Happy 2012! Letting Go And Moving On

Yeah, I know it’s a few days early but I like to get an early start on things (just ask my best friend whom I’ve known almost 22 years now). I’m still in Oregon enjoying my little mini-vacation but was thinking about a brand new year starting to unfold again. The last three have been a bit rough, so I’m ready for a change!!! How about you?

I’m finally ready to leave the past behind me. I thought I had, but it’s hard when there are so many memories back there, both good and bad. I plan to remember the good, and, right now . . . this very moment . . . I’m letting go of the bad. I think, on New Year’s Day, I’ll make a copy of the 33-page document I have on all of the jobs I’ve applied for since April 22, 2009 (463 to date) and burn it. Yeah . . .  I like that idea. I need a fresh start–a blank page–to start the process over again.

The world is in bad shape right now . . . and not just America. And the only way it’s going to improve is by each one of us choosing to look beyond what we hear on television or read in the media; look beyond the hurts we either intentionally or unintentionally inflict on each other, and look beyond our own circumstances to the larger global society. We live in extremely stressful times where many (but not all, fortunately) of the world’s economies are shattering under the strain. I don’t know about you, but as I listen to the news on a regular basis, I find myself feeling bleak about the future, and after three years of looking for employment with zilch to show for it I lose sight of where my focus needs to be and to stay.

If you’re like me, we often get so focus on our circumstances that our vision gets severely clouded. It’s at times like this that we need to recall the words of the Apostle Paul, who knew how to live joyously in both prosperous circumstances and far more often in diverse and challenging circumstances–many times from a prison cell. He kept his eyes off of his circumstances and on God, no matter what the situation was that presented itself to him. Indeed, his example is the one we need to follow.

I posted Paul’s word from The Message Bible in a previous post, but want to repeat them here as we begin another New Year–2012: “I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it” (Phil. 3:12-16 MSG).

Those are good words to start a new year with, don’t you think? I sure do. So I’m asking God to clear my blurred vision and help me to stay on the right track. It’s so very easy to get sidetracked and start living in a dream world because we don’t know how to change the world as we find it at this moment. I’ve come to learn, better late than never, that a dream world is not the same as living by faith. While my faith has grown a lot over the past three years (especially when I have seen God provide so miraculously in my finances and my basic needs), I allowed a dream world that I wished had come true back at that job I lost in Houston to soften the blows of these past three years of unemployment, because, quite frankly, these past three years have been staggering at times to navigate from an employment standpoint, especially on several occasions when I was so close to getting a job but ended up being #2, which doesn’t count for anything when it comes to getting a job.

So, I realized today that I need to set aside that dream and move forward by faith–and not cloud and dampen that faith with a dream. There is a significant difference between the two, at least in my case.

Like Paul, I’m not saying I have this all together, and by no means do I count myself an expert in anything, not even in my former career (former only because I can’t seen to find a job in it anymore), but, again, like Paul, I want to keep my eye on the goal, “where God is beckoning us onward–to Jesus” (vs. 14); and I’m going to lay aside my dream and run this race by faith.

How about you?

YouTube Video is in tribute to Dan Fogelberg:

Photo credit here


Waiting For A Call From The Hill Hotel

The title doesn’t exactly sounds like a Christmas story now does it? I’m not sure where this story is going, so bear with me. It is early morning as I am writing this at my brother’s home on a hill in Oregon looking out on fog covered hills with the smell of pine in the air. The sun is peeking over the hills with a stream of light topping the myriad of pine trees. It’s really quite beautiful here.

I arrived two days ago in the afternoon and haven’t been here in almost four years. It’s definitely different scenery from Florida with the rolling hills, pine trees and colder weather (though not as cold as I was expecting). After going on almost three years of unemployment without a break of any kind, I feel like I have stepped out of time for a short while to catch my breath and collect my thoughts on what direction to take after this short vacation is over. However, other thoughts have entered my head, too . . . thoughts I didn’t know were going to overwhelm me for a little while.

Dad and my stepmother, Phyllis, 2010

In previous years when I have visited family in Oregon, I planned my vacation time at the same time as my dad and stepmother’s vacation (they live in Iowa) so I could visit with them when I visited my older brother’s family in Oregon, and usually those vacation times were in July. Due to being unemployed for so long I didn’t have the money to make the trip for the past several years, and this particular trip was a total surprise and a gift from my older brother and his wife.

While it had not crossed my mind before, this house is the place where I saw my dad and stepmother the last few times that I saw them–the last time being at my nephew’s wedding in January 2008. I never gave it any thought as I prepared for this trip that this was the last place where I saw my stepmother, who died suddenly and unexpectedly last April after fairly routine surgery (although I’m of the mind that no surgery is routine) that was expected to go smoothly. However, it did not and she died ten days after the surgery on Good Friday (ironically, she was born on Christmas Day 86 years earlier). My dad and my stepmother were married almost 32 years at the time of her death, and her death left a hole in me almost as great as the death of my own mother almost 29 years ago.

