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Blogs I Follow

The Presidents Club

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The Surest Defense Against Evil

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The Triumph of Grace

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Contemplating God’s Sovereignty

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How Should We Then Live?

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Not a Timid Christianity

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Finishing the Race

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Because the Time is Near

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Revelation Song (YouTube)

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Where The Wind Blows

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Doing Great Things

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Recognizing a False Prophet

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The Power of Forgiveness

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Created for Relationships

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The Only Way I Know

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Faith: The Misunderstood Doctrine

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Our True Home Address

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‘Tis the Season . . . for L-O-V-E

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The Paris Terrorist Attack and the Problem of Evil

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Cherry Picking 101

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Love Sweet Love

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So Goes The Culture

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Idols of the Heart

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Divisions Are Not Always Bad

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The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

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The Next Right Step

quotefancy-4337-3840x2160Sitting on the fence is never a good thing to do as, for one thing, it lacks courage. That is not to say that it is always easy to make a decision. In the absence of knowing what one should do, sitting on the fence tends to ease the strain of making a decision in favor of not making any decision . . . which, in and of itself, is a decision. And most likely never a good one, either.

And we’ve all been there . . . .

I haven’t been one to sit on a fence for long throughout my life; however, at the moment I’m trying to decide what direction to take, and sometimes decisions don’t depend on just us. However, there needs to be movement in the right direction. No fence sitting allowed. So, I think I’ll have a salad instead of fries today, as that is a step in the right direction while I’m deciding on the other step I need to take. Any forward movement, no matter how small, is a good thing–like smiling instead of frowning. And I tend to smile a lot.

Yesterday while I was roaming around the bargain books area at Barnes and Noble, I picked up another book by Regina Brett, newspaper columnist, popular speaker, Pulitzer Prize finalist who hosts a radio show, and a New York Times best-selling author, and I couldn’t put it down. I wrote a blog post recently (click here for post) on the first book of hers that I found titled, Be the Miracle: 50 Lessons for Making the Impossible Possible (2012), which is actually her second book. The book I found yesterday is her first book, and it is titled, God Never Blinks: 50 Lessons for Life’s Little Detours (2010).

Life’s little detours . . . . Most of us who have been alive long enough have experiences one or more of life’s little detours. I experienced more than just a “little” detour seven and a half years ago when I lost my job in Houston. For the regular readers of my blog, you know the story, and it is still ongoing.

However, back to Regina Brett’s book, God Never Blinks.” You can read the titles of all 50 lessons in this book at this link. Lesson 2 titled, “When In Doubt, Just Take the Next Step,” immediately caught my eye since I have found myself somewhat “stuck on hold” for the past few weeks. In Lesson 2, Brett opens and closes that lesson with the following statements:

[Opening] My life used to be like that game of freeze tag we played as kids. Once tagged, you had to freeze in the position you were in. Whenever something happened, I’d freeze like a statue, too afraid of moving the wrong way, too afraid of making the wrong decision. The problem is, if you stand still too long, that’s your decision.

There’s a moment in the special “A Charlie Brown Christmas” where Charlie Brown stops to see Lucy, the five-cent psychiatrist. Lucy does her best to diagnosis him.

If he’s afraid of responsibility, he must have hypengyophobia. Charlie Brown isn’t sure if that’s exactly what he fears the most.

Lucy tries hard to put her finger on it. If he’s afraid of staircases, he could be climacophobia. If he’s afraid of the ocean, he had thalassophobia. Maybe it’s gephyrophobia, the fear of crossing bridges.

Finally, Lucy hits on just the right diagnosis: panophobia.

When she asks Charlie Brown if that’s what he has, he asks her what it is. The answer both shocks and comforts him.

What is panophobia? The fear of everything.

Bingo! That’s what Charlie Brown has.

Me, too. (pp. 10-11)

[At this point the author describes her growing up and adult years and how she settled on writing as her passion.]

[Ending] So I took one writing class, than another. Then another.

When in doubt, do the next right thing. It’s usually something quite small. As E.L. Doctorow said, writing a book is like driving a car at night. “You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

The philosophy applies to life, too. The headlights on my car shine 350 feet, but even with that much light, I can travel all the way to California. I need to see only enough light to get moving.

I graduated with a journalism degree from Kent State when I turned 30. Ten years later, I got my master’s degree in religious studies from John Carroll University. I never set out to get a master’s degree. If I had counted the years (five), the cost (thousands), and the time in the classroom, doing homework, doing research (late evenings, lunch hours, weekends), I never would have mailed that first tuition check.

I just took one class, then another and another, and one day I was done.

It was like that raising my daughter. I never dreamed I’d be a single parent for all 18 years of her childhood. My daughter finished high school the same month I got my master’s degree. I’m glad I didn’t know when I gave birth to her at 21 what it would cost in terms of time, money, and sacrifice to bring her to that graduation day. It would have terrified me.

Every so often some expert calculates how much it costs to raise a child. It’s in the six-figure range. The money doesn’t scare would-be parents away, but if someone calculated all the time and energy it took to raise a child, the human race would become extinct.

The secret to success, to parenting, to life is to not count up the cost. Don’t focus on all the steps it will take. Don’t stare into the abyss at the giant leap it will take. That view will keep you from taking the next small step.

If you want to lose 40 pounds, you order salad instead of fries. If you want to be a better friend, you take the phone call instead of screening it. If you want to write a novel, you sit down and write a single paragraph.

It’s scary to make major changes, but we usually have enough courage to take the next right step. One small step and then another. That’s what it takes to raise a child, to get a degree, to write a book, to do whatever it is your heart desires.

What’s your next right step? Whatever it is, take it. (Source, “God Never Blinks,” pp. 10-11, 13-14.)

get-off-the-fenceWhile I never had a daughter (or any children), I was 30 when I finished my bachelor’s degree, and later when I went back and earned a master’s degree (I started off in journalism and switch to higher education administration), I was 39 when I received it. And my passion is writing, too. And it took losing my job in Houston seven and a half years ago and being left unemployed all this time to find my true passion.

From my own experience during these past seven and a half years, I truly believe the our detours are actually divine appointments, leading us in ways we would not have chosen for ourselves, yet opening up a whole new world that we would have completely missed otherwise. My world has changed exponentially from what I have learned during this very extended time of unemployment, when my energies could focus on other areas that I wasn’t aware of when I was working. Of course, I did undertake a massive employment search for several years that went nowhere fast or slow, but what I have learned during this time is invaluable.

However, lately I’ve been feeling like I’ve been straddling a fence (and I’m not very good at it, either). I left one city and state in late July to take a break from the very long and dismal housing search on my low Social Security income that had produce zilch after two years. And I’ve now been in the second city and state for three months (I came not intending to stay but to take a break), and I don’t want to return to the same dismal situation I left in July. Hotels are less expensive here, too (a major plus on a tight budget).

As Brett stated in her last sentence in Lesson 2, “What’s your next right step? Whatever it is, take it.” I only wish I knew what my next step should be. At the moment, I don’t know.

Blessings often come disguise in the hard things that happen to us. We may not see the blessing at first, but a whole new world can open up when something comes along that drastically changes the world we’ve been living in. I worked all my life until seven and a half years ago, and I’d still be working now if I hadn’t lost that job in Houston, but God had other plans.

