Posted: February 24th, 2014 | Author: Gregg Stutts | Filed under: Difficulties, Relationships, Truth | Tags: believe in Jesus, believing God, delight yourself in the Lord, Difficulties, discouragement, forgiveness, God's love, God's will, God's word, grace, Holy Spirit, Jesus, marriage, money, Relationships, seeking God, sex, zombie | 1 Comment »
Let’s be honest. How would you describe your Christian life?
Would you describe it as frustrating or fulfilling? Are you most often discouraged and defeated or joyful and hopeful? Do you feel like God is more disappointed or delighted in you?
If the Christian life hasn’t been working so well, take a moment and read the following three verses…
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. (Ephesians 2:1-3)
Kind of depressing, isn’t it? (I promise this will get better.)
Here are some of the key words:
- ruler of the kingdom of the air (referring to Satan)
- gratifying…our flesh
- deserving of wrath
So who is Paul describing here?
You. Me. All of us.
Our bodies were alive, but we were dead. Like zombies.
We were living according to the ways of the world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air. And 1 John 5:19 tells us “the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” Satan is the one pulling the strings behind the world’s systems and values, so when we live according to the world’s principles, we’re living according to his principles.
And because we had no spiritual life in us, we naturally gratified the desires of the flesh and followed its desires and thoughts. We didn’t have anything else.
Again, kind of depressing. (It’s about to get better though.)
I don’t know about you, but before I placed my faith in Christ, I didn’t know any better. Living according to the world’s principles and gratifying my flesh was all I knew. I was concerned with making life work according to the only principles I knew (the world’s) and doing whatever I could to gratify the flesh.
Then something happened.
I met Jesus when I got to college. The God who’d previously been irrelevant, changed my life. Here’s how Paul describes it…
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:4-10)
But. The whole passage hinges on that one word. But.
“But because of his great love for us…”
Rather than describing the wrath we deserved, the rest of the passage tells us what he did for us, how he did it, why he did it and what we have to look forward to. All because of His great love for us. It’s worth reading it again. And again. And again. Until it sinks in.
If it doesn’t sink in, then we naturally default back to living the way Paul describes in the first three verses. That’s when life gets frustrating. Here’s why…
Before we knew Christ, we only knew one way to do life–the world’s way. And so we followed the thoughts and desires of the flesh and did the best we could to get our needs met. Things didn’t always go our way, but there were no thoughts of an entirely different way of life. There was also no internal conflict. We didn’t have the flesh pulling us one way and the Spirit pulling us the other way. We only had the flesh.
But now when we choose to do life the old way, we have the pull and conviction of the Holy Spirit. He reminds us of the new life. The better life. The Christ life. He will not let us feel good about the old way of life.
When we’ve placed our faith in Jesus and then choose (intentionally or not) to live according to the ways of the world and we follow the thoughts and desires of the flesh, we don’t ever experience true life. What we get is a zombie-like Christian life. It’s like we’re alive, but not really. We’re not dead any more, but what we are sure isn’t pretty.
Are there areas of your life (work, money, food, sex, a relationship, etc.) you’re continuing to live according to the ways of the world? Has gratifying the flesh taken priority over pleasing God?
Give Him control. Seek Him through His word to discover His ways of handling those areas of your life.
It’s time to move from undead to fully alive.
Posted: February 13th, 2014 | Author: Gregg Stutts | Filed under: Relationships, Truth | Tags: marriage, sex | No Comments »
I love watching the Olympics. I especially love the winter games. Every event is fascinating to me. I’m in awe of anyone who can cross country ski 18 miles. Or ski down a mountain at 70 miles per hour. Or do a 1080 on a snowboard. Years of dedication and hard work go into competing at that level. Not every Olympic athlete wins a medal, but they all have a goal of being the best they can be.
What if you approached your marriage with the same perspective?
Winning a gold medal is an incredible achievement, but it’s not even close to being as important as your marriage.
So what if you decided to be the absolute best husband or wife you could be?
One of the very first things you will have to do is see yourself differently. An Olympic speed skater has a different mindset than the person who throws on a pair of skates for fun once in awhile. An Olympian thinks like an Olympian, talks like an Olympian, trains like an Olympian and competes like an Olympian.
If your goal is to be the very best husband or wife you can be, then you’ll need to see yourself that way. Your thinking and your focus will change. Old thoughts or habits that don’t line up with your new identity will be replaced with actions that put your spouse before yourself. A great husband focuses on his wife’s needs, not just his own. And a great wife focuses on her husband’s needs, not just her own.
