In My Hands, My Feet, My Words

I’ve thought much as of late about the suffering of the world. About the suffering in me. The suffering in me as a microcosm of the suffering in the world. My own depression, anger, and loneliness magnified seven billion fold in the hearts of humanity. What a dark sea we are tossed about in. This reckless raging tempest that is the world. Flesh and bone, breath and blood, eternal and ephemeral. We are alone, and we are united.

Why does God not show? What is He waiting for? I was raised to believe the rapture and all the endless debate about timeframes and endtime scenarios. Yet the world carries on. Much like it did the day Rob died. “Sorry Ricky, Rob died last night…” Words that entered my ear, but not my heart. Steve, the guy running the cash register at Seiffert’s truck stop, told me about my best friend having died in a car accident. Rob and I played the video games at Seiffert’s almost daily, bought Mt. Dew, and rode our bikes around the massive parking lot. He said the words, and for a good five minutes I must have just stared at him. What did that mean that he died. This didn’t make sense to me. Rob was only seventeen. What does dead mean?

I walked out the door of the truck stop and the sun was shining. The wind was blowing. People stopped at the gas pumps to get a fill up of gas. Cars continued down the highway next to the truck stop. Rob was my best friend. Was he really gone? My brother. My best friend. From the day I stepped on the bus in kindergarten until the day he died when I was a sophomore in high school. In the blink of an eye. Gone.

I think about it every day. This formative event, forming me. Changing me and how I see the world. How I see God.

I grew up believing that most everyone was headed to hell. You had to say just the right word combination, and believe just the right things to get into heaven. According to my baptist upbringing, it was a pretty select few who would get thru those pearly gates. Everyone else, well sorry, but you’re headed to the bad place.

I find myself lately rejecting most everything that I was raised to believe. I’m worn down by it. The freedom I was told it would bring has actually brought torment and anguish. I want mercy where none was shown. I want grace where I thought none was possible. I want love it seems most absent.

And what of this end time? This Jesus Christ coming on the clouds and we will in the blink of an eye be caught up to be with him forever… What of this end times where God descends from heaven and brings low all those idolators and heretics, murders and malevolents, sinners each and every one. Where is this? “By August of 1997, Christ will return according to my calculations.” Or so my uncle taught me. Until September of that year all I could think about was having sex. I hadn’t had sex yet and I definitely wanted to before Christ came back. But you know, you had to be married as well to have sex and maybe my uncle was wrong. Here’s to hoping because I want to have sex before Jesus comes back.

What a world I was raised in. Believe this and you will go to heaven. Reject that and you’re headed to hell. Jesus is literally returning at any moment so get yourself right with the Lord. Oh and get married and have sex.

All the while, this world is burning. We’re told to save ourselves by being saved, but the world… the world is on it’s own.

I just read a book called When Invisible Children Sing about a young Taiwanese/American medical student who decides to serve the street children of Bolivia for a year. It is a pretty dark account of a man serving children who are rejected, beaten, raped, abused and tossed aside by the world. There is so much pain in each of their stories, and there isn’t a glimmer of hope through most of the book. Most of the time I found myself asking, “Where is God? Why doesn’t He do something?”

In a later chapter of the book you get just a little bit to think about when Chi, the main character, starts talking about opening a home for the street children where he can care for them and take them in.

Where is God? God is in Chi. This is what began to dawn on me. We wait, and we wait for this God to break down through the clouds. We wait for Him to step foot into our world and save us thus absolving us of all responsibility.

God is in my hands. God is in my feet. God is in my words. Where I go, God goes. Where you go God goes. This God who we all long for comes down in the flesh when we open our eyes and realize that we are Him. I don’t say this as a heretical “I am God” type of statement. Rather, I am the hands of God. I am the eyes of God. I am the words of God.

When I see pain, I can hold it with my hands and speak love to it.

My own pain be damned. For the worthlessness that it makes me feel of myself. For the loneliness that it pours into the quiet night around me, and the friends it strips from me. For the hell that I sometimes feel like awaits me… Christ gave it all up and faced the fall for the sake of his loved ones, and his loved ones are all. I want my loved ones to be all. I want every one to be ok. I want pain to end. I want death to die.

I want a mended world, and for that I believe I need a broken heart.

I’ve been drinking. I’ve been confronted again with my loneliness, and the hopelessness that sometimes wants to overtake me. It makes me want to scream. It makes me want to cry and hold my loved ones tight to my chest.

I want a mended world. I want hope to be real. Maybe that happens through my own hands, my own feet, my own eyes, and my own words. Maybe the God I doubt, shows up when I let myself suffer for and serve others.

Maybe I’m tired of doctrine and pointless conversations about God that don’t help those who are suffering, including me. Maybe I’m ready for a real God, who really loves. Maybe the god I was given was too small.

I have to believe, in light of the suffering of the world, the god I was told about isn’t up for the task. But maybe there is a God, who is ready to die for those He loves, again, and again, and again… and maybe He’ll do it through people who are lonely, depressed, and angry. Maybe He’ll do it through me, even in my doubt… even in my fear… even in my depression.

I’m tired…

Seems the past 10 years have been a long process of reorienting myself. Nothing fits like it use to. I don’t feel like I know how to talk about it even. I actually find myself fearful to talk about it because I don’t think people will understand. So I keep to myself more and more. My circle of friends has changed drastically and too many times over the past few years. I still have friends, but I struggle to feel like I have that one friend. The one who gets me. My wife is pretty much it, and she’s honestly the best person I know. I’m not sure how I’d survive many days without her. She occasionally drives me batshit crazy, but I’m sure I do the same to her on many more occasions and she still sticks with me. So I’ll stick with her.

