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Thursday, July 12, 2018

Moments That Make Up A Life

 The other night I watched a very thought-provoking movie in which actress Candace Cameron Bure stars as a WWII nurse who is seeking to re-discover her purpose. She's been informed that her husband has died in the war, and it's her first Christmas without him. She tells her friend that she knows she can't go on in grief forever, feeling lost and hopeless. But she doesn't know if she has any meaning to her life now that he's gone. The entire town is in the Christmas spirit...everyone except her. And she wonders if she is doing anything worthwhile for the world. 
 As the movie progresses, she ends up being transported ahead in time and eventually gets to see her life laid out in front of her. She is shown countless ways in which she made a difference, and she starts to realize that there have been many seemingly insignificant things that have added up over the years and changed the lives of many in the town. It becomes evident that when she least thought she was doing something of value, she was actually doing much more than she realized. 
 Watching this movie got me to thinking about all the numerous, yet small moments that make up a life. All the things that we do day-to-day that we often think little of which are adding up to make a big difference in the lives of other people. And it occurred to me that we can't really judge how our life will make a difference. Yes, we can point to certain opportunities or situations that stand out and say, "I got to do something special for the world there." But overall, our lives will be measured by the moments we have forgotten. The kind word, the selfless act, the caring manner in which we treated someone else... things we might not even recall ever saying or doing but things which meant the world to another person and blessed them in ways we'll never know. 
 It could have been a simple gesture that took you a mere matter of minutes to do, a smile passed out at the perfect time to a person in need, a hug given without realizing the other individual was at their lowest point. Whatever the case, the fact that you chose love and gave of yourself when another least expected you to was enough to change their life. And we have thousands of these interactions in our lifetimes. But we often overlook their significance and think that we're just one person and we really can't change much in this vast world. 
 Someday, however, we may discover otherwise. Someday, when God spells out our lives for all of humanity to see, we just may be surprised at the things He and others counted as significant. I know I often don't realize the difference I've made in somebody's life until they tell me much later. And even then, I don't completely understand. And perhaps that's just as well. I'm just trying to live my one life well. 
 It's frequent and human of me to often see all the ways in which I'm failing to be the person I want and hope to become. I get frustrated at the seemingly endless ways I'm falling short of where I want to end up at the end of my life. But every once in awhile, God gives me a peak into how He's using me to better this world...and it blows my mind because it's usually in ways I've overlooked or deemed unimportant. 
 I'm coming to realize that the Kingdom of God isn't always built in the most obvious ways. Rather, it's built out of small but intentional moments and experiences that add up to a big part in His masterful plan. There's a reason why God advises us in Scripture to "not despise the day of small beginnings" (Zechariah 4:10). Small things are what He uses to create big ones. 
 May I leave you with a word of encouragement to never underestimate what God can do with your one life? When you make the choice to live in grace, to love fearlessly, to choose brave every day of your life, God will give you opportunities to make that a reality for someone else. Your opportunity may come in a way you least expect. But don't brush it off as insignificant. Because when you let God define success for your life, you'll find at the end of your days that you did more for Him than you realized at the time. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Hidden Things Reveal Waiting Miracles

 I sit and stare at the broken-open robin's egg on the kitchen table. It was found in the front yard a few weeks ago...a reminder of spring's arrival and all things new and alive. Ragged edges spoke of the busting apart, the breaking-open as life pushed out and began to breathe. And somehow it hits me in a powerful way.
 I think of how all of life takes shape in hidden places. Birds must lie in wait for their eggs to hatch. Caterpillars must spin a cocoon in order to form into a butterfly. Human beings must take shape in a mother's womb before bursting out of the birth canal into the world. And a soul must have known times of being shelled up before it can be broken wide and given as an offering. 

It is in the taking shape in hidden places that we are made into what we can be given as grace to a world that desperately seeks it. It is in the breaking apart of that shell that we begin life anew. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when He said that one must be born again if they would see the Kingdom?

Soul-work, heart-surgery, is rarely done in the plain view. Often, only we and the Great Physician even know what's going on. To those looking in from outside, it appears as though there is no need for hidden hearts. Hidden hearts are bad hearts. But I'm beginning to re-think this. Because if a heart has never hidden, perhaps it cannot value love fully. 

