Power-aid (re-publish)

This is a re-publish of a post I wrote a year or so ago. (You’ll notice it’s a tad out of date, as I’ve since rejoined the Facebook crowd and even have my own page.)

I promise I’m working on a new post, but recently the Lord used two of my dearest friends to communicate some fresh encouragement and validation that writing the book I talk about below—and am still struggling with finishing—is definitely His will.

I wish I could say I’ve conquered all the stuff I talk about below, but… I can’t. If the Lord lays it on your heart, I would appreciate your praying for me to tap into the power the Holy Spirit makes available to us to conquer my fears.

• • •

God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:7 NIV

I’m finally doing it—I’m writing a book. (Cue the choir for the “Hallelujah Chorus.”) It will be a self-published paperback called “I Am the Clay” and will be a compilation of some of the things I’ve written for this blog adapted into book format. (There will also be a Kindle version.) But since I wrote them originally—or rather, God used or inspired or directed me to write them—it’s pretty much the same thing.

A real book—who’d a thought? (Some of you did—thank you for your ongoing encouragement.)

Not to dampen the “woo-hoo” moment of announcing a book-in-progress or anything (or muffle that choir), but let me linger here a moment so that I don’t blithely skip over the part about God using / inspiring / directing me to write.

And now for the rest of the story…

The *squish* wasn’t the end

From “The Lizard Lounge” Series on Clay

Below is the final installment in “The Lizard Lounge Series on Clay,” at least for this season. Quite a summer… Here is a link to the whole series, if you’re just tuning in. (And here’s a link that explains the whole “Lizard Lounge” bit.)

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

• • •

I love summer in Florida. Sunshine and beaches and the smell of orange blossoms. (And tourists who need to stay out of the sun and off the beaches.) This past summer I had planned to while away the days watering my bell peppers and tomatoes, lazing on the front porch reading, and collecting rocks for my dry creek bed. However, in Jeremiah 29:11 the Lord says:

I know the plans I have for you…

…and none of those plans included tomatoes, lazing, or collecting rocks.

And now for the rest of the story…

*squish*

From “The Lizard Lounge” Series on Clay

Below is the next installment in “The Lizard Lounge Series on Clay,” a wet-n-wild little piece about disasters—house AND spiritual varieties. Here is a link to the whole series, if you’re just tuning in. (And here’s a link that explains the whole “Lizard Lounge” bit.)

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

• • •

Stepping into my dark kitchen one evening after work I heard a sound I wasn’t expecting…

*squish*

*squish*? I thought. Tennis shoes on tile don’t usually make that sound. *squeak* maybe or *kerplop*—but *squish*?

I made my way across the room to flip on the light switch.

*squish*squish*squish*

That can’t be good

And it wasn’t. With the light on I could see that the kitchen was standing in water. While barely a half-inch deep (so far), standing water of any depth in one’s home is not a good situation. Not a problem on tile floors, but…

…wood floors. Please no, I prayed silently as I set out on a tour of the rest of the house.

And now for the rest of the story…

Adop Me

adop me

From the CLAY “Story” Series

In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will… Ephesians 1:4,5

“Why not?”

“Because I said so.”

He stamped his small foot, the volume of his voice increasing. “That’s not a reason!”

“I’m your mother—that’s all the reason I need.”

“You’re not my mother! I hate you!” Tears… Running… A slamming door…

A sigh. One of those days, she thought.

He appeared in the doorway a few minutes later with his favorite stuffed animal, carrying a hand-lettered sign made from a piece of cardboard. She looked up from what she was doing. “Where you going?”

“I’m running away. And Sharky’s going with me.”

“What does your sign say?”

He turned it around without looking up. “‘Adop me.’”

She paused for moment, dashing off a quick, silent prayer for wisdom. “Be sure and zip your jacket up.”

Another slamming door…

Another sigh.

She opened the blinds on the front door just enough to keep an eye on him without being obvious. He sat down on the top step at the end of the walk—small, mad—his toy in his lap and his paper sign propped on his knees in hopes of flagging down a more lenient parent.

After giving him a few minutes to cool off, she slipped on her own jacket and made her way down the walk.

“Your sign is very neat. You have good handwriting. ‘Adopt’ has a ‘t’ at the end, though.”

He turned it around and frowned at it. “It isn’t ‘adop’?”

