The Dangers of a Shallow Faith

We live in an age of great compromise, and it has invaded the evangelical church in America. The assault has been deliberate, insidious, and massive–slowly injecting it’s poison over the past 40 or 50 years to the point where modern day “Christianity” in America hardly even resembles actual New Testament living. Just watch most of the programs on Christian television if you want a good example.

A.W. Tozer, who died in 1963, saw it coming–indeed, he experienced it in his own lifetime and warned folks about it. A book compiled, edited, and recently published (2012) by James L. Snyder on Tozer’s previously unpublished writings on this topic makes for compelling reading. When we as Christians look and act just like the rest of the world (and a lot of us do) with a little “God-talk” thrown in for good measure, our faith is not only shallow but mostly likely nonexistent. We say we have faith–we may sing worship songs on Sunday morning in church and maybe listen to the sermon that may or may not be relevant to living life the way Jesus intended for us to live it–but the proof is in the way we live our lives the rest of the week. Ah, “there’s the rub,” as Shakespeare once stated. We really don’t treat our family, friends, or our enemies any differently then the rest of the world does, and “sacrificial living” isn’t even a part of our vocabulary let alone our lifestyles. Usually, we just want “more” of what our culture offers us, especially in the way of money and material possessions. And, our “faith” is really in ourselves or in any number of other areas that take priority in our lives. And that is a very dangerous place for it to be.

Very dangerous indeed. . . .

A renowned theologian, A.W. Tozer and his wife, Ada, had seven children and lived a simple, non-materialistic lifestyle. He authored more than 40 books during his lifetime and even after he became a well-known Christian author, he signed away much of his royalties to those who were in need (source here). As mentioned above, some of his previously unpublished works have recently been compiled and edited by James L. Snyder in several volumes including this one titled, The Dangers of a Shallow Faith: Awakening from Spiritual Lethargy (Regal Books, 2012).

This book should be at the top of your reading list (you won’t regret it, either). It is “a call for every Christian to move from shallow living to deep faith” (quote from back cover of the book). Continuing from the back cover:

“. . . Tozer warns believers in Christ against the great danger of spiritual lethargy. He urges Christians to be aware of the times in which they live and to recognize how attempting to live a life for God on autopilot will actually undermine their faith. For Tozer, the risks are so significant that ‘breaking out from the tyranny of spiritual lethargy–whatever the cost–should be the number-one priority of every Christian.’”

In this book you will learn “the importance of standing boldly against spiritual and moral slumber” and “see the importance of remaining awake in the face of constant temptation and distraction.” You will also “discover the spiritual awakening and change the Holy Spirit can bring to your life as you surrender completely to God and walk in a deeper faith” (source: back cover).

The book is divided into three parts. Part I is titled, “The Dangers Facing the Evangelical Church.” There are six chapters in Part I and it starts right off with a chapter titled, “At the Brink of Apostasy.” The opening paragraph states, “The evangelical church in America is facing some serious hazards that threaten to bring it to the brink of apostasy. My prayer is that it is not too late for an awakening that will lead to successful reformation” (p. 13). This chapter continues with sections on “The Curse of Worldliness” where Tozer states, “The Bible has no compromise whatsoever with the world. The Bible has a message for the evangelical church, calling it back home. The Bible always send us out into the world, but never to compromise with the world; and never to walk in the way of the world, but only to save as many as we can. That is the one direction. So, my Christian friend, if you are settling back, snuggling into your foam rubber chair and resting in your faith in John 3:16 and the fact that you have accepted Jesus Christ, you had better watch yourself. Take heed, lest you also be found wanting. Take heed of your own heart, lest when all is said and done, you have become tied with the world.” (p. 15).

Another section in that chapter titled, “The Haunting Spirit of Babylon,” is about how entertainment, a spirit of lethargy, and a lifestyle of ease have taken over our lives; and the last section is titled, “Overtaken by Spiritually Impotent Theologians.” In this section Tozer states that “theology” is simply the study of God, and “from the word ‘theology’ comes the word ‘theologian.’ It used to mean a person who has specialized in the study of God, but it has come to mean someone who is an expert is a slice of Christianity. In many cases, the slice is rather small and disassociated from the whole. These contemporary theologians deal with doctrinal minutia. Their expertise is in the area of rethinking doctrinal positions in light of contemporary society and culture. For some reason, they believe that because society has changed so drastically, our doctrinal positions need to change accordingly. To reexamine the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture, for example, is an exercise in futility. By slicing and dicing doctrinal positions, we have come to a point of not knowing what we believe” (p. 22). Further down on that same page, Tozer states, “Experts who know everything but what is essential in the spiritual life are now running our churches.”

The rest of the chapters in Part I include, “Seeking a Substitute for God” (e.g., “The Cult of Imitation,” “The Cult of Entertainment, ” The Cult of Celebrity,” and “Worshiping at the Wrong Altar”–the alter of marketing, the altar of money, the altar of activity, and the altar of pleasure); “A Platform for False Teaching” (e.g., a wrong concept of God, a wrong concept of ourselves, a wrong concept of sin, and a wrong concept about Christ Himself); “The Effect of Spiritual Lethargy” (e.g., a moral lethargy, spiritual lethargy); “The Process of Backsliding” (e.g., the fickle heart, the evil heart, and what happens in the backsliding heart); and “The Irrepressible Law of Consequence” (e.g., the law of consequence, the vital act of choice, choose well today, and grace and consequences coexist).

Part II is titled, “The Challenges Facing the Evangelical Church.” In the six chapters in Part II, Tozer discusses not only “The Sources of the Dangers in the Church” (e.g., the world, the god of this world, and unmortified flesh (Chapter 7); but the dangers themselves: “The Danger of Victory and Defeat” (Chapter 8), “The Danger of Bondage and Liberty” (Chapter 9), “The Danger of Idleness and Busyness,” (Chapter 10), “The Danger of Prosperity and Adversity,” (Chapter 11), and “The Danger of Postponed Living” (Chapter 12).

The final part of the book, Part III, tackles “The Path to Overcoming These Challenges.” There are five chapters in Part III which include, “Resisting the World’s Propaganda”  in which Tozer states, “The Battle is On! . . . The greatest war is still being waged today by every effective technique created to get us to stop thinking for ourselves. It is being waged by media, in all it’s various forms, from hard news reporting to ‘entertainment'” (p. 156)–and, of course, the internet and technology which did not exist in the public arena during Tozer’s lifetime; “Contemplating Our Ways” (with some serious soul-searching questions to give you pause for thought on how you are living your life right now); “Living the Dynamics of God’s Kingdom” (if you want to acquire Kingdom power, here’s how you find it and live it); “Getting Ready to Fight the Good Fight” (we are in a war every single moment of every single day–do you really believe that?). As Tozer states, “Battles are always lost before they are fought. You can write that line across your heart and your memory, and the history of the world and biography will support it” (p. 193). The cause? Moral and spiritual decay. He goes on to tell us how to battle on a higher level–like David, Jacob, and Elijah–and how to be prepared for a crisis whether it’s acute trouble that just showed up, temptation, or attacks by our adversary (in all of it’s various forms), and to “never let the day creep up on you (unprepared).”

