Naked and unashamed

There is currently a reality show on TV called naked and afraid. I don’t watch it, so I cannot recommend it as must see reality TV. Have you ever had a dream that you were stark naked in public? Here is a show that makes that nightmare a reality and labels it as entertainment. The participants are naked, they are clearly unashamed and in reality they do have much to fear. America has lost its ability to blush. We are a far cry from the debut of I love Lucy in 1951 which featured 2 beds in the bedroom of Desi and Lucy. The American morality slide continues and our ability to blush slides along with the entertainment worlds  shameless ethics. The fear of God is all but gone and we behave as though he does not see, or like we will never give and account for sin. (Sin!? Boy, that a word we never hear anymore)

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Spanky of the little rascals once said, “You might fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool mom.” Is this a truism and who are we kidding anyway? We all have hidden skeletons in our past and dark secrets that we never want the doorway opened on. It is likely that we all, if honest with ourselves, can point to something done in secret that if exposed we would be greatly ashamed of. Spanky’s adage doesn’t hold water and truth be told we fooled our mothers some of the time as kids.

Light always cuts through the darkness and the darkness has no power over light. When sin entered the garden Adam and Eve became aware and ashamed of their nakedness. They immediately covered themselves and hid from God. All mankind continues to hide from God like our first parents and seek to hide their shame by running from the light. God calls to mankind in his garden and asks the same question he asked Adam, He said, “Adam (your name here _____) , where are you?” His voice pierces the darkness of all our shameless behavior and we respond by trying to hide and attempt to cover our sin and nakedness. But we, like the cockroaches we are, run for the cover of darkness and hide under the nearest rock available. This is natural for us because we are conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5) and have gone astray into darkness from the womb of our mothers (Psalm 58:3). We are most comfortable in darkness just like a fish is most comfortable in the water that envelops it. Take us out of our comfortable environment, cast light into the darkness and we are sure to squirm. Jesus makes the world squirm.

Jesus is the light of the world and he alone opens the locked doorways that exposes our skeletons within. He wants us to be honest with him about the secret sins that beset us so easily. The door creeks open and we quickly scurry from him. Why is this? Jesus said, “And this is the judgment : the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works be exposed.” (John 3:19-20)

Jesus is the word made flesh and those who hate him hate what he has to say. Oh sure, they loved his miracles and kindness but killed him for his message. His word is a lamp unto our feet and a light for our path but those who hate his light run back to the darkness. Why? Because it is in us to love the darkness, hate the truth, and enjoy the passing pleasures of sin for the season of our life. Why do we avoid the bible, Jesus, and the truth? We don’t want our sin exposed, we cling to it, we actually love it. Yet, in his great mercy he shows us who we are so that we might be delivered from so great a darkness and he beacons us to come to the light.

We can lie to ourselves and we can lie to others. We might fool some of the people some of the time, “But you cant fool God!” Who are we kidding? Let’s be honest as to why we avoid bible reading, meditation and the light. It’s painful and it reveals our ugly hearts. No book ever written by man can cut our souls like the Spirit inspired word of God. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12) We may think we can run but hiding is impossible because God sees all, “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account.” (Hebrews 4:13) We are naked. The question remains, are we ashamed and afraid?

As  Christians we are the light of the world but what good is a lamp hidden under a basket? The world hated Jesus and they will hate his followers as well but I encourage the believers who read this to remember your darkness and to walk in the light.

“For you were at one time darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (For the fruit of light is found in all that is good, right and true) and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness but instead expose them.” (Ephesians 5:8-11)

rest in the desert

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All sunshine makes a desert, but when in the desert look for an oasis.

I guess if I could define my life before grief I could use the word sunshine. Three healthy kids, a loving wife, stable jobs and a cape cod in the country.  Life certainly wasn’t without trouble but overall we enjoyed mostly sunny skies and only a chance of rain.

But somewhere between heaven and hell I find myself in a desert wasteland called earth. My wilderness storm came suddenly and without warning, leaving the landscape of my life barren and stripped of the comforts that sunny days provided. The eye of the storm has passed followed by dark overcast skies over the last 18 months. I am starting to see some breaks in the clouds, the wind seems to be dying down a bit and I feel I can come out of my shelter for a walk around.

Being a Christian didn’t give me a free pass on suffering in this life. Jesus suffered and so will I. He said, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) What about me, how can I endure the storms and be an overcomer? John tells me, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world- our faith.” (1 John 5:4)  I look to Jesus, the author and finisher of my faith. He has both killed death and provided me life, holding my hand in all my desert wanderings.

All sunshine makes a desert, but when in a desert look for an oasis.

430 years in Egypt and the time of the Jews deliverance came as promised to Abraham by God centuries before. Moses was sent to deliver them from the bondage, and by faith he kept the first Passover and that night were delivered from the hand of their oppressors. By faith Moses led them through the Red Sea  and by his faith he led them into the wilderness towards the promised land. Three days into the desert and there is no water to be found. Water was then found but they found it bitter and undrinkable. “And the people complained against Moses, saying what shall we drink? So he cried out to the Lord and the Lord showed him a tree. When he cast it into the waters the waters were made sweet.” (Exodus 15:22-25) What can I learn from their wilderness experience?

