What’s that button do?

We’re a peculiar people that make little sense. We put our thoughts in weird places that don’t stand up to reason. When you really stop and think it through, there’s a nonsensical quality to us, isn’t there? I see contradictions of thought and logic in a variety of places. I hope you’re still with me, even though you may be teetering on being offended and moving on.

I recently had the honor of sharing my thoughts on a friend and co-pastor, Ally Weaver who finished her battle with cancer one week ago this morning. The imagery of this sweet friend crossing that finish line and falling into the waiting arms of Jesus is perhaps more poetic than it is anything else but its so helpful to me (and so many) at times like this when we feel the sense of loss. I’m incredibly comforted with the truth that just as I sit here at my keyboard forming the next thoughts that will spill out of my fingers and appear on this screen, my dear friend is staring at Jesus who is right in front of her. Like I said at her recent celebration service, I’m there by association. Someone I know is right now in the full presence of God, taking in His glory through all of her senses. If I knew that my friend right now was meeting a celebrity, or the President, or the Queen of England I’d be so excited for them and I’d probably even talk about it at the time the scheduled meeting was taking place. So, let’s just multiply that by…oh, I don’t know….a million, trillion, gajillion. That’s how I feel when I think of Ally right now.

As true and amazing as that is, there’s still a struggle to understand the “why” behind the facts. This remarkable young woman—a dearly loved wife to an extraordinary man and a mother to two sweet young children—is now not with us physically. Why in the world would God seemingly ignore our cries for help on her behalf? Why would God choose it best to take His precious daughter home to be with Him instead of leaving her here to be with us? What good can come of this? I just don’t understand it. And its sometimes in the non-understanding that we struggle most. Its in the myriad of unanswered questions that faith can find its biggest fight. Indeed, the very existence of God is argued by atheists worldwide through the argument of pain and suffering. According to research, there are between 450-500 million atheists and agnostics in the world. I’ve talked to a few. Their #1 evidence against the existence of God? The presence of pain and suffering.

So it’s no wonder why those who believe in God and even follow His Son Jesus get tripped up when deep pain comes along. We just don’t get it. We don’t get how an all-powerful God who claims to be all-loving would allow such a travesty like a sweet young woman facing, fighting, and falling to the monster of cancer. It’s maddening. Let me share a rough analogy that might help. It struck me yesterday and I’ve been rolling it around in my mind. It’s simple in nature so it may not suffice the deep pains we feel through loss. But maybe it will help a little.

I love to fly. Anytime I get to fly anywhere I get giddy. I try and play it cool when I’m standing in line at TSA, or walking the concourse on the way to my gate, or getting my ticket scanned by the ticket agent. But inwardly, I’m thrilled to be flying. I’m like a little kid inside. One thing I always do whenever possible as I step through the curved doorway onto the plane is to sneak a peek into the cockpit and catch a glimpse of the walls, floor, and ceiling that are virtually covered in knobs, levers, slides, gauges, and screens. For that brief moment I take it all in and am astounded at all that goes into flying this machine I’m in. Think about it. It’s a multi-ton (a 747 take-off weight is 735,000 lbs) hunk of metal that is about to use the sheer power of lift and wind to propel itself and its passengers to some far away land, under propulsion of jet engines which are essentially a controlled, consistent explosion.

As often as I have flown, I have never once stopped at the cockpit door and demanded a thorough explanation of every one of those knobs, levers, slides, gauges, and screens. Not once. I walk past that door, marvel at the equipment I see, and make my way to my seat. I’d bet my bottom dollar that if you’ve ever flown on a commercial airline you’ve done the exact same thing.

Why don’t we stop at that door, hold up the line, and make our expectations clear to the pilot and co-pilot that we aren’t moving another inch until our questions are satisfied? After all, this three-quarters of a million pound metal bird is very soon all that will be standing between us and plummeting to our death. Why in the world are we not more adamant about receiving a full explanation of how it all works? We can’t possibly be expected to simply trust the pilot, can we?!? It can’t possibly be that while we know next to nothing about aviation there are those who do and who have dedicated hundreds of thousands of hours to understanding every knob, every lever, every slide, every gauge, and every screen–for the sole, express purpose of making sure that the passengers of their plane have a safe flight to their destination? Nah, we can’t be expected to believe that, can we?

