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monkey-with-hand-trapped-in-bottle-grabbing-bannana-with-sign“we are tempted when we are dragged away by our own evil desire and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is brought to completion, it brings forth death.”   — James 1:14-15

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it to the full.”   — John 10:10

“…choose life…by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him…” — Deuteronomy 30:19b-20a

 

In Southern Mexico lies the Cueva de Villa Luz, or Cave of the Lighted House.  I’ve read that as you make your way to the cave you walk through a veritable paradise of tropical birds and lush rain forest. Underwater the cave is fed by 20 underground springs, beautiful watercourses which teem with tiny fish. The cave itself is home to spectacular rock formations and beautiful ponds. The environment is inviting. Yet accept the invitation and you’ll soon be dead. You see, the Cueva de Villa Luz is filled with poisonous gases.

Temptation is just like this. It presents itself to us as something inviting, attractive, lifegiving. Yet in reality it’s poisonous and toxic.

Now squarely in mid-life, I, like many others before me, am examining my life — in particular, what have I done, if anything, of lasting meaning — and what, if anything, can I do with the time remaining to me that will be of lasting meaning. In this lengthy (and still in-progress) exercise, I’ve had to admit the painful truth that, as Paul puts it in Ephesians 4, I’ve often given the devil a foothold, following the path that James outlines in his first chapter (and quoted above).

The result has been, indeed, death.  Death of dreams, death of opportunities, death of fulfilling my role fully as husband, father, and friend.  I reflect on moments in which my words and actions can only have negative impact they are modeled by others such as my children.  In the opportunities and ministries God has provided, I see responsibilities only partially fulfilled and effectiveness compromised.

All too often, I’m like the monkeys that are caught using candy or other sweets and a bottle. You see, old milk bottles are tied to the ground, and then something sweet is placed inside the bottle.  When a monkey comes along and sees the sweet he places his hand inside the bottle, but with the sweet enclosed in his palm his fist is too big to get back out the bottle. The  monkey will pull and push in an effort to get that sweet out, but he will not let it go, not even as his captors approach. And so the monkey is caught, literally with “his hand in the cookie jar”!

This represents perfectly the contradiction of temptation and integrity.  As Dr. Jim Denison notes, “temptation seems to benefit more than it costs at first, but its disastrous consequences always outweigh the reward. Integrity usually costs more than it benefits at first, but its positive consequences always outweigh the cost.”

Our enemy is always a “roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). He wants, as Jesus told us (also quoted above), only to steal from us, to destroy us. Thus, we can know that any offer of good from our desires which contradict God’s word to and design for us must lead to a greater harm.

Theologian Lyman Abbott noted that “every life is a march from innocence, through temptation, to virtue or vice.”  In my self-examination, I’m looking at where my march is headed.  It’s a question I urge you to consider as well.

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You will seek Me and fine Me when you search for Me with all your heart.
— Jeremiah 29:13 (NASB, italics/underline mine)

My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding— indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.
— Proverbs 2:1-5 (NIV, italics/underline mine)

If you find God with great ease, perhaps it is not God you have found.
— Thomas Merton

An impersonal God, well and good. A subjective God … inside our own heads, better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap, best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, … that is quite another matter. … There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (“Man’s search for God!”) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to THAT! Worse still, supposing He had found us?
— C.S. Lewis in “Miracles”

And yet, as Philip Yancey points out, the only thing more difficult than having a relationship with an invisible God is having no such relationship.

What Turns You On?

The Super Bowl is this Sunday, and it will feature the New England Patriots — a franchise that has had an extended run of greatness, unlike any in team sports over the past quarter-century.  The owner of the team is Robert Kraft – who took a losing team and made it a winning one.

“Winning football games has been more important to me than making money. Winning is what turns me on. Money is pretty good, but a shroud has no pockets.” – Robert Kraft
There is great wisdom here. No, not winning football games, but rather, the realization that you can’t take it with you — “a shroud has no pockets.” So, what turns you on?  Is it something that you can’t take with you — or is it something of eternal value.
“Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life…” – Jesus

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(Note: this post was originally published Christmas Eve, 2015.  It has been updated and republished for 2016)

Today, 77 years ago, my Dad was born (that’s him in the picture above when he was a teenager/young man).  Sadly, he did not see his 55th birthday, abruptly and unexpectedly taken from us as the result of a heart attack.  This grievous and dreadful event capped an approximately 18-month period when a dear uncle, my precious grandmother and my respected father were all seemingly snatched from our lives.

In the last 6 months, I’ve watched as both my Mom and another uncle (who married my wife and me) have had their bodies ravaged by Parkinson’s disease and their minds ravaged by age and its accompanying ills.

Both of these periods have resulted in wounded hearts, fractured faith and voids in my life.

Growing up, Christmas always represented a time of hope for me.  Year after year, I would ponder and reflect that God showed He is faithful to His promises and to us in the sending of His Son, Immanuel, God with us.  Year after year, I anticipated that life would become more and more fulfilling; that my calling and purpose would be revealed and, with sincere effort, fulfilled; that my loved ones would find and grow in Christ and God the Father.

