On the Road to Emmaus

On the road to EmmausI love taking road trips. There is something about being on the open road that is very freeing. One can leave the frustrations of life behind for a short while and be open to thinking about the more important things in life that are so often hidden behind a big pile of routine activities, pressing commitments, and worries or concerns that are currently clogging up our lives. It’s also a chance to take in the beauty that surrounds us that we so often miss in the daily grind of life.

This week is the week between Palm Sunday and Easter. The Jewish holiday of Passover is part of this week, too, and it derives its name from the last of ten plagues that struck the Egyptians in the book of Exodus (see Exodus 12) in which the firstborn of every Egyptian family was killed as well as the firstborn of Egyptian animals when the Angel of Death visited Egypt and “passed over” Hebrew homes, which had been marked with lambs’ blood on the doorposts (see source here for explanation of all ten plagues and the story behind them). It was this tenth plague that finally freed the Jewish people from 430 years of slavery under Egyptian rule. The significance of the Passover being at this time of year–between Palm Sunday which is the time of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem; His crucifixion on Good Friday culminating with His resurrection on Easter Sunday morning (e.g., the first day of the week) cannot be overlooked. Jesus Christ was (and is) the perfect Lamb of God, who was slain on the cross at Calvary as the ultimate sacrifice for sin, and rose again on the third day (commemorated on Easter Sunday each year). More information on how Jesus fulfilled the Passover can be found at this link.

Let’s fast forward a few days to Sunday morning and pick up the story on the morning of Jesus’ resurrection in Luke 24:1-12:

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” Then they remembered his words.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

Notice that they did not believe what the women had told them because what they said appeared to be nonsense to them. Only Peter got up and ran to the tomb to see if what they said was really true, and when he saw that it was, he wondered what exactly had happened.

It was that very same day that two of them were traveling on the road to Emmaus when Jesus came up to them and started talked with them, but they did not recognize Him. Let’s pick up the story from Luke 24:13-35:

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

“What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Jesus said I AM the Resurrection and the Life John 11v25As I read this story, I wondered how many times do we miss Jesus in the midst of all of our daily routines and activities whether they are work related or church related; leisure related or we’re busy building a career; or looking for love or finding someone to marry or going through the devastation of divorce; or raising a family or watching as family relationships slowly or not so slowly deteriorate; or building a business or watching as it dies in bankruptcy; constantly running to and fro–busy, busy, busy–following the throngs like everybody else running to and fro–busy, busy, busy. And the question again is, how many times do we miss Jesus in the midst of all of that activity?

Jesus came to give us life and to keep us free from endlessly pursuing a huge collection of “stuff” in things or people that we think will give us life. Even the richest person on the planet who has everything imaginable at his or her disposal will die (often from a health destroying disease caused from the stress of trying to keep all that stuff), and all that rushing around accumulating all that “stuff” will die with him or her and go to someone else who will die pursuing the same meaningless end.

Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Ask yourself what it is that is eating away at your life and destroying you. And is it that important in your life that you won’t let go of it? You don’t have to let go, but the consequences will be staggering someday (and maybe sooner than later).

Jesus died to set us free–free from the trap of accumulating money and things and people; free from the need for power and prestige and control; free from selfishness and self serving ways and frantically pursuing a lifestyle that we think will bring us happiness but that only ends in death, both physical and eternal. This world is not as it appears on the surface . . . it’s a battleground (see Eph. 6:10-18). We are in a war . . . .

If you’re caught up in the vicious cycle of “more, more, more” and haven’t got a clue where it will all end, I challenge you to take some time this Easter Sunday, when Jesus rose from the grave to give us new life, and get alone and meet with Him. Take a drive out in the country, or go sit by a lake or a field or someplace far from all the activity of your normal, daily life if only for an hour or so. And take your Bible with you, and ask Him what He would have you to know about Him, and what He really wants for your life. You might be surprised at the answer. And don’t miss Him because of the unbelief in others or the status quo that surrounds your daily life and routine. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17).