As a Christian I have been delivered from death by Christ who is my Passover lamb. (1 Corinthians 5:7) By faith I follow him out of bondage and start my journey to the land of milk and honey by following the Good Shepherd who gave his life for the sheep. (John 10:11)

In the journey I can expect desert wanderings and come across bitter water to drink. Some of my most basic needs in my journey can be the greatest tests along the way. We come to pools of bitter water, we are thirsty beyond measure and all we do is complain and never pray. We forget that the tree of the cross has been thrown in the bitter waters of life and made them sweet for us. In all our sorrows we have a savior.

“Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35) The Lord invites the thirsty to drink from his sweet pool. “Come everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money , come, buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Isaiah 55:1-2)

All sunshine makes a desert, but when in the desert look for an oasis.

After the bitter pool of Marah the Israelites traveled on in the desert journey. “Then they came to Elim, where there were 12 wells of water and seventy palm trees ; so they camped there by the waters. (Exodus 15:27)

After coming to the bitter waters, after the bitter pools are made sweet and as you continue on your wilderness path remember to look up. There is always an oasis in the wilderness for the people of God. It is a place of shade and sweet relief from the blistering sun. The water there is refreshing and plentiful restoring the weary soul.

It’s been 18 months since my son died. I guess if I wanted I could stay at the bitter waters, complaining, prayerless and faithless. Or I can remember Jesus who makes all my bitter waters sweet in my journey of grief and follow him to an oasis of rest.

I feel I am at an oasis at the moment. I am truly thankful to God for this time of rest for my soul. But like the Israelites of old, the time at the oasis will end and they must enter into the wilderness and move towards Canaan. Most of that generation died in the wilderness because of unbelief. But by faith Caleb left the wilderness and obtained the promises of God. God commends him by saying, “But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land which he went, and his descendants shall posses it.” (Numbers 14:24) 

There is much to learn from the examples of the Hebrews. One thing that God will not tolerate forever is a complaining and grumbling spirit in our wilderness journey. Be thankful for the bitter pools that God has made sweet. When trials come, afterward look for the oasis of rest. When all are afraid and fearful to enter into Canaan by faith remember the spirit Caleb which God notices and rewards. And always try to remember…

All sunshine makes a desert, but when in the desert look for an oasis. 

Laughter is the best medicine

When laughter stopped

I have always been a cut up and totally appreciate a good belly laugh. My laughter was silenced for a long time after all the death of my son and 3 other loved ones. I had to think deeply as to the last time that something made me laugh hard enough to make me cry. Then it came to me. We had just finished watching an episode of Bob’s Burgers and were ready to call it a day. The Family Guy came on as we got off the couch and I was about to turn off the TV. I decided a long time ago to not watch this show because it goes over the edge too much for me. Peter Griffin happened to catch my attention that night. I watched about 90 seconds of the episode, turned it off, laughed till I cried as I climbed into bed for the night. The whole thing was a spoof on grief and total nonsense but it made me and my wife laugh hysterically. You may not appreciate it but I still giggle a little when I watch it. Grief needs levity and the sorrowing need their funny bone touched on occasion.

When laughter is inane

There are times in grief that laughter is a great antagonist to the sorrowing. We have days when nothing seems funny. There are solemn days when the laughing people and what they laugh about bring me great irritation. Those times are fewer as I move forward in my journey. I understand better the wisdom of Solomon who said laughter is vainity and madness.  (Ecclesiastes 2:2) The king would also record, “Even in laughter the heart may ache and the end of joy may be grief.” (Proverbs 14:13 ESV) 

When laughter is medicinal

There are certain people I need to see and hear from when I am down. I seem to run into them at the most needed times of my grief journey. These are male friends who have wept with me and have laughed with me in one sitting. A couple of them in particular lighten my heavy load and have a way of extracting laughter out of my soul like a turkey baster. These people are a medicine to me that cannot be purchased over the counter or prescribed by a physician. “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22 ESV) Somehow these friends make me laugh and refresh my heart when I need it most. I am so thankful to have a few funny friends. Certainly Readers Digest knew something of this natural remedy for sorrowing hearts. I love to read their articles, Laughter is the best medicine

When laughter leaves us

I battle depression from time to time, I have been struggling with it of late. When depressed I lose my laugher. I determined early in grief that I wasn’t going to use medications to help me to cope. Not that I oppose it for others but I personally decided to endure the pain and not sedate it. Why did I make such a choice? Because Jesus Christ endured the sorrow, pain and grief of the world without narcotics or anti-depressants. Isaiah records, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; on him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5 ESV) Grief, sorrow, stricken, smitten, afflicted, pierced, crushed, chastised and wounded all without pain relievers. Read on.

Isaiah wrote of Jesus 600 years before Bethlehem and the Psalmist records his experience looking down from the cross centuries before the tree ever gave root into the dry ground. “Reproaches have broken my heart, so that I am in despair. I looked for pity, but there was none, and for comforters but I found none. They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine.” (Psalm 69 20-21 ESV) Poison was offered to him but the poison was refused.

Some time ago I had the medical marijuana subject defended by a young user who was not ill or in pain. He made the defense that since the herb is natural that surely God would be supportive of him using. I pointed out the fact that God certainly would never roll a fatty with him and here is the reason why. On the cross while being crushed for the sins of mankind Jesus began to thirst. “They offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it he would not drink.” (Matthew 27:34 ESV) Jesus was offered a mind altering drug to ease the grief and pain and he refused it. I personally think it best to refuse it too.

