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…

In the cards

“With God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26

On March 14, 2012, I published my first blog post for “clay.” From the start, I felt that God’s plan for “clay” was that it would be based on my own personal experience as a fairly new Christian instead of about interpreting scripture or sermonizing. So that’s what I set out to write about.

Along about the same time, I took 40 Bible verses I had collected, printed them out on small cards, set them on the kitchen table in a stack, and started memorizing them one-by-one while I ate breakfast.

Although the blog and the memory verse project weren’t intended to be related – at least that wasn’t my plan – I learned really quickly that it was God’s plan…

The first blog post I worked on was one that I tried to write totally on my own without making sure my thoughts were in line with the Lord’s. As a result, it was awful. It was about tools and Home Depot, or something like that. I can’t recall now what personal spiritual revelation I thought I could communicate by writing about my cordless drill…

In my desperation to write something I wouldn’t be embarrassed to put my name on, I finally asked God for guidance. (More than a few people have drawn closer to the Lord through desperation.) Although asking God for guidance would have been a really good first thing to do, rather than smiting me with writer’s cramp and refusing to help me, He graciously showed me that I had just memorized a Bible verse from my stack of cards that would be the perfect inspiration for a blog post.

As a result, that inaugural post was based on the first verse in that stack of 40 cards: 2 Corinthians 4:18. It was a great verse to start with:

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

At the time, God was teaching me to turn my attention away from the selfish pursuits of my old life toward the God-centered focus of my new life. So my take-away from this verse was the importance of spending my resources – personal, financial, and spiritual – on things that would have significance in, and even beyond, this life; things like writing for “clay,” being faithful and sacrificial in my giving, and seeking to live a more holy life.

With God’s help and guidance, I wrote my next blog post on the second Bible verse from the stack of cards on the kitchen table, followed by the next, and the next. (Talk about playing the cards you’re dealt…)

I thought I had just collected 40 verses that I liked; however, it became obvious that God had directed me to each of them (a perfect example of the sometimes mysterious intersection of personal volition and divine intervention). And although I had shuffled that stack of cards before setting them on the table, that by no means meant they were in any sort of random order. As I wrote each post based on the most recent verse I had memorized, I began to see God’s sovereign omniscience at work. Instead of being 40 random Bible verses, these were actually 40 verses that, over the course of this past two-plus years, were applicable to what was going on in my life just when it came time to write about them.

Tell me that’s not amazing.

All that being said, today’s verse, Matthew 19:26, is the 40th memory verse; the last card in the stack; the perfect verse to close out phase one of the memory verse project.

There have been a couple of verses similar to this one that I’ve written about (Matthew 17:20 and Luke 1:37), but the message bears revisiting. Jesus says:

“With God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26

Simple. Straight forward. Specific. The perfect reminder that He was in control of something as seemingly insignificant as that stack of Bible verse cards: the selection, the shuffle, the timing. That may not seem like a big thing to you, but that stack of verses and the resultant blog posts basically tell the story of my life as a follower of Jesus this past two years.

Sometimes it causes me to just shake my head, speechless…

So as not to miss the main focus of what Jesus is saying here in Matthew 19:26, though, I should point out what I think is the key word in this verse: all. All things are possible. All things. There’s not a thing in the world that isn’t possible with God.

Knowing a majority of the people who read “clay” are Christians, I can just hear the “Amens” and words of affirmation go up from the crowd. “That’s right – God can do it! Just look at this entire universe He created! ♫ Our God is an AWESOME God, He reigns from Heaven above… ♪ ♫”

But do you really believe that? Before you get to the second verse, I want you to think about it.

Of course, as Christians, we talk the talk when it comes to God’s almighty abilities. But do you walk the walk? Do you really believe that anything – everything – is possible with God…?

Do you believe…

…that God can actually speak to us through the Bible? That, even being written by dozens of authors over thousands of years, it’s still His Word? That His Spirit can move in our very being and direct our actions so that we are drawn to passages that speak to us at just the right time? That it’s the only source of truth?

…that God can physically heal any illness, disease, or condition? That he can eradicate cancer cells permanently, double the pumping capacity of a weak heart virtually overnight, do away with debilitating pain?

…that God can heal the heart of a mother who’s lost her son – some might say her best friend – to a slow and heart-breaking death? That He’s able to wipe away the tears she still cries every day, years later?

