Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Rear View


People say hind sight is 20/20. Perhaps there is some truth to that.

As this chapter of our lives in Seattle is coming to a close, I wanted to take a moment to glance in the rear view mirror and reflect on the past 4 years of my life.

Grace and I got engaged on Sept 19, 2003, about 4 years ago. Since then we've gotten married, moved to a foreign country - I mean, Washington, made new friends, said goodbye to old friends, went through 2 pregnancies, bore 2 children, bought our first house, fought cancer together and the list could go on and on. In all of this, my faithful wife has clung to my side sometimes laughing, sometimes singing, sometimes crying and sometimes dancing. When looking back the temptation sometimes is to play the game of "what if" and dwell on the negaitive. What if we had lived here, or worked there, or bought that house, or did this differently?

The reality is that I can't change the past, but I can change the way I see it. History can be used as a tool to help me properly focus on the future. I don't mean focusing on the next place to live, or the next place to work, or the next house or any of that. What I mean is that I should use the past to help me set the direction and vision for the future. The next place to live, and the next job, and the next house will naturally fall into place within that vision.

If I'm driving a car down the freeway and I keep my eyes focused on the rear view, I will inevitably end up in a wreck. But if I use the rear view properly, I will glance back every now and then to see my position, and then refocus on the road ahead so I can make it safely to the destination.

Here are just a few things that I have learned, and resolve to do better looking forward:

1) Love and obey God with all of my heart, not just with my actions. It would not necessarily please God if somebody asked me why I gave money to a specific need, and my answer was "because the bible says so". Doing Christian things in and of themselves don't please God. But serving God joyfully from the heart does. God has really taught me a lot these past 4 years while attending and serving at Grace Bible Church. I especially think of Dave and Gale Light who were always there for us. Spending time with them over dinner, or after bible study, or after Sunday school and seeing how they didn't just want to do the "christian thing". They wanted to understand the bible and obey God from the heart, even if that meant that people would call you crazy.

2) Be a man. Providing for the physical needs of my family isn't enough. I need to lead my family and point them to Christ as their sufficiency. I need to be a husband who really knows my wife and children and desires to shepherd and protect them. Having lunch with the Luses after church, or observing Chris Green bring his sons with him to work at the memorial store, or watching Jesse Germick interact with his children in our kitchen are just a few examples of how I've learned so much by seeing the bible lived out through families over the past 4 years. I trust that the Lord will continue to grow me in this area while living in Minnesota.

3) Live rich. Those who know the Lord intimately, know that God teaches His children so much through trials. The past 4 years has had some difficulties, but each of them has been a rich blessing from the Lord. Yes, even cancer. I don't ever desire to go through treatment again, and I wish others never did either. But if you've read our cancer blogs, you've seen how much we've grown through it. It has been good for our family to rethink our priorities, and focus on what really matters in life. Our hardships have not made us rich in wealth, but rich in love for God, and for people.

Dave Light, Gracie and I at our going away party

Our Sunday School Table

Our last sunset

Our last dinner with the Abbotts

Monday, August 13, 2007


First Exposure

Days after Sept. 11th, I drove across the country for the first time with my brother, Romeo, and his family. Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco was one of the planes that had crashed Sept. 11th. Romeo and his family were scheduled to take Flight 93 Saturday, Sept. 15th, rumors still coursing that that was another day of threat. I, too, needed to return to Los Angeles for my senior year to begin.

When we crossed the St. Croix River from Wisconsin to Minnesota, I was awestruck by the beauty of the grey fog floating above the snaking river. As we drove on, the landscape stretched into flat fields of green grass. Bursts of yellow sun pierced through the white clouds hanging against the periwinkle sky. I loved Minnesota.

The next day, when we reached the endless yellow fields of South Dakota, I was homesick for Minnesota, though it had been my first time there. When I returned to California, I wanted to apply to graduate school at the University of Minnesota, but someone mentioned that there were tornadoes there. With no relatives or roots anywhere in Minnesota, I dropped the thought.

