“It’s the little things…”

“If you do this, you’re going to keep doing it.”

Minutes ago, I canceled my Netflix membership. I know that it won’t take much to start it back up, but with my first day of classes at George Fox Evangelical Seminary coming up, I figured it’d help not to have immediate distractions. Between work and school, I won’t have much time to enjoy the shows I’ve enjoyed over the summer. I won’t have much time for anything.

I have a fear of responsibility. Okay, much of that “fear” is actually a habit of procrastination, but there is a portion of it that is fear. I’m not afraid of paying bills, showing up to work or school, or even keeping my room clean. I’m afraid of moving off to a city to attend seminary only to find that I’m not cut out for it.

There is no logical reasoning for this fear; my favorite professor recommended me for this school, a professor at George Fox awarded me six credits based upon my undergraduate work, and deep down I love a good challenge. But ever since I was a kid, despite receiving good grades, I always had this fear that I wasn’t smart enough. In a society that tended to value young men based upon their athletic abilities, I was afraid I wouldn’t measure up intellectually.

Over the years, though, this fear has almost dissipated entirely.

Almost.

It creeps up every now and then – especially when I’m faced with a subject I know nothing about.

And maybe we all have some degree of this kind of fear?

Maybe many of our athletic or extra-curricular achievements are really our efforts to compensate for what we think are our academic shortcomings?

I can’t answer for anyone else, but thinking through my scholastic history I can see plenty of times where I used sports, new clothes, or even my Lego creations to cover up areas where I believed I was less than intelligent in. I can recall plenty of times where I was afraid someone might think of me as stupid.

Obviously this fear of mine has less to do with my level of intelligence and more to do with my image problem. Thankfully enough, we talked about hypocrisy last night.

“We” being a few members of Emmaus Life meeting at Scott’s place for our Villages group – it’s kind of like a Bible study. Scott had us read through Luke 12:1-12 and we discussed various verses we liked, didn’t like, or didn’t understand. We ended the night by talking about an application from the passage (and by eating ice cream).

What stood out to me were Jesus’ words in the opening passage of chapter 12:

“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.” (vv. 1-3)

My immediate reaction was not to think about the things I’ve said when no one else is around, but rather what I’ve thought. People can sometimes guess what you’re thinking, but more often than not, they have no clue. So if you’re thinking about how funny looking they are, they won’t have a clue (of course, they could be thinking of how funny looking you are). Yet what Scott pointed out was the importance of context: What did Jesus say before verses 2 and 3?

“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”

Jesus was warning his disciples about the Pharisees because they epitomized what it means to be afraid of how people view you. Jesus says the religious elite are making long prayers, taking the best seats in the synagogues, and always positioning themselves in places of power. And what is social power? Isn’t it entirely public opinion? Isn’t it entirely based upon how others see you?

Jesus is telling his disciples that what others think of them doesn’t matter. Instead what does matter is being a genuine person by simply being honest. Be honest when you mess up. Be honest when you don’t know something.

Be honest.

Plain and simple.

Obviously it’s not that simple – otherwise wouldn’t more people be honest? But what makes it so difficult? What hinders us from being honest? Maybe our friends will think less of us? Maybe our employers won’t think we’re capable? Maybe we experience every bit of social rejection there is to experience?

And that’s Jesus’ point.

“At the end of the day, what can man really do to me?” Scott asked us in rhetorical fashion last night. If, like the very next passage teaches us, we’re supposed to fear God because of His ability to cast us into hell, then why would we ever want to fear man? And yet Jesus says, “Fear not.”

Our reaction to God should be that of awe, yet not to the point of being terrified over everything we do because of what God might do to us. Why is that? God loves us. He cares enough for us to count the number of hairs on our head. If He knows how many hairs on our heads and has the ability to cast us into hell, then why hasn’t He? If we’re truly honest with ourselves, we know that we deserve something much less than heaven.

God keeps us around not for His own personal gain, but for every bit of our own gain. God is delighted in the act of giving, especially to those of us who cannot do anything by our own power, which includes all of us because we can’t make our own hearts beat or our lungs breathe. And the lives we’ve been given are watered down and stifled by our fear of anything other than God – in a word, hypocrisy. After all, isn’t hypocrisy merely a reflection of our fear of social rejection?