I hope by now you’ve made the connection. There are things that are mysteries to us passengers. We might catch a glimpse of the cockpit, but we won’t ever fully understand how all that really works. I think Deuteronomy 29:29 says it well:

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”

There are always going to be things that happen that we just don’t understand. And there are even going to be things that happen in our lives that we CAN’T understand. They’re simply non-understandable by us passengers. But just like I glance that cockpit, take the right turn and find my seat while putting full trust in the pilot to know how to fly this plane safely while I simply enjoy my beverage and tiny pretzels, I can fully trust God to know far more than I do. I can rest in simply knowing that He sees more than I see, knows more than I know, and loves more than I love.

So here I am. Still hurting. Still not having all the answers. Still wondering how all this could possibly work for good. Still sad. But fully trusting the pilot.

Why I Love You

I love you. What comes to mind when you hear those words from someone? What about when you read them on a blog and they’re coming from a (maybe complete) stranger? Do you believe them? Are you more guarded than to simply take those words at face value? Is there even such a thing as face value when we’re speaking those words? I was recently talking about these words with my girlfriend (who I’ve been married to for 26 years) and she suggested I write about them. So I am.

Let me start by saying what I DON’T mean. I don’t mean that I feel a certain way about you (at least that’s not what I mean primarily, and especially if we’ve never met). I don’t mean that I see and know everything you do and have come to the conclusion that you’re worth love. I don’t mean those things. What I mean is that I love you.

Those 3 words pack a punch, don’t they? There are people in my life who can’t even receive them because of the impact they’ve made through negative events in their past. And I’m so sorry for that. I’ve actually had someone tell me to please not say those words to them because of the pain they trigger. Begrudgingly, I consent.

I share these words with people freely. My wife wasn’t brought up that way. My wife’s parents very wisely taught her from a young age to guard those words carefully and NOT to simply dole them out to anyone and everyone. I love that. I love that they taught her to guard those words because in teaching her that, they taught her they were not words to be taken lightly. Her parents knew and instilled in her a reverence for the power these three words wield. I completely respect that. I told my girlfriend (when she was just my girlfriend) the words “I love you.” LOOOONG before she uttered the words back to me. But when she did? Oh….my…..WOOOOOORD. Have you ever seen a video of the atomic bomb going off? (How did that camera survive, anyway?) That mushroom cloud? That was my heart at that moment. And I’m pretty sure that was the point. That’s why she waited. That’s why she guarded them so well. Because of the sheer magnitude of impact they carry.

Why then? Why would I toss them around so flippantly, seemingly without regard for where they land? Why would I tell my wife “I love you” and still tell a 15 year old guy in my student ministry “I love you”? Aren’t I just cheapening the value of the words by using them so haphazardly? Can’t I and shouldn’t I discriminate more than that?

Maybe. Maybe I should. But I don’t think so. Here’s why.

To those who hear those words from me, they more than very likely know that I’m not talking about butterflies, rainbows, and warm fuzzies. They know me enough to know I’m on a different level than that. I realize fully what those words mean. I know what they’ve done in my life and I know what they have the power to do in others’ lives. I’ve seen it firsthand.

I tell you I love you because I’m expressing my commitment to stick with you, no matter what. Love is work, and I’m willing to work.

I tell you I love you because I want to help create a world that is both loving AND unwavering in its standards. Love has standards, and I love that.

I tell you I love you because I agree with Burt Bacharach, they really are “What the world needs now” and saying those words fills the air with what we need most, next to oxygen.

I tell you I love you because I don’t want anyone to ever mistake me for someone who’s unloving.

I tell you I love you because I invite you to inspect my life, my motives, my actions, and scrutinize them. Hold me accountable to the very definition of love that I proport. If you find me falling short, I trust you’ll love me enough to speak the truth in love to me.

I tell you I love you because I don’t know who is or who isn’t telling you that you are loved. I’d rather err on the side of communicating it and risking being misunderstood than not communicating it and risking being perceived as unloving.

I tell you I love you because I don’t know what’s actually going on behind the curtain of your life and those words–simple as they are–just might be the life-saving floatation device you need right now.

I tell you that I love you because life is far too precious to keep powerful, deeply-understood, healing words to myself. It costs me nothing to say them but for you they might hold everything that’s vital to survival.

I tell you that I love you because when the dust settles and I’m the one in the casket being lowered into the ground, I want everyone present, and everyone who’s ever known me to agree on one thing: Jerry loved us.

But mostly, I tell you that I love you because I know how loved I am. And I know that I’ve been loved first. I know that because I know that I am loved I am also compelled to let others know how loved they are. In other words, “We love because He first loved us.” If that sounds familiar to you, its from 1 John 4:19. The apostle John is spelling it out succinctly and supremely. He’s identifying the very reason that love exists for us at all. Its because you and I have been loved with an everlasting love. Therefore, we in turn are invited to love as freely as we are loved.

