Musings on Christianity 33

Musings on Christianity 33

Why Must We Deny Ourselves?

I confess I like my stuff. If I’m covetous of anything, it’s my time. I have always believed that time is one of only two true valuable things (love being the other). I am most unloving when I see “my” time being taken from me.

But this just isn’t how I’m supposed to be.

“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,’” Matthew 16:24.

As I ponder this verse, I consider that one can’t possibly follow Jesus if one insists on going his own way. The only way to follow Jesus is to go where he goes and walk as he walks. That means the things that would cause one to step aside would have to deny that desire to stay with Him.

The most wonderful benefit to self-denial would be that you will arrive where Jesus is. Whatever this life has to offer, the Kingdom of Heaven is far greater (Romans 8:18). Matthew 16:24 is an eloquent summary of so many lessons that add up to the same concept.

When one denies himself, he shows his love for Christ by following him, and he shows his love to others in the sacrifice of those desires. I spoke about this at length in the previous chapter.

When one denies himself, he humbles himself for Christ. Those who humble themselves are lifted up by God (1 Peter 5:6-7). They receive God’s favor (James 4:6). Humility breeds wisdom (Proverbs 11:2). The humble one receives God’s guidance and instruction (Psalm 25:9).

When one denies temptation, they glorify God. We show that while temptation strikes, we rely not on our strength, but on God’s. When we are weak, He is strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

The book of Job in itself is a story of a test. Job is made an example for those who would deny temptation and continue to seek God even during the worst sorts of suffering of heart and body.

These are verses and thoughts I need. Time is indeed precious. It is indeed fleeting, but that makes it that much more important to use that time to glorify God. I promise, I’m not saying a man can’t take a few minutes to read or relax. God gave us the sabbath specifically so that we could rest (Mark 2:27).

I read The Heart of Anger by Lou Priolo to better help one of my sons through junior high, and I learned so much about myself. The relevant portion is that you can identify the idols in your life by what you’re willing to sin to have or what you’re willing to sin because you didn’t receive it.

As adults, we look at children throwing a tantrum and think about how spoiled they are. Why don’t we use that same judgement on adults or, more importantly, ourselves? This is a great failing in my life. Where I should have trained my heart and body to seek Christ, I trained myself to use every moment I possibly can to advance my goals. Yes, one should strive to accomplish the tasks set before them, but the main goal should always be to follow Christ. Every tertiary goal we have should still be directed toward honoring God.

  At this point in my journey I’m so trained in one manner I often find myself reacting to my sinful training before I even realize I’m seeking after what I want and not thinking about God at all.

We can even be sinful in our seemingly religious actions. This was the rebuke Christ offered the Pharisees in Matthew 23. All they did, they did for the appearance of piety, not to honor God. It was a pretense offered to only receive the acknowledgement of man rather than to glorify God. I’m ashamed to say I think I would have made a fine Pharisee. I love lists. I love standards. If one were to tell me, “Do X, Y, Z, and all will be well,” I’d blow that list out of the water.

But we should already know that there isn’t anything we can do to earn our way into Heaven. Our forgiveness is a gift of grace (Romans). When we deny ourselves, we accept God. When we seek His kingdom and His righteousness,  He provides for us (Matthew 6:33).

The more we make life about us, the less our lives are about God. No one can deny this truth. If our mind is on ourselves in what we do, it can’t possibly be on God. No one can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).

I don’t pretend to be the most selfish man on earth. But I’m aware enough of my own heart to know how covetous I am of “my” time. But if I think of it as mine, it can’t be God’s can it? I’m battling this so often and so often finding that I’ve lost before I realized the opportunity I had to glorify God.

I’d challenge anyone to look at the things in life they value. If there is a thing so important, you’d harm, ignore, or resent others to obtain it or because you didn’t get it, you should probably think long and hard about what that thing is truly costing you.

I guess the thing I should do is try and challenge myself. If I’m angry that I’m being “interrupted,” I should ask myself, “Is what I’m doing worth the Kingdom of Heaven? Would I give up my salvation for this?”

To be clear, salvation can’t be lost! The challenge question is a check on my heart to glorify God in denying this part of myself rather than needing to ask forgiveness for once more sinning in whatever way I might be sinning.

It’s better to think on the Kingdom of Heaven and realize nothing here can compare than to realize and lament the fact that I’ve sinned to do or have something that just doesn’t matter.

For our panel: What are some other things people can do to take stock of the idols in their life? What other verses can one turn to when they find themselves as I sometimes find myself? For those who struggle so much to let go, are people such as I not saved simply because we’re struggling to let go? Are addicts condemned simply because of the difficulty of turing away from their addictions? If the answers to the last two questions are “no,” what verses can we turn to for comfort and strength as people struggle with and remorse their sin?

Musings on Christianity 25

Musings on Christianity 25

How Do We Respond To Suffering

As I type this, it’s been about three months since COVID-19 began. People are afraid. People are sick. People are dying. People are practicing social distancing (I hope) and limiting their activities (I hope).

This is an unprecedented time in our nation’s history.

How then should Christians respond to trials? How should a Christian react to pain, loss, sickness, and sadness.

The short answer is to glorify God.

God shows us so much about suffering through the book of Job. Perhaps someone more unfortunate than myself can dispute this, but no one was ever made to suffer more than Job.

Job was blameless and upright (Job 1:1). He had sons and daughters and lots of animals on his farm. He was the greatest of all the people of the east (Job 1:2-3).

One day came when the angels presented themselves before God. Satan was among them (Job 6). God held Job up as an example of the human race. Oh! what a wonderful thought it would be to have God say to his angels, “Have you considered by servant Matthew?” I don’t expect that. What a wonderful thing it would be though. Still, Satan wanted to break that faith, so he established a challenge.

The argument was that Job had no reason to fear God. He had no reason to be angry with God. Satan challenged God to take what Job had, and that would cause Job to turn away.  Satan meant it to take a servant from the Lord. God used that evil plan for his purpose.

