Posts Tagged ‘faith’

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?

Many of you may be wondering why, after finally finding a nice steady pace, I suddenly stopped posting…yeah, there’s been the  occasional re-blog, when I see something I find especially moving…but no writing. And isn’t that the whole reason I started this blog, to give myself a forum to practice my art? Well, that is an interesting question, so let’s examine this idea.

I must admit that I have let myself become pretty divided lately…after all, I am just a guy, and I have trouble doing more than one thing at a time very well; multi-tasking has never really been one of my spiritual gifts. Here lately, I have reached critical mass – taking care of Karen as she slogged through cancer treatment; handling an enormous level of responsibility trying to drive the design process on a complex construction project at work; helping to kick-start a prayer-and-share ministry at a halfway house; and “standing in the gap” at the church while we struggled through the transition period without a pastor, or much of a leadership team at all, for that matter. The Lord has been with me, and these things have prospered…I have been blessed to have been a part of it all. But even seasons of insanity come to an end…and strangely enough, that has been the problem!

Karen has finally reached the end of her regimen – only two more radiation treatments and one more follow-up, and she will be done, hallelujah! The project has been designed to a fare-thee-well, and actual construction begins next week. A new crop of volunteers has been trained for prayer-and-share, and a routine has been developed, duties spread around. The church has merged with another fellowship, so we have a pastor, and a staff, and budget, and a vision. Suddenly, I don’t have a gap to stand in, and it has left me off-balance and questioning  my role, and in fact my value, because that is just how I am wired.  I have a lot of trouble functioning well unless there is a crisis going on…smooth seas and clear skies leave me twitchy and anxious, and I have never really understood why; in truth I still don’t. But that doesn’t mean that I have to accept that as a healthy or right way to live, because I can recognize that it isn’t…it’s just a matter of learning a new way to behave; substituting better habits in the place of bad ones, and rediscovering passions from my past that I have allowed to wither under the weight of “busyness”.  I have been working on that very thing for a few months now, with success, and so I think I can expand this behavior into other realms of my life.

Back on New Year’s Eve, I made two  life-changing decisions: I stopped smoking cigarettes, and I started distance running…something I really enjoyed back in high school, but allowed to die out.  I also began blogging about the journey, at the suggestion of a friend, who reminded me that accountability and support from others in a similar situation are invaluable for making commitments stick. She was right, and I have so far succeeded: I have not smoked for nearly 12 weeks; I have run almost 80 miles this year; I have completed one 5k race, and and I’m signed up for a 10k in May; and my running blog is doing quite well. So, let’ s apply some of these principles to my current issue: how to spend less time in agonies of doubt, and more time pursuing my God-given art of writing (the reason I began blogging, remember?) Here’s what I came up with:

I have registered for the Blogging from A-to-Z in April Challenge, as a way to encourage myself to write something every day for a month. I will focus on themes relevant to Christianity (my own unique spin on the challenge) and in the process, try to recover some of my joy and wonder at the purpose God has placed in me – to express in writing how great He is, and yet how accessible He is to any who will seek after Him. THIS is my role, THIS is my value to the kingdom of heaven…and I am grateful that the Lord is patient, and continues to minister to me and encourage me. He has done this through many mediums – the sermon series our pastor is doing on how God’s plan for humanity has always been that we are blessed to serve Him and to serve others for His glory; the brothers at the halfway house and at the prison where I serve, who are constant examples of how God’s grace extends to “the least and the lost” of this world, and that our worth in His eyes is in no way dependent on how the world sees us; and by a book I finally picked up off the shelf and started reading: Quitter, by Jon Acuff, who tells how finding fulfillment of our dreams is more about recovering than about discovering…a message I really needed to hear! (Jon also recently reminded me that artists are specially blessed by God, and that writers are artists.)

I welcome your comments, and pray that God will lead me in finding 26 creative ways to write about Him in April. I have heard that once you do something 21 times it has become an ingrained habit…let’s put that to the test again, shall we? Stay tuned, spread the word, I believe some wonderful things are about to happen!

