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Train Wreck

As a child, I always got excited when mom and dad told me that we were getting together with relatives. I loved hanging out with family, and I was blessed with fantastic grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. I liked them all, especially my cousins, with whom I have fond memories of tearing up many-a-basement at family gatherings. But of all of my adult relatives, Uncle Bob was my favorite.

I didn’t get to see Uncle Bob very often, but every time I did, it was a thrilling experience. I think what set him apart was the way he would get down on my level and play with me. I was a rambunctious child, and it was wonderfully validating that this super-fun adult seemed to get a kick out of me, and wanted to spend time with me. It didn’t hurt that he had a dog either.

One year, shortly before Christmas, Uncle Bob sparked excitement in my heart when he said, “Tim, I was thinking of getting you a train set for Christmas.” My face lit up with anticipation. I had always wanted a train set! With a teasing twinkle in his eye, my uncle quickly followed up with, “…but it’s the thought that counts.” As Uncle Bob roared out his signature ‘hyuk, hyuk, hyuk’ laughter, my face scrunched into a look of betrayed disapproval. I was not impressed.

I can be a lot like my uncle, and I’m not just talking about the way I engage with—and tease—my nieces and nephews (though that would also be a fair comparison). My life is filled with good ‘thoughts that count.’ I like to reflect on the people in my life and think about how I could bless their lives. I contemplate what it is they are lacking and think about how I could be involved in making their dreams come true. Even more, I spend a great deal of time thinking about what gifts I could give to Jesus. I think I have a pretty good idea of what I could offer that would light up His face with joy. The problem is that too often my thoughts don’t translate into action. My intentions result in beautifully wrapped packages that contain nothing but hot air.

It is not the thought that counts. Value is only added through sacrifice. Love is not genuine without demonstration. Faith in God is only proven through faithfulness. It is follow-through that counts.

It didn’t take me long to forgive my uncle for his bait-and-switch. We were soon playing together again, and I was a little wiser in watching out for his eye-twinkling mischief. What I think is pretty cool—though neither of us realized it at the time—is what Uncle Bob was teaching me with his illusory train set: Pleasing thoughts may warm the heart for a while, but without action they ultimately end in heartache.

I have no interest in offering up heartache to my friends, my family, or my Lord. My desire is to contribute in a meaningful way that brings tangible blessing. For that to happen, my colorfully-wrapped gifts must be full… of follow-through.

Thanks Uncle Bob.

Proverbs 13:12; James 2:14-26


At first it was no big deal. I’ve misplaced my wallet a thousand times over the course of my life, but a quick search of the house—or the car—had always uncovered the whereabouts of my misplaced treasure. A couple of times I’ve had to return to a friend’s house or a restaurant to recover my forgotten billfold. Once, I even lost my wallet in a river, but a kind stranger with a snorkel heroically recovered it, much to my relief. Each time my wallet was back in my pocket, I would breathe a sigh of relief and shoot up a heavenward ‘Thanks again!’

This time it was different. Lisa and I had gone to the airport late at night to greet some incoming friends. Hugs exchanged and suitcases recovered, I paid for parking, and we joyfully loaded our friends into the vehicle and returned home. As we began to get our guests settled in for the night, I realized that my wallet was not in my pocket. I checked the usual places where I might have put my black leather companion, and came up emptyhanded. I looked through my jacket pockets and searched the car. Lisa and our friends pitched in, retracing every step I had taken since we got home. Nothing.

“Where did you last have it?”

Suppressing the urge to roll my eyes at the redundant question, I recounted how I had just paid for parking. My wallet either had to be at home or in the airport parkade. Ticked off at the 2:00 AM inconvenience, I jumped in the passenger seat of the car (since my driver’s license was AWOL), and my friend graciously drove me back to the airport to scour the area. No luck. With my stomach in nervous knots, we returned home and crawled into our beds.

In my 45 years, I had never actually—completely—lost my wallet. Hoping that it would somehow surface, I ignored standard advice, and put off calling the bank and driving bureau to report the loss. For a full week, I ransacked the house, pestered the airport ‘lost and found’ department, and hovered over our mailbox, hoping my lost treasure would materialize. I called the police to see if anything had been turned in and monitored my bank accounts for suspicious activity. All of my efforts yielded nothing. For the first time in my life, my wallet—and all of its contents—were truly gone.

