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Category: Rise Above

No, God Is Not Always There …

No, God Is Not Always There …

 

As controversial as it may be to reject the greeting card theology that God never leaves us, my own reality and my own sense of abandonment has, at times, compelled me to believe otherwise.

Somewhere in our Christian culture we have been inundated with the false idea that God never leaves us.  We somehow cling to the “footprints in the sand” concept that when it feels like we are all alone God was really there carrying us all along.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people emotionally declare with the utmost conviction that God will never leave us—he’s always there.  That’s fine for them, I suppose.  Yet I can’t tell you how hurtful it feels to hear someone say that when your reality is that you are completely alone, treading water in the middle of a stormy sea.  As controversial as it may be to reject the greeting card theology that God never leaves us, my own reality and my own sense of abandonment during my lifelong struggle with lung disease and life on a feeding tube, has, at times, compelled me to believe otherwise.  And yet I remain faithful.

If the father never takes off the training wheels on the bicycle how will the child ever learn to balance the bicycle on his own?

Anyone who has children and has tried to teach them to do anything in life knows that sometimes you have to step away and leave them alone. 

Anyone who has children and has tried to teach them to do anything in life knows that sometimes you have to step away and leave them alone.  You have to let them struggle.  If the child is always clinging to her father in the deep end of the swimming pool or wearing a life jacket, how will she ever learn to swim?  If the father never takes off the training wheels on the bicycle how will the child ever learn to balance the bicycle on his own?  If the toddler never lets go of his mother’s hand he’ll never learn to walk.  Of course God leaves us to struggle on our own best efforts at times.  Does that make him a cruel and merciless God?  Absolutely not.  Indeed, true cruelty is to molly-coddle us, never allowing us to experience true growth.

… one day a microburst wind blew in, toppling the giant tree in a matter of seconds

We have a family cabin near Yellowstone Park, Wyoming.  It sits in the midst of many tall, lodge pole pines.  For many years there was one particular lodge pole pine that seemed taller and straighter than the rest.  It was situated right on the bank of a small creek running through the property.  The waters of the creek provided constant nourishment for the tree and greatly aided its tremendous growth.  For dozens of years, perhaps more than a hundred years, this tree stood on the banks of the creek looking down upon all the other pine trees.  But then one day a microburst wind blew in, toppling the giant tree in a matter of seconds (and, unfortunately, causing it to land on our family cabin).

The tree was taller and straighter than the rest.

How could something so seemingly strong and resolute be taken down so suddenly?  How could something so seemingly superior to those around it be the one to fall?   It’s because in all its years of growth the tree was never far from its source of strength and nourishment.  The constant supply of water had actually weakened its root system.  Unlike all the other isolated pines around it, which were forced to dig their roots deeper for strength and nourishment, this stream bank tree grew upward but did not have to sink its roots downward, for there was a constant and cripplingly convenient supply of water right there on the banks of the stream.  The source of its strength had actually become its weakness.

Sometimes the greatest blessing that can come to us is to experience the true growth that results from being left alone to struggle through the deep end of life without parent or preserver. 

Like the strong trees that survived the microburst winds, strong people need to be left on their own.  Sometimes the greatest blessing that can come to us is to experience the true growth that results from being left alone to struggle through the deep end of life without parent or preserver.  What we learn about ourselves and the growth that we achieve in those moments of being “forsaken” can sustain us throughout this stormy life.

While I do not reject the idea that God sometimes carries us along unawares, to believe that God never leaves us to struggle and suffer on our own is sheer nonsense.  Yes, God will forsake us.  “God[] … trieth our hearts.”  (1 Thessalonians 2:4.)  God “chasteneth” and “scourgeth” us.  (Hebrews 12:6.)  In his great wisdom and mercy he sometimes leaves us alone.

Suffering is part of being a Christian.

Suffering brings you into fellowship with Christ.

