Excerpt from NEW Devotional Book — Going Forward in Love

[I’m finishing a new devotional book: “Heart Journey 2: Going Forward in Love.” I plan to publish in November. Here’s an excerpt!]

Day 14

Greet the Lord as one who is dependent upon His love today.

Settle down in the presence of the One whose essence is Love. And you are His most prized possession. You have been bought for a very high price and He wants to meet with you! As you address the Lord today, express your heart to Him. No matter if you are feeling awesome or defeated or neither. Share with Him how you feel.

Read and reflect on the truth of God’s message for you.

The Apostle John wrote this letter to all people who were following Jesus. In some ways, it his gleanings from spending so much time with Jesus and being at His side most of the time. John is sharing from his personal wealth, guided by the Holy Spirit to help us live in the complexities of life and relationships. You can see John’s tenderheartedness in the language he uses to talk about the Lord and us.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.  And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.  Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.  So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.  There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.  We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:7-21 ESV)

Read the passage one more time and write down a thought or two that particularly resonates with your heart.

You might want to reflect on just a few truths as you consider what this means for you.

You might want to focus your reading on a phrase at a time and read them a couple of times. Let’s do this together.

Two truths struck me. The first is “abide.” John tells us, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.  So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” If we abide in God, we are following and obeying Him. It has to do with respect and trust. There is a time aspect that shows up when abide is used as an adjective. God’s abiding love lasts for a very, very long time. So, we have this parallel in John’s letter that if we confess that we trust Jesus then God will stay with us forever. If we abide with Him, He will abide with us.

How does that make you feel toward God?

Do you feel pressure or anxiety? It’s possible you may feel both of those emotions. Take your feelings to God and see what He says.

The second truth that pushed me was the precept that it’s not about a hollow love or abiding. John is very clear that we can’t say, “Hey, I love God, but pretty much everybody else can take a hike!” If we say we love God and abide in Him, then we’re going to love our brothers and sisters. We’re going to take on the same love that God has for people. That’s how we show our “abiding” and “loving.”

This is a bit more difficult. I don’t naturally love everybody. How about you?

Let’s talk to God about that, too.   

Going forward in love

As you can see, this passage really brings the theme of these reflections home. “Going Forward in Love” is our mission. We don’t want to go forward pushing our own agenda and running over people. There’s no proof of our faith in Jesus in that style.

Let’s ask the Lord who needs our love today. We need His love, but who needs our love.

Lord, help us to abide and love as we go forward!

What is biblical meditation?

“Through meditation we can let the words of Jesus descend from our minds into our hearts and create there a dwelling place for the Spirit. Whatever we do and wherever we go, let us stay close to the words of Jesus. They are words of eternal life.” — Henri J. M. Nouwen

Meditation is used to describe a variety of exercises, behaviors and activities for the person seeking to grow their spiritual or inner life. We hear the extremes when meditation is being described, which go from thinking about nothing and clearing your mind to filling your mind with spiritual words and the writings and quotes from the Bible and other books considered sacred for us. One could say that it is a combination of clearing our minds of the clutter of the mundane messages regarding cleaning products and automobiles so that we can focus on the truths from God that apply to all of life. As Henri Nouwen describes in the quote above, “through meditation we can let the words of Jesus descend from our minds into our hearts.” That is the goal of our times of daily reflection with the scriptures in this book.

It is as if we want to allow God’s words to go from the reading to the transformation of our thinking and acting. For truths to affect our wills, we have to contemplate meaning, truthfulness, applicability and outcomes. We may ask ourselves questions that address all of these topics. Questions like, what does this mean? What happens if I do this? What will be the results if I act on this principle?

Jesus spent time daily in prayer to His Father. Jesus often said that He was only doing what the Father had told Him to do. It was as if Jesus checked in constantly to see how His activities were matching up with what the Father and Spirit wanted Him to teach and do. Observing this daily habit of Jesus, led Nouwen to say that solitude — being alone with God — was the furnace for change. We connect to God through the Bible. We hear His words as we read and think about all that He has done for us as we meditate on His words. All of this leads us to change how we think and act. Otherwise, we have no truth coming into our lives. Jesus needed a daily time alone with the Father. Are we any different? Are we just as needy?

God gives us instruction as far back as Genesis concerning the need to meditate, but the book of Joshua is perhaps the most specific and simple concerning the absolute necessity of meditation.

