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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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God Is Good All The Time

violinist-in-subway-uncroppedThe following story isn’t fake news. It’s been verified on Snopes, and the following version of the story is taken from Snopes:

A Most Interesting Story

A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule. A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk. A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats average $100.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of an social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing? (Quote source here.)

Kevin Gerald, founder and pastor of Champions Centre in Tacoma, WA, opens Chapter 9 titled, “Good Eyes,” in his book titled, Good Things (2015), with a shortened version of the above story (see pp. 61-62). After the story, Gerald asks:

How could anyone miss this? The master violinist did a charity concert and over a thousand people walked by without noticing? How does that happen?

The fact is that the people who passed by that day represent a trait common to all of us: we don’t always see what’s right in front of us. But the fact that we don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Just what’s wrong with our eyes, anyway? (Quote source, “Good Things,” p. 62).

It’s true that we don’t often see what is right in front of us. Sometimes it has to do with our perception; sometimes it’s because, like the folks in the subway, we’re in a rush to get somewhere else. In the process of becoming adults we’ve lost our inquisitiveness that we had as children–the “stop and smell the roses” moments that we rarely take anymore. We assume things that are often not based in reality (e.g., gossip, or fake news that has recently entered our lexicon) that become our own perception of reality. We’ve all heard the saying, “perception is reality.” But is it really? (See article titled, “‘Perception is Reality’–Not Always True,” by Dr. Paul White at this link).

In Good Things,” Chapter 9, Gerald goes on to write:

Jesus told us, “The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness” (Luke 11:34, NKJV).

My eyesight is not as por as some people’s. But when I have my glasses on I can read with a lot more ease and catch details that I otherwise miss. Just as people go to an eye doctor to get glasses or have surgery to give them better eyesight, we’re not stuck with our current life paradigm. We can choose a better one!

The word “paradigm” comes from the Greek and is, in a general sense, a reference to a set pattern or way we see the world–not in terms of our physical eyes but in terms of our assumptions, beliefs, and overall perspective. Its’ what we might call our mind’s eye.

This is what Jesus was referring to as he explained the eye as the lamp of the body. He was saying that the eye can be good or the eye can be bad, and the condition of our eye affects what we see or don’t see, what we experience or miss out on. If our eyes are good, it’s like turning on a lap inside of us. We brighten up in our spirits because we’re living with a greater awareness of God’s goodness and blessings in our lives.

The opposite is true about bad eyes; they miss seeing the good. They may or may not take in darkness, but they definitely don’t take in light. What they don’t see is not what they are incapable of seeing but typically what they are not trained to see.

In a similar way, the only thing that’s different between a negative person and a positive person is what they “see.” Two people can grow up in the same house with similar life experiences, and one will be negative about life and the other will be positive. Even though they have been surrounded by the same environment and have the same parents, what they see and the way they see it is different.

Negative people are not bad. Pessimistic people are not ignorant. In fact, oftentimes negativity is a trait of people who are highly informed in what they call reality. When passing along their perspective, they will tell you, “I’m not being negative; I’m just being real!” And they are being real in what they are aware of and educated in, which is the “life is hard” reality. They have taken pages of notes and have the data to support the fact that life is not a gravy train!

When people are deeply educated in the “life is hard” reality but undereducated in the “God is good” reality, they lean toward the unfavorable possibility versus seeing the possibility of something good. The reason these persons can get stuck in their negativity is that they have accepted that the “life is hard” reality cancels out the “God is good” reality.

I’ve found that anyone, even people highly aware of the “life is hard” reality, will become authentically optimistic when they educate themselves in the “Good is good” reality. You don’t have to deny the realities associated with life being hard to see the realities associated with God being good! (Quote source, “Good Things,” p. 62-64).

god-is-goodAs Gerald notes, it’s not that life isn’t hard for all of us from time to time (and sometimes for a long time), but rather not forgetting that God is still good when life is hard. Gerald writes more on this topic in Chapter 9 and also devotes a chapter to it in Chapter 12 titled, “What About ‘If'”.

In the article titled, “‘Perception is Reality’–Not Always True,” by Dr. Paul White that I mentioned briefly above, Dr. White states the following:

In my work with people, I often deal with individuals’ reactions to situations as well as communication issues between co-workers and family members. As a result, in the process of working through these issues, people often say to me, “Well, you know, perception is reality.” Sometimes they say this to explain how miscommunication occurred with another person, or why they feel the way they do. . . .

The problem is — it is not true. At least, not always.

There is a verifiable reality that exists. And sometimes our perceptions (or beliefs about the world) do not match reality. In the physical realm, that is the basis for illusionists — they are able to make things appear different than they really are. Also, there are those tricks of nature that our senses can play on us that can lead us to misinterpret what is really happening (having a sense of your body being warm while you are in the beginning stages of hypothermia).

But in day to day life, I see the mismatch between perception and reality more practically. Here are some examples.

Miscommunication. The classic example is the scenario like this: “You said ….”  “I did not. I said ….” “Oh, but I thought you said ….” “No. What I said (or at least, thought I did) was …” “But I thought you said …” If we stick with the perception is reality proposition, this leads to major problems in communication. This is true for both parties. For the initial speaker, “what I thought” does not necessarily equal “what I said”. And “what I said” is not necessarily the same thing as “what I meant”.  Similarly, for the listener, “what I heard you say” may not be the equivalent to “what you said”.  So perception may be perception, but it may not be what actually occurred.

The mismatch between feeling reactions and reality. I often see the disconnect between reality and perception in the area of worrying. Being worried or anxious is essentially a smaller version of being afraid (there is a qualitative difference between being terrified or afraid for one’s safety and being worried or concerned). However, the realm of worry and anxiety have to do with potential events that may happen. They always have to do with the future. The challenge is — not everything people worry about is reality-based. Those who struggle significantly with anxiety can worry daily about their loved ones being killed in a car accident on the way to school or work. Or they can worry about the stock market crashing, losing all of their savings, and winding up being homeless.

[NOTE: One way we can manage our fears and worries is to do a “reality check” — what is the actual likelihood of x event happening today? Has x happened before? How many times? Even if x happens, does that necessarily mean y will happen? And even in the unlikely event that x happens and y also happens, what are all of the circumstances that need to be in place for z then to occur? The chances are incredibly slim. So, how much time and energy do you want to spend worrying about a series of incidents that will probably not happen?]

Misinterpretation of a situation. Some people make quick judgments. Sometimes this is to their benefit. But, in other cases, it can lead to misjudging what is going on in a situation. In working with kids and teens, I have often seen a scenario where a fairly impulsive student, who also views themselves as the ‘protector’ of others will come into a room and see a couple of guys “scuffling”. They have each other in headlocks and are throwing one another around the room. The self-appointed “hero” sees the guys “fighting” and promptly dives in, tackles one of the fighters, taking him to the ground, and yells, “Break it up!” (Frequently someone gets hurt in the process.) It is then that the hero finds out that the two boys were just “horsing around” and it was a good-natured tussle between two friends. The two “fighters” wind up being angry at the hero for interfering with their fun and over-reacting to the situation. Unfortunately, this happens in the adult world as well — where someone misinterprets a situation and reacts inappropriately because of their misperception. Truly, in these situations, perception is not reality.

Inaccurate beliefs about the way the world is. For instance, in doing career coaching with individuals, many people believe that finding a job that meets their needs and desires should be fairly easy and should happen within a matter of weeks. So they “dive in” looking and applying for jobs. After several weeks with no job, they begin to become discouraged (our feeling reactions are inter-related with our expectations) and begin to question if they are pursuing the right career direction. Self-doubt also sets in, wondering if they are capable of finding the type of job they want and whether they are really marketable. The reality is that finding a job which is a good fit for you takes a lot of time and energy. Usually three to six months, or longer. And this reality is demonstrated time and time again (one of the aspects of “reality” is that it can be verified empirically).

Misattribution of motive. Probably the most damaging form of misperception is the case of attributing a certain motive to someone else’s action, and being quite far off the mark. This happens in marriages a lot, it seems.  And it can be the result of either an overt action (that is, something you did) or the absence of an action (something you didn’t do but the other person thought you should have). Let me state something clearly — most of us aren’t fully clear why we do what we do, let alone being able to understand the motives of another.  It is always best to ask (and hopefully, believe) the other person, “Why did you …?” It can be helpful to start with the phrase, “I’m confused. Can you help me understand why you…?” (It seems to take the accusatory edge off of the interaction.)  There are tons of examples, more than I want to go into (and for fear of incriminating myself).  Let me just suggest: we often get “bent out of shape” with others because we attribute a reason for their action or inaction that is not accurate.

There are other examples of perception not equaling reality, but I think that is enough for now.  Maybe use these ideas to frame your own thoughts when you hear: “Well, you know, perception is reality.” Maybe. Maybe not. (Quote source here.)

We all can see ourselves in those paragraphs cited above. I have also noticed that one of the most common places where our communications can be easily misinterpreted is in our use of Social Media. A quick text, or a Facebook post, or a tweet on Twitter can unleash a firestorm of misunderstanding, and it also has the capability of circling our globe instantaneously. So can email (just ask WikiLeaks). In fact, the technology created since the beginning of the 21st Century could eventually be responsible for unleashing World War 3 at some point in time. I’m not sure how we solve the misunderstanding issues on Social Media or if we can solve them, but perhaps it would do us all some good if we turned off our technology once in awhile and really do stop and smell the roses occasionally and gain back some perspective.

We live in both a fragile and an oftentimes angry world where the very thought that “God is good” comes into question on a frequent basis. The concept seems almost alien in the midst of some very horrific stuff that goes on all around our globe. That’s because evil exists and we too often blame the evil on God (or at least blame God for allowing it). However, it is as Kevin Gerald stated (quoted above) when he said:

I’ve found that anyone, even people highly aware of the “life is hard” reality, will become authentically optimistic when they educate themselves in the “Good is good” reality. You don’t have to deny the realities associated with life being hard to see the realities associated with God being good! (Quote source, “Good Things,” p. 63-64).

For example, if you have survived some really horrific stuff today and you’re still alive, who has kept you alive? Or if you think you can’t make it through another day, who is it that keeps you going? God isn’t good just when times are good; God is good when times are horrific, too. He sees us through them if we will only stop blaming him for them and, instead, understand what Romans 8:28 is really saying to all of us:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

“All things” not only includes the good things and good times, but the really horrific stuff, too–the very stuff we can’t handle on our own. Jesus said we are to always pray and never give up (Luke 18:1), and that is especially true in the horrific turns our lives sometimes take, too. Life is not alway easy, and perception is not always reality; however. . . 

God is good . . .

All the time . . . 

And all the time God is good . . . .

YouTube Video: “God Is Good All The Time” by Chester Baldwin:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

What If

what-ifA few weeks ago I was roaming around in one of my favorite bookstores when I took a seat to check my email on my smartphone. There were two seats in that area with a small table in between them, and a handsome middle-aged man with a week’s worth of beard growth that gave him an intellectually stimulating and rugged look was seated in the other chair. He was reading a Mark Batterson book titled, If: Trading Your If Only Regrets for God’s What If Possibilities (2015). While I was in the middle of writing a brief email on my smartphone, he asked me if I was familiar with Mark Batterson. I said “yes,” and he said he thought If was his favorite book by him so far. I acknowledged that I had not yet read it, then I finished my brief email, and we ended up having a delightful conversation on a variety of topics.

When I was in another bookstore this past week that is known for it’s great discounts on Christian books, I saw a copy of If by Mark Batterson, who is the lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington D.C., and a New York Times bestselling author of several books. Remembering my previous conversation with the ruggedly handsome middle-aged man regarding the book, I decided to purchase it (and I love it when I get a great book at a great price, too).

One of the stories Batterson opens his book with is about a fellow who decided back in 1987 to purchase a small chain of coffeehouses with a strange name. Can you guess the name? Starbucks. And the rest, as they say, is pretty much history. However, at the time, Howard Schultz, who purchased the chain of coffeehouses back then, paid a $3.8 million dollar price tag and gave up a salary of $75,000/yr to “purchase his passion for all things coffee.” It is, of course, one of the great American success stories, and Schultz, who was born a year after I was born, now has a net worth of $3 billion dollars, and is stepping down as CEO of the company on April 3, 2017, “to focus on turning Starbucks’ Reserve-branded coffee bars into destination restaurants” (quote source here). It was a huge risk for Schultz to purchase an unknown coffeehouse chain back in 1987, but as Batterson quoted from Schultz’s memoir, Pour Your Heart Into It,” on page 10 of If,” Schultz states the following:

“This is my moment,” I thought. “If I don’t seize the opportunity, if I don’t step out of my comfort zone and risk it all, if I let too much time tick on, my moment will pass.” I knew that if I didn’t take advantage of this opportunity, I would replay it in my mind for my whole life, wondering: “What if?” (Original quote source: “Pour Your Heart Into It,” p. 63.)

What If? And that’s the topic of Mark Batterson’s book. After the Starbucks story, Batterson writes (p. 11):

What’s your “what if?”

If you don’t know yet, keep reading.

I want you to know that I’ve been praying for  you. While I may not know your name or your circumstances, God does. And I’ve been asking Him to put this book in the right hands at the right time. That’s my prayer for every book I write. So when someone apologizes for having not read one of my books, apology accepted. I trust God’s timing.

Of course, the flip side is true. The fact that you hold this book in your hands is evidence that you’re ready for “what if.” I’m praying that God will reveal it as you read.

“If” is more than a book.

It’s your “what if.”

But first you have to get past, “if only.” (Quote source: “If,” page 11.)

There is a significant difference between “if only” and “what if.” “If only” speaks of regrets; whereas “what if” speaks of possibilities. In the next section in Chapter 1 titled, “The Power of If,” in his book, Batterson states:

Let me make a rather bold prediction.

