A Dark Basement

I was dating someone recently and something happened that tells me that I either need medication, my mind is getting soft, or God’s work is beginning to take shape.

The first or last options are more favorable than the middle.
Then again, maybe they’re all happening to some degree.

So I was dating this woman and I got into an argument with her. It was our first one, and it was a good one. A day later I was still kinda stewing about things…and then it happened.

I saw myself.

I mean I REALLY saw myself.
What I mean is that we usually see ourselves as the ‘victim’ or some caped crusading seeker of justice with our “justified” thoughts and actions as WE THINK they are.
…but
Once the blinding light of my own pride, my own indignation faded…I saw there, outside of the light…a shadow…a darkness you don’t see unless you REALLY look.
I saw it.

I saw my motivations and selfishness.
I saw my anger.
I saw a hurt child lashing out in his confusion and pain…
That child was me…and it was not pretty.

As I was writing this, God reminded me of a story….so I’m going to switch gears for a second and then I’ll come back to the argument…

When I was 9 or 10, we lived in Lebanon in an old mansion that sat on the corner of Cook and Deerfield Roads. Across the street from a housing division that was being built from that corner towards the YMCA. There was dozens of houses all being built at the same time for several summers. Being the entrepreneur I was, I used to go collect the returnable pop bottles the workers would drink and discard every day. They were returnable glass bottles worth maybe 10 cents a piece and I could collect a couple bucks a day to spent the money on fish for my aquarium, orange Fago sodas, Star Wars cards, and candy.

One day a couple of us kids were playing in the houses…we must’ve been playing some kind of cops and robbers sort of game, when something I’ll never forget happened.

Someone was chasing me, think it was Kevin Revis (but could have been Mark Mason) and I was darting through a couple houses to get away. All the houses were just studs and plywood, many had no roof and I ran into this house thinking I had enough of a lead to safely hide, so I decided to duck into a basement. So, I ran through this house, jumped into the square hole cut into the first floor for the stairs, and ran down the steps.

It was summer and must’ve been mid-day on the weekend because the sun was bright and overhead, so as I got to the bottom of the steps, there was a square of bright light formed by the hole in the first floor where the stairs came down. Standing at the bottom of the steps, I stood for a second just looking into the darkness. Coming out of the mid-day sun, my eyes could not adjust, and darkness was all I could see. I could not see the walls, the floor, or ANYTHING just outside of the square of light.

I must’ve heard my pursuer enter the house, because I stepped into the darkness and put out my hands and walked blindly forward until I touched the cool damp surface of the wall. I felt around in the darkness for a place or way to hide myself but the basement was completely empty…I was trapped and turned back to the stairs and the square of light.

Whoever pursued me raced through the house and then bounded down the steps to the bottom, stopped and stood, in the square light, looking out into the darkness searching for me.

I remember seeing him as clear as if it had been yesterday…I could SEE his excited face as he scanned the dark where I stood. He took a step out of the square of light, then stopped. I could SEE and FEEL his fear of leaving the light as he tried to bring himself to challenge the darkness..and then shrank back. I could FEEL his triumphant victory slipping…slipping into fear.
…but I stood perfectly still and quiet.

He screamed out into the concrete basement claiming victory!!!!! He had found me!!!! He knew I was there!!!! His shrill child voice was amplified by the concrete walls. He had stopped at the base of the stairs, and standing in the light, he was maybe 15 feet from me and I was standing RIGHT in front of him as he faced my direction.

In those brief seconds…in that moment…I could see him PERFECTLY as he stood under the sun’s square spotlight
…but he, in his blindness…
he could not see me.

So, back to my story of needing medication or getting soft (…or both…)

Pulling these stories together….in my argument with the woman, I was the child at the base of the stairs in the spotlight of the sun. And at the base of the stairs, I was yelling in the darkness. In my self-righteousness, I was calling out my victory!!! MY win! I was demanding surrender!!!!
….but all the while, I was blind.

Now today, a day later, I am the person in the darkness. I stand in the shadow of the basement, in the shadow of time, and it’s like I am looking at myself, observing that child standing in that square spotlight and arguing with her as one in the same.

I’m looking at myself arguing with her and i can clearly see today what I did not then.

I can see my fear.
I can see my hollow victory.
I can see me searching in the darkness.
I can see myself afraid of what I cannot see.
…And it’s not a good thing to watch.

Relationships are not easy. There’s the good like comfort, love, support, companionship, affirmation, touch, camaraderie, friendship
But the good often comes with the bad like betrayal, abandonment, distrust, anger, hurt, confusion…all of these are based in fear…

In relationships, like the child in the spotlight calling into the darkness, a lot of times we have to press into our fears, our hurts….abandon our island of light and hollow victory and step into a place of discomfort and disorientation. Like a child bathed in our own blinding light, we have to step into the dark…
…that we might see the other person.

In relationships, like the child in the dark where I could clearly see my friend…God’s light often illuminates them (or ourselves) and we see clearly that they are scared and fearful. They cannot see us as they are blinded and unwilling to step into, and through their fears.

God continues to work on me and my life. It’s often hard and painful to work through dark places in my heart, places where I got hurt, where my pride has blinded me, places where someone was supposed to be safe, where someone was supposed to be our friend betrays us…but God loves us enough to take our burdens and help us lay them down.

Light is a funny thing…
Sometimes the light makes us blind.
Sometimes the dark helps us see.

I Corinthians 4.5. …”wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart.”

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The Story of Boaz

To most the book of Ruth is about, well, Ruth.
Not to me. Not at all…it’s a story of Boaz.
Boaz was one lucky guy.

