Living is a burden I carry…Then God intervened

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But he seemed so happy…and I was

I have one of the greatest families in the world, my wife and I have a great marriage, she would agree as of my writing this, My kids are awesome, healthy and happy. Joy fills our lives and our  home. Laughter is heard often and loud wherever we are. But at the end of everyday, since August 14, 2003 the day my son died, there hasn’t been a day go by that I haven’t asked God to let me die. I didn’t want to kill myself, but my desire day after day was to die in an accident or major illness. My honest feeling was that I had experienced all I needed to or wanted to and there was no desire, ambition or goal for the future. I believed I had said all I needed to say, I had done all I wanted to do.

Suicide was never an option

Why was I not suicidal? The reason I would never kill myself was the thought my kids would be so angry with God that they would reject Him, that my wife, already emotionally wounded would lose all hope and that there were people who I needed to invest in. So I continued to live. Life was my burden to carry, my cross to bear. The love I have for my family made living a burden I was willing to carry. I carried that burden effectively for ten years. Most people would have never guessed that the smiling man before them had such thoughts. I wasn’t a morbid or depressing person, I was just at peace with the knowledge that I didn’t need or want anything else from my life. I enjoyed the time I had with family and friends. I loved loving them, teaching them, making them laugh but at the end of the day I was always ready to go to my eternal home.

Pain makes everything else more difficult

Physical pain has been my other nemesis. In 2007 my doctors discovered that my pain and lack of mobility was due to a deteriorating vertebra in my back causing it to slide forward resting on my spinal cord. Unable to walk more than a block and unable to stand for much time at all I had given up on any future dreams I may have had because of the pain and the physical condition I was in. The physical quality of my life was drastically limited and it had gotten to the point that I couldn’t wash my own feet or put on my own socks and shoes. If I dropped something it stayed there until someone could pick it up for me. I couldn’t stand for more than, 15 minutes or walk more than half a block without the pain becoming unbearable. There were times when just getting back to my car would take everything in me and once there I would have to manually take my right leg and put it in the car. Without attention this condition would eventually lead to paralysis; so I had surgery.

That didn’t work, now what?

I was never completely out of pain following surgery but I could walk farther and stand longer; that lasted 6 months. Then came the Physical therapy and mental therapy, the yoga and Tia chi, the acupuncture and the meditation, none of which gave me relief. The last thing I tried was having a spinal stimulator implanted in my back that would interrupt the pain signals to my brain, lets just say that didn’t work and now the battery is dead and won’t be revived.

There is a happy ending

Now, I’m not complaining, I am setting the stage for a great ending to my story and a new beginning. The net effect  was that since August 14, 2003 there wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t want to go home, the eternal one, and since 2007 there hadn’t been a significant amount of time in which I was pain-free. That all changed on January 13, 2014 when God sent an Angel to speak to me. The form it took was of a stunningly beautiful young lady, my daughter Nichole. We engaged in conversation and I spoke with her about my frustration with God, that I felt directionless and just “wanted to know what He was expecting me to do?” She quietly looked across the table and said, “If you are asking that question then you are not close to God.” That is the moment I realized that my daughter was an Angel sent from God to punch me in the head. Truly a case of the student becoming the teacher . I wanted to argue with her observation, but she was right and I knew it.

Life without a relationship with God is no life at all

So what was I going to do about that? How did I drift from Him and how was I going to get back? I began to think back on my life when I felt the closest to God; times I didn’t need to question because I instinctively knew in my spirit what action I was to take. I talked to her about my commitment to a radical commitment to prayer. My prayer life was living and active, it was vibrant. When I got home that evening I couldn’t stop thinking about my prayer life and what it had been like a decade earlier. I woke  up bright and early January 14, 2014 and began praying again the way I had before. During my personal prayer time  the Lord revealed to me that the cause of my pain was the poison my emotional pain was dosing out. I gave that all to God and discovered as well I had some resentment toward Him about the loss of my son.

I’m healed, God healed me!

During that hour or so of prayer my life was transformed and all the pain was gone, totally gone.  The mystery fatigue I had since June of 2012 was also gone. It was as if a very painful winter had suddenly been lifted from my life. In fact I had no desire to head to Heaven, I had purpose and I shouted, “I want to live”. 

Day to Day

As of the final draft of this blog, February 04, 2014 I have had no pain. I can bend over and put my shoes and socks on with no pain. I walk a mile, 30 of walking and no hint of pain. I am teaching the prayer plan I use every morning called tabernacle prayer to anyone who will listen. I have invited people over to my house so I could teach them how to pray and God is not only moving in my life but also in theirs. Praise be to God.

