Anchors Away

An anchor can’t catch a trout, but a hook can.

I’ve thought for so long that in order for me to do something great for God I need to have great faith and with it, great hope—hope and faith so large, so ambitious (like the size of an anchor) that God will have to answer it.

Granted, I need to hope and believe that God will do the impossible. He promises in His Word that He can: “For with God nothing will be impossible” (Luke 1:37). If I want proof of the impossible in my own life, He’s already done it, in saving me from my sin. And I need to hope and believe in the very greatest and most ambitious promise of God there is: Jesus Christ returning, bringing both His judgment and His kingdom.

But I’m not sure I need to swell my chest with a prayer to end all prayers, that God would “do this … and this … and this … and bring justice, Lord, and bring peace. And cure cancer while you’re at it.” And so on. To my embarrassment, I’ve discovered that sometimes the big prayers I’ve prayed, with a supposedly big measure of faith, is often a mirror of my ego.

I believe the amount of faith I need is not bigger, but smaller—to help me discover the type of humility God is shaping in me.

Jesus tells me that if I have faith as small as a mustard seed, I can tell this mountain to go from here to there, and it will go. Before, I’ve thought He was admonishing me for not having enough faith. Maybe so, but I’m not so sure that I couldn’t look at it from another angle. What if He was telling me that my puffed up level of faith was not too small, but too large?

I’ve heard in our culture the phrase, “Go big or go home.” Abraham’s obedience to sacrifice his son Isaac may certainly have been such a moment. God had promised the nations (and ultimately Jesus Himself) would come from His line. And now He was asking him to offer his son up in a sacrifice. But was Abraham so concerned about big things at that moment, or in the simple choice to obediently let one die, and another rise?

God delights in small things. Things that are fragile and weak. A baby. A seed. This earth. The King of the universe born in a manger. Jesus’s kingdom started with only twelve disciples. God humbling His Son on a small cross. I think He also delights in small prayers. The ones offered from a vibrant, compact heart conscious of its own frailty.

Perhaps a humble prayer is the kind small enough for God to bend into a hook—to catch someone for His Son, to bring them into His kingdom.

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Is It Worth the Cost?

So often I’ve believed in a dream with everything I’ve had, and in my hope, set goals to see it come true—only to end up watching it fail before my eyes. I’ve felt like a boy who spends a summer hand-carving his airplane from balsawood, a plane intimate and personal, a gift for his dad. But when he releases it before him into the sky, a great wind suddenly rises up and smashes it into the trunk of a cottonwood.

Why? What’s the purpose in putting my effort into something when I know it will fail? Even though I may have stopped carving balsawood airplanes, I haven’t stopped carving dreams. So why have them? In such a terrible storm?

Well, simply put, so I can keep being carved myself. His desire is not only for me to carve with my hands a genuine gift, but to be carved by His hand, and to keep being carved, often by a sorrow paring the deepest part of my soul, bringing to light an iridescence in my humanity.

I may have dreamt in flying airplanes as a boy, truly believed I could fly inside one, but over time my dreams have gone deeper: Just to give love. To sacrifice for another’s need. To build up. To see a barrier fall. To hone my eyes into the heart of a man, and lift him. To shower my wife with grace and love and to understand her heart. To dare. And to forgive.

But it is costly to believe. If I truly believe something, then my actions will prove it. I’ll follow my faith wherever it leads. And the costliest dream I can imagine is to follow Jesus, because it requires a sacrifice from every part of my being. To follow Him, I must be trimmed and made leaner in spirit, in soul, in His body—a new man made dangerous for His use. If I let Him into my heart, He’ll carve me out from the inside. And it’s painful.

But good. Because Jesus’s Dream is life for us. In heaven eternally. And here on earth, even with its failings. And I know even despite my conscience that the only way to truly experience this life is to allow Him to carve me out of the cords and webs imprisoning me, to be loosened into a freedom such as I could never have imagined. Life in Him is genuine freedom. There’s nothing better.

So why did He even bother with me, when it was so painful for Him to be carved for my sake, to be destroyed, cut off from the land of the living? Because He loves me. And He knows how to make me fly.

