The Donkey

An “I Am the Clay” Vignette*

Mary-Joseph_Donkey

It was a pleasant, late fall day in the Samarian hill country. The main road was lined with men, women, children, the rich, the poor—each heading south, each on his or her way to take part in a government-ordered census.

Most seemed to be traveling in large groups of family and neighbors, with the exception of the young couple with the donkey traveling alone. (They had waited until most everyone in their own village had left, so as to keep from answering too many questions.)

She—Mary, very expectant—rode comfortably on the back of the donkey (Levi, she had named him; a good-natured jab at her younger brother with the same name) while he, Joseph, led the way.

Like us, Levi’s task was to carry the unborn Savior and, in effect, the good news He would bring—the gospel—to “all Judea and Samaria, and (our task, not Levi’s) to the ends of the earth.”

Unlike us, though, Levi wasn’t aware of that; after all, he was only a donkey. He didn’t know the one he was carrying was Immanuel—“God with us”—the one the prophet Isaiah had written about 700 years earlier.

Still, he faithfully carried out the task assigned to him.

The question is—are we? Are we faithfully carrying out the task assigned to us? Do we see it our calling to carry the light of the gospel to every corner of a dark world? Or are we content to leave that baby in the manger? Content to shop and feast and sing of the angels and the shepherds, the star and the wise men, the manger and the stable, and then pack it up and store it in the attic until next year?

That’s not why He came. He didn’t come to be the centerpiece of our Christmas pageant or the “reason for the season.” He came—His words, once He was old enough to speak them—“that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”

Not just life, but abundant life.

One day, after He was grown, He said that “life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:16 NIV) He also said that “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:29 NIV)

The abundant life He came to give isn’t found in things or people or events—even events inspired by His birth. It’s found in Him, who He is. And one day, He told us who He is…

…He said He is “the life.” (John 14:6 NIV)

The life.”

As one who has been given “the life,” how can I not do as “the life” said and carry His good news to “the ends of the earth”?

Good question.

Levi faithfully carried out the task assigned to him…

Are we…?


*A brief written piece about a person or event. Or a donkey.

• • •

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Holy guacamole, Batman!

From “The Lizard Lounge” Series on I Am the Clay

avocado

It’s been a rainy summer here at the “Lizard Lounge.” (If you’re new to “I Am the Clay,” take a second and follow that link to find out where that name came from. You can also click here for the whole series.) That’s good, though, as all that free stuff means I don’t have to pay the city for it. While I didn’t plant vegetables this year, I did explore fruit-i-culture; more specifically, the Persea americana, commonly known as the avocado. In the process, I learned a lot about fruit bearing, both botanical and spiritual.

Who knew my earthly home could teach me so much about the journey toward my heavenly one…?

• • •

Avocado: you either love it or you loathe it. While there’s typically very little in-betweenism when it comes to one’s relationship with avocado, I definitely fall into that camp. To me, it doesn’t have much taste at all, kind of like eating mushy thick green air. However, I eat it all the time.

All. The. Time.

‘Cause it’s embarrassingly nutritious.

If Jesus had passed out slices of avocado along with the loaves and fishes, those five thousand people He fed would have also gotten:

  • a boost to their immune system
  • a drop in their high blood pressure
  • a little extra help fighting off 1st century cancer. (And possibly more, since Jesus would have been the one slicing it up.)

The fat it contains—and it does contain a fair amount—is monounsaturated fat, the good kind. (Never thought I would use “fat” and “good” in the same sentence.) Your cholesterol levels will thank you.

And now for the rest of the story…

Walking on Bare Concrete

From “The Lizard Lounge” Series on Clay

Summer is back with a vengeance — so is the need to recover from the lazy non-summer months (which in Florida, are few) and tackle long-procrastinated-on home improvement projects here at the “Lizard Lounge.” (If you’re new to “Clay,” take a second and follow that link to find out where that name came from. You can also click here for the whole series.) And whether I’m having a DIY moment inside or outside, I have a lot of time to talk to or (even better) listen to the Lord. Invariably, by the time I put down the shovel, the paint brush, or the watering hose, I have an idea for a blog post.

Below is the first one for this season. Who knew my earthly home could teach me so much about the journey toward my heavenly one…?

• • •

Time has a way of getting away from me. (Hold that thought for a moment…more to come…)

The past few weeks I’ve been making final preparations for the book I’m writing. To date, I’ve made umpteen editing passes through my manuscript. I’ve also allowed 3 times that many days to go by without writing something new for Clay. (I’m not sure what 3 x umpteen equals. A scad? An oodle? A triscuit?)

Those famous, fortunate, and affluent authors who can hand a raw book manuscript over to a publishing company and then head to the beach while waiting for a formatted proof copy to come back ready for corrections and final approval don’t know what they’re missing. Or maybe they do; maybe that’s the reason they’re at the beach: they’re celebrating all that free time under their beach umbrella, waiting for their next cold beverage to arrive. The self-publishing rest of us are forced to do our own formatting and spell-checking and reading and re-reading and re-re-reading of our fledgling books while chained to a computer wishing we’d had the foresight to buy stock in Microsoft Word back when it was affordable.

