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.”
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?
We’ve only lived here for five years, but I love my hometown of Fayetteville, Arkansas, the home of the University of Arkansas.
I also love the Jersey Shore, where I grew up, about sixty miles south of New York City. I wish I could get back there more often than I do.
My dad grew up in Mifflintown, Pennsylvania. When we’d go there to visit, he always called it “going up home.” It had been many years since he’d lived there, but he still thought of it as home.
As Dorothy said, there’s no place like it.
I think Jesus would agree…just not for the same reasons. He had a busy couple of days. He spoke to a storm and made it stop. He cast demons out of two men. He healed a woman who’d been suffering for twelve years. And He raised a 12-year-old girl from the dead. Then He decides to go to his hometown. The account of what happens when He arrives is found in Mark 6.
On the Sabbath, Jesus went to the synagogue and began to teach and the people asked, “Where did this man get these things? What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing?
Mark records that “many who heard Him were amazed.” The Greek word for amazed is a strong one. It’s the same word that means “to strike out, expel by a blow, drive out or away.” The meaning in this case is “to be struck with amazement, astonished, amazed.” They were blown away by Jesus’ teaching.
Then something happens. They start to grumble. “Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph,Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
They’d grown up with Jesus. He was the carpenter. They knew His family. Jesus is no big deal, they thought. Amazement turned to offense. And offense led to doubt.
Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.
The Greek word for “amazed” here is different than the one used earlier. This word means “to wonder or marvel.” Jesus is filled with wonder. He marvels at their extraordinary lack of faith. And their lack of faith meant He could not do any miracles there.
Think about that for a minute. Jesus could not do any miracles there except heal some people. Now healing people sounds like a big deal to me, but it sure sounds like Jesus could have and would have done even more if they’d believed. But they didn’t. And they missed out.
I wonder how much more might God want to do in our lives if only we’d believe? How much might we be missing out on?
Maybe a good prayer for us would be, “Jesus, help me be amazed by You…so You won’t be amazed by me.”
One of the best feelings in the world is watching your children take their first steps. I loved sitting on the floor opposite Robyn and watching as our kids would attempt to make it across the room from one of us to the other. “Come on! You can do it!”
I think when we’re taking steps of faith–we need to remember God is right there with us cheering us on and encouraging us to keep going. That’s what I see happening in Mark 5. We pick up the story with Jesus coming ashore after crossing the Sea of Galilee.
21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him.
So with a large crowd pressing in on Him, Jairus falls at the feet of Jesus and begs Him to come heal his daughter and Jesus agrees to go with him.
A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”
If I can paraphrase what the disciples said to Jesus, it might sound like this: “Really, Jesus? Really? You want to know who touched You? Hello, Jesus, they’re all touching You!” But unlike the others who may have been just bumping into Him, this woman is believing that if she can just touch His clothes, she’ll be healed. And Jesus feels it happen.
Now the way the disciples respond to Him leads me to think they had little idea who they were truly dealing with. Think about it–if God asks a question, you have to assume He’s not stupid. There’s a reason He’s asking. But like the kid in this commercial, the disciples didn’t get it. Notice what Jesus does next…
32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
Jesus doesn’t even acknowledge what His disciples said. He just keeps looking for whoever touched Him. And when the woman confesses, He commends her faith. He didn’t have to do that. She was already healed, but Jesus intentionally affirms her faith. If I may paraphrase again, it’s as if Jesus is saying, “I love it! Way to go! Keep believing!”
35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”
Now watch again what Jesus does…
36 Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
The Greek word for “overhearing” can be translated in a couple different ways. The footnote in the NIV Bible says it can also mean “ignoring.” It can also mean “immediately.” In other words, Jesus overhears what’s being said to Jairus, He ignores it and immediately tells him to not be afraid, but to believe.
Can you picture it? This large crowd has come to a stop while Jesus finds out who touched Him. While commending the woman’s faith, He hears what the people are telling Jairus. I picture Jesus quickly turning around, looking Jairus right in the eyes and telling him to not be afraid, but to believe. It’s as if He’s saying, “Jairus, you trusted me enough to come and ask for my help and I said I’d go with you. Nothing has changed. I’ve got this, so don’t stop believing. Come on! You can do it!”