However, I don’t want to get off of the topic which is getting off that fence! Perhaps your “fence” issue involves a relationship. In Never Go Back: 10 Things You’ll Never Do,” (2014) by Dr. Henry Cloud, he offers some great advice throughout the book regarding moving forward in our lives (see blog post titled, We All Do It,” for specifics on his book). Each of the ten chapters in Part 1 of the book covers a principle (the ten principles are listed at this link). At the beginning of each chapter he opens with a verse and a principle. Chapter 1 is titled, “Never Again . . . Return to What Hasn’t Worked,” and the verse quoted is from Psalm 119:71, It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” The principle under the verse is: “Never go back to what hasn’t worked.” The following is taken from Chapter 1:

Life is meant to be forward moving, not backward. Make sure that if you “go back,” you’re not going back to the same thing.

In business, we often see this when someone ends a relationship with a boss, a company, an employee, a strategy, a partnership, or even an industry. They move on for a while, only to go back and do it all over again. They rehire the person or go back to work for the same boss or company that they left for good reason or some other redo. For some reason, they think it will be different this time. Yet they find themselves back where they were to start with.

Remember: There is a reason it did not work. If you are going back, make very, very sure that reason is no longer there. You need to see more than just a “sorry” or a commitment to make it work “this time.” You need to see a real, verifiable change. People do change, and people do learn. Situations change; dynamics that were once present and making something not work can be different now. People build skills, learn new things, develop new capacities, etc. That is what life is about, and all of our lives hopefully are in a direction of getting better, not worse. Just make sure that is the case before you “go back” to anything.

If you are considering going back to anything that did not work or that you had a good reason for leaving, look at three categories of possible change, asking these questions:

  1. Am I different in some way that would make this work?
  2. Is the other person or persons different in some way that would make this work?
  3. Is the situation fundamentally different in some way that would make this work?

Sometimes going back can work when expectations have changed or matured and the wish for something different has been given up. I see that sometimes in marriages that are put back together and reconciled. But if the relationship is going to work, something must be different in the expectations of the one who left and is coming back. If you’re the one who left and now want to return, look at yourself to see if you have truly changed or are simply coming back because you’re lonely or sad. There must be something different in you if you want to make something work that didn’t work before. Likewise, if you are the one who stayed, before taking back the one who left, ask yourself, What is different? In me or the other person?” . . . .

If we left something because another person’s behavior or character was unacceptable–not our own expectations or reactions–how is that person different now and in what tangible way is that fruit being lived out? . . . .

Just because someone is sorry does not mean they have changed. It may mean they want to be different, but you must be able to see tangible fruit to know the change is real. Forgive people freely for the past; but in order to trust them for the future, you need to see tangible change. . . .

In the third instance (e.g., “Is the situation different?), there must be some real change in the situation that would make it work. The company has new ownership, the market is different, the leadership has changed, or different people are involved in the situation. Look for tangible evidence of change for the better so that you will be going forward and not backward. (Source, “Never Go Back,” pp. 17-21).

In a section of that same chapter (Chapter 1) titled “Tomorrow, Not Today,” Dr Cloud writes:

When considering going back, think of it this way: next year is next year, not last year. Tomorrow is tomorrow, not yesterday. God has designed life in a way that is forward moving. As time moves forward we grow, develop, and transform into newer more complete and mature lives. Unless . . . we are stuck. And there is no better way to remain stuck than to repeat what has already been. The last thing you want to do is relive the past all over again. Tomorrow should be new and improved–always!

When a person comes to this realization, it’s usually because he has made the same mistake twice or more. He has gone back to some situation or person that he had left behind, thinking and hoping it would be different “this time.” But he found, instead, that the old situation simply repeated itself. At some point in the journey, he realizes, “I was here before and I left. Why did I come back to do it again? How is it that I find myself here again?

That realization, if listened to, can become a great teacher. It is the wake-up call that says, “You knew this was what it was like. Yet you came back. You should have known better than to think it would be different this time.” That understanding becomes a prediction when the person finds himself considering a repeat. His memory reminds him: “Remember when you went back before? Where did it get you? It got you right back to what you had left and for good reason. No need to repeat it.”

And when it becomes a real awakening, that memory is not just about a specific situation. It becomes a memory that can apply to all situations: “If you left for a reason, you left for a reason. And if that reason is not gone, then you will be right back there again. Don’t go backwards.” This new understanding becomes a structure inside our wisdom brain that puts up the caution light and says, “This will not end well.” Go for tomorrow, not yesterday. Unless, of course, yesterday was great and you truly want to do it again. Nothing wrong with that at all–if it truly was great . . . .

If you are planning to go back and yet nothing has changed, make sure you know you are going back to what was and still is, not what you wish would be. If it truly is different, fine. But if not, do not make it different in your head.

If a nine-year-old can tell you that you should not go back, then the decision is not rocket science. It is a matter of being in touch with reality, looking it squarely in the face. You know what was, so if you do not want what you left, make sure you are going back to something different . . . either in you, the other person or people, or the situation. Otherwise, you are doing the same thing expecting different results. And that is a pattern from which we truly want to repent. We should never go back to the same thing expecting different results. (Source, “Never Go Back,” pp. 22-25).

Sometimes, like right now, it’s just hard to know what to do. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus said:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:7-12).

My motto during these past seven and a half years has been “Take one day at a time and see what unfolds.” It has served me well. For the past week while I’ve been trying to decide what to do, one verse has stood out during this time. I’ll end this blog post with it (Psalm 46:10):

Be still, and know that I am God . . .

I will be exalted among the nations . . .

I will be exalted in the earth . . . .

YouTube Video: “Moving Foward” by Hezekiah Walker and LFC:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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Now Is The Time

nowWhen I took typing classes in high school on an old IBM selectric typewriter almost four and a half decades ago, there was a sentence we learned to type over and over again in typing drills. The sentence is “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.” The origin of the sentence goes back to the early 20th Century:

“Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party” is a phrase first proposed as a typing drill by instructor Charles E. Weller (1840-1925); its use is recounted in his book “The Early History of the Typewriter,” p. 21 (1918) Frank E. McGurrin, an expert on the early Remington typewriter, used it in demonstrating his touch typing abilities in January 1889. It has appeared in a number of typing books, often in the form “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.” (Quote source here.)

In a blog post titled Now Is the Time for All Good  Men to Come to the Aid of Their Country,” published on October 16, 2012, by Elizabeth Westhoff, Director, Marketing and Mission Awareness, she gives a more detailed background on the sentence drilled into every typing student’s head at the time I was in high school; however, given her age (she was a child of the 1980’s) she states she never used it on a typewriter:

Given my age, I will admit it is surprising I’m aware of the titular phrase I’ve used for this blog entry. You see, the phrase, “Now Is the Time…” was once a typing drill taught by a teacher named Charles E. Weller (I really have no idea why I know the teacher’s name, but those who know me will vouch for the fact that I have millions of generally useless tidbits careening around in my brain.) Mr. Weller used that particular phrase because it exactly fills out a 70-space line if you put a period at the end. My use of the phrase is surprising though, because—I’ve never used a typewriter. I have no idea of the relevance of a 70-space line. I could no more set the tabs on a manual typewriter than rebuild a car engine, and yet, as an English major and communications professional, my entire academic and professional careers have both necessitated my ability to type—and to type well. The thing is, my parents taught me the phrase, “Now Is the Time…” as a kid and today as a 38-year-old woman, it sticks with me still. (Quote source here.)

