Advent Week 2: Suffering as a Teacher

As followers of Jesus, we don’t really like to talk about suffering. We tend to like to praise God when good things happen, when we land the big deal, our kids succeed at something they worked hard for, or when God provides in some overt way. But if things like perseverance, character and hope are desirable traits, then why are we so surprised when suffering comes?

Jesus’ parents knew suffering. There is one very understated line of Jesus’ birth story in Luke that hints of the suffering of his parents, especially his mom. “…Mary, now in the later stages of her pregnancy. So it happened that it was while they were there in Bethlehem that she came to the end of her time. She gave birth to her first child, a son.” (Luke 2: 5-6) As a man, I know nothing about the suffering of being in the later stages of pregnancy. I have, however, been a witness to the suffering. Any husband who pays attention can see that there is a lot of suffering, especially in the last few weeks before the child comes. I can try to picture being Joseph, traveling 90 miles with Mary by foot or donkey through rough terrain just days before my son’s birth. But, think about the suffering of this teenage girl Mary is almost unimaginable.

Our family has experienced quite a bit of suffering the past three years as we continue to walk through this journey with Anna’s cancer. Similar to when our kids were born, I know nothing of the day-to-day suffering that Anna experiences in her body, but I am a witness to the suffering. I am also experiencing my own suffering as her husband, and as a parent who is raising our three young kids with Anna in this reality.

Paul writes, “…suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint” (Rms 5:3-4) After years of suffering, our family is slowly seeing perseverance, character and hope building in us, especially our children. We also see these traits in our extended family and community of friends who love Jesus and love us. They are suffering through this cancer journey with us, and we are learning together how suffering is a teacher.

“Suffering is not so much about pain as it is about giving up and losing control.”           -Dan Bruner

Advent Week 1: What is Your Desire?

I noticed something about Jesus’ dad Joseph this morning when I dusted off Matthew’s birth of Jesus story for this season of Advent. It appears from the story that Joseph’s desire was to “put her (Mary) away secretly” (Matt 1:19). Mary was pregnant, the child clearly wasn’t his, so Joseph’s desire was to secretly end the betrothal. We are told from Matthew the reason for Joseph’s desire was because he didn’t want to disgrace Mary. Sounds like love to me. I’m guessing the other reason is that he was “a righteous man” and didn’t want to be disgraced himself. But maybe I am reading my own humanity into the story too much.
As Joseph is considering his desire, an angel comes to him in the night and offers clarity to the situation. Matthew’s comment after the angel encounter gives even more insight to the reader of this incredible story. “Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “BEHOLDTHE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SONAND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.”(v. 22-23)
 Joseph wakes up from his dream and still has a decision to make, follow his desire or trust the angel, trust God. If he chooses to trust, the promise is Immanuel, God with us. Now for him, that is literal. I can’t imagine actually having God in the flesh with me as a little baby. Being the earthly dad of God in the flesh! That’s the offer. What’s interesting is that God is going to come in the flesh through Mary either way. Joseph can either follow his original desire or trust this crazy promise of the angel and help raise God in the flesh. If he does that he has to believe Immanuel, God is with us, that God is with him.
What if we have a similar decision to make regarding desire and trust? Ours is not as dramatic. No betrothal hanging in the balance, no angel in the night for us (most likely), but still an invitation to trust. This Advent will we trust that God is With Us no matter what is going on in our lives, we will believe the promise of Immanuel?

Embracing Solitude

Solitude is so counterintuitive to our culture. It takes a lot effort to learn to cultivate this spiritual discipline, but we can see in the Gospel accounts that time alone with God was very important to Jesus:

In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. (Mark 1:35, NASB)

 So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone. (John 6:1,5 NASB)

It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. (Luke 6:12, NASB)

We don’t know what happened between Jesus and the Father in these times of solitude, but we do know that quiet, reflective time with the Father was a priority to Jesus.

By the world’s standards, some might have said Jesus was “wasting” time. Not being “productive.” Not “accomplishing” anything. The truth is that Jesus was operating on a completely different value system, one that we are wise to consider if we, too, want to draw close to the Father.

The Psalmist David also experienced this, saying, “My heart has heard you say, ‘Come and talk with me.’ And my heart responds, ‘Lord, I am coming’” (Psalm 27:8, NLT). In that place, he could open himself up to the Lord and commune deeply with Him. David wrote of this practice: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. (Psalm 139:23, NLT). When we sit quietly in the presence of the Lord and invite Him to search us, we join David and a long line of spiritual giants who have experienced this before us.

(from Chapter 8 Am I Loved?)

Lent: Belief On Ramp #3

Belief On-Ramp # 3

For this one, set aside a minimum of four hours, again, unplugged if possible.

Begin by going through your life in 10-year increments. (Allow 15 to 20 minutes per increment.) Identify any core memories or consistent messages from others you remember hearing during that increment of time that might have developed into a lie you still tell yourself subconsciously (e.g., I’m too small, too big, can’t do anything right, always in trouble, won’t amount to anything, not worth my parents’ time, bossy, difficult to get along with, etc.). Write down anything that comes to mind.

