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…

Why are you crying?

2011-10-021-jesus-is-resurrected-2400x1200

“After three days I will rise again.” Matthew 27:63 NIV

It was Friday. The day before, she had spent Passover with family and friends in Jerusalem, feasting and celebrating like hundreds of thousands of other Jews in the city. Today, however, there was no celebrating. Today, she stood huddled with several other women watching a barbaric execution.

She was at Golgotha—“the skull,” an apt name for such a foul, place of death—helpless, trying to be strong, watching as He hung there dying. When He told His followers they would have to take up their cross, she never dreamed He would be the first to set the example.

For months she had taken care of His needs and those of His disciples, using her own money and resources to support Him and His ministry. He gave her her life back; gave her new life. Just like each of us who are His followers, she owed Him everything she had.

Most of His disciples ran and hid in fear; but not her. She forced herself to watch the Light of the World hanging there like a common criminal, determined to stay until that light was extinguished.

That Friday, Mary Magdalene was a witness to Jesus’ crucifixion.

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.

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.

To the nth degree

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Ephesians 3:20-21

When I was 12 or 13, my sister and I, along with my cousins up the road, created our own township in my Great-Uncle Buford’s backyard. His backyard was the perfect place for us kids to play, as he had a collection of ramshackle sheds, barns, and lean-tos he had built to hold farm tools, woodworking equipment, vegetable canning supplies for my great-aunt – basically, the random stuff old country people collected and held on to in days of “yore”.

We laid out streets on which to ride our bicycles amongst uncle Buford’s outbuildings and we each chose a profession. My oldest cousin was the banker and kept tabs of everyone’s bottle caps, our currency. (The more common the soft drink – RC Cola or Sundrop, for example – the less the top was worth. I’m sure that illustrates some economic principle perfectly – the law of soda and carbonation, maybe.) He also created checkbooks for each of us to use to draw funds from our stash of bottle caps stored in the bank vault (which, best I remember, was a shoe box).

I owned the store where I sold jars of my great-aunt’s canned tomatoes and shovels and hoes. No credit cards were accepted – mine was strictly a bottle cap-only business.

My youngest cousin was in charge of law enforcement and would stop anyone who ran one of her imaginary stop signs (which tended to move on an ever-changing and unpredictable whim) and levy some sort of fine. She was always on the take, though, and could be bought off for a couple of Nehi Grape Soda tops.

Down past the garden in a copse of pine trees, was our residential neighborhood. My dad brought us each a big cardboard box from the manufacturing plant where he worked and we cut a door and windows and arranged the fallen pine straw as best we could on our individual plots to give our kid-size McMansions some semblance of curb appeal.

Not only did these activities help develop my imagination, they kept me busy and out of my mama’s hair.

Without the internet and video games as distractions, it was much easier to develop a rich imagination that kept one from ending up on the 10:00 news for all the wrong reasons. And mine was indeed rich. In addition to being retail entrepreneur in Backyard-ville, I pretended to be a rock star and lip-synced to the latest 45s with a toilet paper roll as a microphone, built condos for my sister’s Barbie dolls out of album covers, and flew around the house wearing a super hero cape made of a bath towel.

It was never boring being me.

That imagination continued to follow me throughout my life. Eventually I traded in my cape for a drafting table and began imagining the cool house I would design and live in when I became an architect. Later, I banged out tunes on the piano, imagining the huge choir and orchestra I would conduct one day while they sang and played one of my compositions, a piece so moving and powerful that it would bring the audience to their feet in tears and thunderous applause. (One thing I never had to imagine was being overly dramatic.)

But neither of those ever came true. In fact, none of my imaginings came true: super hero, rock star, seller of canned tomatoes and shovels and hoes – none of it. Big dreams; unfulfilled life…

…At least until June 17, 2010. On that Thursday morning the faithful, loving, merciful, gracious almighty hand of the one true God (as David so beautifully wrote)…

…lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. (Psalm 40:2)

On that day I became an adopted son of God, a follower of Jesus, a Christian. Exit unfulfilled life, stage left; enter Spirit-led life, stage right-hand of God. For all my life I had imagined with my imagination and not God’s. Suddenly, anything I could ask, anything I could imagine, anything I could hope for, He could do to the nth degree without even breaking a sweat. (I realize that totally anthropomorphizes the Lord here, but you get my point.) He makes what I always thought was a vivid, well-honed imagination, sharpened from years of wishing and dreaming and flying around the house wearing a towel, look like a pre-schooler’s crayon drawing hanging next to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

God’s imagination and His ability to make it a reality is infinite – and not only as revealed in the spectacular, like the creation of everything we see, but also in the comparatively simple human things he enables us to do. Paul said it beautifully in his letter to the church at Ephesus (3:20-21):

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!