Before you think this is going to be a morbid post, I can guarantee you it will not be. It will be a tribute to my stepmother, Phyllis, who always listened, always had good advice and always had a great sense of humor. When I first entered my brother’s home two days ago and was talking with my sister-in-law in the kitchen, it hit me like a ton of bricks that this was the last place I saw Phyllis alive. I could see her in my mind moving around the kitchen, helping where needed, and I can still clearly hear her laughter. It has made this particular visit bittersweet filled with the memories of her. She loved Christmas but how could she not love Christmas having been born on Christmas Day. In fact, her older sister, who was nine years older than her and who died in 2004 was also born on Christmas Day.

Phyllis was a very private person but very open to those she loved and very giving, too. I have 32 years of memories of time spent with her and Dad, and many times with her on the phone after I moved to Florida in 1992. Weekly phone calls kept us up-to-date with the goings on in the family. We could easily gab on for over an hour.

Early on in their marriage Phyllis told me a story about, if I remember it right, a cousin (or possibly just someone she knew in the area in Iowa where she grew up) who lived at home his whole life with his parents. He had been employed at a hotel named the Hill Hotel and while I don’t remember the details, he lost his job though I’m not sure it was his fault and possibly he was laid off when business was slow. Anyway, while you’d have to hear Phyllis tell the story to get the full humor in it, this man never looked for another job again and was always waiting for a call from the Hill Hotel to go back to work (which never came).

As the years passed by and we had many, many conversations, one of the funniest things we would say to each other, after she had told me this story, was whenever someone came up in conversation who seemed to be stuck on hold in their life at that particular moment, one of us would say that that particular person was “waiting for a call from the Hill Hotel” and then we would both break out laughing. I can still hear her laughter so clearly.

Unlike the fellow in her story, I have not sat around waiting for a call from my former employer in Houston where I lost my job in April 2009 to see if I wanted to come back. No, it was clear I was not going back there. The very next day after I got fired I was at a Starbucks using their wifi to start applying for jobs, even before I applied for unemployment benefits. In fact, as of yesterday when I applied for yet two more jobs (hitting 463 jobs I have now applied for since April 2009), and, yes, doing it here even while vacationing in Oregon for a few days, the futility of it all after almost three years just overwhelmed me. And, I have no desire to get back on that plane and go back to the town I’ve been living in in Florida for over two years now where absolutely no door has ever opened for me. I feel totally stuck on hold and don’t know how to get off of it.

And then this morning, when I woke up very early to a quiet house, feeling incredibly sad about what direction to take with my life, I could hear the sound of Phyllis’s laughter and those words, “Waiting for a call from the Hill Hotel,” and it made me laugh. Oh, how I wish she were here now, one last time, to see her again. I know she would know exactly the right words I need to hear along with a big hug. But Phyllis would not want me to be this sad, so I’m determined to shake off this sadness and the futility of trying to find a job that’s as likely to come at this point in time as that job that fellow was waiting for at the Hill Hotel.

Christmas Day is only a few days away now which is the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ whose birth, life, death and resurrection totally changed life for anyone on this planet if they choose to accept His gift of salvation. However, it is also my stepmother’s birthday, and I’m determined that no matter how tough these past three years have been on me trying to find another job, as one last gift to her, I am going to remember her laughter when I don’t think I can go on for one more day. Yes, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. And it’s really her gift to me.

“For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5 NASB).

Photo credit here

Merry Christmas To All And A Prosperous 2012

In a few short days I’ll be heading to Oregon for eleven days to see family that I haven’t seen in almost four years. I can’t tell you how excited I am. This trip is compliments of my brother and his wife and came completely out of the blue and was a total surprise. Also, while I know I haven’t mentioned this previously on my blog, I have also lost 35 lbs and twenty of those pounds have just recently come off since October 10, 2011. And yes, the weight loss is intentional! Talk about excitement!!! I still have a number of pounds left to lose and I am psyched. I think 2012 is going to be the year for a lot of new things in my life, and I wish the same for you.

As I look back at the past three years I am amazed at how much I’ve come to realize that life is not just about “finding another job” even though we all need an income and money to survive in our culture. I can’t recall another time in my life where I have had to learn to “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7) as much as I have had to do now. And I can’t say most of it has been fun, but all of it has been worth it. Years ago, an old friend told me that “once you’ve seen Truth you can’t ‘unsee’ it.” He was certainly right on that account. But in order to see Truth you must look through eyes of faith to see what is not seen by sight.

