In Too Deep

The radiant spring morning beautifully illuminated the world, yet my three-year-old daughter stood unusually still. It was a delightful day to say the least, and Alethea and I had walked out on our back porch to savor the sun. We lived in a pleasant neighborhood (contrary to the opinion of many), and for a young family braving the world, we had no fear—life was good.

My daughter, Olathe, squirmed restlessly in my arms, as she often did, wriggling for her independence. She was apparently having a hard time saying, “No, thank you,” to the earth’s invitation to a backyard exploration. So I lovingly let her down. She waddled down the wooden steps, across the slab of cement, and ran into our backyard. So much joy, so much life—I can still feel her contagious exhilaration as if it were our own.

Then, something changed. With her back facing us, she stopped abruptly. With an unsure twinge of horror, she slowly turned her head and looked at us unleashing a panicked cry. Instinctively, Alethea and I ran to her and scooped her up. Her little spring-loaded arms tightened around my neck as if something we couldn’t see desired to swallow her whole. I was able to maneuver her around just enough to check her feet for cuts, thorns, snake bites—anything that could have induced such terror. Nada.

Buckets of tears melted my heart. Daddy’s are protectors, so had I known there was something lurking out there, waiting to inflict fear upon my little princess, I would have warned her, stopped her, or enticed her to stay inside with some Cheerios. But the world is a beautiful place. And although there are things in it that may make her cry, should I keep her from the great adventures that beckon her curious soul?

I’ve been wrestling of late with the fine line between fear and love and how these two emotions influence our decisions. My decisions. You see, fear is a powerful emotion. It can keep us bound to the ground when we, or the ones we love, long to fly. It deceives us into thinking we are safe. Secure. In control. But in reality, fear is just a scared dictator fighting for self-preservation at all costs—chaining us to the porch with links of Cheerios.

Opposite of fear stands love. Fear rages against freedom under the guise of safety, whereas love safely wraps freedom in a comfortable, warm quilt. When we trust in love (whether human or divine), we are free to face our fears, experience life, even make mistakes. Why? Because even in our failings we know love will never fail. It will always find a way to scoop us up when our exhilaration or curiosity takes us in too deep.

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him… There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” —1 John 4:16,18 (ESV)

“It was the grass. She doesn’t like the feeling of grass on her feet.”

I looked at my wife as this revelation graciously fell from her lips as drops rain on the dry ground of my perplexity. After a brief pause, we burst into compassionate laughter and held our daughter close.

We will all experience itchy ankles—times we get ahead of ourselves and realize we aren’t quite comfortable where we find ourselves. In those moments, let’s remember it is love that gave us the courage and freedom to explore an unsafe world. And that no matter how far we run in life, what fears we will face, when the world makes us cry, we (she) can be secure knowing that we will always… always… have a loving Father who through the wonder, fear, joy, and pain in life, is present and delights in us. Love never fails.


Change Your Life with One Small Word

CHANGEKimberly wants to finally get healthy, but doing so feels out of reach. Jason wants to start living his dream, yet he feels trapped at work. Jenna? She simply wants to enjoy life, but her situation feels like a hopeless prison.

Day in and day out, do you find yourself in a similar struggle—dreaming of more, but stuck in the rut? Do your hopes to break out, step up, and start living your dream seem to get crushed daily by the demands and routines of your reality?

If you want to change your life—go after a dream, start a business, get healthy, enjoy your day-to-day—you’re not alone. Many people desire change, but just because we want change doesn’t mean that we will change.

Last night in our small group study, we discussed what motivates people to make changes in their life. According to Steve Corbett and Brian Finkert, there are three triggers for change—things that have the potential to move people from merely wanting change to making change. They are:

  • A recent crisis
  • When the burden of the status quo becomes overwhelming
  • The introduction of a new way of doing or seeing things that could improve life

The authors go on to propose that many people, although they need a change, are not ready for change. This is because they either don’t think there’s a problem or just refuse to see their own responsibly in the process. Basically, they think about their situation and say,

So what?!”

However, that isn’t you. You hung with me this long because you see your need for change. But, if we want to pursue change then we first need to evaluate the triggers above that help us do just that. Honestly, I don’t want or need to wait around for a crisis or for things to become so overwhelming that if I don’t change I’ll die (physically, spiritually, emotionally). That only leaves one trigger: discover a new way of doing or seeing things that can improve my life.

