Tag Archives: faith

Wrestling God (Again) – Genesis 32:3-32

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In the morning, Jacob will cross the Jabbok River into the Promised Land and face his estranged and violent brother Esau who may destroy him completely. All of Jacob’s family and wealth have already begun the journey. Jacob sits alone and waits in the dark.

God held astounding plans for Jacob, plans far too great for a man like Jacob who cheated people as a matter of character. How incredibly tempting is must have been for Jacob to think he had misunderstood God’s word – that he has the short end of the bargain this time. Jacob lay in the dark knowing God, knowing God’s promises, praying, but not knowing God’s plan.

Can you imagine the bone crushing doubt that kept company with Jacob that night? Do you ever feel the soul rending tension between God’s glorious promises and the olive press of your circumstances? Do you wait alone, naked of all conventional security, and in the dark?

In the middle of the excruciating waiting, a fight breaks out. Jacob wrestles with God – all night long. Nothing God does can sway Jacob. Nothing defeats Jacobs’s will. Jacob will not submit. Ultimately, God’s victory requires divine intervention and leaves Jacob crippled by God’s touch. But still, Jacob clings to his will and stays engaged: “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”(Genesis 32:26 NRSV)

I don’t know about you, but I often wrestle with God, in the dark, and for huge stakes. Those battles seem to last forever. They hurt, sometimes horribly. Sometimes, like Jacob, I hang on even after I am thoroughly beaten and insist on my blessing. If this is where you are, “…take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.” (Hebrews 12:12–13 NLT-SE) Know that your struggle will bless you as well as the cloud of witnesses cheering you on and those who look to your example to cast light on their own path.

Also, please know that trust, simple submission to God’s will, also leads directly to peace and joy.

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Faith is the Drug We’re Looking to Score

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”This is, in brief, how the body becomes addicted to substances. The substance alters a balance of natural body chemicals; the body adjusts to this alteration by trying to reestablish the proper balance, in so doing, the body becomes dependent upon the external supply of the substance.[1]

I kicked several significant addictions over the course of the last decade including mood altering chemicals, pornography, and material security. They’re gone and done, but not my addictions to food and productivity. That’s troubling, but being addicted doesn’t freak me out like it used to because now I understand its source.

God crafted us to live deeply hooked on the work of the Spirit – obsessively and compulsively wrapped up in, constantly craving, and totally dependent on her, lost in the crazy and tumultuous life of that addiction. Unfortunately, we fight it tooth and nail because of our broken expectations of what a well lived life is supposed to entail – control, accomplishment, and well-earned rest.

Picture the disciples response as the storm hits their small ship and Jesus continues to sleep blissfully unaware in the stern (Mark 4:35-41). They freak out, and just like them we want to shake Jesus awake to rescue us. When we try, we don’t always like the answer. Instead of calming the storm, God invites us to stay in process with the Spirit so she can shape us in the middle the tension and strain. Often, lust like the disciples, we bail out. We seek relief, and find addiction, somewhere else.

“Man, I need a break from all of this madness! Somebody getting me single malt and a vacation.” Or for some of us “I can’t stand the mundanity! Please God to give me the next big challenge so I can get totally lost in chasing it.”

The answer is clear, but difficult to translate from head to heart. Giving up control, staying in tension, and faith provide peace and joy. That is what we crave.   The healthy path to minimizing worldly addiction is the profoundly paradoxical blessing of finding rest on the run.


[1] May, Gerald G.. Addiction and grace. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988, p 24.a

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Choose Great Suffering Part IV: An Outstanding Response

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A few weeks back, as I was wrestling with how best to parent my son, I sent out an email seeking counsel from the most brilliant Christians I know.

The request was phrased as a challenge from the perspective of a fictional young man:

“Christianity is boring. You know what’s not boring? Getting stoned and having sex with a new partner.

You know what’s exciting? Getting drunk while racing to the beach and listening to loud music that glorifies drugs, money, sex, and violence.

Working hard, getting the advantage, beating out the other guy, making lots of money, and spending it. Work hard. Play hard. That’s exciting.

You know what’s fun? Kicking back with the boys, drinking beer, eating pizza, watching football, and making fun of everything you disagree with and people who aren’t like you.

I’ve experienced those things. I know what fun and excitement are really like. I can’t stand reading so I have very little larger perspective on life, I’ve failed at everything I’ve tried to do within the conventional system. Two weeks is an incredibly long time, and the concept of positive authority has been ruined for me by too many people constantly telling me what to do (I have ADD). What does Christianity have to offer me?”

In short I was asking, what does Jesus have to say to our young adults lost in the lies of this world?