I don’t know where you are on this journey of faith, but as a fellow sojourner, I can say with all of my heart to never give up, never doubt, never let the enemy get a foothold in your life; but if you do, pay attention to the signs God sends your way to get the enemy out of your life. Outwardly, you may have to give up a lot (e.g. material possessions, certain relationships, your profession or occupation, etc.) or maybe not as it’s your attachment to those objects that keeps you from God and not necessarily the objects themselves. He deals with us on an individual basis, so never compare your journey with someone else’s journey. However, inwardly He requires your whole heart–you don’t get to keep even a fraction of it for yourself. But if you truly seek Him and search for Him with all of your heart, you will find Him (Jer. 29:13). I like how The Message Bible states Jer. 29:13-14: “When you come looking for Me, you’ll find Me. Yes, when you get serious about finding Me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed. God’s Decree. I’ll turn things around for you . . . bring you home to the place from which I sent you off into exile. You can count on it.”

The key is total surrender. Nothing else will do. Are you willing to pay that price?

Another new year is before us . . . ripe with anticipation. Will we choose to go our own way as we navigate through it, or give it to the One who knows everything about us, who sent His Son to open the way for us to have a relationship with Him. There is no “half way” when we commit our lives to Jesus Christ. You don’t get to keep anything of yourself. However, that should not bring fear to your mind, but a love and a freedom unlike anything else this world has to offer. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love” (I John 4:18). The Message Bible states it like this: “God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love” (I John 4:17-18). I don’t know about you, but that sounds a whole lot better than anything this world has to offer.

So this Christmas, if you haven’t already accepted the Gift of God’s only Son, Jesus Christ, won’t you consider it? What is in your life, right now, that you are unwilling to give up? The road will not be easy at times, but it is worth giving up everything that stands in the way of a relationship with Him. And never forget that you really can’t out give God.

And for those of us who already know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, let’s ponder the words of the Apostle Paul as we venture forth into another new year: “I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it” (Phil 3:12-16 MSG).

Yes, we are on the right track, and let’s stay on it!!!

Photo credit here

Risky Business–Another Side To The Christmas Story

We’ve all heard the Christmas story of Jesus being born in a manger, but have you ever considered what Joseph must have gone through when he discovered his betrothed, Mary, was pregnant and he knew the baby wasn’t his? I dare say most men would have walked away, and in this particular case if Joseph had walked away, it would have risked the entire mission of Jesus, humanly speaking. However, he was willing to “risk his reputation to participate in and facilitate God’s unfolding drama” (quote from “Our Daily Bread” reading for December 10, 2011).

For today’s post, I offer no commentary but rather will share this particular and oftentimes overlooked portion of the Christmas story with you taken from Matthew 1:18-25 along with posting the devotion from Our Daily Bread for December 10, 2011, written by Joseph Stowell.

Matthew 1:18-25 The Birth of Jesus Christ

18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”

 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

“On some of the Christmas cards you will receive this year, no doubt there will be a man standing in the background looking over the shoulder of Mary, who is prominently displayed caring for the baby Jesus. His name is Joseph. And after the nativity narratives, he isn’t heard from much again. If we didn’t know better, we would think Joseph was an insignificant bystander or, at best, a mere necessity to undergird Jesus’ claim to the throne of David.

“But, in fact, the role that Joseph played was strategically important. If he had disobeyed the angel’s command to take Mary as his wife (Matt. 1:20), he would have, from a human perspective, put the entire mission of Jesus at risk. Taking Mary as his wife was a risky assignment. Public perception that he was the baby’s father put him in serious violation of Jewish law and made him a public disgrace. Yet today all of us are thankful that he was willing to risk his reputation to participate in and facilitate God’s unfolding drama.

“Most of us are insignificant compared to the major players in this world. But all of us are called to obey. Who knows what God has in store when we are willing to surrender to God’s will—even when it puts us at risk!” –Joe Stowell (from “Our Daily Bread” for December 10, 2011).

When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey. —Sammis

It’s no small thing to trust and obey.

Let me close with this thought–what would we be willing to risk our reputations for if we knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is what God wants us to do? Indeed, as Joseph Stowell stated at the end of his devotion, “Who knows what God has in store when we are willing to surrender to God’s will–even when it puts us at risk!”

Are you willing to risk it all for God?