Trust Him . . . . He can and will guide you safely through the maze if you let Him have total control.

Will you let Him have control?

YouTube Video: “Jesus Saves/Easter Song” sung by Northland Church Worship Team, April 12, 2009:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

The Universal Language

A favorite pic of mine (found on Google Images)

A favorite pic of mine (found on Google Images)

‘Music is the universal language of mankind,’ so said Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. And so right he is” (quote course here). I love music and I listen to it a lot, especially since I have time on my hands from being unemployed for so very long now. But when I get thoroughly sick of thinking about how to find a job when it appears nobody wants to give me one, I often turn to one of my favorite pastimes (and I have several to choose from)–music.

I have no particular topic on my mind, so I’ve turned to music and thought I would post a few YouTube videos I really like (my favorites list in the hundreds); however, please be aware that the selection below was picked for no particular reason but they are among my favorites. I enjoy them, and I hope you do, too.

In Matthew 6:34 Jesus said, “. . .  do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” So, the first YouTube video I’m posting is “Don’t You Worry Bout a Thing” sung by Stevie Wonder:

In Philipians 4:4-6, the Apostle Paul tells us to “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” So, the second YouTube video I’m posting is “Sing a Song” sung by Earth, Wind and Fire:

In 2 Peter 3:9 we are told that “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” However, we must make a conscious choice to follow him. Here’s the third YouTube video I want to share–“While You See a Chance” sung by Steve Winwood:

Well, we are all getting older; however, King David reminds us in Psalm 37:25, “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.” Let’s remember that as we listen to one of Bonnie Raitt’s latest songs, “Used to Rule the World”:

John 3:16 is the hallmark verse that is even quoted on placards at sporting events; “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” It’s the only way I know to really change the world, which leads into my next music offering, “Change the World” sung by Eric Clapton:

2 Corinthians 5:17 states, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” Appropriately, here’s a song sung by Chicago titled, “Beginnings”:

And another (and final) song that goes along with the themes already listed above–here are Steve Winwood and Eric Claption playing “Glad & Well All Right”:

I hope you’ve enjoyed this musical selection and that it has in some small way brightened your day, no matter what you may be facing in your life. And remember that you don’t have to face anything alone. Jesus Christ said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father [God] except through me” (John 14:6), and in Hebrews 13:5 we are reminded 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.'”

If you do not know Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, you can start by reading the Gospel of John (click here). John 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 they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” . . . I don’t know about you, but that’s music to my ears . . .

And that’s the best kind of music there is . . .

Photo credit here

Living Right in Desperate Times

Bridge-pass with care“Awake, O Sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Eph. 5:14). The Apostle Paul was writing to the Ephesian believers in the church at Ephesus about living as children of light in very desperate times, and the message is every bit as relevant to us today as it was to them back then. We live in desperate times, just like they did, and the people needed to pay attention. They needed to awake up from their spiritual lethargy. So do we . . . .

“What spiritual lethargy?” you ask? Let’s read and find out from Eph. 4:17-5:16:

“So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.

“That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.  ‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said:

“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”

Having been a part of the organized church in America for much of my life, we can get so wrapped up in the Christian subculture that we can’t even see the deception that has entered our lives because the culture around us has invaded so much of what we say and do in many churches. Read back over those verses above s-l-o-w-l-y before you decide you’ve got all the bases covered and can move on. Here’s a few items to look at:

1. Giving ourselves over the sensuality and indulging in every kind of impurity with a continual lust for more (4:19): Are we involved in sex outside of marriage (or even thinking about it?), porn, greed, power, status, never being satisfied with what we have and coveting what others have? Do we seek after everything our culture offers us and has it taken God’s place in our hearts and lives?

2. Putting off falsehood and speaking the truth to our neighbors (4:25). Are we really honest with each other and our neighbors or just trying to make sure we put on a good outward image. Do we speak deceitfully to them or do we speak the truth in love?