The final chapter in Part III is titled, “Living as an Intentional Christian.” The first two paragraphs of this chapter are absolutely crucial to our understanding of what a life lived for Jesus Christ is truly all about. Here are those two paragraphs:

“The great deterrent to victorious Christian living is the idea that once we accept Jesus Christ as Savior and believe that John 3:16 is all there is to it, our life now is on automatic pilot and we can just sit back and enjoy the ride. This is the source of a great deal of disillusionment that leads to discouragement in the Christian life.

“There is no such thing as automatic pilot in our Christian experience; every step is an operation of faith that will be fiercely contested by the enemy of our soul. This kind of automatic pilot thinking leads to spiritual lethargy. Breaking out from the tyranny of spiritual lethargy–whatever the cost–should be the number-one priority of every Christian” (p. 205).

There is no “just coasting along” in the Christian life. If we are just coasting along, we’re defeated already. There is a way out of spiritual lethargy, but we have to fight for it. Are we willing to fight for it, or do we prefer being lulled to sleep by the culture and all of the excesses it offers to us (and at a very heavy price)? Do we prefer to listen to all the various “voices” out there telling us how to live, or take God at His Word by reading the Bible for ourselves, and praying to Him for wisdom and guidance (see James 1:2-8)?

The choice is ours . . .

And remember that no choice is still a choice . . . .

YouTube Video: “Stay Strong” by the Newsboys: order page here book order page here

Photo credit here

Carpe Diem – Seize the Day

Horace, a Roman poet (65 BC – 8 BC), coined the term, Carpe Diem,” which is popularly translated as “Seize the Day”; however, the original phrase (in latin) was actually a bit longer–Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero” – “Seize the Day, putting as little trust as possible in the future” since the future is unforeseen (quote source here).

The phrase was made popular in the 1989 film, Dead Poets Society,” starring Robin Williams as an English instructor at the conservative and aristocratic Welton Academy in Vermont in 1959 who inspires his students through the teaching of poetry regarding the dangers of conformity and going along with the crowd and, instead, to “Seize the Day” by thinking for themselves and not following after the status quo (see my blog post, Risky Business,” for a discussion on this topic).

This same message should be heeded by Christians today regarding the Gospel of Jesus Christ (see my blog post, There Is No Other Gospel). We should not automatically follow after the many “Christian celebrities” that have arrived on the scene in the past few decades just because they call themselves Christian and teach a message you want to hear. While some are quite legitimate, many are not and preach a “different gospel” as addressed by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians.

Let’s read what Paul had to say in his opening lines in his letter to the Galatians: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all [emphasis mine]. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:6-10).

1 John 4:1 (MSG) clearly states, “My dear friends, don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. Not everyone who talks about God comes from God. There are a lot of lying preachers loose in the world.” And, there is a huge crowd of folks following after these false teachers and false prophets in our world today.

So how do we become discerning Christians so as not to be easily duped by the many different messages being thrown at us from all directions in our society? Romans 12:1-2 has the answer, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

We are admonished to no longer be conformed to the pattern of this world, so let’s start with the physical aspect of these two verses. When was the last time you thought about offering your body as a living sacrifice to God as a spiritual act of worship? And what exactly does that mean? It means that everything we do with our bodies should be done with the knowledge that our bodies, while given to us, belong to God (if we are Christian) and everything we do with them should be God-honoring. That should give us pause for thought every single day as to how we are treating our bodies regarding how we eat, how we dress, how we physically interact with others, how we take care of it or how we abuse it.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent most of my life not even considering a lot of the ways in which I abuse my body–for example, by overeating. In the past year I’ve started taking a lot more consideration towards this body of mine and how I can honor God with it and stop abusing and using it for selfish purposes. A big part of that for me has been to stop eating most of the “crap” food I’ve filled it with for so many years (I’m still not perfect at this but much improved from past years) and exercise on a regular, consistent basis (previously, exercise wasn’t even in my vocabulary and was as good a definition for anathema as any I’ve ever known). I now do a 55-minute non-stop exercise DVD pretty much seven days a week (and at least five days a week without question). And I’ve lost 50 lbs so far from my top weight in April 2010, and 35 of it just this past year.

So, give it some thought about how you can start honoring God with your body–yes, your physical body. Ask Him to give you wisdom to know what to do. He’ll give it to you if you are really serious (see James 1:5-8).

Now let’s address the second part of these two verses–being transformed by the renewing of our mind. There is only one way to stop being conformed by this world and all of its messages and start being transformed by the renewing of our mind and that’s through daily prayer (literally talking to God through His Son, Jesus Christ) and reading the Bible (really reading–meditating–and not just blowing it off quickly as something we have to do). Hebrews 4:12 states, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” The Message Bible states it like this, “God means what he says. What he says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it—no matter what.”

Recently, I read an excellent devotion by Dr. Charles Swindoll regarding this very topic of spending time with God and I want to share it with you:

Time With God

Exodus 3

I was raised to believe in the importance of a “quiet time” . . . .

The Scriptures are replete with references to the value of waiting for the Lord and spending time with Him. When we do, the debris we have gathered during the hurried, busy hours of our day gets filtered out. With the debris out of the way, we are able to see things more clearly and feel God’s nudgings more sensitively.

When David wrote, “Wait for the LORD: be strong, and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the LORD” (Psalm 27:14), he was intimately acquainted with what that meant. When he admitted, “I waited patiently for the LORD; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry” (Psalm 40:1), it was not out of a context of unrealistic theory. The man was hurting, in great pain.

Time with God? Who experienced its value more than Job after losing it all? Remember his confession? What makes it even more remarkable is that he stated it while surrounded by those who accused him: “But He knows the way I take; when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold. My foot has held fast to His path; I have kept His way and not turned aside. I have not departed from the command of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:10-12).

That’s it! That is exactly what occurs when we remove ourselves from the fast track and keep our appointment with Him who made us. What great thoughts He has for us, what insights, what comfort, what reassurance!

And the best part of all is that such divine breakthroughs come so unexpectedly. Though you and I may have met in solitude with God morning after morning, suddenly there comes that one day, like none other, when He reveals His plan . . . and we are blown away.

Understand, those phenomenal moments are the exception, not the rule. If God spoke to us like that on an everyday basis, burning bushes would be as commonplace as traffic lights and ringing phones. Fact is, never again in all of time has the voice of God been heard from a bush that refused to be consumed with flames. You see, God is into original works, not duplicated recordings.

But never doubt it; He still longs to speak to waiting hearts . . . hearts that are quiet before him.

Keep your daily appointment with God.
It’s the one meeting you can’t afford to miss.
Don’t be late!

Source: Day by Day by Dr. Charles Swindoll, p. 174
Word Publishing, Thomas Nelson, 2000

So what are you waiting for?

Go out there and SEIZE THE DAY!!!

YouTube Video: Scene from Dead Poets Society (1989) starring Robin Williams (scene length: 5 minutes, 29 seconds):

Photo credit here

Not The Only One

Henry David Thoreau has been attributed to the following quote: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” While most of my life is behind me now, the song in my heart still sings out loud and clear.

Jesus stated the following near the end of His “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7): “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matt. 7:13-14). The Message Bible states it like this, “Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention.”

Leading a life of “quiet desperation” results from following the world’s “formulas for a successful life” that include all the trappings that kill us in the end: love for money and all that it can buy, lust for power and recognition, running after fame and fortune (and most of us never achieve anything even close to that in our lifetimes though some may constantly strive for it), being a “people-pleaser” and seeking the approval of the masses whether small or large, and being “accepted” and/or going along with the crowd (whatever “crowd” we happen to follow and, yes, that can even be a “church” crowd), etc. I John 2:15-17 (MSG) states, “Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father (God). Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.”