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Eternity–It’s Only A Breath Away

Several years ago when I was living and working in Lakeland, FL, I took a non-credit online writing course offered through a community college on “Creative Writing.” One of the assignments, if I remember right, was to write a piece on the color “red” using a variety of descriptions of “red” without actually using the word “red.” I remember coming up with a variety of items that represented “red” and tying them all together to unify the piece, and one of the descriptions I used for “red” was the blood of Jesus. I then added a theme tying in those thoughts at the end of the piece that stated “eternity is only a breath away.” I remember my instructor commented when she read those words that it sent chills up and down her spine. Now I have no idea where she stands on the topic of eternity or whether or not she knows Jesus Christ as her Savior and Lord, but I found her comment interesting because I got the impression that it scared her.

Now, mind you, since this was an online writing course, there was no interaction between the instructor and the students other then the students submitting their writing assignments and the instructor commenting on the assignments through a portal on the website, so I was never able to assess what the instructor’s actual thoughts were regarding my unifying theme at the end of that particular piece beyond her initial comment. As much as I love technology, nothing can replace face-to-face communication to get to the heart of the matter when it comes to communicating with people and getting their “real” response (the heart cannot lie regardless of the words one uses as the true heart attitude shows up on the face).

By now, if you’ve read any of my previous posts, you know that I take a decidedly Christian approach to everything concerning life and living. And I do not apologize for that because at the core of Christianity is the only true way to find and have a relationship with God, and that is through His one and only Son, Jesus Christ. All other gods are false. It’s not that they don’t exist, but at the core of all of the other belief systems of this world and the many false gods they represent is a false god known as Satan, who masquerades himself (and stealthily, I might add) as an “angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14).

Of course, most of the world thinks Christians who believe this way are “a few cards short of a full deck.” No matter–that doesn’t change the truth. The Bible makes it very clear in I Cor. 1:26-30 why the world thinks in this way:  “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.”

The point I want to make, and make clearly, dear readers, is that it matters not what you think–it only matters what God thinks. And God has made His thoughts on life and living and dying and eternity crystal clear in the Bible. There is only one way to God, and that way is through His Son, Jesus Christ. It’s as simple as that. No exceptions. None . . . .

For those of you reading who don’t know Jesus Christ personally as your Savior and Lord, please go to my resource page, “Where To Look For Encouragement,” to find out how you can have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I have listed some of my favorite ministries on my “Favorite Links” page where you will find a wealth of information on living the Christian life.

But don’t wait . . . . None of us knows when a heart attack, or a car accident, or any of the other instantaneous ways that many people die every day in our world might hit us. There is no “tomorrow,” folks . . . only today. As Hebrews 4:7 clearly states:  “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

And remember that for every single person living on our planet, “eternity is only a breath away.” Where will you be spending eternity?

Photo credit here

For Such A Time As This

One of the things I find most fascinating about the stories in the Bible is how God uses very ordinary people to do extraordinary things. You don’t have to look very far to see just how true this is. The stories of Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joseph, David, and two of my favorite stories about women in the Old Testament, Ruth and Esther, who both have books named after them, are but just a few. There’s also Rahab, Daniel, and Solomon, who was the wisest man who ever lived and also one of the richest–he wrote the books of Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon (also known as the Song of Songs) which is one of the greatest love stories in the Bible (I also love the story of Ruth and Boaz–another great love story). And, of course, all of the major and minor Prophets who came out of nowhere to declare God’s truth to the people of their generation (and ours also). The list goes on and on . . . .

Of course, there are also many in the New Testament–Elizabeth, Anna, Joseph and Mary, the Disciples, Paul, and of course, the One who was born in obscurity and became the most famous one of all, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who also called Himself the Son of Man, whom Isaiah in a previous generation foretold about in Isaiah 9:6, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

All of these people came out of nowhere to proclaim God’s truth. Indeed, they represent the people described in I Cor. 1:26-31, “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.'” As you can see from the passage, “foolish”and “weak” are not detrimental terms in God’s economy–not by a long shot. Does God still choose people like this today? Absolutely! In the not-too-distant past and even now I can think of people like Abraham Lincoln (one of our greatest Presidents), Charles Spurgeon, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Corrie ten Boom, C.S. Lewis, and many others; and in our own generation, Billy Graham, whom God has used mightily for His purposes. So, can God use people like you and me for His purposes in our generation? ABSOLUTELY!!!

The title of this post is taken from Esther 4:14, “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” A brief summary of the story of Esther can be found here–essentially, she was orphaned as a child, raised by Mordecai the Jew, and came from obscurity to become queen of Persia and Media, and saved her people, the Jews, from an evil plot by Haman to destroy them (hence, the reason for the words in Esther 4:14 above spoken by Mordecai to her).

The connection between the story of Esther from yesteryear and life as we know it today is clear. Esther was raised up to be the mouthpiece that saved her people from destruction in her generation, and we (those of us who know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior) can be the mouthpieces for our own generation to speak the truths from God’s Word to save a lost and dying generation in a world gone mad.

