Someone recently told me that they were surprised to hear that I struggled with depression. So, as a follow-up to my post entitled Discouragement is Depressing I wanted to talk a bit about depression in the first person. First I have to say that anyone who has read the Psalms understands that dark times and seasons are not reserved for the ungodly. Depression hits the best of us and, if we allow it, depression will help us change.

I wish that I wasn't so familiar with depression. Honestly, family events have devastated me over the years. Family life has often been brutal since my first wife's heart failure in 1990 and her death in 1994. Watching my son and daughter struggle with their mother's death has probably been the hardest and most depressing of all things in my life. I started experiencing health problems in 1999 that severely limited my ability to walk and exercise. In 2002 my beautiful wife Ann was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Life has been hard.

In all this I have had to change and change has not come easy for me ... needing to change has been cause for depression ... giving up on my life goals has brought darkness ... it has not been easy for this onetime fundamentalist. I have found, and I continue to find, that life can only be found in the Lord. I recently shared in our Longest Night service at church about how in deep despair I cried out to the Lord in worship and found Him there during the 4 years of my first wife's illness. The Holy Spirit still brings comfort and encouragement. Depression is not fatal as long as we continue to go to the Lord ... His yoke is easy and burden light.

This is where the battlefield truly lies my dear friends. Going to the Lord in worship and allowing your heart to break before Him ... giving Him your dreams and trusting Him to bring beauty for ashes ... the oil of joy for mourning ... this is where we find life ... as we let go. I read this verse this morning:
God helped them as they fought. God handed the Hagrites and all their allies over to them, because they cried out to him during the battle. God answered their prayers because they trusted him. (1 Chronicles 5:20)
God helped them as they fought because they prayed ... because they trusted Him. Make no mistake about this - depression is an intense spiritual battle ... one that only the Lord can win for us ... but only as we fight ... only as we pray ... only as we trust. I wish I could say that the battle was easy but it is not. I'll close with this quote from author John Eldredge:
"The story of your life is the story of the journey of your heart through a dangerous and beautiful world. It's the story of the long and sustained assault on your heart by the Enemy who knows who you could be ... and fears you. But it's also the story of the long and mysterious pursuit of your heart by the God who knows you truly and loves you deeply."
Depression is an assault on our hearts by an enemy who wants us to believe that there is no redemption in pain. As 2006 closes I am reminded that this is why I write ... to remind you that God has an eye for redemption ... He can bring beautiful redemption from the ashes of depression. My life is a testimony to that redemption.

Letting Go of the Answers

Dealing with pain, sickness and death is an integral part of life and living. For many Christians these issues are somewhat complicated by their theology of health and healing. Often believers are frustrated and discouraged because of long seasons of sickness and pain that sometimes result in more pain and sometimes death. Because they believe so much in healing they stay in denial of the reality of their situation. Their expectations of life just seem to get in the way.

Something that my wife once said has helped me. She said that "healing is a gift". As I reflected on that I began to better understand the dynamics of prayer and healing. If we believe that health and healing are gifts then our attitude (as we pray) should not be one of entitlement but one of humility. We present our need to the Lord and trust Him to give us the appropriate gift ... sometimes endurance, sometimes strength in weakness and sometimes miraculaous healing. Maybe trust is only trust when we let go of the answer to our prayer.

Does this challenge you to pray differently? It does me. So often I focus my prayers on answers and really don't put myself in a place of vulnerability and humility. I come to the Lord knowing what I want. I have a specific answer to my prayer in my mind and really don't want God to answer in any other way. I think that I put myself in a place where I am sitting on God's lap in Macy's department store telling Him what I want.

With a new year coming I want to find a new way to pray ... maybe a new year has nothing to do with prayer ... I want to find that place of trust where I really believe that God will give me the best gift when I come to Him in prayer. Maybe the secret of this kind of prayer is to just talk to God in a non-religious fashion where I am brutally honest with Him and, as a result, myself. Possibly the real idea behind prayer is to connect with Him as you do with a good friend. Maybe by letting go of the answers to our prayers we will really start to believe that our loving God is sovereign in our affairs. Maybe with the Apostle Paul we will be able to say:

"Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn't get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan's angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn't think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, My grace is enough; it's all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ's strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size--abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become." (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, The Message)


Virgin Conception

From the teaching ministry of Sam Storms.

Ten important observations about the virgin conception of Jesus Christ:

  1. The virgin birth was not a demonstrable event. By this I mean it was not the sort of miracle that was subject to empirical investigation and proof (as were, for example, the resurrection and the healing of Acts 3-4). We either believe the virgin birth or not based upon our belief in the reality of the supernatural and the integrity of Scripture.

  2. The virgin birth was not the beginning of the Son of God. The Son of God was eternally pre-existent (cf. John 1:1; 8:58). The virgin birth is only the beginning of the God-man, Jesus.

  3. The virgin birth does not entail a reduction or denial of the deity of Christ. There was not in the virgin birth a transformation of deity into humanity, as if to suggest that the second person of the Trinity has been transmuted into a man. God the Son did not cease to be God when he became a man.

  4. The virgin birth does not entail a reduction or denial of the humanity of Christ. William Barclay evidently believed that it did, and therefore rejected it:

    "The great difficulty is its impact upon the belief in the incarnation. If the virgin birth is a literal fact, then the conclusion is quite inescapable that Jesus came into the world in a way that is different from that in which every other man comes into the world, and that . . . we can no longer hold to his full manhood and his full humanity. . . . The supreme problem of the doctrine of the virgin birth is that . . . it leaves us with a Jesus who is half-and-between, neither fully divine nor yet fully human" (The British Weekly, Jan/Feb, 1963).

    Barclay believed that unless you are born of both man and woman, you are not truly human. But there are three ways of coming into being:1) born of man and woman (us); 2) born of man but not woman (Eve); 3) born of neither man nor woman (Adam). All admit that we, as well as Adam and Eve, are all human. So why not then a fourth way of coming into being: 4) born of woman but not man (Jesus)? Furthermore, contrary to Barclay's view, the NT provides overwhelming evidence both for the reality of the virgin birth and the full humanity of Jesus.

    What about the purely biological implications of a virgin conception and birth? The Bible is clear that Jesus did not have a biological father. But if he is to be truly human, he must have a Y chromosome. Where did it come from? There would appear to be only two options: either (1) he got it directly from his biological father (either Joseph or someone else); or (2) God provided it through a miraculous and providential act.

  5. The virgin birth does not require us to believe in the immaculate conception of Mary (as proclaimed by Pope Pius IX on Dec. 8, 1854). The doctrine of the "immaculate conception" is the idea that Mary herself was conceived without sin. The Roman Catholic Church also teaches that "in consequence of a Special Privilege of Grace from God, Mary was free from every personal sin during her whole life" (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 203; this view was endorsed by Augustine). But there is not one word in the NT that remotely suggests Mary was conceived in a way different from any other human being. Furthermore, Mary herself confessed she was a sinner in need of a savior (Luke 1:47).

  6. The virgin birth does not require us to believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary (as proclaimed by the Council of Trent in 1545-63; but also embraced by a number of Protestant Reformers, including Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli; and perhaps John Wesley).

    According to Matthew 1:25, Joseph “knew her not [i.e., didn’t have sexual relations with her] until she had given birth to a son.” In Luke 2:7 Jesus is described as her "firstborn" son. If she had remained a virgin, would not Luke have described Jesus as her "only" son?

    Jesus' younger half-brothers and half-sisters, born later to Joseph and Mary, are mentioned in the NT (Mk. 3:31-35; 6:3; Lk. 8:19-21; Jn. 2:12; 7:1-5,10; Acts 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:5; Gal. 1:19). Epiphanius (4th century) argued that they were Joseph's children by a previous marriage. Joseph was supposedly a widower who brought to his marriage with Mary at least four sons and two daughters (Mk. 6:3). Jerome (4th century) was the first to suggest they were "cousins" (the view traditionally held by the Roman Catholic Church). A problem with both these views is the way Mark 6:3 and Matthew 12:46 closely associate Jesus' "brothers and sisters" to Jesus' "mother" rather than to Joseph.

    Even if Mary did not have other children, this does not prove she remained a virgin all her life. This doctrine would also require us to believe in the perpetual virginity of Joseph! Finally, this idea is based on an ascetic, un-biblical view of sex, according to which sexual relations are somehow defiling or demeaning.

