receiving grace


At three thirty in the morning I woke up to the sounds of a very loud crash and my daughter’s scream. My wife and I rushed into her room and saw a box of tools had fallen from on top of a crate they were left on. We had been working on painting and building a loft for her and these were some tools we hadn’t put away yet. After picking up tools and consoling our daughter, order returned and she and my wife went back to sleep. I, on the other hand, did not. Too much adrenaline I suppose. After a few minutes trying, I knew I wouldn’t be able to. So I looked at emails, Facebook and then decided to get out of bed and be productive. I typed a chapter of my daughter’s draft for her new book (very suspenseful). I am her secretary. She pays in hugs and kisses. Priceless.

It was about five o’clock. I decided to go to the gym. I knew it opens at that time. After making countless jumps shots (okay you could have counted them) and my knot in my neck bothering me, I decided to go get coffee and bring something back to the two loves of my life (not including Jesus, my greatest love).

They were still sleeping. It was about six now. So then I started writing some thoughts for a very crucial chapter in my new book. This one is a fiction, an allegory of the journey of transformation. I got in a good groove. I am really starting to enjoy the writing process.

Interruptions are an interesting spiritual phenomenon. They can be small, like being woken up in the middle of the night by a loud crash or they can be big, very big, like the diagnosis of a disease or an accident leaving someone paralyzed or a request for some help. The question is: Is this interruption a problem or an opportunity?

Jesus was interrupted. There is the story of him being led to go to the home of a child dying. Needed to get there quickly, at least in the people’s mind. But he was stopped by a large crowd pressing on him. Frustration for the parents wanting him to hurry. A problem to them. An opportunity for another. A woman touched his robe and was healed. And later Jesus handled the issue with the dying girl. (Mark 5:21-43)

I want to handle interruptions with a spirit of trust and hope and even love. Don’t you?

Grant me grace in the times of interruptions and grace to follow your lead. Help me surrender my resistance.

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Misusing Humor
Too many times in my history I in all foolishness said things trying to be funny and instead I was offensive.
Too few times I was confronted on it.
Even fewer times did I receive well and non-defensively.
In time I learned.
I just wish I didn’t take so much time.

The idolatry of Humor
I sweat when I am not funny and I was trying to be.
Humor is the god I seek to protect me when threatened.
It is the god whom I seek to give me power among the people.
Why would someone mess with my god?
“It was all done in humor can’t you take a joke?”
Being funny is in high demand in our world. Because it entertains. And people will like us. We all want that. That’s why we can get all defensive at first.
The question is, “do we dig our heals in deep or do we take a step back and listen?”.
Was Jesus really funny?
Does it really matter?
Is any rationale that he was just a means of rationalizing our own misuse of it?
I am not writing here to identify godly humor vs ungodly humor.
Just want to consider the idolatry of it.

Shame remnant
I get these shame farts once in a while. These are memories of things I regret that seem to come into my consciousness out of nowhere. Not talking about memories of the huge, life-changing mistakes I have done. Many of those have been dealt with between me, God and anyone I might have offended. But rather I am referring to little farts that are embarrassments way in the subconscious, hidden until they bubble up out of my bowels (have you read the research on synapses in the bowels and the reconsideration of all thoughts and feelings are not from the brain? but that is for another blog). Sometimes they are just one of the top ten most embarrassing moments. No need to attend those until I am asked in an ice-breaker to name one. But others come out of regret and guilt. Mistakes I have made. Sometimes they are things I have done that have hurt another. Boy, I got away with way too many. I am thankful for the grace of God that covers all of these. I am grateful for opportunities to make things right. And in hind sight, I am thankful for those brave souls that confronted me about my stuff.

Looking back, I think what was most damaging to my own soul and perhaps to those I offended was not the initial mistake or wrong doing I made but in the ways I stayed on defense.

I hope I am a much more approachable man today than I was in my youth. By the grace of God I hope I am getting better.

images

I remember the anxiety I felt with the thought of walking Joelle to school every day. This was just prior to her kindergarten years. And indeed I struggled. Each walk back from school I thought, “When I get home I gotta rest.” Joelle’s school is barely a half a block away from our house. Everyday, I would get home and sit down for five to ten minutes just to recover. More if it was a cold winter day.

That was four years ago

Two years ago, while Joelle was taking swimming lessons, I decided instead of just waiting by the side of the pool, I would jump in and try to swim a bit. My goal was modest, to see if I can make the width of the pool. All I did was half a width. But it got me going. After a month I made the width and I thought to myself, I am going to try to make the length by the end of summer. One the last day I did it.

Then Joelle took up basketball. I would shoot around with her and got winded very easily. But I had the motive to get better because I wanted to keep up with her. Last fall I started going to the gym by myself. I shoot around and sat down every time I got winded (about 15 minutes at first). I thought, “I would be pleased if I could shoot around for an hour without having to sit down.” And it happened. I shot around a whole hour. No running, nothing quick but I shot shots. Then a thought entered my head, “Why don’t you try running (slowly) up and down the court.” It was a scary thought, as I hadn’t tried running in several years. I always overstressed my lungs. A walk was all I thought I had.

But I tried, once up and then back the length of the court. When I got back to my original spot under the basket, I went to the side, sat down and took five minutes to get the wind back and stop the burning in my lungs. Then I thought, “I am going to go for more.” I had the goal of ten lengths of the court. I made that. So I went for twenty. Took me a while. Often I had thought, “I am not going to make it but it is good just to shoot for it.” End of last year I did it. Then I did some research and found out about 63 lengths of a high school court is one mile. I divided that in half and came up with my new goal – 31.5 lengths.