What I have discovered over the course of 60 years is that following after Jesus Christ is, indeed, not a “popular” path, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything this world has to offer. It is not so much the actual material things in the world that keep us from God, but not being content with what we have and the constant desire for more of these things. As I John 2:16 states, “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.”

The first few lines in the song, Bless the Broken Road sung by Rascal Flatts (click here for YouTube video) go like this:

I set out on a narrow way many years ago
Hoping I would find true love along the broken road
But I got lost a time or two
Wiped my brow and kept pushing through
I couldn’t see how every sign pointed straight to you

If you read one of my previous posts titled, Incomparable, you’ll know that I was raised by a mother who loved the Lord Jesus Christ with all of her heart and taught me about Him from the time I came out of her womb. As a result, I accept Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord at the age of ten, and I’ve been walking that “narrow road” ever since then.

My first love has been and always will be Jesus Christ. Without Him I’m pretty sure I’d have been dead many years ago (after all, I know the many times I’ve escaped the clutches of death starting back at the age of five when I almost bled to death from surgery). But as a woman, I have also longed for the love of a man who could be my soulmate here on earth. You know . . . “and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one” (Genesis 2:24;  Mark 10:8). Now, mind you, I’ve always enjoyed being single, and even though I was engaged twice to men I didn’t love (and broke it off both times), I never felt “desperate” enough to marry someone just to be married. No, single is much better than being married to the wrong person, at least it is in my book.

I have a little story to tell you that happened to me when I was in my mid-20’s. My military experience was already behind me and I had broken up with my first fiancee whom I met while serving in the U.S. Army in South Korea when I was 22. It turned out that he was still married to his first wife but he failed to mention that little detail. After that experience I returned home to Iowa and started college on the G.I. Bill and was attending a weekly Bible study in the home of one of my mother’s dearest friends who had a passion for finding husbands for the single women who were a part of that group.

I don’t remember how long I attended but, sure enough, one by one, her prayers were answered for most of them (I don’t actually remember the details regarding all of the women in that group). However, I remember one meeting in July I was feeling somewhat “left out” of this whole “husband finding” adventure but I also felt that God had placed in my heart the idea that I would not marry until I was old and that my husband and I would be in some kind of ministry together (whatever “ministry” meant–mostly I believed it meant that we would be serving God in some capacity). Well, you have no idea how devastating that was to me as a “20-something” single woman. And I wondered what He meant by “old.” How old??? Up to that point, I always figured I would get married and have children like most other women.

I’m not sure I gave it much thought as the years passed. Occasionally I wondered if that thought I had was really from God or was it just a bit of “acid indigestion.” However, even though I dated and had a couple of serious relationships, nothing ever felt quite right.

By the time I reached 40 and moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to accept a one-year doctoral fellowship at Nova Southeastern University, I realized that it was most likely too late to ever have children of my own because I had absolutely no desire to have children at that age. However, I never counted out the fact that I might eventually be married, and at 40, I felt that was old enough to count as being “old” to my way of thinking.

That first year in Fort Lauderdale I was very infatuated with one of the professors in my program who was kind and witty and divorced, but he was also involved with someone. So much for that idea. Then a few years later I met my male mentor friend who, to this day, is one of the kindest men I’ve ever known, a committed Christian, and very happily married to his wife of many, many years. He is truly a mentor in every sense of the word and a dear friend, and it has always been my hope to find someone single who is very much like him. And, I thought I might have found him (though I actually stopped looking in my early 50’s) when I moved to Houston, Texas, in September 2008 when I accepted that job that lead to this very long time of unemployment. I was 56 at the time and this fellow was 60 (and a Christian and divorced) and worked at my place of employment and seemed to be rather infatuated with me for the first three or four months before my work situation got increasingly worse and I was fired in April 2009. He did not work in my division. Anyway, he must have lost interest after I was fired. Again, so much for that idea.

I remember at some point after I returned to Florida from Houston as I was praying I told the Lord that it was okay with me to stay single for the rest of my life as I’d been single for this long and what was the point in getting married now? After all, He clearly stated in Hebrews 13:5 that He would never leave me nor forsake me if I kept my life free from the love of money and was content with what I have (which at this point in time is far less than I had when I was living in Houston as I lost all of my furniture and most of my possessions at that time when I returned to Florida)–and I have been content. He has never left me in need; however, He is fully aware that I am bored silly and would like to be a productive member of society again after almost three and a half years of unemployment.

So, as you know if you’ve been reading my blog posts, I went back to Houston for a week and a half on August 25, 2012, to considering moving back to Houston since the job prospects there are better than they are here in Florida. I didn’t go back with anything else in mind but finding employment and a life again. And then I met “Red” at the Red Roof Inn near Katy, Texas, on my first night back in Houston on August 26th (see my blog post Rock Steady for details) . . . .

And now I’m wondering if 60 is finally old enough according to God’s timetable.

We’ll see . . . .

YouTube Video: “Not the Only One” by Bonnie Raitt:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

The Greatest Story Ever Told

Who doesn’t like a good story with a great ending, especially if it’s the greatest love story ever told? With so much heartache all around us, I don’t have to tell you that we live in a broken world . . . broken relationships, broken promises, broken lives. Whether it’s a spouse who has left us, friends who have deserted us, fractured family relationships, abusive work places, a bad medical report, a tragic accident, a horrific natural disaster that left us devastated . . . the list is endless.

No wonder we crave love stories with happy endings. We want to know there’s something more out there besides the heartache we’ve experienced. We want to know there’s a happy ending to the pain, the conflict, the fractured living, and fractured relationships that come with life.

The most amazing love story ever told is also the most despised by the world. But first, here’s a little background information before I get to it. Whether you believe that God created this world and everything in it or think that some big bang theory produced it and/or we are all a product of evolution, the Bible clearly states in Genesis 1:1 that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Not only that, but “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). Unfortunately, by Genesis 3 sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, the first humans created by God to inhabit our planet. We also have a powerful adversary who works against us (see Genesis 3:1, Job 1:6-12). And, we’ve been waging war with ourselves, each other, and with God ever since.

John 1:1-5 states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” John 1:14 states that “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The Word that became flesh is God’s only Son, Jesus Christ.

With that background information laying a foundation, the greatest love story that has ever been or ever will be told can be found in the Gospel of JohnJohn 3:16-18 states: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son (Jesus Christ), that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

In this world there is so much that keeps us from seeing the truth about Jesus Christ. He is the only Son of God, born of a virgin. He knew no sin but was crucified for the sins of the world on the cross, and He rose again on the third day victorious over death and to give us new life. It is Jesus Christ who justifies us before God, if we truly believe in Him as stated in John 3:16. I’m reminded of a devotion I just read by Diane Stewart in Open Windows titled, “Christ Justifies Us” (for September 28, 2012). Here it is:

Christ Justifies Us

Romans 3:19-24

It was such a tiny mistake. Seriously, I just looked down for a moment as I tried to retrieve my cell phone from the floorboard of my car. I’d rounded the corner and in an instant I’d crashed into my neighbor’s brick mailbox. Not only was it destroyed, but my car suffered over $6,000 damage. My tiny mistake was unjustifiable and expensive!