If a soul has never been broken, the clenched fists may never open. If we have never been busted up, bruised, broken-down...then we can never understand what abundant life really feels like. Only those who have had their souls ripped right open can know what it's like to live with a mended heart. A heart whose scars tell a story interlaced with mercy at every turn. 

When Nicodemus came to the Savior, his was a hidden conversation (John 3:1-21). He wanted to believe...and don't we all? ...but he was too afraid of what an open, public conversation would do. He had to speak to Christ at night. And didn't Christ's light perhaps shine the brighter? Doesn't His light always come through more gloriously when the darkness falls heavy? When the heart seems to have lost its hope completely? 

And the Savior's words were simply that nobody could see the Kingdom unless they were given new life. He told him that Light had come into the world - that He was the answer...standing right in front of him - but that people were missing the answer because they loved the darkness more than the Light. And that what held them back from this abundant life was a fear that their secret sins would be exposed. 

Ah...yes. Exposure is how ...and ONLY anew can be obtained. The hidden must be brought to life and revealed. What has been withheld must be shown. And those who walk in truth know it deep - that your life upon conversion goes from being hidden in darkness...hidden in being hidden with Christ. And His promises hold true that whoever believes no longer has to live in fear of being found-out. Because the darkness no longer keeps you from the Light but allows the Light to shine within you the brighter!

I finger the broken egg-shell and once again return to the thought that hidden things is where God does his work the best. It is not always seen in the open. Often, He is forming His masterpiece of us when others aren't looking. Covered in the protection of His plan, our souls are moulded into His design on a time-table that isn't ours in a way only He can know. And, after this heart-gestation period has sufficiently occurred, He breaks us free and lets us take flight on wings of faith to new heights in our journey to Grace. 

After all, didn't Christ Himself have to be buried in the ground in a sealed-off tomb for three days before He could rise again? And won't He do the same to my dead places in that the breaking free is always preceded by a season of hidden waiting? Of trusting in a process only He can see and perform? 

So maybe...hidden hearts aren't always hopeless hearts. Just hearts that are being worked on. Soul-surgery only Christ knows they need. Have patience with a hurting heart. A heart that is shelled-off. A heart that is waiting for the resurrection-promise of the Savior. Because there just might be more going on than is readily seen. 

And someplace, a new baby bird has just received it's new wings and is taking flight on a Spring breeze. And all that's left is a beautiful half-shell that once housed a living miracle of life. 

Friday, June 15, 2018

When God Says "No"

 I watch the leaf-shadows dance on the soil of the front yard as sunlight filters through trees now in full summer-life. And I contemplate that, so many times in my life, God has given me what I once heard termed the "divine 'no.'" 

The "no" that I heard in my soul as I watched my post-high school plans fall right through and my dad nearly die three times in a two month span. 

The "no" that ripped my heart when the headline screamed of death and my friend was another name on the list of Marines who had given their lives in wartime. 

The "no" I've seen more than I care to count as cancer has taken person after person I love, leaving heartbroken relatives in its wake. 

The "no" as dreams have died...and haven't I somehow survived even though it all seemed to steal every ounce of life straight out of me? 

I think of all the times that "no" was not the answer I wanted. The anger that seemed to rise up fierce inside of me as I felt cheated out of something I wanted...prayed for...thought I couldn't live without. 
But instead of being gifted the desire I sought, I was gifted brokenness. I was gifted pain and asked to do something meaningful with it when all I wanted to do was to answer the "no" with a "no" of my own...

A "no" that I refuse to accept this gift because all it carries is disappointment and unfulfilled hopes. 

A "no" that resist all things grace because I doubt God's goodness after what has happened. 

A "no" that says I don't think I can trust or love again because this hurts just. that. much. 

And just maybe I've actually uttered those words to the Almighty and expected Him to somehow change His mind through my denial and grant me the results I think I deserve?

Broken sunlight continues to splash across yard, and I realize that, when I chose to answer His "no" with mine, I only saw shadows instead of still-existent light...however broken. I saw pain with no purpose. I saw only what I had missed. And I then had the guts to tell God that He was wrong! 

