Friday, May 2, 2014

Easter Reflection

As I reflect on Easter, there is an incredible amount to think about.  Obviously I think about Jesus dying for me and that incredible act of forgiveness.  I relish in that and thank him over and over again.  But given my past, it’s still extremely hard for me to accept that forgiveness.  Why?  Well throughout the last 10-20 years, I've become an agent of guilt.  I’ll choose to dive into lustful things, selfish things, really…any sinful thing and come out feeling like trash.  In turn, I tend to parent that way hoping my children will feel guilty enough about their transgressions that they won’t dare do it again.  Now this isn't a conscious decision to parent this way.  I've conditioned myself into thinking it will work.  It’s sad really because my guilt doesn't ever make me repent, it makes me feel sorry for myself and angry at myself and I end up diving into sin all the more.

This year I went to a local church for an event called, “Stations of the Cross.”  There were 9 stations following Jesus from the garden to His exit from the tomb.  At each station, we had an opportunity to pray to Christ, thank Him for His sacrifice and answer questions pertaining to the scripture on each wall and what Jesus was currently going through.  It was extremely moving and caused me to really think about where I’m at these days and how I view the sacrifice Christ made for me.

As I went through each station, a common theme began to take form.  Jesus lived each station I was walking through and each station had me wanting Jesus to stop doing these things for me.  I know…it sounds crazy, but I literally found myself wanting to get in His way and let him see who was saving, thinking it would make Him stop.  I honestly envision it this way…

As Christ prayed to His Father at the Garden, I found myself wanting to talk God The Father out of this whole “Die for my Sins,” thing.  I picture it like this, “God.  Hey it’s me, Charlie.”  He responds, “I know.  I created you.”  I should have seen that one coming, but I go on… “God, I realize you love me and created me the way I am, but I have to ask you to put a stop to this.  Jesus is following you blindly here.  I mean, He knows what is going to happen, but reward Him for His faith and please put a stop to this.  I’m not worth it!!!”  As soon as I say those words, He disappears.

The next thing I know, I’m standing next to Pilot as he addresses the angry crowd surrounding Jesus.  I listen intently to the conversation, disgusted by the crowd’s chants, but beaming as I hear Pilot say he finds no reason for Jesus to be crucified.  I find myself elated and relieved that Pilot was about to put a stop to something not even God The Father was willing to do.  But then Pilot washes his hands and before I can even whisper in his ear and plead Christ’s case, he releases him to the angry mob.  As I start to yell Pilot’s name, he disappears along with everyone else.

Instantly, I find myself in a crowd of monsters witnessing Jesus wearing a crown of thorns shoved deeply into His brow as He is savagely beaten, insulted, spit upon and whipped repeatedly with a Cat-of-Nine-Tails.  I try to scream loud enough to be heard over the angry crowd, “Jesus!  Son of God!!!  Release yourself and flee!  Please Lord!  PLEASE!!!”  I scream louder and louder as each drop of blood and flesh thrown from the Cat of Nine Tails, soak up one of my sins.  “JESUS STOP THIS!  YOU KNOW YOU CAN DO IT, SO PLEASE PUT AN END TO THIS!!!”

In the blink of an eye, the crowd, the guards, Jesus and everyone else is gone and I’m left sitting in the pool of Jesus’ blood.  With His screams of agony still fresh in my brain, I immediately grab any kind of cloth or fabric I can find and try feverishly to clean the area where The Son of God was nearly beaten to death.  I wipe and scrub as fast as I can, but nothing is happening.  I scrub harder and harder to the point of my fingers breaking, but nothing soaks up the blood.  I cry out to God, “He is faithful!  He’s been faithful almost to the point of death!  Please stop this!!!”

The tears rolling down my face are suddenly gone and I open my eyes to see Jesus falling down repeatedly as He tries to carry the cross built for His death.  I try to bust through the crowd in hopes that I might whisper into His ear, “There’s still time.  Save yourself, Jesus.  I’m not worth all this.”

Just then the guards grab a man from the crowd and order Him to carry Jesus’ cross.  Again, my hopes quickly arise, as now Jesus has an opportunity to slip into the crowd, to disappear, to never be seen or beaten or mocked again.  He can be free of this death and I can go home, not having witnessed anymore.  But with one look from Jesus, my hopes are crushed.  While dragging his own shredded body through the streets, His look simply says, “It’s time and you are worth it.”  I cry out and scream, “Jesus NO!  I’m not!!!  I’m not!!!  Please Lord, NO!!!”  The grief is too much and I fall.

I awaken to the sound of hammer on nail…hammer on nail…hammer on nail.  As I begin to open my eyes, I feel my arms thrashing violently over and over.  As my vision becomes clear, I see one of my hands swinging a hammer and the other holding a nail.  I’m the one nailing Jesus to this cross and I can’t stop!  I begin to vomit and for every purge I strike the nail even harder.  I look to Jesus expecting to see him cry out in pain with each strike, but He calmly looks into my eyes and says, “Yes, your sins put me here, but do not weep for me, weep for yourself.”