How do we stop it, then?

Jon Derby, a member of Emmaus Life and someone I’ve known for about a decade, gave us a wonderful piece of insight last night. He said that it’s the little things we do that change how we live and who we become. A little fib here, a little misrepresentation there and all of a sudden we have people believing we’re someone other than our actual selves. As Paul says, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump,” (Gal. 5:9).

Yet Jon – or as we call him, “Derb” – said it’s the same thing to counter our bad habits: the little things. When we encounter those moments where we have a choice to act in a way that reflects God or act in a way that reflects an image we want for ourselves, if we choose God’s way, little by little, we’ll have the habit of choosing God’s way more often than not.

In last week’s episode of Suits a scene came up that was also brought up in last night’s discussion on hypocrisy. It was a flashback to when Harvey Specter and Donna Paulsen were working at the District Attorney’s office. They were talking about how Harvey’s boss made him bury evidence that might have set two criminals free (burying evidence is against the law):

“Now why don’t you tell me why you didn’t tell me?” (Donna)

“Because you hated me when I was working in the gray; this is the black.” (Harvey)

“I didn’t hate you; I was trying to stop you… If you do this, you’re going to keep doing it.”

What Donna told Harvey that day saved his entire career as an attorney. And all she advised him to do was not to do this once. Not even once. Since that day, Harvey Specter developed a sterling reputation as an undefeated lawyer. If we make up our minds not to do the sinful things once – not even once – and to do the God things instead, imagine what kind of lives we’ll be living.

At the end of the day, we may not have very many friends, a job, or really anything when we choose to act out God’s ways in the little things. But we’ll have a much easier time standing before Him attesting for all the things we did and didn’t do. And we’ll have Jesus to back us up.

“And wisdom will honor everyone who will learn,

To listen, to love, and to pray and discern,

And to do the right thing even when it burns

And to live in the light through treacherous turns.” – Josh Garrels, “Beyond the Blue”

God bless.

Advertisements

Worry’s Wound…

On this coming Friday, I’ll be driving up to Portland for orientation at George Fox Evangelical Seminary. When I had my interview with George Fox back in June, August 23rd was the date they told us to remember because it’s the mandatory orientation: It’s where we get registered for our classes. So, I put it in the back of my mind and made sure I requested for that day off from work. Ever since then I had thought of it as something “down the road” and I told myself that “I haven’t crossed that bridge yet.” Well, I’m at that bridge on that part of the road.

Realizing that your life is about to dramatically change oftentimes has an overwhelming weight to it. When I moved down to Eugene for college seven years ago, the weight of the realization felt a bit lighter. I had no debt, no car pay off (insurance included), and the University had a place for me to live. None of those things happened this time around, which changed the dynamic of the weight to this realization. Instead of nothing but delighted excitement, I often have bouts with worry.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m more than excited about exploring Portland one day at a time, experiencing a new school, and studying subjects that I actually care about. But underneath that excitement is a heavy sense of anxiety trying to bind me to fear – fear of bankruptcy, disease, and endless vehicular mishaps. I fear I won’t be able to make payments on my car, that I’ll develop some type of cancer, and that I’ll never find a car that doesn’t break down within 30 days of driving it (quite a legitimate fear, given my recent experiences). And while I’m planning on how to cross bridges that aren’t even in my eye-sight, God is waiting for me to cross the bridges right before me.

As I’ve written about earlier, I have friendships to invest in while I’m still here in Eugene. And when I wrap my mind around things that may never even happen, I can’t invest in those friendships. Those are the bridges before me; how to leave my church family, friends, and coworkers that live here in Eugene in such a way that when we see each other again some days, months, or years down the road, it’ll be as though I had never left. Such a bridge requires every bit of my attention. And yet I’ve been concerned with what lies ahead.

On Monday evening, my Villages group (through Emmaus Life) got together again. Instead of doing a barbecue, we read a passage of Scripture. And of course, just as these worries about months and years from now were raging through my mind and heart, we were reading through Luke 12:22-34, where Jesus tells us to “Seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to [us].” But what does He mean here, exactly?

