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I hope I didn’t alienate you with this title. I know the word “suck” can be offensive to people. It’s one of those slang words that has evolved in its meaning over the course of time. But I think we can all agree that life gets pretty “suck-y”, right?

– when you don’t get the promotion that you’ve worked hard to deserve

– when you get blamed for something bad that you didn’t do

– when your expectations get dashed or when something good goes “south”

– when you’re stuck in a bad situation: sickness, financial set back, relationship difficulties

It all feels bad, looks bad, smells bad, tastes bad. In other words, life “sucks” sometimes. And sometimes it sucks really bad.

It was in a moment of great “suckiness” that it happened. It was 2:30am. I was lying in bed – wide-awake, in discomfort, felt extremely bloated from my dialysis treatment. I was itchy on every part of my body. My heart was downcast because our transplant surgery was cancelled. I was discouraged over the extreme weight gain that happened over two weeks of dialysis. And, yeah, I’m sort of a wimp and I have a low threshold of pain. But I was at the point of despairing in life and I wondered where God was?

And the words I heard in my soul were: “Doug, embrace the suck.”

I kid you not! (“God, did you just use the word ‘suck’? That’s not polite or even theologically appropriate!”)

But these words were not condemning or blaming in tone. Rather they were comforting and soothing. And at the same time, the words were strong and powerful. What I realized was that Jesus was giving me an invitation, actually a command, to move forward, to go toward Him. Because Jesus is there – Jesus is in the “suck” of life!

So instead of being angry at the suck or being afraid of the suck or denying the suck or medicating the suck (I already used two tubes of itching cream) or distracting the suck (how many games of Solitaire or Candy Crush can you play on your phone when you’re in pain? Apparently, not enough), Jesus invited me to “embrace the suck.” Why? Because that’s where He was: Jesus was present in the very center of my pain, my discomfort, and my frustration.

So I embraced the suck. More importantly, I embraced Jesus in the suck. And when I did, he wept with me. He lamented with me. After a long silence, he gave me some specific directions (I’ll cover that in my next blog). Then, finally, came a very powerful peace. Although I had not moved from my bed, I was in totally a different “place.”

Biblical writers have long espoused the unique power and perspective that comes with suffering and trials. Paul, James, Peter, and especially Jesus talked about the new reality, even exceeding joy, that comes when we embrace God in the “suck.” It’s not a sick, masochistic thing – there’s no pleasure in pain whatsoever. But it is a deep pathway to a greater reality.

Christian theologian, Richard Rohr, puts it this way: “Suffering of some sort seems to be the only thing strong enough to destabilize our arrogance and our ignorance… Great religion shows you what to do with the absurd, the tragic, the nonsensical, the unjust. (Because) if we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.” (taken from Hidden Things: Scripture and Spirituality)

Among other things, Jesus is the great Transformer. And he transforms by locating himself precisely in the center of our pain, our suffering and, frankly, our “suckiness.” And we find freedom when we follow him into those places. There we find new reserves of strength and resilience. There we find new perspective and wisdom. There we overcome fear and can face darkness head on – together with him! And there is where we find the power of true love: we discover the depth of God’s amazing love for us and we uncover a new ability to love others in their suffering and pain (instead of running away from them or pretending they don’t exist).

Are you going through difficulty, hardship, pain … suckiness? Embrace the suck. Find Jesus in it and hold onto him. And see if that doesn’t open up doors into a greater reality.

Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy-ladened (Matthew 11:28)

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering and familiar with pain (Isaiah 53:3)

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The Notebook

Before I get into the great “epiphany” that took place in the midst of my huge disappointment, there’s some very important background information that you need to know about.

I mentioned in my previous blog that I was scheduled for a kidney transplant. There is an amazing story behind that; in fact, it’s an amazing love story!

You see, the donor of my kidney transplant is my lovely wife, Letty.