When laughter is restored

I believe God has provided us with laughter. But it is somewhat odd to me that Jesus is never recorded laughing in the scriptures. However as a man I surely think that he did laugh. But he is remembered as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Our sorrows and our griefs he carried so someday all sorrow would fade away.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4 ESV)

Perhaps laughter is the sound of joy that flows from our contented souls. I want to laugh, I need to laugh but laughter for those who grieve children is slow in restoration. Somehow I know that the laughter I once knew will never be restored as it was. But I also know that I can smile and I can laugh more and more as days go by.  Laughter truly is the best medicine but for now my dosage is small with the expectation of more belly laughs are in my future. Someday all I will ever know is joy, till then I have his joy in my heart with an occasional   chuckle to help me along the way.

These things I have spoken to you that you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation;

but be of good cheer

I have overcome the world- Jesus

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Me not laughing 🙂

 

 

 

 

Living like a rock star

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Lake Michigan- Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore

I walked on a nearby beach for the first time recently. It is a beautiful place near our home that has been enjoyed by others for years but for us it was the very first time. We enjoyed every step along beautiful North Bar lake near Empire Michigan. Beach chairs in place we then took a stroll along Lake Michigan that runs parallel with North Bar. How often we take for granted the Great Lake in our back yard but not this day, we were taking it all in.

There are many lessons we can learn through God’s creation if we will only hear his voice in those contemplative classrooms. The following is what nature showed me as I considered my surroundings.

There is a wind cut sandy berm and the beach is littered with smooth stones perfect for skipping across the water. I picked up a few that caught my eye because of their color and beauty. Others I kept, tossing them across the waves that crashed at our feet. The variety of stones are endless, all had a different shape, a different color; many were dull and gray and really went quite unnoticed as we walked over top of them last Saturday. Others were full of color and sparkling quartz, one I picked up looked like a Leland blue stone but I decided it wasn’t and returned its sandy home.

Leland Blue

Leland Blue

Every stone had one thing in common on that beach. Each one was smoothed by the millennia of storms and waves that have crashed over them since God called them into existence. If they could speak what stories could they tell? Would we care to listen and would their journey matter to us at all?

I wondered, do we see people like we see the stones? All are very similar yet unique in themselves. Ordinary and gray, walked over, stepped on and unnoticed by the those who care to walk their way. The pretty ones get noticed and ugly ones get thrown aside and thrown into the sea of waves, forgotten by all and never to be considered again. I was struck by the thought considering all these stones that I am like them in many ways. The waves of trials in my life are shaping me, they crash on me and have been smoothing my edges over time. I noticed again that the water brings out the unseen beauty in the stones and they catch our attention. How I respond in trials is being watched, it can be ugly or it can be beautiful.

Trials shape our lives. I have reflected back on myself before the troubles came into my life and remember a hard stone of a man unshaped by any storms. I saw things in black and white, I was ridged with sharp edges but I guess there is always a hidden beauty in every stone that God has created. I am in God’s rock tumbler, I am in his polisher and the experience has been up and down and round and round. If I could go back to the old me that predates all the trouble I would decline the offer. Why? God has purpose for the pain and the polishing though difficult as it is brings out the hidden beauty in the stone. Not that there is anything beautiful in myself; it is Christ who alone who is beautiful. I’m rather ugly honestly but God recreates ugly stony hearts and reshapes them in his workshop of trials and through the renewing process of his word.

My New Testament given to me by my parents in 1996

My New Testament given to me by my parents in 1996

Trials in a life can embitter us, they can make us angry and resentful if we let our minds go to unhealthy places. But for the Christian we are to, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4ESV) Trials have their place in bringing us to completeness but without the knowledge of God in the hardship we are left confused in our circumstances. To understand suffering we must understand God and how God uses it in our lives. This can only be discovered in the word of God to us. Jesus fully understands our pain, for he was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. (Isaiah 53:3)

The attached photo is of my Bible, it is dated one day after Jacob died. There is a process in place, there is an end in view for me and for you as a Christian. My enemy is seeking to eat me up and spit me out, to sift me as wheat but like Peter we have something incredible taking place in all our temptations, trials and testing’s. Jesus said, “Simon, Simon, satan has demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith not fail. And when you have returned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32 ESV) The shocking thing is that Jesus let satan go after him, but the prayer of Jesus for him and for us guards us from failing faith. Peter did return and he did strengthen his brothers after his testing’s.

Sunset on Lake Michigan near Empire

Sunset on Lake Michigan near Empire

Peter’s words are very helpful to me in this difficult stretch in my life. He tells me to be prayerful in my trials, clear-headed and alert, in humility resisting the devil. (James 4:6-8) Understanding that we are not alone in our troubles and that God’s grace is sufficient for every suffering saint. Christ himself stands with us in our purposeful suffering to “perfect, establish, strengthen and settle you.” (1 Peter 5:10-11) “To him be the glory, and the dominion forever and ever. Amen”

How my student loan debt was paid in full

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Jacob and Jared

There were strange and unwanted thoughts that arrived in my mind the day my son died. As much as I wanted to push it from my thinking they continued to arise and I gave my thoughts words with my friend Dave as we mourned over Jake on that first day. The last thing I should be thinking about was money in a time like this. How awful I felt about having these nagging thoughts about how the death of my son was likely the beginning of major money problems in our household.

