaking invitation to a 5,000 person conference, no Twitter account with thousands of followers…just a man or woman discipling and caring for a small group of believers who’s lives are enriched by that pastor’s commitment and dedication to God’s work.

Our worship (and I’m a huge fan of contemporary Christian music) is only considered worthwhile, if the decibels are high enough, the band cool enough and the lights so over the top, that you need solar eclipse glasses to even look toward the stage.

Don’t hear criticism in any of these examples. I truly am thankful for great worship, dynamic and insightful preachers and bold missionaries who throw away the comfort of the first world, and in some cases risk their very lives, for the cause of Christ. Surely all of these warriors will one day hear, “well done good and faithful servant”.

This writing is simply to help draw attention to and encourage, the millions of missionaries who are impacting God’s kingdom here on earth, one or two, or a few of God’s kids at a time. I know many of you reading this are one of those, and I pray that God counts me among you.

God’s Word says; “Who despised the day of small things…”. Today I stopped at the supermarket to pick up breakfast treats for my team; something I do each Friday. As I left I saw Logan, the young man who often bags for me. He is always incredibly friendly and engaging; traits not often found in supermarket baggers. I stopped and said: “hey Logan, you want a donut?” (I don’t often offer people food from my grocery bags so I’m thinkin’ God has something to do with this). Logan paused and said: “yeah, I could use a donut”. So I set my bags down at a vacant check-out, opened the box and let him pick out a donut.

No angelic choirs sang out, I won’t be invited to speak or write a book about “the famous donut incident”, and my Twitter feed won’t likely light up as a result. But I hope that in some small way, Logan saw Christ in me through that donut.

My encouragement is that each of us continue to go and share a smile, a cup of coffee, an encouraging word and a little of God’s Word…and to do it one or two people at a time. I believe God honors that, and smiles a little Himself. I also believe it’s one way of living out Matthew 28:19 which tells us to “go and make disciples”. So let’s share a donut and see if we can’t make a disciple or two along the way.

His Journey, His Glory, Our Gratitude

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So many wonderful friends have followed our journey since we left Knoxville just over two years ago. This has been an amazing journey of faith for us. We left a church family and so many brothers and sisters that we loved (and love) so much. But God said we were to go and try and make a difference for Him here in Colorado. Yes it’s beautiful here, but that didn’t make leaving the people and place we called home for nearly 20 years, any easier.

We came knowing very little; about where specifically we’d live or how He’d have us serve. We came with having to leave our oldest son Ryan in Knoxville, who chose to stay. We came knowing no one and without jobs but having faith God would provide those as well. We came in obedience and holding on to specific promises He made about our family being brought all together here and about ministry work for us. We’ve kept as busy as we can by serving through our church, a home for single mom’s at risk, and at a local recovery program. We served, waiting on the promises.

Our youngest son Graham came, having just completed his first year at ETSU and leaving his close friends behind. Our middle son Travis came, despite being in the midst of a serious relationship with a wonderful young lady, trusting that God would work in that for the good of all. We all had a lot to lose and so much uncertainty to gain. But because that uncertainty came from Him, we knew it was His best for us.

Shortly after our arrival here, Travis returned to Knoxville to propose to that young lady. Her acceptance would mean that she too, would have to leave her family and join Travis here in Colorado. She did that without hesitation, they married last year and now we have a precious daughter in law here as well.

This past winter, a year and a half after our move, Ryan called and said he was ready to come and in April, we returned to Knoxville an moved him out.  God indeed, brought all our family together as He promised, and added to it as well!

While we knew that my journey toward the ministry job God had for me could be an extended one, we did not expect it to last over two years. Occasionally we’d have thoughts or questions like; “God, what’s going on here…Have you checked the calendar lately?” Or, “God, you probably haven’t looked at our bank account in a while, but if you could check that out and then make a move, that would be great”.

Largely though, we slept well, served Him and trusted that He had all this under control. “And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes” (Romans 8:28). His word is replete with stories of trust, faith, obedience and reward. Because God cannot lie and is always faithful, He had delivered on His promise on bringing the family together, and He’d deliver on the job thing as well. As most of you know, God never disappoints, He’s never late and He’s always working. This Monday, I start my new position as Ministry Services Manager at David C Cook. If you’re not familiar with them, they are a publisher of Christian books, curriculum and music. If you’re interested, you can visit them at www.davidccook.com.

Needless to say we are very excited for this next chapter and I am so blessed to be able to bring my love of leading and developing others, into a Christian organization that’s focused on equipping churches and leaders around the world,  so they can better disciple those entrusted to them.

We can’t say thank you enough, to all of you that have prayed for us along our journey. You continue to mean so much to us. There are still more victories to win for Jesus and promises God has made to us, so don’t hesitate to throw up a prayer now and then. But we step into those as we did with the others; with faith, confidence and trust in the one who gave it all and gives it all. The thanks and gratitude are ours…The Glory is His.

