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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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Divine Appointments

miracles“You go nowhere by accident.” Do you believe that statement? And what, exactly, does it mean? In my case it means that the past two and a half years that I’ve been living in hotels while trying to find low income housing on a Social Security income has been no mistake. It also means that losing that job eight years ago in Houston that has lead to the greatest and most challenging adventure in my life going through years of unemployment and now hotel living was no mistake, either. And, it also means that accepting that job in Houston in the first place was, also, no mistake. In God’s economy, there are no mistakes. Absolutely none. . . .

As Mark Batterson states in his book, The Grave Robber: How Jesus Can Make Your Impossible Possible (2014), regarding that statement above:

Accident? Or divine appointment?

It depends on your reaction. (Quote source: “The Grave Robber,” p. 69)

Mark Batterson is the lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC,  which also owns and operates the largest coffeehouse on Capitol Hill [as an aside, I must visit it the next time I’m in DC!]. He holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Regent University and is a New York Times bestselling author of several books, including The Grave Robber.” Batterson continues with the following (pp. 69-70):

When I first moved to Washington D.C., I had the privilege of sharing a meal with Senate Chaplain Dr. Richard Halverson. (Part of what made it unforgettable is that the former heavyweight champion of the world, Muhammad Ali, was eating at the table right next to us in the Senate dining room.) Prior to serving the Senate, Dr. Halverson pastored Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Maryland, for twenty-three years. He did what pastors do–everything from preaching and counseling to marrying and burying. But he believed his most important function was pronouncing his carefully crafted benediction at the end of every service:

You go nowhere by accident.

Wherever you go, God is sending you.

Wherever you are, God has put you there; He has a purpose for you being there.

Christ who indwells you has something He wants to do through you where you are.

Believe this and go in His grace and love and power.

Dr. Halverson reminded his congregation of that simple truth week in and week out until his death on December 1, 1995. Then he reminded them one last time. At the conclusion of his funeral service, Dr. Halverson himself gave the benediction via recording. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place!

You go nowhere by accident.

You may not be right where you want to be, but God can use you right there. In fact, God may have you right where He wants you. Whether you’re taking a mission trip halfway around the world or a trip to the local grocery store, God is setting up divine appointments along the way. The challenge, of course, is that they are harder to recognize closer to home because we operate on autopilot. Don’t be in such a hurry to get where you’re going that you miss the miracles along the way–or the miracles that may be out of your way! (Quote source: “The Grave Robber,” p. 69-70.)

The Grave Robber is a book about miracles past and present. Amazon.com‘s page for the book states the following:

Do we believe that God still does miracles? Do we expect him to move in miraculous ways in our day-in, day-out lives? Maybe we’d like to see miracles, but it’s hard to see past our problems. All that is about to change, like changing water into wine.

“There are miracles all around us all the time,” says Mark Batterson, “but you won’t see them if you don’t know how to look for them.”

Now the bestselling author ofThe Circle Makerreveals the incredible power of the seven miraculous signs of Jesus found in the Gospel of John. Batterson shows how they were not simply something Jesus did in the past, but something he wants to do now, in the present. He shares true stories of people today who are experiencing miracles in their lives. And he brings to light countless miracles, big and small, that we take for granted every day that point us toward the One who healed the sick, calmed the storm, and yes, even raised the dead.

But this is more than a book about miracles. It’s a book about the only One who can perform them. Batterson cautions readers, “Don’t just seek miracles. Seek Jesus. And if you seek Jesus, miracles will find you.”

Nothing has changed since Jesus called Lazarus out of his tomb four days after his funeral. Our impossible situations still double as God’s greatest opportunity to reveal his glory. No matter how big the problem is, God is bigger still. Anyone who longs to see God work in miraculous ways today will love Batterson’s faith-building, life-giving message. (Quote source here.)

I love how Batterson opens his book in Chapter 1 titled, “The Day Water Blushed”:

For nearly thirty years, the One who had crafted the universe with His voice crafted furniture with His hands. And He was good at what He did–no crooked table legs ever came out of the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth. But Jesus was more than a master carpenter. He was also God incognito. His miraculous powers rank as history’s best-kept secret for nearly three decades, but all that changed the day water blushed in the face of its Creator.