3. “In your anger, do not sin” (4:26). Do we even know what this really means? “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (4:26-27). Anger, if left unattended, can turn into bitterness and seeking revenge (a lot of passive/aggressive behaviors stem from unresolved anger).

4. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only that which is helpful for building others up according to needs that it may benefit those who listen” (4:29). Do we gossip about others? Do we tear down others with our words and actions, especially behind their backs? This verse is not just referring to swearing, it’s about slander in it’s worst forms. The Apostle Paul had some very serious words to say about this in Romans 1:28-32.

Nothing changes if nothing changes5. “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God . . .” (4:30). Do our actions and attitudes reflex pride, meanness, wrath, and malice towards others thus quenching the Holy Spirit in our own lives?

6. “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (4:31-32). This instruction couldn’t be more clear.

7. Regarding the culture we live in and are constantly being influenced by in our work lives, home lives (TV, internet, etc.), and out in our schools and communities, our own lives should not have “even a hint of sexual immorality, impurity, greed, obscenity, foolish talk, or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving” (5:3-4). It is very clear that “no immoral, impure, or greedy person . . . has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (5:5).

8. Do not be deceived by empty words (5:6). Empty words are everywhere and in all levels of our society, both inside and outside the church. Pay careful attention to what you listen to and put it to the test by what the Bible has to say. Don’t just go along with the crowd. Seek God for His wisdom (James 1:5) and His answers.

9. “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (5:11). We can be easily deceived by empty words and lifestyles if we just follow the crowds or the latest celebrity type to arrive on the scene. Seek God, and do your own homework. Get to know Him and what He has to say (from the Bible). We live in perilous times. Don’t be deceived.

The Apostle Paul admonishes us to “wake up” (5:14) and rise from our dead state, so that Christ will shine on us. And he tells us to “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil” (5:15-16). The days have always been evil back then and even more so now.

As I read those verses I clearly recognized myself in some of them and I’m sure you do, too, if you are honest with yourself. And now is not the time for excuses. It’s time to get very, very serious if we call ourselves Christians. In many Christian circles we tend to sugarcoat everything to the point where we gloss over everything with “nicey-nice” talk (when we aren’t gossiping about others) and sin just doesn’t seem to matter anymore as long as we keep up the outward appearance of being Christian.

Folks, Christianity is not whitewash; it’s very serious business and a matter of the heart–and Who we belong to (Jesus Christ)–not a matter of “looking good” on the outside to win some kind of “brownie points” with God and others or going along with the crowd and doing whatever we want to do while asking God to bless it.

The church at Ephesus is one of the seven churches Jesus Christ addresses in Revelation 2-3, specifically in Rev. 2:1-7. Let’s read what He had to say to that church:

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:

“These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.

“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

“Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”

The church in Ephesus had worked hard, persevered, hated evil, and had not grown weary, but in the midst of it all they had forsaken the love they had at first for Jesus Christ. And Jesus told them that because of this they had fallen far from Him. He told them to repent and to do the things they did at first (by loving Him first and foremost and not replacing that love with “Christian activities”). And if they did not repent He would come and remove their lampstand from it’s place among the other churches (the seven churches mentioned in Rev. 2-3 are also called the seven lampstands–see Rev. 1:20). This is very, very serious business.

If we call ourselves Christian and yet allow anything to replace Jesus Christ as having first place in our lives and our hearts, we have fallen far from Him. And we need to repent and put Him back in first place. If you’re not sure about this, ask yourself this one question: Is there anything in your life right now–job, title, status, money, possessions, relationships, sex, any addictions; your position in the church, at work, or in society; how others view or regard you, or how you view yourself–literally anything–including your own life that you would cling to instead of trusting Him with everything. If He asked you to give up anything on that list, would you do it? The rich young ruler Jesus talked to in Mark 10:17-27 couldn’t do it, and he walked away.