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” ~ 2 Peter 1:5-8

 

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Don’t Quit

I wonder how many negative thoughts bombard an athlete in the span of a two-and-a-half hour practice? Five? A dozen? For me, I’d put it in the hundreds. Maybe the thousands.

These are thoughts telling me that I’m not worth anything. That I’m failing. That I’ll never be more than a disappointment. Dragging me back to some terrible sin from my past.

Often I don’t even realize I’m having them. They’re so ingrained in my self-perception that I’ll find myself thinking one thing and a moment later, I’m spiraling into a hole so dark and deep I fear I’m lost, and alone, taken out of the game. They’re nothing more than Satan’s attempt to mar and destroy me, to make me ineffective for Jesus’s kingdom. So how do I stop them?

It isn’t a secret. My identity in Jesus Christ frees me. In Him, by Him, I am not bound by negative thoughts. I am free to be me. To keep going. To play hard. To have fun. To enjoy life. To finish strong.

Even though as an athlete I am attacked on and off the field, Jesus gives me the strength to believe that I can make a difference, that my life does matter, that I am full of talents and worth.

I struggle with sin. But Jesus Christ, crucified in me, by His grace makes me new, whose identity is not as an enemy of God, but of one forgiven by Him and set free. His sanctifying power wins the victory in me, in Him, for Him.

As Galatians 2:20 says: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

So don’t quit. You’re a new person. A whole new set of rules apply to you: You are kind. You are giving. You forgive. You have joy. You are patient. You are compassionate. You are loving. And so on. In fact, you’re playing a whole new game that’s never before been played.

Even when you don’t feel like going on, don’t quit. We all have days when we feel awful. Some are worse than others. On those days when your whole identity to your core is shaken, remember that you don’t need to fight the battle that’s already been won at the cross. Jesus fought that for you. He’s right there with you, running with you, carrying you. And you and He are winning that game together!

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A Call to Rest

My grandfather was an engineer in the Army in World War II. He was promoted to sergeant. In the days just before the Army pushed across the Rhine into Germany, he was put in charge of clearing a road of land mines. When a lieutenant and my grandfather, plus a driver and a medic, jumped in a jeep and headed down the road, suddenly there was a great orange flash, and the jeep and all of them together erupted into the sky. My grandfather remembers waking up in the impact crater, riddled with holes. Surprisingly, the medic landed on his feet and began administering first aid. The driver had broken his arm. The lieutenant was dead.

I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to be in a war. To be maimed physically, psychologically, to be torn apart. My deepest respect goes out to all those who have fought and died.

But the truth is, is that all of us, whether we like it or not, are immersed in a battle. A sinister one. One side wants our good, the other wants our destruction. It’s painfully real. This battle may not only maim a man in the arm, but take his soul, too. It’s an epic struggle that determines his eternity, one of pure death; the other, of eternal life.

Both demand a cost. The cost of death is that he ceases to exist. The cost of life is his sacrifice, wholly, to give up his way that was leading to death, and to head in a new direction, taking action, offering up his being to Jesus, the One who paid the penalty of death.

One side takes everything he has and destroys him, but Jesus gives everything to him, flooding him with His life. Satan says to him, give me your heart, and I will give you the world. But Jesus, having paid the penalty, says, “I swallowed this world and its death. If you give me your world, I’ll take all your wounds. All your fears. Everything that wants to destroy you. They’re all mine. All I ask is that you die to your world, and receive me as your King. Come into my kingdom and fear no more.”

War wasn’t meant to be. This turmoil we experience is devastating. But fortunately, the battle is the Lord’s. What we don’t know and could never conceive, God has conquered by His grace and love. The battle for me is to let go and rest in Him, and let Him fight my battles for me. God has never lost a battle, nor will He. His sole battle is to save each one of us. So what will we choose?

“All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s.” (1 Samuel 17:47)

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One Marriage

I am lucky and humbled to be married to my wife Christie. We’re coming up on two years this August. When we exchanged vows on our wedding day (which happens to fall on my birthday—lucky for me!), we entered into a union that bonded us on all levels, including spiritually. Our hearts were knit as one. I’ve never imagined intimacy with another person could be as beautiful. The discovery of forgiveness and sacrifice, patience and longsuffering, the sharing of our hearts’ desires and the dreams and ambitions, our hopes put before us both, our needs met together, the reciprocity of romance (one definition of romance means loosely the sharing of the impossibility of a dream), my back for hers, hers for mine, the warmth created by our hugs. These are all given us by God and enjoyed—now that we are married.

