Walking Through the Pain Hand in Hand

Just after Thanksgiving, I was driving down the road by myself and a memory captured me. I remembered back 18 months when my dad had heart surgery. In my memory, we were standing in pre-op and I was considering counsel someone had given me. “Don’t leave anything unsaid,” they told me.

As I considered their advice that day before the operation, I couldn’t come up with anything. There was nothing unsaid, as far as I could tell. We had experienced some significant times and some routine times where the messages of love, respect, affirmation and appreciation were communicated.

That surgery went well, yet my dad coded afterwards. They revived him quickly, but it was a scare. I couldn’t understand why this memory was coming up to the point that it brought tears. Is there something I should have said that I didn’t?

It was within 24 hours from feeling and considering that memory that I got a message from my dad saying that he had to have heart surgery again. Now the memory had my attention as it came right on top of the news. Going into this one, is there something that needs to be said?

As the second surgery approached, I was incredibly uneasy about it. Was it just worry or was God stirring me prophetically?

Two nights before the operation, we had dinner with my dad and details he shared regarding the operation only left me more anxious. I was somewhat disengaged as I battled through the discomfort of disagreement.

The next morning, the day before the second surgery, I sent my dad a text, telling him basically; “I don’t have peace regarding the surgery. Please consider every possibility and it’s not too late to change the plan during the pre-op consult with the surgeon (to be held later that day).”

The grace of God was with me as I sent that message. My dad had the surgery and he died from it. What I believe was God’s prompting to not leave anything unsaid was for me, not him. He was going to have the surgery and his rationale was sound for why he was going to have the surgery. The outcome was tragic, but the torment of “what if” was disarmed from the exchange my dad and I had.

There were other “prophetic markers” leading up to the procedure that weren’t completely clear without the benefit of a retrospective view. Various touch points of God’s insight and presence even as we walked closer to the pain. The pain still came, but it wasn’t as surprising as it would have been otherwise, and I wasn’t alone.

God will walk with us and talk with us and let us in on what’s going on, but He won’t guarantee the outcomes. He’s not a genie, but He is a friend. He’ll be there when trouble comes, and trouble will come. Knowing God isn’t a lottery ticket; it’s the comfort of a Father’s hand to hold. There is comfort in His presence.

 

Seeking Treasure in the Trouble

We don’t always get what we want. Our prayers are not equivalent to lottery tickets. God tells us that in this world we are going to have trouble. So bad things happen to good people. Not because God is doing bad things to people, but because He loves people enough to let them make choices and there are cascading consequences in a fallen world. The hard things can be good things.

In the Social Media age, the good news and big smiles are on display as we put our virtual best foot forward. Comparison between our trouble and other people’s smiles can feed frustration in the wake of problems. If we choose to evaluate our situation, consequences, problems, trouble, God, etc. in such a shallow manner, we will miss it.

We’ll miss the treasure available in the deep dive. The good stuff is often in the middle of the hard stuff. When our efforts and desires leave us disappointed and out of options, we can tap into more. We can tap into eternity.

The happiness that comes from good things is insignificant compared to the joy that is eternally available despite bad things. The peace that we can know exceeds our understanding and affirms God’s goodness when we choose to be thankful where we would otherwise be anxious.

Whether or not 2017 was your best year ever, there is a depth that is available even as you reflect. Ask God to show Himself in circumstances where you didn’t realize Him. Ask Him to comfort your soul and connect the dots of understanding in the wake of otherwise unsatisfying experiences. Press into Him and wait; He is faithful and He is good.

There is always more in Him and the trials that we face affirm us as much as they do Him. He tells us that we can inherit eternal treasures and share in His glory if we will choose to share in his sufferings (Romans 8:17). Bad things happen, so we can either choose to invite Him into the middle of those things seeking His glory and our inheritance or we can form some bad theology around our shallow expectations.

Greatness Just Is

Several years ago, I was with my family at the airport trying to get on a flight that was oversold and it didn’t look like it was going to happen. They issued a boarding pass but then took it back. The way it played out left us literally standing at the gate with our luggage in hand ready to head down the ramp at a moment’s notice. My dad had dropped us off at the airport and was waiting in the baggage claim area outside of security, watching through the glass. I looked over at him as we waited at the gate and realized that his oversight was a great comfort.

There he was, standing patiently and watching to see if we were going to get on. Nothing particularly dramatic about it, but it was a great snapshot of what he has done for me my entire life. He’s been there, watching and waiting, ready to help if needed. There was nothing he could do about getting me on that flight so it wasn’t a matter of fixing things for me. It was his presence that was the offering which brought me comfort. He’s a great dad.

The power of presence is often underrated. Just being there offers confidence, security and support among other things and is the greatest gift we can often offer another. In fact, just being there and supporting when there is nothing else we can do to “fix” something is the kind of love that allows those that we love to work through things with the comfort of knowing that if they can’t work it out they still won’t be alone. It assures them of a place at the table of family and community which allows for living.

My Dad is always there. I can walk with the comfort of His presence even when He is letting me work through the details of my choices and the consequences of those choices from a safe observation point. The oversight and invite are an assurance of my place in the world during times when the world seems to offer no place. The consistency of His offering is that when I draw nearer, there is a peace in the middle of the questions of life. There is acceptance among rejection and strength for the next step. He’s a great Dad.