Satan took all of Job’s property and, more importantly, his children. I don’t want to imagine any scenario in which I lose anyone I love, let alone my children. This happened to Job (Job 1:13-19).

Job mourned. He was devastated. But rather than curse God, he worshiped. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21).”

All that, and Job did not sin or charge God with wrong (Job 1:22).

The challenge became elevated. Job himself was stricken.

There came a point (and this is a large summary of some 40 chapters of Job) where he demanded a trial. During an argument with three friends, he spoke about what he didn’t understand. God challenged that understanding with his own voice from a whirlwind. The rebuke was a series of questions, asking Job how he expected to question God who created everything.

In those questions, Job understood and repented (Job 42:1-6).

There’s a lot to unpack there, certainly more than a single blog could do justice, but Job knew that to worship God in suffering is the best thing to do.

We look at these times, however, and we think inwardly. Job honestly hadn’t done anything wrong when this started. That suffering wasn’t to hurt Job. Yes, it did cause him pain. It absolutely brought tears. But after being exemplified in joy, God exemplified him in suffering for all time.

He was blessed again, more so than ever before. No, I don’t contend that he didn’t miss his sons and daughters he had lost, we all do. The point isn’t that suffering should be fun. The current point is that when we suffer, we tend to ask why.

When I started this book, I choose to start with why we suffer for this very reason. None of us is Job. I’ve sinned, and so have you. The things we have, every thing that we have, are a gift God has given us, and he has every right to take them away. We certainly didn’t receive it because we deserve it. I don’t deserve my wife and children. I don’t deserve my home. What did I really do to urn it in the eyes of God? When I see these things as a gift, I feel all the more wretched because I realize I could treat them better. I could certainly do a better job maintaining my home.

I think I sometimes pridefully covet my possessions because I truly think they were mine, earned by the sweat of my labor and the work of my hands. But who gave me that work ethic? Who blessed me with these hands? 

When I realize nothing is mine, I appreciate it more (if only slightly).

But does this mean we can’t be sad or pray?

No! In fact, offering our prayers and communing with God is always good and right. 

God even gave us a prayer to offer while suffering in Psalm 102.

Does this mean COVID-19 is a test? For some. Is it a punishment? For some. But I’ve said before, God lets the rain fall on both the wicked and the just (Matthew 5:45). Sometimes, rain is just rain. Job’s error was to question the wisdom and rule of God Himself. What I can promise is that it is for the good of those who love Him (even if they don’t yet or ever see it) and His glory.

Heaven is the ultimate reward. It is such a reward that no amount of earthly blessings in any extreme will will be worth anything against it. If we keep our faith in God and worship him, no matter the time, season, or circumstance, that reward is waiting for us. But even in this world, if we seek his kingdom and righteousness, our season of pain can be replaced with such wonderful abundance.

Joseph was second only to Pharaoh in Egypt. His people were prosperous and blessed until Joseph was forgotten. Then they fell to an age of slavery and pain. They cried out for God, who delivered them and then (in time) gave them the promised land and a king and kingdom that other nations looked to. This pattern holds today.

I’ve had days where I could go to restaurants and tip every employee $20 without so much as feeling the financial impact. I’ve had years where I lived in a small studio, afraid for my life and hungry for something other than a microwave stew and piece of bread. I’ve been alone and isolated. Now I’m almost always near someone who loves me and wants to be with me.

These seasons are seasons. They come, and they go. They bring sadness and joy. All of those things are temporary. God is forever. If He is the object of your focus in every season and at every time, it will be well. If he is the object of your worship, you will be blessed.

This isn’t to imply in any way that we can “earn” our blessings. This is hard for me to articulate. We are saved by grace and grace alone. If we say to ourselves, “Oh, well, I guess I ‘better pray’ so that this will all blow over and I’ll get my blessings when it’s done,” our hearts and minds were never on God. We worship the blessing rather than the one who blesses. It’s not, nor has it ever been, a trade system.

However if our love is for him and we find trouble, we can hold fast to that love. We can glorify Him knowing that He always keeps His promises and will deliver us from the troubled times in our life, either by ending that time and restoring us or by calling us to Heaven, where we can live in glory forever.

In my younger days I probably would have wanted some sort of meter or calendar. Suffer for  40 years for every hundred years of blessing. Suffer for one hour for 23 hours of joy. However, such a system would only guarantee things I don’t want any part of, even if it comes with a guarantee of other joys. Think about it. If I said, I’m going to punch you, but then I’ll give you a hug, does that make it worth it when you make it a trade?

But if love rules your heart, if you walk with someone you love, and you walk together, you do so because that love endures. In our earthly flesh we cling to that love through all our sorrows. I clung to my friends and family when my mother died. it helped.

If we multiply that by the infinite love of God, what trial could possibly overwhelm us?  What sadness could possibly cast us down? More amazingly, what joy could possibly cause us to set it aside? What gift could possibly cause you to forget the one who gave it? Let that love be the center of your thoughts.

For our panel: Do you have a Psalm or Lamentation that you consider in times of suffering? What are some ways to glorify God in the midst of suffering? How do we mourn without sinning? How do we balance the joy of a blessed Earthly life (wealth, health, prosperity) with a love for God? How can we pray when our sadness or remorse is greater than it’s ever been?

Musings on Christianity 5

Musings on Christianity 5

Where is the line between Grace and Law, and fellowship and judgement

Growing up, the biggest stumbling block I faced in my walk with Christ was composed of groups of people who attended a church but didn’t act very Christian. You may have seen people like them. They’re the ones outside events screaming into bull horns. They’re the ones outside a soldier’s funeral proclaiming that man went to Hell.

Their actions and hostility all led me to a place where I thought that’s what Christianity was. I thought Christians were a group of self-entitled jerks who used God to snub their noses at others and proclaim how holy they were by comparison to others. I wanted no part of that. It got to the point to where I honestly feared walking into a church. My mom was told God demanded she remain married to a man who molested her daughter (a direct contradiction to Matthew 5:32). I was told it was sinful for me to go and use the bathroom during a pastor’s sermon.  So the story of how I came to be a member of Hope Bible Church is one longer than I can tell.

