What Happens When You Make Yourself Available to God

This past week, I met with a brand new believer and talked about what to focus on in the days ahead.

I went to church and me and two other guys worked through some scripture and I led in prayer.

The following day, I attended a small group with faculty members at the university where I work. We spent time in devotion and then listened to each other’s stories and worked on discerning God’s work in and around those stories.

On Sundays, I taught a college bible study class where we learned what makes a good Christlike community.

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All of that plus a symposium on campus where colleagues and I spoke about being a Christian librarian and the unique role we play in the academic environment of our students.

All of these things, I have prayed for and desired to have happened. I want to be in the midst of other’s spiritual journey, guiding them and passing along some things that I have learned and expressing the reality of Christ’s transforming power.

Quite significantly, not one of these opportunities I had to push or pull to make happen. I didn’t have to twist arms to get people to do this with me or to show up. It just happened and that is a testament to God working. I simply made myself available and am in tune enough to know when God is guiding circumstances and people’s hearts.

Are you making yourself available? Have you asked God to use you in whatever way he sees fit? And are you faithful to move whenever he says move?

I don’t consider myself special because of these opportunities that I have, just thankful that God sees enough in me to want to use me. He wants to use you and will gladly provide you chances to minister to others and to serve. Just make yourself available.

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The Story of Joy, Part 3

One part of my spiritual and personal story that I haven’t discussed much is the pregnancy, birth, and early life stages of our daughter, Joy. My wife recently wrote about this and I thought I would share it on the blog with a series of posts. God has moved in profound ways concerning Joy and her life has taught me many things:

Enter my wife, Leah.

After Joy’s amazing cleft lip repair, we continued to walk daily in faith that she would improve and heal. It was a whirlwind of doctor visits from her Craniofacial surgeon, to GI specialist, a nephrologist, a urologist, a geneticist, a pulmonologist, an opthalmologist, ENT specialist, cardiologist, and later an orthopedic specialist. I had to carry around a little notebook to keep everything up to date for the appointments.

In the mean time, we still needed her cleft palate repaired and would wait until she was around 9 months old to get that done. During that time, she had pneumonia and so many ear infections due to the cleft. I even surprised one of her doctors when I told him baby food was coming out of her ear when she ate!! That sounds crazy, but all of that was connected and open before her first surgery. So many things were causing issues that seemed overwhelming at the time.

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Along with doctor visits, we had awesome ECI therapists (PT, OT, Speech/feeding) come into our home to help with Joy’s progress. They made a huge difference and listened to my concerns. Her PT was an integral part of helping us discover Joy’s scoliosis at such a young age. This was another God moment!

Joy has had 4 cleft palate repairs. Several had to happen because she did not heal properly after surgery. So many times we were sent to the geneticist because her doctors just knew she had a syndrome that would explain all of the things going wrong. Nothing was pinpointed, but we still had to move forward with her care.

Her first cleft surgery was extremely hard. It makes me sick thinking about it. The recovery room for Joy has always been the hardest. She does not respond well to anesthesia and has an extremely hard time waking up and calming down. After each surgery comes weeks of liquid diets, restrictions, and sometimes slow healing.

People prayed each time for her surgeries and God provided His strength and peace during those tough times. I cannot imagine walking this journey without my brothers and sisters in Christ. The body of Christ has held us and walked with us every step of the way. We are continually grateful for this blessing.

Try Growing Up

Instead of chasing every new teaching, try a little scripture reading.

Instead of seething with anger, try forgiveness.

Instead of cunning and scheming, try speaking the truth in love.

Instead of finding ways to divide, try finding unity in the faith.

Instead of seeking only individual health, try seeking the health of the group or community.

Instead of making yourself head over your spiritual life, try letting Jesus be CEO.

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Instead of just working on one aspect of life with God, the same one you have focused on for years, try letting Jesus transform all of you.

Instead of embracing futile thinking, try renewing your mind by discovering first the Kingdom of God.

Instead of hardening your heart, try humbling your sensitivities for the sake of Christ.

Instead of money, sex, and power, try fasting, simplicity, and silence.

Instead of considering the validity of every falsehood, try embracing the truth with equal intention.

Instead of complaining, try service for God.

Instead of tearing something down, try finding a need and fix it.

Instead of finding what is in it for you, try finding the benefit for others.

Instead of giving the devil a foothold, try repenting of your former way of doing things and accept your new life in Christ.

Note: inspired by Ephesians 4.

The Story of Joy, Part 2

One part of my spiritual and personal story that I haven’t discussed much is the pregnancy, birth, and early life stages of our daughter, Joy. My wife recently wrote about this and I thought I would share it on the blog with a series of posts. God has moved in profound ways concerning Joy and her life has taught me many things:

Enter my wife, Leah.