That’s why I love you. During the several minutes I’ve been typing, I’ve gotten 3 texts from 3 different people and all 3 of them received from me the words “I love you.” And I do. I love them. I love you.

Not because you earned it. Not because I feel like it. Not because of some ill-placed karma-like philosophy of life. Simply because I know that I’m loved. So God helping me, I want you to know it too.

Waking Up On The Moon

I’m up each day before it’s light. My wife wakes up before I do, and I quickly follow suit. We’ve got jobs to get to and a 70 pound sheepadoodle that’s gotta do his business. While standing in our back yard in the predawn darkness, I’ll sometimes look up through the trees to the still-barely-night-time sky and find the moon, if its visible at all.

The phase of the moon I saw this morning is one of my favorite phases. Have you ever seen something in the sky that you find beautiful, or awe inspiring, or just plain interesting and try and take a picture of it with your phone? It’s almost ALWAYS a huge let down. If you’ve been able to capture an amazing photo of the moon, I’d love it if you’d share it in the comments, because I just can’t. Maybe because its 2021 and I’m rocking an iPhone 8, but I’d guess that’s usually the story for most phone-tographers.

Here are a couple pictures I took this morning…

The current moon phase is the “Waning Crescent” and the reason I find it so mesmerizing is because the entire circumference of the moon can be seen, but only part of it is brightly reflecting the Sun.

I can hear you saying, “Thanks for the super crappy photos of the moon, Jerry.”

The thought that crossed my mind as I looked up at that big beautiful orb this morning was really all about perspective. Stick with me.

In your life right now there are places of brightness that you’d say are going okay, or going well, or going great. Maybe its an aspect of your job, or maybe its a relationship you’re enjoying, or maybe you’re hitting a stride in new found hobby, or maybe that side hustle is even more fun than you thought it would be, or maybe there’s love in the air and your mind is on that someone you recently started chatting with, or maybe you just got a promotion, or maybe you just reached that goal you’ve been working toward. In some way and in some area, there’s a celebration-worthy angle, be it ever so slight.

But most of us don’t decide to start our day on that bright side of the moon. I’d dare say that many if not most open their eyes each day with a sense of weight over that decision to be made, that bill to be paid, or that difficult conversation that needs to happen. We start off with thoughts of what we’re behind on, ways in which we’re falling short, or the weight of the day ahead.

What would it take for you to meet each day with a sense of brightness and lightness that comes from the realization that while there certainly is a dark side of the moon, you and I can choose to begin on the bright side of it?

There is and will always be a side of the moon facing away from the Sun. In fact, we here on earth every only see no more than 59% of the moon’s surface. The temperature of the unlit “dark side” of the moon is -387F degrees. While the temperature on the lit side of the moon reaches a toasty 260F degrees! While neither is inhabitable by humans, the point is that there’s a huge difference between them. And just like that, an incredible distance lies between a day begun on the light side and a day begun on the dark side. Same moon, different sides. Same day, different mindsets.

In order to make this practical, let me suggest a few steps to take before heading out the door to tackle your day:

  1. Before your feet hit the floor breathe deeply and whisper a prayer of gratitude. I’m a believer in God and His Son Jesus Christ is my best friend but even if you’re not, the discipline of gratitude is guaranteed to make a dramatic difference in your life. Start with a mindset of thankfulness for this new day and the opportunities and challenges it holds.
  2. Immediately after your feet hit the floor, stretch your arms straight up for several seconds, slowly moving them side to side above your head. I’m no yoga guru, but when I’ve done this, it always seems to bring an alertness and a much quicker sense of “I’m awake!”
  3. After your readiness routine (teeth, shower, getting dressed, etc.) make a short list of what you are determined to accomplish today. Writing your goals–even small ones–is a habit that the vast minority of people maintain but those who do represent those who are getting to where they want to go. (I married a list maker, so I’ve loved learning the art of a good list.)
  4. Within your first hour awake, do one thing that brings you joy. It might be standing on your porch with a cup of hot coffee, breathing in the morning air. It might be sitting down with one of your children, discussing the weird dreams you had last night. It might be taking the dog for a walk. It might be reading a spiritual devotional before hitting the more hectic parts of your day. It might be crankin’ that 80s hair band’s power ballad on your commute to work. You choose.

What are YOUR best tips on how to begin on the “light side of the moon” each day? I’d love to hear them. And if you’ve ever done anything of these things I’ve mentioned or are willing to start one, I’d also love to hear the difference it makes.