That’s Not Fair

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In Matthew 20:1-16 there is a story about some workers in a vineyard. The story is about a boss who hires workers and he decides to pay those who have only worked a few hours the same as those who have been working all day. As you can imagine it created some conflict. Some have stated that the difference between the first and the last is simply a matter of jealousy and greed.  

If it is greed it is an emotion that arises in all of us from time to time when we begin to think that we are being treated unfairly in money matters.  if it jealousy it is an emotion that surfaces when we see somebody else getting more salary or compensation than we think they deserve. 

But it really isn’t as simple as all that, as with most things it goes deeper than that. The first group had an agreement, a contract with the landowner to work for a specific amount a day.  They believed this to be a fair day’s wage for a good day’s labor. The other laborers, however, had no such agreement or contract.  They didn’t insist upon definite terms.  Rather, the landowner simply said, “Go into the vineyard, and whatever is right, I will give you.”

I wonder if you or I would work for him on that basis, “Whatever is right.” I think it all depends on what kind of person you think the landowner to be; is he miserly or generous, is he a man of good character or bad? It depends on whether or not you trust him.  If you didn’t trust the landowner, you probably wouldn’t go into his vineyard and work for him and if you did, you would.

I think this is ultimately the real difference between the first and the last in this parable.  The first were dealing with the landowner on the basis of a contract; the last were dealing with him on the basis of trust in his goodness. The first had a deal with him on what they deemed to be fair.  The last dealt with him on the basis of what he deemed to be good and right.

Now, obviously the owner of the vineyard in this parable is God the Father.  By His Word and Spirit He calls out to us to come and work in His vineyard.  Some came into the church early in life and have remained faithful their entire lives. Others are converted later in life, while some aren’t brought to faith in Christ until their lives are almost over; some are full of good works, others are full of weakness and failure.

God gives everyone the same thing at the end of the day: full forgiveness of sins, deliverance from death and the devil, everlasting life with Him in heaven. He does this not because He is unfair, but rather, because He is generous and loving and merciful. He pours out His gifts on His people abundantly and lavishly. For the reward at the end of the day is given not based on our work but on the work of His Son, who lived and died and was raised again for us.

A problem arises in many churches when some in the vineyard begin to think that their length of time and their service deserves some special reward, they want God to work on the merit system. This is a problem for two reasons.  First, it destroys the relationship of love that God wishes to have with His people. Love has nothing to do with what is owed or deserved.  Real love is a freely given gift with no strings attached. As soon as we start wanting to deal with God on the basis of what He owes us, it is no longer a relationship of love, but in the end a business relationship–you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.  To treat God like that is not to love Him but to use Him.

The second problem is if we want God to deal with us on the basis of what’s fair, what we deserve, we’re putting ourselves in grave danger.  Those who want the merit system with God have no clue what they’re asking for. If you want fair wages, then here’s what the Scriptures say, “The wages of sin is death.”  Those who go to hell are really only getting what they asked for, namely, the just payment for their faithless works. 

Do you find yourself considering God to be unfair because of your situation in life or something that’s happened to you? Are you one whose religion is like a contract with God, a system of rewards for your good deeds? Do you negotiate with God in your prayers (I’ll do this for you if you do this for me)?  If so, then you are behaving like the first laborers in this parable.

Stop ranking yourself above others, turn away from your reliance on your own works, and turn to the works of Christ. Believe that it is only and entirely through Him that you receive any blessing from the Father.  Trust in Christ alone to save you from death and hell. 

That’s the difference between the first and the last, between unbelief and faith.  There are those who seek a God who is fair, and when they find Him, they don’t like Him. There are others who seek a God who is merciful and gracious, and when He finds them, they love Him. They know that it is only by grace that they are even in the vineyard, no matter how long they’ve been there. 

Martin Luther had this to say on today’s Gospel, “When God declares that ‘the first will be last,’ He takes away all your presumptions and forbids you to exalt yourself, even above a whore, even if you were Abraham, David, Peter, or Paul.  But when He says, ‘the last will be first,’ He bids you cast off despair and not to regard yourself unfavorably even in comparison with the saints, even though you were Pilate, Herod, Sodom and Gomorrah.  For just as we have no reason at all for presumption and boasting, so also we have no reason for despair.  In this way then, all merits are set aside and God’s goodness alone is praised. . .  We are all the same in our sin and death, and so we all receive the same grace.  Always the kingdom comes by grace to whomever God desires to give it.”

 “The last will be first, and the first last.”  For this is the way of Christ.  He who is the first and the greatest humbled Himself to be the last of all on the holy cross. He was treated unfairly so that you would be treated graciously.