I back up and fall to my knees.  I don’t want to witness this!   I want to run away, but my legs won’t move!  I sit and watch as the cross is dropped into the ground, hoping it will break and Jesus might somehow finally be freed…but it doesn't.

I lay there for hours watching, weeping, and hoping there is still some way out for The Son of God.  Then I hear Him say, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.”  There it is!  I again have hope!  My legs are swiftly renewed and I run to the cross.  “You’re wrong, Jesus!  I knew I was sinning when I lied.  I knew I was sinning when I looked at porn.  I knew I was sinning when I turned my back on you, when I was selfish, when I did wrong.  Get down from there!  I’m not worth it!  I’M not worth it!  I’M NOT WORTH IT!!!!”  With my last screaming attempt to rescue him, my voice goes silent.  I try and try, but I can’t even make the slightest whimper.

At that moment, Christ looks down at me and with His eyes filled with relief and promise, He whispers, “It is finished.”

At the tomb, I weep.  Not for Jesus, but for me.  For my loss of innocence…for my lack of faith…for my doubt…for lost time with my wife, my kids, my family & friends.  I weep for not stopping to speak to a stranger in need...for being selfish.  Ultimately, I weep for not embracing what Jesus, My Savior, set out to do for me.

The last Station of the Cross, Jesus showed himself to His Disciples, fulfilling the promise He made…that He had beaten death and was still alive.  Today and everyday going forward, He has and will continue to show He is still alive and that every sin, every iniquity, and every misstep from here to eternity is paid for.

Right now, I feel myself being asked the same questions the Disciples were asked after Christ’s death and resurrection.  Will you hide in fear?  Will you seek the lost?  Will you be my hands and feet?  Will you not only accept what I have done, but believe it as well?  Will you take up your cross?

Will I take up my cross?  I will, but it won’t be easy.  All too many times, I've thrown boxes and any other crap I can find, directly on my cross, so I don’t have to carry it.  Why?  Well, simply because often times it seems a lot easier to play the part of a Christian…to act like everything is perfect in my life…to act like I don’t sin, so I don’t have to actually carry my cross.  Living out my faith can and does take me out of my comfort zone and pushes me to change.  Change takes a lot of work and when you've been so lazy for so long, the weight of that cross seems like way too much to carry.

That weight will only increase, if I try to carry it all on my own, but this Easter has reminded me that I don’t have to carry it on my own.  Look, I’m not saying I won’t have to work hard to change things, but I know if I give Jesus the opportunity to change me, He in turn will help carry the weight of that cross.  I don’t know about you, but that makes me smile a whole bunch.

Since Easter, I've decided to make a lot of spiritual, mental and physical changes.  I've set goals in all those areas, but the biggest is to spend time with Jesus and surrender guilt because without attaining those goals, every other thing I set before me will be futile.  Oh…and I’m already making steps in dropping the unconscious “parent by guilt” thing, so my kids can learn from their mistakes, while living with joy.  I figure that’s pretty important.

So here’s where you come in, if you’re up for it… I’d really appreciate it if you’d take some time to pray for me, that I will allow Jesus and His sacrifice to take hold in my life more and more every day.  And if you’re up for a challenge, I not only invite you to think about what changes you can make in your life as you reflect on Easter, but to actually take steps to change in those areas .

Cheers to “Christian New Years” when we are reminded of Jesus’ gift of a new life and embracing our chance to live it out!  

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Rummage Sale, Saints, and Adoption

Have you ever felt blessed beyond what you deserve?  Have you ever sat at your desk at work and found your eyeballs filled with tears?  Not because of some inspirational, heartwarming video you watched on YouTube or Facebook, but because something so incredible and heartwarming was actually happening to you?  I have.

About a month ago, we put the announcement out to our church that we were going to have an Adoption Fundraiser Rummage Sale and asked people to donate anything they may have lying around the house, so we could raise money for our adoption.  This wasn’t our first go-round with this type of fundraiser, as we did it back in early 2009, before we adopted our sweet little Ethiopian Prince, Jeremiah.  Back then, we had numerous people donate a bunch of stuff and one friend made countless trips to our house with cars-full of great things to sell.  The end result...over $700.  Pretty cool, huh?

Well this time, we had no idea what we were in store for.  First, I had friends contact me within a minute of posting our request on Facebook and within 3 weeks, our community…nay… our church family, had filled our larger-than-most shed at church.  2 days before our sale, I put the request out to my poker buddies and they jumped into action, as well.  It was pretty cool, but the real surprise came when we started laying out everything for the sale in our church sanctuary.

IT WAS FULL!  Granted, our sanctuary isn’t huge, but it was friggin full!  2 X-Boxes, 2 Bean-Bags the size of Montana, vases, lamps, a couch, enough clothes to fill the Grand Canyon (slight exaggeration), TVs, books, kids toys, a bike, sports equipment, etc…  Pretty much everything you could think of and, to top it off, a woman from our church who bakes for a living, made 2 huge chocolate cakes and cookies to sell.  Did I mention my brother from another mother, Jeff, made his famous Ocean Rolls for us to sell?  Again…pretty cool.