Jesus said we must count the cost of following Him (Luke 14:25-34). In this age of easy believism nothing much is ever said about counting the cost of being a follower of Jesus Christ. I like how The Message Bible states Luke 14:25-34:

“One day when large groups of people were walking along with him, Jesus turned and told them, “Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple.

“Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you’re going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: ‘He started something he couldn’t finish.’

“Or can you imagine a king going into battle against another king without first deciding whether it is possible with his ten thousand troops to face the twenty thousand troops of the other? And if he decides he can’t, won’t he send an emissary and work out a truce?

“Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple.

“Salt is excellent. But if the salt goes flat, it’s useless, good for nothing.

“Are you listening to this? Really listening?”

So the question is, do you love this world more than you love Him? There is nothing in this world that can hold a candle to really knowing and loving Him . . .

Nothing . . . .

YouTube Video: “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” (1971) by Traffic (Steve Winwood):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

The Test of Love

test of loveMean people . . . We’ve all known a few (or maybe a lot), and we’ve all been one, too. No exceptions. None . . . . Self protection has something to do with it; so does jealousy and anger, but so does just being mean because we choose to be or follow a crowd that is being mean to others. I’ve always said that I don’t understand mean people, but then I’ve said mean things about people who were mean to me behind my back or to my face to my friends because I was hurt or angry.

It’s an ugly cycle that never ends and it’s everywhere–churches, workplaces, at home, schools, bars, bedrooms, in politics/government, high places, low places, any place–you-name-it, it’s there . . . from passive/aggressive behavior to sociopaths; from hidden designs to in-your-face ugly. We say we love people with our fingers crossed behind our backs. And it all got started back with Cain and Abel (see Genesis 4) in a fit of jealousy and anger by Cain which ended in the murder of his brother, Abel. It’s been a part of history ever since history began, and it’s a favorite tool in our adversary’s arsenal. Mean is at the core of hate. And hate is the opposite of love.

In Matthew 5:43-48, Jesus addressed this issue when he stated, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

We do that all that time, don’t we? We love those who love us, and hate those who hate us and/or hate those we don’t understand. We judge, we criticize, we mock, but we never even try to wear the other person’s shoes. No wonder the world is in the turmoil it’s in. It’s self-preservation right down to the last shout, the last passive/aggressive behavior, and the last knife in the back. And Jesus told us that’s not the way we should act–not if we are truly His followers. But we do anyway.

Grace is not a license to act any way we want to act (click link for more info). If it is, then we might as well throw out most of the New Testament. The writers of the New Testament gave us not only the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the four Gospel accounts (the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), but the history of the early church (the Book of Acts) and how we, as Christians, should be living out our lives in any culture anywhere on this planet of ours (found in the rest of the books in the New Testament). The Apostle Paul clearly stated in Romans 6:1-2, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”

One of the hardest things we try to do (if we try to do it at all) is to love those we hate, or who hate us, or who treat us badly. I’ve been dealing with this issue regarding the folks responsible (indirectly and directly) for firing me which has left me unemployed for almost four years now. This blog post is an extension from the last blog post I wrote five days ago (see post titled, Forced Leisure) in which I found a way to reach those folks via Linkedin.com to extend a peace offering to let them know I was no longer angry at what they did to me (not that I expected them to care any more now then they did when I was fired but it was important to me).

LOVE-vs-HATE-pic2There is a difference between hating people and hating what people have done to us, and there is a very fine line between the two. It’s like that often quoted line, “Hate the sin but not the sinner.” For those of us who are Christian, it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit (the third person of the Godhead also known as the Trinity) that we can overcome our human tendencies to hate. When left to ourselves it is impossible. Unfortunately, we don’t allow the Holy Spirit access most of the time to truly change us from the inside out. Many times we predominately operate on our own strength and justify our actions towards others in a self-righteous way although we rarely admit this to be true. Humility (real humility and not it’s pseudo counterpart, false humility) is very hard to come by in most human beings and that’s because our pride gets in the way. We want to be right and have it our way.