(I especially like how Paul puts an exclamation point at the end.)

So keeping that verse in mind, let’s revisit my unfulfilled past life…

Designing a house? I absolutely could have done that. Composing a moving piece of music? I could have done that, too. But instead of choosing salvation by faith in Jesus early on in life and letting God work through His Holy Spirit, possibly opening up an opportunity down one of those paths or one far more fulfilling, I chose another path: a dead-end path that seemed exciting at first but ended up being self-indulgent and empty. And as Shakespeare wrote, “There’s the rub.”

Although God in His love and mercy saw fit to bring me unscathed, for the most part, through those dark times (in spite of some of my best efforts to the contrary), He let me go my own way down the path I chose – though, thankfully, not forever. Looking back now, I can only imagine (that word again) the blessings He might have had in store had I chosen a life of faith in His Son.

However, during these past four years – again, His love and mercy ever on display – He’s made up for the time I wasted by giving me opportunity after opportunity to grow my relationship with Him and take stuttering but sure steps down the path of sanctification. (Of course, He never makes me walk that path alone.)

Here are some of those steps:

The B-I-B-L-E

As Psalm 119:105 says. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” I recall day-dreaming through Bible reading before I became a Christian. The classic Bible verses were OK – John 3:16, for example – but anything that didn’t make it on a sign at a football game was of no import to me. Now, though, I can’t get enough. I’ve read it through twice in chronological order and at least that many more times in bits and pieces. (Right now, I’m doing a topical study on end-times prophecy – you know… just gettin’ ready…)

And now that I have a living relationship with the Lord, it’s never just passive reading – it’s an interactive adventure. These are God’s words, and reading them is like having a conversation with Him. Sometimes a passage I’ve read dozens of times before will suddenly hit me like a Blackjack dealer in Vegas. And when it does, it may be just the card I was hoping for or it may be the one that makes me “go bust.” (Let’s just think of that as conviction.) Either way, it’s worth the odds.

Let us pray

I’ve developed – am still developing, actually – a pray-without-ceasing kind of prayer life. I’m learning what it means to pray in Jesus’ name, and when to talk and when to listen. And when it’s time to talk, I’m learning to do just that – talk to the Lord just like I would a cherished friend. No pretense (He can see right through that); no Pharisaical pride and pomposity (nothing will shut Prayer Time down quicker than that); no pity party. Just seeking Him with simple, straight-shooting supplication, and – all too often – sorrow at falling short of what He wants for me. But He’s quick to forgive. He’s even teaching me to pray in public without my voice going up an octave from panic. (Talk about doing immeasurably more than all I can ask or imagine…!)

Testify

In my wildest dreams, I never imagined that I would be blogging about my spiritual life – I used to not even have a spiritual life. Yet, here I am, depending on God to give me the words to share what He’s done for me, writing about the day-to-day process of living out His will for my life, testifying to His ability to truly and totally make a new creation out of the vilest sinner. Because of God’s hand on my life, what I write may even touch hearts and lives, or have eternal significance, or be turned into a book. Again – immeasurably more…

Re-imagined

Because of that new-found relationship with God, I find my imagination lingering on totally different things:

  • I imagine how things I’ve read in the Bible really took place, like what that wheel within a wheel looked like that Ezekiel saw and what John heard in Revelation 10:4 when the voice from Heaven told him: “Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down.” I’m dying to know.
  • Speaking of Heaven, I imagine what it’s really going to be like. While reading Randy Alcorn’s book, Heaven, my imagination truly soared, as he piqued my interest with his own interpretation of what the Bible says about eternity. Maybe once I’m there I truly will conduct a composition so moving and powerful it will bring the heavenly hosts to their feet. Except that any adulation will be directed to the Lord and not to me – and, miracle of miracles, I’ll be totally fine with that.
  • I imagine what it will be like when I meet Luke and Ruth and Rahab and Daniel face-to-face. Even better, I imagine that day when I finally meet Jesus face-to-face. (Actually, I can’t even comprehend what that will be like; at this point, I typically have to just stop and mull on that one for a while.)

So even though I’ll probably never become an architect, or build that cool house I imagined; even though I’ll never tear through Gotham City in the Batmobile or leap tall buildings in a single bound; even though this blog may be the most significant thing I ever do while on this earth, I have something bigger than rock stardom and composer fame to dream about – this former kid-encaped-in-a towel is now imagining what God has for him in this life and, more important, in the next.

Whatever it is, it will be to the nth degree more than I could ever ask or imagine.