We Don’t Get It Until We Live It

The depths of grace never cease to amaze me. Just when I think I see it that much more clearly, I’m situated to walk in it and realize my view is so limited. My accumulation of knowledge regarding grace has not yet perfected my understanding and acceptance of grace. My actions and reactions in the circumstances I experience prove that there is more.

I had a friend tell me recently that he was going through a challenging legal battle a few years ago and was called to testify in a deposition. He would face unjust accusations. His preparation wasn’t a review of the facts, it was alignment with grace. He watched a scene from “The Passion of the Christ” in which Jesus was accused. He watched it over and over for several hours. The example portrayed which Jesus set before us of what grace lived out looks like was brutal. It was Him standing in the face of completely unjust accusation and not defending Himself. With all the defense in the universe available at His command, He stood in the truth of His identity. His identity was the foundation for His freedom. He knew who He was and who His Father was.

When rooted in the security of identity, there is nothing anyone can do to us that draws a defense. They can spit in our face, call us names, get their facts wrong or whatever else but the freedom born of security rooted in identity frees us from the need to respond. That’s grace and there is no fully knowing it until the spit, accusations, and questions come. Even when we are right. Especially when we are right.

I’m just not there. Not completely. I want to be. I’m trying. Yet, not yet.

Sometimes, for some time, I can hold back when the defense or counter-argument is sitting there for the taking. Sometimes, however, I pick up my tool belt and go to work. When I was practicing law, that was good and right. As I am diving deeper into grace, that kind of work produces a loss even when I win.

My friend knew the story of Jesus before he watched the movie that day before his deposition. He knew Jesus personally as Lord and Savior, as well. The experience of picking up his own cross and following Jesus in a way that afforded him the experience of grace is what changed his soul. The experience of grace facilitated the understanding of the knowledge of grace which was incomplete without the exercise of grace.

 

If You’re Feeling Salty

I took some hits recently. In places and in ways that I was not accustomed to getting criticized, I was picked apart. It was behind my back and to my face in front of others. It hurt and it made me angry, but I didn’t respond. That hurt, too. It hurt to die to myself and my desire to defend or even attack. I’ve taught on grace and written about grace and believe in grace and now grace is getting further engrained into my soul. I’m seeing a fresh glimpse of an ancient truth.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6).

Salt is used to describe graceful conversation. Graceful talk is salty. Salt = grace.

Salt is a mineral, not a seasoning. Pure salt doesn’t lose its flavor. It can get contaminated and the flavor can get lost in the contaminants or it can get diluted to appear to lose its flavor, but salt is salty forever. Grace never changes or fades away.

Now consider this passage from Mark 9: “Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”

We get grace embedded in our soul by trials (fire). Grace actually requires flaws to be put on display. The imperfections of relationship are what affords us the imprint of grace. Remembering that grace doesn’t lose it’s flavor, there is no end to the limits we are called to allow for the flaws in others.

Matthew 5:13 says that we are to be the salt of the earth and it goes on to say that salt that loses its flavor is not good for anything except to be trampled by men. The world will accept our proclamations of Jesus only for so long as our flavor is His grace. Once we decide we have to defend ourselves or attack others, even among ourselves as the world is watching, they have no use for our hollow declarations lacking the flavor of grace.

Only the pain of sin and offense can flavor you with grace. Where there is a temptation or even a right to fight back, the invitation is into grace. It will hurt; dying always does. It will taste good to those that need to taste Jesus, however.

 

 

 

The Fear That Produces Faith

img_0826We went up a mountain yesterday and as I was turning a corner of a winding mountain road, came face to face with a herd of sheep. Thousands of sheep were being pushed down the mountain and we were going up where they were going down.

When we were sitting off to the side of the road to let them pass, they were too scared and the shepherd started to lose control. They started running up the mountain and all over the place. We had to back up to a wide turn with extra space off to the side for them to pass on the road.

Same situation from two different perspectives produced two very different results. We were having a blast. This was so unique and fun to be in the middle of this scene that most of us had never imagined. We gave the shepherds bottles of water and talked with the trailing owners overseeing the large operation. It was a highlight of our day.

The sheep, however, were scared to death. They were panicked and freaking out. We were a perceived threat although we actually presented no threat at all.

There have been times that we’ve gone up the mountain with a different group where members of the group were scared to death. They didn’t like the mountain roads with drop-offs on one side. They didn’t like heights. They didn’t like being out of control. Fear will paralyze us and distort our perspective.

Later in the day, I spent time by myself on the side of a different mountain as I sought the presence of God. At least once during that time, I perceived the fear of the Lord in the sense of His awesome sovereignty. At one point, I literally spent time on my knees before Him.

The fear of the Lord is real and it is the only fear that will actually clarify and motivate. Realization of God puts us in perspective compared to Him and humbles us. It clarifies perceived threats we are facing  and puts them in perspective under His grace and love, as well. We can face the threats knowing that they aren’t as threatening as He is promising.

In this world, we are going to have trouble whether we know the Lord or submit to Him or not. Only through submission to Him can we find peace the surpasses the logic of the fear. Some things are scary, and only perfect love casts out fear.