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Lessons from the Dust (or Today’s Job)

October 9, 2018

On Sunday, my wife and I met at our good friends’ house, a couple we have known for many years, and commemorated the anniversary of the wife’s struggle with cancer. While listening to her, she said with no uncertainty that it was just recently that she has become self-aware, humbled, and resolving life-long issues that have come to the surface from this journey, including a long standing fight with feelings of abandonment. This was contrasted with another moment on this same day she took a very earthy look at her ordeal and said at one point “I don’t care what good things or inner healing is being accomplished, I just want this pain to end!” Something she said she later regretted. These two moments were so revealing and teaching to me.

The call from the dust.

It’s hard to separate the natural human trauma of an illness, such as cancer, and the needed compassion, comfort, friendship in the ordeal, with the bigger picture of “what is going on here?” They are definitely two perspectives, and the second may only be broached by the most trusted friends. At one point I mentioned to our friend that her experiences (pain, confusion, demands, feelings of a closed heaven) were hers. And ours. She is connected to others who love her. She’s part of the body of Christ. My experience in prayer has been that in the fire, she may shout for joy. She is closer to God’s heart and goodness than at any other time. She is not abandoned, but cherished closely. There is something about living in extremity that unlocks a grace, honor, riches, and glory in the kingdom that is like no other time. These experiences are confusing. Humbling. Misunderstood. How could my Father who knows me let me travel such a path? Yet it is because we are so close, so treasured, that we are singled out. What a contrast. What a juxtaposition of extremities.

Reading in the book of Job, I see a similar story line. God’s question to Satan: “Have you considered my servant Job?” It was an invitation to the fire. And the fire came. And there Job sat, in the dust. Waiting. Wondering. Then came friends. Reasoning. Blame. Assumptions. Everything was tossed at Job, even the kitchen sink. And within that righteous, God-loved man, bubbled up offense. Impurities. Character traits which distracted and diluted the intense love of God in his life. To the surface they came. Aren’t I righteous? Don’t I deserve better? And considering God the opposer (in the face of his three friends), or less severely, the quiet onlooker (in the face of the fourth), he advocated for himself. The very impurity that held him back. There is something so totally holy and pure about the love of God — and I believe his blessing, true blessing in our lives is to experience him without the color, shading of a misinformed perspective or belief about me or him. But there is a deep risk associated with God engaging in this type of purification with his kids. Without the essential tie, connection, bond, and trust with the Father, an experience like Job’s could end badly. Very badly. The possibility of ending badly for Job is the same possibility that our friend faces. Yet, the reward is worth the risk.

I repeat, the reward, is worth the risk.

And she says after a year of this hell hole: I finally learned some things. I’ve come to term with things I never would have before this point. The goal quite possibly was not simply to endure pain in the flesh without meaning, but to be and live as the most precious one of the Lord. It’s not a pretty process. Vulnerability and exposure at every level. But… “I’ve finally come to terms with some things.”

We must embrace the now. The process. The feelings and where they lead. Yet no matter what percolates up from our heart, it must be mixed with the goodness and purpose of God. For me, I left my job in my mid-forties, wanting to resolve the “calling of God” on my life that I received when I was a teenager. I embarked on what turned out to be a very bitter journey, trusting in my faith and dedication to God. I believed he would provide. Period. I wanted to know my calling. I allowed my faith to be stretched to the breaking point in what I considered a test of my faith. If I could simply endure past these seemingly unresolvable financial issues and plunge into the fiscal abyss, he will honor my faith. And plunge I did. And my faith indeed broke. It wasn’t God that flinched in my game of chicken, it was me. Self-righteous me. Proud faith-exalting me. I broke. I was humbled. At that point, I too threw away all my Christian idealism and embraced his grace and the moment. I embraced my need to work. To engage — with my best — in the world around me offering my flesh with no strings attached. I no longer demand “a calling.” He has called me. I will live in his love. I went through a similar hell-hole when dating my wife. My very identity as a man was revamped. He put me on solid footing and delivered me out of so many delusions. But then, as it was later, through fire. Purification. The love of God in action. He, willing to let me misunderstand him for a season, acted on my behalf so that I could know him without the barnacles of life and my adversary that had so tenaciously clung to my body and mind. My tender Heavenly Father is very good at renewing me.

Where is God?

The second thing which stood out was the fact that our friend and her husband said they had not experienced the presence of God in this trial — until recently. Why? Why does God feel distant?

First, he is not distant. It’s only my perception of his proximity that I’m experiencing. But could it be that I don’t want to experience pain and I want him to change it? Obviously, our friends do not want cancer. Nor would I. At its core it represents the adversary and sin that he’s introduced in the earth. Yet, am I entitled to healing? Of course healing is a possibility — I see that when I read the Gospels and hear testimony in the church. But am I entitled to it? Well, it’s the children’s bread. Just like I’m promised life. And food. And every other good thing that is not always there when I feel like I need it. Yahweh. “I am… healing.” Of course he meets my need and I expect it. But when it doesn’t happen, what do I do?

This is something common to every man. Including Christ. Didn’t he plead in the Garden: “If it is possible, remove this cup from me?” It is possible. Nothing is impossible (it was Jesus himself who said this). Yet the answer was no. Not now. He had to go through this particular door, down this particular path. And it still lives in infamy. What he did, I’m not sure I still fully grasp. Yet it was horrible. And the taking of my sin (and separation from God) upon him is something that will abide with him — FOREVER. He was delivered. He was raised. He did recover. He is now the victory for all of us. But, he still did not want to do it. Just like Job did not want to, nor our friend, nor me.

It’s about timing. We don’t know how long and we would like to do everything in our power to change it. We want to change what the Father has put his own time (and goals) upon. Cancer? Death? Yup. But just like he established boundaries around the experience for Job, (you may not take his life), He has boundaries around every other experience of his children as well. It’s just that those boundaries are stumbling. I would never think that God would allow this kind of suffering or death.

So the thing that is standing out to me is this: When I am feeling desperate, wanting to change my circumstances, wanting to change God’s mind, wanting to claim my entitlement as a son, I become agitated and resistant to the present. Yet, the presence is in the present. It’s not tomorrow. It’s now. Is it any wonder my perception of his closeness is affected?