  7. The virgin birth does not elevate Mary to a place of veneration, contrary to these claims of previous Popes:

    "God has committed to Mary the treasury of all good things, in order that everyone may know that through her are obtained every hope, every grace, and all salvation. For this is his will, that we obtain everything through Mary" (Pope Pius IX, 1846-78).

    "As no man goes to the father but by the son, so no one goes to Christ except through his mother" (Pope Leo XIII, 1953).

    "It is the will of God that we should have nothing which is not passed through the hands of Mary" (Pope Pius XII, 1953).

    There was a movement within the RCC just a few years ago to have Mary elevated/exalted to co-redemptrix. However, and thankfully, John Paul II did not endorse it and there is no indication that Benedict is so inclined.

  8. The Virgin Birth alone insured both the full deity and full humanity of Jesus. If God had created Jesus a complete human being in heaven and sent him to earth apart from any human parent, it is difficult to see how he could be truly a man. If God had sent his Son into the world through both a human father and mother, it is difficult to see how he could be truly God.

    Rather, "God, in his wisdom, ordained a combination of human and divine influence in the birth of Christ, so that his full humanity would be evident to us from the fact of his ordinary human birth from a human mother, and his full deity would be evident from the fact of his conception in Mary's womb by the powerful work of the Holy Spirit" (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 530).

    Menno Simons, founder and father of the Mennonites, argued that Jesus did not receive his body from Mary. Rather, the Holy Spirit placed within her womb a God-created fetus to which she merely gave birth. He writes: "The Son of God transformed Himself into the elements of a man, into a human germ, which deposited in the womb of the Virgin, prepared by the Holy Spirit (the conception), and appointed to undergo a truly human development, through which He should regain the dignity He had laid aside."

    But this would be hard to reconcile with Galatians 4:4 (Jesus was "born of a woman"); Luke 1:42 ("fruit of your womb"); and Romans 1:3 (he was “descended from David according to the flesh"; more literally, “of the seed of David”).

  9. Was the Virgin Birth necessary to secure the humanity of Jesus from the corrupting taint of inherited sin? Among those who have said “Yes” are Gregory the Great, Ambrose, Augustine, Aquinas, and Luther. The line of descent from Adam to Jesus is partially interrupted in view of the fact that he did not have a human father. But why would he not have inherited corruption of nature from Mary? Luke tells us it is because the Holy Spirit is responsible for Christ's conception that the child in Mary's womb is to be called "holy" (Luke 1:35).

    Contrary to popular opinion, there is no biblical evidence to suggest that the sin nature is transmitted exclusively through the father's seed.

  10. The principal reason for the virgin birth was so the entry of God into human flesh might be by divine initiative. It is not by any human act or decision that salvation comes to us. It was wholly the work of God. Man does nothing. Mary did nothing (other than to submit to what God would do). Joseph did nothing. God did it all. The virgin birth, says Bloesch, “graphically shows that salvation comes ‘from above’ and that the source of our hope and confidence lies in the living God who entered into human history in the historical figure of Jesus Christ. The virgin birth marks off the origin of Christ from the human race just as his end is marked off by the resurrection” (94).
Great indeed is the mystery of godliness: God “was manifested in the flesh” (1 Timothy 1:16)!

In the Final Analysis

People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered...
forgive them anyway

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives...
be kind anyway

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies...
succeed anyway

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you...
be honest and frank anyway

What you may spend years building, someone may destroy overnight...
build anyway

If you find serenity and happiness, people may be jealous...
be happy anyway

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow...
do good anyway

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough...
give the world the best you have anyway

You see, in the final analysis, it's all between you and God...
it was never between you and them anyway

by Mother Teresa


An excerpt from my booklet on pain.

It was during a difficult episode of my life that the Lord brought this message home to me loud and clear. I had been employed by a firm for two years and had been promoted several times. I was experiencing good success and found myself managing a large software development organization. It was during this time that my director flew in to meet with me. I didn't think much of the meeting. I had no reason for concern … my group was performing well. The meeting progressed and I was told that I met my yearly numbers and that I was getting a nice raise and a bonus. As the meeting continued I was told that I was being replaced. The reasons given for my replacement were somewhat political in nature and I could not believe what was happening to me. Denial, the first stage of grief, was settling in.

As the days progressed I was consumed with thoughts of payback. I conjured up e-mail after e-mail of what I would say to the appropriate men that had maligned me. I wanted to tell others of how unfairly I was treated. I felt betrayed and wanted to vent my pain. It was during this time that the Lord began to speak to me about revenge. I remember setting up a meeting with my director's manager … knowing that the session would accomplish nothing I spoke with him anyway … in a sense I was trying to avenge myself. During this time the Holy Spirit began to make me aware of what I was beginning to do. One day, as I sat at my computer composing an e-mail message to an executive in my organization, I heard Him whisper to me "You can go there if you wish … but if you do I will not go with you." I'm not sure that I can adequately put into words the sense that came over me. I can only describe it as the fear of God. I immediately deleted the message.

As the days passed I became aware of my vengeful thoughts. I had never considered that "telling my story" or "clearing the air" could be construed as revenge. I am convinced that much gossip and "prayer requests" are cloaked forms of revenge. This is so sinister and goes so deep. I am reminded of the time in the gospels when James and John were offended at the people of a Samaritan village and asked Jesus if He would let them call down fire on the town. Jesus rebuked them and said "You do not know what spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them." You know, many of us act in like manner when we are offended or treated unfairly. We need to learn the lesson of the cross.

Biblical Definition of Marriage

Andy Bryan asks
will someone please give the the scripture citations to which people are referring when they say "Biblical definition of marriage"?
Micah answers him with the following:
Andy, I'm having a hard time understanding why I am entering this discussion with you, but so that you will be educated, I will tell that most people who use this phrase are referring to Matthew 19:3-9 (Or Mark 10:2-12, or Ephesians 5:25-32) which quote Genesis 2:24 "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh." (often in close proximity to a quote of Genesis 1:27 "male and female He created them.") Under this definition, a marriage is between a single man and a single woman, who are joined together by God as a single person.

I, of course, have a more expansive understanding of this verse, and I imagine that you do, too. But that doesn't mean that those who assert that there is a "Biblical definition of marriage" are making it up. They are not, and we will get lots farther when we learn enough Bible not to claim otherwise. We can argue about what that definition means or refers to or whatever, but it's just not true that there isn't one. Lack of Biblical knowledge on the part of Progressive Mainline ministers will doom us to an asskicking in these discussions. And we will deserve it.

One semester of "Intro to the Old Testament" is nothing compared to a lifetime of taking the Bible seriously and reading it every day.
Amen Micah! I especially liked that last paragraph ... an admonition and encouragement to us all.

Discouragement is Depressing

From the heart of David:
I cry out loudly to GOD, loudly I plead with GOD for mercy. I spill out all my complaints before him, and spell out my troubles in detail: "As I sink in despair, my spirit ebbing away, you know how I'm feeling, Know the danger I'm in, the traps hidden in my path. Look right, look left-- there's not a soul who cares what happens! I'm up against it, with no exit-- bereft, left alone. I cry out, GOD, call out: 'You're my last chance, my only hope for life!' Oh listen, please listen; I've never been this low. Rescue me from those who are hunting me down; I'm no match for them. Get me out of this dungeon so I can thank you in public. Your people will form a circle around me and you'll bring me showers of blessing!" (Psalms 142)
From the sermon notes of David Jeremiah:
Psalm 142 is a beautiful presentation of the cycle of discouragement everyone goes through at some point in life. David writes these words in a cave in which he is hiding from Saul, who wants to kill him.

David gives a detailed descripton of his pain saying he is disoriented; his spirit is muffled within him. He says he has been deserted. He says his feelings of disorientation and desertion have resulted in depression. David says he is defeated; he has no hope for the future.

David teaches us that it is okay to tell God how we feel. He paints God a picture of how he feels, and teaches us that it is okay to visualize your problem if you keep it in perspective.

We can take comfort in the fact that God already is aware of our problems before we even approach him, and he understands. When he sees God’s strength, his problem begins to fade away. Someone wrote, “Friend, there’s no living in the land of the living like living on the living God.”
Knowing that discouragement, depression and pain are experiences that are common to all of us gives us a bit of hope. Many of the greatest people of all times traveled through very dark places to emerge as people of great courage and fortitude. Pain will shape us - sometimes for the good and sometimes not.

