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!

3:46:00

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This past summer I ran my fastest marathon in three hours, forty-six minutes, and no seconds. Although this time is not terribly fast by the standards of marathon running, although it was much faster than I could imagine I could run a marathon even a year ago. In Jr. High and in High School I was an athlete, but when in college, I realized I didn’t want to pursue athletics any longer, for many reasons that are not important, I quickly lost the athlete within. I covered him up with sloth, with gluttony, with self-destructive habits, and just letting myself go.

In early 2009, I realized that these habits were going to lead to my ultimate demise. I wasn’t going to be around when my son was going to grow up, I wasn’t going to be able to participate and play with him as he got older. At nearly 350 lbs I was on track toward a shortened life span, and maybe not seeing my son grow up. I decided to begin an exercise regiment. This wasn’t huge, I walked slowly on a treadmill for an hour three times a week, and I jumped in a pool and swam once a week. I also learned portion control, one breakfast, one lunch, and one dinner, no more “Taco Bell Fourth Meal”. In the midst of this first step, I began losing weight, within six months 50 pounds, and 80 lbs were off by Christmas 2009. There was no magic diet, I ate less, and I exercised more.

Have you noticed the pattern? Have you realized my error? I, I, I, I, I, and I. I am taking the credit for all this hard work. Certainly, I did the work, but it was through the power of the Holy Spirit that I was prompted, I merely answered the call. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, I was transformed, not only spiritually, but also emotionally and physically. I was broken, and I needed fixing. God took hold of me, and shook me.

This shook me straight into a crazy thought, I should run a marathon! I set my sights on the next LA Marathon. My sister encouraged me to run at least a half-marathon before that, so we ran in the Las Vegas Half in December 2010. I completed that race in just over two hours, and was able to set a goal for the marathon of five hours. I had lost nearly 100 pounds, and felt as if I was ready to take on 26.2 miles. That was 2011, and a legendary rain filled LA Marathon struck. Shortly into the race, my focus shifted from my goal of five hours to finishing the race. Every joint hurt, my legs were tight, and I started counting down the miles or fractions thereof. All the hard work led to pain, and I was barely able to keep my legs going. After 5 hours and 17 minutes, I crossed the finish line, bruised, battered, and barely walking. (As a thank you, the LA Marathon team gave us the opportunity to walk an additional mile so that we could get our gear.)

I accomplished something, I finished the ridiculous distance, and I was not beaten by the weather. I was proud that I accomplished a feat that only a small percentage of people have accomplished, but my feat was not impressive. I was still far from what I could be, and far from what I was before the stench of sloth covered over body. I kept running more and more and my next race was a two hour half marathon later in the year. After that race my daughter was born and the training took a brief hiatus, but when I restarted I set my sights on another marathon, this one the 2012 Santa Clarita Marathon. I followed a strict training regiment and figured I would improve upon the five hour marathon and set my goal to run it in four and a half hours. However, half way into the race I realized that I was in much better shape and was most likely going to beat the goal I set for myself, and I was on pace to run a four hour marathon. I eventually finished the race in just over four hours as I slowed down at mile 24, but this was a huge win for my psyche.

First I worked hard to lose weight, then I worked hard to get myself into better shape, however it was all worthless compared to the riches I have in Christ. However, the way that I have worked on losing weight, and running faster only serve to show that I am constantly being refined and made better by the work of the Holy Spirit moving in my life. So I sit here tonight, having accomplished running a marathon in three hours and forty-six minutes, and having lost more than 150 pounds, but God is still working on me. Not to lose more weight, and maybe not to even run any faster, but God is working to refine me, and make me more into the man that God desires, a man after God’s own heart.

Paul reminds us in his letter to the church in Philippi, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14 ESV)

God isn’t finished with us. I have a marker and a path I have followed, and although I took the steps toward where I am today, God is the one that worked on me, and has brought me on this path toward holiness and sanctification. I pray that as I continue in this path toward a deeper relationship with God, that I can be faithful to God’s call. Praise be to God.

Ugh

More than once as I have journaled my prayers I have uttered the UGH which has been my way of expressing complete frustration and an inability to put my thoughts into words. Should I feel bad about not being able to articulate my prayers? A quick reading of Psalm 5 reveals that the important act is not the articulation of my prayers, but that in fact that every morning I come to the Lord with my prayer is paramount.