Thinking back 16 months I am not surprised that I was wrestling with those things in my head because it was only one of many troubled thoughts I dealt with on that day. I remember well how I sat on the stairs of my home and was angered by it all. Anger gave way to fear as I thought on how this might affect my marriage. I cried with my wife and told her that I did not want this to destroy us; she assured me it wouldn’t and it hasn’t.

FullSizeRender (1)Jake had four years of college under his belt and all the debt that comes with it. We as parents were on the hook for that debt because we signed parent loans so he could go to school. As much as I wanted to push this from my mind that day I couldn’t. I mused about what I would have to do to make sure that the debt was paid. I thought about preparing the house to sell and taking that money to pay the loans. We would then have start all over again. What kind of dad thinks about these things only hours after his son’s death? Grief does strange and unexpected things to you. I understand now that terrible day was the beginning of many new and unexpected thoughts.

After the burial life was difficult in many ways beyond the pain of grief. Everyday troubles had to be dealt with while our minds were still swimming in grief. Life’s difficulties don’t get put on hold when grief comes to us; life gets much more complicated and stressful. Dealing with the issue of the student loan debt was especially difficult on Stacey. It weighed heavy on her as she tried to wade through the frustrating process, this frustration has continued for 16 months now and it is finally over and resolved.

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Great Lakes Maritime Academy student

We discovered that there are laws in place to give forgiveness of student loans in the case of death. There are many fiery hoops to jump through and we hope the last hoop was cleared two weeks ago. We are now free of the responsibility of the parent loans.

I am thankful for debt forgiveness. It is quite humbling to know that what I owed was released from my responsibility. I wish there were a specific person I could call or send a thank you card to tell them of my gratitude. Somebody absorbed my debt and set me free from being enslaved to the lender. Somebody paid, somebody unloaded my burden, somebody took all that I owed on themselves. It doesn’t just disappear, somebody paid the debt.

This reminded me of Jesus who provided me debt forgiveness for all my sins. This is what God provides for those who are indebted to him, this is the Christian faith. Jesus said to a prostitute, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who sat at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:48-50 ESV) Isn’t this what we all want? Debt forgiveness, salvation and deliverance from the burden of sin and to be sent away by God in peace? It is God alone who wipes our slate clean. “If you O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” said the psalmist (Psalm 130: 3-4 ESV)IMG_0653

There are only two religions in the world. One comes under the banner of many names, denominations, cults, isms, (naturalism, hedonism, atheism, etc.)  and sects; then there is Christianity. Religionists formulate elaborate systems to “pay down your debt” but the interest is so high that the debt can never be paid down.Christianity conversely offers forgiveness of the unplayable debt that is owed to God; by grace we have been delivered from what is owed. Religion works to repay what they owe to appease their God, but true Christianity receives the grace offered and accepts that their debt to God is paid in full. These are the two religions of the world; which do you prefer? Grace and works are mutually exclusive to each other. We can pollute grace by trying to work for the favor of God or we can trust pure grace without the works and be forgiven of the entire debt owed. I would totally pollute the grace shown to me in the student loan forgiveness if I make efforts to repay the debt anyway. Grace is like water and human religious effort is like oil; they can never mix.

I cannot brag about what has been given to me freely. The proper attitude is to be thankful for the grace that has been given to me and the natural response is to love God and others. By faith I believe the debt is gone and paid in full by another-by Jesus himself. This is the Christian faith; every other religion requires human effort or pollutes grace by adding good works to gain favor with God. Good works are never the means of salvation but it is the evidence that it has taken place. These are the only to faiths in the world. Trust is Jesus or trust in self effort. Which faith are you?

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ- by grace you have been saved- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Jesus Christ. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:4-9 ESV)

What do I have to boast about if someone else paid my debt? I will boast in Christ, I will be thankful for his debt forgiveness and I will love him with all my heart, mind, soul and strength. This is my thank you letter to him.

killing the envy in grief

There is the ugly side of me that awakened within my spirit when my son died. He is the true me, the dark side of me that was unearthed by four deaths in my family. He has always lived within me, though in the shadows and always lurking in the dark and in the secret places of my heart. He is my constant companion, he lives as I live and I hate his very presence.  His name is envy and I despise him deeply, he has a voice and his voice causes my conscience to reply back to his evil utterance. I scream at him, “Love does not envy!” I desire to kill him and to silence his taunts yet when he’s confronted he recedes to the darkness again until another opportune time comes for him to expose his ugly head and to whisper into my ear.

Envy says many ugly things to me, things like, “Why does that kid get to live and your boy is dead?” Envy stands in the dark part of my eye and looks through the window at the happy people and utters, “Why do they get to be happy and I drown in sadness?” Envy recently seen a family the way mine used to be, he turned to my mind and said a terrible thing to me. He whispered, “Your family is shattered, it can never be the same. Why do they remain unbroken and feeling no pain?” I’d like to say envy has no place in me. However, honest grievers will all admit that envy arrives at the most unexpected times and in unsuspecting ways. I hate this dark companion, I distain his ugly face, I wish that I could kill him but when confronted he disappears without a trace.

