Well, it is May 23rd, and we are still here. The rapture did not happen unless the number of the elect taken was significantly less than the 200 million that Harold Camping predicted. My suspicion, however, is that it didn’t happen. The last thing I want to do is pile on… Lord knows that there have been plenty of folks that have taken their pot shots at Mr. Camping and his followers. Personally, I have not gotten too wrapped up in the talk about the impending end of the world. But, there is one
aspect of it that has gotten under my skin.

Jesus clearly told his disciples that no one would know the time of his return, not even himself (Matthew 24:36). It seems to be the undeniably clear testimony of Scripture that this simply cannot be predicted. And yet, for reasons only known to himself, Mr. Camping has twice falsely predicted an exact date for Jesus’ return. What has really irritated me about this is that, in my mind, it takes tremendous hubris to be so certain about something that Jesus said you cannot know. It is the height of arrogance.

I have not read Love Wins by Rob Bell. I don’t know that I will. I don’t feel compelled to join the ongoing discourse about it. I have, however, read comments from friends and some reviews on Amazon. I don’t pretend to know what Mr. Bell actually believes
about heaven and hell and universalism. However, I can tell that a lot of folks, including prominent writers and “theologians” have now written him off as a heretic. I find this extremely arrogant as well. The truth of the matter is that NONE of us have a perfect understanding of how the return of Jesus, the final judgment and ultimate salvation are going to work. We have ideas, clues and knowledge, but not perfect knowledge. We have the Word of God, but our understanding of that book is simply that… our understanding. We must be open to the reality that our understanding is limited at best and that God’s thoughts are indeed much higher than our thoughts. Why? Because he is smarter and wiser than you, me, Harold Camping, Rob Bell and Rob Bell’s excommunicators.

We must approach every theological debate about the message of the Word with much humility. In fact, as I am personally learning more and more, it’s a pretty good idea to approach everything in life with humility. And this is appropriate, as, again, God’s ways and thoughts are beyond us. Certainly, there are those among us who are exceptionally smart and bring a lot to the table regarding intellect, knowledge and/or wisdom. However, every one of us wears the dunce cap when we are compared to the omniscience and all-surpassing wisdom of God. Because that is the case, we should all readily admit that we don’t know all there is to know, even about a particular subject. That reality should help us to appreciate diversity of thought and be gracious when it comes to debates about things like the end of the world and judgment day… things that are truly beyond us and are only completely understood by One.

On “Human Limitations”

Posted: December 8, 2010 in Uncategorized

May – Promoted to senior management team at work

June – Selected for advanced training at work

July 26-29– Fly to Florida for first week of training

August 16-19 – Fly to Florida for second week of training

August 20 – Charlotte’s mom is injured in a car accident, initially thought to be minor injuries

August 21-29 – Fly to Virginia for what was a pretty stressful visit with my family

September-October – Various trips by one or all of us to Worthington/Sioux Falls to visit Charlotte’s mom

October 4 – Start leading weekly small group

October – Find out that Charlotte’s mom actually has a broken spine

October 24-30 – Drive to Sioux Falls to be with Charlotte’s mom as she undergoes spinal surgery

Novemeber – Charlotte travels to Sioux Falls several times to be with her mom

November 11 – Receive call from my mother letting me know that my grandmother’s health was failing

November 13 – Grandma Ansell passes away

November 14 – 18 – Go to Virginia to mourn with my family and facilitate her funeral service

November 26 – Black Friday… call volume at work multiplies by five

December 5 – Doug teaches about human limitations

The timeline above is how the last six months or so have looked for us. There’s some awfully good stuff in there mixed with some awfully hard stuff, and it all adds up to mucho busyness. As we moved into October, the busyness and emotional tone of our lives multiplied. Even aside from Charlotte’s mom’s health and losing my grandmother, this is always the busiest time of the year for my job, and even more so this year as I have deeper levels of responsibility right now than I have ever had with GSI. And, oh yeah, we have a baby boy this season that we haven’t had in my previous peaks with GSI. I would have thought the craziness that came along with work and being a new dad would have been enough, but God has shown me that I have more mental, emotional and physical capacity than I thought.