In the end, though, it’s been worth every keystroke, as I’m happy with the progress on my book manuscript. I do feel bad that I put all blog activity on hold, though. My poor Facebook followers were subjected to republished versions of former posts while waiting for something new to come out. As I hadn’t sent out one of my “A new article on Clay” emails in a “triscuit,” one of my subscribers asked me if I had dropped him from the distribution list. Another friended me on Facebook just to make sure I was still alive.

Like I said, time has a way of getting away from me.

And now for the rest of the story…

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers

Homemade soups and stews—I revel in ‘em. They’re hearty, healthy, and happy-making. And you only have to wash one pot when it’s all over.

I kind of fancy myself a Renaissance man when it comes to cooking these scrumptious olios, sort of the Sultan of Soup, the Star of Stew, the Bon Vivant of Broth, and the Leading Man of the Liquid Lunch.

In short, I can throw down on some homemade soups and stews.

So when I went home to see my parents a couple Christmases ago, I decided to make one of my favorites: “Red Bean, Chicken, and Sweet Potato Stew.” Not only does it have those three oh-so-tasty title ingredients in it, it also has tomatoes, bell pepper, garlic, green chilies, Cajun seasoning, and the pièce de résistance: peanut butter.

Peanut butter—for real. (Don’t be all “eww…” until you try it. It’s magical.)

And now for the rest of the story…

Free

Maybe you’re someone who reads “clay” regularly, or maybe one of those regular readers forwarded a link to this particular page to you for some reason. Whatever the reason, I’m just glad you’re reading. And not because my blog stats will register another tick mark on the “Today’s Views” graph but because I believe everything happens for a reason.

You see, I’m a Christian; a follower of Jesus Christ. And as a Christian, it’s pretty much a given that I believe in God. And in the time since I’ve been a Christian (which isn’t that long, actually), I’ve experienced first-hand that God is no light-weight when it comes to being able to do anything – even being able to direct someone to a blog post on how to become a Christian (the point of this post, just so you know).

So, yea – I believe you’re here for a reason.

My goal here is to tell you what being a Christian is all about without using a lot of unfamiliar words and phrases that Christians typically like to bandy about when we get together. I confess that some of the other stuff on this blog is full of “Christian-ese,” but this piece is meant to be much more plain and simple.

But in order to keep it simple and to the point, I need to ask you to agree to accept some basics up front. Actual proofs for these things have been the topics of entire books – multi-volume books – written by scholars and theologians with way more credentials than some guy with a blog; but this will go much quicker with less head scratching if we agree to agree that, for example…

There is a God

After all, you can become a Christian without knowing who Moses was or the names of all the apostles (I still get stuck on a few of them myself) but we need to agree that God is real – and that He’s nothing like you and me. (If you knew me, you would breathe a sigh of relief at that.)

No doubt you believe that all people deserve the same rights and opportunities, that we’re all created equal. And that’s true. But God isn’t the same kind of person we are. He’s not equal to us: He’s infinitely more than any of us could ever be. He’s holy, meaning He is pure good; there is nothing bad in Him. He’s perfect. He never makes mistakes. (Even creating mosquitoes.)

If one of us said, “I’m worthy of your praise – worship me” that would be the height of arrogance, because none of us is worthy of anyone else’s worship. God is, though, so He can say that. That doesn’t make Him arrogant – just truthful. He knows who He is and is honest about it.

Think of it this way: Suppose you were in a room with nothing but newborn babies; just you and a room full of day-old infants. You could say without any sort of conceit that your math skills are infinitely superior to anyone else’s in that room (even if you need a calculator to add 2+2). Each of those babies has great worth as a person; it’s just that, in the area of mathematics, they can’t hold a candle to you – not by a long shot. If you said, “I rock at math compared to everyone else in this room,” no one would think you are just being full of yourself.

That’s God. Think of us as the newborns and Him as the one who created math. He loves us and ascribes great value to each of us, but He’s never going to say, “I’m OK – but I’m no better than you guys.” He can’t, because that wouldn’t be true; He never lies or even fudges the truth a little. He knows who He is, because He knows everything.

Not only does He know everything, He can do anything. In fact…

God created us

…so it’s His prerogative to choose how things will be. (But because He’s perfect, those choices are perfect, too.) He gave Adam and Eve, the original people He created, a beautiful place to live and everything they needed. But He gave them the freedom to make choices, too – and they chose to defy Him, to deliberately disobey the one thing He told them not to do. No doubt you know the story. Eating that fruit when He told them not to may seem like a small thing, but to a perfect, holy being like God, it went against everything He was.

If, as a child, you ate a cookie one of your parents specifically told you not to eat, there might be some sort of punishment, but – because your parents are just people like you – that offense wouldn’t be worthy of death. A smack on the bottom or a time out – definitely. But not the death penalty.

But because it was God that Adam and Eve defied – perfect, holy, way-superior-to-mankind God – that offense took on a whole new meaning. It became a sin, an act of breaking God’s law. And because He is perfect and superior to us in a way we can’t even imagine, He couldn’t just overlook it and give Adam and Eve a time out. Breaking God’s law is an act that’s worthy of the worst punishment – death.