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (Joshua 1:8 ESV)

If this were the only thing that God ever said about meditating on Scripture, it would be enough. It is quite clear that if we want to experience success in life — according to God’s economy — then we need to meditate on the laws of God. That was Jesus’s pattern and it was the Lord’s clear instruction for Joshua. Of course, the Psalms of David are full of promises regarding meditation. In fact, when David thinks about preparations for war, he chooses meditating on God’s truth instead of developing battle strategies. He says, “Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes.” (Psalm 119:23 ESV)

Let us join together, then, daily to listen to God’s wondrous works and allow them to change our minds and hearts as we ponder, answer questions and think about how to go forward in love!

— From my forthcoming book, “Heart Journey: Going Forward in Love” due to be published in December, 2017.

100 Ways to Answer Your Prayer

6/18/2017

When you pray, do you only have one answer that you will accept? Or do you leave open the idea that God may have another way to answer your prayer?

Two perspectives have led me to see God’s plan meet my deep desires. It struck me one Sunday morning as I walked into worship. God answered my prayer, but not in the way that I expected. Thankfully, I had a pen and notebook with me and I immediately began to write. Here’s what I wrote.

I recently heard Frances Chan share a story of how a young, Christian friend was not disappointed when a prayer was not answered as they had expected. Chan was surprised by such a mature response from a young believer. The woman’s response was, “God is the Creator and He has 100 ways to answer my prayer, so I’m sure He has a better plan.”

I, also, heard Dr. Derek Grier say in a sermon, “If Plan A doesn’t work, there are 25 other letters in the alphabet.” And, finally, I read this quote from author Stephen King: God is the only one who gets it right the first time.

So, with that as background, let me share a story from my life. A few years ago I made a run at becoming a church staff member and thought about going to seminary. Much earlier in my life I had been a campus minister and had applied to and was accepted at a major seminary. My path went a different route. Now, many years later, I see a different plan being worked out in me and for me. I’m a pastor-at-large through writing. Every day, I receive Biblical content and re-present it through writing in an effort to engage people in learning about God and getting to know God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I am challenged to make sure the truth of Scripture is presented in a way that is winsome, interesting and helpful.

So, it is a sacred calling, which gives me joy, a sense of responsibility and peace. Thus, my writing is easy. That’s right; it’s easy. In the same way that Jesus invites us to take His burden and give Him ours, I feel as though I’ve been given Jesus’s “light” burden in exchange for my heavy burden of doubt and regret regarding whether I’m doing what God has called and gifted me to do. I believe we too often live with heaviness because we are putting worldly expectations on God instead of allowing His heavenly expectations to embody us, to fill and infuse us.

How do you infuse tea with fruit?

Steep your green tea with fresh fruit as another way to add a fruity flavor to the tea. When you steep green tea bags, add lemon wedges, strawberries, raspberries or peaches to the liquid. As the fruit soaks in the warm water, it will draw some of the flavor into the tea.

How to infuse medicine into your body?

Using an IV we allow a liquid to flow into a vein, as a way to get the medicine or liquid into our systems.

How does the Spirit infuse us with God’s being?

As we soak in God’s Word and open our hearts, we are infused with His perspective and principles. He also supernaturally puts His Spirit in our hearts so that our whole lives can be infused with guidance, peace and gifting.

So, as we open ourselves to God and worship Him and desire to bring ourselves fully (all the parts) to Him, He infuses purpose, talent and fruitfulness into our lives. As that infusing changes us, it allows God to lead us into the places and vocations He wants for us. In the process, God wants to build our faith in Him. That means we will go through times when we can choose to take our burden back or continue to carry the light burden. It’s an amazing, but difficult process. Some never learn it and carry a heavy burden of their own and other people’s expectations and regrets. Others learn it and carry Jesus’s light burden. It’s never too late to learn it and live it. On God’s timetable, we have a lifetime to learn and live and be conformed to the image of Jesus.

Therefore, I feel that I’m the beneficiary of one of the 100 other creative solutions to my desire and prayer to be a pastor or a spiritual director or a monk or a professor.

I am the most blessed person I know, because I have seen it from the inside out.

Suddenly

January 9, 2013

Suddenly.
My heart is broke, not working.
Under attack, from within;
Relentless pain and confusion reign
As slowly clarity emerges.

What happened to me?
Did I do this?
Denial.
My God, my God, why?
But. Wait. Spirit is present,
As slowly calm emerges.

Life is present.
Wholeness preserved.
Friends are present speaking prayers,
Speaking love
As slowly comfort emerges.