At the end of your life, your greatest regret won’t be the things you did but wish you hadn’t. Your greatest regret will be the things you didn’t do but wish you had. It’s the “what if” dreams that we never act upon that turn into “if only” regrets.

That prediction is backed up by a study done by two social psychologists, Tom Gilovich and Vicki Medvec. According to their research, time is a key factor in what we regret. In the short term, we tend to regret actions more than inactions by a count of 53 to 47 percent. In other words, we feel acute regret over the mistakes we’ve made. But over the long haul, we regret inactions more than actions, 84 to 16 percent.

That doesn’t mean we won’t have some deep-seated regrets about things we wish we hadn’t said or done, but our longest lasting regrets will be the opportunities we left on the table. Those are the “if onlys” that haunt us to the grave and beyond.

Now let me translate that study into theological terms.

We fixate on sins of commission far too much. We practice holiness by subtraction–don’t do this, don’t do that, and you’re okay. The problem with that is this: you can do nothing wrong and still do nothing right.

Righteousness is more than doing nothing wrong–it’s doing something right. It’s not just resisting temptation–it’s going after God-ordained opportunities. Holiness by subtraction is playing not to lose. Righteousness is going all in with God. It’s playing to win. It’s living as if the victory has already been won at Calvary’s cross. And it has.

In my opinion, it’s the sins of omission that grieve the heart of our heavenly Father the most–the wouldas, couldas, and shouldas. Why? Because no one knows our God-given potential like the God who gave it to us in the first place!

Potential is God’s gift to us.

Making the most of it is our gift back to God.

Anything less results in regrets. (Quote source: “If,” page 12.)

At this point I can think of one example in my own life where I could apply both the “if only” and “what if” questions. The example, of course, goes back to September 2008 when I accepted that job in Houston which I lost seven months later in April 2009. I could state, “If only I had never accepted that job in the first place, I wouldn’t be living in a hotel now on a Social Security income and having such a difficult time finding low income housing.” That, of course, is a “regret” statement. However, the “what if” question given to that same situation–since it is a reality that I did take that job in Houston in 2008 and I am now living in a hotel room on a Social Security income, and I’m having a very difficult time finding low income housing–and turns the situation completely around. Enter Romans 8:28 which states:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

job-42v2Hence, using the words from Romans 8:28, the question now becomes, “What if God means to bring this very situation to work out for my own good because I do love him, and because I have been called according to his purpose.” His purpose, not mine (which we as Christians so often get confused about). That puts an entirely different spin on the situation. He never meant this situation for my ill will, but for His purpose, and that purpose is still unfolding. In other words, it’s not over until it serves God’s purpose, and it’s not just about what we want.

There is much in Batterson’s book that I can’t begin to touch on in a blog post, and I’m not going to try. However, there is a segment in Chapter 24 titled “Change Agents” that I want to quote (from pp. 221-225):

I have a few convictions when it comes to calling. They are keys to unlocking “what if.”

God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.

There is a high likelihood that God will call you to do something you’re not smart enough, good enough, or strong enough to pull off. By definition, a God-ordained dream will always be beyond your ability and beyond your resources. Why? So that you have to rely on God every single day!

I’m keenly aware of the fact that in my current state of spiritual maturity, I’m not capable of leading National Community Church two years from now. I need to keep growing, keep learning. And that’s the way it should be. Nothing keeps you on your knees in raw dependence upon God like God-sized dreams.

Criticize by creating.

In my opinion, criticism is a cop-out for those who are too lazy to solve the problem they are complaining about. Instead of criticizing movies or music, produce a film or an album that is better than whatever it is you’re complaining about. The most constructive criticism is called creativity.

At the end of the day, we should be more known for what we’re for than what we’re against. Anybody can point out problems. We’re called to solve them by writing better books, starting better schools, and drafting better legislation.

The anointing is for everyone.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer, or a barista. From the top of the organizational chart to the bottom, God wants to anoint you to do whatever it is you’re called to do.

If I need legal help, I certainly want an attorney who has been to law school. But I also want an attorney who is anointed by God. 

If I need surgery, I certainly want a doctor who has been to med school. But I want more than that; I want a doctor whose hands are anointed by God.

If I need dirty chai with two shots of expresso–well, you get the point. The anointing of God knows no limits when it comes to position or portfolio.

Live for the applause of nail-scarred hands.

Whatever it is that you feel called to do, do it as if your life depended on it. That’s 1 Corinthians 10:31 in a nutshell: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

The key word is “whatever.” It doesn’t matter what you’re doing; do it to the glory of God. “It is inbred in us that we have to do exceptional things for God,” said Oswald Chambers, “but we have not. We have been exceptional in the ordinary things.” And when we are, we put a smile on God’s face.

Richard Bolles, author of the classic bestseller [first published in 1970 and updated every year thereafter], “What Color Is Your Parachute?”, makes a profound observation. “The story in the Gospels of Jesus going up on the mount and being transfigured before the disciples is to me a picture of what calling is all about. Taking the mundane, offering it to God, and asking Him to transfigure it.”

“Taking mundane tasks and figuring out how to transfigure them.”

That’s what calling is all about.

More than a decade ago, I gave the eulogy at a memorial service in the Caucus Room of the Russell Senate Office Building. Some of the most important hearings in our nation’s history have been held in that room. If those walls could talk!

Yet here we were to honor the life of a woman with no rank. Jayonna Beal was the administrative assistant in charge of constituent correspondence for fourteen years. That isn’t a position people are fighting for on the hill, but Jayonna did it with grace. She didn’t have position or power, but that room was packed with the Who’s Who of Washington.

I spoke right after her boss, who would run for president in a few years. He, along with countless others, shared stories of how Jayonna’s small acts of kindness made a big difference in their lives. Jayonna baked cookies, sewed buttons, and showed interns the ropes. And she did it all in the name of Jesus. Jayonna practices the old adage, “Share the gospel every day; if necessary, use words.”

It’s the little “ifs” that change the world.

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:

If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven will pause to say, “Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

I know a great street sweeper. Her name is Val, and she is a custodian who cleans like it’s nobody’s business but God’s. She inscribed SDG on her mop handle, just like Johann Sebastian Bach did on his symphonies. It stands for “Soli Deo Gloria.” It’s a reminder that she cleans for the glory of God.

Believe it or not, Val drove all the way from Canada to clean our offices at National Community Church. I know that sounds strange, but I think it falls into the category of “strange and mysterious.” She was profoundly impacted by our podcast, and she wanted to repay her debt of gratitude the best way she knew how. So she drove all the way to DC to clean our offices.

Who does that?

I’ll tell you who. Someone who knows God has called them. Back home, Val is the custodian for the school district. It’s often a thankless job; the job no one else wants to do. And it isn’t always easy. “My prayer last year was the God would get me off the third shift,” Val told me. “But now I have changed my prayer. I want to be taught by God what I need to learn.”

There might be educators in her district smarter than her, but I dare say that no one is more teachable than that custodian. And that’s what really counts in God’s kingdom.

Being a third-shift custodian isn’t most people’s dream job. But what you do isn’t as important as how you do it and whom you do it for. So no matter what you do, do it like Michelangelo painted, Beethoven composed, Shakespeare wrote poetry, and Val cleans bathrooms.

Whatever you do, don’t settle for what.

Imagine “what if.” (Quote source: “If,” page 221-225.)

I’ll end this post with something to think about that Batterson states on page 24:

There is no higher leverage point than the two-letter word “if.”

It defines our deepest regrets: “if only.”

It defies impossible circumstances: “as if.”

It’s pregnant with infinite possibilities: “what if.”

And it overcomes all refutations: no “ifs, ands, or buts” about it.

Biblically speaking, “if” is the conditional conjunction that turns God’s eternal promises into our present realities. Each of those promises is a high leverage point, but perhaps no promise in the Bible has more leverage than Romans 8:31 . . .

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” . . .

And that’s one little “if” . . .

That can change your life . . . .

YouTube Video: “Feel It” by TobyMac ft. Mr. TalkBox

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

High Hopes

morning-gloryThe other day I ran across a small book of “simple suggestions” titled, High Hopes,” by Patrick Lindsay, “one of Australia’s leading broadcasters and nonfiction authors. He spent more than 25 years as a journalist and TV presenter before he began writing full-time in 2001” (quote source: inside back cover of the book). As of the publication of this book in 2014, he had written 19 best-selling books. The blurb for this book on Amazon.com states:

Most of us race through life, unable to enjoy the present because we’re weighed down by the past or worried about the future. “High Hopes” offers insights that will allow you to slow the daily rush and enjoy your life, moment by moment. Patrick Lindsay prompts us to lift our spirits by simplifying our lives, embracing our humanity, sparking our imaginations and inspiring ourselves and those around us (quote source here).

Each quote contains a title, a simple suggestion, and is supported by a quote of timeless wisdom. Here are three for consideration:

Listen to What’s Not being Said

Most of us hear people speaking.
What’s 
more important is what they’re
not saying. Look 
for the subtext.
Be aware of what has been left out.

Observe their revealing physical reactions.
Often 
the real message is in the omissions.

~~~~~~~~~~

The art of being wise is the art of
knowing what to overlook.

William James (1842-1910)
(Source: “High Hopes,” p.24)

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Look for the Pattern

Most situations develop to a pattern.
It 
may be camouflaged, or slow to reveal,
but it’s 
usually there, and usually decipherable.
Understanding the patterns gives you power
to anticipate the next steps, or to break
the pattern to find novel solutions.

~~~~~~~~~~

Habit rules the unreflecting herd.

William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
(Source: “High Hopes,” p. 36)