What About Kansas Bob?

For reasons known to only me I changed the URL of my (other) daily blog to I am enjoying posting over there a bit more frequently and on a wider variety of subjects. I still enjoy posting here once or twice a week so stay tuned here (and) there.


On the eve of His merciless crucifixion Jesus had this experience:
And He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him. When He arrived at the place, He said to them, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation." And He withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, "Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done." Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. (Luke 22:39-44)
If you think about the context of Jesus' prayer before the cross, "Thy will be done" takes on a profound meaning that is at odds with the way most folks seem to pray those words in a clichéd fashion. For me, praying that prayer has, on several occasions, been a deeply moving experience of surrender to a will that was truly not my own. One month before my first wife passed away I found myself praying that prayer and releasing her into God's hands. It was the hardest prayer that I had ever prayed. Maybe that is the way God's will often is ... maybe trust is only trust when it involves an acceptance of extremely difficult circumstances.
"Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done."
After praying that anquished prayer of acceptance in the garden ... accepting the fate of three nails and a cross ... we find that Jesus moved with much strength through a time of great suffering and trial. Our lesson ... maybe trust is only trust when it involves acceptance of things that we don't understand ... things that fly in the face of our theology ... in the face of the way we think that things should be ... accepting trouble, as well as good, from the loving hands of God.

The Longest Night

This year our church is having a "Longest Night" service. The idea was inspired by a counselor friend of mine who told me about how her Methodist church acknowledges people's pain on the night of the winter solstice (December 21st).
As I researched for this church service I came across this meditation written by Rev. Diane Hendricks in 2001.

Longest Night Meditation

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

Only it's not.
  • Not for everyone.
  • Not when there is an empty chair at the table.
  • Not when your body is ravaged with illness.
  • Not when the depression is too much to bear.
  • Not without her voice joining yours on the Christmas carols.
  • Not when you feel all alone even in a crowd.
  • Not when you are not sure you can even afford the rent or mortgage, let alone the presents.
  • Not when they are trying their best to the best of you.
  • Not when another Christmas party means he will come home drunk again.
It's the most wonderful time of the year?

No, it's not.

And trying to smile and say Merry Christmas is more than difficult. It's pretty near impossible.

C.S. Lewis once wrote:
"No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning..."
It's the most wonderful time of the year.

Only it's not.
  • Not after he has died.
  • Not after the doctor gave you the news.
  • Not after they told you they would be downsizing.
  • Not after... you fill in the blank.
  • Not after September 11.
  • Not when there is so much violence and destruction in the world.
In truth, it has never been the most wonderful time of the year. Certainly not in the days surrounding that first Christmas so long ago. The story of the birth of Jesus is not to be told with a jolly voice and a merry ho-ho-ho.
It is the story of a teenage girl, pregnant with a child that is not her husband's.

It is the story of a child born in a dirty animal stall.
It is the story of a family of refugees who had to flee their homeland so that their child would not be killed.
It is the story of one sent into the world in peace who was condemned to death.
It is the story of a light sent to shine in the darkness, which the world snuffed out.
It is the story of God's never-ending, self-giving mercy which was rejected and condemned.
In the great work the Messiah, Handel quotes the prophet Isaiah, proclaiming that Jesus was "despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." One great theologian reminds us that we cannot come to the manger without acknowledging that it lays in the shadow of the cross.

It is not the most wonderful time of the year.

Only it is!

It is:
  • If we forget about the tinsel and the trees.
  • If we forget about the holly jolly tidings.
  • If we forget about the presents and the ornaments and the trappings.
And remember.

Remember the story.
  • Mary was alone and afraid.
    But God was with her and exalted her among women.
  • Joseph was disgraced.
    But God revealed in Joseph's cause for disgrace God's plan to save the world.
  • The world was in darkness.
    But God sent the light of life to shine.
  • The lowly were imprisoned.
    But Jesus set them free.
  • The blind wandered aimlessly.
    But Christ gave them eyes to see.
  • The lame were rejected.
    But through the Holy One they were made to leap and dance.
  • The deaf were confined to the silence.
    But the song of life unstopped their ears.
  • The sorrowful grieved.
    But God wipes away our tears.
  • We were alone.
    But in Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God is with us.
  • The people rejected God.
    But God embraces us.
  • The world crucified Christ.
    But God would not allow that to be the last word, and gave us the sure hope of the resurrection.
It is the most wonderful time of the year, not because you have to be cheery and happy and merry.

But because you don't.

You can have heavy spirits and shattered dreams. Broken hearts and deep wounds.

And still God comes to be with you.
  • To comfort you.
  • To redeem you.
  • To save you.
  • To restore you.
  • To empower you.
  • To strengthen you.
  • To grant you peace.
  • To be raised for you.
  • To hold you in the communion of saints with those whom you have loved and lost.
  • To store your tears in his bottle.
  • To offer you eternal life.
It is the most wonderful time of the year.
For Christ is born.
Love has come.
God is with us!
Thanks be to the Lord our God.

Rev. Diane Hendricks
16 December 2001

Teenage Pain

Urban Monk's recent post reminded of how hard my teen years often were. This past year I have achieved some significant healings as I have gone back to those times and asked Jesus to heal and free me.

Yesterday before church, while I was talking to my friend Michael, I got choked up as I remembered an experience in the youth group at my church in New York. I walked away from my conversation with Michael not wanting to deal with the memory. Thank God the Holy Spirit brought the memory back to me as I entered into worship. As I entered His presence He brought me back to that painful teenage experience where I was shamed by my pastor for making a mistake that cost the church about $35. As I flashed back the Lord spoke to me and said that my pastor sinned against me. Words cannot express how free I felt when He spoke those words to me. His words set me free to speak words of forgiveness for that pastor. As I did I felt a release from the pain of the memory. It amazes me because I had gone back to that memory many times and couldn't experience freedom until the Lord spoke truth to me.

Maybe healing can only come when He speaks to us and helps us to process our pain through His eyes of redemption. Maybe that is what this scripture is, in part, all about:

So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John 8:31-32)

Contentment through Discontentment

Barbara's post on contentment caused me to remember something that I wrote about ten years ago in my meditations on the life of Job:
It was the summer of 1988. Things were normal. Life seemed to be "a piece of cake". I was being considered for a new position with my company and I was sure that I would get it. Things looked good and suddenly the bottomed dropped out and someone else got the position. Seems trivial in light of "boils all over". After all I still had a job. Sure my ego was bruised - so what. Well the what is prayer. I began to pray about my situation - and God began to talk. He told me that my problem involved contentment. Sure I wasn't content with my job but it was only because I knew the future of computer technology lied with that "other" job. I continued to pray and God continued to talk to me about being content. I worked on being content with my job. Then God said something to me that created a change in my life. He told me that though I was not content with what I did, I was very content with who I was ... and I no longer sought Him. You see, if you are content with yourself, you don't have to change ... you don't have to be a seeker. I realized that I had the whole thing reversed - God wanted to bring about change in my life as I sought him in prayer. He wanted to bring contentment with things through a discontentment with my spiritual life.

Back to Job and complaining. Do you think that much of our complaining comes from a lack of contentment? I believe that we can only really be content when we become thoroughly discontent with who we are - when we seek God and let him bring contentment into our lives.
I re-read this and wondered if I have become spiritually lazy? You know I really want to rationalize this 18 year old message away but just can't seem to get there. I think that contentment can only come through seeking the Lord in prayer. The message of contentment seems to come loud and clear in these passages:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)
The cold hard reality of contentment is that even in a very difficult place we can be content if we seek the Lord in prayer. Paul was in jail when he wrote Philippians and spoke about contentment in a hard place. It is notable to read that "I can do all things" is written in the context of contentment ... in the context of a jail cell. Today I suggest that we consider and evaluate what we are content with - ourselves or our circumstances? The truth is that if we are content spiritually we will not pray in a way that causes us to change.

Mary, Did You Know

Milly reminded me of this beautiful Christmas song ... it makes you wonder.

