It occurred to me that it’s been nearly four years since I posted here regularly, so perhaps I owe any new readers (as well as my previous audience, if any of you are still here) a brief overview of where I went and what I was doing during that interval. If this is not of interest, feel free to move on to something else, I won’t mind at all.

I had been a member of a small Southern Baptist church for several years; we began suffering from transition woes in 2012-13. I served as acting pastor and full-time preacher for several months, until we voted to merge with the Spanish church who rented our facilities on our off-times, and “their” pastor became “our” pastor. I had hoped to continue in my role, understandably to a lesser degree, and had in fact been promised as much during discussions leading up to the vote.  When it came to actual practice, however, I found myself replaced by his staff; if I am to be honest, it wounded my pride and my sense of self-worth to be told I wasn’t needed any more.  It didn’t help when the new pastor began going back on many other things he had promised, changing the focus and direction of the church in ways that I could not support, and it didn’t take long for us to simply stop going. My wife and I visited a few other churches, looking for a “new home”, but that too dwindled away. I was so busy with work and my new infatuation with running, and it was easy to fall away from corporate worship and church activities.

I maintained my writing on  a different blog, focused on my training and experiences as I prepared to run my first marathon, but Christian ministry never left my thoughts. I continued to serve with Kairos Prison Ministry, and at a Christian halfway house where I had helped begin a weekly prayer-and-share meeting, but I wanted more…I wanted to be a pastor and/or preacher. I enrolled in an online seminary program, and prayed for an opportunity to put my gifts to use; as it turns out, I was totally unprepared for that prayer to be answered…God has a habit of calling us on our bullshit, doesn’t He? Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it!

One of my partners in the new prayer-and-share called me one night, and offered me the position of administrator/pastor at a different halfway house in Conroe, where the need was great. The position included my wife, free room and board on-site, and sufficient salary for normal expenses…but did not include health insurance. This was just as Karen was finishing radiation treatment for breast cancer (she had already finished chemo) but we had ongoing prescription expenses and aftercare to deal with; we also still faced (though we did not know it at the time) genetic testing and a complete hysterectomy to head off the near certainty of ovarian/uterine cancer in the future. In any case, after painful deliberation and prayer, we elected to pass on this opportunity, with me remaining at my job and retaining the all-important health insurance.

I cannot second-guess that decision now; I am distant enough to have forgotten the emotions of the moment. It was not long after, however, that I began to feel guilty for trusting in the job and the insurance, and NOT trusting in the Lord too provide for all our needs; I felt I had disqualified myself for service due to a lack of faith. I allowed this guilt to pollute my relationship with God, to come between me and Him in a way that prevented me from doing anything else. I stopped seeking opportunities to serve, to stop looking for a new church home…to just stop. And that state of affairs pretty much remained since then..

I lost the job about two years later, and with it the insurance and financial security. Karen had achieved full remission, but we were no longer able to afford the medications recommended for breast-cancer survivors. In fact, even with the ACA, we have been uninsured since then, and I give full credit to God’s grace and faithfulness that she has remained healthy nonetheless. The guilt has faded, but not the desire to serve, somewhere, somehow…I only needed to find a trigger. I did, finally, but it took several parts to come together to make the whole.

Next post, I will talk about how those parts and pieces came together, and how I learned to recognize the voice of the Spirit, quietly but steadily urging me back into relationship and back into service. In doing so, I hope that I encourage at least one person out there-some man or woman who has been listening to their doubts more than to God. If you are that person, I pray that you will find your trigger, that you will realize that being done with God does not mean that He is done with you. I pray that you will read my story all the way through, and recognize that if He can love me enough to wait for me, He can love you enough as well.

It’s the truth, I promise…come and see.

 

The article from National Review I just posted, touches directly on the heart of the struggle I have been wrestling with for years now. I dropped out of politics during President Obama’s re-election campaign, when I was struck by the level of vitriol and outright hatred against him displayed by otherwise reasonable and loving members of the congregation of the small Southern Baptist church we were members of at the time. I was teaching adult Sunday school and filling the pulpit on occasion, and I attempted to use these opportunities to point out just how in-Christian this behavior was; I was rewarded with blank looks at best, and with flat rebukes that I didn’t understand how destructive “that man” was to the American values which they claimed could only be upheld by the Republican Party. I simply could not argue, because I could not even discern what color the sky was in the world they were living in.

I find myself in that same mindset again, as I watch news coverage of Congressional hearings, juxtaposed with footage of rallies with the very people most at risk wildly cheering for a man who is lying to their faces. I do not pretend to know all the facts, or have all the answers, but I feel I am being compelled by a growing pressure from the Holy Spirit to USE the gifts I have been given to once again attempt to persuade people to hear the Word of God first, then find elected officials willing to act accordingly…I may not succeed any better this time than before, but I cannot simply sit here and do nothing.

Pray for me, friends, I need it.

