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…

The Web

The Web

Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith… 1 Peter 5:8

As spider webs go, it was spectacular – elegant in its construction and beautiful in its symmetry. The silk formed a perfect, dizzyingly tight spiral radiating out from the center, each concentric circle intersecting the spun spokes anchoring the impressive construction to the exterior frame of the rather large window. It was truly a marvel of engineering.

The weaver, herself a marvel, was nowhere in sight, tucked away in the shadow at the corner of the window frame, waiting patiently for just the right vibration on a gossamer strand of the lethal lattice.

Interestingly – and key to its deceptively benign function – the web all but disappeared in the afternoon sunlight, leaving nothing but the reflection behind it of the trees and shrubs surrounding the house in the window glass. If one were not paying attention, one could easily dive headlong into the viscid clutches of the fine-spun thread…

The dragonfly darted through the trees, performing aerial maneuvers sure to shame the most accomplished pilot, as much a virtuoso of flight as the weaver was at creating a web. It lit, seemingly weightless, on the tip of a tussock grass plume, lacey wings spread wide, its prismatic body shimmering against the bluish-green stalk. After a moment’s rest, it took flight again, continuing its tour of the yard.

It eventually veered in the direction of the house, straight toward the window, stopping a few inches from the glass. It hovered there for a few seconds, its beating wings a blur as it hung in mid-air. Maybe it saw the alluring reflection of, as yet, more unexplored trees; maybe it saw a reflection of itself and decided to investigate the intruder. Whatever the reason, it suddenly awakened from its suspended reverie, made an imperceptible adjustment to the bearing of its wings, and dove toward the window.

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…

At a Loss

I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Philippians 3:8 (NIV)

I remember standing on Main Street, U.S.A. in Magic Kingdom Park at the Walt Disney World Resort one night when I was about 15 years old. I had spent the day watching life-like robotic parrots and pirates sing, taken a simulated rocket trip to Mars, watched talented singer/dancers put on a spectacular show in front of the iconic Cinderella Castle singing every Disney song ever written, and watched Abraham Lincoln stand up and deliver a stirring speech. It was an unforgettable day.

As I stood there that night watching the glittering Main Street Electrical Parade and listening to its catchy musical soundtrack, I was struck with the realization that I had experienced something that day I couldn’t articulate at the time, something exemplified by the parade I was watching and listening to. While the bouncy and repetitive main melody played nonstop throughout the half-hour parade, never ending and never missing a beat, I noticed that, as every themed parade float wheeled into earshot, it overlaid its own unique tune, totally in sync with that main soundtrack, matching its rhythm precisely, beat-for-beat. As one float moved on another would turn the corner, broadcasting “Whistle While You Work” from the Seven Dwarfs float or “When You Wish Upon a Star” from the Pinocchio float. Float after float and tune after tune came and went, always in perfect synchronization with the main soundtrack.

It was one of those defining moments. After all, the Magic Kingdom wasn’t the rinky-dink county fair back home with its rickety Ferris wheel and merry-go-round; and the Main Street Electrical Parade wasn’t the tacky little homespun Christmas parade – this was something in a class by itself, a level of excellence and technology I had only imagined existed. I had never experienced anything quite like that in my 1970s small-town existence.

I left the park trying to get my arms around what I had seen and heard that day. I didn’t believe in actual magic, but if it existed, this was where it lived. Every time I set foot in the Magic Kingdom or see that parade, I’m transported back to that first visit 40+ years ago.

I thought nothing else could ever be that amazing.

Later, when I was in college, I spent a couple of years writing, arranging, orchestrating, and choreographing some major pieces of choral music for my college show choir, the best in the Southeast – some of that music inspired by what I had seen at Disney. (I loved those years in college. I came into my own during that time and discovered musical and writing abilities I never knew I had. I also discovered I could dance, which was really astonishing for a Southern Baptist boy. I didn’t want to leave after I graduated. They had to take away my key to the music building and usher me off campus…just kidding.)