We touched on it on Monday, but what Jesus is really getting at here has less to do with material possessions and more to do with living with the peace of God’s provision. As Americans, we often hear a different message from Jesus’ words. When He says that God will provide for us, we start thinking of cars, houses, computers, or jet skis because, as we often say to ourselves to justify buying things, we’ve earned it. We’re entitled to it. God’s just the one making sure we get what we’re owed. Yet what we often don’t consider is that God is withholding what we are owed (death) and giving us what we could never earn on our own (life).

Here is where I’m floored. All my worries regarding my future revolve around the question “What am I going to do?” What am I going to do about my student loan debt? My car payments? My lack of health insurance? My grades? And while I begin to sweat and pull my hair out, Jesus is saying, “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” Touché, Jesus. Touché.

Jesus also says, after talking about “treasure in heaven,” that “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” (Luke 12:34). In the particular passage this verse is grouped in, I believe Jesus means these words in the positive sense – that He wants us to be consumed by the things of heaven; not the worries of earth. But I also think He wants us to focus so much on the positive sense because He knows the negative sense – that if our “treasure” is in the material possessions, money, and notoriety, then our hearts will sadly be there as well. We cannot have peace in God if we’re not even paying attention to Him.

Last Monday’s discussion about this passage also brought something else to light, something about God’s desire. We often treat this passage or the similar passage in Matthew as if Jesus is simply saying, “God provides.” Yet, as my pastor Scott pointed out, we don’t let the weight of verse 32 hit us: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

We often pour so much blood, sweat, and tears into our careers, families, and personal well-beings only to realize we can’t create a world in which nothing goes wrong. And every time our efforts fail we wonder where God was and why He didn’t provide. Turns out He’s waiting for us to turn around. He’s waiting to give us a robe, ring, and the fattened calf – every symbol that defines us as heirs to His kingdom. He doesn’t want to provide for us so that we flourish in this life; He wants to provide for us so that we flourish beyond this earthly stage of life.

Again, it’s less about things that fade away and more about things that last. And what lasts is His life – it defeated our death. He wants us to have His life so that we need not worry about death. And if we don’t need to worry about that, then what good are we doing by worrying about money, possessions, and how long we live?

No, I’m not saying we should neglect our finances, possessions, and health; God wants us to take responsibility for what we’re given. But He does not want us to worry about it. After all, He gave it to us, so He most certainly could take it away. And if we’re wrapped up with His Life and filled with the peace that comes with it, then why should we ever be bothered if or when He takes back what He’s given? It’s His already; we’re just caretakers.

Worry’s wound is a belief in a lie; that we’re able to make our own heavens and be our own gods. Yet none of us can live longer by anything we do. We might be the healthiest person in the world one day and die of an aneurism the next. So, what we actually should be focused on is stewarding what we’ve been given until we’re asked to give it back. And if what we treasure in what we’ve been given is the Life God freely and richly supplies, then we should have no problem in giving it back.

When Jesus tells us “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” He’s not just teaching His followers to have treasures in heaven; He’s telling us about where God’s treasure and heart are: us. Jesus is telling us that God risked everything for us because He loves us that much.

God bless.

Meeting People at Their Well…

I’m relatively new to John Green. I think I knew of him for a while, but never actually listened to any of his vlogs or read any of his books. But when I moved in with my current roommate, I was practically forced to watch Green’s “Crash Course History” videos, which are pretty phenomenal and in no way do I regret watching any of them.

One video that I recently watched was Green’s commencement speech to the graduating class of 2013 at Butler University. If you have twenty minutes to spare, I highly recommend watching it. It is well worth the time. What I love about this particular speech, though, was how he described the college graduate life – or as he said, “the hero’s journey.”

“We are taught the hero’s journey is a journey from weakness to strength. [From having no money to having a lot of it, etc….] The real hero’s journey is a journey from strength to weakness.[…] You are about to be a rookie.”