Mary, Did You Know

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Did you know
That your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know
That your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you've delivered
Will soon deliver you

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Did you know
That your baby boy will calm a storm with His hand?
Did you know
That your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little boy
You've kissed the face of God

Mary, did you know?
The blind will see
The deaf will hear
And the dead will live again
The lame will leap
The dumb will speak
The praises of the Lamb

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Did you know
That your baby boy will one day rules the nations?
Did you know
That your baby boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you're holding
Is the Great I Am

The Seven Words of The Serenity Prayer

Barbara posted the Serenity Prayer yesterday and it reminded me of a time in the late 90s when I was a part of ToughLove, a parents support group. Each night before we closed our meeting we would pray the Serenity Prayer and this is what we would pray:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
I once led a ToughLove group discussion where I talked about that prayer we prayed each week and examined seven words from the prayer. He is a (word-by-word) recap of what I said:
  • God: The Westminster Catechism defines as a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. If you are going to ask for help you need to ask somone who is willing and able to help.
  • Serenity: Synonyms are calmness, tranquillity, peacefulness, quietness, uncloudedness. Worry is the opposite of serenity; a frustrated attempt to “do something”. When we act out of worry and other emotions we create more problems. When we act out of serenity we can have confidence in our actions.
  • Accept: To receive willingly or favorably, agree to, concur with, release. Wanting a “normal” life causes us to deny the way things really are. Only when we “accept” can we focus on the things we can change.
  • Change: To make different. Often we want things to be different as long as we don’t have to change. If we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always got.
  • Courage: The ability to meet danger or opposition with fearlessness, calmness and firmness. The most courageous word in our language is often “no” (i.e. to old habits). Sometimes we need encouragement from others to support our actions.
  • Wisdom: Synonyms are discernment, judgment, uncommon-sense. Like serenity, wisdom often comes through patience and experience. Wisdom often comes from other people who have “been there” before.
  • Know: To be sure of, understand, recognize, distinguish between. To act or not to act - often our knowing is less than perfect. Often we can rationalize ourselves out of doing something we know to do.
If you find yourself worried, troubled, anxious, or just dealing with some angst in your life try praying the Serenity Prayer ... it may help you to cast your cares on the Lord.

An Inspiring Psalm

Often, I read something that evokes a deep reaction in my heart. Today Julie Bogart posted something that did just that. Here are the beginning verses to "A Psalm: in honor of James Cone".
God is at work, even while I sleep.

As a child, I slept in my 1960s white middle class Californian home
and didn't praise God
African Americans, under the burden of Jim Crow laws,
thanked God for their daily bread
They sang that God would some day "swing low" and "carry them home"

In junior high, I looked to God for my deliverance from sin
so that I might go to heaven
Black Americans looked to God for their deliverance from my sins,
from the sins white people committed against them
that they might know heaven on earth.
The remainder of this psalm is truly magnificent. I encourage you to read the rest of it and encourage Julie at her blogspot. I join with Julie echoing the last verse of her psalm: "Glory be to the God of the oppressed!"

Just what Bloggerville needed

Just what Bloggerville needed ... a new blog from Kansas. Here is the intro to this new blog:
This is my attempt to consolidate my rantings and musings on life, politics, entertainment and trivia into one stewpot of rhetoric and monkey business.

These posts will tend to be daily and brief in nature and simply reflect what is going on in my boring world. I am also consolidating several other old blogposts (sans comments) onto this site - so I can get rid of all of my old blogsites.

I will continue to post to "An Eye for Redemption" once or twice a week with my insights on God, pain and trials ... some of these thoughts may bleed into this site but not intentionally.
Stop by and visit. I have consolidated 10 posts from my now defunct blogs for your reading pleasure.

Learning from Anger

Today's post comes from a friend (Kent Hotaling) of a friend (John Gilman). It is an insightful exposé of the affects of anger in one's life. I related to it on many levels. Blessings to you as you read. -- KB

About twenty years ago Kay and I were driving along and I asked a question that got an answer I had not expected. We had just been with a friend who was struggling with anger that was harmful to him and to those close to him. Musingly I asked Kay, “Do you think I’m an angry person?” There was a long silence and I knew I was in trouble! Eventually she said something to the effect that I had a core of anger and by discipline I kept it under control so most people never saw it. It only came out with her and our sons. Very painful to hear, but it set me on a journey to let God deal with this in my life.

One of the first things we did was ask God to heal this in my life. Next we signed up for a weekend seminar on anger. There were many new ideas from that weekend. The one that was the most helpful was for me to follow the pain trail back to the source of anger. Later my study brought the same idea from Dallas Willard:

“Anger indulged, instead of simply waved off, always has in it an element of self-righteousness and vanity. The importance of the self and the real or imaginary wound received is blown out of all proportion by those who indulge anger.” The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard

And this also led to the idea that anger is an emotion that hides the true emotion in the situation. It is a masking emotion. The key to dealing with anger is to recognize the emotion underneath the anger. All of these emotions have in common, pain that has us focused on ourselves rather than on Jesus and others. Some of the roots of anger are:

  1. Pain and abuse in our lives that has not been healed by forgiveness and leaves us with resentment and bitterness.

  2. Shame and guilt for the wrong things we have done that hurt others and ourselves.

  3. Fear of failure that can only be resolved by trusting in the life of Jesus lived in us in the fearful situation.

  4. Loneliness with the accompanying feelings of not being esteemed, of being unworthy.

  5. Feelings of inferiority that arise from any of the four ideas just mentioned.

In some people anger is hidden behind other emotions. If we grow up being taught that anger is always wrong than our anger remains hidden from us. This is often true for those of us who are forthright followers of Jesus. We control or bury our anger so we will not dishonor Jesus. We think of being disappointed in people or feeling low or some other emotion that explains our discomfort rather than admitting we are angry and learning to deal with it in a positive way.

C.S. Lewis helped me see the tyranny of my anger in our home when he wrote:

“Did we pretend to be angry about one thing when we knew, or could have known, that our anger had a different and much less presentable cause? Did we pretend to be “hurt” in our sensitive and tender feelings when envy, ungratified vanity, or thwarted self-will was our real trouble? Such tactics often succeed. The other parties give in. They give in not because they don’t know what is really wrong with us but because they have known it only too well, and that sleeping dog can be roused only at the cost of imperiling their whole relationship with us. It needs surgery, which they know we will never face. And so we win: by cheating. Indeed what is commonly called “sensitiveness” is the most powerful engine of domestic tyranny, sometimes a lifelong tyranny. How we should deal with it in others I am not sure; but we should be merciless at its first appearance in ourselves. C.S. Lewis in Reflections on the Psalms

This tyranny is exercised with some of the following weapons:

    • Shouting and physical violence

    • Holding in contempt; devaluing; name calling

    • Depression which is anger turned inward

    • Manipulation and control to dominate the person

    • Sarcasm

    • Righteous reasonableness that overwhelms the other

    • The silent treatment

    • Playing the martyr

The Apostle Paul is very clear that we have the choice on whether or not we use these weapons. In letters to the fellowship in Ephesus he writes: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger.” I can choose to be angry or I can choose to lay down my weapons and “be kind and compassionate and forgiving.” Thomas Merton writes, "A temperamentally angry man may be more inclined to anger than another. But as long as he remains sane he is still free not to be angry." Thoughts in Solitude by Thomas Merton

A very helpful insight was to discover that anger was an emotion that is part of God’s nature and therefore not wrong in itself. Paul wrote, “In your anger do not sin.” Anger is not always sin. Lewis B. Smedes wrote it this way:

“I think that anger and forgiving can live together in the same heart. You are not a failure at forgiving just because you are still angry that a painful wrong was done to you. Anger is the executive power of human decency. If you do not get angry and stay angry when a bad thing happens, you lose a piece of your humanity.” Forgive and Forget by Lewis B. Smedes

Anger becomes sin when it is indulged and that is why we are to deal with it in a positive way before the sun goes down. If it is buried – it is buried alive and when it resurfaces it inflicts the pain that has been festering on all those near us. So Smedes adds these thoughts:

“Express your malice, but you need to express it to somebody who can help you get rid of it. You can express it secretly to God, or to someone who represents God to you. Then, you can let God handle those people you would like to manhandle in your hate. If they need teaching, let God teach them. If they need rescuing from their own stupidity, let God rescue them. If they need saving from their own crazy wickedness, let God save them. Malice is a misery that needs healing. Anger is energy that needs direction. After malice, let anger do its reforming work. Forgiving and anger can be partners in a good cause.”