As a result…

We (the human race) brought sin and death into the world

When Adam and Eve defied God, something in them changed. And that change affected them and all of their descendants – which includes all of us. No longer were they perfect and innocent; no longer were they free from the cares of the world. The sin they committed separated them from God; the same God they knew intimately; the perfect, holy God who walked with them in that paradise He created for them.

It separated us from Him, too. Because we’re descendants of Adam and Eve, that separation is part of who we are as human beings. Although there isn’t a physical “sin” gene, our alienation from God is definitely a reality as far as our spiritual genetic makeup goes. You may be a good person and give to charity and drive the speed limit and treat all people and animals with kindness, but none of those things will cancel out the built-in sinfulness that keeps us from God and the good things He has for us.

But God loves us and is patient with our humanity; and because of His patience and because He loved Adam and Eve, He let their death sentence be carried out over the course of the rest of their lives, growing older until they finally died. They had to give up that beautiful place and struggle the rest of their lives for food and shelter and all the things God had previously provided for them. The same goes for us.

To sum up…

A real, perfect, holy God created the human race to have an intimate relationship with Him. (Be sure you understand that: God is not sitting way up there somewhere uninterested in us or our lives. His intention for us has always been to have a relationship with Him – to once again walk with us in a beautiful place He created just for us.) But because of Adam and Eve’s defiance and disobedience to Him, they and we and everything else God created are cursed with an innate sin nature; destined to be prisoners to our sinfulness; doomed to live and die without ever fully knowing Him.

One more thing: death does not mean we just fade into oblivion – it means we have to face the never-ending punishment we deserve because of our human nature. Maybe that doesn’t sound fair, but remember – God is holy and perfect. He can’t look the other way or wink at our sinfulness. He can accept nothing less than perfection.

Which makes the situation seem hopeless, because we can’t be perfect. I can’t, you can’t – no one can. We don’t have it in us.

But if we’re to keep from having to pay that debt we owe God ourselves (which we can’t, except with our lives) and suffering that never-ending punishment, someone has to die in our place who can pay for everything we’ve done…someone perfect.

The good news is someone has…someone perfect.

Which brings me to our final basic fact to accept…

Jesus is the answer

Everybody knows about the baby Jesus: we see Him lying in a feed trough in the manger scene in front of the church at Christmas surrounded by plastic wise men or played by someone’s baby brother (or sister) at the church Christmas play. But the Jesus depicted there grew up; and when He did, He was perfect and sinless – which means there was much more to Him than just being human. This is hard to explain but Jesus was God in human form; God who came to earth as the man Jesus. Again, multiple volumes have been written explaining that, but the best way I can say it is that Jesus was totally God and totally human.

So since God was perfect, Jesus was, too. He wasn’t just a good man – although, because He was God, He was good. He wasn’t just a great prophet or teacher – although He was great. He wasn’t just another religious figure like Krishna or Buddha or Mohammed or Joseph Smith or anyone else who ever lived. He wasn’t just anything.

What He was was God – God in the form of a flesh and blood man. And because He was totally human, He was an acceptable substitute to die in our place, freeing us from the debt we owe God, the debt we could never pay on our own. Because He was totally God, He was perfect and could satisfy the high cost God required for payment because of our sinful nature.

The death He died on our behalf was in the form of an excruciatingly horrible execution; He could have prevented it but He didn’t. It was what He came to earth to do, what God sent Him here to do. He knew what He was doing and He did it gladly: He was dying to free a world full of sinners from never-ending punishment.

Personally, I can’t imagine that. If someone told me I had to choose between dying myself or letting someone in my family die, I would gladly do it. But if they told me I had to choose between dying myself or letting some guy who had murdered a bunch of children die, I’m not sure I could. He committed those horrible acts; let him die for them.

I’m glad that’s not how Jesus felt. In spite of all the bad there is in the human race (and you know there are some bad people out there), He loved us; God loved us – loves us. He gladly died for all the murderers, pedophiles, and terrorists. He gladly died for all the drug dealers, televangelists who cheat the elderly out of their life savings, and lying politicians. He gladly died for all the people who give to charity and drive the speed limit and treat all people and animals with kindness. Somewhere in that range, you and I fall – and He gladly died for us, too.

When Jesus died, He made it possible for us to be saved from eternal punishment. But He also made it possible for us to start rekindling that intimate relationship with God that was lost long ago. When I became a Christian, I was just focused on not dying and going to hell. I never imagined that, even more wonderful, I would also have the chance to talk to God and feel His presence in my life. That part is amazing… Plus, I will get to do it forever.

So how do I know this…?

The Bible Tells Me So

You need to know that these aren’t just my ideas – I got all this from the Bible. And even though the Bible is written by a bunch of dead Jewish guys, these aren’t their ideas, either. They got everything they wrote from God Himself. If you’re going to believe He exists and that He can do anything, then it shouldn’t be too hard to believe that He inspired real people to write down what He wanted the world to know about Him and what He’s done to save us from ourselves.

I haven’t quoted anything from the Bible up to this point, but it’s time to let God speak for Himself. Here are some of the things He said and inspired others to say, all written in a pretty easy to understand way using contemporary language (No “thees” and “thous” and “hasts” and “haths”):

Are human beings really the reason there is sin and death in the world?

