Before Me

Psalm 16:8-9 “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells (rests) secure.”

Months ago, we began a study on rest that was supposed to be a day but turned into a season. I thought it would be great for everyone else, but I turned out to to be wrong about that, too. This series was pointed straight at my heart, and my life, and this Psalm showed up in a journal like a sledgehammer, on 10/16/18. (I know because I date each entry)

I was gifted this journal that has a passage per page and it has never been far from my side. Which is not to say I write in it often – I’ve had it for over 15 years!!! But I always come back to it and it never fails to inspire. Why don’t I spend more time writing in it? Who knows? There’s lots of things I should do, things that give immeasurably more than they take, that I don’t do and who knows why about those things, either? But that is a discussion for another day. 

Anyway, this Psalm said to often-shaken-me that if I were to only set the Lord before me, then I could be glad, joyful, and rest peacefully. Then, I could abide. Like the Dude (in the Big Lebowski.) 

This made perfect sense, like the lights were finally turned on in the dark room of my soul – an epiphany! – and I would never be the same again. I had attained some new level of enlightenment.

Until I didn’t. And the next season of dark soul rooms began. For me, this time of year is often a catalyst for discouragement and depression. I get shaken, not resting securely at all. 

And this is especially strange because I just gave a months-long sermon series on precisely this. Shouldn’t this be behind me???

Then, yesterday I opened my journal and the passage was Psalm 16:8.

Now, I have seen prayer/Bible verse journals elsewhere and I’ve never replaced this one because all of the ones I see in stores repeat the same 4 verses over and over for 200 sheets. This one is perfect, just perfect, because it does not repeat at all. No other verse repeats in the entire book. And here, 7 pages apart (7 pages!!) (7?!!? 7 is an awfully significant number, isn’t it?), the first repeated verse.

So.

Maybe it’s coincidence, a lazy editor not paying attention. And maybe a coincidence that I was less than diligent with my entries, until this verse hit me right in the middle of a search for answers, for hope. Maybe.

Or maybe it’s something more.

But the answer I did find was for my question, “shouldn’t this be behind me?” And that answer is, sadly, no. It’s a process, and maybe it gets easier and maybe the time in between gets longer and longer, but a life of faith is a daily submission, a conscious decision to lay whatever down and leave it there. And then, when we pick it up again and worry or try to control the whole world and everyone in it, to lay it down again. This time, we promise we’ll leave it down, right? But we don’t. Our expectations or fears or anxieties growl and pace in our heads yet again. But we lay it down, again and again and again, trusting God to take it each time.

And of course, He could take it and keep it. When we demand it back, He could say, “no,” but that’s not really what He does. He gives us the choice to weigh ourselves down with unreasonable chains, gives us the choice to carry it ourselves and also gives us the choice to give it to Him.

And when we don’t, and it hurts so much and steals our peace and I do not abide, maybe He is the ‘something more’ in the coincidences.       

 

CLOSED Today

Good morning everyone!!!

There is no easy choice to make today. We didn’t get a foot of snow (probably an inch or 2, instead), and right now it’s above freezing. But it’s not going to stay there, and the water and slush that is there now will quickly freeze. The site I listen to says “by daybreak,” most locations will be below freezing.

Soooo.

We will NOT be having our Sunday morning services today.

Be safe.

Stay inside. Breathe. Sleep in. Read Romans 8 and 9 – if you’re feeling inspired, 10. Eat something you love. Laugh. Stretch your hamstrings. Call someone. Cease.

We have a mid-week service on Tuesday at 6:30pm, a retreat at 9am on Saturday, and the rest of Romans 9 next Sunday. I hope I see you soon!!

Love. Peace.

chad.

A Delicate Surgical Procedure

Last week, I had the pleasure of a wildly uncomfortable surgical procedure. (By the way, everyone in this house is advising me to NOT write about it, that’s it will not be uncomfortable only to me, that I don’t have to share everything all the time… yet here we are.) All I’ll say about the procedure itself is that it’s the kind of surgery only a man would elect.

Anyway, now that we’re all uncomfortable, there’s a reason I’m choosing to share this.

