The Man in the Pit

That partly explains why I missed last weeks’ scheduled post. And almost again this week. I found myself in a deep pit and have had to climb out centimetre-by-centimetre. Which isn’t easy when you’re short and disabled. In some ways I’m not yet fully out of the pit but I’ve reached a height where the WIFI signal has returned.

How did I find myself in a pit? Part carelessness, part circumstance beyond my control and also just the part of the journey I’m on.

Work at the moment, and until December 2019, has intense timelines to meet. Every week there are deadlines. This leaves me feeling mentally exhausted by the time I get home. Compound that tiredness with my almost-routinely bad sleep and it’s a recipe for feeling like you’re being sucked down a whirlpool.

Most unusual for me, this resulted in me not even wanting to turn the computer on. Or if I did it seemed far easier to anesthetize myself with mindless games. The idea of programming or writing after a hard day was not on my schedule.

Publishing Vengeance Will Come made me super-excited. To see all of my hard my work in a format that others could read spurred me onward. I went from ‘I’m not sure I’m going to publish this’ to ‘I definitely have to write more’ within 24 hours. It was just thrilling to reach an endpoint on the project.

And yet as the weeks go by and the sales remain extremely humble (to use a phrase that is more palatable) it is disappointing. I never had expectations of making lots of money or generating a huge fan base. I was smart enough to realise that was unlikely. I just hoped that some readers would enjoy my story. A story teller doesn’t craft a story and then never tell another person: the joy is in the sharing. I’d assumed that Amazon being so large, and my books being low-priced, would give me at least a small audience. So far, that has not been my experience. Full disclosure: I have done no marketing. Still I had expected more.

God-stuff though is what put me in the pit in the first place. I’d been complacent and lazy and hadn’t been dealing well with a few things. Every time I tried to spend time with God, I’d end up thinking about other issues which would rile me up… Soon it became easier to not think about it. Except that didn’t solve anything.

Good spiritual disciplines were bent a little each day, and eventually began to buckle as less-helpful habits filled the void of easy distraction. My distance from God meant that I was no longer receiving his refreshing and the transforming of my mind. I wasn’t living out Jesus’ character but increasingly my own. Which has far less to commend it.

Thankfully, in the last week I realised the state I was in. I wasn’t just sliding down a a hill, I was actually in a pit that I didn’t know how to get out of. I’ve made more of a conscious effort to get my spiritual life back on track and there’s been a huge improvement, thank God. I knew he was always with me even through the difficult and painful times but I missed the sound of his voice.

And so now I’m working my way free of this pit. It’s dark, and I’m still feeling disorientated, but I’m taking directions from the Big Guy who has the Compass.


Advertisements

Pillars of Life

I, by the boundless grace of God (and greatly-deserving-of-mention, grace of my beautiful wife), have a fantastic marriage.

But it wasn’t always that way. We certainly had our difficulties in the beginning. Two people adjusting to “become one” created a fair bit of friction as we learned to think of each other before ourselves. There were some tense walks around the block powered by anger fumes 🙂 Not to mention a lot of tight-jaws. (It wasn’t a case of grinning and bearing it, because there were times when we couldn’t grin).

In that early time, I knew I was out of my depth. I couldn’t do this marriage thing on my own. I didn’t know how to do it. I was smart enough to know that ones’ parents are never the right answer when it comes to sourcing marital harmony. (My parents are Godly and wise but they are not unbiased: parents seldom are).

HusbandAdviceAnd so I reached out to a man with a couple of decades experience on me. He was a respected man at church, who visibly embodied Christ-like behaviours and attitudes. He was raising two great teenage sons and had a good marriage himself. So we got together for breakfast, chatted and prayed together.

As it turned out, I think we only met a few times before he moved house to a considerable distance; which put an end to our meetings. But those few chats, earlier on in my marriage, were a much-needed pressure valve. His wisdom and care helped me to get over the speed bumps of the difficult period.

That someone (who was not far off a stranger) would care enough to spend his time writing down Bible verses and meeting with me, was a testament to his character and his view on the importance of marriage. He, by providing wisdom and a listening ear was a pillar of life to my young marriage.

I encourage you, seek out pillars when you need them, and lend your strength to others when they ask of it.

