Parenting: Humility & The Village

Let me start this post with a confession: I am not some parenting expert, nor am I a particularly great parent! I will accept that I am a good parent, but I don’t want anyone to believe that I’m some parenting guru or that I have all the answers. I am so far from having all the answers! But, as I have always maintained on this blog, I have a unique perspective, and I have come to accept that my unique perspective allows me to see things or congeal ideas in a way that is not present for many others. In any case, I wanted to get that out of the way.

I believe I’ve covered this before, but all the same, in parenting, humility is absolutely crucial, and this is where we come to in this post. My kids are growing up, and it feels utterly surreal that they are this old (especially because that means I am much older than that! LOL!). But in the midst of my grief at the times lost by my ex choosing to abandon my kids, in the midst of my own grief as my mortality is ever-more real to me, I am struck by how much my own flesh (my sin-sick side) grasps at some sort of importance, as if I need to be important or even central. My kids love me, but they shouldn’t cling to me! I’m blessed to have raised them to want to step out on their own. And any desire to reel them back in is not of God; it is purely my own selfishness.

That probably hit a nerve somewhere, and if it didn’t, then please consider that you may not be holding your kids close enough (or their in their 30s and beyond). In adolescence, we should be encouraging decision making, but with wisdom and guidance. We want them to leave the home and to follow Jesus into the things He’s prepared for them. Holding them back from that is generally a selfish instinct; to be clear, I’m not talking about being careful or cautious with a special needs child. My eldest is my most needy, in that respect, and while I’m excited to see him launch into the world soon, I am terrified and very cautious, trying to make sure I helped him establish good habits and behaviors that, even when he goes through the initial phase of forgetting (or not caring) about taking care of his home, dishes, etc, that he will still have the skills to pull it back together! At the conclusion of all things, it’s about making sure he has what he needs to be an adult, rather than trying to hold him back from adulthood because I’m not ready.

“So, what does The Village have to do with this?”

Oh! Well, it’s not The Village, like the M. Night Shyamalan movie. Rather, it is the reality that God likes to work with tribes. Another way to phrase that would be that God likes to work with groups, communities, peoples, and villages. Many years ago, Hillary Clinton ruined the phrase “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child” by turning it into some malicious twist that meant the government should raise your kids. But in reality, that statement’s original meaning remains! It takes more than just the parents of a child to raise it.

If we got back to the idea of a NASA rocket, the parents are the primary engineers. They design, modify, and solidify the blueprints that go into manufacturing. In manufacturing, if a flaw is identified, they are the ones to identify how to resolve it. In assembly, they’re more excited than anyone, and when the final launch day comes, they’re right there to help get that rocket into space/adulthood. So, we can’t exclude them or usurp their authority. At the same time, if those two engineers were the only ones building, testing, assembling, and transporting the rocket, it would never make it’s launch date! So, we have multiple people in the process who help to build the parts, help to put the parts together, help to load it on the launch vehicle, help to monitor it’s journey to the launchpad. These may be teachers, pastors, youth workers, grandparents, uncles/aunts, cousins, even semi-random folks like the mailman or a barber/hair-dresser. At the end of the day, the parents/engineers are responsible for that child’s/rocket’s launch, but there are hundreds of people in-between that will help reinforce, refine, and even help to figure out the views, values, intentions, and directions that will help that child become who they are made to be.

In the midst of that village, you find things you didn’t think of, or a perspective you didn’t expect. As noted above, these may help refine a perspective/value, or they may help reinforce or create a value. And this is where the humility comes in; that is, this is where we parents have to be humble enough to listen, even though “it’s my kid, and I’ll decide what’s best.” Yes! It is your kid, and you should decide what is best, but be willing to accept the feedback, as it may be a perspective you just can’t see yet. If we hold our abilities too highly, then we may miss opportunities where God is wanting to establish or correct something in our child, something that will make their future better with Him. If we choose not to listen, we choose to make life harder for our children. And all of this requires us to be in a relationship with Him. We can’t listen well, nor can we receive from Him, if we aren’t in relationship with Him. So, the converse becomes true, that we could miss an opportunity where God is wanting us to hold the values He’s already established rather than accept someone’s “fool’s gold”, as it were. And we won’t know that it’s fool’s gold, unless we hold it up to His refining fire of truth.

Single-parents, I think this reality needs to sink in for some of us. Depending on our stories, some of us have endured trauma that has caused us to be more comfortable in isolation than in community. As one who has (and still does) struggled with that, I’m going to tell you, “Stop it! Find at least one friend!” We know the enemy likes to isolate us, and Proverbs 18:1 tells us that “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.” In many cases, this isolation is a protective mechanism; this much, I completely understand. However, God calls us to community; in multiple places in the Bible, He talks of believers in groups, not isolated, and in many other places, He speaks to being together and not abandoning being together. Additionally, God Himself is 3 persons and He created us in His image, such that we can very easily infer that He created us for community, not for isolation. Hence, when we are honest, our selfish isolation is us protecting ourselves, rather than trusting in God to protect us, trusting Him that any/all pain is only as-much-as-needed, and trusting Him to heal us when such times come. After all, in isolation, we miss so much richness that we gain from friendships, from time conversing about the things of God, and from the valuable perspectives that we can never see until someone turns their light onto our situation. God is good! And though it sometimes means a bit of pain, remember the pain He went through just for the chance to know you, and trust Him as you step into community with His people!

And with all that said, I feel that saying much more would just be saying more of the same. So, I’ll go ahead and end here, but feel free to ask questions or otherwise create a conversation in the comments. Comments are moderated, mostly to keep the spam out, but I’m happy to entertain civil debate and/or exchange ideas.

Godspeed – 1 Corinthian 15:10

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The Linear Cyclicity of History

“The linear…what? Cyclicity?! Huh? Of History. Ok. You’ve lost me!” Yeah. It’s a mouthful, but I think it paints the perfect word picture.

There are a few schools of thought on the path of history, whether it’s linear or cyclical. And while this particular variant may be covered in a book, somewhere, I’m going to throw this idea down here, as it has been burning a hole in my brain for some 20 years now. History is neither linear, NOR cyclical, but it is linearly cyclical. =)

By this, I mean that history is not a straight line from the past to the future, nor is it just a series of cycles, each varying from the next, but that it is a series of fits and starts with a central aim and an unexpected opposition. If we look through history, we will see many patterns repeated; even in the present, our President has repeated many patterns of previous Presidents, believing, it seems, that the date and technological differences make certain choices more likely to succeed this time than last time.

Now, it may seem like the cyclical side of history is evident. I would tend to agree. What I think is equally evident, but requires some careful observation, is that history also has a linear aspect to it. By that, I am seeking to acknowledge the very feeling we all experience that, “I can do better.” We see someone do something, and we find ourselves thinking we can improve on the action, design, or idea. In one sense, we acknowledge that we may start another cycle of the same failure, but we feel that something has changed, and thereby believe that we can shift that cycle in some way. (To be clear, this feeling, alone, is insufficient to justify many cycles, and it is likely to be wrong, but if the approach is carefully considered and the outcomes honestly assessed, then the feeling is merely a spark, not the fire itself.)