That was the day the woodbender became a waterbender. Jesus manipulated the molecular structure of water and turned it into wine–757 bottles, no less. And nothing but the best. This wasn’t just wine, it was fine wine (see John 2:1-11).

Sometimes God shows up. Sometimes God shows off.

That’s what Jesus did on the third day of a wedding feast in Cana, and that was just the beginning. Thirty-four distinct miracles are recorded in the Gospels, while countless more went unrecorded. John’s Gospel spotlights seven miracles, unveiling seven dimensions of Jesus’ miraculous power. Like the sun rising in the east, each miracle reveals another ray of God’s glory until Lazarus steps out of the shadow of his tomb and into the light of the Grave Robber (see John 11).

The seven miracles are seven signs, and each sign points straight to Jesus. You may be reading this book because you need a miracle. Don’t we all at some point in our lives? And God wants to do now what He did then. But this is more than a course in miracles. It’s a book about the only One who can perform them. So let me offer a word of caution at the outset:

Don’t seek miracles.

Follow Jesus.

And if you follow Jesus long enough and far enough you’ll eventually find yourself in the middle of some miracles.

Everyone wants a miracle. But here’s the catch: no one wants to be in a situation that necessitates one! Of course, you can’t have one without the other. . . . 

He is the God who can make your impossible possible! (Quote source: “The Grave Robber,” p. 13-14.)

As I stated in my blog post titled, What If,” published one week ago regarding another book by Mark Batterson, there is much in this book that I can’t begin to touch on in a blog post, and I’m not going to try. But I want to whet your appetite. But first, let’s tackle, as Batterson puts it, “the invisible gorilla” in the room found in Chapter 2 titled, “Miraculous”:

Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons conducted an experiment at Harvard University more than a decade ago that became infamous in psychology circles. Their book,The Invisible Gorilla,” popularized it. And you may be one of the millions of viewers who made their Selective Attention Test one of YouTube’s most watched videos. [An video explaining the test and results is available here.]

The two researchers filmed students passing basketballs while moving in a circular fashion. In the middle of the short film, a woman dressed in a gorilla suit walks into the frame, beats her chest, and walks out of the frame. The sequence takes nine seconds in the minute-long video. Viewers are given specific instructions: “Count the number of passes by players wearing white shirts.” Of course, the researchers were not interested in their pass-counting ability. They wanted to see if the viewers would notice something they weren’t looking for, something as obvious as a gorilla. Amazingly, half of the test group did not.

How is that even possible?

How do you miss the gorilla in the room?

The short answer is “inattentional blindness.”

“Inattentional blindness” is the failure to notice something in your field of vision because you are focused on something else; in this case people in white shirts passing basketballs. But the first-century Pharisees make an even better case study. They were so focused on Sabbath law that they couldn’t see that miracles happening right in front of their eyes. Jesus healed an invalid who hadn’t walked in thirty-eight years, gave sight to a man born blind, and restored a man’s withered arm. But the Pharisees missed the miracle, and missed the Messiah, because they were blinded by their legalism. They couldn’t see past their religious assumptions.

Inattentional blindness can be as intentional as turning a blind eye to something you don’t want to see, like the Pharisees did. It can also be as unintentional as fading awareness of the constants in your life that you take for granted over time. Either way, it’s one of the greatest threats to spiritual vitality. One of the truest tests of spiritual maturity is seeing the miraculous in the monotonous. (Quote source: “The Grave Robber,” p. 13-14.)

faith-hope-loveIn Chapter 4 titled, “The Lost Miracles,” Batterson tells the story of how Thomas Jefferson, as a 16-year-old college student during the Enlightenment when reason and logic were king, Jefferson took scissors to his Bible and cut out all of the miracles that Jesus performed. He also deleted the virgin birth, the resurrection, and every supernatural event in between. He was, however, devoted to the teachings of Jesus. As Batterson states (p. 24), “In the words of historian Edwin Gaustad, ‘If a moral lesson was embedded in a miracle, the lesson survived in the Jeffersonian scripture, but the miracle did not’ . . . Jefferson’s version of the Gospels ends with the stone rolled in front of the tomb. Jesus died on the cross but never rose from the dead.”

