Stress and Embarrassment

My life has many stresses on it right now, as most of us live with some sort of stress at one time or another. However, my constant focus has always been to allow the stress of the situation make you stronger, but don’t let it break you. Unfortunately, it almost broke me last night, as I drove home in tears, sad, disappointed, and grasping for control. The signs were there that I was allowing the stress to pile on without a valve to release. My blood pressure was high, my emotional control was waning, and I was feeling isolated in a room full of friends.

The thing about stress is that it can either break you, or make you stronger, but if you just allow it to pile on without a release valve, then it will break you. I was beginning to crack, and even though I always tried to put up the facade that I was alright, my body was physically rejecting that, and was telling me I needed a relief valve pulled. I have always had running and exercise as a valve to give me relief, but with a leg injury that has finally sidelined me, I needed something else as a relief valve.

Sorrow and embarrassment clouded my mind last night, and I was not my usual jovial self. I was not a person that anyone would want to be around. I was lost in my own mind while my body was paying the price; my relationships were paying the price; my sanity was paying the price. I felt out of control, I felt for the first time since I had lost my weight as if I was the unhealthy person, which was too much for me to handle. My pride broke. The stresses were mounting, and my blood pressure was spiking.

I ultimately did something I had to do, and I sought solitude. Ironically, I had just preached on how Jesus needed solitude after feeding the 5000, but I literally had a hard time practicing what I preach. The mounting stress had caused me to isolate myself even among a group of people I call friends, and the only way to break from this isolation was to find solitude. To find a place where my mind was free, and I could commune with a loving God that wants me to simply raise my arms and cry out, “Save me!”

Stress can only make me stronger if I manage it, and admit that I need help dealing with it, dispersing and relieving it when necessary, for that I need to acknowledge I am mortal and I need saving. When I need solitude, I need to go and seek solitude. When I need relief, I need to seek relief. Life is a roller coaster, full of ups and downs, but I don’t ride this ride alone, God is with me. When I forget; I embarrass myself, I lose control, and I begin to break.

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Driving Out Fear

When I was younger, I was a timid person, and had many things that I feared. I didn’t want to go on roller-coasters, I avoided anything that had to do with heights, which often puzzled those around me since I have been more than six feet tall since I was twelve years old. “Are you afraid of standing up?” was a question I would often receive from my peers. However, as I grew older, I began pushing myself a little more, and even though I feared them, I pushed myself to go onto them, or maybe it was the peer pressure, either way I went on them. At first I would close my eyes tight, and not allow my eyes to increase or validate that which my mind feared.

However, simply closing our eyes, locking our doors, putting barriers between us and that which we fear, don’t keep us “safe”, but rather they give us a sense of security within which we are willing to live. The idea that there is always someone bigger, someone faster, someone smarter, someone stronger, is true, and if that person means to do me harm, them no amount of fortification I attempt, there is always a vulnerability.

Even the Empire, in Star Wars, thought they had built a SUPER weapon, THE DEATH STAR, a weapon intended to bring mass destruction, and with this weapon they would bring the universe to bow down before the power of the Dark Side. However, in two different episodes of the story, the Rebels were able to destroy this because of its vulnerabilities. While this vulnerability was exploited for the Light Side and Rebellion against the Empire, we too have darkness that seemingly overwhelms us at times.

Jesus disciples were not immune to fear, and they thought they could keep the Roman Empire out by simply locking a door behind them. Fear gripped them, fear kept them from doing what they were called to do, and fear made them act and think small and timid. That is how fear wins, by making us think and act timid.

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Jn 20:19–23). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

The disciples feared the Romans, their eyes had seen what the Romans and enemies of Christ could do, they feared that they would meet the same fate, they feared the Jewish leaders would push the Romans to root out all of the followers and kill them. However, Jesus had plans for his disciples, and first gave them PEACE, or Shalom, to rest their minds and allow them to set aside fear. This PEACE was power to set aside fear, and become their true and complete selves, no longer slaves to the fear that had once gripped them.

While fear should not take hold of us and be the cause for our inaction, the circumstances leading us to fear are real. The Romans crucified Christ, Jesus shows the disciples the results, his hands and side were pierced and broken. The things we fear are often real. We can fall from great heights and hurt ourselves. We can get bitten by a spider and get sick. We can get cancer, and that cancer can break us down, and make us weak. These things cannot be taken lightly, or treated recklessly, but they are opportunities where we can make a stand and say “NO” to fear. Much like Jesus showed the disciples that crucifixion was real and not a joking matter, in showing up before them he also stood up showing that even death was conquered with perfect love. So too, the things we fear, while real, can and will be conquered by love.

