Monday, September 22, 2008

Reviews and a Reason

Over the last two weeks, If God Disappears has been reviewed on several blogs (see the complete list in the left column). One blogger, Christy, had the following to say:

The most powerful part of the entire book just may be the epilogue. Sanford tells the story of how Jesus got Peter and his brother to follow him; by meeting them, hanging around, and then disappearing so that they had to seek him out. Perhaps that's just what God does on occasion: disappear so that we seek Him out. The book is intelligent with a great deal of heart, the type you want to read over the course of several readings so that you can really take in the message and let it soak into your soul.

Here is a piece of my response to her:

The whole reason I wrote this book is because I experientially lost that faith, quite unexpectedly, 11 years ago after a rapid-fire series of crises, including my oldest daughter being diagnosed with a painful, cancer-like condition.

The problem? I had an incorrect theology of God and an equally incorrect theology of how life works. Sometimes God has to dismantle our "good" faith in order to rebuild a much more vibrant, robust faith in us.

I never want to experientially lose my faith again. That was a terrible experience. But I'm so glad I did. Otherwise, my faith would be good, but not good enough when the trials and temptations of life hit. And hit they do, believe me. I've certainly faced much more difficult trials the past 11 years, including my oldest son's bicycle/SUV accident two years ago.

Bottom line: Through my book, If God Disappears, I want to offer hope and healing, mercy and grace.

Thank you to all of the people who took the time to read If God Disappears and post a review. Your feedback and comments are much appreciated!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Andrew's story

Like many young people, Andrew grew up in a family that went to church every Sunday. He was actively involved in Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, and Bible camp.

When he started college, Andrew started attending a new church with several newfound friends. They met at dinnertime to pray for the university’s students and faculty. He became known among his peers as a bold witness for Jesus Christ.

Late one December evening, Andrew was driving home during a winter storm. A deer suddenly darted in front of his car. He quickly swerved to avoid a head-on collision. Seconds later, he was dangling upside down in his flipped vehicle.

Andrew was scared, hurt, and angry with God. “If he loved me,” Andrew reasoned, “how could God let this happen to me? How could he let me hang there, trying to pry my seatbelt loose?”

That dark evening cast a shadow over Andrew’s life. Relatively speaking, he hadn’t done anything evil or wrong, yet he was badly hurt. He felt deeply resentful and abandoned. Not surprisingly, Andrew struggled with deep depression for months. Instead of being the one other students sought out to answer their tough questions, he was the one doing the seeking. His life’s journey had been severely marred, and he was reeling for answers.

Over time however, Andrew finally opened up to others, read the Bible, began to pray, and eventually recovered from his depression.

He says, “I realize now that God never left me. He was there right beside me, waiting with outstretched arms for me to return.”

Like Andrew and others, I’ve discovered that God is willing to wait a long time. To him, a thousand years is but a day. God longs for me to stop cutting myself with the shattered remnants of my broken heart. No matter how long I resist, he continues to offer hope and healing for every level of my being.

It may sound reckless, especially if you’ve been disappointed by God repeatedly in the past. But I believe it is worth the risk of embracing God again.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Mountain Climbing, Extreme Skiing, and the Art of Losing Everything, Part 3

Yesterday I mentioned that one false move while I was glissading would have meant almost instant death. It certainly wasn’t the first time I could have died on the alpine slopes.

When I was sixteen, my dad, brother and I decided to climb the western slope of Glacier Peak. It was our first climb up this particular mountain, but for three of our friends it was their first time ever mountain climbing.

A couple days earlier, my dad had dutifully explained all the rules about what to do and—more importantly—what not to do at high altitudes. One of my friends, Jeff, couldn’t have acted more bored. In his mind, some of the rules didn’t make sense. Like the rule about not resting on large boulders when you’re tired. “Don’t even go near them,” my dad had warned.

Two days later, after reaching the top of a particularly large snow field, Jeff went behind my dad’s back over to a car-sized boulder. All Jeff could think of was sitting down. Instead, he found himself falling headlong beneath eight feet of snow. We heard his cries, dug in the soft snow that had caved in above him, and with some difficulty used a rope to pull him back onto hard pack.

My dad was angry. “Jeff, what did I say about going near boulders? They’re a magnet for heat from the sun, melting the snow around them. Never go near one again. What if we didn’t hear you? The snow covered up almost all trace of where you went in. You could have died up here.”

The next day when we broke camp, Jeff was still stinging from my dad’s words. Carelessly, he didn’t securely tie his sleeping bag to the top of his backpack. A couple hours later we were walking along the top of a high ridge, drinking in the spectacular views in all directions, when Jeff’s sleeping bag fell off and dropped four hundred feet to our right.

“Go down and get the sleeping bag,” I told Jeff. “You have to get it. You’ll freeze to death up here tonight without it. Jeff, go down and get it now.”

He refused, so in my anger I grabbed my ice axe and started making my way down the steep slope. That coward, I thought. I’m never taking him mountain climbing again.

As I got close to Jeff’s sleeping bag, my heart almost stopped. It had snagged on the smallest of alpine trees on the edge of a sheer cliff that dropped hundreds of feet in front of me. I was so angry. That stupid Jeff. Now what am I going to do?

Get the sleeping bag, of course.

I gripped the snow with my left hand, swung my ice axe for all its worth, made sure it was secure, reached down, and pulled the sleeping bag from the edge of the cliff. Now, with no free hand to grip the snow, I had to swing the ice axe above my head, pray to God that it went into securely, pull myself up as best as I could, create as much friction as possible between my body and the slope, and swing the ice axe again, twelve to eighteen inches at a time, all the way back up to the top.

