Tag Archives: Life

Getting Ready to Dive

I have friends who are just about to make the leap of a lifetime. Their family is leaving behind the security of employment and familiarity to strike out into the unknown. And while they’ve sensed God tugging on their hearts to step into this new adventure, that doesn’t mean questions aren’t still pounding through their minds — small ones, like, “How will we feed our kids?!”

But I’m proud of them.

They are living lives of faith. They are putting their toes all the way off the end of the diving board, readying themselves for this risky, yet God-shaped adventure.

Embed from Getty Images

Their story also urges me forward. It’s so easy to slip into the normalcy of life, assuming that my biggest adventures are behind me; assuming that God won’t call me to lay everything down once again and take a “radical plunge” into the deep. Like my friends, I want to live in an ever-present willingness to leap from the (perceived) safety of my surroundings and live out a story worth telling.

How can we become more dive-ready?

1. Listen to the coach. One of the best ways to tune our ears to God is through the practice of fasting. Think of fasting as simply “unplugging” from the normal things that fuel us, in order to plug more fully into God. Fasting often includes food, but there are many other things we could lay aside for a season to heighten our awareness of what God has been whispering to us. What might we hear from our diving coach, the Holy Spirit, when we quiet our souls before him?

2. Build our faith muscles. Pastor and author, Jerry Cook, said, “Faith is living like God tells the truth.” Are there ways we’ve been living that aren’t consistent with what God has said? Are there patterns in our lives that (to an outside observer) would make it seem God isn’t completely who he said he is, or that he’s not quite able to uphold what he’s promised? As we confront our fears while on the long walk to the end of the diving board, we are realigning ourselves to the reality that God tells the truth.

3. Meditate on God’s Word. We can’t read more than a chapter or two before we’re confronted with direct statements and prophetic imagery that the Spirit has crafted to stir us to action. Try reading Hebrews 11 over and over until the words and stories are tattooed to your soul.

4. Hang out with the diving team. Spend time with others who have thrown caution to the wind and lived with reckless, faith-filled abandon. What can be learned from their stories? What about their successes and failures informs our view of what it looks like to live by faith?

5. Take the plunge. Actually take a faith-filled step: quit your job, sell your house, move across the country (or across the street), start a new business, launch a new non-profit — or start by going on a mission team, volunteering with a youth sports team, or attending your first AA meeting. Just do something new that’s inspired by your faith. Diving requires momentum. Even a small step will help propel you forward.

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. — Helen Keller

In their book, The Faith of Leap, authors Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch make this painfully clear statement:

“When our need for security becomes obsessive, we remove ourselves from the journey of discipleship. By then we have given in to insecurity, and the price is a high one — it becomes an enslaving idol. Making ourselves ever more secure will not keep the fear of insecurity from becoming a possessive demon. The hold of the idol can be broken only by acting directly against it.” (p. 33)

So dive. Crush the idols of fears and false assumptions, and warn all onlookers to prepare for a big splash!

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Dropping the C Word: “I Have Cancer”

I’d never seen tears shoot straight out of someone’s face. But that changed a few weeks ago.

After bumping into a close friend at a Christmas Eve service, I decided to tell her what I’d recently learned myself: I have thyroid cancer. The news was so sudden and raw that her tears just shot right out. She grabbed my arm and declared, “You can’t just drop the C word!”

Hearing the Word “Cancer” is Hard

It had only been the week before when my doctor had dropped the C word on me. A routine checkup led to the discovery of a lump on my throat, which led to an ultrasound, which led to a biopsy, which led to the life-altering pronouncement: we found some cancer. Papillary thyroid cancer to be exact.

Over the past month my emotions have been on a roller coaster. Not the mega-thrill-ride variety, but more like the community carnival type: nothing completely overwhelming, but still enough to bring about a noticeable increase of anxiety (just ask my wife and kids!).

My variety of thyroid cancer is highly treatable, with an excellent prognosis for the future. But it’s still life changing. I’ve come to discover that the thyroid gland is a completely necessary piece of equipment, controlling the body’s energy and metabolism levels. It impacts nearly everything, from sleep and weight to the ability to concentrate. To compensate for the thyroid removal, I’ll take a hormone replacement pill every day for the rest of my life.