As Batterson continues (p. 24):

Hard to imagine, isn’t it–taking scissors to the sacred text of Scripture? But don’t we do the very same thing? We wouldn’t dare use a razor, but we cut and paste nonetheless. We pick and choose our favorite verses while ignoring the texts we cannot comprehend or don’t’ particularly like. We rationalize the verses that are too radical. We scrub down the verses that are too supernatural. We put Scripture on the chopping block of human logic and end up with a neutered gospel. We commit intellectual idolatry, creating God in our image. So instead of living a life that resembles the supernatural standard set in Scripture, we follow an abridged version of the Bible that looks an awful lot like us.

When you subtract the miracles like Thomas Jefferson did, you’re left with a very wise yet weak Jesus. I’m afraid this is the Jesus many people follow. He’s kind and compassionate, but the raw power is missing in action. So we follow His teachings but never experience His miracles. And that doesn’t just fall short of the standard He set–it misses the point altogether.

One of the boldest statements in the Bible is found in John 14:12:

Whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.

Greater things? It would sound like heresy if it didn’t come from the lips of Jesus. It’s one of those verses that we tend to rationalize, so let me tell you exactly what it means. If you follow Jesus, you’ll do what He did. You’ll seek to please the heavenly Father first and foremost. You’ll care for the poor, you’ll wash feet, and you’ll offend some Pharisees along the way. You’ll also traffic in the miraculous. And it won’t just be as an eyewitness. It’ll be as a catalyst. Please believe me when I say, you are someone else’s miracle!

Make no mistake about it: only God can perform miracles. So God gets all of the glory. But as you’ll see in the pages to follow, nearly every miracle has a human element. Sometimes you need to step into the Jordan River, like the priests of Israel, before God will part the waters [see Joshua 3]. And sometimes you need to wade into the Jordan seven times, like Naaman [see 2 Kings 5:14]. Only God could miraculously heal Naaman’s leprosy, but he would have forfeited the miracle if he hadn’t positioned himself for it by repeated obedience. So while some miracles take only a single step of faith, other require multiple attempts! But whether it’s ankle deep or waist deep, you’ve got to wade into the Jordan River. Sometimes you’ve got to do the natural before God will do the supernatural. (Quote source: “The Grave Robber,” p. 24-25.)

As Christians, we simply cannot choose what we want to believe and toss out the rest because it is inconvenient to our lifestyles or even our logic. And if we are looking for miracles we have to believe what we say and claim to believe regardless of our circumstances or what we want. Faith requires that we believe what we say we believe and not just when everything is going the way we want it to go.

In Chapter 12 titled, “The Rule Breaker,” the chapter opens with a verse from John 5:10 which was the Pharisees’ response when Jesus healed the invalid of his thirty-eight year ailment on the Sabbath, and told him to pick up his mat and walk (which the man did). The Pharisees then said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”  Batterson states (pp. 123-125):

Jesus could have healed the invalid on any day of the week [see John 5 for the story], but He chose to perform this miracle on the Sabbath. He knew it would rile up the religious establishment, and I wonder if that’s why He did it. Jesus offended the Pharisees with great intentionality and consistency. . . .

If you follow in the footsteps of Jesus, you will offend some Pharisees along the way. In fact, there are situations where you need to go out of your way to do so. That is not a license to break the law. It is permission to break man-made rules the don’t honor God. . . .

While Jesus told the invalid to take up his mat and walk, He didn’t tell him to hike to Timbuktu. So while the invalid probably hopped, skipped, and jumped all over Jerusalem that day, he did not go outside the parameters established by the mitzvot [a comprehensive list of  do and don’t rules the Pharisees came up with]. Of course, it wasn’t the invalid walking that caused the offense. It was the fact that he was carrying his mat–an activity strictly forbidden [on the Sabbath] by Pharisaical law. Of course, there was nothing in Scripture to substantiate that regulation. And Jesus knew it since He wrote it. The prohibition against carrying a mat was not divinely ordained law. It was nothing more than a man-made rule–and, I might add, an awfully silly rule if someone had just been healed of a thirty-eight-year-old ailment.