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Lose the Self-Pity

If we stop being self-centered, we
change our viewpoint on everything.
We widen 
our horizons, we start thinking
about others instead of ourselves. 
We
break away from a strangling negativity.
We 
form a solid positive base.

~~~~~~~~~~

Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we
yield to it, we can never do anything
wise in this world.

Helen Keller (1880-1968)
(Source: “High Hopes,” p. 51)

rose-growing-in-concrete-crackAll of us, at one time or another, have found ourselves in the throes of a pity party. I’ve had my share over the past several years since losing a job that has left me unemployed on a rather permanent basis at this point in time. It is not uncommon for us to ask “Why me?” especially if what happened to us was caused by others and not necessarily an outcome from something we did. Or it could stem from a natural disaster (or other circumstance) that took away everything we held precious in it’s wake. And on a lesser scale, it could stem from not getting accepted to a college we had dreamed about attending, or getting a job promotion we expected but was given to someone else. The list of things that are capable of causing us discouragement and to lose hope is endless… and that’s the point. We can’t afford to lose hope. . . .

I’m reminded of the story of Joseph in the Old Testament as a classic example of a young man who endured one trial and tragedy after another lasting for years. His story is found in Genesis 37-50. It’s a story is filled with rivalry, jealousy, and betrayal. As a teenager Joseph is sold by his jealous older brothers into slavery to Midianite traders, and they tell their father, Jacob, that Joseph is dead. The Midianite traders then traveled to Egypt, where they sold Joseph to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. Potiphar was captain of the palace guard (Genesis 37:36). Joseph serves Potiphar well, and Potiphar was quite pleased and gave him complete administrative responsibility over everything that he owns. Joseph is also described as being well built and handsome, and Potiphar’s wife had taken note. She tried to get Joseph to sleep with her but he refuses; and in her anger she concocts a story telling her husband that he tried to rape her which lands Joseph in prison for several years (see Genesis 39).

At this point in the story I want to turn to something Max LucadoMinister of Preaching at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas, for that past 25 years, wrote regarding Joseph in his book, You’ll Get Through This: Hope and Help For Your Turbulent Times (2013). In a chapter titled, “Oh, So This is Boot Camp” (pp. 45-48), he opens the chapter with the following story:

On November 28, 1965, the fighter plane of Howard Rutledge exploded under enemy fire. He parachuted into the hands of the North Vietnamese Army and was promptly place in the “Heartbreak Hotel,” one of the POW prisons in Hanoi. [At this point a two-paragraph description of the prison and his 6×6 cell and the horrible conditions it is in is given.]

Few of us will ever face the austere conditions of a POW camp. Yet to one degree or another, we all spend time behind bars.

  • My email today contains a prayer request for a young mother just diagnosed with lupus. Incarcerated by bad health.
  • I had coffee yesterday with a man whose wife battles depression. he fees stuck (chain number one) and guilty for feeling stuck (chain number two).
  • After half a century of marriage, a friend’s wife began to lose her memory. He had to take away her car keys so she wouldn’t drive. He has to stay near so she won’t fall. They had hopes of growing old together. They still may, but only one of them will know the day of the week.

Each of these individuals wonders, “Where is heaven in this story? Why would God permit such imprisonment? Does this struggle serve any purpose” Joseph surely posed those questions.

If Mrs. Potiphar couldn’t flirt Joseph into her bed, she would force him. She grabbed for his robe, and he let her have it. He chose his character over his coat. When he ran, she concocted a story. When Potiphar came home, she was ready with her lie and Joseph’s coat as proof. Potiphar charged Joseph with sexual assault and locked him in jail. “And [Joseph] was there in prison. but the LORD was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.” (Genesis 39:20-21).

Not a prison in the modern sense but a warren of underground, windowless rooms with damp floors, stale food, and better water. Guards shoved him into the dungeon and slammed the door. Joseph leaned back against the wall, slid to the floor. “I have done nothing here that they should put me into the dungeon” (Genesis 40:15).

Joseph had done his best in Potiphar’s house. He had made a fortune for his employer. He had kept his chores done and his room tidy. He had adapted to a new culture. He had resisted the sexual advances. But how was he rewarded? A prison sentence with no hope of parole. Since when does the high road lead over a cliff?

The answer? Ever since the events of Genesis 3, the chapter that documents the entry of evil into the world. Disaster came in the form of Lucifer, the fallen angel. And as long as Satan “prowls around like a roaring lion” (I Peter 5:8 NIV), he will wreak havoc among God’s people. He will lock preachers, like Paul, in prisons. He will exile pastors, like John, on remote islands. He will afflict the friends of Jesus, like Lazarus, with diseases. But his strategies always backfire. The imprisoned Paul wrote epistles [some while he was in prison]. The banished John saw heaven [read the Book of Revelation]. The cemetery of Lazarus became a stage upon which Christ performed one of his greatest miracles.

Intended evil becomes ultimate good.

As I reread that promise, it sounds formulaic, catchy, as if destined for a bumper sticker. I don’t mean for it to. There is nothing trite about your wheelchair, empty pantry, or aching heart. These are uphill, into-the-wind challenges you are facing. They are not easy.

flower-growing-in-concrete-crackBut neither are they random. God is not “sometimes” sovereign. He is not “occasionally” victorious. He does not occupy the throne one day and vacate it the next. “The Lord shall not turn back until He has executed and accomplished the thoughts and intents of His mind” (Jeremiah 30-24 AMP). This season in which you find yourself may puzzle you, but it does not bewilder God. He can and will use it for his purpose.

Cast in point: Joseph in prison. From an earthly viewpoint the Egyptian jail was the tragic conclusion of Joseph’s life. Satan could chalk up a victory for the dark side. All plans to use Joseph ended with the slamming of the jail door. The devil had Joseph just where he wanted him.

So did God.

They bruised his feet with fetters
    and placed his neck in an iron collar.
Until the time came to fulfill his dreams,
    the Lord tested Joseph’s character.
    (Psalm 105:18-19 NLT)

What Satan intended for evil, God used for testing. In the Bible a test is an external trial the purifies and prepares the heart. Just as a firs refines precious metal from dross and impurities, a trial purges the heart of the same. One of the psalmists wrote:

For you, God, tested us;
    you refined us like silver.
You brought us into prison
    and laid burdens on our backs.
You let people ride over our heads;
    we went through fire and water,
    but you brought us to a place of abundance.
(Psalm 66:10-21 NIV)

Everyday God tests us through people, pain, or problems. Stop and consider your circumstances. Can you identify the tests of today? Snarling traffic? Threatening weather? Aching joints?

If you see your troubles as nothing more than isolated hassles and hurts, you’ll grow bitter and angry. Yet if you see your troubles as tests used by God for his glory and your maturity, then even the smallest incidents take on significance. (Quote source: “You’ll Get Through This,” pp. 45-48).

The story of Joseph doesn’t end there. Early in his life God gave Joseph the ability to interpret dreams, and one day after he had been in prison for several years, Pharaoh had two very troubling dreams back-to-back. He called all the magicians and wise men in his kingdom, but no one could interpret the dreams. His cupbearer, who had been in prison two years earlier with Joseph, recalled a dream that Joseph interpreted for him, and the interpretation came true three day later. The cupbearer was released from prison and reinstalled as cupbearer (which was part of the dream that Joseph interpreted would happen to him), and Joseph asked the cupbearer to remember him to the Pharaoh. Unfortunately, the cupbearer forgot all about Joseph until two years later when Pharaoh has his troubling dreams. The cupbearer told Pharaoh about Joseph’s interpretation of his dream and how it came true.

At this point, Genesis 41:14-36 describes what happened next:

Pharaoh sent for Joseph at once, and he was quickly brought from the prison. After he shaved and changed his clothes, he went in and stood before Pharaoh. Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream last night, and no one here can tell me what it means. But I have heard that when you hear about a dream you can interpret it.”

“It is beyond my power to do this,” Joseph replied. “But God can tell you what it means and set you at ease.”

So Pharaoh told Joseph his dream. “In my dream,” he said, “I was standing on the bank of the Nile River, and I saw seven fat, healthy cows come up out of the river and begin grazing in the marsh grass. But then I saw seven sick-looking cows, scrawny and thin, come up after them. I’ve never seen such sorry-looking animals in all the land of Egypt. These thin, scrawny cows ate the seven fat cows. But afterward you wouldn’t have known it, for they were still as thin and scrawny as before! Then I woke up.

“In my dream I also saw seven heads of grain, full and beautiful, growing on a single stalk. Then seven more heads of grain appeared, but these were blighted, shriveled, and withered by the east wind. And the shriveled heads swallowed the seven healthy heads. I told these dreams to the magicians, but no one could tell me what they mean.”

Joseph responded, “Both of Pharaoh’s dreams mean the same thing. God is telling Pharaoh in advance what he is about to do. The seven healthy cows and the seven healthy heads of grain both represent seven years of prosperity. The seven thin, scrawny cows that came up later and the seven thin heads of grain, withered by the east wind, represent seven years of famine.

“This will happen just as I have described it, for God has revealed to Pharaoh in advance what he is about to do. The next seven years will be a period of great prosperity throughout the land of Egypt. But afterward there will be seven years of famine so great that all the prosperity will be forgotten in Egypt. Famine will destroy the land. This famine will be so severe that even the memory of the good years will be erased. As for having two similar dreams, it means that these events have been decreed by God, and he will soon make them happen.

“Therefore, Pharaoh should find an intelligent and wise man and put him in charge of the entire land of Egypt. Then Pharaoh should appoint supervisors over the land and let them collect one-fifth of all the crops during the seven good years. Have them gather all the food produced in the good years that are just ahead and bring it to Pharaoh’s storehouses. Store it away, and guard it so there will be food in the cities. That way there will be enough to eat when the seven years of famine come to the land of Egypt. Otherwise this famine will destroy the land.”

At this point, Pharaoh releases Joseph from prison and makes him second in command (Genesis 41:37-44):

Joseph’s suggestions were well received by Pharaoh and his officials. So Pharaoh asked his officials, “Can we find anyone else like this man so obviously filled with the spirit of God?” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has revealed the meaning of the dreams to you, clearly no one else is as intelligent or wise as you are. You will be in charge of my court, and all my people will take orders from you. Only I, sitting on my throne, will have a rank higher than yours.”

Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the entire land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh removed his signet ring from his hand and placed it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in fine linen clothing and hung a gold chain around his neck. Then he had Joseph ride in the chariot reserved for his second-in-command. And wherever Joseph went, the command was shouted, “Kneel down!” So Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of all Egypt. And Pharaoh said to him, “I am Pharaoh, but no one will lift a hand or foot in the entire land of Egypt without your approval.”

daisies-growing-in-concrete-crackAfter the seven good years ended, the famine started for the next seven years, and it reached all the way to where Joseph’s family was living. The brothers who sold Joseph into slavery years earlier had no idea what had happened to him, and they had told their father that he was dead. Long story short (it’s too long to go into the details in this blog post) the famine evenutally brings his family including his father to Egypt, and the end result is that they were saved from the famine and the family was reconciled.

Joseph was 17 at the time his brothers sold him into slavery and 30 at the time Pharaoh brought him out of prison and appointed him to be ruler over all of Egypt (only second to Pharaoh). He was most likely around 40 before he saw his family again.

Genesis 50 speaks of the reconciliation between Joseph and his father, Jacob, who died shortly after their reconciliation, and he requested to be buried in the land of Canaan. After the burial in Canaan and the period of mourning was over, Joseph speaks the following words to his brothers (Genesis 50:14-21):

After burying Jacob, Joseph returned to Egypt with his brothers and all who had accompanied him to his father’s burial. But now that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers became fearful. “Now Joseph will show his anger and pay us back for all the wrong we did to him,” they said.

So they sent this message to Joseph: “Before your father died, he instructed us to say to you: ‘Please forgive your brothers for the great wrong they did to you—for their sin in treating you so cruelly.’ So we, the servants of the God of your father, beg you to forgive our sin.” When Joseph received the message, he broke down and wept. Then his brothers came and threw themselves down before Joseph. “Look, we are your slaves!” they said.

But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.” So he reassured them by speaking kindly to them.

So Joseph and his brothers and their families continued to live in the land of Egypt, and Joseph lived to be 110 years old (50:22).

Most of us will not go through circumstances as severe as Joseph went through regarding his brothers’ betrayal which sent him into slavery, and then spending years in prison (under a false charge of rape) when he did nothing wrong. However, we all face situations and circumstances that come into our lives that at the very least cause us to say, “Why me?” But no matter what the situation happens to be, for those of us who truly believe in God, it is God who orchestras even those events we don’t understand that come into our lives, including those trying situations that can stick around for years.

I’ll end this post with one of my favorite parables that Jesus told which is found in Luke 18:1-8:

One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’ The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people, but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’”

Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?”

The persistent widow never gave up, and that’s a great lesson for us. No matter what we may be going through at any point in time, let’s remember the words of Jesus when he said:

Always pray . . .

And never give up . . .

And always have hope in God . . . .

flower-tree-growing-concrete-pavement

YouTube Video: “Nothing Compares” by Third Day:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here
Photo #4 credit here
Photo #5 credit here

Once Vices Now Habits

Bad behaviors left unattended becomes bad habits that are hard to break. In fact, we’ve often become so accustomed to our bad habits that we might not even consider them to be all that bad anymore. They just “are.” For example, habits like worry, anger, hate, revenge, gossip, jealousy, etc. Or habits like being late all the time, or overeating, smoking, drinking too much, drugs, and manipulating others for our own benefit. We can add lust, greed, power hungry, and showing disrespect to others–especially those we don’t like for whatever reason–to the list. However, the #1 bad habit infecting all of us is (drum roll, please)… lying. We don’t even think twice about lying anymore. It’s become as natural as breathing to many of us (see December 2016 article in The Washington Post titled, An epidemic of lies: Our country’s cultural plague just keeps getting worse).

Well, you get the idea about bad habits. We all have them, and often we just excuse them off. So let’s consider this quote:

“The more I looked, the more I found Christian Atheists everywhere.”

Do you know who said it? It’s the topic of a 2010 book titled, The Christian Atheist: Believing in God but Living as if He Doesn’t Exist,” by Craig Groeschel, founder and senior pastor of Life.Church which started back in 1996 in a two-car garage by him and a handful of others. It is now “the largest church [as of September 2016] in the United States with twenty six locations in eight states (quote source here). He is also a New York Times bestselling author and has written several books.

That quote above is taken from the blurb on the back cover of The Christian Atheist,” and it is also found on Amazon.com:

“The more I looked, the more I found Christian Atheists everywhere.” Former Christian Atheist Craig Groeschel knows his subject all too well. After over a decade of successful ministry, he had to make a painful self admission: although he believed in God, he was leading his church like God didn’t exist. To Christians and non-Christians alike, to the churched and the unchurched, the journey leading up to Groeschel’s admission and the journey that follows—from his family and his upbringing to the lackluster and even diametrically opposed expressions of faith he encountered—will look and sound like the story of their own lives. Now the founding and senior pastor of the multi-campus, pace-setting LiveChurch.tv [Life.Church], Groeschel’s personal journey toward a more authentic God-honoring life is more relevant than ever. Christians and Christian Atheists everywhere will be nodding their heads as they are challenged to take their own honest moment and ask the question: am I putting my whole faith in God but still living as if everything was up to me? (Quote source here.)