While all this information has taken my emotions for a ride, there have been two other C words that have more positively impacted me and deepened my experiences over these past weeks.

Compassion — What I’ve Received

As immediately shown by family and my tear-shooting friend, many have expressed genuine care and love for me. They have been a healing force, letting me know that I’m not alone. The phone calls, texts, emails, and face-to-face conversations have all been significant in evening out the low spots of my emotional roller coaster.

Three conversations in particular have helped to encourage me (literally putting courage back into me). These have been with others who’ve had similar diagnosis and surgeries, and who came to me to share their stories and to let me know I’m going to make it through this. Thank you!

Other friends have prayed over me or sent me scriptures. Craig sent me this great promise from the first verses of Isaiah 43.

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you… “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

And Dennis, a friend who is recovering from his own cancer surgery, sent me this prayer that’s been deeply meaningful to him on his journey.

O God, the source of all health: So fill my heart with faith in your love, that with calm expectancy I may make room for your power to possess me, and gracefully accept your healing, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This concept of “making room” for God’s work has become important in my own story as well. So many things want to crowd out what God is up to in my life — especially this final C word.

Control — What I’m Giving Up

The one thing this cancer diagnosis has forced me to deal with more than any other: I’m a control freak. The thought of “losing control” of my energy levels has been jarring to my psyche. I don’t want a pill to be in control. I want to be in control of my life!

Can any other control freaks relate?

But what I’ve been settling into is the truth that I’ve never fully been in control anyway. Sure, God allows each of us to shape much of our environment by the choices we make (including our relationship with him). But ultimately he is in control — and that is a good thing.

Long ago, King David penned lyrics that remind me of this reality…

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.
The world and all its people belong to him. Psalm 24:1

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. The Lord is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works. Psalm 145:3

Not only is God in control, but he sees the big picture and his faithfulness and kindness toward us is complete. He is fully worthy of our trust no matter what we’re going through.

So, I’ve made the choice to view my pills as daily reminders that God is in control — not cancer, medication, or any other circumstance. I’m placing my life once again in his very capable and loving hands. I hope you’ll join me there.

What’s Next for Me?

  • Surgery: January 29, 2014
  • A lot more life ahead.
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Why We Won’t Forgive – Part 2

A while back I started a blog conversation about forgiveness by telling my personal story. Not only did I share about the incredible freedom I found in forgiveness, but I also described a huge obstacle I faced in that process: forgiveness was nearly impossible for me to give when the offending party didn’t admit he or she was wrong.

But there are a number of other reasons why we won’t forgive.

© Phil Date

I’ll never forget the night I was interrupted at church. It was several years ago and I was wrapping up a talk to a youth group about forgiveness when I was suddenly cut off (haven’t you always wanted to interject your point at church?!). The young man doing the interrupting was in foster care, and while I’d just been learning his story, I knew it was tragic. His dad was so physically abusive that he could no longer live with his family.

I’d been talking about Jesus’ words, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven,” when he just blurted out from the back of the room, “I won’t do that. I won’t forgive my dad.”

His honesty and raw emotion were gut wrenching. The room fell silent as he conveyed something that’s felt by many who have suffered terrible hurt and abuse: if I forgive, it would be like saying what that person did was OK.

It’s understandable why we feel this way. Our minds want to equate forgiveness with acceptance, so we come up with several arguments about “why we won’t forgive”:

  • It would be the same as saying what they did wasn’t wrong.
  • Others would think we’re being tolerant of their hurtful actions.
  • It would give them permission to keep hurting us or others.
  • They’d never be held accountable for their actions.
  • We’d have to pretend like none of this ever happened.

But those arguments are built on a faulty premise.

As I discussed in my first blog on this topic, forgiveness is never about giving a pass to a wrongdoer. Real forgiveness has to do with letting go of our hatred toward the offending party, and letting go of our right to be that person’s judge, jury and jailer. It has to do with trusting God with the offense and the offender, believing, “I can let go, because I believe God will bring whatever justice is necessary.”

