I need joy

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:7–11 ESV)

So many things are going on. So many of them are good. Actually, biblically speaking, all of them are good (because I think that’s how all things work out in the end). I’m blessed to be able to do ministry at the local community college, to be working at an interesting (albeit stressful) job that provides a good, regular paycheck, to be married to a wonderful (and getting younger-looking and fitter every year, somehow) woman, to have four children, five grandchildren. I belong to a great church, have great friends, I get to teach at church, I am attending seminary, and I have so many etceteras to add to all that.

But I need joy. This need has become acute.

I need joy. This is not a circumstantial problem: there is so much in my life that offers joy. I have no excuse. This is a me-problem. I find it hard to receive joy, to give up anxiety, to live in the moment. A thought hit me the other day: failure dogs my steps. I think about failing all the time. Failing at my job, failing in ministry – and by that I don’t mean disqualifying myself somehow, but just flat failing. Not being good enough. I fear failure in providing for my family, Failing socially. Failing spiritually. Failing physically (because this old body is starting to break down a bit). I ran-walked a half marathon a week ago and I still feel this way.

So, it’s been established. I’m kind of a mess. None of what I wrote above makes rational sense. On paper, I’m doing very well. My internal landscape is darker, though.

Failure dogs my steps.

Yet Jesus writes “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” I think that ultimately what’s going on in me stems from a seeming inability to really believe Jesus loves me. Yet he writes here that He loves me in the same way God loves Him. How does God love Jesus, the sinless Son with whom He is well pleased? Beyond my comprehension.

Jesus loves me.

There’s great joy in believing that. May I learn to believe it without effort.

The result of believing it, I think, is deeper obedience to Jesus. There is a beautiful feedback loop here: “Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”

As I obey, I abide, which leads to more obedience and more abiding. Which leads to joy. Fullness of joy!

One-lane bridge

“At the one-lane bridge I leave the giants stranded at the riverside. Race back to the farm . . .” – Rush, Red Barchetta

I’ve loved that song since the first time I heard it. Heck, my tagline is a lyric from that song.

I love it because it tracks very well with a constant struggle in me; the quest for simplicity and for the solidity of tangible, non-digital life. Odd and ironic that I’m blogging about this, no?

I feel like God has put that longing in me; a longing for single mindedness and focus, to understand priorities from His point of view. It’s a  longing to work toward what’s truly important. That way lies joy.

I’m miles away. “I spin around with screeching tires…”

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. – Matthew 6:31‭-‬33 ESV

All together

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
1 Corinthians 12:26 ESV

I had a meeting with the Core officers on Tuesday. One of them pointed out this verse while we were talking about themes and values for the club.

I love it. That’s a Body.

Escape

I haven’t posted recently because I  haven’t been on the bus for awhile. I spent last week in California at a data conference. Jill came with me; it was an enjoyable week and we even got some vacation time on Friday in San Francisco.

While there we visited the prison at Alcatraz. That was fascinating. Alcatraz housed the worst of the worst. As far as is known, in its 29 year history no one ever survived an escape attempt from Alcatraz. Even if you were able to get out of the facility, Alcatraz is an island a mile and a half off the coast of California and it is believed no one would survive the tides and hypothermia of the swim. But people still tried.

Fight or flight? When to escape from your circumstances and when to dig in and push through? I think about this a lot when I’m in difficult times, but I almost always pick “fight” over “flight”. I believe persevering through results in a better man in the end. Push through.

God has given me a lot of escapes in the midst of all that fighting and pushing. Home is an escape. Jill is an escape; home is where she is. My kids and grand kids are an escape.

I use the word “escape” the way J.R.R. Tolkien used it when responding to criticisms that the Lord of the Rings was “escapist.” He agreed that it was, in he same way that escaping from prison is “escapist”.

One thing I love about Jesus is that he didn’t escape when he could have. He persevered through the most horrible trial imaginable on the cross. He escaped death, not by avoiding it, but by literally submitting to it and then breaking out of a stone cold prison and walking forth in resurrection power.

In the same way, he didn’t die and rise so that we could escape this world. He is redeeming this world and building his Kingdom and one day he will set this world all to rights again. We won’t be escaping, we will be coming home to the garden for which we were created.

And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. – Revelation 22:5 ESV

Wait

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
Psalms 27:14 ESV

Waiting is hard. I’m dealing with some things at work that have really taken their toll on me. It shouldn’t be that way, but seems I always find myself here, awaiting strength, courage and rescue.

This exhortation and promise is repeated lots of places in Scripture. Be strong, be courageous, and wait. It is hard to know how to do all three at once. In this formula you have two traits that only exhibit themselves, seemingly, in action: strength and courage. Then there’s “wait”.

I’m not particularly good at waiting, though most of the time I don’t have a choice.

Lord, make me a good waiter.

 

Always running

We’re flying down 290, it’s a beautiful morning, and I’m burdened with the knick knacks and spider bites of life.

I’m in a tough spot at work with a project that is significantly overdue.

I stayed up till nearly midnight last night deploying another project that is also significantly overdue.

Why can’t I catch up?

I think this feeling is common to humanity. Seems we’re always running somewhere: either chasing after something we can’t quite catch or being chased by something that’s gaining ground on us.