If I were to try and summarize, it started with invitations. They didn’t demand or say anything. They just offered. Then, as I told them my story, they were kind enough to refer me to the online sermons. This let me hear the word and listen. I didn’t like everything I heard, but I understood it. Even what I didn’t like wasn’t a statement of persecution; it was a statement on how the Bible clearly says those things are sinful. HBC didn’t expand on the law. They simply shared the word and what it means. That’s not to say there isn’t accountability in the church.

There in lies the root of this chapter’s question. Whenever I talk about the faith with people, even other professed Christians, I hear an interesting range of ideas.

I don’t need a church that judges me: I do. And the members of the church are supposed to judge (1 Corinthians 6:3).

But that thought quickly swings high and right with. Our church must punish sin. No it doesn’t. In fact, the most extreme thing Christ taught us to do if a person sins against us and refuses to repent is to let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. John MacArthur’s notes on Matthew  18:17 state, “If he still refuses to repent, step three requires that the matter be reported to the whole assembly — so that all may lovingly pursue the sinning brother’s reconciliation. But failing that, step four means that the offender must be excommunicated, regarded by the church as “a Gentile and a tax collector.” The idea is not merely to punish the offender, or to shun him completely, but to remove him as a detrimental influence from the fellowship of the church, and henceforth to regard him as an evangelistic prospect rather than as a brother.”

But this balance is a tough one to have, especially when a body seeks to increase the law. After all, this was exactly what happened to the Pharisees. No church should seek to elevate itself above God. However, it should absolutely serve as a place of worship  and prayer (Mark 11:17), loving discipline (1 Corinthians 6: 1-8) and fellowship (1 Corinthians 14:26). I’m also a fan of the summary of Churchly discipline found in 2 Timothy 4:2.

Personally, I fear a church without discipline every bit as much as a church that seeks to condemn and persecute. No, churches actually can’t let anyone come in and do what they want (1 Corinthians 6:9-11), but neither should they seek vengeance because that belongs to God (Romans 12:19).  That doesn’t mean we don’t rebuke or discipline. (again see 2 Timothy 4:2)

Think of it like a true friend. Would you really let a drunk friend drive home? Is it loving to let a person put himself in danger? If you would do something to protect the life of one you love, how much more would you work to save his or her soul?

But I’m also confident we have those friends. Those friends who can’t wait to list out our faults and tell us how wrong we are. There have even been those friends who look at our misfortune and simply presume wrong (Job).

The same balance you’d have with a friendship should be the least you expect from a church in my opinion. From there, we need to seek churches that have a firm grasp on how to identify sin and lovingly correct it so we might grow together in sanctification.

For our panel: How does a church balance discipline? What should a church do (if anything) to help sinners repent? Should a church seek and speak against sin? If so, how? What does loving rebuke look like? How can one who’s experienced some of the misguided persecution of a church like I’ve mentioned above reconcile that against the loving grace of God and how a church should correct a brother? Is there ever a point at which a church should proclaim or deny a person’s salvation?

Book Review: The (NIV) Bible

Book Review: The (NIV) Bible

NIVGreetings all,

This review has been long in coming. It was easily my favorite book of 2018 (for a number of reasons)So a real in-depth review of this book is simply not possible. There are numerous versions with commentaries for each book. So I took some time to think about what I could offer that I haven’t already said.  So here’s what I came up with:

Why the Bible? As I’ve said, this book changed my life. I see and think differently.  My coworkers have noticed. People who hang out with my family notice. The more I try to read and understand how to live Biblically, the better I feel, and the more blessed I feel. Despite some low lows in 2018, I had a source of comfort, support, and wisdom.

Favorite Books:  My favorite book of the Bible is actually Job. Why? Because that guy suffered. That guy had everything, lost everything, and gained even more. His story gives me context to my life. His behavior during his trial gives me perspective on how I’m supposed to act during my trials. It’s not a “fun” book of the Bible or even very comforting. But it is edifying. It gives me perspective that I don’t think I would see the Bible, Christ, salvation, or suffering the same way without it. A close second is Romans.  I’m not sure which of my old blog posts I went into detail on that, but I did. I’m sure if you search Romans, M.L.S. Weech, you could see an in-depth perspective on why that book means so much to me. The short version is that I find that book to be the most comforting book in the Bible. That’s probably different for anyone (my wife seeks the Psalms for comfort for instance), but that’s my vote.

Leviticus
Image taken from the Covenant Community Church website. This image is not an endorsement or condemnation of CCC or its doctrine. I simply wanted an image for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine. 

Books I Struggled With the Most: I’m currently reading 1 Chronicles. I’m starting to put together what it’s doing. But I’m at a complete loss in this book. Yes, that makes it harder to enjoy. Also, it’s repetitive. Now, I’m certain there is a wisdom and there are many secrets to glean from this book and many others. One idea I’m playing with is a study of Christ through his genealogy. 1 Chronicles makes that sort of study possible. Some may argue Matthew or Luke, and they’re not wrong per say, but Matthew skipped a number of  generations to simplify memorization. 1 Chronicles lets me fill in the blanks. I also struggled with Leviticus. I understood what it was setting up a bit more, but it was a lot of direct information.

Bible StudySo I close this with another attempt to explain why I think reading the Bible is such a worthy endeavor. First it is my personal opinion (I’m unaware what my church thinks on the subject), that simply reading the Bible with an open mind is honestly one of the best things one can do if they are interested in salvation. Now, let’s assume you’re not saved and have no interest in being saved. Very well.

This book is still the richest single collection of narratives, poems, and historical information one can hope to find. Let’s get the tangental comment of historical out of the way. First, not even a scientific atheist would argue the existence of a historical Jesus. Debate the other aspects if you wish, but no one denies it. Even still, that’s not actually what I mean. I’m referring to the Epistles, which are actual letters written by actual, historical people to actual, historical readers in archeologically verified locations. Letters from Paul, James, Peter, and John are like finding an old World War I person’s journal or letters to home. This is my basis for the term historical information. Sure, one can read a thousand books on a thousand locations, but the Bible provides one book about dozens of locations.