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/445748/russell-moore-southern-baptist-convention-fight-christians-donald-trump?utm_content=bufferf08b8&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Striding Towards Life

This post was inspired by my friend Shaun Johnson, who is creator and admin of the Facebook group A Running Cause. He created this group as a way for runners to connect with others who share passionate reasons for why we run. Each week, Shaun invites group members to send in photos, comments, or links to blog posts on specific topics; previous themes include the view out the door when we start a run; our favorite “urban jungle” to run in; and even the classic “How many pairs of shoes do you own?” This week’s challenge posed the question, “When you aren’t running, what ARE you doing?”; my answer: sometimes I go to prison!

I have written before about my faith; simply put, I follow the calling to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, and to do His work on earth as I await His return. There are many…

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It has been quite some time since I posted…I found myself questioning WHY I was doing what I did, and realized I needed to step away from “ministry” for a season; this post from my other blog sums up much of what I have been doing. I submit for your amusement, and to ask for your help as I transition back into a more active role in the Kingdom (more to come on that very soon!) Thanks for your continuing support!

Striding Towards Life

Happy New Year everyone, and happy anniversary to this blog! We’ve come a long way together…me, my writing, and most of all YOU, my faithful friends and followers. I wasn’t sure about doing a recap – everyone does that, and I hate to be boring – but at last I decided to jump on the bandwagon and post my “year-in-review”, along with a look ahead at what I hope 2014 has in store; perhaps it will inspire another person to take a leap of faith, and that would make this entirely worth the effort! So grab yourself a fresh cup of coffee, tea, or even a bit of that hair-o’ the-dog, if it suits you, and let’s get all reminiscent, shall we?

2013 was my first year as a runner; I officially began on New Year’s Eve 2012, just to kick-start my resolve. I had little more than a vague…

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Out of God’s Hands

Posted: August 8, 2013 in Uncategorized

adoptingjames

primSomething traumatic happened to our puppy this morning. Something I will have a hard time forgiving myself for.

We live in a loft on the second story. To take the girls potty, we go across the parking lot and to the grass where it slopes up. If I put our youngest, Prim, who is just 11 weeks old, down at the bottom of the grass, she gets distracted by the leaves and sticks on the asphalt and doesn’t bother to potty like she should.

So, in order to encourage her, I have to carry her up the slope where there’s plenty of room for pottying.

She woke me up with her pathetic whimpering a half hour before the alarm was supposed to go off this morning. This isn’t new – in fact, this is a major improvement. I got home from work late last night, so it was extra hard…

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This may help explain why you have not heard from me lately in this space; come see the other other side of my life!

Striding Towards Life

The drawing for the lottery into the Chevron Houston Marathon was held last weekend, and I woke up Monday to find this wonderful message in my Inbox:

ConfirmedI guess that makes it real: I am running a marathon about six months from now – I have made it to the big leagues! (No disrespect intended to y’all out there who stick to shorter distances…I know from experience, those races are just as hard, only in different directions.) So that means my whole game has to step up to a new level…and with it, my whole life! The good thing is, that is merely a continuation of what has already been happening; it’s no longer a sea change, but only a matter of degree. The last few months have taught me much about discipline and determination – things I only thought I understood before – and mostly have taught me…

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Back in April (remember April?…seems a long while ago, for some reason) I started off in a challenge to write and post, consistently, for one month; sadly, I did not succeed. I didn’t run out of ideas (indeed, my Drafts folder glares at me sullenly every time I open my dashboard); neither did sudden catastrophe strike…I just got busy and got behind, and so “failed” to live up to the expectations of the challenge. With an eerie sense of the familiar, I followed this “failure” with another, even more tragic: I continued not-writing, at least in this place, for an entire month and more…with only the pitiful excuse of guilt as a reason for this “failure echo”. This cannot be allowed to continue. I have learned to see this as a metaphor for how I always have dealt with my shortcomings: I give my yesterdays power over my tomorrows…I accept that “Past performance is the surest indicator of future behavior”, and so my choices become scripted by “what has been” instead of  “what should be”…I deem myself “unworthy”, and then earn that designation. It’s deeper than the way I write, it goes into every aspect of how I live; the writing is only one way that the life I live on the inside expresses itself on the outside. Come, I’ll show you what I mean.

I recently observed my third anniversary of employment with the company; this marks the longest time I have worked anywhere in my entire life or career. (Well, I attended the same high school for 4 years, does that count?) This has been, by every measure, the best place I have ever worked. I have survived a corporate merger and downsizing, brought on by two years of downturns in the local economy, while watching my salary increase 25%; upper management is very encouraging and supportive of me, allowing me to grow and expand my skills and my role. At the same time, they have stood beside me as I serve in ministry, scheduling my workload around the twice-annual visits to the prisons on Kairos teams; stood beside me as I cared for my wife during her year-long battle with breast cancer treatment, guaranteeing a minimum weekly paycheck (and continued insurance benefits) whether I worked or not, long after I had exhausted my personal time off allotment for the year. The level of mutual respect among my co-workers exceeds anything I ever imagined that “a job” could provide. Yet, earlier this week I came within hours of losing my job, literal hours, because I fell short of MY expectations, and nearly allowed the “failure echo” to unravel everything. I’m still too close to spell out the step by step of what happened, perhaps in a later post, perhaps not…but the details are not as important as the big picture – I allowed pride and fear to rule over me, instead of accepting that I have been set free; I looked forgiveness in the face and screamed, “I don’t deserve you!” – which is completely true…and completely the amazing message of God’s grace.