Disappointment is everywhere in this world. That myth that happiness is what we deserve has ruined so many lives. And perhaps as the suicide rate continues to rise, and the hopelessness keeps on drowning, and the pain keeps on driving, souls give up simply because they cannot accept the divine "no." Cannot release their supposed rightful control on life. Cannot say "yes" to Lordship and, in so doing, say "yes" to true life. 

And truth somehow tells me that such unhappiness isn't the result of God's failure but my own. Failure to bow the knees in surrender when all I want to do is cry out a big, giant "why?" 

It is so clear to me now: when nothing makes sense, when everything is seemingly falling apart, when goodness appears to have run thin and grace seems to be a joke...I can choose to do the un-natural thing and open my hands to what I do not understand and accept as hope that which I can't see. The Light never stops shining. Things may cloud or fracture it, but it's always there. 

You can choose to see Him as the God of the "no" who is forever spoiling all you hoped for. The One who takes more than He gives and who is existent for the only reason of ruining all the good things you wanted. 

Or you can choose to see Him as the God of the "yes" who says "no" because He knows that your future good depends on it. See Him as the God who is so very much FOR you that He will alter history and send a Son-Miracle to earth for you because He loves. See Him as the God who cares so deeply that He will deny you what you want in order to grant you what you need. 

The choice to see the shadows or the Light determines how we accept what is given. Do we allow the not-given to ruin a blessing in the now? Because there always is one...even if it's masked in great pain and seems most hidden. Or do we accept and thank God for what has been presented because we believe that mercy has directed every event that concerns us? 

Just perhaps your shadowlands - your wilderness...your season when God has refrained from granting you the things you asked for or desired... just perhaps it could prove the entrance into a life you've actually always hoped for. Because a "yes" to God...even when what He chooses defies logic or always an entrance into greater peace. A "yes" to God...even if what He gives appears to be always the un-doing of ourselves and the re-doing of who we're meant to become. And a "yes" to spite of the always the way out because it takes us through the way in: the uncomfortable way, the broken way. And didn't our Savior do the same?? 

If God gives you a divine "no," remember that this is the same God who watched His Son die on the cross so that a heart-replacement could be possible for us all. Because the suffering way is the only way to find The Way. And The Way didn't promise us life would always be happy. But He did promise us it would be full of meaning. He didn't guarantee that we would always get what we want. In fact, if He guaranteed anything, it's that we'd have to give up, lay down, let go in order to obtain. But He did guarantee that we'd always have what we needed. The so-called "daily bread" of His grace that forever gives today it's enough, regardless of how painful. 

There is now more sun than shadows, and I choose to accept both. For I realize I cannot have one without the other. 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Quote of the Day

"My Dear Friend...
Because the Lord loves you, He appoints trials for you. Like most effectual medicines, they are neither pleasant to taste not in their operation, when first taken, but afterwards they yield a harvest of righteousness and peace. He sends them not for His own pleasure, but for our profit. He could relieve you in a moment, but He does not. The plain inference is, that it is good, it is best for us to be afflicted! I have had my trials, and I can from experience bear testimony to His all-sufficiency and faithfulness. He does all things well. How can He who is infinitely wise and good, do otherwise?"
                      - John Newton

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Quote of the Day

 "It is hard to learn 'Thy will be done,' when the wind of providence crosses the tide of our will. To be displeased with God when things do not please us is a very bad temper of spirit. It is better to bring our will to God's, than for us to seek to bring God's will to ours!"
             - Thomas Watson

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Guest Post: Enduring Trials

 I am so excited to introduce to you a very dear friend of mine and to welcome him to the blog today! Three years ago, I met Michael Fairchild while he was in Alaska playing college summer baseball. I had no idea that our meeting would blossom into a friendship that I have come to cherish deeply. His life-story has been marked by circumstances that would often cause a person to become defeated and discouraged by closed doors when God's plan has appeared differently than expected. How do you choose faith when your dreams have crumbled right in front of you, and you're left to embrace a path that doesn't look anything like what you thought? 
 Michael is here to share his thoughts today and pull from his own experience in hopes that it will encourage you to trust God with your journey...even if it takes you places you don't plan. 

