Thy Kingdom Come

Thy kingdom comeAbout three years ago, after being unemployed for almost a year and a half at that time, I reached a point where it was hard to know how to pray about my situation anymore. It was also apparent to me that something bigger than the issue of my unemployment was going on, but it was like trying to piece together a puzzle when some of the pieces were missing.

The first year to year and a half that I was unemployed I had a bunch of interviews and a couple of times I was almost certain I had the job, but something would always happen after the initial and very successful interview that stopped me dead at that point. That point, of course, was when they contacted my references. I trusted my references and had known them for years and did very good work for all of them. Of course, since I was terminated from my job in Houston, I had no idea what they (the folks in Houston) were saying, although some of the universities I interviewed with had no problem with the fact that I had been terminated there since I had twenty years of stellar work experience in my field before I landed in that job (which lasted under seven months). It was also a “for-profit” institute that fired me, and my previous years of experience were all in nonprofit colleges and universities. I figured that the reason I was never hired after successfully interviewing had something to do with the institute in Houston where I was fired, or one of my references. And that is still a big missing piece of this whole puzzle.

By the summer of 2010 bits and pieces of information were coming my way, but I didn’t have enough to go on to put the puzzle together. In one of my weekly phone conversations with my stepmother in August or September of that year (she lived in Iowa and I’m in Florida), she made a statement to me that I have never forgotten, even though the meaning at the time was unclear to me. She told me, in the course of our conversation when I mentioned to her that I had no idea at that point in time what was keeping me from being hired, that there were many people rooting for me (that’s a somewhat shortened version of the conversation but I wasn’t sure what she meant by “many” as our family is very small). While the issue didn’t arise again in later conversations as we always talked about a number of things during our phone calls, I never had a chance to ask her what she meant by “many” as she died very unexpectedly in April 2011 after complications from surgery at the age of 86.

Long term unemployment is a blight on the life of anyone who has to endure it. The ups and downs–not to mention the severe financial ramifications that come from it–are only the tip of the iceberg of what it’s like to live with the stigma of being unemployed for a long period of time in America. Friends call less often and former work colleagues drop off the radar screen after a year or so. Conversations with others aware of the situation tend to avoid the whole issue altogether–like the proverbial 800-pound elephant sitting in the living room that nobody ever talks about–or treat it tritely, which is actually worse. Actual offers of genuine help are pretty much nonexistent. Most folks, if they acknowledge it at all, say something like, “I’m praying for you,” or “I’m sure something will come along soon,” or “I wish you luck in finding something” (some even add “soon” to that last phrase, too). Or, they give an example of that proverbial “someone else” they know who is also long term unemployed as if that is supposed to help the situation; however, it is never “them” who is unemployed. Of course, at that point, the conversations usually end and they walk away. Talk is cheap and way too easy.

In the summer of 2010 I had no idea that this already long time of unemployment back then would still be going on three years later. A very long term trial can and will push all the trite phrases right out the door that church-goers (for those who attend church) and other mostly “employed” persons like to say to the unemployed (and they speak from the sidelines, too). Walk a mile in my shoes before giving me another trite phrase, please. All of the surface stuff we strive for to make our lives better becomes absolutely meaningless, but most people don’t understand that until tragedy hits them square in the face.

It was also in late 2010 that I realized I simply had no idea how to pray for my situation anymore. The words flowed but nothing seemed to changed. The Lord did provide for my needs in miraculous ways but not in the way I was expecting (e.g., employment). And for the first time in my life I understood the real difference between wants and needs. What I found is that mostly what we ask for are “wants” and not needs. And what I have found is that our needs are far, far fewer than most of us want to believe. We live in a prosperous society (even if we aren’t particularly prosperous individually) where the dividing line between wants and needs has disappeared. And when tragedy strikes, that line becomes very, very visible again.

It was back in 2010 that I remembered how Jesus taught us to pray in His Sermon on the Mount. It’s a prayer I memorized as a child when the only version available was the King James Version. And he gave us a warning before giving us that prayer that states:

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:5-8, NIV).

And then He offered this prayer (quoted in KJV that I memorized as a child and because it includes the last sentence that other versions leave off):

“Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen” (Matthew 6:9-13).