My Christian faith has been utterly dissassembled as of the past few years. There is so much that I grew up believing that just doesn’t work or make sense to me anymore. I find myself hovering around just a few verses from scripture. One such verse is Mark 12:30-31 which says,

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”

Seems pretty simple right? Jesus really took all that old testament law and dumbed it down just for me it would seem. Another verse, which I now have tattooed on my arm is Psalm 62:11-12… I like the Jon Foreman translation from his song “Your Love Is Strong” which says,

“Two things you’ve told me:
that you are strong,
and you love me.”

That’s a reassuring statement. God is strong, and He loves me. I can hang on to that. So love God, love your neigbor, God is strong, and God loves you. There’s the base. Everything else seems to be up for grabs.

I still love music. I still like to write, record, and perform music. However, for the past, well long time, I’ve had a pretty major mental block. I haven’t written much if anything, and most the time I don’t feel like I have the energy to spend writing, the money to record, or the right venue to perform it. It’s all been frustrated. I use to want to be a worship leader at a mega church, but that desire has been utterly beat out of me, which is good, but also seems to have stripped away some of those benefits like having people to play music with, and purposeful time playing music. Now I sit in my basement office alone strumming my guitar maybe a couple times a week for a few minutes. I mostly just listen to music now and remember the good old days when I was out playing it. I keep thinking maybe someday, perhaps when the kids are older, I’ll have time again… For now though it would seem it needs to take a back seat. I still lead worship at my church, but if I’m honest I feel like I’m doing that most days for the people from my church who like to have me up front because it gives them some continuity between the church we were a part of that collapsed, and the new church we decided to merge with…

Speaking of church… We left a church 5 years ago or so that we had been at for something like 15 years. We joined a small church plant in our home town and we grew very close with that community of people. Then one year ago we lost our meeting space, and within the next 6 months the whole thing collapsed very quickly. We ended up merging with another church. The new church is full of great people, but all in all it’s just been a rough few years for my standing with church. On more than one occasion I’ve wanted to throw in the towel and just attend bedside baptist on Sundays, or start up some sort of house church.

I’m a father to 6 kids. My kids range in age from 5 years old to almost 14. It’s hard. I don’t know if there’s a better way to say it other than to throw in some cuss words. They are constantly presenting challenges to us and my wife and I are always having to figure out how to parent them well without screwing them up. Then there is the world that our kids are growing up in. The political instability, the environmental problems, the violence that is visible every where and celebrated in weird ways by youtube videos of kids beating up other kids or worse, the over sexualized everything… This is the world we’re handing off to our children…? Good luck kids.

Anyway, just needed to say something. I feel like I could sit here and go on for a while, but I’ll stop. I’m not looking for answers or prayers. You all are there too I’m sure, or have been there before. Life is hard. Maybe it’s just my 30’s… Maybe it’s just the way things are. I’m tired. But in all this, life is good.

Thank God for …
good whiskey,
camp fires and good conversations with friends,
for stupid games we play with family just for laughs,
for good food,
for my wife, my companion,
for the times when my kids are goofy,
for shelter and provision,
for air in my lungs,
for the blood in my veins and a heart that moves it well enough…

Small mercies that keep me going.

Ride Out With Me

King Theoden: “What can men do against such reckless hate?” Aragorn: “Ride out with me. Ride out and meet them.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

Sam: “It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end… because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing… this shadow. Even darkness must pass.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” – Edmund Burke

“The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.” – Plato

That’s a lot of quotes I know, and nerdy ones at that. However, every one of them rings true in our time.

Yesterday was Super Tuesday and Donald Trump won the majority of the states for the Republicans. I found it hard to believe, all the while knowing it was going to happen. Something in the pit of my stomach knew it was going to go this way.

Ever notice how all good stories have that moment of absolute despair?

In the best stories, such as The Lord of the Rings, there is a moment of absolute hopelessness when all seems to be lost. When it actually becomes hard to read further because you can’t imagine how it could get any better.

This may be that very time in our country’s history. The darkest hour when all seems lost. Unfortunately, the old adage “it’ll get worse before it gets better” may also be true. Just like the rotten feeling in my gut that made me think Donald Trump would win Super Tuesday, something in me wouldn’t be surprised to see him go all the way. I’ve seen the angry mobs that cheer at his rallies. The man can literally say anything and not be held accountable to it. He is the king narcissist in a society that has been grooming him for just such an occasion.

Ever think about where social media and reality TV have been leading us? Making celebrities of people who have no business being celebrities. Giving room for anyone to think they should be known, or that they should be the next big thing… or maybe the next president of the United States.

I should note that the irony is not lost on me that I am writing this on my presidential Facebook page. The main difference being that I am willing to acknowledge that I know literally nothing about leading a country. I’m just waiting for a good man to step up to the plate, and if no good men will step up then put me in the game coach.

Which brings me to the question, “What can men do against such reckless hate?”
“Ride out with me. Ride out and meet them.”

If all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing, then I want to do something.

I’ve been thinking all day about what is the role of good men in times like this. It’s to step up and do something yes, but what is the something? How does a nobody from the village of Saranac, Michigan go about doing anything that makes a difference?

It’s strange to have started this Facebook page. I feel deluded and desperate at the same time. “I can’t believe that no one better is stepping up. Maybe I could be the one.” It sounds absolutely nuts I realize. But what if it’s not necessarily the presidency that I’m stepping up to? What if it’s just a timid voice that decides to speak in the middle of a crowd that’s been scared into sitting silently?

Maybe it’s not just me. Maybe it’s you too. It’s stirring in the hearts of many right now. I’ve had a few conversations with others already who are trying to find the answers to the same questions. If it’s stirring in your heart then join us. We’ll figure this out together.

