Waiting on God

There is a story about a man who was driving around a conference center in a large city trying to find a parking spot.

Getting Back Home Was The Problem

Waiting, especially waiting in line, may be one of the most frustrating situations we encounter. This week Cindy and I went to Puerto Peñasco, Mexico, for a four-day mini-vacation. Also known as Rocky Point, the city sits at the northern point of the Sea of Cortez and is only 62 miles south of the U.S./Mexico border. We try to schedule our trips so that we avoid long waits at the border coming back into the United States.

Negative-Edge Pool in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.
Negative-Edge Pool in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.

What was our travel experience this week? Great going down. Not so great coming back.

Many people travel to Puerto Peñasco from Arizona, especially college kids during Spring Break in early March. We avoided the early part of March as a result, preferring to take the four-hour drive on Monday the 18th with a return date scheduled for Thursday the 21st. Yet when we approached the border on our return trip there was a very long line of cars, longer than we had ever seen.  The weather had been wonderful and many other people had also gone on their own mini-vacations.

After about 45 minutes of snail-pace movement, a Mexican police car passed us on the right side of the road. Following him, surprisingly, were dozens of cars that had originally been behind us. Most had United States license plates on them. They streamed by for many minutes until there were now two lines approaching the border. We realized our wait time had just doubled from that point forward. After about 2 hours of sitting in our car, we finally made it to the border.

Waiting is no fun! Especially if you have an appointment to get to. We did, as Thursday evening is when we facilitate our GriefShare group, a support group for those who have lost a loved one.  We made it on-time, thankful to God for that.

The Miraculous Parking Spot

There is a story about a man who was driving around a conference center in a large city trying to find a parking spot. He was scheduled to speak to a large audience and feared he would now be late. So he prayed to God saying “Dear God, if you help me find a spot quickly, I promise You I’ll read the Bible every morning and do my very best to attend church regularly!” Right after finishing his prayer, he noticed a car miraculously pulling out of a spot just ahead. “Never mind, God,’ he quickly said, ‘I found one…”

Even though God knows that waiting is not our favorite activity, and knows that patience is often not our key strength, He asks us to wait. But more specifically, He asks us to wait for Him, to experience His presence in our lives, to watch how He will work in situations that we find difficult.

One of our favorite verses in the Bible is Psalm 46:10:

“Be still and know that I am God.” It is also translated as “cease striving”.

A Difficult Decision

One year ago, Cindy and I were in a very difficult position. We didn’t know which way to go. Our thirty-year-old son had gotten himself into a situation that was potentially life-threatening to him or others. We prayed and sought advice from the most respected sources we knew of. Yet everyone we spoke with gave us remarkably different courses of action to take. It was as bewildering as a winding road.

Winding Road in Colorado

There are three criteria that we look at when making a major decision:

  1. Is it biblical? Does it violate God’s commandments or conform to them?
  2. Do we feel a certain peace from God’s Holy Spirit within us that the specific choice is correct?
  3. What are the circumstances surrounding the decision? Do they tend to point to one decision being right, or in contrast does a door seem to close on any particular choice?

We heard many choices that fit the first criteria. But there was only one choice which fit all three criteria. That choice was to place our trust fully in God to work out the situation in His way and in His time. It was specifically for us to wait on God. In looking back, I can imagine God smiling at that point and saying “Now that you have stopped your anxious worrying, now that you have decided that I have the power and that I love you, please sit back and watch what I can do.”

Within days of our making the active choice to wait on the Lord, He moved in ways that were astounding to us! The situation was diffused, our son was safe and our faith in God was further strengthened. Thank you Lord!

Choosing To Wait Can Be Rewarding

The key point here is that waiting on God is an active choice. It isn’t at all like throwing up our hands in despair and doing nothing. It is intentionally placing our trust in the One who is able to do all things. It is faith in action. We learned a very important lesson that we will seek to always remember.

Yes, there are times that we are to take action with His leading and prompting. But also, there are times in which acting in desperation, without His guidance, will only serve to make matters worse. Sometimes, we just need to get out of God’s way and allow Him to act.

