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

Cancer: Staging

We got a crash course in cancer staging our first few days after Anna’s tumor was discovered. We were told that an MRI and CT Scan were needed to determine staging so we scheduled her appointments. Here’s a pic that gives an overview of the Stages:

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Stage 1 is the hyperplasia; Stage 2 dyplasia; Stage 3 in situ cancer; Stage 4 Invasive cancer

We were hopeful for Stage 1 or 2, as surgery only is standard protocol. We were disappointed to learn from the doctor that Anna has Stage 3 colon cancer. The recommended protocol is 5 weeks of chemo and radiation to shrink the tumor, followed by surgery. As you might imagine, this was hard news for Anna and me both.

The morning after staging was complete and we talked to the doctor, Anna and I did our Pray As You Go together and found these words of Jesus appropriate and comforting:

“I leave behind with you—peace; I give you my own peace and my gift is nothing like the peace of this world. You must not be distressed and you must not be daunted. You have heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you really loved me, you would be glad because I am going to my Father, for my Father is greater than I. And I have told you of it now, before it happens, so that when it does happen, your faith in me will not be shaken. I shall not be able to talk much longer to you for the spirit that rules this world is coming very close. He has no hold over me, but I go on my way to show the world that I love the Father and do what he sent me to do.” (John 14:27-31 JBP)

“You must not be distressed and you must not be daunted.” Those words hung in the air as we listened to the reader say that statement of Jesus. As this reality of staging sets in we are doing our best not to be distressed and not to be daunted. Please continue to join us as we lean on the peace that is nothing like the peace this world offers.

 

 

From Atonement to At-One-Ment

You may be familiar with the word Atonement. Traditionally, Atonement is commonly understood as substitutionary atonement, a theological theory that Jesus suffered crucifixion as a substitute for human sin, satisfying God’s just wrath against man’s transgression due to Christ’s infinite merit. This theory depicts God as angry, filled with judgment, waiting to carry out punishment on his created ones. It presents Jesus as the “scapegoat” taking on the sins of mankind.

There is another understanding of atonement that has been around since the first century, called Christus Victor (Latin for “Christ is victorious”). This explanation of atonement argues that Christ’s death is God’s victory over sin and death. God conquers death by fully entering into it. Thus, the crucifixion is not a necessary transaction to appease a wrathful and justice-demanding deity, but an act of divine love.

The Early Church Fathers believed that the Cross was primarily how God defeated Satan, once and for all. It was not about a payment of penalty to a wrathful God. No, the Cross was the pinnacle of the battle between God and Satan. God won the battle, once for all, and the Cross is the reminder that He is the victor. Because of this victory you and I get to live a life of at-one-ment with God.

Brennan Manning in his book, The Furious Longing of God, explains it this way: “On the Cross Jesus surrenders in trusting, obedient love to His Abba, and then rises from the ground, not as a trapped animal (paying the penalty to a wrathful Father), but completely at one with the Father; atonement – at-one-ment in the furious love of God.” This is a very different understanding of what happened on the Cross than is presented in substitutionary atonement theology.

As we walk through Holy Week together we have an invitation to move from atonement to at-one-ment with God. Sin and death has been conquered and there is no wrathful Father that needed to be appeased. You are I are clean, forgiven, and whole. Our hearts are good, they matter to God and we can live today at-one with the God of all things!

From Situation Help to Constant Care

There is something about being human that causes us to reach out to God when we need help. We get into a situation at home, at work, in a relationship or crisis, and we call out to God asking him to help us. While there are plenty of instances of situational help from God throughout the Bible, the promise is that we are living in the constant care of God.

“For consider what he (God) has done—before the foundation of the world he chose us to become, in Christ, his holy and blameless children living within his constant care. He planned, in his purpose of love, that we should be adopted as his own children through Jesus Christ.” (Eph 1:4)

This teaching of Paul is a reminder of the reality that you and I living in the constant care of God. We have been adopted as his children. Think about this from the perspective of a parent. Does a parent offer situation help to a child or constant care? My friend Kent Hotaling writes this about care, “ The experience of God caring for us – even when He is not “curing” us as quickly as we choose, is necessary for us to be able to pass along this kind of care for others.”

Maybe this constant care of God is more kind and gracious than the situational help we so often think we desire. Allowing ourselves to be cared for by God is learned at a much slower pace that we would prefer. We are not accustomed to be cared for. We are taught to do life on our own and cry out for help only when we are desperate. Living today believing the truth that we are care for by the God of all things can have a dramatic impact on how we view life. The truth is that you and I are cared for.

Do we dare believe this reality?

Are You Content?

We are suffering from an epidemic of discontent. What we don’t have, aren’t experiencing, can’t achieve often dominates our thought life. “If only…” or “When _______ happens then…” For some reason it seems easier to focus on what isn’t happening, instead of all of the remarkable things that happen every day.

The third “blessed” of Jesus in Matthew 5, Message translation is,

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.” (Matt 5:5)

Being content with just who we are-no more, no less. That sounds amazing and is a challenge. Being content with who we are involves believing the truth of what God says about us. The truth that we are loved, known, cared for, that we are his sons and daughters. Being content also involves being honest about how we feel today, right now, in the midst of joy or sadness, trusting that God is with us.

It’s pretty great being around a person who is content with who they are. We can sense it. We may not even know what it is, but we are drawn to the person. He or she puts us at ease when we are with them. The most content person to ever walk this earth was Jesus. A few days before his death Jesus washed his closest friends feet, “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, 4 got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself.” (John 13:3-4) Jesus did this act of a servant knowing who he was, where he had come from and where he was going.

The more time we spend with Jesus the more content we become with who we are. A content person is comfortable in his or her own skin and it shows. We can’t will ourselves to contentment. It is a bi-product of being with Jesus, allowing his opinion of us to remind us of who we are.

From Control to Kingdom

We are a few weeks into Lent, almost. Have you been able to put your finger on what you would like to move away from and what you would like to move toward? Lately I have been reading the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 5 over and over. I like reading Matthew 5:1-12 in the Message translation. I’ve found that these teaching of Jesus can help us identify what we want to move away from and what we want to move toward.

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. (Matt 5:3)

Really? Jesus begins there. Who wants to be at the end of their rope? I know I don’t. I like having things figured out. I like knowing what is going to happen and when. The end of the rope does not feel good. So why does Jesus say we are blessed when we are at the end of our rope?

My friend Doug Barrem is 79 years old going on 59. He has a sharp mind and has taken good care of his body over the years. He is wise beyond his years, and that is saying something.  Recently he was reading Matthew 5 and saw something new in Jesus’ teaching. He showed me that each one of the “Your blessed…” is an invitation to lose something or order to gain something. Matthew 5:3, according to Doug, is an invitation to loose power in order to gain the Kingdom.

I think I hear what Jesus was saying, along with my friend Doug. The more we release control and power, there more room there is for God to be who he is in our lives. Maybe that is something to move away from, control and power. Jesus teaches as we move away from control and power we naturally moved toward the Kingdom.