My heart tells me that love is the answer. In that moment of utter despair in all the good stories, love is what turns it around. Not anger, fear, or hatred.

Love, courage, faith, hope. These make good stories. Along with them comes sacrifice. This is not easy. In all the good stories, the good guys may win, but it comes at great costs and sacrifices. There will be no easily won victories.

It may seem dramatic, but think about the times we live in. These days will be talked about for a long time to come. How America responds to Donald Trump will be mourned or celebrated for generations to come I think. We will either regret our ignorance and inability to listen to our hearts, or we will celebrate the day we stepped up to reject hatred, anger, and fear. We will learn to be courageous, or we will wallow in our cowardice.

We will unite, or we will fall.

Is this epic sounding enough yet? I want to be part of good stories. I want my life to be a good story. When I die I want my children to know that I loved them deeply, I want my wife to know that she was the only one for me, and I want the world to know that I cared. I want to have contributed something to the unfolding of history that points people to something bigger.

We are not alone.
We are all equal.
We are all loved.
We are all cherished.

Jesus Christ on the cross. The Hope of humanity nailed to a Roman crucifix, bleeding out and breathing his last. He doesn’t call down power from Heaven. He lets death take him. All hope is lost. His followers go into hiding, afraid for their own lives, struggling to believe that their friend who was called the Savior of the world was now dead.
Until he wasn’t.

He gave Himself up for the love of us all. It wasn’t easy. It was hard, and it was terrifying. But He was part of the best story. The sun rose on the third day at the same time he did.

Guess what…? He’s calling us to the same thing. Let’s be part of better stories.

Disclaimer: I am no expert in politics. I am a simple man who sees the field of candidates available to us and finds it lacking. I can not in good conscience vote for any of these people, or at least the people who look to be the ones getting the nominations from their respective parties. I fully accept that I may not have details or a general understanding of how some systems work. Please extend me some grace as most of this is just me processing my own thoughts and coming to more concrete opinions and beliefs on the many topics that face us today.

Vote for Rick Hopkins For President.
https://www.facebook.com/rickhopkinsforpresident/

The Politics Of Preservation

So to start out… I’m sort of running for President of the United States. If you’re looking for an alternative choice this election season, please write me in. I’ll do my best. Check out my Facebook page…

https://www.facebook.com/rickhopkinsforpresident/

Last night I wrote up this post. Let me know your thoughts.

———-
“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”
– Frederick Buechner

This quote has been rattling in my head for the past year or so. Every time there is breaking news of another shooting, or ISIS performs some horrific act on video for the world to see, when death takes another friend, when natural disasters strike some part of the world wreaking havoc, death and destruction… when the current crew of political candidates take the stage.

Don’t be afraid.

The current political climate is one where fear, anger, and hatred are used to push people into embracing the politics of self preservation. It’s causing us to embrace the worst parts of ourselves. It’s modeled for us in how the candidates talk about each other, how they interact with their followers, and in their policies and beliefs.

We have fallen to fear. Anger and hatred descend from fear. It is the root.

Don’t be afraid.

I don’t wish to dance around the elephant in the room much longer. Donald Trump is unlike any other presidential candidate I’ve seen in my life. He says whatever he wants, and no one seems to hold him accountable. He is bold and brash, careless and merciless, graceless and clumsy, speaks too quickly and thinks too slowly. He uses fear, anger, and hatred as only a salesman could to convince people that he has the answers and that we need to buy whatever he’s selling.

He’s selling himself and he is a reflection of us.

Our tendencies are to react with anger when we’re wronged, to react with fear when we are threatened, and react with hatred to those who think differently. So here is the kicker. He thinks differently than me. The people who follow him think differently than I do.

Don’t be afraid.

All my life I’ve tried my best to be a follower of Christ. Many of you who read this will say the same thing. Some of you won’t, and that’s ok. I’m not here to preach. But indulge me for a moment please.

The words of Christ call us to fight against our natural tendencies of fear, anger, hatred, and self preservation. They call us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. His words call us to kindness, gentleness, patience, goodness, and over all of these, love.

Even Donald Trump is a child of God. Hard to believe, but it’s true. He’s a shining example of the prodigal son, pre-return to the father whose face he spat in. If you have a hard time hearing that you may be the older brother who got mad when the Father welcomed the prodigal back. Only the prodigal hasn’t returned yet. He’s still off doing what he wants and feeding pigs. I realize the metaphor is getting thick at this point, but what I’m trying to say is that Donald Trump is just as broken as you or I. You may think you are better than he is, but you are not. If I’ve learned anything over the course of my life it is that any one of us is capable of allowing our brokenness to become who we are instead of allowing our sonship in God to be our identity.

Please don’t hear me wrong, I will not be voting for Donald Trump and honestly I hope you don’t either. In fact I wonder if not voting for Donald Trump is possibly the most loving thing we can do for him. If we’re called to love him, maybe public humiliation in defeat is the best thing we can do.

The bigger part of my argument is this: Don’t vote for a man who feeds on your fear of what the world could do to you. Don’t vote for a man who brings out the worst in you. But also, don’t hate the man who stands against you. Don’t hate.

Don’t be afraid.

“The New Colossus” was a sonnet written by American poet Emma Lazarus read at the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I don’t place this here to convince you of immigration policies, but rather to show you that at one time the United States stood for hope. At one time the United States was a beacon to the lost, the hurting, and the hopeless. The promise of a better life was here safe from harm, hurt, and hate. I’m not sure if it ever measured up to that, but it could if we could get our acts together. If we could stop responding to everything out of fear, anger, and hatred.

Don’t be afraid.