Now that is something I can control.

That is something I can manage.

That is something I can do.

I may not have someone to go with me to the gym, teach me a new skill, or partner in business, but what I can do is learn, read, study, ask questions, and begin taking new steps towards a new way of living. I can stop saying, “So what?!” and start exploring “So what if…?”

By simply adding that one small word “if” to the end of my “so what” I give myself the potential to change my life—even more so if followed by a specific action towards a dream or goal.

So what if . . . I buy a book on how to start a business or a non-profit?
So what if . . . I plan ahead for five healthy meals a week?
So what if . . . I begin to set aside 10% of my income for savings?
So what if . . . I sign up for that foreign language class?
So what if . . . I commit to writing once a week?
So what if . . . I set aside one night a week for date night with my spouse?
So what if . . . I get up 15 minutes earlier and start my day with a devotional?

If gives you and me the power to discover a new way of doing or seeing things. If represents forward thinking and starts the ball rolling in right direction. If represents imagination and allows our creativity to work towards positive change.

So… if you want to change, but are having a hard time doing so, maybe it’s time to add that simply two letter word to your situation and explore what it may look like to start taking steps towards your dream. Trust me, living the dream is always better than dreaming the dream.

So . . . what if?

If you found this article helpful, would you consider sharing it with others?

photo credit: Will Clayton via photopin cc

Enough faith?

throwAt age 17, I had been given the opportunity to give a message to a tribe of people up in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico. I had my message all prepared when not more than 5 minutes before I was to speak, God nudged me to preach the Gospel from Mark 16. I did just that and by God’s grace, over 90% of the small rural church responded for salvation.

As the service was coming to close, I proclaimed that God not only saves but is also a healer.  I opened the front for anyone who needed a miracle. Numerous people came forward, but a short elderly woman stands out clearly in my mind.  Slowly she nudged her way through the crowd up to the interpreters. She spoke softly to them and they turned to me with anticipation in their eyes, “She is deaf in one ear and would like you to pray for God to restore her hearing.”

I believed God could do it, but in the moment I was overwhelmed but my own inadequacies. I turned around and faced the back wall for a moment. “God, I am not sure I have enough faith for this, but I trust you.”  Tears began to stream down my face as I turned back and faced the woman. Laying my hands on her ear, I began to simply pray for God to heal her.

When I finished, one of the interpreters began to whisper in this woman’s deaf ear. A smile stretched across her wrinkled cheeks as she began to jump up and down with utter enthusiasm shouting something in in her native language.

“She can hear!!! She can hear!!!”  

I crumpled to the floor in awe of a merciful and tremendous God who loves all His children, even those lost in the mountains of southern Mexico.

Since that day, I have prayed for healing of others on numerous occasions. Some have been. Others not. But I’ve realized my job is just to act in faith (pray) and leave the results to God.  I don’t have to question the why or how.  Faithfulness is just being willing to step out and trusting God with the results based on His character.  

You see, “enough faith” is acting in a way that displays trust in something we believe to be true. It has nothing really to do with results. Matter of fact, it is quite the opposite. It is action when we aren’t sure of the outcome, but trust that God does.  It’s knowing God in the moment and understanding his will.  Faith is something we believe enough to move us to action.

That is enough for me.  The rest is up to God.

Swimming with the Sharks

They say a shark will only grow size proportionately to the aquarium it is put in. That means a mature shark in a small aquarium might never grow bigger than several inches.

For us, we might therefore consider aquariums a wonderful place to swim if it weren’t for the following small details…

1. We were made for bigger things: There is no way this 190lb man is going to fit in a little fish tank, but many times I find myself trying to live in the safe box I create. Why? Because that’s where there is no danger…. no risk. The sharks are small and can’t really hurt me there. The problem is we were never made to live in little aquariums. We were made for a life of adventure and risk. When we don’t take risks, we can’t exercise our faith. Without faith, we can’t please God.

2. Aquariums are fake worlds: Treasure chests, plastic seaweed, even the way in which the water receives oxygen is contrived. When we submerge ourselves in a world of fake surroundings, we don’t face the realities of life, which essentially cause us to grow. It takes resistance to build muscle just as the hard realities of life in this world cause us to grow spiritually. Look at all the great men and women who became great through their struggle, not by pretending it didn’t exist.

