My Grace is Sufficient for you......God

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Layovers Indeed

Its been 6 months since I last wrote anything. The reason? I just ran out of things to say one day when I realized all the navel gazing was unimportant given the fact that God loved me more than I could ever possibly imagine and everything else just vanished. Nothing to say. I couldn't compete with that in any way shape or form. So I didn't.

Funny thing happened though. I was in daily communication with God up to that point. March 1st was the last day I have opened my Bible or spent any serious time in prayer or meditation. I have lived for 6 months on that 10 day feast of His love.

And now I am thirsty again. Parched actually. And I didn't even realize it until today. Something triggered a thirst response in me and I wondered what it was. The clues were there. Thoughts wondering off in places they didn't need to be. A little short tempered with the family at times. Unusual amounts of worry about small things. Complacency about worship. All the usual clues. But I ignored them.

Till today.

Today, I read the post from March 1st. I was dumbstruck over what I had written. Things about giving my life away for Him. Prayers for Him to be the center of my life. Desire to find my worth, my fulfillment, my life, my security in the things of my Papa. And then I reflected on the last 6 months.

Guilt and shame have flooded my soul. How I longed to be the person in the last post. And how deeply I have failed. I have resorted to money lust once again. I have desired to find my security in the this world's system. I have even failed to honor Papa with His portion at times.

And yet, He has comforted me. He has forgiven. He is restoring, providing water in my parched soul. The old hymn says "Oh how He loves me" is ringing in my ears as I write. His words, "Be still and know that I am God" echos in the chambers of my soul. Once again, love conquers all things.

I know I am loved. I know I am secure. I know I am forgiven. And I know He watches over me.

A lesson from this sojourn from His presence: Drinking daily, communion daily, walking with Papa daily is so much better than long periods of dryness broken by intermediate periods of gorging on His presence. That's like a man staggering through the vast reaches of the Sahara with just a tiny vessel of water. And collapsing at the oasis, drinking his fill and then leaving without filling his water bottles again for the next leg of the trip. Just plain silly. Papa is telling me today to just hang out at the oasis for a while and let Him take care of everything.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Day 10: Heavy Blessings

Did you know blessing can be heavy? Not in the sense it is to heavy to carry but in the sense that heaviness implies worth....importance.....significance. Did you know this? I did not. I figured blessings were little gifts from God, trinkets to please me for a season. Things to be enjoyed and set on a shelf like a child's toy until the next object of my desire was granted by a loving heavenly Father.

But blessing can be heavy. Important. Significant....and it should be.

Follow with me a little exercise: On a sheet of paper, draw a line down the center and a line across the top. Down the left hand side, list all the blessings you can think you would like to have. List them all and don't be shy. Everything your heart desires. Every little thing....even the secret ones you've not told anyone about yet for fear of being thought a dreamer. Make the list long. Don't stop. Keep going. If there are less than 10 you've not really tried. Ok, got them. Now on the right side of the line, list the one blessing we are told is the very highest....an intimate relationship with God. Put it by itself. Nothing more.

Do you, do I believe that one blessing outweighs now and forever all the ones you/I placed on the right side of the paper? If we did, Dr. Crabb says "We would move more quickly from happiness, through the agony of shattered dreams to joy. Few believe the weight of knowing God is more important than the other blessings. Those that arrive at this conviction do so through suffering. Happiness must be stripped away, forcibly, before joy can surface, before we will value and pursue dreams whose fulfillment produces true joy"

I read this verse today. I've inserted the entire thing for ease of reading.....take a look and then join me for a discussion on the importance of this passage.

Habakkuk 3:17-18 (New Living Translation)

 17 Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
      and there are no grapes on the vines;
   even though the olive crop fails,
      and the fields lie empty and barren;
   even though the flocks die in the fields,
      and the cattle barns are empty,
 18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
      I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
 19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength!
      He makes me as surefooted as a deer,[e]
      and bring me safely over the mountains.

Did you read that closely? It says in the middle of economic disaster, that he would rejoice in the Lord! That he would be joyful in the God of his salvation!. This is almost to much to stand. Chaos, famine, fear, no hope....and yet he rejoices.

In prayer today, I realized that money is my Achilles heel. Not that I have so much of it to worry about. But the pursuit of it. The feelings of pride that go with it. The security it brings. The sense of accomplishment. Other than this, all my other dreams are basically fulfilled. I have a great wife, a great kid, a great church, great friends, a passion for ministry that while I cannot fulfill it right now, still burns deep inside me and leaves me with the knowledge that I am called for a kingdom purpose.

And yet, Papa is reaching into the deep parts of my soul. He is saying to me, "Brian, are you willing to give it all up in exchange for deep intimacy with me"? Don't believe me? Try on Matthew 10:39 for size. It says:"If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it." Am I willing to lose my life. The trappings of life, the relationships of life? The verse before this one says that if anyone does not give up mother, father, brother and sister for Him, that person is not worthy of Him. Does that mean all my relationships are dead to me? Of course not, just that if they get in the way of my knowing Him all the more, then those relationships are more important than Him and I must realign my priorities once again.

Another verse says, "There is nothing in earth I desire more than you." King David said, "As the deer pants for cool streams of water, so my soul longs after you. When can I come and stand before Him?"

So Papa, today I surrender my money lust to you. Take it from me and replace it with a deep hunger for you. The desire for security found through money, I will find in you. The desire for fulfillment, I will find in you. The desire for public admiration, I will find in your delight in me. I will rejoice in both good times and bad. In plenty, I will be generous and in lack I will trust. Papa, help me to live in the light of heaven, counting this world as worthless trash in exchange for the glory of being with you forever!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Day 9: The Path of Hope

A side note for the readers: This blog started as a way for me to document my journey through the book Shattered Dreams. I thought it would be a way for me to quickly jot down some thoughts and if you read it, perhaps have some small impact on you. What it's turning into is a long winded narrative of my thoughts and prayers to Papa. If you want to continue to read, just be forewarned it will probably get more long winded and more about my thoughts and prayers as they pour out. I plan on rambling around. I plan on following the leading of the Spirit as I journey toward joy. Consider yourself warned in advance of potential boredom.