Jesus tuned out the unbelieving static around Him. That’s what we need to do too. Be careful who you listen to. Most Christians you know are probably not walking by faith. So when you do, they may very well be the ones who are most discouraging to you.
The rest of the story…
37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him.
After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.
Jesus again encounters unbelief when he enters the home of Jairus. They laugh at Him when He tells them she’s not really dead. I find it interesting that He “put them all out” before raising her to life. I wonder if they’d believed if He would have allowed them to stay and witness a miracle?
Let’s get practical–in what area of your life do you most need to believe God and tune out the unbelieving voices?
Make the choice to start believing Him right now and know that God is cheering you on.
I’m intentionally using the word “wants” as opposed to “needs.” God does not need anything. If He did, then He wouldn’t be complete. He doesn’t need anything at all. Not from you. Not from me. But God does want things. Let’s look at three of them. Take a moment to read Mark 5:1-20.
We see Jesus getting out of the boat after crossing the Sea of Galilee with His disciples. It was rough. They’d encountered a bad storm out on the lake. It got so bad that these experienced fishermen were fearing for their lives. Of course Jesus calmed the storm and then looked at them and said, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
So as Jesus steps out of the boat, a man possessed by a demon runs to meet him. Matthew’s gospel tells us there were actually two men, but Mark focuses his account on just one of them. You’ll see why.
Jesus tells the demon to come out of the man, which causes the man to fall to his knees in front of Jesus and scream, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!”
I find several interesting things about their initial encounter. First, when the man sees Jesus from a distance, he runs to meet Him. We don’t really know how far the man was from the lake shore, but “from a distance” sounds like at least a hundred yards or so, doesn’t it? Somehow though, this man recognizes someone “from a distance” that he’s never met before and then runs toward Him.
It sounds to me like he knew Jesus was coming and he immediately wants to find out what Jesus wants with him. It’s obvious though the man isn’t recognizing or questioning Jesus, it’s the demon inside him. So Jesus asks, “What is your name?” To which the demon replies, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”
It’s important to know that a Roman legion consisted of over 6,000 men. Now we don’t know if the man was possessed by 6,000 demons or just a large number, but either way there’s a lot of them. Mark’s account tells us the man was living among the tombs and had become so strong that no one could bind him any longer. He was powerful enough to break the chains and leg irons they used on him.
Night and day among the tombs and in the hills, this man would cry out and cut himself with stones. Imagine looking up on the hill everyday and seeing him roaming around, screaming and cutting himself. Based on the fact they’d tried to bind him, I think it’s safe to say this guy was terrorizing the region.
Legion proceeds to beg Jesus to not send them out of the area. Think about that for a minute. It’s 6,000 against 1, but the demons know they are outmatched. They’re begging Jesus to not torture them or send them away. They’re terrified of Him.
We don’t really know why the demons wanted to stay there. Maybe demons are assigned to certain areas and so they didn’t want to leave their post. I don’t know. For whatever the reason, Jesus gives the demons permission to go into a herd of pigs when they come out of the man. When they do, the herd immediately rushes off a cliff into the lake and drowns.
The pig herders run off to town and the nearby countryside and tell people what has happened. Now if you’ve read the passage, you know what happens next. If you haven’t read it–wouldn’t you assume the people rush out to thank Jesus for saving them from Legion?
That’s not what happens though. The people come out, they see the man who’d been possessed by the demon now dressed and in his right mind and they are afraid. Yup, they’re afraid. Not grateful. Not relieved. Just afraid.
And because they’re afraid, “…the people plead with Jesus to leave their region.” So Jesus gets into a boat…and leaves.
So what can we learn?
The first thing we see God wants takes place before Jesus and His disciples even meet Legion–God wants to be trusted. The disciples were afraid they were going to die out on the lake, but what was the truth of their circumstances? The Truth (John 14:6) was asleep on a cushion at the back of the boat. There was no reason to fear and every reason to have faith. Hebrews 11:6 begins: “And without faith it is impossible to please God…” Simply put: God likes to be believed.