In Matthew 24, we find Jesus talking with His disciples about the signs of the end of the age. Some of the things he warns them about are false prophets, wars and rumors of wars, famines, and earthquakes, which are all beginning signs of the end times. He goes on to speak of a time where many will turn away from the faith and many false prophets will be on the scene to deceive multitudes; that wickedness will increase and the love of most will grow cold (verses 10-12). However, He continues that “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (verse 14). So you see, we have a mission to our world and to our generation today and that is to see that the gospel is spread throughout the whole world. Only in our generation has this been made possible through the marvelous invention and advances in technology! However, that is not to say that we shouldn’t be sharing the great news of Jesus Christ with our neighbors, friends, and even our enemies. Our very lives should shine forth and be a witness as to what it means to follow Him.

Unfortunately, these past few decades have produced what I call the “silent generation” of Christians. We get so wrapped up in our culture–materialism, status, money, greed, power, self–that we have fallen asleep at the wheel when it comes to proclaiming the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And many times when we do talk to others, it’s about what Jesus can do for us and not about the greatest thing He has already done for us on the cross at Calvary. We want the blessings of Jesus without the sacrifice and that just doesn’t work. We are called to be “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1): “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” When we take our eyes off of all the stuff we want and ourselves and seek Him, we will find Him waiting for us, and we will become effective witnesses for our generation.

The parable of the fig tree is also found in Matthew 24, specifically in Matt. 24:32-35: “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”

What if we are that generation? We are clearly living in the signs of the end times as described in this chapter of Matthew. If we are, that should not give us cause to fear but rather is a clarion call to follow after Jesus Christ and not ourselves. It should be a time of great excitement and anticipation as we proclaim to others the good news of Jesus Christ. Indeed, we have been born into this current generation “for such a time as this.”

So, starting today, let’s go out and change our world with the gospel of Jesus Christ! With the culture crumbling all around us, it is the very best news there is, so go out there and share it! And, if you don’t know where to start, start here:

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you” (Romans 12:1-2 MSG).

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A Season of Faith’s Perfection

I absolutely love the movie, “Finding Forrester” (2000) with Sean Connery and Rob Brown in the starring roles. The movie is about a friendship between William Forrester (Connery) and Jamal Wallace (Brown) and takes place primarily in the Bronx. Forrester, now in his 70’s, is a reclusive Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist who gave the world only one novel written back in his 20’s, and Jamal is a 16-year-old basketball player with a secret passion for writing. It is a wonderful story about an unexpected friendship that formed between them that changed both of their worlds. In fact, the story moved me so much (well, I’ve watched it at least a dozen times) that I decided to name this particular blog post from an article written by William Forrester in the movie with a subtitle of “A Season of Faith’s Perfection” (Jamal also wrote an essay for his prep school with the same title taken from Forrester’s article).

Finding Forrester DVD 2000As I look back on the past three years in the midst of the greatest challenge I have ever had to navigate, I realized how much it has been my very own “Season of Faith’s Perfection.” I wrote about how this “season” began in a previous post, “Fuzzy Faith Fails.” Now I can give you more details about this continuing journey in faith.

During most of my year in Houston I attended a huge megachurch that I was familiar with from watching their weekly television program when I was still living and working at a private, Christian university in Florida. Over the years I had grown weary trying to find a church where I fit in as an older, single, professional woman, and found it very difficult to find a church where I fit in even though there were many in this town. During the four-plus years I lived and worked there I attended several churches; one for a year and a half, another for several months, and then I just sampled other churches until I stumbled upon the television program for the megachurch I attended in Houston.

This program was very upbeat and it brought me out of a rather dismal low point in my spiritual life at that time. I stopped attending other churches in the area and watched this program exclusively. In fact, I looked forward with great anticipation to their weekly broadcast. I even reached a point where I was telling my coworkers that if this church was located in the town we lived in, I’d be there in a heartbeat. That’s how much I loved watching it. It cheered me up during a very rough time at work when, eventually, my division was dismantled in January 2008. While my position was not abolished, I knew it was time for me to move on. As I’d been living in Florida since 1992, I had absolutely no desire to move out of the state, and I never dreamed about going anywhere else . . .

. . . except for Houston, where that megachurch was located. Now I didn’t look for jobs specifically in Houston, but I did go to HigherEdJobs.com on a daily basis looking for openings in my profession. And in early May 2008, I spotted the ad for the director position that I was eventually hired for and moved to Houston on September 25, 2008. That first weekend before I started my job I was too weary from the 1000-mile drive and unpacking my apartment to make it to the church service of the megachurch, located only four miles from my apartment complex, but I was there on the first Sunday in October and rarely ever missed a Sunday for the next nine months.