God's Goodness and Our Happiness. 

From Shattered Dreams:
"If given the choice, we would prefer to keep whatever happiness we've already found. Like the child who never wants to grow beyond the wide-eyed excitement of Christmas morning, we like to remain naively happy. Keep the blessings coming. Keep the good times rolling. When we signed on to the Christian life, that's what we though was the deal. We do what we're told, and God stacks blessings under the tree."

Dr. Crabb says this is rooted in a strange blend of a child's optimism and a fool's arrogant spirit of entitlement. Things will go well for us; they're supposed to. Other people get cancer and suffer through divorce and lose their jobs and experience a friends betrayal.

We give God thanks when things go well....when we get a negative report from the doctor, when we do well on a test, get a promotion or close a deal....Of course we say "God is good". Why wouldn't we? Blessings are flowing and things are as they should be.

We should celebrate the good things in life. Enjoy our family, good food, promotions, good health and all the rest. But according to Dr. Crabb, as happy people, we face a subtle danger. We tend to gloat. We praise God for the blessings publicly while privately we tend to think of them as our due for doing all the right things. We tend to slip into a concern for the less fortunate that carries a mood or attitude of judgment. "If they were more like me, they would have the blessings I have".

Man, have I ever walked down that path. When I was making money like I never dreamed before, I gave talks, speeches and sermons about God's plan for abundance. They were basically sermons that should have been entitled "Do what I do and you will have what I have". Uh that smells pretty bad right now. I am embarrassed and ashamed. Not about the truths that were communicated because I think I did a good job of showing a balanced presentation of God and His plan for us with regards to finance.....but I am embarrassed of my private attitude. This is doing the right things for the wrong reasons.....I didn't really want to  help, I wanted to be thought of as successful and higher than the average person......thats what I am embarrassed of.

Dr. Crabb continues:
"Unhappy folks face their own unique temptations. Publicly they tell the more fortunate how glad they are for all who are so blessed; privately they wish the happy person's path would hit a ditch. Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. No command is more difficult to obey. Beneath the surface we lament anothers joy, ( the sin of jealousy) and feel good when a much blessed friend has reason to cry.(The sin of smugness, a close cousin of jealousy)."

Lets face it, when the tables are turned, my friends loss is my gain...if not in the physical sense, but certainly in private where I can gloat a bit at his misfortune. Sitting here on the receiving end of five years of economic chaos and loss, I confess it feels pretty nice when someone with more suffers a bit of what I have the last few years. I hate this. I want to hurt for them as I hurt for myself...but its not in me. Their loss is my gain.....stupid, sinful and childish....but true......

This is changing somewhat though.....a few weeks ago, a good friend applied for a job he did not need but wanted. He was delighting himself in Papa's love and I felt sure he would get this job. It was a 50% cut in pay but it was doing something he loved. He survived a strenuous application process and was one of three selected to interview. Long story but in no way should he have gotten that far due to time constraints placed on him the other candidates did not have to comply with. The interview went well over three days. All indications were positive.....and a week later he was told he did not get the job.....when he called to tell me, I was dumb struck. I was excited for him to get this job and when he did not, I think I was more disappointed than he was.....in truth, this is the first time in my life I can remember being hurt for someone else on something like this. It was not a big thing. There was no physical or financial pain....but it was a hope that was dashed. And I grieved for him. Slowly my heart is turning from stone to flesh.

Dr. Crabb again: "Happy people do not love well. Joyful people do. Thats why happiness, the pleasent feeling that pleasant circumstances generate must be taken away in order to be replaced with joy. Happy people rarely look for joy. They're quite content with what they have. The foundation of their life consists of the blessings they enjoy. Although they may care about those less fortunate and do great things to help them, their central concern is keeping what they have. they haven't been freed to pursue a greater dream. That's why they cannot love well. In His severe mercy, God takes away the good to create an appetite for the best, and then eventually He satisfies the new appetite, liberating them to love".

This concept is hard to grasp. The good is sacrificed for the best. In business this makes sense, I've done it. Passed on something good so I could have something better. In life and in the spirit, its much harder to do. Sacrificing the good is often painful. And the better thing hoped for is very often far in the distance. Do I have what it takes to be patient....to wait....to hope.....to keep my appetite for Him whetted and sharp?

Yes I do.....as I write the question, the answer springs forth like new sprouts of corn in a field. Fresh life rises above the surface and the answer is yes.....a thousand times over, yes.....my spirit longs for Him.....as long as it takes, I will wait....until He satisfies my every longing.....until my only longing is for Him.....I will wait. Now my prayer changes to the cry of the ancient believers....Maranatha.....Come quickly Lord!

If I am satisfied with the merely good....health, relationships, good kids, great jobs, I will never hunger for His best. I will never worship. Only broken people worship. My unbroken self, the one that enjoys the blessings more than the Blesser, says thanks to
God like a shopper says thanks to a clerk......I will not be that shopper of spiritual blessings.....I will be....I am a broken worshiper.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Day 8: Jesus Speaks

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives the night of his crucifixion to pray. The scripture records Him as pray; "Father if it is possible, let this cup of suffering pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done". But it also records Him tell the disciples to pray so that they did not fall into temptation. I wonder what that was all about?