Love you all more than you know…Peace & Blessings

 

 

Life from Death

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Most of us have faced some type of tragedy or crises in our lives. These events may stop us in our tracks. They may cause us to cry out for help or send us running for cover. In the midst of our plight, we may feel hopeless, as if there is simply no way out. The hole is too deep, the hurt to painful, the damage to devastating.

But that is never the case. There is always a way out. Even from the clutches of death, life can be restored. That’s not some motivational hyperbole…I’ve seen it first hand in the lives of real people. These are people who believed they had reached the end of their rope be it physically, spiritually or both, and saw no path to restoration.

Recently I was privileged to walk with man who’s spent his entire life living in the midst of extreme dysfunction. Physical and emotional abuse as well as rampant drug use surrounded him since he was a boy. This led to issues of anger as well as terrible life choices of his own including drug use & dealing, gang affiliation and violence. After an arrest he was offered the opportunity of entering a 15 month residential rehab program. Today, a graduate of that program, Dennis, 35 and 18+ months clean, is working for a missionary catering company and studying to become a world class chef. He has a positive outlook as he builds a promising future. From near death, came life.

My dear friend Bobby lived a life of alcohol and cocaine addiction that spanned 38 years. He affiliated with organized crime and had one priority in mind…Bobby. At age 55, his kidneys and liver failing, he reluctantly entered a rehabilitation program. It was there that he hit his knees, cried out to God for rescue, and began the journey from death to life. Today he is 7 years sober, physically and spiritually restored and actively helping other addicts find hope.

A few years back, I had the honor of baptizing a man named Steve, who had been watching our church’s service on line. He’d never physically been to the building. He had been watching on line, not because he lived far from the church, or because he had other obligations that kept him from visiting…He watched on line because he was wheelchair bound and simply found it easier. ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) had ravaged his body and taken most of his mobility.

He came to be baptized on a Monday evening in front of a small crowd of about 100 people. His lifelong friend and I basically carried him from his chair, into the baptismal pool. After a brief discussion and his affirmation of having accepted Jesus, we took him under the water and raised him back up. Water mixed with tears dripped down his face as he turned to me and said: “Now I feel complete”…From the shadow of death, came life.

The photo above was taken this past week in the Black Forest region of Colorado Springs. Four years ago, a fire destroyed over 14,000 acres, 500 homes and took two lives in that beautiful community. The spot that photo was taken from was part of the area scorched by the fire. In the background you can see what’s left of a few of the thousands of trees that were decimated. But in the foreground, at the feet of death, new life has been brought forth.

In the movie Jurassic Park, Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum) eloquently states; “Life finds a way”. He is so very right. Life does find a way. And that way is only because of the goodness of God. Death is permanent; except where God is present. If we can press through the valley of the shadow, He will always bring life on the other side. Watch for it; work for it; wait for it; believe it.

For Jason…and for you

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Each day, there is a fight that we must face. Whether we realize it or not, we are in a battle. For some of us, that battle is strikingly evident. It comes in the form of serious illness, relational, or financial crises, addiction or loss of a loved one. For others, the battle may be a quiet, more hidden one. A private struggle with depression or anxiety or the stress of raising children in a fractured society. It may simply be the daily challenges of sorting out a world that seems to be changing at breakneck speed…all too often, not for the better.

There’s a race to be run as we fight. At the end of his time here, the apostle Paul, in writing to his young protege Timothy said: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

Notice the order here. Paul had to first, “fight the good fight” before he could “finish the race.” Many of us start things that we never finish, or in some cases, don’t finish well.

This past week, we received the devastating news that my 37 year old nephew had died from a heroin overdose. Jason had struggled with alcohol and drug addiction for some time. He had overdosed and nearly died two years ago, but came through it and spent those last two years in recovery, seemingly doing well. Jason was a kind man with a big heart and unfortunately, a big addiction that gained mastery over him. That’s what addictions do.

I have worked with people in addiction for several years now and it is a voracious and relentless enemy that requires a constant, and equally relentless, fight to stave off. Those who struggle with it know all too well, how it’s claws continue to snap at you, attempting to get a foot hold and pull you back in. It is, as we are witnessing across our nation, a battle that far too many are unable to win.

So many start that road to recovery, convicted that they must make a change, yet many of those souls are lost before the finish line. It is in between the starting line and the finish line that we fail. We often don’t plan, or put the right support structure in place. Luke 14:28-30 reminds us that if we want to build something (a tower, a business, a life) we should first lay out some plans and be sure we have, not only a solid foundation from which to start, but all the things we’ll need along the way to complete the project…or as Paul would say, to finish the race. It is in the “in-betweens” that we stumble.

We all have battles to wage everyday. But in this moment, I speak to those who struggle with addiction, or are close to someone who does. Be sure to make plans to prepare for the in-betweens. Recovery is often a one day (or even one hour) at a time battle. Be sure to have a support structure in place; people that have your back and hold you accountable. Be engaged in serving others, steer clear of any person, place, or thing that might remind you or draw you back into old habits. Never, ever isolate yourself. It is a battle that can be won. I have have been blessed to do life with people who are, as we speak, walking in victory over it.