I had never been so excited about being a part of a church in my entire life. It was vibrant and people from all nationalities and walks of life were there; however, in a church that size, in order to meet people I knew I had to be involved in some way, which opened the door to two volunteer opportunities I ended up taking.

If you’ve read my previous post, “Fuzzy Faith Fails,” when I first landed in Houston I felt strongly that I needed to get up early every morning to have a devotional time to meet with the Lord and pray. I had not done this consistently for years, and while it seemed very odd to be doing it now, I did it regardless of how I felt and without fail. And due to the fact that my job (or rather my boss at the job) presented challenges from the very first week, I started to find a source of strength from my early morning devotions I hadn’t experienced in years.

I began to realize as I continued with my studies every morning before work that it was feeding me in a way that I wasn’t receiving from the megachurch, although I loved attending and considered it to be one of the highlights of my week. However, the one thing that bothered me about the megachurch was the total absence of talking about sin or confronting sin from the pulpit. The only time sin was mentioned was after the service when the pastor offered a “sinner’s prayer” for those attending the service who wanted to “accept Jesus as their Savior.” I always found this odd, not so much regarding the “sinner’s prayer” as many churches offer that at the end of their Sunday services; but it was odd because hardly ever during the sermon was Jesus mentioned and certainly not with any depth. The worship music before the sermon many times had music inspired and written from Scripture, but the sermons had pieces of Scripture that went with the particular story the pastor told in his sermon that morning. It bothered me that sin was never addressed since that is the whole reason Jesus Christ came to earth and died on the cross. It is no small matter (see Ezekiel 18 subtitled “The Soul Who Sins Will Die”).

As I continued studying early every morning throughout the ensuing horror of what unfolded at my job, I kept attending the megachurch as it “pumped me up” (as in an adrenalin rush, but not spiritually) to be able to face the next week at work. I attended this megachurch through the time I was fired in April 2009 until July 5, 2009, which was the last Sunday I attended. I longed for more depth from the pulpit as I knew the “adrenalin rush” I got from the Sunday morning service was not what got me through the horror of what happened at my work place. No, it was the time I spent with the Lord every morning before work from the time I landed in Houston that gave me the strength to get through it and, most importantly, gave me back my relationship with Jesus Christ that I let wane for so many, many years. And so I left the megachurch that drew me to Houston in the first place; but while I left the megachurch, Houston has never left my heart.

Well, this post is long enough so maybe I’ll write a “Part Two” later. But the most important thing I want to leave with you, dear readers, is that no matter what church you attend (or you might not even be attending a church), do not forsake a daily time of meeting with the Lord and reading His Word and praying, even if it’s only for a few minutes each day. Do it every day, without excuse and with your whole heart, and I can promise you it will change your life. How do I know this? Because it has completely changed mine.

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15 NIV 1984).  The Message Bible states it this way, “Concentrate on doing your best for God, work you won’t be ashamed of, laying out the truth plain and simple. Stay clear of pious talk that is only talk. Words are not mere words, you know. If they’re not backed by a godly life, they accumulate as poison in the soul” (MSG).

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For many years there has been a passage of Scripture that has haunted me by its meaning. It seemed to be saying that a person who professes to know Christ but continues to lives in aberrant sin can still be saved (that is, he will be saved on the day the Lord returns) but his “flesh” in this life will be destroyed. The passage is found in I Corinthians 5:1-12  (specifically, verse 5) and while it primarily deals with a deviant form of sexual sin (a man sleeping with his stepmother) at the beginning of the passage, it goes on to talk about Christians who are involved in not only sexual immorality, but greed, idolatry and slander, and those who are a drunkard or a swindler (Verse 11). Let’s read it:

1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? 3 Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. 4 When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.

6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.

9 I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.

12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.”

It is very clear here that the Apostle Paul is speaking to Christians who profess to believe in Jesus Christ and not to the outside world. Verse 12 is very specific that we who know Christ should not judge those outside of the church (the culture at large) but rather to judge those who are in the church. It is God’s business to judge the rest of the world, not ours.

Also, in Verses 9-11, Paul is very clear that he is speaking to Christians to not associate with a brother (e.g. another Christian) who calls himself a brother but is “sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.”

Whoa… did you get that?

We who profess to be Christian are not to judge the outside world, but we are to judge sin when it is rampant in the church. I don’t know about you, but over the past several decades what I have observed is that the church has spent a lot of time railing at the culture (those outside of the church) but not dealing with the sin within its own borders, which is exactly the opposite of what Paul is telling us we should be doing.


We don’t even try to clean up our own act, but we tell the rest of the world to clean up theirs. And then we wonder why the church is so ineffective in our culture today.