The best thing you can do for your marriage is to decide right now that you will be the best husband or wife you can be. Your new identity is “world class husband or wife.” It’s okay if you make mistakes. It’s okay if you don’t feel like a gold medal spouse. The best Olympic athletes still fail big sometimes, but they pick themselves up and keep going.
Of course changing your identity is just the first step. The sacrifices, the training, the learning, the hard work–all that comes next, but it begins with a decision. It begins with choosing to adopt a new identity. It has to start there, because if you don’t believe it first, you’ll never live it out.
Posted: February 12th, 2014 | Author: Gregg Stutts | Filed under: Difficulties, Relationships, Truth | Tags: answers to prayer, believe, believe in Jesus, believing God, confusion, Difficulties, discouragement, faith, God is good, God's character, God's glory, God's love, God's will, God's word, Jesus, trials | 2 Comments »
Do you ever wonder why God does some of the things He does? Or doesn’t do other things?
Do you ever ask, “Why God?” or “God, where are You?”
Let’s be honest, we don’t have God figured out. And never will. In fact, in Isaiah 55:8-9, God says:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
This is His universe. It’s His story. He’s under no obligation to explain Himself to us.
Sometimes that can make life painful or confusing, especially when our prayers go unanswered. We pray for things that mean a lot to us, but nothing happens. At least not anything we can see. It can feel like God isn’t listening or if He is listening that He doesn’t care.
In John 11, I believe God pulls back the curtain and lets us see what He’s up to during those times when life seems to be falling apart and He doesn’t seem to be showing up.
Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, is sick. So naturally, his sisters, Mary and Martha, send word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” That’s a really interesting way to talk about someone. “The one you love.” Obviously, there’s a special friendship there.
Naturally, the sisters, just as you and I would, expect Jesus to come and heal their brother. That’s not what Jesus does though. Instead, He pulls back the curtain for us and gives us a glimpse into the spiritual realm. He lets us see He’s up to something far bigger than just healing someone. In verse 4, Jesus says, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s son may be glorified through it.”
Jesus pulls back the curtain with the words “so that.” What’s really going on here? The sickness will not end in death “so that God’s son may be glorified through it.” With that being the primary mission, what happens next in verses 5 and 6 makes sense…
“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days…”
The whole story hinges on the word, “So.” Lazarus is sick. He’s loved by Jesus. His sisters, Mary and Martha, are loved by Jesus. “So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, Jesus immediately departed for Bethany.”
No, that’s not what happens. Jesus doesn’t immediately depart. He waits. For two days.
Two days may not seem like very long, but it is when someone you love is dying before your eyes. It’s a long time when you’re crying out for God’s help, but no answer appears. Most likely, you’ve prayed for something for much longer than two days. Maybe it’s been two months. Or two years. Or ten.
When the answer we want doesn’t come or doesn’t come quickly, it’s easy to lose heart, isn’t it? It’s easy to give up. Sometimes we begin to question God’s love and goodness. I’ve done that. I’ve doubted Him. And I’ve gotten angry. I’ve allowed disappointment with life to become disappointment with God.
But behind the circumstances you and I are facing, there’s always something bigger going on. The big story is God’s glory. When God shows up by either changing our circumstances or giving us the peace and endurance to keep going…He is glorified. Those around us get to see God at work.
The story of Lazarus continues though and we get to see the curtain pulled back again.
When Jesus gets ready to leave for Bethany, He tells His disciples, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.”
He does it again. He pulls back the curtain and lets us see what’s really going on. He says He’s glad He wasn’t there to heal Lazarus, so that they would believe.
When you and I face painful or confusing circumstances, when life throws more at us than we think we can handle, let’s remember God is at work growing our faith. He wants us to see Him at work so our capacity to trust Him grows.
God sees your situation. He knows the desire of your heart. He’s aware of the unmet need. He’s not unconcerned. He loves you deeply. So…maybe He hasn’t answered your prayer yet…or in the way you wanted Him to, so that He will be glorified and so that you will believe. Will God always answer the way we want? No, but when He doesn’t, we still have the promise of His peace.
Whatever you’re facing today…remember to pull back the curtain and take a peek at what God is up to.
Posted: January 30th, 2014 | Author: Gregg Stutts | Filed under: Relationships, Truth | Tags: answers to prayer, believing God, family, God's glory, heaven, marriage, Relationships, remembering, Young Life | 2 Comments »
It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a family reunion. I think the last one was about twenty-five years ago. Since both of my parents have passed away, I haven’t done a very good job of staying in touch with my extended family.