Off the hook

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)

I’ve learned that getting people to read blog posts can be challenging. (Thank you for reading, by the way.) For starters, most people don’t like to read. Twitter has trained us to shut down after 140 characters and Facebook has taught us to never click that See More link at the end of a status update. After all, who wants to read even more nattering on about the Chinese chicken and sweet potato casserole recipe someone found and plans to try for dinner tomorrow night?

The fact that it’s a Christian blog makes it even trickier. Start a blog post with “The Bible tells us…” and you can rest assured that post is DOA. (Welcome to the age of “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”)

So in order to grab the reader’s attention right from the start, it can help to open with a “hook”. A hook (an aptly named literary device) can be:

The unsuspecting reader starts out reading a funny story about gnats colonizing the kitchen garbage can and, before they know it, they’re reading about Jesus.

I know – it’s a little mean. But so is letting someone die without hearing about God’s grace.

My original intention for this post was to say that Isaiah 41:10, the verse at the top, didn’t need any sort of hook or distraction:

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

I mean, who wouldn’t want to read about this? Who wouldn’t revel in the message of this promise from God: “Don’t worry – I’ve got you covered”?

However, I’m realizing now that I actually did start this post with a hook – a hook about hooks.

So sue me. Anyway, since you’ve read this far…

I love Isaiah 41:10 – I want it screen-printed on a t-shirt. (I guess it would need to be written backward so I could read it when I looked in the mirror – or upside-down so I could just glance down and read it. The t-shirt place would probably look at me funny.) This verse lets me know that, with God in control, when it comes to having the strength to do what I have to do, I’m totally off the hook – I got nothing to fear.

Sweet.

One (minor) caveat: even though everything from God is ultimately good, that doesn’t mean that it won’t ever hurt. After all, Christians get killed in car wrecks and end life with Alzheimer’s. Christians who manage their money Biblically still sometimes struggle to live from paycheck to paycheck. Christians lose their jobs, their homes, and their loved ones.

I’m reminded of a dear friend who, a few months back, wrote me on Facebook: “I need your prayers. I was diagnosed with cancer last week and am having surgery Thursday. I’m not scared of the surgery, just the unknown afterward…”

(Side note: to be requested specifically by someone to pray for them is probably as great a blessing as there is. Seriously.)

I confess: I would have been scared of the “unknown afterward” too, had I been in the same situation. So where does that fear come from? Maybe it’s due to the reality of our frail humanity or our struggle with trusting God without reservation. Fear is nothing new, as Isaiah was writing about it 2700 years ago, give or take a couple of days.

Obviously it doesn’t come from God, because in Paul’s second letter to Timothy, chapter 1 verse 7 he says:

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (NKJV)

He knows we have a tendency to do so, though. “Do not fear” and “Do not be afraid” are some of the most oft-repeated phrases in the Bible.

So do not fear, for I am with you…

That’s a difficult lesson to learn, but one God wants to teach us. So I wrote my friend back with some encouragement and the promise to pray, then ended with, “One more thing: read Isaiah 41:10 before Thursday.”

And I waited – and prayed…

The post-surgery message I received was, “I read the scripture before surgery. I had this beautiful image of God with his huge hands holding me in the palm of his hands! I am going to be fine. Whatever the outcome, I feel a great peace.”

I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Indeed He will; He did for my friend and He has for me, just as He promised through Isaiah. He can – and will – do it for anyone.

So if you got hooked into reading this and have made it this far, just know that, in addition to strengthening and helping and upholding us and taking away our fears, God has taken everything else on Himself as well:

  • He came and lived as a man and willingly gave His life to pay for and cancel our sin debt – we couldn’t do it ourselves.
  • He offered this cancellation of our sin debt to us as a free gift, out of graciousness and mercy – there’s no way we can work hard enough to earn it.
  • He made the gift of salvation simple – we only have to believe, ask, and accept.

And not only will He do all of these things in this life, He will do even more in the next. (I just finished reading Randy Alcorn’s book, “Heaven,” so I’m all up on how eternity’s gonna work.) There will be no more cancer, no more death, no more fear. In other words, if the upholding we get from God’s righteous right hand now happens to pinch a little (or a lot), it won’t pinch forever.

So before you get the hook in this life, be sure you get hooked on Jesus. Trust me – life with Jesus? It’s off the hook.

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…

Happy re-birthday to me

Picture1

If you declare 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

Three years ago today around 10:00 a.m. EST I was reborn…became a new creation…became a Christian…got saved. No matter how you say it, my life changed in a way that I never would have imagined possible. Much of that change is discussed throughout this blog, with posts about experiencing God in a personal way, growing in faith, and truly understanding the meaning of God’s grace. If you’ve read more than a few words of “clay,” you know the changes in my life were significant.