The great irony of this story is that while the Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking the law, they were the ones breaking the spirit of the law by trying to keep what they thought was the letter of the law. And while they thought Jesus was breaking the letter of the law, He was keeping the spirit of the law by healing the invalid.

There is a world of difference between following Jesus and following rules. If you follow Jesus, you won’t break the law of God, but you will break the rules of man. And you’ll offend some Pharisees by doing so.

The Pharisees couldn’t see the forest through the trees. They wanted to kill Jesus because He challenged their man-made rules. . . . The Pharisees missed the miracle that was right in front of their eyes because they couldn’t see past their human traditions and man-made rules. And that is precisely what keeps us from experiencing the miraculous as well. To experience the miraculous, sometimes you have to break the rules. (Quote source: “The Grave Robber,” p. 123-125.)

In the final chapter of the book, Chapter 25 titled, “One Little Yes,” it opens in the middle of the story about the death and resurrection of Lazarus by Jesus (see John 11):

After asserting His identity as the resurrection and the life (see John 11:25-27), Jesus pops a point-blank question that punctuates Martha’s life [Martha was one of the sisters of Lazarus]: “Do you believe this?” Remember: Jesus hadn’t called Lazarus out of the tomb quite yet, so Martha was still in the depths of despair. Hope was four days dead [when Lazarus died]. Yet Martha response with her simple profession of faith:

“Yes, Lord.”

One little yes can change your life.

One little yes can change your eternity.

The litmus test is the same now as it was then. The only question on God’s final exam is: “Do you believe this?” It’s not a multiple-choice question. It’s true or false. Ant it’s most important question you’ll ever answer. That one decision will determine your eternal destiny. The good news is that it’s an open-book exam, and God reveals the right answer in Romans 10:9:

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (ESV)

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the axis around which our faith revolves. When Jesus rose from the dead, it radically redefined reality. When He walked out of the tomb under His own power, the word “impossible” was removed from our vocabulary. The resurrection is the history-changer, the game-changer. But the trick is learning to live as if Jesus was crucified yesterday, rose from the dead today, and is come back tomorrow!” (Quote source:The Grave Robber, p. 24-25.)

Jesus Christ can make the impossible possible. . . .

Do you believe this? . . .

It requires one faith-filled yes . . .

YouTube Video: “Til The Day I Die (Live)” by TobyMac:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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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
Photo #2 credit here
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
Photo #2 credit here

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:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

A Time For Every Matter

For everything there is a seasonI rarely go back and read previous blog posts on my blog, but once in a while I run across one that makes me wonder what I had to say back then, and that happened the other night. This particular blog post was written on February 2, 2013–exactly three years ago today. I was curious as to what I had written back then given that another three years has passed since that time, and my “situation” has still not improved due to circumstances beyond my control that I wrote about in a recent blog post three weeks ago titled, “Behind the Scenes.”

That particular blog from three years ago is titled, Against All Odds.” It was during February of that year that I became aware of a few more details that were involved in my circumstances (which are crystal clear at this point in time). It’s not that the additional information changed how I viewed my circumstances, but it give me more information to go on. Call it a “light bulb” moment. For the sake of this blog post, the details are unimportant, but it was an crucial piece to the puzzle I was in need of at that time.

Apart from the length of time mentioned in this previous blog post (e.g., “four years” is now seven years) and the fact that a lot more changes have occurred during these past three years since it was written to include the fact that I no longer live where I lived when I wrote that blog post (instead, I am currently living in hotels–sigh…), rereading that post was a great reminder to me of all of the ways that God has met my needs during those first four years since losing my job in Houston in April 2009. Who knew it would still be ongoing three years later from the time I wrote it. And now it’s been going on seven years and counting since it all first began.

