Thursday, December 3, 2009

Coming Clean

I wonder how many people with some serious unloading of their “deep dark secrets” would find that a significant amount of their issues they struggle with would simply fall away. The year I gave my life to the Lord, I heard a message from Tony Campolo who advised that if a person was going to make it as a Christian, they would have to live a life of genuine accountability. When I heard this, it meant that I would have to get with a group of people and begin to live a life that exposed my daily sins and not hide the secret sins that invaded my life. I could hear the truth in that counsel.

I took this to heart and started living this out. I remember I went to my pastor at the time and another friend and asked them if they would like to on a weekly basis begin sharing the dirt in our lives; and they agreed. However, I quickly began to see how easily it is to hide even in an accountability group. This was new to me and I desperately wanted to be clean. I was baring my soul. I was young and so had a ton of stuff to get out. My struggles that were many just seemed to come out. My pastor, however, unbeknownst to me, believed in “sinless perfection;” that is, he believed that once you became a Christian you no longer sinned. In fact, with much of the dark stuff I was sharing, he believed it wasn't even sin! Our little group only lasted about two months because we just weren’t on the same page in terms of what our purpose was. On a side note: sadly, years later I learned he left his wife and family and attempted suicide a handful of times. I think now, if only he would have shared some of the darkness that was going on in his soul!

The other person in this group was a man who became a tremendous influence on my life. His name is Kent Copeland (Kent has a remarkable story in that when he was five he met a missionary/surgeon serving Cambodia and decided at that young age, he wanted to do the same -- today Kent is a missionary as a surgeon in Cambodia!). Soon thereafter, Kent and I started meeting on Friday nights to restart our accountability group. We invited anyone who wanted to come and another guy joined us after a couple of months, who also became a very close friend. We were young (I was twenty one at the time) and we would meet from 10pm – 1am most Friday nights (today, I would have to make our meetings earlier and probably shorter!). We would spend time in worship, reading the Bible together and then offering what was really going on in our lives.

Those nights I bathed my soul. I began to wash my garments of sin clean. Not even knowing it until years later, I was leaving behind years of anguish and pain. Demons were trampled, and I did not even know it. Looking back at those couple of years, who I am today, began a “good work” in me that lasts to this day. Really what we were doing those late Friday nights was practicing confession. I like how the dictionary describes the word, because this was exactly what we were doing:

con-fes-sion (kn fen) n. 1 an acknowledgment or declaration, especially of one's faults, misdeeds, or crimes

Do you have a couple of men or women who you can trust and with whom you can bare your soul and be the real you? If not, I highly recommend it. In my own life, I continue to learn Tony Campolo’s words well – if I don’t have a place in my life in which I can be myself and tell a couple of trusted guys who I really am, my life with God stagnates and loses that luster.

Perhaps you can start here:

1) What are the top three places you struggle and be specific (e.g., more and more, I have outbursts of anger, I struggle with pornography, I feel inadequate around others, I have a knack for rarely telling the truth, etc.). Write these out on paper and be honest with yourself. Begin the process of confession.

2) Who are the three people you have trusted most? What did they do for you or who were they that you trusted them so much? If possible, reestablish those relationships or pursue new ones.

The life of accountability is a good life if you can find a couple of people who you can genuinely trust and with whom you can be yourself. Trusting someone with your life’s secrets can be something that brings tremendous amounts of healing and growth. I love how the Message spells out the challenge of James 5:16:

Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with. Elijah, for instance, human just like us, prayed hard that it wouldn't rain, and it didn't—not a drop for three and a half years. Then he prayed that it would rain, and it did. The showers came and everything started growing again.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thoughts on Suicide

Just in the last two months, I have heard of three individuals who have committed suicide. In each of these instances, the families and friends of these individuals were shocked that their loved one took their own life. Whether it is the economy (two of these individuals had significant financial problems in their lives) or because we are nearing the winter months, it is important to have our eyes open to those who are around us who might want to harm themselves in some way. Perhaps with a little intervention and listening, we can help someone who is moving toward hopelessness and despair. Most people who are thinking about suicide suffer from conditions that will pass with time or with the assistance of a friend, they can make it through this difficult time. There are many steps we can take to improve how we respond to those who are feeling suicidal and make it easier for them to seek help. Below are some thoughts on how you might be able to help.

