Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Loving God, loving others, cultivating the same

I believe only two things are truly important: Loving God and loving others. If I stop to consider the big picture, the very essence of reality, I have to acknowledge the existence of God and His fingerprints over all creation. So while not arguing Romans 1 from the theological perspective, or any of the various philosophical arguments for the existence of God, I know Him from a personal level as He speaks through the events of my life. And if in coming to the conclusion that He is real, I have to consider His desires, His promises, and His character as I make the decisions of my daily life.

What is important to God? Apparently, I am. People are. It blows my mind to think that He never takes His eyes off of me, not as some omnipotent accuser, but as a Father waiting for me to come home. He is a King, ruling with my best interests at heart. He is a Comforter, walking with me in every activity I will ever consider. He loves me so much that He sent His only Son to bring me news of His love, knowing that the world would mostly reject His message of peace and good will. So what’s important to God? His love relationship with me and with all those He made in His image… all for the purpose of having a love relationship!

As an object of His love, I’m prompted to love: I love Him in return; and I love those who are also the object of His desire. I love because He has shown me love. I extend grace in my relationships with others because He has modeled this extravagant love in His relationship with me; while I was in rebellion to His authority in my life, He extended love to me and gently prompted me to test and see that He is truly good! And when others are acting out of their own insecurities (with His help) I extend grace and mercy to them as an ambassador of His love, a messenger of this Gospel of peace and good will, so that maybe someone else will come to understand how great and how wide and how deep and how long His love is.

In the end, the only thing I can bring into eternity with me are relationships. I will one day see Him face to face, not as a reflection of His creation, and I will share this greatest pleasure with others who have also learned to find the most important things in life. This is what I value... everything else is temporary and will fade to dust.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Miscarriage of Jesse Malloy

Copyright 2004 Mitchell Malloy

building blocks on the book cases
duplos strewn upon the floor
hiding toys in strangest places
how I miss all that and more
how I miss all that and more
sounds of laughter after bedtime
cries that woke me in the night
joyful eyes while pulling faces
how I miss you, my sweet boy
how I miss you, my sweet boy
has Jesus brushed away your sorrow
does He bounce you on His lap
as you enjoy His many graces
how I mourn my loss, my son
how I mourn my loss, my son
sounds of laughter after bedtime
cries that woke me in the night
joyful eyes while pulling faces
how I miss you, my sweet boy
how I miss you, my sweet boy
building blocks on the book cases
duplos strewn upon the floor
hiding… seek in God’s good graces
I shall turn and praise the Lord
I shall turn and praise the Lord!

sorrow, peace... not understanding
“God exists!” your name defines
finding joy within the sorrow
'til I hold your hand in mine
touch your face in Heaven's time

In 1999, a great tragedy hit the school where I worked. The 3 year old son of a co-worker drowned in a pool. This happened while the child was being watched by two of the most responsible kids I'd had the privilege of teaching. The father of the child had taught pool safety to prevent these types of tragedies from happening... yet it happened to them. The boy's name was Jesse, and the big question on my heart was "why?". Why would God allow this to happen? The parents and the babysitters were godly people. I coached the oldest boy in track. Why?

Five years later, my wife and I experienced a miscarriage. This baby was our fifth, and with my loss, I can't begin to imagine how others feel when the baby that doesn't arrive is their first. Still, my heart grieved.

My oldest son asked the question: Why do some people not believe in God? I told him that I honestly didn't know the answer for everyone, but that some people I talked to had basically decided they would be a better god than God.

Then my son asked why God would take this baby from us when all we wanted to do was love it? While I know God's character, I don't pretend know His mind. Still, I answered anyway: "Maybe God knew that we would love the baby for the time we had it, even if we never got to see it." That night, my son went to bed without saying his prayers for the first time in years.

Over the next week, I prayed about the incident, and every night my son did not want to say prayers. I didn't push it. I understood. As I prayed, the Lord gave me a name for the baby: Jesse. I talked to my wife about naming the child, telling her the name the Lord had given me. She liked the idea, and so being big on the meaning of names, I discovered that Jesse means "God Exists!".

That night, after telling the kids how God had given us the name for Jesse, including the meaning of the name, my son was again willing to say prayers before bed.

I truly look forward to seeing my unborn child face to face one day. Jesse taught me through our loss that God is sovreign and can make things work out however He sees fit... but that He still cares for me. I can't know the mind of God or understand all His many purposes, but I can trust that He does work out all things for good (Rom 8:28). He blessed us with another child, a son that resembles the oldest boy.

I also learned (and in truth am still learning) that when we hit bumps in the road with our relationships, that's the opportunity for them to really become stronger. This includes our relationship with God; perhaps it's especially true with God. As Henry Blackaby puts it, God always brings us to a crisis of belief.