The turning of the tide

I love the stories of his amazing healing. Of those who have been raised from the dead. There just about every story imaginable that could describes the love, rescue, and salvation of my God among his people. The testimonies of God are deeply impacting, begging us to “do again.” His grace for my now is incredibly amazing. And when his purpose is accomplished, and his work is done within me, he, like in Psalm 18, stokes his fury against the messenger he used and obliterates him. He tosses out the tormentor which kept Job in the dust. Smoke comes from his nostrils. He is a man of war and comes to my aid. And then addresses Job’s three friends who didn’t have a clue about true righteousness of God found in this holy man. Then he returns the fortunes and favor to the man he loves. Rest. Peace. Trouble lasts for a night, but joy comes in the morning. We need green pastures. Still waters.

The lesson

Our life belongs to him. Embrace the moment. Listen carefully. Be attentive to what he is saying. Be teachable. Humble. Recognize that a protected part of my heart is having it’s defenses disassembled. The very things intended to keep this type of influence out. He’s scaling my walls. Enduring the process is not an option.

But will this trouble come at the expense of his presence? His closeness to me? It may. But I don’t believe it must. It’s only when I demand something to which I feel entitled.

Our lives come with gift-wrapped opportunities every day. Yet it’s easy to look at that opportunity as the threat. Need speaks. But what is it saying? To escape? Or better, to grow? One thing is clear, his Spirit and presence will lead us in this. He’s a tender Shepherd, a Wonderful Counselor. We never are forced to consider him the adversary, just because the real adversary is given a moment.

The dust speaks.

Inheritance and vulnerability

Then the LORD said to Aaron: “You shall have no inheritance in their land, nor shall you have any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the children of Israel. Numbers‬ ‭18:20‬ ‭NKJV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

What does it mean to have God as an inheritance? There is something unique about the tribe of Levi. When the nation of Israel was reborn under Moses the twelve tribes had grown into a very large family, but they were only familiar to indentured service to the Egyptians with no place to call their own. After escaping Egypt, the distribution of land and property in Israel was important in establishing their identity. Yet, in parceling out an inheritance, one tribe was singled out for exclusion. Why Levi? Moses and Aaron were from Levi, so their closest relatives were affected when they were excluded from owning land. Yet instead of land, beginning with Moses, they were entrusted in attending to the Presence, without which there would have been no escape from Egypt or distinction from any other nation on the earth.

At that time the LORD separated the tribe of Levi to bear the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to stand before the LORD to minister to Him and to bless in His name, to this day. Therefore Levi has no portion nor inheritance with his brethren; the LORD is his inheritance, just as the LORD your God promised him.) ‭‭Deuteronomy‬ ‭10:8-9‬ ‭NKJV ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

There are earthly things which distinguish me from others. I empathize with the Levites, on one hand from the perspective of their possessions, they seem to have been short-changed. I can imagine the Levites feeling a sense of being left out. What does this mean for the livelihoods of their children and grandchildren? Yet, they also had a unique inheritance: God himself and whatever belongs to Him.

Earlier God spoke a similar promise to Abraham:

After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” Genesis‬ ‭15:1‬ ‭NKJV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

So what does it mean to have God as an inheritance? An inheritance is something received when someone dies. That which is owned is given. It’s not complicated. But there is one small problem: God doesn’t die, man does.

The Pulpit Commentary says: Just as the priests (and in a lesser sense all the Levites) were the special possession of the Lord, so the Lord was the special possession of the priests; and inasmuch as all the whole earth belonged to him, the portion of the priests was, potentially in all cases, actually for those who were capable of realizing it, infinitely more desirable than any other portion. The spiritual meaning of the promise was so clearly felt that it was constantly claimed by the devout in Israel, irrespective of their ecclesiastical status.

A twelfth of Israel received no land, no physical inheritance on the earth. They were given the duties of the priesthood and the temple — or the Presence. From generation to generation the Presence, and attending to all the details of the Presence, belonged to this tribe. When Israel gave their offering, their wealth, the best from among the flock, the Levites were the recipients. What was given to God, was given to the Levites.

The Old Testament stories are reminders, or shadows, of something more real — the substance which is casting the shadow. The Law was a tool for running a nation and preparing them for the reality which is found in Jesus Christ. Today, I am part of a Kingdom of Priests. I am a Levite. I’ve been asked to give up land, possessions, father and mother, sister and brother, and seek his kingdom first. Jesus said that all that belongs to the Father he has given to the son. And in Romans, Paul makes it clear that I am an heir, and a co-heir with the son. The people of God are no longer centered around the physical nation of Israel, we are centered around the Christ. “Where your treasure is, there is your heart also.” I’m not seeking land, I’m seeking God. And in this pursuit I still must ask, what does it mean to inherit God?


I can imagine the scene I experience after dying, then opening my eyes… and I see him. He looks at me and says, “Here I am. I am yours. I’m your reward.” What do I have? If I’m a Levite what do I have? As I was walking at lunch this week and meditating on this, the thought impacted me: God is giving himself to me. What he is, he offers. He is not human, or flesh. He’s something so outside of my ability to comprehend, yet, he gives himself to me. The first thing I feel incredibly is — his vulnerability. God becoming vulnerable to me. He opens the sensitive, hidden, valued, personal and individual part of his heart to me. Exposed. Able to be hurt or even devastated. If I have any doubt about God’s ability to be thrashed, I simply look to Gethsemane and the cross — he aligned as one with the man Christ and experienced that devastation. The natural view of God is that He has all power. Power gives one the ultimate ability to avoid being vulnerable. Yet with God, power means just the opposite — he has an ability to give himself, freely, sincerely, without being hidden, authentically. Power is exposure. Omnipotence is vulnerability.

This morning, I’m reminded that the distinction and duties of the Levites didn’t apply to all Israel. Yet they stand as a symbol to everyone who honors and loves God that earthly success is not the end game — knowing and loving Him is. I’ve felt a unique call to pursue him, and feel very much like I’m an attendant in his sanctuary. I’m one whose inheritance is God, and I am his inheritance. There is a mutual belonging. Just like the health and well-being of the nation of Israel was seen in the ministry of the Levites — the better they did— the better Israel did, I have felt a compelling to live out a similar vocation or duty to be fully devoted and given to him — in vulnerability. In the garden, the clothes were put on. In his presence, they come off again.

John 6:39-40 The reality of living forever

This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day. ‭‭John‬ ‭6:39-40‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

I love what Jesus does here — he declares his victory over a foe and doesn’t even give him the courtesy of a name. He simply steps around him without any acknowledgement and declares life. Identity is in a name. It is in being recognized that we are who we are. Even so Jesus focuses on two powerful messages in this conversation: he gives us life that never ends, and he will raise us up on the last day. What audacious claims! How do I reconcile his promise of living forever with our experiences today? We all die. We often fight a brutal fight with sickness, accident, old age and still lose to death. Jesus is addressing death in two moments: both in the present in our current conflict, and in the future, proclaiming a life in a new reality, a new “normal” without death. But these words don’t fully impact me until I purposefully connect the dots with our reality today. To me Death has a name, a forceful name that I cannot ignore.