And Then There Was My Sister

My sister and I have always been extremely close ever since we became Christians when I was 12 and she was 19. Though we couldn't stand each other previously, our new love for the Lord drew us together in a tight bond even until now. Her family took me in as part of their family. I loved her three children like my own, and her husband, Bob, was as my own brother. They always said I needed to move in with them in New Jersey once I graduated from UCLA. They joked that I needed to find a husband that would take me back to New Jersey.

Lo and behold, when I arrived in Los Angeles from my drive across the country, one of the first people I laid eyes on was someone new at the Bible study I attended, Andrew Mark, a super-cute guy from New Jersey of all places. For the rest of my senior year, I watched him from afar and exchanged casual conversations with him. Despite all my efforts to the contrary, convinced that he was all wrong for me, and though I would never have admitted it even to myself at the time, somehow, I was falling hard for a guy I hardly knew.

The summer after my senior year, Andrew moved across the street from where I lived. He invited me and a bunch of friends over for dinner for the first time. Hours before dinner, my sister called with completely unanticipated news: Bob had received a pastoral position in Minnesota and they were moving.

I cried. They were going to live and die in New Jersey, remember? And I would be there for some of it. Not to mention, I laughed through my tears, I finally found a New Jersey guy!

Soon after, I left Los Angeles and eventually did live with my sister and her family in Minnesota for two months, which is when Andrew and I started a long-distance dating relationship. He came to visit me there and after meeting my brother-in-law, Bob, began calling him once or twice a week for counsel ("Without consultation, plans are frustrated, But with many counselors they succeed." Proverbs 15:22 ).

Eventually, Andrew and I got married. Andrew had a job offer in Washington, D.C. and the state of Washington. Our counselors encouraged Andrew to pursue the job that would best suit his talents, since we already knew that there were good churches in both locations. And so Andrew accepted a position as a systems engineer with Motorola, and we moved to Snohomish, WA, despite our longings to return to family. We decided to make it a priority to be able to visit family in New Jersey, where both our parents lived, Minnesota, where my sister was, and California, where my brothers were. As time went on, we continued to bring our desire to live near family before the Lord, expecting Him either to change it or fulfill it.

Then, this past January, A.J., turned two. I wondered what the Lord would do, because it basically meant the end, or at least a huge reduction of us travelling to visit family, since A.J.'s plane fare would not be free anymore. If we lived in Minnesota, both sets of our parents' plane rides would be reduced to two hours instead of six and we could potentially even drive the 19 hours to New Jersey once in awhile.

This past November, Bob called Andrew. They needed more men, more leaders for their growing church. He asked Andrew to join them.

Free to Go!

After three-and-a-half years living in Washington, the Lord has fulfilled our ever-growing desire to move specifically to Minnesota. In July, Andrew's boss gave him the go-ahead to work from home, even from Minnesota! We could leave any time we felt like.

And so I prayed that if the Lord, indeed, willed for us to move to Minnesota, that He would make it easy and fast, so that Andrew wouldn't have to worry about anything, considering all that he's so recently gone through with cancer. Here are the ways in which He has answered exceedingly and abundantly more than we asked or imagined (Eph. 3) so far:

1. As we considered our options for moving our stuff, they were all expensive. Since we had always hoped to move, everything we acqired here was either free or next to free, so that we could leave everything behind. The few things we needed to bring with us, we didn't want to spend much to move. Then, our friend, Steve Hickok, approached us at church. He was moving his mother-in-law from Wisconsin to here. So he was going to drive an empty truck and trailer there. He would be driving through Minneapolis, would we like him to drop off our stuff for us in ten days?

2. Then we thought maybe we should wait until Andrew's scan in August to make any decisions. We asked the Lord to make His will unmistakably clear to us. A couple of days later at his July appointment, Dr. Futran felt into Andrew's mouth and throat. He said, Andrew's healing looked ideal and he was fine to move. Dr. Futran said he does not expect cancer to return.