I began praying that prayer on a daily basis and sometimes it was all that I prayed on some days. I replaced the old English to make it more personal (replacing which art with Who is and Thy and Thine with Your and Yours in reference to God) and I meant every word with a sincerity I had not known before when praying that prayer. The Lord’s Prayer, as it is known universally, is so much more than just words on paper, or a prayer to be recited in public or other formal gatherings.

That simple prayer, over the past three years, has revolutionized my life and brought a focus regarding what this life is really all about like nothing else has in my entire life. And while this prayer is not the only prayer I pray, I begin all of my prayers with it.

“Thy kingdom come . . . Thy will be done . . .”

the world is not what it seemsThese past three years have opened up a world to me that I was not even aware of until the daily routine activities of life had been stripped away when I lost my job. And it took a while to understand that there is much, much more to this life than what we see on the surface and regarding what we think we “need” in this life. I thought I needed a job and an income as soon as possible after losing my job in April 2009. However, these past four plus years of unemployment have taught me not to “second-guess” what God is doing in my life and in this world of ours, and He has provided for my needs all along the way.

“Thy kingdom come . . . Thy will be done . . .”

During Jesus’ three-year ministry on earth His greatest adversaries were the very people who should have understood who He was from the beginning, and they were the Jewish leaders and teachers of the law–the Pharisees–and the religious establishment and their followers who hounded His every step. And at the end of His public ministry, He was betrayed by one of his own disciples, Judas, for money, and was arrested and sent before the High Priest for questioning. From there He was sent to the palace of the Roman governor, Pilate, right before He was handed over to the Jewish religious establishment to be crucified (see John 18-19). In Pilate’s questioning of Jesus, he asked Him:

“Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him” (John 18:33-38).

While Pilate did not find the truth that day, even though the Truth stood before him, he told the Jewish leaders that he found no basis for a charge against Jesus. However, the Jewish leaders came back at Pilate by insisting:

“We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God”

When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”

Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”

From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar” (John 19:7-12).

The Jewish leaders manipulated Pilate using fear to get what they wanted, and, as a result, Pilate handed Jesus over to them to be crucified (John 19:16). Of course, Jesus’ response to Pilate after Pilate said to Him, “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” clearly stated Who was in control, and it wasn’t Pilate or even the Jewish leaders. Jesus answered Pilate by saying, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:10-11). God was in control, and the entire course of events from the time of Jesus’ arrest to His crucifixion and resurrection can be read in John 18-21.

Jesus’ mission while on earth is clearly stated in John 3:16-18: “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. 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.” And that hasn’t changed in over 2000 years.

Jesus clearly stated to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world . . . my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36). It is His kingdom and not one of our own that we should be seeking. The daily grind of life has a way of blinding us to the reality of the truth of what this life is really all about. Add to that all of the excesses available in a society like ours and we can easily lose our way and not even realize it. The kingdom we seek is not found in this world. It is found only in Jesus . . . .

“Thy kingdom come . . . Thy will be done . . .”

And His kingdom is coming soon . . . .

YouTube Video: “Let Your Kingdom Come,” a Praise and Worship song:

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The Neighbor Test

Who is my neighborHere’s a question for us to consider. Who is my neighbor? And let’s go beyond the usual response of family, friends, and folks we know at church or at work, or those we associate with on a regular basis. Maybe we aren’t quite sure exactly what the definition of “neighbor” is and who it includes. So let me ask a second question. If you came upon a person who had been beaten, robbed, and left for dead, what would be your reaction? Would you try to help that person? Call 911? Or would you walk away pretending not to see him or her because you reasoned it wasn’t your concern or that you didn’t want to get involved? How about a homeless person, or someone you know or don’t know personally who is obviously in some type of need?

An expert in Jewish law asked Jesus this very question, “Who is my neighbor?” in The Parable of the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:25-37). Let’s read the dialogue in that parable:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Notice in verse 29 that the expert in Jewish law wanted to justify himself when he asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” The response he got, in verses 30-37, most likely wasn’t what he expected. As we read through that parable we see that not only did a Priest walk by “on the other side” of the beaten and robbed man, but so did a Levite, both totally ignoring the man. It was a Samaritan, whom the Jews had a deep hatred for, who took pity on the man and not only helped him right then and there by bandaging his wounds but went beyond the immediate need and took care of him for the next several days by paying for a room at an inn and telling the innkeeper to look after him and that he would pay any additional expenses when he returned. Wow, how often do we hear a story like this one today?