Envy is ever with me where ever I may go. He sees all that once was and all that now is and desires what can never be. Envy craves for what it cannot have and embitters the heart of the one who makes him his constant friend. He is my constant enemy, he opposes the very nature and character of love; envy is the murderer of love.

God kill the envy in me for I know that you are love and, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends! (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Turn away from me envy from where you came, for the light of God’s love has exposed your ugly shame. Go back into hiding and return to your cell, to the place that you belong, to a place in the deepest hell.

Shine forth light of love, shine on in me, shine on forever, shine on I plead.

Does God really care about our grief?

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)
I consider tears as the bleeding of the soul. Just as when we are hurt physically we bleed, so too when we experience trauma of the soul the result will be tears. Some bleeding is internal and the tears cannot be seen or easily wiped away. Much of life is about pain control and finding ways to slow the bleeding and ease the discomforts we are in whether external or internal. There are prescriptions to dull our pain and tissues for the tears on our cheeks but is there any cure to take away all this sorrow and grief in life? No, sorrow and grief are here to stay for a while, but thankfully there is a cure that is provided for us by grace through faith.
Many times we ask ourselves the question, “Does God see or feel our pain?” When God became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ he was born with eyes, but his eyes seen much differently than any other man ever born. The bible tells us that the eyes of Jesus were full of compassion; feeding the multitudes, healing the sick, preaching the truth and raising the dead are all evidences that he sees the pain of mankind. Jesus is not only the God who sees, but he is the God who has power to do something about the sorrows of life. Jesus was able to wipe away the tears of the bereaved in his day, but what about us? Can he do it for you and me?
God promised a cure for the grief of mankind (Genesis 3:15) through the seed of a woman. God again promised through the prophet Isaiah about a coming Messiah 700 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold a virgin will conceive and bear a son, and call his name Immanuel” ( Isaiah 7:14 meaning God with us) The Lord became a man, “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 ESV) God does care about our troubles, he does care about our grief and has went to the greatest lengths to demonstrate it and also to eliminate it.
Jesus our compassionate God came to wipe all tears away, but first he had to experience the tears that we shed. He grieved and sobbed with his friends and his enemies over the death of his beloved friend Lazarus. He knew that in just a few moments he would wipe their tears away by calling his friend out of the tomb yet he still sorrowed and grieved with them. (John 11) On the surface this seems odd but the understanding of his tears is revealed to us in the prophecy of Isaiah 53. Jesus saw their grief and his compassion for them drove his thinking to how he would take all of our sorrows away forever. It would come at the highest price and it could only be accomplished through his own death.
“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3) The world hates Jesus without reason yet despite this, “Surely he has borne our grief’s and carried our sorrows.” (53:4) What creates the grief and sorrow that Jesus is determined to die for? It is the power of sin, Isaiah continues, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, upon him was the chastisement that brought our peace, and by his stripes we are healed.” (53:5) A perfect sacrifice is the only thing that could satisfy a perfectly holy God. Jesus did just that and by his grace we can receive forgiveness of sins through his blood which brings to us peace with God.
 Lazarus died because he was a sinner, the grief and pain of all who were there that day was a result of sin, because the payment for sin is always death. We are powerless to do anything about sin and death but thankfully God is not. He killed death by death and gives us hope through his resurrection from the dead. Jesus is the resurrection and the life, he walked out of his own tomb because death could not hold him. It was foretold, it came to pass and by faith in his name we can have the same thing. God does care!
Death is no victor, death has lost its sting because Jesus’ beat death at its own game. He was sinless and could not die because sin had no power over him like it does over us. Yet his love for us compelled him to give his life a ransom for many, taking our sins and nailing them to his cross thereby paying the debt we owe to God. Paul says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might be made the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV) This is the great exchange of our sins for his righteousness to satisfy the justice of a loving God. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Since therefore we have been justified by his blood, much more we shall be saved by him from the wrath of God. (Romans 5:8-9 ESV)
God cares and God sees all the external and internal tears of our lives. His care is evident in the extremes he endured to take away our pain on his cross. He suffered and has borne our sorrows and grief’s. Should we expect as sinners to not suffer if the sinless Son of God suffered willingly on our behalf? Jesus understands, sees, and cares for us because he became one of us, so that he might become a merciful High Priest for us. He is the only priest we need, “Because he continues forever, he has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore he is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:24-25) Your pain and your tears are only for a night, but joy comes in the morning friend. Remember that he has carried your sorrow and grief for you. Now as you wait for him, cast your cares on him, for he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)
Trust him, he really loves us and has went to the greatest lengths to empty our tissue box. For  a short time we will need tissues in this life, but someday the box will empty and there will be no more mourning, crying or pain but joy unspeakable and full of glory.

Are you a man or a mouse? Squeak up!

http://churchformen.com/men-and-church/where-are-the-men/

Why are Christian churches full of women and lacking men? Widows, single moms, married but without their husbands next to them in the pew defines the largest percentage of church attendees. Why is this so? I think the reasons for it are broad and I don’t have enough time to write on it all, so I will only hit on the issue that I believe stands out most.

