Miracle in the Making: The Jubilee Journey (Part 9)

One week into August…and we’re starting to hit those milestone anniversaries. Crazy how we’re already at the one-year mark from when the Juby Journey started, at least as we know it.

For those following our page updates, Juby has been oscillating on her paralytic the past 48 hours netting in a positive direction. Honestly, given the dire position she was in a few weeks ago, I’ll take baby step progress any way we can get it. Yet, while the arrow is a mild point up at the moment, I can’t help but feel I’m riding a similar line spiritually speaking.

In a sense, I feel so hollow, so numb…it’s like I’m threading the needle between supernatural protection and self-preservation. On one hand, it’s not hard for me to routinely release Juby into God’s hands and anchor surrender in yielded trust; on the other, the depressive thoughts continue to mount, the slope ever more slippery as the need for thought captivation increases.

From the ‘God, am I somehow the hold up to Juby being fully healed’ to ‘I wish I could go back to student pastoring again…somewhere far away from here’…the thought captivity meter is basically in whack a mole’ mode. And I wish there was an off button.

Still, every hour is one at a time laced with opportunities to say ‘no’ to fear and ‘yes’ to higher alternatives. From upticking K-LOVE radio play to binge watching posthumous footage of Joy Dawson, there are many ways to punch Satan in the face these days.

But then there’s last Sunday when Lys had the opportunity to share the Word at The Gate Church in Franklin.

Listening to her speak, I couldn’t quench the goosebumps as she delivered a message similar to one I shared with LEGACYouth six years ago during an ‘Intentionality of Jesus’ series.

Past and present infused, there I was in Matthew 14:22-33, storybooked next to Jesus ahead of his second Sea of Galilee cameo.

Six chapters earlier (Matthew 8:23-27), Jesus had demonstrated His power over the water in the boat; now He was about to manifest His power, patience, and Immanuel presence on the water outside the boat. You talk about poetic symmetry in motion. Here was the Son of God who used His voice to quiet the waves, who proceeded to miraculously feed the 5,000, who had already previewed His identity to the disciples…yet hadn’t employed His move strategic maneuver. At least until v. 23 in which Jesus retreats to pray following a massive ministerial stretch and learning his cousin, John the Baptist, had been killed. Aware of the weather conditions, Jesus then calls notable audible in v. 25:

…He came to them.”

Now, for most reading this, these four words are perhaps anecdotal to the passage’s climax in v. 33 when the disciples acknowledge Jesus’ identity. But to his guy, these words hit close to home in a way I couldn’t possibly understand outside this current season.

‘Cause truth is: The disciples didn’t call out to Jesus to come to them; rather Jesus made the first move, calling out to them so they could call back and respond accordingly. Almost a complete reversal of Matthew 8, Jesus isn’t arbitrarily prayer-walking around waiting for something to happen. Conversely, He is resetting into the Father and planting himself, albeit in distance, to make His presence known. How many times have we sensed the faint fragrance of Christ and like Peter couldn’t resist the urge to confirm its realness?

Granted, we should respect Peter in this story for breaking physics through child-like faith alone. For he knew He couldn’t control the elements yet understood His calling in the moment…get out of the boat and draw near to Jesus…cyclone be darned. Through hell or high water, Peter knew what mattered most was where he was going and who he was going to; hence, why he had no problem doing what he deemed most sensible when he lost visual: He cried out to Jesus for a supernatural, warp-speed extension of the hand ever reaching into the chaos…

…met with the grasp of saving grace.

Oh, you of little faith. Why did you doubt?’ (v. 32).

Not a reprimand, mind you, but a reminder: I’m with you always and was there from the beginning. Don’t ever think my hand is too short to save.

Back in the NICU, I continue to marvel at this little life. As one who feels small often, I can resonate to a certain extent. But strangely, I couldn’t care less…because like Peter, if Jesus confesses His proximity and in response, I ask Him to ask me to believe the impossible…heck, yes, sign me up for that as long as I have breath. No matter how long Juby lives, I don’t want to ask Jesus to save her, to save me, to save my family…if I’m not willing to walk on water amidst the neighboring halls praying without ceasing. I don’t want to ask Jesus to help me if I’m not willing to press into the Father…if I don’t make vertical reliance a priority over a given moment or assignment.

After all, the Son of God is with me…and comes to me. May our faith, like Peter, understand what’s most important and progress correspondingly…

Selah.