Don’t fear the man who shouts loudest. Don’t fear what may happen if he wins. Don’t fear what may happen if he loses, and some other candidate you disagree with wins. More than likely you will wake up the next morning and breathe the air, see the sun rise, go to work, and live your life like you did before.

Love your enemies.
Don’t hate.
Don’t be afraid.

It’s not easy by any means, but necessary for actual change to begin working into the world.

Oh and by the way, I’m running for president 🙂 You can vote for me.

Disclaimer: I am no expert in politics. I am a simple man who sees the field of candidates available to us and finds it lacking. I can not in good conscience vote for any of these people, or at least the people who look to be the ones getting the nominations from their respective parties. I fully accept that I may not have details or a general understanding of how some systems work. Please extend me some grace as most of this is just me processing my own thoughts and coming to more concrete opinions and beliefs on the many topics that face us today.

Here’s To The New Year!

There’s so much to be thankful for
And so much to be forgotten
There’s no perfect secret
To the things that bring us joy

Ha ha! to the old year
Goodbye to the cold fear
Gonna cry when I need it, smile when I need it
Goodbye, denial

– “The Old Year (of Denial)” by Eric Peters

Two-thousand fifteen has come to an end and I am grateful.  Grateful not because the year was rough, but rather because this really was a great year with the exception of my car breaking down and costing me way more money then I ever want to spend on a car repair again.

My wife and I got two new daughters this year. They have their challenges, but they are a blessing none the less and we know that God is working through this whole situation to change all of us. Occasionally I am convicted that they receive less attention and affection than my biological children. This year I’m hoping to be a better father to these girls who need that desperately.

My oldest son turned 13. It is strange to watch him grow up. What really blows me away is to think about how fast these 13 years went by and that in another 13 years he could be married with kids and a life all of his own. I’m not scared of growing old, but it does put an ache in my chest to watch my kids grow older and realize time is moving quickly. The time I have with him is precious and he is a blessing to me. This year he gained so much personality and I see little glimpses of who is going to be. I hope to help him more on that track this year.

This past year I’ve begun to see the cynic in me loosen his grip just a little. The darkness that seems to have shrouded my heart for a while now seems to be breaking up at least a little. The negative emotions that have bogged me down for a while are losing ground. Little by little hope is moving back into my heart. Grace and mercy have come to have renewed meaning, and have laid responsibility on my back to be a better human being. This year I’m praying for more grace, more mercy, more love for my fellow man, and a deeper walk with my God.

There’s a ton of stuff I could talk about, but I’ll leave it with this. May your new year be blessed. May the love of our Father God invade you (and me) and bring us closer to Him as we also draw closer together.

Dumb Car

I’m trying something new I guess. I really like the singer/songwriter style and how an artist can take what would be a somewhat common story from their life and turn it into this cool song infused with meaning and purpose. One struggle that I’ve been working through lately is feeling insignificant and also trying to run from pain in life instead of facing it. I sort of want to leave the lead in to these lyrics as generic as that I guess and let you read your own meaning in as well. I’ll try to get a cheap recording before too long so you can hear the melody. So without further ado here are the lyrics to the song I’ve entitled “Dumb Car”.

PS. Yes it’s meant to be a little fun, and a little serious. I’d love your thoughts.

—–

Well I bought it for the speed and for the thrill of feeling young again
and when it ran I ran far from all my problems
at least the ones I couldn’t fix
oh, push down the pedal watch them all fade away in my mirrors
driving in my car

One night I pulled out of my driveway
and the night had all but pulled into my heart
With all my worries and my doubts I pressed that pedal to the ground
and all the death that lived in me caused life to flee
from that dumb car

Oh a five dollar part cost me four thousand more
Isn’t life good at teaching this?
That five dollar parts can not be forgotten…

Well I bought it for the speed and for the thrill of feeling young again
but age is teaching me that I can’t run from pain
in that dumb car

—–

UPDATE:
I did a quick recording of the song just for fun… Enjoy!

Here Is The World

here-is-the-world-beautiful-and-terrible-things-will-happen-dont-be-afraid-6

I’ve had a really hard time writing music lately. There is this anxiety in me that maybe the well has run dry and I’ll never write anything beautiful again. In response, I’ve been sort of forcing myself to sit with my acoustic guitar for at least a few minutes every day and just strum some chords to see if anything comes to mind. Usually I’ll open up Evernote and get a new note ready only to stare at the blank screen. Then a couple weeks ago some inspiration came. It wasn’t the kind of inspiration I wanted, but it got me writing again if only to give me a verse and chorus.

My wife’s grandmother passed away. My wife had just gotten off the phone with her mother and found out that her grandmother had passed away at 6:42 that evening. There was a lost look in Nicole’s eyes, or like she was disconnected from the reality of it. It was going to take some time to sink in and she knew that. That one moment in time when she told me what happened and I saw it on her face started the words below. As I wrote I was reminded of a quote from Frederick Buechner where he says, “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” This in my mind instantly became the chorus. In the second verse I tried to juxtapose the loss of a loved one with the birth of my daughter Grace. A beautiful things contrasted with a terrible thing. Both events being a possible source of fear for me.

I’m still working through the lyrics of the second verse, but I wanted to share it just because I like sharing lyrics with people. I like sharing my heart and wearing it on my sleeve a bit. I hope you enjoy them. I’ve entitled the song “Here Is The World”. When I get the actual song recorded in some fashion I will share that as well.

