Month: September 2009

A Wandering Prodigal Heads Towards Home

Over the years, I had watched other people find abundant joy in their relationship with Christ.  I just never really had the joy I saw in other people.  Why was I so miserable?  I kept trying to be good, but I always failed.    I was doing everything I had been told, really trying to be a good Christian but…never really had that joy I saw in other believer’s lives.

On the outside I was serving the Lord, on the inside I was struggling and I lost focus on my priorities.  I was busy “doing” what I was supposed to do, but was not “being” what I needed to be.  My focus was on me and not on the Lord.  Then the unthinkable happened.   The struggle I had in my Christian walk manifested itself in a failed marriage.  That sounds like a simplistic excuse to define a failed marriage, especially for a Christian.  However, lose focus for a few weeks and see where your marriage relationship goes.  Do that for 4 to 5 years and then the end result is not so simplistic.sisyphus

I could not ask God to forgive me, because I could not forgive myself.   Many of those Christians that I had watched experience such joy in their Christian walk were not lining up offering to help…they just offered disdain and judgment on a fallen believer.

From that point on and for many years, my Christian walk felt like that of Sisyphus, forever trying to shoulder my sin and failure uphill, only to have it come crashing back down on me again.  Each morning, I would grab my boulder of sin and failure and try to roll it uphill every morning only to get close to the top and realize I could not do it and have it come crashing down the hill.  I was forever doomed to a life of pushing this burden around and that was alright for me because I deserved it didn’t I?

Everyday was the same process.  Wake up, get dressed, go to work.  Start pushing the boulder of sin and failure in my life uphill.  I just knew if I could push it up the hill and get it past the crest of the hill, I could relax because it would roll down on the other side and I would not have to pick it up each and every day.  I never made it to the top of the hill.

Lord knows I tried.   I would push that sin and failure uphill every single day.  Some days it was easier than others.  There were even times when I would wake up and take some solace in beating myself up for the failures in my life.   I looked forward to the punishment that I thought I deserved.   But as always… at the close of the day it would end in failure.  I could not make the failure or the pain go away.  I found no joy in my relationship with Christ.  It came crashing down around me each and every day.

Eventually, I just quit trying.  I looked around and it was as if I was wandering the desert.  The hill was bad enough, but now it seemed as if I was walking in sand.  Trying to push a boulder of sin and failure uphill is one thing, trying to move up that hill in sand is totally another.  I was tired.  I was miserable.  I just stopped.  I sat down in the dust and said, “God, if this is what you expect of me, then I can’t do it anymore.    How on earth can I overcome the sin and failure I have brought on into my life?   I’m so miserable!  I am harder on myself than even You are.   Will I ever be able to get past this?  There are thousands of non-Christians out there who are infinitely happier than me!  If this is all there is, then why bother with trying to make it right?”

I had encountered the end of myself.   I simply gave up.  I stopped trying to “make it right”.  I sat down and started to listen for God to speak.  I needed something from Him.  I needed to know that He did not give up on me.  It was then I came to the realization that God could finally get my attention.  I was so busy trying to shoulder the burden that I totally left Him out of the solution of my problem.  He slowly began to work on my heart.

He began to undo all the false notions I had about Him.  He began to break down all the things I had been taught that misconstrued His nature.   I had always viewed God as a strict disciplinarian more than as a Father.  My relationship with Him was  a list of “do’s and don’ts”.  I thought, “If He was a Father,  He must be forever angry and disappointed in me for being such a muddled up, ungrateful, selfish failure”.   I was learning that He indeed was my Father and that as my Father He loved me, inspite of my sin and my failure.

As a father myself,  I did not conditionally love my children.  It came naturally.  I could and would be disappointed in what they do in their lives…but I never stopped loving them.  The same is true with God.  His very nature is to love me.  Sure… He would be disappointed in my actions, but He never gave up and He never stopped loving me.   Instead of being led by teachers and pastors, He began to lead me, ever so gently and quietly, no louder than the beating of a heart, like the rustle of the wind in the trees.

desert_web2

Now, the face of a strict disciplinarian I had painted on Him is fading away into that of a loving Father, and a mighty King.  After all these years, I am in the exciting, trembling moments of awakening. I have the “joy” that had escaped me for many many years. At times I still struggle with being the  muddled up, ungrateful, selfish failure that I have been in the past.  There are even days when I pick up the burdens and start pushing them uphill.

