Confessions of a Broken Tool

Thanks for the Lift!

I want to show you a picture of myself.

Turtle on a Fence Post

I know, I’m not a turtle. But many of you know that, if a spirit animal was really a thing, for me it would be a toss up between sloth and a turtle. I’m not particularly quick about stuff… generally speaking.

This picture is really more about how I feel at this point in my life. Several days ago I was able to participate in the graduation exercises of Dallas Theological Seminary. In a couple of months, when a bit more paper work is done and a few more hoops have been jumped through, I will hang my diploma in my study next to this picture.

This picture is in itself a testimony of how I find myself passing such a milestone. It was taken by my dear brother after hearing me speak of the old observation of the turtle on a fence post. It’s a simple observation really.

If you see a turtle on a fence post, there is one thing you can know most surely: he did not get there by himself.

That’s my story. I find myself in a place in my life to which I could never have arrived on my own strength or ability or effort. My amazing wife and this crazy kids of mine (born and otherwise) have endured and supported and allowed me to invest the time and energy needed. Our pals (a.k.a. the Coffee Club) have endured so many groaning sessions and crying spells.

So many of my brothers at arms—my pastor brothers who encouraged and supported and prayed for me along the way—helped me through more than they know. My family—brothers and sisters and parents–did the same.

There were several professors that invested more than just a transmission of information by helping me, encouraging me, and challenging me to genuinely, “Teach truth. Love well.” My mentor for this final year has invested so many hours in listening, encouraging, praying, and teaching.

And then there is the family of faith that motivated this degree in the first place. My CalvaryDuncan family has patiently allowed, endured, and encouraged this process. Their prayers and patience have been so crucial to this journey, but the truth is that I began this journey out of a longing to be the kind of pastor that I believe they deserve.

Along this mountain-climb, several folks have come along at crucial moments and made enormous investments in my life and ministry. Some of those have been in financial ways (including the entirety of my last two semesters’ tuition), some with a particular conversation or prayer, and some with a kindness or gift or gesture. All of these moments and helps have helped me carry on.

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This photo is a cross-section of the much larger group of folks that have given me such a lift.

All of these folks have figuratively lent a hand to lift a middle-aged turtle to a place that he could never have managed to reach on his own. So I guess the question is obvious: why?

I can only believe that all of these amazing people were a part of a extraordinarily beautiful example of what Paul taught us so plainly:

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all time, you may abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)

They were and are, each and every one, vehicles of the amazing grace of God through which He has provided for me everything I need to follow His plan for my life and ministry.

As I pause here atop this utterly unlikely fence post, I can only say to them all, “Thanks for the lift!”

This is Not That Day

I’m not much of a runner, but I did run another half marathon last weekend. It was long and sweaty and all the usual stuff. But we did it.

Around mile 8 or a little after we passed a sign that looked just like this:

yard sign

I teared up.

I know, I know, there’s nothing particular special about me having tears in my eyes. But this was a powerful message of encouragement to me in that moment. I know that I won’t always be able to do such a thing. But that day I was fully capable.

As I’ve reflected on that sign and the powerful reminder therein, I was reminded of the very common theological sentiment that God will never give you anything you cannot handle. That’s a very comforting thought, perhaps, but there is one small detail about it that bothers me: it’s absolutely untrue.

Hear me out.

Everything about our human condition is utterly beyond our own ability to overcome. We are all born broken and full of selfishness (which God calls sin). We cannot overcome that.

But there is a much more accurate and much more important truth: what God requires, God provides.

Did you catch that?

What God requires, God provides.

It’s like that great hymn said it, “All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided – great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”

That means that, whatever challenge or issue is in our path today, God has provided what we need to endure and even grow through it.

So let me take this sign in a different context. The day that I cannot run the race set before me will never come simply because God will faithfully provide what each day requires when it is needed… but seldom before.

What difference does it make?

Well… it changes how I see the race. It changes how I see that monstrous hill rising in front of me or the rocky path ahead. It doesn’t make the bumps go away or even really take away the sting of weary muscles, but it does give me a comforting assurance that the struggle and the difficulty is temporary.

But there is something deeper, more powerful that I see. It means that the pain of the struggle—and there is always pain in the struggle—will not be wasted.

One of the most misunderstood assurances in the Bible is found in Romans 8 where we read this important truth:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Rom 8.28)

Paul goes on to explain that God’s purpose for all those who believe is to transform us into the image of His Son, Jesus. I think what he is getting at is that God is using all of the hardness of this life to accomplish His transforming work.

I want to encourage you today by simply reminding you that, no matter what this day requires, God will provide it. In fact, He most like already has done so.

Run your race. You can do it.

You can do it because you can trust Him to give you every ounce of strength required.

You can do it because He is faithful.

You can do it because He promised.

And His promises are true.

Through Thorns and Waves

The painful sting of thorns is a part of this existence—even when working with the stunning beauty of roses. There is no way around it.

The heaving and crashing of waves affect the most sure of sea-going vessels and there’s not a technique for dismissing them. You can’t experience the wonder of the open ocean without being affected by them.

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I have found myself captivated with the haunting simplicity of a particular hymn. The melody was crafted by Jean Sibelius in his tribute to his homeland in a piece so appropriately identified as a tone poem called Finlandia.

The lyrics predate the music and were translated from German (written 1752) into English by Jane Borthwick in 1855.

This hymn is a discipline of self-talk. It is the urging of the mind to return to the soul-deep truth from which life so easily distracts.

I have been particularly enamored with Jadon Lavik’s reverent and hope-dripping rendition that I encourage you to pause and listen and meditate upon here:

Jadon Lavik, “Be Still, My Soul”

Did you see those powerful words?

Be still, my soul, the Lord is on your side

Bear patiently the cross of guilt and pain

Leave to your God to order and provide

In every change God faithful will remain

Be still, my soul, your best, your heavenly friend

Through thorns and waves leads to a joyful end

Be still my soul

It’s so rich—like cheesecake that demands you slow down and take small bites. The author reminds herself that God is on her side, that guilt and pain are a part of life in a broken world through which we must simply endure.

The urging to leave to God the burden of directing and providing because we know that what God requires God always provides. Because we know this, we can trust His faithfulness no matter what changes roll through our lives.

The assertion that God is, indeed, my best and heavenly friend is a realization to which many believers never acquiesce. But the testimony of Scripture bears out the assurance that, through the thorns of a fallen world and the waves of a sin-cursed journey, He will surely lead to the joyful end that He has promised.

It doesn’t make it not hurt. It doesn’t mean the journey will be smooth and easy and care-free.

It does mean that the destination is sure.

And in that we find rest. In that we can stop and just be still.

Be still, my soul.