Develop in the Dark (Part 1)

develop in the dark (part 1)

Wait. What?!

You know the feeling—that moment when life seems to running smoothly, everything going as planned, and then… well, let’s just say it happens. It happens to the best of us, at the worst times. And if there’s one I’ve learned, it’s that because of itlife rarely goes as planned.

Living in Chicago for over 12 years has brought this little nugget of a statement to life. You see, it doesn’t matter which way I decide to drive to my destination, something unexpected always happens. I’m talking potholes, construction zones, detours, rush hour traffic, accidents, pedestrians, slow drivers, speedy drivers, selfie-taking drivers, all of which seem dead-set on sabotaging my commute. It’s as if they were all secretly conspiring the moment my key hit the ignition—waiting for just the right time to shout, “Cue the jaywalking pedestrians and get ready to move the bulldozer in place.” God bless Chicago.

What do you do when you set on an intended course, but then… the phone call, the doctor’s report, the divorce papers, the accident, the layoff give you notice that your life will taking a difficult detour and you have no choice in the matter? These things are common to our existence, but also serve as unwelcome reminders that in our humanity we are not often in control.

“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

I don’t know about you, but when life gets dark and I can’t see my way, my natural reaction is to take a detour. If I turn up some side streets, go through some alleys, and skip traffic for a few blocks, I feel more in control. I’m literally in the driver’s seat. But what ends up happening more often than not is that it actually takes me longer to reach my destination than if I just would have slowed down in traffic, waited for the light, had patience with the slow driver in front of me.

Truth be told, I could have stayed the course many times but my impatience and pride got involved. From experience I can tell you this truth: Detours don’t develop you. Discipline does. It takes discipline to not swerve into the alley every time we can’t wait when our way seems blocked, rather than looking for a short-cut out of the pain of patience.

In Luke 9:22-25, Jesus said, “It is necessary that the Son of Man proceed to an ordeal of suffering, be tried and found guilty by the religious leaders, high priests, and religion scholars, be killed, and on the third day be raised up alive. Then he told them what they could expect for themselves: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat—I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?” (MSG)

God wants to bring us through the darkness to develop us, to grow us. But developing in the dark takes discipline and often goes against everything squeamish impulse in our bodies. It boils down to this: staying committed to what is right at all costs, regardless of how it feels or if we have an explanation for the slow down.

Hebrews 11 tells us, “Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that–heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them.” (v13-16)

You might not understand the why, but you know the Who.

Hold on. Hang on. Trust the process. Stay the course.

“You can’t control the events and circumstances in life… but… you can control your reactions to the events and circumstances in your life.” —Dr. Carolyn Leaf

“Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine.” (1 Peter 1:7)


Reflection

  • What does a detour in the dark look like in your life?
  • Are there areas in your life where God may be asking you to slow down when you are trying to hurry up?
  • What would it look like in your life to develop in the dark?

Next Up: How to Develop in the Dark (Part 2)

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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.

Wise guy advice

Last night at Bible study we looked at the story of the wise men recorded in Matthew 2. We had a wonderful time exploring the connections and difficulties of how they worshiped Jesus despite what their expectations of the Messiah might have been. They had no trouble bowing before the king of the Jews even though at the time was a small child. The wise men acted by faith, not by sight.  They saw God in an unlikely place and circumstance.

On the side, we also looked at King Herod and his attitude towards the Christ child. He was greatly threatened by the possibility of this king of the Jews and did everything in his power to thwart God’s plan.

Often in our lives we can be threatened by Jesus as well. We get scared that Jesus might take away our control, power, dreams, and ability to do the things WE WANT and so we fight against him instead of worshipping him. When Jesus steps onto the scene of our lives, we are forced to look closely at who is really on the throne of our heart in ALL circumstances. Will we bow down when situations aren’t quite what we expect or will we struggle to keep control of our lives?

Psalm 111:10, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,”

Ephesians 5:15-17, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”

These wise men understood that God was in control no matter what they saw with their natural eyes and rejoiced and worshipped according to that faith. What a wonderful testimony to us today! Today, let us walk in the same wisdom and knowledge of the Lord, understanding His will in all the circumstances we face, not just in the times of blessing. He is still all powerful and holds us in the palm of his hand.

Phil 1:6, “…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

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.

Desperate Wedding

So I heard recently about this strange vow that some people make with one another. They make a pact with each other that if they are not married by a certain age then they will get married to one another. Sounds crazy, right? Well, there actually are people out there that have made it work, but few and far between ever follow through with this kind of commitment.