3. There’s no room for anyone else: When we live a life of safety, we are become concerned with ourselves as numero uno. We are always looking out for our own best interest. What do fish in an aquarium seem to look forward to most… food! Feed me, feed me! All the while, they are probably looking over at the fish stuck on the glass saying, “Thank you Lord, I don’t have to suck algae and stare out that glass!” In actuality, at least the algae sucker is looking out instead of in.

4. The outside world looks distorted from inside the aquarium: Just how sometimes we see fish distorted from certain angles, I imagine they look out and see some pretty intimidating things. I think of Joshua, Caleb and the other spies checking out the Promised Land. When the other spies came back, they said they saw giants and they felt like grasshoppers in comparison. Typical safe, selfish, aquarium living. Joshua and Caleb, on the other hand, saw the same thing, but they were living a life of risk. They had a different perspective and realized things aren’t what they appear. They weren’t going to let their lives be ruled by what things looked like from inside the aquarium.

The deep calls.
Tony Morgan wraps it up in one powerful quote. Read it here.

Deathbed Regrets: Part 5/5

#1 “I wish I had written that book or put in that extra effort that would have helped more people or sung that song that I was created to sing. I wish I had lived my purpose and gone after my dreams.”

Allow me for a moment to throw some caution to the wind… Yes, it is important to go after these things and by all means one needs to put in the extra effort in order to die with no regrets. Regret will come in a different shape, though, if all we savor is the destination. The journey of life and faith holds many things along the way that make life interesting.

In the infamous words of Ferris Bueller, “If you don’t stop to look around once and awhile, you could miss it!”

This one I already know I am on the right path. Not there yet, but enjoying every second of it.

A Strange Sight

A few years ago I saw something uncanny. I was at a local warehouse store when I saw an elderly man running across the parking lot. It struck me as strange and to this day it begs an answer,

“What would make an old man run?”

It isn’t that common to see someone of years trucking full speed. It could almost make a bystander winch as brittle bones hit the pavement. Yet something DROVE this man to defy the norm and risk injury to RUN?

I am not sure in this specific case, but one answer to the question “what would make an old man run” is love. Love causes people to run at airports for homecomings, after cars during an outgoing, to catch a falling child, or even risk life in a war zone to save a friend. Love is truly a powerful force.

There is a beautiful story in the Bible of an old man that ran to his son who had just come home from a deeply shameful and humiliating situation. His father was old. His father was dignified. His father RAN! Too many times we can skip over that powerful imagery. Picture it…

“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’ But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.” Luke 15:20-24 (MSG)

If the power of love could make an old man run to embrace his wayward son, I wonder what it could do for us today… in our relationships. There are many emotions that cover and cloud the object of our love on any given day. Maybe it is an argument with a spouse, the disobedience of a child, or the pain of the past. Maybe you just can’t forgive that one thing they did.

If you allow these things to outweigh your love, then as you age you will find yourself becoming less able to show it.

Take a moment today to look past the present circumstances in your relationships and show love to someone who needs you most. Maybe they need to see you run to know it’s true.

The Water and the Wind

So I was walking during my lunch break the other day. It was one of those hot and humid days, an up-side of the bi-polar weather moods Chicago seems to have. Anyway, I passed a sprinkler watering some bushes in front of a condo building and I couldn’t resist putting my hand in the cool spray. The water was incredibly refreshing.

After I passed by, I decided to wipe my wet hand on my forehead. Then, surprisingly, a breeze began to blow across the beads of water and I felt this cooling sensation run through my entire body. Nice.

Basking in the breeze, refreshed by the water and wind, I felt God whisper to my heart that the water was like the water of the Word. The wind was like the wind of the Spirit. Coupled togther they equaled refreshment and peace from the toil of the journey.

I realized the Lord was challenging me to saturate my mind even more with the Word so that when the wind of the Spirit blows in my life I will have peace and refreshment that only He can give.

Scripture says that a wise son labors during the harvest. The harvest can be a hot, humid place to work. As you labor in the Lord this season, take some time to just meditate on the scriptures and allow the Spirit of God to cool and refresh your soul.