I want to say first that there are allot of good men who are without faith that do the same things Christian men do. There is a defining difference between us however but first, I ask, what do we have in common with them? Morality, ethics, providers, good fathering, good husbands, family man, community minded, service oriented, leaders in business, education among a few things. You don’t beat your wife good for you! You go to all your kids events, good for you! You hold a job and pay your mortgage, good for you! These are the things all men should be doing; what separates the man of faith from the man of the world? The man of faith leads his family into the realm of faith, he is not in the shadows or AWOL in this matter. So why are men AWOL and living in the shadow lands, shirking their God given responsibility to lead their homes to God? I believe we lack examples and quite frankly I think that many Christian men are cowards and need to be encouraged to be bold and step out in faith to lead.

How many men will come to a church golf outing? How about a hunters dinner? What about a camping weekend for fathers and sons? You can fill a church gym if you have a raffle for guns but nobody shows when it comes to men being men in spiritual matters. Offer a men’s group for prayer and bible study and you will hear every excuse in the book, but there are no excuses to attend a men’s Super Bowl gathering. This is an age old problem, its connected to a curse and must be overcome with courage and examples of bold leadership.

Adam failed to lead and followed his wife into willful sin. God pronounced curses on them which included great pain in childbearing and that, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16) God places an authority and submission context to marriage, the man is to lead his wife. The man is to lead his wife to God, his family to God, his church to God, as well as his community, and his world to the very feet of Jesus.

Why are churches full of women and a few weak kneed men hanging around in their shadows? First, I believe there are few men boldly leading other men into their God given role and duty. I also find very few men interested in following a strong leader into this responsibility. Thankfully we have an example of a strong leader and a fearful mentee to observe in the scriptures. Paul and Timothy help me see the issue more clearly. Timothy was a young, timid and fearful pastor but Paul chose him and mentored him through all the fears that came their way.

Timothy had a Greek father and a Jewish mother and grandmother. These women faithfully led Timothy to God, apparently his father was not involved in these matters. The apostle Paul shows up to his home town and hears of Timothy and that he is well spoken of in his community. Paul was on the move because of persecution and needs to leave town again but desires to take Timothy with him and train him for ministry like a son. What they encounter first must have scared the pants of Timothy when he saw Paul beaten and thrown in jail right from the start.

The Spirit leads them into Macedonia and the city of Philippi where they go to the river on the Sabbath day to find a group of women in a prayer meeting. There were no men, Paul arrives and preaches Jesus to these God fearing women and one name Lydia is saved.. Luke says, “The Lord opened her heart to heed the things of Paul” From there a demon possessed girl is delivered which results in Paul and Silas being thrown in jail. The jailer is saved and the church of Philippi is born, but not without the pain of persecution. (Acts 16) The persecution gets worse as Paul preaches while Timothy looks at the cost of being a disciple of Jesus and a mentee of Paul. Paul was there to encourage him to press on in the good fight of faith despite the difficulty.

Timothy is later given a church to oversee in Ephesus where the hostility towards Christianity is hot. As Paul is in prison he writes his final letter to his son in the faith reminding him of the godly heritage provided him by his mother and grandmother. Timothy was timid, fearful and weak but Paul was bold and courageous, he mentors him and encourages him to follow him as he follows Christ. Paul writes to the people of Corinth concerning pastor Tim, “Therefore I urge you, imitate me. For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ as I teach everywhere in every church (1 Corinthians 4:17-18 NKJV)

Paul is in prison and will soon lose his head under the blade of Nero, he writes this last letter to his friend. Timothy was in danger of timidly drawing back into the shadows, but Paul, as he nears his beheading stirs up his friend by giving some final instructions. He says, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV) If men are afraid to lead spiritually we can be assured it doesn’t come from God, on the contrary we have everything we need for life and godliness. Paul says to hold fast the teachings, to be unashamed regardless of the opposition.

Paul continues, “And the things you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2) What does a man of faith look like, are they on the golf course? In the woods or the lake? Are they on the job or watching the NFL network? Men of faith lead in the faith and they will suffer for it. The question I have for myself as a man and for other men is this; Am I a coward or am I willing to pay a high price to lead in spiritual matters?

Paul doesn’t sugarcoat the price we must pay, Jesus never did either. He says, “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” (2 Timothy 2:3) It’s warfare we need to free yourself from the world. We are like olympians who must be disciplined and devoted and committed to the the rules. The man of God must also be patient to the end like a farmer waiting for the harvest. Keeping his gaze on Jesus all the time as he leads in spiritual things. Men are to lead their wives as Christ leads his church. “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (Ephesians 5:25-26)

Consider Joshua who was a man among men but then Moses his mentor in the faith died. God comes to Joshua like Paul approached Timothy with an encouraging word to be courageous. He was a general of the armies of Israel yet God says 3 times to be courageous. God told him, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9 ESV) Attention Christian men! Do you want God by your side wherever you go in life? Then be strong and unafraid; step out in faith into the battle and lead the way.

You first have to have faith to be a faithful man. If you have faith, are you leading the way for those around you. Will you man up and lead the ladies, and ladies will you allow them to lead in the way God called them to lead? Will both male and female accept the word of God to us that says the following. “Let the woman learn quietly, with all submissiveness. I do not permit women to teach or exercise authority over a man, she is to remain quiet.” Why Paul? “For Adam was formed first, then Eve, and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” (1 Timothy 2:11-14) This is the word of God to us.