Be as honest with yourself as you can about the possible lies you may believe today. Go through a typical day/week in your cur- rent life and try to identify when you consistently get down, frustrated, or are particularly hard on yourself (20 to 30 minutes). List anything that comes to mind.

Now look over your various lists and notes and write out the top three lies you might be believing. As you read these words or statements about yourself, do they resonate?

Take these lies to God. Admit that you have believed these things about yourself. Ask Him to free you of them. Finally, turn each of these lies into an “I no longer . . .” statement (e.g., I no longer believe that everyone will eventually leave me).

Thank the Lord for the freedom that is yours through Christ Jesus, and ask Him to fill you with His Spirit, to live out the opposite of these lies—and the truth that you are loved.

Lent: Belief On Ramp #1

Belief On-Ramp #1

In Chapter 1, the son in Jesus’ story longed to stuff himself with pig slop, but he knew that, even in his deep hunger, the food would not satisfy. The same is true for us. Only one thing curbs our longing, and it’s actually not a thing at all; it’s a return to the Father.

You have read a little of my story, and some of the story of the young man in Luke 15. Now take some time for yourself, at least an hour if you can. Here are a few questions/thoughts to consider:

  1. How do you feel today? (e.g., overwhelmed, confused, great, unfulfilled, lonely)
  2. Complete the following: I tend to try to control my environment or others around me when:

I often / sometimes / rarely seek approval from others.

(If sometimes or often, why do you think this is?)

  1. Have you had a significant moment in your life that caused you to consider the deeper questions of life? If so, how has this changed the way you live?
  2. What is one thing you have a hard time believing could ever change in your life?

A Picture of Love

I saw a picture of love over the weekend and didn’t even fully realize it until later. Friday night Anna, our three kids and I gathered in the family room for our annual tradition of decorating the tree together. Some friends of ours passed on wonderful advise to us in our first year of marriage. They encouraged us to collect ornaments from places we visit and special memories we make together as a couple and we have continued this tradition with our children. So each year we decorate together and relive some of the memories. It is always a highlight as we begin the Advent season!

Before we began decorating, I read a page out of our daily reading from Advent and Christmas. As I started reading Elijah, our 10-year old, saddled up next to me on the couch and followed along on the page. I noticed that he would look at me, then at the words, paying attention to what his father was doing. When it came to the scripture reading he enthusiastically asked, “Can I read that part Dad?” And so he read:

“And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thes 5:14-18)

Those were not the easiest words to get through for a 10 year-old, but the moment was heartening and instructive. Through reflecting on that moment with my son, I realize that I got a picture of God the Father with me, his son. In my growing relationship with God I find myself more and more sitting very close to him, doing my best to listen. Then like Elijah I often ask a question. I guess in a symbolic way you could say that I look at God the Father and read along over his shoulder. At some point I often ask to “read” and fumble my way through.

I wonder if God the Father sits with me in silence and enjoys watching me learn, doing  my best to emulate Him. I enjoyed that moment with Elijah so much, and I also know that God’s love for me far outweighs my love for my son.

A week into Advent I find myself very grateful for a God who is Father to us all, whether we know it or not.

#amiloved

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Anna Update/ Shawn Book Release

For the past 10 years I have primarily used this blog as a place to write, an avenue to process what I am learning about who God is and who I am. For the past 6 months I have blogged about Anna’s cancer and how our family is walking through this season of life. Today, I would like to update you on both fronts:

Anna update

It’s been seven months since Anna and I heard those dreaded words from the doctor, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but you have cancer.” We have experienced every emotion multiple times over since that surreal moment. Anna continues to feel pretty good physically, and we remain hopeful that she is slowly healing from cancer. It is still scary, surreal, and often very difficult for Anna, our kids and me.

Shawn book release

As you may know, for the past 3 years I have been working on a book titled, Am I Loved? Literally, one hour before that moment in the doctor’s office seven months ago, I was on the phone with the editor finalizing a chapter titled, Redefining Belief. Little did we know that our own belief was being redefined as we received Anna’s diagnosis.

During the past seven months we have believed more than ever that we are loved by God. Anna and I desire many others to learn to believe this truth as well. That’s why I have continued with the book project, even in the midst of this crazy season of life. I am pleased to announce the launch of the website along with the book, Am I Loved? for pre-sale on Amazon today!

In Matthew 25:27 Jesus says this about himself, “Just as the Son of Man has not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life to set many others free.” (Matthew 25:27) Anna and I have been set free, totally free, over the years through learning to believe the truth that we are loved by God. We desire to continue to partner with Jesus in his mission to “set many others free.”

Anna and I would love to have you joining us in this work of Jesus to set many other people free. This includes participating with God in Him setting each of us free, and helping others do the same. Am I Loved? has the capacity to be more than a book. It is the central message of God! You and I are loved!

Would you join this movement with us and dare to believe together that we are all loved by God? Way to join us:

  1. Pre-order the e-book (paperback release January 9th)
  2. Click here to read Chapter 1
  3. Recommend this book to others
  4. Visit AMILOVED.org

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Thanks for your continued prayers and for being in this belief journey with us. We truly do believe that God can do this, whatever His version of this is with Anna’s healing, and with each of us joining Him in setting many others free.

#amiloved