An older man, seasoned, wise, and past his prime. Not bitter, not selfish.
He was Righteous, influential, and wealthy is what we’re told.
He took care of business.
He kept his affairs in order, and watched over his interests.
He learned to be faithful with what God had given him.
…but…
for whatever reason, he did not have a wife.

Maybe he squandered his early years with riotous living…maybe he HAD a wife, but she had left him or he left her…maybe she had passed from this world into the next in a shattering tragedy of losing a beloved.
Maybe his story is much like mine, where his anticipatory spring had ticked away into the ‘less than perfect” fall of his life.

Whatever the reason, the results were the same. He was alone living without a wife and we know that Boaz was not in the spring time of his life, but what we do know speaks volumes. He owned fields and had workers under him… so we do know that he took care of what God had given him. He probably had a good work ethic and good management that put him in a good financial standing. His example stands for all of us who are waiting sometimes oh-not-so patiently, to be good stewards of the “little things” that God has given you because money, wealth, and resources we are stewards of are oh-so-inconsequential compared to the being entrusted with the wealth of a human heart.

What else do we know about Boaz?

He took notice of a younger widow woman that showed up in his field one day. She was a widow taking care of another widow who was a foreigner, a Moabite, in Israel. Moabites were a detested race so she was an outcast and reject ..most would not want her in their field and some…some would have their way with her, because, after all, who would take up for her? Who would defend her?

But Boaz did.

In the story, he put word out that none was to touch her. We don’t know how powerful Boaz was nor do we know how much he had to impress upon his workers his “wishes”, but what we do know that no harm came to her. What he willed to happen was made to happen. What we also know is that he wanted her to be provided for as he told his workers to leave a little extra food in her path in the fields she was working. He made sure that not only was she taken care of but her mother-in-law’s well.

Now, Boaz did a good thing here, taking care of a couple widows, but did he go out telling everyone how good he was, patting himself on the back? Surely this was his golden opportunity to made himself look good, not including a chance to impress a girl maybe get a little something for it?

No, his order was simple leave some food for her to find, don’t harvest so completely and efficiently where she was. He did what was pleasing to God…the Bible says to camouflage your good deeds with humility, let no man praise your work so that God can lift you up. She was never to know the reason for her good fortune.

This may show a little something about his heart, something of his character. I personally believe that Boaz took notice of her, admired her from afar and deep down inside saw someone he really liked. Maybe he was in love with a beautiful young widow who worked hard in the fields to provide for a mother-in-law that would die if she left. Maybe Boaz saw a woman whose character and beauty captured his heart. I believe he saw something of beauty and I believe he wasn’t the only one who saw this. If this had not been so, why would he have had to put out word to keep her from harm right?

But I believe Boaz knew he was no young stud, and that woman like this were always meant for someone else, more blessed, less years, less wear, less tare.
So he did what he could do for her and left it at that…and then went about his business.

It could just like all the other stories of yesteryear, you know, the traditional boy meets girl, they fall in love and so on… but it wasn’t. This was a story of God’s love for a man who wished for a wife, the story of a young widow looking for a second chance and a kind man. God writes this story because He loves a redemption story…He loves to make his servants whole again, in the heart and soul.

There’s a lot of us who think that God has forgotten us and we ended up in the lost and found at the divine dating service…we’re kind of like Rudolf The Red Nose Reindeer at the Island of Misfit Toys. Maybe our “one and only” has never come around, or has come and gone leaving us to mourn in the “would’ve”, “could’ve”, and “should’ve” of yesteryear… then this is OUR story, a story of lost love… and then found. Story of God and duty first, story of boy meets girl written God’s way.

In the story several things are out of place. The girl offers herself to him, puts herself at his mercy to offer the only thing she had, her body. Boaz resists, and, because he was honorable and just, and turns the situation over to God to place her into his hands, or to place her where she would be taken care of. You see we are often called to release something so that we can be given the right things in the right way. Boaz could have taken Ruth at any time but he chose the higher road, asked God into it, and reaped a wife.

Ruth saw a kind, gentle man who she entrusted her purity with.. and he adores her for choosing him. She SEES him and says “your people will be my people, your God will be my God”. They gave each other everything because I believe God knew their hearts were ready to love, ready to surrender, ready to give up the cheap counterfeit for the authentic….maybe because they were both ready to partner with His chosen.

Boaz was a lucky guy and Ruth was a lucky girl, but their story didn’t start that way…could be kind of like our story…only we’re in the middle…we’re Ruth or we’re Boaz and we’re doing what we’ve got to do to survive. This is a story from God, for us.

When Boaz and Ruth came together, I’m sure they were the talk of the town…brokenness made whole by the only One who could.

For many of us…this is our story.

…and I can’t wait to meet you Ruth

Man Camp: MASH-Fall 2016

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(Photo courtesy of David Slaughter)

Man Camp, for those who don’t know, is this thing around Crossroads we’ve been working on. It’s about 30+ hours of men getting out to be men with other men. In this case, it’s camping overnight with 1900 of your closest friends, it’s giving them manly tasks with other men, doing manly things, handling manly projects, with encouraging men and charging men to be MEN(!)
And drink a beer while doing it.

Now as part of Man Camp, there is a group of men who are in a separate tent called the MASH group. We work in pairs…listening to guys as they come in and work with them to pray over what they came in for…sometimes. But more often, guys come in and we dig a little deeper, dig into their wounds, their tears, their hearts….and we pull stuff out and pull chains off…and ask God into deep things in their hearts. I’ve never been part of something that digs so deliberately and surgically into men’s lives…it’s a pretty weighty honor.

Now, I mentioned beer. I know this causes a lot of deep hard questions from some people…I mean it’s a Christian based thing…(so maybe it should be wine?) but you charge men to be men and give them freedom in this…. and sure there’s a risk that it could get a little messy but then again, there’s risk in anything.