It was a strange week. I couldn’t prove who I was, and had lost access to my resources. I felt naked and powerless. My money was still in the bank, but it was temporarily out of my reach. I couldn’t buy anything or secure any cash. I was still a licensed driver, but I was unable to produce the evidence. I took a chance and continued to drive (with an abundance of caution) hoping I would not be pulled over and caught emptyhanded by the authorities.

Finally, a full week after losing my wallet, I bit the bullet and began the process of replacing my plastic deck of cards. Thankfully, I still had my passport (tucked away in a safe), and was able to easily satisfy the questions of the legal and financial authorities. As I write this, my replacement cards are ‘in the mail’.

This may be the first time I have totally lost my wallet, but it’s not the first time I have struggled to demonstrate my identity. It’s not the first time I have felt incapable of accessing resources. I know what it is to be unsure who I am. I know what it is to feel like I can’t tap in to the heavenly assets that have been stored up for me.

As I’ve gone about the usual business of life, I’ve sometimes neglected to ‘own’ my identity. I’ve floundered in the face of obstacles, forgetting that I have been granted access to heavenly solutions. I’ve lost track of who I am and fretted at the resulting impotence.

Here’s the thing… the resources that God has provided haven’t gone anywhere. His storehouse is still full, and by His grace, my irrevocable Kingdom citizenship still grants me access.

I may have lost track of who I am, but based on His records, my identity is secure. Whether I feel able to demonstrate it or not, my standing before the Ultimate Authority is solid, because it is based on what He has declared, not on my ability to prove it.

I may feel unable—or even unqualified—to tap into the riches of heaven. Thankfully, it is not my feelings that count. If I have lost my link to divine supply, I need only reconnect with the Almighty Banker, and access to the wealth of His storeroom will be restored.

Are you feeling unsure of yourself? Are you questioning who you are? Are you feeling under-resourced? Maybe it’s time to head to your identity ‘safe,’ and pull out your passport. Humble yourself and come to your King in repentance. Allow the Father to direct you to your deeper identity—rooted in Him—and begin to get reacquainted with His loving, forgiving, resource-granting, authority. He will not reject you. There will certainly be lessons to learn. Humility is required. Dependence on His mercy and grace must be confessed. But as you learn to walk in recognition of what He has declared, you’ll be less likely to lose your way… and your wallet.

Philippians 3:20; Philippians 4:19

Pressing Print

I’m a writer. I’m also a bit of a perfectionist. (Some that know me are saying, “A BIT?”) That’s kind of a bad combination. I can spend 15 minutes stewing over which word to use in a sentence. I’d like to think that all the thought and reflection that I put into my communication brings clarity to my message and makes the reader’s job easier. But the danger of my introspective analysis is that I never get around to saying, “That’ll do.” If my fear of missing the mark of perfection is not overcome, my analysis will become all-consuming and the revisions will never end.

It kind of works the same way in life. As cliché as it sounds, we all go through seasons. For the Christian, there are times where God seems to be less active with us. Those stints can tax our hope and test our faith. While I have learned that times of heaven’s apparent inactivity can foster positive fruit in my life, I still don’t enjoy them. Eventually—as I trust my Father’s heart and listen for His voice—I will enter into a time of more tangible spiritual activity in my life.

That’s where it gets tricky.

It’s exciting when you are able to emerge from a winter of stillness, and experience a springtime of God’s activity in your heart. But when you’ve been living in a cold and seemingly desolate holding pattern, it can be intimidating to take the new life God is stirring within you, and put it into practice. It’s as though your spiritual muscles have atrophied, and transforming newfound intent into action can feel virtually impossible.

Has God been doing a new work in your life—renovating your heart, expanding your understanding of your purpose, and equipping you for the next phase of your mission? Eventually you must actually step forward and begin to live out the Father’s instructions. It does no good to endlessly examine God’s plans for you, without ever walking them out. It is not enough to be impressed with the Lord’s loving infusion in your life. The investment of the Almighty isn’t for the sake of giving you ‘warm and fuzzies’. Ultimately, you must take courage and begin to move forward in obedience.