The second thing God wants is for us to be free from the influence of evil. This man was actually possessed by demons. That’s not the case with most of us, but it doesn’t mean we aren’t influenced by demons. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” When we listen to wrong ideas and teachings, we are being deceived and may well abandon the faith. Be careful who you listen to and what you allow into your mind.
Finally, God wants us to want Him. Could it be that Jesus had planned to drive the demons out and then spend time in that region teaching and healing people? Wherever Jesus went, He would teach, drive out demons and heal people. Here in the region of the Gerasenes, He drives out demons…and is then asked to leave. And so He does.
Jesus wants to be wanted…and He won’t force Himself on us. Hebrews 11:6 ends with: “…He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” The Greek word for “earnestly” carries with it the idea of searching, scrutinizing, craving and begging. God rewards those who search for and crave Him.
If you’ve been feeling disconnected from God, check yourself…
Are you trusting Him? When trouble comes, do you panic? Are you taking steps of faith because you know He’s faithful? Or do you play it safe?
Are you free from evil influences? How much time do you spend consuming various forms of media versus consuming His Word?
Do you want Him? Do you crave Him? You’re probably craving something…what is it if it’s not Jesus?
Would you say you’re following Jesus or you’re kind of hoping Jesus will follow you?
In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
In Jesus, we find our way. We find the truth. We find life. But if you’re like me, sometimes you’re looking elsewhere. Rather than wholeheartedly following Jesus, it’s like we’re trying to take him along with us.
I think His disciples tried that too. Mark 4:35-36 says: That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.
Jesus and His disciples are on one side of the lake and Jesus wants to cross over to the other side. But do you notice anything strange in those two verses?
I’ve always thought it was interesting Jesus is the one who has the idea to go to the other side of the lake, but it says the disciples “took him along.” Maybe it’s because some of them were experienced fishermen and Jesus was just a carpenter. Sure, they thought, Jesus might be able to build a boat, but He doesn’t know anything about sailing one. So as they all climb into the boat, they think they’re taking him along with them. Not the other way around.
I wonder how often I live like that. Do I simply go about life and expect Jesus to tag along?
Well, it doesn’t take very long for things to go wrong. Verses 37 and 38 say: A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
Isn’t it interesting the fishermen are now freaking out? And the one they were taking along is now taking a nap.
In a panic, they wake Jesus up and ask the question we’ve probably asked ourselves, “Don’t you care?” When we find ourselves in the midst of a storm, isn’t that what we want to know? “God, do you care about me?” I’ve wondered. I’ve asked.
We find our answer in the next two verses:
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
Can you picture it? One moment there’s a furious storm. Dark clouds. High winds. Waves are breaking over the boat. Death seems certain.
And then in the next instant everything is calm. No wind. No waves. Just the disciples…and Jesus…floating on a calm sea. Can you see Him looking out across the water from the stern of the boat and then turning to the twelve men with Him and asking, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
What storm are you facing? Maybe it’s a financial storm. Or a health storm. Or a marriage storm. Or something else. Are you wondering if God cares? If He’s able or willing to help?
Do you think maybe we’re most afraid when we think we’re the ones taking Jesus along with us? Would we be less afraid, less panicky if we were the ones doing the following?
To follow Jesus, I have to believe Him. I have to trust that He has my best in mind. I have to be confident in His love and care and concern for me. But if I don’t really know Him, then I can’t really trust Him and what I’ll do is live my life as if He’s tagging along with me.
The religious people used to ask Jesus questions to try and test Him or trick Him. One of those times is found in Matthew 22:23:33.
Jesus gives them an answer, which He doesn’t always do, but first He tells them, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”
I wonder how many times we’re in error for the same reason. How many times are we trying to solve our problems in the wrong ways? How many times are we working on the wrong problems to begin with? All because we don’t know the truth of God’s word or His power.
What difficulties are you facing? What problems seem insurmountable? Is there an issue you can’t resolve and won’t go away?
Are you investing time in God’s word in order to know Him better? Are you searching His word to discover His purposes and ways?