She was the first in line to donate her kidney in order to save my life. And as it turned out, she was a perfect match! Which is pretty rare and very cool: A total God-thing! Furthermore, the date of our transplant surgeries (3/19/2018) would have been just two days after the 40th anniversary of our first date (3/17/1978)!

So think about it: Forty years ago, I was having the best conversation of my life with this pretty, Christian girl named Letty. We fell in love. Four years later, we got married. We had kids and grandkids; we shared a lot of love and lived a lot of life together. And now, forty years later, she is giving me one of her kidneys: to save my life.

And it wasn’t the first time she saved my life, either. This woman has saved my life countless times! Her love has pulled me out of the depths of despair, hopelessness, lost-ness, dullness (and sheer stupidity) so many times in our 40-year relationship, that it makes me dizzy just thinking about it.

It’s so poetic that the love of my life became the one who would eventually save my life. It’s even better than a Nicholas Sparks romance novel/movie! (Can’t you see the next big best seller? “The Giving Kidney” – LOL!)

And yet, isn’t that the story of us all?

Behind the scenes of our daily struggles, our day-in and day-out trials and drudgery is an all-encompassing Love story. It’s about your One True Love who has worked tirelessly, through the gamut of history, circumstances and predicaments to save your life. Not only did He save your life and mine on Calvary’s tree on that Good Friday many years ago, but He continues to rescue us in our despair, in our hopelessness, in our lost-ness, in our dullness and, sometimes, in our sheer stupidity.

He is the Lover of our souls and the Savior of our lives.

So as I deal with the disappointment of a postponed surgery and prolonged dialysis, I have hope knowing there will be a transplant – because I have a Lover who is sacrificing herself for love’s sake to save me. There is an amazing Love story, working on my behalf, behind it all.

And no matter what you are facing in terms of disappointment, dashed expectations, delays, or heart-breaks, there is an amazing Love story working relentlessly on your behalf that will make you new!

Jesus Christ so loves you!

Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people and God himself will be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:3-5)

REstart

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Hello Friend,

I’m sorry it’s been such a long time since I last shared on “Whole Life Worship.” I just stopped writing. I’m trying to figure out why I stopped. Some of it had to do with more responsibilities at church; I was asked to do more preaching and leading, and I just couldn’t find the time to write. But I think a lot had to do with the fact that I had simply “run out of things to write about.”

The “well” had run dry. The till was empty.

So I stopped. Kind of like how Forrest Gump stopped “run-ning” after crossing the country several times, I just stopped “write-ing.” Nothing left in the tank. No more words to say.

Until today.

Today I find myself on the first day of a new season. What marks this new season is actually something not so good: my kidneys are failing. I have 5% kidney function (a casualty of my diabetic condition of 25 years) and I’m on dialysis. Today I was scheduled to get a kidney transplant, but it was delayed (more on that later). I was very disappointed for the postponement and I wrestled with God about it. I mean, dialysis sucks! (pardon my French – but it really is pretty sucky, like other hard things in life). I hate feeling bloated with 2 liters of fluid in my body 8 hours a day. I’m gaining weight like a blimp and I’ve had allergic reactions to the fluid, leaving my legs and torso raw with scratch marks.

Not fun.

But it was in the midst of this disappointment and confusion and anger that God met me. On the night after I found out that my transplant surgery was postponed, I found myself awake at 3:30am. I was itchy all over and I couldn’t get back to sleep. I was feeling so sorry for myself, and that’s God said to me, “Doug, get up! I’m giving you a restart.” And what happened to me in the next hour was remarkable, insightful and amazing.

So much so, that it was enough to get me back into blog writing! At least, I have enough material to get me started again. And we’ll see where that leads us.

The message for today is that God is a God of “restarts.” We have seasons where we’re humming along, everything is fine and dandy, and then … wham! We get slammed. We get locked up. We stall out. The well goes dry. Our expectations get dashed. We experience “suckiness!”