When Jesus asked the expert in Jewish law “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers” (v. 36), he responded, “The one who had mercy on him.” And then Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise” (v. 37).

While it’s not every day that we might run into someone in the condition of the man in the parable who was beaten, robbed and left for dead, we do run into folks who are in need—the homeless and others who are in need and less fortunate. And what is our response to them?

I read a response written by one man in a devotion titled, “The Neighbor Test,” in Open Windows.” His name is Terry Bowman and here is his response:

When I worked in a large city I parked in an area frequented by homeless people seeking money for food. At first I refused, concerned that the money would be used for alcohol or drugs. However, I felt convicted that the hunger might be real. Later, I decided to give five-dollar gift certificates for a local fast food restaurant.

A Jewish lawyer once asked Jesus who qualified as his neighbor. Jesus answered the question with the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). A deep hatred existed between the Jews and the Samaritans. Imagine the impact of the parable on His Jewish audience when the hero of the story proved to be a Samaritan. Jesus’ story emphasized that the important question is not “Who is my neighbor?” Rather, the paramount question is, “To whom can I be a neighbor?”

Every day we are presented opportunities to be godly neighbors. Every day we must choose to surrender, responding obediently to these God-given occasions to show mercy to others. Will you say yes to God and turn good intentions into fulfilled assignments?

Father, make me sensitive to the needs of people who cross my path, and help me to be a good neighbor.

Everyone is my neighbor“People who cross my path” . . . . Beyond the examples listed above, it could also include an encounter with an angry driver on the road, a clerk who was impatient or cross with us, someone we don’t like because of some gossip we heard about them (which might not even be true), someone of a different nationality then us, or a different race. Let’s get even more personal—someone who got the promotion we thought we deserved at work, someone who gets more attention than we do at church or some other social setting, or someone who isn’t living up to our own preconceived standards or rules for living. Need more? Okay, how about a prostitute, or a drunk, or someone shouting profanities, or someone who adamantly disagrees with us?

Are we getting the picture yet? How we treat others speaks volumes about who we are at the core of our being and as a society. And do we care?

If we hate someone, why do we hate them? And is that hatred even rational (not to mention that it is wrong)? And even if they have done us wrong, what was Jesus’ response on the issue of forgiveness (see Matt. 18:21-22)? And if we find ourselves being mean-spirited to someone, especially someone we don’t even know, what is the real reason behind that attitude of meanness?

Now I’m certainly not pointing fingers at anyone. I struggle with this just as much as anyone else reading this post. While I’ve never run into a person who was beaten, robbed and left for dead, I have run into the homeless, and like the fellow in the devotion above I feel convicted that their hunger (and their plight) is real, but there are so many of them in our society today that I feel helpless as to how to help all of the homeless I have passed by while driving on the road (which is where I primarily encounter them), and many times I give what I can (at a red light or a stop sign), but other times I pass by not sure what to do and part of the reason right now is because I have been unemployed for so very long now myself without any income; however, I don’t let that stop me all of the time. But it does stop me some of the time.

And what about those “disagreeable” folks we all run into (and we actually are, too, at times)? I mostly return any nasty attitudes I encounter with kindness because, for one thing, that is what my mother taught me to do and that is what I would like to receive from others. And if they really upset me at least I wait until I get home and take it out by yelling at my walls (not saying that is right but it is sure a lot better than yelling or being mean back at them during a confrontation).

I have noticed, during this very long time of unemployment and perhaps due to the economic conditions that haven’t improved greatly over the last several years, that there is an undercurrent of “meanness” in our society especially from folks we don’t personally know and also from folks we do know. It’s part of that whole “Looking out for #1” mentality that is so pervasive in our society today. And I’m sure there are other factors that account for it as well. But being mean is about as opposite as being “neighborly” as one can get.

Whatever happened to treating others as we want to be treated? That would solve the whole problem in a nutshell. And it wouldn’t matter who we ran into and what their particular situation might be because we would treat them like we would want to be treated regardless of their situation. It’s not just about us, folks. It’s about them, too.

And it’s called showing mercy. Remember mercy?

So, “Who is our neighbor?” . . .

We all are . . . .