Spiritually speaking, there’s a more expensive mistake to be concerned about than hitting a mailbox. It’s failing to recognize one’s spiritual condition. Many mistakenly think of themselves as “good people.” They say, “Surely God will consider my merits and allow me into heaven.” Big mistake! The Bible is clear: there is no such thing as a “good person.” Instead, we’ve all failed miserably. We can never deserve heaven, and the penalty for our sin is death.

God provided a remedy. He sent Jesus to pay the penalty for sin in our place. By trusting Him, we are justified before God and forgiven, even when we make mistakes and hit mailboxes!

“Failing to understand one’s spiritual condition” . . . . We live in a world that does everything possible to keep us from seeing the truth–the truth that Jesus Christ clearly states about Himself in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” His sacrifice on the cross expressed the greatest love there is on this earth. He, who was sinless, paid the penalty for our sin in His body on that cross. There is nothing we can personally do to earn our salvation. It is a free gift from God through Jesus Christ, but we have to believe in Him and what He did for us and trust in Him as the only Son of God and our Savior as stated in John 3:16.

In this world we will have trials and tribulation (see James 1). That is a given. However, Jesus says to us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” The Message Bible states those same verses like this, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30). I can think of no better invitation to accept then His. He will come alongside us, give us the strength we need in any circumstance, give us a real rest in the midst of trials and tribulations, and at the end of this life, eternity with Him.

Jesus is truly the lover of our souls. There is no greater love, no greater sacrifice, than His. Won’t you accept His invitation today, if you haven’t already? As He says in Rev. 3:20, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”

There is a great song sung by Eric Clapton and B.B. King titled, “Hold On, I’m Coming” (YouTube Video below). I want to share some of the words to that song with you:

Don’t you ever feel sad
Lean on me when times are bad
When the day comes and
you’re in doubt
In a river of trouble
about to drown

Hold On, hold on
I’m coming, I’m coming
Hold On, hold on
I’m coming, I’m coming

I’m on my way your lover
When you get cold
I’ll be your cover
Don’t have to worry
Because I’m here
Don’t need to suffer
Because I’m here

Hold On, hold on
I’m coming, I’m coming
Hold On, hold on
I’m coming, I’m coming

The greatest lover, friend, and Savior we have is Jesus Christ, and we are told in Hebrews 13:5 to Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ ” And that’s a promise He will keep forever.

How can you resist a love and an invitation as great as this?

YouTube Video: “Hold On, I’m Coming” (2000) sung by Eric Clapton and B.B. King:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

What We Need

I’ve been reflecting for the past few days on what happened eleven years ago (2001) on September 11 (see my blog post titled Eleven Years After). On September 11 this past week our American ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three of his staff members were assassinated. And the violence that started in Libya and Cairo has extended to Yemen and across the Middle East. The original attack in Libya was planned to take place on 9/11. Planned . . . and executed.

In a statement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday, September 12, 2012, she asked this question, “How can this happen in a country we help liberate, in a city [Benghazi] we helped save from destruction?” Clinton said that question “reflects just how complicated, and at times, how confounding the world can be” (quote source here).

 . . . how complicated . . . how confounding the world can be.” As Americans, we have a tendency to think that the world thinks like we do. When we don’t understand the ideology of those who are our enemies, we can be easily duped. What happened to us on 9/11 eleven years ago is a classic example of how blind we are to what our enemies are capable of doing to us. Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941) is another example. We didn’t learn from that one in 1941, and we haven’t learned from the second attack on September 11, 2001, either.

Our enemies do not think like we think. When will we learn this lesson?

For those of us who believe in God (the God of this Universe and His Only Son, Jesus Christ), God is a great source of comfort in the midst of suffering. Horrific events such as Pearl Harbor or 9/11 are not cancelled out as a part of our existence just because we believe in God, and many examples throughout the Old and New Testaments attest to the fact that people who believe in God will go through suffering (after all, Jesus Christ is our example). This is not an easy message for Christians in America to hear after the past few decades of “me-ism” that has invaded so many of our churches across the land.

While suffering on a national level seems to fade over time (to our detriment), suffering on a personal level can last for years, even a lifetime. I read the following devotion this morning in Our Daily Bread titled, What We Need(scripture reference: 2 Corinthians 1:1-7) which brings this message home, but with a great deal of hope in the midst of suffering:

The heartbreaking stories keep coming. The friend whose grown daughter has left her husband and kids. The dads I recently met who lost their teen sons in car accidents. The pillar of the church whose retirement years have been marked by a string of bad medical news. You know the stories. You may have your own.

Where do we go for help when struggles and pain threaten to shake our faith and steal our last ounce of joy?

Second Corinthians 1:3 may be just the right destination. It is full of hope, help, and possibilities. 

Examine what that verse tells us: Paul lifts praise to God on two levels (and remember, Paul had more struggles and trouble than most of us could stand). First, he simply sends praise to God, who is not just our God but the God and Father of Jesus Himself. Think about the power and the love behind that!

Then he gives us even better news: Our heavenly Father is the God of mercy and compassion. He cares for us with an everlasting, gracious love. And there’s more—He is also the God of all comfort.

Need compassion? Need comfort? Go to God. He has an endless supply and is ready to pour it out on you in abundance. He is what we need in times of trouble!

I must have the Savior with me,
For my faith at best is weak;
He will whisper words of comfort,
That no other voice can speak. —Anon.

God’s whisper of comfort helps quiet the noise of our trials.

The following words are from the Apostle Paul, who’s life was full of struggles and trials from the time Jesus Christ made Himself known to him on the Damascus Road until his death many years later, yet he was always full of praise to the God of all comfort. These words are from 2 Corinthians 1:1-14, 24 from The Message Bible:

“I , Paul, have been sent on a special mission by the Messiah, Jesus, planned by God himself. I write this to God’s congregation in Corinth, and to believers all over Achaia province. May all the gifts and benefits that come from God our Father and the Master, Jesus Christ, be yours! Timothy, someone you know and trust, joins me in this greeting.

“All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too.

“When we suffer for Jesus, it works out for your healing and salvation. If we are treated well, given a helping hand and encouraging word, that also works to your benefit, spurring you on, face forward, unflinching. Your hard times are also our hard times. When we see that you’re just as willing to endure the hard times as to enjoy the good times, we know you’re going to make it, no doubt about it.

“We don’t want you in the dark, friends, about how hard it was when all this came down on us in Asia province. It was so bad we didn’t think we were going to make it. We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally—not a bad idea since he’s the God who raises the dead! And he did it, rescued us from certain doom. And he’ll do it again, rescuing us as many times as we need rescuing. You and your prayers are part of the rescue operation—I don’t want you in the dark about that either. I can see your faces even now, lifted in praise for God’s deliverance of us, a rescue in which your prayers played such a crucial part.

“Now that the worst is over, we’re pleased we can report that we’ve come out of this with conscience and faith intact, and can face the world—and even more importantly, face you with our heads held high. But it wasn’t by any fancy footwork on our part. It was God who kept us focused on him, uncompromised. Don’t try to read between the lines or look for hidden meanings in this letter. We’re writing plain, unembellished truth, hoping that you’ll now see the whole picture as well as you’ve seen some of the details. We want you to be as proud of us as we are of you when we stand together before our Master Jesus.

“ . . . We’re not in charge of how you live out the faith, looking over your shoulders, suspiciously critical. We’re partners, working alongside you, joyfully expectant. I know that you stand by your own faith, not by ours.”