But the story doesn’t end there. God is still with us. And if we’re open to him, we might hear his small, still voice in the wee hours of the morning saying, “Hey, Dear One! Don’t worry. I’m going to give you a restart. Just listen carefully to what I have to tell you.”

Are you ready for a restart?

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up, do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19)

There is a great hymn whose first line goes like this: “I have decided to follow Jesus; no turning back, no turning back.”

This week we have decided to take those words literally. We are going to follow Jesus on the journey of his last week on earth; the most important, impacting week that was ever lived on this planet.

Each day take a little time (20-40 minutes) to read each passage and devotional thought. Reflect on the questions at the end of each section and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to your heart. Receive the truth, even it if hurts, because He gives it with love. Allow Him to transform your thinking, your agendas, your outlook and your passions. By doing so, you are following the path of Jesus and will experience a greater measure of life that you never thought possible. It will be a week that will change your world.

Rocking Your World (John 20:1-18)

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalenewent to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved,and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). 17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

Try to read this passage as if you were Mary Magdalene. When Jesus died, your world became dark and silent. Though your heart is still beating, you are as dead as the stone rolled across His tomb. You are numb, beyond grief and zombie-like as you go through the day’s routine.

Then you notice some things. The stone is rolled away. The grave clothes are there, but the body isn’t! You conclude, “Someone has stolen the Master’s body!” You are so freaked out, you don’t know what to do. You see a couple of people who try to help you, but you really don’t notice them. Another guy tries to help you, but you’re so focused on the missing body… that voice? Then he calls you by name, and slowly you look up and you see … Jesus!

Mary, your world has just been rocked!

Do you feel it? Whenever you really see the Risen Jesus, your world gets rocked. I’m convinced that angels didn’t move the stone in front of Jesus’ tomb. The presence of the Risen Christ caused the stone to move itself. It’s amazing what comes alive when they realize that Risen Jesus is there!

Jesus wants to rock your world. He wants to bring in life, transformation, love and redemption. He wants to take away fear and smallness of heart. Sometimes we get caught up in trying to be Christians that we forget to see Christ. Look up! See the face of Christ! Fall to your knees! Let your world be rocked!

There is a great hymn whose first line goes like this: “I have decided to follow Jesus; no turning back, no turning back.”

This week we have decided to take those words literally. We are going to follow Jesus on the journey of his last week on earth; the most important, impacting week that was ever lived on this planet.

Each day take a little time (20-40 minutes) to read each passage and devotional thought. Reflect on the questions at the end of each section and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to your heart. Receive the truth, even it if hurts, because He gives it with love. Allow Him to transform your thinking, your agendas, your outlook and your passions. By doing so, you are following the path of Jesus and will experience a greater measure of life that you never thought possible. It will be a week that will change your world.

Sharing in the Sufferings (John 19:16-37)

So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle. 19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth,the king of the jews. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.” 23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. 24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.” This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,“They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” So this is what the soldiers did. 25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman,[b] here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. 31 Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crossesduring the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled:“Not one of his bones will be broken, 37 and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”

Yes, Good Friday was yesterday. But let’s take another look at Jesus’ march to the cross. Human nature wants us to move on and get to the resurrection, get to the wonderful Easter story! We are uncomfortable with suffering, agony and death. But it is worth at least a second look. Maybe there is more to the cross than we realize.

Earlier Jesus told the people that in order to be his disciples they must “deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Me” (Matt 16:24). And then He did it. He denied Himself. He took up the cross. He followed the Father’s command. Note how He suffered: physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. He suffered in every way possible. But that suffering led to life and redemption.

You and I will suffer in this life. It is inevitable. Sometimes we will suffer as a consequence of poor decisions and sin. Sometimes we will suffer because we choose to do what is right and good. Sometimes suffering will come to us; for no apparent reason. But God has a purpose: He wants to use that suffering to bring a greater sense of His presence, His character and love into our lives. It helps tremendously to know that our God suffered all that we go through and more. When we suffer we can have the fellowship of Jesus to carry us through.

