Posts Tagged ‘faith’

The Chemo Tree

For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope ; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.

Romans 8:25-26

 

Cancer for all its evil, all its robbery, is a great teacher of true hope.  As I sit here preparing to fly to Florida for the memorial service for my mother I am reminded of God’s lessons in hope, God’s lessons in Hupomone.  “Is this the sum of all your fears, or the truth of all your hope?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)  My mother is with the Father.  She stands in our family as the truth of all our hope.

I have wrestled with this post for weeks. In fact I am still struggling with it and will probably continue to struggle with it. It is not meant to be doctrine or even counsel. It is simply emotional and spiritual transparency from a moment in which God spoke into my life.

Some time ago Real Hope with Perseverance sat next to me. He probably does not even realize how profoundly he impacted my life. God is so amazing in the way that he pairs the events of our lives with the biblical truths that he is laying on our hearts. This man and his loved ones walked the path that Allana and I, along with our family and so many of you walked over the past 18 months. He road the rollercoaster of emotion. He even walked the same hospital hallways. He prayed and was prayed for. He held those he loved and was held by them. A few short weeks before I met him the vibrant woman of God, his beloved wife, whom I will only meet when I get to stand in the presence of my God died.

As I sat there with my lovely Allana across from me God whispered in my ear…ok maybe he shouted. “Is this the sum of all your fears or the truth of All your hope.”But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” Hope and perseverance are inexorably entwined for the believer and it is not hope in the visible and perseverance to the seen but a hope that is embedded in faith. ” Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1

All the numbers that I had heard and read rolled through my mind, percentages of life and death. Grief and fear walking alongside faith and hope as I stood with my beloved. The same grief, fear, faith and hope that I saw sitting next to me. “Is this the sum of all your fears or the truth of All your hope”

Blessings,

Sam

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black rotary telephone at top of gray surface

 

More than a little sad.  I’d like to make a call.

A call I have made before when things weren’t going well.

You were always there, with advice I wouldn’t take

But the sound of your voice and the peace in your heart would ease whatever ache.

 

More than a little afraid.  I’d like to make a call.

A call to hear your laughter that always brought a smile.

You were always there, to lift my spirits high

Even when my foolishness had made me want to cry.

 

More than a little lost.  I’d like to make a call.

A call for some direction that always led me well.

You were always there when I’d lost my way

To bring me back home into the light of day.

 

More than a little lonely.  I’d like to make a call.

A call just to chat with you for a little while.

I want to say I love you and perhaps with a sigh

let you know I will miss you until we meet on high.

 

More than a little proud.  I’d like to make a call.

A call to pat your back and ring that final bell.

School is out and it’s time to go

From here on that journey home.

 

More than a little I love you and now I can’t make that call

But I know your soul is well

I miss you.

To My Mother Dorothy Guidry

 

 

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Meeting

In my 35 years of working experience I have come to recognize a phenomenon I call The Meeting Culture. Interestingly enough it crosses through the borders of the various regions in which I have been employed, across industries and even informal groups.  It became more salient in the later part of my career in the hospitality industry because I was engaged in trouble shooting challenged operations.  As I refocused my life on ministry and spiritual growth I was somewhat surprised to find the same culture at play within the fellowship of ministry, but then people are people no matter where we are.  Interestingly enough the heart of the culture has its genesis in both settings.

The early church, particularly the early Jewish church experienced a new phenomenon.  The practice of Judaism had long been tolerated by the Romans.  Zealots and radicals were put down but synagogues and temple worship were given a pass by the Latin conquerors.  However this new practice, these followers of Jesus were not content with their own kind and taught intolerance of other religions. Jesus was not just a god among gods, he was the God and the only one worthy of worship by all, not just the Jewish people.  Pack that up with the rumors spread by opponents and Christianity became anathema to 1st century rulers.  Gathering became dangerous.  It came to the point that the writer of Hebrews had to encourage and even mandate that the early believers meet together for fellowship and encouragement in the faith (Hebrews 1:25).  However there is a danger.  One that Paul clearly recognized when he wrote to the Corinthians and condemned their time together as not focused on their faith, “…because you come together not for the better but for the worse.”  He extends this warning in a positive sense when in Ephesians 4 he states:  “And he gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;”  Ephesians 4:11-12  When the meetings stop resulting in “the work of service to the building up of the body of Christ.” – and this is not your local church body – then it ceases to serve or follow the Gospel.