I had a moment a little over a year ago. It was an important moment. It happened, as a matter of fact, at high velocity 30,000 feet over the Atlantic.  I was headed to Eastern Europe for non-work activities; what I had left behind was a project that was struggling and a sharp encounter with my boss that had put me in the pit of anxiety.

I’d spent a day shifting gears, leaving the pile at work behind to fester while I prepared for some new challenges in the upcoming week and started the comfortable but still tiring grind of a modern intercontinental journey.

It was late. I was sitting in my seat and the anxiety was as heavy as the darkness around me. Then, in a moment, the burden was gone. Gone. This has only happened to me one or two other times in my life. It was almost as if a Voice had said “Bill, it’s going to be alright, and all of it will be alright.” It was the peace that passes understanding.

And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
Mark 4:39 ESV

It was kind of like that. And everything did turn out alright and better than alright.

I’m running against the wind right now. So I say to my soul, remember. Remember.

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
Psalms 46:10‭-‬11 ESV

“This is not over”

There’s a little newspaper vending machine at my bus stop with a copy of USA Today that can be seen through the transparent front. The headline declares “This Is Not Over. ” I haven’t read any of the visible print to get the context.

The paper is fading and the date on it shows that it’s three years old. I don’t know, it kind of seems like it really might be over, little unbought paper.

As my 214 takes to the main lanes (the HOV bridge is still out) I’m pondering that defiant cry, “This Is Not Over!” One can almost see a little raised newsprint fist.

This is not over. I think I love that. I’ve got my own set of (almost all good) stresses and mini-battles to fight, wrestling with contumacious hardware and software at work, labarynthine paperwork and process at a local college ministry I shepherd (a little-known aspect of these kinds of things),  side projects and schoolwork (aced my final last night, whoohoo) and the heavier burdens of spiritual battles, hopes, dreams and regrets.

Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?* Heck no!

“This is not over” can be discouraging. Often we want things to be over and done, so we can rest. Some battles in life are quick, others are the Battle of Stalingrad, and some go on for years or even a lifetime.

But there is a whole lot of encouragement in “This is not over!” I see that thought woven throughout the Scriptures as a matter of fact. In a fruit, a fall, and unforeseen grace and covering. In a forty year wilderness trek. In the dust of a shattered temple, by the waters of exile in Babylon, in a furnace, in a lions den. In the broken and torn body of our Lord.

It looked over. But it wasn’t!

This is not over!

* if you don’t get this reference, good for you.

 

Hope

Nahum 1:7-8 (ESV)

The LORD is good,
a stronghold in the day of trouble;
he knows those who take refuge in him.
But with an overflowing flood
he will make a complete end of the adversaries,
and will pursue his enemies into darkness.

Not knowing

What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

I don’t know what to do. I’m coming out of my skin right now because so much of me wants to do something, anything. Oddly, most of what I want to do would be a distraction from the decision/problem/heartache/fear we’re looking at. Because about that, there’s not a lot I can do other than offer advice and love and push down, down, down the fear that I feel.

I want to create. I want to dig in. I want to make a difference, to play music, to construct something. I want to push back on the strange feeling of being twenty five in my head and fifty three in my body. I want to do ministry, and to give ministry away, all at the same time.

I passionately want everyone in my family to flourish and thrive. I’m pushing back on the feeling of the unknown, of ticking through every second of twenty seven years of parenting looking, searching, scouring for the reason that not everyone is. It has to be my fault. It’s always the father. But I don’t know the root cause. Maybe I’m blind to it because blindness to obvious things is the root cause.

I know that the future is all we have. I know, I know, usually we say “all we have is the present” but that lasts an infinitesimal slice of time and inexorably leads to the immediate future of the next tenth of a second and all the daisy-chained ticks afterwards. The present doesn’t stand alone – it’s the tail that wags the future’s dog. Choose Carefully.

I am stuck in the not knowing. I’m fighting against fear and the background noise of despair and learning patience in my old, tired, weary soul because while I believe the promise, with all my heart, that all things will one day become as they were intended to be, I know that we are often compelled to wait years or lifetimes for that one day. I’m tired.

I’m writing this because I have to. I’m writing it publicly (not that this will be read, but because it can be read) rather than in a closed journal, because I need to risk.

Lord Jesus I need you. I need my distracted mind calmed. I need to know if it’s OK to just go to bed and pull the covers over my head and rest tonight or do I need to take action? The future has a million different paths. I know the fork we’re standing before only looks dire because of the events of this summer and the awful scourge of this sickness that I hate with the fire of a million suns that has attacked my family. Was I not supposed to protect my family? But how can I fight against an attacker that I can’t see, who always, always sneaks up on me by surprise?

Do I know I would choose the right path?

I don’t know. I’m covered, buried in Not Knowing.

What would have been a simple decision in May now doesn’t look so simple. I don’t know. And it ultimately – if my words are to be believed and I’m to stand true to them – isn’t my decision. And maybe both paths have their merits and ultimately this will be no big deal. If I described the situation to you, you probably would think so. But that’s not how it feels. Perhaps being held over the edge of the cliff so recently has me afraid of heights of any kind.

But listen: God is sovereign.

Lord, this is what you meant when you said we needed to have faith. Faith isn’t believing the Bible to be true, though that’s a good foundational starting point. Faith is believing, leaping, trusting, falling, burrowing into the YOU that your true word speaks of.

It is resting in the not knowing,

knowing that you know.