Men we are failing our families, stand up and lead them! Find a good godly mentor to learn from and then mentor others like God has called us to do. If there is any doubt as to what you are called to as a Christian man consider that Jesus called 12 disciples to lead the church all of which were men. Those men appointed men to lead in the spiritual matters of the church. All this begins in our own homes men, lead your wives boldly there. Take your family to church seek a mentor and mentor others. There are plenty of cowards in the world, may it never be said of Christian men. What are you, a man or a mouse? Squeak up!

Christian persecution; understanding hatred of God

Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven. But he who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, ‘ Lord, Lord’, have we not prophesied in your name, cast out demons in your name, and done many wonders in your name? “And then I will declare to them,’I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:21-23)
statue
On February 5th, 1996 this passage was cutting through my very soul. As an unbeliever I was pondering the Jesus described here and I was terrified of him. If the many religious people will be turned away from his presence what chance did I have as an indifferent church attendee? I did not want to meet Jesus in this way, I was afraid and rightfully so. For Jesus himself said, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to kill both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) On that night, in a classroom, on my knees I pleaded with God for mercy and from that moment my life would never be the same. I met Jesus that winter evening and he warmed my cold heart with his grace, mercy and peace. I am no longer afraid to meet Jesus but I am one who eagerly waits for, and loves his appearing.
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In this passage I was one of “the many” people who was on the broad road that leads to destruction. (Matthew 7:13) They cry Lord, Lord in terror pointing to their own good deeds that they did in the name of Jesus, but to their great shock the Lord judges them, condemns them and sends them away. This is why I was afraid to meet the Jesus in this passage. I couldn’t even put myself into the class of religious people who were doing good things in his name. What chance would I have in his courtroom being an indifferent Jesus watcher in the back row of a church? Oh sure, Jesus had been sprinkled into my life for my entire life. I was a church attendee and participated in youth group activities. I was raised in a Christian home and had Christian education, Jesus was everywhere around me except for the most important place, he had no place in my heart. I had no understanding that my passive stance actually put me in the enemies of God camp even though I never felt I was hostile towards him. Jesus leaves no neutral ground for men to stand on, he said you are either for him or you are against him. (Colossians 1:21-22)
My problem was the same problem as these Jesus professors in line waiting to meet him. What is their problem? There was no intimate fellowship with Christ from the heart in their religious profession, they did not know him. They offered lip service and religious activity to Jesus but lacked a heart for him. Jesus who sees their heart observes only sin within it. Why? Because a confession that trusts in ones own polluted righteousness while rejecting the perfect righteousness of Christ always falls short of a faith that saves. (Romans 3:23) Without this faith that  God offers through his Son it is impossible to please him, regardless what we say or do in his name.
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Many church people like the Jews of old (and today) are seeking to establish their own righteousness by dead works that have no power to save or any redeeming value. They are very zealous for God while ignorant and stubborn at the same time. Paul says of his own people, “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.” (Romans 10:3)  Paul was once ignorant (of God’s righteousness by faith) and zealous (for his own righteousness by works) but was confronted by Jesus (like me in the classroom). When he met Jesus he chucked all his religious credentials and considered it manure, exchanging it for the righteousness of Christ by faith. How come Paul? “That I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness that is from God, through faith.” (Philippians. 3:8-10) We must all come the same way.
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The apostle was zealous for God but not according to knowledge, he was opposed to the gospel of grace and became the greatest persecutor of Christians. Paul was an enemy of the cross of Christ, he hated Christians, he could have been the leader of ISIS today. This is the same evil and deadly spirit that controls all those who speak the God and Jesus lingo but their heart is far from him. Isaiah spoke of this and Jesus affirmed it in Mark 7:6-7, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips but their heart is far from me. And in vain they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” Religious actors have empty worship and a heart far from God, they supplant man’s teaching and religious traditions for the word of God. All the violence ever dispensed on Christianity has come from the hands of the religious who hate Jesus. I might add that all who are on a crusade to destroy other faiths in the name of Christianity are not Christians at all. True Christian’s follow Jesus the Good Shepherd into paths of righteous for the sake of his name.thorns
The persecution of Christian’s comes as no surprise to a Christian. Jesus said it would happen, “These things I have spoken to you, that you may not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues: yes the time will come that whoever kills you will think they offer God service.” And exactly why will they do these things? “And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me.” (John 16:3) The haters of God are on the rise, persecution is in the news more and more. Why? Jesus says again, “But all these things they will do for my name’s sake, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me hates my Father also.” (John 15:21-23) Persecution of Christians is an evidence of hatred for God and his only Son Jesus, all this is done in the name of God. They cannot kill the living Christ, so they kill those who follow him and know him showing themselves as sons of hell. (Philippians 1:28)
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Is an open confession of Jesus sufficient to give a person entrance into heaven? Is calling him Lord and reminding him of the works they had done in his name sufficient to him? No, they are not. Is an open confession of Jesus as Lord important? Absolutely! But the confession must come from a transformed heart, true salvation is two-sided. Paul affirms this, and it is simple to understand; it is the word of faith which we preach (the gospel), “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus (side 1) and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead (side 2), you will be saved. For with the heart one believes to righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made to salvation.” (Romans.10:9-10) 
These people described for us in Matthew 7 had an open confession but what did they lack? They lacked a heart that believed in the perfect atoning work of Christ and their need to trust in his righteousness alone, by grace alone, through faith alone. They despised his grace and established their own righteousness in which they could boast, but the boasting before men is only temporary for there will be no boasting of personal righteousness before Jesus. They will meet Jesus and sadly it will be the Jesus they never wanted to meet. I am so thankful to have met the Lord in that classroom so many years ago. For it was on that day that I first understood that, “When the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared (Jesus), not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:4-5) To God be the glory, great things he has done!
beheading 1      beheading 2
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until you judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” And a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who should be killed as they were was completed.” (Revelation 6:9-11) How were they killed? They were beheaded for Christ. (Revelation 20:4) These are the martyrs at the end before Jesus returns to take back his earth; its going to get worse. Are you ready to meet him?