What is the reforming work that anger can do? First of all it can focus for us our need to stay on the journey with Jesus in which he is moving us from self-centeredness to being centered in him. As this is happening it can also produce in us a desire to right the wrongs that have stirred us to anger. But in this reforming work we have to be on guard against the seductiveness of “self-righteous anger”. Willard writes.

“Anger and condemnation, like vengeance, are safely left to God. We must beware of believing that it is okay for us to condemn as long as we are condemning the right things. It is not so simple as all that. I can trust Jesus to go into the temple and drive out those who were profiting from religion, beating them with a rope. I cannot trust myself to do so.”

And Willard adds another caution and some counsel in this matter of anger doing its reforming work.

“Feelings are, with a few exceptions, good servants. But they are disastrous masters. The proper course of action is to replace destructive feelings with others that are good, or to subordinate them—anger and sexual desire, for example—in a way that makes them constructive and transforms their effects. The process of spiritual formation in Christ will do this by grace—effectively and intelligently received, and put into constant practice.” Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard

So what am I learning about the positive benefits of anger in my life.

  • I am learning the power of forgiveness. Forgiveness frees me to care about the person who angers me and to care about the people they have hurt.

  • I am learning to follow the trail of pain in my life to expose the places where I have been wounded; the things for which I am ashamed; and the ways I have become fearful. And I am discovering healing from the Lord and from my friendships with others.

  • I am learning to use the energy of anger to pray for people and situations in Africa and other parts of the world where my natural inclination is to “beat tyrants with a rope.” In fact, as anger is less a destructive force in my life it is giving me greater passion for the work of the Kingdom in all the things God gives me to do.

Kent Hotaling
November 2006

Give thanks to the Lord our God and King

We sang this song last Sunday. It is a good reminder of why we give thanks.
By: Chris Tomlin

Give thanks to the Lord our God and King
His love endures forever
For He is good, He is above all things
His love endures forever
Sing praise, sing praise

With a mighty hand and out-streched arm
His love endures forever
For the life that's been reborn
His love endures forever

Sing praise, sing praise
Forever God is faithful
Forever God is strong
Forever God is with us
Forever, forever, forever

From the rising to the setting sun
His love endures forever
And by the grace of God we carry on
His love endures forever
Sing praise, sing praise
Singing praise with you on this day we set aside to give Him thanks!

Thankful for You

With Thanksgiving just a few days away I wanted to say thank you to my many friends in the Blogosphere. Your blogsites are a such a blessing to me. So, in honor of the day, I submit to you my short list ... with thanksgiving:
Andy: I am drawn to your heart for ministry!

Barbara: Your vulnerability humbles me!

Bill: Your openness is wonderful!

Brandilyn: Your talent is no mystery!

Codepoke: Your posts have so much heart!

Danny Kaye: Your diligence motivates me!

Danny Sims: Your understanding is outstanding!

Julie: Your honesty frees me!

Karen: Your transparency inpsires me!

Keith: Your posts really do reflect brokenness!

Matt: I am addicted to your emerging humor!

Michael: I miss your heartfelt posts!

Milly: I love your spirit!

Patchouli: Your art causes me to ponder!

Pauly: I miss your insightful posts!

Steve: Your kindness is such a blessing!
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:3-6)

When I run I feel His pleasure ...

Today I would like to examine the legacy of another runner. Like Derek Redmond, Eric Liddell was an Olympic runner. I recently watched the HiDef version of his Olympic story (my all time favorite movie "Chariots of Fire") and wanted to share that experience with you. The video clip below is from that movie and is purely 9 minutes of glorious film making. It traces Eric Liddell's resolve (to not run on Sunday) before the British Olympic Committee, to his reading of Isaiah 40 (in church that Sunday) and finishes with his Gold medal win at the 1924 Olympics ... it is so inspiring.

Here are few of great quotes from the movie:
"Then where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within." -- Eric Liddell

"I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure." -- Eric Liddell

"The "lad", as you call him, is a true man of principles and a true athlete. His speed is a mere extension of his life, its force. We sought to sever his running from himself." -- Duke of Sutherland (speaking of Eric)
In Eric we see a young man preparing to run a greater race ... the race to fulfill his life as a missionary in China. I find it amazing that a man so young understood so much. Real life and power comes from within ... and we feel His pleasure when we run a life from within.

Encouragement and Endurance

I don't know if it gets better than Derek Redmond's race at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. In this video we see the encouraging affect that a dad can have on a son's determination to endure and finish his race.

Here are a few excerpts from the story as remembered by Rick Weinberg:

Redmond arrived at the 1992 Olympic Summer Games in Barcelona determined to win a medal in the 400. The color of the medal was meaningless; he just wanted to win one. Just one.

He had been forced to withdraw from the 400 at the 1988 Games in Seoul, only 10 minutes before the race, because of an Achilles tendon injury. He then underwent five surgeries over the next year. This was the same runner who had shattered the British 400-meter record at age 19. So when the 1992 Games arrived, this was his time, his moment, his stage, to show the world how good he was and who he was.

Derek's father Jim had accompanied him to Barcelona, just as he did for all world competitions. They were as close as a father and son could be. Inseparable, really. The best of friends. When Derek ran, it was as if his father were running right next to him.
The Race
The day of the race arrives. Father and son reminisce about what it took for Derek to get to this point. They talk about ignoring past heartbreaks, past failures. They agree that if anything bad happens, no matter what it is, Derek has to finish the race, period.

The top four finishers in each of the two semifinal heats qualify for the Olympic final. As race time approaches for the semifinal 400 heat, Jim heads up to his seat at the top of Olympic Stadium, not far from where the Olympic torch was lit just a few days earlier. He is wearing a T-shirt that reads, "Have you hugged your foot today?"

The stadium is packed with 65,000 fans, bracing themselves for one of sport's greatest and most exciting spectacles. The race begins and Redmond breaks from the pack and quickly seizes the lead. "Keep it up, keep it up," Jim says to himself.

Down the backstretch, only 175 meters away from finishing, Redmond is a shoo-in to make the finals. Suddenly, he hears a pop. In his right hamstring. He pulls up lame, as if he had been shot.

"Oh, no," Jim says to himself. His face pales. His leg quivering, Redmond begins hopping on one leg, then slows down and falls to the track. As he lays on the track, clutching his right hamstring, a medical personnel unit runs toward him. At the same time, Jim Redmond, seeing his son in trouble, races down from the top row of the stands, sidestepping people, bumping into others. He has no credential to be on the track, but all he thinks about is getting to his son, to help him up. "I wasn't going to be stopped by anyone," he later tells the media.

On the track, Redmond realizes his dream of an Olympic medal is gone. Tears run down his face. "All I could think was, 'I'm out of the Olympics -- again,'" he would say.

As the medical crew arrives with a stretcher, Redmond tells them, "No, there's no way I'm getting on that stretcher. I'm going to finish my race."

Then, in a moment that will live forever in the minds of millions, Redmond lifts himself to his feet, ever so slowly, and starts hobbling down the track. The other runners have finished the race, with Steve Lewis of the U.S. winning the contest in 44.50. Suddenly, everyone realizes that Redmond isn't dropping out of the race by hobbling off to the side of the track. No, he is actually continuing on one leg. He's going to attempt to hobble his way to the finish line. All by himself. All in the name of pride and heart.

Slowly, the crowd, in total disbelief, rises and begins to roar. The roar gets louder and louder. Through the searing pain, Redmond hears the cheers, but "I wasn't doing it for the crowd," he would later say. "I was doing it for me. Whether people thought I was an idiot or a hero, I wanted to finish the race. I'm the one who has to live with it."

One painful step at a time, each one a little slower and more painful than the one before, his face twisted with pain and tears, Redmond limps onward, and the crowd, many in tears, cheer him on.

Suddenly, Jim Redmond finally gets to the bottom of the stands, leaps over the railing, avoids a security guard, and runs out to his son, with two security people chasing after him. "That's my son out there," he yells back to security, "and I'm going to help him."