The Mount of Olives is an odd scene. Jesus knowing he is soon to die, the disciples sleeping just like I would have. Jesus telling them to pray to avoid falling into temptation......what is the meaning of all this?

Dr. Crabb says its a place a hope. Really? I mean, in hindsight we recognize it as the beginning of the Calvary experience that ultimately paid the price for my sin and yours....but in the moment, a time and place of hope?

Think about this for a moment. Jesus has been telling his disciples he is the Son of Man now for a while. I suspect they all desperately hoped He was the Messiah. The Anointed One. The Promise the heroes of faith all died still hoping for. The miracles, the teaching, the love and joy they felt in His presence, all must have pointed to Jesus as the one. These men KNEW the scriptures of the coming Promise. The one that would save His people from their sin. They knew He was the One. They had to, otherwise they would not have stuck around as long as they did.

Now, here He was, in trouble, having stirred up the religious leaders against him. He is going to pray as was His custom. The disciples knew something was up. Just before the prayer time, Jesus asked them if they had a sword and if not, to sell something to buy one. But they had two, so He said, that's enough. I have no idea of the significance of this little exchange, but it was very unusual to say the least and I think it prompted in them some sense of impending change.

These guys had HOPE. John the Baptist, just before losing his head to Herod, had asked his followers to ask Jesus if He was the one Promised. John hoped but in his time of persecution, had an inkling of doubt. He needed reassurance. I am sure Jesus' followers had hope.

Which begs the question, what temptation was Jesus warning His followers about. I mean, there is no mention of Him telling them anything like this in the past. This was special.

I think Jesus knew they would be tempted to lose hope during His arrest, trial and crucifixion. That in reality, the Promise was only three days away....but in the meantime, it would look like all hope was lost. He did not want them to walk only by what they were going to see and hear in the next few days. Instead, He wanted them to walk according to what they had heard and seen in the last three years......and to hold on to hope.

Their hope was that Jesus would defy the Roman armies, secure the Jews in their homeland and set them free to worship Jehovah once and for all time. They still did not recognize the Promise was to save the people from their sin, even though the prophets had spoken it hundreds of years prior. It took the destruction of the earthly dream..the slaying of Jesus like a common criminal to remove the last hope of an earthly Jewish kingdom from their hearts.

They had a clue when Jesus said to Pilate, "If my kingdom were of this world, my followers would have taken up swords to defend me". And they did, but were rebuked by Jesus....He even healed the damage done by the single blow struck by one of the followers. But alas, the clue was missed.

So for three days, I suspect they wallowed in grief and self doubt. They wondered if they had put their hope and trust in the wrong man. They wondered if just maybe, they had missed something and some miracle would take place and they would be vindicated.....but mostly, had I been there, I would have been pretty cynical.....see I told you so...He is not the one...how could He be....He's dead.......

The scripture records that upon His death, the ground opened up and faithful men and women from centuries past rose and walked around the city. That the veil in the temple that separated God from man was torn in two. This is no big feat until you understand this veil was probably around 20-30 feet tall, 50-100 feet wide and some accounts say it was woven from so many layers of cloth that it was somewhere around 1-2 fee thick. Now rip that in two from top to bottom.....now its impressive.....all these things happened and I am sure Jesus' followers either saw it first hand or heard it very quickly from others that had. Surely this meant something important.

For three days, hope was dead. From my perspective, it was time to go back to the fishing boats, the carpenters shed, the tax collector booth, back to "real" life. And hope the authorities did not figure out I had been with Jesus.

But Jesus had said, "pray that you don't fall into temptation". Maybe they did. Maybe they maintained hope. Just maybe, they knew something was up. Maybe they kept the hope alive. I think so. They were still around when Jesus showed up all of a sudden. Instantly, the realization hits....."Oh, thats what He meant when He said His kingdom was not of this world". Upon the appearance of Jesus that night, I am sure many things He had told them and the prophecies they had memorized as children all clicked into place.

Now comes joy! He is the Messiah....buts it not how we thought it would happen....its better.....my sins are forgiven. I am free....no matter what happens to this body, I am free. My life here on earth is just a prelude to what is to come. I no longer fear death. I no longer fear the suffering this present world can inflict on my soul and body....because Jesus, the Messiah, has over come all these things and I am entitled to the same because of His great love for me......O Happy Day.......

This changes things. The days when He seems distant, I can maintain hope. When the things I want so desperately are withheld, I can still hope....but not just in this life only, but in perfection and fellowship with Jesus forever.

Now my hope is two fold....to please Him and to be part of His plan....however that plays out. I surrender my agenda and what I thought His plan was. Instead, I wait for Him to reveal His plan.....in His time.

My prayer today:. Papa, I only want to please you, to hear you say you are pleased. To feel the warmth of your pleasure in me. I surrender my agenda to you. I recognize how easily my flesh usurps this vow. How so very easy it is for me to forget that you are in control and to take control for myself. Papa, help me with this. Help me to remember you, to remember you are in control. That what I have now, is your best for me.....that where I find myself is exactly where I am supposed to be....and to be at peace there. Papa, I need rest. From my labor, from my worry and doubt. You said to cast all my care on you and that you would care for me.....so all my labor, all my worry, all my doubt and fear, I cast them on you.....I lay my burden down at the foot of the cross where the blood that still flows from Immanuel s veins can cover them for all eternity....Thank you Papa for the grace to trust, the grace to surrender and the grace to follow....

The song is almost 9 minutes long but oh so worth it!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Day 7: A Different Kind of Hope

The Sacred Text in Hebrews chapter 11 describes what we Christians call the "Heroes of faith". There is a listing of familiar Biblical characters. Characters we all use to teach profound lessons in faith and hope. The chapter even begins with; "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not yet seen". Its powerful. The characters are powerful. The illustrations are ones we can lean on. Ones we can live our lives by.....and yet, there is very small phrase almost no one talks about.....speaking of all the heroes just listed; "All these died not having received the promise".

