Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Winds of Change

Seems like it was just days ago I was curled up on my couch, weighted down under multiple layers of clothes and a blanket.  Snow drifts as tall as me lined either side of my snow-packed driveway, and sub-zero temperatures ensured I made good use of my car's auto-start each morning.

Now, I sit outside as the sun is setting, still wearing multiple layers, but this time with flip flops instead of thick fuzzy socks.  The snow is all but melted, save for a few small drifts across the street.  The birds are singing loudly, kids are down the street playing, Gracie is taking a few timid steps outside the house, and I just drug my trash can down a driveway without any ice.

I can't believe how things are changing so quickly.  The seasons are a constant reminder of life's continual cycles.  But somehow I forget that more changes in life than just the weather.

This month has brought dramatic changes to my life, to my family's life.  I can accept it, but I don't often embrace it.  Instead, I cling tightly to my routine, trying desperately to hold onto what I recognize.  I crave the familiar.  I function poorly outside of what I don't know.

But God once again patiently whispers to my soul, gently reminding me that change is necessary.  He is not a God of routine, of sameness.  No, He is a God of creativity, newness, life.  He is a God of restoration, beauty, purpose.

The winds of change have swirled around me like a hurricane.  They are subsiding, but not ending.  They still rustle the leaves on the trees of my life, as if to tell me that we're not done yet.  They dance around me, ever-present, but not taunting.  They are like a fresh-smelling breeze that warms the soul on a spring day.

Change brings storms.  Thunder and rain, snow and wind.  But no change happens that has not already happened before.  Winter is gone but will come again, with destructive winds, dangerous temperatures, and snow that halts daily life. But the combination paints a beautiful landscape of white and rolling hills and sparkling trees.  Spring is coming, and with it much flooding from melted snow.  Soon there will be thunder and lightning and rain.  But then comes the beauty - green grass, beautiful flowers, new life.

Change brings new life.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Cars, Books, and Testimonies

"Yer readin' the wrong book," he said to me as I stood up to leave.  The repair man had just briefed me on the status of my car after I had spent the past hour and a half settled into the overstuffed sofa in the waiting room of the auto shop.  Two men had sat across the room from me during this time, talking about their NCAA brackets and contemplating where the broken screw came from that was in one of the man's tires.

I looked down at the book in my arms.  Heaven by Randy Alcorn.  I looked up at the man who had spoken.

"Yer readin' the wrong book," he repeated.  "You should be readin' the one about the Big Guy Himself."

Ohhh, I thought.  Whew.  I wasn't quite sure what direction he had planned to take with his original comment.

"I do read that book," I told him.

"Do ya?  Good."  And then he proceeded to launch into his testimony.  He was in a car accident back in '79 and messed up some of his facial nerves.  It took a few years, but God finally got a hold of him and he turned his life around.  Now he loves God and has been following Him ever since.

"Well, I'm proud of ya," he said to me after I listened to his story and stood there like a deer in the headlights, not knowing what to say.  I mumbled a "thank you" and left the shop, head spinning and feeling a little ashamed of myself.

I'd spent the last who-knows-how-many weeks fighting with myself for not being more bold and verbally sharing my faith with any of the hundreds of people who cross my path each week.  I beat myself up over not taking advantage of any and every opportunity to speak the Name of Jesus to my patients and co-workers, yet try to lessen my self-damnation by making excuses of justification.

The truth is, this process itself is a form of procrastination, an excuse I use to put off executing the command Jesus gave to all believers.  After all, I can't go share my faith when I'm still trying to figure out all the "rules" and "methods" and "right ways" of getting it done.


Yet  here was a man - totally relaxed, chatting with his buddy, out in public - who didn't hesitate to expose his faith to me.  It's not like I handed him a huge opportunity by walking up and asking, "Can you tell me how to get to heaven?"  (I'm finding that as a general rule...most people don't make it that easy.)  He happened to notice the title of the book I was reading, and he found a way to make something happen.

I spend too much time thinking and no time doing.  I desperately hope that the lost will somehow see Christ shining through my life...but really, how am I living in a way that they aren't?  I live in a rural community.  Everyone is nice to each other.