Of course, since that time three years ago, my circumstances have changed considerably and now include, for the past 16 months, my current housing search while living in hotels; and that has actually been going on for almost two years now since I left that apartment I lived in for over four years at the end of March 2014. Hotel living (and we aren’t talking The Marriott, either) is extremely expensive, and it started when I went back to Houston at the end of September 2014 to try to find affordable senior housing which, after a thorough search, ended three plus months later when I could not find any affordable housing while living in hotels that I thought would be a very temporary living situation. I returned to Florida after the dismal outcome of my housing search in Houston over a year ago, and I’ve been living in hotels for that past year here in Florida while continuing to search for affordable senior housing that just never seems to show up no matter how hard I try to find it. Of course, it all has to do with those circumstances that are beyond my control.

I’m glad I ran into this particular blog post from three years ago as it reminded me of all the ways God has been faithful to me during those first four years after losing my job in Houston. We do have a “success” mentality in America and we tend to assume that anything bad that happens (and sticks round) outside of the parameters of that “success” mentality is suspect. And for the past several decades that “success” mentality has invaded Christian thinking and living in America as if it is some sort of “proof” that one is, indeed, going in the right direction. Yet history and many biblical accounts do not speak to “outward appearances” as having anything to do with what God views as success. Still, we tend to march to that particular drummer, and it sort of reminds me of following a Pied Piper. That term comes from “the Pied Piper of Hamelin (in German legend) who is a piper who rid the town of Hamelin of rats by luring them away with his music and then, when he was not paid for his services, lured away its children” (quote source here). In short, it means someone who offers strong but delusive enticements (source here). And we have much in our society today that lures us and our children down paths we never intended to go and that we are often blinded by.

However, I don’t want to get off the topic of this post. This post is a reminder that Jesus lived among an “unbelieving generation” who thought they truly believed but when push came to shove, they really didn’t believe, and their actions proved that to be the case. I’ll let the blog post explain it. So without further ado, here it is–a blast from the past . . . .

And, by the way, I still believe in miracles . . . Yes, I do!!!

Against All Odds 

against-all-odds2

(This post was originally written on February 2, 2013)

Do you believe in miracles?
Many folks say they do but when something miraculous actually happens many times they call it merely a “coincidence.” Dictionary.com defines “coincidence” as “a striking occurrence of two or more events at one time apparently by mere chance.” Mere chance . . . .

There’s a story in Mark 9:14-27 that I want to call to your attention regarding the healing by Jesus of a young boy possessed by an evil spirit:

“When they [Jesus, Peter, James and John] came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.

 “‘What are you arguing with them about?’ he asked.

“A man in the crowd answered, ‘Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.’

“‘O unbelieving generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.’

 “So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

“Jesus asked the boy’s father, ‘How long has he been like this?’

“‘From childhood,’ he answered. ‘It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.’

“‘If you can?’ said Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for him who believes.’

“Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’

“When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. ‘You deaf and mute spirit,’ he said, ‘I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.’

“The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, ‘He’s dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.”

If you had been in the crowd that day and witnessed what happened, what would your reaction have been to the miracle that you just witnessed?

There are two striking remarks by Jesus in this account: “O unbelieving generation” and “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Herein lies the difference between believing in mere “coincidence” (by an unbelieving generation) and believing in miracles (as believers in Jesus Christ). With God there are no “coincidences.” None . . . .

As I look back over these past four plus years from the time I landed in Houston to start that ill-fated job that I lost almost seven months later that has brought about almost four years of unemployment at this point in time (and I’m still looking) I see miracle after miracle of God’s provision in my life. Many folks might just say it’s “coincidence” that all of these things happened. However, I have never believed in “coincidence.” No, I believe in God and that He is ultimately in control of everything that happens to us.