First, it can be helpful to know who is most susceptible to taking their life. Research has shown that over 2/3rds of those that commit suicide meet clinical criteria for an affective disorder, such as major depression or bipolar disorder. Similarly, substance abuse also increases the likelihood of suicide. One who has a problem with alcohol or drug use can predispose one to suicide, because such substances may increase impulsivity or cause psychotic symptoms.

With this, you also have to determine the circumstance of the person who you think might be susceptible to suicide. Here are some points to be mindful of:

  • Has the person attempted suicide before? If so, how did they attempt suicide?
  • Is there a means to commit suicide?
  • Is there family/relational history in the case of suicide?
  • Has there been a significant life change for the person? (Death or terminal illness of relative or friend, divorce or separation, a broken relationship, significant health problem, loss of job or other personal security)
  • If the person is acutely suicidal, do not leave them alone.
In the above questions, if the person does have a means to commit suicide, you or someone close to the person may need to intervene in the situation to remove any means they may have in committing suicide (e.g., removing firearms from the home or detoxifying their home). Likewise, in the questions you ask of the person, if the person has a family history in terms of suicide (i.e., a family member such as a mother or sibling committed suicide), statistics increase dramatically that that person could be very susceptible to taking their own lives. The operative words here are to keep your eyes and ears open to those around you, especially for those who have a history with these issues.

If someone has confided in you that they are considering suicide, here are some issues to be mindful of as you speak with them. First, offer space to the person and give them every opportunity to unburden their troubles and voice their feelings. This is not a time to argue with them or attempt to give them advice (e.g., “But you have so much to live for!”). It’s a rarity that you can “talk someone out of” committing suicide. In these instances, you don't need to say much; again, you simply need to listen. Most importantly, let the person know that you are glad they turned to you. Attempt to create trust. If the person ever does come to a place where they are about to take their life, they may at the last minute reach out to you, because they trust you.

With this, one of the myths concerning suicide is that if I feel like someone might be susceptible, I shouldn't bring it up, because it might put an idea in their head about committing suicide. If you do have suspicions, the best thing you can do is bring the topic up. In the end, you are showing the person that you care about them, even so much that you are willing to ask difficult questions. When I was a counselor, I always wanted to be more safe than sorry, and I have asked many clients and a handful of friends if they were currently thinking seriously about suicide. All you have to do is gently ask, “Hey, are you thinking of harming yourself in any way?” This simple question can maybe save someone’s life. On one occasion some years ago, I was surprised by one friend who answered that question positively. By opening up to me, it gave him an opportunity to tell me what was really going on in his life and this burden was lifted from him over time. Today, he is doing great and the dire situation he faced many years ago is no longer an issue in his life.

These are just some thoughts on the issue of suicide. With the current state of our economy and the season turning over to winter, we may know someone who is at a point of despair so large that they may think that taking their own life is the only answer. Again, keep your eyes open to those around you and don’t be afraid to ask challenging questions. If you are currently struggling with suicidal thoughts, get help now. Don’t wait. If this is something you are struggling with, feel free to write me an email at and anything that you share with me will be confidential.

Friday, October 9, 2009

What I've Been Reading

Of late, I have been reading some of T.S. Eliot's poetry. Eliot became a Christian in his late thirties and his poetry and plays were infused with his beliefs about faith and how that faith should impact a person. For me, his poetry has a haunting feature about it, because every now and then he states something in a sublime and thoughtful manner, which makes you...well...think about what he said. As Johan Bergstrom-Allen wrote, "Christian artists and writers have often had much to teach Christians about the world around them. They express the mysteries of faith in a more concise and beautiful way than many traditional theologians." For me, this defines T.S. Eliot as a writer and as a Christian.

Here are some selections from "The Choruses from the Rock" (you can google the title if you would like to read the entire poem); read some of these verses that speak in a proverbial and profound way. In some ways, this selection might remind you of the book of Ecclesiastes--verses that you need to read a couple of times through to understand what he is attempting to say--in this sense, you can also think of Jesus speaking in parables. He wants you to really listen and not just quickly read over the words.