When we discover the true nature of forgiveness, we begin to understand:

  • Forgiveness never erases accountability for actions. Just because I let go of my right to be someone’s judge, it doesn’t mean the offending party shouldn’t face a real judge.
  • Forgiveness and boundaries are not mutually exclusive. When I forgive someone, I may also need to create healthy boundaries (for a season or forever) so that person doesn’t continue to inflict pain.
  • Forgiveness doesn’t minimize the reality of the hurt; it maximizes the reality that God is able to deal with both the hurt and the one who inflicted it.

I wish I’d been more fully aware of the nature of forgiveness the night I was interrupted. My prayer is that someone has come alongside that wounded young man to help him discover: forgiveness doesn’t free others from the responsibility of their actions; it frees us from self-destructive rage and pain.

Unforgiveness is a soul-eating bacteria — but the good news is that the antibiotic is available to all, and is effective no matter how deep the wound.

Questions to ask:

  • Is there anyone I’ve refused to forgive?
  • Why have I chosen to hold on to unforgiveness?
  • Can I trust God to deal with the one who hurt me?
  • What pain do I need to let go of today?
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Letting Go of the Rope (My Struggle with Forgiveness)

When I was a kid and would get into arguments with my younger brother or sister, my mom enacted swift justice. She’d pronounce guilt, then immediately make the offending party (usually me) say to the one who’d been aggrieved: “You were right. I was wrong.”

Then, whether we wanted to or not, the other would have to respond: “I forgive you.”

That was it. Clean and simple. I might have still been seething inside, wanting to throttle my sibling (either because the court of family justice had once again let me down, or because I really hadn’t forgiven anything), but it was done. Time to move on. This must simply be how forgiveness works.

Gripping the Rope

While life did move on, my views of forgiveness didn’t. I continued to deal with petty failures (others or my own) through this same kind of framework for forgiveness: one party admits fault, the other says all is forgiven, and you just move on.

That seemed to work until about 11 years ago.

Over the course of about a year we could tell that my dad was slowly imploding. He saw his worldwide marriage ministry taking significant hits, and life seemed to be crashing in around him. So, battling depression and feelings of deep rejection, after more than 30 years of ministry and 40 years of marriage, my dad split.

It was a very public and hurtful divorce. It quickly became an illustration in multiple news sources of “another minister who couldn’t keep his own marriage together.”

I was livid. As a son, I watched my mom go through incredible pain and embarrassment; as a father, I watched my three young children go through deep sadness and questioning; and as a person, I had my own hurt and anger to deal with. Lots of anger.

After two emotionally charged phone calls with my dad, we stopped talking altogether. We resorted to lengthy diatribes via email in which I was furiously attempting to prove his wrongness and he was just as forcefully defending his decision. We were at a bitter impasse—one that, after several weeks, was literally making me sick.

I discovered that the deeper my hurt, the tighter I wanted to squeeze the life out of the one who had caused my pain. I felt it was my right (maybe even my duty) to keep a choke hold on my dad until it either killed him or forced him to admit his sin.

Then along came a friend, a counselor, who began to gently probe around the edges of my wounds. As he graciously helped me process my anger, he had me imagine what forgiveness might look like in my situation. At first I didn’t even think it was possible—after all, my dad hadn’t said the magic words: “I was wrong. You were right.” Without the admission of his guilt, what was there to forgive?

But the pain in my soul urged me forward and I began investigating the concept of forgiveness. In the weeks that followed I began deconstructing my old, immature views of forgiveness, while building a new, transformative understanding of this life-giving process.

Two things helped more than any other.

First, I turned to Jesus’ words and discovered I’d been ignorant as to what forgiveness truly meant. As I went to the root meaning of the words he’d used to talk about forgiveness, I found they literally meant: “Let go.”

There are many examples of this truth, but one that rocked me started in Luke 6:37. The exact word Jesus used when he said, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven,” was also used by Pilate before he sentenced Jesus to death. In John 19:10, Pilate said “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”

This concept revolutionized my thinking about forgiveness, especially because my hands were so tightly gripping my dad’s throat (figuratively, but barely). Like Pilate, I could extend either freedom or death. It was in my power to forgive, whether or not my dad ever acknowledged any wrongdoing.

I could feel God gently asking me to let him go—not pretending my dad hadn’t caused real pain—but urging me to loosen my grip so I could release him (and my hurts) to God.