Now, the kegs are set up around the MASH tent.
Yes, you read that right, we set them up around the prayer tent.

(Stay with me people, don’t turn on me so early in the story)

We set two stations around the MASH tent pretty much ALL day long, men are coming over for beer. The lines crawl around the tent…and let me tell you people, the lines stretched for 30-50 people at times….and they are standing there, waiting for beer gabbing away, as we pray for people. There is a tension there…sometimes you can feel it. There are people trying to focus on having a good time, grabbing a beer….and they are 20 feet from teams of men in deep prayer for other men. There was more than a couple times I got really annoyed with people…but whatever.

As the day wore on, we got pretty used to the beer line stretching around the tent….as as the day wore on and activities and things ebbed and flowed, we had a few people that might wait a few minutes for prayer, but the lines for beer stayed pretty steady

At some point Saturday night, as men went back to their fires…the beer lines were not so long and MASH was slow I went out to look at stars and relax a little, had a beer, talk to some friends at different fires.

I came back in and someone said ‘hey we have a line out there’, and I was thinking out loud that it was a line for beer, but someone corrected me…it’s a line for prayer. I was thinking it was a few people, and I actually walked outside to discover that YES, in fact there was a line to get into the MASH tent…and it was actually pretty long…as a matter of fact, it stretched out into the darkness. I thought ‘wow’.

I looked at the kegs and thought, ‘well we must be out of beer’ and literally went over to the kegs and checked the tap. They were working properly with plenty of cold beer…and no one was there for beer. The line, that had gone around the tent all day for beer…
…..was now a line to get prayer that stretched into the night.

I’ll say it again if I that doesn’t register:

Men were standing in line over 40 people deep, in the chilly fall air, having left the side of a warm campfire surrounded by friends on a Saturday night… were now waiting for other men to pray with them.

I’m kind of sorry to say that I was shocked by it, I mean I shouldn’t be, right? I mean I was one of “the prayer guys”, I shouldn’t be shocked….but I was.

Men were there for forgiveness
Men were there to confess
Men were there to get grace
Men were there to have 20 years of chains loosened from them
Men were there for a kind word…an affirmation as a son
Men were there to know God loved them…no matter what they had done
Men were there for salvation

The picture at the top of this post is an actual picture of men waiting in line for prayer at Man Kamp taken by David Slaughter. Take a look at it again…

I don’t claim to have a deep prayer life or live as a saint…but God took the mustard seed of courage that I had to pray for strangers…and He grew it a little when I stepped out. You see, I have this little bit of faith in me that said “if they take me, I’ll do it, I’ll pray for these guys”. When I said yes, I had no idea if God would use me or if I would be any good at this…
But God took my little bit of faith and He worked with and through me to multiply my effort and results.

There’s an old saying that I love:
God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.

When it came to being on the MASH team, I didn’t think I was qualified…but I felt called. I stepped out and watched God’s work unfold in front of me.

God could very well be calling on you to step out to do something you’re not qualified to do.
Let me say that again,
GOD could very well be calling on YOU to do something you’re NOT QUALIFIED TO DO.

Why?

When you do something that is within your abilities, then the results are natural results. When you do something where God calls you beyond your abilities, HE steps in to fill the gap between your abilities and the need, the results can be supernatural.

If you want to SEE growth, change…experience something different, then you must DO something different. I had to step into a gap to see God work in a new way. It’s often necessary not for His sake, but for ours, for growth.

Step out into the uncomfortable place you are being called…there is a part for you to play in God’s story…and it’s where your growth will occur.

Kam Tarkington

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You know, I wish more of my posts were about me doing something smart, something intelligent, something brilliant…but this won’t be one of those posts. This post will be about me doing something stupid and it will be about the loss of one of my good friends. SO, I’m going to apologize and warn you early as I’m an idiot and this was hard emotionally to put this together…and if you knew Kam, this might strike your heart.

Keith has been a good friend of mine for over 20 years. He’s a man from the hills of Kentucky…and when I say the hills, I mean deep Appellation heritage with a Kentucky drawl, stories about his “kin”, and stories from the ‘coal’ country. He’s also the man that helped me turn my life over to Jesus. Our friendship runs deep. But let me get back to this story…

Keith calls me one day about a month ago with an idea. He’s got to be in Las Vegas in late July, why don’t he and I go into Vegas, spend the weekend riding motorcycles around Vegas.

This was a good idea but I had a better one.

..why don’t we ride to the California coast and ride part of the Pacific Coast Highway? The PCH was on my bucket list and was rated as one of the best drives in the world. Two days later I had a ticket, a general plan, and I had no clue of what was to come.

A couple days before departure, I had a rental Harley Davidson Street Glide on reserve in Vegas and I checked temperatures. Vegas was supposed to be over 100 and where we were staying the first night, Bakersfield, they were supposed to be 108.

On a motorcycle, over 100 is miserably hot…but I’m thinking about the dry air, the brief time I would spend in the desert, and thought, ok, I’ll plan a little bit and make sure to take some extra water. Sounds like a good plan, right? (Wrong)

I land early, get to the rental agency, pick up the Street Glide, and while still early in the morning, the temperature is approaching 100. After 20 minutes of riding in town, I realize that my plan needs to be modified a little because heat and hydration is already an issue. I stop at Target to buy a camel back hydration back pack and get it filled with water and Pedialite, an electrolyte powder for infants that helps with dehydration.  I get my gear settled and get started out on the bike to kill a couple hours.

In Vegas, at about 10am, it’s already 100, but riding out to Mt Charleston the temperature drops to a perfect 80-85 degrees. Ok I thought, meet up with Keith, get started and get the hot part of the trip over with because in my finite intelligence, Vegas should be the hot spot and once we climb out of the Vegas valley, it should be cooler.