That’s really cool, because a year ago, my “capacity” was easily strained. I whined if I didn’t get at least a couple of hours of downtime at night before going to bed. It was imperative that I had time to watch television or play video games uninterrupted. And the weekends… well, the weekends were full of leisure. Obviously, this isn’t the case anymore, especially over the last few months. But, God is good, and as I mentioned above, he has stretched me and shown me that I can do and bear more than I thought. Having said all that, Charlotte and I both have been feeling drained in every sense. There has been more than one occasion in which one or both of us have felt like we were at the end of the line and could not handle any more.

On Sunday, Doug, our pastor at Valleybrook, taught about human limitations, using the story of Epaphroditus from Philippians 2 to illustrate. Epaphroditus is someone that was worthy of a lot of respect in the first century church. He sacrificed much in order to serve God and the church. He reached a point, though, in which his sacrifice led to illness (probably a nervous breakdown). He had hit the wall and came face to face with his limitations. As you can probably tell, this message could not have been more pertinent for Charlotte and me. And it brought more to me than comfort (although there was plenty of that for me too).

There have been times over the last several months in which I have been able to step back and take a look at all that life has been throwing at me and how I’ve responded. As I’ve done that, little glimpses of pride came out at times. I would think about all the good stuff I was doing and experiencing at work, and momentarily forget that my success at work is totally dependent on God’s hand. I would think about personal sacrifices I’d made for my family, and for a moment forget that the only reason I’m not completely selfish anymore is because God has done some pretty deep work in me over the last few years. As Doug mentioned on Sunday, God uses our human limitations to show us how dependent on him we truly are. This is what is happening with me right now.

Another effect of Doug’s message on Sunday was that it helped me feel sad. Let me explain. As you can see above, a lot has happened in my family recently… most of it not happy. Also, I have really had a hard time learning how to balance the different aspects of my life as work has gotten busier. How much time do I allocate to ensuring I don’t get disconnected from my wife and son? How do I find personal downtime for me to be able to just relax, recuperate and sit still? As has happened every other holiday season, I have felt like a couple months out of the year are sacrificed at the altar of work, and I have hated that I have not really been able to enjoy the Christmas season. Beyond that, this year, it has taken a lot of time away from my wife and son. While I have had moments of sadness and mourning over all this, I don’t believe that I had taken enough time to just feel the sadness.

On Sunday morning, Charlotte and Joshua drove to Sioux Falls to be with Charlotte’s mom for a day. I’m pretty sure God set that up. After the worship service, I went home, made lunch and then lay on the couch the rest of the day. I knew that God was calling me to just rest and feel. I did just that. IIt was just was the Doctor ordered. While Sunday was not fun, it was exactly what I needed.

So, in the middle of all this emotional turmoil, emotional strain and crazy busyness, God is still good and he still loves me. He is showing me that, in the middle of all of this, he is enough for me and I can handle much more than I ever thought I could when I am relying on him to direct me through it all. I am seeing how he is still lovingly and purposefully looking out for us and arranging circumstances to show us what we need to see, to show us that he is still there and trustworthy and to allow us to become more and more dependent on him.

The Pain of Separation

Posted: July 24, 2010 in Uncategorized

I’m sitting in our living room right now listening to my baby boy wail in his room. We are trying to teach him to fall asleep in his crib, so we’ve been putting him in there after spending some “down time” with him around 8pm every night. He is accustomed to having a bottle and one of us rock him until he falls asleep. So, every time we put him in the crib to go to sleep at night, he cries and is nearly inconsolable. It is literally one of the most painful things that we’ve experienced. Tonight, as I was changing his diaper and putting pajamas on him, I began to get emotional and tear up in anticipation of another excruciating evening. Thankfully, he’ll only cry for another ten to fifteen minutes most likely and then we won’t hear from him again until tomorrow morning.