Suffering is part of being a Christian.  “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps[.]”   (1 Peter 2:21.)  In other words, we must suffer with Christ, which means we, too, will be forsaken as he was forsaken.  (Matthew 27:46.)  Thus, when—not if, but when—you are forsaken, you should “think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings[.]”  (1 Peter 4:12.)   Abandonment is a sign of spiritual progress.  It’s a sign you’ve made the big leagues.  It’s part of what brings you into fellowship with Christ.

This forsaking is a manifestation of God’s love.  It’s a token of his trust.  Mom and Dad won’t leave you home alone unless they think you can handle it.  With God it’s no different.  And yet, just as the father is never too far from the wobbling bike or the edge of the deep end, so, too, is our Father ever near and ever watching.  Though he, in his great wisdom and mercy, deliberately leaves you alone when he thinks you can handle it or, perhaps, when you need growth; to be forsaken does not mean to be forgotten.  He hears your cries for help.  But sometimes he ignores them for your own good.

He knows that if he dives in too soon or grabs the back of the bicycle you will never know the joy and freedom you are capable of attaining.

 

He knows that if he dives in too soon or grabs the back of the bicycle you will never know the joy and freedom you are capable of attaining.  He’ll let you wobble and even skin your knee (even though to us mortals a “skinned knee” may come in the form of lung disease or gastric paralysis).  He’ll let you struggle to keep your head above water and watch you struggle with all your might to make it to the other side of the pool.  And he’ll be there to embrace you in the end. Though you are, at times, truly “forsaken,” you are never forgotten.

For more ideas and discussion on this and other related issues, please read my books Gethsemamnesia and Built to Love, available now in paperback.

He’ll let you wobble and even skin your knee ….

 

Love Wins

Love Wins

While I don’t think God really cared whether Clemson or Alabama won the NCAA national championship football game–he has bigger things to worry about–I do think Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney has learned a powerful secret to success that drove his team to a national title.  Love.  In the emotional moments immediately after the conclusion of Clemson’s exciting, last-second 35-31 victory over undefeated Alabama on Monday, Coach Swinney said,  “I told [my team] tonight, I told them that the difference in the game was going to be love. It’s been my word. My word all year’s been love.  And I said, ‘Tonight we’re going to win it because we love each other.'”

Is it really possible that love for one another compelled each of the Clemson players to perform at a higher level?  I think it is.  In my book, Built to Love, I wrote, “the only commodities humans need are each other and love. Love can grow and harvest better crops, write and paint more enduring masterpieces, better heal the blind and broken, build better businesses, bridges, buildings and everything else we need. We have the knowledge….  [B]ut [u]ntil we choose to love we won’t truly live….When humans value each other as much as God values humans then humans will be divine indeed.  The world will be divine indeed.

Can you imagine the world we could build if our hearts were built to love?  Can you imagine all of the attorneys that would be out of work?  Can you imagine how well we would make our cars, our homes, our clothes and everything else?  Instead of trying to make everything for as little money as possible and then selling it for as much money as possible, we would forget about profiting and just try to make things as good as we could possibly make them.  Can you imagine the world we could build if our hearts were built to love?  People could pursue their true talents if they didn’t have to worry so much about money and making a living.  The music would be better.  The food would be better.  The movies would be better.  Everything would be better in a world built to love.”

Instead of economies driven by selfishness and greed they would be driven by love.  Perhaps you think this is naive and unrealistic.  But, using a football team as a metaphor for life, what happens to a team that’s not really a team?  What happens to a team that is plagued with internal conflict, relationship problems, too many egos fighting for attention, individuals looking out for themselves and trying to make themselves look better than their teammates?  What happens to a team that has ball hogs, glory hogs and prima donnas?   Do those teams have success?  What is happening in the world today?  Are we playing as a team or are we each looking out for ourselves?  What would happen if we “played as a team” and truly tried to help each other be our best and achieve the best?  What if each of us could pursue what we were truly excellent at instead of simply pursuing a living?  Can you imagine that kind of world?

