unrelenting.past

photo credit : Michael Beck of StudioEnFuego

I’m sitting in silence, reading the updates of my friends on Facebook. Some of these friends are relatively new connections, many with whom I have shared awesome God-driven moments. I look at their avatar and am reminded of small group gatherings, pot-luck dinners, baptisms, and walking across the stage to grab that late-in-life bible college diploma. Awesome memories.

But there are others in my social stream whose smiling faces, cropped square, elicit other memories. Some of these memories are mere flashes blurred by drunken stupor. Some are violent memories. Some are embarrassing – even shameful. But they are mine.

I wonder what they think when they see my status updates praising Jesus and revealing scripture. I wonder what they think when I share a church potluck event or a report of Sunday’s service. Do they see my avatar and remember that “me” whom I barely recognize or do they see My Father’s face? Do they patronizingly grin or do they marvel at how God changed me?

12I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 13Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  15Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.
(1 Timothy 1:12-16)

I am Paul and he is me. He knew what is was like to combat perceptions skewed by the person one used to be. He knew what it was like to be a new creature, with an unrelenting past. It is a past forgotten and forgiven by a God of matchless grace, but one that is at the edge of shame for the one who lived it. But from within that shame, each time it arises, a joyful song erupts – crescendos of gratitude and diminuendos of peace.

I am Imago Dei because He lives in me.

shes.still.your.bride

This was an article written for StriveForMaturity.com, originally published here: http://striveformaturity.com/shes-still-your-bride/

I had this incredible professor in high school. He was the professor of Physics and Higher Mathematics. Dr. Hosterman was his name. Before becoming a teacher, he was an army physicist and aircraft pilot who flew observation flights during the nuclear experiments at the atolls in the pacific. He developed cancer as a result of that work. He daily struggled with intense pain, downing and chewing-up a half bottle of aspirin at a time. He was somewhat kooky and had some fascinating stories to tell. But, at the same time he was so genuine and pure of heart.

Most fascinating to me was that after over 30 years of marriage, he still called his spouse, “my bride.” He would get giggles from the girls and hoots-and-hollers from the boys as he proclaimed, “We’re still on our honeymoon,” with a sly grin and a knowing wink. He had a sweet twinkle in his eye every time he talked about her. His face lit up. His countenance would change. His cancerous body no longer in pain. He loved her so much – even still, after so many years. She was still that beautiful young woman who appeared in that doorway at the church, her father in tow, beaming in that dress. She was still his bride.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (Ephesians 5:25-33)

I love that this passage gives instruction for both how a man should love the church, and how a man should love his wife. They are connected in this passage. Paul keeps going back and forth between “the church” and “your wife”.

1 – Cherish her –  so much that you’d give your life for her. Recently, a video was released of a young man and his girlfriend at a baseball game. When a fly-ball headed toward them, the young man jumped out of the way and the ball hit his girlfriend. He should have shielded her from harm. He should have cherished her as a precious gift.

2 – Glorify her – I am saddened every time I hear a man speak poorly of his wife. “She nags too much. She is lazy. She can’t cook. She isn’t that smart.” Men, stop this. Present her blameless – without stain or wrinkle – free of blemish – perfect in your eyes. Exalt her before others. Make her the envy of other wives.

3 – Love her unequivocally – She is your flesh. She is not a housemate. She is not a maid. She is not a nanny. She is you – you are her. You are one flesh, a profound mystery.

Recently, Angel and I celebrated our 22nd anniversary. She is glorious to me. I love and cherish her more now than I ever did. And since the day we married, I have followed the example of Dr. Hosterman in seeing her as my bride. She is still that beautiful exotic jewel of a woman who said, “yes.” Angel, you are still my bride.

———-

In His grip,

Herb Halstead

she’s.still.your.bride

I’ve been accepted as a contributor to Strive for Maturity, a blog ministry dedicated to helping Christian men become better men. I’m excited about this opportunity, and look forward to the community there. My first article, “She’s Still Your Bride” was published today. I hope you stop by and read it – comment too! Here’s the link: http://striveformaturity.com/shes-still-your-bride/ and here’s an excerpt:

I had this incredible professor in high school. He was the professor of Physics and Higher Mathematics. Dr. Hosterman was his name. Before becoming a teacher, he was an army physicist and aircraft pilot who flew observation flights during the nuclear experiments at the atolls in the pacific. He developed cancer as a result of that work. He daily struggled with intense pain, downing and chewing-up a half bottle of aspirin at a time. He was somewhat kooky and had some fascinating stories to tell. But, at the same time he was so genuine and pure of heart. Most fascinating to me was… [ continue reading ]

for.honor

My ethnic heritage is pretty diverse. On my dad’s side, there’s a smorgasbord of cultural identities: German, Irish, French, Native American (so I’m told). On my mother’s side, there’s Japanese. Given my particular mix, it’s no wonder that I esteem honor so greatly. I value my name. If someone speaks my name, I want their mental image to be one of an honorable person. This sounds pretty good on the surface. But, it can be pretty warped.