Let’s go back to the specific sin mentioned in the first few verses–a man who was having sexual relations with his father’s wife (his stepmother). It was apparent that this man had no remorse over what he was doing yet he claimed to be a follower of Jesus Christ. From what I read in Verse 5, he was, indeed, a follower of Christ but unrepentant in his sin and did not want to give it up. Therefore, the very chilling words in Verse 5 spelled out what happened to him– “hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.” Did you get that? He was to be handed over to Satan (yes, this follower of Jesus Christ), so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.

This is not a topic that I ever remember being addressed in churches I’ve attended over the past many years. However, I do want to point out that I am not bringing up this topic to scare anyone who professes to be a follower of Jesus Christ but rather to make them think about their lives in a different way. Because our culture offers us some of the greatest things that have ever been available to mankind, we get caught up in the culture’s mentality. It’s that old, “Bigger, better, more, more, more” mentality that is never, ever appeased. And we all choose our own poison–and yes, it’s pervasive in the church in America. We just don’t recognize it anymore. We’ve been lulled to sleep by the excesses of the culture around us.

Consider this your “wake-up” call if you haven’t already had one. Seriously think about your life and the direction you are headed and, be honest now–does it honor the Lord Jesus Christ whom you profess to follow? Has sexual immorality or greed crept in? How about idolatry? (I’ve already confessed in a previous post about the fact that I had made my male mentor friend a god of my own making for 14 years before the full impact of what I was doing hit me square in the face.) How about slander and gossip? Are they your gods? Are you a closet alcoholic or do you swindle folks out of things that rightfully belong to them? Or, has your heart just grown cold regarding the things of God and you’ve lost your first love–Jesus Christ?

As Christians, I think we should all examine our lives on a very regular basis in order to keep the things of this world that so tempt us out of our lives (and we all know who the father of temptation is–and it’s not God). We need to stop judging the world at large and start judging ourselves. We need to clean up our act if we need to and not be prideful enough to keep saying we have no sin. The father of the prideful is not God.

And we need to run back to our first love, Jesus Christ, who will cleanse us from all sin (I John 1:9) and put us back on the right track so that we never have to experience the horror that the unrepentant man in I Cor. 5 experienced when he was handed over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh. But the story does not end there… the really good news is this–that man eventually came to his senses and repented of his sexual immorality and he was restored to fellowship with his fellow Christians and with God (2 Cor. 2:7).

And that’s something worth celebrating! So, let’s destroy those false gods before they destroy us, or repent of them if they currently have a hold on us. I was slowly being devoured for 14 years by a friendship I thought God had put in my life (NOT…), but when I repented, God amazingly and lovingly restored me. And He can restore you, too!

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When God Cleans House

Boy, that title sounds ominous, doesn’t it? But think about this–when you clean house, what is it that you are doing? You’re getting rid of the dirt, grim and clutter that has accumulated over time and making your house beautiful once again, right? I know in my own little piece of the world (my little seasonal rental) I can let it get quite cluttered. However, I always seem to reach a point there I just can’t stand the clutter so I take a few days to accomplish the task (well, cleaning has never really been my forte so I might not be as fast accomplishing it as others who keep an immaculate house most of the time). But, once I’ve been “inspired” and it’s done and everything is in order, my little seasonal rental looks terrific and I feel great! Here’s the rub, though… it needs to be done on a continual basis.

I was inspired this morning by reading “Our Daily Bread” for today (Nov. 19, 2011) titled, “When God Cleans House.” It’s about Jonah and his attitude towards something that God wanted him to do and he decided, in a fit of stubbornness, to run away. Well, if you are familiar with the story of Jonah (a scant four chapters in the Old Testament but full of application for today) you will remember that very early on he ended up in the belly of a big fish for three days, miraculously sustained by God, to give him pause for thought regarding his stubbornness about what God was calling him to do. Well, I imagine that if any of us were stubborn in doing what we knew God was calling us to do, and we ended up like Jonah in the belly of a big fish to think about our attitudes and actions, that would certainly give us pause for thought about the direction of our lives, too.

The main story of Jonah is not only about Jonah, but about the people who lived in the city of Nineveh which at that time had over 120,000 people living in it. Jonah was sent by God to Nineveh to proclaim a message to them to turn from their own evil ways and repent and turn back to God. While Jonah had no intention of doing that in the beginning, after spending three days in the belly of the big fish he thought otherwise, and as Jonah 2:10 states, “And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land” (NIV 1984).

Since Nineveh was a very important city, it required three days to get the information out to the people. Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD given to him and delivered his message which is found in Jonah 3. He proclaimed that judgment was coming on the city of Nineveh in forty days (the city would be overturned) and to the Ninevites’ credit, they believed this word from God through Jonah. When the word of God reached the king of Nineveh, he issued a proclamation in Nineveh and declared a fast and, in his own words stated, “Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish” (verses 7-9).