I found it came down to an issue of trust. Did I trust Jesus to handle this situation, or did I trust myself more? Did I trust God to judge my dad and bring any needed correction, or did I assume I would do a better job as judge and jailer?

I chose to trust the Lord with my dad, and slowly began the process of letting go. Forgiveness had begun.

The second thing that helped me greatly was coming across an illustration about forgiveness from 20th Century saint, Corrie ten Boom. Corrie’s family members had all died at the hands of the Nazi’s during the Second World War—she was the lone survivor. But her realization that God’s grace is greater than any evil allowed her to become a beacon of hope for millions in the decades after the war.

Corrie said this about forgiveness: “If you have ever seen a country church with a bell in the steeple, you will remember that to get the bell ringing you have to tug awhile. Once it has begun to ring, you merely maintain the momentum. As long as you keep pulling, the bell keeps ringing. Forgiveness is letting go of the rope. It is just that simple. But when you do so, the bell keeps ringing. Momentum is still at work. However, if you keep your hands off the rope, the bell will begin to slow and eventually stop.”

Corrie’s words not only affirmed the reality that forgiveness means letting go, but also clarified that this wasn’t simply a one-time act that would immediately free me from all pain. Forgiveness was going to be a daily commitment to keep my hands off my dad’s throat, and that eventually the pain would subside. She was right.

While the pain I went through with my parent’s divorce doesn’t scratch the surface of what many have endured, others have let me know that these concepts about letting go have helped them as well.

Can you imagine what forgiveness might look like in your situation? Whose throat are you squeezing? Could you trust Jesus with your pain and those who caused it? Who do you need to let go of to find peace for your soul?

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The Making of a Dad

On Father’s Day Eve I’m reflecting on my dad-hood. 20 years ago I was blessed with the first of three incredible kids. What a ride! Like many families, we’ve experienced heart-wrenching twists and turns in our collective story, yet maintain more parental pride than should be allowed.

I’m also reflecting on a single chapter in Scripture that, to me, summarizes healthy fathering more than any other. It contains at least six traits that any dad would want to have who desires to build rock solid kids. It’s the first chapter of the second letter written by the Apostle Paul to his “true son in the faith,” Timothy.

Check out these traits that characterize Paul’s relationship with Timothy, and consider how they might be lived out as we lead our kids:

  1. He prayed for his son. 2 Tim. 1:3 “Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.” That’s where it begins, with the realization that my kids need a Savior — and I’m not him! As we lift our kids to God in prayer, we’re reminding ourselves that he is the true answer for their greatest needs.
  2. He was motivated by love. 2 Tim. 1:4 “I long to see you again, for I remember your tears as we parted. And I will be filled with joy when we are together again.” My pride, my anger, or my need for control are all insufficient motivators when it comes to seeking positive life-change in my kids. They know when love is absent. But thankfully they also know when love is present — even when I don’t get it completely right. When kids know they are loved it makes all the difference.
  3. He was spiritually affirming. 2 Tim. 1:5 “I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you.” How many times do I miss opportunities to communicate what my kids are doing right? It’s so critical that I not only see their growth, but that I tell them what I’m seeing. Their self-perception will be formed by what is reflected back to them by the people they most look up to.
  4. He imparted blessing. 2 Tim. 1:6 “This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you.” I have the opportunity as a parent to bless my kids and to literally deposit God’s gifts in them.
  5. He led from the front. 2 Tim. 1:8 “With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the sake of the Good News.” Am I living in such a way that I can invite my kids to join with me? Paul reminds me that I have to be a “do as I do” kind of dad, and that the most effective forms of instruction always include modeling.
  6. He taught about Jesus. 2 Tim. 1:9 “For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time — to show us his grace through Christ Jesus.” If Paul felt the need to remind Timothy — who was a pastor — about the grace of Jesus, how much more should I be reminding my kids?

Whether you’re a dad or not, these traits can be embodied by all who want to make a lasting and positive difference in the next generation. Every kid deserves someone — a dad, mom, uncle, aunt, or a big brother or sister — who, like Paul, will love them, share life with them deeply, and show them how Jesus can make all the difference.

My desire is that with God’s grace, I’ll do those very things even better in my 21st year of being a dad. My kids are hoping so, too!

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