But so many are lost.

So many souls all around me are going to hell when they die.

I hope the lesson this man taught me doesn't fall flat.

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  1 Peter 3:15

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Now He Sees

On Friday morning I got the call.

By Friday evening I was in the ICU room with my family back in Kansas.

All weekend we stayed together in his hospital room, watching him slowly ebb away.

Tonight at about 10:25, with wife, daughter, son, and daughter-in-law standing around his bed, he slipped from our grasp and into the arms of Jesus.

At 10:30, the four of us huddled together at the foot of his bed and prayed.

At 10:35, we began making our phone calls.

It's a mystery to me, these ten minutes in time and the stretch that followed before we left his hospital room for the last time.  For the final 75 hours of my dad's life, I watched alongside my family as he lost his battle with leukemia.

It was agony for all of us, seeing him struggle to breathe, unable to eat, hooked up to all kinds of lines and monitors.  I dreaded the moment in time when it would all come to an end...yet I didn't want it to continue any longer.

And finally - so quickly we nearly missed it - he was gone.  Peacefully and quietly.

The mystery to me is this:  We cried as we watched him go, and tears still fell as we prayed.  But then there was calm.  Peace.  Joy.  Just as quickly as he left, these things came.  We were able to smile and laugh and rejoice through the tears as we walked away.

The mystery to me is this:  The joy and peace overwhelm the sorrow.  A weight has been lifted from my soul and His burden is light.  There is an ache in my chest, but my heart feels no pain.

The mystery to me is this:  Now he sees clearly.  Now he sees face-to-face.  And it literally takes my breath away to know that he is now standing before the God of the universe.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all who prayed, texted, called, emailed, and visited during my dad's final days.  Your prayers sustained us, and your words encouraged us.  God is generous in mercy and blessing, and these blessings He gave us this weekend I would not trade for all the riches in the world.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Praying and Waiting, Waiting and Praying

It's always a little risky giving someone your Blogger ID and password.

You never know when they might break in and post on your blog.

Like this morning.

This is Lyla, posting for my friend Elizabeth while she is away.


I had the privilege yesterday of subbing in for Elizabeth in her Sunday School class. Our little rural church became multi-site, internet-campus again just briefly as we hooked up into the hospital room where Elizabeth and her family spent Sunday morning with her dad by way of my overheating computer, a webcam and instant messaging.

I do love my laptop, but never quite so much as I did yesterday as it became the link between me and some folks I'd dearly love to closer to today. Pastor Dennis remarked later that it felt so humbling to pray for Melvin knowing the family was sitting in on the service with us. I think humbling was a good word. I felt the same as we started class by praying with them.

Folks, my aim here this morning is simple. I just want to ask you to pray.

As Melvin fights acute leukemia, the family prays and waits. And they wait and pray.

It's hard to wait, not knowing whether God will choose to send Melvin back out to fight, or if He'll decide that it's His turn to hang out with him all day and swap stories.

It's hard to pray, not knowing which way is better. Like Paul, we're torn. "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know!"

So, we don't know. But we pray. And we wait.

Please join us.

Friday, March 5, 2010

"Follow Me"

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew.  They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.  "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men."  At once they left their nets and followed Him.

Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John.  They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets.  Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him. 
-Matthew 4:18-22 (emphasis mine)

What radical faith.  Here are four men, working away on the docks, trying to bring home food for the day.  Jesus had just begun His ministry, so these guys may or may not have heard of Him.  Regardless, they didn't know Him well.

So this strange guy walks by, says "Follow me," and they do.  They drop what they're doing and follow Him.  Two of them even walked away from their father, whom they were working with.

And they kept following Him.  For the next three and a half years, they followed this Man.

Make me wonder.  If Jesus walked down the hall of the hospital where I work, poked His head into the therapy gym, waved and said "Hey, come with me," would I?  Would I drop my paperwork, walk out on my patient, leave my car behind and follow?  Would I walk behind Him out the door and into the great unknown and not return for several years?

I kind of think I wouldn't.  I'm guessing my response would be more like, "Hang on just a sec, I'll be done in fifteen minutes, then I'll come talk to you."  I certainly wouldn't abandon my work.  If I followed, I'd probably at least wait until the end of the day, after I tied up my loose ends.