Wrestling with life- how to keep your head up

Me in 1984

Me in 1984

I was a 88 pound weakling in the seventh grade, and then there was Bill. He was a 9th grade wrestler and an antagonist bully who never referred to me as Mike but usually as runt or some other four letter word. Bill inspired me to become a wrestler, not because I wanted to be like him but because I hoped to gain some respect. I started wrestling and I immediately fell in love with the sport. There are lessons I have learned in the sport of wrestling that I have stayed with me my entire life. The instruction I heard my coaches echo over and over were things like, “Stay off your back, get to your base, work to your feet, don’t reach back, keep your head up, don’t stop, keep moving!” My career is long since passed but I became a coach and said all the same things to my athletes and to my wrestler sons Jacob and Jared. Wrestling has instructed me in some very basic and essential lessons in life, one in particular has been very helpful.

There is a natural tendency that coaches try to break when teaching a new wrestler the basics of survival on the mat. Novices tend hang their heads, this bad habit always puts their opponent at an advantage to turn them to their back. A two count on your back and its lights out and game over, so we continually scream at the kids to, “KEEP YOUR HEAD UP!” Time and experience on the mat breaks the bad habit, wrestlers eventually learn that it is better to keep your head up than to fight off your back. I was 17-0 my senior season and I made the mistake of hanging my head too low in a match that I was dominating. My opponent locked on my head and arm, pulled me over and stuck me to the mat. It had been a long time since I made that mistake, I had also forgotten how to fight off my back and my unblemished record was gone.

Jacob on the right

Jacob on the right

Wrestling demands an incredible amount of endurance and strength. Superior conditioning has a distinct advantage in a match, you can visibly see a wrestler concede a loss when he is physically and mentally spent by the way he hangs his head. When your head drops all you see is mat and you are in danger of getting a view of the lights and rafters in the gym. A novice can last through a match with stamina and a heart that wills to survive if he does the most basic skill of keeping his head up. Isn’t this true in life? I have discovered that this most basic of principles has helped me endure the flurry that life has thrown my way. Endurance for life is essential but sometimes I get caught off guard, like my match, I hang my head and get thrown to my back for a loss. Lesson learned, now I go back to the practice room and focus again on the basics to avoid the mistake again.

Jacob was Jared’s biggest fan in the sport of wrestling. Jared’s success exceeded his brothers yet Jacob never had a envious bone in his spirit toward his little brother. Jared’s love for his big brother was demonstrated in a unique way after Jake died, he placed his all-state medal in his hand before they closed the casket. When Jared told me that he was going to do this it troubled me at first because of the years of work and toil that went into earning it. But those selfish feelings quickly turned to acceptance when I realized this was the deepest gesture of love for a brother that he could give. There was something ironic about what Jared did that day; something I will never forget and is connected to Jake and his music.

There is a hymn that Jacob played and sang at his granny’s funeral three months before he died, its called the Old Rugged Cross. The chorus sings, “So, I will cherish the old rugged cross. Till my trophies at last I lay down: I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it someday for a crown.” That song and its chorus will forever remind me of Jacob and Jared’s bond. Trophies that rust and collect dust were buried that day, I realized that they mean nothing beyond the moment and have no eternal value. My son was buried with the accomplishments of his brother in his right hand. The vapor of life fades as quickly as it arrives and vain glory dies with it. Jake holds a trophy in his hand but now all that matters to me is that he laid his trophies down in exchange for a crown of life. Its a difficult and sometimes discouraging battle I am in, my enemy wants to pin me down, catch me hanging my head and destroy me. What is my Christian response to this? I keep my head up and cling to the old rugged cross.

Jared and Jacob

Jared and Jacob

Read Hebrews chapter 11 and you will discover the hero’s of my faith, they are people who endured terrible things for God based on a promised future hope. I observe their examples of faith and then I apply chapter 12 to my life by, “Laying aside every weight, and sin that clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary and fainthearted.” (Hebrews 12:2-3 ESV)

For the Christian there is but one place to look to find our encouragement when life gets hard and faith is tested. I remind myself to stay with the basics, I look to Jesus; I KEEP MY HEAD UP! As I prepare for the wrestling matches against the many enemies of my soul I need to train with wisdom. I must set aside the sins that weigh me down, I must run my course with patient endurance until the day comes that I lay all my trophies down in exchange for a crown.When I get discouraged I consider Jesus my perfect example of endurance. Where is Jesus today? He is at the right hand of God, keep your head up and look to him for someday we will be in his presence where there is fullness of joy forever!

Jordan our daughter the stat girl

Jordan our daughter the stat girl

Jared present day  Wheaton College

Jared present day
Wheaton College

wrestling mom and dad

wrestling mom and dad