This indicates that the things that potentially cause us to fear, more than just being scared about going on a frightening roller-coaster, something that really invokes petrifying fear, such as a loved one facing cancer, or needing to speak up in the face of injustice when there will be almost certain consequences of doing so. We are called to answer that fear with LOVE. Love of God and love of neighbor must be that which we answer these real fears. We live in an imperfect world, with imperfect systems, and often time there is the temptation to just take a step back and wish for somebody else to step up.

I admit this is often my default response. Somebody else can step up and take this head on, I will give support, but not really stick my neck out and take it on. A few times I have stepped up and said something, but it doesn’t really go that far. I have even seen a couple friends really make some bold steps as to take on injustice in our country, and have risked future employment to speak out against injustice in our country. Other friends and families have done the unpopular task of going and standing with and/or fighting for those that are powerless in our society. I dearly admire these leaders and fighters.

Some, like my dear friend and sister, Jackie, have, in the face of a cancer diagnosis, bravely looked in the face of cancer and proclaimed, that it cannot win, it cannot break her spirit, it messed with the wrong woman! Her bravery, her boldness, her fight reminds me, and instructs me that I cannot be silent, I cannot be someone that sits on the sidelines and allows someone else to take this, I will respond to cancer, with LOVE. I will stand for, I will fight for, I will show cancer that LOVE will win the day. I may not be medicine, I may not be a surgeon, but I can pray, I can love, I can help in any number of ways. AND I WILL.

It is this Spirit, the HOLY SPIRIT, that Christ blows onto his disciples. No longer a spirit of fear, but THE HOLY SPIRIT, a SPIRIT of POWER, a SPIRIT of MOVEMENT, a SPIRIT of STRENGTH, and most importantly a SPIRIT of LOVE! With this SPIRIT we drive out fear, we are more than conquerors, and we allow God to utilize us to our full potential. This SPIRIT brings with it power and strength, and with this SPIRIT injustice is rooted out, cancer is defeated, and GRACE wins!

My Heartbreak, My Hope

This has been a tough couple of weeks, death, disease, and despair have surrounded my life, my friends, and my family. Tears are welling up in my eyes just thinking about the pain I have seen and experienced. However, in the midst of that deepest sorrow, there is hope. No matter what death tries to invade my space, no matter how disease ridiculously thinks it can invade and hurt the ones I love dearly, no matter how powerless we might feel, it cannot overcome the HOPE that dwells inside.

Last week illness took two lives from two parts of my family. I struggle to find the words of comfort for these dear friends and family. Death had not only taken lives, but also it had taken my voice, it had me second guessing my ability to be compassionate and offering a word of sorrow and condolence. While I certainly wish I could jump back in time and be that word necessary at that time, I know that I am not powerless to offer words now, and I will not be silent, I will “not throw away my shot!” Loss hurts, just as it should. It can paralyze us, not knowing where to go next. What do we do with those emotions and feelings? I don’t have the ultimate answer, maybe because we all have to deal with them differently, our relationships are complex, but I know that we cannot bury them inside. Speak them aloud to a crowd, or maybe just confide in someone close, or even the act of writing them out, as I think I am trying to do that here, but do something with them. I am inspired by so many that have turned their losses into something more, something that has turned around and benefited those struggling to find hope of any kind in the midst of their grief. However, they are able to tap into that central truth that no matter how dark life gets, it does not extinguish hope. The words of the apostle Paul in Romans 5 lead us toward that hope, the eager anticipation, that salvation and freedom are present and coming. God pours into us, and God loves us, and God’s love for us is not only for us when we have the answers, but the character of the Almighty is that God’s love for us is ESPECIALLY there for us when we are blinded and feel darkness creeping in.

