Sunday, April 27, 2014

It's All God, It's All Good.

By the time I was ten, I had been on life support and in intensive care
By twenty-five I was on dialysis, had lost half my body weight due to severe nausea. According to certain doctors, the strain the kidney disease put onto my system lead to a heart attack. 
By thirty, I had had a kidney transplant, been in respiratory failure and spent a month in a coma.
By thirty-five, I'd had close to twenty surgeries. Some minor vascular surgeries, some major, like brain surgery. I'd also dealt with kidney failure twice. 
I'm 37 years old now and if you were to add up all the time I've spent in hospitals, dialysis units and other various health care facilities, it would easily be a third of that. And you know what I think, when I look at it right now? I think wow, I am truly blessed.

Hold on, stop, wait! Did this dude just say he feels blessed? Sounds like somebody's been hitting the pain meds again. I assure you, that's not it. What it is, is this. Right now, at I time of peace, I am able to sit back and take a look at what God has done for me and praise him for it. We're are always happy to accept God's blessings when they feel good, aren't we?  For example, Heather's brother and his wife, after years of trying, were blessed with a beautiful baby boy. He's all smiles and sunshine. Truly a joy to be around. My nephew is more proof that God is good. I have another nephew. His mother, Christina was my older sister. I say was because she died when she was 31 years old. His father died from cancer shortly thereafter. Did God bless my sister by giving her a painful cancer? No. But he used that so the people around her could see how a Godly woman handles struggles. She was an inspiration to the people to knew her. Anyone who got to know Christina during that time would be blessed by knowing her. Now she is in the very presence of Jesus Christ, singing praises to The Lord. I can think of no greater blessing than that

When something like illness or death happens to us, we often ask "God, why are you doing this to me?" Or "deliver me from this trial". Perhaps we should try a different tack. You see, God is incapable of malice. God cannot lie to you. So often we use the term 'mixed blessing'. This part was cool, but I could've done without the rest. 'My new boyfriend is great, but his sister is kind of annoying, so it's a mixed blessing' Let me clue you in. Everything The Lord does is for your good. Now that doesn't mean it's going to feel good, but if it's from God it's for good. You can take that to the bank. To get a loaf of bread, you have to put dough in a hot oven first. A diamond is coal that has been placed under immense pressure. In that same way, we can use our life experiences to grow in The Lord. People ask me often how I handle my health issues, and I have to be honest. Nine times out of ten, I don't. 

On more than one occasion I was ready to throw in the towel and call it a day. However God saw fit to keep me here, and for that I am thankful. So instead of asking why all of those things happened to me, I should thank God for what he's done for me. I know that God was holding my hand through every tear, ache or pain. I know this because there is no way I'd be able to do all that on my own strength. I'm tough guy, sure. But I wasn't born on Krypton, and everyone has their limits. Countless times I've been pushed to my limits and been ready to call it a day. Countless times God has blessed me with the stregnth and character it takes to deal with those struggles. 

He has also made sure I've never had to do it alone. God regularly puts people in my life to help me as I navigate this struggle. Relationships like that don't just happen. Some people never get close personal friends like the ones I have been blessed with. Friends that would wake up in the middle of the night and bring you a sandwich while youre in the emergency room. Or a friend who'll drive 8 hours in a snowstorm to attend your father-in-laws funeral. For me to have so many is truly a gift from the Lord. My friends are a blessing. 

I could spend the next 12 pages talking about how wonderful Heather is, and it still wouldn't describe how there is no doubt that she is a gift grom God. Or relationship is special, and unlike any other I've seen. I also have wonderful supportive parents, people who are there to back me up when I need it, but love me enough to tell me when i'm headed down a drak path, as any loving parent would. 

Not to mention my boyish charm and stunning good looks. Okay, so God also gave me a sense of humor.. God has blessed me with the gifts and talents to pursue the career he's called me to. I'm content for the first time in a very long time. Even with all I've been through, and all the pain I've suffered, I can't help but take a step back and thank God for everything he has given me. Last week would have been Christina's 39th birthday. I wonder sometimes what she would be doing if she were here. Raising her son? Pursuing a career? I guess it really doesn't matter. Christina is standing at the foot of God. And I believe there will be more people there because she was here. She was a blessing. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Take what you want and leave the rest.

After my first blog entry, Heather sent me a link to a sermon online by Pastor Frances Chan. My only previous experience with Chan was when I started a book he wrote called 'Crazy Love'. At the time I was a youth worker, and the youth pastor, Cory Hunneyman wanted all of us volunteers to read it. Cory is a trusted friend and an outstanding pastor, so when he recommended the book I was anxious to read it. The book, starts by saying how much God loves us, which I had been taught for years. However in the next chapter, he says something which rubbed me the wrong way. Something along the lines of "You Don't Matter". Now, for someone who's never felt like they fit in, and struggled with low self-esteem their whole life, telling them they don't matter isn't exactly a good way to earn brownie points. I closed the book and gave it away. I just figured Cory dropped the ball on this one. Nobody gets it right all the time

Fast forward 3 years or so. I'm no longer a youth worker, Cory is 2500 miles away. And my wife sends me this video. Now, I learned a long time ago that when my wife 'suggests' that I do something like that, she really means "If you know what's good for you, you'll do it". So I start this Frances Chan video, and sure enough It's a sermon based on that crazy book. But again, I've learned to trust my wife on these things, so I tried to watch with an open mind.