Death has deeply impacted my psyche and written his affect on my and other’s lives in so many ways. As a child it is emotionally impacting to see my first pet die. Even a goldfish. Or the bird I see lying on the ground. When I was little and my Grandpa Joe died, it was hard to process what it meant. Another time when I was five years old I went to visit my good neighbor Etta who was always willing to talk with me, yet this time she asked me to leave because the ambulance driver was taking away her husband, for good, I later discovered. I won’t see these loved ones again? It just feels wrong! My most primitive instinct is to live. Growing up, it is difficult to extract or identify the “fear of death” in everything I learned because it was the foundation, the unspoken premise of much of what I was taught. From where I played (in the street), to how I played (so I would not be injured), and how I treated others (if I hit my sister, don’t I know that dad would kill me?!) the recognition of death is woven through everything. Choices I make daily, unconsciously, give a nod to Death and my instinctual desire to avoid my inevitable encounter with him. Jesus’ idea of life without death is truly mind-altering. In a similar way if I were asked to consider life without time, or without the obligation to be in a physical body, or without the law of gravity, or without the autonomic nervous system (and I had to deliberately choose to exercise my heart to keep it beating) — the very core of my thinking or the paradigm from which I live would be affected.

Life is accessed through the door of faith

Even today, Jesus’ words seem like a stretch. To understand them I must mix what I read with faith. Like lifting weights at the gymn gives my body more capacity, so also exercising my faith makes me more able to receive the weighty words Jesus spoke. Without connecting Jesus’ promise with faith, it makes my eyes turn glassy, my gaze distant, and my heart and mind are unaffected. “On the last day…” is a promise deferred. It’s delayed to a time that my mind cannot wrap its arms around. How does that help me now, let alone feed me? In effect Jesus is saying, “It’s coming. Today, death is a reality, but don’t be stumbled, tomorrow it won’t be.” One thing for certain, the promises that require believing rarely raise goosebumps of excitement on the natural man. I must always deliberately mix Jesus’ words with faith. A “today faith” — an abiding in a place of unshakable, unstumbled belief that opens the eyes of my heart to see his kingdom in this moment. All roads to the kingdom are paved in believing and trusting. And they lead through the toll booth of Christ. The kingdom is now… not some undefined future. It almost feels like he’s pleading, “listen to me, I will raise you up!” And through repetition, will it stick?

Jesus is the new normal

Death is a reality. That sounds like a pretty stupid thing to say. It is all we have known while living on planet earth. Life as man knows it ends. The mortality rate of humans is nearly 99.999% with only two biblical exceptions. Even then, Enoch and Elijah did not remain on terra fima for us to gawk at. The entire cycle of life as we know it and see it is: life, growth, seed, death, then new life again. Rinse. Repeat. Yet the interruption to that cycle, the victory over Death, the new standard, is speaking to them now in person! It’s one thing for a Father to tell the kids, “someday we will go to Disneyland,” and it’s quite another to say it with tickets in the pocket and car waiting in the front driveway. You can almost feel the emotion, the excitement in Christ’s voice. For four thousand years men have been subject to death, but Christ is the ticket! It’s in our hand.

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 1 Corinthians 15:22

The transition to this new kingdom reality will not feel clean. Even if I have super-faith, it’s hard to wrap my mind around what a life without death looks like. It is fundamentally a shift in operations — just like when you move to a new home and must meet the neighbors, find new grocery stores, familiarize yourself with the house’s personality and creaking at night. Or like changing schools, getting a new teacher, new classmates, new subjects to study. Or when you marry and the next morning you wake up next to your life-long companion and wonder what you have just done! The reality of deathlessness is mind-altering. Since Jesus spoke those words, there have been 2,000 years of not very clean transition. Yet, the change appeared with Jesus. A specific point in history. Christ raised Tabitha (Mk 5:39-42) and Lazarus (John 11:41-44) and he himself was raised (Mtt 28:1-6) – the first fruits of all his family of which I am a member (1 Corinthians 15:20). If that was not enough, he gave his disciples authority to raise the dead as well (Matthew 10:8). But his words here remain “I myself will raise him up…” There is a day coming when it will be complete. So, if he’s demonstrated his authority over death, why do we need to wait? Why is life (or deathlessness) deferred?

Death is an enemy

Paul calls him the “last enemy” to be destroyed. (1 Corinthians 15:26). He was the first enemy to be given authority over man (Genesis 2:17). Death is real. He has a name. And when his horrible reign has ended he is disposed of in the fire with his teammate, Hell (Rev 20:14). They are the third and fourth that are tossed into the lake of fire as soon as it is open for business — following only the Beast and False Prophet (in Revelation). In the garden he took ownership of the keys to the car of life which he violently snatched out of Adam’s hands.

Before death, God intended man to live without regard for time in his body. I’m not entirely sure what that would have looked like, but it was a possibility. There simply wouldn’t be an end point. Even after the sentence of death in Genesis 3, the life span of man after the fall was nearly 1,000 years. This changed dramatically after the flood — which makes me think something was tweaked in the physical environment on the earth that narrowed our natural life. Originally, our cells would simply regenerate and self-heal. The coding in our DNA compelled us toward life. And it still does, but not entirely now. Age produces decay. Something changed. Our earthly bodies and our environment now reflect the heavenly reality of a newly realized death sentence. We have all sorts of bastardized DNA in our bodies, each declaring all manner of sickness and disease with one goal: to rob life from me. Uncle Charlie, Aunt Freda, Grandpa Griswald, and mom and dad all contributed their particular strain of evil to this grand DNA re-coding project.

Until Christ.

Now there is a refreshed DNA recoding project in my body. And Christ made the outcome clear: Life! My new birth isn’t just a clever mental game to re-align me with a new spiritual objective in my life. It is a real, earth-shaking, foundation-altering, physical reality. The fallen coding in my DNA that my parents, grandparents, and ancestors passed on to me — ends here. Death is defeated. Jesus gave this promise to the children of God. He demonstrated what it looked like. He made the payment. He himself was raised and sits as a testimony to my future. And he tells us of the time it will be the new “normal.” Until that day, the kingdom suffers violence, and the violent among us take it by force. By choice. By faith.