“Adopt—a-d-o-p-t. Here—I brought a marker so we could fix it.” She sat down beside him, took the piece of cardboard, and corrected his spelling. He watched her write. “If someone drives by, I would hate for them to not stop because you had a misspelled word on your sign.”

She handed it back to him. He sat staring down at it, his brow furrowed.

“How long do you plan to wait?”

“I don’t know. ‘Til somebody stops.”

“What if they’re just as mean as me?”

He shrugged.

“You wanna come back inside?”

He shook his head.

“I don’t want Sharky to catch a cold. Sharks can be really mean when they have the sniffles.”

“Sharks don’t get colds,” he mumbled, tracing the newly-added letter ‘t’ with his finger. After a minute he asked, “Why did you and daddy adopt me? I don’t even look like you.”

“It wasn’t about how you looked.”

“Then why?”

“Because we loved you. We knew before we ever saw you we would love you, that you would be our little boy.”

“I’m not little.”

“Our big boy. We asked God to send us the perfect son. He had a perfect son, so we figured He knew perfect when He saw it.”

“Am I perfect?”

“Not even a little,” she said, chuckling. He looked up at her for the first time. “As it turns out, we didn’t need a perfect son—we just needed you.”

“But what if you didn’t like me? What if I was handle…handed…”

“Handicapped?” He nodded. “It wouldn’t matter. I love you just the way you are and would love you just as much no matter what. There’s nothing you can do to change that—I’ll always love you.”

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why do you love me?”

“Because God loved me first. Because He adopted me into His family.”

“God adopted you?”

“Umm-hmm. That’s what the Apostle Paul calls it when we become Christians.”

“Why did God adopt you?”

“Well, it wasn’t because I looked like Him, because when He adopted me I wasn’t anything like Him.”

“Then why?”

“Because He promised He would. He said that if I trusted in Jesus He would make me part of His family.”

“Did you?”

“I did. I didn’t even have to do anything to earn it—there was nothing I could do. Jesus did the hard part.”

“What about Mimi and G-Daddy? Were they sad you were going to be adopted?”

“No, baby—they were really happy, because I was going to be part of their family and God’s family. It was the best gift ever.”

“Better than me?”

“God gave me you, too, which was a pretty awesome gift. But, yeah—even better than you.”

He was quiet for a moment. “Do you ever yell at God?”

“Sort of, but not in the same way you yelled at me today. When I don’t do what he wants me to do or do something He doesn’t want me to do, it’s kind of like yelling.”

“But you said you didn’t have to do anything for God to love you.”

“I don’t have to: I want to. He’s given me everything that’s good in my life—His Son, my son. So I want to show Him how much I love Him for that.”

“Does God ever yell at you?”

“No. Sometimes He asks me to do things I don’t want to do, though. When I ask Him why, sometimes His answer is just like mine today: ‘Because I said so.’ He knows what’s best for me even when I don’t understand why.”

“Mama, do you think God would adopt me?”

“Absolutely He would. Daddy’ll be home soon—do you want us both to talk with you about it?”

He nodded. His small hand found hers. “I’m sorry I said I hated you.”

“I know, sweetie. But that didn’t hurt me as much as when you said I wasn’t your mother. Because I am your mother—and you’re my son.”

“For how long?”

“For always.”

“I love you, Mama.”

She squeezed his hand. “I love you, too, baby. Are you ready to go inside now?”

“Yeah.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Is Sharky hungry?”

“He could use some tater tots.”

“How ‘bout peanut butter?”

“He likes jelly on his.”

“Grape?”

“His favorite.”

He gathered his toy shark and hand-made sign as they both stood up. She reached for the sign. “Do you still need this?”

He shook his head. She tore it in half and dropped it in the trash bin on the curb. They made their way up the sidewalk, small hand in large hand.

“Mama?”

“What, hon?”

“Are you sure there’s a ‘t’ in ‘adopt’?”

“I’m sure.”

“‘Cause it doesn’t sound like there’s a ‘t’ there…”

A smile…

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

• • •

Click here or on the Facebook logo below and visit my page. I’ll give you some tater tots…

Follow me on Facebook!

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.