Your comments and thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

Photography by John J O’Leary

We See In A Mirror Dimly

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. – 1st Corinthians 13:12

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.
~ 1st Corinthians 13:12

Man thirsts for knowledge and understanding. God is the source of all knowledge and all understanding. Man seeks God.

Photograph by John J O’Leary

The Work of God’s Hand

How can someone look upon their daughter laughing on a spring day with flowers blooming and sunlight dappling the yard and think that this is just some sort of random chance?

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power, and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
~ Romans 1:20

When I was a boy, my father would often take me fishing and hunting. Those were wonderful times! I’m so grateful to my Dad for taking me on weekend excursions or even longer vacations into the forests of Pennsylvania, the lakes of Canada, the fields of the Midwest and the mountains in Wyoming. Through those experiences, I came to have a deep love for my Dad and for the beauty of the work of God’s hand. He passed away at the age of 100 two years ago. I thank God for him.

The Bible tells us that God actually spoke things into existence through His Word, but I like to imagine Him fashioning mountains, forests, and waterfalls by hand. It is so hard for me to understand how anyone can see the intricate beauty of creation and not believe in a Creator.

How can someone look upon their daughter laughing on a spring day with flowers blooming and sunlight dappling the yard and think that this is just some sort of random chance? As she chases a butterfly that dances through the air, can we actually look upon the scene and say “All is meaningless”?

In a dry voice, I can still hear the professor droning on about how a mix of chemical soup and lightning in a primordial world over billions of years allowed carbon, nitrogen and other matter to coalesce into life. That through eons of time, even pond scum can evolve into Mozart or Leonardo da Vinci. That this world will one day be consumed by our expanding sun and every memory of it will be wiped from existence. How utterly depressing! Could the professor be wrong?

Man in all his wisdom and technology can fly to Pluto and take color photographs. He can send those images through empty space to a distant earth where we can all see them on our computer monitors or TVs. But he can’t create a mechanical camera anywhere close to matching the ability of the human eye. And every baby is born with not one but two of them! And we can see in 3D and record and understand the images through a brain that mystifies the scientist. Without the need for memory cards…

Think again on the girl chasing a butterfly. A simple, delicate butterfly. Would you believe a butterfly could fly 3,000 miles in about two months? Would it be possible for that butterfly to fly to the same location in a distant country that one of its predecessors had flown from 5 or 6 generations ago? Yet not just one but millions of monarch butterflies do so, turning the trees in Mexico from green to orange as they migrate from the fields in Texas or Louisiana. How is that possible? I think the young girl would say “Daddy, God made butterflies!” Could the professor be wrong and the little girl right?

Watch a short video on the monarch butterfly migration, which ABC News calls “a mysterious miracle”, at https://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/video/millions-monarch-butterflies-flutter-mountains-mexico-october-52954011

Photograph by John J O’Leary

 

Holding the Umbrella for Someone Else

When the sun is shining on our face and a gentle breeze is causing the leaves in the trees to rustle all around us, life is so very good.

When the sun is shining on our face and a gentle breeze is causing the leaves in the trees to rustle all around us, life is so very good. We hear the sound of children playing in the park. We smile and chuckle as a young pup chases a squirrel around a tree trunk. The squirrel seems to be enjoying the game of staying just out of the dog’s reach. It chatters back at the pup which starts jumping up at it repeatedly. We can’t help but laugh as we try to capture a video with our phone camera.

Times such as these are just one of a myriad of reasons to be thankful to God for our lives. We love to share such moments with friends and family. We treasure them. Clouds and storms may be in the forecast later today, but these sunny times of laughter and beauty will be treasured.

Yet in due time the clouds do roll in and the storm darkens the sky. We hear thunder rolling in the distance. The breeze is suddenly moist. We realize we may get caught in the rain before we can pack up our things and get to the safety of our car. And we realize we failed to bring an umbrella!

Sometimes storms in our lives are much more serious. At such times we don’t want to try to weather the storm alone. We need shelter.  We need protection.