YouTube Video: “Games People Play” by The Alan Parsons Project:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

The Next Chapter

For saleThe house where my cute, little (actually, not-so-little) one-room furnished apartment in the upstairs of the house is located is for sale again. It’s been for sale since April but there haven’t been any bites on it until this past week. When I inquired as to what happened to bring in the interest now, I was told the price had dropped. Well, my bags have been packed for a while so I guess I’ll just keep them packed.

I never dreamed when I moved into this cute little furnished “seasonal rental” as it was called under the owners who owned it at the time I moved in in late December 2009 that I would still be living here almost four years later (well, four years if I’m still here at the end of December). I remember telling the woman who managed this house at that time that I would most likely be here at the max six months. At the time I moved in I had been unemployed eight months from the time I lost my job in Houston in April 2009 and I just could not believe the God would leave me unemployed for longer than a year after that unfortunate experience. But, He did. . . even after I had applied for what felt like a zillion jobs during that time.

As time marched on and that first anniversary of when I lost my job in Houston came and went (April 2010) I was still living here and still applying for jobs at a frantic pace. None of it seemed to make any difference as nothing came from any of those hundreds of applications in 2010, or 2011, or 2012, right on up through today. At the beginning of 2012 and my second anniversary in this house, the woman who managed it and I had a good laugh over the fact that I thought I’d never be here this long. Surely, I thought at that point, it wouldn’t be long before God would move on my behalf and I’d have a life again as a gainfully employed person and move on from this limbo-land existence.

Well, shortly after my second anniversary in this house at the beginning of 2012, there was a major shift that occurred, but it had nothing to do with me finally finding a job. After more than 30 years, the owner of this house sold it to an investment company who took over on March 1, 2012. The transition was a bit rocky and I started looking for another place to live (not an easy thing to find as nobody wants to rent to an unemployed person and I have no furniture or appliances as I lost them all when I left Houston); however, as the dust settled the new owners were in no hurry to bid me adieu and I remained onboard. It was also that year (2012) that I made two trips to different cities seeking employment: Atlanta in May for three days to check out some jobs at universities that I had applied for there (nothing came from that trip); and Houston at this same time last year (late August/early September) for 1 1/2 weeks as I just couldn’t seem to get Houston out of my mind and I was hoping for a second chance there (NOT . . .). Well, at least I finally got Houston out of my system.

By the beginning of 2013 (and my third anniversary living in this house), I was so antsy to get on with my life that I just wanted to move somewhere else–anywhere else–where I might be able to find work. Finances being very tight, I didn’t have the option to just up and move, but I did take another road trip this past April to the New Orleans area for a week as I had applied for several jobs at universities there, but again, nothing came from it. It was also at this time that I learned that the investment company that had purchased this house in March 2012 was putting it up for sale. Sigh . . . however, until this past week there has been no interest in it that I was aware of until the price had been dropped. Oh God, where are You? Have You forgotten me in the midst of running this world? The answer, of course, is no, but the waiting seems like forever.

Now I know full well that we cannot force God’s hand. We can try to move ahead on our own but that usually just gets us into trouble somewhere down the road (sometimes I wonder if I did that when I accepted that job in Houston that has lead to this very, very, very long time of unemployment). I don’t know . . . but if it really was a mistake (and I don’t think it was), the punishment of four plus years of unemployment seems a bit stiff after losing a job I was barely in for a scant seven months. Sort of like that saying, “the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.”

Now I can hear some folks out there saying, “God doesn’t punish His children.” Well, according to Hebrews 12:1-13, He definitely disciplines His children, just as parents discipline their children when they get out of line, and they, along with God, do it out of love (it’s that “tough love” nobody really wants to hear about or receive). Let’s read those verses before I go on:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

God Disciplines His Children

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

We don’t hear a lot about that kind of discipline today yet it’s a vital part of our spiritual growth. As stated in verses 10-11: “. . . God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” When was the last time any of us heard a sermon on those verses?

The Next ChapterNow I don’t for a minute think that this almost four and a half years of ongoing unemployment (as well as the challenges, financial and otherwise, that come from long term unemployment) has to do only with discipline or even with just myself as God always has a bigger picture in mind, but it is clear from that Scripture that we are called to “endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all” (Heb.  12:7-8). And long term unemployment is certainly a hardship. It has also been about developing endurance and “running with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb. 12:1-3). And after almost four and a half years of unemployment it takes a great amount of endurance and perseverance to endure opposition and not grow weary and lose heart.