Thus, I believe there is an inherent linear aspect to our cyclical history. And this is where it dawned on me, what I’m talking about is a spiral! If you take a set of cycles, place them on a line, and allow the progression through time, you have a spiral. Now, spirals can be good and bad. “He’s winding up…” “Oh, he’s wound himself up good!” “It’s time to wind down.” “That’s a tailspin, pull up! Pull up!” Spirals are just another shape in our universe, but once we recognize the shape, we can ask a question, and I think the question is the key to this revelation.

“Well, where is the spiral leading?” See, spirals, by virtue of being spirals point toward spin out from a destination. Looking the other way, they spin out from a point of origin. And either way we ask the question, we come to similar conclusions. The spiral of history is spinning out from creation. And where it is leading, or what is the trending of this spiral? The trend is the increasing sinfulness of man, leading to an end for our world. When? I refuse to guess, as Jesus Himself (God on foot!) said “But concerning that day and hour, no one knows, not even the angles of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” (Matthew 24:36). In other words, God the Father withheld this knowledge from even JESUS, yo! Just let that sink in. (Having lost friends to the darkness of false prophets, please heed this caution: If someone tells you they KNOW when Jesus will return, or that He has already returned, THEY ARE LYING!!!!)

So, that’s kind of depressing, isn’t it? Honestly? Yeah. A little. But I temper that depression with the reality that there is still time to be saved! There are still chances for this world to turn back tides of sin, if folks would begin turning their hearts and minds away from the pleasures and trappings of sin and to the purity and riches of Jesus, following Him with everything, in every way, and beyond any limits. You see (I hope), this world doesn’t have to end with all things under sin and all people’s in pain and anguish.

“Whoa! Didn’t God say it would?” Yes. But that’s like saying that Los Angeles is going to be underwater in 100 years, so we might as well abandon the town now. WHAT?!? Hundreds to thousands of square miles of land, homes, and businesses, just abandoned because of something that’ll happen in 100 years? In the same way, it is ludicrous (hear me well, LU-DI-CROUS!) for us to give up on this world because it will end one day! We must stand up and fight for the lives, the spiritual, eternal lives, of our loved-ones and neighbors!

The Spartans of Greece once had a saying they’d tell their soldiers before they’d go out to battle; “come back WITH your shield, or ON it!” The idea being that you leave nothing on the field but death or your own blood. You don’t lay down your weapons; you don’t surrender! You fight until the enemy is defeated or until you are dead!

Scripture uses the imagery of a shield to describe faith, the love of God, and God Himself. If we apply this imagery back to the Spartan claim, we find ourselves saying, “Come back WITH your faith and your Lord, or ON your faith and His Word!” Suddenly, this statement which seemed almost cruel becomes an amazing statement of hope! It lifts us to a place where we now see the battle at hand, not of “flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12-13) And having had to engage such battles myself, I can testify that it is easy to get lost in your flesh, thinking it’s all about you and your ability to coerce, to punch, or to twist arms (figuratively or literally). But my dear Reader, it is not about any of those things, for we serve a God so powerful that when He is roused to battle, no army can face Him, no bureaucrat dare oppose Him, and no authority dare speak over Him.

Dear Reader, this world is spiraling, as sin weaves its webs and sinks its fangs into the hearts of men and women. And while this world may yet be doomed to face judgment for its willful rebellion against the One, True God, it’s Creator, we are called to the battlefield, to contend for our loved-ones and neighbors, through prayer, through Biblical study and living, and through living life with each other (including said loved-one and neighbors) that we might, through our actions, our shown-love, and our conversations, may bring any-and-all-that-will-come to Jesus.

What an amazing opportunity? How can anyone say no? What an adventure to press into?

How great the God that we serve! Amazing that He loves to deeply and so sacrificially as to seek each and every one of us out to make Himself known and to offer (as a gentleman, not required) the opportunity to be saved and to know Him! I don’t know why anyone would reject Him, but let us dwell not on that thought, but let us set our eyes completely on Him, the One who set aside all of heaven to come walk among us, as a nobody, and to die a brutal, terrible, fearsome, and gruesome death to be the sacrifice for my sins (past, present, and future). I am not perfect, but His perfect and overwhelming love continues to draw me out of my failures and compels me to be more like Him, everyday. How amazingly incomprehensible is this love! Our God is like NO other god! Our God is amazing in power, in wisdom, and absolutely overwhelming in love! Our God is above and beyond all we can ever think or imagine, and He chooses to know us, a mere speck in the grandiosity of the universe. Even greater, He chooses to love us and provide for us, though we amount to a grain of sand or a speck of dust in a hidden crevice. How great is our God!

Godspeed – 1 Corinthians 15:10

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The Shunemite – Trusting God in Loss!

As I’ve prayed and thought about today’s post, God brought me back to an old milestone. Many years ago, God was beginning to reveal Himself to me, as a young man. Somewhere along the way, I’d bought into the idea that God didn’t do any real works anymore. Sure, He spoke to me, at times, which was weird enough. But no way He’d ever use me to speak into someone’s life in a wild or prophetic way. ….well, that is…until He did!

I had recently changed states, and God has brought another young man and I into a sweet friendship. To this day, neither of us can tell you exactly what connected us, but God drew us together like David and Jonathan. I still love this man, and his family is as precious to me as my own! But on this day, he was grieved! His heart was so heavy, you could see it in his stance, in his movements; every fiber of his being seemed to weep, yet without tears.

The day before, he and I had discussed something that had beset him, a frustration in which he felt God had taken something away from him, out of his life. But he (we’ll call him Chuck) didn’t give me any of these details that I’m now filling in. Instead, Chuck merely said, “I feel like the Shunemite woman!”

“What?!?” Being the Biblical Scholar that I was at the time (read a thick coating of sarcasm right there, y’all), I had no clue what Chuck was talking about. So, he pointed me to 2 Kings 4; while I read it with all due desire to help my friend, I had no clue what Chuck was going though.

Back to the day of Chuck’s grief; I was doing a job on the other side of the warehouse from him, but I could see his pain. I was praying for God to help him, to give him wisdom and comfort, and I heard God, plain as day, tell me, “Go tell him that what he’s lost, he will gain back.” And I heard it so clearly, that I got up and did so. Chuck’s response was, “Figured it out, did ya?” To whit, I responded, “Dude, I don’t even know what I’m talking about!

But today, I’ve learned to value the Shunemite woman’s story. It is a worthy reminder that sometimes, God chooses to take from our lives so He can make Himself more known. We, of course, do not like this because it freaking hurts! But God is so perfectly good that He only makes us to endure the pain that is truly necessary. And our relationship with Him is the most important relationship we will ever have; consequently, it is worth whatever pains to know Him!

But God is so perfectly good that He only makes us to endure the pain that is truly necessary.

I encourage you to read 2 Kings 4:1-17. (For brevity, I will not quote it here, but I implore you to read it, as the Word of God speaks so mightily that I cannot do it more justice than it does itself.) In this passage, we meet a woman who clearly respects the Almighty. Elisha, a prophet of old, a prophet of God, stops at this family’s house every time he passes this way. In fact, he stops so often, the woman tells her husband to make a room for him on their roof (note: this story puts emphasis on the woman, not her husband; this is in contrast to some of the claims that Christianity is some tyrannically patriarchal belief system, when, in fact, woman are held in higher regard than in such patriarchies).