While a senior and then a graduate student there, I created four 15-20 minute musical extravaganzas, two with original theme songs I had written. My senior year we toured the Northeast, including a couple of nights in New York City. I’ll never forget performing one of those pieces, a quasi-patriotic medley about America, in Rockefeller Center Plaza. As we sang about “tall buildings that touch the sky” I glanced upward, surrounded by (at the time) the tallest buildings in the world, buildings that illustrated beautifully the song I had written.

Although I couldn’t say exactly why, I cried a little bit.

Again, I thought nothing else could ever be that amazing.

Several years later, I played Benjamin Franklin in a production of the musical, “1776.” The play was about the writing and signing of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress, and portrayed such famous founding fathers as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and of course, Dr. Franklin.

I know that sounds yawn-inducing, but the members of the Continental Congress, as I said in my role as Benjamin Franklin, were “not demigods” as we often think of them today; they were just guys – and most of the time, rowdy guys who just liked to drink rum and fight. This lent itself to a rollicking and often hysterical reenactment of a pivotal moment in our country’s history. (Of course, it transcended all that testosterone and was elevated to the sublime when, one-by-one, they all signed the Declaration document during the final scene as the music swelled and the sound of the liberty bell rang out through the theatre. Gives me chills thinking about it.)

I had the best part in the show. (Don’t tell the guys who played Adams and Jefferson I said that.) As Ben Franklin, I had the whole bald head and fringe of hair (two hours in makeup) and limped about the stage with a walking stick as though I had gout. (Something the real Franklin suffered from.) I perfected the (temporary) loss of my rural southern accent and spoke in what I imagined was an 18th century manner. I also had all the funny lines and sang about making the turkey our national bird and danced with Thomas Jefferson’s wife in a hoop skirt. (She was wearing the hoop skirt, not me.) I became Benjamin Franklin for the run of the show and had a grand time doing it.

I’ve done a lot of theatrical productions, but that was by far my favorite. It was like I was made for that part. I could have been one of those people like Carol Channing, who spent the rest of her life starring in productions of “Hello, Dolly!”, a role she made famous. Give me a walking stick, a bald wig, and an orchestra in the pit and I could be playing Franklin to this day. I hated to see it end.

I definitely thought nothing else could ever be that amazing.

There have been other times like that…

  • Singing the moving and emotional Verdi Requiem with a massive choir and symphony orchestra.
  • Standing above the clouds at 10,000 feet at sunrise and looking down into the alien landscape of the Haleakala volcano crater on the Hawaiian island of Maui.
  • Attending a lavish banquet for recipients of the highest honor awarded by my company and listening to guest speakers like the legendary Julie Andrews and Sidney Poitier.

…and each time I felt as though I had reached some sort of pinnacle moment; each time I just wanted to revel in that moment, to sear it onto my brain so I would never forget it; each time, I thought nothing else could ever be that amazing.

And each time…

…I was wrong.

When Philippians 3:8 rose to the top of my memory verse stack recently and I began studying it – even after reading it many times before – the Lord suddenly put Paul’s words into perspective for me. Paul said:

I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

Before his encounter with Jesus, Paul considered himself to be the quintessential Jew – a “Hebrew of Hebrews” from one of the best tribes of Israel, faultless in his observance of Jewish law. But once Jesus took control of his life, all that changed; none of those things held the same importance anymore. After his conversion, he realized that, compared to knowing Jesus, all the things he had prized – his “blue-blood” Jewish pedigree, his obedience to the law, his reputation among the Jewish elite – were, in his estimation, no better than human waste.

Not that there is anything wrong with cherished memories and moments that shape who we are; after all, God is the author of every moment. But for me, singing and making jazz hands don’t compare with knowing Jesus. Having a leading role in a play? That either. (Even a really cool play where you get to wear a Ben Franklin wig and scold John Adams.) Of course, Disney is really awesome, but – again, no comparison. Compared to knowing Jesus, nothing else is even in the same universe – not even writing about Him in a blog.

Although Paul is not saying I have to give up the highlights of my life to know Jesus, writing this has made me wonder – could I? Is He that important to me? Would I give it all up – memories, music, family, friends, comfort – if that’s what it took to know Jesus fully and completely?