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When Joy was born, the main issue that she had was a severe and complete unilateral cleft lip and palate. The other issues that the doctor predicted, some being life threatening, were not present. Other issues would come later, but nothing beyond the cleft lip and palate was immediately noticeable.

The issue with cleft lip and palate is that the ability to get suction to eat is almost impossible. Joy had no “roof of her mouth”. Everything that went in her mouth, came out her nose or went down into her airway.

Her orthodontist made an oral appliance (like a retainer) to put in her mouth to give her a sort of barrier between her mouth and nasal cavity. We kept it in her mouth using denture cream.  It took a long time to feed Joy and she would get so tired . Scott and I would both get up with her so that one of us could help keep the other awake. It was exhausting. Joy had issues with pneumonia due to aspirating milk and even had a feeding tube at one time.

The first surgery to repair her lip was coming up. She was scheduled for a time in August and we were ready for the healing process to begin. It would just be for her lip and nose, but it would help. As the date approached, we received a call that the surgery was rescheduled for a later date. I was so upset. Joy needed to have the surgery soon!. I didn’t understand the delay.

It wasn’t until her pre-op that God revealed why her surgery was delayed.

We found out that the world renowned Craniofacial Surgeon, Dr. Kenneth Sayler (he helped separate the conjoined twins from Egypt) would be performing a live teaching surgery at a Cleft Lip and Palate Medical Conference. Joy would be his patient and a group of surgeons from all over the world would be watching the Doctor repair Joy’s cleft lip. Joy would not only receive the best care from the best surgeon in the world, but other children would be helped because of what the surgeons were learning from watching her surgery. We were overwhelmed with God’s timing and plan!! I am thankful we had to wait and be rescheduled. God’s plans are perfect! 

It’s Time To Grow Up

Birth receives far more attention among Christians than growth. Born again, new birth, new life are all terms in high use among Western Christians, and rightly so. But, ignoring or overlooking growth leads to the absence of growth and in the words of Eugene Peterson, we become “a nation of adolescence.”

Peterson goes on to say, “the most significant growth that any of us does is growing as a Christian…all other growth is prep for this growth.” Scripture is full of growing up both physically and spiritually and sometimes both. Moses grew up, David grew up, John the Baptist grew up, and Jesus himself grew up. Then after Jesus returned to his father, we see the spiritual growth of his followers who go from clueless, scaredy cats to courageous and bold ambassadors for the Kingdom of God.

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Could it be that the most important thing about you and me is our Growing Up as followers of Christ? How would that change our work place? How would that change our families? Our marriage? Our solutions to society’s biggest problems?

I am a more patient, friendly, happy, and trusting person because of my Growing Up. I have seen God do some miraculous things in and through me because of my Growing Up. I have made odd and foolish career decisions that demonstrated that God knew what he was doing. I have gone out on a limb and seen God handle the outcomes far better than I ever could. I have grown up and that growth has made it possible for more growth. I am not where I can be or should be but I have matured and developed in my faith.

Let us not put Growing Up on the periphery of our Christian life. Let us make it the other side of the coin from new birth. Let us no longer be a church of adolescence.

The Story of Joy, Part 1

One part of my spiritual and personal story that I haven’t discussed much is the pregnancy, birth, and early life stages of our daughter, Joy. My wife recently wrote about this and I thought I would share it on the blog with a series of posts. God has moved in profound ways concerning Joy and her life has taught me many things:

Enter my wife, Leah.

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I was 18 weeks pregnant and went to see a specialist because they thought there was an issue with my uterus. At this appointment, they actually found something wrong with our baby.

I remember the nurse and doctor walking in the room. They had that “look” on their faces that something was wrong.

Scott and I sat and listened to a list of serious issues that the doctor felt was wrong with our baby from the findings on the sonogram pictures. There was everything from Down Syndrome, to heart issues, to intestinal issues, cystic fibrosis, and her cleft lip and palate.

The doctor felt strongly that she would have serious issues and we should consider aborting the pregnancy. I felt like someone punched me. I remember saying a strong “no!” to the abortion topic, and we left with lots of questions and feelings of helplessness. We got home and just felt so saddened. We did find out that day that our baby was a girl and soon realized we needed to find a name so that people could pray specifically for her. More on that next time…….

Reading Now/Listening Now

Reading Now

What I am Reading: I am going through my highlights from Dallas Willard’s Life Without Lack and starring the best sections.

What has Meant Something to Me: Willard describes the movement of faith from sufficiency to abandonment to contentment.

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Something I am Going to Try: A day with Jesus. At the end of the book, Willard maps out how to spend a day with Jesus. I am looking to schedule this and plan for this later in the month.