Here is one of the more powerful and insightful responses I received:

“In many ways I agree. Christianity is boring. Especially the way we’ve institutionalized it into a club where you either fit the mold or are “backsliding” at best. Our education system is similar. Reading is the most important skill for our little ones to learn. So what happens when ADD and dyslexia interfere? From an early age we set our children up for failure. The same is true with the model of Christianity we’ve set up that requires penance or right behavior. Heck, even reading the Bible is a requirement and so the kids that struggle in school will most likely struggle in Christianity.

This type of Christianity is boring. The world is fun. I don’t regret my party days but rather I often think of them with fondness (I doubt I’d admit it in church though). I think Christianity needs to stop competing. It can’t win.

So what if we offered something completely different? Something not based on fulfilling human expectations but something so deep that it actually changed the way we want to live? AND that by living that way we could make a difference in the world? I think that’s where social justice efforts come into play. When we see the brokenness in the world and that we can be a part of the healing we are compelled to act. Just like Jesus.

Christianity was created and used for control. Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost. Our systems are man made (yup, just masculine at this point) and therefore dramatically flawed. So what do we have to offer?

A safe place to land when he falls is THE most important thing I believe parents can offer their teens but it is often the hardest on parents because it means letting their kid fall and watching them get hurt, when you may have had the power or knowledge to stop it from happening – If they’d just listen right?

Your example (unconditional love, respect, boundaries, a soft place to land), though it doesn’t line up with what your son wants, is still the best thing you can offer. We often return to our family values later in life. At what point in your life did you realize you were beginning to act like your parents? Or better yet, when did you become okay with acting like them?

My grandpa who recently passed away once said “it’s every parents goal that their kids turn out better than they did”. He was an ass and so there wasn’t much of a challenge :). Still, eventually we learn both how we want to be like our parents and how we don’t.

I think the pain of watching your children fail is why Jesus often wept for Jerusalem. And this guy I know posted on his Facebook the other day that he wasn’t convinced suffering was such a bad thing :). So how’s does the suffering of watching your child fail, or be told they are a failure, or even think themselves a failure remind you of your walk with God?

We often react most strongly to the things in our lives we haven’t dealt with in ourselves. That’s something to think about for both you an your son.

This was supposed to be a more concise and pithy email. Instead you got me going. I feel your pain. I’ve seen it in many parents and students over the last 10 years. It gets better. Will you remind me of that in 20 years when I have kids?”

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Comparison

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Comparisons damage us in so many ways.

When we want what our friends have rather than enjoying what God gives us we make ourselves miserable and take a step away from Him.

When we compare our behavior to a friend’s or a stranger’s we may devalue them or elevate ourselves based on what we perceive as our relevant standing. “…God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.” (Luke 18:11). Conversely, we may find ourselves disappointed with our own spiritual walk because we walk differently than someone we respect.

We compare our circumstances to another’s and grouse about a lack of fairness, or we compare our abilities and feel unable to move where God would send us. “Moses said to the LORD, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” Exodus 4:10

What we miss in all of this is God’s perfect ability to create us all uniquely and according to a plan that we can’t hope to understand. We also wholly discount the Holy Spirit and His ability to equip us for all tasks God sets before us. We completely lose track of the single minded focus on our relationship with God that supersedes and excludes all comparisons. When you focus solely on your relationship with Christ, recall his role in creating you and the people you’re comparing yourself to, and harken to his passionate commands to love others before yourself and feed his sheep. Things change. Peace, joy, and ready obedience replace all the shallow and negative things our earthly comparisons urge us to spend our energy on.

Love Christ. Look out for others. God will look out for you!”

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Choose Great Suffering Part III: Grasping Salvation Now

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Productivity and stewardship are great – necessary even. Just ask my son (from a safe distance) as he battles to recover from neglecting them for a couple of years. Being responsible hurts when you are young. You have to step away from a fair amount of easy fun in order to steward a better future. However, running from that pain makes things much worse sooner or later. At the other end of the spectrum, I am learning that busyness and work can also serve as “protective” idols. They distract from the clarifying and sometimes painful process of dialoguing with God. It takes great courage to slow down, accept my flaws, and listen in stillness.

What I hear highlights my profound dependence on God. It is frightening, and it hurts. It also issues a strong invitation to peace. Conscious dependency opens the door for faith. With faith I can hear the Spirit proclaiming God’s brilliant strength intertwined with my critical weakness even over the cacophony of my swirling inner chaos.

This is the moment.

This is the unassailable heart of peace at the center of my Christian struggle.

No one can see into me, nothing can challenge me, and never can I feel love more deeply.

Spending time naked in my insufficiency before God defines my identity in Christ and prepares me to be the blessing God intends for others.

It does not drain the sting from suffering. It certainly does not rob my actions of their meaning. It invites me to embrace discomfort as an opportunity to get into the game. Reaching the end of my abilities, venturing into the rapid waters outside my comfort zone drives me into the arms the Spirit. There, only there, can me find meaningful peace and joy in the middle of the rushing stream.