It was in the providence of God that I lost my job at the very same time that extended unemployment benefits were being approved (up to 99 weeks) for the long-term unemployed when the worst hit in 2008-2009 (a very rare occurrence during the decades that unemployment compensation has been available—the normal maximum is 26 weeks). And, I did not know about “extended benefits” until my first 26 weeks of benefits were about to expire. Add to that the fact that if I had not returned to Florida when my lease was up on my apartment in Houston at the end of September 2009 (and I really wanted to stay in Houston but couldn’t afford to financially on the $275/wk unemployment benefits I received from Florida) I would not have been able to collect the “extended benefits” due to the fact that the unemployment rate in Texas wasn’t high enough to receive extended benefits through Florida, but the Florida unemployment rate (one of the highest in the nation at that time) was high right on through the entire 99 weeks that I was able to collect unemployment benefits which ended at the end of May 2011. [Add’l note 2-2-16: On July 1, 2011, the 99 weeks of unemployment benefits became much harder to receive and was eventually phased out.]

Also, I would not have been able to come back to Florida at the end of September 2009 had I not been offered the spare bedroom in the home of a good friend at the time. I had been looking for a room to rent in a home in Houston at the time of her offer, and that is when I decided to return to Florida. Of course, I lost most of my possessions (all of my furniture, over 1000 books, and other items) as I couldn’t afford to move them back to Florida. However, her offer and my subsequent return to Florida allowed me to receive the extended unemployment benefits.

tumblr_m4msyiX72n1rwf6i5o1_400Three months after arriving back in Florida I found a cute little completely furnished “seasonal rental” at a rental rate I could afford on the unemployment compensation I was receiving as my friend’s unemployed niece moved in a couple of months after I arrived and it made for cramped living quarters for the three of us. And, I found the seasonal rental by calling an ad in the Yellow Pages for a real estate company who just happened to have a furnished apartment available at the time that they usually rented out as a “seasonal rental” during the winter months. I’ve now been living in it for just over three years while still seeking employment, and I couldn’t have found a more ideal living situation especially not knowing at the beginning when I rented it that I would still be living in it right up through today. [Add’l note 2-2-16: the house where my furnished apartment was located was sold to new owners–an investment company–on March 1, 2012, and then again to an older local couple on December 31, 2013. The last owner–the local couple–hiked the rent significantly, and since I had no income at the time I moved out on March 31, 2014.]

In May 2011, when I finally ran out of the 99 weeks of unemployment benefits, I still had just enough savings to keep me going for a few more months, and near the end of those few months when I still couldn’t find employment I had reached the “magic” age of 59 ½ and I was able to access my small retirement account without paying an additional 10% penalty required for anyone taking money out of a retirement account before the age of 59 ½. And that retirement account is what has kept me financially afloat right up through today. [Add’l note 2-2-16: Since I was still unemployed with no income since my unemployment benefits ran out at the end of May 2011, when I turned 62 in 2014 I applied for Social Security benefits which have provided a small monthly income since July 2014.]

From a medical standpoint, I’ve been very fortunately to be in good health all of my life. I was able to keep Cobra health insurance for the first 15 months after I was fired at a significantly reduced rate due to being fired (the reduced rate was not available for anyone quitting a job but only to those who were “involuntarily terminated”). Fortunately, I only had to seek medical help once during that time for a minor infection. Once my Cobra insurance ran out at the end of July 2010 I’ve had no medical insurance since then. In October 2010 I did have to seek help for a situation that required an MRI in order to find out what was going on and since I had no medical insurance it was hard to find a doctor who would see me without a large upfront payment except for one doctor (in a very upscale office and location) who charged me a very minimal amount to be seen. He also helped me find a place where I could get an MRI for only $300 (an astoundingly low price for an MRI). The situation was such that over the next two or three months I healed normally and completely without any additional medical care.

And from a spiritual standpoint, if you’ve been reading my blog posts, you know that I went from a very lethargic spiritual life (that I didn’t even realize was lethargic) when I landed in Houston to experiencing a living, breathing, vital relationship with Jesus Christ that penetrates every area of my life, and that my whole life, and especially my view of the world, has opened up in ways I never could have imagined. Not only that, I’ve been on an adventure that I wouldn’t replace for the highest paying job in the world. And just in the past year I was able to make trips to Atlanta and Houston that I never dreamed I could have afforded as an unemployed person on a very tight budget.