While I’ve never felt His plan was to leave me destitute, He wants me to be willing to give Him all that I have, to prize Him above everything else – and not just my spare time or whatever I have leftover in my checking account or just an hour or two in church each Sunday. He’s worthy of every part of me – even my life – and expects me to understand that. He expects all of His followers to understand that.

Though it’s not likely any of us will ever be required to physically die as a follower of Jesus, we should be willing to symbolically die to our own wants and needs, to give up our homes, our families and friends, our pleasurable pastimes, or our bank accounts, if that’s what it takes to know Him fully and love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

So back to my question: Would I be willing to give it all up to experience the “surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord”?

Based on my experience these past five years with being His follower, plus the relationship God has nurtured and developed with me, and the always-present Holy Spirit with His divine council and comfort, how could I answer any way but, “Yes – take it all. You’re all I want.”

Because when I surrendered my life to Him and finally knew Him – really knew Him – I thought nothing else could ever be that amazing.

And for the first time ever… I was right.

Jesús en mi corazón

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. 1 John 3:16

It was a warm, but not uncomfortable, day in the tiny village of El Rodeo, Guatemala. Actually, El Rodeo is less a village and more a scattered collection of shops, churches, and dwellings, some rather makeshift, nestled in the shadow of the volcano Fuego, which means “fire.” That fact, added to the ever-present, smoky aroma of tortillas cooking on the griddle and the occasional staccato clucking of an errant chicken punctuating the still air, definitely gave it an “I’m not from around here” feel – at least to my city-boy sensibilities.

I was part of a team that had just finished dedicating the small but sturdy home we had built for Iola and her family a few days earlier as part of a mission trip. Just like most of the people we encountered while we were there, Iola was small with dark eyes and jet-black hair, with a lovely burnished-brown complexion. While I felt like King Kong when I entered the 12’ x 12’ wood and corrugated tin house, her entire family of five practically rattled around inside it, making it look cavernous and roomy.

I had hardly noticed her during the two days we were there to build. While her husband, Edgar, pitched in to help hammer nails to attach the tin siding, she stood at a distance, curiously watching our progress. Occasionally she would come retrieve an escaped toddler, giving us a much-appreciated break to pass out candy and coo at the baby.

As part of the dedication service, we hung a hand-crafted cross inside the new home and presented her and her family with some food, clothing, and a Spanish-language Bible. Afterward, our interpreter, Lisa, shared a brief Gospel message, reading from the book of San Juan (St. John). As with all of our new homeowners, Lisa asked if they knew, or would like to know, Jesus as their Savior. Neither Iola nor her husband responded in the affirmative.

As our team concluded the service and gathered our backpacks in preparation to continue on to the next house, I silently prayed that somehow we had at least planted a seed that day and that someone in the family would one day know the amazing gift of God’s grace.

Little did I know…

We formed a sort of receiving line on our way out, each hugging Iola and her family in turn on the porch of their new home. Everyone had hugged and gone on to the truck except for me and my two dear brothers in Christ: David, our team leader, and Johnny, an evangelist and head of the ministry organization that sponsored the trip. When it came my turn to hug Iola and say adios, she hugged me back – tightly. Hers was no mere cordial hug, though; she clung to me, breathlessly murmuring a stream of Spanish punctuated by her tears.

My Spanish is practically non-existent – greetings, pleasantries, counting to ten, “Please stand clear of the door” (something I learned from riding the monorail at Disney World), a few mission-trip phrases like “God bless you” and “Jesus loves you” – so I had no idea what she was telling me. I assumed she was just tearfully thanking me for what we had done for her family, for my kindness to her children, for showing her husband respect.

But I soon discovered that wasn’t what she was telling me at all. What she was telling me and what I didn’t know at the time due to my limited Spanish, was that she wasn’t a Christian – and that she really wanted to be.

Obviously I can’t speak with any certainty, but remembering the almost frantic tone in her voice, this is what I now imagine she was telling me:

“Please don’t go yet. I heard the lady who read from the Bible say that I could have Jesus in my heart. I want that, what you have – what you all have. But I don’t know how to get it. Will you help me? Can you help me get Jesus in my heart? Please don’t leave without helping me find Jesus.”