I, for one, am glad that Dabo Swinney had the courage to speak out and to speak from the heart.  I am convinced that the continuity, brotherhood and teamwork that existed on the Clemson football team propelled it to the national title.  I am also convinced that Dabo Swinney’s words are a metaphor for life, in general.  Love wins.  If you don’t believe me, try it.  Start by trying to build a family “team” that loves each other, respects each other and helps each other.  Focus on that for a while and see if the quality of your life improves.  I assure you it will.  Of course, you must begin with yourself.  You can’t change others.  But you can change you.  You change the way you choose to feel about others.  You can choose love.

Congratulions, Clemson Tigers and Dabo Swinney!  Not for the national championshiop, but for choosing love.

Click here to watch Dabo Swinney’s emotional interview:

The 2016 Election? “It Just Doesn’t Matter,” Said Jesus (and Bill Murray)

The 2016 Election? “It Just Doesn’t Matter,” Said Jesus (and Bill Murray)

If you are stressed out about the 2016 presidential election, take some advice from Jesus (and Bill Murray) … it just doesn’t matter. Rarely, if ever, will I comment on politics. But as I look around and see the growing angst and conflict permeating society on the eve of the election, I wanted to offer a few words of comfort, regardless of your political orientation.

Two millennia ago Jesus was caught in the cross hairs of a geo-political question that the Jews of his time probably thought threatened their very existence. The geo-political power of the day, the Roman Empire, had conquered Jerusalem and imposed its will on the Jewish people, taking control of everything. The imposition of Roman power was everywhere. In the case of the puppet kingdom, Judea, Herod’s rule and Herod’s forces would have been the superficial, nominal political entity. But everyone knew that Rome was the power behind the throne and that Herod was a puppet leader, really. Many Jews resented this and were looking for a politico-military leader, a Messiah, to overthrow the Roman domination system and restore the divine theocracy the Jews longed for. They wanted to make Jerusalem great again (sorry couldn’t resist that).

The Pharisees would be among those religious extremists who were seeking to restore the greatness and glory of an independent Jewish state and who resented the power of Rome. The Herodians, on the other hand, were a party among the Jews who were supporters of the Herodian family as the last hope for retaining for the Jews a fragment of national government, as distinguished from absolute dependence upon Rome. Herod held his dominion by grant of the Roman Empire. Therefore, the Herodians supported Rome and would be in favor of paying tribute to the supreme power. They were part of “the crooked establishment” (sorry, couldn’t resist that one, either).

Even though the Pharisees and the Herodians were politically at odds, they were united in the dislike of the newly-introduced subversive reformer known as Jesus of Nazareth. So they joined forces in an effort to silence him once and for all. The account in Matthew 22 goes as follows:

16 And [the Pharisees] sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.

17 Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Cæsar, or not?

18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?

19 Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny.

20 And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?

21 They say unto him, Cæsar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.

Jesus out-maneuvered this perverted alliance by brilliantly waiving the question and putting it back on them to decide whose “side” God was on. In essence, he rose above the political fray and said “you’re both wrong” and “it just doesn’t matter.” “God is on neither side.” “You’re asking the wrong question.” Jesus realized that the “true” kingdom is not geo-political. It is the kingdom of the human heart. To Jesus, the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:21.)

To Jesus, elections or revolutions are not the way to seek or find peace. Remember, trying to find worldly solutions to what are, in essence, the spiritual problems of society never works. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27.) Our hearts get troubled and afraid when we try to control things (or people) outside ourselves. Our hearts get troubled and afraid when we look out “there” and what’s wrong with everything out “there” as the cause of what’s making us feel bad “in here.” That type of outside-in thinking will never make you very comfortable because you cannot control anything (or anyone) out there. And the more you try to control what’s out there, the more frantic and helpless you will feel “in here.”