Listening Now

What I am Listening To: As Kingfishers Catch Fire by Eugene Peterson. This is a collection of sermons from the long time pastor, translator, writer, and professor.  I have the audiobook version and I listen to it on my way to work. Unlike the Baptist preachers that I am used to, Peterson’s sermons are usually around 20 minutes long. So, I often finish the sermons on my commute.

What has Meant Something to Me: Peterson isn’t trying to conquer the known world with each sermon. He simply has a text, a word from God, and fantastic use of language. This helps you chew on the message and let it swim around a bit in your head. There are no set of points to map out, just grand, holy ideas to consider and pray through.

Something I am Going To Try: Reading the Psalms in the Message translation in order to get a fresh taste of the full range of human experience and God’s provision in that experience.

No Pain, No Gain?

When we were told that our youngest daughter would have birth defects, possibly severe ones, did I need that situation to develop a sense of ruthless trust in God?

Would I have ever made Jesus the Lord and center of my life if I didn’t have a breakdown full of darkness, depression, and frustration?

Did I need to be cut from my high school basketball team to know that God can still value me despite personal disappointment and failure?

Did I need to be a lonely college student to take advantage of long stretches at a lake setting with just me and God?

Did my Dad have to die and my friend drink himself to death for me to learn to love God even when I don’t agree with how he has allowed things to happen?

Is pain and struggle a prerequisite for growth?

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Job, in the Bible, needed one catastrophe after another in order to finally make this statement about God, “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Job’s struggles awakened his spiritual senses to truly appreciate and savor God.

Paul begged for God to remove his “thorn in the flesh” but God didn’t. Instead, God told him this, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul would then come to this realization, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Paul needed hardship and difficulties and weakness for God to be his strongest. I don’t know if I can say that I delight in struggles and disappointment just yet but if that is what it takes for God to be the strongest in my life then I will sacrifice my comfort and ease along the way.

For I have seen too much growth, too much of God’s presence, too much of God’s provision, and too much of a change in myself to think otherwise.

Where What God Wants Done Is Done

God acts here among us. He moves, creates, shifts, directs, speaks, and transforms. He restores souls.

Do you believe this?

The place where God gets done what he wants done is called the Kingdom of God. Jesus announced the arrival of the Kingdom of God within himself at the beginning of his ministry and constantly taught his followers about the Kingdom of God.

He said the Kingdom of God is at hand. It is here, accessible, inhabiting, and available. All he ask of us is for us to repent. Surely, this means repent in the revivalists sense but also in the basic sense of “rethinking.” We are to rethink the way we look at the world because in Jesus the Kingdom is at hand, right here.

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Brooklyn Museum

If I have committed myself to Jesus, I have become “one in whom Christ dwells and delights.” I have access to this ever present Kingdom and can commit myself to what God wants done and join forces with other believers who are indwelt by Christ to expand and strengthen the Kingdom. I Grow Up and the community Grows Up.

But if my view of the Kingdom is that it is for another time and some other place then I will never experience its potential, power, and progress. I will be stuck as an observer and not a participant.

 

What We Care About May Not Matter That Much To Jesus

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Would it bother you if I told you that I listen to the Grateful Dead and a band called the Mother Hips? Would it matter if I tell you I don’t like Christian movies?

What is the first thing you think of when I tell you I would rather listen to NPR than Christian radio stations? That I follow some liberals on Twitter and have voted for Democrats on occasions? That I own a Subaru?

I tell you this not because I think I am cool (I know me and I am not cool) or because I think the people that make different choices than me are stupid or less sophisticated. I am not trying to shock anyone. I am not saying that I am right or better than anyone else.

What I am trying to do is point out the absurd tendency in humans to use cultural markers to categorize, identify, judge, and even dismiss. These cultural markers often have nothing to do with the emphasis that Jesus clearly stated for his followers.

Jesus said that if we are his children, we will obey his commands. What commands? You can start with the Sermon on the Mount. He later said that anyone who follows him must take up their cross and die to self. That is a demand much more costly than whether my kids watch Sponge Bob or not. He also said that the world will know his followers by how much they love. Wow, that takes work and humility and sacrifice and is hard to quantify to impress followers on Facebook.

I have expressed my problem with judgement here, so I am trying not to turn this into a finger pointing session. I simply think that the time has come for Christians to shift their focus away from superficial Christian subculture markers and who is in and who is out thinking and, instead, become obsessed with character transformation, spiritual growth, intimacy with God, and love, in the most Biblical sense.

You may not like my choice of music or politics but in the words of John Wesley, “If your heart beats in love for Jesus, then take my hand and we will walk together in fellowship.” And our focus will not be on categories of cultural adherence but on our love for God and others. If we work on that, then these other things will take care of themselves.