As I’ve stated in previous posts, what I have learned during this very long trial of mine has been written across the pages in this blog site. And I’m still learning. In fact, just yesterday as I was thinking back on some things that happened this past week that were not particularly pleasant to have to deal with I realized just how much I still struggle with the desire to take matters into my own hands when I encounter mean-spirited people by trying to make the correction in my own power. And it usually backfires. Fortunately, I stopped dead in my tracks when I realized what I was doing and I “turned the other cheek” (Matthew 5:38-42). While the “getting even” part of me was desperately trying to take control (because I was enormously frustrated by an ongoing and what seems like a never ending situation), something happened that stopped me cold and my actual response ended up being the opposite of what I expected–instead, I found I was compassionate, caring more for the mean-spirited folks then for my own frustration and felt need to get back at them. That, of course, happens when we allow God to take control (through the Holy Spirit) and remove that ever-present tendency to strike back.

I can’t even begin to count the ways that the Lord has made Himself real to me during these past four and a half years (actually five years in September as this whole saga started when I started that fateful job in Houston in late September 2008). That does not take away from the fact that I am so ready to move on with my life and out of this trial of mine that some days I can hardly stand the sheer boredom of my life (and the accompanying financial constraints that keep me from moving forward on my own) after enduring such a long period of time of being unemployed with no end in sight.

I have no idea anymore what the hold up is after all of this time . . . and now that this house is for sale again, I just want to move on. Depending on who buys it I may or may not be able to stay, but to be honest I am so ready to move on that I don’t want to stay any longer, but God hasn’t opened that next door yet. Maybe He’s just down the street and heading my way . . . .

I am so ready for the next chapter of my life to begin. For those of us who believe, Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith, and He’s the one who writes our story from beginning to end . . .

. . . and it is my hope He will publish that next chapter very, very soon.

YouTube Video: “Rockin’ Down the Highway” by the Doobie Brothers:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Does Sin Have Us Tied Up?

Sin's strangleholdI had a boss several years ago who told me once that he never asked for permission to do anything, but rather he asked for forgiveness after the fact if what he did got him into trouble with his supervisor (a woman). He had a rather charming way about him and he knew the weaknesses of his supervisor and he knew that no matter what he did, she would always relent. And she did. And you have no idea how much that ticked me off. He was the most ineffective boss I have ever had. In fact, he was never around — ever. During the 15 months that he was my supervisor I can count on one hand the number of times he actually met with me to discuss anything. However, I heard later what he had been saying about me behind my back, and it wasn’t very nice. His supervisor had known me a lot longer then she knew him and knew my work ethic (in fact, she was the reason I worked there as we met at a conference a few years earlier and we hit it off immediately at that time), yet she believed him because he was a charmer and she never asked me for my side of the story. (See note in “Comments” section below this post for additional information–I actually worked at that university for almost four years total.)

I never got a hearing in that particular case and I’m not even sure what happened, but when I decided I had had enough of it and found another job and resigned, his supervisor was totally upset with me because I was leaving. In fact, she mentioned to me that she had plans for me–unfortunately, she never let me know that until it was too late. In all that time she never asked me anything, but depended on him to tell her everything that was going on at our off-campus location. And he lied to her. A lot.

Something happened at the time I turned in my resignation that caused him, a few days later, to suddenly turn in his own resignation and he actually ended up leaving before I did as I gave a one-month notice of resignation (to this day I do not know exactly what happened as I was not included in any of the communications). I did hear through the grapevine that he had been threatened with being fired, and his resignation was very sudden and unexpected. Unfortunately, scenarios like the one I experienced happen all-too-frequently in the workplace today.

This scenario reminds me of the way many Christians in our society relate to sin . . . as long as they don’t get caught, it’s fine and they keep on doing it. But when they do get caught, they pull out their “ace card” and ask God for forgiveness. Well, God is not as easily fooled as my boss’s supervisor was fooled (until it was too late for her to rectify the situation). God knows our heart attitude and whether there is any sincerity in our asking for forgiveness. Genuine repentant produces a changed life–not a perfect life but a genuinely changed life (and from a grateful heart, too). Getting caught and then making excuses for wrongdoing with a weak “please forgive me” when the attitude hasn’t changed at all has nothing to do with genuine repentance. And if we are just looking to find out how much we can get away with, a repeat performance is soon to happen again. Making excuses has nothing to do with genuine contriteness.