Giving death a moment to speak

Until now, I have spent very little time thinking about death. Life is about what is, not what is not. Life is being present, alive, fully engaged, bursting with goodness and creativity, friendship and love. When I have lost a friend or loved one, I think about my loss, our loss, and move on. I personally haven’t considered my encounter with Death. And like anything I haven’t contemplated, my faith about ceasing-to-be-on-earth are not well-formed. Death is frightening. His boastful prospects are not my future, so why would I want to listen? Yet recently I have many loved ones going through that frightful stare-down with this adversary. When death takes someone, it’s not just the one that he takes, but he takes a piece of something bigger. We are interconnected in a marvelous and frightening way. Just like when I play the wooden block game Jengo. It starts with the blocks stacked and interconnected in a tower and each player in turn takes out a piece with the goal of keeping the tower from falling. Finally, one piece is removed that brings the remaining blocks crashing down. This is what death is doing to the structure of our lives. Which piece or person does he finally remove from my life before the tower comes crumbling down? Although fear makes me want close my eyes and bury my head in my pillow, pull over the covers and wait for it to pass, there is something deeply emboldening about Jesus’ words. Embracing his victory allows me to put on new confidence, even a sense of invincibility. So now, instead of turning away from my foe, I look at him, acknowledge his boastful claims, and then reconcile them with Jesus’ words.

Death says to me, “You have failed. Made the wrong choices. You’re guilty of sin. The penalty for sin in death is just. It was sanctioned by heaven’s courts. God himself. And by the way, I really do have authority over your body. Your future is the grave. Dust. An untimely death. Embarrassment. Exposure. Isolation. Loneliness. I have killed good DNA and replaced it with the bad. Now you are afflicted with ugliness instead of beauty. Limping and limitation instead of fierceness and boundarylessness. Although there are dreams and gifts planted within you —breadcrumbs of the divine — they are aborted. You may see them, but you will never realize them. Dashed hope. Failed efforts. In fact, the shorter your life the better. God allowed it, don’t you see that? It’s because he wanted the world to be rid of you. It couldn’t bear you very long — even now, 70-90 years are way too many. It gives you the false sense that you actually have time to accomplish something. That you actually have meaning, blah! Thankfully, I have friends: Toil, Hardship, War, Murder, Barrenness, Difficulty, Unloved, they all keep you distracted enough. You don’t have much time to consider your dreams. And even if you do, I’ll bring other friends to disrupt your sleep. No need to dream all those illusions.”

My reply? “Christ.”

But now, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits [the forerunner, the example, the first of the many that will follow] of those who are asleep. 1 Corinthians 15:20

The timing of God

One thing that distinguishes God from his creation is time. On earth one thing follows another. In heaven, things aren’t quite so linear. In fact here in John 6, Jesus has not even died yet, but he’s already leveraging the purchase price he will pay for my life and telling his followers about it — before he actually tendered his physical life as the payment. He’s operating outside the linear. That is where faith must operate. His intent, promise, and devotion, combined with a word from God are just as powerful for Adam and David as they are for Christ, and me today. Stepping into Christ is stepping into timelessness.

My natural body = time. My rebirthed body = timeless.

I see Jesus operating in this new zone of forgiveness, redemption, and the payment for sin. Sin and evil has qualified me for death; the goodness, love, and sacrifice of Christ now qualifies me for life. The payment has been made and the benefit may be accessed — sometimes even today, as we see Christ did in so many instances. I wonder, why some may be raised now, and others not? Since Christ clearly demonstrated a victory over death, why can’t I count on it today? I may never understand. But the word of God is clear: there is a time — in the future — when the transaction is fully complete.

Death is an ugly enemy, and it feels wrong to say this, but I must become comfortable with the fact that today my path to life is through through him. One day this will change. But not today. It is so humbling to go through the process of death. So inglorious. Rarely pretty. Whether a fateful splat in an accident, or a long battle with disease — it’s just bad. Shutting down the life in my body and yielding to death, seems so wrong. Yet, however it comes, it is the threshhold to the next. Despite death, my heart cannot be separated from my Father’s, just like the fusion of metals in the heat. I am bound to life! Nothing can separate me from the love of God — even if for a moment I must concede to what happens in my body. The sooner I accept this, the sooner I will be at peace with whatever guillotine the adversary uses. Not a hair from my head is uncounted, nor a bird falls without him knowing it. If I cling to life in this body like it’s my last stop in life, I’m abandoning the peace he offers for a battle he has already won. I was thinking this morning of a story by Madeleine L’engle about her husband Hugh who was diagnosed with cancer and starting to see the symptoms which affected his normally joyful, playful countenance. The family thrust him into aggressive cancer treatment. It caused nausea, weakness, dependency, disconnect, struggle, hair loss, and so many other horrible side effects. Ultimately the disease took him. Although there was a chance the treatment would work and his family based their hope on this treatment, it simply extended the battle into months of pain. So I wonder, which is worse, the sickness or the cure? Would they have been remiss to avoid the fight? And if one makes it through such harshness, what type of life is left to live? Would it be wrong to fold the sword on top of my own chest, bow my head and acknowledge the inevitable… on my terms? Courage and life may manifest in many different ways — and it’s a deeply personal choice with today’s hope-filled medicine.

The sting of death

When I consider the real struggle with death, the thing that worries me the most is the accusation of me being inconsequential and not living my dreams. Purpose, gifts, vision, a goal are all seeds for a life that was never intended to end. Yet what makes me put all my eggs in one basket — the basket of this body? If it falls off the table, what do I have? What about those with childhood diseases? Or those who died in service to their community or country? Or those taken from freak accidents or premeditated murders? There is a real future and a real hope in the kingdom of heaven. And just because I cannot see beyond the veil of this current life, the darkness of my understanding does not mean there is no life after death. Unfortunately, it’s not provable. I have never been there. But there is someone who has and He’s returned and says it’s true. And my Father says it’s true—in no uncertain terms.

The kingdom deposits God has made in my life are without regret. He planted them knowing full well the continuity of my life beyond my earthly body. My life being cut short is not a limiter. Those dreams and ambitions may be fulfilled in this body and in my new body which is coming, whether or not I am able to get over the hump which I cannot see beyond. What Jesus is saying here is profound and the although the water of understanding must sit on the callous ground of my flesh until it is slowly absorbed and nourishes, once the realization of his declaration goes in deeply, it is life changing. He’s telling me something very real. I have been looking at death through the eyes of fallen man. A grief-riddled response actually seems selfish and misinformed. “But I can’t talk to my dad any longer!” Who told me that? I must allow my core beliefs to be changed by Jesus’ words.