But as I’ve grown older and witnessed & shared in the pain of dear friends losing children during pregnancy or childbirth; of the unexpected and unexplained loss of family; of the shattering impact of divorce of seemingly rock-solid couples; of the numbing, toxic and eroding effect of “post-modern/post-truth” culture on the young (including my own children); of the life-changing/world-shrinking effects of Parkinson’s and other diseases; of the immense struggle to adapt to the results of stroke, Alzheimer’s, Lupus, aging – I’ve struggled more and more with belief.  Hope has often seemed a light disappearing from view as I travel farther down “the race set before me.”  And I battle feeling as if my life has been invalidated as the institutions I’ve counted on seem to have declared my accomplishments as inconsequential; my beliefs as ignorant, my faith as unprofitable and counterproductive.  Immanuel?  God with us?  Sometimes, I confess, I have misgivings as to whether that is true…..

But I’m continually brought up by the fact that the evils of this world do not contradict God nor His Son. “In this world you will have trouble,” He told us.  Trouble of my own making and trouble resulting from a world increasingly spurning God and His Son.  We are described as imbued with the dignity of God and yet infected with death, fear and self-defeating tendencies.   “But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  It was into this world that He came.  For you.  For me.

I continue to be rescued by this Immanuel, God with Us.  This God who did not consider equality with God as something to be held onto and used to His own advantage.  Rather, He emptied Himself and became human.  He experienced what we experience – he experienced our reality.  And, in order to save us, He became obedient unto death.

The Christmas hope (Immanuel) is a future hope – for a place where the kingdom of God is actually and fully realized.  Where creation, now broken, will be made anew.  Where the losses, the wounds and the voids will be redeemed, healed and closed.

The Christmas hope (Immanuel) is also a present hope – those who seek God, who come to God through His Son, will be sustained through present sufferings and will know peace and purpose in this life.

So, for grieving widows, abuse survivors, those suffering illness, disease, depression, doubt and fear.

For those who have made bad choices and despair of repairing what has been broken as a result.

For those who have or are experiencing heartbreaking and confusing loss.

For those who were not loved and have a hard layer to try to deaden the pain and insulate from any more pain.

For the widows alone, unable to sleep at night, remembering nights past and the laughter of family filling the house.

For the parents who feel overwhelmed and wonder how to build a family.

For those who feel insignificant …. lost …. alone.

For those who are weary and ready to give up.

For those who worry that the hour is too late for them to return.

This night, and the birth of this Child so long ago is meant to bring the hope of salvation.

He came to bring light to the world.

He is the gift.

May this gift bring you the hope of the realization that you are loved.  The hope that a way to God has been made for you.  That abundant life and abundant living can be found even here and even now.

Merry Christmas.

humility

As I continue my wilderness wanderings/life introspection in this midlife sabbatical the Lord is leading me on, my thoughts today have rested on humility.
 
What is humility? – a modest view of one’s own importance; a viewing of others as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3, NASB)
 
What others have said about humility:
 
“Humility is the solid foundation of all virtues.”  – Confucius 
“Those who travel the high road of humility will not be troubled by heavy traffic.” – Alan Simpson
 
“Humility is so light a grace that once you think you have attained it, you’ve lost it.” – Unknown
 
“… all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” – the apostle Peter (1 Peter 5:5b, NASB)
 
As God is working in and through my examination of myself, my past actions and motives, what I know at this point is I could use a healthy dose of humility.  Realizing and acknowledging this has been painful, but I’ve got a little idea it will radically impact my life, particularly in terms of discovering and developing deep, meaningful friendships and relationships with others in a variety of contextual communities.  And from a fulfillment, significance and legacy standpoint, one of life’s 3 greatest blessings and needs (along with health and purpose) is meaningful friendships and relationships.  
 

Godspeed, John Glenn

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With the passing of John Glenn yesterday (Dec 8, 2016), this write-up by Jim Denison is very appropriate:

John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, died yesterday at the age of ninety-five. Author Tom Wolfe called him “the last true national hero America has ever had.”

His successful circumnavigation of the globe in 1962 came when our nation was locked in a battle with the Soviet Union for superiority in space. The Washington Post notes “In an era when fear of encroaching Soviet influence reached from the White House to kindergarten classrooms, Mr. Glenn, in his silver astronaut suit, lifted the hopes of a nation on his shining shoulders.”

Mr. Glenn went on to serve four terms in the Senate representing the people of Ohio. In 1998 he joined the crew of the space shuttle Discovery, returning to space at the age of seventy-seven.

John Glenn was revered for his courage, morality, and commitment to service. But there’s another factor that explains all three, one that many of today’s obituaries are omitting.

Glenn told the world during his 1998 shuttle mission, “To look up out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible. It just strengthens my faith.” He told reporters that he was praying every day in orbit. He made public his faith across his career in the military, NASA, and public service.