My mom’s side of the family is spread out now. My dad’s side of the family is mostly in Pennsylvania. Robyn and I have lived in Arkansas for the past twenty-five years, which has made it difficult to visit family or attend reunions.
Two of my children, Rachel and Erica, are already married and live far enough away that we don’t see them very often. My daughter, Amy, is about to graduate from college and is most likely headed to Europe to serve with Young Life for a few years. And my son will soon be enlisting in the Navy. It’s not like I’ll never see my children again, but it’s not the same as when they were little.
A number of years ago, it occurred to me that up until a child graduates from high school, you see him or her almost every day of their life. But after they graduate, there are many more days you will not see them for the rest of their life. At least that’s been the case for me. After high school, I went off to college and spent very little time in my hometown after that.
I think it’s good and healthy to establish a new life, independent of parents. That’s especially important when a child gets married. Being overly bonded to parents is not a recipe for a healthy marriage.
And yet, I do hope Robyn and I can live near our children some day. I want to know them and enjoy a relationship with them as adults. I want to know my grandchildren when they come along. And if I live long enough, I’d like to meet my great-grandchildren.
And that brings me to something I am beginning to pray. My prayer is that Robyn and I would be able to have a family reunion some day with all of our descendents and their spouses. I did a little math…if our four children were to each have just two children of their own and then those eight children got married and had two children each…after ten generations there would be over 8,000 of us.
I want all 8,000+ to come into a relationship with Jesus, to walk with Him and serve Him and to raise the next generation to do the same. And one day when we’re all living in heaven, I want to have a family reunion. I want to meet my great-great-great-great-great granddaughter…and her husband…and their children. I want to meet all of my descendents and their spouses. And for that matter, I’d like to meet those from whom I descended. Have you ever stopped to consider that all of us have descended from Noah and his wife? In that sense, we’re all related.
By the way, don’t think of a heavenly family reunion as floating around in the clouds as spirits. That’s not a biblical view of heaven. Read Genesis 1 and 2. Then read Revelation 21 and 22. Heaven will be on earth one day. Sure, the earth is a messed up place now, but it won’t always be this way. God is going to restore it to His original design. He’s going to make it new again, the way it was supposed to be before sin entered the picture.
Heaven will be on earth, where we’ll live together with God. We’ll work. We’ll play. We’ll eat and drink. We’ll learn and explore and discover. We’ll worship God. And we’ll live in relationship with each other.
I’d love to take a walk with one of my daughters and her daughter and her daughter and her daughter…
I’d love to grab a football and throw it with my son and his son and his son and his son…
I hope we get to have a family reunion in a meadow with a hill nearby so Robyn and I can walk to the top of it, look out over our descendents and rejoice at how greatly God blessed us.
My family...many years ago...
Posted: January 26th, 2014 | Author: Gregg Stutts | Filed under: Difficulties, Relationships, Truth | Tags: answers to prayer, anxiety, believe in Jesus, believing God, delight yourself in the Lord, Difficulties, faith, fear, God's character, God's love, God's will, God's word, Holy Spirit, seeking God | 1 Comment »
Not everything is as it appears. In fact, nothing is as it appears.
After Jesus delivers His first public sermon, He comes down off the mountain and a man with leprosy approaches him and kneels before Him and says, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!”
Immediately the man was cured.
Soon after, Jesus is approached by a centurion whose servant was paralyzed and suffering greatly. Jesus asks the man, “Shall I come and heal him?”
The centurion tells Jesus he doesn’t deserve to have him come to his home, but if he will just say the word, his servant will be healed. Matthew tells us that Jesus was amazed by the man’s faith. So Jesus says, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.”
After this encounter, Jesus goes to Peter’s house where he heals many people and casts demons out of others. When he sees the crowd around him, he gives orders to the disciples to cross over to the other side of the lake.
During the crossing, a furious storm suddenly comes up on the lake. The storm is so bad the disciples are afraid for their lives. Meanwhile, Jesus is sleeping. Can you picture it? Jesus has been in high demand. He’s healed many people. He’s been casting out demons. He’s tired. And despite a furious storm, he’s taking a nap.
Apparently, the disciples have not put two and two together. In the midst of the storm, they’ve forgotten who they’re with and what they’ve seen. They’ve forgotten how Jesus healed the man with leprosy. They’ve forgotten how Jesus commended the centurion for his faith. They’ve forgotten all the people Jesus healed right before they got into the boat.