Are you suffering? Invite Jesus into your suffering and let Him “fellowship” with you. Let Him renew your mind and transform your character. That Cross will someday become a Crown if you turn your eyes upon Him.

There is a great hymn whose first line goes like this: “I have decided to follow Jesus; no turning back, no turning back.”

This week we have decided to take those words literally. We are going to follow Jesus on the journey of his last week on earth; the most important, impacting week that was ever lived on this planet.

Each day take a little time (20-40 minutes) to read each passage and devotional thought. Reflect on the questions at the end of each section and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to your heart. Receive the truth, even it if hurts, because He gives it with love. Allow Him to transform your thinking, your agendas, your outlook and your passions. By doing so, you are following the path of Jesus and will experience a greater measure of life that you never thought possible. It will be a week that will change your world.

A Tale of Two Kingdoms (John 18:33-38)

33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” 34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” 35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” 36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” 37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” 38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.

The Gospel of John gives us this extraordinary dialogue between two rulers: Pilate and Jesus. In a pause before what will be excruciating suffering and death, Pilate and Jesus have a heart to heart discussion about reality, truth and Kingdoms.

Both his speech and his actions demonstrate that Jesus is living in a different realm than Pilate. While Pilate questions Jesus about being a king in the worldly sense, Jesus questions Pilate on whether he understands the heavenly kingdom. Pilate’s realm consists of power by force, fear, manipulation and death. His jurisdiction is based on geography. Jesus’ realm is much more dangerous. His power is based on truth, love, sacrifice and life. His jurisdiction is the human heart. The heavenly realm, as Jesus taught, is not about clouds, harps and angels. It is the earthly and supernatural reality lived under the reign of God. In the midst of Pilate’s worry-filled earthly realm, Jesus lives in the confidence of the Kingdom of God. Jesus does not fear death because He knows He is in the hands of the God who loves Him and is the source of life. It is out of this confidence that Jesus reaches out to Pilate: “Is that (the fact that I am King of the Godly realm) your own idea? …. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

Which Kingdom do you live for? The one ruled by fear, anxiety, self-preservation and death. Or the one ruled by the One who is truth, love, self-sacrifice and life? Jesus invites you to His Kingdom. Start living there today.

There is a great hymn whose first line goes like this: “I have decided to follow Jesus; no turning back, no turning back.”

This week we have decided to take those words literally. We are going to follow Jesus on the journey of his last week on earth; the most important, impacting week that was ever lived on this planet.

Each day take a little time (20-40 minutes) to read each passage and devotional thought. Reflect on the questions at the end of each section and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to your heart. Receive the truth, even it if hurts, because He gives it with love. Allow Him to transform your thinking, your agendas, your outlook and your passions. By doing so, you are following the path of Jesus and will experience a greater measure of life that you never thought possible. It will be a week that will change your world.

An Example to Follow (John 13:1-17)

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had comefor him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” 10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

The time was immanent. Jesus knew that within hours he would be hanging on a cross. He knew that this was his last opportunity to give his disciples something that would remain with them forever. What does he do? He washes their feet.

Of all the lessons Jesus wants his disciples to learn, this one is the greatest: to love one another and to express that love through service. The washing of feet was a task reserved for the lowest of servants. Today it would be like the cleaning the toilets: a pretty miserable task. But Jesus did this to demonstrate the type of love his disciples need to have toward each other.

Notice that Jesus washed all of his disciples’ feet – including Judas. The love that Jesus has goes beyond who people are and what they do. This is the type of love he expects his disciples to have.

In another story Jesus said, “He who is forgiven much, loves much.” The key to growing in our love for others is to realize how much we have been loved (and forgiven) by God. This is the love that can change your world.

Jesus invites you to grow in love and service. Do you realize how much God loves and has served you? Is it enough to love and serve others? Is there someone you would hesitate to love and serve? Why?