I was reading a devotion this morning (actually, two devotions from two different sources) and the first one from Open Windows,” titled, “Does Sin Have You Tied Up?” written by Terry Bowman, starts with the following passage reading in Proverbs 5:21-23 (NIV):

For your ways are in full view of the Lord,
    and he examines all your paths.
The evil deeds of the wicked ensnare them;
    the cords of their sins hold them fast.
For lack of discipline they will die,
    led astray by their own great folly.

Mr. Bowman writes:

While the writer of this proverb specifically warned of the perils of adultery, his words apply to all sin. Though we may attempt to hide our iniquity, God sees it and holds us accountable. Sin entangles us just as a thin strand of silk binds an insect [e.g., a spider’s web]. Deceived by our desires and lusts, we are drawn deeper and deeper into the web of disobedience. Each successive transgression adds another strand until we are ensnared firmly in the trap of sin. We are left to face the consequences of having indulged ourselves in our unrestrained lusts and passions.

Take hope. That’s not the end of the story. Jesus broke the web of sin that binds humanity. All believers are empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit. When we obey His leading, we overcome sin and can walk away from temptation.

Spider's webSo often today (as it has been since the beginning of time), we revel in our sin. Take gossip, for example, although I don’t want to get into naming a “list” of sins but rather a pervasive heart attitude that cares more for self then anyone else, including God. As A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) stated well over fifty years ago, “The low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us. A whole new philosophy of the Christian life has resulted from this one basic error in our religious thinking” (quote source here). Unfortunately, that Christian life centers around us and what we want most of the time and not on God, and that type of living tends to view God as a magic genie, available to grant us our every wish, whim, or want.

The second devotion I read is from Our Daily Bread and is titled, I’m . . . Uh . . . Sorry,” by Dave Branon. The scripture reading is from Psalm 51:1-17. Here’s what he wrote:

The news is quick to report all the details of famous people’s wrongdoings and their subsequent confessions. Perhaps it’s an athlete who was arrested for driving while drunk. Or it could be a politician caught in an indiscretion. Only God knows the heart, but when we hear a stuttered “I’m . . . uh . . . sorry,” we may wonder if they are truly repentant or just sorry they got caught.

When we read the confession of the famous King David we see what looks like genuine contriteness. In his public discussion of his sins in Psalm 51, this disgraced monarch—who had an embarrassing record of flagrant sins which he had kept hidden (2 Sam. 12:1-13; Ps. 32:3-5)—pleads for mercy.

He recognized that his sin was an affront to God—not just to people—and that God alone can judge him (Ps. 51:1-6). He realized that he must be cleansed by God (vv.7-10), and he celebrated his restoration through service and worship (vv.11-17).

All of us sin and fall short of God’s glory. When we feel the heavy burden of sin weighing us down, we have the blessing of confession and forgiveness (1 John 1:9) to lift us up. Isn’t it just like our great God to turn even our sins into an opportunity to grow in His grace and power and love!

There is a huge difference between being truly repentant or just being sorry we got caught, and we can read and hear it in David’s words in Psalm 51:1-17:

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.

When was the last time we felt that way about sin? More often then not, we are far more like my former boss, who did what he wanted to do regardless of any consequences because that is what he wanted to do, knowing that he could go to his supervisor and she would relent so he could do it all over again. There was no real repentance on his part, and eventually, he paid the piper for it, too.

Genuine repentance before God washes us clean. King David aptly stated this when he said his sacrifice was “a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart” that God will not despise. Do we really view our sin as evil in God’s sight (Ps. 51:4)? Or do we just play with it and excuse it off until we get caught?

Jesus Christ did not go to the cross just so that we can make excuses for our sin. And if we truly believe in Him as Savior and Lord we shouldn’t be looking for excuses anyway. Genuine repentance washes us clean. I John 1:9, clearly written to a Christian audience, states “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Pay attention to the last part of that verse“and purify us from all unrighteousness.” That means if we are genuinely repentant, the “excuse making” stops dead in it’s tracks.