It’s very easy to buy into the world’s system of doing life. It’s easy to go with the flow and believe happiness and fulfillment and security are found in a job or money or a person. When that’s our mindset, we end up building our lives on error. And that will always lead to frustration, discouragement, anxiety, worry or other negative emotions.
Jesus is the author of life. He knows how it should be lived. In John 14:6, He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
In Colossians 2:2-4, Paul writes:
My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.
Do you need understanding? Or wisdom? Or knowledge? They’re found in Jesus. But like any treasure–you have to search and dig. The most valuable treasures aren’t buried near the surface.
The alternative is a life of error because we don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God.
Every once in awhile I like to re-post this short story I wrote a number of years ago. It’s about legalism, grace and healing.
Phil entered the restaurant, sat down in a booth and waited for his eyes to adjust to the dim light. The lone waitress approached and took his order. Water. No ice.
Phil watched her walk away—a little too closely—then quickly chastised himself. She was somebody’s daughter after all.
This had always been one of his favorite restaurants, although recently, he was having second thoughts. The surrounding neighborhood had declined and the resulting clientele reflected it. The rough looking guy at the bar was a perfect example. He watched him take a bite of his burger and drip ketchup on an already dirty t-shirt. Then he wiped his mouth with a hairy, muscular arm. Phil wondered why someone would order a hamburger in a Mexican restaurant.
The clock behind the bar said 5:01 p.m. He checked his watch just to be sure. His watch said 5:00, which he knew was correct. He was right on time. That was important. It was important to be faithful in little things, he reminded himself.
He glanced at the TV. He couldn’t hear, but could see a CNN reporter on the beach covering the latest hurricane. This one was bearing down on New Orleans. Phil couldn’t help thinking it was God’s judgment on an immoral city. He prayed this would be their wake-up call.
The sloppy guy at the bar took a swallow of his drink. He was wearing a red, rolled up bandanna around his head, which brought little control to his long, unwashed hair. His threadbare t-shirt and faded jeans with holes in the knees completed the look. If he even had a job, he was probably a day laborer at a construction site.
When the waitress brought his water, Phil noticed her eyes were red and puffy. He also couldn’t help noticing how low her shirt was cut. Entirely inappropriate, he thought. He probably ought to say something to the manager. He thought of his eight-year-old daughter, Emily, and how he and his wife, Jennifer, had stressed the importance of modesty to her. He knew she’d never wear a shirt like that.
“Can I get you anything besides water?” the waitress asked. “A glass of wine, maybe?”
“No,” Phil said. “I’m fine with water.” Phil didn’t drink. His wife, Jennifer, didn’t share his conviction though, which often concerned him.
Phil checked his watch again. 5:03 p.m. Jennifer was late. Why she couldn’t be on time escaped him. This was their standing date each month. Las Palmas, 5:00 p.m., first Friday of every month. It meant leaving work ten minutes early, but he was willing to make that sacrifice. He said a brief prayer asking the Lord to help Jennifer grow in the area of time management and consideration for other people’s time.
Phil picked up a menu out of habit, but he already knew what he wanted. The #5 dinner special was what he always ordered. A few months ago, he’d tried the #4, but he’d been disappointed. He decided it was better to go with the safe choice than try something different and not like it. “Better safe than sorry.” That’s what his mother always said.
Jennifer was always ordering new things. Half the time she didn’t like what she got. He often cautioned her on her selections, but she didn’t listen. It wasn’t that he cared about what she ordered—it just bothered him when she started picking off his plate because she didn’t like her meal. He said a quick prayer that she’d make a wise selection for dinner tonight.
Phil glanced at the guy at the bar and saw he was looking over at him. He turned back to his menu and decided it was time to find a better place for their monthly dates. This place had gone downhill.
Out of the corner of his eye, Phil saw the guy get up and start walking toward him. He hoped the guy was leaving, but he wasn’t—he was headed right for Phil.
He approached the table and asked if he could sit down. Phil tried to explain about the regular date night and how his wife was on her way and how he really didn’t think it was a good idea, but the guy only smiled and sat down anyway.
“Do you mind if we talk?” the stranger asked.
“Do I know you?” Phil replied.