The Apostle Paul considered himself a partner with those he worked with and among throughout all of his travels. He didn’t look over anyone’s shoulder “suspiciously critical.” He clearly pointed the way of following after Jesus Christ is all of his letters to the churches, always giving praise and thanks, in good times and in bad, to the One who redeemed him.

I remember a conversation I had not long ago with a friend who was going through a hard time. This friend, a devoted Christian, made the comment that he didn’t understand why there were so many ongoing trials in his and his family’s life and said to me, rhetorically of course, “I thought God wanted me happy.” That, in a nutshell, is what so much of Americanized Christianity is all about–being happy. And that’s not it, folks. It’s not even close.

Where did we get the idea that once we accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord that our lives would get easier? I don’t find that message in the Bible anywhere. And yet we’ve been fed that message for decades–a soft, easy Christianity complete with prosperity at our fingertips and every “need” (read that “want” or “whim”) met. That’s what happens when you don’t study the Bible on your own on a daily basis and listen to all the other “voices” out there in society that state that you can have Jesus and everything else, too.

You can’t . . . . The type of love that Jesus Christ shows us is a “sacrificial” love–a love that cares more about others then about self. In the InTouch devotion for today titled A Life Worthy of Reward,” this type of love is a love that “gives sacrificially, forgives willingly, and loves extravagantly (Acts 2:45; Eph. 4:32; I Peter 1:22). Pride and selfishness have no place in this edifice.” Other points included in this devotion are applying the Word of God to our lives on a daily basis; using our gifts to glorify the Lord (and not ourselves), and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with others. As stated at the end of this devotion, “The Lord Himself has called us to this task” (Matt. 28:19).

We may never fully understand the thinking or the ideology of the fierce enemies that surround us in this world, but we are called to love them. Here’s what The Message Bible states about loving our enemies (Matt: 5:43-48):

“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

If you’re like me, I tend to rail at my enemies and I just want them to leave me alone. Well, enemies seldom do that. I need to heed these words of Jesus as much as anyone, so let’s work at this together and look to that “great cloud of witnesses” who have gone before us, and to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2), blazing the way . . .

Now that’s a plan that works . . . .

YouTube Video: “All You Need is Love” (Lennon/McCartney) by The Beatles (1967):

Photo credit here

Eleven Years After

Today is the eleventh anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on American soil to date (previous to this date the worst attack was when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941). I remember the events of 9/11 as clearly as if it happened yesterday (as I’m sure many of you do, too). I was working at the University of Central Florida in Orlando at the time and I walked down the hallway to a little coffee shop in the lobby to get coffee shortly after 9:00 a.m. At the checkout counter someone had placed a tiny little black and white TV perched atop some books and as I looked at the image I saw on the screen I watched an instant replay of the first plane that hit the first tower minutes earlier. Was this real? Was it a movie? It absolutely shocked me. And, as we all know, it was all too real. Surreal actually.

A second plane hit the second tower and within a short period of time after that both towers came crashing down. Students and staff filled classrooms with TV sets to watch in horror all that unfolded that morning not only in New York City but also in a field in Pennsylvania and in Washington, D.C. Around noon the President of the campus announced that the campus was shutting down for security reasons and we were all told to go home. The security of living in “the land of the free and the home of the brave had been violated at it’s core. Nothing felt safe anymore.

In a letter written and published today by Dr. Michael Youssef (you can read the entire contents here), he states the following in the first two paragraphs:

“Eleven years ago today, a group of Muslim terrorists deliberately calculated and executed a plan to attack and mass murder Americans on our own soil. Not only did they kill nearly three thousand of our fellow citizens; they killed in the name of their god and their religion.

“For a moment, we saw a glimmer of hope that America had been roused from her deep sleep. We saw millions of people pour into churches. Citizens were interested in addressing the issue of radical Islam. Patriotism was seen everywhere. However, the change of heart did not last very long. Soon, eyes grew heavy and many Americans hit the snooze button so they could sleep just a little bit longer. As they drifted back to sleep, they hoped someone would broker a cheap peace with an ideology they did not understand.”

For the first time since that tragedy happened, the National Cathedral has decided to scale back on it’s 9/11 services. “In past years, the cathedral hosted events that drew the attendance of presidents and other leaders. The interim dean, Rev. Dr. Francis Wade, said in a statement that he hopes the decision (e.g., to scale back) will help the country heal and move past the tragedy” [emphasis mine] (quote source here).

Will help the country heal and move past the tragedy?


Does this mean that terrorists fail to exist anymore? Does this mean it’s now okay to bury our heads in the sand and just ignore what happened and go about our “business as usual” lifestyle? As George Bernard Shaw stated, “If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience” (quote source here).

Back on July 29, 2012, I wrote a blog post titled, Tisha B’Av and 911,” comparing the horrific events that occurred across centuries on the exact same day each time to the Jewish nation to the horrific event that happened to Americans on September 11, 2001. Many Jewish people still mourn those horrific events every year with prayer and fasting on Tisha B’Av (the 9th day of the Jewish month, Av) that took place centuries ago. We, instead, hit the snooze button eleven years after the horrific event that hit our nation, and are told that by doing so that it “will help the country heal and get past the tragedy.”


In an article titled, When Good Men Do Nothing (1997) by Wayne Greeson, he starts off with a quote by Edmund Burke that states, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” He continues by stating:

“So much of the history of the struggle between good and evil can be explained by Edmund Burke’s observation. Time and again those who profess to be good seem to clearly outnumber those who are evil, yet those who are evil seem to prevail far too often. Seldom is it the numbers that determine the outcome, but whether those who claim to be good men are willing to stand up and fight for what they know to be right [emphasis mine]. There are numerous examples of this sad and awful scenario being played out over and over again in the scriptures.”

Why don’t we ever learn from history? Why do we just roll over and hit the snooze button one more time?

There are people all over America who do remember 9/11 for the horrific tragedy it represents–those who lost loved ones and those who were directly impacted by this horrific tragedy. But when a nation as a whole, only eleven years after something so horrific happened to it, acts as if it’s time for the country to heal and get past the tragedy, that type of thinking is horribly myopic.

I’m reminded of the Holocaust and how in recent years groups have tried to downplay the horror that six million Jews plus many, many others experienced at the hands of Hitler and his ilk. The shear terror of it should be etched in our memories for as long as history is in the making. If one man could cause all of that horrific terror during WWII it certainly can happen again. But, as Edmund Burke stated, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

So, do we just continue to hit the snooze button and roll back over again, only concerned about our own little world that immediately affects us, or do we care about what is going on in the rest of America and around the world?

At this point you may be asking “what can I as one person possibly do to help change the course of history?” If you are Christian, you can pray–pray to the One who holds history in His hands. Evil does not come from God but He allows it (through our very powerful adversary and the evil that people do). You can read the Book of Job to get a better understanding of the role of evil in our world.

God didn’t create us as robots but as people with free will. Evil comes from our adversary and from our own evil desires (mostly desires the center on ourselves and what we want with little or no regard for anyone else). I am reminded of what the prophet Habakkuk said in Habakkuk 3:2:

“Lord, I have heard of your fame;
    I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord.
Renew them in our day,
    in our time make them known;
    in wrath remember mercy.”