So whether for spiritual purposes or educational, reading the Bible is a pursuit most worthy.

I hope you’ll choose to try it. If you have questions on where to read or why, I’d be happy to offer you my thoughts.

Thanks for reading,

V/R
Matt

 

 

 

 

Sonnets For My Savior 15

Sonnets For My Savior 15

He Is Both

He is faithful when His justice falls.

He is faithful when His grace abounds.

He is faithful to those who offer Him their call.

He is both justice and grace, and that truth astounds.

To us, His judgments are unsearchable;

His ways are inscrutable,

but through justice or grace, He is wonderful,

and His sovereignty is irrefutable.

We are all deserving of His wrath,

for us His grace is a gift.

Those who walk with Christ have found the right path,

for only He can, our burdens, lift.

For God provides justice and grace the same,

and He does so to glorify His own Holy Name.



 

Wisdom and Understanding

It was the command Joshua gave his people when they received their land.

Solomon left it as wisdom for his sons to follow.

Behold! The Lord’s wrath is something against no man can stand.

Better are those who stand in his light and wallow.

When one seeks wisdom,

there is one place to start.

Think what would please the ruler of the Heavenly kingdom,

what would one do if he would chase after God’s heart?

Moses said it was for our survival.

Those who do this receive great goodness.

Our sovereign God has no rival,

and those who see him correctly depart from foolishness.

Fear of the Lord is what wisdom is

For he who turns from evil, understanding is his.


 

Deliver Me Not Into Temptation

Save me, oh God and deliver me,

for my flesh is weak.

The standard Your Son sets is far from me,

and without Him all my hopes are bleak.

Temptation whispers in my ears.

I see them, though I gouge out my eyes.

Sin promises to remove my fears.

Evil promises to make me wise.

But I need fear nothing when You are with me.

Wisdom is simply a proper fear of You.

Be with me, God, and set me free.

Provide for me a way out, as Your word says You do.

Have mercy on Your creation,

Deliver me not into temptation.


 

Without Him

Without Him I would lay down, but never sleep.

Without Him fear ruled in my heart.

Behold the harvest I did reap

when my pride held You apart.

My enemies surrounded me;

each of them lived within my flesh.

My despair was as vast as the sea,

and I awoke every day with my suffering made fresh.

But my pain humbled me,

and I submitted to your Holy Will.

Now my heart is finally free,

for the giants in my heart, you did kill.

Now I sleep when I lie down and night,

and I wake up because of your sustaining light.


 

Trust In Your Grace

My spirit knows what it should do,

and it is willing.

Yet my flesh is weak, and I seek strength through You

to face the test that I am taking.

The memory of my former self calls

though that sinner was crucified with Your Son.

Let that that former me stay buried, oh Lord, lest temptation befall.

I take comfort, for Jesus faced sin and won.

I trust your grace is sufficient for my needs

and praise your Glorious faithfulness.

Though fleshly temptation still calls me to sinful deeds,

Your spirit calls me to righteousness.

My own evil desires seek to drag me away!
I seek the way out that I might stay faithful today.


 

How A Man Lives

Let us be filled by Your Spirit through Your scripture;

let this be our morning bread.

Your Word is our plentiful pasture;

your word is how we’re fed.

Our stomachs need protein and grain,

but our spirit’s need for You is greater still.

Those who seek to fill their flesh do so in vain,

but those who seek Your word shall always have their fill.

What good is it to sustain our flesh

if our spirits die of starvation?

Let the Word make our spirits fresh,

and help us grow in sanctification.

Since the time of the Exodus, it has been known

that man doesn’t live by bread alone.


 

Every Time

The people did what was evil in the Lord’s sight.

They forgot him and served others.

The Lord gave them to into brutal hands as was his right,

but then sent them a Judge from among their brothers.

The cycle repeated over and again,

Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah, and more,

were sent as prophets, both women and men.

Serve the Lord, God, they did implore.

Each time peace returned for a while.

But then their hearts would return to wicked ways.

So God would place them in circumstances most vile,

and His people would beg for a return to better days.

True, God pushed his people for every crime,

but, after they repented and called on Him, he saved them every time.

Sonnets for My Savior 5

Sonnets for My Savior 5

A Family Under God

Let husbands love their wives with a sacrificial love;

let husbands love their wives as they love themselves.

Let wives respect their husbands as heads just as the Lord is head above;

let your scripture be the source for guidance into which the family delves.

Let children be obedient and honor their parents;

let them be raised in the Lord’s discipline and instruction.

Let Your word and Your teachings be parents’ primary arguments

to guide them to a life free from the evil one’s seduction.

Let family members bear with each other and forgive

just as the Lord has forgiven us.

Let their worship for You outlive

any personal distrusts.

Let families live only in accordance to Your will,

so that love and blessings from their hearts overfill.


 

Appreciation

Let us give thanks to the Lord with all of our hearts

and proclaim all of His wonderful deeds.

We owe all we have to Him who gives all one needs;

We know that once You have one’s soul, from You it never departs.

He is our rock and our salvation,

so let us always keep him near.

His presence means we need not fear

the curse of eternal damnation.

He grants us our strength and makes us strong,

and to His people He gives peace.

We give thanks to the God from whom all things flow.

He has passed over the sins we have committed, indeed every wrong.

Through him we receive a release

and await the new lives he will, eventually, bestow.


 

An End to Suffering

We pray for Your day to come fast,

for that day, You will wipe the tears from our eyes,

and death will no longer last.

Mourning, crying, and pain will cease on the day You arise.

Even if we suffer for a time,

we rejoice despite the pain

because the age to come will be sublime.

Therefore our endurance is not in vain.

From the character endurance breeds comes hope,

and hope does not put us to shame.

Even if we feel we can’t cope,

we will put our trust in Your holy name

We await Your return eagerly,

for on that day, from suffering we will be free.


 

Faithful

Oh gracious God, You keep Your ears open for our supplications.