This is what I found as I started engaging businesses in crisis.  The deeper the crisis, the more meetings they had scheduled.  They would have manager meetings, department meetings, position meetings, strategy meetings, every kind of meeting that you can imagine.  They would plan these meetings, record these meetings and unfortunately never adequately execute anything that came out of these meetings.  In most cases the company had fully executable procedures and policies already in place.  So that raises the question, “What is the purpose, what is the drive for all those meetings?”  It became pretty obvious that even in distressed operations people need to feel successful.  This is what they find in their endless meetings…success.  They are able to have the most successful meetings.  They come out of the meetings feeling like they have made real progress.  They feel like they are fulfilling their purpose and calling.  The focus of success ceases to be the execution of purpose but becomes the discussion and planning of purpose.  However life and business are hard.  So when push comes to shove it is easier to have another meeting than to actually hold oneself accountable for the execution necessary for success.  This was fortunate for me as it kept me employed for a couple of decades.

So how does all this apply to our faith.  Let me be clear the gathering of the Saints is mandated by Scripture and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  The problem is when the meetings instead of focusing our faith become the focus of our faith.  When the center of our faith life is in a building instead of in our hearts; that building becomes a cage for the Gospel instead of a launching pad.  The impetus for this is the same as the meeting focused businesses that I have engaged.  We believe that we can find success in our meetings (services, gathering, experiences….).  We can be holy, inspired and powerful inside those four walls.  We are rarely challenged and often supported inside those four walls (unless we find ourselves challenging the culture inside those four walls!).  We are safe in the practice of our faith inside those four walls.  After the conversion of Emperor Constantine in 312 AD Christianity transitioned from a fringe group of Jesus fanatics to the primary religion of Europe.  It was during this period that a corollary to the Meeting Culture developed.  It is the idea that there are special “professional” children of God who really should carry the weight of the Gospel ( re-read Ephesians 4:11-12).  They get to lead the meetings where we can be so successful.  The newest class of these professional Christians is the worship leader.  Again worship is wonderful, but if the top of one’s life in Christ exists only in the midst of well engineered worship sets, we go back to the problem of the meeting culture in business.  The Gospel is contained, not executed.  The personal satisfaction and alleviation of personal responsibility that this culture provided made it grow.  It was easy to move from a fellowship of equals celebrating and sharing the gospel of redemption both together and in their communities to being a culture of meetings and rituals performed by “professional” Christians and from there to the place where the meeting itself became not only a celebration of salvation but the mode of salvation.

There was a time in my life when I measured the health of my faith by the number of meetings I attended.  This week I went to two church services, Wednesday night prayer, a small group, served at youth group and did the Friday morning prayer card session.  I am rocking for the Lord.  Now none of those things is bad.  Not event the collection is bad.  The fact that I used my attendance as a Spiritual scorecard is bad.  Honestly at that time in my life my immersion in the church was probably necessary to my spiritual formation but God had to rip the scorecard out of my hand.  I am particularly stubborn so my grip on that card was pretty tight.  It took pretty intense situations in my life to move me from a meeting scorecard to a biblical scorecard.  Now I know that you are ready for me to lay out all the check boxes on that biblical scorecard.  Sorry, no such luck.  It does  not work that way.  There are two metrics for the scorecard, the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.

Jesus tells the disciples in Luke 12 that when they are brought to judgement for their faith, “The Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”  Paul uses the Holy Spirit as a scorecard for his words to the Romans in chapter 9, “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit,…” and in chapter 14 he sets the Holy Spirit as the scorecard for the very kingdom of God, “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”  

David says in Psalm 119:11, “Your Word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You.” and Jesus uses His Word as the metric for a Hupomone life built on the rock in Matthew 7 as compared to the foolish life of the man who did not act on his Word and built his house on the sand.  This is what we do when we center our lives in the house instead of on the foundation.

Build your faith on the Rock.  Fellowship together with purpose (the Gospel) not as a purpose and you will see the hand of God move in and around you like never before.

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. Romans 8:37

 

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I wrote most of this piece five years ago.  We had recently gotten back to Toledo after 4 months in Cleveland following Allana’s bone marrow transplant and after weathering what was easily the greatest test of our lives.  I can remember hearing this song that morning and feeling the impact of the words more than I had ever.