Our life after death

I’m aware that my time in my body offers me a unique ability to transact in my world. Now. And I fully desire to engage every day with all of my heart. Yet, one thing that frightens me about death is that I will be disengaged with life. I will miss opportunity. Since my only frame of reference is life in this body, I jump to all sorts of conclusions about what happens when my body returns to dust. The reality is, my role simply changes. There is an accounting all men must make for their deeds and words while in the body, and I fully understand how that may strike fear in the heart of man — especially when he has not lived in the context of being accountable for his thoughts and deeds — but the accounting for the children of God is pretty straightforward: I have failed and Jesus has paid for my failure. I am immersed in the grace of God. If I want credit for my good, then I must equally take credit for my bad. So the accounting is simple, it relies on grace which I am still trying to comprehend. But just like Jesus went away and is alive, I will be as well. To be in the body is to be constrained by earth’s laws of physics. When I’m released, there is no such constraint. When my body stops living, I am not dead, rather, my container is simply not here (or asleep, as Jesus said). I’m convinced that the life Jesus has for me and all of his brothers and sisters will not be missed because of death. He came to give us not just life, but abundant life! In fact, when he first appears, Paul makes it clear that those who have fallen asleep in him are raised first, then those who are alive and remain (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17). Why? So we may be encouraged. Recognize that departing and all of its worldly grief is temporary. We are NOT without hope. None of his kids will be excluded from the front row seat of the incredible life about to engulf our planet. Because I have a passion for how things wrap up on this earth in the coming days, I’m aware there are many significant events that will occur. Whether I’m on earth in my body, or not, I will be fully engaged with Christ in all that is about to take place.

The last day is closer than I may think

One of the most compelling things Jesus said over and over was that in him there was life — particularly here in John 6. If we believe in him we would never die. But here in John he makes the point of saying: “I will raise him up on the last day.” This is not a consolation promise. “Oh sorry, you missed 2000 years of life because of these weak and wobbly bodies.” He promises that although the timing is yet to come, the death of my body is NOT the end of the story. There will be a second act (and probably a third and a fourth). And I am convinced from a timing perspective, it is nearly upon us. Eschatology (or the study of the last days) can be a controversial topic. Every few years someone claims a date of Christ’s return and the day comes and goes with only a laugh from those looking on. The world and even the church roll their eyes wanting to avoid all discussion about his return, particularly the timing. I get it, yet he will return. He promised it. The day will come. So how can I say it’s closer than I may think? For one, it’s been nearly 2,000 years since he said he would return — so logically, we are closer to that date. Much closer than when the disciples first heard the promise. When I look at all the prophetic indicators, there is a season in which the church may discern it is near. One of the duties of the Holy Spirit is that he would disclose to us things to come. When Jesus first walked in Galilee, it had been nearly 4,000 years since Adam heard the promise of his coming. The Pharisees were just as dismissive of the actual coming of the Christ then, as we are about his second coming today. Yet Jesus expected them to see the signs of the season.

And He was also saying to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming,’ and so it turns out. And when you see a south wind blowing, you say, ‘It will be a hot day,’ and it turns out that way. You hypocrites! You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky, but why do you not analyze this present time? Luke‬ ‭12:54-56‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬

So, just like we see the summer heat end and the cool fall breeze approach, we know a change is at hand. When all the dogs and birds in the neighborhood are quiet, there is something different going on. This is a deep topic and I don’t want to oversimplify it. Yet… when he comes, it will be significant just like the crescendo at the end of a symphony, a movie plot that has unfolded, the burst of blooms in your garden, the sunset before the night. There are things which point to the timing of the sons of God. The purpose of God in this creation may be seen in the church — the people of God. We are the object of his affection. And the sons and daughters of God are nearly ready. Ready for a wedding. Ready for a position and place in the heavens with Christ. Ready to believe and live our true identity. This makes me so incredibly excited. I think of those who die in Christ now… whatever state you are in will not last long. And what about those that are alive and remain until he comes? Neither of us will miss a thing! I’m convinced of it by the Spirit. Oh to shed this narrow, dark thinking about death. He is life and we have his life and promise of immortality within us!

“The last day” sounds very final and concluding. Yet it is still a day to be lived in! The days of creation ended on the sixth. The last day was a day of rest. The seventh and last was an opportunity to joy in the work of the previous six. When we reach that day, whether we are alive and remain, or are raised as he promised, it will be a period of rest, refreshing, and joy. It will be a good day. And it will be an opportunity to continue to live and pursue the dreams, ambitions, and promises he’s planted within.

One thing certain about Death. He will die. One thing certain about those in Christ, we will live. Forever. Let’s start today.

A Single Eye

One thing. I may focus on one thing. What is it?

I often marvel at God’s ability to know and love everyone on earth. Thinking about my own story, the complexity of my life and feelings, the intricacies of my interactions with others, and the requests I make constantly to my Father, it staggers my imagination to multiply his intimacy to the billions on this planet. How does he do it? In contrast, I am human and I may only focus on one task, one person, one conversation at any time. Just one!

What if my ability to focus my attention on one thing is by design? What if God purposely limited my ability to multitask — at least while I was in this body? While I’m sitting here typing, my body is processing millions of transactions completely out of sight. The autonomous nervous system keeps me breathing, my heart beating, the temperature of my body constant, the hormone levels needed, and a host of other internal systems in balance — automatically. I don’t have to think about them. When there is a problem, for example when I get a sliver, the body reports in: “Mission control we have a problem. There is a sharp object causing discomfort near the big toe. What do you want to do about it?” My response, “Thanks command module, I’m driving in traffic right now and it’s not the best time to address this. It’s not too serious, it can wait till I’m home.” The executive in me has the privilege of making the high-level decisions. My attention, my focus, my ability to concentrate on one thing, is my reality.

Think about the eye. I may see everything in front of me, but only one object may be my focus. Yes, I see everything in the periphery, I’m aware if something suddenly is different that needs me to change my focus, and my eye adjusts (automatically) to the lighting, but still, I may only look at one thing. The personal computer has made the concept of “multitasking” a workplace term— the ability to run several processes with the same processor at the same time. But I can’t confuse “changing quickly between processes” as multitasking. And that is the best I can do, but I cannot call it multitasking. It’s not. My brain, my person, cannot focus on more than one thing. I may have many activities that need my attention going at the same time: the eggs on the stove, the coffee brewing, the toast in the toaster, the lawn being watered, a text message ding on my phone, and the clock ticking toward my departure for work, but like the vision aware of all the activity in the periphery, there is only one thing I may give my full attention.

By design. Our Father and our God wants our full attention. What an important transaction when we give another our undivided attention. It is affirming, connecting, and it speaks to the other’s worth and value to me.