3. Additionally, Dr. Futran almost took a position at the University of Minnesota this summer. His best friend and colleague, Dr. Yueh, took it instead. Dr. Yueh was one of the people on the team who had had made the decisions on Andrew's treatment back in February. Though we hadn't really looked for Dr. Futran, he is probably one of the best surgeon's in the world for oral cancer (I mean, how many double MD's have you heard of?), and now we have this other super doctor, who already knows Andrew's case as well as Andrew's doctor, and will be moving with us! He will be twenty minutes from where we will live.

4. So then Andrew was concerned about working long-distance indefinitely. Though there is virtually no travel necessary, Andrew eventually wanted to be able to work on local projects in Minnesota and have local co-workers. So Andrew called up the Motorola manager over Minnesota, with whom he was acquainted. It turns out that someone was actually leaving his group later this year, and they could use another engineer in the Minnesota office. The man would be transitioning out about the time that Andrew would be finishing up his project in WA. To sum up, Andrew will be working from home in Minnesota on a Tacoma, WA project for the next few months and then will transfer to the Motorola office in Minnesota.

5. The only real work we've had to do for our move is clear out each of the rooms in our home of anything not necessary for staging it to sell our house. That took about four days, but we really enjoyed it. We felt so grateful all the way through for the opportunity to rid unnecessary clutter from our lives and not have to take it with us! We had so many things that we thought we needed, yet now that we are living so sparcely, find that we are doing just fine without them. We are really excited not to be bringing much with us. It has greatly minimized the work moving usually requires.

6. And then we weren't sure exactly what day we should leave. Our house is on the market, and we didn't want to wait around for it to sell, in case it was like the other houses on our block that sat on the market for several months, one even waited for nearly a year. So we asked the Lord for wisdom about what day to leave. So, it turns out, Andrew's been playing phone tag with our friend David Ward. David used to go to my church back in New Jersey and now he is the worship pastor at Redeemer Bible Church in Minnesota, where we will be serving. David did the music for our wedding and one of his songs inspired Gracie's middle name, Olivia. Andrew finally got in contact with him while, it turns out, David was driving with his family to Seattle for a vacation. David offered for us to caravan back with them to Minnesota on August 27th.

Summed up, look what God has done:

1. Delivered belongings

2. Disease-free!

3. Doctor departing with us

4. Does job he loves from home, then transfers to MN Motorola office

5. De-cluttering delightful
(the only work we've had to do for this)

6. Departure date decided
(and the added benefit of caravanning with old friends)

Friends here laugh that they think the first time they met us three or so years ago, we told them that we wanted to move to Minnesota. Even when Andrew took his job, his boss knew we would only be here temporarily until we could move near family. We came here open to whatever the Lord willed for us, even if it was to stay here. But the Lord grew in us a desire to move to Minnesota rather than New Jersey. And now, He's answered the prayers for it to be fast and easy. Thank You, Lord!

We have yet to sell our house. So please pray it will sell soon. We will see how the Lord answers that prayer.

Come and visit us in Eden Prairie, Minnesota!

"Dad, what happened to my bed?"

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Collapse of the Minneapolis Bridge

Below are sentiments from John Piper to his daughter after the bridge collapse, a bridge that was very much part of their daily lives. As in the title of a book he wrote, I hope it helps you to see our unique Savior (perhaps for the first time) or savor Him again today.

At about 6 p.m. tonight the bridge of Interstate 35W over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed. I am writing this about three hours after the bridge fell. The bridge is located within sight of Bethlehem Baptist Church. Most of us who minister at the church cross it several times a week. At this point I don't know if any staff were on the bridge. Desiring God offices are about a mile from the bridge.

There are no firm facts at this point about the total number of injuries and fatalities. When we crossed the bridge Tuesday on our way out of town, there was extensive repair work happening on it, with single-lane traffic. One speculates about the unusual stresses on the bridge with jackhammers and other surface replacement equipment. This was the 40th anniversary of the bridge.

Tonight for our family devotions our appointed reading was Luke 13:1-9. It was not my choice. This is surely no coincidence. O that all of the Twin Cities, in shock at this major calamity, would hear what Jesus has to say about it in Luke 13:1-5. People came to Jesus with heart-wrenching news about the slaughter of worshipers by Pilate. Here is what He said.