—–

You said that she left us at 6:42
And I saw in your eyes you were gone somewhere too
Your heart hadn’t met with your head just yet
But you knew it was coming soon

Here is the world
Here is the world
Beautiful things
Terrible things will occur
Don’t be afraid…

When she was born
she broke shadow from light
I touched my lips to her skin and I cried
My heart and my head had just met with a kiss
and I knew that I was meant to live for moments like this

Here is the world
Here is the world
Beautiful things
Terrible things will occur
Don’t be afraid…

oh no…
But you’re not alone
Just call my name
I’ll walk with you home

—–

UPDATE:
I created a really quick recording of this one. Enjoy!

Violence

I find myself struggling to know how to respond to our current situation in the world. The problem with ISIS, the Syrian refugee crisis, gun control, any number of political issues, climate change, etc… Everything that comes at us through social media or news coverage seems to want us to react out of fear.

I have decided to follow Jesus.

That statement is way easier said than done. One thing I didn’t see Jesus do was react out of fear. He said the night before being crucified, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39) After praying this the authorities come to take him away and Peter, a close follower, pulls out a sword and hacks a guys ear off. Peter has chosen the way of violence. Jesus scolds him and tells him to put the sword away. “He who lives by the sword dies by the sword.”

Could that be restated in our modern times as “He who lives by the gun dies by the gun?”

Jesus acknowledges that if he wanted to he could have a whole legion of angels at his side immediately defending and saving him from the hands of his enemies. But he doesn’t do that. Instead he gives himself over to those he knew would kill him. Not only does he give himself over, but he prays for them while they are killing him. “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

How does he do that? How can he pray for the very people who are nailing him to a cross and actually mean the words that are coming out of his mouth? This is the example we’re to follow? Who can do this?

My wife and I started doing foster care in 2011. When we started I thought I’d be disgusted by the parents of these kids for the horrible things they had put the kids through. In most cases it was neglect brought on my drug addiction, but in other cases there was domestic violence involved that the children witnessed. The girls we have now were witness to horrible acts of violence by their father who was also a crack addict. He took the stand in his own defense at the final trial to determine if the kids would be taken away from him permanently. On the stand he said some of the most atrocious things I’ve ever heard a human being say. “I believe in a marriage it’s normal for a man to slap the woman around a little bit, and if she’s the kind of woman who would call the cops well then he doesn’t need to be with her…” He said this like it was normal, like we all knew it to be true. I wanted to be mad at the guy for the things he did to these girls’ mother, who had since passed away… I wanted to be mad at him for what he’d put the girls through. The lying, the drug use, the violence and lack of taking responsibility. But something happened in my heart towards him.

I pitied him. He genuinely thought that in a normal world this is what life was like. You survived by being the biggest, meanest brute you could be, and that you got what you wanted by physically dominating other people. Show your strength, induce fear in those you mean to dominate, and finally get what you want by domination and strength.

I wasn’t mad. I pitied him, and then even deeper… I loved him. I felt for him because he was beat as a child. He was not shown love, and so he never learned love. He didn’t learn compassion or empathy. He only knew power, control, manipulation, fear and anger. So I didn’t want to hate him, rather I wanted to love him and see him made new.

So the man I thought I’d hate or who would be my enemy, became the man I prayed for even though he had done terrible things, not to me directly, but to the girls I now call daughters. But the real question I face is this… What would I do if someone was attacking my family?

I had this dream the other night that my family and I were eating dinner all together at Applebees. I love that place. I don’t care what you think of me. In the dream we’re all having a great time until a rather large, drunk guy comes over to our table and starts threatening to hurt my kids and wife. Dreams being what they are I can’t remember the whole thing, but I remember being faced with this question… what am I going to do here? I realize I’m either going to have to watch this guy take down my family, or I’m going to do something to stop him. Also, in the dream I didn’t get the sense that this drunk brute was the type of guy to be bargained with, nor was he going to let it end until one of us was no more. I woke up before any of that happened and the question still faces me.

In the situation where those I love are endangered what do I do? On the one hand I’m told to “love your enemies and pray for them…” On the other hand I’m told, “True love has no other than this… to lay down one’s life for his friends.”

I am trying to resolve myself to never react in fear, but to always give my reaction time to figure out what reacting in love would mean. But if in an instance it was forced upon me how should I respond? Kill or be killed?

I can’t imagine not defending my wife and children from the attack of any brute or bully who came after us with intent to kill. I’d do anything I had to do I think to take this guy down. I wouldn’t want to, but if it came down to it I’d defend them to my death. Is this not inline with the teachings of Jesus? If Jesus had raised a family and they were threatened, what would he have done? I can’t imagine him standing by while they were slaughtered. I’d imagine him laying his life down for them.

Because that’s what he did. He laid his life down for his children. He laid his life down for his wife, the Church. He let the violence take him, but not at the expense of his children or his wife.

I guess all I’m saying is that this is a hard thing to work through. The Christian left would say absolutely no violence whatsoever, but the Christian right seems ready to go kick ass and take names… or kill them all and let God sort them out. I find that the rest of the world operates more closely to the Christian right… Violence begets violence. With Christian university leaders encouraging students to carry weapons so they can “end those muslims”… This can’t be the way either can it? Train us for violence…? However going to the left too far seems a mistake as well because are we not supposed to help the helpless? Are we not supposed to save the weak and those who are bullied, marginalized, persecuted, murdered… whatever it may be.

These Syrian refugees, if we were to send them back to their home in Syria, stand a good chance of being killed by either Assad or ISIS. Syria is not the only place with an issue like this. People the world over live in danger of others who have too much power. Are we supposed to just stand by and let that happen? I’ve heard we could cut off money or support to these groups in different ways… Will that really do the trick? Will they slowly fade away into the history books?

I don’t know the answers. I’m mostly just thinking and typing. I lean more towards defending those who need defending, and giving myself up to do so. Does that mean I need a concealed carry permit just in case it happens when I attend the movies with my family, or go out to dinner? I don’t know anymore.