The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

What life have you, if you have not life together?
There is not life that is not in community,
And no community not lived in praise of GOD.
And now you live dispersed on ribbon roads,
And no man knows or cares who is his neighbor
Unless his neighbor makes too much disturbance,
But all dash to and fro in motor cars,
Familiar with the roads and settled nowhere.
Much to cast down, much to build, much to restore

Oh my soul, be prepared for the coming of the Stranger.
Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions.
There is one who remembers the way to your door:
Life you may evade, but Death you shall not.
You shall not deny the Stranger.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Pointing Them in the Right Direction

I had a cool thing happen last week.

I have known a couple for quite some time and to put it lightly, they have struggled in their marriage. As an analogy, helping someone in their marriage is as if you are in a boat and you are attempting to have both individuals “stay in the safety of the boat” so that they can move forward in their relationship. However, the problem arises that what too often happens is that just as you are about to get both of them in the boat, you turn your back, and then one has jumped back into the water! A relationship is made up of two people and if you don’t’ have them both on board, little good can happen.

Anyway, the wife in this situation came to me and strongly stated that she was going to seek a divorce. She had given up. She couldn’t take it anymore. He wasn’t going to change anyway. I met with her at church and I think that when she showed up she thought I was going to have my Bible in hand and make sure she had all of Bible verses that talked about how “God hates divorce.” When she sat down and explained her situation and her resolve, I simply said, “You gotta do what you gotta do.” She looked at me astounded; she must have thought, wasn’t I going to admonish her! And then after a pause, I said this, “All I ask is this, do me one favor, ask God if he wants you to divorce your husband. Can you do that?” She nodded, we concluded our conversation and we said our good-byes. As I walked back up to my office, sadly, I thought, Well, that’s probably the last I will see of her…

The next day as I came to the office I opened up my email and viola, there was an email from her. Kind of surprised, I opened it up and the writing simply said this:

I want to thank you for your advice and your suggestion to pray. I did as you asked and prayed about divorce. I came across an on-line Bible study about marriage, studied this and prayed some more. I decided you were right; I was shaping things to my will instead of God’s will. I expressed my thoughts to my husband and I will not be bringing up divorce again.
Isn’t that amazing…if we would simply go ask God what he wants us to do, our lives can be shaped by his will and not our own. I think often when we are helping someone, this is all we have to do—point them back to the One who has all the right answers (and questions). Sometimes, we don’t have to get out the Bible; sometimes we don’t have to give them our best advice; sometimes we simply have to say, Would you talk to God about this? What does He want you to do?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Watering the Lawn

This is a short story I wrote many years ago. It's theme concerns a married couple who are struggling in their relationship and the feelings associated in that struggle.

The bright morning outside—the night we are protected from—lies far away beyond our hills. One night, this night I told her, I thought maybe I told her, that I explained myself to her,

—Sarah, speak to me, please!

She turned, turned on the stove and said, well, nothing. She went over in the dark so to speak, all by herself, standing still. And that was that. I thought, What is this? She removing the boiling water from the stove and pouring it into a cup. She misses most of it, her hand trembling—hot water hitting the sides of and surrounding the cup—picking the cup up, a ring remains, and says,

—I know what your’e thinking, and yes.

And that was that, and she leaves the room for our bedroom, switching the kitchen light off leaving me standing in the dark. Her last words being, Don’t worry.

Inside I’m screaming (as if in the middle of the lake with no one around), leaning against the sink. My arms folded uncomfortably. I stand here for at least ten minutes waiting for her to come in and at least turn the lights back on. She lays in bed, still. Still the waters. Who despises the day of small things, and why is it for at least these past four years she has not spoken to me? And so I stand and think about another woman.