The following endorsements for the book should pique the interest of any Christian who is coasting along without serious thought for how they are living their everyday lives. These endorsements are found on the opening two pages of the book:

“The thing I’ve always appreciated about Craig is his willingness to be honest when his life doesn’t match up with the Scriptures. Too Many people are quick to make excuses for themselves and others who call themselves “Christian.” Craig challenges us to think deeply, honestly, and fearfully about how our lives may be contradicting our message.” ~Francis Chan, pastor and author

“In ‘The Christian Atheist,’ Craig leverages transparency to force the rest of us to take an honest look at the contrast between how we live and what we claim to believe. Craig’s vulnerability coupled with his fresh insights, will move you to begin realigning behavior with beliefs.” ~Andy Stanley, senior pastor, North Pointe Community Church

“Craig Groeschel is a brilliant communicator and a gift to the church worldwide. He has a way of saying the things we are all thinking with an approachable authority that resonates with the ups and downs of our daily walk with God. Craig’s genuine heart to see your life’s journey flourish, and his honest perspective on personal experiences, will quietly convict your heart and encourage your soul.” ~Brian Houston, senior pastor, Hillsong Church

“Church people always talk about Christians and non-Christians, but nobody ever talks about the people in-between. Most of the men and women I talk to everyday fall into that middle ground, the group that believes in God but lives like he’s not there, doesn’t care, or doesn’t matter. In ‘The Christian Atheist,’ Pastor Craig Groeschel hits this audience head-on, opening up about his own doubts and fears, while setting the table for hundreds of life-changing discussions about who God is and how he operates.” ~Dave Ramsey, host of The Dave Ramsey Show, Ramsey Solutions

“There are too many Christian Atheists in the church today, and through this book, Craig Groeschel challenges the genuineness of faith in the life of the self-proclaimed believer. ‘The Christian Atheist’ will cause you to move from head knowledge to heart knowledge. This is a must-read for every Christian.” ~Jentezen Franklin, senior pastor, Free Chapel

“Craig’s insights and candor combine to make this book a true gift to ‘atheists’ of all kinds!” ~Bill Hybels, senior pastor, Willow Creek Community Church, and chairman of the board, Willow Creek Association

“‘The Christian Atheist’ will challenge you, push you, and disturb you. It will redefine your sense of purpose and focus as a Christian. Every Christian today need to read this book. Craig’s gut-level honesty is refreshing and will help move you toward a life that is fully devoted to Christ. Too many of us live lives that don’t truly reflect who we are as followers of Christ. But the good news is we can change. True Christianity awaits us. And Craig provides a practical prescription for how to get there.” ~Brad Lomenick, president, Catalyst

matt-16v26That should whet your appetite for reading The Christian Atheist.” Groeschel opens the book with a sobering verse from Titus 1:16: “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.” In his “A Letter to the Reader” found on pp.11-15, he describes a conversation he had with a 23-year-old female grad student named Michelle who sat next to him on a flight and who he describes as a Christian Atheist. Here is what he writes on pp. 13-15:

Christian Atheists are everywhere. They attend Catholic churches, Baptist churches, Pentecostal churches, nondenominational churches, and even churches where the pastor says, “GAW-duh!” when he’s preaching. They attend big seminaries, Big Ten universities, and every college in between. They are every age and race and occupation–and some even read their Bibles everyday.

Christian Atheists look a lot like Christians, but they live a lot like Travis [e.g., a middle-aged father of two heading home from an unsuccessful business trip that Groschel sat next to on a previous flight–that conversation is on pp. 11-13, but in Travis’ case he denies the existence of God altogether and states that he thinks Christians are the weakest people alive].

Before our plane took off, Michelle struck up a conversation. Somewhat nervous about flying, she seemed eager to talk, as if our chat might make the flight pass more quickly. After describing her difficulties with balancing her checkbook and handling her divorced parents and her live-in boyfriend–who’s scared to death of marriage–she asked me about my life.

Creating a diversion from my “I’m a pastor” answer, I explained that I’m married and have six children. “Six kids?! Don’t you know what causes kids?” she joked.

After some more small talk, Michelle asked me what I do for a living. No longer able to dodge the inevitable, I answered, “Well, as a matter of fact, I’m the pastor of a church.”

This revelation gave Michelle permission to unleash a stream of Christian words and stories. Dropping the occasional “God told me” and “God is good,” she smiled softly as she described how she “gave her life to Jesus” at the age of fifteen at a Christian youth camp. After praying sincerely, she was eager to get back to school to share her faith and live a life of purity and spiritual integrity. Michelle held on to her new belief in God but soon slipped back into her old way of life.

As if in a confessional, Michelle continued pouring out her life’s darker details. She looked down as she admitted that she was doing things with her live-in boyfriend that she knew she shouldn’t. She told me she wanted to go to church but was simply too busy working and studying. She did pray many nights–mostly that her boyfriend would become a Christian like she was. “If only he believed in Jesus, then he might want to marry me,” she said, wiping her tears.

At last, Michelle expressed one final confession: “I know my life doesn’t look like a Christian’s life should look, but I do believe in God.”

Welcome to Christian Atheism, where people believe in God but live as if he doesn’t exist. As much as I don’t want to admit it, I see this kind of atheism in myself. People might assume that a pastor wouldn’t struggle with any form of atheism, but I certainly do. Sadly, Christian Atheism is everywhere. There has to be a better way to live.

This book is for anyone courageous enough to admit to their hypocrisy. I hope it pushes you, challenges you, and disturbs you. And if you’re honest before God–as I am trying to be–perhaps together we can shed some of our hypocrisy and live a life that truly brings glory to Christ. (Quote source, “The Christian Atheist,” pp. 13-15).

I’ll give you the chapter titles but if you want more, you’ll need to get a copy of the book. The twelve chapter titles are revealing:

Introduction: A Recovering Christian Atheist (Groeschel’s own story)
Chapter 1: When You Believe in God but Don’t Really Know Him
Chapter 2: When You Believe in God but Are Ashamed of Your Past
Chapter 3: When You Believe in God but Aren’t Sure He Loves You
Chapter 4: When You Believe in God but Not in Prayer
Chapter 5: When You Believe in God but Don’t Think He’s Fair
Chapter 6: When You Believe in God but Won’t Forgive
Chapter 7: When You Believe in God but Don’t Think You Can Change
Chapter 8: When You Believe in God but Still Worry All the Time
Chapter 9: When You Believe in God but Pursue Happiness at Any Cost
Chapter 10: When You Believe in God but Trust More in Money
Chapter 11: When You Believe in God but Don’t Share Your Faith
Chapter 12: When You Believe in God but Not in His Church
Afterword: Third Line of Faith

Each chapter is filled with deeply personal stories that will move us to reflect on our own life as a Christian and what it means to be a Christian, and in the course of reading it, we’ll find that there really isn’t any “middle ground” that one can afford to stagnate on. In the “Afterword,” Groeschel writes about three “lines of faith” and how the third line of faith is the most crucial . . . and without it, nothing else matters. Groeschel states:

matt-6v34Several years ago [do remember that this book was published in 2010], I increasingly recognized inconsistencies between what I claimed to believe and the way I actually lived. I preached that people without Christ go to hell, but my life showed I wasn’t equally passionate to reach those people. Though I believed God wanted my life to be different, I found comparing myself to others easier than measuring my life against Christ’s. I preached that prayer is critical, But my prayer life was virtually nonexistent. God’s Word said my treasure shouldn’t be in this world, yet material things continued to grab my attention. Jesus said, “Don’t worry about tomorrow.” But worry came as naturally to me as breathing. If I truly belonged to Christ, I should surrender my whole life to him. I just gave him parts instead, and took them back whenever he didn’t do what I wanted. I called myself a Christian, but I lived like an Atheist.

The more honest I became, the more I hated living faithlessly, and the more I craved intimacy with God. “Whatever it takes” became my heart’s cry. Whatever it takes to know him. Whatever it takes to live like I truly love God. Whatever it takes to love eternity more than this world. Even if I have to fight, scrape, and crawl away from my Christian Atheism into a genuine, crucified life of faith and radical obedience to Christ, I’ll do whatever it takes. (Quote source, “The Christian Atheist,” pp. 234-235.)

Groeschel then explains a life changing experience that changed his direction:

One day I was at home working out on my elliptical machine, listening to a sermon on my iPod. Suddenly I just had to stop. Surrounded by God’s presence, I knelt down on the floor and started crying out to God. If you had seen me, you would have thought I was falling apart. But God was putting me back together.

I cried for all of God, and his presence became immediately real. Although I’d unquestionably been spiritually reborn a decade and a half ago, it was like I was being born again–again.

I’ve always believed in spiritual visions; I’d just never had one. Not anymore. I saw a picture as clear as the words on this page. I stood before three lines in the sand. Somehow I knew what each line represented. (Quote source, “The Christian Atheist,” p. 235).

At this point, he states the three lines of faith:

Line 1: I believe in God and the gospel of Christ enough to benefit from it. Like so many others, crossing that first line was easy. Sadly, many who call themselves Christians live here. If there is a God, I want to be on his good side. I want to go to heaven. I want him to bless me with good health, good relationships, and a happy life. Like the nine ungrateful lepers in Luke 17, once God has helped me, I forgot about him.

Most wouldn’t admit that this is all the faith they can manage. We want God’s benefits without changing how we live. We want his best, without our sacrifices. At the first line, we don’t fear God or share our faith. We still love this world. We’ll pursue happiness at any cost. The list goes on and on. We first-line believers get what we can get from God without giving much, if anything back . . . .

Line 2: I believe in God and Christ’s gospel enough to contribute comfortably. Past the first line are people who believe in God not only enough to benefit but also enough to give back–as long as it doesn’t cost too much. Many first-line Christians eventually cross the second line. “If I don’t have to change too much, I’ll do some of what God asks. If it doesn’t hurt too much, I’ll get more serious about God. But everyone has their limits, right?” Like the rich young ruler in Matthew 19, I was willing to go along with the religious rules as long as it didn’t hurt too much. . . .

Line 3: I believe in God and Christ’s gospel enough to give my life to it. Although most people I knew were line-one and line-two believers, suddenly anything less than line three didn’t seem like real Christianity to me. Could I give my whole life to Christ? Not only in words but in my daily life?

Verses I’d read dozens of times suddenly flooded to mind:

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matthew 16:25-26). Am I willing to lose my life?

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20). Could I sacrifice my desires, my hopes, my dreams?

“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24). What would it take to make my life nothing to me, existing only to do what Christ wants me to do?

“What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8). Could I truly count all my earthly possessions a loss, making Christ my greatest treasure? (Quote source, “The Christian Atheist,” pp. 235-238.)

Groeschel states:

I knew in the deepest part of myself: I have to be a third-line believer. With unquenchable thirst, I pursued living water above all substitutes. I started praying like never before. I started pursuing God in the morning and continued throughout the day. Jesus was on my mind when I fell asleep and when I awoke. Scripture started becoming my bread of life, nourishing my soul.

I surrendered one thing after another, until just one major hurdle stood between where I was and where God wanted me. I can’t tell you what that thing was. It’s simply too personal. Only two people in the world know it.

My battle to cross the third line lasted almost two years. I prayed about it daily. I quoted Scripture. Though spiritually exhausted, I wouldn’t give up. Spiritual warfare raged around me. Finally, on one very normal Saturday afternoon, by faith, I gave this last part of my life totally to God. I sacrificed a fear that had held me hostage since I was a child and made a promise to God that I’d never take it back.

I crossed the third line.

I believe in God and Christ’s gospel so much that I’m wiling to give my whole life to his cause. Nothing in this world is more important to me than my treasure in heaven. No fear in my heart is greater than my fear of God. Tears are filling my eyes as I type this. I cannot put into words what God has done in my heart.

I am a different person.

You can be, too. . . . (Quote source, “The Christian Atheist,” pp. 238-239.)

As we can see from the above brief quotes from The Christian Atheist,” and as stated on the back cover of the book, “Goeschel’s frank and raw conversation about our Christian Atheist tendencies and habits is a convicting and life-changing read.” If we want to go beyond the surface and the “What’s in it for me?” mentality, read this book. And perhaps, as Goeschel stated at the end of his book, we, too, will be able to state . . . .

I’ve crossed the third line . . .

I’m a different person . . .

You can be, too . . . .

YouTube Video: “Lose My Soul” by TobyMac, Kirk Franklin, and Mandisa:

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Flying On Instinct

instinctsSo much of how we view our world today is often determined by our emotions or feelings which can change at the drop of a hat.” Instinct, on the other hand, does not run on emotions or feelings. Dictionary.com defines instinct as follows:

  • an inborn pattern of activity or tendency to action common to a given biological species;
  • a natural or innate impulse, inclination, or tendency;
  • a natural aptitude or gift (e.g., an instinct for making money)
  • natural intuitive power

Instinct doesn’t run on logic or reason (nor does it operate on emotions or feelings). It’s innate. And instinct is not the same as intuition. It differs from intuition as described below (quote source here):

Although the words “intuition” and “instinct” appear identical to most people, these two do not refer to the same thing as there is a difference between them in their meanings. Intuition is our ability to know something without reasoning. It is when we feel as if we know what is about to happen or what to do without having any real facts. But, instinct is something different from intuition. It is an inborn tendency. Instinct is our natural reaction; it occurs without even thinking. It is more an ability, unlike intuition. This is the main difference between intuition and instinct. Through this article, let us examine the difference between intuition and instinct.

Intuition is “the ability to understand or know something without conscious reasoning.” It is similar to an insight that we have regarding a matter. For instance, have you felt as if something is not right, or that something bad is about to happen without having any concrete facts? This is due to our intuition. We do not have real facts or a rationale for our feeling, but we feel as if it is correct.

When intuition comes to play, we do not analyze the situation. We also do not weigh the pros and cons, we just know. For instance, before arriving at a decision, people approach it from different angles. They try to work out the best manner of doing something, verify the advantages and disadvantages. However, with intuition, one does not have sufficient information to rationalize his decision or thought. It is as if the individual can see beyond what is presented.

Instinct refers to “an inborn tendency.” It is a natural ability. Instinct is not something that we have learned, but it is a natural response. For instance, imagine you see a vehicle coming at high speed towards you. You would naturally jump out of the way. In such a situation, you hardly get sufficient time to think, but you respond automatically. This is because of our instinct.

Unlike intuition that is a thought, instinct is mostly a behavior or else an action. For instance, if a ball comes in your direction, you instinctively attempt to either catch it or else move away so that it will not hit you. You do not have time to think whether you should move away or catch the ball. Within seconds, you act on it. In psychology, we speak of two concepts of “flight or fight mode.” Flight is when the individual moves away from the situation; fight is when the individual faces the situation, or else in this case catches the ball. This occurs in a very short period.

As you can see, intuition is different from instinct. It is a thought and not an automatic response or action. (Quote source here at DifferenceBetween.com.)

Instinct takes place in the immediate “now.” As humans, we like to rationalize everything, but instincts can’t be rationalized. It is a natural reaction, an automatic response, and an inborn tendency.