God is a God of both justice and mercy. At the end of the Book of Job after the Lord spoke to Job (see chapters 38-41) reminding Job of just who He is, Job responded (chapter 42 MSG) by stating:

“I’m convinced: You can do anything and everything.
    Nothing and no one can upset your plans.
You asked, ‘Who is this muddying the water,
    ignorantly confusing the issue, second-guessing my purposes?’
I admit it. I was the one. I babbled on about things far beyond me,
    made small talk about wonders way over my head.
You told me, ‘Listen, and let me do the talking.
    Let me ask the questions. You give the answers.’
I admit I once lived by rumors of you;
    now I have it all firsthand—from my own eyes and ears!
I’m sorry—forgive me. I’ll never do that again, I promise!
    I’ll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor.”

And it was at this point that God restored Job by accepting his prayer.

May we never, ever forget the horrific tragedy of what happened on American soil eleven years ago today. May we never forget that evil is a powerful force in our world and among us and, yes, even within us. But also and most importantly may we never forget that if we turn back to God and stop hitting the snooze button and humble ourselves before Him He can heal our nation as stated in 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

And to all of those who have been tragically affected by the events of 9/11, my heart and prayers go out to you on this national day of mourning.

May we never forget . . . .

YouTube Video: “Change the World” by Eric Clapton:

Photo credit here

God Bless The Broken Road

There’s a line in the movie, You’ve Got Mail (1998; Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Greg Kinnear) where Frank (Greg Kinnear) asks Kathleen (Meg Ryan), “How about you? Is there someone else?” and she responds, “No, but there’s the dream of someone else.” Frank and Kathleen have been romantically linked for some time but they both discover that they are not really in love with each other and it’s time to move on. Frank has already found a new interest (a TV talk show host) and Kathleen is involved in an email correspondence with a fellow that she has not yet actually met (at least that she knows of . . . you’ll have to watch the movie for the details). I just love this movie and I bet I’ve watched it more than a dozen times. It’s one of my favorites.

While it’s been many years since I have actually been involved with anyone (going all the way back to Iowa before I moved to Florida in June 1992), I have had some romantic interests since that time that never materialized into a relationship. I remember with great fondness one of my professors in my doctoral fellowship who was witty and fun and divorced but already attached to someone else. Of course there was my male mentor friend but that was not a romantic attachment. He’s always been like an older brother to me giving me advice on a variety of issues. And there was that fellow who seemed to really like me at the job in Houston that I lost seven months later and never saw him again. Man, I pined over him for way too long. But, I got the surprise of my life when I went to Houston two weeks ago and met “Red” and his daughter at the Red Roof Inn near Katy, TX (see post titled Rock Steady). We never exchanged contact information (I could kick myself for that now) but he lingers in my mind and won’t let go. Well, at least at my age it’s nice to know I’m not dead yet (as far as romantic feelings go).

I’ve spent so much time in the past three years and five months trying to find another job that romance was the last thing on my mind. Honestly, who wants to be with an unemployed woman my age who can’t find a job anywhere no matter how hard I’ve been looking? No, I decided that romance would have to wait until I got my life back together again (in other words, when I am gainfully employed again). Problem with that is that it’s been on hold for what seems like forever and nobody will hire me.

I went to Houston two weeks ago to see if I could get my work life back on track. I wasn’t going there for any other reason. I need a job, folks, and it’s been way too long since I’ve had one. And I liked Houston . . . I liked it a lot. Since things haven’t worked out for me here in the area I’ve been living in in Florida for the past three years, I needed to try a different place. Unfortunately a week and a half isn’t long enough to find a job (that’s how long I was in the Houston area), but I couldn’t afford to stay any longer and at least I was hoping to make some connections.

But I didn’t expect to meet someone like “Red.” I wasn’t looking for a romantic connection. I’m not sure what I was looking for other than a job. I remember how I felt as I entered the city after driving 17 hours straight to get there (arriving two weeks ago today on a clear blue sky Sunday morning). It wasn’t what I expected after anticipating a trip to Houston for the past several months. Here I was finally back in the city I was hoping to move back to and find work in, and my first thought as I left I-10 and merged onto 610 (which circles around the inner part of Houston) was “what the heck am I doing here?”

Well, I was very tired at that point in time from the incredibly long drive and fortunately it was a Sunday morning so I wasn’t stuck in rush-hour traffic, but still, I wasn’t so sure I belonged there anymore after driving so far to find out. My first stop was in the area I used to live in (just west of the Galleria) and as I drove around the area the thought crossed my mind that I was somewhat glad I didn’t live there anymore. Well, Houston is a big city so I didn’t have to live in that area again if I didn’t want to, so that realization was really no big deal. After that trip down memory lane I decided to go and see a friend and her husband in the northwest area of Houston, and I really enjoyed talking with her and meeting her husband for the first time. Spent several hours there before parting to find a hotel room for the night to catch up on some much needed sleep and decide what to do next. That’s when I found the Red Roof Inn near Katy, TX (a suburb of Houston). And that’s when I met “Red.”

I can’t imagine I looked too impressive at the time. I’d been up for over 36 hours at that point still wearing the same clothes I had put on 36 hours earlier, and my makeup had completely worn off somewhere while driving through Louisiana. No, I was not exactly at my most attractive and I was very, very tired. I remember when I was talking with him as he was sitting in his van with his daughter (I think they were getting ready to go find dinner somewhere) that the thought ran through my mind that I must look pretty haggard at that point in time, but he didn’t seem to mind.

One of the first things I noticed about him was his eyes. I always notice people’s eyes first but his eyes were the most beautiful, piercing blue eyes I had ever seen. I wish I had a picture of them. He had an attractive, rugged looking face and that reddish hair, and he seemed a bit shy (maybe he was just tired, too, from traveling from Louisiana). As I mentioned in a previous post (Rock Steady), when I first encountered them in the lobby his daughter told me that he used to be a pastor, but he didn’t mention that to me. He said he was a logger (almost apologetically as he thought most people wouldn’t be very impressed with that) but that he did make good money doing it. I told him as long as it was an honest living and he liked what he did that it didn’t matter what other people think. And I remember at that point that I felt very attracted to him, but, of course, after that brief conversation I didn’t see him or his daughter again.

The rest of my trip to Houston went by very quickly (including two days in Galveston that, other than my “chance” meeting with “Red” and his daughter, were the highlight of my entire trip). I found a weekly rental hotel about 30 miles north of Galveston on the outer edges of southeast Houston where I stayed for a week after my two days in Galveston, and I was out and about in that area a lot talking with people and going to a variety of places (met a great Christian couple in a Barnes & Nobles bookstore down the street from where I was staying and we had a delightful conversation). The time just went by too fast and while I contemplated staying a second week, I knew I couldn’t afford to financially as I was still paying rent on my seasonal rental back in Florida, so this past Wednesday morning when my week in the weekly rental was up I headed back to Florida arriving 18 hours later on Thursday morning.

The discovery I made by taking this trip was not what I expected. What I discovered was that I didn’t really have a strong desire to live in Houston again (although I must admit that I loved Galveston but I’m sure jobs are very hard to find there since it is a much smaller city). And, I discovered that God is not done with me yet in the romance department, even though I wasn’t looking for any type of romantic connection. I just wish I had given “Red” my contact information. Hey, maybe he could even teach me to be a logger, too. I’m looking for a job, you know . . .

I am very weary from my search for a job over the past three and a half years. It just seems so futile after all of this time. But meeting “Red” put a spark back in my life and has given me new hope. I’m reminded of what Isaiah 40:31 states, “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” My hope has always been in the Lord, and He has renewed my strength when I met “Red.”