Death came into the world because of what one man (Adam) did. (1 Corinthians 15:21, The Living Bible)

I’m not that bad a person (at least not as bad as some) – isn’t being as good as I can be enough?

We’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners…and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us. (Romans 3:23, The Message)

But I don’t deserve to die for that.

Everyone dies because all of us are related to Adam, being members of his sinful race. (1 Corinthians 15: 22, The Living Bible)

So what’s the answer?

God showed his great love for us by sending Christ [Jesus] to die for us while we were still sinners. (Romans 5:8, The Living Bible)

Is Jesus really the answer to our dilemma? Is there another way?

[Jesus said] “I am the Way… No one can get to the Father [God] except by means of me.” (John 14:6, The Living Bible)

Salvation comes no other way; no other name has been or will be given to us by which we can be saved, only this one [the name of Jesus]. (Acts 4:12, The Message)

Why would God do this for us?

This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. [God referred to Jesus as His son.] And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted… (John 3:16-18, The Message)

Powerful words…words of hope…

So… Do you feel something tugging at you right now? Something like a hollow feeling in the pit of your stomach? An emptiness, a feeling that there is so much more to life than what you thought you knew? Not sure you want to believe it but afraid not to?

Don’t ignore that feeling – that’s God speaking to you. That’s what it felt like to me in the days before I finally stopped trying to hide from God’s truth and surrendered my life to Him.

If this is all new to you, or you’ve heard it before and just never taken it seriously, take it seriously – right now.

Now is the right time to listen, the day to be helped. Don’t put it off… (2 Corinthians 6:2, The Message)

If everything I’ve written here is true – and I’m convinced without any doubt it is (plus, if you’re thinking – even a little – that it might be true, then you’re convinced, too) – then where does that put you?

What if you were to die before the end of the day? What would you face next – eternal punishment or eternal life and happiness?

There’s an answer to all those questions. Just like John said above, God sent Jesus “to put the world right again” – one person at a time.

Becoming a Christian, a follower of Jesus, means you understand that nothing you could ever do will be good enough to meet God’s high standards. You could build a church and give all your money to charity and memorize the Bible, but that wouldn’t make any difference. The only thing that will make a difference is accepting and trusting that Jesus is the only way to God and, ultimately, to an amazing life in Heaven, just like He said.

And the best thing of all? It’s yours for the asking, a free gift from Jesus to you. Do you want that? Do you want to respond to that tugging you feel? Do you want to surrender control of your life to a good and perfect God? Do you want what He wants for you and not what you want?

The choice is yours. Choosing Jesus will make you truly free, free from sin. Choosing otherwise will leave you right where you are: a prisoner of sin. Choosing otherwise long enough will leave you with no hope but to face death and punishment.

If you want the freedom Jesus offers, then just ask God for it. That’s where prayer comes in. Prayer is how we talk to God. There are no magic words or phrases you have to say – just talk to God like you would a good friend.

If you’ve never really prayed before or need someone to get you started, here are some thoughts you can put in your own words:

  • I understand that I’m a sinner – I accept the fact that it’s a part of my human nature.
  • I know there is nothing I can do by myself to change that.
  • I’m sorry for the things I’ve done that were anything but Christ-like. Please forgive me for those.
  • I want to let go of any control I may think I have over my life and turn it over to you.
  • I want the free gift of salvation that Jesus made available to me when He gave His perfect, sinless life.
  • I trust in the fact that Jesus is the only way to you and to heaven.
  • I want to be a follower of Jesus Christ – a Christian.
  • I want to be free from a life of sin. Please help me.

God will hear you – I promise. So does He:

 Everyone who calls, “Help, God!” gets help. (Romans 10:13, The Message)

What’s Next?

If you’ve asked God to forgive you, surrendered your life to Him, and trusted His freely-given gift of salvation because of Jesus’ equally freely given life, then that’s what’s happened: He’s forgiven you, agreed to be in control of your life, and saved you from eternal punishment. Now life really begins!

When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same anymore. A new life has begun! (2 Corinthians 5:17, The Living Bible)

Here are some things I found worked well for me:

Tell someone what just happened to you

…Preferably another Christian. (Another Christian – do you like the sound of that?) Someone who has experienced salvation will understand and be able to celebrate what’s happened to you. If you don’t know any Christians (or even if you do)…

Ask God to help you find a Bible-believing and -teaching church

Church is not just about sitting in a service and listening to someone preach (although now that you’re a Christian, you’ll listen to what the pastor says in a totally new way): it’s about being a part of a group of people who can encourage you and help you while you grow in this new-found faith. Don’t go it alone – listening to preaching on TV or the internet is fine if you can’t get to a church or just want to hear someone teach in addition to your own pastor, but it’s not a substitute for being with other Christians; it’s not what God had in mind.

Be baptized

Your new church will be able to take care of that. Think of it as making your “splash” as a Christian.