With that in mind, the other day I ran across the book, Instinct: The Power to Release Your Inborn Drive” (2014), by Bishop T.D. Jakes,a charismatic leader, visionary, provocative thinker, and entrepreneur who serves as senior pastor of The Potter’s House, a global humanitarian organization and 30,000-member church located in Dallas, Texas” (quote source here). He is also a New York Times bestselling author of many books. An introduction to the book on Amazon.com states the following (quote source here):

Whether you call it following your heart, a gut feeling, a hunch or intuition, instinct–the inner knowledge bubbling up from a wellspring of wisdom within–can lead to a bigger, elephant-sized life.

Combining social, business and personal examples with biblical insights, in “Instinct” Bishop Jakes shows readers how to rediscover their natural aptitudes and reclaim the wisdom of their past experiences. Knowing when to close a deal, when to take a risk, and when to listen to their hearts will become possible when they’re in touch with the instincts that God gave them.

If readers are ready to unlock the confines of where they are, and discover where they were meant to be, then “Instinct” is their key! (Quote source here.)

In the opening paragraphs in Chapter 1 titled, “Instinct Has a Rhythm,” Bishop Jakes states:

Our instincts are the treasure map for our soul’s satisfaction. Following our instincts can make the crucial distinction between what we are good at–our vocation or skill set–and what we are good for–the fulfillment of our purposeful potential. When you’re truly engaged with your life’s calling, whether in the boutique, the banquet hall, or the boardroom, you rely on something that cannot be taught.

I’ve convinced that our instincts can provide the combination we need to align our unique variables with our callings and release the treasure within us. When harnessed, refined, and heeded, our instincts can provide the key to unlocking our most productive, most satisfying, most joyful lives. . . .

Unfortunately, much of what I see today isn’t about fulfilling one’s true potential as much as it is about appearing to fulfill what other people expect. Too many people want the appearance of winning rather than the practices and hard work that create a true champion. They mistake the prize for the art of winning and will ultimately buy a trophy without ever running a race. They didn’t take the class; they bought the diploma. They aren’t successful; they just have the props. They aren’t driven to achieve something; they just bust their gut to appear busy to everyone around them.

The irony is what these people fail to realize. When you’re living by instinct, then you will naturally enhance everything and everyone around you. In other words, success will come naturally! When both your intellect and instincts are aligned, then producing the fruits of your labors brings satisfaction beyond measure.

Now, it will still require hard work and dedication on your part, but the internal satisfaction will fuel your desire to achieve even larger dreams. Based on the fact that we are all inherently creative people, if we are in touch with our instincts, then we will naturally increase our endeavors. When you don’t become fixated on winning the prize or appearing successful, and instead pursue your passions, then you will discover the fulfillment that comes from living by instinct. (Quote source: Chapter 1, pp. 1-3).

In Chapter 2 titled, “Basic Instincts,” Bishop Jakes writes:

On a basic level, we share many of the same instincts. We see instinct in action when a baby tries to suckle in order to receive nourishment, or a toddler recoils from a hot skillet. It’s the sense you have about the stranger lingering behind you on your walk home that causes you to run into a store and call a taxi. Similarly, no one has to teach you to dodge the oncoming bus careening toward you while you’re crossing the street.

We are wired to stay alive. Our bodies naturally seek out nourishment (food and water) and protection (such as shelter, clothing, and weapons) to survive. You’ve probably heard of the “fight or flight” response, which is an instinctive reaction to any perceived danger. Many scientists also believe that language is instinctive, or at least the desire to express our responses to both internal and external stimuli. Some researchers believe that we are instinctively spiritual beings as well, which, of course, I would confirm. . . .

On the other hand, our instincts are not necessarily accurate all the time. The hunch about someone else’s business deal wasn’t true. Your sense of timing for the big date wasn’t on target after all. The sense of dread about a client’s reaction to your work proved to have no basis in reality. . . .

So how do you become more aware of your unique, naturally developed instincts? And perhaps more important, how do you discern when to trust your instincts and when to rely on logic, fact, and objectivity?

Obviously, this is where our relationship with instinct gets tricky.

And that’s what this book is all about. (Quote source: Chapter 2, pp. 12-14).

Of course, you’ll have to get the book to find out more, but at this point I want go to Chapter 9, “Instincts Under Pressure,” where Bishop Jakes explains how instincts played a crucial role in his move from West Virginia to Texas on pp. 95-101:

give-it-a-try-whispered-the-heartWe’re used to basing our decisions on past experiences and then suddenly our instincts pull us toward something equally tantalizing and terrifying. We cannot deny our instinctive attraction, and yet we’re unsettled by its unfamiliarity. Nothing in our repertoire of achievements and abilities, nor our family, our training, our education, or our experiences has prepared us, and yet we are drawn instinctively toward something that excites us, touches us, energizes us, and leave us shaking in our boots.

From my experiences and those of many others, instinct likes a challenge more than it likes comfort. Our instincts would rather lead us to face the unknown than let us shrink into the corner of our cage. When we’re committed to fulfilling our destiny, our instinct drives us away from complacency and toward contentment.

An inmate leaving prison must certainly feel this odd mixture of excitement and fear as he walks through the door of his cell one last time, through the gates of the prison grounds. What had become familiar to him, normal and routine, must now be left behind. He must start over. And as exhilarated as he may be by the restoration of his freedom, he also must make his way into a new jungle that has grown unrecognizable from when he knew it before. In fact, many parolees and former inmates become so stressed trying to reacclimate to the outside that they often end up returning to crime.

Did they commit a crime in hopes of returning to the confinement of a prison cell? Probably not consciously, but one wonders when looking at the recidivism rate. The literal, physical incarceration may even seem preferable to the fear of learning to live outside the prison walls.

Even if we have never faced physical confinement, most of us can relate. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a new career, a new marriage, a new season of being single, a new business launch. When we start anything by following our instincts, we will likely be forced to leave our cage of comfort and complacency.

I faced this very dilemma when I made the decision to move my family and ministry from Charleston, West Virginia, where I’d grown up and lived all my life, to Dallas, Texas, which I probably knew better from television and movies than from my own experience. I’m still not exactly sure how it came about. I became interested in the Dallas area because I had heard that many people there attended church regularly (not always the case in urban areas) and were open to joining a new Christian community. I had also heard that property was relatively affordable for such a large urban area.

Ironically enough, I had actually told a friend of mine, another pastor, that he ought to move to Dallas and start a church there. But after some thoughtful and prayerful consideration, he ended up going another direction. And yet the thought of this place I had recommended to him haunted me. I began to wonder what Dallas was really like. While I had been through there a time or two, I knew very little about the people, the culture, the flavor and lifestyle of Texans. And yet I couldn’t quit thinking about moving to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. It remained an alluring attraction, one I finally could not ignore.

When I went to Dallas and visited the prospective property for our new church, I asked the owner if I could have a few minutes alone in the building and he agreed. There in the echoing cavern of a structure so much larger than our entire church back in West Virginia, I asked God if this was where he wanted me. It didn’t take long before my awareness of his presence increased, and everything in me heard, “Yes.”

Even with this sense of God’s calling and blessing upon the move. I remained fearful. I have lived in West Virginia my entire life! I would not only be leaving my church to plant a new one, but I would be leaving one lifestyle and culture for another. The Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area included over two million people at that time–about twenty times more than Charleston! And how would Texans take to an African-American outsider moving into their territory? If everything is bigger in Texas, would that include prejudice and hostility?

With growing trepidation, I agonized over this decision. I paced the cage that contained me and wondered if I dared set foot into the Texan jungle opening before me. If I stayed put, would I regret not exploring this opportunity, forever wondering, “What if . . .?” Or would I long for the comfortable security of my humble roots and regret my risk when inevitably confronted with adversity?

Moving away would include uprooting my wife and kids, and taking my mother with us after she had lived over six decades in the same area. We would be leaving the small-town warmth of our cocooned community and launching out on new wings. But would we fly? Or flutter momentarily before crashing to the ground?

It was a huge risk, but I had to take it. I had to leave my cage, but I had to take it. I had to leave my cage. Not only did I feel God’s prompting me to make the move, but something deep inside me knew it was where I belonged–even if I didn’t exactly know why. Needless to say, I have never regretted my decision to follow my instincts and move to Dallas. No, instead I discovered that my move was not just an open door to me but was, in fact, the intersection of the destiny of thousands if not millions of others whose lives would forever be changed, all predicated upon me releasing my fear and mustering the courage to be stretched beyond my comfort zone.

When we find ourselves at the crossroads between at least two different directions, we often panic. It feels like a no-win. After our instincts have been stirred by a vision, a glimpse, a divine whisper inside us, we cannot ignore the decision. Or, if we do, then that in itself becomes a decision we know we will soon regret. When our instincts magnetically urge us in a particular direction, my experience has been that we will regret not acting on that urge. Standing at the crossroads may feel like being caught in the crosshairs!

But I’m convinced that it is so much more productive, satisfying, and invigorating to have risked a new endeavor and failed than to play it safe and remain in the status quo. When a mother eagle senses instinctively that her eaglets are now ready to fly, she disrupts the nest with her beak, pushing them out with an eviction notice that seems so cruel. Her beak dislodges them from their nest and pushes them to the edge. Have you ever been pushed to the edge?

I saw eagles in the plain I visited soaring in the wind. It was amazing to me to realize that what seems so natural now was once a moment of great terror. When it was young that eagle was pushed to the edge. Its mother’s beak had no doubt dropped him off the edge of the cliff!

The results produce a striking beauty, but in the moment of crossing from nest to nature, the sight would make you call the animal rights commission and file a complaint of abuse! The mother obviously is not being cruel to her little birds. Instead she is pushing them into the uncomfortable place of discovery. She knows that the nest was only the crossroads through which they would grow and develop. If they sat in the temporary, it would be at the expense of the permanent.

Now, I’m told that the little birds become frightened half to death and initially start flipping their wings out of terror, flailing wildly to ward off what looks like inevitable death. But the flailing of their fear is the birthing of a discovery. Their instinct to fly is released with great peril and fear.

In the galing winds and impending danger, they find that the wings they never utilized in their previous comfortable nest find use in the fall and give birth to their flight. To ensure that they will not come back to the nest, she stirs the nest with her beak so that the prickly briars protrude and make it impossible for them to find comfort where they once rested.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been forced to find my wings by the discomfort of staying where I was. I’ve felt like an eaglet more than once, forced out many times by circumstances I couldn’t control. I’ve screamed inwardly a thousand reasons why the time was not right or I wasn’t prepared. If you are like me, you tell yourself, “But I don’t have the experience or the training or the education or the relationship or the resources necessary to take such a dangerous leap!”

All of which may be true. But there are times when we must disregard the data and distance our doubts if we are ever going to achieve greater velocity towards the goals that roar within us. We must follow the instinct to fly. (Quote Source: Chapter 9, pp. 95-101.)

take-the-first-stepThis may be one of the longest posts I’ve pieced together, but I hope it provides you with encouragement in your own circumstances no matter what they might be. Stagnating or vacillating in life is never a good option, and it only takes one small step to move forward, even if we can’t see the next step. These past eight years for me have been a very long lesson (still ongoing, too) in taking one step at a time and not ignoring those “instincts” when they are giving us direction. And just like the mother eagle forcing the eaglets out of the comfort zone of their nest . . .

We must follow . . .

The instinct . . .

To FLY . . . .

YouTube Video: “Born For This” by Mandisa:

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Made In America

the-obamas-and-the-trumps-at-trumps-inauguration-1-20-17With the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States yesterday, January 20, 2017, the election year of 2016 finally reached its culmination when President-elect Trump spoke these words at high noon and became President Trump:

“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, so help me God.” (Quote source here, YouTube video here.)

In an ironic twist of fate, I was unable to vote in this election year. I’ve only missed voting in two presidential elections in my lifetime and both were for the same reason. The first time it happened was during the 2004 election when I had moved from one city to another city in Florida and was unable to get my address changed within the 30-day registration requirement before the election, and in this election year, 2016, I was registered to vote in Florida but was visiting Houston at the time of the election, and my mail-in ballot was back languishing in my PO Box in Orlando leading up to Election Day.

It’s an odd feeling not to be able to vote–at least it is for me. And this was such a heated election cycle unlike any in recent history (and, unfortunately, it was the first election cycle many in the younger generation witnessed and could vote in as young adults since President Obama served for two four-year terms). I tend to think that the heat, anger, nastiness, and vitriol were greatly exacerbated by social media, much of which didn’t exist in it’s present form or was barely getting off the table and still in it’s infancy back during the election cycle when President Obama was elected president in 2008. Anything (good, bad and ugly) in today’s world is instantaneously broadcast throughout the entire world with a click of a button. And the level of mocking and disrespect found in our society today, too, is at an all time and unprecedented high.

Maybe I’m just getting old but I’ve always believed that the Office of the President and the person occupying that position at any point in our history should be highly respected regardless of whether we voted for that person or not, or whether we agree with them or not. That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. It is much more a societal issue then it is about any one man or woman occupying the Office of the President. If we disrespect the very leaders that “we the people” elected (regardless of whether or not our candidate or party won), it speaks volumes about our country to the rest of the world. And I’m not quite sure in the past decade why this general disrespect has grown into a favorite pastime of ours. Seems like we don’t respect much of anything or anyone except what we individually like or think about someone else. So how did we get to the point (and why did we get to the point) where president-bashing has become a national pastime?

presidential-sealI had, have and will continue to have enormous respect for President Obama during his eight years as President, even though I disagreed on some major decisions he made during his tenure. I’m a registered “Independent” with conservative leanings, and I didn’t vote for him either time because of his political leanings (well, he almost got my vote in the second election cycle), but the political process is the same every election cycle–somebody wins and somebody loses–and usually half of us don’t get who we were hoping would be elected. So what has made this election cycle so much more vitriol?

It’s not that President Obama didn’t have his naysayers and mockers as all presidents do have them; but in this election cycle when President Trump was elected in November, the loudest anti-Trump voices came up with the hashtag #NotMyPresident (we didn’t even have hashtags in the 2008 election cycle). Well, President Trump just became our 45th president and if we are living in America, he is our president. Why not give him a chance just like President Obama had his chance, and President Bush and President Clinton had their chance, as did all of the presidents going back to George Washington who have helped to make America great.