Pitched headlong. A phrase my grandmother often used, but what did that mean? Pitched headlong? Was it like, Break a leg? Something you’d say without thinking or batting an eyelash to what you were actually saying but you’d say it anyway, because it was routine and right. My grandma though, if you met her you’d say my grandma had a way with words. Maybe to the eye she was nothing spectacular but once you stayed with her long enough you’d begin to realize that she was probably one of the most remarkable people you’d ever met, one where you’d say, That’s how I want to be. She had barely gotten through eighth grade, but her words were her own, maybe not her words exactly because in many cases she didn’t know exactly how she was using them—she would just throw them out there, went through them like you go through pages in a magazine and not reading anything at all, but somehow she could turn a word around and pitch it in a way that brought out its own peculiarity. Up to the day she passed away I’d save her letters just for that. To get that—the words.

I push away from the sink and return to our bedroom. There she is with her cup of tea steaming next to her, a book I had given her in her lap. I lay down, just out of reach. I look over at the three pictures on the nighttable. Only one stands out tonight. Beside our bed sits a picture of my grandma and grandpa, a picture I’ve had since high school. Holding hands, my grandpa in his famous khaki suit, crisp white button-down, off-navy tie with tie bar, and just barely hanging out of his suit-pocket a handkerchief with part of the S for Strauch still sitting inside. My grandmother in her usual ivory with a pink scarf that’s almost inconspicuous. Both are smiling as usual. Outside this window I can see a house. Actually its roof and some if its siding which has begun to peel away with these last years. Our home is filled with the smell of our son, but he is away sleeping at his friends. At times I wonder if I can hear him and the neighbor kids running and screaming through the streets outside. I know full well of the possibilities because I was his age once. The freedom of the nighttime air at one in the morning as a boy of ten has many possibilities and a mystery, everything right and good. But the window, the window acts as a painting on a wall, every now and then if you watch intently enough you can see it move. Into the picture emerges the leaves from our tree, or in the fall, perhaps if your lucky, and quick enough a broken-off leaf will move into view. Ever so swift and short-lived. Outside, rain is coming for the wind hitting the windows says as much. Yet my wife lies next to me as all this goes on. She sleeps as the branches brush the window of our bedroom, and lies at the other side, her back turned. A bird passes by the panes. At this hour? There, down below our window our neighbor’s dog barks consistently and without care of our sleep. My wife can sleep through things such as these, but for me the littlest noise keeps me awake. This happened since I began to stay at home. Waiting for the problems. Before having our children I would never worry and always sleep sound. Now I am anxious and never sleep. How different we are and have become. Even with this, I lay in front of this window and wait.

They say that every argument has someone that is in the wrong. Am I wrong in this instance? Is it I? I walk to the other room out of our bed and rush past a chair bouncing my right leg against it. I forget that a chair is here and now my right thigh bleats out in pain. Angrily, I mumble something which I myself cannot even hear. It’s late and when I can’t sleep I don’t even listen to myself. What am I doing out of bed anyway? I go to the chair in the foyer. What does this room look like? Above my head are photos we have collected over the years, some more significant than others. Mostly of family and friends from our lives, ones who have come and gone and have stayed. The one I can’t keep my eyes off is one of the insignificant ones, but important. This is the picture: two girls stand with a deep grey sheet draped over them. The one girl is a young girl I used to know many years ago, at a church I used to go to when I was in my twenties. She was the pastor’s daughter, maybe 13, but now she must be in her twenties at least by now. Her name was Kayla. The other girl I met only once on this day. They stand in front of a crimson and carmine brick building (Three things make this picture: the red brick, the girls posing, and a balloon which I will describe in a minute) which makes everything stand out. It is easily the most vibrant of the photos and so stands out and probably why it has caught my eye. Kayla is tilting her head to the side, sticking her tounge out with a smile, just like a girl of thirteen would do. Her one hand in view is also tilted, as if she were a modern statue you’d either find in a mall or in front of a government building, her foot hangs barely, perfectly into focus off the right side of the sheet with a blue balloon tied to her ankle (or sandal) which rises and meets the wind, straying away from her. Everything else is in focus except the balloon. Her friend’s head tilts as well (wide eyes making a face) but uncomfortably down, wondering at the photographer with discussions and discussions. I will not smile; I will smirk. The grass underneath them sits with patches of grey and brown maybe grey even, with all the green in between. I guess you’d have to see the photo to know why it hangs on our wall. More beauty than memories.