It just keeps going and going and going…

I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever. Psalm 52:8

Devotees of Apple products are a smug lot. (Apple devotees reading this just said, smugly, “Yea we are!”) However, some of my best friends are Apple users, so what’s a guy to do? (Other than a lot of eye-rolling.)

I’ve never owned an iPod or an iPhone or used an Apple computer with any success. I tried to use my friend George’s Mac a couple of times but all the buttons I needed to click were in the wrong place and I spent half the time yelling to him in the next room, “What happens if I click this little red thingy?” It was a lovely machine with the processor and hard drive all built into the monitor (which was as big as a truck windshield) but the learning curve was just too steep for a long-time and impatient PC guy.

In the spirit of full disclosure, however, I must confess – I do have an iPad, my only Apple product.

Although I vowed not to succumb to the siren song of Apple Inc. with their be-all, end-all technology and bank-account-draining tech trinkets, a co-worker, who was dashed against the Apple rocks long ago, bought the latest generation iPad and sold me his first generation one for a mere pittance. (The first app I downloaded was a Bible app; I feel that justified the purchase…)

It’s a handy little machine and makes me feel all Star Trek-y. (It’s just like the ubiquitous Star Trek PADD – Personal Access Display Device – that no self-respecting 24th century starship captain would be caught dead without.) In addition to about 50 Bible translations, I have apps for reading eBooks, playing games, checking my credit card and bank accounts, posting information here on “clay” – pretty much everything I can do with a computer, except I can do it while getting my oil changed or shopping for groceries.

Each newer version of the iPad that’s been introduced has upped the ante with more power, less weight, a higher resolution screen, a camera, more bling, and a higher price tag, but I’m happy with my basic model; it does everything I want it to do.

Well, sort of.

Apple Inc. has just released the newest version of its operating system for all of its various hand-held iDevices – except ones as old as mine. Sadly, my trusty iPad is no longer compatible with the latest and greatest Apple has to offer. Of course, I can still use all the apps I currently have (New York Times Crossword Puzzles – woo-hoo!), but many of the cool new apps being introduced will only work with the new operating system.

Bummer.

I absolutely get the financial aspects of a company upgrading and creating new technology – at some point, you have to quit manufacturing parts for the Model T and move on. I just trusted that I would be able to use my comparatively heavy, first-generation iPad for, you know, ever and ever.

The Random House dictionary defines the word “ever” as “continuously” or “at all times.” Based on either of those definitions, there was no way my iPad was going to keep going and going and going for ever and ever. It was bound to become obsolete before my first starship flight.

Actually, there’s not much we can trust for ever and ever without fail:

  • The sturdiest, most well-built things wear out.
  • People let us down or – worse – die.
  • VHS tapes become obsolete.
  • Even the polar icecaps melt.

However, there is one thing we can trust in “continuously” and “at all times;” David wrote about it in Psalm 52:8:

I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.

Or, to use our Random House definition:

I trust in God’s unfailing love “continuously” and “at all times”.

God’s love for us will never:

  • Wear out
  • Let us down
  • Become obsolete
  • Change
  • Waver
  • Break
  • Crumble
  • Need repair
  • Melt
  • Die

God’s love is a constant, consistent, dependable, unchangeable, unwaverable, unbreakable, unmeltable, everlasting reality.

I love to sing songs about God’s love and proclaim that God is love; however, let a few monkey wrenches get thrown into my normally well-oiled, smooth-operating daily life – like lately, for example – and it’s like all memory of His love for me gets tossed in the garbage disposal. With work stuff and car repair stuff and just stuff in general taking center stage the past few weeks, I’ve stressed and whined and been absolutely self-possessed with anxiety and worry.

Egoism at its worst. Not pretty.

But here’s the thing – I think that maybe those wrenches were allowed by God. While He might not have been the one doing the tossing, He certainly didn’t stop the tossee. (Ooh – spellcheck does not like the word “tossee”) And, while God is quick to tell me that His ways are not my ways (Isaiah 55:8) and that I can’t always know what He’s thinking (Romans 11:34), I can certainly take a stab at guessing why He allowed these things to happen: He knew I needed a lesson – another one – in trust.

Recently, I found myself falling back into old, pre-salvation patterns of behavior – letting my pride and self-sufficiency take over, trying to manage everything under my own power. And when I got too focused on trying to handle my stuff all by myself, God let a little rain fall so I would be reminded who my umbrella is.