What if what is going on inside of you matters more than what’s going on out there? What if you looked in the mirror and decided to change the person you see there instead of looking at your big screen and trying to change what’s going on in the reflection of the world you see there? You can’t change the world. But you can change you.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. This is a secret that all of the great spiritual leaders have always known. Politics don’t matter. Personal transformation does. I’m not saying you shouldn’t vote. I’m not saying government is unnecessary. I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to elect the very best leaders. But let’s be realistic. At the end of the day, YOU are the problem. YOU are the one that needs to change. Jesus said the kingdom of God is within you. Gandhi is reputed to have said “be the change you want to see.” Michael Jackson (yes, MJ) sang it beautifully this way:

I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
(If you wanna make the world a better place)
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change
(Take a look at yourself, and then make a change)

The election is scary, but who we are as human beings and how we treat each other matters so much more and, in the end, will determine what kind of world we have. What we need is a revolution of listening, loving and caring more than a political revolution.

So when your man or woman loses the election this year, whatever the case may be, take a cue from Jesus, Gandhi and Bill Murray. “It just doesn’t matter.” YOU matter. And if you want to stop feeling frustrated and powerless, take control of your life, change who you are. Stop blaming “the system” and become the change. Transformed people transform the world.

We’ll Miss Making Him Smile

We’ll Miss Making Him Smile

We'll Miss Making Him Smile
We’ll Miss Making Him Smile

My little friend and fellow tube feeder passed away a few days ago.  His name was Gabe (short for Gabriel).  Gabe had a very difficult life.  Born several months premature, his brain didn’t develop normally.  Burdened with cerebral palsy, quadriplegia, epilepsy and a host of other major health problems, Gabe also suffered from the inability to eat or swallow food.  Hence, he was a tube feeder like me.  He was only with us for shortly beyond half a decade.  Yet, in those 2003 days, he taught us all so much.  His angel mother, noble father and loving brothers and sisters taught us even more.

At Gabe’s funeral on Friday, Nanette, his mother, told the story of how Gabe’s older brother, Samuel, said he would miss Gabe’s smile.  Nanette, trying to offer Sam comfort said, “You’ll still see his smile in our pictures, in our videos and in your heart.”  Sam replied, “No, mom, what I mean is that I will miss making Gabe smile.”

What did this beautiful family learn in the 5.48 years of sleepless nights; through all of the vomiting, retching, and convulsing; after five solid years of changing diapers; with all of the carrying, lifting, and transferring … in and out of bed … in and out of the chair … in and out of the bath … on and off the exam tables … in and out of their arms; after more trips to the emergency room, the doctors’ offices, and the hospitals … more than you or I could ever comprehend; with no rest, no reprieve, no grand vacations?  They learned the wisdom of the ages.  It’s in giving that we receive.  It’s in building others that we’re built.  It’s in lifting that we’re lifted.  It’s in giving away our love that it’s received … and retained.  This wonderful family didn’t just teach this from the pulpit at the funeral on Friday.  They have been teaching those of us who know them for years now.

Despite all of their challenges, you would struggle to find a happier family.  Rarely did I ever see one of Gabe’s brothers or sisters without a smile.  They are living examples of the thesis that our happiness depends not upon what circumstance does to us but upon what we do with our circumstances.

Gabe’s family, which includes grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc., has corroborated the thesis of the Dalai Lama, who said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.  If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”  And of Confucius, who taught, “He who wishes to secure the good of others has already secured his own.”  And of Kahlil Gibran: “I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy.  I woke and I saw that life is all service.  I served and I saw that service is joy.”  And, of course, the central message of Jesus from Nazareth is confirmed, as well:  He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”  (Matthew 10:38-39.)

Gabe and family, thank you for reminding us that a life of suffering is not about what you can learn but what you can teach.  And thank you for teaching us all that all happiness is a choice—the choice to personify Love regardless of circumstance.