So “Red,” this song is for you . . . .

YouTube Video: “Bless the Broken Road” (2009) by Rascal Flatts:

Photo credit here

Home Is Where The Heart Is

They (you know, that infamous “they”) say that “home is where the heart is”–in other words, “. . . your true home is with the person or in the place that you love most” (quote source here).

Well, I’ve lived in so many places in my life that my home is not really a physical location. Oh, I’ve had my favorites (Florida being one of them), but I have liked something about every place I have ever lived whether my circumstances were good, bad, or indifferent.

For those of you who have read my most recent posts, my trip to Houston ended yesterday when the weekly rate on my hotel room ended and around 2:00 p.m. I hit the road back to Florida as I knew Houston was not meant to be for the second time in my life (the first time I lost the job I went there for which has lead into this very long time of unemployment). I drove straight through arriving 18 hours later at my little seasonal rental in Florida in a town where I’ve been living for three years now at the end of this month. But I have returned with more hope then when I left.

For the past year or so I have had such a longing to return to Houston to see if it might work out (since it didn’t the first time), hoping that a dream I had left behind there over three years ago might actually come to fruition. Well, while that dream has obviously died (over the past few months I thought it had but I wasn’t sure), a new one was born and it was a total surprise to me. I was drawn to go back to Houston for something I didn’t know existed until I arrived. I had my hopes set on one thing (but when the object of that hope showed no interest after three and a half years it’s time to give it up, right?) and found my hope in a chance meeting with someone else.

That chance meeting took place at the Red Roof Inn near Katy, TX, (a suburb of Houston) that first night after I arrived when I met “Red” and his adult daughter (see my post, Rock Steady,” for details). And I just can’t get him out of my mind. Granted, he has no contact information on me nor do I have any on him. I’m not even sure that we exchanged names (at the time of our meeting I had been awake 36+ hours after driving 17 of them straight through to get to Houston). And it wasn’t until two days later when I was in Galveston that I woke up that morning with a very strong impression of him on my mind, and I felt a bit of remorse that I didn’t give his daughter my cell phone number. I can’t recall another time in my life when such a brief meeting as ours has left such a hold on me that I can’t shake.

I truly believe that nothing happens by chance. Nothing. That’s because I believe in the sovereignty of God. Here’s a brief definition of what this means: “Sovereignty means that God, as the ruler of the Universe, has the right to do whatever he wants. Furthermore, He is in complete control over everything that happens” (quote source here). And that includes everything we humans choose to do (right or wrong). It’s not that we don’t make our own choices and then have to live with them (we do), but God ultimately knows what we will do ahead of time and nothing takes Him by surprise. After all, He is the Creator and we are His creation. Nothing escapes His control. Nothing . . . . And the Bible is filled with examples of His sovereignty.

With that being said, I know that my “chance” meeting with “Red” and his daughter was not chance at all. It was by design. And the real purpose of that chance meeting is up to God–for His purposes. And that doesn’t mean we are robots in His hands. No . . . He allows us to have free will to do what we want (hence, we are not robots), and that includes whether or not we even wish to believe that His exists. I do believe that His exists and that He is sovereign and that He is the Creator and we are the created. I do believe He has ultimate control over this universe and that includes us.

Getting back to the original theme of this post (home is where the heart is), I have carried my heart with me everywhere I go because my heart is with people and not so much places. And people are everywhere . . . . I love engaging people in conversation from all walks and stations in life and that included my short visit to Houston, and not just with “Red” and his daughter, but with my friend and her husband; with the people at the front counter of all three of the hotels I stayed in during my trip; with the checkout lady at Walmart; the bookstore personnel in the three bookstores I visited; the staff working in the bank I do business with; the people buying groceries at the store next to my hotel in Galveston; and many others. I don’t know a stranger and I’ll talk with anyone. I want to know about them.

Galatians 5:22-23 (MSG) states:

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a great way to live, and the only way to live that way is to trust in God through his Son, Jesus Christ, and let Him lead the way.

One of the hard lessons I’ve learned over these past four years since moving to Houston for a job near the end of September 2008 and losing that job seven months later that has lead to these three and a half years of unemployment is that it’s futile to wait for someone when the object of your “waiting” gives you no good reason to wait. I did that and I have been vastly disappointed. And I brought it on myself because I thought that person cared more than he obviously did. In fact, he didn’t care and he moved on and I was stuck on hold and still unemployed after all this time. But God in His sovereignty knew this all along, and He was waiting for me to realize it, too. And I finally did.

And now I’ve had a chance encounter with “Red” in Houston of all places–a place where neither of us live (he lives in Louisiana and I live in Florida). There was a connection, a chemistry (much like the person I described above who eventually lost interest in me). It’s not that I plan to make the same mistake I did with the person described above, after all, I have no contact information on “Red” nor does he have any contact information on me (whereas the person mentioned above knew how to contact me); but I will be interested in seeing if God ever brings our paths together again. In the meantime, I’ll keep on looking for that elusive job and talking with people who cross my path.

I am reminded of a few verses in Jeremiah 29:11-14a:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord.

We need to call upon Him, and pray to Him, and seek Him with all of our heart, and He will listen and make Himself known to us. What a promise! He knows the plans He has for us in every area of our lives, including those people He places in our path. And He will lead us when we seek Him with all of our heart . . .

And that’s His promise to us . . .

What a promise it is, too . . . .

YouTube Video: “Home Is Where The Heart Is” by Lady Antebellum:

Photo credit here

There Is No Other Gospel

There is no other gospel then the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Do you believe that? Or perhaps a better question is “Do you understand that?” There are many aberrant gospels filling our churches across our nation today: The gospel of prosperity, the gospel of self-esteem (self-image), the gospel of greed, the gospel of materialism, the gospel of a good life (free from trials), the gospel of success (as the world defines it), the gospel of self, the gospel of popularity, and the list goes on and on . . . .

Do you remember what Jesus said to His disciples? He said:

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” ~Matthew 16:24-26.

Those same verses in The Message Bible state:

Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?

Aberrant gospels are everywhere telling us–and this is the bottom line in all of them–that we can have what we want and Jesus, too. And, as an old friend of mine says, “That smells like smoke and comes from the pit of hell.” Self-sacrifice is not something we hear about from a lot of pulpits in America today, and yet it is a crucial message we desperately need to hear. We cannot have it all and Jesus, too, as Jesus stated that No one can serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24).

The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the Galatians about this very subject. Let’s look at what he had to say in Gal. 1:6-10:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the One who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians (Gal. 1-6) specifically addresses the issue of those who use religion in order to control others through manipulation and also addresses our own self interests. Paul explains his own background in doing this (manipulating others) before he met Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road and his life was forever changed (see Gal. 1-2). Paul’s heartfelt letter to the Galatians is a clarion call to not fall back into the ways of legalism and manipulation from others or by being consumed with our own self interests but to embrace the freedom that we have in Christ, living life by the Spirit and not living for ourselves, and doing good to all (see Galatians 5-6). Here’s a portion of what Paul had to say in Gal. 5:13-26 (MSG):

It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom [emphasis mine]. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?

My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?

It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.

This isn’t the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God’s kingdom.

“But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.

Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.”