I have steered clear of politics most of my life (other than voting) because–as the old saying goes–“if you can’t stand the heat stay out of the kitchen.” And I can’t stand the heat and hatred and negative garbage that comes out every election cycle. We are supposed to be civilized people, right? We talk about “tolerance” while being incredibly “intolerant” of others. What’s up with that, anyway? It still boils down to “my way or the highway” even when we supposedly are talking of “tolerance.”

I fear for a nation that has lost it’s respect for just about anybody or everybody they happen to disagree with, and it’s not just during presidential election cycles and being on the “receiving” end of the disdain by those whose candidate didn’t win. We witness it in every corner of our lives today–this general lack of respect for anything or anyone we don’t like or even know and certainly don’t care to get to know either, for whatever reason (and often we don’t even need a reason). You tell me how God can bless a nation that acts like that to each other.

This, of course, is not to say that there isn’t a lot of good going on in our society, too, but the divisiveness of this political election year and the increase in violent acts and rioting across our nation over the past several years speaks to a deep divide. While peaceful protesting in a Constitutionally protected act, the divisions are exacerbated by the media and on social media, too.

The Office of the President should be given the utmost respect regardless of who is occupying the position at any given point in history. When we lose our respect for our own president (whether we voted for that person or not), we’ve lost something that is very basic to the core of our nation. When everything is “up for grabs” and anything or anyone can be openly mocked and ridiculed and nobody cares, then don’t be surprised someday if we wake up to an America we no longer recognize or like or no longer have any choices in either; and we will have no one else to blame but ourselves.

If we want God to bless America again, it starts with us and how we treat others. . . .

God Bless America. . .

Before it’s too late. . .

And God Bless President Trump (and his administration), too . . . .

YouTube Video: “Made in America” by Toby Keith:

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Looking For A Home

On April 21, 2009, my life changed in ways I never could have imagined. I found myself living in a city I had never lived in before in a state I had briefly lived in three and a half decades earlier; and due to my very short tenure in this city and state, I was without the benefit of a professional network in the area after losing a job I moved there for a scant seven months earlier (at the end of September 2008). I traveled 1000 miles for that job and paid my own moving expenses, too, but I thought it was worth it at the time I accepted the job.

Up to that point when I lost my job almost eight years ago, I had been working in my career field for over twenty years. The new job I lost was not only a promotion for me with a much higher paycheck ($15,000/yr more than I was earning at the job I left when I accepted this new position), it was in an environment that fit right in with my bachelor’s degree in art and design–a love I had left behind years earlier when I pursued my master’s degree in higher education/student personnel services. It was the perfect job with the perfect combination using both of my degrees and my skills and experience of the past twenty years. I had visions of auditing several art classes including web design and publishing which I could do for free after I had been working there for six months (a benefit for employees found at most colleges and universities where they are employed). I honestly can’t tell you when I’ve been so excited about a new job. I accepted the position with much anticipation and excitement–I saw it as a new venture in life in a new physical environment (city and state) to explore.

However, much to my surprise, it didn’t work out for whatever reason. It was in a for-profit environment and all of my previous years working in higher education were at nonprofit colleges and universities (see article titled, Non-Profit vs. For-Profit Colleges: What You Need to Know,” published on the Back to College Blog at Franklin University at this link).

The biggest challenge from losing that job starting right off the bat was financial. I went from earning a salary of $52,000/yr–$1000/wk before taxes–to waiting almost a month for my $275/wk (before taxes) unemployment checks to start coming in. I had a small savings account and no other financial resources except the unemployment checks, and I still had five months left on my one-year lease where my apartment was located that I couldn’t break. The rent was $845/mo (the most rent by far that I had ever paid to rent an apartment and it wasn’t a fancy apartment, either), and that didn’t include electricity, cell phone, landline for internet access, water (that was also the first time I had to pay for water when renting an apartment, too), plus I still had a car payment of $200/mo that would finally be paid off in November 2009. That, of course, doesn’t include other expenses such as gas, food, clothing, etc., plus I held onto my health insurance through the Cobra insurance (at a cost to me of under $200/mo) offered through my employer for the 15 months I could keep it until it ran out in July 2010. If  you do the math (my monthly income on unemployment checks was $1100/mo), you can see I was stretched to the limit for that last five months in that apartment. I used to play a game with myself when I went grocery shopping at Walmart that I could not buy anything that was over $2.00 per item, and I only used the air conditioner in my apartment for a brief time in the morning and again before going to bed at night to keep the cost down (my electric bill went from $100/mo to $40/mo by doing that). I kept a box fan with a very long extension cord with me wherever I went in my apartment, and this was during the hottest months in Houston in the summertime.

Also, I cut off the landline and internet connection to my apartment to save another $60/mo, but I kept the cell phone as I had to have it to keep looking for work. And my cell phone company at the time offered a $10/mo internet connection at internet hotspots located in Starbucks and Border Bookstores at the time where I took my laptop and spent hours online applying for jobs. I had no internet connection in my apartment. And I started my job search the very next morning after I was fired the previous afternoon. I even dressed up as if I was going to work to go to the Starbucks to start my job search using their wifi.

I had a couple of close calls on getting a job in Houston while I was still living in my apartment in Houston during those final five months in my apartment; and I was flown to a small state university in Georgia to interview for a job that eventually got axed in their budget and no one was hired for it. At the end of those last five months in that apartment I knew I could no longer stay in Houston without a job as I couldn’t afford it and my unemployment checks were set to run out at the end of six months (I did end up getting the extensions offered at that time beyond the original six months).

During my last month in that apartment a friend offered me her spare bedroom in her home (her two adult children were out on their own by then) back in Florida and I knew I had to make a decision what to do about all of my household stuff–furniture, bookcases and over 1000 books, and a whole lot of other stuff, too, that I could not afford to move back to Florida. I spent $5,000 of my own money to move them to Houston the year before and now that I was unemployed the money simply was not there to move the stuff back to Florida (and I had no place to move it to anyway). So, I gave my furniture and a whole lot of other stuff to a ministry in Houston that helps people who are overcoming drug and alcohol addiction to use in their ministry. I was able to find a moving company that would move a small amount of my stuff to Florida for $600 (14 small boxes plus a hope chest that belonged to my mother, and a handcrafted small bookcase and small wall unit made by my maternal grandfather who died when I was a toddler). I was able to store it in my friend’s “Florida room” for the short time I stayed at her home (three months).

Shortly after I arrived at my friend’s home in Florida, my friend’s niece lost her job and she ended up moving into my friend’s home two months after I arrived. I was still conducting a full time job search and found temporary work that lasted from right before Thanksgiving 2009 through to New Year’s Day 2010, and due to the tight squeeze in my friend’s house with her unemployed niece moving in, I started looking in the area for temporary housing until I found a permanent job and could move wherever I found the job. I immediately found (through the Yellow Pages) a real estate company offering a furnished efficiency apartment as a “seasonal rental” for $450/mo plus electric only a few miles from my friend’s home, and I moved in at the end of December 2009. There was even a place under the stairwell for all of my stuff that I stored in my friend’s Florida room.

The seasonal rental was completely furnished with circa 1970’s furnishings, and it was the upstairs of a grand old house in the downtown area of the town where my friend lived. Built in 1938, it was “one of a kind” in that neighborhood and I fell in love with that old house. When I originally moved in I told the woman manager (her office was on the first floor of the house) that I would most likely only be there a few months at the most until I found a permanent job and moved on (I was applying for jobs in my field all over the United States). Two years later we both had a good laugh when I was still living there and still looking for a job, and the house was sold at that time to an investment company in early 2012. The new company came in and changed the rent to $500/mo utilities included, and I continued to apply for jobs and traveled around as far as Atlanta, New Orleans, and even back to Houston looking for work. A year later the investment company put the house on the market, and by the end of December 2013 a new owner purchased the house.

At this point I should mention that during this time I was able to collect unemployment checks for a total of 99 weeks, ending the last week of May 2011. At that point when they ended, I had no income at all. I still had some savings but it was gone after a few months, and at that point I was old enough to tap into a part of my very small retirement account without a penalty in order to have money to live on when my savings was gone. I lived on that money for three years and two months with no other income until I turned 62 and was able to start collecting Social Security in July 2014 as my only source of income (it is a little over $1000/mo).

Back to my apartment in that grand old house–in January 2014 I was told by the new owner that the rent would be going up to $600/mo. with utilities included. It really tightened an already tight budget and I was frustrated after all this time of not being able to find work of any kind, and not just in my career field. The new owners had other plans for that old house (they lived in that town) and in March 2014 another friend of mine offered me her spare bedroom in a major city in Florida where I used to live and work, so I put my stuff in a storage unit in the town where I was living at that time, and I stayed in my friend’s spare bedroom for almost six months. During that time I discovered just how incredibly hard it is to find an apartment on only a Social Security income, and while I found several ads on Craigslist for furnished apartments, I got no responses to my inquiries.

At that point (the end of September 2014), I decided to go back to Houston (I loved the city despite the dismal job experience) and I stayed at weekly rate hotels, which are not cheap by any means compared to an apartment while continuing my search for affordable housing. The rents I paid while I was there were between $275/wk and $325/wk including hotel taxes, and I was running through what I had left of my retirement money plus my Social Security checks at a fast pace to pay for the hotels plus normal living expenses. I stayed in Houston looking for affordable low income housing for just over three months, and in all of my attempts at visiting apartment complexes and answering many ads on Craigslist, nothing opened up for me. So I ended up going back to the city where I was staying in Florida as I had lived there the longest in all of my years of living in Florida, but my friend had given her spare bedroom to another woman at that point, so I ended up going back and living in hotels there at between $285/wk up to $350/wk including taxes. And I was still running through my remaining retirement money at a fast clip along with the Social Security check, and I could see myself being flat broke before the end of 2015, and I couldn’t afford the rent on hotel rooms on only my Social Security income.

At that point I contact my elderly dad to see if I could come home and stay in his house while I continued to look for affordable housing (he lives in the Midwest). Long story short, he decided to start sending me money to help with the hotel rent so I would not go broke, and he has been doing that since April 2015.

Due to the dismal housing search all during this time in both that city and the town where my stuff is in storage since the end of March 2014 when I left my last apartment (and sans the time I spent in Houston looking for affordable housing in the fall of 2014), I have been forced to continue living in hotels I can’t afford on my own (and only able to live in with my dad’s financial help). This past summer I decided I was getting nowhere fast so I left Florida again to take a break from the dismal housing search and I returned to Houston, and that is where I am currently staying. At least the hotels as cheaper here and the hotel taxes drop off after 30 days which is a significant savings. In Florida the hotel taxes don’t drop off until after six months. I am currently paying $245/wk for my hotel room, and at least this room has a kitchenette (the hotels in Florida where I stayed did not have a kitchenette, they only had a microwave and a small dorm-like refrigerator with no freezer area).

That is a brief (well, maybe not so brief) rundown on my life situation since I lost that job in Houston in April 2009. I never dreamed that I would not find a job fairly quickly after I lost that job as I had worked in my field for over 20 years, and I always got excellent evaluations from my former bosses and employers. I spent an enormous amount of time looking for work for the first several years after I lost that job, and I stopped counting the applications I submitted when the number got to 500 in 2011. I have no idea how many jobs I have applied for at this point in time as I stopped counting. I do keep a record of every job I have applied for and they are all listed in a 41-page typed, single-spaced document. I stopped looking for work actively at the end of December 2014 as one is limited as to how much money one can earn if they collect Social Security at the age of 62 (which I started getting in July 2014). Nobody was calling me at that point anyway, and it had been two years prior to that time that I received my last phone call from a university who was interested in me.

However, I never expect the housing search to be so dismal when I left my last apartment at the end of March 2014, nor did I ever expect to spend almost two and a half years of my time living in hotels that are much more expensive than an apartment. However, every apartment complex I’ve been to I have been told that I don’t earn enough income on my Social Security to rent from them. Talk about being between a rock and a hard place. My dad offered to keep sending me money to help with the rent on an apartment, but I have found no apartment complex yet who will consider his financial contribution as “official income” so they won’t use it in the calculations for how much I need to be making to rent an apartment from them, and my Social Security income is not enough. Even when I tell them what I pay to stay in hotels (far more than the rent they are asking), it doesn’t move them one inch in my direction.

Today I was emailing a friend and I mentioned that maybe I should write a blog post in search of housing and see if anyone who reads my blog post might be able to help me find affordable housing somewhere in the USA. I can’t keep living in hotels I can’t afford on my own and without my dad’s financial help, and until I lost that job in Houston almost eight years ago, I was always self-supporting for my entire adult life. However, I can’t be self-supporting on an Social Security income of a little over $1000/mo.

ask-seek-knockSo, I am writing this post to see of anyone in my reading audience has any suggestions for me. I’d rather you not state them in the “comment” section at the bottom of this blog post as I don’t want to publish the responses on the blog post. Instead, I have an email address that I created for use with this blog site and you can send me an email with any information or advice you may have. I’m asking for legitimate answers and not “comic relief” or nonsense or joking type answers. So with that in mind, please feel free to email me at (you can copy and paste it into your email):

sarasmusingsblog@gmail.com

If you feel more comfortable leaving a comment in the comment section, it won’t get published automatically. I can read it and take the information off of it and delete the comment.

My Linkedin.com profile is available in the upper right hand corner of this page (click on the “in” icon), and you can also access my Linkedin.com profile at this link. It will provide you with my professional work history and background, and give you more information than you will find on my A Little About Me page on this blog site.

Jesus stated these words in Matthew 7:7-12 (NLT):

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.”

So, I’ll end this post with these words (and follow them here with a “Thank You” to anyone who can help in even the smallest of ways):

I’m asking. . .

I’m seeking. . .

And I’m knocking. . . .

YouTube Video: “Home” (from the movie Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” 2010) by David Byrne and Brian Eno:

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

I Have A Dream: Martin Luther King Jr Day 2017