So we set up Thursday night for a Friday morning sale.  The late night and short rest quickly turned to morning, so with exhaustion setting in, Becca and I left for church.  After a few last-minute tasks at the church, I kissed my wife and off to work I went. 

Within 25 minutes, people were banging on the church door, asking my wife to get in early.  Headache-ridden and overwhelmed, my wife texted me asking for prayer because she was already at the brink of breaking down.  A few minutes later, I received this text, “Just started crying….pray for your dumb stressed out wife! Ly” (Note:  She was never this overwhelmed before three kids.  Go figure.)  A few minutes later, our resident “Fix-All Lady” Donna showed up, took over, and let Becca regroup.

That’s when it hit me at the office…eyes-welling, knowing how God has surrounded us with incredible people.  Becca continued to send me texts of more people showing up to help, people donating extra money on top of what they were already spending, and how her headache had disappeared.  I may lose my ‘Man Card’ for admitting this, but I just kept welling up throughout the day.

As if generosity hadn’t been heaped on us enough that day, our friend/neighbor Shawna, helped us clean up for about an hour, picked Emmy up for school, and brought us dinner.  Seriously, what is wrong with all these nice people?  I thought our culture is supposed to be full of “Me Monsters” who only care about themselves.  Our friends clearly did not get that memo.

A long story, short…we drove away from the church after the Friday/Saturday sale completely exhausted, but with a little over $2,000 toward our adoption…and we haven’t even sold the 2 X-Boxes yet.

The following day at church, we had the opportunity to share with and thank our church family.  They gave us a mic and we set out to try to put into words what their kindness did for us.  I’m terrible at public speaking and I may or may not have gotten choked up while speaking, which made my attempt even more pathetic.  (I think I actually squealed at one point…pathetic!)  To be honest, I’m still not exactly sure what I said, so here’s my second (less teary, more coherent) attempt to thank everyone.

First off, THANK YOU!  The time and great sellable items are far more than what we could have ever asked for.  When we went to our first adoption seminar, they told us, “If God is calling you to adopt, don’t worry about the money.  He will provide it!”  And He did.  We came in with the same mantra this time around and guess what?  He is providing again and I have no doubt, He will continue to do so.

By no means am I comparing what we are doing to what God has done for us, but I like to explain it this way…  Jesus’ death on the cross, His incredible sacrifice, paid our ransom.  At the moment He breathed his last, we were no longer orphans, but sons and daughters.  Our ransom was, and is, forever paid!

Adoption, at least internationally, is extremely expensive, but Becca and I see it as a ransom we pay to forever (or at least as long as we live) receive our son or daughter.  Through this, many people have told us how incredible we are for “saving” this child.  That’s where the tiny comparison of Christ and us quickly diminishes.  Yes, it is a sacrifice when you spend so much time and money to complete an adoption, but we truly are far more blessed by our new son or daughter, than they will ever be by us.  That is an unquestionable fact. 

When we set out to adopt our eventual son, Jeremiah, we never thought, “Man, its sure going to be great when we save this child.  He better never take us for granted because without us, who knows what would have happened to him!”  Why?  Well, (1) God could have picked anyone to be Jeremiah’s parents, but He chose us to be blessed by this incredible boy.  He chose us to raise this sweet boy and that is an incredible gift!  (2) We wanted another child to love and to love us…not owe us for something God put on our hearts.  (3) The call to adopt is not for the weak at heart.  It’s not some Slam-Dunk, Save the World so we can look good, sort of thing.  It’s hard and it sucks a lot of the time.  When you sit and wait for answers on the well-being of your child a half-a-world away, you realize how much that child means to you…how much you love him.  Any thought you might ever have had about them “owing you” vanishes at that moment.
Basically, we can’t take pride in “saving” our next child because God is the one behind the “saving.”  He’s saving Becca and me from not fulfilling His plan for our lives.  He’s saving Emmy, Jeremiah and Levi from being short a sibling.  He’s saving us from not reaping the rewards of being obedient.  Really…He’s saving our family from being incomplete. 

So when I tell our family and friends, “Thank you for helping pay the ransom for our next child,” please know I say that, giving full credit to the “Hero” in this story…Jesus Christ.  Becca and I are by no means “Saviors.”  We are simply saying yes to what God is calling us to do (Something I’m not very good at, mind you.)  The paid “ransom” and “saving” is and will continue to be handled by my Jesus…and that suits me just fine.

To our Water Church family and friends, thank you.  Thank you for giving your time and possessions to help pay that “ransom.”  But mostly, thank you for allowing me to encounter one of those feel-good, heartwarming moments that can make my eyeballs fill with tears.  Not on YouTube or Facebook or Vimeo or anywhere else on the internet…  But smack-dab, face-to-face, in the flesh, right in front of me.  Your selflessness this past month and especially this past weekend, has showed me how well surrounded our family is with Saints and God’s all-encompassing goodness.