Going Sideways – for Chris Cahalan

Yab_BBCr_atSlpGlch_072012_p6U.S. Geological Survey/photo by Art Bookstrom

Today’s piece is dedicated to my friend Chris Cahalan, who recently won his three year battle against pancreatic cancer.  While the outcome may look like a loss to most folks, those of us who knew him understand this is a major victory for him.  We know where our brother in Christ is right now, and Who he is with.  I am blessed to say I knew the man, and saw his tenacity – both in fight and faith.  He endeavored to be a man after God’s own heart.  And, by grace, I believe he was.  Chris will be – indeed, already is – greatly missed.

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” – Matthew 7:24-27 [ESV]

I heard this yesterday at the funeral for my friend Chris, and it has burrowed into my mind.  The eulogizer said Chris told him the trick to studying the Bible is to go sideways.  In other words, when you’re building a firm foundation through studying God’s word, there will be times you’ll hit a boulder – a blockage keeping you from going deeper in your study.  When that happens, don’t stop there.  Don’t build on shallow ground.

Go sideways.

Dig around the blockage.

Then continue to dig deeper.

The idea of going sideways got me thinking.  This is such a wonderful metaphor for our lives in Christ.

Think about it.  We’re seeking the Lord.  We’re doing our best to follow Him.  We’re living life as best we can.  Perfectly?  No.  Not on this side of Heaven.

As we dig deeper, we hit a big rock.


Not the solid rock on which we can build a sound foundation, but an obstruction.  Maybe it’s a personal tragedy, or job loss, or a health problem, or the fruit of our own foolishness.

How do we get around and through this problem in life?


Jennie and I really like to watch Fixer Upper.  Yet we’re always astounded at the fact that, in pretty much every episode, Chip and Joanna are taken aback when they pull up a board and discover rotting pipes.  Or way-out-of-code firetrap electrical wiring.  Or termite-riddled shiplap.  (And, be honest: how many amongst us had heard of shiplap before Mr. and Mrs. Gaines arrived on HGTV?)

Our lives can take some wild turns.  Pull up a floorboard and, voilà, mold.  Termites. Or, look under the house and find unstable rock, a threat to our very foundation.

First, don’t panic. What we need to do is assess the size of the problem.  If we’re digging and hit a boulder, we need to go sideways to determine how big this rock really is.

Often problems appear far larger than they really are.  Because appearances can be deceiving, we need to have a realistic perception  of what we’re facing.  Not a negative, fearful, worrying view.  Just an honest assessment of what we’re looking at.


I hate problems.  And, I will admit, I am prone to stewing, then jumping in unprepared to start “fixing”.

Excavation is not on my resume.  I cannot operate a backhoe.  Still, my first thought would be, “I need to rent a backhoe and get that rock outta here.”

If I start digging with a backhoe, I’m going to make a mess of things.  I’ll probably break the bucket in two without ever removing the rock.  Or forget to put out the stabilizer legs and end up pulling me and the digger back over tea kettle into the hole.

Clearly I need help.  I need to swallow my ego and ask someone who can operate a backhoe to help me.

However, some boulders are so big – problems so tough – no backhoe can dig out for us.


Take a moment and think about God.  He is not bound by flesh.  He is not tethered to time.  He is above all things for He created all things.  Every star, every planet, every universe.  Every blade of grass, every animal, every human.  Right down to the most infinitesimal quark, God designed, created, set in motion and continues to sustain all.

In heaven there is no sun, for God is the light.

On earth, there is no mountain too big, for God can move anything at will.

Ponder the Lord’s unlimited power and wisdom and love.


Now compare His greatness to your boulder.  Do you think God can’t handle your situation?  Do you think He can’t save you?  Think again.

God will provide your clear sideways view – an honest assessment measured by His own plumb.

And, I can hear some of you saying (and you know who you are), “God doesn’t always remove the boulder.  What do we do then?”

We do what Paul did.  When the apostle was agonizing over the thorn in his side, he sought the Lord:

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 [ESV]

We rely on God’s grace – His unmerited, unearnable, total gift of favor given to us through His love.  We trust God with the outcome, even if the outcome is not how we envisioned it.  We cling to God’s love and know He is wiser than any of us.  We understand that our thoughts are not His, our ways are not His (Isaiah 55:8).

And, despite popular American belief, we are not our own.  As children of God, saved through the shed blood of our Savior Jesus Christ, we are free.  Yet we are also slaves to God:

22 For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. 24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God. – 1 Corinthians 7:22-24 [ESV]

In other words, we are where God has us.  He is in control.  He knows the number of our days, for He set them – according to His purpose, which is far higher than ours.

Here is my point: it is the Lord Who sets our foundation – Who is our foundation.  Whenever we hit a boulder, a blockage we can’t work through, we need to go to the Lord, get an assessment of the problem, and trust in Hs grace and wisdom and strength and love to see us through.  Even if we have to go sideways to do it.

2 thoughts on “Going Sideways – for Chris Cahalan

  1. Dear Chris,
    Thank you for writing this piece to remind again to go deeper and when need go sideways…. I am grateful that you are continued to show that the foundation of our faith is Jesus Christ, not our prayers, amount of faith we have (though they are both important …most of the time it’s smaller than the mustard seed I need to pray “Lord, increase my faith!”). Keep writing for His Glory… your passion for God and His word is contegious. Blessings!


  2. Hi Chris:
    This is Jeff Kendall, the eulogizer at Chris Cahalans celebration of life you spoke of in this writing of yours.
    God’s spirit somehow brought me today, to your old blog from July 2018, for a greater purpose I’m sure!!
    But believe me how I got here was crazy:)
    I have been hitting a huge rock this passed week and have forgotten to move sideways!
    Just wanted you to know how God is so good at using your past writing…. for His training and knowledge today.
    Be blessed today Chris…


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