The idea here is that the college graduates he was addressing are about to go from being the most informed at one of the best colleges in the country to being a nobody (to paraphrase his words) – someone who gets coffee for other people “if you’re lucky.” And even though he was talking to the 2013 Butler graduates, I couldn’t help but listen as a two-year graduate from Oregon. Much of what he said throughout that speech is still true to this day despite being out of school for two full years. But where he turns next, the advice that he bestowed upon the Butler grads, was where I listened as a follower of Christ.

“The gift and challenge of your … education is to see others as they see themselves.”

This morning at Emmaus Life we read from John 4:11-18, which is in the middle of the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. I’ve written about this story before, but it is worth re-visiting. As Scott told us, it wasn’t common for someone to be drawing water from the well in the middle of the day. Because of the heat, people typically drew their water either in the morning or at night when it was cooler. So it was particularly strange that she was there at midday.

As Jesus converses with her, talking about living water and becoming a spring of water that wells up to eternal life, we come to find out this woman had been with five husbands and was then seeing someone who was not her husband. The text isn’t explicit; we don’t know exactly why she had all these men in her life, but we do know that she had them in her life. And it isn’t going too far to suggest that perhaps her “well” that constantly made her thirsty was relationships; perhaps she thought that if she just found the right husband, she’d be okay. She’d be happy. As it turned out, though, her pursuit of the right husband led her into a life of avoiding public ridicule – hence why she arrived to the well when she thought no one else was there.

How do we find out about this, though? How do we come to know that she had had five husbands? Jesus tells it to her. Because he saw her as she saw herself, Jesus was enabled to tell her what she needed to hear – that the well she kept drawing from was never going to satisfy. But she was also enabled to listen to what he had to say.

Of course there are several lessons within this passage of Scripture (e.g. What well are you drinking from?), but what has stood out to me today was how Jesus shared Himself with others; how there was no contract to sign, no belief statement to make, no ritual or sacrament to conduct, no strings attached. All she had to do was ask for the water which Jesus freely and richly supplies.

“Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water,” 4:15

Scott pointed this out; that Jesus doesn’t require this woman to prove her faith in Him like we might in our modern day with baptism, communion, belief statement, tithe offering or whatever. He gives it out freely. “Isn’t it interesting that Jesus is more liberal with salvation than we are?” as Scott asked.

Why is that? Why is it that Jesus, who we say we’re following, often ends up being more freely loving of others than we are? Why do we demand that people come to our church to be saved rather than us going out to them? Jesus met this woman on her level, in her weakness, where she sought escape from the realities of this world. And that’s where He turned her around. If He hadn’t done that, then it’s quite possible that none of the people with whom she shared the gospel would have ever heard of Jesus. Instead of being the strong man and seeing people from the outside, He took the weak approach and saw them how they saw themselves.

“The weakness of God is stronger than men,” – 1 Corinthians 1:25

As John Green described the hero’s journey, Jesus exemplifies as the Christian’s journey; that we’re supposed to empathize more than everyone else, to utilize our revelation in Christ to see others as they see themselves, and to make that journey from strength to weakness. In so doing, as Paul says, we become strong in the Lord.

John Green describes this whole process of becoming weaker as the college graduate’s journey (through a metaphorical use of “the hero,” of course). But Jesus shows us that if we wish to follow Him, this is the sort of thing we must do. We must cast aside our poster boards and signs telling others they’re going to hell and instead pick up our cross – willfully carrying that which makes us weak in the eyes of society – and share the living water, the abundant life of Jesus.

Maybe we’re not the judgmental type of follower. Maybe instead, we’re the ones continuing to come back to our particular well, despite never being satisfied by it. In that case, perhaps it’s time to step back, look around, and engage the people there with you – just like Jesus.

Meet people like Jesus did: At their well.

God bless.

“I Remember the Day…”

Writing admission essays to seminaries is, in small ways, declaring your identity. In the act of answering questions or prompts, you find yourself defining what you believe as concisely as possible and mapping out what you hope to achieve with a degree from the seminary you’re applying to. Who I am and what I hope to do have been milling through my mind a lot recently, which I think is why I haven’t written anything for a small while. Yet during Sunday morning’s message from Scott Lamb, I think I finally got something settled.