This evening, my wife and I will be speaking at an Umbrella Ministries event. The organization provides much needed “comfort, hope, and encouragement to mothers who have suffered the loss of a child.” Their slogan is “We may not be able to make the sun shine for you…but we can hold the umbrella”.

We only see life through one set of eyes, our own. We have many things to do, taking care of our own life. We have to eat right, exercise, study, learn, dress, work, etc. I find it is just way too easy to focus all our attention on one person – me, myself and I. In contrast, a mother focuses her attention much of the day on her children. She makes sure they eat right, exercise, study… It can be too easy for her to forget about her own needs in the midst of it all.

This is why we treasure our Moms. They have sacrificed so much out of love for us. The relationship between a mother and her children is precious. That’s the way God planned it in His wisdom.

Umbrella Ministries focuses on helping mothers who are deeply hurting for a very special reason. They have lost one or more of their children. Such a loss is hard to imagine. Frankly, we don’t want to. It is one of life’s most tragic events and one of the most difficult. I tried to be there for my wife to help her make it through the loss of one of our children in December of 2003. It was hard for me to see her pain, her anguish, her tears. But I watched her turn to God in the midst of that storm. Then I watched Him provide comfort, healing and even joy for her when she needed it most.

This afternoon and evening, we will share our story. Cindy will be there for the other moms in the room. Although each person grieves differently, she knows something about what the moms in that room are going through. She cares, and God has equipped her with a heart for them.

Tomorrow, Cindy will be among the mothers for a full day conference. I’ve volunteered to photograph the event, and hopefully put together a short video for the Umbrella Ministries. We both know that God will be there too. The Holy Spirit of God will be ministering His comfort. Yes, there will be some tears. The word of God tells us that He holds our tears in His hands. But there will also be laughter and encouragement, the sharing of photographs and of special times the mothers shared with their children. Precious memories. Gifts from God.

“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” ~ Psalm 56:8 (NLT)

You can learn more about Umbrella Ministries at their website: http://www.umbrellaministries.com They currently offer events in a very limited number of cities. The event in Arizona starts this afternoon with dinner and speeches for both the moms and dads. It continues tomorrow with a full day conference solely for the moms. Should you know a mother who has lost a child, or should you be one, we encourage you to seek out and attend such an event if you live within a reasonable distance.

Photograph by John J O’Leary

God’s Love In The Storm

There are physical storms of rain, snow, and wind. And there are storms that are emotional or spiritual.

In April of 2013, I had traveled to Sedona, Arizona, to photograph the amazing red rock canyons which are world famous. Sedona is one of the most picturesque locations in the state, and I was anxious to use my new Canon DSLR camera.

The average temperature in Sedona during April is 73 degrees for a high and 43 degrees for a low, so I was expecting to have a great day. I had failed to check the forecast in my enthusiasm to get there, envisioning all the locations I wanted to photograph. On the way, a snowstorm struck, a mix of wet snow and sleet. Although that was an unpleasant surprise to me and initially felt like a major setback to my photography plans, it turned into a blessing in disguise.

There are two songs that come to my mind immediately when I think about God and storms. The first is “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, written and sung by Gordon Lightfoot. If you don’t know the song, it is about an event that occurred in November of 1975 on Lake Superior. The largest ship on the Great Lakes at the time, a freighter nicknamed the “Pride of the American Side”, encountered hurricane force winds and was lost, as were all 29 crew members. The following year, Gordon Lightfoot would release his song to commemorate the disaster.

There is one line from that song that is as follows: “Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?”

It is a difficult line to hear, as you can’t help but imagine the men struggling for their lives in the waters that were several hundred feet deep and storm-ravaged. Were the men crying out to God in their final moments? I know I would have.

The second song that comes to my mind is by a Christian group called “Casting Crowns”. The song is titled “Praise You In This Storm” and was released in 2005 on their album “Lifesong”. As in “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, it was inspired by a real-life tale of tragedy. In this case, it was an encounter between the band and a young girl named Erin Browning. Near the time that the band met her and her family, she was diagnosed with cancer. Erin’s mother was faced with the storm of her daughter’s illness. The girl would pass away on November 1st of 2004.