However, we have those still with us, that also have to deal with the effects of disease, like my good friend, that is more of a sister to me, that recently told us that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. My response to that was tears, anger, sadness, and “NO!” No cancer, you don’t get this one, no I will not sit idly by, no I will not let defeatism win this day, no I will not sit idly by. I will fight. I will run. I will write. I will love with my whole heart. I will be present. I will be active. I will stand. I will be whatever I need to be, but I WILL BE! I love this sister dearly, and I put this on the public record that I will do whatever I can to tell cancer, to tell darkness, to tell death, that it has no place here and it will be defeated. You messed with the wrong woman! You messed with the wrong family! Cancer, your days are numbered. Why? We have hope. We are hope. We serve a God that is the embodiment of HOPE!

In stillness, in quiet, in solitude, my mind swirls about what I could have done, and then I wake up and realize that I am here right now, I am capable of doing something, and by the GRACE OF GOD, I will fight my hardest to show HOPE is MUCH MUCH greater than darkness and disease.

Making Resolutions…

Today I turn another year older, and every year I get older, and older, and older. I apologize to my parents, because I am sure that statement really makes them feel older, but really, I remember when my parents were my age and I thought they were old at that time. So I guess that my kids probably think that I am really old. Although I woke up this morning, and did not think of myself as old, as I got up and ran 8 miles, something I definitely would not have done ten years ago. Although, I probably needed it more ten years ago than I needed it today. However, I think that today as I turn thirty-five I am an adult, not old, but an adult, and I am viewed by the world as an adult, and my wife has been reminding me that I am middle aged now.

This prompts the question, what now? Something I regularly do on my birthday is set goals for the following year. Most people make New Year’s resolutions, but since my birthday is only a few days into the New Year, I get a few days to prepare myself for “the new and improved” version of myself. As I read an article about “How Life Won’t Begin At Your Next Milestone” on Relevant I brought this practice under scrutiny. While this didn’t directly address the making of resolutions, it does point out that we aren’t supposed to wait to make good changes in our lives, because by waiting until this milestone or that milestone to really live, or grow up, we often miss the life happening all around us.

I have certainly been guilty of looking forward without looking at now. Tomorrow things will be better, right? Why wait until tomorrow to make the change you need in your life today? When I first joined a gym it was a January, and I stuck to regularly going to the gym for less than three months after that. However, when I first became intentional about getting myself in better shape, it was an August, and as I stated in a previous post I have made that life change permanent as of this moment.  So why wait?
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I used to think that I have given myself the leg up by postponing my resolution timetable by eleven days, because most people fail at their resolutions within the first month, but in reality I have just procrastinated an extra eleven days at working to become the man God desires me to be. Don’t get me wrong, there is great value at taking inventory of our life and looking at the things that we need to do more of, or less than, and things we need to quit, or start, but once we take that inventory, we should start right away. Don’t put off until tomorrow, the things that God is calling you to do today.

There is hope in this for all of us. Some of us have already lapsed in our resolutions we have made for the New Year, and most of will fail at some point, but the good news is that it doesn’t mean we have to give up and wait for another year to make that resolution again, we have the power and the call to make that change RIGHT NOW. Maybe this post comes too early in the year for many, as there are a good number of resolutions being held onto, but come back to this in a month, or two, or more, and remember that failure is only a temporary setback, and that change happens one step at a time.

This process of making ourselves into the people God desires us to be is the process of sanctification. While we have been redeemed by a magical, mysterious, miraculous, and magnificent event with Christ, our sanctification takes our whole lives to achieve. So do not be distraught by missed resolutions, but rather pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and continue along the path toward the Lord’s sanctifying grace. One thing though… Don’t wait, do it today. Embrace God’s grace in your life now, and make the change today.

Blessed are the Peacemakers

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Fully into the season Advent, we come closer to celebrating the birth, and the coming of the Christ-child. Exploring how we are to approach this season, we look at how we are meant to treat one another. Instead of the images from Black Friday, where people were trampling people for a cheap big screen television or laptop, we are called to bring peace to our fellow man. Instead of waging wars and battles with our fellow man, God desires us to be the mediators and creators of peace among all mankind.

Jesus calls these peacemakers blessed.

Matthew 5:3-12 ESV
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Peace and hope, hope and peace, they lead us to the coming of the Lord. When we engage in active peace making with our fellow humans, we allow for the Holy Spirit to use us to bring hope to all mankind. Peacemaking is not an easy task, at least not for me, I can tell you even the smallest irritants have led me away from being an instrument of peace, and led me toward a person that breaks down relationships. At least three times before noon today, I became irritated at something somebody did at the office and, at least in my heart, held onto frustration and failed at bringing peace to my location.