"There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."

Jesus implies that those who brought Him this news thought He would say that those who died deserved to die, and that those who didn't die did not deserve to die. That is not what He said. He said everyone deserves to die. And if you and I don't repent, we too will perish. This is a stunning response. It only makes sense from a view of reality that is radically oriented on God.

All of us have sinned against God, not just against man. This is an outrage ten thousand times worse than the collapse of the 35W bridge. That any human is breathing at this minute on this planet is sheer mercy from God. God makes the sun rise and the rain fall on those who do not treasure Him above all else. He causes the heart to beat and the lungs to work for millions of people who deserve His wrath. This is a view of reality that desperately needs to be taught in our churches, so that we are prepared for the calamities of the world.

The meaning of the collapse of this bridge is that John Piper is a sinner and should repent or forfeit his life forever. That means I should turn from the silly preoccupations of my life and focus my mind's attention and my heart's affection on God and embrace Jesus Christ as my only hope for the forgiveness of my sins and for the hope of eternal life. That is God's message in the collapse of this bridge. That is His most merciful message: There is still time to turn from sin and unbelief and destruction for those of us who live. If we could see the eternal calamity from which He is offering escape we would hear this as the most precious message in the world.

We prayed during our family devotions. Talitha (11 years old) and Noel and I prayed earnestly for the families affected by the calamity and for the others in our city. Talitha prayed, "Please don't let anyone blame God for this but give thanks that they were saved." When I sat on her bed and tucked her in and blessed her and sang over her a few minutes ago, I said, "You know, Talitha, that was a good prayer, because when people 'blame' God for something, they are angry with Him, and they are saying that He has done something wrong. That's what 'blame' means: accusing somebody of wrongdoing. But you and I know that God did not do anything wrong. God always does what is wise. And you and I know that God could have held up that bridge with one hand." Talitha said, "With His pinky." "Yes," I said, "with His pinky. Which means that God had a purpose for not holding up that bridge, knowing all that would happen, and He is infinitely wise in all that He wills." Talitha said, "Maybe He let it fall because He wanted all the people of Minneapolis to fear Him." "Yes, Talitha," I said, "I am sure that is one of the reasons God let the bridge fall."

I sang to her the song I always sing:

Come rest your head and nestle gently
And do not fear the dark of night.
Almighty God keeps watch intently,
And guards your life with all His might.
Doubt not His love, nor power to keep,
He never fails, nor does He sleep.

I said, "You know, Talitha, that is true whether you die in a bridge collapse, or in a car accident, or from cancer, or terrorism, or old age. God always keeps you, even when you die. So you don't need to be afraid, do you?" "No." She shook her head. I leaned down and kissed her. "Good night. I love you."

Tonight across the Twin Cities families are wondering if they will ever kiss a loved one good night again. Some will not. I am praying that they will find Jesus Christ to be their Rock and Refuge in these agonizing hours of uncertainty and even loss.

The word "bridge" does not occur in the Bible. There may be two reasons. One is that God doesn't build bridges; He divides seas. The other is that usually His people must pass through the deadly currents of suffering and death, not simply ride over them. "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you" (Isaiah 43:2). They may drown you. But I will be with you in life and death.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life ... will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-38).

Killed all day long. But not separated from Christ. We go through the river. Not over it. He went before us, crucified. He came out on the other side. He knows the way through. With Him we will make it. That is the message we have for the precious sinners in the Twin Cities. He died for your sins. He rose again. He saves all who trust Him. We die, but because of Him, we do not die.

Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die" (John 11:25).

Talitha is sleeping now. But one day she will die. I teach her this. I will not always be there to bless her. But Jesus is alive and is the same yesterday, today and forever. He will be with her because she trusts Him. And she will make it through the river.

(Copyright Desiring God. Used with permission.) We want to hear from you. Go here to discuss this article on the RELEVANT boards.

Author: John Piper

John Piper is the Pastor for Preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minn. He is the author of several books including Desiring God, Don't Waste Your Life and What Jesus Demands from the World.