I can’t possibly tell you when this line of thought will makes sense to my son. The consensus from many brilliant people I consulted is that Eli needs to find his own path and suffer his own setbacks in order to develop a thirst for this kind of deeper truth. I will love and respect unconditionally, enforce reasonable boundaries, model those truths, and trust God to make Eli ready.

I am ready now. I will embrace the immediate implications of our salvation and the power of my broken, joyful, dependence, on God. I look forward to living in peace and joy right here and now in anticipation of the astounding victory parade to come.

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Choose Great Suffering Part I

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“You cannot earn your crown of patience without some struggle. If you refuse suffering, you also refuse the crown.”  Thomas ẚ Kempis

It seems we are all caught up in the idea that suffering is bad. Not only that it is uncomfortable, but that we should not be suffering. Culture encourages us to flee from suffering and avoid it any cost. We should be happy, relaxed, and having fun. If not there is something wrong, and it needs to be fixed.

Think of the implications for a young man who finds things like hard work, discipline, and delayed gratification boring and painful.
I’m not lobbying for masochism. I don’t think we should go out of our way to chase suffering down, but I do think it’s inevitable and beneficial.

My son is suffering from boredom these days. It radiates off of him in tangible waves that will make you sick if you get too close. Ironically, he’s bored because he consistently choose to avoid all the “boring” stuff his dad encouraged him to embrace. Instead he reveled in the astounding entertainment and short term pleasures the world offers. As a result he has fewer options and far less freedom. Eli stands chest deep in the swirling waters of choice. He’s not thrilled with the bitter fruits of self-indulgence, but he can’t stand boring stuff like humility, sacrificial service, and delayed gratification. It’s a real dilemma.

In time, Eli will figure it out. Eventually the pain and suffering of a lifestyle focused on self-gratification will override his aversion to patience. He will move closer to a healthy balance between frivolous fun and productivity as he recognizes the long term advantages of hard work and discipline. He will choose that far more positive form of suffering and perhaps even grow to find joy in striving toward a worthwhile end.

I know he will, of course, because I’ve been there.

I am no stranger to the joys of giving in to temptation. I lived that life with total abandon for years. I spent decades learning the lesson Eli wrestles with now. That fight left me running from suffering, but in a very different direction. I bare the painful scars of my failures. I know full well how inattention and lack of effort can damage me and the people I love. As a result, I don’t handle downtime well. I see semester breaks, holidays, and weekends as opportunities to work ahead, cook for the freezer, pray with greater focus, experience something with the family, or perhaps even steward the material possessions God blesses me with. Idle time invites uncomfortable reflection and painful anxiety. Staying busy keeps me safe from standing naked in my own inadequacy before God.

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Define Miracle

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I’ve been tracking my weight at the same time every morning for several months now – ever since I admitted I was powerless, gave responsibility for my fitness over to God, ballooned up to 290 pounds, and took responsibility for my fitness back with God’s help.

Last Saturday two things happened. I got a group text from my local mentor about the Christian joys of recognizing our utter powerlessness . That grabbed my attention since I don’t necessarily agree.  After all the bibles says, “… God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” I think the presence of the Spirit in each of us combined with God’s gift of freewill gives each of us amazing agency.

Not directly after reading that text, but a bit later, I exercised my freewill quite robustly.  I spent the entire day eating: bacon, potatoes fried in bacon fat, a total of eight chicken sausages with bacon and cheddar inside, about the same number of bacon wrapped jalapeno poppers, six cookies, and an assortment of other tailgate food at the UNLV game including shrimp, party wieners wrapped in crescent roll dough, and pasta salad.

Walking to the bathroom this morning and reflecting on my online discussion with Sarah RussoJP Kim and Matthew Wimer about witnessing a miracle first hand, I asked God for one. I laughed out loud and said, “Yes. I’m asking for a miracle. Affirm my faith for me. Do a little trick miracle just for me. Make me smaller today than I was yesterday. Grant me miraculous weight loss. Make me 248. Yup, 248. Make me 248 Jesus, please. Just because you can. Do a miracle for me!”

It was one of those real conversations where I was speaking from the heart and God was listening. My stomach tingled. Something was going on. I stepped on the scale praying for joyful affirmation and boom! 247.2. I had filled my face all day, shoveled in one last sausage at the end of the night, and lost 2 full pounds.

My giggling woke my wife (I’m neither boring nor easy to live with).

Miracles, at least this one, aren’t defined objectively.  There is always an alternate explanation available or a lack of video documentation.  Miracles are personal.  Mine is defined by a complete disconnect between rational expectation and reality.   I won’t be able to convert Ed Wing with this evidence, and I’m sure it’s far less powerful for others, but for me. It’s like a huge bell ringing in my head.

I love the tension it creates between me being in charge of my weight loss and me being completely powerless with God in charge. Obviously those two things are mutually exclusive and completely true at the same time.

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