All they can see is what’s right in front of them. They see wind whipping through their sails. They see the waves coming over the side of the boat. They see they’re only minutes from drowning.
What they’re not seeing is the truth. In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” The truth was that they were not going to drown. The truth was that they were going to safely cross over to the other side of the lake. Why? Because Truth himself was in the boat with them.
The disciples were only seeing with their physical eyes. And that will always lead to worry, anxiety, fear and even panic.
You and I simultaneously live in two realms. We live in the material, physical realm with car problems, health issues, relationship troubles, bills to pay and furious storms. But we also live in a spiritual realm. In Ephesians, Paul calls it the “heavenly realms.” And living in the heavenly realms requires we see with the eyes of our heart. Paul prays, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened…”
If we are going to successfully navigate the storms of life, we must learn to see with the eyes of our heart. We will need the wisdom and revelation that comes from God’s Spirit. As Paul did, we will need to pray the eyes of our heart are enlightened. Why? Because our default mode is to only process life through our five senses and our common sense.
Walking by faith and seeing with the eyes of our heart isn’t natural. It’s supernatural. It requires we live in dependence on God’s Spirit and learn to listen to Him as we spend time in His word. It’s remembering every situation, every relationship, every problem you face…everyday single day…is simultaneously occurring in two realms.
Nothing is as it appears.
The truest thing about you and your life is what God says, not what you say.
The story, your story is rarely over when you think it’s over.
You’ll realize that only as you choose to see with the eyes of your heart.
Posted: January 23rd, 2014 | Author: Gregg Stutts | Filed under: Difficulties, Relationships, Truth | Tags: answers to prayer, believe, believe in Jesus, believing God, confusion, Difficulties, discouragement, faith, fear, God is good, God's character, God's love, God's will, God's word, seeking God, trials | 1 Comment »
Early in his reign as king over Israel, God appeared to Solomon and said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
Jesus once asked a blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Solomon asked for wisdom and knowledge so he’d be an effective leader. Not surprisingly, the blind man asked to see.
What would you ask for?
1 John 5:14-15 says…
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him.
Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
Jesus also said…
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.
I’ll confess, I have had a hard time with these passages. I’ve struggled to believe they’re really true. Haven’t we all prayed for things we believed were God’s will, but didn’t get?
I have. You probably have too.
So what are we to do when we pray for things we believe are God’s will, but nothing happens?
Let me suggest five things…
1. Regardless of what happens, don’t doubt God’s love, God’s goodness or God’s faithfulness. One of the greatest sins I commit is when I mistake disappointment with life with disappointment with God. We live in a broken world. Bad stuff happens. To all of us. No one is immune to hardships. We will never understand (at least in this life) everything God does or doesn’t do, but we can’t allow our pain, confusion or disappointment to lead to questioning His character. I’ve done that. It leads to a bad place.
2. Don’t give up. Some prayers aren’t answered right away. Some are answered after many years. It’s easy to become discouraged and quit, to stop believing, to lower our expectations of God, so we won’t feel disappointment. I’ve done that too. Frankly, I believe it’s offensive to Him when we lower our expectations of Him.
3. Remember that when He doesn’t answer the way we’d hoped, His peace and comfort are available to us no matter what we go through. It also could meant He’s got something better planned for us. Either way, we can’t lose.
4. Know that faith pleases God (Hebrews 11:6). We often talk about getting to know God better, well, here’s something we can know for certain about Him: He likes to be trusted. When we believe Him instead of our circumstances, it gives Him pleasure.
5. Be sure to seek more than just an answer to prayer. Seek God. I have made the mistake of intently seeking an answer to my prayer, but not intently seeking Him. Then once the answer came, I stopped seeking. Why? Because I had what I wanted. There’s nothing wrong with praying hard and long for what we want, but it can’t take precedence over seeking God Himself. I started the year by suggesting we make delighting in God our top priority for 2014. When we do, an answer to prayer wouldn’t cause us to stop seeking, but would motivate us to seek Him even more.
Is there a goal or desire or dream you’ve given up on?
What is it?
What are you believing God for?
Posted: January 10th, 2014 | Author: Gregg Stutts | Filed under: Relationships, Truth | Tags: believe in Jesus, believing God, delight yourself in the Lord, faith, God's character, God's love, God's word, pleasures, seeking God, sex | 2 Comments »
What does God think about pleasure? How would you answer that?
How would your friends or co-workers answer?