Now, you may say that all of these things that have happened to me are just “coincidence,” but that’s like looking at a full color photograph and only seeing it in black and white, or experiencing a 3-D world in only two dimensions. If you want to believe that everything that happens in the realm of “miracles” is only “coincidence,” you can continue to live on that flat plain. However, I’ll take the mountains and the valleys of real life any day of the week because I do believe in miracles. And they happen all the time . . . .

Jesus was frustrated by an “unbelieving generation” and that’s obvious when he stated, “O unbelieving generation. How long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” (Mark 9:19). And He says the same to us today.

Jesus told the father of the boy possessed by an evil spirit that “Everything is possible for him who believes” and “immediately the boy’s father explained, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’” (Mark 9:23-24). And we need to respond in like manner. We can either choose to see life as a series of “coincidences” or as a life filled with miracles. So I go back to the question I posed when I started this blog post . . . .

Do you believe in miracles?

I do, and even though it’s been almost four years of waiting for that miracle to show up that will finally bring an end to this very long time of unemployment, I have seen and experienced firsthand God’s miracle provision for me all along my path.

Do I get frustrated waiting for that miracle to show up? Yes, I do, absolutely . . . but all I can think of is that it must be one heck of a great miracle up ahead after waiting all this time for it.

Coincidence? Are you kidding me?

No, I believe in miracles!!!

Do you?

YouTube Video: “I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City,” sung by Sinead O’Conner:

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

Against All Odds

against-all-oddsDo you believe in miracles? Many folks say they do but when something miraculous actually happens many times they call it merely a “coincidence.” Dictionary.com defines “coincidence” as “a striking occurrence of two or more events at one time apparently by mere chance.” Mere chance . . . .

There’s a story in Mark 9:14-27 that I want to call to your attention regarding the healing by Jesus of a young boy possessed by an evil spirit:

“When they [Jesus, Peter, James and John] came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.

 “‘What are you arguing with them about?’ he asked.

“A man in the crowd answered, ‘Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.’

“‘O unbelieving generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.’

 “So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

“Jesus asked the boy’s father, ‘How long has he been like this?’

“’From childhood,’ he answered. ‘It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.’

“‘If you can?’ said Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for him who believes.’

“Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’

“When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. ‘You deaf and mute spirit,’ he said, ‘I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.’

“The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, ‘He’s dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.”

If you had been in the crowd that day and witnessed what happened, what would your reaction have been to the miracle that you just witnessed?

There are two striking remarks by Jesus in this account: “O unbelieving generation” and “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Herein lies the difference between believing in mere “coincidence” (by an unbelieving generation) and believing in miracles (as believers in Jesus Christ). With God there are no “coincidences.” None . . . .

As I look back over these past four plus years from the time I landed in Houston to start that ill-fated job that I lost almost seven months later that has brought about almost four years of unemployment at this point in time (and I’m still looking) I see miracle after miracle of God’s provision in my life. Many folks might just say it’s “coincidence” that all of these things happened. However, I have never believed in “coincidence.” No, I believe in God and that He is ultimately in control of everything that happens to us.

It was in the providence of God that I lost my job at the very same time that extended unemployment benefits were being approved (up to 99 weeks) for the long-term unemployed when the worst hit in 2008-2009 (a very rare occurrence during the decades that unemployment compensation has been available—the normal maximum is 26 weeks/6 months). And, I did not know about “extended benefits” until my first 26 weeks of benefits were about to expire. Add to that the fact that if I had not returned to Florida when my lease was up on my apartment in Houston at the end of September 2009 (and I really wanted to stay in Houston but couldn’t afford to financially on the $275/wk unemployment benefits I received from Florida) I would not have been able to collect the “extended benefits” due to the fact that the unemployment rate in Texas wasn’t high enough to receive extended benefits through Florida, but the Florida unemployment rate (one of the highest in the nation at that time) was high right on through the entire 99 weeks that I was able to collect unemployment benefits which ended at the end of May 2011.