So which will it be? Making excuses or genuine repentance? Do we really want to be free from the stranglehold sin has on our lives, no matter how pleasurable sin can be? And who do we really want to serve–ourselves or Jesus Christ? Do we want to say, like David, “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (Psalm 51:17)? Or do we want our own way? The choice is ours . . .

And the price we pay is not just temporary . . .

It’s eternal . . . .

YouTube Video: Here, once again, is Shirley Caesar singing Bob Dylan’s song, “Gotta Serve Somebody”:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Word Wars and How We Live

Word warsI read an interesting article that was posted on Facebook yesterday by J. Lee Grady titled, Why I Don’t Use the F-Word (click here for article). While I don’t keep track of the various issues within the Christian community that are going on out there today, I do know there is a segment of primarily younger folks (well, 40’s and under) within the Christian subculture that think swearing is okay in an effort to be “relevant” to our culture. In this article Mr. Grady discusses the topic and he makes the following three very relevant statements:

1. Filthy talk defiles you and those around you. Jesus said it is not what goes into the mouth of a person that defiles him, but what comes out of his mouth (Matt. 15:11). Then the apostle Paul wrote, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths” (Eph. 4:29, ESV). The word corrupting here refers to rotten fruit or rancid fish. Filthy talk stinks! Dirty words have the power to soil you—and the rancid odor will linger in your soul.

2. Obscene or crude language is a reflection of your inner character. British preacher Charles Spurgeon once said, “Beware of everyone who swears: he who would blaspheme his Maker would make no bones of lying or stealing.” Ephesians 5:4 says filthy talk or crude joking are not “befitting” a Christian (ASV). The NIV translates it this way: “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place.” If a Christian defiantly insists on talking trash, he has revealed deeper flaws and can’t be trusted.

3. Rough language is a sign of an unsurrendered will. The psalmist wrote, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (Ps. 141:3, ESV). Mature Christians invite the Holy Spirit to inspect every area of their lives: attitudes, thoughts, grudges and addictions—as well as coarse language. If you insist on holding on to carnal habits, you are quenching the Spirit’s fire. Your spiritual growth will be forever stunted.

After reading the article, I made the following comment on Facebook and another woman commented on my comment (I’ve included both comments below):

Sara D: Trash talk . . . what about trash action? Looks can kill and physically “say” the same thing as any swear word out there. Let’s not forget there’s a whole lot more to being Christian than just what comes out of the mouth. And, I’d rather hear someone say the “F” word then gossip about others. Gossip destroys people, reputations, lives. The “F” word usually indicates anger at something or someone or because it is just so common now people don’t think twice about saying it. Right or wrong, that’s the way it is in our culture. However, if you want to write an article on “words” write one on the incredible damage brought on by gossip. I’d rather someone say “F” you  then lie about me behind my back with gossip intended to destroy me or my reputation. Think about that . . .

Angela P: You are absolutely right–but Ephesians 4:29 says “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” (emphasis mine). That includes cussing, gossip, slander, anything that brings down another person. And when I hear a string of cuss words coming from someone, either Christian, which should not be happening anyhow but I am not so naïve to think that even with us it doesn’t happen because unfortunately it does, or otherwise- it shows just how limited a vocabulary they have. I mean, I certainly wouldn’t drop an f-bomb if Jesus were standing in front of me- and He is with us always! And I want what comes out of my mouth to reflect Jesus living in me–so I get what you are saying, but swearing and gossip and all that is pretty much in the same category… hope you have a blessed day.

I realized after reading Angela’s response that I may have caused a bit of confusion when I stated in my comment “I’d rather hear someone say the F-word than gossip about others.” Personally, I don’t want to hear either–the F-word or gossip, so I didn’t mean to imply by what I said that swearing was or is okay. But I’ve also lived long enough to know that both are major elements within our culture and, yes, the church culture, too, although within the church culture gossip is the much more pervasive of the two, and I was trying to make a comparison that gossip is every bit has nasty as swearing–in fact, far more so because gossip destroys people and their reputations and nobody seems to think twice about that.