Truthfully, if anyone told me I would be doing a half a mile I would had thought, “You don’t know what I have or how futile all attempts have been. You don’t know about my connective tissue disorder that took away 50% of my lung capacity and that my lungs are filled with scars that will never function again.” Many times I got winded just getting out of bed! How would I ever do a half a mile.

And today, April 11th at 10:30 in the mornings, I did 31.5 lengths of the court.

That is the background of my facebook post: I’m weeping in rejoicing. 31.5 = one half mile. I’m sitting here alone in the gym weeping.

I have been weeping as I write this out now. Because I am the recipient of an amazing moment, I am struck so powerfully in this moment.

Now one practical correlation to all this is that I have not had a cold or flu for over two years. I don’t know why. I am not taking any magic medicine and my diet is not any better. I just simply have not. This is significant because in the past any attempts to improve my lungs would be thwarted by a simple cold that went through the Warden household. Joelle would be over it in a few days. Likewise my wife would be done with her cold in four. But for me, my immune system couldn’t fight it off and I would have it for months. Then my lungs would be more inflamed and the coughing would do damage. It was two steps forward and three steps back. That was the cycle of all past attempts to getting stronger. I wasn’t getting anywhere but worse. The mystery is that I haven’t had the common cold or flu for two years and those years my body has made these advances.

I give full credit to many saints at that time who were praying for me. “The prayer of a righteous one avails much,” as James wrote. No words can express my gratitude.

I have been told that perhaps this renewal of strength in my body is so that I can have the energy to go places to speak and promote Resisting Grace.
Grace is not given so that we can do his bidding – My God is not a utilitarian.

Another has alluded that it is a gift for my faithfulness.
Nor is grace given as a pat on the head for being a good boy. My God is not patronizing.

Sometimes grace is simply like rain. All I can do is collect it, appreciate it and use it to make the most of what I have.

And worship.

Seeds and Tears I B

Psalm 42:7 says, “Deep calls unto deep.”

One of my favorite old time theologians is Watchman Nee. He commented on this Psalm saying, “Only a call from the depths can provoke a response from the depths. Nothing shallow can ever touch the depths, nor can anything superficial touch the inward parts. Only the deep will respond to the deep.”

I am starting a new men’s group focusing on Redeeming our faith, culture and manhood. I have loved doing this group. Men who have gone through this group are very dear to my heart. The first forty days are of deep introspection where the men examine their relationships to family of origin, the major culture they live in, the culture of their heritage, women, other men, themselves and God. It is a forty day introspective spiritual boot camp. I challenge them to stick with it and go deep. We don’t live in a world that relates to one another deeply. Not even in the church sad to say. It is uncomfortable and threatening to be vulnerable. These forty days also uses spiritual/emotional/mental muscles we are not use to. I give much grace to the men as they start up but I keep the challenge on top of them. If you don’t go deep, you’re not going to get very far.

I ask them to answer this question before one another: How do you feel about getting so naked before these men? The challenge is to get real. The equation I set before them is Real Men + Real God = Real Life.
I end with the study of the man with the withered hand in Mark 3. Jesus said two things to him: “Rise and come forward” and “stretch out your hand”. Pretty much put it out there dude.

The process of Jesus meeting our needs through grace is:

He unpacked our woundedness…be brave and open yourself
He exposes our compromised solutions… be brave and surrender
He meets our needs in deeper ways… be brave and go deep
He provides support and accountability…be brave and get help

Receive his grace or resist it. That’s what we do.

After a conversation with a gentleman from my home church it got me thinking. He asked me how’s my lungs. I told him how there has been improvement because I haven’t had any set backs for 18 months or so. He told me he asked because he hasn’t heard my cough in service this winter, Apparently, my cough is distinctive enough (and loud enough) to be recognized. It was such an unexpected affirmation and encouragement. My lungs has suffered many a rough winters. Over fifteen winters have past since half my lungs scarred up from my connective tissue disorder. And winters have been the hardest. For ways I cannot in any means understand, grace has been granted for this season of my journey. I am grateful.
Reflecting on this moment (actually while I was in the shower) what came to me was that grace is unpredictable but totally reliable. I can’t put God’s work of grace in my life into a box or a formula for my desired outcome. It is completely mysterious. It does not guarantee that my body will hold up. No more than it guarantee someone a spouse or a nice paying job or a trouble free life. Saints with more faith than you or I have lived with broken bodies, singleness, poverty and great travail. What they knew though is that grace was there in their brokenness, loneliness, hunger and pain. Sometimes there appears relief in those areas. That is grace. But many times grace enters in rather than removes.
Though God’s grace is unpredictable, it is totally reliable. Growing in my relationship with the living God has shown me that I cannot know how grace will fall upon me. I just know that it will. Faith is my assurance in not what is seen but in whom I trust.
My old friend and I have had a long dialog that has covered several years on whether God is involved in the details of our lives, if at all. It is only in experiencing His Grace can we be assured. Not by the external signs of our lives but by the Spirit of God that works within us the knowledge of our connection with the Living God.
I am grateful for the improvements in my lungs but I am completely surrender to whatever His Grace gives and choose to rejoice always.