…that God can awaken a country that has turned its back on Him? A country that legalizes things that are contrary to the teachings of the Bible on the one hand and criminalizes things that are straight from the pages of the Bible on the other? A country that doesn’t hold life sacred, especially the lives of those who are most defenseless?

…that God can save anyone and forgive anything, even that person you know who’s up to their neck in sexual immorality? That He can save the guy who isn’t content to merely tune religion and spirituality out, but is hateful and vocal in his loathing and disdain for it, even posting sacrilegious content on Facebook on Easter Sunday? That He can forgive the girl who filmed her own abortion and said she felt “super great” about it? Can God make these people new creations?

I have to answer “yes” to all these questions and believe that all these things are possible, as they’re representative of the people and things I’ve been led to pray for by the Lord since I became a Christian.

I’ve been praying for two individuals in particular who, if there were degrees of lost-ness, would be two of the most lost people I know. One has a vehement hatred for Christians and Christianity; the other a worldly hedonistic attraction to sexual misconduct. Over the past four years, I’ve prayed for them both dutifully.

Quite often, though, I would find myself starting that prayer for their salvation with, “Lord, even though it’s unlikely that either of these two will ever turn to you…” I considered myself just being realistic, acknowledging that I was praying for them as God had led me to while still sharing a little secret between Him and me, something to the effect, “You and I both know it’s never going to happen.”

But earlier this week as their names came up during my Prayer Time, that all changed. Just as He has done time and time before, the Lord reminded me of the verse I was in the midst of writing this post about:

“With God all things are possible.”

I won’t detail that conversation (because it was long and makes me look really bad), but before it was all over, I was already envisioning the day when one of them would come to me and tell me they had surrendered their life to Jesus, thanking the Lord for His goodness and mercy and grace. I finished Prayer Time that morning soggier than a bowl of yesterday’s cereal.

I also had to admit something to God I wasn’t aware of about myself: I didn’t really believe He was able to save everyone – certainly not those two. But I guess you could say that, one morning this past week, I learned how to pray believing. And although “possible” doesn’t necessarily mean “probable,” He showed me that betting against the house definitely wasn’t His desire for me. He expects me to trust Him, to believe He is who He said He is and that He can do what He said He can do.

This isn’t new.

In the 3rd chapter of the book of Daniel, Daniel’s friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were about to be thrown into a furnace and burned alive because they wouldn’t worship anyone but God. In verses 17-18 they told the king who had commanded that they be put to death:

If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not…

First and foremost, they believed God would rescue them; but the fact that He may choose not to do so didn’t challenge their faith in Him one bit. They still believed he would.

So even though God, in His sovereign wisdom, may choose not to answer my prayers for people’s salvation and healing and prayers for my country, just like those three guys in the furnace, I still have to believe He will.

I have to believe that…

…God can use His Word – the Bible – to change hearts and lives.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. Psalm 119:105

…He can heal bodies…

[Jesus said:] The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised. Matthew 11:5

…and spirits.

He heals the brokenhearted…Psalm 147:3

…He can awaken nations.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14

…Most important, He can save anyone from anything.

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. Titus 2:11 (emphasis mine)

Without believing that “with God all things are possible” – and doing so with no reservation, no hesitation, and no equivocation – none of us has any hope; none of us can be saved.

Without believing that God could save the most deceived, prideful, self-centered, sinful, lover of pleasure rather than lover of God through the most unlikely but beautifully orchestrated salvation experience, you wouldn’t be reading this right now – at least not typed by me on my computer. Instead of writing a blog about my spiritual life, I would have spent the past two years using this computer to pursue activities that are unsavory, activities that I’d rather not discuss in detail. (Again, ‘cause it would make me look really bad…)

But that’s not what happened. God had other plans: he made the impossible possible. And if He can do it for me, He can do it for anyone.

Even if you haven’t experienced the “impossible” in your life, believe that…

“With God all things are possible.”

…if for no other reason than because Jesus said it was true. Shuffle the cards and set them on the table and see what happens.

As for me, I’m going to take Him at His word. Thanks to His doing the impossible in my life:

  • There will be more blog posts based on all new memory verse cards.
  • There will be more prayers for lost friends and family and nations.
  • There will definitely be eternal life.