Also, I would not have been able to come back to Florida at the end of September 2009 had I not been offered the spare bedroom in the home of a good friend at the time. I had been looking for a room to rent in a home in Houston at the time of her offer, and that is when I decided to return to Florida. Of course, I lost most of my possessions (all of my furniture, over 1000 books, and other items) as I couldn’t afford to move them back to Florida. However, her offer and my subsequent return to Florida allowed me to receive the extended unemployment benefits.

tumblr_m4msyiX72n1rwf6i5o1_400Three months after arriving back in Florida I found a cute little completely furnished “seasonal rental” at a rental rate I could afford on the unemployment compensation I was receiving as my friend’s unemployed niece moved in a couple of months after I arrived and it made for cramped quarters for the three of us. And, I found the seasonal rental by calling an ad in the Yellow Pages for a real estate company who just happened to have a furnished apartment available at the time that they usually rented out as a “seasonal rental” during the winter months. I’ve now been living in it for just over three years while still seeking employment, and I couldn’t have found a more ideal living situation especially not knowing at the beginning when I rented it that I would still be living in it right up through today.

In May 2011, when I finally ran out of the 99 weeks of unemployment benefits, I still had just enough savings to keep me going for a few more months, and near the end of those few months when I still couldn’t find employment I had reached the “magic” age of 59 ½ and was able to access my small retirement account without paying an additional 10% penalty required for anyone taking money out of a retirement account before the age of 59 ½. And that retirement account is what has kept me financially afloat right up through today.

From a medical standpoint, I’ve been very fortunately to be in good health all of my life. I was able to keep Cobra health insurance for the first 15 months after I was fired at a significantly reduced rate due to being fired (the reduced rate was not available for anyone quitting a job but only to those who were “involuntarily terminated”). Fortunately, I only had to seek medical help once during that time for a minor infection. Once my Cobra insurance ran out at the end of July 2010 I’ve had no medical insurance since then. In October 2010 I did have to seek help for a situation that required an MRI in order to find out what was going on and since I had no medical insurance it was hard to find a doctor who would see me without a large upfront payment except for one doctor (in a very upscale office and location) who charged me a very minimal amount to be seen. He also helped me find a place where I could get an MRI for only $300 (an astoundingly low price for an MRI). The situation was such that over the next two or three months I healed normally and completely without any additional medical care. I was enormously grateful that God lead me to find that doctor.

And from a spiritual standpoint, if you’ve been reading my blog posts, you know that I went from a very lethargic spiritual life (that I didn’t even realize was lethargic) when I landed in Houston to experiencing a living, breathing, vital relationship with Jesus Christ that penetrates every area of my life, and that my whole life, and especially my view of the world, has opened up in ways I never could have imagined. Not only that, I’ve been on an adventure that I wouldn’t replace for the highest paying job in the world. And just in the past year I was able to make trips to Atlanta and Houston that I never dreamed I could have afforded as an unemployed person on a very tight budget.

Now, you may say that all of these things that have happened to me are just “coincidence,” but that’s like looking at a full color photograph and only seeing it in black and white, or experiencing a 3-D world in only two dimensions. If you want to believe that everything that happens in the realm of “miracles” is only “coincidence,” you can continue to live on that flat plain. However, I’ll take the mountains and the valleys of real life any day of the week because I do believe in miracles. And they happen all the time . . . .

Jesus was frustrated by an “unbelieving generation” and that’s obvious when he stated, “O unbelieving generation. How long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” (Mark 9:19). And He says the same to us today.

Jesus told the father of the boy possessed by an evil spirit that “Everything is possible for him who believes” and “immediately the boy’s father explained, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’” (Mark 9:23-24). And we need to respond in like manner. We can either choose to see life as a series of “coincidences” or as a life filled with miracles. So I go back to the question I posed when I started this blog post . . . .

Do you believe in miracles?

I do, and even though it’s been almost four years of waiting for that miracle to show up that will finally bring an end to this very long time of unemployment, I have seen and experienced firsthand God’s miracle provision for me all along my path.

Do I get frustrated waiting for that miracle to show up? Yes, I do, absolutely . . . but all I can think of is that it must be one heck of a great miracle up ahead after waiting all this time for it.

Coincidence? Are you kidding me?

No, I believe in miracles!!!

Do you?

YouTube Video: “I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City,” sung by Sinead O’Conner:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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