I can't even say that I remember most of the message. I remember agreeing and saying 'Amen' in my head a few times, but like with many sermons, it didn't stick with me. At least not at first. But toward the end of the message, Pastor Chan said something that stopped me in my tracks. He said he disagrees with the Bible A LOT. Here, this bestselling author and then pastor of what would be called a 'Megachurch' in modern vernacular is standing in front of his congregation and questioning the Bible. If that weren't enough he posted it on YouTube for the whole world to see. This dude really is crazy! But what he said next changed my perspective, and my opinion of him entirely.

 "I don't have to agree to obey. Because even though I disagree, I know that God knows better than me." Amen! After I came off my high horse, and was honest with myself, I knew there are things in the Bible I feel the same way about. There are things that go on in our world that just didn't exist when the Bible was written. It's easy for Solomon to write be slow to anger, He never dealt with rush hour traffic. And in his letter to the Romans, when the Apostle Paul chastised them for their sins, he included homosexuality, and disobeying their parents with theft and idol worship. Did Paul have gay friends who were in a committed relationship? People that truly love each other? I don't know. But I do. And I honestly don't understand what is wrong with it. I read a story on CNN that made me cringe. A father and his wife locked their 5 year old son in a closet, in the dark for weeks. When authorities found him, he was emaciated from malnutrition and wearing a filthy diaper. Does God honestly expect someone to obey parents like that? Yes, I believe he does. When he says forgive, he says forgive. Not forgive people you like. Forgive people who have only done certain things. Before my wife and I met, her cousin sexually abused her for years. Around that same time, I was growing up in a small town outside Rochester full of elitist snobs who chastised anyone who was different. A fat black kid, for example. I have forgiven a lot of people for a lot of things. But I hate that man for what he did to my wife. And if you talk to me long enough, you'll find out I'm not too fond of my 'home town' either. Forgiveness isn't exactly my strong suit. But I'm able to acknowledge that as my own shortcoming, and not an error in God's word. Because whether I like it or not, as a Christian, I am called to forgive. Even people who hurt the ones I love. And if you think Chen or I are crazy for obeying a God we don't agree with, consider this. I don't agree with the entire US Constitution either. But I respect it, and I obey it. And I would give my life to protect it. Wouldn't you? Why then, should the Bible be different?

So many people reject the Bible because there are things about it that are uncomfortable, inconvenient, or don't line up with their lifestyle or personal beliefs. The problem with that is our lifestyles change. Our beliefs change. So what then? What if something you stood firmly against at one point, is suddenly acceptable? Well, then you change your beliefs accordingly. But God does not change. He is eternal, and so is his word. More times than I care to count I've let myself down, lied to myself, and took the easy way out when it was convenient.  God has never lied to me. God has never let me down. And if you know me at all, you know that he has never let me take the easy way out when it was the wrong way.

God is not a buffet, where you take what you want and leave the rest. God will always tell you what you need to hear when you need to hear it. But it doesn't do any good if you don't listen. If you want someone that's going to tell you what you want to hear, look up Joel Osteen. He's another pastor at another 'Megachurch'. Joel is really good at spinning the word, and telling the 'Good News' in a way that suits 21st century America. He's also sadly misguided, and would serve himself and the millions that follow him by taking his head out of his butt, and sticking his nose into the book he professes to believe.

Another thing that Paul wrote, and something I try to live by can be found in his letter to the Ephesians

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:10, 11, 14-17 NIV Emphasis mine)

He doesn't say put on whatever parts you agree to. He doesn't say put on the comfortable parts.  He says the full armor of God. The FULL armor. The word of God is the truth. The word of God brings righteousness. With the gospel comes peace. Without the full armor we can, and do fall into the devil's traps. And yes, as Olsteen and many others demonstrate, Satan uses the Bible to deceive. And when he does it's particularly destructive. Far too many people hear part of the word, and miss the rest. And they will pay a price for it that no one should ever suffer.

Paul also says take up the shield of faith. Faith is believing what you don't see. Faith is trusting. So, yes there are parts of the Bible I don't agree with. And there are parts that I don't, and may never understand. But I have put my faith in God. And I'm not so arrogant to think I know better than him. So when I come those points I don't agree with, I obey them anyway. Because like Pastor Chan says, you don't have to agree to obey. Maybe Cory was right about him after all. (But don't tell him that)

Check the sermon out here. Be warned, there's some heavy stuff.