He was speaking out of John 3:1-8, a conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus. This is also a passage I had studied a while back when I was writing a research paper on Christian baptism. Although most of the scholars I read who had commentary on this passage said Jesus wasn’t discussing baptism in literal terms, it’s still an important passage for Christian identity. As Scott told us Sunday morning, there is more going on in what Jesus says to Nicodemus than baptism or any religious rite for that matter.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God,” John 3:3

Such a puzzling thing to say. You see, Nicodemus didn’t inherently understand Jesus as saying that one needs to become a Christian in order to see God’s kingdom; “born again” did not yet equate with “Christian” – if “Christian” was even a term used in their time. So what on earth could Jesus possibly mean by telling Nicodemus he needs to be “born again”?

Something Scott mentioned later in his message gave me a clue. He was talking about identity and how we try to find it in strange places. He said, “Do you find your identity in what you can do or do you find it in what Jesus did?” In other words, do we try to find our identity by what we do, what we have, who we’re friends with, or what people say about us? Or do we find it in what Jesus did, what He has, who He is, and what He says about us? Being born again isn’t simply getting baptized; it is accepting Jesus’ words over us.

Earlier, before Scott’s message, we sang a song that hits pretty close to home for me. A couple years ago I was on a retreat with Cross Training and when we sang that song, which I had only heard a couple times before, I had certain flash backs to earlier points in my walk with God. The song is called “I Remember,” and it was written by a few folks from Enter the Worship Circle and mostly by a man named Aaron Strumpel. According to their website, the song was inspired by Psalm 77, which, after reading it late last night, I have found to be a wonderful declarative statement. As for the song, though, its words and melodies struck chords in my heart as we sang on that retreat two and a half years ago.

“I remember the day You called my name, You said I was Your child” reminded me of the night I had been praying at another retreat and saw visions of myself as a child running into my Father’s arms – a sensation I had never experienced. It was a night I wept for joy at being named a son of God.

“I remember the day You wrote the words, You wrote the book of love” stirred deep emotions over the numerous times I’ve read verses and passages that moved me beyond words and drove me into deeper studies of God. As many of you know, I love to read, but there has never been nor ever will be a text that evokes so much emotion and intrigue out of me as the Bible does. I know it’s confusing and mysterious and sometimes outrageous with what it says, but I love it. I cannot not read it.

“I remember Your deeds, O Dad, my God, I think I’ll trust in You” stirred so much in me that night. “Your deeds” sent a flashback to the night in middle school when I sat alone in my room with a pair of scissors in my hand ready to kill myself. “O Dad my God” is such a painfully wonderful phrase. Painful because I’ve never called anyone “dad” and wonderful because I get to call God my dad. Even writing about that last line now simply stirs so much inside me.

Heading into Scott’s message, I was already emotionally engaged due to that song. So when Scott asked us if we find our identities in what we do or in what Jesus did, I knew what Jesus was talking about when He said we need to be “born again.” Whatever we were, whatever we had, whatever we did, whatever other people once said about us (and we believed) – it’s been tossed in Jesus’ empty tomb. We are sons and daughters of God.

“If there’s anything you take away from today’s message – know that Jesus is desperately in love with you. And that is all you need to know,” Scott told us yesterday.

We live today because God loves. He loved us before the world saw the light of day, before sin came along and messed it all up, and before we decided to turn away from Him. He loved us in the most crucial moment: on the cross, begging that we be forgiven for we know not what we do. So whatever job we have, whatever profession we give ourselves, or whatever degrees we may attain – we are sons and daughters of God.

Our identities begin and end with Him. Not us.

“Doves You send to fly overhead/My son I am so well pleased,” – “I Remember,” Enter the Worship Circle

“I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds. Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God?” – Psalm 77:11-13

God bless.

Cost of Contact…

Several weeks ago, we were hanging out at Scott and Charissa’s place for our Villages group. We had just finished working through an eight week devotional, The Tangible Kingdom Primer (highly recommend it if you’re looking for a challenge), and Scott wanted to introduce his discipleship training program that he had worked on several months ago.

Initially, we are being trained in learning the model he’s laid out for us. Eventually, though, we’ll be trained to train others; as disciples and disciplers (not a word, I know – just roll with it). For now, though, we’re learning a simple way to approach and engage the people around us in an intentional and meaningful way.