Usually that obedience involves—to one degree or another—stepping out and ‘going public,’ whether that involves going for a meaningful coffee with one person, or launching an entire ministry. That can be an intimidating prospect, especially if you’ve been living the hidden life for a long period of time. But eventually, you must participate with God if His investment is to produce fruit. You must embrace obedient exposure. The preparatory revisions must cease. Sooner or later, you must set aside the thesaurus, push through the fear of failure, and press print.

I’ve always been hungry for times of connection with the Father and fruitfulness in His Kingdom. I long to experience transformation in my life and to participate in the transformation of others. But transformation has never come from a good idea, even if it’s from God. True revolution—in one life or in many—comes when a good idea is embraced and acted upon.

If you’ve been given a mission from the Father, don’t get lost in endless contemplation. The world needs your obedience…almost as much as you do.

James 1:23-25; James 4:17; Matthew 7:24-27

Bumper Sticker Theology

I find bumper stickers intriguing. I suppose the modern-day equivalent is the social media meme, but there’s something to be said about the permanence of a decal adhered to your vehicle. (Have you ever tried to take one of them off?)

It’s always interesting to me the statements people choose to make to the world that is stuck behind them in traffic. Some boast about the particular demographic represented by the driver… or insult another group. Some proclaim loyalty to a particular company or a brand. Some make clever statements about life. Others communicate passionate affinity to some social justice cause. And then there are the religious declarations.

I’m sure we’ve all seen the ‘God Loves You’ sticker or the ever-popular Christian fish logo. I suppose part of what keeps me from affixing such a message to my vehicle’s back end is the fear of reflecting poorly on my faith. I lack confidence that my driving prowess will never give anyone a reason to shake their fist at my fish.

But there’s one type of religious bumper sticker that drives me nuts. “God is my pilot.” Or, “If God is your co-pilot, you’re in the wrong seat.” If it weren’t for the fact that it would be unloving (and likely to snarl up traffic), I’d love to pull one of these people over and ask them to sit in the passenger seat of their car so that I can see where God-as-Chauffeur would take them.

Many Christians don’t like to take responsibility for their lives. Thinking it to demonstrate submission to God, they attempt to absolve themselves of the obligation to make decisions and move forward with purpose. People who really believe that God makes all of their decisions and does all the driving for them are either living in fear—afraid to make mistakes—or hedging their bets, keeping their options open to defer blame. An impotent existence is pinned on God’s ‘inactivity,’ rather than their own. Poor choices are blamed on having erroneously decided to take action, rather than sitting back and letting God do everything ‘like they were supposed to.’

We’ve been trying to defer responsibility for our lives since the beginning of time. When God asked Eve why she ate forbidden fruit, she essentially said, ‘The Devil made me do it.’ Adam’s excuse was worse. He blamed both Eve AND God. “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

Now before you get too excited and start accusing me of proposing that we make decisions and take action in a God-vacuum, hear me out. I’m not for a moment suggesting that the Lord shouldn’t be involved in our decisions and our activity. In fact, I believe that the truth requires an even greater dependence upon God than the person sitting comfortably (and impotently) in the co-pilot’s chair.

Using the image of the airplane, I think what follows might be a more helpful (though not perfect) way to look at it:

The Father functions as my Control Tower. It is up to me to trust that the Control Tower knows and wants what is best for me, understanding that He sees a far bigger and more complete picture than I ever could. It will only go well for me as I put my faith in Him and follow His instructions. Jesus is my Living Manual. Not only has He provided instruction on how to operate, He has demonstrated how to fly, and stirs me to walk in fruitful obedience. The Holy Spirit resides with me in life’s cockpit as my Instructor and Navigator. He is the one who keeps me connected to both the Control Tower and my Living Manual. He shows me how to walk in obedience to the Control Tower. He points to the Living Manual, and illuminates how to follow His example in my life’s context. As I spend time with Him and listen to His guidance, I remain connected to my Skyward Authority and move toward my destination with accuracy and efficiency. The success of my ‘flight’ through life is incredibly dependent on my connection to God.

But I am the pilot. If I do not take responsibility for walking in obedience to the instructions of my Lord, I will go nowhere. I will sit on the runway and rust, never knowing the exhilaration that comes from soaring toward my destiny. God will not control my life for me. That is my job.

I must engage with Jehovah. I must listen. I must trust. But I must also walk (or should I say ‘fly’) in obedience. I must take ownership of my responsibility, placing MY hands on the controls of my life. In spite of my trepidation, I must release the brakes, open the throttle, accelerate down the runway, and ‘pull up’ into the skies of fruitfulness.