At the end of our lives, the differentiator between all people will be what we each have chosen to focus our attention upon. That object of our attention will transform our character into its image. We become like the thing we observe. Think abut it. That’s why the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples AFTER Jesus rose from the dead. We stare and become like the risen Christ who is standing before the Father not the dead Christ who is subject to the grave. In our own body, the autonomous nervous system serves us to a particular end — so our minds are released from the mundane so that we may consider more important things. I have a certain capacity every day to apply myself. Will it be work? Family? A new relationship I’m interested in? A skill I want to develop? So many choices. My values distinguish one priority above another. Today, I may read a book or watch football. I can talk with my son or work on a project. I can exercise or sit on the couch and watch a good movie because I had a tough week. I can cling to my own time, schedule, or plans, or I can worship my Father and love him with everything within me. Knowing and pursuing a value and goal is transforming. Whether or not I acknowledge these values, they are there. Laziness, lethargy, and sleepiness only mask the self-focus and self-serving that I think will make me happy. Oh to kindle afresh every day the true value of my life and heart… Jesus and his kingdom!

God designed us to be this way. And He encourages us to “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and soul and might.” (Deuteronomy 6:5). Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things (that I need) will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33). He said “Let your eyes look directly ahead, your gaze fixed straight in front of you” (Proverbs 4:25). “Don’t turn aside to the right or the left, to go after other gods to serve them” (Deuteronomy 28:14). “And your ears will hear a word behind you, ‘this is the way, walk in it’” (Isaiah 30:21).

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus said:

The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! Matthew‬ ‭6:22-23‬ ‭NKJV‬‬‬‬‬‬

From Helps Word Studies the Greek for “(if therefore your eye is) good” is haploús meaning unfolded, single – literally, “without folds” (J. Thayer), referring to a single (undivided) focus, i.e. without a (secret) “double agenda” which prevents an over-complicated life (becoming needlessly distracted). Haploús is the antonym of the Greek term diplous meaning, “double.”

Immediately after this he also said:

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:24‬ ‭NKJV‬‬‬‬

What is the “one thing” I will focus my attention on today? If I don’t decide, my flesh will be happy to decide for me. One way or another I will choose. One day when I receive my new body maybe it will have a capacity to connect on multiple levels at the same time. The future possibilities are limitless. But today I will be intentional, goal-focused, and use the capacity I have to stare into his incredible gaze and be changed into that same character… from glory to glory.


He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. Luke‬ ‭22:41-44‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane with his disciples just before he was arrested and crucified. He knew what was coming. And not just the physical torment or the abandonment by his friends, but the one thing that was of higher value than anything else — and something most of us still do not understand — the separation in the relationship he had with his Father. He had never experienced a distance from Papa before, yet now, Abba is asking him to carry sin away from the sinners, to be the lamb sacrifice on which sin falls. Jesus knows light and dark cannot cannot coexist. Sin and righteousness are opposites. Abba is absolutely holy, and not in some nose-in-the-air self-righteous way. He is pure white hot goodness and sin is like wood that burns up as it nears him, consuming it completely or damaging whatever it is attached to. So to become an offering for sin meant one thing: distance from the Father. Separation. Pleasing his father was the singular value that Jesus prized most. It helps me understand how the body produced drops of blood from the stress he was feeling.

The story of the cross and Jesus’ sacrifice is incredible by itself, but this is not what caught my attention. I’ve been considering what causes stress in my own life and as I was reading this I recognized that Jesus experienced stress too. His stress was a result of his values and desire being threatened, and that desire was only good. He wanted something, just like all of us want something.

When the thing we desire is threatened, it results in stress. It is like the warning lights in our car. The light is telling me I shouldn’t drive with one of my doors open. The oil light flashes and tells me low oil pressure is threatening my vehicle. I’m about to give a presentation to a group at work, and I feel it because I want to do well, communicate, succeed, and have others benefit from it. I want to be valued. Yet I know how quickly someone can succeed or fail when speaking publicly. I feel the stress of not having enough money and without enough cash, I may lose my house or car or not have enough food. If I’m afraid for my life, it’s because I still want to live — I have dreams, things to do, places to go, ambitions to fulfill. Yet if I simply give up caring about something I am released from that pressure. When I give up, it allows me to release care, worry, and anxiety. So, if I give up my desire, may I live a stress free life? Of course. But it’s also dead one.

Desire and caring is the natural response of my heart to life. It makes me uniquely human. Uniquely valuable. It defines me. There are those that have given up on their desires and abandoned any hope for the good they want in their life, but what has their surrender purchased? Less stress, yes, but also less life. A part of them has died.

Growing up as a believer, I’m well aware of the struggle between my flesh and my new man in Christ. It’s good to understand that distinction. The act of being baptized and plunged under the water is a symbol of my old man dying. When I come out of the water it is a symbol that the new man is resurrected with Christ. The experience of being born again is truly amazing and as a young man I had passion in pursuing the kingdom. But as with all children, things seemed black and white and in killing off the old man it felt reasonable to dump everything but “spiritual” pursuits. Everything! So what is left? I sincerely love the willingness to sell all to connect with my Father. But he isn’t looking for a slave. He’s looking for me. With all my intrinsic desire, ambition, gifts, and talents he gave me when I was conceived. Being a Christian doesn’t mean my person is dead, just the part that was connected with hurt, sin and damage. Instead of killing me, he has realigned me with the kingdom and kingdom values. Being truly dead to self — willing to hate all those I love, willing to cut off an arm or pull out an eye, and even hating my own life also — is only a gateway to real life.

Then and now I find the relationship with my desire and ambition to be precarious. If I have a dream but believe it can’t be fulfilled, I feel sick… and just like the proverb says: Hope deferred makes the heart sick. (Proverbs 13:12). The tread-wear of life on my soul has a tendency to reduce my child-like curiosity and desire. Kids unashamedly want to go places, to have fun experiences, to buy the latest toy or gadget, and to eat this fun new food. With time, the natural enthusiasm and excitement of simply waking up and tackling a brand new day begins to fade. The trim and flourish start to go missing. There are a lot of reasons why I don’t get everything I want. Sometimes the dream I have is not aligned with the reality of my circumstances and disappointment results. And then there are events in all of our lives that threaten our very life or well-being. The resulting post-traumatic stress has a deep impact that erases whatever childlike curiosity or possibility I held. When fighting for my life, whether it be sickness, adversity, war, or even abusive relationships, finding value in the little pleasures or desires seem inconsequential. Unimportant. At the root is the underlying question: “Am I loved?” If I feel like I have been threatened or nearly cast aside, then what is my worth?