The actions of a few people at my former place of employment progressed over the seven months of my employment in an effort to make me appear to be incompetent and eventually to force me to resign. And at one point, I had to be very upfront with two of them that I had done nothing wrong and would not resign. Things heated up after that point and for the remaining three months before I was fired my work life was made very difficult. I offered to take another position in the company if they were dissatisfied with me in my current position and I was told that while that was an option in some cases, it was not an option in my case. I did not understand the reasoning for that and said so, but I was offered no explanation beyond that point. Quite frankly, I never understood the hostility I received from these two people. And they literally had rule over my work life there. Since I was brand new to Houston (and Texas) and did not have any kind of network there, I had no one to fall back on for assistance, and was I hoping to find another job soon since they obviously decided, for whatever reason, that they didn’t want me there. Unfortunately, that did not happen before I was fired.

Since this whole experience has left me unemployed now for almost four years while actively seeking employment during this entire time (and applying for over 500 jobs in my field of work), my anger at them–primarily two people–who terminated me has vacillated greatly, and it’s only been lately that I could finally separate them from their actions when thinking about them. I can honestly say at this point in time that I wish them no ill will, but I do wish I could have understood what was behind their actions towards me that caused them to fire me in the first place. I had almost twenty years of experience in the area they hired me to work in with some stellar recommendations and they didn’t even give me a chance to prove myself.

As a Christian, I am well aware of the fact that spiritual maturity is a process, and sometimes it feels like taking three steps forward only to move two steps back. And because there is so much in our American culture that screams at us to take part in it (and a lot of it has invaded many churches in America, too), it’s easy to lose our way. I have discussed in previous posts and stated I didn’t even realize the spiritual lethargy I was mired in until I arrived in Houston and started taking my relationship with Jesus Christ very seriously on a daily basis by making Bible study and prayer Priority #1 . . .

. . . And it’s changed me from the inside out over the past four and a half years since I started doing that and it has gotten me through some very, very tough times. When we start experiencing this life as Jesus meant for His followers to experience it and not through what we want and asking Him to bless it, it changes the entire focus of our lives and changes us from the inside out. It’s not always roses with the promise of prosperity taught by many out there–not by a long shot. And it is a process over time that requires diligent study–it doesn’t happen overnight or by osmosis.

love your enemiesIt’s not easy to love people who have hurt us and I believe it isn’t even humanly possible without God’s help. Redemption comes through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and it is through His redemption that we can truly learn to love our enemies and those who have hurt us.

I John 5:1-5 states, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

God’s commandments are not burdensome, and that includes loving others who are unloveable, including our enemies. And love for others–no matter what may be the case–is the surest sign that we belong to Jesus Christ and are His followers. And how we treat others is a true reflection of our own relationship with Jesus Christ. Hatred, including meanness and gossip, has no place in the life of a believer. And if it’s a part of our lives, who do we really belong to?

As stated in my previous post, sending a note with an “invitation to connect” through Linkedin.com to those who did me harm at my former place of employment was the only way I knew how to contact them to let them know I was no longer angry at them. While I have received several responses from the 40 people I sent invitations to, I have not yet heard from any of those folks indirectly or directly responsible for my termination. And that’s okay, too. I just wanted to let them know in some tangible way that I don’t hold it against them anymore and that I wish them well.

Love always come with a cost, and Jesus Christ is our example to follow. It is my hope that soon I will be able to move on with my life beyond these four years of unemployment, and that a door will finally open. I’d like to close this post with one of my mother’s favorite passages in the New Testament. March 2, 2013, marked the 30th anniversary of her death and I always think of her when I read it, and she has gone on to eternal life. The passage is from I John 5:13-15:

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 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.”