Cover photo creds: ImageVine

Matinee Malcontent: A Stand Up to the Bully in Bellevue

Sooo…this past Saturday, I had the audacity. The unyielding nerve. The unmitigated gall…to take Caeden and Evy to the movies.

A good ol’ summer matinee of Paws of Fury featuring the insoluble protagonist duo of Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Cera.

Granted, a zone defense outing to the movies may seem overly ambitious, but given the circumstances, I must admit…we held up fairly well. Outside the dozen times I told the kiddos to half-mast their volume and the 2-3 times I asked if they’d rather leave the premises to hang out in the Suraccha Nebula (also known as the outside world), we had a fine time. Not to mention, I arguably sabermetric-ed 15 fantasy baseball teams to +5-10% playoff odds through strategic roster improvements.

For 90 minutes, life was cool…and I was freezing. Such is life in the very front of a movie theater…

…which if you have young, screeching padawans teetering on pterodactyls, this is exactly where you want to be in these situations. A manufactured refuge center where drool-drizzled popcorn bits and compromised cookie dough bites go to die.

But alas, what goes up, must come down…which in this case, came in the form of a disgruntled malcontent, a prickly, peppery grandpa who probably estranged his son into the military and…well…

Additionally…he had white hair to match his shorts…
…a pastel orange polo to contrast his pasty white exterior…

…and all the makings of Mr. Wilson if they ever reincarnated ‘Dennis the Menace’.

Except Mr. Wilson lived in a traditional, residential neighborhood whereas this guy likely soiled within a gated community surrounded by golf courses and swimming pools tailored to the 1%.

So as to why this crank would disgrace his demeanor by me during the rolling credits? Let’s just say he wasn’t exactly fond of my kiddos. Despite the fact we were 4-5 rows ahead of everyone else, apparently, they were still a bit rambunctious. And while I kinda, sorta get it…dude, it’s a midday weekend showing of a kids flick on one of the hottest days of the year! You think an outing with their dad is not a thrill to them, especially with all they’ve endured? I mean…I know you’re not entitled to context, but seriously! Give your freakin’ head a shake.

Ahem…at this point in the story, I probably should mention what he told me to my face.

You guys were a disruption to all of us. Next time, go to a different theatre. You shouldn’t be coming here if you’re going to be so rude. “

Says the iris-less, old coot…as if he owned the place or even worked as a staff member.

Stunned and nearly silenced, I could only muster a staccato apology.

I’m sorry, sir. We were not trying to hinder the experience for anyone.”

And like a bitter whiplash, the moment was over. Or so he thought. ‘Cause while I’m a humble processor on the front end, on the backend, I’m a wallflower willing to stand up to any bully. If you mess with me, if you’re makin’ like a farmer and givin’ me bull, what you start, I will finish. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a strength but it’s certainly not a weakness when executed properly. Do I have an inner hulk? Yes, yes, I do. And I’m not ashamed of it. Patience and godly thought filters applied, of course.

This in mind, I can now to proceed to tell you how the next 5 minutes went.

First, I grabbed Caeden’s hand. Then, I grabbed Evy’s hand. And then we left…in a gloriously brisk stride Fortified Fitness would be proud of. Caeden said he had to use the bathroom. I told him to hold it. Evy said let’s get a drink. I said it can wait.

With whites in my eyes, I find the kvetch perched on the curb with his wife and grand-daughters. The comeback was imminent.

In passing, I slowly pivot to flex my bow…

Sir, again, I apologize we interfered with your cinematic viewing pleasure. But I want you to know these kids are champs. They have a sister in the hospital with her life on the line. And I’m doing the very best I can. Next time, when we come back, and we will be back, I’ll be sure to obtain a roster of attendees and make sure you’re not on it. Thank you for being the exact opposite of a model citizen to my kids.”

Now, I’ll just go ahead and state the obvious: I may or may not have been a bit too harsh with my mic drop there, satisfying as it was. However, I just couldn’t nor wouldn’t I let this Donny Downer have the final word. Not today…or any other day. Perhaps there are better ways to plant seeds of reconsideration in the minds of curmudgeons. I’m sure better retorts are out there.