Written by band members Mark Hall and Bernie Herms, “Praise You In The Storm” was inspired by Erin and her mother. It is about someone crying out to God in their distress, with a torn heart and tears in their eyes. They are looking to the hills, to the maker of heaven and earth, for mercy as their strength fails.

Storms come in many forms. There are physical storms of rain, snow, and wind. And there are storms that are emotional or spiritual. Both can cause us to look to God for help.

We all face storms as we go through life, and we see others facing them. In Sedona, that April day, I was facing a relatively mild snowstorm. One of the locations I chose to go to was beneath the Chapel of the Holy Cross. It was completed in 1956 and required a special permit in order to be built on land in the Coconino National Forest.

As the storm continued, I set up my camera on a tripod below the church, shielding the lens from the wind-driven sleet and snow. The image of the cross above me, nestled into the rugged rock and standing firm in the face of the storm, lifted my spirits. I wanted to capture the scene, to share the experience of it, not just the image of it. Fortunately, I found camera settings that allowed the diagonal lines of the sleet and snow to be seen and captured.  You probably can’t see it if you are reading this on your phone, as the image is too small in that case.

My hope is that you will look to the hills, to the cross of Christ, when storms enter your life. The love of God is ever present and the Holy Spirit is with believers in Christ. Although we may not be literally standing in front of a cross during such times, do not wonder where His love goes. It was a blessing for me to see and capture this scene during an April snowstorm in Sedona. Yet I have seen His hand in the midst of far worse storms in my life, and I know He can be counted on when we need Him the most.

Did you know that the Apostle Paul was shipwrecked? You can read the story about an angel of God appearing to him in the Book of Acts, Chapter 27. https://www.bible.com/bible/100/ACT.27.NASB

Photograph by John J O’Leary

Forgiveness is Crucial!

One of the most difficult things in life is to be faced with monumental unfairness.

One of the most difficult things in life is to be faced with monumental unfairness. There are basic reactions that we naturally have when we determine that an event is unfair. Examples include being cheated, being punished for another’s crime, and even something as mundane as someone else’s car pulling into a parking spot you had signaled to be waiting on.

Consider this scenario: Bank robbers brutalize a pregnant teller, pistol-whipping her in anger and frustration when they notice she has pressed an emergency switch notifying the police of a robbery in process. A police car happens to be just down the street and they get the call to proceed to the bank. As they pull up to the front entrance, the robbers flee the bank, running to their left to get to their waiting vehicle. The policeman riding in the passenger seat leaps from the slowing police car, yelling “Stop, police!” One robber pulls a gun and shoots back blindly at the police car, the bullet striking an older man on the other side of the street. The policeman on foot pulls his gun and shoots back at the robbers. But a six-year-old boy was cowering beside a freestanding mailbox, unseen by the policeman. The bullet strikes him instead of the robber. The robbers flee to safety with the cash, leaving behind a wake of carnage. The boy’s mother, shocked and in tears, kneels over her young son. The policeman frantically searches for a pulse on the wrist of the older pedestrian and finds none. Inside the bank, the patrons are trying to give aid to the injured teller and her unborn child.

All the injured or killed in this scenario were innocent. It is so incredibly unfair! That’s what makes it so difficult to accept. The guilty party, the robbers, are unscathed, leaving behind a wake of death and grief. Unfairness can be a huge mountain for us to scale when we try to come to grips with a scene like this.

So the question that I would pose to you is this: “How on earth does forgiveness occur in such a scenario? Who would be able to forgive? Could the husband of the teller, the mother of the young boy, the wife and children of the older man? What about the policeman who accidentally shot the boy, could he forgive himself?

The answer is yes. Please read on.