Get a Bible and read it

Find a translation that you can understand. Websites like Bible Gateway will let you read single Bible verses or entire chapters in dozens of translations in over 50 languages. Read a verse like Romans 5:1 (even better, read the whole chapter) in several translations and see which one God speaks to you through. I’ve included verses here from The Living Bible (TLB) and The Message (MSG), but I usually read the New International Version (NIV). My pastor preaches from the New American Standard Bible (NASB). I have an excellent Bible study guide based on the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). All of these versions are different, but all are good options.

Google “bible study guides” and follow some of the links to online programs for reading the Bible. Or just start with the book of John, who was a follower and close friend of Jesus. The story he tells is a beautiful presentation of Jesus’ life, the good news He brought us, and the gift He gave us through His death.

If you think reading about someone else’s real-life Christian experience would be helpful, then you’re in the right place. I’ve been a Christian since June 17, 2010, so this blog is pretty much a history of my time as a follower of Jesus. Click on the link at the top of this page that says “This is My Story” to learn about the days leading up to my own encounter with Jesus.

Pray – a lot

Paul, another follower of Jesus, wrote:

Always keep on praying. (1 Thessalonians 5:17, The Living Bible)

Ask God every day to guide you in your new life. Again, there are no magic words; just talk to Him. He doesn’t care if you use good grammar or if you admit that you have no idea what you’re doing. If you listen to Him as much as you talk to Him, you will begin to get a clear picture of the direction He wants you to go.

I can attest to the beauty of prayer, because I pray – a lot. In fact, I’m praying for you even as I write this; I don’t know you, but I’m praying for you. I want you to have what I have, to find what I found – and more.

Finally…

You’re free

If the Son [Jesus] sets you free, you are free through and through. (John 8:36, The Message)

Trust in God and His goodness

Open your eyes and see how good God is. (Psalm 34:8, The Message)

God is on your side – always

I won’t give up on you; I won’t leave you. (Joshua 1:5, The Message)

And He never will. May God bless you.

Will the real Holy Spirit please…stand up

But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. John 16:13

To Tell the Truth was a television game show that featured a panel of celebrities who would ask questions of a group of three unfamiliar contestants to try and determine which one, for example, was the youngest guy ever elected governor of West Virginia or which one actually played Big Bird on Sesame Street.

The rules of the game were fairly simple: the real Big Bird had to answer each question truthfully; the two Big Bird imposters, however, were allowed to lie.

It was obvious none of the celebrities on the panel had any experience in interrogation — the show was just meant to be fun and sell bottles of Geritol. Sometimes the panel got it right and sometimes they didn’t. As a result, the imposters could win a lot of money simply because their answers sounded good.

Which begs the question: how can you know without a doubt that something is really the truth? Just like on the TV show, To Tell the Truth, it isn’t always easy; and once you turn off the TV, determining what is really the truth isn’t all fun and games. Unlike the panel of celebrities, you and I can’t always judge that something is the truth just because it sounds good.

Just ask Eve.

There she was in the Garden of Eden, the most beautiful place imaginable, with not a care in the world. Good stuff to eat everywhere, no laundry to do, perfect marriage, when she heard…

“Ssssssssssss… Did God really ssssssssssay…?”

One minute she was listening to the snake tell her what she wanted to hear and the next she was wearing fig leaf underwear and trying to hide from God. And take it from me — that never works. (The hiding from God part, that is — I don’t have much any experience with botanical underwear.)

It is possible to tell if something is the truth, however, if you know the one speaking it to be trustworthy. In my experience with the Holy Spirit, a.k.a. the Spirit of Truth, I’ve found Him to be all that and more when it comes to truthiness.

And while I don’t recall any deities ever appearing as contestants on To Tell the Truth, if the producers were looking for a contestant who would tell the truth no matter what, they couldn’t find anyone better than the Holy Spirit. He, of course, would have to be contestant number three. (I’ll wait…)

As long as we’re casting, they could recruit the devil to play one of the imposters, as he has no problem not telling the truth. (However, he’s pretty busy these days, so I don’t know if he would have the time.) He would have to be contestant number two, though — no way he could be number one (not on my show). Contestant number one would be someone used to shooting from the hip, like a politician.

I imagine that particular episode might go something like this…

• • •

[Camera close-up revealing three individuals in silhouette. Lights up on each individual as they speak.]

Announcer: “What is your name please?”

Contestant number one: “My name is the Holy Spirit.”

Contestant number two: “My name is the Holy Ssssssssssssssspirit.”

Contestant number three: “My name is the Holy Spirit.”

Announcer: “Two of these individuals are imposters. Only one is the real Holy Spirit — and He is the only one sworn…To Tell the Truth.”

[Cue theme music.]

“Geritol, America’s number one tonic, presents: To Tell the Truth. Now here’s your host, Joe Ravioli.”

[Cue applause.]

• • •

Now that’s a show I would like to see. If the Holy Spirit starts making appearances on TV I may have to call and have my cable service hooked back up. Imagine the impact He would have as a guest on a show like The View.