What? These heroes died without having seen the promise they hoped for? Really? I am supposed to take some sort of comfort from this? I think not.....I want to see the promise now. What exactly was the promise they were looking for? It is simple, they had been promised a Savior. Someone that would rescue them from the curse of sin......and they rejoiced in the promise......and never saw it in their lifetimes.

Dr. Crabb draws this conclusion from the passage; "Apparently God is pleased with people who suffer terribly; whose lives never straighten out, but who keep on trusting".

This is a little difficult to swallow. God is pleased with my suffering.....the suffering of others? I'm having trouble with this concept.....it goes against my belief that I am here to have a good time....or at least have good feelings most of the time. I want to feel alive, full of passion and romance. I want to experience my kid living out a godly life. I want to feel significant in the lives of others. In fact, I believe I am called by Papa to do just that...be significant in the lives of others.....its a good calling.

So I buy into the convention we Christians have contrived to support our view that we are here for a good time. We call these things "biblical"...strategies for seeing to it that all our dreams come true. We call them models for Christian living, of godly parenting and principals of financial stewardship. All designed to give me a legitimate good time. Whats wrong with this? Dr. Crabb says its driven by a deeper motive to feel something no human will ever feel until they are with Papa in heaven......the need for completeness....the need to enjoy God....buried deep in our souls by the very one we long to enjoy......God.

What I want to feel. What I want to hope for....I want for things to be better. Now. In this life. Right now. Papa makes no such promise.

Dr. Crabb says; "When I seek fulfillment in this life. When I desire to feel soul pleasure more than soul pain, then God becomes a means to an end. An object to use...never a subject rightfully demanding a response, never a lover to be enjoyed". That's harsh. But true. I have used God to fulfill my dreams. I have not enjoyed Him. I have not responded to His love in a way that it deserves. I have abused my position as a son and demanded my own way instead of allowing Him to lead me in the direction He wants. It has been my desire to use Him rather than enjoy Him.

Dr. Crabb states that; "Shattered dreams are the greatest blessing. They help us discover our true hope. But it can take a long, dark time to discover it.....Shattered dreams open the door to better dreams, dreams that we do not properly value until the dreams we improperly value are destroyed. They help us discover true hope. We need shattered dreams to put us in touch with what we most long for, to create an appetite for better dreams. And living for the better dream generates a new, unfamiliar feeling we eventually recognize as joy".

I am coming to this conclusion myself. That my dreams while good, are not the best He desires for me. In fact, they are often the lowest form of dreaming. They are self centered. Nothing inherently wrong with this....some of these dreams are of me and my family helping others. Nothing wrong with this.....the Bible tells us we should....BUT if I pursue this at the expense of enjoying Papa, then those dreams will become nothing and I will never realize them. So my hope is becoming different......

I have in fact, given large sums of money...this money helped people that can never repay me....and I don't want them to....but I felt good about it....and proud as well....and I told others about my generosity.....I wanted to feel good and I wanted others to admire me for my generosity.....selfish dreams.....the Scripture says of those that do such things "If you do your alms before men, you already have your reward". In other words, the feeling of pride and admiration is all I will ever get from that generosity. Papa is under no constraints to reward me for that like He promised to....but if I "Do my alms secretly, the Papa will reward me openly before men". His way is better.

I'm rambling here but I'm just recording things as they come to me at this point. A few days ago, Papa spoke to me about fasting. I had wanted to fast like my friend Eric but due to physical restraints, could not. So Papa said to fast from something I loved. You may remember me speaking of this earlier. So I vowed to do so. I tell you, its been the hardest thing I've ever tried. And I have felt distant from Papa during this time. Of the 7-10 days or so since I "started" this fast from work, I think I have kept it only a handful of times. But beginning tomorrow, I'll be back on my fast. Work til 8:30, wrap up until 9:30 at the latest and then spend time with Papa.....

As I am going through this workbook, I am beginning to feel like a complainer. The author asks questions that draw out my complaints. Its starting to smell bad. I don't like it. but if anything is true about my flesh, its that it likes to complain. I suppose I've never really seen myself that way before, but its true. I complain about many things. Its my old nature.....through this workbook process, I am coming to see that gratitude is lacking in my life. I am thankful to be sure of certain things but I complain about much more. Time to give that to Papa and let Him take care of it like He promised.

Today my prayer is this; Papa, help me to be filled with gratitude for all the blessings you have already given. To look with awed reverence on the ones that are to come, knowing they are simply a gift from a loving Papa. I long for your voice to fill me and to feel your embrace today. Draw me close to you....never let me go.....I know its a song, but its my prayer as well.....Papa, as never before, I love you. I sense your presence with me right now....I know you are close......I am in awe.....and filled with hope......you are holy....

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Day 6: The Answer to the Question

Dr. Crabb proposes to answer the question; "How do we trust a sometimes disappointing and seemingly fickle God who fails to do for us what good friends, if they could, would do?" with the story of Naomi in the book of Ruth. He says, "Namoi solves my problem with God".

I too am interested in having this question answered.

Let me recap the story here; Naomi had a husband and two sons. The land of Israel was experiencing famine or as we like to call it, an economic downturn. So her husband moved the family to a neighboring country called Moab to wait it out and perhaps even do well there. I am sure they thought they would be there a year or two, that perhaps their sons would find nice girls to marry and maybe, just maybe, they would return to their homeland a bit richer and with grandchildren. There would be rejoicing, a big party and everyone would gather round to hear the story of how God provided for them in the hard times.