So I’m on my bike and Keith has decided to drive a car because his body will not let him ride a motorcycle.

We start out in a straight line for Bakersfield California…which skirts Death Valley, but directly goes through the Mojave desert….which one might think would be good information to research ahead of time. But I’ve already told you I’m not smart in this post…so bear with me.

An hour out of Vegas, I’m hot, like seriously hot but the time on the bike is short on this quick leg and we stop for dinner…I get a breather and cool off and we start out again. The bike and chrome are hard to touch as I hop back on. At this point the temperature has climbed again and Keith tells me the temperature according to his car gauge is around 115. We climb out of a valley where we had dinner and the temperature drops slightly….I mentally take a deep breath thinking that the worst is behind me.

What I didn’t realize….

What I didn’t realize was that on the other side of this little range of hills/mountains was the Mojave desert…and when we crested the mountains I saw that the road drop again into the depths of the desert and my heart sank.

Have you ever been cooking something in the oven…and you lean over and open the oven door at the same time? You know that blast of awful heat the hits you right in the face? I rode into that hair dryer heat at 80 miles and hour for the next two hours….struggling mentally and physically.

As I road, I could feel the temperature rise not only of the desert, but also of my body. My jeans burned against my skin and the sun cooked my long sleeve shirt. I drank more and more from the camel back, trying to pull in the liquid and the coolness it brought to my body that was struggling with the heat. I got to the point that I kept sipping on the fluid continuously…yet it wasn’t enough.

I had a GPS on the bike and I had plugged our destination of Bakersfield and I could see numbers ticking down as I struggled for the next hour…trying to hold off stopping until the approaching turn off the highway. At a mere 20 miles left, I pulled over at a gas station unable to take anymore. I was shaking, nauseous, and severely overheating. I parked the bike and crawled into Keith’s car with the AC on. I sat in the car, straining to cool and relax…stating I couldn’t hold on for the last 20 miles, as we’re almost there. Keith looked at me and a look came over his face that looked like dread.

“We’ve got 2 more hours”.

I was in shock and denial. I realized that the GPS I was watching was telling me about where the next turn was….not where our destination was. It was an awful moment to realize that what lay ahead of me was another 2 hours of hell.

I stayed in the car for the next half hour as Keith and I made a plan to stop every 30 minutes if needed until we got to the other side….the temperature was 120 and I wasn’t sure I had the inner strength to step back into the heat and complete my journey through this hell.

But I didn’t have a choice…and I got going.

About an hour later, the road climbed a little and the extreme heat dissipated slightly. I stopped again at a rest stop to soak my shirt with water, put more sunscreen on, and stretch. It turns out it was 110 (I knew it had cooled off!) You know it’s bad when you are relieved that the temperature is a mere 110 instead of 120. That 10 degrees is huge though.

So…I almost died… which is becoming not unusual in my adventures with Keith.

(I am using poetic license in exaggerating my near death experience because I can now use it as blackmail against Keith…it’s what he and I do to each other)

The next morning in Bakersfield, CA we woke, got breakfast and headed out, we were a couple hours from the coast.

It was hot, but not brutal. As we approached a mountain chain, the sand and rocks turned to brown scrub… and scrub turned to a brown scrub with some green…then to a yellow grass, and then, out of nowhere, it turned to groves of almonds trees and tomatoes and fruit trees.

There was a moment when Keith’s red Camaro was ahead of me in a fruit grove and the moon was still visible just over the mountain range ahead of us….I pulled out the camera and took a shot from the bike. 2016-07-23 09.15.47

In that moment, I saw that I had a text. Paige had sent me a text to call her immediately…I knew that meant something bad.

I pulled to the edge of the road and called Paige. She had some shocking news that struck me to the core…one of my close buddies had passed away from a heart attack earlier that morning. Kam Tarkington, a good friend to me and so many others was gone…1 week before his 42 birthday.

I wept for a moment over the gas tank of my bike. It’s one of those moments that you know you will never forget….the moment a great friend ceases to be someone you know, to someone you knew. Something deep in your heart breaks at that moment and you know the world, and the world of your friends, will never be the same and a Kam shaped hole is punched in your heart forever.

I wept for a moment and Keith and I stopped for a while so I could get myself together so that we could continue. Kam’s journey had ended but mine had to continue.

As we left the groves, we headed into the mountains that turned and challenged us with dangerous curves and beauty that I have never seen before. A distance just north of LA, we emerged from the mountains to turn onto the Pacific Coast Highway. I’m not sure that I’ve ever experienced the beauty of the coast like this before. To engage with the environment, the sea, the sky, the crashing waves, the different blue colors, the butt pucker of riding along cliffs high above the ocean, and the cool merciful drop of the the temperature from 110 to 75 that takes place within a couple miles of the coast….words and pictures cannot express the beauty and breath of life to your soul that comes from such a ride that is heightened by the hell you just came through. It was soul filling and heart breaking at the same time as emotions crashed against my heart, soul, and spirit.

The parallel of what was happening to me struck me with the strong but gentle way as God overlaid His will and vision over a painful situation almost immediately.

As I was struggling to pass through the desert, as I was dying in the heat, the oppression, the exhaustion…fighting through pain and struggle…my friend had struggled through this life like we all do. As I had passed through my valley of death to the ocean of life…

….Kam passed through his.

In this emotional storm, there was also a peace about it.

The bible says that the mind has not seen, nor mind can comprehend what lies ahead for those who serve Christ. Similar to my journey, we go through the desert, not understanding how things will look, how our world will change once we come out of the valley. While we suffocate in the desert, we cannot comprehend the beauty and refreshment of standing on the shore of the ocean with the merciful coolness soothing our mind. The sun that we thought was unrelenting or unkind in the desert….is actually majestically beautiful and warming as it sets in the ocean.