I’ve heard it said that in heaven, we will all share a bond equally as strong and infinitely stronger and deeper than in the most intimate marriage—and not with one person but with all. We will all be married to Jesus. All of us together. As we do now, we will then have Christ living inside us, made new, forever free, but with one exception: No sin. I can recall many times (and several times I wish I couldn’t) when a hope or a dream or an intimate desire was clipped short by fear and doubt and anxiety. We all are searching for a soul mate who can share with us our deepest identities. By our nature, we look for that in others. Thankfully, that intimacy is fulfilled, entirely, in our union with Christ. He alone is our soul mate. And in heaven, because of Him and His victory over sin, we will finally experience that with everyone.

Imagine for a moment what it might be like in heaven. Imagine three of your closest friends meeting up together to go on a journey through heaven together, fully nourished with a deepening nourishment, you and your friends talking and laughing out of pure joy. I don’t know what heaven will be like, only that it’s better than this one. Why? Because of the people there. Because we’ll be a family. With one Father. And one King. And their Spirit who brought us there to be with them. Can’t wait.

In Isaiah 54:5, the prophet writes:

“For your Maker is your husband—the Lord Almighty is His name—the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; He is called the God of all the earth.”

 

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Thank You To My Amazing Wife

My wife is awesome. I am amazed by her love. She is encouraging when she doesn’t need to be, listening when there’s no reason to listen, hopeful when I feel discouraged, insightful when I’m stumbling blind, kind when I’m barbed with anger, filled with promise when I struggle with doubt, nourishing when I’m famished, patient when I’m rushed, calm when I’m scattered, sound when I’m a blusterous wind, beautiful when I am not. I’m thankful that God brought her into my life!

She also endures my “isms”. As in my “ketchup-isms”. This is the philosophy that believes anything edible goes better with ketchup. For example, saltine crackers. She likes saltine crackers almost as much as I do, but when I come home from a tough day and am starving, I get to them before she can stop me. My brother is a fire fighter, so he could picture more than most people when it’s like for me to douse those crackers with ketchup. I don’t know what comes over me. I just squirt. The imagined flames flickering off each cracker square gets put out, and only then—only after I’m sure that our little apartment won’t get set on fire by a saltine cracker, do I stop squirting. I’m sure my belly doesn’t realize the risk before it, that “battle” that’s taking place on top of the stove as I douse one cracker after another, “saving” my wife from losing her belongings. I don’t know. I’ve never had any training for how to put out a saltine cracker with ketchup.

Oh wait. Yes I have. Bachelorhood. It’s called Bachelorhood. Well. Those days are over now. I’m blessed to be married to my beautiful wife Christie. She is an anchor for me when I need someone to anchor me. She points me to Jesus. She encourages me to keep writing, even when I write about weird things like training to be a Ketchup “Fire” Marshall.

I am lucky to be married to you, Christie, my love! If you go to the store today, will you please bring back some more crackers and ketchup?? I need to train!

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Tankfull

Life can get me down. Sometimes I just run out of gas. I wind up in a desert. Prickly cacti. Licking lizards. Hot rocks. The burning sun. The whole blue sky baking down.  Sometimes I get restless here. Wanna go somewhere. Can’t sit still. I gotta move. But I can’t, because I’m out of gas. I used it all trying to leave the desert. It’s just too large, too endless, for me to get out on my own tank. I need to fill my tank.

So what do I do? My car’s been taken away. My magnifying glass burned up my map. My shoes have melted to the road. And my canteen water is gone. It’s hard to show a smile in the shadow of a vulture.

With everything stripped away, a revelation strikes me. At least, at the very least, I have life. Somehow, I’m alive. I’m thankful for that. I have thoughts and words that float up to the Father. I’m thankful for that. I have dreams and ambitions God gave me to grow. I’m thankful for that. I have a whole busload of friends on the road behind me, all of us broken down together. I’m thankful for them. I don’t have much. But I have life. And there’s nothing better.