Now here’s the really great news–“When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened” (verse 10). Got that? God did not bring about the destruction he had threatened on that city. That is incredibly fantastic news!!!

What astonishes me about this story is how Jonah reacted to this news (Jonah 4). It says in Jonah 4:1 that “Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry.” Wow. That was definitely not the reaction I expected. I thought that Jonah would be thrilled at what had happened in Nineveh. Now I have no idea why Jonah reacted in that way nor would I even try to speculate. But despite Jonah’s reaction, the story is really all about God’s great compassion on a city that had lost its way as stated in the last verse in Jonah as God was talking to Jonah, “Nineveh has more than 120,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (Jonah 4:11).

This is one of the great “hallmark” stories in the Bible of God’s compassion and mercy for people who have lost their way. As I think about our nation and all of the turmoil that is going on and how much we are in need of clear direction, I can’t help but think about the story of Jonah and Nineveh and how God relented from destroying the city of Nineveh when the people turned to God in repentance, fasting and humbleness.

I spent three days thoroughly cleaning my little seasonal rental two or three weeks ago, and while I was cleaning it, I reviewed my own life and all that I have been through especially during this very long time of unemployment. God has taken me from being a woman who had reached a point of not knowing my right hand from my left and, over time, cleaned me up to the point where I finally stopped thinking about myself all the time and grew to have great compassion for this nation and all of the people living in our nation and the world. And, most importantly, I found my way back to my first love–Jesus Christ. Jesus really is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6) and the peace and freedom that I now have I would never replace with anything this world has to offer.

However, I think there is a twinge of Jonah in all of us. Because of the very stressful times we live in today, instead of showing compassion to others we vent anger and frustration. I know I certainly have at times (mostly when I’ve been in my seasonal rental ranting about something that happened that day). And, Jonah certainly did that both before he went to Nineveh and after he gave his message from God to Nineveh resulting in Nineveh’s repentance and salvation. However, I don’t want to end up like Jonah did at the end…

So I repent in sackcloth and ashes.

And, it’s a new day, and for those of us who know Jesus as Savior and Lord, we should never be afraid when God calls us to clean up our own houses (e.g. our lives). Instead of turning away from God in anger (I can’t imagine spending three days in the belly of a fish was much fun for Jonah) let us turn to Him in humility and repentance. After all, when He is in control of our lives, that is when we can truly become “salt and light” to a lost and dying world around us. As Matt 5:13-16 states, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

And let us never forget to “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever” (I Chron. 16:34).

YouTube video – “Midnight Cry” sung by Michael English and the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir

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Anticipation . . . Take Two

Okay, I know you’re waiting with baited breath to hear the outcome of my last post. (You are waiting, right?) Well… I didn’t get picked to interview for that particular position in Houston, but there is a very big upside in not getting picked as a candidate for that particular position…

…and the upside is that there is another position at that same university that posted at the time the Associate Dean called me about the first position, and I am far more interested in pursuing this second position. However, I didn’t want to apply for it until I heard about my chances for the first position. While I have twenty years of experience in student services/academic advising for the first position, I am so ready to do something different while remaining in a higher education environment. And, this second position is right down my “creative” alley, so to speak. You see, my first love has always been art/architecture, photography, writing, and creative endeavors as well as working with a wide variety of people and managing projects; and this second job has all of that. Plus, my bachelor’s degree is in art and design which is a major plus as a potential candidate. Is that cool, or what?

The irony in all of this is that over three years ago when I moved to Houston for the job that has left me unemployed for over two and a half years now, I was ecstatic to be offered that particular position as it was in a very creative higher education environment. And, I’m sure I’d still be employed there if it wasn’t for the unfortunate set of circumstances with my former boss. However, now that this new opportunity at another university in Houston has opened up, I applied for it as soon as I heard that I wasn’t being considered for the first position.

So, while I’m once again in “wait” mode, I am so excited about the possibility of this new position where I would be able to utilize my creative abilities as well as my many years of experience in higher education to the benefit of this particular university, and its students, faculty, administration, and the surrounding community; and, I’m thrilled for another opportunity to return to Houston. So, I’m going to extend the verse that I quoted on my last post to this one:

“But those who wait on the LORD 
      Shall renew their strength; 
      They shall mount up with wings like eagles, 
      They shall run and not be weary, 
      They shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

Indeed, good things come to those who wait.

UPDATE 12-23-11: Wasn’t considered for this job, either, so I’m STILL waiting!!!  I should be VERY strong by the time this waiting period is over!!!

YouTube video– “Second Chance” by Hillsong:

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