After prepping him for bed, I sat in the rocking chair in his room with him on my lap. As I held him and told him how special he is with the lullaby CD playing in the background, I began to openly weep. It was at that point that I began to wonder to myself if this emotion was really only about putting him in his crib. I believe God showed me what was happening in my heart. Certainly, I was not looking forward to having to listen to him cry. I hate it. But, there was more to it.

A couple of weeks ago, I found out that one of my favorite friends at work is moving to Georgia in what is just a few days now. She is very special to me and I’ve often thought of her as a sister. Now, she is leaving very shortly and I will likely only see her very rarely if at all. Thursday night, I got another piece of similar news. A really good friend from our church accepted a position in Louisville, Kentucky and will be leaving Eau Claire with his family in two weeks. This loss cuts deeply too as he has been such an incredible friend, counselor and sounding board over the last few years. These two are literally two of my most cherished friends here in Eau Claire, and now they are both leaving in just a matter of days.

So, as I rocked Joshua in his room, I thought about these losses. Then I started thinking about how many people who are very special to me are so far away from me. My family lives in the Virginia Beach area and I have been fortunate if I have gotten to see them more than once a year in the last ten years or so. This distance has even gotten more difficult to handle in the last few years as I’ve gotten healthier spiritually and emotionally. I miss them deeply and love them more now than ever… and that makes the separation harder.

My buddy Josh and his lovely bride moved down to Indiana a couple of years back. My friend Tim and his family have been in Louisville for over ten years now. My youth group pal Bruce and his family live out on the East Coast. We left great friends back in Rochester when we came to Eau Claire back in 2005. All these people mean so much to me… and they are all so far away. I have been mourning this a lot lately.

As I thought about these things and wept, I kept trying to hide my tears from Joshua so I wouldn’t upset him. But, he’s a smart kid and he knew something was up. Thankfully, he stayed strong for his dad! As a few minutes passed, I then started thinking about Joshua himself and how special he is. He is the most beautiful and precious child in the world. He is a blessing from God himself. Sometimes I don’t remember that. Sometimes I lose my grip on what is most important to me. That happens all the time with my relationship with God, to my shame and chagrin. But, in that moment, I wasn’t thinking about my relationship with him; I was thinking about Joshua.

I was thinking about how frustrated I was with him earlier in the day when he only took a 45 minute nap. We knew he needed more sleep than that and assumed he would stay down for a while longer. We were wrong… and I had already slipped into total relaxation mode with my feet up on the couch and my hands on the PS3 controller. My frustration only grew when he was contending against the video game for my attention. In that moment, he was an inconvenience to me, not a blessing… again, this is to my shame. I had several moments like that with him today in which I really should have been engaging with my beautiful son, but I chose something less instead, something selfish, something easier to manage.

I repent. You see, as I was sitting there in the rocking chair with Joshua, thinking about the people that are getting ready to move away, thinking about the people that have already moved away or that I have moved away from, I couldn’t help but think that there will come a day when such separation will happen between my son and me. He’ll go off to college or to another country as an exchange student or as an ambassador of God’s kingdom to his homeland Ethiopia. When that happens, the pain caused by that separation will cut very deeply. Hopefully, we won’t be separated like that for many years yet. So, I intend to take advantage of the time I have with him right now. I intend to engage with him more and continue building intimacy with my son. And… as hard as it is, I intend to sit here and feel the pain of listening to my beautiful boy crying bitterly just one room over until he finally gives up the fight and goes to sleep.

This morning, I read Luke 3. It tells the story of John the Baptist’s ministry. John was hardcore to the core and from the description in Luke 3, it looks like he simply told the truth, no matter how harsh. He calls the crowd of people a “brood of vipers”… hardly a compliment. As his name indicates, he baptized people. In first century Judaism, baptism was an act of humility. One submitted to being immersed in water as signification that the way they were living up to that point needed to be abolished. It was a public active confession that a new way of life was necessary.