Ms. Westhoff is now 42, and I’m old enough to be her mother; and I do remember why the line had 70 spaces, and I can reset the tabs on a manual typewriter; however, I cannot rebuild a car engine. I very much appreciated the fact that while she doesn’t know why she remembers Mr. Weller’s name, she wrote, “those who know me will vouch for the fact that I have millions of generally useless tidbits careening around in my brain.” So do I. Often folks who are not like she or myself often find those of us who are to be, well, sometimes annoying (I only wish I could say that particular trait was more endearing, and I suppose it could be to some people). However, back to the topic at hand.

Now is the time . . .

The last presidential debate is over (and we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief), and the presidential election here in America is now 19 days away. If there was ever a time . . . “Now is the time for all good men (well, people) to come to the aid of their country.” However, the country is so divided many folks are considering sitting this one out (which is not a good solution). Whichever side of the fence you’re on, don’t just sit on it. Do something (like vote, and if you are so inclined, pray).

My last blog post titled, We All Do It,” started out with the following quote:

“I thought you were normal, and now I find out you are one of those religious types.” (Quote source: “Never Go Back” (2014) by Dr. Henry Cloud; Preface, p. xv).

Like Dr. Cloud, we “religious types” often get pigeonholed into the category of “religious types” among people who don’t really know what it means, or assume they do know but don’t, or worse yet, they often don’t care to know. And with the rise of the Nones (religiously unaffiliated–see article titled, ‘Nones’ on the Rise,” by Pew Research Center published October 9, 2012), it’s gotten worse. However, let’s start by defining normal:

Normal: (1) conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural; (2) serving to establish a standard. (Quote source here.)

Much of the division that is going on in America today has to do with labels we place on others who just don’t see things the way “we” do whether our disagreements are religious, political, racial, lifestyle related, or whatever. And now we have to define “we.” By now you can see the issue at hand. We are fragmenting and dividing our society more and more with each passing decade and every new generation.

The plaque at the bottom of the Statue of Liberty (dedicated on October 28, 1886) reads:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” These lines are from the poem “The New Colossus,” written by Emma Lazarus in 1883. (Quote source here.)

1-cor-2v4-5There is nothing religious, political, racial or lifestyle related in those words. So how did we get from there to here in a scant 130 years? In an article titled, The Life Cycles of Empires: Lessons for America Today? by Eric Snowpublished on July 6, 2011 in Beyond Today,” he writes:

The German philosopher Hegel (1770-1831) knew that just because men and women learned about the past, that didn’t mean they’d make better decisions about the future. He once cynically commented, “What experience and history teach us is this—that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.”

For years after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, America seemingly towered over the world as a great giant—economically, culturally and militarily. But now for nearly a decade since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, its armed services have clashed with the forces of Islamic extremism and terrorism in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in the world.

If that weren’t bad enough, the worldwide economic crisis has laid the country low with high unemployment, an immense federal government deficit, rising inflation and depressed home values. Other challenges loom ahead, flowing from the European Union’s growing political and economic integration, Russia’s increased strength and assertiveness, and China’s rapid economic, industrial and military growth.

Clearly America’s present lone-superpower status is being increasingly challenged. Could it be lost completely? While it clings to a general preeminence right now, could America still decline and fall?

Didn’t that happen to other great empires in the past, such as those of Britain, Spain, Rome, Persia, Babylon and Egypt? Is America’s future more secure than theirs was? (Quote source here.)

We fight among ourselves and disparage those we don’t understand without thinking twice about our role as a nation in human history. Farther down in the article Snow discusses the seven steps in the life cycles of great powers:

Seven steps in the life cycles of great powers

Glubb Pasha [Lieutenant-General Sir John Bagot Glubb, 1897-1986, who was a British soldier, scholar and author] learned that different empires had similar cultural changes while experiencing a life cycle in a series of stages that could overlap. He generalized about empires having seven stages of development, identifying these successive ages as follows:

1. The age of outburst (or pioneers).
2. The age of conquests.
3. The age of commerce.
4. The age of affluence.
5. The age of intellect.
6. The age of decadence.
7. The age of decline and collapse.

Each stage helps progression to the next as the values of the people change over time. Military, political, economic and religious developments all influence an empire’s people to act and believe differently over time. (Quote source here.)

“Each stage helps progression to the next as the values of the people change over time.” Notice that is it the values of the people that are the primary cause of the change. The past several decades here in America have seen the rise of affluence, intellect, and decadence. In his article, Snow states the following regarding the last stage (Stage 7):

Sowing the seeds of decline

During the age of intellect, schools may produce skeptical intellectuals who oppose the values and religious beliefs of their empires’ early leaders. . . . 

Scholars also might manage schools that teach the ruling class and/or some of the average people subjects that are either mainly oriented towards financial success or are simply impractical. For example, in the early Roman Republic, students received a basic education that stressed character development and virtue. But in the later Roman Empire, teachers taught rhetoric (the art of speaking) when emotionally persuading assemblies was no longer of political or practical value.

The corrosive effects of material success encourage the upper class and the common people to discard the self-confident, self-disciplined values that helped to create the empire. Then the empire eventually collapses. Perhaps an outside power, such as the so-called barbarians in Rome’s case, wipes it out [see the eight reasons why Rome fell at this link]. Or maybe an energetic internal force, such as the pro-capitalist reformers in the Soviet Union, finishes the job instead [see “The Fall of the Soviet Union” in 1991 at this link].

The growth of wealth and comfort clearly can undermine the values of character, such as self-sacrifice and discipline, that led to a given empire’s creation. Then the empire so affected by moral decline grows weaker and more vulnerable to destruction by forces arising inside or outside of it. (Quote source here.)

Snow further comments on four key signs of decline noted by Glubb:

What are some key signs of decline?

What are some common features of an empire’s culture in its declining period? Glubb describes developments like these:

1. Rampant sexual immorality, an aversion to marriage in favor of “living together” and an increased divorce rate all combine to undermine family stability. This happened among the upper class in the late Roman Republic and early Empire. The first-century writer Seneca once complained about Roman upper-class women: “They divorce in order to re-marry. They marry in order to divorce.”

The birthrate declines, and abortion and infanticide both increase as family size is deliberately limited. The historian W.H. McNeill has referred to the “biological suicide of the Roman upper classes” as one reason for Rome’s decline. Homosexuality becomes publicly acceptable and spreads, as was the case among the ancient Greeks before Rome conquered them.

2. Many foreign immigrants settle in the empire’s capital and major cities. The mixture of ethnic groups in close proximity in these cosmopolitan places inevitably produces conflicts.

Because of their prominent locations within the empire, their influence greatly exceeds their percentage of the population. Here diversity plainly leads to divisiveness.

We see this today in the growing conflict in European countries such as France and the Netherlands, where large numbers of immigrants are stoking violent cultural clashes. German chancellor Angela Merkel recently made headlines when she stated that attempts to create a multicultural society had “utterly failed” and immigrants must do more to integrate into society.

3. Both irresponsible pleasure-seeking and pessimism increase among the people and their leaders. The spirit described in 1 Corinthians 15:32 spreads throughout society: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!”