And finally, try watching this without getting emotional…

Other marriage related posts:

 

Every Man’s Battle

Revery man's battleecently I’ve re-read “Every Man’s Battle” by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker. It’s a brutally honest book that acknowledges the trench-warfare-like struggles most men have with sexual purity. The authors don’t sugar-coat reality:

“Before men experience victory over sexual sin, they’re hurting and confused. Sexual immorality in our society is so subtle we sometimes don’t recognise it.”

The authors encourage the reader to fully examine their hearts (and actions) and offer practical tips for freeing oneself from a cycle of sexual compromise and sin. They openly acknowledge it’s going to be hard battle – with backward steps as well as forward. The cost of failure, however, is more than any man can afford. They encourage the reader to choose manhood, purity and honour.

“Holiness,” as they define it simply is, “a series of right choices.”

Sexual purity is a challenge for men of all ages and stages in life. Let’s tackle it head-on, and be men who learn to throw off the shackles of the enemy, and stop him from also oppressing those we love.

RIH, Billy Graham

Rest in Heaven, Billy Graham.

In this world of all-too-often compromised values and fallen ‘heroes’, Billy Graham stood remarkably unscathed by controversy. How many people have successfully navigated the treacherous waters of fame and public opinion and not met with failure or tragedy? Not many.

He was consistent, faithful and trusted.

I’ve read before that if Graham had his life ‘over’ he would do as Jesus did and invest in a small number of people instead of his evangelistic crusades. Would he have made a greater impact on the world had he done so? Possibly; only God knows. But what we do know is that he made a huge difference in millions of people’s lives.

Some who accepted Jesus at a crusade would have had the seeds of truth stolen by the challenges and opposition which came, but I know of several (and there would be innumerable more) who had that seed planted in deep, rich soil. From that seed of truth and hope a great tree of salvation has grown. Many thousands more have found shelter, and in time – their own salvation – under the shade of those trees. Faith is a journey. Sometimes Graham planted the seed, other times he watered it, and for many, he harvested it.

May his family and friends rejoice in the legacy and the man who was Billy Graham. Though their pain of loss remains, there must be great joy in knowing Billy now sits adoringly at the feet of the one he loved and gave his life for.

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

Who’s your god?

The bulk of today’s post is about Christianity. But if you follow me for writing, I highly recommend reading this long, but informative piece: Publishing’s Parallel Universe by Louise Merrington, which talks about her experience with both traditional and indie publishing.

Now onto faith… To highlight the point I’ll be making in this post, a passage from The Heavenly Man which I gushed about earlier. This is a section written by Deling, Yun’s husband:

God helped us greatly while my husband was in prison. There are two special miracles that I’d like to share with you from this time.

With only Yun’s mother and me left to run the farm, things were desperate! We had no clue what we were doing. We decided to plant sweet potatoes, but didn’t know how to do it. I found out later that we should have planted the roots about two feet apart. I had planted them just a few inches apart!

All summer long our neighbours who heard about my foolishness mocked us and made fun of us! The news spread rapidly and I was the butt of many jokes.

Then in autumn, all our neighbours started cursing because they had very poor yields from their harvest. Their sweet potatoes were only the size of tennis balls.

When we pulled up our sweet potatoes, we found they were almost the size of basketballs! It was a great miracle and everyone knew God had taken care of us. Our neighbours respected us more from that moment on and they didn’t view my husband as a cursed criminal any more, but as a man who’d been unjustly incarcerated.

Our neighbours saw “the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” Malachi 3:18.

The second miracle took place when Isaac was three. We had to exchange a portion of whatever crops we produced because we owned no animals or fertiliser. Therefore it was imperative we had a good harvest, or we would not be able to buy food to eat or the other items we needed to survive.

This time I didn’t know how to plant wheat seeds. I placed them so close together that they carpeted the soil!

Just a week before the wheat harvest, a severe hailstorm struck. Ice the size of tennis balls fell from the sky. I rushed outside when the hail started and could already see that some of our neighbours’ wheat fields had been completely flattened by the storm. Yun’s mother and I fell to our knees and cried out, “God, have mercy on us!”