Finally, with Derek refusing to surrender and painfully limping along the track, Jim reaches his son at the final curve, about 120 meters from the finish, and wraps his arm around his waist.
The Lesson
"I'm here, son," Jim says softly, hugging his boy. "We'll finish together." Derek puts his arms around his father's shoulders and sobs. Together, arm in arm, father and son, with 65,000 people cheering, clapping and crying, finish the race, just as they vowed they would. A couple steps from the finish line, and with the crowd in an absolute frenzy, Jim releases the grip he has on his son, so Derek could cross the finish line by himself. Then he throws his arms around Derek again, both crying, along with everyone in the stands and on TV.

"I'm the proudest father alive," he tells the press afterwards, tears in his eyes. "I'm prouder of him than I would have been if he had won the gold medal. It took a lot of guts for him to do what he did."
I think that this is such a magnificent picture of a father's love. It reminds me of our heavenly Father and how He runs to us when we fall. It is such a picture of encouragement and endurance.


The recent events concerning Ted Haggard's extramarital activity causes me to think about this verse:
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. "So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Matthew 23:27-28)
Before you jump my case and tell me to not judge lest I be judged hear what I have to say about hypocrisy. Firstly I think that we are all hypocrites because so few of us are free to be who we really are in our hearts. I think that religion is a weird phenomenom that puts people in positions where they are compelled to be hypocrites. Something inside of them causes them to reject who they really are and forces them to live external lives that are so different than their trues selves.

Fundamentalism really put me in that place of hypocrisy where my whole identity seemed to be external. I can remember times when I wanted to "go forward" to receive prayer and did not because I couldn't deal with the idea that people would question me as a leader. It seemed that my whole life was built around a charismatic persona where what I did was more important than who I was. It was only in pain that I began to reject living from the outside and start living from the inside - from my heart.

I am still challenged to live a life true to who I really am and to not reject my heart and cowtow to the image of the Christian leader that others might want me to be. It is sometimes a difficult journey because I don't like to be rejected and when you live from your heart rejection often comes - even if it is only in your mind :)

A Selfless Prayer

I give you a bit more inpsiration to pray this morning. This is one of my wife's favorite prayers.
The Prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred let me sow peace;
where there is injury let me sow forgiveness;
where there is doubt let me sow faith;
where there is despair let me give hope;
where there is darkness let me give light;
where there is sadness let me give joy.

0 Lord, grant that I may
not try to be comforted, but to comfort,
not try to be understood but to understand,
not try to be loved but to love.

Because it is in giving that we receive,
it is in forgiving that we are forgiven,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
There is a selflessness communicated in this prayer that I am drawn to. In this coming season where we will celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas let us endeavor to be praying people. God has given us many gifts and we all have much to be thankful for. I pray that we (read that I) will be agents of hope, encouragement and inspiration to those near to us who are very sad around the holidays.

The Prayer

With the US elections just days away I offer you this request to pray. I ask you, even now, to play this video, close your eyes and offer your heart to our Father. Ask Him to, as the Prayer below goes, help us to be wise in times when we don't know and to lead us to a place where we'll be safe.

The Prayer

I pray you'll be our eyes, and watch us where we go.
And help us to be wise in times when we don't know
Let this be our prayer, when we lose our way
Lead us to the place, guide us with your grace
To a place where we'll be safe

La luce che tu hai
I pray we'll find your light
nel cuore restera
and hold it in our hearts.
a ricordarci che
When stars go out each night,
eterna stella sei

The light you have
I pray we'll find your light
will be in the heart
and hold it in our hearts.
to remember us that
When stars go out each night,
you are eternal star
Nella mia preghiera
Let this be our prayer
quanta fede c'e
when shadows fill our day

How much faith there's
Let this be our prayer
in my prayer
when shadows fill our day
Lead us to a place, guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we'll be safe

Sognamo un mondo senza piu violenza
un mondo di giustizia e di speranza
Ognuno dia la mano al suo vicino
Simbolo di pace, di fraternita

We dream a world without violence
a world of justice and faith.
Everyone gives the hand to his neighbours
Symbol of peace, of fraternity
La forza che ci da
We ask that life be kind
e il desiderio che
and watch us from above
ognuno trovi amor
We hope each soul will find
intorno e dentro se
another soul to love

The force his gives us
We ask that life be kind
is wish that
and watch us from above
everyone finds love
We hope each soul will find
around and inside
another soul to love
Let this be our prayer
Let this be our prayer, just like every child

Need to find a place, guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we'll be safe
Need to find a place, guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we'll be safe

E la fede che
hai acceso in noi,
sento che ci salvera

It's the faith
you light in us
I feel it will save us

If Only We Could See

Here are a few great follow-up thoughts to my post on Lady Liberty from our good friend Danny Kaye:


If only we could see the things Lady Liberty has seen from her perch on the water.

She has seen brotherly kindness extended to total strangers.

She has seen glistening hope in the eyes of those who had no hope.

She has seen crowds give up their collective citizenships to become a part of the land over which she watches.

She has seen ship after ship after ship carrying our nation's future leaders and collective heritage.

She has seen the desire for freedom in the souls of the oppressed.

She has seen great things!

If only we could see what she has seen.

Amen Danny! Truly inspired! Thanks for these beautiful words.

Give Me Your Tired and Poor

One of the sweetest memories I have growing up in New York City is the view of the Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island Ferry. Growing up, I lived on Staten Island and, for a few years, went to Brooklyn Technical High School, a magnet type of engineering school. I have vivid memories of seeing Lady Liberty as I traveled to school each day (I took a bus, ferry and subway) and think that she represents some of the best things about America. A poem by Emma Lazarus is graven on a tablet within the pedestal on which the statue stands. Here is what it says:

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

With election day one week away please join me in praying for America ... that we would be a people who care for the poorest amongst us and shows love for the immigrant. While you are at it pray for our churches and religious groups that care for our homeless, hurting and struggling brothers and sisters. Lady Liberty would appreciate it.

The Jungle: The Struggle to Follow

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about a vision that I had about a man walking in a jungle. I followed that post up with another where I introduced the idea of the "Three Struggles of the Heart". I discussed in that post the first struggle: "The Struggle to Survive". Today I want to discuss the second struggle: "The Struggle to Follow".

We pick up the vision story just as the man has taken his first step of faith. So far the journey has been one of intense struggle ... a journey marked with desperation and pain. A Lion has shockingly appeared before the man and invited him to follow Him. The man has taken his first step in following the Lion. He is filled with both wonder and fear ... he is walking a path he has never walked before. This struggle to follow reminds me of a quote from "Waking the Dead", a book by John Eldredge:
"The story of your life is the story of the journey of your heart through a dangerous and beautiful world. It's the story of the long and sustained assault on your heart by the Enemy who knows who you could be ... and fears you. But it's also the story of the long and mysterious pursuit of your heart by the God who knows you truly and loves you deeply."
Following Jesus is an intense struggle. So often we forget that we forget that we have an Enemy. This is the way that Jesus, Paul and Peter put it:
"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)
Isn't it interesting that our spiritual battle involves two different lions ... Jesus, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and Satan, the roaring lion. I often get caught up in the journey - following Jesus and forgetting that I have an Enemy who fights me at every turn. This Enemy is happy to let me live from my head ... He offers little resistance when I am outwardly religious but confronts every step I take in becoming who I am at a heart level. He is happy to allow me to follow Jesus at a head level.

Following Jesus with our heads is a tiring and joyless trip into the land of burnout, frustration and discouragement. Following Jesus in this way affirms the idea that we do not have an enemy ... an adversary ... one who intensely wars against us to rob us and kill our hearts. When we awake to this spiritual warfare we begin to follow Jesus in a different way ... our prayer life is different ... our hearts begin to shine and we begin to experience life at a different level. It is only when we awake to the idea of spiritual warfare that we begin to take that leap onto the back of the Lion.

Church Speak

About 20 years ago ... when I had finally shed most of my Brooklynese ... I began to realize that I still spoke two different English dialects. I spoke one flavor of English when I was around my church friends and another whenever I was around everyone else. I began then to try to synthesize these two dialects into one that could be used regardless of who I was talking to. It wasn't too hard around non-church folks but a bit different for my church friends. Thanks to Bruce and Bob for the link to this one minute video that captures this struggle of language in a very funny way.

Maybe, if we try very hard, we can all eliminate words like these from our vocabulary:
  • Christian: why not use believer?
  • Saved: why not say believed in Jesus?
  • Salvation: why use it at all?
  • Repentance: isn't change good enough?
  • Eucharist: how about (holy) communion?
You get the idea. Maybe you can help us and comment with a few other alternatives to "Church Speak". I need all of the help that I can get.