“Not really,” the guy replied and then just sat there looking at Phil.
“Is there something I can do for you?” Phil asked. “Like I said, my wife is on her way to meet me for dinner.”
“I know. I heard what you said. I just want to talk for a few minutes.”
“About what?” Phil asked.
“Well, not to be unkind or anything, but I don’t know you and I’m sure we wouldn’t have much to talk about.” It crossed his mind to just get up and wait for Jennifer outside, but he decided to stay. “So what’s on your mind?” Phil said with just a hint of superiority in his voice.
“Did you notice your waitress was crying?” the stranger asked.
“Well, I noticed her eyes were a little red.”
“Did it occur to you to ask her why she was crying?”
“No, it didn’t. It’s none of my business. If she wanted me to know, she would have told me,” Phil said.
“Would you like to know why she was crying?”
“Like I said, I really don’t think it’s any of my business, but if you feel the need—go ahead and tell me.”
“Before I tell you—let me ask you a question. Why do you think that her crying is not any of your business?”
“What do you mean? Of course it’s not any of my business. It’s not any of yours either.”
“Hmmm. So you see a young woman who’s obviously been crying and you assume it’s not any of your business.” The stranger looked past Phil for a moment and then continued. “Okay, let me tell you why she was crying. Brandy was upset because she received a phone call from the health clinic about an hour ago. The biopsy was positive. She has cancer. She also has a three-year-old daughter and she’s afraid of what will happen to her daughter if she dies.” After a moment he added, “And she doesn’t have medical insurance.”
Phil wasn’t sure what to say. He took a sip of his water and glanced at the door, hoping to see Jennifer walk in, but she didn’t.
“That’s a sad story, but I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do about it,” Phil said. “I guess her husband will take care of their daughter.”
The stranger just stared. Phil hoped he would leave or Jennifer would come quickly.
“She doesn’t have a husband. She’s never been married.”
Phil didn’t say it, but he couldn’t help thinking that you reap what you sow. If she hadn’t gotten herself pregnant then she wouldn’t be facing such a mess.
“She was raped one night after leaving work. Never told anyone. A few weeks later, she discovered she was pregnant. Now she works two jobs to support herself and her daughter.”
Phil felt bad for her, but still didn’t see how this was his problem. He had enough of his own problems to worry about. He’d just gotten the notice that Emily’s private school tuition was going up 15% next year. How was he supposed to pay for that?
The stranger interrupted Phil’s thoughts. “Would you like to pray?” he asked.
Phil was surprised by the question and for a moment said nothing. “Ah, no thanks. I’m good,” Phil said.
There was another moment of silence. Phil noticed how sad the stranger looked—almost like he was going to cry.
“Don’t you pray?” he asked.
Phil was starting to get annoyed. He’d come here for a nice meal with his wife—who was late again—and now he had to deal with some nut who wanted to pray. If there was a manager around, he’d complain. That reminded him that he was going to mention the inappropriate way the waitress was dressed. Of course, considering her situation, he decided to let it slide this time.
“Actually, I do believe in praying. I pray every morning. I’m also an elder at my church. Do you even go to church?” Phil asked.
“But you don’t want me to pray for you?” he asked, ignoring Phil’s question.
“No, like I said, I’m doing fine.”
“Yes, you did say that, didn’t you? May I ask you how you know you’re doing fine?”
Phil was surprised by the question and didn’t know quite what to say. He usually had a good, correct answer for most questions, but this one caught him off guard. The guy must have seen the puzzled look on Phil’s face because he asked the question again.
“What I mean is—how do you know how you’re doing? To whom are you comparing yourself?”
“Well, that’s really not what I meant,” Phil said. “I didn’t necessarily mean I was doing fine compared to other people.” Of course, he felt quite confident he was actually doing very well compared to others. “I just meant that my life is going well.”
“And what I’m wondering,” the stranger continued undeterred by Phil’s explanation, “is how you know. How do you know your life is going well? On what are you basing your assessment?”
Phil had never thought about it before. He was just—doing well. Life wasn’t perfect, but things were good. His job was good. His marriage was good. There was money in the bank. He, Jennifer, and Emily had their health. Things were good. The tuition bill was a concern, but not worth mentioning to a stranger.