Believe it or not, people do this to God all the time. It might not sound exactly like, “Jesus, if I don’t have a God by age 30, then I’ll serve you!” but they make the same sort of “vow” with words like “I haven’t lived it up enough yet to give my heart to God. Maybe when I get older I’ll think about it.”

They say this because they believe Jesus will take all their “fun” away. Sadly, these people rarely make good on their vow to faith. They are too busy looking for other loves. Better loves. Most often, the only love they end up with in the end is the love of themselves, which turns out empty.

When someone lives for only himself or herself in search of “living life to the fullest” they miss the true life right before them. Jesus said, “I have come so that they may have life, and have it to the fullest,” and “anyone who seeks to save his life will lose it, but he who loses his life for my sake will find it.”

The one thing we will all think about right before we die, if we have the chance, will not be about how we should have partied more. It will be how well did we love, serve and give to others building relationships and memories that far outlive us. That’s how Jesus taught us to live. No coincidence. He knows us. He knows what we need to experience full life. He knows selfishness is not the answer to a full life.

Getting married to someone is no light thing, but it should be with someone who you would be willing to give your life for. It is the opposite of selfishness and yet, makes you feel more alive than you could feel alone!

< Letting Go of Church >

I’ve decided to let go of church…

My mind drifts to Jonah, who ran from God because he feared telling the people about God’s judgement less they repent and and God relents his anger. Jonah’s pride would have been hurt. So he ran. God is so cool though, because after getting Jonah’s attention (through a whale of a story) the very thing Jonah thought would happen… happened.

Jonah declared, “The judgement!” > the people repented > God relented > Jonah gets mad and pouts up on a hill. God then turns the tables on Jonah and sends a plant that covers Jonah.

Jonah 4:5-11…But Jonah just left. He went out of the city to the east and sat down in a sulk. He put together a makeshift shelter of leafy branches and sat there in the shade to see what would happen to the city. 6God arranged for a broad-leafed tree to spring up. It grew over Jonah to cool him off and get him out of his angry sulk. Jonah was pleased and enjoyed the shade. Life was looking up. 7-8But then God sent a worm. By dawn of the next day, the worm had bored into the shade tree and it withered away. The sun came up and God sent a hot, blistering wind from the east. The sun beat down on Jonah’s head and he started to faint. He prayed to die: “I’m better off dead!” 9Then God said to Jonah, “What right do you have to get angry about this shade tree?” Jonah said, “Plenty of right. It’s made me angry enough to die!” 10-11God said, “What’s this? How is it that you can change your feelings from pleasure to anger overnight about a mere shade tree that you did nothing to get? You neither planted nor watered it. It grew up one night and died the next night. So, why can’t I likewise change what I feel about Nineveh from anger to pleasure, this big city of more than 120,000 childlike people who don’t yet know right from wrong, to say nothing of all the innocent animals?” (The Message)

Why do I think about this? Because for me, maybe you too, there is plenty of opportunity to get mad at God or despair because things don’t “go my way” or even the “way that seems right” in church planting.

Trusting in the love of God releases me from building the church upon myself and allows it to really be His. If it is really HIS, He can open or close any door He chooses.

It’s not my job to open the door, but to turn the handle and see if it is open. This is faithfulness. This is trust.

Sometimes it’s easy to imagine what’s behind “door #1” and think of all the prizes that await, but if the door is locked by God, then maybe it isn’t all that great and glorious.

Maybe it isn’t a trip to Bermuda… or a new car… or a new crockpot. Maybe it’s destruction.

The Bible says, “there is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof is destruction”. (Proverbs 14:12 & Proverbs 16:25 BAM-double whammy)

So, I’ve decieded to let go of church. It’s God’s anyways, not mine. Besides, the church God is building is not a building… the church He is building is a PEOPLE.

[ zack ]

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“The man invited to pray is asked to open his tightly clenched fists and to give up his last coin. But who wants to do that? A first prayer, therefore, is often a painful prayer, because you discover you don’t want to let go. You hold fast to what is familiar, even if you aren’t proud of it. You find yourself saying :”that’s just how it is with me. I would like it to be different, but it can’t be now. That’s just the way it is and that’s the way I’ll have to leave it.” once you talk like that you’ve already given up the believe that your life might be otherwise, you’ve already let the hope for a new life float by. Since you wouldn’t dare to put a question mark behind a bit of your own experience with all it’s attachments, you have wrapped yourself up in the destiny of the facts. You feel it is safer to cling to a sorry past than to trust in a new future. So you fill your hands with small clammy coins which you don’t want to surrender.”

~Henri Nouwen “With Open Hands”