Over time, Elisha is so moved by her provision, by her desire to bless the Lord, that he wants to give her something. Nonetheless, this woman declares she has no need. Yet, Elisha perceives she desires to have a son, as she has no children to speak of. At the core of this woman’s heart is such a desire, but she is also carefully guarded, imploring Elisha, “O man of God, don’t deceive me and get my hopes up like that.” (2 Kings 4:16b). This statement is so potent that, some years later, when the child dies, she brings this statement back to Elisha, that she was not interested in having a child only to lose him.

Make no mistake, God is good! He is never cruel! In our humanity, we may, sometimes, think Him cruel because the pain cuts deep, but as a Master Surgeon, He cuts only as deep and only as much as must be done to heal our soul! And sometimes, truly, we can lose focus because we hold something too close. In this case, I believe the Shunemite woman wasn’t holding her child too close. The Bible doesn’t tell us, so I will not surmise, but one can assert that God had purpose in allowing her child to die.

It is easy to read the Bible and miss the gaps. By that I mean that we can sometimes read this history and miss the reality that everything isn’t happening as quickly as we read it. I hate cliffhangers, but in real life, they often happen. We know that this woman’s child was alive for some 7-10 years, as he’s going out to help his father. So, we have a decade, roughly, between when she is told she’ll have this child and the child falling ill and dying. But think about that woman’s journey to find Elisha! While the distance to Mt Carmel from Shunem is only about ~33 miles, and a donkey’s top speed is around 43 mph. So, let’s just roughly say that it took her an hour to reach Elisha. Elisha sent his servant on ahead, and then comes himself. So, all things considered, we’re talking about some 2-3 hours before Elisha is present at the Shunemite woman’s house. If you’ve ever dealt with an emergency or a death, you know those 2-3 hours seem to crawl by.

An interesting side note is that God withholds this situation from Elisha. He is unaware of what has happened when the woman comes to him. I won’t theorize as to the reasons, but I think there was something God was doing in Elisha’s life, too. I don’t know what, as I haven’t studied Elisha’s life recently enough, but we know God could’ve told him. So, the fact that He holds back is noteworthy.

Now, what I find very interesting is that Elisha tries to raise the boy, and it is on the third time, as Elisha has laid out similar to a crucified man, that we finally see this boy rise. Elisha first puts a staff on the boy (via his servant, Gehazi). Staffs were often used by the Lord to work miracles, but the staff alone is insufficient to raise the boy. So, Elisha prays, and he lays on top of the boy (don’t get too crazy with this; I think the significance is the fact that we’re told he is stretched out over this kid’s body). The imagery here hints at the cross, “…his mouth on the child’s mouth, his eyes on the child’s eyes, and his hands on the child’s hands. And as he stretched out on him…” (2 Kings 4:34). If you think this through, you get the imagery of someone with their arms stretched out, like a man on a cross.

Additionally, we know that Jesus visited this area, during his ministry, when the city was then known as Nain. Interestingly, Jesus encounters a funeral and raises a widow’s only son. But I don’t intend to get into that parallel (or contrast) here. More so, I was pointing to the fact that Elisha’s behavior is similar to Jesus’ own death. He was beaten and mocked (a staff), then whipped 40 times (first time Elisha laid out), then hung on the cross. Additionally, he was in the tomb Friday, and Saturday, and raised on that Sunday. Threes and threes and more threes!

God is not one to take away without purpose! In Chuck’s case, God restored the relationship he’d taken away, and it blossomed into a beautiful marriage that has lasted through many tests, trials, and challenges. I am still encouraged and blessed by my friendship with Chuck and his amazing wife and family! They’re good people! And the fact that we both know Jesus makes it such a rich and rewarding friendship; had God not taken that relationship for a moment (and I’m inferring a bit because I never really knew WHAT God took, but I infer because of circumstantial coincidences), I don’t know if Chuck and I would’ve become the friends that we have, and I would’ve missed out on so much growth and so many opportunities to stretch myself out.

I apologize, some, for the length of this post. But I hope that if you’re living with a loss, that you will allow yourself to trust God in the midst of it. If you have accepted Jesus’ sacrifice in your place, and if you have chosen to follow Him with every aspect of your life and every ability of your being, then you can be assured of Romans 8:28, that He will work it out for your best. It hurts, and He knows that. It’s ok to tell Him that. It’s ok to shout, to cry, to scream. But like Psalm 42 (and so many chapters of Psalm), remind your soul to hope in Him, for you will (and do) have reason(s) to praise Him once again!

Godspeed – 1 Corinthians 15:10

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This Is The Day That The Lord Has Made

To be quite frank, I don’t want to write this post. You see, once I write it, I am accountable to live it. And honestly, I don’t want to live this some days.

“What are you TALKING about?!”

Right. I haven’t really explained anything. Well, let’s get into it, then!

If you went to church as a kid in the late 80s or early 90s, you likely have a song running in your head right now. “This is the day (echo: this is the day), that the Lord has made (that the Lord has made), I will rejoice (I will rejoice) and be glad in it (and be glad in it)….” It puts Psalm 118:24 to music.

“This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.“

Psalm 118;24

When I was younger, this was a fine song to sing. Life held promise, hope, and I was happy to face a new day. But as my life has taken a dark road for the last 12 years, and as each new day tends to question my hope more than upholding or encouraging it, I’ve really struggled with this verse. I would even go so far as to say that I despised this verse for some time.

Why? Because I couldn’t understand it! How am I supposed to rejoice and be glad in another day of pain and suffering given from the Lord. What the crud, man? Why would I be happy and joyful about that? How can you even ask me to do that?

And then the answer came. Quite honestly, I was reading the verse but not thinking about what I was reading. If you just read this verse, as someone in pain, it can sound very demanding. But if you break this down, it’s not nearly as demanding, and it’s actually quite the reality-check. So, let’s break it down.

This is the day….pretty simple, right? It’s this period of time. It may not be a whole day, or it could be a long day, but all the same, it’s a period of time. Yours may start early, or you may wake up late. All of these things are within the Lord’s “day.” He set this time aside for YOU! And that feeds into the next phrase.

That the Lord has made! On the surface, it’s sounds like buying a trinket, and seeing it was made here or there. No, this is not that. Rather, God is identifying that He has specifically created this day, this moment in time, for you to be here and for you to fill. In one sense, it’s like someone handing you clay or a canvas or a set of paper, and then asking you to create some piece of art or something functionally useful, you’re choice.

But it’s bigger than that! You see, in Ephesians, 2:10, we find that “we are God’s masterpiece.” So, there’s no need for us to create some fantastic thing, as our work, in Him, is already fantastic! So, the pressure is off! We can relax and just do what He guides us to do, however imperfect we may be.

Not only that, but God has prepared a day for you! You see, He didn’t just make this day, as if He’d accidentally burped and the sun rose. But rather, He intentionally created today “so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago,” Ephesians 2:10b. Check that out! God created today, with opportunities for you to serve Him, planned long in advance, designed just for you.

Now, think about this first sentence of Psalm 118:24, rephrased: “This is the period of time that God, who is rich in love and mercy, has specifically designed just for you, to utilize your abilities, hidden and known, to serve Him and give Him the glory for all He is able to do through you, beyond what you once thought possible, and above what you imagine yourself capable of today; things you may never know He’s doing, He is working out in and through you in this day He has determined to create.”