Somehow, the thankful prayers fills my tank full. And I realize my car was never meant to run on gas. It’s meant to run on Him. He alone supplies my every need. And that’s good. Because I am a terrible driver, having ended up in this desert, so far away from where I wanted to go.

Funny, I think that’s where He wanted me to be, to live with my tankfull.

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11-13)

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The Timing of a Surprise

If we collected all the clocks in the world, all the wristwatches and alarm clocks and cell phones and every grandfather clock and wall clock and mantle clock and all the sundials, and every other kind of clock we could imagine or conceive, and put them in a room together and locked the door, what would happen?

The same thing that always happens when we try to do this (okay, maybe we haven’t tried to do this, but I know I put my wristwatch went somewhere):

We’d live an eternal day!!! Time would stop, finally, just like we want it to. No more aging. No more late arrivals. We’d come and go as we’d please. And best of all, we wouldn’t have to pay any more parking tickets!

Well, until that day comes, I have something I wanted to share about the world we do live in, one that is truly a “timeless” world, one of patience and waiting. I’m talking about the joy of waiting on God.

There is incredible and beautiful mystery in God, in His nature, in His timing, in how He has ordered His universe, how He can stop the sun if He chooses (Joshua 10:12-14) or turn back the sun for so that its shadow climbs back down a stairwell ten steps (Isaiah 38:7-8). No one really understands the timelessness of heaven, or how God’s timing is perfect even when it seems, from our end, it is delayed. How can a day be like a thousand years, and a thousand years be like a day? How can those billions and billions and billions of stars be so far away, and yet, so close?

In God, the universe is ordered perfectly; everything is. Just waiting on God gives Him the opportunity to reveal to each of us who He is at heart, this great mystery that resides in His soul, the passionate life of His Spirit. We wouldn’t know, unless we waited for Him to reveal Himself and His Word.

God uses His sense of timing throughout our lives. In Habakkuk, He tells us “For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.”

In all the miracles He’s performed, they have all come at just the right time. His Words always come. They come on their own, from His mouth, and do exactly what He wants them to do.

In His timing, His Words end wars, heals broken wounds, mends relationships, restores fallen souls, nurses, blesses, praises, celebrates, extends, frees. It’s all because of His love, expressed to us through His timing.

God’s love and His miracles and His timing and His holiness all come together in His Son. Jesus is God’s greatest miracle. He came at just the right time, performed the perfect miracles, spoke with such grace and beauty that He turned inside out the majesty of the cosmos, restored justice, vanquished death, all in His Father’s timing.

I’ve had many prayers that seem to have not been answered, but then again, I don’t control them. Once they leave my lips, they’re God’s. They’re for Him to decide, and He alone is the one who will answer them, if He chooses. I can’t say that all my prayers have been answered. But I can say that if they are answered, they’ve come to me in my greatest need, at just the right time.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Isaiah 64:3-4, because it encourages me to wait on God, and to believe that He keeps His promises:

“For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you. Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.”

Sometimes it’s hard for me to wait for God. It seems like He hasn’t heard me. But the longer I wait, the better it gets. So God, have mercy on me. Surprise me!

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If I pray for a diet soda, does God give me rain??

Let’s think about this. First of all, I look in the fridge, in the back of the car, between the cushions of the couch, in all the cabinets, in the shed, underneath the porch, in the attic—even in the oven. But I can’t find my soda.

I’m thirsty. Man am I thirsty. It’s been a long hot day. My throat is parched. I’m a little dizzy. I have a “thirst” headache. My eyes are crossed. And I can’t spell. I need a diet soda.

Problem is, diet soda isn’t exactly the healthiest choice when a throat is parched, and the body is deprived of nutrients. It doesn’t quite purge the toxins the way I’d hope it would. In fact, in some minds, diet soda is poison.

But I don’t care. I need it. I’ve invested so much of my energy drinking diet soda that the CEO wants to make me Chief of Daily Consumptions. I told him no, because I would be too busy managing how other people drink their soda when all I want is to have time to drink mine. So you see, it’s a problem.

It gets worse. I find myself in the basement. In the cellar below the basement. Digging through old jars, web-smothered, looking among old newspaper and canned food swollen and unhealthy, digging in the darkness through the junk to find my soda. It’s a mess. I’m smothered in what is cold and smelly. I can’t find it. God knows where it is, but He’s not giving it to me. And the harder I look, the deeper and deeper in muck I get. And that’s when I realize that I’m finally here, at the end of my rope. I have nowhere to go. Except up.