Take it away, Michael...

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."  - James 1:2-4 (NIV)

 I have been thoroughly blessed in my lifetime to travel the vast majority of the United States and neighboring countries, meet people from all walks of life, and experience a vast array of cultures. On these journeys, I came to realize something: although people come from diverse experiences, backgrounds, and ways of doing and pursuing life, we are all, at the most fundamental levels, the same. Think about it, we all have the same basic needs. Now these needs are obviously wide ranging: from requiring food and shelter to desiring human love and connection. At the foundation of all this though, lies our need for God and to make senes of life and our time in it. What I came to realize about people is that every single person on this earth struggles with something. It is part of our condition. Our active response to these struggles, challenges, obstacles, setbacks, failures, etc. have refining and defining potential for our character and quality of life. Let me share what I have learned from wrestling with these things in my life.

 Since three years old, I have played baseball. I like to call it my life's work, but that is only half true. The other half consists of a little kid who dreams of being a big leaguer, plays catch with his dad in the front yard after a long day at work, and trades baseball cards with his friends after school when he should be doing homework. I love baseball. It makes me feel alive in a way that very little other things do. In the end though, the game always wins. It goes on. Other, younger players fill the spots of the older, wily vets. I know one day I will have to hang up my spikes. I realize that. What I have learned to realize though, is that I have less control over when that is than I would like to think.

Here is why: my senior year in college I tore it up. I poured everything I had into that season. It was my last chance to fulfill my dream of playing professional baseball; my senior year of high school and junior year in college had proved unfruitful. If there was any time to do it, it had to be now. I achieved some of my goals: 1st team all-conference, 1st team all-region, and honorable mention all- American selections, along with a 2nd team all-academic, all-American selection to ice the cake. Everything lined up; now I could only sit and wait for the draft.

 The draft came and went. No calls. I started looking for independent ball tryouts and opportunities but they all fell through for one reason or another. One team wanted me to travel halfway across the country to play. I told them I would plan my travel and get back to them. I called them the next day, but they had already picked up a player. A Canadian team called me to pitch for them the coming Monday. It was a Friday, but my bags were packed because of what I had learned from my last interaction. Wait, my passport expired last year. Another opportunity gone. The final straw was a team wanted me to fly all the way across the country, pay all my travel expenses, a tryout fee, only for a CHANCE to play for them. I could not do that to my family because I did not have a job yet. It seemed like a pipe dream. I felt like God was shutting the doors. I was open to His leading, despite my pursuit of this dream for my entire life.

 The Friday of the next week I decided was going to be the last time I was going to throw a baseball competitively. A lot of the Indy ball teams wanted to see live video of me throwing, but I did not have anything recent that was of good quality. In turn, I contacted Kyle Boddy from Driveline to see if I could throw against live hitters at his facility. I had seen videos of players throwing there on Facebook. So I went, I threw, I dominated. Kyle contacted me afterwards and said I showed great stuff, and to not give up on the dream. Two weeks later, after more throwing and live at-bats, I got a call and was quickly flying in a plane to Arizona. I was heading to the Mariners Spring Training facility.

 Signing with the Seattle Mariners, the team I grew up watching and rooting for, was surreal. I did it. I had made it to the Promised Land. Subsequently, I had a good first season and was invited to Instructional League in the Dominican Republic. I was quickly learning how hard a life in pro ball is: minor leaguers are with teammates 24/7 essentially, hardly any days off, poor pay (but also hardly any expenses), and always traveling. It is tough on relationships; you have to say no to a lot of things. Wait for the offseason, essentially. Nothing has been as tough though as what I experienced this year in Spring Training.

  In my second inning of work in my first game of Spring Training, I threw a fastball that the hitter skied above home plate. The catcher lost it in the sun, so I started going for it, but then stopped as the corner infielders crashed. They have fly ball coverage priority over me, but then they stopped as well as they waited for the other person to catch it. So I go for it again. I hear a pop, and it felt like someone hit me on the back of my left ankle with a bat. I collapse. I had ruptured my left Achilles tendon. 