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929-April 4, 1968) “was a Baptist minister and social activist who played a key role in the American civil rights movement from the mid-1950s until his assassination in 1968. Inspired by advocates of nonviolence such as Mahatma Gandhi, King sought equality for African Americans, the economically disadvantaged and victims of injustice through peaceful protest. He was the driving force behind watershed events such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington, which helped bring about such landmark legislation as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and is remembered each year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a U.S. federal holiday since 1986″ (quote source: History.com).

Dr. King is universally known for his speeches, the most famous of which is his I Have A Dream speech given in 1963. Wikipedia provided the following information regarding both his sermons and his speeches (quote source here):

The sermons and speeches of Martin Luther King Jr., comprise an extensive catalog of American writing and oratory – some of which are internationally well-known, while others remain unheralded, and some await rediscovery.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a prominent African-American clergyman, a civil rights leader, and a Nobel laureate.

King himself observed, “In the quiet recesses of my heart, I am fundamentally a clergyman, a Baptist preacher.”

The famousI Have a Dreamaddress was delivered in August 1963 from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Less well-remembered are the early sermons of that young, 25-year-old pastor who first began preaching at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama in 1954. As a political leader in the Civil Rights Movement and as a modest preacher in a Baptist church, King evolved and matured across the span of a life cut short. The range of his rhetoric was anticipated and encompassed withinThe Three Dimensions of a Complete Life,” [e.g., concern for oneself, concern for humanity, concern for the spiritual] which he preached as his trial sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in 1954 and every year thereafter for the rest of his life (YouTube Video of this 40-minute sermon given on April 4, 1967–exactly one year from the date he was assassinated in 1968–is available here). (Quote source here.)

The following biographical information on Dr. King is taken from History.com (source here):

The second child of Martin Luther King Sr. (1899-1984), a pastor, and Alberta Williams King (1904-1974), a former schoolteacher, Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on January 15, 1929. Along with his older sister, the future Christine King Farris (born 1927), and younger brother, Alfred Daniel Williams King (1930-1969), he grew up in the city’s Sweet Auburn neighborhood, then home to some of the most prominent and prosperous African Americans in the country.

A gifted student, King attended segregated public schools and at the age of 15 was admitted to Morehouse College, the alma mater of both his father and maternal grandfather, where he studied medicine and law. Although he had not intended to follow in his father’s footsteps by joining the ministry, he changed his mind under the mentorship of Morehouse’s president, Dr. Benjamin Mays, an influential theologian and outspoken advocate for racial equality. After graduating in 1948, King entered Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, where he earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree, won a prestigious fellowship and was elected president of his predominantly white senior class.

kingfamilyKing then enrolled in a graduate program at Boston University, completing his coursework in 1953 and earning a doctorate in systematic theology two years later. While in Boston he met Coretta Scott (1927-2006), a young singer from Alabama who was studying at the New England Conservatory of Music. The couple wed in 1953 and settled in Montgomery, Alabama, where King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. They had four children: Yolanda Denise King (1955-2007), Martin Luther King III (born 1957), Dexter Scott King (born 1961) and Bernice Albertine King (born 1963).

The King family had been living in Montgomery for less than a year when the highly segregated city became the epicenter of the burgeoning struggle for civil rights in America, galvanized by the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision of 1954. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks (1913-2005), secretary of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People [NAACP] chapter, refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery bus and was arrested. Activists coordinated a bus boycott that would continue for 381 days, placing a severe economic strain on the public transit system and downtown business owners. They chose Martin Luther King Jr. as the protest’s leader and official spokesman.

By the time the Supreme Court ruled segregated seating on public buses unconstitutional in November 1956, King, heavily influenced by Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) and the activist Bayard Rustin (1912-1987), had entered the national spotlight as an inspirational proponent of organized, nonviolent resistance. (He had also become a target for white supremacists, who firebombed his family home that January.) Emboldened by the boycott’s success, in 1957 he and other civil rights activists–most of them fellow ministers–founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a group committed to achieving full equality for African Americans through nonviolence. (Its motto was “Not one hair of one head of one person should be harmed.”) He would remain at the helm of this influential organization until his death.

In his role as SCLC president, Martin Luther King Jr. traveled across the country and around the world, giving lectures on nonviolent protest and civil rights as well as meeting with religious figures, activists and political leaders. (During a month-long trip to India in 1959, he had the opportunity to meet family members and followers of Gandhi, the man he described in his autobiography as “the guiding light of our technique of nonviolent social change.”) King also authored several books and articles during this time.

In 1960 King and his family moved to Atlanta, his native city, where he joined his father as co-pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church. This new position did not stop King and his SCLC colleagues from becoming key players in many of the most significant civil rights battles of the 1960s. Their philosophy of nonviolence was put to a particularly severe test during the Birmingham campaign of 1963, in which activists used a boycott, sit-ins and marches to protest segregation, unfair hiring practices and other injustices in one of America’s most racially divided cities. Arrested for his involvement on April 12, King penned the civil rights manifesto known as theLetter from Birmingham Jail,” an eloquent defense of civil disobedience addressed to a group of white clergymen who had criticized his tactics.

Later that year, Martin Luther King Jr. worked with a number of civil rights and religious groups to organize the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, a peaceful political rally designed to shed light on the injustices African Americans continued to face across the country. Held on August 28 and attended by some 200,000 to 300,000 participants, the event is widely regarded as a watershed moment in the history of the American civil rights movement and a factor in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The march culminated in King’s most famous address, known as theI Have a Dreamspeech, a spirited call for peace and equality that many consider a masterpiece of rhetoric. Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memoriala monument to the president who a century earlier had brought down the institution of slavery in the United States—he shared his vision of a future in which “this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’” The speech and march cemented King’s reputation at home and abroad; later that year he was named Man of the Year by TIME magazine and in 1964 became the youngest person ever awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In the spring of 1965, King’s elevated profile drew international attention to the violence that erupted between white segregationists and peaceful demonstrators in Selma, Alabama, where the SCLC and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) had organized a voter registration campaign. Captured on television, the brutal scene outraged many Americans and inspired supporters from across the country to gather in Selma and take part in a march to Montgomery led by King and supported by President Lyndon Johnson (1908-1973), who sent in federal troops to keep the peace. That August, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which guaranteed the right to vote–first awarded by the 15th Amendmentto all African Americans.

The events in Selma deepened a growing rift between Martin Luther King Jr. and young radicals who repudiated his nonviolent methods and commitment to working within the established political framework. As more militant black leaders such as Stokely Carmichael (1941-1998) rose to prominence, King broadened the scope of his activism to address issues such as the Vietnam War and poverty among Americans of all races. In 1967, King and the SCLC embarked on an ambitious program known as the Poor People’s Campaign, which was to include a massive march on the capital.

On the evening of April 4, 1968, King was fatally shot while standing on the balcony of a motel in Memphis, where he had traveled to support a sanitation workers’ strike. In the wake of his death, a wave of riots swept major cities across the country, while President Johnson declared a national day of mourning. James Earl Ray (1928-1998), an escaped convict and known racist, pleaded guilty to the murder and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. (He later recanted his confession and gained some unlikely advocates, including members of the King family, before his death in 1998.)

After years of campaigning by activists, members of Congress and Coretta Scott King, among others, in 1983 President Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) signed a bill creating a U.S. federal holiday in honor of King. Observed on the third Monday of January, it was first celebrated in 1986. (Quote source here.)

It is noted in the above article that “the final section of Martin Luther King Jr.’s eloquent and iconic “I Have a Dream” speech is believed to have been largely improvised” (quote source here). Here are the words from that section from the 17-minute speech delivered on August 28, 1963 (quote source here):

mlkjr-quote-3I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God
Almighty, we are free at last!
(Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stated in the photo at the opening of this blog post. . . .

Injustice anywhere. . .

Is a threat . . .

To justice everywhere. . . .

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YouTube Video: I Have A Dream speech delivered on August 28, 1963, by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., (also available in text and audio at this link): 

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here
Photo #4 credit here

A Time For Every Purpose

eccl-3v1King Solomon, the second son of King David and Bathsheba (their first son died shortly after birth), was considered to be the wisest and one of the wealthiest men who ever lived. Many of his words of wisdom are contained in the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes, which is generally acknowledged to have been penned by King Solomon in his old age (click here for info). He is referred to as “the Teacher” (NIV, NLT) or “the Preacher” (KJV, NKJV) or “the Quester” (MSG) in Ecclesiastes depending on which version of the Bible is being read. Here is a brief background and setting for the book taken from Grace to You”:

Solomon’s reputation for possessing extraordinary wisdom fits the Ecclesiastes profile. David recognized his son’s wisdom (1 Kings 2:6, 9) before God gave Solomon an additional measure. After he received a “wise and understanding heart” from the Lord (1 Kings 3:7–12), Solomon gained renown for being exceedingly wise by rendering insightful decisions (1 Kings 3:16–28), a reputation that attracted “all the kings of the earth” to his courts (1 Kings 4:34). In addition, he composed songs and proverbs (1 Kings 4:32; cf. 12:9), activity befitting only the ablest of sages. Solomon’s wisdom, like Job’s wealth, surpassed the wisdom “of all the people of the east” (1 Kings 4:30; Job 1:3).

The book is applicable to all who would listen and benefit, not so much from Solomon’s experiences, but from the principles he drew as a result. Its aim is to answer some of life’s most challenging questions, particularly where they seem contrary to Solomon’s expectations. This has led some unwisely to take the view that Ecclesiastes is a book of skepticism. But in spite of amazingly unwise behavior and thinking, Solomon never let go of his faith in God (12:13, 14).

The most universally known portion of Ecclesiastes is found in Ecclesiastes 3:1-15. You’ll most likely recognize it from the opening verse:

For everything there is a season,
    a time for every purpose under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
    A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
    A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
    A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
    A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
    A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
    A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
    A time for war and a time for peace.

What do people really get for all their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.

And I know that whatever God does is final. Nothing can be added to it or taken from it. God’s purpose is that people should fear him. What is happening now has happened before, and what will happen in the future has happened before, because God makes the same things happen over and over again (Eccl. 3:1-15).

Chapter 1 describes the contents of the entire book and identified Solomon as “the Teacher.” The following is taken from the Eccl. 1 NLT version:

These are the words of the Teacher, King David’s son, who ruled in Jerusalem.

“Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless!”

What do people get for all their hard work under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth never changes. The sun rises and the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again. The wind blows south, and then turns north. Around and around it goes, blowing in circles. Rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full. Then the water returns again to the rivers and flows out again to the sea. Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content.

History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. Sometimes people say, “Here is something new!” But actually it is old; nothing is ever truly new. We don’t remember what happened in the past, and in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now.

I, the Teacher, was king of Israel, and I lived in Jerusalem. I devoted myself to search for understanding and to explore by wisdom everything being done under heaven. I soon discovered that God has dealt a tragic existence to the human race. I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind.

What is wrong cannot be made right.
What is missing cannot be recovered.

I said to myself, “Look, I am wiser than any of the kings who ruled in Jerusalem before me. I have greater wisdom and knowledge than any of them.” So I set out to learn everything from wisdom to madness and folly. But I learned firsthand that pursuing all this is like chasing the wind.

The greater my wisdom, the greater my grief.
To increase knowledge only increases sorrow.

It sounds a little bleak, doesn’t it? However, it is really a matter of perspective. GotQuestions.org states the following brief overview of Ecclesiastes:

Ecclesiastes is a book of perspective. The narrative of “the Preacher” (KJV), or “the Teacher” (NIV) reveals the depression that inevitably results from seeking happiness in worldly things. This book gives Christians a chance to see the world through the eyes of a person who, though very wise, is trying to find meaning in temporary, human things. Most every form of worldly pleasure is explored by the Preacher, and none of it gives him a sense of meaning.

In the end, the Preacher comes to accept that faith in God is the only way to find personal meaning. He decides to accept the fact that life is brief and ultimately worthless without God. The Preacher advises the reader to focus on an eternal God instead of temporary pleasure.

hebrews-13v8By the end of his reign (he reigned for approximately 40 years–circa 970-931 BC), King Solomon had acquired 700 wives (from royal bloodlines) and 300 concubines (slaves who were not allowed to be wives to kings according to custom). It was the custom during that time for kings to have many wives and concubines, and it is one area of Solomon’s life where he failed to take his own advice, or perhaps it was in having so many wives and concubines that he could give the advice he gave regarding women (found in both the Books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes; however, that’s not the topic of this blog post).

King Solomon writes about the futility of both pleasure and work in Chapter 2; In Chapter 3 (quoted above) he describes “a time for everything” and the injustices of life which runs over into Chapter 4. He continues in Chapter 4 with the futility of political power and wealth, and approaching God with care in Chapters 5 through 6, concluding with the following verses (6:10-12) at the end of Chapter 6:

The Future—Determined and Unknown

Everything has already been decided. It was known long ago what each person would be. So there’s no use arguing with God about your destiny.

The more words you speak, the less they mean. So what good are they?

In the few days of our meaningless lives, who knows how our days can best be spent? Our lives are like a shadow. Who can tell what will happen on this earth after we are gone?

Chapter 7 is filled with “wisdom for life” and a sample of his advice regarding women is found in these verses (7:26-29):

I discovered that a seductive woman is a trap more bitter than death. Her passion is a snare, and her soft hands are chains. Those who are pleasing to God will escape her, but sinners will be caught in her snare.