A great miracle happened. Our field was the only one protected by the Lord. All our wheat was standing upright, untouched by the hail. Everyone else’s fields in the whole area had been obliterated.

People came out of their homes after the storm subsided and saw how the Lord Jesus Christ had protected us. It was another powerful testimony to them.

While we enjoyed thick, healthy wheat that year, our neighbours had no harvest and were forced to use what was left of their crops as food for their animals.

Looking back, despite the hard times, the Lord was faithful to us!

As most Christians understand, knowing God doesn’t mean your life is suddenly gold. It is fantastic in many ways, but it doesn’t spare you all of the hardships like some kind of mystical genie. As was the case for Deling above – her husband was still in prison, and she still struggled to survive. (The majority of us in the affluent West don’t understand what it means to literally be desperate. [Desperation is not waiting for your internet to buffer]).

Thinking that you’ll suddenly be prosperous and have everything you need is at the far end of the scale. But the other end of the scale is equally wrong: thinking of God with a little ‘g’. God doesn’t confer a small advantage in life, he’s the only advantage you’ll ever need.

It also shows that he’s a God who cares about the individual, and our earthly circumstances. Not only does he want to protect us from the ravages and consequences of sin (e.g. the woman caught in adultery), and pain but he knows us intimately even down to how many hairs are on our head.

Deling and her mother-in-law couldn’t just sit back and wait for rescue – they did what they can, and asked God to help. Note that God came through at the end which is so typically God. He didn’t have someone helpful come along and explain how to farm, but instead worked a miracle to show his power.

If we are being obedient to his call in our lives, then we can be confident that he will look after us. That doesn’t mean we will be saved from incredible hardship, but that he will help us through the hardship. It is, after all, what we’re called to do.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24)

A Treasure of a Book

As I begin rereading The Heavenly Man, the story of Chinese Christian “Brother Yun” I am deeply stirred.

heavenly manWithin the pages is a man who has experienced the power and miracles of God in modern-day. He has been faithful under incredible persecution and his continuous joy is proof of a deep relationship with God. Expressed clearly is his motivation: an abiding love for God and people.

As his co-worker acknowledges:

Yun’s testimony is written with blood and tears; his journey has been one that encountered many bitter struggles. Instead of complaining and grumbling, he learned to tackle all obstacles prayerfully, on his knees with God. … In the Chinese church I have seen many of God’s servants come with great power and authority, but with brother Yun I saw a servant of Jesus who always came in humility and meekness, reflecting the heart of the Son of Man, who did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life.

The words of his testimony are like being touched by a red hot coal. Instantly it grabs your attention and calls for a response.

Honestly, with all of the distractions in the Western world I could ignore the call. The safest route for “self” would be to discard the book. However I began the book knowing it would light a spiritual fire under me. I want that fire, I crave it’s heat. Yes, it will burn and at times be uncomfortable, but it is also a purifying flame. It will burn away that which does not belong.

As a Christian I made a commitment that Jesus Christ would be Lord of my life. He’s in control, not me. And yet, as a human, I often wrestle for control, in varying degrees. Or like a woefully out-dated navigation system, I offer ludicrous suggestions on which way to go.

What burns most is the knowledge that my relationship and experience of God isn’t as strong as Brother Yun’s. And that’s on me. The truth is my relationship with God is only as good as I want it to be. The Bible is clear: God wants a relationship with us, and has done all of the necessary work. And yet he will not impose himself. If I give him a fraction of my day and then shut my heart – intentionally or not – I’ll enjoy only a fraction of what the relationship could be.

It’s like this… The King has adopted me. Not because of who I am or what I’ve done but because of his nature of love. Not only do I have a relationship with him, but he also has appointed me as an ambassador on his behalf. As son and ambassador I have unparalleled advantage; wealth and purpose.

None of that potential is fulfilled if I choose to stay locked in my room, or act in a way that doesn’t represent the King.

[Marie] Monsen told the Christians it wasn’t enough to study the lives of born-again believers, but that they must themselves be radically born again in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. With such teaching, she took the emphasis off head knowledge and showed each individual that they were personally responsible before God for their own inner spiritual life.

Just as I am personally responsible, as are you.

If you haven’t read Heavenly Man I strongly urge you to do so. Why not read along with me, and let me know your thoughts on it?