You may be unable to fathom how that could be. But let me point you to an incident that occurred in Prescott Valley, Arizona. The date was July 9th of 2010. Two neighbors in an apartment complex were talking and having a few drinks. One lived above the other. The discussion turned into an argument. The neighbor from downstairs went back to his apartment and grabbed a knife. He charged back upstairs and in a drunken rage attacked the other by stabbing him repeatedly. The victim tried to fend off and flee his attacker. Yet he was unable to do so and was killed by multiple knife wounds, collapsing near his front door.

Let’s now advance in time to the murder trial in a courthouse in Prescott, Arizona. I was there. So was my wife, Cindy. It had been her brother, Steven Ogle, who had been killed by his neighbor. Think on this a second: If it had been your brother who had been killed, what would you have said to the murderer, assuming you would have had the chance?

The trial was conducted. After sentencing, if you had been there with us in court, you would have seen my wife arrange with the Victim’s Advocate to say a word to the man who had brutally stabbed her brother multiple times. He had just been found guilty and had been told by the judge that he was sentenced to the maximum 29 years in prison for his crime. You would have seen the murderer turned around by the Deputy to face my wife. You would have then easily heard my wife say to him “I forgive you’ [pausing then repeating again] ‘I forgive you.” You would have seen tears flow down the murderer’s face as my wife and I walked away.

When we were driving from Prescott back to Scottsdale, I told Cindy that I was so very proud of her having the courage and the grace to forgive. It had impressed me so much. It was as if I had seen the hand of God upon her at that moment. By forgiving the man who murdered her brother, she had lifted any burden of bitterness, hate, anger or resentment from her own shoulders. She was free of such consequences. Forever. It truly was God giving her the ability to forgive in such circumstances.

Cindy had experienced the healing power of forgiveness in the loss of our son in 2003. She believes that a key part of her healing was the forgiveness we both had for the driver who had pulled out in front of our son Brian that year. We both knew it had been an accident, and we were able to forgive completely. We believe God had blessed us with the ability to immediately forgive. It wasn’t any merit on our part. We both heard several years later that our forgiveness (given to us by God) had been spoken of for several years afterward. A dear Pastor had shared with us how the story had been a blessing to others.

Cindy feels that the forgiveness in the death of our son led to her being able to turn to God for forgiveness for the murderer of her brother seven years later.

If we are unwilling to forgive, it may be because we equate forgiveness with condoning an action. That isn’t the case. Cindy believed the conviction (and lengthy prison sentence) was just. Forgiving the murderer was simply saying that she would never hold on to all the negative feelings and stress that come along with unforgiveness.

If we don’t forgive, we are unwilling to let God work in our life. We have all probably heard the expression “Holding a grudge.” That is an accurate statement. If you hold on to it, instead of letting it go, you aren’t hurting the guilty party, you are just hurting yourself.

Reading this, you may understand the concept and see the benefits to you and others, but just can’t find a way to actually forgive. Might I suggest prayer? God is the source of all good things. Forgiveness, or the ability to forgive, is a gift that you can ask God for.

Here is an example of a prayer that you might consider and personalize:

“Lord, you have forgiven me for all the wrong things I have done. I seek to follow your example. Grant me the ability to forgive those who have wronged me, those who have hurt the ones I love, and help me to also forgive myself for the things I have done wrong. Free me from the burden of unforgiveness, and let me see the blessings that can occur when forgiveness is in my heart rather than bitterness. In Jesus name, I pray, Amen!”

A few scriptures on forgiveness from the Bible:

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
~ Ephesians 4:32

Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.
~ Romans 12:19

But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
~ Matthew 6:15

But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.
~ Luke 23:34

For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive,
And abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You.
~ Psalms 86:5

Photograph by John J O’Leary

To Those Who Love God

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

One of the most popular, most comforting, scriptures in the Bible is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
~Romans 8:28

Some reading this may not know the Bible well and perhaps don’t know who Paul was. Imagine then, that you are a man who is highly intelligent and devout, having a set of beliefs about God that you not only cherish but defend. You are known as Saul of Tarsus by your Jewish brethren. You are a Jew and also a Roman citizen. From early childhood, you have spent your life studying the Torah, the written law of God. Your reputation is based on your beliefs. You have gone so far as to seek out heretics who are claiming that God has come in the person of a man from Nazareth, a carpenter’s son. Blasphemous! Later, you become a leader in the search for these heretics so that they can be brought to justice. You stand on the sidelines and watch as one of them is stoned to death. Then one fateful day, as you are traveling to a city called Damascus in your search, God stops you in your tracks. Literally. You are blinded. You fall from your horse into the dusty road and hear the voice of God: “Saul, Saul, why you are persecuting Me?”