I don’t know what happens when we cross over, but I caught a mental glimpse of it…and I know that he’s standing on the edge of the ocean far away from our desert, and I’m ok with that. Where he is standing there is no more heartache, no more pain…no more loneliness or depression. No more struggling with the brokenness of this world.

I am still in the desert…still in this world with it’s ‘heat’ and struggle and war…and I want my buddy to be here with me. He was a comfort, he was a brother, he lived beside me in the trenches of spiritual warfare, he encouraged me, he lifted me up, he rode with me, he broke bread with me, worked beside me, he constantly prayed for me, for my wife…he spent vacations and weekends and motorcycle trips and work details and Man Camps with me….and he will join me no more in any of this…he will not join us anymore, but we will go to where he is and join him.

In the desert here, we will miss him.

But Kam has stepped into eternity…his days in the desert are over.

 

I will be at peace with that.

Homeless People Don’t Always Want Your Sandwich

Real estate can be a funny business.  One day you’ve got 15 hours worth of work to do, the next you’ve got 4.  It can swing wildly at a moments notice.

Last Friday, I was working and went over to Panera for lunch.  As I was sitting there, I realized that I had a couple of hours in between appointments and really didn’t have a lot to do for a little bit. So, I asked God if there was anything I should be doing, please bring it to my attention.

I was sitting there long enough to have forgotten that I had offered out to God to change up my day.  As I was sitting at the front window and this guy walks past the front of the store on the outside on the sidewalk.  He’s older, hunched over with obviously a bad back, stained tshirt and pants that don’t look a lot better.  He was thin, unshaven, and looked ‘well worn’, like someone who was homeless.

He walks past once, then again.

On the outside of the Panera store there are tables for customers and the trash can with bins to put your plates, cutlery, and bowels into once you are finished.   He goes over to the bins and trash and starts to rummage through, finds a half eaten bowl of soup and goes to sit down to eat it.

I have an “OH” this is where I’m supposed to do something realization.  It’s not normal for me to do this all the time, but I got up and went to the register and bought a sandwich. Seemed like a no brainer.  I had asked God to fill the space and He was. I even thought, do I get a half sandwich?  No….I got a whole sandwich.

As I have sandwich in hand, I exit the store and he’s right there, like he’s getting ready to come in.  We exchange a couple words…I’m not exaggerating when I write this….it’s as close as I can remember.

Me:  “Hey buddy, I got you a sandwich.”
Him: “I’m not hungry.”

(I just saw him rummaging through the trash)

Me: “You can take it and eat it later?”
Him: “What kind of sandwich is it?”
Me:  “Bacon Turkey Bravo”

(In my mind: Are you really going to be picky?  I’m slightly confused)

Him: “I’m going inside”
Me:  “You don’t …want the sandwich?”
2 second pause
Him: “Did you play baseball?”
Me: “Um, no…?”

(I’m no longer slightly confused.  I’m FULLY confused.)

Him:  “Can I get around you?” he motions to the door.
Me:  “Sure”

I step aside and he walks past me into Panera.  I stand there for a second with my Panera bag in hand, that has a bag of chips and full bacon turkey bravo, dumbfounded.

In my mind, I’m like, “Ok God, thought I was listening to you on that one…I mean…you don’t need to be a rocket surgeon to see this one. (Yes, rocket surgeon is a joke)

HUNGRY BUM) – (SANDWICH) = GOD MOMENT
But the equation actually was:
(HUNGRY MAN) + (SANDWICH) + (Tony) = REJECTION

That interaction stuck with me for 2 days.  I felt like I was missing God completely, I was misunderstanding what I thought He was telling me, and I was a little bent out of shape, feeling like I was ‘benched’ when what I really wanted was to be in the game.  This just seemed like the way things are going lately in my walk with God.  I’m asking for help and understanding and direction….and feeling like there’s nobody listening.

So, I don’t mean this as blasphemy, please don’t take it that way…but have you ever seen the street hustler who has three cups spread out onto a flat surface and there’s an object that he shows you and then covers it with a cup, moves them around, and then asks the ‘sucker’ where it is?  (I saw a good ‘ol boy from Kentucky get taken for $150 once, right in front of my eyes.  Hysterical!  But back to God.)

Honestly, some days I feel like I ask God into a situation or ask for help in directions and He’s playing this game with me.  Like looking for a wife.  God tells me there a wife out there for me…shows me she’s under one of these cups and does the whole mixing of the cups…I think I know which one, point to the cup and He lifts the cup….only to find I was wrong again.

I ask Him for direction on something simple like with the guy and the sandwich, and then there’s nothing under the cup again

I was a little salty about how that had played out.

Couple days later, I’m with a buddy, we’re talking about life, and I tell him the story….it seems to represent my walk with God lately, thinking he’s going to give me the “hey sorry, that sucks” and a follow up, “yeah, it’s tough some times”.

But he doesn’t.

Instead he says that it’s our job to be obedient, and I had done that.  “but the guy didn’t take the sandwich?” I protested.  The rest is up to God and that it’s not up to us to produce fruit, he said.  I said something along the lines of “yeah, guess you’re right” but it didn’t sit well with me.

A couple days after that, I again was with another friend, we were bicycling after work one day and I told the story about the guy and the sandwich again.  Her response?  I was being obedient, and that was the thing that I should be doing….the results were not up to me.  

In my head, I’m like “Ok God….I get it” but truthfully, I really wasn’t completely convinced.