Your love is steadfast with those who love You and keep Your commandments.

You are faithful and provide ways to escape our temptations.

You provide for us and heal us from our ailments.

When we seek You with all our hearts, we find you.

When we come and pray to You, You hear.

Let us hold fast to our hope, for when You make a promise, You always come through.

We exalt You, Lord, for to us You are dear.

In times of temptation, we take heart in Your son.

Even if some are unfaithful, your faithfulness remains.

Even when we suffer, we trust in your will, which will always be done.

We were trapped in sin, and You have broken our chains.

Thank you for being merciful and true

and we give thanks for all the glorious things you do.


 

Trust in Your Wisdom

Your Wisdom is pure;

Your judgements are unsearchable.

Though we may doubt, you are always sure.

The depths of your knowledge are unmeasurable.

Fear of You is the beginning of knowledge;

to shun evil is understanding.

In times of sadness, let us pledge

to offer You praise that is abounding.

Should we encounter disappointment,

let us see it as an opportunity

to glorify your sovereign judgement

and conduct ourselves with dignity.

Any one can praise You in times of gladness,

but blessed are those who praise You even in times of sadness.


 

Doers

We know it isn’t enough to know.

Our fathers and ceremonies are not what count.

With all we do, we are held to account,

and we will reap what we sow.

You, Lord, measure our heart,

so the rule of law is not where our salvation lies.

Any person who relies on himself dies,

but those who put their faith in Christ are held apart.

Those who do the law are justified;

righteousness doesn’t come from listening.

Even those who haven’t heard it can be a law to themselves if they do what is required.

Those who know the law but break it show themselves falsified.

The disobedient will find the obedient condemning.

For those who receive grace through faith are the ones who are desired.


 

Call Me

Here I sit in my iniquity;

call me please, so with You I may sit.

To claim not to need You is fatuity.

I am a sinner, so to You I submit.

I am sick;

You are the only physician who can heal me.

Rebuild me, Lord, brick by brick,

and leave my transgressions in the debris.

I listen for Your call,

for I can not escape my sin.

Let me hear You before I fall,

for there is nothing good in my skin.

The table of tax collectors and sinners is where I should be,

so please sit with us and share the truth that sets us free.

s

Testimony: My Trial of Faith as My Mom Struggled With Cancer Part 16

Testimony: My Trial of Faith as My Mom Struggled With Cancer Part 16

See Part 1 here.

See Part 2 here.

See Part 3 here.

See Part 4 here.

See Part 5 here.

See Part 6 here.

See Part 7 here.

See Part 8 here.

See Part 9 here.

See Part 10 here.

See Part 11 here.

See Part 12 here.

See Part 13 here.

See Part 14 here.

See Part 15 here.

Praise  and Doubt

I was on a high the day after Mom was taken to the hospital.  My work actually has a weekly lunchtime Bible study group. I had the chance to tell my coworkers things weren’t quite that bad. We studied the book of Romans. I’d also been looking for more fellowship in my life.  A coworker of mine goes to a different church, but his men’s group meets on a day that fits my schedule, so I rushed home from work to change and head to that.

It was a blast. I’m told that’s not a normal men’s group, but man was it fun.  It was a praise session with music, testimony, and a guest speaker. I sang my heart  out and listened about how one needs to be open to letting God work through them.  It was so much fun and so needed.

What I didn’t know is that my sister and brother in law had been trying to call me.  My phone never rang. I never got any messages. I went to bed, and I went to work the next morning still feeling like things were great. I knew the MRI was scheduled and should have been done, but I didn’t get any news. I didn’t want to push, so I waited.

At about the middle of my morning the next day, I saw a text from my sister.

“Did I do something wrong?”

I had no idea what she was talking about.  “No, why on Earth would you wonder that?”

Not having any clue what was going on, I waited for an explanation, but received nothing.  When I sat down to lunch, I knew I had a  bit more time, so I sent another text.

“Still not sure why you think I would think you did something wrong.”

“I tried calling,” she replied. “You didn’t answer. I tried texting. No reply. At least not up until now. Matt, I’m not in a good place right now. I’m getting some rest, and then I gotta spend time with my kids. It has just been an emotional roller coaster, and I’m full of saying all the wrong things or the right things but at the wrong time. So I’m again going to take a nape, wake up, spend time with kids, and hope for a better day than it has be the last couple.”

I was baffled.  I explained to her that I never got a call from either her or her husband. I didn’t have a missed call notification or anything.  This is still a mystery, but I’ll hand my phone to whoever wants to see it.

Knowing things were clearly not going well, I called.

This is where things get complicated. My sister said that the MRI didn’t go well. The surgeon had told the family that the tumor had grown. It was too large on which to operate.  They were talking about other options, and my sister wasn’t sure if another round of anything was what Mom would want.  You can imagine how others might feel at a time like that.

I explained that we’re a family, and what we need to do most is focus on thinking about what Mom needs. She wasn’t sure. She was worried what to do. She was worried how the rest of the family was reacting.

During the conversation, I kept my composure. I wanted to be supportive and listen.  This has become my new focus at any point in dealing with my family.  Listen, and be supportive.

The second I hung up, the tears came.  I fell to my knees crying, but I knew what the right thing to do was.

When we suffer, we praise God.

I folded my hands in prayer and quoted Job 1:21, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

I felt Job was a very appropriate piece of scripture to turn to. But I still couldn’t do much more than cry, so I went to another verse, Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

I didn’t quote either verbatim.  With Jeremiah, I wasn’t even thinking of the right book. I thought I was quoting Isaiah until I looked it up again.  I was stabbing the Sword of the Spirit into my doubt and fear.

None of that changed the fact that I felt it was time to go home.

Let me be clear on something. I’ve told my family this, and I feel the same in my heart. The only member of the family that everyone loves is my mother.   She’s the only one I guarantee every single member loves without question or reservation.