Instead, shortly after arriving in Moab, Naomi's husband died. This was a terrible blow. He was the breadwinner. But I am quite certain she took comfort in the fact she had two sons that loved her and would care for their widowed mother. Sure enough, both the sons got married and just as things were looking up, God was blessing her and perhaps with grandchildren, she could be happy again......and then both sons died!

God could have kept the sons alive, but He did not. Now all she had was gone. Alone and destitute in a foreign country. Nothing to live for and yet still alive....all her dreams shattered like so much glass tossed carelessly to the ground. Naomi trusted God for something she did not see come to pass.....was God still trustworthy?

Dr. Crabb says; "Trusting God is dangerous business. Unless we're trusting Him for what He has promised to provide, the step after trust is disillusionment.......so what can He be trusted for? Exactly what is He doing with His considerable power? What would be different if we experienced that power, if His power were released in us?"

Thinking about this makes me realize I often trust Papa for things He has not necessarily promised me. For instance, I trust Him for a comfortable life. Instead, He has promised that "In this world, you will have trouble". He goes on to state; "Fear not for I have overcome the world". I should be trusting in the fact that He has already and forever, overcome this world and my part is to trust in Him and just relax. But I can't. I need comfort, so I say things like, "Papa, I am trusting you for this new job, or I am trusting you for my healing, or any number of things that make me comfortable". I cannot accept the fact He may not want those things for me at the present time. I take matters into my own hands....again......I do not trust.

Once again, Dr. Crabb steps in; He says, "There is an answer, and it is repeated over and over again in the Bible. But the answer, the only one that squarely faces the enormous challenge of trusting a seemingly unresponsive God, requires a change in how we naturally look at life. It demands a revolution in our understanding of why we're alive at all, of why God keeps us living in this world for so long before He takes us to heaven."

This presents a problem. Most of the time, I am not all that crazy about change, but a change in my thinking is even harder. Especially if it challenges my long held beliefs about God and why I am alive in the first place. These are deep waters and I am not a good swimmer. But I am willing. I want to change. I want to experience God in new and profound ways.....so I am open, nervous but open......

Dr. Crabb has a final question for this section; "Is the only point of godly living the reward we'll receive in heaven? Is there anything we can hope for now, anything we can count on God to do for us in this life? That's the question. And its not a selfish one, its a humble one, a question of that admits we're dependent children in need of receiving what we long for but do not have. Our souls need filling."

So thats the million dollar question. Can/does/will God do anything for us in this life now that we would like. That we would feel good about Him doing....something that I can really hope for?

This and more tomorrow.......

Friday, February 18, 2011

Floodlights and Flashlights

Had a thought right now and I wanted to capture before I lost it. I was praying and the Scripture came to me. "Thy word is a lamp unto my path and a light unto my feet".

God promised a flashlight to walk in the dark with. I am more of a flood light kind of guy. I want to see the entire path, not just the few feet in front of me. But He says the flashlight is enough. The light He provides gives enough light to see a few steps ahead and it lights up the path enough to see the danger on either side. So the margin for error is small, but easily avoided if the flash light is on.

Another thought occurred to me as well.....Flood lights are pretty stationary. They are hard to move around. Flashlights are portable. Easy to carry with me.

I think Papa is saying to me; "Son, this world is not your home, you are just passing through and if you want a floodlight, you'll be staying here. If you want to join me in heaven, keep moving past the need for bright lights and 100% certainty. The flashlight I've given you is enough."

The Word of God is the light. The Word I know and apply will light my path and I can walk with safety and certainty secure in the knowledge He knows the entire journey from start to finish and that He has provided me with all I need to complete the trip.

I'll post my normal workbook stuff later today. Right now I needed to get this on paper.....

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Day 5: Handle The Pain.

Trusting God is dangerous business! I say I do, but do I really? This section of the workbook explores this concept. I must warn you though, its long. It will take more than a week to work through it all. I will probably not post about each heading in this section and instead, focus on the main points and those that impact me the most.

Dr Crabb asks the question., "How do you handle the pain after the bottom falls out, when the second shoe drops moments after the first, when nothing goes your way and you have no idea why?'

This question is easy to answer. I block it. I compartmentalize it. When crack appears in my soul, I spread some spiritual bondo and slap some feel good paint on it until I stop thinking about it. Ignore it long enough and it will pass. Stay strong, move on. Man up......maybe if we are super spiritual, we go on a retreat, get some counseling, read a book. But nothing relieves the pain.

I think this is typical of most men. We internalize. It consumes us over the years. We refuse to let it out for fear we will be seen as weak by our wives and friends. Is this healthy? If I live differently, will my life be any easier?

Dr. Crabb asks, "In our struggle to handle the pain of shattered dreams, however one question is rarely talked about with honesty.....The question is this: What do we do with how we are feeling toward God? What we want is good; its not selfish. Why won't God let us have it?......Why is God so inconsistent, so maddeninly unpredictable? Why? Suffering seems so random; one dream realized, another shattered"

As I reflect on those words, I realize over the years I have wondered these very same things about God. Why some are healed and others die. Why some prosper and others struggle. War, starvation, persecution. Why God?

The psalmist David wondered aloud many of these same thoughts and feelings. Don't believe me, read Psalms 10:1. He says, "Lord, why do you stand so far away from me. Why do you hide when I need you most?" For further reading, look at Psalms 13:1-2, 22:1, 43:2, 69:2-3, 88:14. All say the same. And yet David was a man after God's own heart. I have often wondered why David could be so vocal about his doubt and be counted as being after God's own heart. After all, God hates doubt.