Peacemakers bring blessing to those around them, and in turn the Lord blesses them. Lord, I pray that you work on my heart to be a peacemaker in my family, in my job, and in the lives of those around me.

Peace on Earth

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In this season of Advent, we are called to live our lives as worship glorifying the Almighty God, in this way we honor the coming of the Christ, ushering in the coming of the Kingdom of God on Earth. The first call of man, the first act of worship for which humanity was called was to take care of creation.

Genesis 1:28-31 ESV
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

God gave us everything we needed, and in return he wanted us to take care of the creation. During Advent, many of us put up Christmas trees, and under those trees we put the gifts we give to one another. We really want those gifts to be something that our loved ones will want and think they are good. How about we start thinking about how much devastation is caused due to deforestation? How about we look into what we are doing to the gift that God has given to us? Even though we have been given the whole Earth, we must be faithful to God and take care of the gift that we have been given freely. The gifts are very good, much greater than anything we could even think of getting for any of our loved ones. The entirety of creation is much better than an iPad. Unfortunately, I know that I have thought much more about taking care of my iPad or other things than I have thought about taking care of the Earth. Living out our lives in worship, caring for creation, allows us to bring peace to Earth.  

Isaiah 2:4 ESV
He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.

God calls us toward using the instruments we once used for destruction, but rather to use them to cultivate the resources of the Almighty’s wonderfully good gifts. By doing this, we can be instruments of peace, and further be faithful to the gift, and honor the gift-giver. Peace on Earth is a call to usher in the Kingdom of God by honoring the gift of creation.

With A Thankful Heart…

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I may be late to the party here, but I would like to wish all of you and your loved ones a very Happy Thanksgiving. Over social media, November has been a month where many have daily listed the things for which you are thankful. This is a great practice, and a good way to focus upon the many blessings in each of our lives. I am thankful for the practice and thankful for so many of my friends that have adopted the practice, which have encouraged me that I need to live a life filled with more gratitude.

So here’s to living life with thankfulness for all the many blessings surrounding me everyday. No matter our lot in life, we have much for which to be thankful. Personally, I have a wife that loves me and chose to walk beside me in the craziness that we call our life. I have four kids that are absolutely amazing and they teach me so much and unconditionally pour out love upon me. I’ve been blessed with a family that is close enough to spend many weekends and vacations enjoying one another. Life has brought me friends from many different walks of life that teach me that no matter how diverse we are we can share our life and find enrichment and growth in one another.

Although there is much that I desire, but there is nothing that I need that I cannot obtain or is not provided to me. I understand that this is not true for everyone in the world, and as we sit down to eat our Thanksgiving meals, or any meal, we need to be mindful that we are blessed. There are many things that we have in abundance, but a majority of the world does not have the same abundant living.

I wish I didn’t need a national holiday to remind me to change my heart, so that I am much more thankful for all that I have been blessed with in life. No matter where life puts me, I need to remember that God has provided for me, and will continue to provide for me. God’s love is forever, and forever God’s love will be with me. Hopefully, I can remember to be thankful, and to live a life filled with gratitude for all that I have been given, and all the reasons I have to be thankful.

Saying, “Thank you,” is a beginning, but living my entire life with a thankful heart is a process, not a once a year celebration.

Thank you Almighty God for giving me Your never ending love.

Psalm 118 ESV
Oh give thanks to the Lord , for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!  
Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”  
Let the house of Aaron say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”  
Let those who fear the Lord say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”  
Out of my distress I called on the Lord ; the Lord answered me and set me free.  
The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?  
The Lord is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.  
It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.  It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.  
All nations surrounded me; in the name of the Lord I cut them off!  They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side; in the name of the Lord I cut them off!  
They surrounded me like bees; they went out like a fire among thorns; in the name of the Lord I cut them off!  I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the Lord helped me. 
The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. 
Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous: “The right hand of the Lord does valiantly,  the right hand of the Lord exalts, the right hand of the Lord does valiantly!”  
I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord . 
The Lord has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death.  
Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord . 
This is the gate of the Lord ; the righteous shall enter through it. 
I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.  
The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. 
This is the Lord ’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.  This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. 
Save us, we pray, O Lord ! O Lord , we pray, give us success!  
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord ! We bless you from the house of the Lord . 
The Lord is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar!  You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you.  
Oh give thanks to the Lord , for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!