This understanding has transformed my approach to life and revolutionized my Kingdom participation. It doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker, but I’m finally moving toward my destination.

Deuteronomy 5:33; John 14:26; 1 John 2:6; Isaiah 41:13

Triple Bypass

Two days ago, my father’s heart stopped beating. I’m not kidding. But it was not the tragedy that you might think. The shutting down of my dad’s blood pump was temporary, and it was on purpose.

My dad had been experiencing chest pain, and a trip to the hospital revealed that three of the arteries that fed blood to his heart were substantially blocked. The result was a dangerously low supply of the resources required for this critical organ to carry out its work. His heart was literally being starved. And so, in a procedure intended to keep my father from dying, a surgeon opened his chest, reached into his body and started a life-saving procedure… by stopping his heart. For the first time in 72 years, my father’s heart lay still. Relying on a machine to circulate dad’s blood, the surgeon began a procedure that involved taking healthy, unobstructed vessels from elsewhere in his body and grafting them into the affected arteries, ‘bypassing’ the life-threatening blockages.

Have you ever had bypass surgery? I have… just not the physical kind. Evaporating hope and chronic discouragement had resulted in the neglect of my soul. My intake of healthy spiritual ‘fuel’ had been replaced with a steady diet of apathy, offense, and self-pity. Years of stagnation had resulted in the narrowing of my spiritual arteries. God was no longer allowed to move freely to my heart. My bitterness had blocked His access. Refusing to humble myself and recognize the growing danger, the constriction of heaven’s nourishing flow left me lethargic and unmotivated. Cardiac disaster loomed.

The Surgeon stood at the ready. His longing to restore me to a place of health was matched only by His skill to carry out the procedure. But He needed my permission. That’s right, God needed my virtual signature on a spiritual waiver. I had to give up my right of refusal. I had to place my very life in His hands and allow Him to do whatever it took. I needed to humble myself enough to admit that my operational pathways needed to change. The road to healing required that I allow Him to dig down to my very core and rewire the most basic operations of my life. I had to submit to severe – but temporary – trauma in order to experience a flow of resources that would not only allow me to survive, but to flourish.

It took me a long time to yield. Dangerously long. But eventually, with a revelation of the Surgeon’s unfailing commitment to me, and the gently insistent encouragement of compassionate friends, I laid down on the operating table of the Father and unfolded my arms. The operation was not quick. It was not painless. But it was worth it.

When I compare the condition of my heart 10 years ago to now, I marvel at the faithfulness of the Great Physician. It’s not that I’m the ultimate picture of spiritual connectedness with the Father. Far from it. I still have arteries that need some cleaning. But my heart is strong. Jesus has free access to my heart, and the resources He brings flow sweetly to my soul. I am walking with a strength that I lacked for years, and I am moving toward my God-intended destination with Spirit-fueled stamina.

How’s your heart doing? Are your life-giving pathways clear, or is there a clog in the flow to your soul? If you pay attention to the condition of your heart and catch unhealthy blockages early enough, a change of lifestyle and an intake of Holy Spirit medicine can stave off and even reverse dangerous constriction. But if the problem is ignored, your health neglected, and Doctor checkups skipped, the results can be fatal. If the obstructions are serious enough, the only option is submission to major surgical intervention. New paths must be opened up through which life can flow. Sometimes a ‘hard reset’ is the only way to abundant life.

At the end of dad’s triple bypass operation, the surgical team ‘shocked’ my father’s heart back into motion. It had been strained by the steadily diminishing supply of resources that had led to the operating room. It had suffered serious trauma from the assault of surgery. But the operation was a success. Tenuously, weakly, but steadily, dad’s cardiac organ began to find its rhythm. My dad and his heart now face a significant period of recovery. It will not be quick. It will not be painless. But it will be worth it. The pain of surgery will dissolve into a new level of strength. Increased flow of nutrients and oxygen to his heart through newly ‘installed’ channels will result in an increase in his physical capability. My father can approach the challenges of life with a heightened level of confidence.

My dad’s bright new outlook was made possible by his submission to the invasion of his heart by someone he could trust.

So was mine.

Proverbs 4:23; Proverbs 23:26; Psalm 34:18; Psalm 73:26

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