Fortunately, He gives us faith to believe. (Eph 2:8-9)

sorrow, peace... not understanding
“God exists!” your name defines
finding joy within the sorrow
'til I hold your hand in mine
touch your face in Heaven's time

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Priorities in Relationships

This has been awhile in coming, but I've posted the 2nd Driving Value of the Fort Ben Vineyard: Priorities in Relationships. This is something the Lord started speaking to me about a couple years ago, giving me a word picture of a cascading fountain. As I started down this church planting path, He reaffirmed His teaching through it's emphasis at the Vineyard Church Planting Boot Camp that Deb and I attended as well as through discussions with multiple local area pastors.

As always, I'm interested in feedback, ideas and even critiques... As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another! (Proverbs 27:17)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Spring IS Coming!

Pray to God for rain—it's time for the spring rain— to God, the rainmaker,
Spring thunderstorm maker,
maker of grain and barley.

"Store-bought gods babble gibberish.
Religious experts spout rubbish.
They pontificate hot air.
Their prescriptions are nothing but smoke.
And so the people wander like lost sheep,
poor lost sheep without a shepherd.
I'm furious with the so-called shepherds.
They're worse than billy goats, and I'll treat them like goats."

God-of-the-Angel-Armies will step in
and take care of his flock, the people of Judah.
He'll revive their spirits,
make them proud to be on God's side.
God will use them in his work of rebuilding,
use them as foundations and pillars,
Use them as tools and instruments,
use them to oversee his work.
They'll be a workforce to be proud of, working as one,
their heads held high, striding through swamps and mud,
Courageous and vigorous because God is with them,
undeterred by the world's thugs.
Zechariah 10:1-5 (The Message)

I've addeded emphasis to the be above quote... We have been walking through a season where many (not all) spiritual leaders have been unfaithful to their calling. Pastors have sought their own ends rather than God's, have edified themselves rather than the Lord and His people. False prophets have fed the flock with words that make them feel good rather then preparing them for the hardships ahead. Verse 2 of the above quote is translated in the New International Version as:

The idols speak deceit,
diviners see visions that lie;
they tell dreams that are false,
they give comfort in vain.
Therefore the people wander like sheep
oppressed for lack of a shepherd.

But the Lord will not abandon His people! He will not abandon us to self-serving leadership or leave us unprepared when false prophets offer a false, prosperity gospel. No, He will strengthen us and continue to lead His people into victory!

You are awesome, O God, in your sanctuary; the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people. Praise be to God!
Psalm 68:35 (NIV)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Cold Winter Days - Dark Night of the Soul

It's always so much harder for me to get going in the winter: it's cold and the bed seems so much more inviting; the days are shorter; and to make things worse during these shorter days, the sun often hides behind thick, gray clouds. This is especially true when the events of life keep pushing me to leaner and leaner margins. However, even when the cold spells of life sap the energy from my limbs, I force myself out of bed to face life's challenges. I remind myself that this is only temporary, and even though I don't know how long it will take, Spring will arrive.

Our spiritual walk has seasons like winter. One saint called it the "Dark Night of the Soul". The Son seems to hide from us and we wonder: Does He care about my situation? Why does He let certain things happen... is He somehow not powerful enough to change these events? Is He aware of what's happening? And again, does He care? Is He really the All-Powerful, All-Knowing, All-Loving God that He claims to be?

And the silent Voice seems to respond: "Do you trust Me?"

Can we trust Him to be more powerful than the forces around us? Is He truly in control of the Economy? Can He bring about victory for my friends... for my family... for me?

Yet in the midst of this cold and empty silence, the Enemy screams: "Your God can't help you! See! He's abandoned you!! He either can't help you or He just doesn't care!!! Curse your God and find comfort in something else!"

But with God's help (no matter how silent He may be), I refuse to crawl into some comfortable place where I can hide from the spiritual cold that threatens to destroy me. We all have that private sin that calls to us: lust, despair, gluttony, substance abuse, angry outbursts, etc. "Forget the cold through pleasure... Lash out at others, justifying it by your pain... withdraw from the fight and maybe the hardships will disappear."

"No!" My soul cries out, "I WILL NOT QUIT! I will serve God even when His face is hidden from me!"

So like Spring following Winter, I force myself to remember. I remember Who my God truly is! I remember how He has come through for me and for His people so consistently in the past. Even when I can't see Him, He sees me. Even when the cold spells of life sap energy from my limbs, and my will to continue falters, He promises restoration, strength and even joy. I don't know how long it will take, but I know my spiritual Spring will arrive. I will not be left to wander in perpetual winter. I can trust in His character even when the circumstances are oppressive and defeat seems imminent.

And I remember that my decision to believe, this faith that comes as a gift from Him, brings Him greater joy than all the praises of heaven. Since heaven’s eyes see God’s glory, the praises of those who see but dimly bring Him greater joy. And so I praise Him in the silent, cold darkness, knowing that He sees me and is pleased by every attempt I make, no matter how small or infrequent.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:6-9