In Mr. Grady’s article, in his first point he makes a statement about what Jesus said in Matthew 15:11 (NIV), “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” However when this verse is taken in context with the surrounding verses, the meaning is not just talking about swearing but goes to a much deeper issue–a heart issue. Let’s reading what Jesus said in the context of the surrounding verses (Matthew 15:1-20):

Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
 but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’”

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”

He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”

“Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

Are-we-living-as-enemies-of-the-CrossThe subject is not just about swearing or using a particular swear word that many folks hate hearing, it’s about much more as Jesus states in vv. 18-20: “. . . the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

Evil thoughts–murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. It’s about a heart attitude that permeates everything we say and do.

The second reference in Mr. Grady’s first point references the apostle Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:29 NIV (which Angela’s response to me also references): “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.” Taken in context, the topic is much broader and, again, leads to our heart attitude and not just what we do or say outwardly. Here is the passage in Ephesians 4:25-32:

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.

Again, the passage is talking about a much broader subject than just swearing. We are admonished to get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice (and one of our favorite forms of malice is gossip–which is also slander). Paul also tells us to “be kind and compassionate to one another, (well, are we???), forgiving each other (well, do we???), just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Now, I want to make it clear at this point that I am not writing a rebuttal of Mr. Grady’s article because he is absolutely right about the subject of swearing and not just about the “F-word” but about swearing in general. When he quoted Charles Spurgeon in his second point where Spurgeon stated, “Beware of everyone who swears: he who would blaspheme his Maker would make no bones of lying or stealing,” it appears Spurgeon was specifically talking about using God’s name or the name of Jesus Christ as swear words which is just as pervasive in our culture today as saying the “F-word.” If you don’t believe me just watch most of the movies put out by Hollywood nowadays. So while his article specifically references the “F-word” it goes to a much deeper issue.

Also, I realize that Mr. Grady often writes to a younger audience in need of hearing the very things he has to say because our American culture has so inundated the Christian subculture with everything it says and does and offers to us that it has permeated the Church to the point where there is hardly any difference between how Christians live and how the rest of the culture lives. And that is a travesty of huge proportion which is evident by reading most of the New Testament on how we should be living our lives as Christians.

On a personal note, (and I’ve written about this topic before), in the privacy of my own apartment when I am angry I have been known to use the “F-word” as a way of expressing my anger, but I do not do it in the presence of other people nor in public. And I am not using that as an excuse, either. Most of us say and do things in the privacy of our own homes (or cars when we are upset with the traffic or another driver) that we would never thinking of saying or doing out in the public square. And that is an issue we need to bring to God to help us with the circumstances that bring on the angry outbursts and those issues are not for public consumption with others (which usually only leads to gossip). It is personal and private and nobody else’s business.

I agree with Mr. Grady that out in the public arena nowadays hearing someone say the “F-word” is almost as common as hearing someone say “Good morning.” And that says some not-so-great things about our culture as a whole and the general direction it has been going in over the past several decades. Disrespect for others is everywhere nowadays, in both our talk and our actions. And we don’t have to actually say “F-you” with our mouth when we can say it in our attitudes and the looks that we give to others (and yes, Christians folks are good at doing that, too). Nonverbal communication is 80% of all communication, and most of us can read it with 100% accuracy.

Christians are called to live differently, but do we? And that is at the very core of Mr. Grady’s article. Swearing is a clear reflection of a much deeper issue, as is gossip, and slander, and destroying others with our words, and all the other stuff we do to hurt others and then we just sit back and justify what we have done. And when we justify our bad behaviors, that is a classic sign of an unrepentant heart.

In 1976 Francis Schaeffer wrote a book titled, How Should We Then Live?” It’s an excellent book that asks (and answers) an excellent question, and the New Testament is full of advice on how we, as Christians, should live–and it’s not written just so that we can point a finger at others when we think they are not living up to our particular standards (unfortunately, a common trait we, as Christians, have when judging others). No, it’s about how “we” should be living, regardless of how others are living. And Jesus had much to say about that in Matthew 7 (regarding judging others).

Swearing is just one symptom out of hundreds that lead to a much deeper issue, an issue for which Jesus Christ gave His life on the cross. Sin had been around since the days of Adam and Eve and it hasn’t changed one bit in all of these centuries or with all of our modern technology and conveniences or philosophies.

And there is only One cure . . .

And that cure is Jesus Christ . . . .

YouTube Video: I’ve posted this Bob Dylan song, “Gotta Serve Somebody,” a few times in the past but it is so relevant that I am posting it again (sung by Shirley Caesar):

Photo credit #1 here
Photo credit #2 here