Paul’s words read like front page news, don’t they? One of the best ways I can think of to truly live a life in the Spirit and not be consumed with self interests or manipulated by others is to get into the Bible daily and let it change you from the inside out. As Hebrews 4:12 states, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” And, of course, Paul also wrote in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Renewing your mind comes from reading and meditating on the Bible and regularly communicating with God through Jesus Christ in prayer . . . daily, if possible.

In short, don’t be fooled by what the world offers you, and don’t be fooled by what a lot of churches offer you, either. Find a church that focuses on Jesus and how we should live and not on ourselves and what we want. When our focus is on Him, He has promised to meet our needs (Phil. 4:19) and give us so much more than we can even imagine . . . .

And that, folks . . .

Is real freedom . . . .

YouTube Video: “Endless Song” written and sung by Shannon Wexelberg:

Photo credit here

Rock Steady

As the saga of my trip to Houston continues . . . (I’m staying in a weekly rate hotel on the southeast end of Houston only about 30 miles from Galveston), I got to thinking about a man I met briefly when I stayed at the Red Roof Inn near Katy, TX, this past Sunday night. I met him and his adult daughter in the lobby as they were checking in while I was trying to decide whether or not to stay there for the night (I’m trying to keep my costs at a minimum on this trip as I have had no income since my unemployment checks ended in May 2011).

Anyway, this man’s daughter started talking to me and telling me what a great guy her dad is and she went on for several minutes (I took it to mean that he is currently single and unattached). He was at the counter checking in and wasn’t a part of our conversation. She said it just seems like he never meets the right kind of women. I thought the whole conversation was adorably cute at how she wanted to help her dad out in the dating arena. As I looked at him at the counter, I thought he must be around my age. His back was to me most of the time. When he was done checking in they went out to their vehicle to get their luggage and I was still standing in the lobby trying to make a decision as to whether or not to stay there for the night.

Their room was on the second floor, and when they came back down I was still in the lobby. She made a little more conversation with me and asked for my phone number. Since we were complete strangers I didn’t feel good about giving it to her, so I didn’t. They went back out and got into their vehicle (I assume to go find dinner somewhere as I overheard a brief part of their conversation on the way out). I told the guy behind the counter that I was going to look a little more before deciding to stay there to see if I could find a cheaper place and then walked out the door to get in my car.

This man and his daughter were sitting in their vehicle when I walked out and it was parked two spaces over from my car. My eye caught his so I walked over and got into a conversation with him. He seemed a bit shy at first but he had the most beautiful blue eyes I have ever seen on a man. His daughter has those same exact eyes as I noticed them right away when she was talking with me earlier in the lobby.

We exchanged the normal pleasantries of two people who had just met. They came from Louisiana and he mentioned that he was a logger. His daughter told me earlier in the lobby that he had formerly been a pastor, but he didn’t mention that in our conversation. I told him a very brief version of my story and how I happened to be in Houston again for a week or so looking for work and that I came here from Florida. I told him I had lived in Houston for a year back in September 2008 – September 2009 and lost the job that I moved to Houston for and returned to Florida at the end of my apartment lease. I said I was still unemployed after all this time and that I came back to Houston as I couldn’t find a job in Florida after three years and Houston owed me a second chance. Okay, I didn’t say it quite like that but I did say I liked Houston very much and would like to give it a second chance.

As we ended our conversation I mentioned I was going to keep looking for a cheaper room and he said I probably wouldn’t find one any cheaper and that the gas I wasted looking for one would make up for any cheaper room I might find. I laughed and said that was probably true and that I might be back here after looking a little farther down the road. As I lingered looking at him (he had those incredibly beautiful blue eyes and reddish hair), I felt something catch in my stomach–something that told me that maybe in another place and another situation I would like to get to know this man. We parted and I headed down the road where I didn’t find a cheaper place to stay (thus wasting gas–just a little humor) and I ended up coming back to the Red Roof Inn to stay the night. I didn’t see him and his daughter again.

The next morning I wrote my blog post titled While You See A Chance in my hotel room about my adventure of driving to Houston and my hope of finding employment after all of this time. I love that song by Steve Winwood–While You See A Chance (click link to listen to YouTube video)–and I was thinking of the “chance” I was taking driving all this way to Houston to find employment, but now that my first week in Houston is about to end, I think my “chance” was really meeting him. After all, that song is really about finding romance . . . .

When you see a chance, take it
To find romance
When you see a chance, take it
To find romance . . . .

I don’t know if on a happen-chance we will ever meet again. God has a way of doing the most amazing things, so even though I don’t know hardly anything about him, I have no doubt that if it is meant to be, it will happen. I can’t remember if we exchanged names (I was incredibly tired after driving 17 hours from Florida and trying to function with no sleep in the past 36+ hours), so I just call him “Red” every time I think of him. I wonder where he is and what he’s doing right now . . . .

It’s been years and years since I have had a romantic thought quite like that about a man. When I came to Houston in September 2008 to start that ill fated job, there was a man who seemed very interested in me at my place of employment and he came around to my office to say hi every two weeks or so during the fall, and while my fondness for him was growing from his brief visits, nothing came of it and it died (primarily because I lost my job just under seven months after being hired and I never saw him again). But this time is different. I have no qualms about what I felt for “Red.”

Who knows . . . (well, God knows). One of my mother’s favorite verses was I John 5:14-15“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” So, I’ve asked . . . .

I’ll be heading back to Florida on Wednesday (that’s when the week ends on my weekly rate hotel room). Of course, I don’t know that for sure as I just take things one day at a time. But I think I found what I was looking for on this trip to Houston. I just didn’t know it at the time.

So, I’m going to Rock Steady (hmmmm, sounds like an Aretha Franklin song–see words and YouTube Video below) and see what happens next . . .

Rock steady baby!
That’s what I feel now
Let’s call this song exactly what it is

Step n’ move your hips
With a feelin’ from side to side
Sit yourself down in your car
And take a ride

And while you’re movin’
Rock steady
Rock steady baby
Let’s call this song exactly what it is
(What it is -what it is – what it is)

It’s a funky and low down feelin’
(What it is)
In my hips from left to right
(What it is)
What it is
Is I might be doin’
(What it is)
This funky dance all night
(Let me hear ya gotta feelin’ in the air)
(Gotta a feelin’ an ain’t got a care)
(What fun to take this ride
Rock steady will only slide)

Rock steady…….. rock steady baby
Rock steady…….. rock steady baby

Step and move your hips
With a feelin’ from side to side
Sit yourself down in your car
And take a ride
While you’re movin’ rock steady
Rock steady

Let’s call this song exactly what it is
(What it is -what it is – what it is)
It’s a funky and low down feelin’
(What it is)
In my hips from left to right
(What it is)
What it is – is I might be doin’
(What it is)
This funky dance all night
(Wave your hands up in the air
Got the feelin’ an ain’t got a care)
(What fun to take this ride)
(Rock steady will only slide)

Rock steady baby
Rock steady… woo!
Rock steady

(Rock…. steady!… rock… steady!)

(What it is)
It’s a funky and low down feelin’
(What it is)
In my hips from left and right
(What it is)
What it is
Is I might be doin’
This funky dance all night

(Wave your hands up in the air)
(Got a feelin’ an ain’t got a care)
(What fun to take this ride)
(Rock steady will only slide)

Rock steady
Steady it baby!
Rock….rock steady baby

YouTube Video: “Rock Steady” by Aretha Franklin (1971):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here