Saul had been hunting disciples, or followers, of Jesus Christ, who had apparently proclaimed Himself to be the Son of God. Saul was known as “the Pharisee of Pharisees”. A Pharisee was one who was “separated from others” and they were often self-righteous and arrogant. You can imagine the outrage of such a man when confronted with people saying that this Jesus was supposedly God in the flesh.

There are 13 “Principles of Faith” that Orthodox Jews believe. The 12th states: “I believe with full faith in the coming of the Messiah. And even though he tarries, with all that, I await his arrival with every day.” There was a belief that a “Messiah” would come to liberate the Jewish people and bring world peace. He would be a powerful king, ruling here on earth! Yet when He came, instead of coming as a king here on earth, He came as a gentle, loving man who would say that His kingdom was not of this earth. Instead of being recognized as the Messiah, He would be mocked, beaten, spat upon, and crucified upon a cross. Then those who had been His disciples would be summarily hunted down and killed. And Saul was a leader of the pack of hunters pursuing them.

With that backdrop of a man who was vehemently against Jesus and His followers, how on earth is it possible that he would be the one who would risk his life innumerable times to tell the story that Jesus was, in fact, the Son of God? Wouldn’t God have struck him down with a bolt of lightning, killing him on that road to Damascus to show others what would happen to them if they persecuted and killed his followers? Wouldn’t God smite those who had killed His Son, Jesus?

God is God, and His ways are not our ways. That’s a very good thing indeed. Instead of killing Saul, He dramatically showed him the error of his ways and turned him from his path of self-righteousness and destruction to a path of true righteousness and salvation. Saul would come to be known as Paul, as his life would take a complete reversal in direction. He would go on to write many letters, revealing the story of Jesus Christ and declaring His message of love, grace, and sacrifice.

The longest of Paul’s letters would be to the Romans. It was when Nero was the Emperor. His letter to the Romans was written around 57-58 a.d., while Paul was most likely in Corinth. Paul had never met those he wrote to but knew of their faith in Christ based on the testimony of others. They were of differing backgrounds. Most likely there were Jews among them who believed in Jesus. Others would have been heathens who had also come to believe in Him. There would have been contentious beliefs about how to be a follower of Christ. Paul’s letter would be written to encourage them and instruct them on his inspired knowledge of the sinful nature of man, the sacrifice that Jesus made in our man’s behalf, and that salvation is through faith alone.

When we read that “God causes all things to work together for good”, we must recognize that this pertains to just one group of people. It is “to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” No such statement is made to those who do not love God and who are not called according to his purposes. Nor is Paul saying that we can cause things to work together for good. Only God can do this. “Looking on the bright side” may be helpful to us, but that is not what Paul is saying here.

What does the verse mean? How can we apply this in our life? First, we should love God.

There is a scripture in Mathew 22 in which Jesus had been asked a very important question by the Pharisees. When they hoped to entrap him, asking Him what the great commandment in the Jewish Law was, He replied:

“ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment.”
~ Matthew 22:37

In 2004, several months after the death of our son, Brian, I was in my car on the way to work. It was early morning and I was alone on a highway. I felt very alone indeed. My thoughts were of Brian and how much I missed him. I thought of Matthew 22. Understanding what it meant, knowing the scripture, was one thing. Being able to do it, I felt, was something altogether different.

Speaking out loud, I asked God “How is it possible for me to love you more than I love Brian, Daniel, and Katie? More than I love my wife? More than I love my mother and father, my sister? More than my friends? More than the amazing beauty of this world with its majestic mountains, rivers, ocean beaches, sunsets, and wildlife? More than starry nights, the twinkling of fireflies, the feeling when a large trout takes my fly in a Wyoming stream?” I stated emphatically “That is not possible for me God! I can’t just want to love you more than all that, it isn’t simply choosing to love. I have to really love You that much to obey that commandment!”