I think as a Christian I am called to give myself up for those whom God loves. I’m called to lay my life down in the hopes that Christ will take it up again. God loves us all though… so you see my issue.

God help me to never react in fear. Help me Lord to always react in a way that is reflective of how you would respond. God save us all… God have mercy on us, sinners each one… God redeem your world.

Come, Lord Jesus…

Somewhat Random Ramblings

I sat with the family around the dinner table tonight. In observance of Advent as a family we lit the first candle representing hope.
Hope… in the midst of losing Nicole’s grandmother last night at 6:42pm.
Hope… in the midst of an email from a friend whose wife has been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Hope… in the midst of a flood of text messages letting me know that a close friend with a heart condition received 4 shocks from his pacemaker and is being rushed to the ER.
Hope…
Isaiah 42:3
He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle.
He will bring justice to all who have been wronged.

My two adopted daughters sat on my lap most the afternoon either drawing pictures, or typing on my computer, or playing games on my phone. I pretended to be busy on my computer, but I was really just watching them. It must have been 3 hours that they were in and out of my office just wanting to sit with me and be together. I can’t come up with words to describe how it made me feel. There was a sense of love for these girls that I don’t always feel, but the intensity of it was overpowering. 
After dinner I watched a movie with my 3 oldest. Half way through the movie I went up to tell the 3 younger kids goodnight. Like every night I prayed with each of them. Tonight as I prayed with the three younger I was holding their hands and I felt the smallness of it in my hand. I felt how delicate it was in my hand.
The girls kissed me on the cheek in their usual fashion which is to mush their lips against my face leaving a bit of their spit on my face that I have to wipe off afterwards. Also, each one refuses to kiss the same cheek as their sister so I have it on both sides of my face. Tonight I took their kisses and left them on my face without wiping. I prayed for them like I usually do… “God thank you for Nevaeh and Mya. Thank you for making them my daughters. Keep them safe and give them rest.”
God made them my daughters. I love these girls.
Then I went to say goodnight to Brock. He was reading a book about the Incredible Hulk, his favorite super hero. I bent down and took his hand and I prayed, “Dear God, thank you for my son Brock… Keep him safe tonight and give him rest. Thank you for making him my son.” 
God made him my son. I love this kid. 
I went down to finish the movie with the three older kids. I had to get after Jack quite a few times because he always has a problem just watching movies. In fact Nicole and I had to get after Jack a number of times the entire day. After the movie I sent the 3 older kids to bed. First I went to Jack and had a talk with him about how many times I had to say things to him and correct him today. I know I probably sound like a broken record to that kid, but there is this ache I get in my chest for him. Probably because he is most like me, in all my worst traits, of all the kids. Insecure, fearful, unsure of himself… But he is strong beyond what he knows. I want so badly for him to realize that. I prayed with him… “Thank you Lord for Jack. Thank you for making him my son. I love him so much. Help him to realize you do to…” A prayer for my son. A prayer for me.
God made him my son. I love this kid. 
I went downstairs to pray with Grace. Grace my daughter basically has me wrapped around her finger, and has since the day she was born. She has always been so beautiful to me. As she gets older her personality and characteristics start to jump out at me. She is strong, independent, funny, and unwavering in what she knows to be right. She hugs me like I’m her favorite person in the world. I held her hand tonight, hugged her and prayed… “God thank you for Grace… I love her so much. Thank you for making her my daughter. Give her rest and a good nights sleep.”
God made her my daughter. I love this kid. 
Finally, I prayed with Derek. My first born son and one of the coolest kids I know. I feel our relationship in the beginning stages of transitioning from father / son to father / friend… In my most stressed out moments when I am about to absolutely lose control, he is there to make me laugh. Knowing he is almost 13 scares me… Those 13 years went so fast and in another 13 he could be married with his own kids and a home and all the worries of the world strapped on this his shoulders, much like his father. I prayed, “Thank you Lord for Derek. I love him so much. Thank you for making him my son. Give him rest tonight Lord and keep him safe.”
God make him my son. I love this kid.
I walked upstairs with the weight of the world wearing me down. I went to the fridge for a glass of whiskey to help quiet the noise in my head. Nicole walked over and hugged me and we just stood there in our kitchen for a moment. I think about our 16 years of marriage, the 6 kids we have, the jobs, homes, cars, tragedies and triumphs that have come along the way. I think about her grandmother passing. Her grandmother had less then a year ago lost her husband after many years of marriage. I think about my friend Rob and his death at the young age of 17. I think about my friend rushed to the hospital tonight with heart issues. I think about the email we got earlier from the friend whose wife had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. All sorts of beauty and brokenness rushing into my head at the same time. 
I’m so thankful for life. Even in it’s difficulties. I find myself despairing at the thought that I could lose this. At any moment, this could all be gone. I could lose a child. I could lose my wife. My kids and wife could lose me. I could lose my parents… my sisters, my friends… 
I wish I was better at living. I wish I was better and just seeing every moment like this. Like a precious gift from the hand of our Maker. I wish I was better at living every moment like it was my last. I wish I could see every moment for the gift that it is. 
I have trouble believing I should look forward to some afterlife that is better than this. What I want is my life… and my life lived to the fullest without my inadequacies, fears, worries, stresses, anxieties… I want to walk in the garden with my God, while my kids play around me, and my wife walks with me hand in hand… I want freedom from this body of death…
Do not break me Lord… I am the weakest of reeds.
Do not snuff me out Lord… I am the weakest of candles.

Somehow the death of Christ on the cross is a victory over all that is broken. God help me to cling to that. 