 The next week was a whirlwind. It was the first time I had heard the phrase 'potential career-ending injury' applied to my life. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I had a lot to consider. I went along with the surgery and am in the course of doing rehab, but I have been told by the Mariners Player Development Coordinator that my path to the Big Leagues is as narrow as it comes. I am at the bottom of the totem pole in the organization, and I realize that. I am just beginning my pro career.

 Rehab life has really opened my eyes and given me so much empathy for players that have been injured before me, because this is the first time I have been really injured. It gives you a ton of time to think and reflect, because you cannot do much else. You have so much time on your hands it is incredible. A lot of questions have filtered through my mind: 'what are you trying to show me NOW God?' , 'why does this road need to be so difficult?' , and the main one, 'after getting me here the way you did, why this?' 

 At the end of the day, I am in God's hands. As with most people that have struggled with something, I have learned and have grown more from the difficult periods of my life than when I was sailing calmer waters. I really believe trials test our attitude, effort, and perspective towards life. Are you really, I mean REALLY, trying to get the most out of your life? Are you enjoying the story you are living? If not, what is it that you are expecting from God? 

 I have learned that our expectations are often the reason for our heartbreak. We get sad when life does not happen the way we want it to. Well guess what, that's life. We cannot control the results or what people think or what people do. We can only control our thoughts and actions, and then the rest is up to God. The more people see tough things in life as opportunities and challenges rather than defeat and failures, the more satisfaction and joy they will feel in dealing with these issues. There is always something that can be learned from a tough situation. Dive into it, face it, embrace it, and trust God that He has a plan in the end. Because guess what, it's true." 

* If you enjoyed what you read today and would like to follow Michael's continuing baseball journey, follow him on Facebook "Michael Fairchild" or on Instagram: @mfairchild19. 

Friday, June 1, 2018

Why It's Not What You Think

 The Kingdom of God is not what you think. 

I sat at the table, my plate loaded with food, talking to another church-member about life, about brokenness, about living in love, about being a given gift to those who need it most. About how each of us is accepting and learning what it means to live the Light...that the Gospel comes with an obligation to let your one life be opened in two so that His love can pour out and others can find a safe place in a world that split our souls and steals our faith right from us. In this moment of sheer raw honesty, he walked straight up to us and sat down at our table...
 His wife had died from cancer just over a year prior, leaving him to raise four children on his own. Four children under ten-years-old who now had no mother...the youngest hadn't even had her second birthday yet. He has loved them as best he can. He has himself been poured out to them in a daily sacrifice of caring, training, nurturing, and trying to be all those things both mother and father should. But one has to believe his heart is still aching. Still breaking. Because she's gone. And he's still here...until death did them part. 
 He pulls out his phone and shows us pictures of his wife's headstone that just got put up the other day. My heart wrenches as I see the four children standing around their mother's grave. Why does life have to be so cruel sometimes? What appears to be hidden grace still hurts and we are all left with questions. Questions only God knows. And for the rest of the life of me...I somehow think these questions may never be fully answered...until one day...
 I see this moment as critical. This is a heart-moment. A moment when all that matters is this one soul and his grieving family. They come to church nearly every Sunday, but I wonder how many have been willing to listen. Just listen. Because he has things to say. Things that maybe he's holding in because he doubts if anybody cares enough to stop. 
 After telling us about the headstone and the location of it in the cemetery and all things dead and ending and gone forever, he then turns personal. He looks us in the eye and says, "Somehow I just can't seem to bring myself to take my wedding ring off." As if taken back in time to their wedding and his vows to forever, he adds, "Til death do us part, ya know. Maybe now that the headstone is up..." and he trails off. 
 The lady next to me says to him, "You must miss her a lot." Tears start welling up in his eyes as he nods in reply, "Yeah. I miss her. A lot." You can see that the pain still drives deep. His tired face still speaks to one that has had his life upended in the last couple of years. He's still trying to pick up the pieces and carry on. He's trying to figure out how to pool enough money to send the boys to Christian camp this summer. And I feel his burden. It's like it's leaking right out of him. And she and I are the ones to listen. 
 Oh, I see it clearly now: what have we done with our lives if all our lives are ever about is ourselves? Could it be that all this doing for God isn't really doing anything at all? Could it be that He is actually showing up where we are least inclined to look?
 I am convicted in my soul as I realize how many times I've been duped into thinking that the Kingdom was in much activity - that the more I participated in, the more I volunteered for, the more I gave, the more I accomplished for God was proof of my holiness - when, in reality, the Kingdom was right in front of my blind eyes in moments like this. I turn to her and I said it out both of us... 