So I let go. I let go of all the trash to which I’m clinging. I let go of the empty bottles. The broken jars. The yellowed newspaper. I simply let go.

And in that moment I experience a miracle. I literally lighten. The trash in my hands are no longer in my hands, and I’m free. Free to let go and move on and move up. So I move up, out of the cellar and out of the basement and up into the light.

I move up into the warm summer light. I sit down in a warm lawn chair. I’m no longer mad at God because He wouldn’t give me my soda; rather, I’m thankful that He’s given me just the blessed summer day, just Him and His gorgeous light, and all the beauty of the earth within, given by Him to me, to us all, to enjoy.

Enough with the torn up cushions. Moving the furniture an umpteenth time. Upending the beds. Throwing all the cabinet juice into the center of the kitchen floor. It’s done. It’s pleasantly over. This is natural breathing. This is where it’s at.

The wind stirring the cottonwoods, lifting up the leaves, turning them in the light. The never ending lawn that never ends. The sycamores. And the cotton sky. This is warmth and water and light. It is here, only here, wide and broken open, that I taste the basket of the clouds. I’m here, letting go. I’m free. And I’m in for something. Low and behold in the marled tenor of the horizon, I smell rain. I had asked God for a diet soda. But He knew me more. He has the better and the best locked up in His heart. It’s for me. His plan for this day, in this moment, is for me to know Him. The rain tickles down. The smell of rain. The feel and the warmth of rain. The smattering leaves and the endless summer and life so much more than an empty bottle.

I prayed for a diet soda, and never ever would He give it to me. Not ever. Not any chance. Forget it was ever a thought. Not when His heart is swollen for me to drink Him up, drenched, in love, knowing Him, forever knowing Him, just me and Him and His tears of joy for the life I have in Him.

Jesus says it much better:

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:11-13)

In other words, God always gives what is best for us, not what we think is best for us. Often times what we want may harm us, but God’s gifts are always good.

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Intimately Breathing

Proverbs 16:9 says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” How does God guide me when I have the power to choose my own way? If I have free will, how does He direct it by His hand?

Imagine for a moment that I have been in a wreck that has limited my mobility in virtually every way. I can’t move my arms or my legs, not very well; there is some nerve damage that will require intensive daily physical therapy. I need help in everything I do, just to live.

Imagine my therapist behind me, guiding me, as I put on my shirt, as I don my pants, as I reach with my fork to put food in my mouth. Imagine every moment of my life where I reach out in my strained disability to perform an act driven by my own volition, where I cannot move unless my therapist uses his hands on mine, to help me finish what I intended to do in my own free will.

I believe that is the intimacy shared between God and each of us. We may extend our hands to feed ourselves, but God is there, as our Therapist, intimately guiding us as we eat, since we do not have the strength to feed ourselves, or even to breathe. I believe He is involved in our every motion, our every thought, as we struggle through this life in our limited mobility.

I believe this illustration applies to decisions that we make regarding where we want to live, who we want to develop a friendship with, whom we should marry, what job we should take, and where we want to spend our eternity. We step out, feeble and breathless, struggling to decide how to determine our life, and how fearful our lives becomes when confronted with these decisions, or how fearful it is when we look back on the poor decisions we make. Even when we make decisions that damage our life, He is still our therapist, helping us to get back up again after our hard falls, to keep trying, for He loves us, and He will never abandon us (Joshua 1:5). He’s there, every step of the way help us strengthen and heal.

This brings me comfort. In my fallen state, I have suffered a wreck, as we all have. Left to my own immobile state, I would perish, because I would not be able to take care of myself. But God has saved me from my wreck. And He is with me now, as my Therapist, helping me heal, guiding me as I learn to walk again, breathe again, live again.

If we only remembered that God has His hand on us, so wrapped around us in ways so intimate that we could not possibly fathom them, then we would remember to rest in Him. This intimacy that we have with Him is the best part of life, to go hand-in-hand with our Creator, as we discover together, through His eyes and ours, how wonderful it is to grow and to heal.

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