I’ve started asking for more love . . . .

How about you?

YouTube Video: “Higher Love” by Steve Winwood (Winwood/Jennings), 1986:

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

Forced Leisure

Forced Leisure 3-5-13Psalm 46:10 states, “Be still, and know that I am God, I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” Now I don’t know about you, but I have a very hard time “being still,” even after almost four years of unemployment. And just last week, I was sick on top of it. Not really “bad” sick, but that grouchy, grumpy, listless, no energy type of sick that happens sometimes.

For about a month God has been trying to get my attention with that particular verse. Lately, I’ve seen it posted in graphics on Facebook numerous times, and I’ve run across it in my reading in some of the most unlikely places. However, when I got sick last week, I was laid low for a few days, and God finally got my attention. I’m feeling better now, and from it I’ve become a bit quieter than usual.

I never dreamed I’d be unemployed for this long. Never . . . . I’ve written about the frustration previously so I won’t go into it here. I just want to “get on” with my life, whatever “get on” means at this point in time. I’ve vacillated several times during the past year or so about getting rid of the stuff I still own that won’t fit in my car, and packing up the rest of it that will fit and moving on. That’s how utterly frustrated I am with being in the same place for 3 1/2 years and going nowhere.

God has heard my ranting enough times–Why am I still here? Why am I still unemployed? Why have I been put on this shelf and tucked away from the mainstream for so long? WHY??? What gives?” Some days I think the frustration is almost more than I can bear, but it doesn’t do much good to get frustrated. It doesn’t change anything and nothing has changed. And nothing changed after my trips to Atlanta and Houston last year, either. And even more frustrating is that nothing has changed after applying for over 500 jobs in my field of work (I still apply but I’ve stopped counting).

Yesterday morning I got on my laptop and got into my LinkedIn.com account. For those of you who are not familiar with LinkedIn.com, it is the world’s largest professional networking website and I’ve been on it for several years now. I haven’t been using it very much in the past year or so, but yesterday I started searching for people to connect with that I used to work with in Houston and in the job I had in Florida before going to Houston. While I already had 38 “connections,” with people I’ve known in various work settings, I went searching for more to “invite” to connect with me. I spent three hours on the site and sent out 40 “invitations”–20 to folks I worked with in Houston, 12 to folks I worked with at my last job in Florida before I moved to Houston, and 8 folks I knew from various other organizations over the years. Within very short order eleven people had responded and accepted my invitation to “connect” (invitations remain open and a person can “accept” at any point in the future). One even dropped me a note in the message area of the site asking me how I was doing and what type of work I was looking for.

. . . And for the first time in a long time I felt really encouraged. Five of the eleven people who accepted my invitation were folks who knew me at my workplace in Houston (three have moved on and no longer work there and two are still there). Another three were from at my old workplace in Florida, and the last three were from other various places. I felt my world was beginning to open up again after so many, many months of stagnation (not that I wasn’t trying, mind you).

The biggest encouragement came from those five people who accepted my invitation to connect who knew me at the place I worked in Houston–the place where I was fired. Due to the circumstances leading up to the day I was fired, I didn’t know how many people there might respond to my invitation to connect. While there were several people in the 20 invitations I sent out who were directly or indirectly involved in the circumstances that lead to my termination, there were as many who had nothing to do with it that I really enjoyed working around. Of course, I hesitated when I sent the invitations to those who had some responsibility in my termination, but I knew it was something I needed to do.

In many workplaces, when a person is fired the office area beforehand is emptied of all other staff members and the person is brought into an office (usually the supervisor’s office) and given the bad news. This was no different in my case, although the awkwardness of it all was rather appalling, not to mention the shock of being fired. After the news is given and any final paperwork is distributed (relating to the termination), the person is sent back to their work area (in my case it was a small office) to pack up their personal items (the two people involved in my firing that day helped me pack up my office). It’s a fairly routine procedure except for the person being fired.