The Furious Love Of God

So a couple years ago I had the idea that I would write a book. In typical fashion for myself I never finished it. In fact I only got a chapter done. Just for fun I thought I’d post it here. The main idea of the book, in fact the title, was going to be Ground Christianity. A way of living out the Christian life in the real world so to speak. The first chapter was on fear and love. Hope you enjoy!

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CHAPTER 1: THE FURIOUS LOVE OF GOD
“… and as I passed the fire I did not know whether it was hell or the furious love of God”
From G.K. Chesterton’s essay “The Diabolist”
“Mighty God how I fear you, and I long to be near you…”
From the song “The Reckoning” by Andrew Peterson
……….
I remember the fear.
I was young. Probably around 7 years old. I’d wake up in a cold sweat, shaking and crying. It was late at night… usually between 11pm and 1am. I couldn’t feel it. I was told that once I made this decision everything would be different. Everything would be ok.
I was not ok. 
Depending on the time my dad would sometimes be sitting out in the living room watching television after having arrived home from his 2nd shift job at General Motors on the assembly line. My dad is and always has been a hard working man, short, with a muscular build and a stern face, but a comical side that often betrays him to the point of laughing uncontrollably at an inappropriately timed joke. My dad would often wake me up late at night with his riotous laughter at a joke from a late night talk show host, that is if I wasn’t already awake struggling with fear. My dad isn’t afraid of anything, or at least if he is, he’s never let on. So when the fear hit me and the anxiety and panic ensued I went to my dad.
Stumbling down the dark hallway and into the dimly lit living room I’d stand in the living room just behind the couch until my dad noticed me or heard my whimpering. The general conversation would go something like…
“Ricky… what’s wrong buddy?”
“I don’t want to go to hell daddy… I can’t tell if I’m saved… How do you know?”
“Have you prayed and asked Jesus into your heart?”
“Yes, but I just don’t know if anything happened… I can’t feel anything.”
“You’re saved and you have nothing to fear buddy. Go back to bed ok. Things will be better in the morning.”
With that my dad would give me a hug, do his best to comfort me and send me back to bed.
The power of fear. My dad had underestimated it. We all have. We all do.
A year or so before the late nights and the fear and trembling I was in a Sunday school class at the baptist church I grew up in. My family was pretty consistently in about the 10th pew from the back on the far right side every Sunday. I was young enough at this point not to have to sit in the adult services. One particular Sunday I remember the teacher talking about hell and what a horrible place it was and that by simply accepting Jesus into my heart I could be saved from hell. It seemed like a simple solution.
Hell is bad. Jesus is good. Say a prayer and you’re all set.
So when the teacher said, “would any of you like to accept Jesus into your hearts? Raise your hands if you would and Ms. Smith will take you into the other room to lead you through the prayer.” (I can’t remember actual names so let’s just go with Ms. Smith for now)… I raised my hand and went into the other room. Ms. Smith said to repeat after her and then began the prayer…
“Dear Jesus, I know I’m a sinner. I believe that you died on the cross and by believing in you I can be forgiven and have eternal life. Please come into my heart and be my Savior.”
I repeated the prayer and that was that. We walked back into the other room and life went on. Sort of… The thought of hell terrified me still, and I couldn’t shake it. I was told when I said the prayer that the Holy Spirit would fill me and I would be changed. I couldn’t feel any marked difference. I went home and over the next few years I must have said that prayer over 10,000 times, although it grew more desperate over time. “Please Jesus! Please come into my heart… I don’t want to go to hell! I’m sorry. Please forgive me!” Over and over again I said this prayer. I was scared to death. 
Should we be drawing people to God by scaring them to death? Let’s go beyond that… Once a person has made the decision to follow Christ with their lives should we be trying to keep Christians “in line” by using fear?
A popular topic the Christian community right now is evangelism. Now don’t hear me wrong, evangelism is incredibly important. People need to hear the word preached. Christians need to be taking the Word to the world. The last thing Jesus Christ said to his followers before ascending to Heaven was to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20) But the way it is being preached right now comes across very works oriented. In a nutshell, “if you aren’t out saving people on a regular basis then you may not be saved, and you know where unsaved people go right?”
Don’t we have any better ways to communicate the saving work of Christ? Do we have to resort to terrifying people to get them to come to Jesus, and to ensure that they stay there?
Fear was used as the singular motivating factor to drive me to God. I was not given a healthy, grounded view. One that spoke to both the fear of the Lord as well as to His amazing love for me. I grew to think God was constantly watching me and waiting for me to mess up. He was not a loving father. He had become a dictator in my life.
How do we achieve this balanced view of fear versus love? A couple thoughts come to mind. First a story…
The Van
When I was around 13 I had a brand new basketball hoop in the driveway. Everyday during the summer I’d get up early and play basketball for hours, but first I’d have to move our GMC Safari minivan off the court. My parents had begun allowing me to grab the keys to the van and back it off the cement court myself. One day the van was parked on the side of the court closest to the basketball hoop and as I backed the van up, for whatever reason, I had decided not to shut the door to the van. So as I was backing the van off the cement with the door wide open, it caught on the basketball hoop and bent in ways that it was not mechanically designed or engineered to bend. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Tommy Boy” with Chris Farley, picture the part in the movie where he backs up Richards car at the gas pump and bends the door completely backwards. That is exactly what I did to my parents van.
Like I said earlier, my dad had a stern face and I had grown to fear my father in a somewhat unhealthy way. I don’t know why that was. He never really gave me reason to fear him that badly. By all counts he was an amazing father to me. I, however, was convinced that he was going to kill me. So after realizing what I had done and having no way to fix it really I shut the van off, ran inside and hid in my room. My mother noticed the door and came into my room to ask me what happened. I was a blubbering mess. I was terrified of what I had done and how my father was going to react. I was certain this was going to be some sort of horribly painful punishment or torture. My mother simply said, “well you’ll have to talk with your father when he gets home.” It was about 10am and at this point in life dad was working first shift so he’d be home around 5pm. I stayed in my room the entire day hunkered down in bed crying. I was terrified. I was ashamed. I knew I deserved whatever punishment he would give me.