Do you know how you can hear/see/taste/experience something that perfectly illustrates a concept that had, until that point, been pretty elusive? I’ve heard it called an ‘A-Ha moment,’ like you’ve just found the lenses that bring clarity to what was, moments ago, blurry and confusing, and now you just see the color and form and beauty of what has always been right in front of you. The promise is why you never give up on the concept – someday this will all make sense, right?

Worry has always been like that for me. Jesus tells us, in the Scriptures, to not worry, to trust God for everything, for tomorrow will worry about itself, for today has enough trouble of its own. (Let’s not think about tomorrow’s trouble and the implication that everything doesn’t get super-easy when we follow Jesus, like we were promised by the evangelists on TV.) I understand those words, I understand that the lilies of the field and birds of the air are taken care of and more beautiful than even Solomon in all his splendor, but this is the sort of understanding that has taken root in my head and, with very few exceptions, not migrated into my heart. 

I’d known about this procedure for months. Everyone said it was quick and easy, but it’s true what is said about minor surgery: it’s only minor to those not having the surgery. I didn’t want to get operated on, who does??? And as the days inched closed, I felt a weight pressing my neck. Sure, the weight was wasn’t heavy, but if you hold a pencil in front of you for hours, even that pencil will feel significant. 

There’s no need for details – I’m fine, recovering nicely, everything was as smooth as it could have been. But here’s the point. The actual surgery was quick and easy, everyone was right. The surgery I prepared for and re-lived daily in my head for months was the problem. This is usually the case, isn’t it? We stay up nights, staring at the clock, playing what-if scenarios in our minds for outcomes that seem absolutely certain…until they aren’t. Or, if they do become reality, they are far less monstrous than they were at 2am. Worry gives us no release, there is nothing we can do, because there is nothing to do. The thing, the obstacle, the horror, the nightmare doesn’t exist. 

I think probably the reason the Bible spends so much time on worry, on giving our attention to the possible future, is because the Bible spends so much time asking us to focus on the here and now. This life is a gift, and is to be lived. I’ll ask the question I’ve asked so often, how much now have I missed in service of the then? How much beauty of today has been dulled by the expected ugliness of tomorrow? 

Everything about those passages were proven true in that office, in those 30 minutes and in the preceding months. Today had enough trouble (it was a delicate surgery, after all) and like those birds of the air, I was well cared for through every bit of it.

 

Confirmation Classes

My dad took me to my confirmation classes every Sunday morning. There was a Lutheran church half a block from where we lived that we ‘belonged’ to, that confirmed me. (Who knows what I was confirmed as? I suppose I could look it up, but it makes a better point to not know, right? Maybe I was confirmed to be awesome. Or super-spiritual. Or something.) I don’t know how old I was, maybe 10 or 11, and I have absolutely no idea what they taught on those Sunday mornings. My dad told me it was important, and I’m sure it was to some of the other kids in my class. The problem, the reason it didn’t sink in, that I have totally forgotten it, that as soon as I was confirmed I left that church and never went back, was that even though he took me every week, even though he told me how valuable it was, he lied.

Now, that’s probably way too harsh. To say he lied implies some sort of intent, and I don’t think he meant to deceive me in the least. He probably thought he believed it was important. 

He just didn’t. 

This is nothing that is particularly unique to him, I’m the same way.

I tell my boys it’s important to eat lots of fruit and vegetables and stay away from sugar and other junk foods. And maybe someday they’ll write that I lied. I suppose I don’t really think it is too important, because any time I have the opportunity to eat a donut, I do. And I think most vegetables are punishment and to be avoided at all costs.

There’s a saying, attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times and if necessary use words.” This speaks to the simple fact that the most effective, honest way to communicate our beliefs is our actions. We are all teachers, even if we are completely unaware of this fact. And if, in our lessons, our actions don’t match our words, which one do you think wins?

If I am constantly drilling Samuel with the value of telling the truth, then he walks in the room to hear me call off “sick” from work so I can sleep in, which do you think makes the deeper impression?