His experience was not unique. Buzz Aldrin’s first act when he landed on the moon was to celebrate communion. When Frank Borman commanded the first space crew to travel beyond Earth’s orbit, he radioed back a message quoting from Genesis 1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” After James Irwin walked on the moon in 1971, he became an evangelical minister. Charles Duke followed Irwin to the moon and later became a missionary.

There’s something about experiencing the majesty of God’s creation that puts our lives in proper perspective. Every human is tempted to be his or her own god (Genesis 3:5). Autonomy is the creed of our culture. Many think they can define marriage, sexuality, and life itself with no reference to the God who instituted marriage, designed sexuality, and creates life.

But when we recognize that the universe is more complex and majestic than we can possibly comprehend, we are forced to recalibrate our self-sufficiency. As Louie Giglio says, “I am not but I know I Am.”

The Bible is clear: In Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). Not “some” but “all.” If you’re seeking wisdom and knowledge today, don’t look in the mirror or even to the stars. Look higher still.

When John Glenn’s tiny space capsule began liftoff at 9:47 AM on February 20, 1962, his backup pilot said on national television, “Godspeed, John Glenn.” Nearly five hours later, parts of his capsule broke off during reentry and burst into flame. Glenn later told reporters that he was aware of the danger but that he was committed to his mission.

Now he has embarked on the greatest mission of his life. Godspeed, John Glenn.

 

Twenty-seven years ago, I married the most beautiful woman on earth (she still is!).  I was young, brash, arrogant, selfish — but I didn’t realize it at the time.  I had told Mary before we were married (and for many years after), that I didn’t want children.  Not because I disliked babies or kids or teens…. but because I was convinced I would not make a good father, a good dad.

But I had no doubt whatsoever that I’d make a fantastic husband.  I thought I had all the “bible learning” down on being a good husband, and I thought I would exemplify what a good husband was.  Boy, was Mary lucky to have me!  That last part may not have been a conscious thought, but it might as well have been.

As it turned out, I knew nothing about being a good husband.  Without going into details, let’s just say I made it about me, my rights as a husband, the respect I “deserved” based on my biblical role as leader of my household.  I expected respect (without demonstrating I deserved it) and had little tolerance for anything I interpreted as questioning my role or my “wisdom.”  Frankly, I was a fool and a jackass.

But then came a day I’ll never forget.  My grandma, a wonderful woman of God with down-to-earth common sense, pulled me aside and basically let me know what a putz I was being as a husband.  My grandma was kind, sweet and extremely wise.  For her to “put me in my place” shocked my sensibilities, but it was sure necessary and I’m grateful she did it.  Her rebuke was and is a great example that corrective admonishment can be done out of love.

I wish I could say that from that day forward, I was indeed the husband the Bible calls for and the man of Mary’s dreams.  Unfortunately, that has not been the case.  But I have always been mindful of what I should be and hope I’ve made progress in that direction.

 

Having reached mid-life (assuming a “standard” life-expectancy!), I am heeding the warning of Socrates & Plato regarding an unexamined life.  As I reflect on my life and its results, I see a man who is in many ways hard to love and hard to like.  I see many friendships that have dried up, atrophied, faded — some due to what we call “life” (time, distance, changes in family or other circumstance); others due to neglect, and, I fear, my own self-centeredness.

More and more I realize the ripple effects through time my negative actions have on my family and the effects self-centeredness has had on my friendships.  And these (family and friends) are two primary means God uses to give life meaning and purpose.   I realize, without Mary, I would likely be alone and with little hope of an enriched life “on this mortal plain.”

As our marriage has unfolded, my wife has loved me when my words and actions have caused mental and emotional pain; she has loved me when I have failed to be a spiritual leader; she has loved me when I’ve been quick to anger; she has loved me, quite honestly, when I have been unlovable.

Many husbands, on occasions such as anniversaries, state, “I wouldn’t change a thing.”  But, if I could, I would.  Change who I married?  Not on your life!  Change the person I’ve been and behaviors I displayed?  Absolutely.

But, alas, I cannot do that.  What I can do is continue to preach the gospel to myself (especially in regards to forgiving myself), and I can strive to be a husband who loves his wife as Christ loved the church.  A calling and responsibility I far too often forget.  It is when I sacrifice myself, when I give of myself — when I intentionally lead for the present and eternal good of my family, when I put their welfare above my own desires that I have any good impact — in the now and in the future.  I can strive to be what my grandma admonished and reminded me I should be, and I look to God to redeem my past sins and to “make up for the years the locusts have eaten” (Joel 2:25) as I seek to please Him in the more excellent way of love — particularly in the intentional love of a husband and father.

My wife has inexplicably continued to show me grace, mercy, forgiveness and love throughout our married life.  She has, in many ways, shown Christ in action.  God has indeed blessed me, and I continue to learn what love is and how to love because of Mary.

Thank you, honey, from all that is within me, for being my wife.