A Mixed Bouquet

On Thursday Janet Detcher posted about Elmer Hollings' passing on the Kanner Lake blogsite. Kanner Lake is a place where characters from Brandilyn Collin's new novel, Violet Dawn, come alive through the writings of people like me, Jason Joyner and, in this past Thursday's post, Kim Thomas. Jason and I post as Pastor Hank Detcher and Kim posts as Hank's wife Janet.

Kim recently wrote a beautiful heartfelt story about God's ministry to her in pain. It was published by Faith Writers Magazine. Following is a reprint of that article.
A Mixed Bouquet
By Kimberly Thomas

I understand it's been raining where you are ... I mean REALLY raining. Life-storms can sure dump on a person, can't they? I know all about that.

Recently I found a little verse in Psalm 71:20: "Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again." David knew about storms, and like him, many of us have had our share of "troubles, many and bitter."

I've certainly had my portion.

I lost my husband to cancer. Ten weeks from start to finish. Yes, it was hard. It was a tornado. Yes, that storm re-arranged life as I knew it. But it has long since settled down and God restored many things.

I struggled to regain my strength after a stroke. The neurologist told me I should have died. I didn't. That storm wreaked havoc in my life. But, like David, I knew God would restore my life again.

He did. And today, though I should be dead, you would never know I ever had that stroke.

The year after I married again, our newborn son was diagnosed with severe Hemophilia. We were not prepared for that deluge and we wondered what it would mean for our son. By the grace of God, we have learned to navigate those uncharted waters.

In spite of the heavy rains in my life, I have discovered an abundance of blessing … sort of the "flowers after the showers."

I have seen the FAITHFULNESS of God, and I have seen my own FAITH grow. I know that regardless of what the storm looks like, my anchor is held firm in my Rock and my Salvation. What He promises, He will do.

I have learned to LAUGH and to have joy in the middle of the downpour. Proverbs 17:22 tells us, "A cheerful heart is good medicine." I have a cheerful heart, and it is well with my soul. Laughter of the heart can transcend the deepest grief.

According to Rev. Fred Lowery, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church, Bossier City, Louisiana, "Laughter is essential for a balanced life and healthy wellbeing."


There have been lessons in OBEDIENCE. What peace there is in obeying God's call, and obeying His word to stand firm! A portion of Deuteronomy 6:3 tells us to "…be careful to obey so that it may go well with you." God knows what He's doing when He leads me down a path that's unfamiliar. He made the map … I will trust His directions. I will follow Him, and I will have no fear, and it will go well with me.

I discovered a new level of WORSHIP. Psalm 108:3-5: "I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and let your glory be over all the earth."

Worship opens our hearts to God in new and intimate ways. It allows Him to fill us with his love, forgiveness and healing.

I know how to EMPATHIZE with others who been through storms. I understand grief. I understand physical pain. I understand fear of the unknown. I understand depression.

I've learned that through my heartache, I can offer help and hope as others face similar trials. Galatians 6:2 calls us to "Carry each other's troubles and problems, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." As Christ-followers, if we've "been there, done that," it's our privilege to share in the pain of our brothers and sisters and walk alongside them in their struggle.

I have learned to REST in the peace of God. "When you demand answers, you sacrifice peace." That's His word to my aching spirit. I rejoice in the REST found in His strength, care, and in the miracle of His life-changing power.

One more thing I've found is STRENGTH. I have learned that, like Paul, "I can do everything through Him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13). When God calls me to pain, He provides the power I need to get through it. I am stronger now than before the showers.

Have you noticed? My discoveries spell F-L-O-W-E-R-S. It's a mixed bouquet, but I'm tying a ribbon around it and offering it to my Father. I think He'll love it!

(All scripture is taken from the New International Version.)

Kim Thomas is married and the mother of four children, ages 18, 15, 6 and 2. She lives in St. Charles IL, and enjoys reading, traveling, music, writing, public speaking, and spending time with her family. Kim is in the process of writing an autobiography based on her life experience in the death of her first husband.

The Jungle: The Struggle to Survive

Last week I wrote a post about a vision that I had about a man walking in a jungle. I wrote asking for some feedback and promised that I would share a few of my thoughts on the vision at a later time. I have to say that, a week later, I have a few thoughts about this that I didn't have last week. It seems to me that the vision is a picture of struggle that unfolds in three parts - three separate struggles that I am calling "Three Struggles of the Heart". Here are the struggles as I see them:
  1. The struggle to Survive
  2. The struggle to Follow
  3. The struggle to Trust

Today I would like to discuss the struggle of survival. In the vision I saw a man lost in a dense jungle ... he hacked away at the underbrush trying to find a way out of the jungle. I am not sure that I can portray in words the sense of desperation that I felt as I looked at the jungle through the man's eyes. In a sense life really is a jungle. Listen to this and see if you get a sense of the struggle:

The Song of the Little Hunter

Ere Mor the Peacock flutters, ere the Monkey People cry,
Ere Chil the Kite swoops down a furlong sheer,
Through the Jungle very softly flits a shadow and a sigh--
He is Fear, O Little Hunter, he is Fear!
Very softly down the glade runs a waiting, watching shade,
And the whisper spreads and widens far and near.
And the sweat is on thy brow, for he passes even now--
He is Fear, O Little Hunter, he is Fear!

Ere the moon has climbed the mountain, ere the rocks are ribbed with light,
When the downward-dipping trails are dank and drear,
Comes a breathing hard behind thee--snuffle-snuffle through the night--
It is Fear, O Little Hunter it is Fear,
On thy knees and draw the bow; bid the shrilling arrow go;
In the empty, mocking thicket plunge the spear!
But thy hands are loosed and weak, and the blood has left thy cheek--
It is Fear, O Little Hunter, it is Fear!

When the heat-cloud sucks the tempest, when the slivered pine-trees fall,
When the blinding, blaring rain-squalls lash and veer,
Through the war-gongs of the thunder rings a voice more loud than all--
It is Fear, O Little Hunter, it is Fear!
Now the spates are banked and deep; now the footless boulders leap--
Now the lightning shows each littlest leaf--rib clear--
But thy throat is shut and dried, and thy heart against thy side
Hammers: Fear, O Little Hunter--this is Fear!

-- Rudyard Kipling

Survival drips with the refrain "It is Fear, O Little Hunter, it is Fear! ". Fear and desperation are the hallmarks of survival. Machetes in hand we all begin trying get our bearings in the jungle ... trying make our way in the darkness ... it is a period marked with desperation and fear. It is in this time when we discover that we have lost our way. We give up on ourselves and no longer trust our ability to 'think our way' out of the jungle.

It is during this time that the Lion appears with a roar. We are initially afraid - after all, lions are scary. The Lion surprises us and speaks to us ... yikes, a talking lion? The Lion is not like us - He is different in every way. The Lion is not afraid of the jungle. He challenges us by His friendship and His desire to show us the way out of the jungle. Everything in our head cries out against the Lion. Our head tells us that He is taking us to His den to eat us ... more fear arises as we ponder the words of the Lion ... how can we overcome the fear? Then ... overcoming our 'rational' fears ... we take a step with our heart ... it is the first step of real survival. It is the first time that we walk with our heart and not our head. It is the first step out of the jungle.

Pray for the Sudan

Kelli Standish has a good post on the Sudan. I don't think much about this country ... maybe posts like these will help turn our hearts to pray. This video is especially moving ... take a few minutes out of your busy day and watch it ... let your heart break and pray for these that Jesus loves.

No Shortcuts

The following great article is brought to you by my friend Nathan Malone ... born in Kansas but currently living in Texas.

“Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails.” (Proverbs 19:21)

A few days ago, God stirred my heart to study about David. I was fascinated that after God had anointed him king of Israel in 1 Samuel 16 that he faced years of struggle before he actually became king. As God was showing me the struggles that David went through, He showed me something I found interesting. When Saul wanted to kill David and David ran, there were two instances (1 Sam. 24:3-7 & 1 Sam. 26:5-10) in which David had the opportunity to kill Saul and become king. In spite of the support of David’s men, David chose not to kill Saul. As I was reading those two instances I heard the Lord speak to my heart, “No shortcuts”.