Jacob had it easy…

Posted: March 10, 2013 in Uncategorized
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At least when he wrestled with God, he could use his hands, his body, his frustration…and it earned him a draw, and a blessing!

I’m reduced to my thoughts, my groaning spirit, and my knees…I don’t expect a draw – I will gladly receive my blessing in surrender (which is not a defeat, it’s a victory) – I just want to know WHO and WHAT and HOW…

You knew me before You made me. You have Your purpose for me in mind. I don’t deserve an explanation, I’m not demanding an answer…

I just want to know that I’m serving You, not me.

It has been a very trying and taxing week in the life of a Nicky…death and discouragement have been all around, but praises to God that He is more than all the enemy could ever send against me.

Through the course of her chemo treatments (today was the last one, btw…hurrah!) Karen has made some wonderful friends; adversity is a fantastic incubator for closeness. One particular person, Danni, has really been through it – she had already undergone surgery to remove one lung, and a lemon-sized brain tumor, and met Karen while doing a course of chemo for “insurance”. Well, the chemo caused an episode of kidney failure, and while being treated for that, she suffered a stroke – which led to the discovery of a second brain tumor. At that point, Danni called BS on treatment, and said she could just ride out the rest of her life in peace and dignity. Her family consented, and the next step was moving her into hospice about a week ago. We have been visiting every other day, for as long as she has left, she will know we are here with her. Last night was hard…she kept telling her daughters “Today is the day, they are here for me.” We don’t know who she is seeing, because communication is very difficult for her, but she is convinced “they” are there, and so we wait with her…

Last Monday a dear friend from the church called me, sounding desperate, tired, and depressed – she has been fighting asthma and COPD from years of cigarettes, drugs, and life on the streets of New Orleans; the Lord rescued her from all that, and sent her to Houston in the aftermath of Katrina. She became a member of our church, and an invigorating reminder of the Holy Spirit’s transforming power – I have never in my life met anyone who more understood what it means to be redeemed. But last week, after several rounds of in-and-out at the ER, suffering pneumonia that just wouldn’t quite go away, she called me to pray with her – she said she was so tired, and hurting, and ready for God to heal her any way He wanted to, if she could only find some rest. So Friday morning, He did just that…Patricia went home to her reward, and now she is by His side: no more pain, no more sadness, received into His rest at last…

Yesterday morning, as I was making notes for the morning announcements at the worship service, I learned that the church secretary’s brother Wayne had also passed this week; he had been in the hospital for some time, and was not really expected to get better, but the loss hurts just as deeply, no matter what…

All this just kind of piled up on me, and I went and sat at the back of the church alone, to pray and collect myself to welcome the congregation, when the Lord brought back to mind a couple of passages of Scripture; some of them I had just received the other day from another blogger friend. I threw away my notes, and read these instead, and as I prayed I sensed the Holy Spirit settling over us, bringing the comfort only He can. I would like to share those verses with you…perhaps someone reading this is also in need of His touch –

When someone close to us dies, or is near death, it often helps us to remember the words of the Apostle Paul, who addresses the church at Corinth about these very concerns:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal…For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens… For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.  (2 Cor 4:7-5:5, selected)

And then, while we may be comforted about our friends, we may still end up angry at God, or confused and wondering just what He is doing…if nothing happens outside of His will, what exactly is His will? These two passages explain precisely what His will is: Jesus, speaking to the crowd gathered at the seaside says,

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:38-40, emphasis added)

And then, again from Paul, this time in exhortation to the church at Thessalonica,

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thes 5:12-18, emphasis added)

God’s will is very clear – we are to serve one another, in love that is the likeness of Christ’s love for us; and to endure in that love, so we may be lifted up in the last day. Those who have gone on ahead to glory, those already lifted up, are no longer under obligation…we who remain in this world are indeed in debt to Him whose love has redeemed us…and it is that very love, which makes all the rest something we can endure.

Reblogged from a good friend of mine on Blogger…not new information, but very well spoken.

What About Those Who Have Never Actually Heard the Gospel?