I think its because he embraced passion. When he was hurting, he expressed with passion. He held nothing back from God. When things were going his way, he gave thanks with passion. He gave God the glory. He kept none for himself. David did not internalize his feelings, he wore them on his sleeve. Not so people could see how happy or sad he was, but that his God would know he was being genuine. David's agenda was to know God. Knowing God means God knowing you. The good, the bad and the ugly. David lived with passion for all to see.

Our pain is ugly. Papa wants to bear it. Our suffering is hard. He wants to carry us during the suffering. But there is a problem, I don't/won't give it to Him. He is standing ready to hold me, to heal me, to carry me through life's storms and shattered dreams and I insist on holding it in. Of carrying my own burdens. I am man enough to handle this. I am sufficient in myself. God is my blessing vending machine and when the machine won't dispense the way I need or want it to, then I have to handle things on my own despite the crushing debt of stress, worry and doubt I must shoulder to do so.

As I write these words, the absurdity of them strikes me at the core of who I am....or who I think I am. In reality, without Him I can do nothing.

Papa, today I realize I am nothing without you. You complete me. I ask you to fill me. To overflowing with your love, your power, your grace and your joy. Help me each day to remember to invite you to every thing. To breakfast, lunch and dinner. To each task, to each conversation. Let your Spirit seep into every pore and fiber of my being.

A little blast from the past for your listening pleasure.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Day 4: Taste and See

Dr. Crabb states: "We evangelicals speak about having a personal relationship with Jesus. We hold out the possibility of having a good relationship with Him. If that relationship hits a snag or tension develops, we know its our fault. Since I was a child, I've heard the saying, "If you're not feeling close to God, guess who moved?" The message was clear; Every difficulty in our relationship with God is always our fault. Its never His. But especially in the years since I turned fifty, (for me its 40), that message has not always seemed so obvious."

I have often thought about why I felt so distant from Papa at times. Other times I have questioned if what I was feeling was real or not. I have gauged my perception of distance from Papa based on my emotions.Does emotional reactions to songs, scripture, pain, pleasure or other stimulus equate with "feeling" God? I think not. At least not always. Raised pentecostal, emotion meant the Spirit was moving, and that is true very often. When I feel His presence, it very often moves me to tears, to reverence on my knees or some such response to the presence of His Spirit. But the lack of emotion was interpreted to mean the Spirit was not around. And that is a false premise. The truth is simple. He is always near.

I am interested in learning what I need to do so that Papa's name is always at the top of my list. I suspect it will require me to see things much differently than I do now. So what do I need most in order to see things differently? So that Papa's name is always at the top of the list? I think the answer.....if having an answer is appropriate, is time and trust.

The book Shattered Dreams is subtitled, God's Unexpected Path To Joy. This book is really an invitation to joy through Papa, even when the bottom falls out of my life. Is this possible? The answer to this question is what I hope to answer through this journey.

As I conclude this chapter, my take away from the chapter "My problem with God" is this; My relationship has been transactional in nature and it was only as good as my perception of how God was meeting my needs. I guess my life's theme song be Janet Jackson's "What Have You Done For Me Lately?"

I am in a constant state of repentance for this, and I recognize how easy it is for my selfish nature to assert itself so quickly in every situation. Going forward, my prayer to Papa is simply this; Papa, help me to always put you first in every single situation.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Day 3: Like a Child

The thoughts of the author on Luke 18:17 where Jesus commands us to be like little children so we can see the Kingdom of Heaven. 

" Jesus wants us to humble ourselves, to let someone know when we could really use a hug or some quality time, to let the Spirit know we need Him to change our hearts, to confess to our community of close friends the weakness we should have resolved by now. 
   I hear Jesus telling us to stop negotiating with HIm, to stop offering something e think we have in exchange for His blessings...."All you can do is receive what you need from someone who has what you don't. When you admit your emptiness, I'll see to it you are filled"."

The author asks: "What needs or emptiness can you honestly bring to Jesus today?"

For me to answer this, I have to be really transparent. I have to confess sin. I don't want to. I still want to hide. But I promised Papa I would stand in front of Him naked and honest. So here goes.  But first some back story.

A little over a month ago, my friend Eric embarked on a 40 day fast. He asked me to go with him. I said yes and then thought better of it. My physical makeup is such that if I go without food for even a day, my blood sugar drops to dangerous levels and I have actually nearly passed out from it. As you can imagine, 40 days with no food is a non starter for me. Instead, I opted for a Daniel fast. I managed this for a while but it did not feel like fasting. So I quit. 

In the meantime, my friend Eric is on this amazing spiritual journey. God is doing great things in him, he is experiencing God's love in crazy ways and I am getting more and more jealous as the days go by. To be sure, I am joyful for him, but my flesh is saying things like, "See there, you could be enjoying this too but you are not good enough for that".

In my heart, I wanted desperately what I saw my friend living out right in front of my eyes. And I think I got a little mad about it....and in this hunger, I began asking God what to do about it. 

Sunday, I was getting in the shower an at the same time asking God how to draw near to Him. I heard the Spirit clearly speak to me to fast from my job. Ok now you are asking, how do you do that? 

Well, I trade crude oil for a living. Without going into all the details, it is addictive and it expands to fill the time allotted to it. In other words, if you are a workaholic, have the slightest addictive tendencies or just love what you do, you can sit at the screen 24/7. And I love what I do.

But the Spirit said to me, "Brian, you have placed your job and money before me. I am jealous. It has become an idol to you. It is time to treat your job like a job and not an idol. You worship making money. Now worship me." 

At this point, I promised God I would no longer spend hours and hours a day glued to a computer screen. Instead, I would look to achieve my daily bread, and at the end of a specific amount of time, I would quit and spend the time I would have otherwise spent watching the screen with Him.