Long story short, and the reason I posted this: in my desperate hour I cried out to the Lord, and by the power of prayer, I was able to hear that message clearly despite my despair…and respond to it. I am on the way to restoring my relationship with my employer, but there are others I also need to restore…including the one with you, my readers. I bailed out on you, with no warning or explanation…left in mid-conversation, with over half yet unspoken. I am sorry, and I will make the effort to be better…or at least, more honest, OK? and I can do another thing – I can post the rest of the Challenge! I have most of them written, but a bit of polish before release is needed, so look for one or two a week. The ideas are worth their moment in the light of day, and I will enjoy the privilege of sharing them with you. See you again very soon, may you remain aware of the blessings you enjoy!

Nicky

As I mentioned in an earlier post, some characters are only set upon the stage of Scripture for a brief moment, and then they are gone; some leave lasting legacies, some barely register. In the grand scheme of things, what could we possibly learn from these minor, transient personalities? What, indeed? Let’s consider one of the most-well-known-but hardly-discussed people in the Bible: Joseph, husband of Mary, father of the siblings of Jesus (but of course he was not Jesus’ father). He has only a few lines, stars in but a couple of scenes, and he is gone…so why is he even here?

I must give my wife credit for suggesting Joseph, and the reason for his significance…she  reminded me how the exercise of faith often comes down to just moving forward, despite not fully understanding (or believing) everything going on around you. The most ordinary people, when moving in faith, can become the greatest heroes for the rest of us, by being living examples of trusting in The Lord to sustain us; Joseph is exactly that kind of person.

A simple carpenter, living a simple life in a simple village in Galilee, Joseph probably never imagined he would find himself in the center of prophetic fulfillment; like most of us, the routine of normal life was enough to think about. Then, his world is turned upside down by a series of events: his young, virgin fiance turns up pregnant – a scandal, and no one would think wrongly of him for just walking away. He nearly does, until an angel of God appears and confirms what Mary has told him: she was not guilty, but blessed; to his credit, he believes. He may not understand it, but he goes along with the plan. This act of faith (because what else can you call it?) is repeated practically every time we see Joseph – when he takes his radically pregnant wife to Bethlehem for the census, despite the dangers; when they are visited by a horde of shepherds in the stable, telling wild stories of visions of angels singing praises; when they are visited again, this time by wealthy foreigners who bow and offer worship to their young son, calling Him “the King of the Jews”; when the angels warns him to take his family and flee to Egypt, to avoid the Slaughter of the Innocents; still later, when the angel bids Joseph return to Nazareth, because Herod has died. All these incidents contain a common thread: the faithful, trusting obedience of Joseph to the voice of God. If he could hear and believe, in spite of everything his upbringing and his culture told him he should do…how much more should we, with the testimony of Joseph as our evidence, be willing to do likewise?

The structural arrangement of the Bible is not commonly discussed, except in the most scholarly of venues; but there is oneunfortunate consequence which must be diligently avoided: modern readers have a tendency to treat each book as a discrete story, more like an anthology rather than chapters within one narrative. This causes us to miss the simultaneous occurrence of some key events in God’s history with His people. The ministry of the Old Testament  prophets is a good example. In the previous post, for instance, we saw Isaiah speaking the Word of God to King Hezekiah; but that was only one of four kings during whose reigns he served The Lord (Ussiah, Jotham, and Ahaz came before), and other biblical prophets  – Amos, Hosea, and Micah – were his contemporaries. These facts make the stubbornness of the people, their refusal to repent, all the more damning…they could not claim ignorance, the news was on every channel!

The Book of Isaiah is by far the longest and most extensive passage of prophecy we have in Scripture, and the most revealing of Jesus. I have seen some commentators call this book “the Gospel of Isaiah”, so accurate are the details about the coming Messiah. Yet about the man himself we see very few details. The title above is used nearly every time he is introduced; this sparse answer to the questions, “Who are you, what is your job, where did you come from?” is apparently all the information we need; much like John the Baptist, who quotes this prophet when asked to identify himself, Isaiah is content to be nothing more than –

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.”

So many preachers today (in my opinion) make themselves the center of attention. I live in Houston, Texas: home to three of the ten largest “mega” churches in this country, and I can tell you far more about their senior pastors than any of their ministries; their names and photographs are on all the billboards and websites (often with a link to their newest books), but sometimes you have to scroll around or read a little to find the name of Jesus…and I have to wonder at that. Isaiah and the other prophets lived to speak God’s words to God’s people, or anyone else who would listen, for that matter; it was not in the least about themselves – how far we have strayed in these days!