But He has words for people like me.

He said to another man, "Follow me."
But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father."
Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God."
Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family."
Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."

He demands everything.  I need to choose to follow and not look back.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Task Before Me

He answered.

I asked Him to move, and He answered.  He broke through my walls and created a bit of a mess before helping me pick up the pieces.

He called me to change.  Not that I didn't already know this was there...but now He picked it up and held it out to me.

He wouldn't let me rest until I took it.  Examined it.  Held it up and looked at it with Him in the light of His Word and Grace.

The Truth has always been there.  But this time He spoke it gently and straight to my heart.  And oh, how it cut, dividing joint and marrow.

I know what I need to do.  He has told me.  It has long been written in ink for centuries.  I know it's there.  I know it's true.

But one thing still stops me.  One thing will continue to keep me from taking action and honoring Him.

One thing.


I hate that.  I hate that I get in the way of what is right and true.  But the flesh in me continues to balk, wanting nothing to do with change and clinging to the safe and comfortable.  Holding onto what I already know.  I will choose to fail.  I know that.  Because there is still too much of my own desire to keep me from His.  And I hate that.  But right now, my desire is stronger than my hate.

There is urgency in my lack of obedience, because I know that one day I will have to explain myself.  Try to reason with a holy God why I didn't want to do what He asked.  He will hold me responsible for the blood of those I did not warn, did not go to like He told me.

He is the Author and Giver of my life.  The One who chooses to let me take my next breath.  At some point, this breath will be my last, and I don't know when that is.  Could be my next breath.

And I will be standing before Him.

So I pray.  I ask for boldness.  I ask for the Spirit to move in me, to take over and get me out of the way.  I want to hear Him say well done.  I want Him to be pleased.  I imagine it will be so, because I imagine all the things I will do for Him - a few months down the road, a few years from now, when this thing comes to pass or when that thing happens.

But what if a few months down the road never comes?  What if I stand before Him tonight?  Will He still say well done?

I desire obedience, not sacrifice.

He has not given me the future.  He has given me now.  And He has told me what to do with the now.  But I am too weak.

So I ask for strength, for help.  I tell Him I cannot do it.  It's too much for me.  Because it is.  If it were easy, I'd have done it by now.  I need Him.  I need Him to help me.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Get It

I don't get it.

I need to.  But I don't.

Maybe my heart is calloused from being immersed in these beliefs my whole life.  Maybe that has nothing to do with it.  Probably it's my own sinful heart that stands in the way.

I tend to think people who come to Christ at an older age have a deeper appreciation for His grace, a more thorough understanding of the meaning of the cross.  I wonder if I had known Christ for only a few months instead of my whole life if I would get it.

I think more highly of myself than I ought.  My heart reeks of pride.  It tells me I am good enough.  I am better than most.  I'm doing all the right things and am commendable before the LORD.  I don't worry about what He asks me to do, because what I'm already doing is good enough.  I think I don't need Him as much as I do.

But all of this reveals the ugly truth:  the attitude of my heart is detestable to Him. 

I stow away just enough pride to keep me self-sufficient.  I am independent.  I can take care of myself.

In my pride, I miss the point.  I carry a self-induced load that weighs me down so low that the truth of His grace goes right over my head.

I have enough knowledge to recognize that He says I need Him, can't make it without Him.  And so I say thank you, and I move on.

I want it to hit me like a train, crush me like a boulder, drown me like a hurricane.  I want the eyes of my heart to be opened so I can see how ugly my sin is, how much it ruins me.  I want to understand that I deserve hell, and I want to be so broken by the darkness of my heart that I can't stand up under it.  I want to so deeply grasp the truth of Grace that my tongue speeks freely from the overflow of my heart, so that I have no choice but to speak it to all who come near.

I want to no longer be silent.  I want boldness to replace my fear.  I want to be broken with the things that break His heart.  I want my purpose to be always in front of me, and I want to always be moving forward.  I want to live a life that demands an explanation.  I want to live in the only way that makes sense in the light of heaven and hell.

I need to get it.


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