Ah, the heart of the matter.

God, or better, Abba or Papa, makes an unequivocal declaration of my value and worth. He loves me. Deeply. No matter what evidence I find to the contrary. Yet life bears down on me and my adversary shouts “worthless!” in my ear, challenging the very thing my father affirms. My life seems to be a drama where experiences either affirm or deny the worth I have and for which Jesus has paid dearly.

Will I live loved, or unloved? And what will it take to convince me of one or the other? Hope or hopelessness are both knocking at the door daily.

There’s a great article in Psychology today that explores the relationship between hope and depression. I’ve always wondered how someone could ever consider taking their own life. An excerpt says: Hopelessness is both a cause and a symptom of depression, and, in the context of depression, a strong predictor of suicide. This article makes a link between what we believe and our response to that faith — connecting hope, hopelessness, depression, and suicide.

And if these things are true, it is important not to equivocate between hope and hopelessness. The conclusion of both are either life or death. Choosing life means to live fully. And to live fully means that my desires are important. Desire is the fruit of the tree of being loved. It is a tender young shoot growing from a heart that feels value and worth. It is the evidence that my life is more than just being alive, but living abundantly and flourishing. Desire is an indicator. The more that is there, the more the fertilizer of love has seeped into the soil of my heart.

What I want is important. Allowing myself to want, is important. Self denial has a downside. There are many places in the Bible where Jesus says to deny ourselves. To hate mom, dad, sister, brother, and our own life also. But anyone who hears these things knows that those things were spoken only to realign our value system. God must be first in comparison to anything else. There is no question here. But to truly die to ourselves means we must pick up the life he intended us to live and live it fully! Abundantly. It’s not some pseudo-life created by the flesh to prove I am really a believer as evidenced by my excessive self-denial, long prayer times, or any other outward righteousness. It means aligning with my heart and soul to the calling and purpose he placed within me when I was conceived — what he knew about me before the creation of the world. Real self-denial means living an incredible, mind-boggling life!

Those who are loved are like fruitful gardens. Deep wells. Stable. Established. And desiring.

In that garden Jesus chose to give up his desire, so we may have ours. And our Father is at the core of what we want. There are many things that challenge our desires and threaten our lives. And every fight requires the Holy Spirit to help us navigate the complexity and when to give up and when to cling. We truly hold loosely to all he has given us. But at the same time I embrace the the goodness and the incredible life he has offered tenaciously, knowing it is just a foretaste of the kingdom which is coming. Hold on tightly to that!


Life Lessons

When I look back on my journey of faith, I’m so thankful where I am today and marvel at where I used to be. There’s almost a sense of embarrassment for the faith I used to hold compared to the place I am now. I’m certain in the future I’ll look back on today and feel the same. But the journey I’m on is one of growing and maturing. I had to start at some point. So what are the areas of biggest transformation I’m noticing?

The sense of calling

Originally, I gave my life to God with a sense of vocation. Service. What value is a commitment to God if my life’s actions are not behind it? Growing up as a Catholic the idea of serving God in the highest capacity meant participating in the ministry or becoming a priest (or a nun if you are a woman). It’s the ultimate sense of giving all to follow, especially if you consider the requirements of chastity and poverty. Yet for me, being born again in a non-denominational church required no such celibate sacrifice. But the idea of ministry, preaching, pastoring, and service was still very much a part of my thinking about my devotion to him. Yet, at the beginning of my new Christian experience I recall driving from my home in Yorkshire to a service at the Chapel. In the car I was aware that I had a creative mind and action-oriented disposition. Combine that with the idea that men take the initiative to do God’s will and the result is what my pastor preached so firmly against: a man’s efforts cannot achieve what only the Spirit can accomplish (the very message that aligned me to the Chapel). I made a dedication to the Lord that I would not manufacture his call in my life. I would wait to hear it from him.

Fast forward to today; I have received no such call. There have been moments when I’ve felt certain I was receiving more specificity, but it was a general sense when I felt an alignment with my brother-in-law who was pastoring in California or when at the college I worked, I imagined God’s students filling classrooms of a newly built facility which I would often circle when praying), but I have never felt more precisely directed. But other direction I kept hearing in my spirit were more pointed: “What if I want to keep you for myself Marc? Would you be willing to let me enjoy you without any further calling?” Yet internally, I have felt like true devotion would ultimately end in my “job” being in Christian ministry. When I went toe to toe with God in a focused, faith-filled pursuit between 2005 to 2010, it was Marc who broke, not God. I realized there was no further calling. The deep sense of qualification I maintained (being holy, being filled with faith, being trained, having pure motives, having a clean life, being available) justified in my own mind that the Father really wanted this from me… because I really wanted this for me. Or at least the affirmation of it. And the recognition. Yet, there would be none. There is no call, other than to know Him and love Him with my life. In retrospect I’m surprised how my sense of hearing his voice was colored by my understanding trying to mold circumstances in a direction my Heavenly Father was not headed. On some occasions I felt very clearly like it was my Father’s voice, and most likely his presence was with me, communicating. But what is surprising is how I received him within the grid I was operating — and he never corrected me for it.

I wonder what my life would have looked like had I given up the pursuit if service from the beginning and simply loved and served him deeply — in whatever I chose to do? The next item is part and parcel, hand in glove with this one.


No one wants to be poor and lacking, waiting for the goodness or charity of others. There’s something intrinsic about wanting to work and to be able to make a living, and not just eke out a living, but to thrive. Yet in a religious context, particularly with my Catholic roots, there is the idea of poverty containing a sense of spirituality. There is much in the Bible which seems to support this as well: “blessed are the poor,” “Seek first the kingdom of heaven…,” “Don’t take two tunics or extra money,” “Hate your life,” and so on. Yet one may interpret these exhortations any number of ways. Looking back, I’ve always had an internal conflict between poverty and prosperity. The fact is, God wants our needs supplied. But does it look like an all-consuming American capitalism? I doubt it, but it is real sufficiency. Investment. An ability to be released to move about the planet with permission to explore, discover, enjoy, sow and reap, and give to those in need.

At Community Chapel, there was an idea that the rapture could be soon, so why waste your time on things that don’t matter? There was a sense that we could take the power and presence of God into a world that is distracted with wealth and things. Add a little bit of faith and you don’t need to worry about what tomorrow brings. This kind of faith is valid, even exhilarating when it is embraced by so many of my peers and feels like it has a higher purpose. I maintained this faith for many, many years. Yet looking back, it was at the expense of being invested in real skills that help my fellow man and real income that helped my family and community.