As people cynically give up looking for solutions to the problems of life and society, they drop out of the system. They then turn to mindless entertainment, to luxuries and sexual activity, and to drugs or alcohol.

The astonishingly corrupt and lavish parties of the Roman Empire’s elite are a case in point. The Emperor Nero, for instance, would spend the modern equivalent of $500,000 for just the flowers at some banquets.

4. The government provides extensive welfare for the poor. In the case of the city of Rome, which had perhaps 1.2 million people around A.D. 170, government-provided “bread and circuses” (food and entertainment) helped to keep the masses content. About one half of its non-slave population was on the dole at least part of the year.

True, helping the poor shows Christian compassion (Mark 14:7). But such help also can lead to laziness and dependency (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12). Such problems are especially likely when the poor believe state-provided charity is a permanent right or entitlement. (Quote source here.)

what-do-you-valueSound familiar? We need to be reminded that who we are as people is just as important as who we elect for president. How are we living our lives, and what is it that we value?

First Peter 3:8-12 sums up how we should live as Christians. Let’s take a look at those verses:

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For,

“Whoever would love life
    and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
    and their lips from deceitful speech.
They must turn from evil and do good;
    they must seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
    and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

Throughout history nations have come and gone, but as Isaiah 40:8 reminds us . . .

The grass withers and the flowers fall . . .

But the word of our God . . .

Stands forever . . . .

YouTube Video: “Revolution” (1968) by The Beatles:

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

We All Do It

challenge-assumptions“I thought you were normal, and now I find out you are one of those religious types.” (Quote source: Never Go Back” (2014) by Dr. Henry Cloud; Preface, p. xv).

I had to laugh when I read that line. And we all do it, too . . . . We make assumptions about others we don’t know or don’t care to know or don’t like or we think are weird or “whatever.” And, quite frankly, we all do it for any number of reasons or personal agendas on a list that could be pretty much endless.

Read with me what Dr. Cloud wrote in the preface to his book, Never Go Back: 10 Things You’ll Never Do Again” (2014), titled “The Nineteen-Foot Spinning Jesus,” regarding a conversation he had with a television executive (pp. xiii – xviii):

I was excited about my upcoming meeting with the television executive. He was working with one of the major networks on a project he wanted me to consider. He was familiar with some of my work and some associates had told him to contact me. We had a great telephone conversation about how I would approach the topic he wanted to address, and he had really connected with what we had discussed. Until . . .

I walked in and the maître d’ escorted me to his table.

“Hi, I’m Henry. Good to meet you face-to-face,” I said.

“Hi,” he said. But his demeanor was not as exuberant as it had been on the phone just a few days before. After we ordered our food, he did not waste any time and jumped right in to let me know why.

“So . . .” he began. “I Googled you.”

“Yeah, and what did you find?” I asked.

“When I typed in your name, it was as if ‘a nineteen-foot-spinning-Jesus was over your head.'”

“Uh . . . what?” I asked. I had not ever seen Jesus hovering over me, so I was a bit surprised and confused.

“A lot of the stuff you have written and talked about is so ‘religious,'” he said. “When we talked, you seemed pretty normal, so I was kind of shocked. I mean, you are a real doctor, right? But in one clip I could not tell if you were a psychologist or a preacher. You were talking about God and Jesus and a whole bunch of religious stuff. So, what gives?”

I laughed so hard I spewed out my coffee.

“I totally get it,” I said. “The ‘spinning Jesus’ and ‘you seemed normal’ make me laugh, but it is a real issue sometimes.”

“How so?” he asked.

“Well, exactly what you said,” I went on. “My professional life is serious to me and very scientifically based. I spend a lot of time deep in the research of clinical, relational, and performance issues. So, yes, I am a ‘real doctor,’ as you said. And most of my work is in very mainstream, secular settings, like this network or CNN or Fox, or corporations or leadership events where the topic has nothing to do with faith or spirituality. What I talk about fits in because when we are discussing what causes depression or a relationship breakdown or a CEO’s destructive behavior, I work from very real principles and research-based science. That is why you connected with what we discussed on the phone. Just ‘normal’ psychologist stuff, as you say.

speak_life“At the same time, although I am not particularly ‘religious,’ to use your term, I am a person of faith. I have come to believe that all of science and research strongly validate what my faith tradition teaches. So sometimes I have an opportunity to speak, write, and work in contexts where I talk about faith too. So I am not surprised that you ran across some of that material. Don’t get scared,” I said, still a bit amused at it all.

“Well, you said your expression of faith sometimes causes issues. What might those be?” he asked.

“The look on your face when I walked in!” I said. “I have seen that look before.”

“What look?” he asked.

“You summed it up when you said, ” I thought you were normal, and now I find out you are one of those religious types.”

“Because I also write about faith and how it affects our lives, sometimes people associate me with weirdos they have met from religious groups, and I have to work to convince them that real faith is not weird at all. So sometimes I have to overcome an extra step–guilt by association with the kooks. It’s just that I see and experience great compatibility with spiritual wisdom and scientific knowledge, and for me, they validate each other over and over. I see no conflict.”

“Okay, that makes sense . . . I think,” he said. “You didn’t sound crazy when we talked, but I just wondered. It scared me.”

“Well, I am a bit crazy in my own ways, as my family and friends will tell you, but nothing that requires institutionalization,” I said. “Just garden-variety dysfunction.”

He laughed, relaxed a bit, and we moved on to talk about the project he wanted to do.

So, what does that encounter have to do with the book?

A lot.

This television executive was afraid that I might be too “religious” for him. And in my experience, many people have this same fear about matters of faith. Anything that sounds too spiritual makes people wary, and they immediately turn off. I do not want that to happen with this book, so I wanted to start with a few words about where I am coming from. [At this point Dr. Cloud explains the foundation of his book. He then goes on to explain the following to the readers of his book:]

If you have had some bad experiences with people from the faith world or with spiritual language, please reserve judgment and take a fresh look with me. Take the spiritual writings I share, the Bible verses, at face value; please don’t view them through the lenses of the kooks you have known or seen on TV. Believe me, I am with you and have the same negative reaction to those people myself.

But I have learned not to let the crazies ruin faith for me, and I would like for you to engage with me in this book to take a fresh look. Faith and spirituality might be very different in reality than may have been expressed to you in some sad distortions. So if you would, take a real look at the spiritual principles I share. Try to see their great, great wisdom, which I believe shows that Someone truly did design it all and wants us to know him and know more about how life works than we can discover on our own.

God and faith are not weird. My own relationship with the very real, living God and the realization that his ways are true is what saved my life back when I was really suffering. And ever since then, he has sustained me, grown me, and led me into a life I never thought I could have.

My prayer is that this book, in addition to sharing some great life principles, will also give you a fresh look at God, and I thank you for the opportunity to share it. (Quote source: “Never Go Back” (2014) by Dr. Henry Cloud; Preface, pp. xii-xviii).

never-go-back-coverFor a small taste of what Dr. Cloud’s book is about, the ten items mentioned in the title of the book are available in an article by Dr. Cloud titled, 10 Things Successful People Never Do Again,” published June 24, 2014 on Success.com. While this blog post is not about his book per se, (and, by the way, I’m really looking forward to reading it as I just purchased it yesterday–it can be ordered at Amazon.com at this link), the preface he wrote could not have been a better example of the assumptions we often make about others that turn out to be so erroneous. And that is the topic of this blog post.