“There’s your stupid sleeping bag, Jeff.”

As if it mattered anymore.

My dad just stared at me in anger and disbelief. Earlier, he thought I would come to my senses, stop, and come back. But no, in defiance of every rule in the book, I deliberately risked my life.

In my brand-new book, If God Disappears (due out in stores by the first day of fall, September 22), the third chapter is called “Anything Goes.” In that chapter I ask: If you and I lack self-control, who’s in control of our thoughts, speech, and actions?

One option is we’re giving in to the desires of the nature we were born with. That nature’s passions and desires are anything but self-controlled.

Another option is we may be manipulated or controlled by the Devil. Jesus tells us in John 10:10 that the thief (Satan) comes only to steal, to kill, and to destroy. If we let Satan control us, he will rob us of everything that’s good in our lives. He will tempt us to take risky, dangerous, physically destructive, or suicidal actions that could kill us.

Believe me, I did some pretty stupid things as a young man. None of those actions, including glissading, were motivated by God.

Only by God’s grace did I live long enough to get married to Renée, let alone watch Steep with her in the comfort of our living room earlier this week.

You may not be given to mountain climbing or extreme skiing. But what’s your story?

When do you find it easy to cross the line from self-control and courage to recklessness and worse?

You can write to me (if confidential) or post a comment below (if you’re open to letting others read what you have to say).

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Mountain Climbing, Extreme Skiing, and the Art of Losing Everything, Part 2

Yesterday I mentioned that I see myself as a fairly courageous person. The hard part for me is separating courage from recklessness.

In my brand-new book, If God Disappears (now for sale from your favorite online book retailer), I talk about my own adventures in extreme skiing or glissading. What follows is an abridged version of what I wrote…

As a young man, I loved to hike through the Cascades and Olympic mountains in western Washington state. Twice my father, brother, and I hiked into Glacier Peak (no small feat, since all roads stop long before you reach the mountain) and then traversed up its steep sides.

During our second trip, we decided to go straight up the mountain’s largest glacier, a steep 12,500-foot diagonal climb, digging out every hand and foot hold for twelve straight hours until we reached the top of that glacier (only a few hours from the summit).

Until that point, we had been staring at hard packed snow and ice all day without a break to rest, let alone eat. Suddenly, we could look out over the Cascade range. It was breathtaking.

Then came the urgent work of staking our tents as securely as possible before howling winds hit with hurricane force. Anything that wasn’t secure blew away. Half the night, I thought that might be our fate, as well.

Morning dawned with a strange quietness. Long before sunrise, a huge cloud cover had swept over the north Cascades. All we could see, besides the top of Glacier Peak above us, were four other mountain peaks in the far distance. Worse, we quickly realized, the clouds were rising. All plans to reach the summit before lunch were abandoned. Instead, we broke camp and prepared for a rapid descent.

Given the extremely steep slope in front of us, I proposed that our group glissade down the glacier. (Picture stepping off a ledge and dropping feet first at thirty to forty miles an hour while skiing on your boots.)

It would be impossible to fall backward, I argued.

What I should have added:

Avoid rolling forward at all costs. And watch out for truck-sized rocks near the end of the glacier.

What took us twelve hours to climb up took us less than five minutes to descend. We dropped 4,650 feet in elevation. It was the adrenaline ride of a lifetime.

Afterward, I realized that one false move while glissading would have meant almost instant death.

So much for making my own rules whatever the cost.

It’s ironic that our society is bent on the idea of trying to become more rebellious, less legalistic, more risk-taking, less inhibited, more outrageous, less self-controlled. Many blame these trends on the 1960s, but the reality is—people have always have always been bent away from self-control.

This bent against self-control, however, inevitably hurts our community, our family, and our friends. Ultimately, it hurts us.

Out of pure selfishness, you and I should decide in our hearts that we want God’s help to be self-controlled.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Mountain Climbing, Extreme Skiing, and the Art of Losing Everything, Part 1

Last night I talked my wife, Renée, into watching one of the newest extreme sports movies. Unless you spent Christmas or New Year’s in New York or Los Angeles, you probably didn’t catch the limited theatrical release of Steep: Without Risk… There Is No Adventure.

To say the least, I would have loved to have seen Steep on the big screen. It features classic and lots of contemporary footage of the world’s most extreme skiers and mountain climbers. You’ll never look at skiing or mountains the same.

Potential spoiler: This movie is a documentary. As a result, it’s true to life. Not all of the professionals interviewed and featured in this film are still alive today.

While watching Steep, I couldn’t help remembering what a mentor once told me: We sense God’s presence most when we’re most alive. By “alive,” he meant when we’re out in nature, when we put ourselves at risk, or when we find ourselves in a crisis.

Imminent danger—real or perceived—triggers the strongest of human emotions. Fear is hardwired into our minds. Without thinking, it causes us to shut up, freeze up, even give up. The good news: we can rewire our thoughts, beliefs, and automatic responses.

Life is full of circumstances that test our courage. Winston Churchill once said, “Without courage, all other virtues lose their meaning.” It doesn’t matter that you’re honest, for instance, if you’re afraid to tell the truth. Or that you’re responsible if you’re afraid to try anything new.

I see myself as a fairly courageous person. The hard part for me is separating courage from recklessness.

Over the next two days, I’ll share two of my own mountain climbing and extreme skiing stories to prove my point.