On Sunday, at church, Paco, (the youth leader)  spoke about being obedient to what you think God is telling you.  He told multiple stories of how sometimes God tells you things….and how some times you’ve got to stay true to that, even when things are not lining up with what you think should happen….matter of fact, ESPECIALLY when things don’t look right, you gotta push through.

Ok God.  
I get the message

In hindsight, I see that God was talking to me back at buying the sandwich.  It wasn’t completely obvious, and the outcome was questionable…but He was.  It’s very rare that He gives me an ‘impression’ or thoughts in my mind that I’m like, “wow, is that you God?”…but it has (very rarely) happened

I think MOST times for me, there’s an opportunity and risk and a ‘nudge’ that you should do something…because maybe you’re the only one who sees what’s going on.  In this case it was some guy rummaging through the trash for something to eat and I felt like ‘someone’ should do something.  Usually that someone is YOU.  Usually for me, that nudge is God.

You could say there are a few lessons here.

1)  If you’re going to buy a guy a sandwich, buy one that you would like to eat yourself…and get made the way you would want it to be made.  Because you may eat that sandwich twice in one day.

2)Be obedient. God used three different people to tell me that, without question, I was supposed to do what He ‘told’ me to do.  This is also about looking at your life as a WHOLE where God is speaking to you.  This is huge: IF you’re hearing the same thing from different parts of your life…then maybe you should pay attention.  Because, if you’re ONLY paying attention at church, you’re missing out on SOOOO much.

3)The outcome is not up to you.  This is probably a very important lesson for me to relearn.  Just because God’s using me doesn’t mean that I get to determine the outcome….doesn’t mean I get to see or taste the fruit.  Sometimes God uses you for a purpose that is a detriment to you, and it could cost you something.  Actually, it could cost you everything.

You’re called to pour your life out for others, some times you will have to do that

Sometimes God nudges you to buy a sandwich.
Sometimes God uses your friends to tell you something important.
Sometimes God uses a sermon that seems to be directed right at you.

Sometimes I’m just not that bright and I need Him to use them all.

Settle Your Soul

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Take a moment and see yourself at the edge of a body of water with clear water. It’s the shore of fresh water lake you’re familiar, the beach in the Bahamas, or the clear cold water of a mountain stream in Montana. The water stretches before you, you feel the sun on your face and you stand ankle deep in the water barefoot.

See yourself there for a second…the air feels warm…the water feels cool against your feet and shins… you curl your toes into the bottom…

In your hand is a mason jar..and you reach down and dip the jar into the water….digging slightly into the gritty bottom to scoop up some with water.

You bring the jar up to your face…the heavier sediment falling immediately to the bottom,  the water is murky, with mud, silt, and sand also stirring through it. It’s neither drinkable, nor can you see through it.  You put the cover of the jar on and you turn the jar upside down and watch the settling debris in the water fall through it, making it murky and brown.

If you shake the jar hard the water, rocks, and sand make noise as they hit the side of the jar.  When you stop shaking it, the rocks and sand settle immediately, but if you wait….if you’re still…the sediment, the haziness starts to separate. If you could wait for hours and you’re still…everything would settle and the water would becomes perfectly translucent, perfectly clear.

It is only through time, patience, and stillness does everything separate.

 

Our minds are kind of the same way.

Our lives have interactions that are like water with a big scoop of rocks, sand, and silt.  In my mind, I constantly turn things over and over and over…like shaking the jar.  He says “be still and know I am God” for a reason.  He uses time of solitude with Him to settle those things that naturally settle without us shaking the jar.

The small rocks in the jar that drop to the bottom immediately…they’re easy to identify. They are the immediate disturbances in our life that do the most damage, cause the most noise in our minds as we shake the jar…but are also the quickest to settle once we stop giving them our energy, stop turning them over. Things like this are the latest argument with your buddy, your wife, the mini-road rage that happened on the way to work, the business deal that just tanked or the parking ticket you just got. Without us shaking the jar, they stay at the bottom.

The second layer is the sand and heavy grit…it’s the running problems in your life like broken or strained relationships, a job that you hate, a situation that can’t be resolved easily or that is not within your control. Some of these things are heavy, some are less heavy, but they settle quickly if we let them.

The last layer is the fine silt that takes time to settle…it’s always there, always distorting the vision of the water…always just altering the taste enough that you know it’s not pure…but you’re not willing to wait for it to settle. It’s like a program always running in the back of your mind that you cannot get to stop. It’s the fear, the ‘am I worthy’ or “do I have what it takes”….it’s the broken heart or the heart that will not heal, it’s fear, or unworthiness. It always seems to hang in the water…and we never let things settle long enough for these types of things to drift to the bottom.

The problem in life is that we never stop shaking the jar, never give it a chance to take time and intentionally let things settle. We are always taking so much in, so much new dirt and debris through bad interactions, the songs we are listening to, the arguments with spouses, messages in movies, the news, THE ELECTION…and the water is turned over and over…the rocks and sand falling from one side to the next…it’s constantly turned over, constantly agitated.

It is rare that I see with complete clarity that should be normal to us. What would life be like if you could see completely clear of any fear? What would life look like if you could walk through it without regrets or fear of the future? What would like look like if we were free from the past hurts?

In your mind, go back to the river you were standing in and look at the water. If He can settle this giant body of water that is before you that is constantly moving and changing, he can help you with your little mason jar. It’s just a matter if you will take the time and if you will let him.

Invite Him into your quiet moments and be still. You’ll be surprised by what will settle out of the cloudy mind.

ALC

There are times when life lands a 1-2 punch on you.  There’s a first punch that hurts you, knocks you off balance,  you lose your senses, and your world spins.  You’re standing trying to keep your guard up trying to stay standing….because you know if you get hit again in this state, you’re in trouble.
Because the second punch can be deadly.

