Being thankful...in the rain

What am I thankful for this week? It came during the rain on Sunday.

Heidi and I often walk early on Sunday mornings to get ourselves moving and to enjoy the outdoors. It was cloudy this Sunday, but on the warmish side. Rain was supposed to move in later, so we thought we could get in a good walk before it hit. But twenty minutes into it, we felt raindrops. They quickly stopped, but a bit later, there was a more steady drizzle. That soon petered out, so we kept on walking, taking in the late autumn scenery. But the last ten minutes of the walk, the heavens opened and the downpour came. Without rain gear, we were soon soaked, but our spirits were not dampened. In fact, we started laughing about it. I thought about that old movie Singin' in the Rain. I felt like that. Why?

Delight.

I simply enjoyed Heidi that morning, her humor and wonder, here insights and interests. I enjoyed her heart, and I knew that she enjoyed being with me. Rather than grumbling about the rain, the way I felt made the rain almost comical, charging the atmosphere around us with a lightness of being, despite the rain.

Delight. It’s also the lesson God has been teaching me this year. The most insidious lie I ever believed began when I was thirteen. I looked in the mirror, hated what I saw, and swallowed this hideous deception: In order to be happy, I can never be myself. I must try to be someone else. It became a poison to my soul, polluting me and sickening me for many years as a man. It also became the driving engine behind so many of my core sins and addictions.

Uncovering the lie and standing against it has been an epic journey, yet the Father has been teaching me how to stay in His delight of me as His son. It is a soothing balm for that aching wound, re-imaging my core feel as a man. It is that very delight that gets turned back toward Him, as I find myself now enjoying His company. It’s what Heidi and I felt in the rain, enjoying each other.

All of this is a taste of what is coming, when we will be fully known and fully enjoyed. That’s something to be thankful this Thanksgiving,

And for the rest of our time here.

 

What is the vision for your life?

Each of us needs a vision for our lives, something above the helter-skelter of daily life, something that we can give ourselves to and know the reason why we are alive. Once we come to Jesus, I believe he will give each of us something unique and precious to do that will become the vision for our lives. For me, that unique something came in a defining image given to me as I was praying on my back porch one morning:

I found myself treading water in a vast ocean. The sky was gray and dimly lit. Exhausted and straining, I was barely able to keep my head above water. To make the situation direr, this was no ordinary ocean water I was immersed in. It was a mucky slime that made the motions of treading even more strenuous.  I wondered how long I would be able to keep going.

 All of sudden, my foot hit something solid. As I moved closer to inspect, I realized it was something large, big enough to put both of my feet on. I had found some kind rocky base in this ocean of muck. I rested my aching muscles for awhile with my face still just above the surface.  But as wonderful as my discovery had been, there was more.  As I walked further on, the rock seemed to stretch out far underground and then rose up in elevation. I began to climb slowly up until my upper torso was out of the slime. I then started to wipe the muck off of my arms and face as best I could.

 It was then I awoke to my surroundings. I looked out and saw an ominous sight. Out in the vast ocean were hundreds and thousands of others as far as my eyes could see. They were all like I had been, treading in the muck, barely surviving, straining to keep from drowning. The darkness was heavy and the air tense as I scanned the appalling scene.

 And then I remember thinking, “This is terrible. Somebody has to do something.” And then I realized—that somebody was me."

This image has guided me over the last six to seven years, causing me to leave a full-time teaching job and start this ministry, with the help of some wonderful friends. How God gives you a vision for your life may look very differently than the way it came to me. But of this much I can be sure: if you ask Him, He will show you.

So, what is the vision for you life? "Ask, and it will be given to you." (Matthew 7:7)

 

“What's the worst thing that could happen?”

The question took me by surprise. It came in a conversation with a close friend who has walked with me over the past few years.  We were talking about living out the vision for our lives and not getting stuck in lives of mere survival and passivity. As I spoke about my own hesitation and fear, he popped the question: What's the worst thing that could happen? 

Why is this question important to consider for all of us?

Once we come to God, He will give us a dream, something to do in this life, something He is calling us out to do. And often the biggest obstacle is not time or money or training. It’s ourselves. It’s our fear. What are we so afraid of?

First there is fear of rejection, that we will be criticized by family or friends for pursuing the dream. Then there is the fear of failure, that we will be attempt the dream and fall flat on our faces. Finally there is the fear of shame, that with rejection and failure, we will be seen as foolish for even considering the dream possible, that we will even be mocked and condemned for it.

Let’s face it. We ARE afraid. Everyone’s afraid.

It’s no wonder that one of the most common commands in the Bible speaks to this: Do not be afraid, for I am with you. In some way, shape, or form this command appears like a refrain throughout the Old and New Testaments. The Father knows our fear and the deep roots of it, tracing back to the beginnings of our race. It comes from the loss of His presence, of feeling close and connected to Him. Without that interior light, our inner being becomes swallowed in darkness, where the slimy mold of fear can grow and multiply. Once I looked up all the fears that have been named and categorized. To my astonishment, there were over 60 starting with A alone!

What can we do with our fears? We can share the burden of them with others, but more importantly we need to let the light of His presence expel the darkness of fear each morning. Remember, Do not fear is a not a suggestion—it’s a command, one that we can learn to obey as we feel His nearness and hear His voice over the voice of our fear.

So, follow the vision He has put in your heart. What's the worst thing that could happen? Death? Even for the Christ follower, that is still gain. Perhaps Justin Martyr of the second century AD put it best: "You can kill us, but you can't hurt us."

May it be so.

 

A quote I will never forget

Throughout my life, there have been certain statements that have opened doors into my mind and heart, letting air and light into them, shifting my whole sense of being. Here is one of the most important of them:

"What can be seen on earth indicates neither the total absence, nor the manifest presence of divinity, but the presence of a hidden God. Everything bears this stamp." 

What Blaise Pascal wrote in the 1600's became that open door one afternoon after I had finished my teaching responsibilities at the high school. I had been going through a dark season of intellectual doubt and emotional turmoil, struggling to process all that was churning inside of me. I was out on a picnic table in the warm sunshine enjoying the quiet as I read Pascal's Pensées. I ran across the above quote and felt an electric tingling well up inside. After I had underlined the quote and written YES in the margin, I looked up and everything around me seemed tinged not just with the glow of the sun but with glory. It was as if I had been given a key that turned a lock, making sense of so much of the sadness and wonder in my life. I knew beyond knowing that it was true. 

Even today, years later, that quote still haunts me, for we all sense that life is a puzzle with a missing piece, a lock with a missing key. But the very fact that we know that we have lost something requires that what is missing really exists; otherwise, we would never feel the loss.

What is that loss? It is the presence of the now hidden God. Unbidden and often unrecognized, we ache for that presence in almost every motion of our hearts. We are in fact so used to the loss that when the transcendent shining of that presence is no longer hidden, we are overwhelmed with its weight and joy. It’s as if someone lost in a cave for days comes out into the sunlight. It’s painful and blinding. No wonder Paul prays that we would be strengthened so that we could hold Christ’s presence in our hearts (see Ephesians 3:16-17).

Like Paul, let us pray that our hearts would be made into a home for his presence. Only that presence will give us rest. Only that presence will heal our hearts. And one day that presence will no longer be hidden—it will be manifest, seen by all.

That will be healing of the world.