If you are like I was as I read the preface to Dr. Cloud’s book, I nodded in agreement and laughed along with him at the misconceptions people automatically assume about “people of faith.” And, of course, a lot of that comes from the things that Dr. Cloud points out in his preface.

As I think about my blog and the explanation I gave when I started it back in 2011 on my blog’s home page, I sometimes think the readers who don’t know me might assume the same thing about me that the television executive assumed about Dr. Cloud. In reality, while I do believe everything I write on my blog post, my blog is specific to that particular topic, and none of us are one-dimensional. Also, I do not consider myself to be “religious” either, but rather, as Dr. Cloud stated about himself, “a person of faith.” The term “religious,” especially here in America, can conjure up all kinds of weird stuff to those who are not particularly faith-based or “religious,” just like the television executive assumed about Dr. Cloud.

My faith originated with my mother when I was a very young child, and I wrote about my mother in a blog post titled, Incomparable,” on July 25, 2012. However, my educational background and degrees comes from secular colleges and universities. And for most of my professional career and working life I worked at secular colleges and universities. I didn’t talk about my faith or my beliefs in the work setting (except when I worked at a Christian university for several years where faith-based conversations were common). As a person of faith coming from a Christian worldviewI have never felt that verbally expressing my faith in a secular workplace while performing a job for my employer was the proper place for faith-based discussions unless someone specifically asked me about my beliefs. This is not dissimilar to the first phone conversation between Dr. Cloud and the television executive where the subject of faith was never a part of that first discussion. In fact, it was not until the television producer Googled Dr. Cloud’s name after talking with him that he discovered that he was, as the television executive described him, “religious,” which had a chilling effect initially during their second “in-person” conversation.

There is a time and a place for faith based conversation, and being sensitive to that timing is important. While I didn’t discuss faith issues during working hours, that is not to say that over the lunch table or any social setting with work colleagues that the topic might not come up, especially with other Christian work colleagues. However, my policy in the secular workplace has always been to not discuss religion (or politics) with other staff or the students I advised in college settings unless the topic was first brought up by them, and even then I believed in treading lightly.

There is an excellent question and answer discussion on Forbes.com regarding this very topic in an article titled, How To Talk About Religion At Work,” by Liz Ryan, a former HR professional who now writes for the Huffington Post, Business Week, LinkedIn, the Harvard Business Review, the Denver Post and Forbes.com, and leads the worldwide Human Workplace movement to reinvent work for people. The situation in that article occurred when an HR manager had to get involved when one of their supervisors told an employee to stop ‘hassling’ another employee who felt awkward about saying “Please stop inviting me to your church — I don’t want to go.” She stated that everybody involved was feeling bruised and now she had to address the situation.

Ms. Ryan stated to the HR manager, “In the best case, we can empower our employees to speak for themselves rather than relying on HR to do that for them. It’s not that hard to say ‘Thanks so much, but I’m good—I don’t want to be saved and I don’t want to go to your church.’ You’re not going to write a policy, but you need a way to communicate with your employees  how the company feels about work and religion.” She continued by stating, “You have an obligation to make a reasonable effort to accommodate your team members’ faith traditions in the workplace. That accommodation doesn’t mean that your employees have the right to push their religious views on their teammates.” (Quote source here.)

Back to the issue of making assumptions, there are plenty of Christian stereotypes in our culture, and what the television executive assumed about Dr. Cloud is not an atypical response. In an article titled, How Valid Are Christian Stereotypes? by Dargan Thompson, a former RELEVANT editor turned freelancer, published October 15, 2013 in RELEVANT Magazine, she tackles five of the most common stereotypes. These five stereotypes are (1) Christians are Republicans; (2) Christianity is mainly an American thing; (3) Christians think they are better than anyone else/are hypocritical; (4) Christians don’t care about science; and (5) Christians have the same divorce rate and those outside of the Church. Ms. Thompson states some facts for each of these stereotypes in her article, and she ends the article with the following statement:

Just like with any group, stereotypes of Christians often exist for a reason, and while we as individuals may not be able to change perceptions of the whole, we can certainly seek to live a life that defies stereotypes—a life given wholly to a God who defies every stereotype. (Quote source here.)

Assumptions (and stereotypes) are easy to make and hard to get rid of when we make assumptions about others we don’t really know, or even when making assumptions about those we do know. And Christians are just as capable of making false assumptions about other Christians that can often be more damaging than the false assumptions made by folks who don’t consider themselves to be Christian or who aren’t particularly “religious.” It is one of those unfortunate dilemmas that has always been around. Some have even tagged it in Christian circles as “shooting our wounded.” For a concise explanation of that phrase, an article titled, Why Christians Shoot Their Wounded,” by Randy Elrod is available at this link.

The lesson for all of us is simple but very difficult to do. It is to stop making assumptions and stereotyping others. Instead, if the opportunity presents itself, ask the person we are making an assumption about what they believe, just like what happened in the conversation between Dr. Cloud and the television executive. We too often assume too much, and talk too little or not at all to the person to whom we are making the assumptions about. And I’m as guilty of doing that as anyone else is, too . . . .

So, let’s remember to ask when we can . . .

And not assume when we can’t ask . . .

And instead speak life . . . .

YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac:

Photo #1 credit here
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Photo #3 credit here

Glory Days

glory-days_sub-banner-936x243More often than not, when we think of “Glory Days” we are looking back at our lives–perhaps during our high school years or maybe highlights in college if we attended college. Back in 1984, Bruce Springsteen (also known as The Boss) had a mega hit song that has endured the test of time titled, Glory Days (You Tube Video at this link), recorded on his seventh album titled, Born in the USA.” The story behind the song can be read at this link. It is a song about the “glory days” of the past.

UrbanDictionary.com defines “glory days” as follows:

A certain time. Where you reminisce the good old days. When everything was easy. You didn’t have any worries in the world. No bills, no debts, nothing. Something to look back to and think “Man, I miss them days”. Going down nostalgia lane and reminiscing your school days maybe, or just aching for one last moment to visit your first girlfriend’s house, or the house where you grew up. The memories will never die. They will always remain in your heart. (Quote source here.)

Last October (2015) I drove back to my hometown in Iowa from Orlando to attend my youngest nephew’s wedding. Due to circumstances, I had not been back in several years but I have not yet missed a family wedding, and I wasn’t about to let unemployment and living in hotels while looking for affordable housing on my Social Security income stop me this time. So I drove my eleven-year-old car (it’s twelve years old now), 1500 miles one way in 29 hours with a 3-hour sleepover at a rest stop in Illinois, and I arrived in Iowa a week before the wedding. (I took a southern route back to Orlando that added another 2000 miles to the trip.) While my dad made plans to have a few maintenance things done on my car while I was there, I had a couple of days to drive around my hometown of Des Moines, Iowa, before the shop got my car for several days to get the work done before the wedding.