Sadly, in that moment I didn’t comprehend any of that. However, when I finally broke away and moved to go, clueless to her pleas for help, she didn’t give up. I know that feeling well, having felt that same sense of urgency prior to my own salvation experience a little over four years ago. When the Holy Spirit truly gets a toe-hold in your heart as he had Iola’s – and mine – there’s nothing to do but keep your hands and arms inside the vehicle, secure all loose items, and hang on.

Since David was next in line for a hug, she repeated her cry for help – and this time, the Holy Spirit (who is obviously fluent in Spanish, more than just “Please stand clear of the door”) broke through the language barrier.

When I heard David calling for Johnny, the evangelist, I knew I didn’t want to miss what was about to happen. I did an about face, ducking under the clothes she had hung out to dry, and hurried back to the receiving line, determined to be a witness to the new creation about to be reborn on that front porch.

You see, that’s why I went to Guatemala, why I begged friends and family to help me financially, why I worked in the hot sun in the morning and in the rain and ankle-deep mud in the afternoon. I didn’t go to build houses, although that’s what I did most of the week. For me, building a house for someone was just a way of getting a foot in the door (so to speak), an opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus, an entrée into the lives of people who don’t know the full measure of the sacrifice Jesus made for them. I went to Guatemala to testify to the widespread power of God’s amazing grace, given freely to anyone who asks for it – including Iola – even if those she’s asking barely know how to count to ten in her language.

Thankfully, though, having taken groups on mission trips to Spanish-speaking countries for decades, Johnny spoke enough Spanish to communicate with Iola, although that whole scene brought to mind what Paul said in Romans 8:26:

The Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

Johnny and Iola prayed with words that the other didn’t understand. But the God of all creation, the good and gracious God who is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,” the God who sent His only Son to die in our place – He understood. And in Iola’s confession of faith, we understood two Spanish words: Christo (Christ) and corazón (heart). Iola finally had Jesus in her heart.

John, the apostle Jesus loved, wrote:

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. (1 John 3:16)

Jesus laid His life down for Iola and for me and for you. His life wasn’t taken from Him. Not in one single moment leading up to His death on the cross was he helpless to prevent what was being done to Him; at no time was He an unwitting victim. He gave His life freely and willingly. That’s what love is. That’s the power of the cross.

So did ­­­Iola see that love in us as we worked on her new home (itself a special kind of fellowship)? Did God use that act of service to her family to show what happens when Jesus becomes Lord of someone’s life? Did that love somehow shine through us, eventually washing over Iola by way of the Holy Spirit to the point that she was not going to let those enormous gringos go without helping her to know that love as well?

Two words: Christo corazón.

Iola has a new home built by hands who traveled a great distance to share Jesus with her; but as David said later, “We witnessed the gift of a temporal home lead to the free gift of an eternal home.”

Beautifully said, my brother…

So I’m boning up on my Spanish so that when I see Iola in heaven, I can say a lot more than “Please stand clear of the door.” I want to be able to tell her what her salvation experience meant to me; how it tied the most beautiful bow on the gift that so many friends and family members gave me by making it possible for me to travel to Guatemala and meet her.

Most of all, though, I want to tell her that seeing her receive Christo in her corazón was worth the miles and the fund raising and the hours of labor that week. I didn’t have to understand her words – the language of grace is universal.

Until then, Iola, just know that Jesús te ama – Jesus loves you: He proved it long ago…

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

• • •

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Risk Free

I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day. 2 Timothy 1:12

I just read an article on the various infamous circumstances for which each of our fifty nifty United States is known, based on statistics taken from America’s Health Rankings and the U.S. Census. As it turns out, we’re a strange and wondrous lot…

  • Coloradans use the most cocaine. (almost 4% of the population – the phrase “Rocky Mountain High” comes to mind…)
  • The good folks of Maine have the lowest average SAT scores, garnering them the prize for dumbest state.
  • Alaska has the highest suicide rate. (Apparently all that ice and snow eventually takes its toll.)
  • California has the most air pollution. (quelle surprise)
  • Based on the high number of auto accidents, Massachusetts boasts the worst drivers in the U.S.
  • North Dakotans rank dead last in ugliest residents. (I’m doubtful this statistic comes from the U.S. Census. I mean, what kind of census question would lead the head of the household to avow that, “Yea, we’re all ugly, including the kids – especially little Henry.”)
  • Wisconsans have the highest rate of binge drinking – almost a quarter of the population. (Thanks, Miller Brewing Company.)
  • This one surprised me: Utahns have the highest rate of online porn subscriptions. (Say it ain’t so.)