I firmly believe that pursuing his kingdom is the first priority and faith is God’s provision is essential. Yet working and making a contribution to our world and getting paid is also a part of it. In fact, finding vocation in how we earn our money is exhilarating. Monetizing the gospel is a dangerous occupation — trading an hour of my time for a hard earned dollar under the guise of freely giving the gospel and living by faith is dichotomy that is not easily reconciled. Living by faith and making a living are both important activities. When circumstances require us to make a choice, by all means God will provide. But self-imposed poverty and circumstances are a different thing.

The area of finances has been my biggest struggle, mostly because I have wanted the best of both worlds… the pursuit, focus, and occupation of the kingdom, and the fruit of living a well-earned life in an occupation. I’m thankful that God has provided for my family over so many years despite my thinking.

Faith and self-righteousness

I have a deep desire to please my Father. Within this is a value for becoming like him. Making right choices. Besides excelling at loving, “believing” is one of the key values of the kingdom. I believe that I have believed. Knowing I have a faith, and acting on it has been a confidence of my life. Doing right and knowing I’m doing right. Of the two sons in the story of the prodigal, I am the one that stayed put, faithful to my father. Yet, there is a relationship with grace, and a knowledge of my personal path to Him that is essential in clinging to the message of the cross. Any thing, ANYTHING I can do, will not purchase my salvation. It is grace, 100% pure grace that qualifies me. Good behavior and living faith simply gets me back to the starting point where failure took me off-road and over a cliff — if it even gets me that far. To have confidence in any self-righteousness is a mistake. Yet I have trusted in my sincerity and track record of my behavior to prove that I am the son that I believe I am.

I don’t know what I don’t know until he shows me. I am entirely dependent upon my Lord to work any work within me. To imprint his holiness. To call me to a kingdom occupation. The message of grace is the starting point for me today, even many years after my conversion. The father did not need a skilled, creative, reliable individual. He wants me. Just as I am. A surrendered, listening, following, humble, believing, loving, kingdom-birthed son of God who is being conformed into the image of his son.

If I die today, I am accepted. The really cool thing is that while I still have breath, I can continue to be changed from glory to glory. To experience the value of maintaining kingdom values on earth. To enjoy the life-giving benefits of a heavenly kingdom despite a broken earth shouting a destiny of death at all of its inhabitants.

The distance I’ve travelled

The things we believe about ourselves can be complex. From our self-view comes all sorts of crazy behavior. When viewing others through our personal lens they can look downright bonkers. Why did this person do that? Why did someone respond this way? We all have experiences that speak into the person we’ve become. My wife said this morning: The reason for my weakness in a particular area is because when I had a need in my life at some point I filled it with something other than Jesus and his kingdom. I fed my need with flesh. And now the comfort my flesh provides is the only reaction I have or choose to have. If when I was rejected I was comforted in food, is it any wonder that food has become a weakness? If a person needs love and they turned to porn or sex, is it any wonder that when the all too frequent need speaks up that porn or sex is standing at the window waiting to provide? When I have felt out of control and my anger flared and others cowered and a semblance of order returned, is it any wonder that anger is at hand for me? But flesh does not fill our lives like the Holy Spirit. He wants to clean out the areas that have been filled by flesh and inhabit a clean and swept house. Is it required? Of course not… just ask the thief on the cross that was next to Jesus. But it is an act of love to our Lord. But let’s be clear. It is His initiation, and filling, and cleaning, and redeeming. Not mine.

I’m so thankful for where I am today, the transformation of thinking, and the distance I have traveled. But there’s still further to go.

John 5:37-40 Self deception and real change

And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. John‬ ‭5:37-40‬ ‭NIV‬‬

It’s possible to believe something about myself that is point blank wrong. What is amazing about this encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees is that it reveals how close they are to Jesus and to life, but how far they are from God and the truth. They are the leaders of God’s nation. They study and know his history and words and interactions. Yet, they missed him. Of all people (on the outward) they should have recognized the son of God and welcomed him. Where is the disconnect?

We all have a disconnect. Sin does that. We have been unplugged and separated from the source of life and as a result deal with all sorts of dysfunction that God never intended. But because we are so accepting in our nature, we embrace the discord, explain it away and allow the pragmatism and instinct of needing to survive and live our life to eclipse the basic need for God’s life. Life found only in the son.

Every person has a starting point in their journey of faith. One thing in common with each of us is that we recognize our need for help. For a Savior. The condition in which I come to him is what it is — it’s my starting point with all my warts, sickness, bad attitudes, foul mouth, entitlement, and pleasure-seeking. My journey with Jesus is one of seeing him, and recognizing how holy and pure he is. He behaves in a way that is difficult to for me to comprehend and his life flows from nothing less than pure motives, true values, and love and loyalty to God his Father. Yet even with Jesus, perfection did not come at birth, it came from living life. It was a process of becoming by daily keeping an eye on the goal, making choices — sometimes very difficult ones. And in that process, just like silver or gold is refined in the fire, the children of God become pure.

Where does real change come from in my life? I’d like to think that the change results from me making a good choice. I must make choices, there is no question about that, but they are not at the core of my transformation. The grace of God is the core. It’s my recognition that at my very center I am incapable of being what he’s called me to be. Seeing, hearing, understanding his words to even know what to choose is his grace to lift the veil which obscures my view. At the most basic level, Jesus is the author and finisher of my faith. My job is to keep my eyes on him. To say “yes” as he leads me down uncertain paths. To listen to his voice.

Moses spoke of Jesus, yet the Pharisees could not hear. Jesus spoke to the crowd in parables, so they could listen but they did not hear. There is a veil on our understanding that is only removed in Christ. After Jesus had died and resurrected, he was walking on the road to Emmaus with some disciples who did not even recognize him. They had heard of the resurrection, but did not believe…until a moment in their conversation that their hearts were willing. As soon as they believed, their eyes were open. The same is true of things in my own life that inhibit me from being the son of God that I know he’s called me to be.

The fight with my flesh is real. And I have only one life to live the transformation that he offers.

Jesus gives us the key here: “the Father who has sent me has testified of me.” It is not self will, self determination, or good choices. It is hearing the Father’s voice and receiving his testimony. At the other end of that voice is help. Grace. Something given to a dead man in which he has no part in the resuscitation process. Being a recipient of grace should be both absolutely humbling and marvelously enabling and triumphant. Take your will, all your determination, your good intentions, your promises to do better and flush them down the toilet. They will not change you. Only he can. In his time.

Maybe this song says it best…