I got kind of soaked there for a while. My Prayer Time (capital “P,” capital “T”) was one long to-do list for God: “Please help my car stop dying on me so I can get to work and finish this hard project on time that I’m struggling with and let this weird looking spot on my back be nothing but a weird looking spot and…” on and on.

When He finally broke through my little self-centered, quivering, stressed-out voice with His own comforting, still, small voice, I heard Him say (in that way that I know He’s speaking to me), “I can do that. And while we’re at it, how about you also learn to trust that I love you no matter what?”

Ouch. But He didn’t stop there. (He almost never does.)

“Do you think this is really about your stuff? Hardly; it’s more about your reaction to your stuff – more precisely, about trusting that I love you no matter what and that, even when stuff comes your way, I’m in the stuff, too. It’s about – and here’s a novel concept – you trusting that even if things are happening that are out of your control, they’re not out of mine; that I’m in control of everything – even your stuff.”

I was kind of surprised He used the word “stuff” so much…

And through all this, He also kept sending me back to the verse from Isaiah 41:10 that I had used several times recently to encourage friends who were going through their own challenges:

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.

(No fair using my own encouragement verse against me…)

Of course, it’s not like He promised there would never be a time when I would struggle to keep all the plates spinning. In John 16:33 Jesus said, plainly:

“In this world you will have trouble.”

Just so you know, I’m aware that those things I was dealing with were minor in the grand scheme of things. A little car trouble is nothing compared to Christians throughout the world fearing for their lives because of their faith. And dealing with work challenges is trivial compared to worrying where one’s next meal is coming from. And that weird looking spot on my back? It was just a weird looking spot – it could have been cancer.

If the car and work and dermatological stuff had been a pop quiz, God would have written on my test paper in red before handing it back: “If you can’t trust me to be your umbrella in a little rain shower, how are you going to trust me when the real storm comes?”

In looking around at the world we live in, I’m afraid that storm is coming – and I want to get an “A” on that test (or at least a B+). Which shouldn’t be hard, since God has already given me the answers:

Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

That’s all I need to know.

So even though things and people – even my own best efforts – will eventually fail me, there is one thing I know from experience I can trust in continuously and at all times: God’s unfailing love.

Now – New York Times crossword puzzle, anyone…?

Dear Carmen

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5

Dear Carmen –

You may not remember me – after all, I was just one of five American guys who built your new home in Guatemala recently – but I remember you; in particular, I remember your smile.

I remember because I never saw you without it. When you met us there on the side of the mountain that morning and told us “Si” we were building “su casa” – your house – there it was; the whole time you and little Jenny sat and watched us digging and measuring and sawing, there it was; when you loaned us a hammer when ours broke, when I saw you at church across the mountain, when we came for your house dedication service the morning before we left (and borrowed your hammer again) – there it was.

It was a pretty smile, a friendly smile. It was more than that, though. I mean, your smile was definitely pretty and friendly, but it was also… What’s the word I’m looking for? Radiant, maybe? There was a sense of peace to it, a feeling of contentment. Which, from the start, had me a little puzzled.

How to put this…

We were building you a basic 12′ x 12′ house out of wooden posts and corrugated tin with no electricity or running water on a flat spot dug out of the side of the mountain. I’m pleased with the fact that Eddie, Perry, Paul, Cliff and I made it solid and plumb and square but, when we finished, it was still just a 12′ x 12′ house built out of wooden posts and tin. Under the circumstances, your peaceful, contented smile had a sort of “what’s wrong with this picture?” feeling to it. But, in spite of a situation that to some would seem hopeless, you seemed anything but.

Maybe the Nueva Versión Internacional Biblia we gave you at your house dedication service can shed some luz. (One good thing about the Biblia – it’s full of luz.)

In Hebreos 13:5, the author writes:

Manténganse libres del amor al dinero, y conténtense con lo que tienen, porque Dios ha dicho: “Nunca te dejaré; jamás te abandonaré.”

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

You told the seminary student who spoke at the dedication service that you were a Christian – that made me muy feliz. I was so glad to learn that, because that means that Dios promise in Hebreos 13:5 is obviously the secret to that peaceful and contented smile. And even though you seem to have very little materially, you actually have la perla de gran precio – the pearl of great price – that Jesus taught about.