It would be misleading to say God answered me. More accurately, I believe He gave me a revelation that would change my understanding. I suddenly understood it as if He had said out loud to me: “John, every person and everything you just listed are gifts that I have given to you in your life. You love my gifts, can you not love Me, the One who gave you every good thing?” That was eye-opening for me. God had given me everything I had ever loved, ever cherished, throughout my entire life. And yet, here I was asking Him how I could love Him more than those people, those things. He had given me those things out of love for me. I was very appreciative of the gifts. But I had been missing the opportunity to love the Giver.

Cindy and I would see many evidences of God in our lives. We would be told that the forgiveness we had shown after Brian’s accident would be a blessing to others, and had even been shared by missionaries on trips to other countries. Cindy would tell the murderer of her brother to his face “I forgive you, I forgive you…” He would break down in tears as she said these words.  He would also go to prison for many years.  Perhaps her words would lead him one day to seek to know God, to surrender his life to the One who actually was in control of it?  We would see God working, bringing good out of the loss of our son, out of the loss of her brother. Yet the pain was also real, and the healing took a long time.

My belief is that we take so much for granted in this life and our love for God is far too shallow. We have expectations that things will go well, especially if we think we are being “good people”. We have simplistic views on the things that really matter, such as where we will spend eternity and the purpose of our very existence. We must remember that God causes all things to work for good – “to those who love God.”

Can we not cry out to God to help us out of the depths of His love?

“Lord, help me first to love You in a more profound way!”

“Open the eyes of my heart Lord!”

“Help me to see beyond the material world and the daily grind of activities and chores, so that I can see You at work in my life and the lives of others.”

“Help me to understand the depth of Your love, a love that would cause You to sacrifice Your Son to save a sinner like me.”

“Help me to love others, to extend Your love to them, and to not be focused on myself.”

“But most of all Lord, thank You! Thank you for loving me and for all the gifts you have given to me throughout my entire life. I am eternally grateful.”

My encouragement to you is that, no matter what has happened in your life prior to now, you are free to choose to follow after Jesus Christ at this very moment. Humble yourself, recognizing that you really aren’t in control of much in this life. But you can make choices! You have the freedom even in the midst of the most hostile countries in the world to choose to believe in Jesus, that He is the Son of God who came to take away the sins of the world. My sins. Your sins. You can believe that He rose from the grave after three days and sits at the right hand of God. You are free to turn from sinful ways and follow Him, trusting Him with your very soul.

Blessings in Christ,
John

Photograph by John J O’Leary

What if? Avoiding the Trap of Guilt

How do we respond when tragedy strikes a member of our family?

How do we respond when tragedy strikes a member of our family?  

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, Islamic terrorists attacked Americans with our own commercial airplanes. They were part of al-Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden. The result? The deaths of 2,996 innocent people with about 6,000 others injured. The terrorists also died that day and ultimately Osama bin Laden would be killed in retribution. There were huge financial damages and the event would change security procedures for planes and airports around the world. The families of 2,996 Americans mourned for their lost loved ones and they miss them still today.

The 9/11 Disaster, as it would be called, had other results. We would see the incredible bravery and selflessness of the first responders. We would see an American flag being raised by a group of them at Ground Zero later that day, thanks to a photograph by Thomas E. Franklin. We would hear of the passengers of Flight 93 attempting to subdue the terrorists on their flight and of one, Todd Beamer, saying “Let’s roll.”