The last time I had my own car to drive around my hometown was in June 1992 at which time I left Des Moines to drive to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to begin a one-year doctoral fellowship I was awarded for the 1992-93 academic year. After I moved to Fort Lauderdale, when I returned to Iowa for visits I took a plane to see family, and I was at their disposal as to whether or not I could see the sites I was interested in seeing since they had the wheels. However, this time I had my own car. There were no specific “glory days” that I reminisced about as I drove around my hometown and past my old high school and the house and neighborhood where I grew up before my parents’ split up when I was 12. However, memories came flooding back to me of those years from so very long ago. I also drove by the elementary school I attended, and the junior high (now called middle school) which is right by the high school.

I visited the cemetery where my maternal grandmother, one of my aunts, and my mother are buried; and I drove around the cemetery where my stepmother and stepbrother are buried, and where swans and ducks swim around in a small pond. I drove through a park where a bunch of my friends and I hung out in the summer time during our high school years. And I drove around the “haunts” in West Des Moines that my high school friends and I also frequented. One of my best friends from way back then died of cancer a few years ago. We once rode together on a rented bicycle built for two through back streets that are now major roads with lots of traffic. And I drove through areas of town that had vastly changed due to the suburban sprawl and population growth in the northwest and west side of the city. In fact, they had changed so much some areas were hardly recognizable, but other areas looked like they has stood still after all this time, too.

I drove by the house where my first love interest lived when I was the ripe old age of 16. While the love was unrequited, he ended up dropping out of high school two months before graduation, and he was drafted and send to Vietnam to fight in one of the most unpopular wars in our nation’s history. At some point he went AWOL, and from what I understood back then, he was never quite the same after he came back. The trip down memory lane was bittersweet with both good and not so good memories (which is likely true for most of us revisiting the past). I’m glad I went back and had this time to reminisce. But “glory days” they were not. I tend to think it is mostly prom queens and football stars who are the folks who look back on “glory days.” But the rest of us? Maybe not so much. At the least, they are likely overrated.

However, there is another way to look at “glory days,” and that is in the future and not the past. One of my favorite Christian authors (and I have many favorite Christian authors from over the years) wrote a book titled, Glory Days (2015), which is one of the many books he has written over his career as senior pastor at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, TX, and as a New York Times bestselling author. His name is Max Lucado, and over the years over 120 million readers including myself have found inspiration and encouragement from his many writings. This particular book, aptly titled Glory Days,” speaks of the glory days yet to come.

One of the endorsements for this book comes from Mark Batterson, New York Times bestselling author, and lead pastor at National Community Church. He states:

In classic Lucado style,Glory Daysunpacks what it means to know that God fights for you–and how that knowledge will change every part of your life. This is a message the Church needs and a reminder every believer can use.

Greg Laurie, senior pastor at Harvest Christian Fellowship; founder of Harvest Crusades, and author, states:

Max Lucado has done it again! In his new book,Glory Days,” Max is encouraging a generation of Christians to live out their inheritance, to fight from victory, and to take God at his word. Max reminds us of all that we have in Christ and the necessity of faith and obedience in the face of trials and difficult circumstances.

The book is filled with many inspiring stories, but the one I want to share is found in the last chapter, Chapter 16, titled, “God Fights For You,” citing Joshua 23 as the passage to read and is referred to in the story. Here’s the story (pp. 173-178, 181):

isaiah-43v19Nadin Khoury was thirteen years old, five foot two, and weighed, soaking wet, probably a hundred pounds.

His attackers were teenagers, larger than Nadin, and outnumbered him seven to one.

For thirty minutes they hit, kicked, and beat him.

He never stood a chance.

Khoury’s mom had recently moved the family to Philadelphia from Minnesota. She had lost her job as a hotel maid and was looking for work. In 2000 she escaped war-torn Liberia. Nadin Khoury, then, was the new kid in a rough neighborhood with a mom who was an unemployed immigrant–everything a wolf pack of bullies needed to justify an attack.

The hazing began weeks earlier. They picked on him. They called his mother names. They routinely pushed, shoved, and ambushed him. Then came the all-out assault on a January day. They dragged him through the snow, stuffed him into a tree, and suspended him on a seven-foot wrought-iron fence.

Khoury survived the attack and would have likely faced a few more except for the folly of one of the bullies. He filmed the pile-on and posted it on YouTube. A passerby saw the violence and chased away the bullies. Police saw it and got involved. The troublemakers landed in jail, and the story reached the papers.

A staffer at the nationwide morning showThe Viewread the account and invited Khoury to appear o the broadcast. He did. As the video of the assault played on the screen behind him, he tried to appear brave, but his lower lip quivered. “Next time maybe it could be somebody smaller than me,” he said.

Unbeknownst to him, the producer had invited some other Philadelphians to appear on the show as well. As the YouTube video ended, the curtain opened, and three huge men walked out, members of the Philadelphia Eagles football team.

Khoury, a rabid fan, turned and smiled. One was All-Pro receiver DeSean Jackson. Jackson took a seat on the couch as close to the boy as possible and promised him, “Anytime you need us, I got two linemen right here.” Khoury’s eyes widened saucer-like as Jackson signed a football jersey and handed it to him. Then, in full view of every bully in America, he gave the boy his cell phone number.

From that day forward Khoury has been only a call away from his personal bodyguards. Thugs think twice before they harass the kid who has an NFL football player’s number on speed dial.

Pretty good offer. Who wouldn’t want that type of protection?

Joshua did. Brutal and bloodthirsty enemies occupied the Promised Land. Joshua’s men were untested. His leadership was unproven. Yet in spite of the odds, God guaranteed the conquest. “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you” (Joshua 1:5).

It was as if God told him, “Jericho has its thick, tall walls? True, but you have me. The Amorites have home-field advantage? They do, but you have the King of heaven on your side. The enemies have more chariots, experience, and artillery? Yes, they are strong, but I am stronger still. And I will not leave you or forsake you.”

God gives you the same promise. In fact, the writer of Hebrews quoted the words in his epistle: “For [God] has said, ‘I will never leave your or forsake you.’ So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6, NRSV).

That last question is a troubling one. “What can anyone do to me?” You know the answers. “Lie to me.” “Deceive me.” “Injure me.” “Terrorize me.” “Bully me.”

But the Scripture asks a different question. If the Lord is your helper, what can anyone do to you?

The Greek word for “helper” in this passage is “boetheia,” from “boe,” which means “a shout,” and “theo,” which means “to run.” When you need help, God runs with a shout, “I’m coming!” He never leaves you. Ever! He never takes a break, takes a nap, or takes time off for vacation. He never leaves your side.

The job market is flat? True. But God is your helper. You blood cell count is down? Difficult for sure, but the One who made you is with you. The world is rife with conflict? Indeed it is. Still, the Almighty will never leave you or forsake you.

Consequently, everything changes! Since God is strong, you will be strong. Since he is able, you will be able. Since he has no limits, you have no limits. With the apostle you can boldly say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6).

But there is more. The biggest–and best–news of Joshua is this: God not only stays with you . . . he fights for you.

Not only does God desire that you live the Promised Land life, but he fights for you so you can. This was the main point of Joshua’s victory speech. Envision the commander as he stands before his army to deliver one of this final messages.

“I am old,” he begins, “advanced in age . . . [This] day I am going the way of all the earth” (Joshua 23:2, 14). He was 110 years old when he died (Joshua 24:29), so he must have been nearly that age as he spoke.