That’s worth infinitely more than a fancy house or a wallet full of money. I know, because I’m a Christian, too, and I don’t have either of those either. Please know that I’m not comparing my situation to yours, although I think that maybe it’s all relative. Obviously God has blessed you just like He has blessed me – in different ways, but still according to His good and perfect will.

I have to tell you something, though: while I was there in Guatemala, I struggled with trusting God to keep this particular promise. I had kind of a “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you” test of faith.

It was my first mission trip and I really didn’t know what to expect, money-wise, so I didn’t bring a lot with me. I thought I had enough, but there was just so much need around me and so many opportunities to give that I wanted to be obedient to what I felt God was leading me to do and give as much as I could when the opportunity presented itself. Before I knew it I had three days left to go and all I had in my wallet was a Visa card and enough U.S. dollars to pay the toll between the airport and my house when I got back home. I didn’t have any more Guatemalan Quetzales and I didn’t see a single credit card-swipe terminal in all of Chimaltenango.

But, as you can testify, Carmen, God is faithful. He kept assuring me that He meant every word of Hebreos 13:5 – that He wouldn’t leave nor forsake me.

And He didn’t; He made sure I didn’t miss a meal:

  • Bro. Johnny loaned me a few Quetzales to tide me over, which I was actually able to use to feed someone else in the group who had also given all he had. The last night we were there, I had 40 Quetzales left and he had 5 – our bill was exactly 45 Quetzales.
  • Ellen unexpectedly bought several of us breakfast at the airport the day we left. (You remember her – she preached Tuesday night when I saw you at church. What a heart she has!)
  • Mark and Carolyn insisted on paying for my dinner in the Atlanta airport before my flight back home – again, unexpectedly, although by that time I knew what God was up to. I could have easily used my credit card, but that was just His way of using these dear new friends to drive the “Never will I forsake you” point home. (Always a lesson with God.)

I’m sure, considering your circumstances, my money woes while I was there seem blown way out of proportion; and I suppose you’re right. It certainly wouldn’t have killed me to miss a couple of meals. But that wasn’t God’s plan. His plan was to use me to testify to the richness of His blessing, the faithfulness of His promise, just like His plan for you. For me, it was a few meals; for you, it was a new place to live.

I may never see you again in this life to tell you how God used you to bless me; how He used our contrasting circumstances to remind me to, like you, trust that He will never forsake me. But I know I will see you again in a better place than the side of that mountain; a place with no need left unmet; a place where both of our little houses and empty wallets will be a distant memory.

And on that day I’ll get to see your peaceful, contented smile again; but better than that, I’ll get to see who you’re smiling at – Jesus.

I’ll be smiling at Him, too.

Until that day, Dios te bendiga, Carmen – may God bless you…

discipl(in)e 2

The Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in. (Proverbs 3:12)

As I’ve mentioned here on “clay” before, every verse that introduces one of my posts is a verse I’ve memorized. For today’s verse, however, I inadvertently chose pretty much the same verse twice (and a year or so later am just now discovering it – leave me alone…). The first time I wrote on “The Lord disciplines those He loves” it was based on Hebrews 12:6 in my post discipl(in)e. Interestingly, the author of Hebrews was actually quoting today’s verse from Proverbs.

As I’ve pointed out, I know the Lord had a hand when I was choosing these verses to memorize, and He also knew I was going to be writing about them, so obviously this particular one from Proverbs 3:12 bears repeating:

The Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.

It helps me better understand what Solomon was saying when I insert a couple of words – maybe it will you, too:

The Lord disciplines those he loves, [just] as a father [disciplines] the son he delights in.

Better. (I mean Solomon was wise and all, but…)

In the post linked above, I wrote about how God sometimes uses punishment to discipline me; however, I’ve also experienced God’s discipline through another meaning of that word from the dictionary:

“A regimen that improves a skill; training.”

I like that definition much better than the “punishment” one. It also makes me think of my dad when I was growing up.

Even though he and I were different in a lot of ways, we both shared a love of music. He had a naturally great singing voice and would often sing to himself while he worked around the house or to us when we were little. Mostly he sang hymns, but occasionally a little Hank Williams would sneak its way in there.