TisSoSweet

Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,Just to take Him at His word, Just to rest upon His promise and to know ‘Thus saith the Lord’

Wonderful words penned by Louisa Stead over 200 years ago ring true today.  She lived in a world that served up tragedy on a regular basis just the same as we do today.  Even as we struggle with the trial of Leukemia the trials of this world impact so many others all around us.  A young bride is bereft of her husband on the way to her honeymoon.  A mother and grandmother passes away.  A child is desperately ill.  Families are losing their homes.  All these things rock the carefully manicured lives that we try to prepare for ourselves and those closest to us.  It is in the midst of grief and turmoil that the words of this great hymn begin to make sense Jesus, Jesus how I trust him.  How I’ve proved him o’er and o’er.  Jesus, Jesus precious Jesus oh for grace to trust him more.”    It really makes sense because it is grace that makes our trust possible.  I have in my life attempted to trust by study, by effort and by ostrich (sticking my head into the sand).  I can attest to the fact that these paths to trusting our Savior do not work.  In the end they magnify the turmoil and most often leave one sensing an ever increasing gap between God and oneself.  We end up feeling unloved and that God has somehow failed to keep up his end of the bargain.  Thoughts like, “But God I have done everything you asked…”; “Lord I don’t know what you want from me I can’t do anymore…” tear at our faith and bring in a spirit of defeat that can be more devastating than the tragic events themselves.

It is when by grace we detach our faith from circumstance and effort, relying on the Holy Spirit, simply fanning the flame of the gift that God has given each of us through whatever circumstances occur because we are convinced that He will guard us and the Gospel He has entrusted with us through the Holy Spirit (1 Timothy 1:6-14).  Paul follows up this impassioned guidance to Timothy with the difficult circumstances that Paul found himself in and the sustenance that God provided to Paul.  I think that even in his chains Paul would have sung Louisa Stead’s lyrics with an honest heart.

I’m so glad I learned to trust Him,
Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend
And I know that He is with me,
Will be with me to the end.

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Saturday

 We celebrate Good Friday.  We celebrate Easter.  What about Saturday?

Sandwiched between the suffering of the greatest sacrifice ever made and the glory of the most magnificent triumph ever won, past present or future, is What? I am going to call it Hupomone Day! because it is the Saturday’s of our life that grow true perseverance.

How often do we find ourselves on Saturday.  That blank day between the suffering and triumph.  At least as we watch the events unfolding we can focus on the horror, the pain.  We can anticipate the miraculous escape, the triumphant turning of the tide as God magnificently brings the victory.  Then it doesn’t happen the way we want or expect.  The night falls,  a restless night, perhaps without sleep, certainly with disturbed dreams.  Then what about Saturday, what do we do?  The dawn rises, but all that we can see is Friday’s darkness.  The birds are singing, but all we can hear are the screams and jeers of the crowd; the hammering of the nails; the moans of his mother; the pounding of our own heart.

What about Saturday.  What do we do?  What should we do?  Some will run.  Some will hide.  Some will lose faith and return to the life they had known before they felt the Master’s touch.  Some will struggle and doubt, but:

struggle and doubt + faith = Hupomone

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  Hebrews 11:1

Some of us have longer Saturdays than others.  Take Thomas.  I often hear people make fun of doubting Thomas.  I can only imagine that his fellow disciples gave him some ribbing but here is the deal:  Thomas Stayed!  He made it through a Saturday that was longer and more intense than any of the others.  I can only believe this made his Sunday morning all the more amazing.  Thomas grew through his Saturday.  He walked away with an understanding of Hebrews 11:1 straight from the lips of his Savior:  Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” John 20:29.

If Friday is Good Friday and Sunday is Easter Sunday; Saturday is Hupomone Saturday.  Saturday is when we remember His Word.  Saturday is when we remember His touch.  On Saturday the fellowship of our brother’s and sister’s in Christ becomes paramount.  On Saturday we scream out to God.  On Saturday we worship, we cry, we hurt, we heal…in-spite of ourselves.  On Saturday we grow and mature as on no other day.  Perhaps that is why Saturday is in God’s plan for us.  I have experienced a few Saturday’s in my life.  Some I am still experiencing.  While the Sunday mornings are great!  It is the Saturday’s that draw me close to God and close to God’s people.

It is in the midst of Saturday the I make strides towards Philippians 2 , learning humility, allowing God to work in me. It is on Saturday that God makes those subtle changes in me that draw my spirit, soul and body closer to having His attitude and His values and to truly having His love.

It is on Saturday that we practice Hebrews 11:1 like no other day.  Do we trust the promise?  Are we certain of our hope? It is on Saturday that we say in the midst of it all with Joshua, “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.”

Unfortunately I think that it is also on Saturday that all to many lose faith, not being able to hold on to the promise.  It is on Saturday that as brother’s and sister’s in Christ we fail each other as on no other day.  Perhaps this is because we do not realize that everyday is someone’s Saturday.

Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 

Are you in the midst of Saturday?  Be certain Sunday morning is coming, and when it does the most miraculous thing, the most miraculous change will not be in the situation that you are experiencing, it will be in YOU!

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JosiahUS2

I still remember clearly. Particularly vivid are those moments before even the OB office’s technologist realized there was a problem.  As she continued to move the probe looking for a heart beat I watched the realization dawn on her face.  I looked to my beautiful bride my heart aching, knowing it would be only moments before the joy of motherhood would be replaced with the pain of loss.  What was supposed to be, was not.  There had been miscarriages before, but this was different.  We had seen him, watched him move.  She had been sick for 3 months.  This was all supposed to end with a baby in our arms.  The grief and anger was a dull roar in my ears.  As the tech put down the probe and said, “I am going to get the doctor”, Allana looked at me and saw the tears welling in my eyes and her world crashed down.

Twelve years later, 7 more losses, a move into full-time ministry, a miraculous birth and walk through cancer, and I still remember those moments.  I remember the silent heartbeat.  2000ish years ago a group of men scattered through Jerusalem.  What was supposed to be, was not.  A few stayed close, one failing (as foretold by Jesus) in his grief and despair as he realized the likely outcome of events.  Another clung to caring for a shattered mother, bringing her to the base of the cross to bid farewell to her son.  I can imagine the dull roar of grief and anger echoing in their ears.  The end of the messiah, was not as it should be.  The heartbeat of the savior of the world was silent.

The days that followed the shattering moment, the silent heartbeat, are taken up with the business of death.  Preparation for burial and burial.  The well-meaning words of friends and family, some kind some judgmental.  The Monday morning quarterbacks try to parse what went wrong.  We cloister ourselves, not wanting to be pointed out as that couple, not wanting to be pointed out as the followers of that man.  Even now the silent heartbeat is loud in our ears.

Then everything changes.

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). 17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.  John 20:11-18

Here is where our stories converge.  The truth of the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ brought a new ending both to those shattered followers 2000 hears ago and to grieving parents just 12 years ago.  The reality of a living savior and the guidance of the Holy Spirit set a group of men and women on a path to what was always to be as defined by an omniscient, almighty God.  The same savior, the same Spirit and the same God brought truth and light to the silent heartbeat for Allana and I, setting us on a path to healing and to service.  The way continued to be full of pitfalls, disappointments and most importantly maturing faith. The silent heartbeat will be with us forever, however now even in the remembered grief and pain it is a sound full of hope and promise.

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Why

There is a common thread throughout all of my reasons.  That common thread is that I serve God because of who he is.  I serve God because he is amazing!  I serve God because he is unconditional.  I serve God because he is the perfect Father.  I serve God because he is personal.

The reality is that when we are asked “Why do you serve God?” or even “Why do you believe in God” people are too often looking for Janet Jackson faith, “What have you done for me lately”.  When we engage God on the basis of this type of faith it carries us far from the Hupomone faith of Scripture.  We are tossed on the waves of circumstance and appearance.  We become subject to the very thing that Paul warns about in Ephesians 4:14, As a result we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by the craftiness of scheming;

Joseph is a great example of a man whose faith relied not on the circumstances that he found himself in but in who God is.  Abraham followed the directions of God by faith in who God is.  Paul tells us that it was that faith that God recognized as righteousness.  This is a good thing because Abraham like so many of us slipped up on more than one occasion!  When Moses asked God who should I tell the Israelites you are, his answer was “‘I who I am; Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you'” Genesis3:14.  This is not to say that God does not remind us from time to time all that he has done from the creation of the world throughout the history of mankind (Psalm 106 for example). However when the rubber meets the road faith requires us to choose him, simply because he Is.  When we rely on circumstances and appearances our faith becomes mechanical.  We run the risk of falling into the trap of tradition that God condemns through Isaiah, “Then the Lord said, ‘Because this people draw near with their words, and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote,…'” Isaiah 29:13

God wants us to love and serve him because of who he is.  He is not a gumball machine that we put our Quarter of Faith into and out pops the thing that we desire.  We need to desire him.  This has been a long learned lesson for me.  We are so invested in things and circumstances.  But what happens when things and circumstances go bad.  It is only when we serve him because of who he is that we can stand with Job and say:

“Though He slay me, I will hope in Him…” Job 13:15

Job understood that circumstances did not define his relationship with God.  His relationship with God was defined by who God is!  I serve God because he is God and because he is God I know who I am.

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.  Romans 8:15-17

 

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