Like in college, it’s all about the C’s. Scott’s model is broken down to four C’s: Contact, Connect, Close to Christ, and Christ-like (that fourth one may be something else; can’t remember exactly – sorry Scott). Where he started with the “Contact” is where my mind and heart have been for the past few weeks.

In John 4 we come across a rather controversial story. Jesus talks with a woman at the well of Jacob, which, as Scott pointed out to us, was a commonplace for gossip and the talk of the town. Notice that the woman came to the well when she thought no one would be there. Why might this be? It’s quite possible she was avoiding public ridicule.

As we come to find out in verse 18, she had had five husbands and the man she was staying with wasn’t one of them. In ancient times, she would have been a social outcast, regarded much like prostitutes. Something as simple as drawing water from the well could be utterly humiliating. “Sir, give me this water,” she tells Jesus, “so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water,” (4:15).

Scott highlighted this story as a prime example of making contact with someone else. Jesus asked for a drink of water and talked with her for a little bit. And look how dramatically her life was changed by a simple, single conversation. Yet what happened after that encounter is what moved me.

I am oftentimes moved more by the human reactions of others rather than the divine actions of Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, what Jesus does and says throughout Scripture is profound and I wish to exemplify them in every way. But I relate much more closely to the people who react around Him because, like them, I am far from perfect.

After talking with Jesus, the woman goes into her hometown and tells everyone about Him. She says, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (4:29). She went to the people who gossiped about her and slandered her name and told them they were right. She used the fodder for their gossip, her testimony, to tell them about Jesus. When it comes to making contact with other people – especially when we’re telling them about Jesus – there is a cost.

Granted, much of this is speculation. The text itself does not say that her town gossiped about her, but these speculations aren’t arbitrary. People gossip, especially in small towns. What kills gossip? Truth. And yet instead of attempting to deny what they said, she used it to talk about Jesus. She spent much because, in a short conversation with the Man, she received much.

“Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me all that I ever did,’” (4:39).

In one chat with a woman at the well, the entire town comes to know Jesus. Jesus showed us that contact can be as easy as asking for some water. The Samaritan woman, however, showed us that contact can be extremely costly. And yet I think Jesus looks at this woman proudly; I think He sees what she did – that she humbled herself before her neighbors in order to tell them about Him. If she hadn’t, would the town ever have known that Jesus had come by?

I don’t intend to imply that we should share are deepest, darkest secrets when making contact with people. What I am saying, though, is that we ought to consider how far we are willing to go – are we really willing, if the opportunity presents itself, to share something about ourselves that not everyone knows just so someone new can experience Jesus? It’s a nerve-wracking question, but what does it mean to bear one’s cross?

Count the cost, Jesus says (Luke 14:33). Are the lives of others worth more than your pride? If I’m really trying to follow Jesus, then I’m going to answer “Yes,” even if I don’t want to.

God bless.

Ever Present, Ever Patient God…

Not to steal the thunder from the mothers of the world or from my little sister who turns 20 today (Happy Birthday Jessica!), but today is also the day I was baptized. Eleven years ago in a small church in Lincoln City, I stood in swim trunks and a t-shirt in front of some 40 or 50 people (15-20 regulars, the rest visitors) on Mother’s Day dedicating my life to following the Lord. Last year I wrote a post reflecting over the ten years I had been a Christian and in that post, I mentioned how it felt longer. This year, I’ve been wondering why that is.

Believing and trusting in God has had an odd affect on how I think of the fourteen years prior to my baptism. Having grown closer and closer to the Lord over the past eleven years, it is difficult to remember those earlier years without seeing God in the picture. It’s like watching a highlight reel of all the significant moments of my life and finally noticing the Figure in the background, watching over the characters in the foreground. Instead of seeing a fourteen year-old kid sitting alone in his room with a pair of scissors pointing toward his chest, I see the strong, but gentle Hand gripping his wrist and pulling it away until he dropped the scissors.

Simply because I have acknowledged God’s presence for eleven years doesn’t mean He’s noticed me for only eleven years also. He was there all along waiting – waiting for the right moment when He knew I’d be listening, when He knew I’d be paying the most attention. God waited fourteen years just to have these last eleven with me. And He would have waited longer in order to have a shorter time. That is the kind of God He is.