When you think about that simple sentence the way I just broke it out, suddenly, the second sentence makes more sense: “We will rejoice and be glad in it.” Now, it is no longer a command, but it is a clear outflow of the recognition of what today is. The fact that God loves me so much that He has made opportunities for me to be able to express my gratitude for His sacrifice, so that I could be saved, and He has built these opportunities just for me. I don’t know how not to rejoice in that!

That said, there are times when it is difficult to want to get up, to want to keep going, and to want to praise Him. However, if I reflect on His love, His gentleness, His absolute sacrifice for me, I find it easier to ignore my flesh and it’s screams for relief, for pleasure, for worldly joy, and I find myself more able to agree with Psalms such as 118.

If you’ve never read Psalm 118, I highly encourage you. It has some Messianic prophecies, has some laments, and has a LOT of hope! It is a great Psalm to meditate on! But with that said, I hope this post has helped you understand some Scripture a bit better, and I hope Jesus uses this to encourage you into the day (or days) He has created for you!

If you don’t know Jesus, I encourage you to get to know Him now. It really just breaks down to turning to Him, acknowledging that He died for your sins, and choosing to follow Him, to live as He leads, from this day forward. To follow Him, get yourself a Bible, start reading and praying each day, so that you’re in communication and relationship with Him through those prayers and His Word, the Bible. Lastly, get connected with, and start attending, a local church where you’ll be taught from the Bible, not from popular culture or some savvy person’s thoughts, but truly given the Bible. You need that fellowship with other Christians!

And with all of that said, I’ll close this time out. I hope this has blessed you!

Godspeed – 1 Corinthians 15:10

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Trusting God To Speak; The Discipline of Silence

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not exactly a silent guy. Whether it’s a key-chain jangling, my laugh, my footfalls, or my input on an issue, I am rarely without some sound. For some years, I was the guy who wouldn’t shut up. Then, I was the guy who always had a thought, but I could keep it to myself for a while. But these days, I am still a bit chatty, but I’ve begun to learn the value of silence. Sometimes, this is listening, but sometimes, it’s just being silent regardless of the circumstance.

Many people have a drive to do something. When a tragedy hits, a child needs assistance, or there’s a job to be done, these people step in. But it may be less obvious, too. It could be that drive to save money, the desire to make a name for yourself, or maybe just the desire to “make the world a better place” for those around you. The common aspect is that most people want to DO something! And if you don’t want to do it, it’s a fair bet you want someone to do it! After all, what often happens when there is some major tragedy in the US? People cry out for the authorities (be it law enforcement, local government, or federal government) to “do something!”

This drive, this desire to do something, is can be a holy desire, but oftentimes, it is more of a human desire, something borne of our flesh, our sin-sick side. And that’s what we’re examining today. When that desire is not from the Holy Spirit, we are in danger of doing harm to the cause of Christ, and we are feeding our flesh. Hence, it is crucial for Believers to develop the discipline of silence.

While this may harken images of monks taking lengthy vows of silence, I don’t mean to imply anything that extreme, though some may be so compelled. Rather, I am calling to the need to quiet ourselves (internally and externally) in times of prayer. Sometimes, we spend so much time talk TO God that we forget to listen FROM God. As I often repeat, Christianity, following Jesus, is not about religion (rules and regs) but a relationship with Jesus, with the Almighty God. And you can’t have much of a relationship with someone if you don’t listen to them.

Wait, are you saying God speaks? Audibly? This tends to be where many people get hung up. In general, there are three camps, three answers to this question. One group says, “No. God does not speak anymore, not audibly! He only speaks through His Word, through circumstances, or through other people!” Another group says, “Oh, absolutely! God speaks to me every day; it’s like He’s right next to me, talking as audibly as you.” And a third group straddles a middle ground, “Well, God doesn’t always speak audibly, but He can! He speaks through all the above, and audibly, but He will never contradict His Word.” No matter which group you are prone toward, let me submit that the third group is the most accurate!

“So, God actually speaks to you?”

Sometimes, yes! And sometimes, it’s my imagination. And other times, it’s Scripture, others, or any of the above. But the fundamental point is that He will never contradict His Word, aka the Bible. So, if I hear God telling me to get drunk, I can be sure I’m not hearing God. If someone tells me it’s ok to move in with my girlfriend, I can be sure that person is not speaking for God. And while there may be a caveat or two that someone could site to make some statement sound Biblical when it is truly unBiblical, let’s stick to simple examples.

God often has plenty to say to us, but He is a gentleman, and He will rarely force us to listen. (I say rarely because there are times and is precedent for God to intervene, powerfully, when there is need, but it is truly rare.). In reality, it’s as was said above; it is a relationship, and that relationship must be nurtured or we will find ourselves further and further off-course, following after our own desires and forgetting what His voice sounded like.

The discipline of silence helps to redirect us away from ourselves, learning to quiet our exceptionally boisterous flesh, and tuning our ears to His voice. This can be a time of prayer where you make your requests known but spend several minutes in silence, just listening for Him to respond. It may be turning the radio off on a drive, so you can focus on a Scripture He drew to your attention that day. Or it may be quietly praying in your mind for what the Lord would have you to do in a situation, not doing something and not saying much, until the Lord responds or choosing to let a situation pass when no response is heard.

This is complimented when we regularly spend time in the Word. Without that, our spirit will whither and we will be prone to that same wandering above, more inclined to hear our own selves than the Almighty.

“Jesus said to the people who believed in Him, ‘You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’”

John 8:32

Shortly after saying this, Jesus goes on to say “So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.” (John 8:38) Later, at the final supper with His disciples, in John 14:8, Jesus reveals that He is “the way, the truth, and the life…”(emphasis mine). So then, it is not any mere truth that sets us free but Jesus Himself, and not just a knowledge of the truth, but a knowledge, a relational, life-spent-with-each-other knowledge of Jesus. In other words, without spending time getting to know Jesus and following His example, we cannot hope to be free.

Hence, it is necessary for us to take time in the discipline of silence to learn to hear His voice to invest in our relationship with Him and our ability to follow after Him.

One final note, as I’m sure I’ve caused a brief bit of confusion. This is not a work we can take credit for. This isn’t a “gold star” that God puts on some cosmic chart. Without Jesus, we would be blind to our need for Him, like a man in the desert who is so dehydrated that he thinks the sand will quench his thirst! And yet, it is something we do out of love for our Savior. In the same way that a man or woman will give their girlfriend or boyfriend, respectively, their time or a gift; in the same way, this is one of our expressions of love and gratitude for what He has done for us.

He made the absolute, ultimate sacrifice for us. Nothing we can do will ever compare, but we live our lives for Him out of love and gratitude. Like a child who uses his father’s money to buy the same father a gift, so we give to Him out of all He has given (and continues to give) to us. Praise the Lord that we don’t have to be perfect but are continually loved and nurtured back when we fail. He is so good, and we are so unworthy. Let us give up our selfishness, and endure the challenge of silence, that we may serve Him better, love Him dearly, and hear Him more clearly. And may the glory, honor, and power be His, forever and ever! Amen!

Godspeed – 1 Corinthians 15:10

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Live Blameless?!? Have You Met Me?!?

In many places, the Bible tells us we are to live blamelessly, in such a way that no one can bring an accusation against us. And yet, in this technological age, where all our mistakes and failures can haunt us for decades to come, this certainly seems impossible! Seriously, have you seen Facebook, Instagram, or Fail Army?!