If Elisha constantly hears me listing the virtues of exercise, yet never get off the couch…     

My words might be 100% spot on, they’re just not part of the curriculum I’m teaching.

I remember that surprisingly powerful commercial when the boy, after being found with drugs, screams, “I learned it from watching you!!!!” Could that dad tell his kids how important it is to ‘just say no,’ while he was saying Yes? 

Well, sure, he can. They’re just not listening.

So, the BIG question is, do I really believe the things I say I do? My dad didn’t think church was a big deal, never set foot in a church. (Maybe that’s not true – I do think I remember him being there for my special confirmation, but it’s fuzzy. Maybe he was.) I don’t know why he took me every week. Maybe it looked a certain kind of way and gave an impression he wanted to give, or maybe he just wanted his boy to have the base he didn’t. All I know was that I was paying very close attention.

Do we believe the things we say we do? It takes a focused examination and an honesty that requires a ridiculous amount of courage to find out. And then, once we find out that not every area is in line (because we will), then what do we do with that? Will we continue the heart- (and back-) breaking work and drop the hollow words, or worse, bring our lives into alignment with our values?

It’s hard, of course, it is. But no one ever said it would be easy, just that it would be worth it.

Restart

This morning I finished a book of Elisha’s called Restart, by his favorite author, Gordon Korman. It’s about an 8th grade boy who falls off his roof onto his head and remembers nothing; not his mother, not his friends, his room or anything at all about his life. On the back cover, it reads, “Pretty soon, it’s not only a question of who Chase is – it’s who he was… and who he’s going to be.” What a fascinating question this book is asking… 

It turns out this Chase was a football star and a pretty terrible person, the worst bully in the school, awful and making life hell to everyone unlucky enough to cross his path. He didn’t know why – I suppose no one really knows why we do the awful things we do, and to whom. Sure, it’s obviously insecurity and fear, but why do we choose to turn it outward and why focus on that particular him or her? 

Anyway, he wakes up with a do-over.

The principal says, “This is an awful thing that’s happened to you, but it’s also presenting you with a rare opportunity. You have the chance to rebuild yourself from the ground up, to make a completely fresh start. Don’t squander it! I’m sure you’re not feeling very lucky, but there are millions of people who’d give anything to stand where you stand right now – in front of a completely blank canvas.”

Last Sunday, the message was essentially the plot of this kids’ book. If I had read it earlier, I would have quoted it then. In fact, we also asked the question, “Who are we going to be?”

It’s New Years, and I love New Years! I always get squishy and reflective around New Years. Maybe more so this year, wondering who I am, who I’m going to become. 

The message of the Gospel is that today is new, we are new. That today is not just an extension of yesterday.

But still we repeat lies like ‘it is what it is,’ ‘I’ll always be that way,’ ‘it’s just the way he/she is, the way I am, the way we are,’ or ‘they’ll never change,’ along with so many others that keep us stuck. So we stay in jobs we hate, unhealthy relationships, or unfulfilling lives believing these hopeless stories that cast us as helpless victims, chained to narratives that lack imagination and suck our souls dry. 

We don’t usually get a cliched soap opera twist to provide us this opportunity, but we don’t need one. We already have a reason, an opportunity – we just don’t take it. 

We are more open to the possibilities at New Years, right?

There’s a favorite story of mine in Genesis, where Jacob wakes up and says, “God was in this place, and I was unaware.” I think of that often, that I don’t want to wake up and say, “I was unaware.” What if we live our whole lives with the invitation to be new, to change (us, the world, anything and everything), to imagine, to find peace, to give/receive/experience Love… And we miss it? What if we leave that invitation unopened?

We probably don’t have to leave those jobs or relationships or lives, (maybe we do), we just have to transform the way we see them. We simply have to see them from a different angle with different eyes. What if we woke up with a blank canvas, free from the disappointment of unrealized expectations – of ourselves and of others? What if we had today to ask and to answer who we are going to become?

We don’t need amnesia, just a mustard seed of faith that things could be different.  

The book was amazing, by the way. I bet Elisha would be happy to let you borrow it.