Actually, I’m already experiencing eternal life – I just haven’t gotten to the really good part, yet.

But I will one day – it’s in the cards.

Forever and ever, amen

I will praise you forever for what you have done. Psalm 52:9

Do you think about what will happen when this life is over? If Christ returns to snatch the church outta here before you finish reading this, would you – just a teeny bit – want to ask Him, “What took you so long?” I do – and I would (just a teeny bit).

Jesus’ return can’t come too quickly for me – I’m ready. I’ve taken to driving without my cruise control on so that, in the event He comes while I’m on the road, my car won’t go careening down the interstate unmanned at 65 miles an hour. I even made my sister promise to swing by here on the way up so we can go together.

There is definitely nothing holding me here. Maybe it’s an age-related thing. (Not that I’m all that decrepit – yet.)

I recall having dinner a few months ago with some 50-somethings and a 21-year-old. As everyone at the table was a Christian, conversation turned to spiritual matters during dessert. And since, at the time, the U.S. was mired in some embarrassing political stand-off or economic crisis or international scandal or the other with no relief on the horizon, the unanimous sentiment was that the Lord’s return couldn’t come soon enough.

With one abstention: the 21-year-old, who kind of gave an “I want to have my cake and eat it, too” response.

This (relative) youngster is a Christian and is prepared to meet Jesus in the air when the time comes, but is also looking forward to finishing college, starting a family, and embarking on a dream career.

And I get all that, especially from one too young to have experienced high cholesterol and creaky joints or the hopes of just going quietly one night before some dread, painful malady has you in its grip. Possibilities for the future look bright when you’re 21.

So, yea – maybe it’s age-related. On the other hand, maybe it’s that I’ve studied God’s word enough and followed current events enough to know that the future isn’t going to be all that bright. Just as Jesus predicted in Matthew 24:12:

“Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.”

Look around. In the U.S. alone, violence, greed, deceit, and sexual immorality are on the rise. In other parts of the world Christians are being persecuted – even murdered – in record numbers.

With more of “the increase of wickedness” to look forward to, who wouldn’t want to be done with this world and on to the next? (Except maybe those adding to that increase…)

Most likely, though, this fascination with the next life has little to do with age or the condition of the world and a lot to do with what Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:11 when he said:

He has also set eternity in the human heart…

Good answer. Maybe I’m thinking more and more about the next life simply because eternity is in my DNA. Because of my faith in Jesus, I know I will be around forever. And quite frankly, I’m ready to put on my-my-my-my-my boogie shoes and get that party started.

Which begs another question: Do you think about “forever?” I mean, exactly how long do you think that is? My initial thought is that forever is a really long time; but, at some point, it’s bound to lose any connection with time at all; it just goes on both ways with no starting or ending point – forever ago and forever after. Forever.

Thinking about it too hard makes one of my eyes twitch.

So regardless of the reason I’ve got heaven on my mind – age or current events or even my human hard-wiring that makes me want to live on – it’s important that I not lose sight of the fact that everything in this life and the next is ordained by God; and, as such, is worthy of my praise. That’s why I love what David writes in Psalm 52:9:

I will praise you forever for what you have done.

During my Prayer Time (capital “P,” capital “T”) I always thank God for things He has done, sometimes in broad strokes (“thank you for your blessings”) without going into a lot of detail. But when I stop thanking Him in broad strokes and start thanking him for particular blessings, I quickly find myself getting overwhelmed with the potential volume. (Which is actually a good problem to have.) Once this life is over, though, time won’t be an issue; I’ll have a lo-o-o-o-o-ng time to praise Him and let Him know just how grateful I am.

Until then, though, one final question: what has God done in your life lately that is praise-worthy? Although it would seem that none of us should have to think too hard about that one, sometimes the reality of everyday existence can deal us a blow.

I’ve recently been asked by a dear friend to pray for a two-year-old boy who has just been diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. His father, a missionary in Ireland, has started a blog detailing this journey; a blog that’s not just about his son’s struggle to live, but one that praises God for His sovereign goodness and wisdom.

Almost every post is filled with some sort of praise: praise for barely perceptible decreases in the amount of infection in his child’s body; praise that he ate some peas; praise that his swollen face is a little less so; praise that he’s still alive.

For me, that tends to put it all in perspective. If a two-year-old eating peas is praise-worthy – and it is – I should have no dearth of things to praise God for.