I just made it home from my long day at work and running errands, and the first thing I heard on the TV is news of the terrible tragedy in Connecticut. (I have no access to news and such on the jobsite, and I never got around to replacing the radio in my truck when it got stolen…the hole in the dash makes a pretty good theft-deterrent system.)  My immediate reaction? Begin praying for the families, and turn off the news – because the very last thing I want is to hear any more about it. That reaction got me to thinking… why am I turning away? Am I becoming  insensitive, or inured to the pain of others? Well, no… but the truth is quite revealing in its own right.

The most basic, primal feeling in my gut was exhaustion…I am just completely worn out by this latest horrible occurrence in a series of horrible occurrences this year alone. I hope that doesn’t sound shallow or self-centered – I am quite aware that I have suffered no personal injury or loss in any of these circumstances, and real lives have been permanently changed for the worse; who am I to try to make this about me? (Some might even say, “How dare you?” , but I have never been afraid to say things that others might not understand.) But it’s not about me, so much as it’s about the world…I think I have lost my capacity to feel shock or surprise at the pervasive nature of evil. The bible tells us the world is fallen, ruined by sin and death; why do we act surprised when we see continuing evidence that this is so? On the contrary, I shake my head in disbelief when people speak of the “essential goodness of human nature”, when in truth there is no such thing. Jesus Himself said as much, speaking to the rich young man who wanted to know how to get into heaven. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not “anti-people”; that would make the calling God has placed on me to be a pastor seem kind of silly, wouldn’t it? But there is a reason that the tag line on my email for the last several years has been:

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.”   Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!  (Rev 22:20 NKJV)

This verse has been a part of my daily prayers almost since I returned to walking with Him in 2005. My faith in God, in the perfect redemption of mankind by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, makes it possible for me to eagerly await His return. I take comfort that all the suffering, the pain, the despair…all these will come to an end. It also makes it possible for me to endure until such time as His plan and purposes are fulfilled, as I have no wish that any would perish, but that all would come to know Him and believe, despite knowing that there are those who will not. Many, many people will look at today’s events, and those of previous days, weeks, and months, and curse God for allowing this to happen, or question whether He even exists… the newsfeed from my relatively small number of Facebook friends is evidence of that. I have no answer for them which they will accept, and my heart breaks because of that. Others will take the opportunity to push their own agendas, or profit from it in some way, and that saddens me even more…and underlines my point at the same time – the world IS going to Hell, and it doesn’t need a handbasket to get there; it knows the way all on its own.

Following hard after Him, (even when some days are harder than others)

Nicky

Tune in tomorrow…

Posted: November 13, 2012 in Uncategorized
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Folks, real life has once again reared its ugly head…nothing urgent or evil, just a whole lot of normal stuff that piled up while I was away serving at the prison, plus a lot to do at the church.

Regular programming will resume as soon as I catch up, a day or so I think. Keep watching…it only gets better!

Following hard after Him, (and this week I am sore),

Nicky

Introductions and introspections

Posted: November 8, 2012 in Uncategorized
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Today was meet and greet at the prison: we bring our participants in, sit 75 people in a circle, and speak a minute or so each on who we are, where we’re from, etc. In a group this size that takes some time, and I found myself listening to their answers and remembering what my time behind bars was like. That’s one reason I do this work – I can relate to the hopelessness in here, and I think Jesus is a better answer.

All that remembering makes me that much more grateful to God for saving Me from myself… in the morning I get to deliver the opening talk, my topic is Choices. We want these men to understand that they got where they are in life because they made choices that had consequences. All choices do; no matter how badly we want to escape it, we must all eventually pay. (Prison makes that message easier to receive) We aren’t trying to make them feel bad, but until men realize they are responsible for what they so, how can repentance even seem reasonable?

But, man, writing that talk sure does me no gentle kindness. God doesn’t waste anything…He gives me this assignment, and gets two rounds of soul searching for His money! There are still many things I must repent of, many choices I have made from selfish or unkind motives, that Jesus is not gonna let me make it on – I have to choose to change. He is Lord, and I must submit, lest He say, “I never knew you.”

That’s all for tonight, got some other work to do before bed, and we go in at seven am. Look for another update tomorrow.

Following hard after Him,