I think many would tell us God is anti-pleasure. They might say God is mainly interested in having us follow His rules…rules that are meant to prohibit any sort of pleasure or fun.
And that’s a tragedy, because it’s not the God revealed in the Bible.
Check out this passage written by King David in Psalm 36…
Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep. You, Lord, preserve both people and animals. How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.
After describing God’s faithfulness, righteousness, justice, love and protection, David says, “They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights.”
The Hebrew word used to describe feasting on God’s abundance means “to be satiated or saturated, to be drunk or intoxicated.” And the Hebrew word for “delights” is the root word for Eden, as in the Garden of Eden, and it means “pleasure.”
So think about it…Adam and Eve were created to live in the “Garden of Pleasure.” And David describes God’s people drinking from His river of pleasure and feasting at His house to the point of intoxication.
My five senses tell me that you and I were wired to experience pleasure in a material world, but if that’s all we believe there is, then we’ve missed it all. God created us to live in friendship with Him. Physical pleasures are a gift from Him, not something to be sought apart from Him.
In fact, when we make pleasure our primary pursuit, pleasure is no longer something to be enjoyed, but an idol that must be served. The pursuit of pleasure apart from an intimate relationship with God leaves us feeling unsatisfied and empty. It leads to addictions as we try more and more to find something to fulfill us. What may have started out as pleasure becomes a prison.
God isn’t anti-pleasure. He’s not anti-sex. God isn’t out to kill a good time. True pleasure and true freedom aren’t found apart from God, they’re found in Him. And God’s commands regarding earthly pleasures aren’t meant to rob us of pleasure, but to provide for us and protect us from harm.
Pleasure is God’s creation, not man’s. If you want to experience maximum pleasure, then make 2014 a year of seeking God and walking according to His ways. The Author of Life knows what He’s doing. Seek Him. Trust Him. Feast and drink deeply.
In the last chapter of the Bible, the apostle John wrote, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb…”
The river of life, the river of delights flows from God Himself…and He invites you to drink all you want.
Posted: January 6th, 2014 | Author: Gregg Stutts | Filed under: Difficulties, Relationships, Truth | Tags: answers to prayer, believe in Jesus, believing God, delight yourself in the Lord, faith, God's word, seeking God | 1 Comment »
We’re a week into the new year. If you made any resolutions, how are you doing?
Maybe your goal is to get more organized or stop spending so much or begin making more time for family. Maybe it’s to exercise more and eat less.
I’m always sad to see the Christmas season end, but I do like the hope of a new year. It’s a blank slate. No regrets or mistakes or failures to obsess over. There’s hope and possibilities and dreams to be fulfilled.
Maybe you’re going strong after one week, but if you’re already starting to lose hope, let me encourage you to give yourself some grace and call a “do-over.” If a friend came to you feeling discouraged about not sticking with a new exercise plan, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t condemn her. So let’s not do it to ourselves.
I’m going to encourage you to start the year over with one goal. Just one. If you’ll stick with this one for the rest of January, then you can start to add some others in after that.
So here it is. Here’s your one goal. It’s from Psalm 37:4…
“Take delight in the Lord…”
That’s it. Make that your #1 goal. Make that your priority.
To delight in the Lord means to find your pleasure and enjoyment in Him. It’s not about trying to be better or praying more or stopping a bad habit. And it’s not about seeking God so He’ll give you something or make your life easier. It’s about seeking a deeper friendship with Him. It’s choosing to look to Him for satisfaction and fulfillment, not the temporal pleasures and diversions we so easily turn to.
I can’t tell you what taking delight in Him will look like for you. You may feel like you’re delighting in Him most when taking a long walk or when you’re serving others or spending the first hour of your day quietly with Him. At some point, it will probably mean spending more time reading His word, but when and how much time is up to you.
Will you try it? Will you choose to delight in Him? If so, you will experience the second half of the verse…
“…and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
Don’t focus on that part though. Focus on delighting in Him. Then trust Him to do the second part.
Posted: November 28th, 2013 | Author: Gregg Stutts | Filed under: Relationships, Truth | Tags: Christmas, family, memories, thanksgiving, traditions | 4 Comments »
I’m a sentimental, nostalgic person to begin with, but the holiday season takes it to a whole new level. I spend a lot of “think-time” in the past. I think about friends and experiences together and I treasure memories of family times, football games and Christmas mornings.