Prior to June 17, 2010 I was mired in a life of sin. Having rejected God’s offer of salvation over and over during my 52 years—an offer I was well-versed in, as I grew up hearing the gospel preached time and again—I was without hope and bound to spend eternity that way. And, as I believe in a literal hell as described in the Bible, that’s where my rejection would have landed me.

Ponder that for a moment—I definitely have, especially today.

But there was hope—I didn’t have to continue in the life I was in; I didn’t have to spend eternity separated from God, from everything good. Because of that hope, I can spend eternity in God’s presence. If you’re not a Christian, I know it may be hard to imagine just how incredible that will be, but do this: think of the greatest thing that could ever happen to you—winning the world’s biggest lottery; being handed the keys to the house of your dreams in the location of your dreams with the car of your dreams in the garage; being able to travel the world for the rest of your life; having anything or anyone you want – and multiply it by the largest number you can think of.

Even then it will still pale in comparison to what awaits you as a follower of Jesus.

So maybe you’re thinking, “That’s fine—if you believe all that.” That’s fair and something that, on my pondering occasions, I’ve mulled over.

I would be dishonest if I said there hasn’t been a moment when I’ve thought: What if there isn’t really anything after this life? What if we die and that’s it—no heaven, no eternity? What if that’s just a dangled carrot to get us to love each other, to be good and kind, and to get us to dangle that carrot in front of everyone else?

I can say with certainty that this life isn’t all there is, but what if it were?

So what? It wouldn’t make a bit of difference.

There’s no way I would go back to the life I lived three-plus years ago. Those changes in my life I mentioned earlier have been the stuff I could only dream of before. Today, those dreams are reality. Today…

I have peace:

“The Lord blesses his people with peace.” Psalm 29:11

I have purpose:

“My only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” Acts 20:24

I have love and support, both from an army of mortal spiritual family to a host of the immortal:

“For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” Psalm 91:11

I am blessed – abundantly:

“Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33

I have a personal relationship with Jesus:

“If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” Revelation 3:20

I have nothing to be afraid of:

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31

If you’re not a Christian, maybe you just think it’s all about the “thou shalt nots”; that you would have to give up all the stuff you like to do. Again, that’s fair. That’s what the liar who whispers in your ear wants you to think. It’s easy to buy that lie. Sin can be pretty attractive.

Granted, I quit doing some things that I knew were not pleasing to God, but they were things I haven’t missed one bit. They were all unhealthy physically and emotionally anyway, so no big loss.

So even if all I ever experience as a follower of Jesus are the things I’ve experienced so far, that would be enough to convince me to give up everything I’ve ever had, ever known, or ever been—or ever will have, know, or be.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17

That’s me—a new creation. And today is my re-birthday.

• • •

Today can be your re-birthday, too. Maybe you’ve thought about it before and procrastinated, or thought you were OK, since you’re kind to animals and people and give to the Red Cross.

Or maybe not…

Do you feel a tug at your heart? An unsettled feeling in the pit of your stomach that all isn’t right? A desire for more than the father of all lies is offering? A gnawing that, if something were to happen to you, you’re not sure if you would be with God forever?

It doesn’t have to be that way. All that can change right now with a simple, sincere prayer. That prayer can sound something like this:

“Heavenly father, I admit that I’m a sinner and that I’m sorry for the life I’ve lived. I believe that Jesus is your son, and that He came here to earth to live as one of us—but a perfect one of us, one of us without sin. I believe that He freely gave His perfect, sinless life to pay the sin debt I owe, a debt I could never pay on my own. I also believe that You raised Him from the dead. I ask You now for Your forgiveness of my sins. I want Jesus to be in control of my life.

“Thank you for sending Jesus to die for me and for giving me eternal life. Amen”

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To see what God is doing in my life since my re-birthday, click here or on the logo below and follow me on Facebook.

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Tattletale

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1

To avoid being branded cliché and predictable, let me just say that I actually don’t mind visiting my dentist’s office (stay with me here). Everyone on the staff is fun and great at what they do. My dental hygienist wears cool, trendy glasses and sings along to the top 40s Sirius radio channel playing in the background while she chisels the plaque off my teeth. She also gives me my choice of flavors for the teeth-cleaning polish (citrus mint – always citrus mint). Even though I’m sure she’s thinking, “Do you ever floss?” she never gags or makes a face.