I will not run back to our bed for it is not ours any longer. Alone I sit in this other room to my thoughts as I flip through a book that I pretend to read. As the pages go by, the stories go by and I am very alone. I return to her and she is laying awake, unwilling to look at me. Should I lay down or return to that book? She looks toward me and I lay down. But not too close. I sigh as I reach the covers. She reaches for my hand. Our hands are entwined (fingers tied into fingers) and I try to pull my hand away and she will not let go. My part is just for effect, really I wish her hand to hold mine. Mostly, I try to wrestle it away just to see if I can. Her hand holds mine. However, I wrestle it free.

I get up from the bed put on my tennis shoes along with my flannel robe, and go outside. Before I can even leave the room, her back is again turned. I go outside wondering, why have I come out here? It is slightly colder than what I expected, but I am in this and can not get out. I have made a decision to come outside and to go back in would be giving in. This, our problem. Let me explain: What has it been now, fifteen years? The first ten years or so were fine. We were both excited for all this marriage stuff, starting a family, having someone to sleep next to. We were older when we got married compared to most of our friends, I was twenty-seven, she twenty-six. I was working freelance and odd jobs to supplement everything; she a nurse. Yes, there were problems before all this, but that was simply an I’m sorry, a kiss, and a wink, and we went on. Reticence. Maybe all this winking caught up to us. I don’t think so.

What started it was the second child. Or I should say, the second child we did’nt have. Sarah wanted so much to have anoher child. Not right after Josiah was born, but soon thereafter. By time he was six, I wanted to now wait and then things got caught up and soon we looked at our son he was eight, then nine, ten, now eleven. We were both nearly forty and Sarah was antsy. So that’s that. Maybe.

I get up and pace around finally deciding to go to the side of our house and spy up at our window. Our neighbor’s dog finally is quiet sleeping somewhere in the dark just beyond my sight. I look up unable to see our window because the bedroom light has been turned off and the shadows hide it. In disquiet, I put my head toward the ground. I fidget. I walk over to the garden hose; it is wrapped up awkward and most of it lies on the ground; I turn on the water and begin watering the lawn which lies just on the south side of our house. All this in the hope that the noise the pipes make will not let her sleep. Just then the wind’s foreboding comes true and the rain begins to descend on us. I continue to water our lawn as the rain quickly fills my robe with its wetness. I close my eyes as the water falls on me. In frustration, I begin crying, continuing to water this small patch of ground. I go to the ground and sit down cross-legged, the water filling up the pouch the robe makes. It flows over and falls to the sides. My hands on the sides of my head. The rains surround me. All this, maybe like drowning. And it came to pass after seven days, that the waters of the flood were upon the the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened...And the waters prevailed, and were increased upon the earth...And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered. These words assail me without asking, and I wish she was here.

Just then, I open my eyes and turn. Turning I see her standing, her robe wet as mine. She mumbles words that I barely hear,

I will be with you.

At that moment, I see her for the first time.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Not Again

Today, I had another one of those meetings that I detest.

It was coffee with a husband whose wife has recently left him for another man.

I can't tell you how many times I have heard this story in the last 6 months (be it a husband leaving his wife or vice versa). Again, and again, and again, it is reminding me how much we/I have to protect our marriages.

The devastation that a divorce leaves in its wake is almost indescribable--but I'll try. Here are some of things we know about when a divorce occurs because of infidelity:

  1. Financially each person is usually set back 20 years. Many never regain a financial footing because divorce is terribly expensive and it goes beyond the attorney fees. With this person I met with this morning, he will most likely never be able to retire.
  2. Your children's lives are never the same. Just go read Judith Wallerstein's book The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce. This is a psychologist (not a Christian, by the way) who followed the lives of children from all types of backgrounds for 25 years whose parent's had divorced. Her findings: 2/3rd of all kids who experience divorce have serious issues on many different fronts (e.g., drug abuse, drop-out rates skyrocket, significant behavioral problems, etc. etc. etc.).
  3. The grass is not greener on the other side. Research has shown that second marriages when you have had an affair end in divorce 85 percent of the time! This would make sense--when you are running away from someone, you often run into the arms of someone who has even more problems and baggage than you and your situation.
To end, if I had to give two suggestions in how you can protect your marriage, it would be these:
  1. Always (and I mean always) be checking in with your spouse. Find out how she/he is really doing. Ask the tough questions, asking how your spouse really feels about the marriage and how satisfied they are. How am I doing in relation to practical matters (fulfilling my obligations around the house and with our children)? How am I doing in terms of being a lover to you and showing you in sexual and non-sexual ways that I care for and love you? How am I doing in terms of being your friend, someone you can share some of the most inane things as well as the important?
  2. If you are married (or committed in a relationship to someone for that matter), you can not have opposite sex friendships. At all. Never. Whether in my role as Director of Congregational Care or as a psychologist, I have never heard of an affair that just began out of the blue. They always begin in the confines of friendship, be that at work, church or in a social setting. What does this mean in the real world? Here are two: 1) I protect my conversations with women -- I don't talk about personal matters very often. I keep intimate things with those whom I am intimate (my spouse and close male friends). I try to make sure I am not being flirtatious in these situations. 2) I never meet one-on-one with someone in public or private--even if it is a colleague, even if it is a challenge to do so. I always bring someone else with me for coffee or lunch when I am meeting with someone of the opposite sex one-on-one.
One of the first prerequisites of having a great marriage is you have to protect it. In our day and age, some have gotten lazy in doing so, and therefore, some have made bad decisions in which the reprucussions can last a lifetime. are you doing in protecting your marriage?

Friday, August 14, 2009

What I've Been Reading

Christians have no right to be embarrassed when it comes to talking about sex and sexuality. An unhealthy reticence or embarrassment in dealing with these issues is a form of disrespect to God’s creation. Whatever God made is good, and every good thing God made has an intended purpose that ultimately reveals His own glory. When conservative Christians respond to sex with ambivalence or embarrassment, we slander the goodness of God and hide God’s glory which is intended to be revealed in the right use of creation’s gifts. Therefore, our first responsibility is to point all persons toward the right use of God’s good gifts and the legitimacy of sex in marriage as one vital aspect of God’s intention in marriage from the beginning.

--R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

Friday, July 31, 2009

A Story: Our Good Friend, Barnabas

This is a short story I wrote about one of my favorite characters in the New Testament, Barnabas. It is written from the perspective of John Mark, the writer of one of the four gospels.

Yesterday my good friend, our good friend, was taken away from us. Through a letter, I've learned that outside of Salamis, cruel men took Barnabas and stoned him. The letter told much of what had happened. Barnabas had been preaching in that city about the gospel of Jesus Christ and a group of men from the synagogue in that town accused him of blasphemy. Without even a trial, they stormed into his the home where he was staying before daybreak, pulled him out of bed, not even giving him a chance to put his proper garments on and set him before the council in Salamis. Reminiscent of our Saviour's trial, they would barely let him get a word out and when he tried, they would strike him. Not much else is known after this incident of the trial. They imprisoned him for two days, and then they must have secretly took him outside the city gates and murdered him there. Three days hence, a traveler found his body and brought him back to the city. This man had found him with his face nearly unrecognizable. The only reason they were able to identify his body, was because lying next to him was the writings of Matthew that he had re-written with his own hand. There in Salamis, that small fellowship gave him a proper burial. My heart is broken because my friend is gone.

As I sit here and write, I remember so many good things he did for so many. Barnabas was unlike most men. He was generous and had a great amount of wealth but he shared equally with all. I do not know much about where he came from—I know that he was born into a wealthy family and would often sell a piece of property or offer a generous gift to someone who was in need. He was a person whose word was always true; when he said he would do something for you he would do it whether that meant sharing the Scriptures with you or even one time, I remember, one of the women in our fellowship had been sick for many days, and he went and tended to her children and her chores for those days.

Barnabas loved children. He was a giant of a man and gentle and you would often find children hanging off his big back as he gave them rides as if he was a horse. He loved to be around children, sometimes even more then with others. When we had a gathering, and after the Lord's supper had been shared, we would often not be able to find him. After looking for a while, he would be outside and we would find him playing some game with a handful of children.