Everyone involved is doing the best they can based on the information they have and how they perceive it.  The fact is, I know that’s true. But what I knew in that moment was my Mom wasn’t in great shape. My sister was worried, and with good reason.  The guy who performed the first surgery on my mother said things looked bad. I think the reason I’m able to listen and be supportive is because that’s all I have to worry about. I don’t have any power in this situation, so all I can do is collect information and offer an ear when it’s needed.

The very co-worker and friend with whom I went to the men’s group, Keith, was there when I got the call and fell to tears. He waited for me to finish, and then offered me a prayer as well. I can’t express what that means to me.  I was ready to do whatever was needed, but I wasn’t sure what the right thing to do was, so I  went to the command chaplain.

We talked for a while, and he said the best idea was to get over there if for no other reason than to learn first-hand what was going on.

It’s what I wanted to do anyway, so I was happy to hear that advice. The problem was I was in the middle of an iteration of class.  I went to talk to the chief in charge of our class.   He wasn’t sure why I hadn’t already left. I talked to each member of the team I work with and a few other coworkers.

Readers, I can’t express to you how supportive they were. They offered hugs and kind words. They offered to drive me to the airport. They put together a plan that would let me get back home and do whatever I could.

I drove home and bought the ticket. I didn’t want to be a distraction, but I also didn’t want to be a surprise. I asked Elise, a coworker of mine whom I consider a confidant and a sort of Christian adviser. She thinks a lot like I do, and since we talk a lot, I wanted her opinion.

She advised me to call.  The distraction my pending visit might be wasn’t that big a deal.  I agreed. My family need to know I was coming to support them.  I’m still not being completely truthful yet, so I have to explain the rest of the process.

I called Elise to see if I should call my brother-in-law (and best friend). I didn’t want him or my sister working to figure out how to pick me up around their schedule and whatever was going to happen with Mom. Since I thought I’d be staying there, I asked Elise about calling my brother.

I called him. He explained what he knew. I made sure he knew I was coming, but that I’d figure out how to get from the airport to his house.

I then asked him if I should tell everyone.  Again, I didn’t want my arrival to be a bother. He encouraged me to tell everyone else, so I sent a quick text.  Somewhere in there, I found out that Mom was about to be released and taken all the way to Yuma.

I called my sister to figure out when she was driving to Yuma, and we worked out the trip down, but now there was the issue on where to stay.  Do we stay at the in-laws (my best friend’s family) or with Dad.  I knew I’d be there eventually, but I wouldn’t get to Yuma until 1 a.m., and that’s just a stupid time to get anywhere, especially when there’s a lot of emotional stuff going on.

I called my Dad next. I let him know I was coming. We talked a bit more, and I could already see the friction in the situation. My sister’s concerns that Mom might not want another round of treatment were opposite my Dad’s belief that we weren’t there yet, and that this next round of treatment was the right plan.

Once again, there is not right or wrong in this scenario. The bigger problem is when people start picking sides. I’ve told my father and sister this, but I had this serious actual thought in my head where he and my sister (Mom’s powers of attorney) start this giant legal battle over this decision.  Both have since assured me that’s not the case, and I wasn’t exactly in my most rational state, but I was still horrified that a family that wasn’t that united to begin with was about to shatter to a point that couldn’t be healed.

The fact that they’ve assured me we won’t end up in some nightmarish legal battle doesn’t eliminate the general fear I had that our family’s already fragile state was near a breaking point. My plan: Stick to the plan! Listen! Be supportive!

Jay, Elise’s husband and a friend of mine in his own right, took me to the airport.  We talked bout the right thing to do.  Rather, we talked about what he knew to do. Pray, and read the scripture.  I didn’t have a clue how to support anyone, especially when there were still (in my mind) two very distinct sides.  My sister didn’t want to casually let Mom go any more than my dad wanted to put his wife through any necessary pain.  I knew that then, and I know that now.

So I got to the airport and thought to ask my chaplain to send some verses my way to ponder what’s going on.

He sent:

Romans 8:30-39, 2 Corinthians 12:9, Philippians 4:11-19, Job 1 and 2, 2 Corinthians 4, Ecclesiastes 3:1-2, Psalm 33:20 (which I’d already read and loved), and Matthew 11:28-29.

I immediately started highlighting them.  I read each over and over again. I have other verses in my Bible highlighted, and I added them to the routine.  Somehow, James 1:5-6 fell in front of me.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”

It continues in verse 7-8, “That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”

I realized something while reading that. I was feeling doubt when I shouldn’t. I’d prayed to God to take care of my Mom, and he will.  The issue I felt was my responsibility was to to take care of my family.  They needed support. I felt in that moment that God was calling me to go home, not to worry about my mom, but instead to keep my family united.

It was still an incredibly intimidating task.

 


 

Questions and Revelations

What are the other verses?

I hope you ask yourself this. If you did, I’m glad. Let me share all of those verses with you because they helped me, and I hope they’re of help to you when you face something like this.

Job 1 and 2 are chapters. They’re powerful. I took the most comfort from the very verse I quoted (badly) when I called my sister.  I’m not comfortable posting entire chapters of the Bible here, but I’d recommend the book of Job to any who feels they’ve suffered. Often when I feel I’m suffering, I think of Job and Christ. My entire family and livelihood haven’t been taken, and I’m certainly not being crucified. However bad my situation is, it’s not that bad.

Psalm 33:20-22: “We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.”

If that verse looks familiar, it’s because I read it a few days prior and mentioned it in the previous segment of this testimony. I think when a certain verse keeps popping up, the person encountering it should pay particular attention. It reminds me to trust in God. I don’t know his plan. I don’t know how things will go, but I know God will provide. I’ve put my hope in Him.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2: Most of you probably are already familiar with the words even if you don’t know their real origin. “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: A time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot.”

I might not get what I want out of this situation, but all things happen for my good, and they happen when they’re supposed to happen. This is what I took from that verse.

Matthew 11:28-29: “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and  humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Romans 8:30-39: “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all the things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

While comforting in that time because it reminds me that God and Jesus love us no matter what, that verse is also affirming for my salvation, a thing which some Christians unfortunately believe can be lost.  If you are saved (and you should take a hard look at that), you’re saved. Nothing will take that salvation from you.