Once my office was packed up, I was told not to speak to anyone on my way out of the building. My office was on the second floor, so I took the stairs down to the first floor to avoid meeting anyone in the elevator. As I left the Student Affairs suite where my office was located, the front door to suite had been locked, and one of the department chairs–a man I admired because he was aware that my work life had been made difficult and he helped me out of a tight spot I had been placed in the previous week–was standing outside the door waiting for someone to unlock it. When I opened it to walk out, he asked me where everybody was and I told him they were all in a meeting. I didn’t say anything else to him beyond that point as it was all I could do to keep from crying before I got down to the first floor to exit the building.

worth_the_waitThat was the last thing that happened to me at my former workplace in Houston, and, of course, I’ve been unemployed since then. While I will never fully understand why I was fired, since that time I’ve never had a chance to let those involved in my termination know that I was no longer angry at them and did not hold it against them (actually those feelings still come and go at times). It’s not that I think they care one way or the other then or now, but it’s important to me. It wasn’t until I got on Linkedin.com yesterday morning and started searching for people to connect with that I realized I could at least let them know by sending them an invitation to connect with me on Linkedin.com with a short note as a sort of “peace offering,” and I could connect with the others there, too, who were not involved in my termination as a way for me to touch base with them since my departure was sudden and I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to anyone. I was pleasantly surprised when five of them respond so quickly by accepting my invitation and it meant a great deal to me, too.

This morning I was reading a devotion titled, Forced Leisure,” in Our Daily Bread (click here for link) and it was the perfect title to describe this very long time of unemployment that was forced on me. By the start of 2013 I found myself reminding God with increasing frequency that I was ready to move on–begging Him, actually–to finally open a door for me. I was “begging” well into February when I started to notice all of the Facebook graphics with Psalm 46:10 (e.g., to be still and know that He is God) showing up on an almost daily basis. And my first reaction was frustration, and I refused to consider it as being applicable to my situation. Wasn’t going through four years of unemployment enough? And then I got sick last week which forced me to stay put and “chill out” for a few days, and stop begging, too. And my frustration level lowered. It wasn’t until yesterday when I got on Linkedin.com that God showed me a way not to find another job but to resolve the conflict I still had regarding my Houston experience which had been a stalemate until now. He showed me that I needed to deal with and resolve that conflict before I could move on, and Linkedin.com provided me the opportunity to do so.

Now, I don’t know how much longer my “exile” from the work world will last. It’s really not up to me to decide (although it is up to me to keep applying for jobs and I’ve stepped up my job search again by applying for four jobs in my field of work in the past three days). As I look back over these past four years the things I’ve learned and the changes I’ve gone through have definitely been worth it, as I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts. But I never knew how to get beyond the pain I experienced in Houston, and once He got me “still” enough to listen, He showed me a way.

Sometimes when we’re looking for really big answers for the questions that might not even be the right questions (although many times we don’t realize the questions are wrong) the answer comes in a quiet but remarkable way that we cannot discern until we get quiet before God (e.g. “be still”). That one step of my “being still” has lead me to a major resolution that was absolutely necessary in order to move closer to the end of my “forced leisure.” And while I’m not out of it yet, I’ve learned another lesson in how God leads us for our own benefit, and not just in the obvious (like needing a job).

So, with all of the being said, I feel like a boulder has been lifted off my shoulders. Good thing, too, as I’ve been carrying it around for a long time. And . . . I’ll continue to wait (it’s an active waiting as I continue to apply for jobs) for God’s leading . . .

 . . . as it’s His timing that counts . . . and not ours.

The Lord your God is in your midst,
A victorious warrior.
He will exult over you with joy,
He will be quiet in His love,
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.

~Zephaniah 3:17

YouTube Video: “Hold On, Help Is On The Way,” sung by Whitney Houston in the movie, “The Preacher’s Wife” (1996):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here