In my state, however, we have the dubious honor of being known for the highest rate of identity theft.

I’ve already faked my Facebook profile with gibberish and silly information that would be useless to a would-be ID thief and I can spot a phishing scam a mile away, but learning this statistic makes me want to totally lock up my computer and wallet in a safe and just keep rolls of quarters in my pockets to buy stuff and carry a note from my mother for identification. (“Yes, that’s him – kind of tall with those funny glasses.”)

Data breaches resulting in personal information stolen from retail and e-tail transactions are becoming a fairly common occurrence. The institutions we assume will guard the information we’ve entrusted to them can no longer promise to do so with any degree of dependability.

Other than advising you to cut up all your credit cards and bury your money in the back yard, I have no words of wisdom – at least not when it comes to safeguarding your financial well-being.

But your spiritual well-being? Now that’s another matter. I can soundly report that the Bible is filled with words of wisdom for safeguarding that. Take Paul’s second letter to Timothy (1:12):

I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.

The thing that Paul and I (and hopefully you) have entrusted is our eternal salvation; and the “whom” and “Him” we’re trusting to guard it is God. And “that day”? The one when we finally meet Him face to face, free from this life and living forever in His glorious presence in the place He’s prepared for us.

And just to add a little extra security, in 2 Corinthians 1:22 Paul tells us that, when we become followers of Jesus, God puts…

…his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

So we place our trust in God to safeguard us until He’s ready to bring us home and He places the indwelling Holy Spirit in us as a sort of “down payment.”

Sweet! It’s the only totally risk-free situation I’ve ever been involved in.

Paul was convinced he could believe everything God revealed to him – and a quick thumb through the New Testament reveals that God revealed a lot to Paul. God made it known that He is truth; that Jesus taught truth; and that the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth. That’s truthiness of the most divine magnitude.

In my personal experience, God has proven time and again that He is infinitely worthy of my trust; you only have to read a few posts on this blog to get that.

But the thing I’m learning – learning recently, actually – is that it’s important for me not to pin my hopes on anyone else. God is the only one I can trust to never fail me. It’s so tempting for us to hang our hat on someone besides the Lord – a church leader, for example, or a trusted Christian friend or family member. The Lord puts these people in our lives for us to fellowship and be in community with; and soon we learn to value and trust their walk with Him. And that’s good – we should be able to trust our Christian brothers and sisters.

But even those dear to us who lead Godly lives and preach the truth and lead us in amazing worship are still just people – fallen people, sinners saved by grace, individuals prone to struggles with pride and “issues” and human passions, folks who sometimes make less than perfect choices, guys (and girls) who put their pants on one leg at a time.

As important as they are as members of our “body of believers” posse, we can’t be thrown if they let us down. They aren’t who we should be pinning our hopes on anyway. As we learned from Isaiah 40:31:

Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.

The Lord – not a pastor, preacher, teacher, worship leader, friend, Roman, countryman – just in the Lord. He will never fail us. (And I don’t think He even wears pants.)

And you can rest assured that, if you put your hopes in God to guard what you’ve entrusted to Him, it’ll be in good hands – the very hands that created the universe. In John chapter 10 Jesus tells us that both He and God have a firm grip on anyone who belongs to them. Of Himself, He says…

“…no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (v. 28)

Of God He says…

“…no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” (v. 29)

No one. Go ahead and try, Grasshopper – I dare you.

So until “that day,” I’m entrusting all that I have to my Heavenly Father. No one can scam, phish, or bribe Him – He’s as wise and all-knowing as He is trustworthy. And as I mentioned earlier, I hope you are trusting Him, too.

If not – why not? For more information, click here.

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.)

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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.