2 Corinthians 4 is another entire chapter.

2 Corinthians 12:9:  “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

And THAT verse is what I turn to when I set myself to a task (like that with my family) I don’t feel I’m suited for.  God equips us for our tasks in life. He provides what we need to do his will. His grace is all we need.

Why is keeping your family together such a daunting task in your mind?

That will be the subject of my next testimony. Short version, we haven’t been united in a very long time.

If you have other questions regarding my faith or thoughts or actions at this point, feel free to ask, and I’ll add them to the blog.  I try to ensure these passages are self reflective. My chaplain told me to take this opportunity to look at myself, but at the moment, those were the only real thoughts going through my mind. Questions might help me remember other thoughts or parts of The Bible I’d overlooked while typing this post.

Thanks for reading

Matt

Testimony: My Trial of Faith as My Mom Struggled With Cancer Part 7

Testimony: My Trial of Faith as My Mom Struggled With Cancer Part 7

See Part 1 here.

See Part 2 here.

See Part 3 here.

See Part 4 here.

See Part 5 here.

See Part 6 here.

The Caretakers

I’m not sure what a normal family is. I don’t know what it looks like. I don’t know how it should feel. We argue. We judge. We don’t honestly get along. It’s an issue that vexes my mother.

My mother, on the other hand, is the epitome of unselfish love. No matter what stupid stuff we pulled or horrible things we said or did, she’d take us back.

When our grandmother became too ill to truly care for herself or live alone, my mom stepped up. She moved Grandma in and cared for her until the day Grandma passed a little more than a year ago. This was a sacrifice. There were events or trips my mom couldn’t go on. There was the strain of caring for a woman who was honestly in need of fairly consistent assistance in one way or another. Thing is, my mom never complained. I did. My dad did.  But the most my mom would do is mention that she couldn’t do something because she was taking care of my grandmother.

I wondered something during that time. Who would step up when my mom needed that?

You see, if this were one of the fiction books I was writing, I’d be the hero. Fact is I’m not. I’m more than 3,000 miles away. My life hasn’t truly changed in terms of day to day habits and action. I don’t have to get mom to appointments or help her if she’s ill. I don’t have to negotiate my own life around her treatments or the other members of the family who visit and want to spend time with mom.  I’m just a guy reflecting on the process, but I’m not actually a part of it.

My older sister and her family are.

My mom needs to be close to the hospital that treats her. This is why my mom can’t stay in our hometown with her husband and youngest daughter. The fact is there are several people who love my mom, and they’re doing what they can just as I am.  But my older sister stepped up. She moved mom in and she’s coordinating all the visits and appointments.  The fact is, while there are many supporters and helpers, she’s the hero of this story. Amid the handful of people working and doing what they feel is best to help, this woman is the one there for all of it.

I hope these words don’t sound like an accusation to those in my family who aren’t there every minute of every day. The honest truth is they can’t be. Some have jobs. Some are ill themselves. Some are trying to keep my mom’s home in good condition and even make it better.

I am, in fact, doing the least in the family. I’m writing a blog.

But I don’t want the fact that I’m in the worst position to be of use to take away from the fact that my sister and her family are doing an amazing job just because they happen to be in the best position to be of use.  I hope that makes sense. If I’m being frank, some aspects of my relationship with my siblings make us pretty judgmental of one another. Every now and again I get defensive about things because I know my sister has made taking care of our mother her life.  Am I a lesser child because I’m doing less?

I certainly feel that way, but that’s not the message I want to deliver here.  What I want to do is give the credit where it’s due. Should I feel demeaned or humiliated simply because I’m giving proper acknowledgement to she who is doing the most?

I’m on the wrong side of the country to be of use. But each day of this trial, my sister, who, if I’m being honest previously held a reputation for publicly complaining about a great many things, hasn’t complained once. At least not to me. It may be because I’m simply not in a position to do anything about it, but it doesn’t make it less true.

The only thing more humbling than her efforts to help my mom is the growth I’ve seen from here through the process. No look, I can’t say enough times that I’m not there. I have no real idea what’s going on. I call once a week or so to see what’s happening and how things are.

But then there was a text. She asked if I’d be able to make it down one week.  You see, my niece is about to graduate, and she’s got a lot of things to do. My sister needed someone to take the edge off.

At first I said I’d just need word, but would it make sense to see if those closer to home could help. Besides, I imagined a number of them would be around anyway to attend my niece’s graduation.

Prior to all of this, I’d burned up my leave. I came home from Christmas intending to spend a year to 16 months here to save up leave.

However, when my sister sent another text saying she needed help, I did the wrong thing. I balked.

I wasn’t without reasons. My biggest fear was that if I took leave now, and then something horrible happened, I wouldn’t have the leave to support that. I spoke to a number of people about that, including my sister’s husband. I didn’t say no outright. I called my dad to see what was going on. He, my older sister, and my younger sister all got together and worked something out.

At the end, they didn’t need me. I can save my leave for another purpose (hopefully a happy one), and my sister has the help she needs to get my niece off to the next leg of adult life.

Despite the fact that it all worked out, my failure is clear.

My sister called for help.  I should have simply said, “OK,” and figured it out. It would have been hard, and it could have been even more difficult if things don’t go the way I’d like them too, but how often are we called in life?

I don’t think the reasons I hesitated are unreasonable or even wrong. That’s the trap we fall for in life. I wanted to work out something where everyone got what they needed. To be honest, it worked out that way as far as I’m aware.

None of that changes the fact that I was wrong. When someone calls for help, you answer.

You might have to figure some things out. You might put yourself at risk. You might have to change things you had planned for months. None of that matters. When someone calls, you answer.

My mom needed help. My brother-in-law just started a new position at work. My niece is about to graduate. My sister was still relatively new at a job of her own. My nephew is adorable, but he’s a handful. None of that mattered. My mom needed help, and that family stepped up.