In Luke 3, as he rails at his listeners, confronting their need to repent and come in line with God’s desires for them, people begin asking them what they should do in response to his words. In the words that follow, John speaks to three different groups of people: the crowd in general, tax collectors and soldiers. The thing that really captivated me this morning is that, to each of these groups, he specifically called out how they looked at money and possessions, particularly as it pertains to their dealings with other people. To the crowds at large, he says that they should share with one another. To the tax collectors, he says that they should stop cheating people out of money. To the soldiers, he says they should stop extorting cash from the populace. Now, remember here, John was preaching repentance to these people. They ask how they should respond. And, this is how he answers them… share your possessions, don’t steal, respect other people’s money. Hmmmm…

Something else to consider here: John is the “voice calling in the wilderness,” there to “prepare the way for the Lord”. John’s role was to prepare people for Jesus’ ministry. He does so, according to Luke 3, by confronting greed and oppression, specifically oppression regarding money. Then we come to Luke 4, in which Jesus arrives at the synagogue in Nazareth and preaches what is likely his first public message, saying the following:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)

This is a quote from the prophet Isaiah regarding the coming of the Messiah and the inauguration of the kingdom of God on earth. Jesus reads this passage and then turns to everyone and says (my paraphrase): “Hey, everyone, this is about me. I’m the Messiah.” To an extent, this seems to be a mission statement of sorts for Jesus. Notice the very first thing he says that he is to do: “preach good news to the poor.” To me, it is undeniable that economic justice and concern for the poor is a central part of biblical Christianity. Based on these stories from Luke 3-4, it would appear that these things were intended to be a focal point in the gospel and in the kingdom that the gospel proclaims.

So, gut level honest here… where I got stuck (and still am stuck) this morning was on the very first thing that John said to the crowds when they asked him how they should respond to his call to repentance. He told the crowds that those who have two tunics should give one to the person who doesn’t have one. Now, that just sounds like the right thing to do, right? It sounds like something that Jesus himself would say, and certainly a representative of his (John) would say. It would seem that such an idea would be normal for me as I’ve been a believer since I was a kid and have always valued the authority of Scripture. Yet, I have some internal struggles about sharing my tunic, or my PS3 or my TV or my car. It’s not so much that I know people personally who would need any of my stuff. It’s more about the people I’ve only seen at a distance in places like Ethiopia, India and Mexico. I know there are people there, even people who are my spiritual kin, who need my extra tunic. The best way to give them my tunic is the question that I must wrestle with now.

Filled with wonder…

Posted: June 23, 2010 in Uncategorized

…awestruck wonder, at the mention of Your Name.

Those are lyrics from “The Revelation Song”, my favorite worship song these days. I get emotional every time we sing it. It centers on the holiness and awesomeness of Jesus. There have been a couple of times over the last few months in which, while singing this song, I was captivated and challenged by the words I quoted above. And the message for me in those words has been that I am clearly NOT filled with awestruck wonder at the mention of Jesus’ name. I wish I was, but I am not, not yet at least.

This is evident in an inside joke that I have going on with some friends. A couple of years ago, we were talking about and making jokes at the expense of folks who use esoteric religious language. We joked about how such people would use the name “the Lord Jesus Christ” as a normal part of their lingo. Since then, we have jokingly referred to “the Lord Jesus Christ,” which usually brings at least a chuckle or two. Honestly, if I was truly filled with “awestruck wonder,” I wouldn’t make fun of the use of such a title. After singing that song again this last Sunday morning, I was convinced once again that I need to repent.

On Monday morning, I read 2 Peter. As I read, I felt the call to repent once again:

For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 2:8 NIV)

Oh yeah… that title comes right from the Bible. Religious people did not make it up. Jesus’ close friend and disciple Peter himself used it when referring to the Messiah. It’s easy for me to forget that much of the traditional language and rites found in Christendom are rooted either in Scripture or in early church history. That’s not really the point of what I’m writing here, but it is something good for me to remember.