He loved the fact that I played the piano, and was never hesitant to pay for my lessons and music books. Watching him work long hours and sacrifice to make my life easier than his made me learn what it took to be disciplined at something. In a way, he disciplined me to improve my skill at the piano by setting an example of hard work and dedication.

Now that I’ve become a Christian, I’m learning that building a relationship with God and “continuing to work out [my] salvation” (Philippians 2:12) also requires a lot of discipline.

Stepping out in faith and dependence on Him doesn’t come easy for me. It takes practice, just like playing the piano – but practice spent through prayer and Bible study and not by sitting on the piano bench. That’s the only way I can know God better and, as a result, learn to trust Him without reservation.

Learning to “go and tell” also takes practice. The way He’s chosen for me to share my testimony of Him and what he’s done for me is through writing for this blog – a sort of electronic version of the great commission. Learning to communicate a message of hope and salvation requires that I do it regularly while being sensitive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Before I go any further, though, let me dispel any impression I might be giving that I’ve got being disciplined spiritually down pat…

As much as I love experiencing the presence of the Lord through prayer, sometimes I find myself dozing off because I stayed up late the night before “piddlin’ around,” as daddy would say, on Facebook. Other times, I realize it’s been a while since I’ve written something for “clay”, spending my time working crossword puzzles rather than taking time to prepare, research, and write a post.

It’s important to stay in touch with family and friends but how many pictures of grumpy cats do I need to see? And games are good for my aging brain and all, but how often do I need to know that the answer to 24 across, “British heiress, ____ Khan” is “Jemima”?

Answers: none and never. (Unless Ms. Khan is looking to funnel off some of her inheritance to an American lad who’s handy in the kitchen…)

Both would fall under the category of diversion or distraction – not discipline.

It takes discipline:

  • To offer God my best and be “all in” before Him in prayer.
  • To put the puzzle away and start researching the scriptures and writing a post in order to “give the reason for the hope that [I] have” (1 Peter 3:15).

But both of those areas of discipline are underscored by an even more important form of spiritual discipline: waiting on the Lord. You see, that’s where He helps me learn discipline the most: He makes me wait for him.

In Psalm 37:7, David wrote:

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.

Easy for David to say. (For me, though, I’m afraid I may doze off again…)

  • Sometimes when I pray I have to let go of my agenda and wait for God to show me His.
  • Sometimes when I write a post, I have to start over – occasionally from scratch – because I didn’t wait on Him to tell the story He wants me to tell.
  • Always I have to “wait patiently for him” to be sure I’m taking the next steps He wants me to take.

God waited patiently for me most of my life. Now that I can look back and see how gracious and merciful He was, how can I not wait patiently for Him? He’s definitely worthy of my every moment.

In reality, though, all of these spiritual disciplines have a higher purpose: they draw me to Him. Waiting for Him, listening to Him, studying His word, and trusting Him are all disciplines I can achieve only by drawing closer to Him.

Without drawing closer to the Lord and seeking His will, His presence, and His guidance I would end up missing the most important thing He can give me –

Himself.

And without being disciplined spiritually and giving Him all that I have – heart, soul, mind, and strength – He wouldn’t have the thing He wants from me the most –

Me – all of me.

So I’m finally learning something my dad learned long ago: even though he was a disciplined craftsman, provider, and teacher, his most rewarding area of discipline was as a follower of Jesus.

I’m a lot of years behind him in that last one, but I hope to catch up enough to at least taste his dust…

Will the real Holy Spirit please…stand up

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

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

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

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

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

Just ask Eve.

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

“Ssssssssssss… Did God really ssssssssssay…?”

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

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

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

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

I imagine that particular episode might go something like this…

• • •

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

Announcer: “What is your name please?”

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

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

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

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

[Cue theme music.]

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

[Cue applause.]

• • •

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• • •

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• • •

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

• • •

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

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

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

Sipsey: Interesting. Number two?

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

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

Number two: One of my favoritesssssssssssssss…

• • •

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

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

Ouch…

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

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

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

• • •

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

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

Host: Sipsey, what about your vote?

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

Host: Penny, your vote?

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

• • •

Ssssssomebody’s gonna win a lot of money.

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

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

And that’s the truth.

Now — will the real Holy Spirit please stand up…

• • •

Click here or on the Facebook logo below and follow me. (I promise you’ll always find the truth.)

Follow me on Facebook!