About 7 years ago, I dated Amanda.   She was gentle, warm, beautiful and I had to hang around the coffee booth at Crossroads a few times to get to meet her and a couple more times to have the nerve to ask her out.  We dated a while but it didn’t turn out.  Over the years, we were in contact on and off.  There were times I erased her number from my phone vowing never to call her again…times when she erased mine…only to find a time later that it was in my phone again.

Early 2015 (I think? Late 2014?) she reached out to me and I had her number again and there was a couple phone calls that never went anywhere.  In my frustration, I deleted her number again.

Even though I had deleted her number, her memory kept coming back to me, kept me going back to Facebook and checking from time to time to see if she was single again…see if we should try again.  I let it go.

About a month ago I went digging on FB.  Nothing had changed on FB, so I wanted to know what was up with her.  What I found was heartbreaking.

I learned that some time after we last spoke her life spiraled out of control and that days after her 35th birthday, she took her own life.

 
In writing about this, there are emotions that flood and overload my soul…a cup that flows over with hurt, loss, confusion, hopelessness, yearning…even anger.  There are so many questions that will not have answers on this side of the Heaven.

I have wrestled with things, I have written, I have grappled with my past with her, I have lamented some of my interactions with her.
I have wondered if I had missed an opportunity to save her like so many others in her life did.  Was she on my mind because I was supposed to be praying for her, asking God for her safety and health?   Maybe some day I will know.

I have come to peace with the past…but I wanted to write to say this.

There are times when God places someone on your heart and we often think about that person in light of the story of our lives or our purposes.  We often have someone on our mind but then decide if our interaction with them with benefit us or not.

But…we forget.

We forget that this is God’s story and that person that God put on your heart could need a desperate touch of friendship or forgiveness to make their day a little better…or maybe even make the difference at a critical moment in their life.  We forget that they, like us, are carrying burdens.

I read a book a while back about Vietnam.  In the book there’s a story about a group of soldiers that have a Vietnamese soldier that works for them.  This little guy would carry their radio gear…and he was unstoppable.  He would lug gear around all day and  have the best smile, the best attitude, and never seemed to get tired.  Well, one day this group is out on patrol and this guy is carrying their gear just like always but this time, he sweating and struggling with the weight of his pack.  The lead takes notice of this unusual behavior of this guy and stops the patrol to let this guy rest a moment which never happened.  As this guy is bent over the leader takes a look at this guy’s pack and finds it’s full of small rocks!  Seems a couple of the regular army guys didn’t like this guy’s great attitude on life…so on the patrol, they started tossing little pebbles into this guy’s pack one at a time.  All day, as they hiked along, unknown to him, they filled his pack with rocks.

The relationships we have in our lives…the people we’re in community with, the people we interact with, the guys at the gym, the person who serves our coffee or diner, the girls we date, our family…do we add to their burdens?  Are we filling their packs with weights…or do we try to lighten their load?

When God puts someone on your mind…do you ask Him why before deciding if or how this benefits you?
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle that you know nothing about”

The Training and the Fight

I’m involved in a boxing group. It’s not “Rocky” or “Fight Club”, but it’s a group of guys from church that get together once a week. We do an hour of training, then we do an hour of study/discussion. The training is led by a couple guys, mostly Tommy, who leads the lessons and cardio, and Steven who’s a ‘proficient’ boxer.

When we spar, we don’t go ‘all out’, most of our sparring sessions you go 50% or so on hits…meaning you cut way back on your strength. We want to learn this skill but keep our day jobs until Don King comes knocking. Most of our day jobs require that we DON’T come to work with black eyes.

In boxing there are habits you have, things you unconsciously do in the ring that are either very good for you, or very bad. Being new to this, most of us constantly do the bad…and because it’s boxing, you get popped in the nose and jaw…sometimes a lot. Occasionally you get your bell wrung and that’s when you know you’re having fun.

Just to define, ‘popped’ is taking a good shot by someone…it’s a square hit with a little power that both the person who threw it and the person who received it knew it was pretty good. Getting your “bell wrung” is a hard shot usually thrown by the opponent that was either MEANT to be thrown hard, or was thrown by an over zealous, adrenalin fueled, ‘can’t control myself’ guy. We are not supposed to be throwing those because even with gloves, they can hurt.

Sparring, is fun and often painful. Sounds strange to say this…but I like it…why? Because it tells me I’m alive…I’m fighting…I’m learning…
….and when I’m in the ring and get hit, it means I’m about to get someone back (usually).

Couple lessons that I learned this week.

First, I’m very tall with great reach. When I got into the ring this week I did a lot of ducking and moving when punches were thrown at my face. Sometimes my opponent connected, sometimes he missed. Steven (he’s the experienced boxer) comes over to me after and says ‘You’re tall. Why are you bending down? You’re putting your head into their zone, into their reach…keep it up, keep it away from your opponent.’
A light bulb “think I’ll try that” went on in my head.

Second thing that happened of note was that I got hit.
That didn’t surprise you, the reader…but it surprised me.
I mean, it’s boxing right? You’re going to get hit…sometimes hard. It’s funny because when you get POPPED, you’re first instinct is like “dang it! I got hit!” It’s almost like you stop for a second and have a little pout that your not perfect, you’re not dominating an opponent, you’re not getting away without taking some serious shots.
Believe it or not, this surprises you.