Plus, everything is so Star Trek-y now. When it comes time for x-rays, instead of sticking that Volkswagen-sized chunk of photographic film in my mouth like when I was a kid, I just stand amidst this stainless steel contraption with my chin resting on this – well, chin rest – and the x-ray emitter orbits my head like the moon, capturing a full 360° x-ray view of my mouth.

And now, there is no wait while film is developed – by the time I’m back in her chair, she’s got larger than life x-ray images of my teeth displayed on her computer monitor. Although, to me, my dental x-rays just look like a row of corn kernels in various shades of gray, obviously they hold much deeper meaning to my hygienist and my dentist. They huddle around the monitor and engage in a hushed, earnest discussion about the state of my teeth, thankfully using technical language I don’t understand like, “Hmm… looks like a splendiferous hyundai in that pekingese maxima kia lateral molehill.” (translation: “Does he ever floss?”)

The x-ray – physics own little tattletale.

So – in the category “19th Century Discoveries,” here’s the question: How was physics professor Wilhelm Röntgen, discoverer of x-rays, made aware that this invisible radiation existed? (Ooh, ooh – I know, I know!) While performing an electrical experiment, he noticed that a chemically coated screen sitting nearby began to glow unexplainably. No slacker he, Professor Röntgen realized he had stumbled on a new phenomenon – not because he could see what was causing the screen to glow, but because the glowing screen itself served as evidence of a force he could not see. (We know now, of course, that his electrical experiment was emitting x-rays which reacted with the chemicals on the nearby screen.)

As a result, I’m sitting in the dentist chair 118 years later looking at undeniable evidence that my paltry efforts toward the care and keeping of my corn kernels are just that – paltry – while my dentist is totaling up all the dental work he will soon be doing on my behalf and planning his next cruise to the Mediterranean. (cha-ching!)

Now here’s a little extra credit question: Since I am certain x-rays I can’t see exist because of their effects on something I can see, can I take that same logic and apply it to my spiritual life?

You betcha. Just like Prof. Röntgen I also have a glowing screen: me.

Even though neither I nor my two friends who led me to the Lord that morning in June 2010 could see anything physical happening to me – angels didn’t circle my head playing harps and the sun’s rays didn’t break through the clouds illuminating my visage with a beatific glow – it wasn’t long before there were noticeable, visible changes in me and how I conducted my life:

  • That same day I drove home and immediately began ridding my cabinets, computer, and bookshelves of all the props I depended on to feed my sin habits: liquor, websites, books, magazines, DVDs. (That took a while…)
  • I stopped talking like a potty-mouthed stand-up comedian.
  • I began praying and studying my Bible diligently and regularly. (All the Bible verses here on “clay”? Memorized.)
  • I started looking for ways to share what God had done – and was doing – in my life with others. (Like this blog, for example.)
  • Right off the bat, I wanted to tell people what had happened: my family, my Facebook friends (Christian crowd: crazy happy; pagan pals: puzzled), and people at my church. (Yep – even though I was lost as a goose I was active in church in the worship ministry, I tithed, and had even joined a Sunday School class.) If I could have found a mountain top in Florida, I would have climbed it and shouted the good news from it.

In other words, my screen began to glow.

Now, maybe you’re looking at Hebrews 11:1…

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

…and thinking, “If you’re basing your proof of an invisible God at work in your life on visible evidence, then doesn’t that nullify any need for faith?”

Not at all – it strengthens it, actually. Faith drove the pre- “shouting from the mountain top and pouring vodka down the sink” step I had to choose to make in the first place. That initial decision to trust in God’s gift of salvation through the perfect, saving blood of His son, Jesus Christ, took nothing short of a pure-dee-old leap of faith (assisted by the intervention of the Holy Spirit, of course).

After all, I had never seen God’s power at work through any sort of observable miracle, had never had an out-of-body glimpse into eternity, or had even felt a pang of conscience after any of my slogging treks through the muck and the mire of sin. I would have never made any of those glowing screen changes on my own; the life of sin I was immersed in had blinded me to any evidence of God.

Once I took that leap, though, God began validating my faith with the ongoing realities of His presence in my life I mentioned earlier. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

I love how the NIV translation puts that exclamation point at the end. And now that God has made me into a new creation, I see all sorts of exclamation points punctuating what’s going on around me. As a result, I know with absolute certainty that:

  • He is real!
  • He is at work!
  • His promises are true!
  • He has a plan for my life!

So here I sit, certain, without the least bit of doubt, sure enough to stake my very life on it, that I will spend eternity in a place that not even the most creative, imaginative minds on earth could dream up, in the presence of an even more unimaginable God, one that no number of exclamation points could punctuate – not because I can see Him but because I can see the results of his saving grace…

…me – my salvation’s own little tattletale…

…glowing screen and all.