Give ear to my words, O Lord ; consider my groaning. Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray. O Lord , in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch. (Psalms 5:1-3 ESV)

Additionally, the prayer time is our worship and should be part of our sacrifice to the Lord. This is followed by a time of watching. This is too often the part that I end up skipping. Once I pray, I feel as soon as I am done with all of the elements of my prayer are complete, I am done with the worship time, but rather the prayer and worship need to continue by watching and waiting for the Lord. It isn’t certain that God will always turn the “ugh” into something, but the Holy Spirit will intercede for us. Even though sometimes all I can muster is “ugh”, this can sometimes be used by the Holy Spirit as something that is too deep for any words we could ever muster.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. (Romans 8:26 ESV)

Even if all I can bring is “ugh”, God wants it, but I am called to more than simply bringing my “ugh” but I also need to sit and wait and watch what the Lord is going to do with my exasperation.

2013 will bring trials of all sorts, but…

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This New Year will not be perfectly harmonious, I know that may not be the most clairvoyant statement, but it is one that we should take to heart as we look into the new year. For many of us it has already presented its first trial or two. Some of these trials are unavoidable, some we create ourselves; some will be big, some will be small; some will make us feel like giving up, some will make us want to dig in our heels and fight. For each trial we have options and directions that we can go, but whatever we face, there is always hope.

The bible is full of passages about trials of all sorts. David faced many trials. Some of them he caused himself, some he couldn’t avoid, but in the face of every trial he turned to the face of God. I admire that about David.

David, by no fault of his own, but powered by jealousy, was pursued by Saul. Each of these times David asked for God to deliver him. He did not betray the blessing of God as he would not take matters into his own hands by killing Saul, as he had opportunity to do so, but rather he leaned upon God to take care of him. He wrote about it, he sang songs about God’s blessing.

Even in his darkest hour, as he transgressed God’s commandments and committed adultery, and then covered up his adultery by committing murder (2 Sam 11), when the prophet confronts him he repents. This repentance didn’t help avoid the death of his child, it didn’t help avoid the loss of power to his son, but it got him back in right relation with God. To David, his relationship with God was paramount, not all of his earthly possessions.

2013 is here, and we will face challenges of all sorts, but if we try to emulate King David in his earnest pursuit of the heart and mind of the Almighty God, then these trials may make us into better followers of God, and more equipped to face trials of all sorts. That is my prayer, “May I learn to be more like David leaning upon You more and my own understanding less, may I sing to You God in good times and in times of need. Help me, fill me with Your Holy Spirit, that I may be completely yours, and help me to remain yours no matter what trials I may face.” Amen.

God Came, Therefore I Know Christ Is Coming

Eagerly we anticipate this season. Thanksgiving has past, and now the decorations go up, houses get lit up, parties get planned, cookies are baked, and we begin to get ready for the Christmas holiday. Commercially, this is the season of spending, this is the season where we see how well our economy is doing. We purchase gifts for loved ones, and others to whom we feel obligated. Debt is accumulated. Weight is gained. Consumerism is filing the air. This is the backdrop of contrast that we find Advent.

Spiritually, this is the season where we celebrate and commemorate the coming of Christ as an infant, and prepare our hearts for the second-coming of Christ. So much of the skepticism regarding the second coming focus on the empty manger.

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However, God’s promise about the coming salvation came in the form of an infant. Unexpected in form, but a promise fulfilled. This serves as a warning for us about our preconceived notions about the form of God’s fulfilled promises. What we need to focus upon is the fact that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, therefore I know God is coming back, because the character of God is the same as it was 2000 years ago when Jesus was born in a manger in Bethlehem.

When we look at this in reference to the commercial hope surrounding the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, there is plenty of contrasts. Commercial hope depends on what we do, how much we spend, how much we decorate, and how much we do. This is empty hope, because it is uncertain, and hope that is uncertain is not hope at all.

In this season of Advent, I will focus upon the consistency of God. My hope is assured in the fact that the Advent of the Almighty God is happening because it happened. Stay on your toes, and don’t lose hope. May God be celebrated and worshipped, for God’s hope (elpis) is eager anticipation of what is certain.

Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! Today we celebrate and give thanks for the blessings we have received this past year. I indeed have been blessed this past year. I am thankful for my extended family that have showed me love in my lows and have celebrated my highs and have also been beside me in the in-between times. I wish all of you love and blessings today, and may you be blessed this day wherever you are celebrating.

I am especially thankful for my kids, as they have been the source of some of the greatest joys in my life, and I thank God for each and every one of them.

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Today serves as a great example that Thanksgiving is an important part of our life and relationship with God. As we raise our kids we remind them to say “please” and “thank you” to make sure they have a spirit of thankfulness when people give you something. Our relationship with God is just as important to say “please” when we want something, and “thank you” when God blesses us.

I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord more than an ox or a bull with horns and hoofs. (Psalms 69:30, 31 ESV)

In Psalm 69, we are reminded that today we have much to be thankful, and that Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be an elaborate expression, but rather we simply need to raise our voice and sing. So the dinner table may not be the place to sing, but in a Spirit of Thanksgiving, raise your voice and sing to the Lord, with your whole heart, mind, and soul.