As I write this, it’s just after 10:00 a.m. central time on Thanksgiving Day. So in New Jersey it’s just after 11:00 a.m., which means that 33 years ago at this time on Thanksgiving Day, my last high school football game had just kicked off against Toms River North. I forget the final score, but we won to end the season 7-1-1, which unfortunately was not good enough to make the playoffs.
Speaking of the playoffs, we’d anticipated Fayetteville (where we live now) would still be in the playoffs this week, so we would not be able to go anywhere for Thanksgiving. For the past two seasons, my son has had practice on Thanksgiving morning. Fayetteville lost in the first round though, so it’ll be just four of us this year.
For many years when our kids were younger, we traveled to Louisiana to be with my wife’s family. I loved checking the kids out of school early and then piling everyone into the van for the eight hour trip to Hammond on that Tuesday or Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Many of those years also included, Ivy, our beagle. She died earlier this year though, so this will be the first Thanksgiving without her in 14 years.
We did break tradition in 1999 to travel to Colorado to help a friend administrate a conference he was leading at Keystone Resort. It was our one and only ski vacation as a family. Some of us picked up skiing a little quicker than others. I won’t say who struggled the whole time.
Because I’m so sentimental, I have a difficult time throwing things away. I hold onto old t-shirts and ticket stubs. I keep newspapers that covered important events like elections and 9-11. And in 2000, I started a tradition of cutting off a section of the trunk of our Christmas tree to save.
I not only save t-shirts and newspapers–I also save emails. This morning, I was going through some old ones. I don’t mean emails from a few months ago; I’m talking about emails from eight or nine years ago. I found some my daughter had written during her freshman year in college and forwarded them to her. I found another one where I’d recorded some of the questions my son asked me on August 9, 2004–just a few weeks before he turned nine. Here are a few of them:
“How can God always be there if nobody born Him?”
“Is there a lot of blood when an elephant is born?”
“Can anything be perfectly smooth?”
“Would you rather have a rifle or a shotgun? Why?”
“What time do I have to go to bed?”
I also found a document I’d written 24 days after my dad passed away in 2005. I wanted to capture some of the moments in his final days and also honor the man who shaped me more than anyone else on earth. This picture is from the last Christmas we had together before he died a few months later.
So where am I going with all this? Well, no deep thoughts today. Just enjoy this holiday season with those you love. Try to look past the annoyances and unmet expectations. Remember that we’re all broken, all in need of grace, all deserving of a second chance. Treasure every moment you have with your family. Take lots of pictures. And build some memories…they’ll become the glue that keeps you bonded together in the future.
This post has already been long enough, but if you’re interested in what I wrote about my dad back in April of 2005, here it is…
In the spring of 2005, a man who changed the world passed away. Through the course of his life, he influenced countless lives – touching both the great and the small in the eyes of the world. Political and business leaders attended his memorial service, as did those who knew him well and those who hardly knew him. I’m one who knew him well. He was my dad, Robert Stutts.
He was diagnosed with acute leukemia in September 2004. Six months later, on March 23, 2005 – he passed quietly into eternity. That was 24 days ago. It feels more like 24 months ago or 24 minutes ago. I dreamed about him last night. I told him he was wonderful. He told me I had a tender heart. So did he. He used to say, “I love you Greggy”, when we were getting off the phone. No one else calls me “Greggy”.
Yes, my dad changed the world. He changed my world. What makes that most remarkable to me is that he had no one to pattern his life after. He had no model. He didn’t have parenting books to reference. Of course, my dad wouldn’t have read them anyway. He liked to read the newspaper, but that was about it. Somehow though, my dad altered the course of history with his life.
My dad once described his own father as “a mean man”. Anyone who knew my dad, knew that he was anything but mean. He was the kind of person who loved to help people. Need a job? He’d help you get one. Need a ride to a cancer hospital in Manhattan? He’d take you. His son wants to go to an Ivy League university? No problem. He said if I got in, he’d pay for it – and he did.
My dad made it to almost every football game I ever played – from 4th grade through college. His own father never saw him play a single down. His father never saw his son return an interception 38 yards for a touchdown in 1954 in his first college game. His father never watched as his son played most of his senior year of high school with Novocain shot into his thigh to deaden the pain. Yet I don’t think it ever even occurred to my dad to not be there for my games – even when it meant driving hundreds of miles to Ithaca, New York or West Point.
My dad was born and raised in Mifflintown – a little town nestled in the mountains of central Pennsylvania. He graduated from high school in 1950 and joined the Navy just a few days after the Korean War began. While in the Navy, he served on three different aircraft carriers – the Roosevelt, the Coral Sea, and the Midway. He was a radio operator. He once did top-secret work in the Black Sea – intercepting radio traffic of Soviet aircraft and submarines.