Maybe I always will be that selfish failure and I will always struggle with the acceptance of the Hill that is front of me each morning.  But God the Father loves me anyway.

As I believe more and more, and as I learn His nature, I believe I can give my burdens to Him everyday.  I cannot fix it on my own.  As my Father,  God has forgiven me and I have forgiven myself.  Only He can fix it.  I just need to be still and know that He is God.

Like a prodigal son…I can go home now.  I am not there yet…but somewhere, just barely within eyesight, I see the path.

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A Few of My Favorite Things…

This past week I had to have surgery.  I was hopeful that the surgeon would be able to care of the problem and I would be done with it.  However,  it was discovered that I will need to have more surgery in a few weeks.   Unfortunately, this upcoming surgery is much more serious than I  would care for it to be.

So, while I am waiting to recover from this surgery and start the preparation for the next one,  I have come to realize that I am extremely thankful for many things in my life.  So here are a few of my favorite things to be thankful for…

being_thankful_card

I am thankful for my lovely wife Pam,  who always believes in me and allows me to be me.  She is wonderful, beautiful and my best friend.
I am thankful for my children, Crystal, Nathan, Adam and Cassidy.  They love me unreservedly and lavishly and they bring me more joy than I could ever express.
I am thankful for Clay, my son-in-law.  Not just because he loves my daughter and treats her well but because he is my friend and he loves the Lord with his whole heart.
I am thankful for family and friends that have stuck by me when others walked away.
I am thankful for God’s grace.  I am a really, really, really big fan of it!!!
I am thankful for the Salvation I found in Jesus Christ.  I am thankful that He never gives up on me, even when I fail.

I am thankful that I have a whole new day stretched ahead of me with its new opportunities and blessings, with my family and my friends and my God.  I am thankful that I am forgiven and clean and that God stretched his love out towards me and rescued me from sin and separation from Him and brought me into His family.

I am thankful for my church and a Pastor who pursues God and His ways.  He always presents God’s message with love and encouragement.

I am thankful that I have a Bible – that I can read the promises of God and discover who He is and His great love for me.

I am thankful for music and worship that draws our heart towards God.  I am also thankful when I get to see people come to know Christ – there is nothing like it in the world.

And finally, in no particular order, here are a few more of my favorite things  to be thankful for…

  • I am thankful for a morning cup of coffee.
  • Dark Chocolate –  MMMMmmm chocolate.
  • Reeda and Eilford Case  (hands down…the best in-laws EVER)
  • Fall – the best season.   (the best weather,  colors and the smells of the year)
  • Air Conditioning
  • The Music of the Beatles.
  • Cleveland Browns / Cleveland Indians  (even though they frustrate me too death)
  • Remote Controls
  • Listening to Cassidy sing
  • A comfortable Chair
  • The Tom Hank’s  movie “That Thing You Do” (never get tired of watching it)
  • A glass of Cold Milk
  • My MDR-NC7 Sony Headphones
  • When my kids call just to say Hello.
  • A good  Pillow
  • The ability to turn right on red
  • Christmas Morning
  • My 1976 Ford Pinto  (if that car could talk)
  • Eisley and Rooney (My granddogs)
  • High Speed Internet Access
  • Indoor Plumbing
  • The State Highway Patrol Officer that showed me a little  grace one day
  • My Ipod   (8,321 songs on it and still growing)
  • Caller ID
  • Motown Music (The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, etc.)
  • The arrows that show you which way to insert the batteries
  • Ronald Reagan
  • A clean blank sheet of paper
  • For parents who told me “NO” sometimes
  • Re-runs of Tommy Boy on TBS
  • The Whopper from Burger King
  • The acting ability of Tom Hanks.
  • A good Steak
  • Bob Emrich
  • Blogging and Writing
  • The delete button on the keyboard and white out for paper.
  • Childhood Memories
  • Pastor Holman from my FBT days
  • Ohio State Football
  • Golf
  • The number 22

So there you have it… a short list of a few of my favorite things I am thankful for.  The actual list is much longer,  maybe I will share more later.    What are you thankful for today?