 

He certainly had an impact on me when He started making appearances in my heart. Even in the days before I came to faith in Christ, He began whispering truth to me. (If you’ve read my testimony, This is my story, you are already aware of some those truths.) He showed me that:

  • I was indeed lost and in desperate need of a savior. (True)
  • Nothing I could do — go to church faithfully, tithe regularly, sing in the choir, be the son of Christian parents — made one bit of difference in where I would spend eternity. (Definitely true)
  • The enemy was using my “pridefulness” to keep me from surrendering my life to Jesus. (True — unfortunately)

At the time, however, I found His truths to just be annoying. I was having a blast wallowing (or “wallerin’” as my Granny would say) in the muck and the mire of sin; plus, contestant number two was good at telling me exactly what I wanted to hear: “Fuhgeddaboudit — you’re ssssssaved already.”

But wallerin’ in sin wasn’t God’s plan for me (for any of us, actually). His plan was for me to see the truth of my spiritual situation and surrender heart, soul, mind, and strength to Him.

And that’s when the wallerin’ ended and new life began.

When I surrendered everything to Christ, the Holy Spirit immediately took up residence in my life, as Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 6:19…

…Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you…

…and in His doing so, I saw John 16:13…

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.

…come to life. The Holy Spirit began to influence everything I thought or did or even thought about doing. He became sort of like a spiritual barometer dwelling in me. In 1 Corinthians 2:10 Paul refers to this influence as “the things God has revealed to us by the Spirit.”

But don’t think that He works independently of God. In fact, as Henry Blackaby writes in his study course, “Experiencing God”:

An encounter with the Holy Spirit is an encounter with God. Because the Holy Spirit is always present in a believer, He can speak to you clearly and at any time.

As a result, the Holy Spirit began to reveal the truth — the true truth, God’s truth — of the life I had been living:

  • The things I was medicating myself with — whether via my mouth, my eyes, or my ears — were leading me down a self-destructive path. As a result, when the Spirit of Truth moved in He helped me clean house, both physically and spiritually.
  • The company I was keeping just helped enable my sin habit. Once I became a Christian, though, the Holy Spirit guided me to actively seek out and — for the first time ever — enjoy the company of other believers. (I’m convinced that instructions in Hebrews 10:25 about “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” includes hanging out with my friend Greg at Denny’s after choir rehearsal, diving deep into some tantalizing bit of theology and annoying the server by occupying one of her tables until really late.)
  • I was using the gifts and abilities God had given me — musical, writing, intellectual — for my own glory and selfish use. But the Holy Spirit guided me to my current church home before I was even a Christian (you know, just getting a little jump on things) where I began playing piano and singing in the worship ministry. Post-salvation, He inspired me to start this blog and share what God is doing in my life. Without God speaking to me through the Holy Spirit, though, anything I write here would be nothing more than typing practice.

So speaking of truth, let’s see how the Holy Spirit is faring back on To Tell the Truth

• • •

Host: Now panel, you will each ask questions of our three contestants. Remember — only the real Holy Spirit is required to answer your questions truthfully. Let’s begin tonight’s questioning with the lovely and talented Catty Carbuncle.

Catty: Thank you, Joe. Contestant number three, does God speak to us mainly through you, or through other methods?

Number three: Through me. Even when He speaks to you through the Bible He uses me to reveal the truth in His word to you.

Catty: Thank you, number three. Number two, same question.

Number two: Occasionally He speaks through me. Sometimes, though, He speaks through psychics, mediums — even tarot cards or the horosssssscope.

Penny Crass: Really? The horoscope? I knew it!

Catty: Thank you, number two. Number one, your answer?

Number one: I’m sorry — I was tweeting my PAC. What was the question?

• • •

Since the real Holy Spirit (contestant number three) is being His usual truthful self, I imagine He’s going to receive few, if any, votes. Not because He isn’t convincing, but because the truth He reveals doesn’t sound good to the panelists…

• • •

Host: Let’s continue our questioning with Sipsey Rivers.

Sipsey: Contestant number three, when Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me,” was he really saying there is only one way to heaven?

Number three: Yes — Jesus said He was “the way and the truth and the life.” The Apostle Peter later said, as recorded in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Salvation by faith in Jesus is the only way.

Sipsey: Interesting. Number two?

Number two: Well, of course, times have changed since Jesusssssss said that. He is definitely one way to heaven, but there are others, like being a really good person, being kind to animals, and doing your part to save the planet. In Abominations 66:6 the Bible says, “God helps those who help themselves.” Only really bad people like child molesters or murderers won’t go to heaven.

Sipsey: Thank you, number two. By the way, I love that verse.

Number two: One of my favoritesssssssssssssss…

• • •

The book of “Abominations” — you’ll find it right after the book of “Malfeasance” and right before “1 Qualms”… Contestant number two, the old ssssserpent, is doing just what he does best — distort God’s truth. In this case though, what he’s saying goes way beyond a fib to fool a panel of celebrities. The denial that Jesus is the only way to God is a lie straight from H-E-double-hockey-sticks. Proverbs 16:25 actually warns us of hearing what we want to hear and its repercussions:

There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.

Ouch…

Every bit of truth I need to know has already been recorded in God’s word. The Bible (the real one) is many things — history, poetry, action/adventure, romance novel, guide to living the Christian life, manual on how to be saved, warning instructions — but in all these, in every word of every verse of every book, from cover to cover, it’s about truth.

And the revealer of that truth? The Holy Spirit Himself. And if He can do it for hard-headed me (and He can, and He has) He can do it for anyone.