After leaving the Navy, he went to college. His father never really liked him, but going to college sealed it. My dad was the first in his family to go to college and leave home. That was interpreted as “being too good” for them. Telling his father that he was a Republican didn’t help much either. His father was a life-long Democrat.
When my dad learned that his father was in the hospital and was dying, he drove from New York to Pennsylvania to see him. When he walked into the hospital room, his father looked at him and said, “What are you doing here?” Given that type of relationship with his own father, how did this man turn it all around?
Six weeks ago, it became clear that God was not going to answer our prayers for my dad’s healing. I made plans to visit him and help care for him. I arrived in New Jersey on March 17, six days before he died. Fortunately, he still had enough energy in the first couple days I was there to get his haircut, go grocery shopping, and have lunch together at the Corner Post Diner. I don’t remember much of what we talked about – just being with my dad was enough. He ordered scrapple for lunch that day. (For those unfamiliar with scrapple, suffice it to say it’s a Pennsylvania Dutch item made from corn meal, spices and pork – boiled, made into a loaf and then pan-fried. Covered with breakfast syrup – it’s delicious!)
Three days later, the rest of my family arrived to see my dad. Everyone knew this would be the last visit with him. I later learned that he was concerned with what he’d wear when the kids saw him. He felt bad that he couldn’t look better for them. Because of his enlarged spleen and the fluid build-up in his abdomen, he could only wear pajama pants. Because of the fluid build-up in his calves and feet, he could only wear slippers.
The kids got to hug him and spend some time with him, but just a few hours later, his energy level dropped and he had to go to bed. Just an hour later, he became very ill and was rushed to the hospital. Robyn, my wife, and I stayed with him until 2:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning when the decision was made to admit him to the oncology floor.
One of the most heart-breaking moments in this entire process took place at around 1:00 a.m. that morning. We were still waiting for the results of the blood tests to come back from the lab. I explained to my dad why we were waiting and that it would be another hour until we knew the results. A couple minutes later, in a child-like, innocent voice, he said, “So I’m going home?”
That was the first time I felt like we’d reversed roles. I was now acting as his dad, explaining that he’d probably be admitted that night when all he wanted was to go home and sleep in his own bed. That would never happen.
After getting some sleep, we all returned to the hospital on Tuesday morning to visit with him. He was very, very weak and uncomfortable. He spent the entire day sitting on the edge of the bed – mostly staring at the floor, at times speaking softly to us. There were also times that he wanted to be alone.
My dad loved his family greatly, but he was also wired to like order and quiet. His grandchildren were a delight to him, but they also created some chaos when they were around. His preference toward the end was that people not be “hoovering” over him. That’s why he also did not want an open casket or a viewing after his death.
Of course he never really understood that the correct word was “hovering”. He did have a way of butchering the English language. I’m sure he was convinced until the day he died that he had a “prostrate” gland somewhere.
I asked him at one point on Tuesday when just Robyn and I were in the room if he could relive just one moment from his life, what it would be. He thought for a moment and said, “The first time I hugged and kissed Sylvia.”
He and Sylvia were so happy together. He loved being married to her. There’s a great picture of them in the limousine after the wedding ceremony in 1999. He looks like a kid on Christmas morning. His smile lit up the limo.
Sadly, his marriage to my mom did not always produce that kind of smile – certainly not in the last 15 years of their marriage. My mom died in 1997. She’d been sick for a long time – probably with some type of cancer. She just never told anyone – not even my dad. There was a lot she never told him. There was a lot she never told anyone.
Only after her death did my dad share with me some of the things in my mom’s past – things that put her life in context for me. There was a painful break-up with a boyfriend in college. My dad thought she never got over him. My brother died just hours after being born in 1963. Mom never saw him – never held him. She had an abortion a year later.
She never recovered from those painful events. Her capacity for intimacy and closeness was severely diminished. For 35 years, my dad was faithful to a woman who had very little to offer him in return. It makes his death that much more sad to me. He’d finally found a wife who could return his love, but their marriage was cut short after five years.
I watched his thoughts on the day before he died begin to transition from his life on earth to the life that awaited him in heaven. At one point, he said, “If Jesus came to me and said, ‘My son, you have two days left. The first day is devoted to Me to do whatever I ask. On the second day, you may do whatever you want.’”