Plans have changed.
Life is reborn and saved.
Anxiety, fear, future and hope–
Crazy.
As slowly a new day emerges.

©Jimmy Locklear, 2013.

Repentance in a Culture of Analysis & Why We Struggle to Reunite with God

Fast Repentance: Peyton Manning, Taylor Swift & Jesus: Repentance in a Culture of Analysis and Why We Struggle to Reunite with God by Jimmy Locklear
Fast Repentance: Peyton Manning, Taylor Swift & Jesus: Repentance in a Culture of Analysis and Why We Struggle to Reunite with God
by Jimmy Locklear
Link: http://a.co/fGZ9HLd

One of my goals for the new year was to learn to publish on the Kindle Direct Publishing platform. After publishing a small book on the prayers of Jesus from the gospels, my son Jameson suggested that I publish a book a month. After thinking about it, I decided I loved the idea. I’m not the best at publishing a regular blog, but many of the topics I’ve written about in the past are themes that I’ve continued to research and think about and live by as time passes. So, I decided to re-visit some of those and see if there wasn’t more that I could share from my readings and experiences. The Fast Repentance essay I wrote in July of 2015 was one that received a great deal of positive feedback regarding looking at Jesus instead of dwelling on our sin and shortcomings. It has a catchy title, too!

So, I’ve added a handful of additional essays and pulled them together for my February publication. You can preview the book here: 

Hope it is a help and encouragement to you.

Simple, Direct and From the Heart

Simple, Direct & From the Heart: The Prayers of Jesus: A Seven-Day Journey by Jimmy Locklear
Simple, Direct & From the Heart: The Prayers of Jesus: A Seven-Day Journey
by Jimmy Locklear
Link: http://a.co/amhK59t

For over two years, I’ve used the prayers of Jesus from the gospels to guide and enliven my relationship with God. I spent a lot of time looking at Jesus’s teaching and relating to folks four years ago while writing Heart Journey. I was consistently struck by the simplicity of his conversations with his Father. Later while working on prayer and fasting guide for my church I began to collect my reflections on the places in Scripture where we are told or shown that Jesus was praying. In some cases, we read what he said and in others we only know the place or time of day or circumstances of his prayers. I was so heartened by his example for us. And he was so emphatic about keeping our prayers simple and speaking directly from our hearts realizing that our Heavenly Father already knows our needs. 

So, twice my church’s prayer team had provided these prayers of Jesus for use by our community. I decided to change the format a bit and include seven of Jesus’s prayers in a small booklet as a way to help us increase our commitment to spending time alone with God. I had been wanting to publish a book on the Amazon Kindle Platform and this manuscript gave me that opportunity. It has been a very positive experience and a way to help a wider circle of people in their spiritual journey. There are a few more prayers that could make up a sequel booklet, and I’m also working on a booklet on repentance, too. The most popular blog post, by far, that I posted over the past two years has been on repentance and our response to grace after we sin. 

Because you have been an encourager to me, I wanted you to know about this latest little project. Here’s the link where you can find Simple, Direct & From the Heart: The Prayers of Jesus. It is only available as an ebook currently, but I’m considering having print on-demand available in the future.

I’ll leave you with the invitation given to us by our 14th Century sister Julian of Norwich who wrote: Our good Lord revealed that it is greatly pleasing to him that a simple soul should come naked, openly and familiarly. For this is the loving yearning of the soul through the touch of the Holy Spirit. 

In a day when we want to belong and to feel safe, may we accept the calling of Jesus. 

Kindling Groups Fan the Flames of Prayer: Stresses of Keeping or Losing a Job

Even our dream jobs have deadlines, performance expectations and customers or constituents to please. The emotional and psychological stress can be debilitating and lead to obesity, hypertension and other illnesses. And we depend upon jobs for income that help us fulfill our dreams and goals in life. Losing our job can be devastating.

Then, so often it is circumstances and opportunity that lead us into certain work – more so than our deep resonance or calling or desire. It is quite possible that I could’ve pursued a life of writing much earlier in my career. Writing from my inner reflections and expressing the work of the Spirit in my heart was always just below the surface. It was difficult to speak, but writing could’ve given me an outlet earlier like it has done more recently.

Circumstance and opportunity equal convenience for many of us. And we follow the path of least resistance rather than the path of truth and freedom. But the path to a specific destination is not always a straight line and we have valuable lessons to learn on the journey, too.

images

The local church that we’ve been a part of for over 30 years, has recently started small themed-prayer-groups called “kindling groups” as a way to provide support and prayer for those inside and outside our community who have specific needs. The first series of groups met around the need of “Caring for Elderly Parents” and now a second series is starting this week around the theme of “Job Stress and Job Loss” which practically covers most everybody!