“Well, like I told you—I’m an elder in my church, I’ve been married for 15 years, I’m doing well at work. Things are just…good.” Phil was now getting more irritated—at the stranger’s interrogation and Jennifer for being late. If she had been on time for once, he wouldn’t be stuck in this pointless conversation.
“It bothers you that your wife is late, doesn’t it?”
“What?” Phil asked. He must have had a startled look on his face, which he tried to hide by taking a long drink of water.
“Your wife. She’s late. That annoys you. If you’re honest, it makes you angry, doesn’t it?”
“Well, I don’t know that I’d go so far as saying I’m angry. Frustrated maybe. Look, it’s inconsiderate. If I’m on time, I expect others to be on time. I sacrifice by leaving work early, which means I need to go in early to make up for it.”
“I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” the stranger said softly to himself.
“What? Phil asked, unsure of what he’d heard.
“Phil, do you love your wife?”
“Of course I love my wife. What kind of a question is that?” Phil said.
“What does that mean, Phil? How do you love your wife?”
“What? How do I love my wife?” Phil replied. “Well, I just love her. She’s important to me and I care about her.”
“Do you put her needs before your own? Does she receive grace from you or does she feel like she must live up to your standards? Do you love her as your own body?”
“Do I love her as my own body? What’s that supposed to mean?”
Phil wanted to get up and leave, but he couldn’t. He thought about what to say, but had nothing. A minute passed. The stranger was content to just sit there in silence, looking at Phil.
“Phil, what if you’ve been using the wrong standard by which to measure your goodness? What if following your rules isn’t as important as loving your neighbor? What if the way someone looks, or dresses, isn’t as important as what’s in their heart? What if there’s nothing wrong with drinking a glass of wine, but there is with judging someone for doing it?”
Phil wished he could hide. It felt like his heart was being examined and it wasn’t going well.
“Who are you?” Phil said. “And by the way, how do you know my name?”
At that moment, the door opened, drenching the restaurant with the bright afternoon sun. Phil saw Jennifer enter and wave to him. He turned back to the stranger, but he was gone.
“Honey, I’m so sorry I’m late! Just as I was getting ready to leave, Emily spilled her juice and I…”
“Hey, slow down. It’s okay.”
“But I know how important it is to you for me to be on time and it’s almost 5:15.”
“Really, it’s okay. I’m just glad you’re here. Relax.”
Jennifer sat down and caught her breath. Phil looked over to see Brandy approaching the table. Her eyes were still red and swollen.
Before Brandy could ask for Jennifer’s drink order, Phil said, “I couldn’t help noticing you’ve been crying. Please sit down. Our order can wait.” Phil caught the look of surprise on Jennifer’s face.
Jennifer slid over and made room for her to sit. Brandy began to cry again.
Phil and Jennifer listened as Brandy shared her story. After she finished, Jennifer put her arm around Brandy and Phil took Brandy’s hands in his. His heart went out to her and he began to pray for her through his own tears.
On the first Friday of the next month, Phil and Jennifer walked in together, precisely at 5:47 p.m. Phil had gone home early that day and had lost track of time playing with Emily. Jennifer finally had to pull him away so they could eat.
Brandy ran to the door to meet them. She’d just gotten off the phone—the follow-up tests revealed the cancer was gone. The doctors had no explanation. Phil, Jennifer and Brandy hugged each other and cried tears of joy.
Here’s the thing with Brady…he’s the real deal. The public Brady matches up with the private one. When he leads worship, he’s doing it out of the genuine overflow of his heart. You can’t be around him for long before you begin to hear God’s word flowing into the conversation. He’s not forcing it or showing off. It’s just overflow.
Several days ago, I flew to Seattle, so I could make the drive back to Northwest Arkansas with my daughter, Erica. She’s going to live with us for a month or so while her husband is in Army Ranger training at Ft. Benning. Our drive took 37 hours over three days and covered over 2,300 miles. And we had a great time!