Now the sin part. Yesterday, I kept my promise. I quit working and spent the next couple hours with Papa. I wrote this blog. I worshiped. I wept. I went to lunch with my wife. I spent the time in relationship with Papa and with my wife. Joy was mine. Peace wrapped its arms around me. I was content. I slept like a baby last night. 

Today, the appointed time came and went. I remained focused on work. Next time I looked down, I was two hours late for my appointment with Papa. Crushed. Ashamed. Disgusted. I broke my word after only one day. Its not the work......its not the money....its that I am focused on those things. I like it.....apparently more than Papa.....I told my friend Eric I needed to spend time with Papa if He was still in the mood.....he responded. "Thats an interesting approach to God". But if I was God, and an appointment was broken, I'd be upset and no longer in the mood. 

This post is about being like a child. Confessing my helplessness and emptiness to my Papa and my friends. Its about recognizing the warped priorities in my life. Its about resting on Papa to fill those empty areas just like an infant depends on their parent to fill their empty stomach. They cannot do it themselves, so they must be dependent. 

I am wholly dependent....Papa, fill me today. For without you, I can do nothing. I am a child helpless before you.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Day 2: My Best Friend?

The author proposed an exercise: Write a list of my best friends on a piece of paper. Then his impressions of the results of that exercise when he did it it: 
    "I'm looking at the names I wrote. One impression strikes me with near gale force. The friends who made the list are all friends who do something for me. It's not what I do for them that got them on the list; it's what they do for me.....The people on my list respond to my concerns. They use their resources on my behalf. When I have a need, they meet it if they can. I like that about them....So I am left with and obvious fact. The people I most cherish in all the world are people I can count on to do for me what I most want. I suspect if you wrote down the names of the six people whose friendship you most value, that same fact might be obvious to  you as well"
Does this fact prove we're all "hopelessly mired in disgusting self-centeredness?"  The author states; "It never occurred to me to put God's name at the top of the list of my best friends"! He continues; " Sometimes God seems like the least responsive friend I have. Depending on an unresponsive God in the middle of crumbling dreams can be tough on faith. Relating personally with a God who is less responsive than friends with less resources is difficult".

My thoughts on this:

Man, I have thought those same things. Many times over. If I can call one of my friends and they will give me what I need or at the very least offer words of encouragement and prayer, then why would I call and rely on a God that seems at best, uninterested in my life? At worst it seems He is actively engaged in my untimely demise.

I confess I made the same list of friends the author suggested and I came up with the same result. God did not make the list. Its not that He is not my friend, but I simply don't think about Him in that manner. If you ask me to make a list of my top ten friends, my mind instantly goes to the flesh and blood friends. I simply don't think in terms of the spiritual realm as my default manner of thinking. Instead I am focused on the flesh and blood realm. The one I can see and touch. The one that can do for me. The one that can help me....

I'm embarrassed that the One I trust my salvation to for eternity does not make my top ten list in terms of who I think about first. No wonder He does not respond when I call. He recognizes His status on my list. It would be like someone who is a casual friend on Facebook, you know, someone you met at a party or meeting once and on the spur of the moment you swapped "friend" status and then never spoke again and then a year later, calling that person out of the blue to invest a million dollars in some business idea you have. In fact, this happened to me once. What do you suppose my response was? Uh no....good bye.

The people on my list....its a short list....are people I love deeply. There are others and I love them too, but the ones on my list are actually people who can do nothing for me. I love them anyway. However, these are people who would if they could. I love them for that. I would do for them if I could. The love me for that.

BUT, I who can do nothing for Him, am on the top of His list. The Bible says I am. And He who can do everything for me, is nowhere to be found on my list. I feel exposed. Naked. Looking for cover. I need some spiritual makeup. Cover my blemishes. Something to hide behind. A nice worship song or perhaps volunteer at church for a project. I can hide my lack of friendship with duty.

I will not mask selfishness with duty again.  

Instead, I will be transparent. I will stand with my soul naked before Papa. I will say out loud. "I have tried to use you Papa for what I want. I have insisted that our relationship be one sided. Me first". I will let Him see me for what I am. Helpless and ashamed of my behavior. I will fall down and repent. I will fall down and worship. I will not rise until bidden. He is Papa but He is also Lord God Almighty and He will not be engaged in a one way relationship. For those who insist on self, (idolatry) He is the wrathful and vengeful El Shaddai.....the One who will share glory with no man.....for those who surrender self, He is Papa.....gentle, loving, kind, generous, protective Papa.

I am in His embrace......

Friday, February 11, 2011

Day 1. Our (My) Problem With God

Today I begin the workbook section of Shattered Dreams. I will be recording the key points raised by the author and my responses. I suspect it will take a while to get through all of it. 

Three Ideas from the author.
1. God wants to bless me. He gets a kick out of making me happy.  He feels even greater delight in blessing me than I do when I give my kid a gift. At every moment in every circumstance, He is doing me good. It gives Him to much pleasure to do otherwise. He is not waiting to bless me when my troubles end, He is blessing me right now, in and through those troubles. Right now, at this exact moment, He is giving me what He thinks is best.

What is my response to this statement?

Instinctively I know this is true. At the heart level, I believe this. At the mind level, I struggle. How can my pain, my uncertainty, my disappointment be good for me? How can this present struggle bring any pleasure or glory to Him? I want to cry out and demand answers. Why God? I want to see the big picture. I want to know not only the end result....Heaven...but also all the intermediate steps to get there. And not only the steps to get there but when they will happen. I am not willing to trust as a child.

My kid asks all kinds of questions. Some are easy to answer. Some are not so easy without her having a grasp of more adult ideas and themes. So those we do the best we can and tell her when she is older she will understand. Sometimes she presses but most of the time, she shrugs her shoulders and accepts the idea that all will be revealed when she is 13.....little does she know that is when the real questions really begin.