But this I know: Blessed is he who is slow to judge, who dies to offense quickly, and is willing to put the shoe on the other foot. You don’t have to be able to relate to my chaos. If anything, I’m open to hearing what’s worked for you in the past. All I ask is you be civil within your critiques, maybe add a sliver of empathy in there if you dare. Who knows! We may even become friends. Or maybe that’s too much to ask if being right is more important. Just know if you go sideways with your tongue, Christ in me, I will set the record straight.

After all, I got to teach my kids what’s not okay.

Selah.

Cover photo creds: cinematreasures.org

Miracle in the Making: The Jubilee Journey (Part 8)

So lately, I’ve been basking in the early Psalms…

…soaking in security metaphors relative to God’s sovereignty.

No question, this journey is wearing me out. Five days to one month to one year. Like the text on Evy’s new ‘Sleeping Beauty’ t-shirt, ‘I can’t even’…

From driving to work without a modicum of ‘I can’t do this today’ to imaging life a year from now, the writing on the wall is a tattoo on the heart: I can’t because I shouldn’t…but I can because He will just as He always has.

For Lys and I, we’ve been overwhelmed by basic math in recent days wondering why Juby has coded seven times in five weeks not to mention a pair of baggings the past five days alone. We wish we had the answers though we’re learning the freedom of anticipating them in our day-to-day interactions. After all, if our faith is to mature, there must be a catalyst, often a challenging one, compelling our perseverance to discover God in a fresh way.

Perhaps this is why we’re often confused and discouraged but also confident and encouraged at the same time. As for any NICU family leaning into God, not relinquishing their hope, there almost has to be an uncomfortable friction between the emotional and spiritual where in between, perpetual paradoxes are broken down.

For instance, when I hold Juby’s hand, I’m reminded as she clings to my finger, so too must my hope, my trust, my devotion also cling to Jesus. Just like Caeden, Evy, and Milo at her age, she squeezes whatever she can get her hands on and doesn’t let go until I pry it loose. Sometimes, I forget how desperate she must feel, wishing the lines running across her body were gone yet oblivious to the fact this isn’t how a first-year body was meant to function.

Obviously, I know where she’s at and what she’s enduring is short-term within the grand scheme. By God’s strength, she will eventually auto-correct through these setbacks be it six months or six years.

Still, I suppose if there’s a head scratch for me, it comes back to what must I do apart from believing God is who He says He is. As this adventure has taught me, God is glorified in our suffering as we hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering and boast of it firmly until the end (Hebrews 10:23; Hebrews 4:14). However, as I’m also finding, this doesn’t exactly simplify the pathway to touching His robe. In my case, while embracing stillness has been a perk to the load-bearing, I’ve also noted it can keep me idle when God is calling me to motion.

It’s like I’m content to contend…to put one foot in front of the other…but struggle to believe I can get to Jesus in my weakness. And so, on my dark days, I stay where I’m at anchoring in worship and His Word though ashamed I didn’t try harder to make that contact. On brighter days, I sense that slow motion surrender though in the wrestling still wonder, ‘Jesus, can you slow down a little? I know you’re up to something amazing but we just need more of you right now.’

Again, I don’t say this to draw empathy. Rather I say this because I’m desperate…not only to see Juby healed while operating free of fear to whatever intimacy is required…but also to know how the Father responds when any part of us, well, codes! Be it a physical code, a sin/stronghold code, a generational and/or word curse code. Who knows…for most of us, it’s probably a combination of things.

As always, time will eventually stir my pen to capture findings to my curiosities, among them why only one ‘how long’ reference in Psalms actually ties to sorrow.

For now, I bid this post and you, my friends, a fond adieu. This man needs rest and a charge to His best.

Tomorrow, we live to see another day. I will pre-rejoice and be glad in it.

Selah.

Rock Solid: A SOAP Bible Study on Psalm 18

Written: July 4, 2022

Scripture: Psalm 18 (A Psalm of David)

I’m not going to lie: I’m not in the mood to write right now. So much going on; so little time to pause and ponder. 

However, on this Fourth of July, I’m kicking chaos (and the temptation for complacency) to the curb. For the first time in [almost] forever, it’s time for a SOAP Bible study. 

As for today’s Scripture, I call Psalm 18 to the stand. For without question, the passage has been a lampstand of late casting illuminance onto present day shadows. Hopefully, for you as the reader, you find similar vibes as we explore some of the most powerful poetic imagery in the Bible. 