A more important thing to remember is that the “Lord Jesus Christ” is not a title to be mocked. There’s the “Lord” part, which indicates authority. “Christ” indicated that he is the divinely ordained savior. Then there’s his proper name, “Jesus”. That would be just another name if was not for the person the name represents. This particular person is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is the Good Shepherd, the Great Physician. He is the embodiment of the nature and personality of God. He is God’s Son. He is perfect and the trailblazer of new life. He gave up his life so that I could experience relationship with God. He is everything I need. In light of these things, the name of Jesus should very well fill me with awestruck wonder, not the desire to make jokes.

Filled with wonder, awestruck wonder

At the mention of your name

Jesus, your name is power, breath and living water

Such a marvelous mystery

 

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty

Who was and is and is to come

With all creation I sing

Praise to the King of Kings

You are my everything and I will adore you

A few months ago, I started a series on this blog called “Dark Season”. It was about a period of struggle and doubt that I experienced toward the end of 2009. I really only just got started with it when it was interrupted by our trip to Ethiopia to get our little boy, Joshua. God did so much during that trip that the “Dark Season” had to take a hiatus so that I could write about getting Joshua and our time in Ethiopia. Now, I find myself in the middle of a new season, one in which God is revealing so much to me through memories of Ethiopia, my class on culture change and innovation and my job. I have new things to write about and I plan on doing just that, but I don’t want to forget the “Dark Season”. So, here is that story in a nutshell.

Basically, as indicated in previous posts, I was perhaps the busiest that I had ever been in my life during the fall and early winter of 2009. I was dealing with levels of stress that I had never experienced before and I wasn’t handling it particularly well. I was feeling disconnected from my wife, my friends and my church. Our adoption process seemed never ending and my frustration with that grew and grew. Add to that my ongoing struggles with trying to live a healthy lifestyle and poor eating. As these factors meshed together and intensified, I slipped into a pretty dark place. I was frustrated with life and I felt like things were never going to get better. I started hearing voices telling me that I was worthless, that I would never amount to anything, that I had wasted my potential and that I might as well give up on trying to “live big” for the Kingdom of God.

The climax of this season happened the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. My wife Charlotte went on a weeklong vacation with her mother to California. Now, whenever Charlotte is away from home for any amount of time, even just a day, I am not myself. I get depressed and I self-medicate with food and entertainment. When that was added to how I was already feeling during the weeks leading up to her vacation, the result was pretty ugly. I try to fill up the time with potato chips, cheeseburgers, PlayStation 3 and movies. Little gets accomplished and I go to bed feeling guilty for wasting time and eating everything in the house. During this particular week, I could really sense that God was calling me out of that. Specifically, I could tell that he was calling me to spend some time reading the Bible. Even though this direction was clear, I ignored it. I ignored God. I could tell he was longing to connect with me, but I kept choosing Christmas candy and my wrestling game on the PS3. Those of us who attend Valleybrook Church here in Eau Claire would recognize this as “self-filling”. Although I knew that God was the only “food” that could really satisfy the ache in my soul during that week, I willfully ignored his voice.

Ultimately, God was calling me to make a choice, to perform an act of self-discipline. I can’t speak for you, but for me, self-discipline is not one of my favorite things to do. I’d much rather be lazy and lay on the couch with a bag of chips and a good movie on TV than do anything resembling self-discipline. But, during that week, God was calling me to discipline myself and take some time to read his Word. At the very end of the week, I did just that. As I finally opened myself up to his voice and his direction, he graciously spoke to me about this dark season that I had been going through. More pointedly, he showed me how this season was an intensified snapshot of my life as a whole.

Like every person, God has planted big things in me. He’s given me talents and skills, dreams and visions, things that he wants me to live out in my life. I am well aware of this. I also am aware of my foibles and that I am not yet living out everything that he has planted in me. A great example is my health. I have always been overweight and I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in January of 1994. The kicker here is that I believe that God created me to be athletic. I have always been fairly athletically coordinated. I love to play basketball and softball. I could easily get into tennis, golf and soccer. Although all this is true, I have never fully embraced this and lived it out. The evidence of this is my belly and my blood sugar levels.