Perhaps I should be more like her. Just trust.

More from the author:
2. The deepest pleasure I am capable of experiencing is a direct encounter with God. The highest dream I could dream, the wish that if granted would make me happier than any other blessing is to know God, to actually experience Him.

Really? I like so many things. Do I doubt this? Do I want more than anything to experience God in the most intimate way possible? Scripture speaks of Him as a friend that is closer than a brother. I can understand this. It speaks of Him as Father, or as Romans says, Daddy, Daddy.....or my version....Papa.....I can understand this as well.....BUT scripture speaks of Him as the bridegroom and me as the bride. This is where my understanding breaks down. This picture is one of naked intimacy. If you will allow me to go this far, it even speaks of sexual union. Now I am really confused. I understand this from a human perspective of course, but that level of intimacy with God.....how does that happen?

You see, I know my earthly father and have a great relationship with him. Same with my brothers. My best friend and I enjoy a level of knowing that is remarkable.......but I experience my wife in a way none of them can compete with. How is this possible with God.....aka...Father, Friend, Redeemer? I confess, this level of intimacy escapes me. I have no idea how to experience this kind of love with my Savior.

For this I mourn. I mourn because it is His desire and I have no idea how to be a participant in this joint experience.

The author again:

3. The problem is I don't believe this idea, (that encountering Go is my deepest pleasure). I do with my mind, but my heart remains unconvinced. So the Holy Spirit awakens that appetite. He uses the pain of shattered dreams to help me to discover my desire for Him. To begin dreaming the highest dream. My shattered dreams are never random. They are always a part of a larger puzzle. A chapter in a larger love story.

My response:

I'm not sure I approve of this method of getting my attention. Of drawing me to Him. If I was courting a woman, I would not use a method that caused pain to get her attention. Roses, music, chocolate, diamonds....yes.....pain.....I think we all know what happens next......the girl moves on to the one with the gifts and sweet words of romance.He speaks words of romance but they are accompanied by circumstances of intense pain sometimes. Do I believe the words or the circumstances?

Am I to accept the fact that my pain, disappointment & unmet expectations are supposed to drive me closer to God? How does that play out in human events. Pain separates. His ways are not my ways. My wife asked me the other day about the Scripture that says if I being evil know how to give good gifts to my kid, how much more does my heavenly Father give good gifts to me. Frankly, I had no answer for that. His ways are not my ways. 

I've been a Christian long enough to know the intellectual answers to these questions. I hate that. All my life I've known the answers. But the answers have never made sense to me. I want to experience the Answer, not just know the correct thing to say.

Papa, my prayer today. I want to know you in the most intimate way possible. I have no idea how to approach you in this regard. I know how to ask for things. I know how to bring others to you for prayer. I have a transactional relationship with you. That is easy. You do for me and I do for you. I am sick to death of this transactional relationship. Instead, I want a relationship that has at its core, the idea of naked intimacy. Where you know me better than I know myself and I understand how much you know about me and I am in stunned awe that you still love me beyond all reason. And where I know you better than I know even those closest to me and that you delight in my knowledge of you. This is my deepest desire.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Journey Begins

So today I begin a journey. A journey through Shattered Dreams.....A journey to joy. A joy offered by God. A journey that will require everything of me. I realize that when this journey is over, I will not be the same person I am today. I welcome this. I embrace it and I run toward it. 

Truth is, I have been on the journey for some time now. I just did not realize it. I thought I was on a temporary reprieve from God's favor. I mean everything I ever hoped for, dreamed about and thought I was called to have been dashed to pieces like so much glass being tossed carelessly to the floor.

Everything has changed and not for the better. At least in my book...but Papa is up to something. I remember praying a few years back..."God whatever you need to do to bring me closer to you, then do it" Or something like that.....Surprise! Papa always answers that prayer. But often the results are not what I expected. 

So some back story is appropriate here. I grew up poor. Married someone who was poor and though we were poor, I always dreamed of more. In none of my childhood dreams did ordinary play a part. In fact, I always dreamed of extraordinary. 

Over the years through trial and error, I found a niche I could be successful in. The mortgage business. Over time, I became very successful in this business. So much so that we began to travel and during this travel, we were introduced to missions through our local church. 

At this point, what I had been searching for all these years became crystal clear. I was to devote my life and resources to funding and assisting missions all over the world. 

And for a time, thats what we did. Gave very generously and traveled to those locations and helped out however we could. 

Then the wheels came off. The housing bubble burst and took everything we had worked so hard to build with it. We became poor again. This time though it seemed as if God had abandoned us. 

The last five years have been a study in Shattered Dreams. During this time, my wife and I have begged, pleaded and bribed God to change our circumstances. Nothing worked.

What I failed to realize during this time is that Papa was working, but not how I wanted. I wanted Him to do what I wanted. My will be done. And He was saying, no, "My will be done". And you will find joy in it. I never heard that. All I heard was Papa saying no to me and very reasonable requests. 

Then I bought a book called Ruthless Trust and then another book called The Papa Prayer and then finally Shattered Dreams. And I have realized that my journey is no different than anyone elses'. Its just not the journey I thought it would be. 

This blog is going to be where I document the journey to joy. The places in life where it only seems like a long layover between destinations. The place of discomfort. The place of no real rest. But the place that is necessary if I am to continue on this journey to joy. 

I am going through the book Shattered Dreams by Dr. Larry Crabb currently. It includes a work book to apply the principals and lessons learned. I will be asking and answering the questions in the workbook here. 

I've already read the book through once. This will be my second time around. So bear with me as I begin what is sure to be a long journey down a bumpy road.......feel free to chime in with your thoughts......the real work begins tomorrow.....