Sounds easy, huh? But in the spirit of total honesty, it’s not. Sometimes the truth is hard to accept. Sometimes I struggle to listen with my spiritual ears and not with the ears that hear what I want to hear. Without the Holy Spirit guiding me into all truth, I may end up voting for the wrong contestant…

• • •

Host: OK, panel – it’s time to vote for contestant number one, number two, or number three. Are you all marked? Catty, for whom did you vote?

Catty: Well, Joe, I voted for number two, because he gave us so many more options for reaching God; and I know God isn’t so holy that he would keep a long-time animal lover like me out of Heaven.

Host: Sipsey, what about your vote?

Sipsey: I’m forced to agree with Catty. I voted for number two because I liked the way he quoted scripture. Abominations 66:6 is a verse I live by daily.

Host: Penny, your vote?

Penny: I voted for two as well. Anybody who knows that God speaks to us through the horoscope has got to be the real thing!

• • •

Ssssssomebody’s gonna win a lot of money.

So my question for you is this: Who would you vote for? Is the Holy Spirit guiding you into all truth? If you’ve trusted Jesus as your Savior He should be. If you haven’t, let me share what may be the most important truth in the whole Bible with you:

If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9

And that’s the truth.

Now — will the real Holy Spirit please stand up…

• • •

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Far more than rubies

A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Proverbs 31:30

I’ve been surrounded by Godly women all my life. I was raised by one, shared the backseat of the car with one, was inspired to study music by one, worked for and with a few, and sang with choirs full of them. They taught me to pray, to hold doors, to love words, to read music, to dance, to say “yes ma’am,” and how to eat the English peas in the TV dinner without gagging.

Although God has indeed blessed me with the opportunity to fellowship and be accountable to a team of Godly men, He has brought joy and beauty to my life through Godly women.

A little over three years ago, I became reacquainted with yet another Godly woman; someone whose friendship I quickly grew to esteem and value; someone I admire, both for her personal relationship with Jesus and for her ability to lead others to a similar relationship; someone who, in fact, was part of the duo who led me to faith in Christ in June of 2010.

How could I not esteem, value, admire – and love – someone who sat and held my hand and cried and prayed right along with me the day my life changed for eternity? That’s why, at the time this post was published, I was in South Alabama celebrating the life and ministry of my dear friend, Judy Tucker.

Judy, Judy, Judy

I met Judy when I was 9- or 10-years-old. Her father-in-law pastored the church my family attended, and she and Bro. Johnny, her husband, visited frequently. I thought Judy was the prettiest girl I had ever seen. That hasn’t changed, actually, except now I know her beauty to be as striking on the inside as it is on the outside.

Judy has a lovely voice, so she and Bro. Johnny often sang duets. (Bro. Johnny has a lovely voice, too, but he’s nowhere near as pretty.)

She’s raised three children who, along with their spouses and children, actively serve the Lord. When they were young, Judy would stay home while Bro. Johnny was on the road ministering to others. Having practically grown up with those three, I’m pretty sure she had to raise her lovely voice a few times while they were growing up. (You know who you are…)

I’ve had the chance to get to know her all over again these past three years. During that time, I’ve observed that she is not just an evangelist’s wife, but is an equal partner in the success of Bro. Johnny’s ministry, managing the administrative side of International Missions Association. Bro. Johnny is the first one to say that Judy is indispensable to their ministry. He often calls her the “wind beneath his wings.” She does everything from book flights for armies of people for mission trips around the world to turning out a regular newsletter. In spite of her great gifts, her daughter says she’s “always willing to be outside of the limelight doing tasks that receive no glory to further the calling placed upon them.”

Since we’ve reconnected, she has become a dear sister in Christ, sharing in my ongoing spiritual growth, lifting me up in prayer, and providing encouragement as I attempt to share what God has done for me here on “clay.” She even has video footage of me doing some sort of tribal dance in one of the Disney theme parks. (That’s apropos of nothing; it’s just goes to show that a Godly woman can have a sense of humor, too.)

Everyone should be blessed with a friend like Judy.

Girl power

Judy serves as a role model for the next generation of Godly women, just as women have always done. Although we tend to focus on the men of the Bible and revel in the heroic stories of their leadership and dedication, throughout the Old and New Testaments we see incredible women who rose above cultural attitudes and constraints to accomplish amazing things and inspire us with their devotion to God. For every Joshua or David or Peter there is a Rahab, an Esther, and a Mary.

Here are their stories and what I learned from each…

The “ah” sisters

Before taking up residence in the soon-to-be land of Israel, five Israelite sisters – Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah, the “ah” sisters – approached Moses and the entire all-male assembly and petitioned for their right to inherit their father’s share of the new land. He had passed away earlier with no sons to serve as his heirs, as was customary. I’m sure some of the elders almost choked on their manna when they heard the sisters’ request, but not Moses. Moses simply asked God and God said:

“You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father’s relatives and turn their father’s inheritance over to them.” Num 27:7

I suppose we could think of these brave and resolute sisters as the first all-female legal team presenting the first case for women’s rights, with God Himself as judge and jury. The lesson? If I “ask anything according to his will” He will hear me. (And don’t name a child “Hoglah”.)