So without further ado, let’s dive into Psalm 18 as we probe the stabilizing presence of the Almighty…

Observations/Applications:

Right off the bat, it’s interesting to note the double rock reference in v 2

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”

Upon first glance, we may not think much of the repetition, if at all; however, as we dig (pun intended) into the metaphor, we find rich soil. Specifically, when ‘rock’ and ‘stone’ are used in Scripture, the surrounding descriptors often point to God’s sovereignty as the anchor to communal, emotional, and spiritual stability. This reference is additionally powerful when we consider God’s steadfastness. Just as the rock conveys unwavering durability, so too is our God during our trials and tribulations. For in this life, everything outside the divine has an expiration date and within the restraint, so great is our need to identify our rock be it of ages, salvation, righteousness or simply Jesus as cornerstone. To me, this is why the narrative of Psalm 18 sounds so extreme:

While the disappointments of life can seem intense, they should never be so great to minimize our view of our Creator nor crippling to the point we resist a call to Him. Again, we’re talking about God as our rock – the source of everlasting love, a stronghold against our strongholds, the refuge of all refuges, and the ultimate constant.

As we progress towards v. 6-7, we not only note a stark contrast between God as rock and the rocks upon which we tread, but also our vertical S.O.S in between.

“In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears. Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled…”

This compels an ironic dichotomy: As God, in His mercy, answers our plea for intervention, He often allows a shaking of some kind, a holy dislodge in the direction of freedom where He and hope abound. Honestly, what better way to capture the scale of our deliverance request than to consider the physical and spiritual effects of an infinite God engaging our finiteness. Even if such poetic license is taken to its most literal, the sensory saturation is sensible. While God whispers to our hearts in a still voice, this in no way mitigates the seismic repercussions of when He moves, sets a new thing in motion, and ministers to our hearts. After all, to receive from God is to yield to His power as much as it is to trust His purposes against our perceptions of prosperity and pain. Hence, why we should consider how the potential discomfort of ‘God with us’ is far greater than the false comfort of ego, tolerance, even works mentalities.

Heading into v. 8-9, the Psalmist suggests an angry God true to context, but this doesn’t represent how God tends our brokenness every time. As many a Scripture testifies (see references below), when God addresses our distress, His heart is stirred by love and is executed through justice, compassion, patience, faithfulness, grace, wrath…usually a combo platter of attributes. Yet, though the nature of God’s dealings may vary, the large-scale reality is God never stops pursuing us through them. Given the darkening days and the absolute essence of God, the Psalmist makes a riveting case: Although crises may increase, from personal to global, we have every reason to believe God will in some way, at some point, draw near and provide what we need even if we don’t immediately understand it.

As Psalm 18:31-32 triumphantly declares:

For who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God?— the God who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless.”

Shout-out to the hailstone usage in v. 12-13 and the humility/honoring layer in v. 16-30, I can’t help but relish the anti-relative exclamation here. Though Oprah would disagree, the truth is only God can give what we need for goodness and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Only God can straighten our paths and direct us to walk on them accordingly (Proverbs 4:26; Hebrews 12:13). Only God can shepherd our hearts when we feel lost, when we’re sinking in waters we were never meant to walk on alone.

Only God. Our rock…

I know He’s able

As for you, my friends, in the spirit of v. 2,  I raise you a double portion of rock and encourage you to delight in God as He delights in and rescues you from whatever pit of despair you’re in (v. 19). For it is He, our light and life giver, who brightens our darkness to see what He sees, who not only establishes our steps but also purifies them so we discover Him afresh and anew…each and every day. Blessed be our rock and exalted be the God of my salvation (v. 46)!

Selah. 

Prayer:

Father God,

We praise you for being our rock, our refuge, our fortress, our deliverer. We exalt you as the author of our support system. And we celebrate the fact you take joy in saving us. Truly, there is no one like you! As we digest today’s Word and return to our daily routines, we ask you lock these truths into the tapestry of our understanding. In a culture full of extremes, we remember you are a God who constructed the very things that make them possible. The difference is you intended them for our good, for the best possible outcome and we acknowledge our sin, our strongholds, our self-centered tendencies have collectively interfered with your highest callings on our lives. That said, we also remember the Cross, identify with your heart to reconcile and restore, and lean into you once more as our precious rock. Yes, we ask you protect and cover us, but we also ask you anoint, bless, and cover our steps not to preserve us from darkness but to empower us to live as salt and light in an increasingly fragile and morally decaying world. We choose to live from victory, not for victory today knowing the battle has been won. Accordingly, we choose to take up the Word and put on the armor as we recall our corporate identity as vocational priests and our individual identity as beloved warriors contending for your love to be known. Be with us as we go about our days and ways. May we be catalysts in our surroundings helping others taste and see that you are good. And may you be glorified as we surrender all knowing it’s by your Spirit we can resist fear and humbly call upon you to invade our space.