This is anything but easy, but it is part and parcel of fighting the good fight. Do these things so that like Paul you’ll be able to say, “I finished the race.” I pray that you (or that someone you love) will be able to claim that; and as they do, it will be not only because they fought the good fight, but just as importantly because they “kept the faith” that started them on the race to begin with. And I pray also, that someone will read this and be convicted that Jason’s finish line, which came much to quickly, does not have to be theirs.

Jason, you’ll always be loved. We just wish we had you longer.

Rejected But Not Defeated!

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Rejection is a word that can’t feel good no matter how you slice it, parse it or spin it. All of us have experienced it at some time or other. I know I’ve stared rejection in the eyes many times in many ways in my life. It never feels good, and there are times we may go through long periods of rejection; be it one issue of extended duration, or repeated rejections that hit us relentlessly like a jackhammer pounding concrete.

I’ve known and walked with people who have suffered tremendous rejection in seemingly all aspects of their lives. Relational & vocational rejection that when combined, brought them to their knees both emotionally and physically. These are the kind of situations for which there seems to be no words.

But it is at these very times; when we are knocked down, dragged around and feel unfit and unable to take another step, that we have an opportunity to have our ruins turned to riches. To take the nothing that we appear to be left with, and ask God to do something with it. It’s at these times, when all we have left is the total surrender of our nothing, that we can begin to climb out of the pit we’ve fallen or been kicked into.

Gideon was the least of the least and the weakest of the weak. Anyone in their right mind would have rejected him to lead anything. There’s no question he would’ve been picked last for basketball on the schoolyard. Yet God raised him up to lead a great army to victory against unthinkable odds (Judges 6:14-16 & 7:19-25). Esther was a poor Jewish Girl who, through the unlikeliest of circumstances, became queen. Then, at the risk of almost certain rejection and possible death, she took a risk, took a stand and saved an entire people (Esther 7:1-8:11).

Before Abraham Lincoln became president, he lost a previous bid for vice president, and two runs at the senate. His first business failed, and as an attorney, he lost a case he argued before the Supreme Court. His mother was killed from poisoned milk, his son died while he was president and his animals also died in a White House stable fire. Despite all this, he endured to see our nation through it’s darkest period and will go down as arguably, our greatest president.

A young Stephen Spielberg was rejected for admission, three times by the University of Southern California’s film school. You know the rest of the story.

Some form of rejection is inevitable for all of us. For some those rejections will take the form of temporary setbacks and disappointments…for others they can be devastating gut punches that stop us in our tracks, and buckle our knees. However, the individuals mentioned here and so many others show us that we can (and should) bounce back from these rejections; and when we do, we’ll be stronger and wiser for it.

There are many scriptures that should come to mind when we are facing trials or rejection but here are two to consider: The first is from 1 Peter, chapter 4. Verse 12 says: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you”. The second is in John 16:33 where Jesus himself says: “…In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” These verses tell us to expect trials, trouble and rejection but not to let them defeat us. Why? Because He is fighting the battle with us and for us; and He always wins.

We often allow our children to learn from their mistakes, discipline them  and tell them “no” when needed. None of that changes the fact that we love them beyond measure. Don’t ever doubt that the same is true of your Heavenly Father. So when we face rejection, let us rise up, not so much with the patience of Job, but with the faith of Job when he said of God: “Though He slay me, yet I will hope in Him…” (Job 13:15).

Die, Live, Repeat

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What an amazing time of year. While every day that God pours His glorious favor on us is a grand one, there is nothing like the victory we can all share in, at Easter. The fact that we have a new life, an eternal life with Jesus, is all predicated on what happened over this weekend more than 2000 years ago.

And while the victory of Easter is a day we should all anticipate with great eagerness, we cannot properly walk in that new life, without also participating in His death. In Romans 6:8, Paul says: “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him”. So clearly we must die with Him first, in order to live with Him forever.

A few years back there was a popular movie starring Tom Cruise entitled; “Edge of Tomorrow: Live, Die, Repeat”. The basic premise was that in order to achieve his goal, Cruise must live out a mission in which he would invariably get killed before completing, only to immediately come back to life and try again. This process repeated itself until he figured out how to fulfill the entire mission. Our mission as Christ followers is similar only ours should be titled; “Die, Live, Repeat”.

Take a few moments to meditate on what Jesus chose to do for us on this day. Reflect on how we must die each day to the man or woman we once were, and live the next day getting closer to fulfilling our mission of looking more and more like Him.

Today is Good Friday. I hope all of you will take some time to reflect on what happened on this day in the 33rd year of Jesus’ life. To help with that, I would encourage each of you to read the crucifixion story in any of the Gospels. You can find them here…Pick one or read them all:

Matthew 27:32-61  Mark 15:21-47  Luke 23:26-56  John 19:16-42

Once we’ve done that, we will be in the proper posture on Easter morning to raise our hands, our voices and our hearts to Him and truly celebrate His resurrection…and ours!

Happy Easter!