Rahab

Rahab, a resident of Jericho, is described as a harlot, a prostitute, or an innkeeper, depending on which Bible translation you read. Although I wouldn’t classify prostitution as a Godly occupation, Rahab definitely ended up being a Godly woman. Risking death for herself and her family, she stepped out on faith in a God she didn’t know and became a traitor by harboring a pair of Israelite spies casing Jericho for conquest.

This faith led her to declare to the two spies:

“I know that the LORD has given this land to you…for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” Joshua 2:9,11

And so the walls of Jericho came a-tumblin’ down – everywhere except where Rahab lived. Rahab was actually saved by her faith.

Salvation by faith; a novel concept…

Here’s what Rahab’s story taught me: as lost in sin as I was, God was able to work a miracle in my life, too; and if I continue to trust Him, He may do something equally amazing through me.

By the way, Rahab, the former prostitute? She’s an ancestor of Jesus.

Esther

Esther became queen of Persia by – get this – winning a beauty pageant. The interesting thing (besides the fact there was no swimsuit or talent portion of that pageant) is that Esther was secretly Jewish; secretly, because the Jews, who were living in exile in Persia at the time, were not a beloved people.

To circumvent an ill-begotten edict to wipe out all the Jews, Esther risked death by approaching the king unbidden and, in a gracious manner befitting a queen, revealed her true identity and convinced the king to spare her people.

One of my favorite verses from the book of Esther is chapter 4, verse 14 where her uncle is trying to convince Esther to speak to the king. He tells her:

“And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”

Other than the “royal position” part, that same sort of thing could possibly be said about me: God’s timing + His hand on my life = endless possibilities.

Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene was as faithful a disciple of Jesus as any man. She (along with other women) followed him from town to town, supporting his ministry with her own money. She listened to Him preach, watched Him perform miracles, and took everything He said to heart. She stood nearby and watched Him die a horrible death while many of the men ran away and hid. She was the first one to see His empty tomb, the first witness of His resurrection, and the first one He told to go and tell the good news.

The bearer of that announcement could have been Peter or James or John, but instead it was Mary: Mary who never abandoned Him or denied Him; Mary who believed in Him – heart, soul, mind, and strength; Mary who, as a woman, wasn’t deemed trustworthy enough to serve as a witness in court, but who Jesus trusted with testifying to the greatest truth ever told:

“I have seen the Lord!” John 20:18

I’m also a witness of His resurrection. No matter what I think of my ability and effectiveness to share His truths, I’m commanded to go and tell them. As Nike says, “Just do it!”

Et al.

And let’s not forget:

  • Deborah, the only female leader of Israel, who inspired ten thousand troops to victory over their enemies with her bravery and quick thinking.
  • Ruth, a pagan from Moab, who valued the bonds of family and chose to follow her Israelite mother-in-law and her God, becoming the daughter-in-law of Rahab and another link in the ancestry of Jesus.
  • The barren and childless Hannah, who faithfully petitioned God for a son, promising to dedicate him to the Lord all the days of his life. The son God gave her was none other than Samuel, the great prophet of Israel.
  • The beautiful and intelligent Abigail, who, with her graciousness and wisdom, deftly averted a deadly confrontation between her rude and churlish husband and the soon-to-be-king David. David was smart enough to make Abigail his wife when rude and churlish hubby met his demise a few days later.
  • Mary, the mother of Jesus, a beautiful portrait of surrender and trust.
  • The sisters, Mary and Martha, who were devoted to Jesus and sponsored Him during his ministry, hosting Him in their home on numerous occasions.
  • Priscilla who, along with her husband, played an important role in the life of the early church and the ministry of Paul the apostle, traveling with him, learning from him, and spreading the gospel he taught them. They never hesitated to open their home as a meeting place for churches wherever they lived.
  • The entire cast of women in Romans 16 Paul named as being significant to the advancement of the gospel and the Church (in addition to Priscilla): Phoebe, Mary, Narcissus, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus’ mother, and Julia.

And this is just scratching the surface. The Bible is filled with portraits of Godly women who were indispensable players in our sacred heritage, freely and selflessly giving of their time and resources, tirelessly serving the Lord – much like Judy.

So today, I’m blessed to be in Citronelle, Alabama, gathered with many brothers and sisters in Christ – most of whom I’ve never met until now – celebrating our dear friend and faithful servant of the Lord. No doubt if Judy had lived in Biblical times I would be writing about how she slew 1000 Canaanites with one of her high heels or how she rammed her car into Jericho and knocked those walls down (and gave Rahab a lift); or better yet, how she helped spread the gospel to thousands.

Maybe in Heaven my assignment will be to write Godly Women of the 21st Century” filled with the stories of all those who made a difference in my life, with titles like “The Book of Margaret,” or “The Book of Lynne,” or “…of Wanda,” “…of Bonnie,” “…of Tammy,” “…Deidre,” “…Leslie,” “…Jo,”  “…Connie,” “…Jean,” “…Jennifer,” “…Leanne,” “…Beth,” “…Paula”…

…and, of course, “The Book of Judy.”

She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.

She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Proverbs 31:25,26,30