Seeing God in all the horrible moments of my past, in a weird way, gives me courage. Sure, it beckons the question of why He was there during my worst moments, but did nothing to prevent them, but it also tells me He’ll be there when I experience even worse things. And perhaps if I think of those moments long enough, if I freeze the highlight reel and simply notice everything going on at the time, maybe I’ll see how He was doing something – how He was preventing even worse things from happening. Maybe I’ll see and recognize those moments, as Sheldon Vanauken describes them, of “severe mercy.”

Our ever present, ever patient God never stops waiting. Even after we’ve dedicated our lives to following Him and living out His ways, we get busy. We take up jobs and causes or we marry and raise families or all of the above and all our free time is spent on our to-do lists and projects. In these seasons God is often pushed to the back burners, often told – whether we realize it or not – to wait a little longer. But then bills start piling up or a loved one gets hurt and hospitalized. Soon after that some other bad thing happens and we start to worry how we’ll make it through. We become so fixated on what’s happening now that we forget what happened back then and we certainly don’t see how things will happen down the road.

In the past couple of weeks, I have felt that worry. As some may know, I am hoping to attend seminary in the fall of this year and what I’ve been wondering about lately is how much I’ll owe in student loans. And then I think of car expenses and medical expenses and credit card debt and I begin to feel suffocated by worry. Such a time is critical to remember God’s presence in past moments. If He was there that night when I wanted to end my own life, what reason do I have to believe that He would not be there to help me find a way to pay back the money I owe? Why do I have this unspoken belief that I’m alone in this?

God is waiting, even now, for us to turn to Him for help, for guidance, for peace. He doesn’t want to remove our problems and trials; He wants us to hold His hand as He walks us through them – as He helps us overcome them. Believing and trusting that He’ll appear in tomorrow’s highlight reels is tough. Seeing Him again and again in yesterday’s highlight reels, even before I was consciously aware of His presence, makes it a whole lot easier.

Worry, fear, and distrust are all natural emotions. When it comes to trusting God, we feel these emotions all the time because we’re learning how to let go of the control we think we have. We’re learning to wait on God instead of making Him wait on us. Our nature is changing.

This morning Scott shared a message out of John 2 focusing on the wedding at Cana. He told us a couple important pieces of information that aren’t really spelled out in the text. He said that wedding celebrations would often last a week or so, which meant that all the supplies (food and especially wine) would have to last that long. So when Jesus’ mom tells Him that the wedding’s run out, it’s safe to say she was a little concerned for the families involved; they would have both been embarrassed.

Of course we all know what happens next, Jesus turns a bunch of water into wine and saves the party. But, as Scott pointed out this morning, notice what Jesus says to His mom, Dear woman, why do you involve me?… My time has not yet come, (2:4). In other words, Jesus is reminding His mother who He really is and that His public ministry was not ready to begin. So when she tells the servants, Do whatever he tells you, she’s actually acknowledging that Jesus is going to help in His own way. He’s not going to buy more wine; He’s just going to make it.

In the midst of Mary’s concern (and presumably the concern of all those who knew the wine had run out), Jesus makes a lot more and makes it better. He responds to worry with celebration. We’re constantly trying to do things our own way and create our own realities as if we were J. Gatsby, but the real celebration – the one that comes free of worry or anxiety – is the one where God takes control. While we’re trying to create bread crumbs, He’s waiting with baskets full of bread loaves.

In 25 years of living, I have known God. It took 14 of those years to notice Him, but looking back I now know he was there all along. Now the trick is to remember He’s still there when things get crazy, when the wine runs out.

May we never forget God’s everlasting presence.

God bless.

Needing to Breathe…

Allergy season is upon us here in Eugene. For asthmatics like me, things get a little complicated. You wake up in the middle of the night feeling as though someone was giving you a bear hug without letting go after you’ve said, “Mercy.” Warm sunny days are great only from a distance, like admiring the sunlight through the trees from your living room window, which is closed as well as every window and door in the house/apartment. Taking out the garbage, cleaning the car, and going to the grocery store remain rainy-day activities. And if you have to go outside, always, always, always take a box of tissues.