What Does Your Vest Say?

While driving to work the other day I noticed a group of people cleaning up trash along the side of the road.   I thought it was strange that there was a mix of men and women in the group of different ages.   Then I noticed their vests.   Each of them wore one that said “I am a Drunk Driver.”  Wow.   The whole world knows that they have committed this crime – no trying to hide it.

One of my favorite books is The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.   Hester Prynne was forced to wear a scarlet A upon the bodice of every garment she wore to show that she had committed the sin of adultery which resulted in a child. The people in town had no clue as to who the father was and Hester would not divulge his name.   But in the midst of them, Reverend Mr. Dimmsdale suffered greatly because of his sin.   Every Sunday he would stand before his congregation with this huge weight upon his heart.   In the end, his sin could not remain hidden and it was exposed to the town.

The vests the drunk drivers wore reminded me of that story.  They literally were wearing their sin.   I’m sure in the heat the vest felt even heavier than normal.   There was no hiding the fact that each of them had committed a crime or what that crime was.

How would everyone behave if they knew that their sins would be broadcast to people passing by?   How would we live? Would it make a difference?   Would we eventually give in to the fact that wearing this notice was merely a consequence and we could learn to live with it?   After all, we certainly wouldn’t be alone.   It might be interesting to see what people were really up to.   But what if it were you?   Would it be better to suffer in silence?   Or would forgiveness come easier in a world full of vests?

I have many vests that I wear but I really don’t want to wear them for all the world to see.   I’m sure that people can see some of them anyway.   It’s humbling to know that God sees them everyday.

It is by His grace that he gives me strength to shed these things.

Only by His grace.

If Everyday was a Good Day

Maybe it’s just me…but I don’t want everyday to be a good day.

If everyday was a good day… I would grow lazy in my faith.  I would not appreciate the things that God does for me on a daily basis.  I would stop praying as much and stop growing in God’s Word.  I would have less appreciation for the grace of God.

So I don’t wish for everyday to be a good day.  I want every day to be what God allows me to have.  The good and the bad.  There are lessons learned through them all.  I have grown most in the Lord when I had my very worst days.  I don’t want to stop having bad days….it sharpens me in the trial and keeps me close  to the Lord.

Today is a good day… and in it I want to express my love for wife and for my family.  And while I have a good day, I want to express my gratitude to my God and to my Savior Jesus Christ.

I sit here this morning,  with my heart overflowing.  Tears are in abundance (but what else is new, right?) I have no idea how to express in words the gratitude my heart feels at this moment.  My God has been so good to me.   He has loved me unconditionally.   He has loved me with tenderness and sweetness.  He has loved me like no one else ever could or will.   He has been my rock.   My strength.   My hope.   He has sustained me when the road was hard and assures me that He will be with me as I face hard times in the future.   He has been my faithful friend.   He has guided me through this life.   He has truly been my Shepherd.   Always by my side.  Never failing me, even when I failed Him.  He has never abandoned me like friends have…Ever.  When I had nothing to offer Him …and lost any honor this life could give…He was with me.

Thank you, God.  Thank you for your love.  Thank you for saving me when I wasn’t looking to be saved.  Thank you for intervening.  Thank you for lifting me out of the muck and mire  that I created in my life.  Thank you for putting my feet back on solid ground.  Thank you for the years I spent in trial and failure, for without them, I may have never known the relationship I have with you today. Thank you for sustaining me over these years of hard times. Thank you for giving me life.  I offer it back to you to use for your glory.  I am ready to be used as you see fit.

I waited patiently for the LORD;
he turned to me and heard my cry.

He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.

He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear
and put their trust in the LORD.

Psalm 40-1-3

No…I don’t want every day to be a good day.   I want to endure the bad days and the hard times so that I can grow closer to Him.  But then again…maybe it’s just me.

I am Praying for President Obama…How About You?