The third thing that’s happened recently is that when you get into the ring with Steven, you’re getting into the ring with someone who’s MUCH better at this than you are…and every now and then, he let’s you know it. He’s teaching you, he’s schooling you, he’s humbling you gently (sometimes). Now, when you’re in the ring with ‘the master’ he’s showing you things, he’s demonstrating to you your weaknesses in many cases by hitting you a couple times to let you know where you are open. Sometimes he knows you’re not getting his lesson, so he makes it a little more obvious and he POPS you a good one. And after you get popped HARD a couple times, your brain will make massive adjustments to your technique to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

 

Boxing is a lot like spiritual warfare. We dodge and duck punches, we counter the opponents aggression, we instill moves and counter moves so that when battle comes…we do those things without thinking.

If I apply my boxing lessons this week to a spiritual lesson…there are some good lessons to be learned here.

From my first lesson, keep your head up, away from your opponent.
When you keep your head up, you keep it back and protected…the devil has to reach and stretch to get you…giving you time to maneuver and dodge. In the spiritual realm, when you indulge in sin, when you go to places that ‘lower your head’,  you put yourself in his territory, into his game, into his easy reach…and you’re going to get hit..and hit hard.
Second lesson: Speaking of getting hit, remember that you’re going to get hit.

Life is hard. No one gets out of here alive. No one gets through it without getting knocked down, beaten up, bloodied and bruised. WE ALL DO.
So when you get hit, you keep up your guard, you use defense to soften the blows, you keep your eyes on the opponent, and you work your footing to keep your balance, you understand that this is not the first and not the last time you are going to get hit.
You are a fighter and this is part of the game…we fight.

The devil is real and he’s here to kill, steal, and destroy. He’s not messing around, neither should you….which leads me to lesson number 3.

Lesson 3: When the master is teaching you to fight. You can learn by listening and paying attention, or you can learn the hard way and getting ‘popped’.
Learn to learn the easy way. The hard way hurts.
We fight to win in a real world battle where the enemy wants to tear us down, tear us apart not only physically, but mentally, and spiritually as well.  The enemy also wants to separate us from our WILLINGNESS to fight…because the last thing he wants us to do is be an example of strength,….because the last thing he wants us to do is to defend others…the last thing he wants us to do is teach our children and others to fight.

Ephesians 6.12 says, “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”

If you want to live, then you must fight.
If you want to defend yourself and your family, then you must fight.
We are God’s soldiers…we fight against the darkness.

Promotion

The Israelites left Egypt, left captivity with a reassurance from God that He would take them to the promised land. A journey that should have been a week, turns into 40 years. A generation later, they arrive at the edge of it and God tells them something. He’s not going to turn them loose on a vast expanse of land and let them ‘have at it’. Instead, He tells them, that as they would clear out and occupy the land, He would expand their land and their possession of it.

Exodus 23:29-30
But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals would multiply and threaten you. I will drive them out a little at a time until your population has increased enough to take possession of the land.
When I look at my life, there are certain things that I want in it that I do not currently have.
I want more ‘life’ in my life
I want more financial prosperity.
I want a wife.
I probably want kids, (although I probably want to keep my motorcycles a little more than I want those..at least for now.)
I want “X”, I want “Y”…maybe a little less of “Z”.

It’s kind of the American way,(whatever that is any more) and we desire, we go after things, we strive, we yearn, we stretch out for more. Wanting more, wanting different. Please understand that I’m not saying ‘wanting’ is not strictly an American thing, it’s a human thing, and, as American with the greatest wealth on the planet…we’re pretty good at this.

Let’s look at something.
There are natural laws that are in place in our world. You may believe God put them there, you may not…but you know they are true.

For instance, no one gets into good physical shape without addressing their eating habits. You can address your eating habits to slim down, but without physical exercising, no one gets into good physical shape. They go hand in hand.

There are things in life that must come hand in hand.

Where you have new land to grow crops, you must push back the weeds to keep the soil and crops protected. If you get a promotion, you must accept and tackle new goals. If you get into a new relationship, you must tend to that relationship. It’s a principal of this world that applies to physical, spiritual, mental, financial, and relational areas of your life. “To whom much is given, much is expected” is a principal of growth, promotion, and expansion.
The Israelites wanted the land but God gave it to them as they took control of it and tended to it.

In my life, that principal is in effect too.

There have been times that I have not been the best steward of my time, of my resources, and my growth has been stunted because of that. I’m not saying that God punished me, I’m saying that I asked for a promotion, but I Still was half-assing the responsibilities of my current ‘assignment. I didn’t act the role of someone deserving a promotion.

As an adult, you don’t give your child the keys to a Ferrari if they can’t keep from getting tickets with the family car. You don’t let the jackass who can’t keep a job have access to the family bank account. You don’t let the guy with the ‘bad boy’ image go out with your daughter who’s getting a scholarship for academics. Common sense, right?

Likewise, I don’t get access to God’s riches if I don’t manage the riches I’ve already got. “Riches” can be wealth, but it can also be resources, land, children, relationships, opportunities of advancement and responsibilities, etc.

Setting this against my own life, I don’t get a wife if I’m not willing to accept the responsibility that it takes to keep a wife. I don’t get more wealth if I’m not managing the money I’ve got. I don’t get used to further God’s kingdom on the center stage if I’m not helping those that are around me every day.

You may say “Hold on there Tony, I know lots of people who have those things without properly managing them”…and I agree, there are lots of people who mismanage things…but those things are often not blessing them…which is the where God says “the wild animals will multiply and threaten them”. What you do not manage well, can work against you. So, like a good father, He knows how much to give us, how much we can handle.

For example, the parable of the servants with talents. The one that gets the BEST return on the masters money is given EVEN more. He’s actually given the talents of others because he’s so good at investing his master’s wealth.
Are you asking for things?
Take inventory with what you have, what you’ve been given. If you are not managing God’s gifts properly, if you’re not a good steward of what you already have, then more is just going to be a waste, or going to possibly ruin you.