The Kingdom of God is not what you think.

 Sometimes we can make our life about "much serving" when Jesus actually spoke against this mindset in Luke 10: 40-41. When He said that Martha was in error for chastising her sister for taking the time to simply pursue the Kingdom...while she ran herself ragged and cared about many things temporary. He told her that "one thing was needful." That her sister, Mary, had chosen a "better part" by sitting. Sitting with Him. And it hits me like a ton of bricks...

Christ's Kingdom isn't built by the amount of church activities we show up for, or the number of small group Bible studies we lead or participate in, or the programs we sign up for, or the frequency with which we have guests over...or a million other countless ways we think we gain points with God by our busyness. Christ's Kingdom is built when we are the broken gift to others. 

Christ's Kingdom is built when we take the time to simply offer ourselves as available to the leading of God. Because isn't God always moving, and aren't we failing to move with Him when we look for Him where He is not? 

Christ always went to the places and hung out with the people the religious elite said He should not. He chose humble, ordinary men to be His world-changers. He ate with sinners and social outcasts. He welcomed those that the social norms said were too far gone to stand a chance. He busted the system to get to those who needed Him the most. He said that because He was offering Himself as a broken gift, those who follow Him are called to do the same. And the ones named in His book as significant are the ones who were brave enough to give all they had while those condemned thought they were holy but missed the Kingdom because they looked for it in all the wrong places. 

 When Christ spoke of the Kingdom, he included those whom others passed over. He brought the solitary into community, and I now know that if I am to make something of this one life I have, I must become this spent, given offering to those who are praying for a love-miracle in their own life. We could be their answer if we simply give ourselves away. If we get out of our own way...out of His way...and let broken hearts - given hearts - reach out. And if we find ourselves too busy "serving God" to let this exchange happen, maybe we're more Pharisee than disciple as we tithe on our anise & cumin (Matthew 23:23) and forget that the Kingdom of God "is not a matter of eating and drinking...but of peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17). The Kingdom of God is right in our midst, but we can miss it entirely if we're so consumed with all our activity, all our rule-keeping, all our doctrine...but we don't have enough love to meet the broken, the cast-offs, the shamed, the hurting and welcome them into a safe place for their souls to be soothed. Our Lord Himself showed us the way. 

Oh God, forgive us for not seeing the way and walking in it. We pray for You to show up big in our churches and lives, but miss that You've showed up already. You're already here...but we've missed you because we overlooked where you were. You were there when that elderly man needed help with his groceries; You were there when that lady sat on the bench in the cemetery, lost in her own thoughts and you wondered if you should sit with her and ask why she was there...but you didn't. You were there when that solider who has recently moved to your area needed a family to take him in a make him feel like he has someplace in all this new to call "home." You are there when that child who comes from a broken family enters the house for piano lessons every week and simply needs a drop of grace to carry her until she comes next time. You are everywhere, but we think these things are too ordinary for You. That we're too ordinary. 

 The Kingdom of God is not what you think. And if we are to discover it and be in the center of it, we must get our finite minds around the fact that all these other things...all this busyness..."shall be added" but they are not our first pursuit (Matthew 6:33). That the Gospel compels us to live with our eyes open to wherever God might reveal Himself on any particular day at anytime. That we cannot live out the Light unless we live a given existence. Unless we become a "living sacrifice" in a world that takes and is all about what benefits the self. 
 If any of us want to find the heart of the Gospel, the right-center of the Christian life and the Kingdom, we have to understand that it will not always appear as we expect it to. And God help us all not to miss it when it does