Living blamelessly in the modern world sounds like an impossible task, and if it were up to us, it is an impossible task. But thanks be to God that, like many things, it’s not up to us! As He did in salvation, God does the work; we are only required to surrender to that work. Let’s take a look at some such passages.

Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful.

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

(You may recall this passage from my post a couple weeks ago. Yippee! I got to write this post and flesh this idea out.)

Some may look at this passage and think, “aw man! I can’t do that!” But look at what Paul says, “may the God of peace make you holy, and may [you]…be kept blameless…God will make this happen…”. Paul is clearly not calling the Thessalonians to be blameless on their own. Rather, he is calling them to allow God to remove the sin from their lives and develop a blameless character within them.

Dear friends, I warn you as temporary residents and foreigners to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when He judges the world.

1 Peter 2:11-12

Peter takes a slightly different turn on this. It is not a contrary statement, but it adds some clarification. Peter encourages believers to live blamelessly so that their neighbors are not able to bring a charge that sticks. Even then, Peter says that even they bring up something, they will see our honorable (adherence to what is right or to a conventional standard of conduct) behavior, and that they will give honor/glory to God when He judges the world. In other words, our blamelessness will bring glory to God, even if our neighbors have it out for us, when the end of all things finally comes about.

For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation — the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ — for this will bring much glory and praise to God.

Philippians 1:10-11

Once again, we turn to Paul. Here, he encourages us to be filled with the fruit of our salvation, but what is this fruit? Oh, it’s the righteous character produced in your life (don’t miss this!) by Jesus Christ. So then, we cannot believe that this is by our own actions, but there is a mystery here. We are to live pure and blameless lives, but it is Jesus who produces our pure and blameless character. I encourage you to read the whole chapter for greater context, but for brevity’s sake, I’m keeping this short.

And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows. May He, as a result, make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy as you stand before God our Father when our Lord Jesus comes again with all his holy people. Amen.

1 Thessalonians 3:12-13

While I started with the 1 Thessalonians 5 reference, this reference actually precedes it. Here, we see that Paul is still points to blamelessness as coming through the work of God in their lives, but he also points to it being an outflow of our love growing for one another and for others. Additionally, it is part of making our hearts strong and making us holy, both things that only God can truly do.

Yet now, He has reconciled you to Himself through the death of Christ in His physical body. As a result, He has brought you into His own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before Him without a single fault.

But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News.

Colossians 1:22-23a

Once again, Paul refines this for us. Read this one carefully, though. “He has brought you into His own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before Him without a single fault.” Did you see that? When we turn from our sin and choose to follow Jesus, He makes us blameless. So then, we can conclude that it is both an immediate reality and a progressive reality; we are made immediately blameless before Him, and He continues to produce in us the character to be blameless.

Now, there is a caveat here, lest someone think I’m selling cheap grace. The caveat is this; if you choose to walk away from Jesus (and I don’t know why you would!), then you are choosing to give this all up. You are choosing to be blameful, to be unholy, to reject the absolute love and work of God in your life. I can’t stop you, but I will beg you not to go there!

I could go on with many more versus that talk about being blameless and being above reproach, but I’ll leave that to your own personal study. The point here is to help you understand that the life of a Believer is one of following Jesus and trusting/letting Him clear the paths and solve the problems that come along the path. Should you clear your old Facebook posts or those inappropriate Instagrams? Yeah, probably! But even so, it is Jesus who does the work of making you TRULY blameless!

Without Jesus, we are to blame for everything; it all hangs on us, and we are guilty as the worst of all humanity! But when we accept His sacrifice in our place and choose to follow Him, with all we have, through thick and thin, happy times and painful times, Jesus clears that guilt (by His death on the cross) and make us blameless. Isn’t that a relief?

Just take a moment and meditate on that, today; in Jesus, you are now blameless! In the sight of God, tucked in with Jesus, you are blameless! No bankruptcy court, no jail time, no jerk on a street corner can take that from you. As Jesus has said, in this world, you will have troubles, but be encouraged because He has overcome this world! Whatever challenges you are experiencing, as long as you are spending time with Him, praying with/to Him, and following His lead, then those challenges are just an opportunity to be refined or to watch Him work!

What a good and glorious God we serve! If you don’t know Him, I encourage you to stop where you are, admit you have violated His standard, and accept Jesus death in your place. Then, begin living for Him by reading the Bible, spending time in prayer (talk to Him and listening for His response, whether in that moment or later on, whether audible, from the Word, or through a person). And as Paul said, “don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard” this Good News! May you walk with Him today, and everyday, to His glory and honor!

Godspeed – 1 Corinthians 15:10

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Mental Health; The Oft Overlooked Aspect

Normally, Wednesdays are reserved for shorter posts, but this one just couldn’t be much shorter. Nonetheless, this felt too important to hold off on sharing it. So, I apologize for this breech of ediquette, but I hope this post blesses you and draws your closer to Jesus, all the same!

Mental health is a topic that has touched my family in many ways over the last decade, but definitely in the last few years, as it has most people. Even so, much of the information and discussions that have happened often miss a crucial aspect of mental health, largely because we have been conditioned (and condition ourselves) to disregard it, to completely ignore this facet of mental health. We ignore our spiritual health!

If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time, you should know that I’m not into “religion” as people often define it. I’m not about the do’s and don’t’s of life, a set of arbitrary rules, nor the writings and enlightenments of mankind. While some of those things can be useful, and sometimes necessary, I’m about a relationship with the Almighty, who created us to have a relationship with Him and made that possible through His death on the cross and subsequent resurrection.

So, when I say “spiritual health,” I am not speaking to whatever religion you may have or the obscure “spirituality” some refer to. And that’s not intended to insult anyone, but I believe there is sufficient (and overwhelming) evidence to suggest that being “spiritual” or religious does not sufficiently contribute to spiritual health. It’d be like saying you try to eat right but just can’t resist that quart of Chunky Monkey every Friday. You may not have a large gut or be significantly overweight, but I doubt your doctor would call you the picture of health.

So, what does spiritual health have to do with mental health? It’s pretty simple. Like this week’s post, if you don’t have a proper perspective, you can’t properly respond. And if you’re not spiritually healthy, you can’t be completely mentally healthy. It may be a body-image issue, or maybe anger; perhaps you’re a control-freak, or maybe you struggle with depression. Nonetheless, if you aren’t spiritually healthy, it is more difficult to be mentally healthy.

Well, then, what is spiritually healthy? To swipe a phrase from the world, “It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon.” But a marathon has a starting line, too. So, the starting point of spiritual health is that point when you decide to leave your sinful ways and follow Jesus, trusting in His sacrifice to pay for your sins (past, present, and future). That’s where you start.

Where you go from there is to be in the Bible, daily. You could start at the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and start reading one of those, as you’ll get to know Jesus really well there. But maybe you are so grieved that the Gospels are just too story-like. Well, maybe start with the Psalms. You can pray through the Psalms, giving a voice to your pains, and God will still teach and minister to you there. This can also help you learn some ways to pray, things you wouldn’t have thought of because they just didn’t have the voice the Psalms now gives. Or maybe you’re like me, and you struggle to remember where you left off; aside from buying a bookmark, you could start with Proverbs and read the chapter of the day (example: for today, August 3, you could go read Proverbs’ chapter 3).