“This is my conclusion,” says the Teacher. “I discovered this after looking at the matter from every possible angle. Though I have searched repeatedly, I have not found what I was looking for. Only one out of a thousand men is virtuous, but not one woman! But I did find this: God created people to be virtuous, but they have each turned to follow their own downward path.”

Chapter 8 is a continuation of his “wisdom for life” and includes the following advice in verses 8:9-17:

I have thought deeply about all that goes on here under the sun, where people have the power to hurt each other. I have seen wicked people buried with honor. Yet they were the very ones who frequented the Temple and are now praised in the same city where they committed their crimes! This, too, is meaningless. When a crime is not punished quickly, people feel it is safe to do wrong. But even though a person sins a hundred times and still lives a long time, I know that those who fear God will be better off. The wicked will not prosper, for they do not fear God. Their days will never grow long like the evening shadows.

And this is not all that is meaningless in our world. In this life, good people are often treated as though they were wicked, and wicked people are often treated as though they were good. This is so meaningless!

So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun.

In my search for wisdom and in my observation of people’s burdens here on earth, I discovered that there is ceaseless activity, day and night. I realized that no one can discover everything God is doing under the sun. Not even the wisest people discover everything, no matter what they claim.

Chapter 9 deals with the topic of death and how it comes to all of us, and also includes some thoughts on wisdom and folly. Here’s a sample from verses 9:11-18:

I have observed something else under the sun. The fastest runner doesn’t always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn’t always win the battle. The wise sometimes go hungry, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don’t always lead successful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being in the right place at the right time.

People can never predict when hard times might come. Like fish in a net or birds in a trap, people are caught by sudden tragedy.

Here is another bit of wisdom that has impressed me as I have watched the way our world works. There was a small town with only a few people, and a great king came with his army and besieged it. A poor, wise man knew how to save the town, and so it was rescued. But afterward no one thought to thank him. So even though wisdom is better than strength, those who are wise will be despised if they are poor. What they say will not be appreciated for long.

Better to hear the quiet words of a wise person
    than the shouts of a foolish king.
Better to have wisdom than weapons of war,
    but one sinner can destroy much that is good.

Chapter 10 is filled with brief statements regarding “the ironies of life,” ending in verse 10:20 with these words:

Never make light of the king, even in your thoughts.
    And don’t make fun of the powerful, even in your own bedroom.
For a little bird might deliver your message
    and tell them what you said.

Chapter 11 focuses on the “uncertainties of life” and gives a bit of advice for both young and old in verses 11:7-10:

Light is sweet; how pleasant to see a new day dawning.

When people live to be very old, let them rejoice in every day of life. But let them also remember there will be many dark days. Everything still to come is meaningless.

Young people, it’s wonderful to be young! Enjoy every minute of it. Do everything you want to do; take it all in. But remember that you must give an account to God for everything you do. So refuse to worry, and keep your body healthy. But remember that youth, with a whole life before you, is meaningless.

And the last chapter is Chapter 12. It has a bit more advice for the young and old, and concludes with these verses regarding “the Teacher” (12:8-14):

“Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless.”

Keep this in mind: The Teacher was considered wise, and he taught the people everything he knew. He listened carefully to many proverbs, studying and classifying them. The Teacher sought to find just the right words to express truths clearly.

The words of the wise are like cattle prods—painful but helpful. Their collected sayings are like a nail-studded stick with which a shepherd drives the sheep.

But, my child, let me give you some further advice: Be careful, for writing books is endless, and much study wears you out.

That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad.

Of course, King Solomon lived more then 900 years before Jesus Christ came to offer us salvation and hope beyond what they experienced during the Old Testament days. While the wisdom from King Solomon is still true today, Jesus Christ gives us hope beyond the “meaninglessness of life,” expressed by King Solomon. And as John 3:16-18 states:

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son [Jesus Christ], so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.

So believe, and receive the only hope there is beyond the “meaninglessness of life” that transcends . . .

Yesterday (the past). . .

Today (the present). . .

And forever (the future here and in eternity, too). . . .

YouTube Video: “Turn! Turn! Turn!” (1965) by the Byrds:

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Chasing Truth

the-truth-will-set-you-freeThis past week I read a really fun novel titled, Chasing Francis,” (2006, 2013) by Ian Morgan Cron, a speaker, counselor, and author of several books. A brief summary of the story is available at this link. “Chasing Francis” has endorsements from Mark Batterson, Eric Metaxas, Tony Campolo, Rachel Held Evans, as well as from several other folks. Mark Batterson stated: “Caution! Reading this book may cause spontaneous kindness, charity towards others, and a total overhaul of the way you think about what it means to be a follower of Christ.”

The book centers around a life changing journey taken by a pastor of a megachurch who has lost his faith, and finds it again in a most unlikely place. Here’s a sample taken from the beginning of the book on pp. 12-13:

These days, lots of people dismiss you when they discover you’re cut from evangelical cloth. Once you’ve been outed as a conservative Christian, they assume you’re a right-wing, self-satisfied fundamentalist with all the mental acuity of a houseplant. Every Christmas, my Uncle Bob greets me at the front door of my parents’ house, gripping a martini in one hand and a fat Cuban cigar in the other. He slaps me on the back and yells, “Look who’s here! It’s Mr. EEEeyah-vangelical!” It’s disconcerting, but Bob’s an idiot and suffers from an impulse control disorder.

For many a year, the terms “New England” and “evangelical” have been considered mutually exclusive. My church history professor told me that Jonathan Edwards referred to New England as “the graveyard of preachers.” Baleful as that sounded, it didn’t dissuade me from heeding the call to head east after seminary. My three closest friends were incredulous when I told them about my decision to start a church in Thackeray, Connecticut, a bedroom community thirty-five miles from Wall Street.

“Have you lost your mind? Even God’s afraid of the Northeast,” they said.

I laughed. “It’s not so bad. I grew up there.”

“But you could probably get a job at a megachurch somewhere,” they argued.

Truth be told, I wasn’t interested in working for a church someone else had built. I wanted to be the pioneer who “broke the code” for the spiritually barren Northeast, heroically advancing the cause of Christ into the most gospel-resistant region of the country. As a native, I was certain I knew the cultural landscape well enough to reach the Ivy Leaguers whose homes lay discreetly hidden behind stone walls and wrought-iron gates. A little self-important, but there you have it.

And yet, I had delivered the goods. I’d built a church where, at last count, over three thousand people came to worship every Sunday–a Herculean feat in a part of the world that’s suspicious of things that are either big or new.

With the benefit of hindsight, I can see now that Putnam Hill Community Church had been built on the appeal of my belief in a God who could be managed and explained. I’d held such an unshakable confidence in my conservative evangelical theology that even some of the more skeptical locals had been won over. After I’d put in years of seventy-hour work weeks, Putnam Hill had become a church brimming with young Wall Streeters and their families, many of whom had come because they were disappointed that happiness hadn’t come as optional equipment in their Lexus SUVs.

That world had detonated ten days ago. Gazing down on the terra-cotta roofs dotting the approaching Tuscan hills, I found myself on a forced leave of absence, and chances were good that when I returned home I would be out of a job… (pp. 12-13).

Does that whet your appetite for more? It did mine. . . .

I am more of a nonfiction reader, so I don’t often pick up a novel. However, the title of this book caught my eye, and when I turned to the opening page and read the following sentence–“Once you’ve been outed as a conservative Christian, they assume you’re a right-wing, self-satisfied fundamentalist with all the mental acuity of a houseplant”— I knew I had to read it. “Outed” is a term that is usually used in describing other types of lifestyles, but the truth is (and since we are chasing truth in this blog post) that Christians now fall under that same category of being “outed” as if there is something wrong with being a conservative Christian nowadays in America. Within the general mix of our population, conservative Christians (when outside of their Christian circles and communities) are often viewed as being on the same playing field as houseplants, and everybody has an “Uncle Bob” type in their family tree (e.g., one who is forever poking fun at “those Christians” and other assorted folks they don’t like in whatever specific category they like to attack).

It’s true that I am a conservative Christian, so I guess I have been “outed.” It’s not like I’m trying to hide it but I also don’t talk about it much (except, of course, on my blog) as I’ve never been one to tell anyone how they should live their lives (after all, this is America where “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is available to all without assorted mocking and condescending attitudes coming from those who disagree). It’s a conundrum, really. All those folks who talk about being so “tolerant” but who aren’t very tolerant of others at all who disagree with them. However, I don’t want to get diverted from the topic at hand–which is chasing truth.

faithTo a postmodern (which is how many of us think and live today) truth is relative. Actually, it’s anything we want it to be based on our feelings or emotions at any given moment–not based on facts, but on feelings. However, if one is an airplane pilot and operating a plane by his or her “feelings” instead of the instrument panel in front of them, s/he could very well crash the plane. And who wants a surgeon operating on them using his or her feelings instead of skill? Yet, too often we run our lives on our emotions without considering the actual facts involved in any situation. And running on feelings can get one killed (road rage and riots immediately come to mind). And just turn on TV and watch any sitcom or movie and notice just how much feelings and emotions rule and dictate the outcome.

However, back to the story of “Chasing Francis.” The main character, Pastor Chase Falson, “has lost his faith in God, the Bible, evangelical Christianity, and his super-sized megachurch. When he falls apart, the church elders tell him to go away: as far away as possible.” Falson’s journey takes him “to Italy where, with a curious group of Franciscan friars, he struggles to resolve his crisis of faith by retracing the footsteps of Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), a saint whose simple way of loving Jesus [and others] changed the history of the world” back in the thirteenth century (Quote source: back cover).

Volumes have been written on Francis of Assisi, but perhaps a brief description of Francis found on ChristianityToday.com gives those of us unfamiliar with Francis a little taste of who he was:

It is difficult to think clearly about Francis of Assisi. The first thing that comes to mind is the gentle saint who preached to birds, tamed wolves, and padded about in flower-filled fields basking in the love of God. But it’s also difficult to imagine how such a benign figure could turn thirteenth-century Europe upside down.

In fact, Francis was a complex figure, a man who contemporaries claimed lived out the Sermon on the Mount better than anyone else, except of course, the man who first preached it. If that’s even close to the truth, it’s a bit easier to see why he left such an impression on his age and every age since. (Quote source here.)

That brief description is a bit too brief to do justice to the man named Francis found in “Chasing Francis,” in which the experiences of Chase Falson during his time in Italy chasing Francis really must be read to be appreciated. The book is quite moving and the author has a delightful sense of humor that shows up throughout the book. On the inside front cover of the book is the following statement:

When his elders tell him to take some time away from his church, broken pastor Chase Falson crosses the Atlantic to Italy to visit his uncle, a Franciscan priest. There he is introduced to the revolutionary teachings of Saint Francis of Assisi and find an old, but new way of following Jesus that heals and transpires.

Chase Falson’s spiritual discontent mirrors the feelings of a growing number of Christians who walk out of church asking, “Is this all there is?” They are weary of celebrity pastors, empty calorie teaching, and worship services where the emphasis is more on “Lights, Camera, Action” then on “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” while the deepest questions of life remain unaddressed in a meaningful way.

Bestselling author Ian Morgan Cron masterfully weaves lessons from the life of Saint Francis into the story of Chase Falson to explore the life of a saint who 800 years ago breathes new life into disillusioned Christians and a Church on the brink of collapse.

“Chasing Francis” is a hopeful and moving story with profound implications for those who yearn for a more vital relationship with God and the world. (Quote source: inside front cover.)

Increasingly, people are becoming disenchanted with the church at large (regardless of denomination or affiliation). In the book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated (2014) by James Emery Whitefounding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; president of Serious Times, a ministry that explores the intersection of faith and culture and hosts this website, ChurchAndCulture.org which features his messages and blogs; ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president; and author of twenty books; Dr. White makes the following statement on pp. 172-173:

I know many, if not most, Christians have become disillusioned with the church. As Katie Galli [note: see her 2008 article titled, “Dear Disillusioned Generation,” in Christianity Today] once noted about her fellow twentysomethings, “We’re disillusioned about almost everything–government, war, the economy. . . . We’re especially disillusioned with the church. Somewhere between the Crusades, the Inquisition, and fundamentalists bombing abortion clinics, we lost our appetite for institutionalized Christianity.” I understand.

But it is an institution, and needs to be. And while “the church can indeed be bureaucratic, inefficient, and, at times, hopelessly outdated,” Galli wisely adds, “it has also given us a 2000-year legacy of saints and social reformers, and a rich liturgy and theology–the very gift twentysomethings need to grow into the full stature of Christ. But this is far from a generational challenge. Baby boomer Philip Yancey writes of his estrangement from the church, noting how the hypocrisy of the members and the cultural irrelevance of its experience kept him away for years. Why did he return? Christianity is not a purely intellectual, internal faith. It can only be lived in community.

Ironically, the real dilemma facing the church is not the church itself but the staggering power of the biblical vision for the church. Christ’s dream for the church is so strong, so compelling, so vibrant that the pale manifestations on the corner of Elm and Vine can breed disdain. As Sarah Cunningham writes, “I have been and continue to be frustrated when Christian religious systems seem to fall short of the community God intended his followers to experience. However, my belief in the ideal of the church–in God’s design for those who align themselves with him–is uncompromised.” But the telling statement comes later when she owns the rampant idealism that pervades her generation’s approach to life: “It’s no surprise, then, that twentysomethings tend to apply these same idealistic ideas to a search for the perfect church. When we don’t find perfection, we can start to get a bit antsy.

Any ideal can act in one of two ways: (1) it can drive you toward its fulfillment, or (2) it can drive you away from its pursuit entirely in disappointment. Sadly, many are choosing to leave the vision in disappointment. They remain loyal to the idea of church but not its practice, citing the chasm between the vision and the reality as their rationale. But this is precisely what must not happen. (Quote source: The Rise of the Nones,” pp. 172-173).

The tendency to hide behind “idealism” isn’t just a twentysomething phenomenon. It’s easily used by any generation as a cop-out and an excuse to live life on one’s own terms. The Church that Jesus Christ built (as imperfect as it is as we are all human) will always be around no matter how we rationalize our dissatisfaction with it. When we reduce Jesus Christ to an institution and not a Person who’s very Spirit has been promised to us who are his followers (see John 14:23-27) to guide and direct us and his Church, we have missed the point of what the Church is supposed to be all about–loving God and loving others.

In John 14:6 Jesus stated, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father [God] except through me.” And John 3:16-18 states, For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son [Jesus Christ], that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

And that’s truth . . .

And it requires faith . . .

To believe . . . .

YouTube Video: “Made to Love” by TobyMac:

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