For those who may feel even more defensive about it than I am, I implore you to see that this doesn’t have to be about selfish pride.  My ego and feelings are what they are, but I don’t have to let that selfish pride prevent me from testifying how Christian my sister is being right now. She’s stepped up.  She’s followed the example our mother taught us for so many years. For that, she deserves all the blessings I can pray for on her behalf.

That sacrifice allows for the other members of the family to chip in by doing what they can do. My other siblings stop by. As I mentioned above, my baby sister was able to make some tweaks to her schedule to get up there for graduation week. My dad is taking care of the house. My other siblings are helping.  I just wanted to make sure to put the spotlight on someone who’s doing an amazing thing.

I talked to another one of those older siblings about graduation just a few days ago. None of my circumstances have changed. There may be a time when I’m needed, and I’ll stand ready. I wasn’t needed this time. Sure, I made a few phone calls and made sure it would have worked out. Of course I would have gone down and made it work if my other siblings couldn’t.

The wrong in what I did was looking for other ways because I saw other ways. I need those reading this to understand this most of all. We get called so often in life. How many times do we compare what we’re asked to do to what we want to do? It doesn’t make our lives or our dreams meaningless, but it does make us selfish. Even if it didn’t make us selfish, it still makes us unhelpful.

Most of this situation took about a day.  But by the end of my dinner the night of that text I’d told my girlfriend, “I’m doing this wrong. What I should have done, the right thing to do, is say, ‘I’ll be there,’ and figure it out.”

The wrong isn’t in the reasons it would have been difficult. The wrong was in the fact that I thought about my situation first. I thought about my complications and my obstacles before I thought about my mom and what she needed. I thought about my issues before I thought about my sister and all the things she’d already done and sacrificed to be the day-to-day caretaker for our mother.

Don’t follow my example in this case, readers. Don’t fall for the trap that I fell for. I don’t think anyone I talked to (including my older sister) blames me or holds it against me. Again, those reasons are quite valid. But the trap was to think of myself when I should have been thinking about others. I hope you’ll do a better job if you’re called.

 


 

Questions and Revelations

Where do you get off writing this blog after you fail to show up the first time you’re asked?

Frankly, I’m still just doing my best. When I was called, there was never a doubt in my mind that my sister would get the help she needed. My family is huge. I knew it was only a matter of talking to everyone and figuring out who could help.  The wrong was in using convince as the measuring stick. The question was “Who can help my sister without too much interruption.” When what should have happened was, “I got you!”

Also, this blog is (as of now) a real time process. To me, sharing these victories and mistakes are important. I know a lot of people who did things very much like I did. They explained it to their friends (like I did), and those people said something like, “I understand. It’s fair. It’s okay. You had things to figure out.”  Those justifications usually make other people feel great. Each time I heard them, they just felt more accusatory. I’d save readers the same feeling if I could.

So are you going?

No. The issue and need was, “care for my mom,” and that issue was resolved. Once the discussion became about my nieces’ graduation, it was something we’d talked about the year before. My sister has the help she needs, and that was the main issue.

I love my niece, and she knows I’m proud of her. My failure was in not answering a need. Once it became a matter of want or desire, then all involved parties should look at things and do what they feel in their heart are best.

Need = do.

Would like or wants = do if you can.

I still won’t sacrifice my ability to head home in the event of a more unfortunate emergency for an event everyone in my family knew I wouldn’t make it down for since last year.

Wouldn’t someone have helped?

Of course they would have. There are a few things in place, and I work with some amazing, generous people. my pride is a bigger issue here. My mom and I have that in common. Never cause those around you stress because you want. That’s a rule we follow. My mom feels pretty bad right now because she honestly thinks she’s being a bother to my sister and her family.  It’s just how we’re wired. I could be pined under a bus with a comet heading toward me and I still wouldn’t ask someone to help if I thought they were “too busy” or they would be “too inconvenienced.”

Had my baby sister been unable to help, I would have worked things out. My guilt is over the fact that I worked around that.  Fact is, I have no idea what my baby sister already had planned or how her leave situation was. I didn’t occur to me.  She answered the call, and she stepped up.

Why do you feel so guilty then? Everything worked out right?

Well, let’s look at Job.  In Job, after he’d already been suffering greatly. His friends showed up.

They did a lot wrong.  Seriously, they did a LOT wrong. What they did right, however, was show up. I even talked about this the night all this went down. I defensively said, “Well they didn’t have jobs or overworked coworkers.”  Even then I don’t actually know. I haven’t read all of Job. I’ve only heard a few sermons on the book, but that book is special to me already.

I’ve often prided myself on being the guy who helps when it’s needed. So even though I had honest, reasonable explanations for why I might not be the best person to help, I already felt pretty crappy for handling it the way I did.

Guilt is a pretty handy whisper from God. What I recognized is that my defensiveness, and I’d dare to say any defensiveness you might feel, was my soul’s way of telling me I’m in the wrong to begin with.

Try it out.  Have you ever not done something, but then felt the need to explain why you didn’t? Some who read this now might feel angry or defensive simply because I’m speaking so highly of my older sister.

If that’s the case I’d argue why? Is this defensiveness or anger a result of what I said, or is it a result of how what I said makes you feel about yourself? One of the three major points of this chapter was to point the blaming finger straight at myself.  So don’t be like me. Don’t be selfish. Be selfless. When someone asks of you, just help.

I’m not recommending servitude to someone. I’m not saying carry another grown adult through life. Those are all circumstances I can’t predict. In this situation, with actual people who needed actual care, I was wrong. I have said no to others who asked for help and felt zero guilt. Why? Because they had all the ability in the world to help themselves. For many a day, I wish for a burning bush or angel to come down and just tell me what to do.

All I have is my conscience. What I learned from this was to let it be a better guide from now on.

If you have other questions regarding my faith or thoughts or actions at this point, feel free to ask, and I’ll add them to the blog.  I try to ensure these passages are self reflective. My chaplain told me to take this opportunity to look at myself, but at the moment, those were the only real thoughts going through my mind. Questions might help me remember other thoughts or parts of The Bible I’d overlooked while typing this post.

Thanks for reading

Matt