Grace & Peace 08/24/2015

palm_tree“Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you’re not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied. In the spiritual life, discipline means to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn’t planned or counted on.”

Henri Nouwen

Being a little hyperactive and a type A personality meant I kept myself very busy as a pastor.  For years I thought nothing of working eighty hours a week and still had time for my family.  It seemed I even worked when I was sleeping, keeping a notepad by the bed to record my dreams.

Then God gave me the awareness that being busy was not a trophy.  It was a distraction.  Henri Nouwen gave up a shining career as professor at Yale and Harvard to work with adult mentally handicapped men in Ontario.  He felt called to the simple life of service.  This call to simplicity I read in his works attracted me and I read the gospels from a new perspective.

Jesus was a pretty basic man.  He did not need much, owned almost nothing, and told His disciples to take everything they needed with them in a bag.  In a culture dominated by ownership and self-elevation, Jesus would not fit.  I knew this.  His call to simplicity would be just too much for society.  A few years ago I came to the conclusion that even the church would have some trouble with Jesus.  So Brenda and I came to Tampa and we simplified our lives tremendously.  Life really is a lot easier when you no longer have things you need to insure.  We purged stuff, lots of stuff, and I purged a very busy schedule.  No regrets, only gratitude.

Grace & Peace 08/10/2015

earthC. S. Lewis impacted my thinking in graduate school.   His Mere Christianity offered the most concise and articulate argument for faith I had ever read.  And his presentation of “Lord, Liar, or Lunatic” is tremendous.  Having been led to humility and the Lordship of Christ in my life, God had prepared me for future circumstances I had no idea were ahead of me.  I spent hours upon hours in the scriptures, and I soon learned what Nick had told me those many years before.  It is possible to have a relationship with God that goes beyond the words of the page.  I had developed the habit of memorizing things either in the Bible or in literature or philosophy or even the words of a song.

This discipline has been a tremendous help to me in my life today.  And I am always amazed that the very verses I memorized now become a source of strength for the people God sends me.  The words now go through me and do not stop at me.  This is the living word of God for me.  I see it in the eyes of others.  They understand!

Grace & Peace 07/27/2015

give_it_all_to_godFlorida suited my spirit.  We had great success building a new church and our children prospered.  I began to develop a greater appreciation for Paul who seemed to have a completely different view of a relationship with God than I had.  Instead of reading a massive amount of material, I began spending time with each idea, trying to get to the place Paul assured me was possible.  I could be content in any and every situation.  I no longer wanted my faith to be dependent on my circumstances.  The ideas Paul offered took root.  I began to experience the freedom he knew and will be forever grateful for his letter to the Philippians.  I spent months feeling through his reality.  While a prisoner on death’s row, he wrote three ideas that changed my life
  1. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”  Philippians 2:3-4 And then he explains how Jesus actually does this for us.  AMAZING!  I really had no idea that I had been so selfish until I realized that my spiritual attitude was all about MY FEELINGS.  I determined to put those feelings aside and make Christ first in all of my life.  I became a servant.  This did not happen in a night.   It took time.  But I did come to believe that the more I gave myself away to others, the more on purpose my life would be.  I am ever so thankful this process began long before December 9, 2009, the day Brenda had her major stroke.
  2. “One thing I do.  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3:13-14   I am certain I would not want to live with someone who continually reminded me of my failures.  And I am ever so grateful to have a relationship with my heavenly Father who is able to forget what I once was.  What is more, I am looking forward to what can happen next as I continue to learn and grow in faith.
  3. “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”  Philippians 4:12-13  It took me a long time to learn the source of this secret.  I tried to have this in my own power and failed when the circumstances changed.  So I began to trust that God is faithful with His words.  Trust in Him and lean not on your own understanding.  Do not allow your circumstances to own you.  Instead give it all to God.

Grace & Peace 07/13/2015

orange_sunsetAnd I thought the darkness had fled.  And for a good many years, I believed God cared about me.  Life is strange that way.  I caught a break.  But you know as I do, this too shall pass.  Months turned to years.  I married Brenda for better for worse, for rich or for poor, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live.  We had two wonderful children, Matthew and Ashley.  I was at the top of my class at Princeton and all was right with the world.  God had finally given me what I deserved, a blessed life.

By now I was a pastor in the United Methodist Church.  Then my baby got sick, really sick.   She was in and out of the hospital dozens of times, specialists, nurses, doctors, insurance companies, bills!  It was so overwhelming and I fell back to the path I once knew, “Why?”  This one was not going to just go away.  Long walks, trying to get away, unable to turn and face it, I relapsed.  Growing “grim about the mouth”, I found myself again hiding “a dark soul and foul thoughts.”

As a family we decided we needed a huge change of perspective, a breath of fresh air.  So we moved to Florida to launch a new church.  “Changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes.” (Jimmy Buffet)  It worked.  We enjoyed years as the spirit of God empowered us to new relationships.  The Word began to really come alive and I could not get enough of it.

One night I was in Virginia visiting my parents when the phone rang.  “Ernie,” Brenda said,  “Ashley is in the hospital and they cannot stop her seizures.  You need to come home.”  I defiantly threw the phone and cursed at the God I believed hated me and dared Him to take me on rather than my daughter.  My God-loving sister heard me and came in the room to correct my perspective.  She told me I had no right to be angry with God.  BIG MISTAKE.

My life in the cave only lasted about seven years this time.  Only…. Seven…. Years!  Each week I was able to share a message with teens and their parents and the church about God’s mercy and forgiveness, his great love for creation.  I again focused my attention on the people God wanted to change and eventually was able to see beyond the circumstances.  Actually, the circumstances did begin to change and that allowed hope to begin to creep back into my heart.