And spend time in prayer. A simple structure, if you want it, is to start by praising God for who He is (at least, what you know), then spend some time thanking Him for what He’s done in your life and given you. After that, confess any sins that you’ve done since the last time you talked to Him (this may be the time when you were saved), ask Him to forgive them (knowing He will) and acknowledge any temptations that are present. Then, make your needs know by requesting what you think you need. And then take a moment to leave those things with Him, to provide or say “that’s not really what you need”. Listen for His response; just take some time to be quiet and see if the Lord puts something on your heart to confess, to ask for, or just to think on.

Lastly, continue to listen for the Lord to speak, whether from the Scriptures, in prayer, or from that random person who just happens to give you an answer to a prayer you just prayed that day! Of course, if someone or something gives you an answer that contradicts the Bible, that’s not to be followed (example: you may be tempted to smoke marijuana, but someone offering you a hit is not God answering your prayer; you may be in need of money, and someone remembers that they owed you money and repays you, this is God providing for you.)

Oh! I almost forgot to mention that you need to find a church to be a part of (if you need help with this, you can email me or post a comment, and I’ll happily help you look). But find a local church that teaches from the Bible, verse by verse and chapter by chapter, as you need that community to help you grow and mature in Christ. Plus, isolation is antithetical (the opposite of; contrary) to good mental healthy.

To put a bow on this, the bottom-line is that until people choose to follow Jesus and pursue that relationship, mental health will continue to be a struggle, for that person and for our society.

And one final point, medication and counseling are totally appropriate to help with mental health. I will not contradict the work of Jesus in your life, but I will also not ignore or diminish the fact that God uses various means to help us, including doctors prescribing medication and counselors/therapists helping us work through and give voice to our challenges. So, don’t ignore those aspects of mental health, as well!

Godspeed – 1 Corinthians 15:10

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Pencil’s Ready? It’s Test Time!

Given that today is August 1, I figured a school-themed title was fitting. Additionally, I was reading in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-25, and Paul talks of testing things. So, let’s go to it! Are you ready?

When I was younger, I hated pop-quizzes. Frankly, I STILL hate pop-quizzes, but I see their purpose. A pop-quiz allowed a teacher (if used properly) to assess what knowledge a student had absorbed and retained. Anyone could study for a test, but not everyone did so without prompting. Of course, there are also those of us who hate being surprised by anything, let alone a test, and clammed up in such moments.

With God, there aren’t many pop-quizzes, but there are times when He chooses to give us a chance to test what we’ve learned from Him, to test if we’ll lean on His understanding or our own. As a hyper-analytical person, I spent much of my life (even as a young Believer) trusting in my own ability. If I didn’t understand a situation, I wasn’t inclined to step into it. If I couldn’t understand a solution, I wasn’t inclined to believe it or try it. And yet, God is gracious; so, He threw me some serious curveballs and taught me to trust in Him and His understanding more than my own, which led me to the past 6-7 months of crazy, exciting, terrifying steps of faith.

In the midst of my reading, though, this jewel stood out.

Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. Stay away from every kind of evil.

1 Thessalonians 5:19-22, emphasis mine

Paul reminds us to be careful what we do and do not listen to. Sometimes, the Holy Spirit calls us to do crazy things, and I, for one, have often reasoned myself out of doing it. This is “[stifling] the Holy Spirit.” We don’t want to do that! We want to be so close with Jesus that when the Holy Spirit speaks, we listen and act.

This also holds true for prophecies! It seems that people tend to break down into three groups: 1) tries to deny the prophecy, off hand and without consideration, 2) accepts whatever prophecy, regardless of it’s source or accuracy, and 3) seeks to be balanced, though sometime falling to skepticism or being too quick to accept something. Paul calls us to be the last, but careful not to fall to either side. Rather, he calls us, like the Bereans in Acts 18:11; we aren’t to scoff (to be quickly dismissive) but to test the prophecy, does it hold up or is it contrary to what the Bible has said?

I’ve personally watched too many believers fall away because of false prophets. It may be the guy saying that if you give him money, God will make all your wishes come true. It may be the convincing blogger who says that they know when Jesus will return. Or it could be some wolf who has evil intentions to cash-in, through the church, on some Believer’s gullibility.

This doesn’t mean you have to be up-to-date on the latest scams and cons. Nor does it mean you have to be careful of ever trusting anyone. Rather, it means you need to be so well-fed in the Scriptures (spending time reading and understanding the Bible, to the point of recalling verses from memory) that a scammer, conman, or evil trickster stands little-to-no chance of convincing you of some falsehood. That means time in the Bible, time in prayer, and time in worship.

When bank tellers are brought on, they aren’t shown dozens and dozens of examples of counterfeit money. Rather, they are encouraged to handle real money, to use the tools that help spot fake money, and trust their instincts. You see, if you handle the real thing, then when the fake is handed to you, it’s pretty easy to spot it. If you don’t catch it right away, there are tools that help. The same is true of spiritual things. If we are well-read, well-prayed, and well-worshiping, we will be able to quickly identify the fakes, and even if we don’t catch it right away, a faithful application of the Word will make clear the forgery.

As closing thoughts, Paul prayerfully blesses the Thessalonians. But his words stood out, as well, today.

Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. God will make this happen, for He who calls you is faithful.

Dear brothers and sisters, pray for us.

1 Thessalonians 5:23-25, emphasis mine

While I hope to flesh this out more in another post, I couldn’t keep this tidbit from you. God does call us to be blameless; other places use the phrase “above reproach”, which means that for someone to bring a complaint against us, they’d have to make it up, and even then, anyone who knows us would, most likely, be immediately suspicious of the accuser.

This seems almost impossible! And that, I believe, is why Paul follows up his call to blamelessness with the statement that God will make this happen. For me, there’s always this question of “where does God’s responsibility end and mine begin?” But the reality is that if I am spending the time I should, God’s responsibility and mine are the same. In other words, when I am staying connected with Him, I will find it easy (or, at least, relatively so) to live without blame. Meanwhile, He is empowering me, teaching me, working out the truth within me, so that I live more and more blamelessly. To put a fine point on it, it’s not my responsibility to live perfectly, but as I focus on Him, spend time with Him, and worship Him, I will find myself becoming more blameless.

God does the work, as I continually surrender to it. He is so good!

Godspeed – 1 Corinthians 15:10

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When Life Sucks…Check Your Lenses!

Have you ever worn glasses? Maybe they were sunglasses, or prescription glassed, or maybe prop glasses for a performance or that “perfect touch to a look.” Whatever glasses they were, didn’t you just hate when you had a smudge on them? It ruins your view, messes with your ability to focus and see clearly, and worst of all, they’re often a bear to get off the glasses! They smear and smear until they finally start coming off.

This world is often like that smudge to the lenses of our vision. Our lenses are developed by both our environments (things we’ve been exposed to both tangibly and intagibly) and by our upbringing (or lack thereof) combined with the things we’ve learned work and don’t work. Consequently, everyone’s perspective is a bit different, but we all see the same world. Contrary to popular beliefs (and even a few studies), there is an objective reality, but it usually takes a couple perspectives to recognize the objective from the subjective (another evidence that God created us for community, but that’s another post for a different time).

So, just as my site is even called, Through Nerdy Lenses, how we see the world is our unique perspective, or our unique set of glasses. Some wear rose colored glasses, seeing the world in ways better than the situation seems to justify. Others wear thick glasses, zooming in on the details some of us breeze on by. Yet others choose to “act cool” and try to go without glasses, bumping into a wall here and a stool there, trying to hold a certain appearance but bumbling through the paces. And just as each person is unique, they’re perspective is.