I believe that as many of us are standing on promises and plans that God has given to us, there are opportunities for us to take shortcuts. By shortcuts I mean our attempts to “take things into our own hands”. David was given two opportunities to kill Saul and thus, accelerate God’s plan through his efforts. While in the midst of these opportunities David showed an unwavering focus toward God’s agenda, even when his destiny seemed within his grasp. He knew that if it was God who had chosen him to be king, it would be God who fulfilled that promise.

The years of struggle and rejection that David experienced had God’s fingerprints all over them. If God’s only desire was to make David king, He could have struck Saul dead and installed David as king instantly. Instead, God used those years of struggle to strengthen the heart of the worshipper and warrior that would lead Israel. Through what David suffered, he experienced the power that comes from total surrender to God’s purposes. Because of his obedience, he experienced a level of protection, provision, and promotion that only God could provide.

When we take a shortcut it robs us of the experience of God’s salvation in our lives. When we miss that experience we miss the true reward: seeing God as “the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). At the end of every battle that we are facing in our lives there is a promise to be fulfilled, a prayer to be answered, and a plan to be established. Our responsibility is to believe God is who He says He is and that He will do what He said He would do (Heb. 11:6). Every promise, prophecy, and plan that God has given to us, He intends to fulfill. The question is “Will we allow Him to finish what He has started?”

God is showing me that my shortcuts need to be avoided at all costs. I pray that He does the same in your life.

Every Little Boy Needs a Hero

Last week I posted about the passing of one of my heroes, Buck O'Neil. This week I received the below eulogy via email from my friend John and wanted to share it with you. It is a eulogy shared by the stepson of Cecil Miller, a Kansas City man. His eulogy is a testament to God's grace in Cecil's life. Enjoy.

Every little boy needs a hero. The year was 1975, and I was every little boy. My life had been turned upside down and stripped of any decent male influence. In modern parlance, we would say that I was a child at risk. Mom was working hard and providing for us; we didn’t go hungry or lack shelter, but children certainly have needs beyond these. Then I met my hero, God’s chosen way of meeting many of those needs in my life. Thus I became one of the fortunate few who gets to live in the same house as a real-life hero.

In the summer of 2005 Laura, the children, and I came to Kansas City to visit Dad and Mom. I asked him why it was that when he was a young man with cultural permission to do nearly whatever he pleased, that he chose to obligate himself to a woman with three little children. Dad said it was because he loved us all, and because he was aware of some acute needs in his own life. He was a broken man, he said, broken largely by the consequences of his own decisions that had cost him his first family and had strained his relationship with his parents, too. And somehow in getting to know mom and all of us, he could see his own salvation on the horizon. He saw faith and stability and responsibility and reciprocal love—all things he needed. And he saw a chance to give his life away in the interest of the well-being of others, a chance to go beyond merely living for himself. I will forever be grateful that he chose Mom and all of us. He needed us and we needed him, and with the helping hand of God guiding the whole process, we all healed and became whole together.

The number of men about whom the word, “hero,” can rightly be used are pretty few in my estimation. To earn this title a man must learn the definition of love, and then live it consistently. At the congregation I serve in Whitefish, Montana, we’ve learned the following Biblical definition of love that we often recite aloud together: “Love is a demonstrated preference for the well-being of others, over and above myself, even at great personal expense, with the help of God’s Holy Spirit.” Dad truly loved us and made that clear. He loved many of you, too, with a love that moved him to pray for you diligently. If a person is extremely fortunate, he or she may be able to count on two hands the number of people who pray for them by name daily. Many of us who are seated in this room today were the subject of daily private conversations between Dad and his God. How did he pray for you? He prayed about any needs or difficulties that you faced, and he prayed that you would know the power of forgiveness received from God and offered, then, to those who hurt you. He prayed that you could know the freedom of a cleansed conscience, and the joy of giving your lives away in service to others. I wonder who will take his place, who will pray for us without fail?

I love Dad deeply, and always will. He rescued me from what I might have become if my birth father had been the primary male influence in my life. He taught me the value of working hard, of studying even harder, of protecting the weak, and of giving my life away in serving the well-being of others. He taught me the power of prayer, the certainty of the Christian faith, and the invigorating enjoyment of facing challenges head-on. He showed me the importance of extending grace and forgiveness to others quickly, before resentment has a chance to take root. “Water off a duck’s back, son; let it roll off like water off a duck’s back.” I think that’s the single greatest thing he ever taught me; it has made life sweet instead of bitter. He taught me to laugh more than I complain, and often entertained us with fantastic, epic tales of adventures that took place only in his mind, though he told the stories as though they were real. Before we were old enough to discern the telltale twinkle in his eyes, we thought our dad had been a world traveler, a spy, a fierce fighter and an explorer of wild, unconquered lands. All these stories, he said, were the adventures of him and his old friend, Lynn Mazuch. One time, just for the sheer fun of hearing us laugh, Dad dove into the pig pen on our farm and wrestled a feeder pig, rolling and grunting and straining like it was a death match. Dad won, and I’m not sure who squealed louder—the pig, us children, or Mom considering the prospect of putting those bib overalls into her washing machine!

Dad taught me to be loyal, a lesson that he wished he had learned earlier in life. He and Mom knew that God had called me to pastoral ministry, and they offered constant encouragement and accountability regarding the decisions I made as a teen and young man so that I wouldn’t disqualify myself from the service of God. They pushed me hard to excel at whatever I set my hand to, to finish my education, and to never forsake God’s call on my life. I am who I am today, and I serve the people I serve today, and I enjoy the blessings so lavishly poured into my lap today because they helped me stay the course.

On occasion and with sincere humility, Dad would tell me of the mistakes he had made. He wanted me to learn from them so as not to repeat them. It’s a fool who says, “You made your mistakes, now let me make mine,” so I listened and tried to learn. Dad grieved his sin with heavy sighs and an occasional tear and with words of apology and warning offered to his son. In the privacy of our little fishing boat, he would lay life out for me, explaining its essence and what a man ought to do when faced with ordinary or exceptional circumstances. He showed me a good picture of masculinity: strength held in reserve, authority wielded as responsibility to serve others, rejection of passivity, and the unacceptability of excuse-making. Dad was a man’s man, and I very much want to be like him. Always have. One day in the early 1980’s I was sent into the feed store to get something for the farm, and the man at the counter said, “You’re the Miller boy, aren’t you? You look just like your dad.” I heard it twice more during my last visit while making Dad’s medical rounds. Dad and I exchanged knowing glances—he was amused, and I was honored. Considering the fact that he was tall, light haired, and had blue eyes, I assumed they must be talking about something something else, like character, I hoped. Either way, I was honored.

I love Dad. Though Angie tells me she loved him first, and though we all agree that Hillary was ridiculously babied by him, and though Kim and Lora would tell me in our childhood arguments that he was their dad, not mine, I’ll go to my grave convinced that no one loved Dad more, the possible exception being Mom. And while that will surely be debated over a meal at this day’s end, and I might even give some ground to my sisters in that friendly argument, I say this much with utter, unmovable conviction, the kind I saw a handful of times in Dad’s defining moments: no one owed him more than I do. To me he was the Savior with skin on, God’s chosen instrument to protect me, love me, and commission me in the Lord’s service.

Dad was always a man who had little, but who took great joy in giving it away. He found meaning and purpose in loving and serving others. Though he walked with God only half of his life, I have known no one in whom the spiritual transformation of heart and character was more complete. He became a holy man. He was God’s man to the bone. And though somewhere there is a certificate of death inscribed with the name Cecil Warren Miller and the date September 14, 2006, please remember that Dad did not lose his life that day; don’t think it for even a moment. He gave it away little by little each day for the last 30 years. So, what happened last Thursday morning? As far as I can tell, it’s what Jesus said in Matthew 10:39--
“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake
will find it.”

If you had the power to grant a man his final wish, would you do it? For many of us it might depend on who that man is. If that man was Cecil Miller, what would you say? I know what his final wish was; I asked and he told me. He said that the one thing that he wanted most in this life is to know that all of his family would love and serve his God. As far as I can tell, that would be the best way that remains for us to honor Dad—to honor the God whom he loves with all his heart.

On behalf of our family, thank you for attending this service today; by your presence here you have honored one who lived so honorably among us, my hero, my dad.