He has a rush of white hair and a chest-length beard. His back is stooped, but his voice is strong. He stands on a rock and looks out over a valley full of faces. When he lifts his hand to speak, their voices fall silent. He lead them out of the wilderness, through the Jordan River, into Canaan. When Joshua speaks, they listen.

Joshua has seen every significant moment of the last half century. “You have seen all that the Lord your God has done,” he announces to his soldiers (Joshua 23:3).

Oh, the stories they could tell. The Jordan River opened, and the Jericho walls fell. The sun stood still, and the enemies scattered. The Hebrews inhabited farms they did not plow. They ate from the vineyards they did not plant. And Joshua in his final words wants to make sure they have gotten the message: “The Lord your God is He who has fought for you” (Joshua 23:3).

The Hebrews took the land not because of their skill but God’s. Throughout the book of Joshua, God does the fighting.

In his call to battle Joshua told his men, “Go in to possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you to possess” (Joshua 1:11).

Then again: “The Lord your God is giving you rest and is giving you this land” (Joshua 1:13).

On the eve of the Jordan crossing, Joshua declared, “The Lord will do wonders among you” (Joshua 3:5).

As they stood on the western side of the river, Joshua deduced, “The Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan” (Joshua 4:23).

On the outskirts of Jericho “Joshua said to the people: ‘Shout, for the Lord has given you the city!'” (Joshua 6:16).

The entire narrative reads like this: God claiming, God giving, God defending. Joshua summarized the victory by saying, “For the Lord has driven out from before you great and strong nations, but as for you, no one has been able to stand against you to this day. One man of you shall chase a thousand, for the Lord your God is He who fights for you, as He promised you” (Joshua 23:9-10).

Don’t you love the image? “One man of you shall chase a thousand.” I envision a single Hebrew soldier with drawn sword racing after an entire battalion of enemies. He is outnumbered a thousand to one, but since God fights for him, they scatter like scared pigeons.

I picture the same for you. The Amorites of your life–fears, dread, hatred, and hurt–come at you like a legion of hoodlums. Yet rather than run away, you turn and face them. You unsheathe the promise of God’s Word and defy the enemies of God’s cause. You are a grizzly and they are rats. “Get out of here, shame! Begone, guilt! Fear of death, regrets of the past, take your puny attacks elsewhere.”

This is Glory Days living. You were not made to quake in fear. You were not made to be beholden to your past. You were not made to limp through life as a wimp. You are a living, breathing expression of God. What’s more, he fights for you.

Is this a new thought? You’ve heard about the God who made you, watches you, directs you, knows you . . . but the God who fights for you? Who blazes the trail ahead of you? Who defends you? Who collapses the walls, stills the sun, and rains hail on the devil and all his forces?

Did you know that God is fighting for you? That “with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles” (2 Chronicles 32:8)? That “our God will fight for us” (Nehemiah 4:20)? That the Lord will “fight against those how fight against [you]” (Psalm 35:1).

“God fights for you.” Let those four words sink in for a moment.

“God.” The CEO, President, King, Supreme Ruler, Absolute Monarch, Czar, Emperor, and Raja of all history. He runs interference and provides cover. He is impeccably perfect, tirelessly strong, unquestionably capable. He is endlessly joyful, wise, and willing. And he . . .

“Fights.” He deploys angels and commands weather. He stands down Goliaths and vacates cemeteries. He fights . . .

“For.” For your health, family,  faith, and restoration. Are the odds against you? Is the coach against you? Is the government against you? Difficult for sure. But God fights for . . .

“You.” Yes, you! You with the sordid past. You with the receding hairline. You with the absentee dad. You with the bad back, credit, or job. He fights not just for the rich, pretty, or religious. He fights for the yous of the world. Are you a “you”?

The big news of the Bible is not that you fight for God but that God fights for you. And to know this–to know that your Father fights for you–is an unparalleled source of empowerment . . . (Source: “Glory Days,” pp. 173-178).

. . . This is God’s goal for you. This is your inheritance: more victory than defeat, more joy than sadness, more hope than despair.

These are the Glory Days (Source: “Glory Days,” p. 181).

Our glory days are not in the past but in the future. As Lucado mentions above–whether your enemies are internal, such as “fears, dread, hatred, and hurt,” or external such as “the odds, the coach, the government” or any other physical enemy; or a combination of both as in “your sordid past, your receding hairline, your absentee dad, bad back, credit or job;” if you throw the whole weight of your being on God and trust him completely to fight your battles (Proverbs 3:5-6), He will, and you won’t have to fight them at all.

If you’re in need of encouragement, I hope these words from Max Lucado encourage you to rely totally on God in the midst of your trials and circumstances. And as Proverbs 3:5-7a (MSG) reminds us to do: Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track . . .

Don’t assume that you know it all . . .

Run to God . . .

And run from evil . . . .

YouTube Video: “Let God Be God” by Phillips, Craig & Dean:

Photo #1 credit here
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Be the Miracle

there_are_only-quote-einsteinI love bookstores. In fact, if I could find an apartment to rent that is attached to a bookstore, it would be like finding a little slice of heaven here on earth. This afternoon while I was in a Barnes & Nobles bookstore I ran across a book on one of their bargain shelves titled, Be the Miracle: 50 Lessons for Making the Impossible Possible (2012) by Regina Brett, newspaper columnist, popular speaker, and Pulitzer Prize finalist who hosts a radio show and is a New York Times best-selling author of God Never Blinks” (2010).

The title of the book obviously piqued my interest, so I grabbed a copy and sprinted to the Starbucks coffee shop inside B&N to take a look. Here’s a few paragraphs from the Introduction (pp. 1-3):

We all pass by miracle workers every day.

Most of the time they’re disguised as ordinary folks, teachers, hairdressers, nurses, secretaries, cashiers, cabdrivers, and the like.

I’ve never forgotten the day I was a ball of stress and stopped to pay for parking at an outdoor lot. In most parking lots, you pull up, the person sticks his or her hand out of a little booth, takes your money, gives you change, and you pull away. Your eyes never meet and neither of you remembers the encounter.

This time the attendant stood tall, popped his head out, and gave me the biggest smile. He looked me in the eye, greeted me, shook my hand, and gave me a blessing before I left.

He told me he loved his job and saw it as his ministry to bless people as they passed through his parking lot into the rest of their day. Where I saw a mere money collector, he saw a mission in life. He left me feeling renewed and calm.

We’ve all had moments like that. They happen when you are with people who know that everyone matters, that you don’t have to make a lot of money to make a big difference, that you can simply start where you are and magnify the good.

It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed by all the problems in the world. How many times have you heard someone say, “Why doesn’t someone do something about that?” Or the words come out of your own mouth, as they have mine. We hear about bad news and whisper, “It’ll take a miracle to fix that,” And we wait and wait and wait for someone else to be the miracle.

We want someone else to act. But miracles aren’t what other people do. They’re what each of us does. They’re what happens when ordinary people take extraordinary action. To be a miracle doesn’t mean you have to tackle problems across the globe. It means making a difference in your own living room, cubicle, neighborhood, community. . . . 

We can’t do everything, and what we can do, we can’t do perfectly, but that’s okay. All we need to do is make a beginning, right here, right now. If we just do that, it will make all the difference in the world. (Quote source: “Be the Miracle,” pp. 1-3).