I’m going to be assisting this work-related group. We’ll be meeting on Thursdays for the next four weeks at 7:00 PM at Intown Community Church, 2059 Lavista Road, Atlanta, GA, 30326 if you’d like to join us. Our primary activity will be hearing from each other and praying for the needs expressed from our own lives as well as the lives of others.

So, what are some of the spiritual things we can do when we are in distress or difficulty?

1. Pray for others. Through this the Lord may give you clarity regarding your own situation.
2. Ask others to pray for you. Admit your need and ask for help. Suffering brings about community if we will allow it to. This also takes the burden off of yourself and shares it with those who care about you.
3. Focus on compassion. As you are suffering might God be using you to complete the suffering of Jesus for the Church, thus fulfilling Colossians 1:24 – Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.

“We want information, God wants a conversation.” – Samuel Williamson

51nbnmeipgl-_sx322_bo1204203200_Over the years, I’ve read many books on prayer and meditation. I’ve been very selective in my choices of books to actually spend time with and apply to my relationship with God and my devotional life. There are only a few books on the topic of prayer and talking with God that I would recommend to anybody. And most of the books with which I’ve resonated were written by monks, priests and ancient contemplatives. So, for me to actually review and recommend a book by a contemporary layperson is a rarity!

Recently, I was asked to review a new book by Samuel C. Williamson (Hearing God in Conversation: How to Recognize His Voice Everywhere from Kregel Publications, 2016, Grand Rapids, MI) on listening to God and seeing our prayers as a dialogue instead of a monologue. I was skeptical because I don’t know Mr. Williamson and for the reasons I mentioned above, but the book was endorsed by Eugene Peterson someone for whom I have great respect. I decided to take a closer look and what I found was just the kind of book I would write on the subject of developing a deeper relationship with God and learning to listen to God’s voice every day.

Williamson’s book is anecdotal, but it comes from a man whose faith is based on a Biblical and theologically orthodox foundation. So, his experiences are filtered through the doctrines of the historical Christian faith. Therefore, I can heartily recommend the chapters of this book to anyone who wants to grow closer to their Creator and Lord. In fact, chapters 4, 5 and 6 are particularly of value to new or young Christians who want to understand the place of Scripture in their daily lives and how they might structure a devotional life.

But this is not a book about form and structure, but about learning that we are free to follow Jesus to where he wants to take us and that we can be free in what we ask him as we would our closest of friends. Williamson writes, “We are involved in a divine dialogue.” The authenticity of the author’s desire to share his experience of the relational nature of God’s personality and character rang true, as did his desire to help others open their hearts to the divine conversation. The book is very appealing at this level.

Williamson also speaks clearly regarding our motives and how misguided our desire for guidance can be. “If we want to hear God in the storm, let’s first learn to hear his voice in the calm,” he writes. And, again, in chapter 1, he peals back our self-centeredness, “We want information; God wants a conversation.”

I found the writer’s questions regarding our presuppositions to be extremely helpful in plowing the ground of our own hearts concerning prayer. “What if God wants to converse with us more than he wants to direct us?” Williamson asks us.

Does that kind of question scare you? Or does that question point out how valuable you are to God? In my own experience, it was several years ago when I came to God with open and empty hands that I found his presence most welcoming and comforting. Williamson offers us help, “It’s not that God doesn’t want to answer our questions. He does. But our obsession with them deafens us to his message. The restrictive nature of our questions limits our ability to recognize God’s voice;” he writes.

As you can see, there is a lot to recommend about this book. In closing my review I want to mention a couple of other things that I really appreciated in reading it and a suggestion that I would make if you choose to read it. I loved that many of Williamson’s illustrations and stories were from his business, family and church experiences. He didn’t compartmentalize his experience of God to one area of his life. Secondly, he offers a broad range of resources and other voices to reinforce and support his convictions and suggestions. And, finally, my suggestion is that you don’t have to read the whole book before you start implementing some of the truths taught here. In fact, I’d suggest that you put the book down from time to time (or close your Kindle if you read like I do) and put into practice something that has struck you as helpful or interesting. —- Jimmy Locklear

________________________________________________________________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

 

 

What do we learn when we suffer?