Maybe it’s just me…

But I am praying for President Obama more than I ever have prayed for any other President.  As a matter of fact, I do not think I ever prayed specifically for George W. Bush in all of his eight years in office.  Oh, sure, I  did the typical, “Lord, be with our leaders as they lead this country” kind of prayer…but not once did I spend time in prayer where I called out George Bush’s name and prayed specifically for him as an person.  I am ashamed at myself.

This week, after hearing parts of a sermon by a preacher called  ”Why I hate Barack Obama” I am troubled at the condition of some of our churches and some people’s perspective as  Christians.  This sermon deeply upset me.  How can it be that someone who calls themselves a believer stand up in front of others he is trying to lead to a relationship with Christ and say that he prays at night that “Barack Obama would die and go to hell.”   After listening to the message, the reaction from the congregation was almost as chilling.  The shouts of “AMEN!!!” were rising as the sermon went on to the point that if the man himself walked in the room I would fear what might have happened to him.  All of this done…in the name of the Lord and in self-righteous indignation.

On any given night, I can watch a news program and see where “religious zealots” strap bombs to themselves to kill others in the name of their god.  My hope is that we as believer’s are not falling in line to wish death on anyone let alone wishing an eternity in hell for them as well.  The defense and cause for dying for our faith comes in “not denying Christ and His salvation”.  It has nothing to do with the demise and death of another, let alone a wish for someone to spend eternity in hell.

Regardless of Obama’s policies or even the choices in life he has made, nothing he has done has warranted this prayer from this man.  Even if one would say he was evil (which I don’t) the Bible would say pray for your enemies, pray for everyone’s salvation.  The Lord is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9).

I am deeply troubled by this man preaching this about anyone, let alone our president. Though I am NOT an Obama supporter politically, I do pray that God would lead him in leading our country.   That does not mean I have to agree with everything the president does or that I do not have the right to express my displeasure at times.  Those of you that know me, are well aware of the fact that I will express my feelings about something I disagree with.  However, I wish him no ill.  God asks us to pray for our leaders, I am praying for his salvation.  I will let God deal with the judgement and the punishment of sin.  It’s not my job, nor is it yours.

So I also pray for those who called themselves believers in that congregation and in all churches across this world.  My hope is that we all realize the truth of God’s Word and that we understand that love and grace  is poured out to all men.  Even if we don’t agree politically.

But then again…maybe it’s just me.

Too Much for God to Handle?

When I was about sixteen, I acknowledged that I had done something wrong and I turned myself in, I was asking for punishment.  I was ready to pay the price for the wrong that I had done.

I was a mess. I was ashamed. That summer, as part of a plan to get me straightened out before my junior year of high school, of all places, I found myself at a Christian camp for the last portion of the summer, surrounded by righteous, Christ-loving people. I saw it as more of a burden than a blessing at the time…seeing all these ‘perfect’ people with Christ so present in their lives, then me, scarred by my past and a mess in every sense.

I wasn’t perfect like those at camp seemed to be, not even close, and being there  was a constant reminder of that. Periodically, I would find myself out on the porch outside the cabin I was staying in, only to look up at the stars and wonder aloud to God. “Why, God why? I don’t even want You to look at me… How is it that You can love me when I can’t even love myself? I don’t deserve this…I deserve death. Father, if these others are sinners, then what am I?”

I hid my face in shame. I just felt so bad, as though what I had done was too bad to be forgiven. One night my youth counselor (Bob Emrich) came out of the cabin and joined me. I was never one to easily conceal my feelings, so it did not take long for him to know what I was struggling with, and his response was one that I will never forget.

“God wants to love you, God wants to love us…It’s almost a slap in the face to Him that you won’t let Him love you. It’s as though you were to give someone a gift, something that you made yourself,  made just to their liking, and for that person to turn to you, and to just say no.…I don’t want it. You’re rejecting His love and  His sacrifice. Jesus already died for you; accept His actions and His gift.   And this shame?  This thought that you’re too bad for His love to make a difference? That’s taking yourself to the point of saying that the place you’re in is far too bad for God to ever be able to help you, and in doing so, you minimize His power.   God is more powerful than anything you have to be ashamed of.   While you think that you’re humbling yourself in these things, you really just place yourself and the power of your sin higher above His power.”

Have you ever done that?  Have you ever thought your sins or your problems were too much for God to handle?