As I was growing up, I endured a lot of dishonor with my family name by no fault of my own. I won’t go into details, because they don’t matter, except that it drove me to feel like I had to rescue my name. I determined that I was going to live an honorable life. It was an obsession to lift my name in stature and respect. I made deliberate choices in the company I kept, the profession I pursued, even the flavor of Christianity that I eventually chose.

My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.  (Psalm 62:7)

This really is a beautiful psalm. David, it seems, is feeling pressure from all sides. My opinion is that the weight of leadership was crashing in on him. As he composes this psalm (who knows how long it took), in typical fashion, we see a movement in David’s spirit. First, an assertion of his faith in God. Then he offers lament over circumstances. At verse 7, he is already deep in an affirming proclamation of the refuge found in God.

As I read verse 7, I cannot help but be deeply contemplative over one phrase: my honor.

Have you ever had your honor attacked? Your integrity impugned?

I have. My initial reaction is defensiveness. “How dare they judge my integrity! Who are they to cast stones at me? I do the best I can!”

My. Me. I.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

I think there is virtue in trying to live an honorable life – but only as a byproduct of a holy life. It is in God that my honor is birthed. It is in God that my integrity is rooted. It is in pursuit of God’s agenda that either matter. Ouch.

Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10)

May my life be a pursuit of God.

eerily.still

I love movies, especially war dramas. One of my favorites is “Master and Commander” with Russell Crowe. One of the most eerie scenes I’ve ever viewed was in this movie. It wasn’t eerie-scary, but eerie-strange.

They had been pursuing a privateer ships that was wreaking havoc on English merchant ships. The action and battle have been pretty intense up to this point. All of a sudden we are greeted with this strangely calm sea. In the middle of the ocean, the water is absolutely still -strangely still. The ship is not moving at all. Now wind, no current – still. The stillness is taxing on them. It irritates them. They are agitated. They struggle to remain sane. They begin to look for something to blame for the eerie stillness.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. ( Romans 15:13 )

Sometimes, things in my life seem eerily still. I wonder if these times are actually a gift from God. Time for the soul to rejuvenate. If I concentrate on seeking God’s face in these times, rather than filling the silence with my cries, maybe I’ll know the value of the gift. Maybe I will find hope there. Maybe it won’t seem so eerie when I ask God to sit with me there. Maybe it won’t seem so eerie when I pray for such stillness.

terra.firma

My earliest memories of my dad are fishing trips. He loved to fish, and that love certainly rubbed off on me.

On one occasion, somewhere along some Alabama river, I got bored with watching the bobber and decided that  I was going to go dragonfly hunting. My dad made a really cool rubber-band gun that was perfect for such a job. I happily chased them down, never hitting a single dragonfly. Suddenly I found myself out of rubber-bands.

As I tromped around the brush, hands on hips, pouty lips fully extended, I noticed one of my rubber bands, hanging from a leaf on one of the branches overhanging the river bank. The bank was a steep drop-off about four feet above the heavy, lumbering current.

I determined to get it. I grabbed a small twig with one hand and stretched out over the water with the other hand stretching towards that rubber-band. Without warning the twig broke and I found myself hurling towards the water. I was so scared I could not scream. Just as it seemed I was about to hit the water, I was suddenly yanked back onto my feet, on safe terra firma. My dad, clutching me close to his chest, firmly insisted I never do that again.

17 Unless the LORD had given me help,
I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death.

18 When I said, “My foot is slipping,”
your love, O LORD, supported me.

19 When anxiety was great within me,
your consolation brought joy to my soul.
(Psalm 94:17-19)

Since that time, I’ve stretched over many steep proverbial riverbanks. God has never let me fall. Sometimes the journey towards the current seemed really, really long, and I’ve been really, really scared, but He has never let me fall.

first.and.last

I remember the early day of Thrive Church. There was this crazy excitement going on in people. I’ve often tried to understand why we get excited about things. I’ve come to think that perhaps our excitement is a product of our expectations having found new life in hope. The funny thing about expectations is that they can give us hope, or defeat hope. You’ve heard people, after something bad happens, say things like “well, what did you expect?” That is expectation mired in hopelessness. In the early days, our expectations were aflame in hope.

Some saw a chance for renewal – a legacy that could be redeemed.

Some saw a chance to experience new life – a dormant faith rejuvenated.

Some saw an opportunity for impact – feelings of futility conquered.

Some saw purpose – a wandering soul set on a mission.

Notice how each expectation of hope was in a remedy for an expectation of hopelessness. Many of our number sadly experienced hope killing situations prior to Thrive Church. They saw, in Thrive Church, a chance for God to do something amazing. We would, together, come to love God in greater measure. We would intentionally do what it takes to love one another with grace and abandon. We would set out to conquer the world as we passed on Christ’s love. “Love God, love one another, and pass it on” became more than a motto – it was an expectation of hope.

4Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.
(Verse 4 of Revelation 2:1-7)

What a bomb Jesus delivers! This is an often quoted verse, but many forget it comes right after some pretty hefty praise. Jesus saw some good stuff – they were hard workers, they had great perseverance, they had good discernment. They were able to accomplish these great things because they were passionate about Jesus. But something happened along the way. They forgot why they were doing what they were doing. In other words, their first love was not also their last love.

5 If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.
(Last half of verse 5 of Revelation 2:1-7)

I ask myself today, “are my expectations still living in hope? Is my first love, still my last love? Is Jesus Christ still my center (1 Corinthians 2:2) ?”

I resolve to shout, “Yes!” to each question, knowing that at this moment I fall short. I’m holding out for hope.

What about you?

eternal.pleasures

Sometimes, I am weak. God, you set me upon this course. I get weary. I get impatient. I get frustrated. Can I persevere?

8 I have set the LORD always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.

9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,

10 because you will not abandon me to the grave,
nor will you let your Holy One see decay.

11 You have made known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
(Psalm 16:8-11)

Sometimes I am weak. I need peace of mind. I need comfort. I need now.

Lord, set my eyes on the eternal.


then.and.now

(Edit: this post is a look back to the summer of 2002)

Angel, my kids, the dog, and I said, “Good bye, Tennessee!” as we passed into Missouri. We were on our way to Colorado. God called us there so that I could finish my ministerial studies required for ordination in my tribe. Making the decision was easy once we felt assured that this was God’s deal.

We’d been there before – stepping out into the wild blue yonder with nothing but the assurance that we were doing what God wanted us to do. He blessed that obedience, making every curve straight and opening the doors that needed to be opened. It was awesome to watch God work and experience those blessings. We knew what God did for us during that first leap of faith, and we were confident He’d do it again. It was going to be awesome!

Two days later, we arrive in Colorado Springs, in the evening. The trip had taken much longer than we anticipated. There were a number of extremely dangerous situations, and the realty agent called about the house we were selling – we were going to lose money on it. We were tired. We were frazzled. Nothing has gone the way it was supposed to – nothing. This was not fun yet.

Then we arrive at our home. Wow. Nothing like it was supposed to be. It was a dump. At the end of this journey, this was not the welcoming new home we anticipated. Angel and I were at the edge of giving up and going back to Tennessee. As I stood there, trying to comfort my wife, holding her close, I whispered to God, “What happened? This was your idea. We’re doing what you asked us to do. Why is this happening?”

30 Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”   31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” (Numbers 13:30-31)

The people were weary. It was not easy getting where they now stood – at the edge of the promised land. Then when the scouts returned with such bad news, they were ready to go back to Egypt. Well, except for Caleb.

What was the difference? Caleb remembered the promise and the keeper of the promise. He knew that nothing ahead of them was a problem for God. Compared to the power of God, giants might as well be gnats. After all, he did split the sea.

In that dark night in Colorado Springs, we were still very much concerned with the future. It looked harrowing, but we’d been here before, watching God do great things. Could we trust him to do it again?

Ultimately, we did – the foundation upon which we built our trust in God was on that promise made so long ago. He was God then, and He is God now.

Have you ever been on the edge of the promised land? Are you there now?

love.my.2×4

Once upon a time, I was a political, religion, and science forum debater. I was good at it. I took pride in my ability to scribe the compelling nuances of my position as to masterfully refute my debate opponent. I knew I was right. More importantly, I knew that if you did not agree with my opinions, then you were simply wrong.

It was thrilling, and intellectually invigorating! It was also hopelessly pointless.

At some point I began to resent the person on the other side. “Why don’t they get it? See how masterful my logic is? See how I intricately wove the Bible into my position?”

I began to believe that they were just too stubborn, and dishonest debaters because they would never change their mind.

During one particularly intense debate, my opponent asked, “Herb, is there anything I can say to change your mind?”

I quickly quipped, “No, because you’re the one who needs to change his mind!”

Immediately, a flood of taunts were directed at me. “Hypocrite!” they mocked.

3“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)

That’s when I realized it was all pointless. The truth is that all of us – even those crying, “Hypocrite!” were never going to change our minds. We were reveling in the fact that we did not agree. No liberal was going to become conservative and no atheist was going to suddenly believe in God just because I had a compelling argument. Why? Because the lifeblood of the beast was “disagreement.” The only way to get that 2×4 out of my eye was to leave that world behind.

Today, I try to avoid debate. If I’m in a vigorous discussion, rather than try to convince anyone to think my way, I offer my viewpoint, and listen to their viewpoint. And here’s the kicker: I try to allow their opinion to take traction in my mind – perhaps they are right, or partially right. Can I learn from them?

Too many times we allow “being right” to become the most important thing. But, in “true community” we are all equally capable of being transformed by one another.

Final thought: if you are complaining about someone else, and how they are acting – please get out a mirror and look at yourself. You might have a 2×4 hanging from your eye-socket.

I’ve got my mirror. Where’s yours?