In recent months, though, my asthma has worsened – and that’s apart from it being allergy season. I’m not sure if it’s because I haven’t worked out in a while or because I haven’t been to the doctor in years (or a little bit of both), but for some reason I’ve had far more asthma attacks and difficulties in breathing than I had all last year (and the year before that). Back then, my asthma only seemed to kick up whenever I worked out or played football. Recently it has acted up while sleeping or sitting on the couch watching TV. Maybe it’s a sign that I shouldn’t be idle for too long, but I like to think it’s because I have some imaginary, incurable disease that only one doctor in the entire world is capable of treating and he happens to be on vacation… I imagine things like this when I get really bored.

What all of this breathing trouble led to, though, was me finding a way to see a doctor so that I could be prescribed for another inhaler. At the time it wasn’t desperate because the inhaler I did have had a few puffs left in it (and yes, “puff” is the technical term doctors use… I think). I didn’t think I’d need one for another month because I thought I could handle it. I thought I could just keep drinking coffee, which does help on a temporary basis. I thought I’d be fine.

But then there were several nights in a row where I woke up unable to breathe. Some of those nights I could tell by the way that I gasped as I woke up that I hadn’t been breathing for a minute or more. My asthma wasn’t as bad as I thought it was; it was worse. What was holding me back from getting another inhaler? I thought I couldn’t afford one.

Seeing doctors without health insurance is expensive. Not only that but who’s to say they’ll agree with you about your asthmatic condition? Maybe they decide you should be on a different, more expensive inhaler? Maybe they decide you don’t need an inhaler, but instead an expensive pill on a daily basis that you’ll have to buy again after 30 days? Trying to be independent about even something so basic as breathing can cause all sorts of unnecessary worries.

What changed?

I had sent my pastor, Scott, a text about my situation. He said he’d email a few people in the church to see what kind of finances they all could gather. In that moment, I must admit I felt guilty. I felt a little ashamed for asking others for financial help because I knew that if I had been wiser with my own money, if I had lived within my means, I could have paid for a trip to the doctor and got an inhaler myself. If I hadn’t purchased that cool jacket or gone golfing that one time or bought lunch for a friend that one day, I could have taken care of myself. I wouldn’t have had to ask for help.

Independence is destructive because it makes you think that receiving help – even asking for it – is weak. Taking care of yourself and being self-sufficient is important, but not to the point where you rely only upon yourself to get everything done. You can’t be part of a community if you rely only on yourself.

“I know that people would want to help,” Scott said in a text after I told him I was really uncomfortable with the idea of my church – not random people, mind you – helping me get an inhaler.
“Okay,” I replied, “Whether I want help or not, I need to breathe, so I need the help. Thanks Scott.”

Days later I received enough money to pay for a trip to the doctor and the inhaler, which happened a few days ago. During this weekend, I was hit hard with allergies and if it wasn’t for that inhaler, I believe I would have had to go to the hospital because my breathing – or rather, my lack of breathing – was that bad. It is very possible that accepting the help saved my life.

Needing to breathe goes beyond physically being able to gather oxygen; it’s about a posture of the heart, like I talked about last time, that allows people to help you. Let’s think about it this way, when Jesus tells us to love others as we love ourselves, doesn’t that imply we allow others to help us? If we go out of our way to help someone else, to love another, then we’re asking them to let us help them. And if that is how we want others to love us, then doesn’t it mean we ought to allow others to help us?

Allergy season is like a mini purgatory for asthmatics. If I hadn’t have sent Scott that text and received the help I needed, I may not have made it through. In a similar way, what else can I do, what other area do I truly need someone’s help in? If I’m honest with myself, I already know those areas; I just haven’t admitted them. It might be the wisest thing for me to do since I don’t know when or where my next battle with allergies will be. And yes, “allergies,” in this case, is a metaphor.

We need to breathe. And I ask you as I have asked myself, what do you need to do – what area do you need help in – in order to breathe? Admitting those areas opens our lungs, opens our hearts, and opens our souls to God and His people. May we admit them before our next allergy season.

God bless.