On Sunday, four days after the attack, churches across America were full. It was a wake-up call to many people, realizing that they could die while sitting in an airplane or sitting at their desk at work. My family of five attended Scottsdale Bible Church in Scottsdale, Arizona. The church was so full there were many in the lobby standing during the service. The Senior Pastor at the time was Darryl DelHousaye. He stood in front of a congregation of people shocked at what had occurred that week. Although I don’t recall his sermon after so many years, I do recall one statement he made. In his confident manner, with faith in God a cornerstone of his life, he stated the following:

“Many of you today are no doubt concerned about getting on an airplane any time soon. That’s understandable. I get that. But we know from God’s word in the Bible that our days are numbered and that God is in control. So if tomorrow is your day and you decide not to get on an airplane, you are just going to get hit by a bus.”

It was the humor we all needed and the congregation collectively laughed along with Darryl. Yet there was wisdom in what the Pastor had stated and I’ve told this story to many grieving people over the years. Why? Because when we lose a loved one we start looking to cast blame or guilt, and that often means we end up blaming ourselves and asking the dreaded “What if?” question.

Here are a few examples:

  • “What if we had taken her to a different doctor? She still might be alive today.”
  • “What if I had insisted he stay home from working at the World Trade Center that day? He wasn’t feeling well and I should have convinced him.”
  • “What if we wouldn’t have argued that night, would he still have committed suicide?”
  • “What if we didn’t allow our son to have a motorcycle? We should have told him more often to be aware of the potential for someone to pull out in front of him when he was on his bike?”

The last question was ours. Of course, we questioned whether we were to blame. It is normal. But it is also painful when we start blaming ourselves. Having heard that a relative made a comment that ‘they should never have allowed their son to buy a motorcycle’ didn’t bring any comfort to us in our grief. However, we saw multiple pieces of evidence of the Lord’s hand in the days leading up to his death and afterward. We believe that the Lord called Brian to his home with Him and that there was nothing we could have done to extend his life one day further. And we know that he was doing the one thing he enjoyed most in life, riding his motorcycle.

What does the word of God teach about this?

“Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.”
~ Psalms 139:16

The Bible tells us that our days are ordained by God even before we are born. We encourage you not to blame yourself if you have lost a loved one. Even if there was something you believe you could have done that would have directly saved their life, recognize that God is the one who is actually in control and not you. He will bring you or your loved one home to Him when He pleases. He is God. He has that right. Yes, it hurts to lose someone out of our life. A lot. Losing a child, a spouse, a sibling, a loved relative is one of the hardest things you will endure. But God’s grace is sufficient to carry us through. We know that. He has done that for us.

“Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”
~ Billy Graham.

Gifts From God

We are both taking for granted things that others can only dream of…

As I write this, and as you read this, we are both taking for granted things that others can only dream of. It is not material possessions that I refer to. How many things, for example, are in my possession simply allowing me to write my thoughts down and my words to reach you? Just a short list would have to include the following:

  • Language skills
  • The ability to type/write
  • Hands
  • Eyesight
  • Access to the Internet
  • Freedom of Speech
  • Freedom of Religion

How often do we pause to consider how truly blessed we are? Using the word “blessed” implies that I have been given something. Think on each item in my short list above. Did I create any of those? Did I choose to be born and raised by a family living in the United States with the financial ability to provide me with an education? Did I fight for the right to freely express my opinion?

As a believer in Jesus Christ, I believe that every good thing I have now, or have ever had in my entire life, has been a gift from God. Even if I “earned” things, my very ability to earn them was due to prior gifts from God. Is that biblical?

“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

~ James 1:17

How thankful should I be? A loving wife, three children, parents who loved me all their lives, a caring sister, friends, church, good health, an amazing dog named Baxter, on and on and on. I could literally go on for hours. But so could you!

How long is your list of things to be thankful for? Your life may be extremely difficult. You may have cancer. Your parents may have been cruel to you. Your spouse may have passed away recently. You may live in a country ruled by a dictator with oppression all around you. Yet, can you not still be thankful for many, many things?

Here is a thought to ponder: If you only would have things in your life tomorrow that you thanked God for today, what things would you start thanking Him for right now? I’ll pause here and give you the rest of the day to put your list together.

May God bless you richly! May we all recognize the many gifts we have been given and be thankful.

Your comments and thoughts would be welcome and we thank you for them in advance.

Photograph by John J O’Leary