One of the most common questions that people of faith ask when they are going through illness, suffering or a hard time is: What is God trying to teach me?

We know that Jesus learned or experienced obedience through suffering. The writer of the letter to the scattered Hebrew people of faith told us that during the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions, as a good pastor would, with fervent cries and tears to the One who could save him from death and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son that he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and once made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. (Ref. Hebrews 5)

Obedience has a cost. Yet, the price we pay can have an even greater result. Henri Nouwen wrote that the pain and struggle that Jesus became part of and experienced himself, especially on the cross, made him listen more perfectly to the Father’s voice. Before coming to earth, we might say that Jesus knew obedience in a theoretical sense, but while here he experienced the concreteness of obedience.

There is a type of identification with suffering that makes us more humble. If we continue in health and material wealth, our ears become dull to the Spirit’s calling us to serve and follow the voice of God. Our faith is not tested and we don’t allow the Spirit’s work to break through our daily routine. Instead, we see ourselves as sufficient. We don’t listen for help and, more tragically, we don’t ask for help. In my times of suffering and pain, I came to understand that there were two steps to restoration and wholeness. I had to admit my weakness and ask for help. Using those two steps were how I learned obedience and continue to learn obedience. Pain forces me to submission and submission leads to freedom and wholeness, at least to a spiritual wholeness or what we read in Hebrews as perfection. Submission and obedience restore me to that proper relationship to God as a child to parent or creature to creator. Yes, good health and riches make my obedience harder to learn. Even for some of us, it might be impossible to learn.

Maturity comes when we grow in obedience and humility to a place where join the missionary Paul in being content in whatever circumstances we are in. Riches and poverty become equals in the heart of a mature follower of Jesus.

So, I welcome all experiences of good or ill because I know that in both I have the opportunity to grow in obedience and to prove my obedience.

The Moment When You Think Your Life May Be Over

I don’t know if everyone has one of these moments, but I suspect that there are many more folks than we are aware of who have a moment when seemingly everything important passes before their mental eyes and there is this fear of their life on earth being over. Well, I believe I have had at least two of these moments and perhaps three.

The most recent moment for me occurred on October 2, 2015. I was ushering at Turner Field for the St. Louis Cardinals versus Atlanta Braves major league baseball game. It was a chilly evening and I was at my assigned section Aisle 206, which is in the terrace level near home plate. It was not a huge crowd, but I’m usually pretty busy helping guests find their seats even when other parts of the stadium may have light crowds. It was the second inning and I had just been chatting with my sister who was at the game with my Mom. They preferred sitting in the outfield terrace, but my sister had come by my section to say hello.

This was my first season working for the Braves and it was just about over. Only one more home series. I’m semi-retired, I guess. I’ve received partial disability payments from my private insurance for over a year and have not been able to work fulltime since suffering a major heart attack in January of 2013. That experience became the basis of the first book I published – Sacred Heart Attack – and was life changing in many ways. I do some other project and consulting work while writing manuscripts for additional books. However, that heart attack in Montreal was not one of the times I felt like I was going to die. Even though I learned from the cardiologist that unblocked my left descending artery that I was in serious danger, I was conscious – in pain, but conscious – and thought that everything was going to be fine.

My youngest son Jed had worked for the Braves for the 2014 season and I was his primary transportation to and from the approximately 70 out of 81 games that he worked as a guest relations representative. For the 2015 season he was set to be on the promotions team and I had been thinking about being an usher and had talked to some of the ushers about their jobs. Eventually, that’s what I did. It was a challenging assignment at the beginning, both physically and mentally. Long hours of standing posed the biggest challenge. But I enjoyed baseball and had been a Braves fan and follower for many, many years; and I enjoyed relating to new people from all around the country. So, I was in the right spot. I had developed a few friends from my fellow gameday staff, too.

Just as I was finishing my conversation with my sister I started having a familiar pain combination of pressure and burning in the center of my chest. I breathed a couple of deep cleansing breaths, but nothing changed. I wondered if it was gas and excused my self to go to the Men’s Restroom. That didn’t help and the pain had risen to a 7 on that 10-point scale. I left the restroom and walked by one of my fellow ushers and told him that I was going to First Aid at aisle 211 to get my blood pressure checked. I told him I wasn’t feeling well and that he should tell our supervisor.