If I interpret Paul correctly, one of the great blessings of heaven will be the ability to look back at this life from the other side and see God’s goodness and mercy and grace in every moment of it.

In 1 Corinthians 13:12, he says:

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully…

In other words, I’ll be able to see everything clearly; and by doing so, I imagine I will have no other response than to start with “In the beginning” and keep on praising God forever – or until He gets tired of me. I can see it now – Gabriel will meet me at the door to God’s throne room and make up some excuse why He can’t see me…

“Hey! God said to tell you He really loves your little praise chats – He does, really – but He’s in a meeting with the multitude of the heavenly host for, you know, a really long time so can He call you? Like, maybe in a few thousand…millennia…? Great! Buh-bye, now!”

Just kidding. God will never tire of my praise – and I will never tire of offering it. (And Gabriel will never say “buh-bye.”)

The last verse of the classic old hymn of the Christian faith, “Amazing Grace,” says it perfectly:

When we’ve been there ten-thousand years bright shining as the sun,

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun.

Now that’s what I’m talking about.


So how about you? (sorry – more questions) While you may not be sitting on the curb with your bags packed waiting for the rapture express, have you at least bought your ticket? There is a lot of different thought on whether we’re actually near the end of life as we know it and, even if we are, in what order events will occur; but no one denies that everyone will have an exit from this world, whether a supernatural one or just a plain old kick of the bucket.

So do you have an exit strategy? This life isn’t all there is; and forever – however it plays out – is gonna be a while. You don’t want to spend it separated from God.

And you don’t have to. Romans 10:13 says:

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Be sure that includes you. If you’re not, here’s a great resource that will answer any questions you may have:

What is the plan of salvation?

Once you get that all squared away, let me know – me and my sister will swing by on the way up and get you…

Cracked

Cracked

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. 1 Corinthians 15:10a

Recently, I listened to an interesting lecture on the nature of art and creativity. Toward the end of the presentation, the speaker showed a hundred-year-old, charcoal gray-glazed Japanese tea bowl that had been broken and repaired. Instead of trying to hide the cracks, however, the individual repairing it had emphasized them by highlighting them with gold lacquer.

The effect was striking. The gold-embellished crack stood out in stark contrast to the dark gray piece of pottery. The lecturer said:

“This bowl is more beautiful now, having been broken, than it was when it was first made.”

I was struck by how that illustration applied so perfectly to my own salvation and my experience since. When He made me a new creation, God didn’t try to hide the cracks of my previous life:

  • Cracks that represented empty experiences gained due to my persistence in living a rebellious and sinful life.
  • Cracks that were the result of desperately searching for significance and meaning through insignificant and meaningless pursuits.
  • Cracks that were the result of being just as broken as that Japanese tea bowl.

He could have absolutely repaired those cracks so that there was no evidence of their ever being there. Instead:

  • He used the experiences they represented to give me a voice that, hopefully, speaks to the possibilities available to others who may be mired in the same sort of rebellious and sinful life I was.
  • He used them as an exercise in contrasts: insignificance and meaninglessness without Jesus vs. a purpose-filled life due to the victory that is mine through life in Jesus.
  • He used them to bring honor and glory to Himself by demonstrating His amazing power to utterly and totally transform a broken life.

Grace

The apostle Paul had a few cracks of his own. In the same chapter from where the verse at the top comes, Paul told the Corinthians that he didn’t even deserve to be called an apostle, since he had been a ring leader in rounding up Christians and tossing them into prison. But God had other plans for Paul, plans made possible by a gift of unfathomable value: His gift of grace.

“Grace” was one of those oft-used Christian words I struggled to fully understand prior to my salvation. Grace is typically defined as God giving us forgiveness that we don’t deserve. Anyone would agree that Paul didn’t deserve to be forgiven for the pain and suffering he inflicted on the first Christians. Still, Jesus personally appeared to him one day and set him to work spreading His Gospel, cracks and all. A transformation of that magnitude could only be accomplished through God’s intervention and through His grace that Paul constantly wrote about.

But what about me? I definitely wasn’t perfect in my pre-salvation days—far from it—but I’ve never been involved in dragging Christians off to jail or any other crimes of that magnitude, either.