In this we pray, amen!

References:

Psalm 27:1 – “The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?” 

Psalm 62:7-8 – “My honor and salvation come from God. He is my mighty rock and my protection. People, trust God all the time. Tell him all your problems, because God is our protection.”

Psalm 144:1-3 – “Of David. Praise be to the LORD my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle. He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me. LORD, what are human beings that you care for them, mere mortals that you think of them?

Deuteronomy 32:4 – “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.”

Isaiah 2:10 – “Go into the rocks, hide in the ground from the fearful presence of the LORD and the splendor of his majesty!” 

James 1:17 – “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

Cover photo creds: WallpaperBetter

The Struggle is Kneel: Why Surrender is Hard [at it’s] Core (Part 1)

So lately, I’ve been pondering the challenges of juggling family, vocational, and liturgical responsibilities. After all, my greatest passion is helping marketplace leaders balance the sacred and secular while discovering their influence within their spiritual gift mix.

However, if I’m being straight-up honest, I’m finding this calling, at least in recent months, more difficult than I could have imagined. In fewer words, I could cite career adjustments and pandemic troubleshootings in 2020 as well as the Jubilee journey kickoff in 2021 as justifiable narratives. But this wouldn’t scratch the itch of what lies beneath – the insecurities in the closet, the anxieties swept under the rug, and the fears at bay yet preserved in toleration, just to name a few.

Perhaps time will eventually permit me to unpack this series in greater detail. For now, what I will say is as we hit new strides in an unsettling world, let’s not empower the past by assuming God can’t do a new thing in familiar settings.

For some of you, this is not a struggle, but to me, this can be tough. In fact, I would submit the wrestling, while worth it from a perseverance perspective, is ironic: As we grow through life, as we war through the ups and downs, so do our laundry lists grow of what we wish we could have done differently.

I look at 20-25 and I see a double-minded Christian meandering like a chicken with his head cut off. I look at 26-32, as one who aligned but took too much personally and could have been a more consistent leader. And now after years of counseling and spot-start ministerial assignments, I’m ready to get back into the game. The problem is my hands are tied primarily by what I can’t control…

…and that’s okay.

What’s not okay is the propensity I sometimes fall prey to: Defining relationships by emotional impressions.

By this, I’m referencing the practice of perceiving a person through the greatest internal reaction they’ve elicited be a single moment or repeated pattern. For instance, within a single connection, there may be nine positive interactions; however, if the tenth provokes a strong negative response (seen or unseen), we may taint the entire association to the point of withdrawal.

Again, the issue with this mindset ties to our natural minds. Without holy parameters and godly beliefs, we are almost always going to scale the magnitude of these moments incorrectly. Not to mention if we’re not sensitive to the Spirit to surrender at the point of awareness, that snowball is only going to get bigger.

As I’ve been asking myself…

…what will it take to fully surrender certain disappointments and discouragements?

If I’m waiting on divine intervention in the form of a burning bush, I’m not only likely going to miss opportunities to serve but also moments to show [and grow] up where overcoming can happen.

If this sounds blunt, know it comes as one pointing the finger at himself. Clearly, this is a habit I need to mature in as the first half of 2022 concludes.

Granted, I know I’m not alone and if anyone needs to hear this, I hope this prompts a boost for you to stay the course, forgive past offenses, and deflect the lies of the enemy. As much as we’re curious to know what deceptions other people are plagued by, especially as they pertain to us, dare to not hold your destiny hostage. Instead, find yourself in Philippians 3:13-14 (ESV) and focus on the next best step.

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

As C.S. Lewis once said…

Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.

Stay tuned next time when I’ll take a deeper dive into how we can integrate surrender into our quiet times, fuse it with our curiosity, and apply it relationally. Until then, I pray Jeremiah 10:23 over you in the sense God guides you to His heart to direct your steps. In all you say and do, remember the way of man is not in himself but in acknowledging and knowing God. Why not draw near, be still, and be at peace as you lean into His highest?

Selah.

Cover photo creds: iStock