And yet a commonality of all people is that we all get smudges on our glasses. Some people are fastidious cleaners, removing every tiny smudge when it comes around. These are mostly optimists and a few realists. The optimists are constantly trying to help people see clearly because they’re seeing the best and wish others to see it too. Realists are often cleaning glasses because they want as objective a perspective as they can get, not being too hopeful but not being too depressed. (For the purpose of this post, we’ll just assume everyone is doing this out of the best possible intentions and interests!).

Then there’s a group called pessimists. Some of these folks are truly mislabeled realists who just see a bit more of the darker side off things. And yet, some of these are almost unwilling to have their glasses cleaned because they can’t remember what the world looks like without smudged glasses. After all, if you appear all funky, how can one believe you’ll clean something up. Unclear lenses can make for horrible judgments of people and bad choices made because of fear and snap decisions. But hidden in this group is a group that just seems to be the muck bringers. No matter where they go, or how hard they try to clean their glasses, smudges keep coming!

And for those of you in this group, you’ve probably heard the term “depression” more than not. When I was young, there was “the blues.” Then came “depression.” Nowadays, we have mild depression, moderate depression, severe depression, recurrent episodes of depression, and the king Daddy, manic depressive disorders. So, why are so many people so deeply saddened by the world around them? Let me submit an answer for your consideration.

So many are struggling with deep sadness or grief because so many of us are getting our glasses smudged! Now, before you throw cabbages and tomatoes at me and declare that I’m a jerk, I am not intending, by any stretch of the imagination, to undermine or diminish the reality of being in a depressive state. Most who have walked with me over the last decade have seen me in such a state. So, I deeply empathize! And when I let my walls down, it is apparent that I still battle that demon!

Nonetheless, as one who has been, and often is, in the trenches, I am calling out “there is hope!” And I’m not a snake oil salesman. In point of fact, I couldn’t sell water to a thirst man! But I have learned a lesson or two over the years, and one such lesson was to check my focus, or as I put it here, “check your lenses!” (As a point of empathy, I know this is hard to receive. Sometimes, the darkness closes in so close that you can’t see any light, no hope, no way of escape. I beg you to trust me that morning is coming, and even if it is the smallest sliver you’ve ever seen, there is light coming!)

A phrase I’ve held on to for over 20 years now is the old adage that “the darkest hour is just before the dawn.” Sometimes, the moment when we’re ready to give up is the very moment when we’re about to see a victory, if you will. The pain, grief, sorrow, or trial is just about to break (if not end, altogether), and yet, we can’t see that; so, we’re ready to give up just when we’re about to get relief. Like a man walking in the desert, we fall into the sand and die of thirst, just on the other side of the ridge where an oasis exists. Thus, I’ve often pushed myself over that ridge, no desire to carry on, but not willing to accept the cost of giving up.

When I’m focused on my pains, my failures, my shortcomings, and the darkness, nothing will get better, and each day is just another day of monotony and pain. I’ve wrestled with the demon who tried to convince me that it’d be easier to just be home with the Lord than to continue to serve Him here. But as a wise pastor friend once observed, “when you’re in the place of self-pity, everything you’re hearing is a lie!” When you’re in that place of thinking your life is over and nothing will ever get better, please, dear Reader, know that the enemy of your soul is whispering in your ear! And I beg you to garner whatever teaspoon of strength you have, resist his lies, and submit to God.

Well, what does that look like? How can I? My life is trash; you don’t know my situation! How can you tell me to gather my strength? I have none! How can you tell me to resist him and submit….what does that mean, anyway? Submit to God?

Those are all very good questions, and I’ve wrestled with most of them. If you’ll allow me, let me try to answer them.

First of all, submitting to God is as simple as accepting that you’re going to keep going. The nuances come when the direction you’re going is not consistent with what He’s told us to do. But at it’s simplest, submitting to God is just trusting Him for one more sunrise, one more noonday, one more sunset, and then trusting Him for one more sunrise again. Eventually, you look back and realize He’s carried you through a dozen days, half a year, a decade.

But even then, how does one gather strength when they have none?! I remember feeling that way when I came across an article in which a Navy SEAL noted that when most people are ready to quit, they’ve only given 40% of what they can give. 40 PERCENT?!? That’s not even half-way! That’s not even the MAJORITY of one’s energy! FORTY PERCENT?!?!? But I can tell you, truthfully and with over a decade of experience, that he’s right! Now, I don’t recommend everyone run at 90% or 100%; that’s for the extreme emergencies, and you need a little reserve for such moments. But I have heard dozens of people tell me, “man, I could [raise 3 kids on my own] like you’ve done!” And I marvel because, I would’ve said the same thing before I had to! When we are willing to push, just the smallest mustard seed of faith, Jesus makes us able to do AMAZING things!

“But you still don’t know my situation!”

You’re right! I don’t. The nasty detail of this kind of communication is that I rarely get to know other people’s stories. I truly enjoy more personal interactions! But the reality remains. There’s a saying the world loves to tout, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle.” And you know, the longer I live, the more true I’ve found this to be.

You may not be raising 3 kids on the spectrum. Maybe you’ve got just one kid, and he/she is a low-functioning autistic; you’re heart is broken, wishing you could communicate more with your child, wishing you didn’t wish for a night to yourself once in a while, guilt-ridden by the feelings you secretly hold. Or maybe you were “slept around” and you’re literally paying for it in child support. Perhaps you got into drugs, and they laid your life bare and scorched the ground of your life. But whomever you are, please here me when I tell you, my Jesus is stronger than that!

There’s a fantastic song by Reliant K, and it almost always makes me cry, if not full-on ugly cry weeping! It’s called “For the Moments I Feel Faint”, and the chorus says this:

Never under-estimate my Jesus!

You’re telling me that there’s no hope,

I’m telling you, “you’re wrong.”

Never under-estimate my Jesus!

When the world around you crumbles,

He will be strong; He will be strong!

Reliant K, For The Moments I Feel Faint

Dear Reader, if you have found yourself feeling hopeless, like you can’t face another day, let alone the next half-hour, please turn to Jesus! There’s an old hymn, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus.” Equally good is the Third Day tune, “Cry out to Jesus.” It really is as simple as choosing not to live for yourself anymore, accepting His Lordship over your life and His sacrifice in your place, and then choosing to pursue a relationship with Him. He’s waiting for you! He loves you so much, He’s willing to wait until the end of your life or the end of all things, just to know you. Think of that for a moment: The God of the Universe, through Whom all things were made, Who sustains all things, HE wants to know YOU! He wants to sit down for coffee with you, walk along the path with you, help you with your kids, help you balance your checkbook, and every aspect of life. And He wants you to know Him!

And if you are a believer, but the trials of life have beaten the joy out of you, you are not alone! Not only are there many believers who suffer with you, our Lord suffered with you. Jesus even expressed that very feeling on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!” That deep grief when so much pain has been endured, when your strength has been gutted, and you find yourself just wondering, “Why, God? Where the heck are you!?!?!?!” He is right there, with you, holding back the darkness from consuming, providing that little bit of cash to keep you from going broke, causing your kids to fall asleep a little quick that one night, or bringing someone to help get you out of the bad situation. He is right there! And He’s not afraid of your grief; He’s asking you to give it to Him! He’s not avoiding your pain; He’s asking you to lay it on Him, and He will carry you! Look up, look into the waiting eyes of our INCREDIBLY loving Savior and Lord! (I’m typing this through eyes filled with tears, both for your situation and for the immense love I know awaits you, if you’re willing to press into Him!)