One of my goals on the trip was to visit Montana and North Dakota–two of the three remaining states I’d never been to. We hit Montana on day 1 and North Dakota on day 2. You can see on the map that we only briefly visited North Dakota. The original plan was to cross the entire state before heading south, but somewhere out in Montana, Erica asked how close we were to Mt. Rushmore.
That question changed everything. We scrapped our original plan and started heading south, but we did make it into the southwest corner of North Dakota so I could check off my 49th state! The only remaining state is Nevada.
We arrived at Mt. Rushmore late in the afternoon. Because they don’t allow dogs in the memorial area, Erica and I took turns waiting in the car with Titan. Yes, we had Erica’s German Shepherd along for the trip. As you can see, he was not a fan of the backseat.
Prior to a couple days ago, I would have said I’d like to see Mt. Rushmore some day, but honestly, it was not high on my list. I don’t feel that way now. It was awe inspiring. The pictures don’t really do it justice. To give you some context–George Washington’s eyes are 11 feet across. Each of their faces are as tall as a six-story building. If you’ve never been–I highly recommend you go.
It was a reminder that it’s good to have a plan, but it’s better to know when to flex. Had we been unwilling to change the plan and head south–we would have missed seeing Mt. Rushmore.
One of the things I couldn’t help noticing was all the broken rock below their faces. Most of the pictures I’ve seen of Mt. Rushmore are close ups so I never noticed all the rock that was blasted away to create what we see today.
That got me thinking about our lives. God is in the process of making us the people He already sees us to be. The sculptor of Mt. Rushmore could see the image of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln. His task was to remove enough rock so we could see it too.
God’s doing that in our lives. He sees who we really are. He sees us as “holy and blameless in His sight.” (Ephesians 1:4) He’s slowly, patiently, lovingly removing the stuff from our lives that hide the real us.
After we left Mt. Rushmore, we still had a five hour drive to get to Sioux Falls for the night. As we were heading east on I-90, this storm was closing in on us:
That little blue circle just west of Wall was our location at the time. We made it out of that area right before the storm crossed I-90.
We out ran our storm, but you might be in the midst of one. See if this has ever happened to you…
You’re on a particular course in your life when you sense God leading you in a new direction. So you step out in faith toward this new adventure…and that’s when the storm hits. Maybe you accepted a new job, but discovered your new boss is horrible. Maybe you moved to a new city, but after arriving you learn the job you had lined up fell through. Maybe you were convinced this was the right person to marry, but six months into marriage it feels like the biggest mistake of your life.
I’ve noticed a pattern when it comes to experiencing God’s will. It doesn’t happen every time, but I’ve seen it often enough to recognize it. Sometimes we find ourselves in circumstances we’d like to see changed and so we pray and seek God…and then we see Him open a door to something different, something new, something better.
Then things take a turn for the worse and we wonder what’s happening. We wonder if we heard God wrong or if we’ve made a terrible mistake. Sometimes we begin doubting God’s love and goodness. We reason that if we were in God’s will and He was a good God, then we wouldn’t be in the midst of whatever storm we’re facing. So either we made a mistake or God isn’t all that good.
That’s not true though. Deuteronomy 8:2-3 says…
Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
Call it a desert or call it storm–there are some things we only learn when the pressure is on, when our circumstances are making us uncomfortable. Don’t give up. Don’t give into discouragement. Press on through the storm. God is using it to humble you and teach you. He knows what He’s doing.
Well, we made it home safely on day 3. As I write this (day 4), my daughter is driving another 700 miles to Ft. Benning in Georgia, so she can see her husband for a few days. She will have covered 3,000 miles in four days!
A few final thoughts from the trip…
Shared experiences create powerful bonds. I’ll always remember and treasure the three days Erica and I shared together.
Being in a place where you can see the horizon in all directions helps put things in perspective. It reminds you how small you are and how big God is.
Lastly, I’m not really a “pet person”, but I find it doesn’t take me long to get attached to a good dog.
Gregg Stutts - Gregg is a pastor at The Church at Arkansas in Fayetteville. He is married to Robyn, the Young Life director in Northwest Arkansas. They have four children: Rachel, Erica, Amy and Rob. Gregg has authored two books and often teaches on marriage.