I walked in to the First Aid office and had about 14 eyes focused on me. I’m sure it was unusual to see a uniformed Braves employee walk into their office. I told a couple of the EMTs that I was having chest pain, that I’d had a heart attack before and that I’d like for them to take my blood pressure. They were happy to oblige and began asking me a few questions about the location and severity of my pain. My blood pressure was 170 over 105, which was extremely high for me since I took meds that generally kept my pressure down to 115 over 75. The EMT asked me to lay down on their examining table so that they could hook up the leads for an EKG. Before loading me into the ambulance, they wanted to see if the test could detect anything. They kept having trouble with one area. They couldn’t get a good signal, which can be a sign that there is a problem.

About this time, I told them that I had a small 200-doses can of Nitroglycerin Sublingual Spray that I always carried in my pocket. They said that I should go ahead and use it. I gladly complied with two short bursts in my mouth. I looked at my watch with the thought that in five minutes I would do it again if the pain continued.

This is when it happened.

There was not immediate relief, so, I started thinking this could be the end of things on earth. The EMTs began loading me on to a gurney and asked if I wanted to go to Grady’s ER or Emory Midtown Hospital. I said that Emory was my choice because that’s where my cardiologist practiced medicine and all of my records would be there. The two hospitals were equally close to Turner Field.

When I suffered 100% blockage of my LDA some 33 months ago, I didn’t really know how seriously my heart was being damaged by the cutoff of blood/oxygen flow. But now I knew the full ramifications of the pain I was experiencing. This was not heartburn, indigestion or acid reflux. And it wasn’t my gall bladder or pancreas. I no longer had a gall bladder and my pancreas pain would’ve been a little lower.

No, this was a coronary artery or two in major distress! And, suddenly, I didn’t want to die. Why was that surprising to me? You might ask, Doesn’t everyone feel that way?

Actually, no, everyone doesn’t feel opposed to dying all of the time. Over the past three years, I had grown accustomed to the idea that I might be passing on to heaven sooner rather than later. I even had a dream on February 28, 2014, while in the hospital suffering from pancreatitis, about going to heaven and what the first few hours might be like. And, of course, it was very pleasant!

As I’ve grown closer to God over the past few years, the experience of his presence was a powerful antidote to the difficulties and challenges of life. I wanted more of that experience and I think that is a good sentiment. And I realize the choice on when we pass on to glory is God’s decision and not ours. I had begun to get the idea that, for me, it might be sooner than one might expect.

My first thoughts were that I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t “put my affairs in order” as well as I would like. Jenny and Jed, Jameson and Justin would all be fine in figuring out where our will and life insurance information was and things like that. But I hadn’t prepared them for my being vacant from our family. In fact, I don’t know what all of that means. So, by writing this essay, I’m inviting that process for my family and for yours. Here’s one of my deep desires: we learn to befriend our death and celebrate the life that we have been given. Most of us would agree that life is a gift and most of you reading this essay have been given a life of privilege, wealth and all manner of life-enhancing blessings. Physical death is a result of the fallen nature of creation and all of us will experience death unless Jesus returns and completes the trifecta of his work with heaven on earth that followed his incarnation and death/resurrection/ascension.

So, let’s say that I wanted to celebrate a little more. Hang out a little more. Have “heaven on earth” fun a little more. I wasn’t ready to leave before seeing Jenny being able to rest after years of teaching and grad school and teaching. I wasn’t ready to leave before seeing Jed fully blossom into the man that God intends for him to be. I wasn’t ready to leave before seeing Justin on the biggest stage so that everyone could appreciate the wonderfulness of his presence in front of an audience or a camera. I wasn’t ready to leave before seeing Aberdeen reach her second birthday and then start working toward kindergarten. And I didn’t want to leave before seeing Bethany publish a book for the parents of medically complicated children and for Abby to be known as the General’s daughter.

Here’s the deal, though. I am ready to leave whenever God calls me to be in his physical presence. I’m ready because I haven’t let my dreams and desires die in me. I’m sharing them now and I’ll continue to celebrate life in the midst of heartache because there is a redeemer. The story we are in has an ending that is magical and wonderful and peaceful. Our world isn’t hurling through space with no destination.

The good news for me was that God showed mercy to me on October 2nd. The nitroglycerin proved to be the proper antidote for artery distress, which was probably a coronary artery spasm. Subsequent echocardiograms and heart catheterization showed that my arteries were in good shape with nothing close to a blockage. So that spasm served me well. It opened my eyes to the continued blessing of life and re-kindled my mission to encourage you to befriend your death and celebrate your life that is in the hands of a loving and merciful Creator and a Savior who has bought you for good.