Godspeed – 1 Corinthians 15:10

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Why Do You Keep Following Jesus?!?

I’ve walked with Jesus for 30+ years now. I was blessed to grow up in a Christian household, with incredible parents who taught my brothers and I the Truth. When I was a kid, following Jesus was easy. After all, you got rewards in Sunday School for memorizing verses from the Bible, you got to look cool doing “sword drills” (being given a Scripture reference and quickly finding it in your Bible), and I had a bunch of fun adults who were so loving, it was easy to follow Jesus. An added bonus was that much of the US still believed in “being good”, which often aligned with Christian principles.

As I got into Junior High School, it got more difficult. The country started to turn, and major political issues became hot-buttons, things like abortion, feminism blurring the lines between men and women, and people starting to advocate that sin was no longer “that bad,” even arguing that one sin wasn’t as bad as another sin. And while this isn’t a political post, one can quickly see how someone who held to traditional Christian beliefs/values might have a harder time.

In High School, one person even told me, “I was a Christian once; you’ll be just like me in a year or two!” Determined to prove him wrong, I read up on Christian Apologetics, and I dug into deeper and deeper wells of fact and apologetics (basically, the study of how to defend a belief). I began to read books by Josh McDowell, William Lane Craig, and even J.P. Moreland (admittedly, I couldn’t understand Moreland until my later years of High School), deepening the roots of my faith, so to speak.

In High School, I began to, politely, debate my teachers and others who would give me the time, testing my beliefs and challenging feelings with facts. I was slandered, mocked, and often ridiculed because of my faith. But few could poke holes in my points, and fewer still could rebut the facts and figures that backed the truth. Some just resorted to making fun of me whenever they could, even making snide and hurtful statements about my family. And all the while, temptations abounded as I saw others who seemed to “enjoy” various things I knew I shouldn’t.

And then I got into college and found professed Christians who would debate the very Bible they claimed to believe. The world also got more bold in declaring Biblical truths “out-dated,” “irrelevant,” or just plain wrong! And yet, I met an amazing woman, and I thought my days of being solo were over. She and I seemed to be two peas in a pod. So, naturally, we got married and settled in a wonderful mountain community. Yet, some kids later, she decided she was done with me and left. Worse yet, she turned her back on everything we’d once believed.

As is outlined in The Heartfelt Mind-Meld, this was a traumatic experience not just because it was the end of our marriage, but because of how that marriage came to an end. I found myself questioning everything (or almost everything) I once believed. In the end, though, I could not argue against two facts: there is definitely a God, and the Bible is definitely true and accurate. Anyone who digs into these two facts has only ever found two choices: believe the truth in front of them, or deny it by any means.

Now, some would look at my life and think I’ve got it all. HA!!!! I have some things, yes. But so much of what I have I had to fight for, work into the wee-hours of the morning, and spend many times in prayer, sobbing because of the griefs. Even then, I remain keenly aware that I am always just a few missteps from losing it all. My life is painful at many turns, and honestly, it would be easier to turn my back on it all and just live however I felt best. But this is the crux of this post.

The other day, I was thinking back on the many years behind me, the many missed opportunities, and the many ways in which I feel my life has been wasted. (Now, before the comments roll in, let me just stop y’all and say, I know it’s been worth it and will be worth it, but let me take a moment to be real before y’all.) My life is NOT what I wanted it to be. My dreams have NOT been realized! And my hopes…well, let’s just say that I know all to well that “hope deferred makes the heart sick”. (Proverbs 13:12a)

So, why would I keep following Jesus? What in the world does He have to give me, to make this all worth it?! Why the heck do I keep holding to this Truth I speak of, and not just go live it up?!

Well, the answer is simple, but it’s implications are life changing! I keep following Jesus because nothing else will satisfy or resolve any of my pains or griefs. This world holds many pleasures, but they all take something away from you. Fill in the blank and anything you think of takes away your health, takes away your financial means, or takes away your family. Go to any system of belief (aka religion), and you’ll lose any or all of the above, can lose your freedom, will likely lose your ability to fully reason, and you’ll lose your ability to face reality because any religion will either deny reality, ignore reality, or it will leave you feeling empty.

Jesus isn’t some religion, though Christianity is known as a religion. He is the real God and a real Person, and best of all, He lived among us for some 30-ish years, so He understands the challenges, intimately, of being a human! He even lived in the first century, so we have it better than He did, in many respects!

I continue to follow Jesus because He has made Himself known, speaks directly to the realities of past, present, and future events, and He makes Himself available. Jesus opens Himself to being questioned, to being challenged, and to being known. He doesn’t rebuke me if I ask Him to help me in my unbelief. He doesn’t mind if I have a question. And He doesn’t recoil if I’m struggling to understand something.

I hope you can see that the reason I follow Jesus is not because of what He gives me so much as because of Who He is! I desire to follow truth, and He is the Truth! Many have tried to deny Him, and many have gone to their deaths still denying Him, but none have been able to truly disprove Him. Even one of those authors mentioned above, Josh McDowell, tried to disprove God and became a Christian because of the mountain of evidence He found.

Oh, and those pains and griefs I spoke of? Well, Jesus even told believers to expect them. In John 16:33, in some of Jesus final words to His first followers, He says, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” Jesus didn’t deny the reality of this world. Furthermore, He said in John 15:18, “If the world hates you, remember it hated me first” and goes on to explain that, similarly, because believers follow Him, the world will hate them, too. In the US, we are only recently starting to see this, but across the globe, Christians in other nations, such as in China, Afghanistan, North Korea, and Somalia (among others), suffer immense persecution.

I follow Jesus because He is authentic, He is the Truth, and He died and rose again so that I could know Him. In other words, He chose to show me (and any others who choose to believe) love while I (and others like me) showed hatred to Him. I could turn my back, but I’d never be able to look myself in the mirror. I could deny all I know to be true, but I would be fooling only myself. And I could sear my conscience, which He so graciously built in me, but I would only be harming myself and for no good reason.

In closing, I endure the criticism, the insults, and the pangs of the mistakes (and outright failures) of other Christians because my Lord, my brother, and my friend, Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah/Christ, is worth it! Yes, there are “Christians” who don’t reflect Jesus, just as there are many other people in this world who aren’t loving, aren’t kind, or are downright evil. But Jesus isn’t those things!

He won’t make you feel good with a lie, but He will lovingly bandage your wounds and guide you into the truth. He won’t give you everything you want, but He will give you what you need. But most of all, dear Reader, He won’t force you to accept His Lordship or force you to have a relationship with Him, but He also can’t save you without that. He is righteous. And one day, His justice will be seen on Earth. Consequently, I hope that before that day, or your last day on this Earth (whichever comes first), that you will also choose to follow Him.

As was once said about Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia, it is also fitting to say of Him:

“Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis,emphasis mine

Choose the adventure, choose the Truth; turn from your sins today, and follow Jesus with me! If you’re willing, then He’s waiting for you!

Godspeed – 1 Corinthians 15:10

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