In 2006, God set me free from an addiction to pornography that had lived in me for over twenty years. I won’t get into that story too much right now, as it is really multifaceted and a great testimony to the healing and freedom that God provides when we’re ready for it, but it is a long story. But one thing I want to call out from that experience: when he set me free, I was free. It was miraculous. I’m not saying that I was never tempted again, but I never seriously considered stepping back into those chains. The problem is that I expected God to do that in every area of my life in which I struggled. One such area is my eating and my health. I had gotten it into my mind and heart that he would heal me and set me free in that area just like he had done with pornography. It was just a matter of waiting until he deemed that I was “ready” to be free, and when that moment came, I would be free. Now, I believe that idea is basically true, but the idea that he is going to just take the desire to overeat and eat the wrong things away at the drop of a hat without any self-discipline from me is, well, pretty presumptuous.

So, here’s the point… God led me through the dark season at the end of last year for one reason. He wants me to become a disciplined person. For those who really know me, you know that this is a big deal for me. I have never been a disciplined person. I was undisciplined in high school and college. I have traditionally been undisciplined in my jobs. I have always been undisciplined in my diet and exercise habits. God has made it clear that the time for that is over. He created me to be a disciplined person, and the time has come for me to live out that part of me.

The reason that I struggled so much with the busyness of work during that time was because I had not yet learned how to manage my time and prioritize the many things I was being asked to do. The reason that my weight became such a “weighty” issue is that I ate what I pleased whenever I felt like it. The reason that I was so frustrated with the adoption process is that I did not go through the paces as thoroughly as I should have during the beginning and middle parts of the process and misunderstood how the process works. The reason I was disconnected from family and friends was that I didn’t prioritize my time in such a way as to facilitate connections with the people who are most important to me. All of these truths point to the ultimate truth: I have practiced very little self-discipline.

So now a new chapter has begun. Outlook has become my best friend at work and I am learning more and more what is important and truly urgent as opposed to what can wait until the end of the week or the end of the month to get done. I am learning how to eat healthier on a daily basis through limiting portion sizes, eating yogurt daily to help my digestion, cutting back on sugar intake, etc. I even lost a few pounds in the last six weeks or so. I am continuing to thrive in my classes, getting all of my reading and assignments done on time, which has meant sacrificing lounging time and sleep at times in order to get homework done. And, I’m learning these things in the midst of what is truly the busiest time in my life. There’s work, where I am taking on more and more responsibility these days (and experiencing God’s favor in tremendous ways). There’s my current class, in which I have more reading to do than in previous classes. And, oh yeah, there’s this little guy that’s living in our house now. Life is really busy… and I am loving it!

The “Dark Season” was rough… and exactly what I needed. God was finally able to get through to my stubborn heart and show me that living in a disciplined manner is part of who he has created me to be. It is so freeing to embrace that and to begin to learn how to live that out day to day.

Seeing People

Posted: March 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

Going into this trip, I knew that God had things in store for us aside from simply picking up our son. I knew that part of his agenda was for me to really engage with the people and culture around me with which I would come into contact. During the first few days, my approach to this was a bit like a child dipping his foot into the pool to see how cold the water was. I very timidly and reluctantly engaged. Thankfully, I was awake enough that I was able to hear God speak to me about that. From the time that we first came into contact with the beggars at the souvenir market, I sensed God calling me to repent for my unwillingness to see and hear them.

 Over the course of the week, things began to change. Not only was I making the effort to connect more with the people around me (like our driver, Ayele), but I was making a point to make eye contact with people that we would pass by on the street, especially beggars and poor people that we would see. At the very least, I wanted to acknowledge them as fellow human beings. One thing that I had to remember was that it would be very difficult for me to be obedient in how I responded to these people without me being willing to really “see” them. So, by the end of the week, I began to feel more confident about who I should give to or buy from and who I shouldn’t give to or buy from. This, coupled with my interaction with the folks at KVI on our second Sunday in Ethiopia (speaking to them, praying for them, dancing along with them during worship, etc.), was a huge step for me and I am really excited to see the fear and hesitation I’ve had about such things continue to evaporate.