Of course, I will never forget him, because in many ways he saved my own life. I had joined Paul and Barnabas on a missionary trip-- really I was too young, but I thought I knew everything and that I was invincible. We entered the town of Perga and even after a day we began to be ridiculed because of our message about Jesus. I grew very timid. To be frank, I was terrified. What would they do to us? Both of them had told me stories of others who shared the gospel of beatings or being thrown into jail, but I guess I just didn't really believe that that had happened. Now, when a large group of people had surrounded us and were threatening our lives, my knees grew weak and I vomited all over myself. That seemed to calm the crowd down, but for me, it opened my eyes and I grew cowardly. I wanted to go back home—I didn't want to continue and so I abandoned them both.

It was over six months later that I saw both of them back in Jerusalem. By this time I had felt awful for what I had done. I had learned of their hard work and the dangers that they had faced. I carry tremendous guilt because really I had not deserted them as much as I had forsaken my Savior. I resolved I would never do such a thing as that again. It was a couple months later and Barnabas and Paul had decided to venture again to Cyprus. I wanted so much to show both of them that I could be trusted and so I went to Antioch and asked if I could join them. Paul immediately barked at me that he would never let me go with him again. He reiterated over and over that I had failed them both in my cowardice. I not only jeopardized my own life, but theirs as well. Paul was furious with me for even bringing it up. Barnabas was trying to calm him down with his big but quiet voice, but Paul's strong words continued and he maintained that he would never let me join him again.

Barnabas stared at me. He focused on my face and we locked eyes. Admittingly, it was as if I was in Perga all over again and I was terrified. Why was he staring at me? As he looked at me, his eyes glistened and he turned to Paul and spoke words that I will never forget and ones that haunt me still. “Paul, perhaps you have given up on John Mark. I will not. You take Silas and go to Tarsus. John Mark and I will journey back to Cyprus.” That was it; that was all he said. But his words were solid and strong. I had never heard him speak with such forcefulness and with such conviction. Paul did not say a word, he just nodded twice and as he left the room he placed his right hand on Barnabas’ shoulder. His eyes too began to moisten because he knew that he would never see his friend again.

As we left, we did not speak for a good hour. I knew I needed to give Barnabas some room to think. Now that I much older, I have learned that even though it is good to make sacrifices, it does not take away the sharpness of the pain. I had cost Barnabas his friend and in that silence I seemed to hear him say that it was okay, not maybe good, but okay. Barnabas was a good man, easy to be with even when you were difficult. Through him, for the first time I genuinely was learning forgiveness. Not until now do I understand what that was. I did not deserve a second chance, but forgiveness was at hand, and I accepted it. Because of that, I found the courage to sail to Cyprus the following day.

What I've Been Reading

Our critical day is the not the very day of our death; but the whole course of our life. I thank him that prays for me when my bell tolls, but I thank him much more who instructs me how to live.

-John Donne

Thursday, July 30, 2009

What I've Been Reading

Simply reading the Bible, I encountered not a misty vapor but an actual Person. A Person as unique and distinctive and colorful as any person I know…I marveled at how much God lets human beings affect him. I was unprepared for the joy and anguish---in short---the passion of the God of the universe…I had lost the force of the passionate relationship God seeks above all else. The people who related to God best---Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah---treated him with startling familiarity…They treated him like a person.

-Phillip Yancey, Disappointment with God

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Things Aren't Always What They Seem

When I was about thirteen years old we made our first trip as a family out to Delaware. It would be my first time going to the ocean. When it came to vacations, we had a tradition in our family, in which, we could get a few magazines or books at Kroger right prior to going. I remember vividly what I chose. I got a bunch of books on sharks and shark attacks. The trip was long and I read each book, cover to cover. When we did arrive, I fell in love with the ocean; each day of the vacation you would find me swimming. On one of our last days, I became more courageous and swam out further into the ocean. I was just wading in the water, floating around, and enjoying one of my last days of vacation. I was way out; in fact, I was probably a good twenty yards away from the nearest swimmer. But I noticed something odd. As I looked down the entire beach front, everyone was coming out of the water. I thought, What's going on? Just then, I saw and heard the lifeguard shout through his speaker phone, “Everyone out of the water! Everyone out of the water! Sharks! Sharks!” I had never heard more frightening words. I turned around and sure enough, swimming out near a tanker further out were about a dozen fins. Immediately, I swam toward the shore as fast as I could. Only one problem though, all I could think about was all of those shark attack stories I had read as we drove out to Delaware. In particular, I remembered that sharks most often attack in shallow waters when their prey believe that they're safe. I kept pumping my arms; kicking my legs; and finally, without a scratch on me, I crawled up onto shore. Just then, standing above me was the life guard and into his speakerphone he yelled, “False alarm. Just dolphins.” After that, I don’t think I swam anymore before we left to go home.