My dad continued, “On the first day, I would do whatever God wanted. On the second day, I would take Sylvia to dinner.” He just wanted the simple things that had become impossible. I assured him that taking your wife to dinner was also devoted to God.
I also told him my sister, Terri, was on her way from North Carolina to see him. She would arrive around midnight. At 10:00 p.m., my dad was given a small dose of morphine to help him sleep, but at 10:30, he still refused to lie down. It only became clear to me later what was happening. He turned to Sylvia and said, “Why would I lie down if you’re still here?” I believe he knew there wasn’t much time left and if he went to sleep he might never wake up.
I kissed him goodnight and told him I’d see him in the morning. I learned from my sister the next morning that when she arrived at midnight that he was sitting up on the edge of the bed. It wouldn’t surprise me if he sat up soon after we left him at 10:30 – willing himself to stay awake through the morphine, through the fatigue, through the discomfort, through the final hours of his life, so that he could see his daughter one last time. That’s the kind of man he was. She had 30 minutes with him and left.
The last words my dad ever spoke came on Wednesday morning soon after we arrived at the hospital. By this time, his breathing was labored and he’d slipped into a coma. The oncologist encouraged us to say our good-byes to him even though he was no longer conscious. Sylvia entered his room and said, “Robert, I love you.” He opened his eyes briefly, looked at her and was able to get out, “I love you.”
That was 24 days ago. Today is a day my dad would have loved – warm, sunny – a day to walk on the boardwalk, plant a garden, or just run errands. I heard a song on the radio earlier. It made me want to call my dad just to talk – talk to the man who changed my world. I wish I could hear him say just one more time, “I love you, Greggy.”
Posted: October 18th, 2013 | Author: Gregg Stutts | Filed under: Difficulties, Relationships, Truth | Tags: answers to prayer, believe in Jesus, believing God, discouragement, faith, forgiveness, God's kingdom, God's will, God's word, kingdom of God, kingdom of heaven, pain and suffering, Relationships, seeking God | 1 Comment »
Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
The Greek word that gets translated “full” means: exceeding some number or measure or rank or need, over and above, more than is necessary, superadded, exceeding abundantly, supremely, something further, more, much more than all, more plainly, superior, extraordinary, surpassing, uncommon.
It’s not just an abundant life–it’s exceeding abundantly. It’s extraordinary. It’s superadded. I like that one–superadded.
Is that what you’re experiencing? Would you describe your life as “much more than all?” As “superior?” As “superadded?”
Or would you say your Christian life is a little more on the mundane side? More “common” than “uncommon.” You don’t really have more than is necessary, but less.
Being honest, would you say your Christian life is more frustrating than fulfilling?
I can relate. There are times I feel like I should be further along or feel frustrated I don’t seem to experience more of God.
Could it be that when the Christian life feels like it’s not working that we’re not living in the new reality Paul spoke of in his letter to the Colossians?
For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
When we placed our faith in Christ, God rescued us from the dominion of darkness. He brought us into, or transferred us into His kingdom–the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of God and the dominion of darkness operate under very different principles. It’s a totally different way of life.
For example, in the dominion of darkness, we tend to find our security in money. We find significance in our work or in a relationship. Our sense of worth or value comes from what we’ve achieved or what we have or even how we look. In the dominion of darkness, we make decisions based on common sense or what’s best for us or simply based on the facts before us.
In God’s kingdom, we find our security in Him. We find our value in Him. We make decisions based on faith in Him and what He’s leading us to do, despite what seems to make sense. In God’s kingdom, we give generously, knowing God has promised to supply our needs. In God’s kingdom, we forgive those who have wronged or hurt us, because we’ve been forgiven so much more.
I wonder if the Christian life is the most frustrating when we’re expecting to experience a supernatural type of life, but are living by dominion of darkness principles. We want an abundant, superadded kind of life, but we don’t walk by faith, we aren’t quick to forgive and we aren’t generous givers.
Jesus prefaced a lot of parables with the words, “the kingdom of heaven is like…” He’s talking about God’s kingdom on earth. He’s telling us how to live now. In his letter to the Romans, Paul said, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
The logical, reasonable thing for us to do, based on all God has done for us–is to give our lives to Him. But that’s only the beginning. We then begin a journey with Him of becoming more like Him. We are transformed more and more into His likeness by the renewing of our minds. That happens as we invest time in His word and with others who are as well.
How about you? Are you a citizen of God’s kingdom, but still living according to the laws and principles of the dominion of darkness?