This book contains Brett’s second set of 50 lessons; the first set of 50 lessons came from her first book, God Never Blinks.” Brett states:

For the past 26 years, I’ve had the privilege to be a columnist at the Plain Dealer in Cleveland, and before that, at the Beacon Journal in Akron. I’ve had a front-row seat on life. Ordinary people from all walks of life have opened their hearts and shared with me how they’ve made the impossible possible. You’ll meet some of them in this book, since some of these essays originally appeared in those newspapers.

My cancer journey inspired my first book, “God Never Blinks: 50 Lessons for Life’s Little Detours.” My readers inspired my second book, “Be the Miracle: 50 Lessons for Making the Impossible Possible.”

I hope this book will challenge you to be your best self, to go make something possible, to be the miracle. (Quote source here.)

The personal stories in these 50 lessons are very inspiring. I thought about typing the titles to all 50 lessons as they are inspiring quotes in and of themselves, like Lesson 12 that is titled, “Speak up for others, especially when they aren’t present to speak up for themselves,” and Lesson 35 titled, “No matter what happens, don’t take it personally. Take it spiritually.” Or Lesson 5 titled, “Do your best and forget the rest. It could simply be too soon to tell,” or Lesson 50 titled, “If you woke up today, God isn’t through with you yet.” (Click here to read the titles of all 50 Lessons.) However, I settled on Lesson 24 to share. It is titled, “God doesn’t always call the strong. Sometimes you have to be weak enough to serve” (pp. 123-126):

Lesson 24: God doesn’t always call the strong. Sometimes you have to be weak enough to serve.

2-cor-12v9We’ve all heard the stories.

Elvis Presley once got an F in music and was told to keep his day job driving trucks. Michael Jordan was cut from the high school basketball team. “Gone with the Wind” was rejected 38 times before it was published. J.K. Rowling lived on welfare before Harry Potter made her a billionaire.

Beethoven’s music teacher said he was hopeless at composing. Winston Churchill flunked the Royal Military Academy entrance exam twice and finished last in his class. Lucille Ball got sent home from acting school for being too shy. Julia Roberts failed to get a part in the soap opera “All My Children.”

Thomas Edison was fired twice for not being productive enough. Babe Ruth held the record for the most strikeouts. Walt Disney lost his job at a newspaper after he was told he lacked imagination. Van Gogh sold just one painting his whole life. Abraham Lincoln suffered from depression, failed in two business ventures, and lost eight elections. Tell that to the Lincoln Memorial.

The failures of those great successes convince me that our weakness is often the flip side of our strength. I used to be terrified of speaking up. My career? Writing an opinion column for the largest newspaper in Ohio.

Our strengths and weaknesses are usually directly related. For the longest time I resisted embracing my strengths because to do so would make me confront my weaknesses. It was a long time before I learned that God can use both. It took me even longer to learn that sometimes God chooses us for our weaknesses, not for our strengths.

I find it a great comfort that, all through the Bible, God doesn’t always choose the strong. He picks the flawed and the weak and transforms them. A person like Moses, who killed a man, is chosen to lead people from bondage to freedom. David, who ordered a man to be killed, is picked to be king. Then there’s Jesus, who included among His 12 closest followers a man who lied to Him, a man who doubted Him, and a man who betrayed Him.

My favorite Christmas passage starts with “Fear not.” Those two words mean God is going to do something powerful with someone weak. I love that moment in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” when Linus offers to explain the meaning of Christmas to his friend by quoting the Gospel of Luke:

Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

I’ve heard it said that we should read the Bible as if we are each of the characters in it. One year the priest at my church, Father Tom Fanta, gave a sermon as if he were the innkeeper who closed the door to the holy family on that first Christmas Eve. He acted the part from beginning to end, from his smug refusal to his shameful remorse.

He said that we are the innkeeper who shut the door and made no room for others. We’re too busy to talk to that friend who is in the middle of a messy divorce. Our lives are too filled to make room for volunteering at the women’s shelter or babysitting for a friend.

We are those shepherds, busy tending our sheep–our jobs, hobbies, families–and afraid when God comes to us, whether in the form of heavenly angels or earthly ones–friends, family, and strangers, or in the shape of problems and crises. We balk when called to go somewhere unfamiliar or somewhere undesired, some detour from our carefully constructed career paths or highly scheduled calendars.

We are like Joseph, who could have quietly left Mary instead of getting into a relationship that might demand more of him than he wanted to give. We prefer the normal, the steady, the predictable–something we can control. We plan our lives and in the planning are careful not to leave any room for God to come in and screw it all up.

We are like Mary, who, when first greeted by the angel, was scared. Would we really want God that close? “Fear not,” the angel proclaimed.

What would happen if God called us to something higher? It sounds good–for a second. Until we count the cost. What if it means moving? Earning less money? Going back to school?

When God called Jeremiah, he wanted to decline; he claimed he was too young for the job. Moses wasn’t so hot on being hired to corral the Israelites through the desert to the Promised Land.

A priest once told me he was unsure before his ordination whether he was strong enough to become a priest. Then someone asked him, “Are you weak enough?” Saying yes to God isn’t about being strong, but about being weak and saying yes anyway.

Mother Teresa once said that she wasn’t called to be successful; she was called to be faithful.

If your answer to the question “Are you strong enough to serve?” is no, maybe you’re asking the wrong question.

Are you weak enough to serve? (Quote source, “Be the Miracle,” Lesson 24, pp. 123-126).

I’d like to end this post with the opening paragraphs of the last lesson–Lesson 50: “If you woke up today, God isn’t through with you yet” on p. 262:

How many people does it take to change the world?

One.

It doesn’t matter how much money you have or how much time you have left or how much energy you have. You’re never too old or too sick or too broke or too broken to be of use to God. It’s been said that man’s finish is God’s beginning. When I was feeling my worst after chemotherapy and daily radiation treatments, every morning these words inspired me to get out of bed and climb into life:

If you woke up today, God isn’t finished with you yet.

I glued those words to my morning meditation book after seeing them in a newspaper article. You aren’t finished until God says you are. If you’re still here, there’s a reason.

Maybe more than one. . . . (Quote source: “Be the Miracle,” Lesson 50, p. 262.)

So if you’re reading this today God isn’t finished with us yet, and here’s a song to remind us of that very fact. Back in 2006 Mark Lowry sang a song titled, Be the Miracle (YouTube Video below). Here are the lyrics:

Be the Miracle

I used to pray hard for a miracle
To end all the suffering I see
In this sacred moment
My eye have been opened
Maybe it starts here with me

Let’s bring down the walls of complacency
Start moving with mercy and faith

Be the hands of God touching the hurting
With loving arms wide as the sky
Be the heart of grace bleeding forgiveness

With tender compassionate eyes
When a wounded soul
Needs a little hope
Be the miracle

We don’t have to feed the five thousand
To care for the hungry we see
We don’t have to walk on the water
To get to somebody in need

There’s no good excuse
Not to let heaven give
The miracle of you and me 

Be the hands of God touching the hurting
With loving arms wide as the sky
Be the heart of grace bleeding forgiveness

With tender compassionate eyes

When a wounded soul . . .

Needs a little hope . . .

Be the miracle . . . .

YouTube Video: “Be the Miracle” by Mark Lowry:

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