Sometimes, things aren't what they seem. This is the case when it comes to the Trinity. You think you know God in one way and he turns around and changes things a bit. This was especially the case with first century Jews. They grew up on the words, “The Lord is One.And that was and is true; but it’s not the whole truth. In the first century, the doctrine of the Trinity threw everybody for a loop, and to this day, it does the same. So why is the doctrine of the Trinity so important? Why do we even wrestle with this ultimately mysterious issue? Why not just leave it to the theologians to argue over? The Trinity is so very important because it is the starting point with our view of God. When one doesn't come to at least a rudimentary grasp of the Trinity, their view of God is, at best, shallow and worse, profane. But let's make no bones about it, the doctrine of the Trinity is very difficult to get your hands on or your mind around. It's nearly impossible to put in words. As you know in the early church, the church had to come to grips with what they believed and so, they wrote out different creeds to tell others what they believed, and did not believe. Believe it or not, there is one such creed concerning the Trinity; it is called the Athanasian Creed. One part of it states, “As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensibles, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty; And yet they are not three almighties, but one almighty.” As you can see, words fail us. Clarity is difficult to find.

We must remember that this doctrine is something our little minds can never fully understand. We must come to the point that we know that God is limitless and we are finite. Yet we have a problem with this; as creatures of the 21st century we want to know everything. In the world, there is some much knowledge that runs about and we have a sense of entitlement that we should know all that there is to know. I like what Dorothy Sayers had to say on the topic. Listen carefully, "Why do you complain that the proposition God is three in one is obscure and mystical and yet acquiesce meekly in the physicist's fundamental formula, ‘two P minus PQ equals IH over two Pi where I equals the square root of minus one’ when you know quite well that the square root of minus one is paradoxical in Pi is incalculable?" There are many things within the Christian faith that fall under the realm of mystery; two, would be, the divine and human nature of Jesus Christ and God’s providence. The doctrine of the Trinity is no different. And this is the great problem that many believers face; if we don't understand it, we won't believe it.

So how can we explain this difficult belief of ours? How do we explain to someone that we believe in one God but three “Persons?” We have all heard different analogies of explaining the Trinity. When our boys were young we bought them a childen’s book that attempted to explain the Trinity as an apple. The Father is the skin of the apple. He is our protector. The Son is the flesh of the apple. He is the one who makes us strong. The Holy Spirit is the seed or core. He helps us to grow. We must, however, remember that all analogies fail when it comes to the Trinity. In fact, all analogies lean toward some kind of heresy. Why? Because God can not be analogous. If you could compare God to an egg, what would that say about him? It is impossible to compare God to anything. Actually, the only thing we can compare him to is us. We are the only thing he made in his image. And yet even we are a faint comparison to the living God. Analogies can be helpful but we must always keep in the back of our mind that they are flawed.

Perhaps just plain words are better descriptors. I like how C.S. Lewis pictured the Trinity. He saw that God, who is triune in nature, as someone who is “super-personal.” We can't even imagine such a person; again, only we ourselves are somewhat of a similarity. I like that phrase he uses, super-personal; God is personal to an extreme. Without being schizophrenic, he is so personal that he can have fellowship with himself! Actually he is more than a person. Meditate on that for awhile. I believe there can be a comfort and an excitement that one can find in such an understanding. One day we will all stand face to face to this ultimately personal Person. More importantly, today we can have a relationship with that Person. That is a joyous and exciting thought!