Nevertheless, I am no more deserving of God’s freely-offered pardon through the sacrifice of Jesus than Paul was. However, thanks to the nature of God and His grace, I am no less deserving, either. That gift is offered freely to all. In Paul’s letter to the Romans (10:13) he says that:

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Everyone means everyone: Paul, me, you, the worst terrorist—everyone. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done or haven’t done, how good or not so good we think we are, or what caused the cracks in our lives. We’re all born with a sin nature that dooms us from the outset. But for the grace of God covering the price of that nature with the perfect, pure, and precious blood of Jesus, we would be separated from God for all eternity, starting the minute we come into this world.

“Yikes!” and “Whew!” both at the same time…

I am what I am

Without that gift of grace, I would still be spending my time and resources on purely selfish and self-serving pursuits and pleasures. But because of the grace of God, today I am:

  • A follower of  Jesus.
  • An adopted son of the Creator of the universe.
  • A student of the Bible.
  • One who prays without ceasing.
  • A member of a local church who gives his time and money as God directs.
  • A writer of a blog who shares his experience as a follower of Jesus.
  • Someone who, more than anything, wants a deeper, more intimate relationship with his Heavenly Father; someone who wants to serve Him without hesitation and love Him with all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Whether in spite of the cracks or because of the cracks or both, God was able to do way more than I could have ever dreamed (to paraphrase Ephesians 3:20).

But the best part? Although He’s not finished yet, He will be one day…

…He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6

On that day when I move from this life to the next, the cracks will be gone…

And his grace to me was not without effect. I Corinthians 10:15

…and, if I interpret God’s word correctly, they’ll also be forgotten…

…forever.

• • •

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Googling God

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 1 Corinthians 2:10b

I don’t know what I ever did without Google. You can keep your other search engines – I’m sure Bing and Yahoo! do a great job, but I am a Googling kind of guy.

I’m convinced there isn’t a single bit of information one can’t locate via Google – the lyrics to “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” recipes for red beans and rice, what day Christmas is on in 2018 (Tuesday, by the way), the proper use of i.e. vs. e.g. – that sort of thing.

However, I do think the term “search engine” is fast becoming a misnomer. Google actually stores up billions of webpages in advance. So when I go to Google to try and find some bit of information – the capital of Bora Bora, for example – before I even finish typing the first “Bora,” Google has already displayed a page full of links to pertinent information, including:

  • The “Bora Bora” article in Wikipedia
  • How to make reservations at the Four Seasons Bora Bora
  • Bora Bora tourism information from Tahiti Tourisme North America
  • A YouTube video called “52 Things to Do in Bora Bora.” (And don’t even get me started on YouTube. I learned how to repair my washing machine watching a YouTube video…)

So basically, Google isn’t so much searching for anything as it is just sharing information that’s already stored. Kind of reminds me of today’s verse from I Corinthians:

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.

In the sometimes mysterious and oft-discussed Holy Trinity – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – the Holy Spirit is an equal member; He has a unique function, but is no less God than the Father. As a result, unlike my search to find 52 things to do in Bora Bora, He doesn’t have to search to learn anything about the Father – He already knows. The next verse in I Corinthians confirms this:

…no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

So when He reveals God’s will to me, He’s just sharing information that’s already known.

When Paul used the word “search” in I Corinthians 2:10 he was using it to illustrate the intimate relationship between the Father and the Holy Spirit. Albert Barnes, the noted 19th century theologian who wrote extensively on the New Testament, put it rather nicely when he said:

It is not to be supposed that he [the Holy Spirit] searches, or inquires as men do who are ignorant; but that he has an intimate and profound knowledge, such as is usually the result of a close and accurate search.

Pretty insightful for someone who had never even heard of a computer, much less a search engine. (By the way, I found this information by, you know, Googling…)

Even though Google is my go-to site for all my searching needs, I’m not oblivious to the fact that search engine results have as much to do with commerce as they do with information. But in spite of “page ranking” and “indexing” and all those technical aspects that can easily be manipulated for a price, I can still rest assured that the information I’m getting back is just what I need, just when I need it – much like the information I get from the Holy Spirit. In fact, the verses just prior to the passage from I Corinthians (quoted above) tell me that:

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him – but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit.

Just what I need, just when I need it, with no manipulation whatsoever. Although there was a price that was paid for me to have access to that information, that price was paid 2000 years ago.

All I had to do was believe.