I heard my dad step in the door just after 5pm. He had noticed the van door as he passed it in the driveway. With my door closed I could hear him walk into the house and in a very shocked voice ask, “what happened the van door?” I heard my mom talking quietly with him, but I couldn’t make out what she was saying. After she had finished saying whatever she had to say I heard my dad simply say, “ok”, and then I heard a sound that sent chills down my spine… He was walking towards my room.
I expected the door to crash open and for him to charge in pointing his finger and yelling all sorts of obscenities, and after the verbal lashing I fully expected some sort of physical punishment. Again, I had no reason to think this. My father had never been anything but loving with me. I got a spanking here and there as a young child, but nothing more really. I simply feared my father because he was my father and I didn’t want to disappoint him.
Much to my surprise my dad knocked on the door and asked if he could come in. I contemplated saying no, but thought that may be really pushing my luck. He opened the door, walked in, and sat down calmly on the bed next to me. He didn’t say anything for a few seconds. Then he simply said, “Son, I know you didn’t mean to do that. It’s ok.” I began to tell him through tears how sorry I was and how it was an accident and I’d help pay for it… to which he said, “It’s ok son… I forgive you.” He placed his strong arms around me and gave me a huge hug. I’ve never breathed a bigger sigh of relief.
I learned something that day about my father’s love for me. I was more important to him than that van.
Love and Fear
What we miss is this view that yes our Father in Heaven is to be feared because He is God almighty, but His love for us is a furious love that would go through hell to save us and be with us. Literal hell.
Jesus told a story once about a son who decided he wanted nothing to do with his father anymore and asked for his share of the inheritance so that he could get out of there and go be his own man. This was the equivalent of telling his father that he wished he was dead and wanted nothing to do with him. But because the father loved the son he fulfilled the sons request and gave him what he wanted. The son took the inheritance and left without looking back. He ran as far as he could and began to live the good life with the inheritance his father had given him. Drinking and woman and wild living… sex, drugs, and ancient Jewish rock-n-roll… or whatever type of music the kids listened to back then… Quickly though he wasted it all and ran out of money to live on. The only work he could find was to go work for a local pig farmer and feed his pigs. Since he had no money he couldn’t afford to buy much food and he grew hungry. In what has to have been his darkest moment he starts contemplating eating the food he is feeding the pigs. Suddenly he has an awakening and realizes that back at his fathers estate there are all sorts of servants and people there that are fed well and taken care of. He decides that asking forgiveness of his father is his only chance at survival and he begins the trek back home. All the way home he’s rehearsing exactly what he’s going to say. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.” He has the speech ready and he means every word of it.
As the young man comes over a hill, the father, who is apparently watching for him, spots him off in the distance. Without hesitation the father runs out to meet the son and before the son can even get out his apology the father throws his arms around him. His son has returned and he’s overjoyed. They embrace for a moment and the son attempts to deliver the apology, but the father doesn’t even acknowledge it. The father sees that the son is sorry in the very action of his return and he welcomes the son back no questions asked and throws a huge party. So while the son was fearful that the father may not accept him back, and at the very best would hire him as a servant, the father actually surprises him and brings him back with honor and a huge party. The love of the father calms the fearful, repentant son. Read the whole story in Luke 15.
We see this type of interaction over and over again in the scriptures. An individual encountering God is struck with absolute terror, but then God steps forth to comfort them. Look at Isaiah 6 when Isaiah the prophet has a vision of the throne room of God and he falls on his face realizing he is a sinful man, and then an angel comforts him so that he won’t fear. In Luke 1, Mary, the mother of Jesus, is terrified when the angel Gabriel shows up to tell her that she will become pregnant and give birth to the savior of the world. Gabriel comforts her though by saying, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.” In Matthew 17, Jesus takes a few of his key disciples up on a mountain side where he is transfigured and it says “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light”, and then they hear a voice from heaven. Struck with fear the disciples all fall on their faces, but then Jesus gently touches each of them and says, “Get up. Do not be afraid.” The apostle John in Revelation 1 is in exile on Patmos and has a vision of Jesus in all His glory and the word says he “fell at his feet as though dead.” Jesus again comes to John, places his hand on him and comforts him and says, “Do not be afraid..”
Freedom In Love
1 John 4:13-18 speaks to love and fear when it says…
This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
So while fear is a natural reaction to the very real presence of the Father, we see that His desire is to calm our hearts and express His unimaginable love for us, His children. The first step is still repentance. We all need to repent. Just like the son who walked away from his father, once he realized what he had done he turned, or repented, of his actions and lifestyle and came back to his father seeking forgiveness. But he didn’t return out of fear. He returned because he was sorry for what he had done and he longed to be back with his father. There was some fear in not knowing how his father would respond, but there was also a strange draw back to his father. He may have feared his response, but he longed to be back with him. If this story and the story about my own father are among the best we have, how could we possibly think these stories of flesh born men would trump the all loving Heavenly Father? How could men out love God? As it says in the verse from 1 John 4, “God is love”.

Once we can sit in this realization that our Heavenly Father loves us beyond what we can comprehend, and we can let that truth seep into our bones, a new found freedom will begin to take root deep within us. The freedom of a child who understands that their father is not to be trifled with, but who also understands that their father loves them furiously and would do anything for them.